Mike Types To You
on July 20 1996 Saturday at 4:11 PM
in his house
(WARNING - this installment contains
LETHAL QUANTITIES of tortured-artist whining)
Well, what do YOU think I should do? I can't afford myself the luxury of being reflexively, clinically averse to the very idea of playing in someone else's band. Granted, I intentionally engineered my dismissal from Z in order to devote more time to BFD, and the Spring tour BFD did was indeed successful, but here's what "successful" means - I was able to pay my musicians $2000 each for a month-long tour. That's a little less than five hundred bucks a week - this is not Sting-sized money. And after all was said and done, phone bills paid etc. I personally ended up with something like eight hundred bucks. Now that in itself is kind of miraculous, really - first tours are rarely profitable at all - and could not have occurred were it not for Rivera and EMG and Dunlop providing work in the form of clinics and assistance in the form of airfare subsidies, and it doubly could not have occurred were it not for Bryan's family and Jon Finn's family and Michael Harrison and Henry Kaiser so very kindly offering their homes and hospitality without even dreaming of asking for compensation. (By the way, I know the "Tales From The Tour" installments haven't been pouring out of me lately. I want to do them, and I've got another one underway, but there hasn't been time. I'm still writing the next studio album [it's going to be awesome]. Also there's been a mini-epidemic of email asking me to continue "All About Mike" - it's been in the same about-to-go-on-the-road-with-FZ cliffhanger state for many months now - so if I do get time to do some extended typing, I think I'll make that a priority over the BFD tour stuff. Speaking of which) If I'd had to pay for hotels every night, plus cover the airfare, I simply couldn't have done it. As it was I maxed out my Visa card until tears began seeping from the plastic, and until I trim it back a bit I can't do another BFD tour, period. Although the money the Zappas paid me while I was a retained member of Z was (if viewed as compensation for services rendered) laughable, the checks were always on time and they never bounced - I will never, ever fault the Zappas on that count. There has been no regular, dependable income for me since late January. That is the condition I've been in for months, and I sat pondering my future silently when the phone rang and Steve Vai was on the other end.
Hey: I've joined Steve Vai's band. We start rehearsing next month for a tour which will last from late September to mid-April at a minimum. I'm playing guitar and keyboards, and singing. Details about tour dates and stuff will of course be posted as I receive them. Back to our program...
Going off for many months as a member of Steve Vai's band presents a number of interesting situations to mull over. Let's start with one of the most trivial - I left Z to "make a name for myself as a solo artist", didn't I, and it would seem that taking a position with Steve represents a massive detour. In the most obvious way it is exactly that, of course. But it just might be a detour off of a bumpy dirt road with nettles all over the place, normally closed to access by the public, onto a gleaming superhighway. In February, Immune Records widely distributed a press release announcing my parting of the ways with Z, and trumpeting the glorious new beginning of my solo career. The result of this grandiose coming-of-age pronouncement? I have done, I believe, two or three interviews from February to the present, none of them with major press. A couple of the guitar mags devoted a little filler space to the story of my departure, and one of them treated it mainly as a humorous human-interest story, focusing on the "doghead" incident. Musician magazine has continued to baldly ignore us as they have for years, which is distressing and confusing to me since they were the magazine that printed what is by far the best Keneally piece in a national publication (written by Matt Resnicoff, it appeared sometime in the middle of 1993 - three years ago). Suffice to say that the coming and goings of my life and career are of marginal interest at best to the mainstream press, even less so to the music-listening public at large. Inroads surely have been made, the word-of-mouth of my following has flowered (I am so grateful to you people), this website has been a Scottsend, and Immune Records' efforts have remained steadfast and effective, for which I'm tremendously grateful. But Immune doesn't (yet) have anything close to the operating budget necessary to be the kind of promotional force required to break a "new" artist, much less a 34-year old guy making unclassifiable noises who's been poking around in the industry since 1988 without raising much of a fuss.
Lest this start to sound like I'm craving the spotlight for its own sake, that's not what this is about.
Here are my goals in music and life:
OK? I'm not trying to be Sting here (sorry to keep bringing him up, I like Sting a great deal, he's just a convenient touchstone in this context).
My failure to make myself a name to be reckoned with in the industry was made clear to me in a very timely fashion twice in one day recently. First I received news that a club in San Diego (Lakeside, actually, a subsidiary of San Diego) called Badlands, which had booked us for a gig, decided to cancel the gig with one week's notice, because they weren't convinced we'd draw well enough to justify the money they'd planned to pay us. How much do you think they'd planned to pay us? A couple of grand? Nope, five hundred bucks for the whole group. You know something's askew in Keneally World if an expenditure of that size is considered an outrageous sum to pay Beer For Dolphins.
The second piece of good news was when Ed Palermo called me to say that the record company which is releasing the FZ cover album he's recording decided that my presence on the album would not affect the commercial prospects of said product one jot, and not only weren't they interested in paying my way to New York, they weren't interested in paying me to play on the album at all. Ed, God bless him, offered to pay me what amounted to a little less than half the agreed-upon fee out of his own pocket. (A couple of days later he received matching funds from the record company after all, so I'm almost getting what was originally promised me, and airfare isn't an issue because I'm going to do the session while I'm on the East Coast anyway, doing the Connecticut guitar workshop.) Again, lest my point be misunderstood: I'm not guesting on this album to make the big bucks - I love Ed's arrangements of Frank's tunes and if he'd asked me as a friend to play on the thing for free I would've done so, providing I didn't have to fly myself to NYC. But the dismissive actions of his record company again drove the point home - a lot of people neither know, nor care, who I am or what I do, and like it or not this fact pervades all links of the lengthy, rusty chain between my musical ideas and your ears. Because if a club-owner doesn't think I'm a good gamble, you won't hear my band live. Because if the distributors and buyers and brain-dead record store employees don't think they'll sell any of my CDs, you won't find them in stores (you can barely find them there as it is). Because if Immune doesn't start making some money off of Keneally albums soon, they can't afford to subsidize any new Keneally albums. And if I can't get a small company staffed entirely by friends of mine to subsidize any new Keneally albums, how do you think I'll fare in the hallways of Warner Brothers?
OK, that covers the "make a name for myself as a solo artist" angle, which I described a few paragraphs ago as "one of the most trivial". Jeezus.
Even if I won't be playing my own music, the Vai tour will put my face and abilities in front of literally hundreds of thousands of people. At the current rate of my career's growth I would be very fortunate to play for 2000 people as a solo artist/bandleader during the same length of time. I will not abuse this opportunity. Neither will I exploit it shamelessly - I'm there to perform Steve's music well, not to grandstand. But I'm constitutionally unable at this point to be a faceless sideman, and from what Steve has proposed, I will not be presented in such a way.
Immune Records celebrated the day I left the Zappas. The Vai thing hit them like a ton of bricks at first, but they now understand my motivations and the benefits. Suzanne from Immune and I have a mantra we share often: everything happens for a reason. It's simple, it's nearly childish, and yet it has in every instance proved to be true.
There will be people who think that Steve is washed up as a creative force and that I will be wasting my time in his band. Gently put, fuck those people. Even speaking as someone who has had reservations about some aspects of Steve's work, I have always heard the almost painful beating of the heart at the center of all of his music, a heart filled with adventurousness and uncontained creativity and a genuine love for music which touches me deeply. And there are pieces on his new album which will absolutely nail you tightly to the nearest solid surface. I will be proud and very much challenged to play this music, and I am not bullshitting.
Runner-up for the most frightening by-product of this strange journey: the prospect of leaving Beller behind. Beller who has acted with utmost faith and support for me this year and who deserves nothing but the absolute best of everything in return. I refuse to allow him to suffer as a result of this. I want him in Steve's band and I will do everything in my power to make it be, not just because he's my friend and I owe him but because he is a magnificent bassist who will do justice to Steve's music. I won't entertain another option. [For Bryan Beller's perspective, see Act XV of "The Life of Bryan."-- Ed.]
Winner by a mile: leaving Jesse and Viv behind for the better part of seven months to (possibly) a year. No whitewashing, no rationalizing this one. This sucks, this fucking, fucking sucks. And I'm doing it, I'm leaving my family behind, and the fact that I'm doing it with my wife's explicit blessing and support does not make me feel better, and the fact that there will be occasional week-long returns home after a couple of months away doesn't make me feel better, and nothing makes me feel better about it. But hey look at me, I'm doing it. Jesse can't register to vote in this particular election because she's two years old. If she could I bet she'd ask me to stay. She can't visualize how long I'll be gone. When I walk out the door she'll say, "be right back?."
Don't you love happy endings?