A Road Report - volume one
April 16 1996 10:57 PM Eastern Standard Time
Jon Finn's home studio - slash - computer room - slash - temporary Keneally boudoir
Hanover, Massachussetts, U S of A
Let's get this first bit of business taken care of - Bryan Beller would like to apologize to Doug Marhoffer of EMG for the reference to "sucking corporate cock" in his last "Life Of Bryan". It was in the context of attempting to convey the manic quality of a particular week in March, and was in no way meant to denigrate the efforts being made on our behalf by EMG (as well as any of the other fine companies currently toiling away to make our touring experience more pleasant). This apology, by the way, was not requested by EMG or their representatives - Doug's an amazingly cool guy and wouldn't stoop to such behavior - but by Beller himself, who doesn't know when he's going to get around to his next "LOB" installment and didn't want to wait until then to get this out in the open. Bryan's really sorry if this has annoyed Doug in any way. His precise words are: "I'm horrifyingly sorry". OK, we all feel better now.
The road report which follows will be written in the present tense for convenience's sake. It is largely paraphrased from my road journal, but not a verbatim transcript thereof.
I am collected by Super Shuttle at 5:50 AM on April 9. I can't quite understand, stumbling around in the dark looking for my MK/BFD cap and suitcase key, why I'm actually leaving behind my wife and daughter for a month. It suddenly seems totally absurd. But I've got this airplane ticket and a couple of band members waiting for me, so I shake the doubt and guilt out of my head and get in the shuttle. Briggs' house next, then Beller's. As we're pulling Beller's gear through the parking lot of his apartment complex, a small bag containing all his over-the- counter drugs, bathroom gear, CD and cassette Walkmans and other assorted crap drops onto the pavement and we're a good four hundred feet past it before Beller realizes it's left the pack and runs back to grab it. This makes us both giddy and we laugh like fools - Tour Disaster Number One narrowly averted. The mind-melds between Beller and I are becoming more frequent and more bizarre; in the van I reach into my valise and pull out a copy of the "How To Play Guitar" magazine/CD with my Southern Rock article in it, just as Beller is beginning a sentence about how he'd just seen the magazine on a newsstand. (And while we're sort of on the subject, we have a winner in the "Waiting On Willams" contest - take a bow, Mike Lerch! He beat the second place entry by about twenty minutes, according to when I received it [which I know is not an accurate barometer, but whatcha gonna do]. He'll get his magazine/CD prize when I get home.)
We luck out at LAX and are able to check all of our extra bags and anvil cases through regular channels without paying extra. Later we'll find that Michael Harrison, the San Francisco filmmaker who's decided to pay his own way to the East Coast in order to help us in a million different ways, got screwed for $45 for one extra case.
And thanks to the kind support and assistance of EMG's Doug Marhoffer (whom I personally admire and love a great deal and would never think of saying anything untoward regarding), we gain admittance to an actual airplane which actually takes us to Newark. Since I only got about an hour and a half's sleep the night before, this is when I rest. "Father Of The Bride II" does not provide sufficient impetus to remain awake, and I don't.
At one point I stir to consciousness and look out at the tops of clouds and think about how a couple of months ago I was thinking it might be nice to do one more Z tour, to let someone else be totally in charge, to be coddled one more time. Now I know that I'm really glad that this is happening instead. And I fall back to sleep.
We land in snow, snow which is falling in Newark. Dad Beller meets us, smiling, and our many bags and boxes seem to arrive at baggage check mere nanoes after we do. Michael Harrison is coming on a separate flight, which is slightly delayed, but his smiling countenance descends, escalator-brought, into view within a more than reasonable quantity of time, and his bags arrive just as a cop outside stops to consider harassing Pop Beller for keeping the van parked in one place outside the terminal for a little too long.
It's appalling. Pop Beller picked it up for us which is great (although we have to go back to the Rent-A-Wreck after leaving the airport, so I can sign on as "additional driver", the hoop through which we had to jump in order for Pop Beller to be permitted to position himself behind its precious steering wheel), but the van itself is just the symphony of dents, creaks and broken side view mirrors you would expect from an establishment which proudly dubs itself "Rent-A- Wreck". Actually, though, the bastard handles fine, even though I have to drive it through a blizzard to get to Westfield, NJ, the picturesque and exorbitantly comfy childhood home of Bryan Beller, where his family still resides, where one of BFD's two main East Coast bases of operations (the other being Jon Finn's house in Hanover, MA) is. There we mau (Beller for "eat a lot and very intensely"), compare French and US "Music For Petses" (Briggs doesn't dig, either one - he can't understand why we were in the band at all) and listen to the Raging Honkies CD which Briggs hasn't heard yet, and which rocks him volcanically. Briggs also regales us with tales of his early-80s road experience as drummer for a band called 805 (at the second gig of the tour Briggs will actually be presented with an 805 album to autograph) and about how Jon Anderson's road crew were utter fucking assholes when 805 opened for him once.
Next day - April 10 - day of the first gig. Beller's out and about while the rest of us are still asleep, to score a music stand for Briggs from the local high school (Briggs still needs charts for the gig, hardly surprising - three weeks ago he'd barely heard any of the music), to get his SWR bass cabinets from a music store called SST, and to visit a doctor to get medication for his currently swollen nut (sorry, don't know which one). I don't wake up until 12:30 EST (I'd been up until 4:00 AM watching MST3K and listening to "Filles De Kilimanjaro"). After I haul myself out of bed I check on the film footage which Michael Harrison is planning to project during the BFD shows - clips from an old TV documentary about hippies, some stuff about cows, footage of Michael's niece's birthday party (a water balloon explodes on her dress) and some really good slow motion shots of dogs. The dog/cow connection calls to mind "Spearmint Pup" and the "Cow Trilogy" (which are often performed together live - and we now call the "Cow Trilogy" the "Cowlogy" for short, in honor of a Beller misspeaking at a recent rehearsal), and it's decided to show the film during "Snowcow".
Asbury Park - haven't been here since the triumphant "Pone Stony" Z show in March '94 (Beller, sitting by my side, remembers that it was March 5. Sick). I remembered it as desolate - today it looks downright frightening. We arrive at The Saint at the appointed time for our soundcheck and there's not a soul to be found. We go to Burger King and eat in the van...we don't want to chance actually sitting in the restaurant and leaving the van unattended and full of our gear (the lock on the side door is not entirely trustworthy).
We return to the venue and find Joe D'Andrea, winner of the "Top Of Stove" bagels, freakazoid who figured out all the "Faithful Axe" licks and presented them to the Yes newsgroup. As the night goes on the club will be populated by several of our email buddies: Brian Bernardini, George Hrab, Ilya Stenkovsky (sorry if that's misspelled), Don Gravatt, Jeff Parsons, and others who I'm probably forgetting and for which I apologize. Also there is Bon Lazonga, guitarist from Gongzilla who wants to hook up for some Philly shows, and Ellen, an unfailingly cheerful young woman whom Bryan and I met during the Z tour two years previous. The opening act is Ray & Joe (being Joe D'Andrea on drums and his crazy-ass Chapman Stick playing bud Ray Ashley, who plays lead Stick and bass Stick [two channels of the Stick run to two separate amps] and sings at the same time). Also on the bill is a Zappa cover band, Project/Object, and I sit in with them for "Andy" - their guitarist Andre has got the "Roxy" underwater tone dicked, but when I play through his amp on stage it's impossible to hear myself, so I have no idea how I've done when it's over. Once BFD starts I can hear myself fine, and for a first gig it's miraculously good. When I hear the DAT later I'm struck by how fast most of the tempos are - adrenaline is at Daytona velocity but it works for the audience and for us. Yay, the first gig is a success. Briggs is still familiarizing himself with some parts of the tunes and that drags him a bit, especially since the little flashlight he's got taped to his music stand isn't making it - a heavy duty little lamp will be purchased tomorrow. Also there's no intelligent place for Michael Harrison to stick his projector. But after the show our spirits are uniformly high, until Bryan realizes he's lost his lucky lighter (non-childproof, and still running strong after more than a year). A stop at a donut joint cheers him, and the subsequent discovery of said lighter in his briefcase upon our return to Casa Beller elates him. A very successful day.
Read Bryan's reports from the road over at
The Life Of Bryan.
TALES FROM THE TOUR PART TWO
(writing commenced around midnight o'clock, 6-27-96)
The morning after our triumphant Asbury Park debut actually begins in the afternoon, as I awaken at 12:30 PM for the second day in a row. Actually I'd been briefly stirred by a phone call at 9:30 from a very confused Suzanne at Immune, calling at 6:30 her time, to prepare me for a phone interview which I wasn't scheduled to receive until 1:00 my time, 10:00 hers, but she thought it was supposed to be at 10:00 MY time, etc. etc. We're both half asleep and we mumble at each other until we hang up and become full asleep again.
Upon my genuine awakening it's time for phone calls and 1 1/2 bowls of Honey Bunches Of Oats, the Beller breakfast of champions.
[The expression "Breakfast of Champions" is a registered trademark of General Mills, Inc., for use on a breakfast cereal product. The use of the identical expression in this Web site is not intended to indicate an association with or sponsorship by General Mills, nor is it intended to disparage their fine products.]
BB, MH and I do the brief tour of Westfield incl. the trainspotters' tour of semi-concealed campus nooks for pot-lovin' junior high school students, as we make our way to the Radio Shack to buy batteries for the boom box which's been borrowed from bud of Beller brood. Pack the van and we's off to Nashua, Briggs dozing briggsily in the back, although gratifyingly he awakens at one point long enough to say "this is perfect." Clearly he's enjoying himself on the road with BFD if he can bring himself to say such a thing in the piece-a-shit van we currently inhabit.
Harrison feels the need to film a bit at a rest stop. There's a large concave grass bowl imbedded in the ground, which is called "Dog Walk", and dog that I am I walk in it. Harrison films Beller and I obscuring segments of the Dog Walk sign, so if we ever put out a film in which the phrase "OG WA" plays a role, you'll know what's up.
Lunch slash Dinner is at the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown, CT, hearty American fare the way we like it. Triple decker chicken salad 'n' bacon, mm doctor. We talk about Thunes a lot at this meal for some reason. Back on the road we play the alphabet game but it's abandoned due to the complete paucity of 'Z' words...a good omen? I'm prodded for FZ war stories by Harrison and Briggs and graciously comply. Our home in Nashua, the Red Roof Inn, is achieved. Whilst I do some calls MH hoofs it to 7-11, and, unbidden by anyone other than the Good Samaritan within him, returns with care packages for the BFDers: beer, tortilla chips, strawberries, apples, smoothies in easy-to-use plastic bottles. Harrison is a righteous cat, that's all. A righteous cat.
MH wants to bathe and FB wants to be on the phone, so BB and I set out as a duo and paint Nashua a deep maroon. Taking up residence at Cattleman's, Beller rules the table against all comers and the bartendress (she of the immortal "don't make me come ovah the fuckin' baah!") takes exception to my idea of a good time with a jukebox. (Rule number one: If "Eat A Peach" is on the jukebox, ALWAYS play "Mountain Jam". More bang fer yer jukebox buck.) We leave of our own volition before we're forcibly ejected, get lost trying to find the hotel without using the freeway because we think we ought to be able to, it's just a couple of miles away etc. etc. Contrite after twenty minutes of aimless drivery, we welcome a familiar freeway onramp sign like the second coming of Jesus and make it safely hotel. Watch David Alan Grier subbing for Greg Kinnear interviewing Jon Lovitz - a good sign that we should be asleep. Soon we are.
Checkout time at the Red Roof is 3:00 PM, so the next day we are VERY relaxed about leaving. Sadly I am too hasty in choosing a venue for lunch, and without ever having eaten in one before I decide that Friendly's would be appropriate. Those of you who have experienced its grandeur may rest easy - I shan't make the same mistake again. Harrison does some filming in the parking lot, we climb in the van and hit the highway. A mile or so into the journey, something that looks like an especially leathery bat takes a dive off the hood of our van. I suggest that it might be one of our belongings which had accidentally been set on the van, and a brief search of his personal effects confirms that Michael's light meter is missing. Traffic is at a dead standstill due to construction and it takes us a long time to exit the highway, get back on in the other direction, get off and back on again where we had originally entered, and as we retrace our tire tracks we find the light meter on the side of the road, just where it had fallen off and, miraculously, none the worse for heavy wear. Another good omen. A mantra begins to take shape, whenever something might potentially go awry we scoff at fate, secure in the knowledge that all will be well because "we're Beer For Dolphins". This phrase quickly becomes shorthand for "nothing can hurt us".
So, off we go with a hi and ho to find Red Square North, a venue whose motto might as well be "you can't see us from the street!" as Beller drives back and forth in its vicinity for hours before we spot it. We needn't be in any kind o' hurry; we arrive right at our appointed load-in time and there ain't but a fucking soul to be found. We walk around the perimeter of the venue, we bang on the door for minutes, I go for a walk and come back, Beller writes postcards. Eventually other band-type folk start arriving, including guitarist Jaye Foucher and her band, and all of the Jon Finn Band to whom we owe this and the following two bookings, and Beller insinuates himself into a Hackysack circle and much inter-band parking lot bonding happens. All great fun, all a great waste of time as the clock grinds on and any chance of a decent soundcheck becomes laughable.
Finally a club employee arrives and all the bands rush their gear in; it's all over the place, it's a total zoo, complete insanity. Nothing intelligent can possibly take place at this point, so Beller and I choose the only wise course of action. Three games of pool later there's still no time set for our soundcheck and we bolt. Briggs hangs out, he's been corralled by a long-time FB fan who actually has a copy of 805's album (on vinyl) to all of our respective astonishments, but Bryan and I need to leave. Standing at the foot of the outdoor staircase as we bound down them is none other than Cindy Zeuli, president, founder and chairperson of the Dweezil Zappa Fan Club, who in a marvelous gesture of kindness is refusing to allow her support for my cause to dwindle despite my outcast status in the Z organization. We pile into her car and she follows the Jon Finn Band Van hither and yon as they practice almost clinical indecision in the act of finding a place for dinner and drinks. Finally we settle on a place, the Finn band order food and Beller and I order drinks and commence babbling unbecomingly re: our perspective on the Z situation. To her credit, Cindy takes our vitriol in stride and continues to pledge her loyalty both to Dweezil and to us. She's a gem.
Back to the venue, a Yes-loving email buddy named "Giotto Lady" arrives with brownies for the band (non-hallucinogenic and very delicious, they are put in the van for later). There is no soundcheck and we have about five minutes to get our gear up. When I ask Bryan and Frank if they're ready I'm given the go-ahead for a count-in, but I will later learn that Briggs' kit is not at all set up properly, but he didn't want to hold up the proceedings. It is to be, of course, the suckiest show of the tour. The combination of the rushed circumstances and the out-of-position drum kit conspire to make Frank sound as though he's never heard these songs before, and Beller and I can't get any kind of vibe happening. This, of course, is the show where a guy in the audience has a portable DAT player and will be the most widely distributed show of the tour in the tape-trading world. Fucking grumble. Briggs is all apologies afterward and I'm mainly concerned with drinking and checking out Finn's band. Jon, too, will be dissatisfied with his performance this evening, but his playing is awe-inspiring even on an off night and there's one moment of true transcendence when he's joined on guitar by Alex Skolnick and they fully rage through "So What" by Miles Davis. Jon's bassist and drummer, Joe Santerre and Dave DiCenzo, will be consistently magnificent every time we hear them. The staff of Red Square are nice people, although none of them seem to be disturbed by the open door leading to the attached disco, which provides unwanted xenochrony throughout Finn's set, especially disturbing in the quiet sections. The sound guy is parked RIGHT NEXT to this door and he doesn't do a fucking thing about it. Unsurprisingly, when we hear our soundboard DAT from this show it is absolutely useless. I don't remember if Beller voted this guy as worst soundman of the tour but he gets my vote.
The most fun part of the evening is everybody loading out at once and indulging in random acts of inter-band end-of-the-evening bonding. It was a harrowing night but we all lived, and even though BFD sucked we got a lot of nice comments from the audience...wish we could've done a better job for 'em. BFD and the Finn band are all starving but we decide it would be wisest to hit the road for the long journey back to Hanover, PA, where Finn lives and where BFD will be staying. The sting of this decision is mitigated when I get in the van and discover...BROWNIES! We're Beer For Dolphins!
Of course fate doesn't let us get away with that kind of shit for long and our van fills with white smoke during the ride home and Jon drives me in his van (thank God we kept a well-maintained caravan between our two vehicles) to a pay phone to get a tow-truck on the case. The tow guy wants to tow our van from the rear but there isn't enough room to maneuver his truck, so he tows from the front for a short distance until we reach a rest stop with a huge parking lot, tons of maneuvering room. There is a Roy Rogers restaurant on the premises, I buy the last remaining wizened hamburger and wait for food poisoning to strike, and Michael Harrison buys the tow truck guy a coffee which he refuses to drink. I thought all truck drivers would inject coffee directly into their veins if they could.
During the ride home, stuffed into Jon Finn's van, we make conversation just to stay awake. The content is completely incidental; it's talking for survival. In my delirious state, my responses are completely inappropriate. Michael Harrison fills me in with details later (I'm clueless while it's happening):
Jon: I knew this guy who moved to St. Petersburg...
I think the reason for all this stuff going down is so that we could arrive in Hanover, PA at 6:00 AM with the sun just up and snow lying peacefully all over everything in Jon Finn's gorgeous neighborhood. It is all obscenely beautiful. As you might expect, we go to sleep at this point.
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