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Mike Randle


Is This D.C. or A.C.? — By Mike Fornatale
November 18, 2003

Dan sleeps in his clothes.There’s no real significance to that, I don’t think, it’s just a good way to start a new diary entry.

I woke up the next morning (I had been rooming with Pete prior to this, but in Virginia I was assigned to Dan) and this was, indeed, the first thing I noticed.You don’t need to form a mental picture or anything, it just was what it was.I elected to go take a shower.Without my clothes.You definitely don’t need a mental picture of that either.What do you think this is exactly??

Alright, so anyway.I’m outside now, and it’s a lovely morning, and I’m drying my tresses in the breeze.Gene appears.He had gone to the venue the night before, with Arthur and Leon, while we were all playing tourist.He had found that there were ample and comfortable dressing room facilities, with plenty of space and even a shower.At that point he decided that we’d just leave the motel in the late AM and just go straight to the venue and stay there all day, saving the cost of a day-room at the motel and the hassle of getting back and forth.

He had gone out early for breakfast, to a diner which he recommended to the rest of us upon his return.We all piled into the big white van and I drove off in the direction he had specified.He had said it was “just around the corner” — but although we were definitely on the road he spoke of, we went for quite a ways and were now back in a residential area.Grrrr. I turned around.

Carrie, of course, had gotten up earlier and gone on a pleasant little 58-mile sprint, or something, and mentioned a little shopper’s-paradise sort of street set in an incongruous area behind an industrial park not far from Hooker Hotel, so we headed off in that direction.And what do you know.Just as she said — it’s like you took a bustling upscale-suburban village’s three-block “center of town” and picked it up and stuck it smack in the middle of nothing.There were several places to eat, most of them with additional sidewalk seating.Yes please.In an unusual display of solidarity, we all went to one place.

Funny, isn’t it, how they were NOT expecting a Gang Of Twelve at 10AM on a Tuesday morning, huh? Anyway, we were about halfway through having our orders taken when the waitress — a very tired-looking lady who looked like she’d seen way too many menus and dishes — asked who we were and what we were all doing converging upon her sleepy little gig en masse.Rusty said we were a band that was playing in town that night.

Suddenly she got all wide-eyed and said, in a dark little whisper, “Oh! Oh my — this is Arthur Lee and Luuuuuuuuuuuve!” Rusty smiled and concurred.She then asked which one was Arthur.I was gonna nominate Rusty again.Back at the Trocadero, when I had returned with the van full of musicians (but no Arthur) there was this shadowy figure standing outside the back door, clutching a couple of album covers, and he had decided that Rusty was Arthur.I guess he DOES look more like Arthur than, say, Paula does, but what do I know? Anyway, as I pulled the van around the corner, he was pounding on the windows, begging me to take him inside to meet Arthur, and he would NOT be dissuaded from the idea that this was not he.

But this waitress seemed too nice to f**k with, and it was very plain that the presence of Arthur Lee’s band at her cafe had just lifted her momentarily out of a world she was tired of being in.This resonates with me FOR SOME REASON.She started talking a mile-a-minute about how she had really wanted to go to the show but she had to work.I crooked my index finger in a “c’mere” gesture, and when she got close enough I felt her forehead and said “I can feel a fever coming on.I think you’ll have to go home early.” Upon which, Rusty told her he’d leave her name at the door.Nice gesture, and you could tell it meant the whole world to her.”Oh — really?? Oh my God, thANKew!!!” Glad I got to see that.

Well, this is ONE way to get good service, huh? The food was uncommonly good for such a place, and it sure did come out quickly.She must have gone back there and pounded the cook over the head a few times.

A couple of our mob went across the street to a strategically-placed bookstore, and then we went back to Trollop Towers to check out.And then onward to The Birchmere.

Strange location….at the end of a long driveway off of a main road, and it shares its parking lot with a day-care center.You can see how confused Probyn appears at the concept.

Plenty of room along the side, and lots of space to put the vans.That’s a nice change.And several very helpful employees who assist with the load-in without being asked. Inside: well, looky-here.It’s a dinner theater! Not a bar-with-tables-and-hey-we-can-also-serve-food-if-we-want-can’t-we? But a real honest-to-goodness long-row-tables Dinner Theater.Doesn’t seem the kind of place where Arthur’s fans would normally be found — and when I look at all the lovingly-displayed posters of shows past, I’m even more convinced this is so.I’m surprised we’re even allowed IN this place without a brand-new Music Man bass with the tag still on it, seven acoustic guitars, two mandolins and some Big Stupid Cowboy Hats.Getting the picture yet? But, I’m just being a smartass.The people were all really nice and really helpful and therefore — once again — what do *I* know?
Setup was kind of problematic — the stage is not so very large — but there was ample space to stow all the empty cases and such and (as mentioned earlier) a huuuuge backstage area.I dunno if anyone used the shower or not.All that was fixed in my mind with laser-precision were the following two tidbits: 1) Immediately after the show I am driving to Newark.MapQuest says that this is 3 1/2 hours.Yeah, and perhaps you can make an omelette out of six dogs and a dreidel. 2) After the post-show difficulties in Philadelphia, I am resolved that this stage is going to be packed up faster than if it were done by Thor and The Flash with the aid of half an ounce of crystal.

Well, I don’t want to waste time surveying the backstage area until all the amps, drums and guitars are set up.But I have to pee, you see.And that is when I see the Birchmere’s idea of “catering.” See, normally backstage you can expect a pitifully small plate of coldcuts, some rolls, and some soda and tea and water and maybe some chips.The Birchmere has a full refrigerator and an ENTIRE SALMON which has been gutted, decoratively serrated (I do hope they killed the poor f**ker first) sliced, smoked, and re-stuffed.

Again, we are using Probyn as a Reaction Barometer. He is very handy to have around.

Well, I’m not one for salmon, and even less so when it STILL HAS EYES, and besides I have work to do.Finally, with some help from the friendly locals, we got the stage set up in a satisfactory manner.I’ll repeat this: you might think you have a pretty good idea how much space a cello takes up, but — trust me — you don’t.This goes for a cello in the case as well as it goes for a cello with a cellist wrapped around it.But eventually we prevail.

Meanwhile, what has transpired backstage? Well, first of all, several e-mail-starved band and orchestra members finally have their first taste of a free and available telephone jack, so Paula’s laptop suddenly becomes really popular.That, and the restaurant manager has appeared backstage with the Birchmere’s regular menu, and informed the ensemble that each of them can order anything they like therefrom.I missed this and had to order on the fly, but I ended up with a very lovely and very huge sandwich, the contents of which I can’t recall.

Then, the supreme should-be-good-news-but-ain’t of the evening: The Birchmere hosts its own microbrewery, and Mr. Restaurant Manager Man is real proud of his five different concoctions.So proud that he brings us a FULL PITCHER OF EACH.

And who, if you recall, has to bust down the stage, hop into a van and drive for half the night right after the show? I’ll give you a hint if you’ve forgotten: he looks a lot like me.In fact, he looks exactly like me, lucky bastard.But not feeling so lucky right now, as there is HALF AN OCEAN’S WORTH OF EXCELLENT ALES AND LAGERS ON THE TABLE AND I, IF I’M SMART, CAN’T HAVE ANY.

Well, I decide to compromise, and I had just had a big meal and it’s early anyway.So I have a taste of each of the five — the equivalent of a shot of each, or half a pint of one.And I stuck to the Diet Coke for the rest of the evening.But ooooooh those beers were wonderful.Oh well!

Finally, time for my favorite part of the day, sound check.The part where I get to pretend to be Arthur.Except today Gene has gone to purchase a new guitar strap for Arthur, with Strap-Locks this time, so that his SG won’t keep falling off him like it did in Philly.Arthur has a strange relationship with his guitar onstage.First of all, when he plays he tends to yank backwards on the neck, which keeps pulling it out of tune (which is why I’m there.) Second, the way he moves tends to disengage his strap much more often than would happen to most players.So the strap-locks are a must.

Thing is, they need to be “installed.” On these new, lesser-expensive ones, which I’ve never seen before, this involves burrowing a much larger hole into the leather strap than the one that’s already there.No problem, except there’s NO TIME.So, then, picture me if you can.I’m standing at the mic, under full stage lighting, singing Bryan Maclean’s “Old Man,” with a guitar strap in one hand and Chapple’s swiss army knife in the other, trying to sing while simultaneously chewing a hole in a thick leather strap with a very sharp knife and NOT slicing off my thumb in the process.I responded to the challenge much as you might expect:

Dear old man
He’d seen most everything
Gave me a small black pocket knife
Said I could make a hole
At least that’s what he toooolllllld meeeeee, till
I cut my finger off…….

No. I’m not making this up.I have witnesses. Luckily I came out of this with all ten fingers intact.

The opening band were The Pleased, from San Francisco.Thanks to our problems wrestling the stage into shape, they did not get a sound check.When you’re the opening act on the bill you have to pretty much be prepared for that eventuality.Shame, but there you go.They received this news with good humor.I thought, upon hearing them, that they were an odd choice for this bill and wouldn’t go over so well with Arthur’s audience, but they were received respectfully and graciously if nothing else.That’s always nice to see, and it sure doesn’t happen very often.Two examples: in 2001 at the Village Underground, in NYC, we had four nights with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone of The Zombies — and they insisted on going onstage no later than 9PM.Well, okay — but that meant that out of the four “opening” acts, three of ’em were gonna go on AFTER the headliner.Fine, not a problem.But Cod and Rollin (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) finished their set on the second night and one of the other bands — a very well-respected critical-darlings band from Detroit — went onstage and literally just about emptied the place.People were actually streaming for the exits! And the poor guys in the Mooney Suzuki — who were due to go on after them — were literally standing at the exits begging people not to leave.The venue manager and the bar manager were in a complete and utter panic, watching roughly half their expected take for the evening galloping up the stairs, ready to claw their way out if they had to, just to get away from [name of band here] and into the fresh air.

Oh well, you live, you learn, right? Well, not so fast.The fourth show (Sunday) is to be a special “sit-down” show, wherein the venue’s usual (and typical) sardine-can motif is to be replaced by tables and chairs, cutting the venue’s capacity by more than half.Plainly, this is the show that the Old People will attend.And that night it’s to be only TWO bands: Cod and Rollin, and — you guessed it — [name of band here.]

The promoters had a very hasty little confab (for which I was present) and elected to pay them to go home, NOW, RIGHT NOW, and do not stop for anyone or anything.And the fledgling Datsons, from Montreal, who had opened the Thursday night show, were tapped to play in their place.They’re called the High Dials now, and they’re quite excellent.Very mod-sort-of early Who sound.They had to change their name when the New Zealand Datsuns (with a “u”) started making a name for themselves.

Anyway, irony of ironies, the sit-down Sunday balding-guys-with-ponytails crowd didn’t care much for the Datsons either.Stony silence.Screw ’em, they didn’t know how lucky they were.If they had had to sit through [name of band here] they would REALLY have been upset.[Name of band here] would NOT have been their cup of tea at all.

Anyway, back to the present, and to the Birchmere.This show was going to be a bit different for me — the stage is a flat platform, up against the long wall, and it’s in the middle of the room.There are no wings.So my perch is, essentially, completely visible to just about the whole audience.Well, heck, let ’em look if they want to.Arthur put on a great show, as usual (there apparently have been a few not-so-stellar ones and even a couple of disasters, but surely none that I’ve seen) and every time I handed him his guitar after re-tuning it, he responded with a “Thank you sir.”

Good show, and again the new song “Rainbow In The Storm” went over big.I love the song.What a relief.

Arthur was very gracious with the audience afterwards, signing things and such, and as we were packing up I saw our breakfast waitress talking to Rusty.So she made it after all.

Well, the breakdown and load-out went much more quickly this time, and we hopped in our various conveyances and headed off towards Newark.Yeah, three and a half hours my spleen.I had figured it would be more like five.I was not looking forward to it, but at least I’d have a van full of nice folks and only about half of them would be asleep at any given point in time.We agreed that Pete would lead in the cargo van, I’d follow, and Gene would bring up the rear.Arthur and Leon weren’t gong to Newark, they’d be flying directly to Boston.

Well, our route took us along a significant stretch of local roads, and whaddaya know? Suddenly it’s the age-old dilemma: GWB.No, not George Washington Bridge.Girls With Bladders.It wasn’t long at all before at least two of our human cargo needed to shed some fluids.So someone phoned Pete and explained, and we all pulled into a gas station, which of course had no restrooms.And it’s kinda late at night, and the odds of finding a restroom looked slight.

Well, we’re a refined bunch of folks, so none of us guys dares suggest out loud the solution that would occur to US should one of US need to shed some fluids on a dark road in the middle of the night.One of the girls reaches this epiphany on her own.So we pull over, near a wooded area, and two of the girls get out and run into the woods.We’re all having a good laugh over this, of course, until only one of them comes back.Oh fine, now I’m in a teenage slasher film.(“Hey, I’ve got an idea, kids! Let’s all split up!”) But finally a third girl runs into the woods and brings back the straggler, and that’s all I’m gonna say about any of that.

So now we’re on the highway, and I’ve got the Left Banke blaring.None of them has, apparently, ever heard any of these songs except the obvious two or three, and they love it.So they stay awake.

About midway through the night somebody — Randle, I think — mentioned my fake Moby Grape tape that I had made a few years earlier.Well, it’s right here on the iPod, so I put it on.Probyn busted it right away.He knew it wasn’t the original record, but he didn’t know what it was.

Well, we got all the way to the Newark Airport area, and then Pete got us lost.It was about 4:30 AM and them folks is gettin’ right cranky.Me too.We went around in a circle for awhile and finally pulled into — the wrong hotel.Yay! Pete was beside himself and ended up making a wrong turn again.My California passengers were vocally laying the blame on my own home state’s less-than-magnificent highway system, but just for a change the NJ highway signs were NOT to blame.I took the lead and had Paula call the hotel.She got good directions but didn’t understand them — the concept of a highway called “One And Nine” did not register with her.I told her I knew what it meant, and eventually we got there. And I’m thinking, yes, THIS is what my new Californian friends are seeing of New Jersey. An ugly building at the end of an ugly, forbidding driveway in an ugly industrial park in an ugly gray pre-dawn hour in an ugly mood just outside an ugly airport. Ah, well. Next time I’m bringing them all home with me.

And once we got inside the hotel — well, it figures.It’s almost 5AM, we have to be awake by 9, and of course for a change we’re in a place with wonderful, huuuuuuge rooms which we will not be able to enjoy ONE minute of.Whee……….

NEXT TIME: Boston.

Mike Randle


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