The Good Ol’ Bad Days Are Back
Real True Confessions With Padre Pienbique:
Unless it’s an episode of VH1 Beyond The Drugs- I mean Music- we never hear about the various humbling experiences that multitudes of musical has-beens endure when they’re at the lowest. This is because there’s no one willing to listen to their stories anymore, unless they make the police blotter in some sort of spectacular fashion.
Now, I’m not talking about the garden variety crap/gossip that floats around musicians on the decline; "Dude, this guy I know- he worked for Phish- he told me Trey was really into cheesing with cat urine… I know it’s true because South Park made it into an episode…"
I was thinking more along the lines of folks that are infrequently referred to during the "Where Are They Now?" segments on small market classic radio stations. MC Hammer selling phone service comes to mind.
I’m going to share a couple of those stories. This is a confession after all. However, I don’t really meet the qualifications on two fronts: First, I’m not a has-been, really more of a never-was. Secondly, stories like these are generally humbling, but I have no shame, so that’s out.
‘That Coulda Been Me!’ (Embarrassing Story #1)
In the height of the Wu’s powers, circa 2002, we were looking for a new manager. After fielding a few great and several horrific candidates, we settled between two: A fellow named Gerry Tollman that managed CSN&Y and Leopold, a management firm run by Jon Carter, who has been around rock & roll so long he helped promote Led Zeppelin’s first West Coast tour. Leopold’s interest in the Big Wu came from a referral from Spring Reverb producer Bill Cutler and Jordan Feldstein, Leopold’s junior agent at the time who loved what the Wu was doing. Jordan also has an eye for talent- he believed in Maroon 5 before anybody heard of them.
Before I continue, what you need to understand is the depth of the Wu’s goofiness when it comes to pulling the trigger on the big decisions. Terry VanDeWalker put it best: There’s the Right Way, the Wrong Way and the Big Wu Way- Which is the Wrong Way done Right.
When it came down to making the call, some of us preferred Leopold’s vast experience, others liked Gerry Tollman, mainly because he was happy to do the job for 10% of the gross, vs. the 15% (industry standard) that Leopold would charge.
We hired Tollman. In the end, he was a real nice guy, but didn’t do shit on our behalf as he trucked around with CSN&Y on one of their huge reunion tours. In fact, all I really have left to show from him was a pretty good joke:
Q: What do Eggs Benedict and blowjobs have in common?
A: You can’t get either at home.
After that, what happened, happened- for good or evil. (Lot’s of evil, to be sure…But I’m still here, so that’s good.)
Fast-forward a few years:
During the winter of ’06, the Big Wu was doing a whole lot of nothing. We were still buried under a shit pile of debt, no new songs being written, no shows being played, and a whole lotta internal frustration was haunting our souls. I remember coming home from work, cooking for $9.50 an hour, smelling like I rolled in onions, sweat, and walleye fillets.
I was sitting on the couch drinking a beer and channel surfing when I came across the Grammys. This isn’t the sort of programming I usually tolerate, but the voice-over announced: "When we return, the Grammy for the Best New Artist will be awarded."
Not knowing a new artist from a douche bag, I thought I should take a peek, in case they needed a bass player who’ll work for half the price but twice the beer.
When they read off the list of nominees, I recognized the name Maroon 5, Leopold’s old act from 2002. And when Maroon 5 won, the singer grabbed his Grammy, held it up, and exclaimed: "This goes out to Jordan Feldstein, THE GREATEST MANAGER IN ROCK & ROLL!!!!!"
I’ll leave you to envision my certain chagrin, save one irony: New artists, unemployed bass players and douche bags are one and the same, no Grammy needed.
Despite Dr. Evil’s best intentions, the world keeps turning, bringing me back to familiar places; such as my back deck on a sunny day, my fridge full of Cold Styles, not to mention writing love letters to you on a Mac Powerbook (a new one, but we’ll get to the why of that in a minute.)
They say time heals all wounds. As a bonus, it also heals hangovers, but I digress. After the Big Wu put a good foot forward with our Wu Year’s Eve show (with Jason Fladager as a real part of the band instead of an always-welcome part-timer) we began to look into the realities of being a band again for the right reasons, not just to get rid of The Debt.
The Debt, something I began to think of as a surrogate member of the band because it followed us everywhere, (which once grown to $130k+), had slimmed down to a manageable $15k. To shake that, all we needed to do was book some shows, get a fix on a payment schedule, and get that fucking gigantic soul-sucking monkey off our back. Hell, maybe we could come full circle with a little bit of grace.
However, in our case, full circle means one thing, and one thing only: Big Wu Family Reunion X!
We booked a few shows over April and May to drum up the troops for a couple reasons. First, word on the street was that this Big Wu band was dead, and not in the Grateful way. More importantly, the band needed to re-learn not just the songs, but how to play together as a whole unit that sounds bigger than a sum of its parts. So far, the results have been terrific.
For example, Jason Fladager evolved into a tastefully reckless extrovert with his band God Johnson, thus is bringing a fire to the Wu that wasn’t part of his very personality before. Not only is his style more active than it used to be, but he’s into sharing/expressing his part with everybody on stage selflessly. This, like a case of Cheech & Chong giggles, is infectious. These are the things that make for exciting performances. This is the life-blood of improv-a-rock itself. This is why I sold my soul in the first place.
All together, we’ve been playing better than well and sometimes even down right swell. Without mincing words, we have the potential to play better than we ever have. Second (or perhaps thirty-second) winds don’t come often for bands. It’s refreshing to rediscover the best toy any red-blooded American Boy can have: A Fully-Operational Death Star of Jam. (Long-legged accessories and marijuana sold separately.)
As with this whole column, I cannot-and do not- speak for any of the guys in band. But I don’t think I was the only one that crawled back into the Wu Van (a veteran machine, diligently dragging yours truly over 400,000 miles of touring) with some personal reservations. Among the questions band guys might have thought: "Is everything still the same? Who am I going to room with? How does that smell linger in here after all this time?"
While I’m happy to see that the majority of our old bad habits hadn’t reappeared (not talking about better backstage living through chemistry- just that everybody’s keeping their interest into the music), the metaphysics of karma stuck around like a fart in church.
Let me explain:
Keyboardist Al Oikari has without a doubt the worst luck of anybody I’ve ever met. Stop taking that last sentence for granted and grok it: "Al Oikari has without a doubt the worst luck of anybody I’ve ever met." And I’ve met a whole bunch of people.
His luck is so shitty that I’ve moved throughout this world in relative ease, not in spite of, but because of his crappy karma. You see, I have this theory that all the negative energy in the world rises up into the atmosphere, circles around the globe with the jet stream until it finds a bad luck magnet such as Al, and then without warning nor prejudice, descends upon him with a fury only the universe can deliver. It comes in many forms: Al dropping his cell phone on a rainy Baltimore street two seconds before a taxi drives over it, Al getting ripped off when he’s already beyond broke, Al waking up…
My relative grace in this matter is that Al’s gravitational pull for ill luck is so strong that his very physical presence will yank all the bad Ju-Ju that was aiming for me and suck it into his personal orbit of misfortune. This is not a joke. For years, this was a universal Get Out Of Jail Free card I spent like a Hilton heiress in Vegas.
Sadly, like all other useful things, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
During our run of BWFR pre-party gigs, I shared a room with Al in Milwaukee. Back at the room after the gig, Jason and Al were eating some food from a Greek joint that stays open late. I fell asleep while they were munching away. I woke up the next morning- my 37th birthday- to find the trusty Macintosh laptop that was dispersing relaxing music into my ears when I slipped off into slumber had been stolen right out from under my nose.
Not only did the Grinch of Wisconsin slip off with the actual computer, but also the headphones stuck in my ears! (It was at this time that jambands.com fair, yet stern, editor Dean Budnick sent out his emails asking columnists to hand in their homework. Thanks to insurance, I’ve bought myself a Mac so fast porn stars come- and retire to have a smoke- before I even arrive…That’s fast!)
When Officer Dave of Milwaukee’s finest showed up to survey the scene and ask cop questions, he told me his theory was that hookers made off with the computer. I looked at him with a certainty of moral disgust (I am married) and informed him that musicians don’t pay for tush… Jeeez.
Of course, Al Oikari got boosted too. The thieves took off with his jeans, which happened to have $480 folded in the front pocket. Officer Dave and I found it dumpster diving at the La Quinta next door to the Super Shitty 8 motel we stayed in. I asked Officer Dave if hookers regularly take the pants when they leave. He told me there’s no need if you leave the money on the dresser.
‘That Coulda Been Me!’ (Embarrassing Story #2)
After high school graduation, I was off to Hollywood to attend music school. My sweetheart at the time wasn’t that fond of the idea, but I consoled her with a promise: Upon making a dime or two in music, I would come back for her, with a red Corvette in tow.
Well, things work out the way they do: She has four kids, fathered (I think) by three different felons, even though she works for the Department of Corrections.
To this day, I’ve neglected to buy her a Corvette… Talk about egg on my face!
Back to the Family Reunion:
Through vast experience, I’ve learned that throwing festivals is for the brave, or at best, the brave/stupid. Throw in a recession, and we can call that spade for what it is: Just Plain Crazy. Let’s face it, festivals are huge gambles for big kicks, not money. (Ask the guys who throw the 10k Festival to show you their books… I haven’t seen them myself, but it’s been whispered that their annual WE Fest country music shindig continues to cover their 10k habit.)
So the Big Wu did the only thing it could: Hire somebody brave and/or crazy enough to take the reigns, and hope things don’t get too stupid to fix at the last minute.
Enter my favorite business partner, Mark Grundhoefer, Down Lo guitarist, Lord & Master of MJG Productions. Mark is creature of light and unreasonable positivity. Not only does he keep his band Down Lo working, but he also manages, books, coddles, and nurtures a nice roster of talent. He also understands the importance of keeping a pool of talented employees/volunteers happy.
With MJG Production teaming up with Vega Productions (a non-profit organization guitarist Jason Fladager heads up that raises money to buy instruments for high school music programs) the BWFR X came to life.
However, some big changes were made: We moved it from the usual Memorial weekend to the middle of July. Besides Memorial being taken by BWFR heir apparent Bella Sol/Luna/Madre festival, we all decided that the weather is better and the weekend is one day shorter in July.
Secondly, since there’s no Sunday night shows at this BWFR, there’s no need to fill one of three nights with an expensive headliner (read: No fault to and much love for EVERYBODY that has played at a BWFR- but some booking agents should do the right thing and jump off a cliff, screaming confessions for their wanton greed. If you happen to be friends with a booking agent, don’t worry; they won’t be missed, especially by the loved ones that were actually related to them…)
By the last Reunion we had in 2006, every booking agent figured out that the most profitable way to book their various acts was to play moe.‘s Summer Camp (held the same weekend in Illinois) off of the Reunion to maximize paydays. This, of course, was done with no scruples and no modest amount of lying. A common conversation between Band X’s agent and a festival booker sounded like this:
Agent: Hi, I’m calling to see if you want Band X at your festival like you did in the past.
Festi-Booker: Sure! I can put them on in this slot, and I’m sure $X that they got last time should be sufficient.
Agent: Well, hold on! Summer Camp has offered 2 1/2 times that amount, so you need to offer at least that much…
This bullshit would go on and on, and then the bastards would call Summer Camp and say the exact same thing, just reversing the situation to taunt the other festival into playing some kind of financial chicken. Not a bad business strategy for a retard, but short sighted and ultimately detrimental to said band’s welcome.
It was with no small amount of pleasure this spring when I fielded a phone call from one of these jackasses who was primed with a ludicrous jest of a business proposition. You see, booking agents work on commission, usually 10% of the gig. But their employers (musicians!) grade their works on raising (or at least maintaining) past offers. This precarious position leaves booking agents as dispensable as a used Tampax. I had no problem insulting the living shit out of this clown when he thought it would be a cakewalk to demand an absurd amount for his band- at least five times what they would command on any Friday night in Minneapolis.
The secret to this year’s Big Wu Family Reunion is that we’re retaining all the things that made it great in the first place (good people, great bands, sound, etc) while happily skipping the investment into acts that raised the budget into a financial stratosphere that commanded higher ticket prices. So far, the result has been solid sales and great expectations. Tickets started at a paltry $30 for early bird First Cousins (sold out), regular advance tickets a whopping $40, and if you’re waiting to see if the weather is perfect, that’s $50… Yowza!
I like this sort of economic stimulus package. No matter the budget and ticket price of past Reunions, we always broke even. Since the Reunion was never about money, a cheaper ticket seems like a shorter track to arrive at the same destination. (As an aside, when we raised ticket prices to accommodate a more luxurious line up, one loser cornered me to chastise us for our "greed", than preceded to put $50 up his nose in four seconds. Don’t tell me God doesn’t love irony.)
Believe it or not, this five minute literary waste of your time isn’t a cheap plug for the magnificent and vastly life-improving event known as the Big Wu Family Reunion X. But since you’ve shown such interest, I would be remiss in my duty if I didn’t let you know all details can be accessed by clicking here.
Recipe Of The Month
This is a reprint of a recent recipe, but I’ve found another thousand uses for this, so I’m doing the right thing and reintroducing it. Its origins are for smoked chicken in Alabama, but it’s a chameleon of a sauce, uses limited by imagination.
ALABAMA WHITE SAUCE
4 parts mayo
2 parts cider vinegar
1 part horseradish
Cayenne pepper to taste (be a good liberal and use liberal amounts…)
Mix, chill in the fridge in a good container.
The first and most important thing about Alabama White Sauce is that all the ingredients don’t spoil for months. No need to toss out after a couple weeks, just look for the expiration date on the mayo- usually several months away.
Common uses for this uncommon sauce include, salad and cole slaw dressing, potato chip and veggie dip, sauce for prime rib/beef tenderloin, substitute for straight mayo in tuna fish sandwiches, etc. Like Bianca Butter (see past column) you can use this everywhere. (I’m going to try a drizzle of this on seared sashimi grade tuna- don’t tell my wife…)
Now that it’s summer, don’t be afraid to risk cool by bringing cole slaw to a party:
Make the sauce, following the recipe, starting with two cups mayo. Add one head of finely chopped red cabbage, some grated onion and carrot. Go ahead and add a little diced serrano pepper. Chill for a couple hours.
Take this to a BBQ shindig and try to sound humble as the compliments come in. Nobody really likes cole slaw- everybody gets seconds of this.
Be nice to your Mother and drink your milk!