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March | 2007 | PJ Newman

When In …

Aloha Rapa Nui my winged fruit monkeys,

OK, so I have fulfilled either a royal command or my destiny. I walked next door to the Royal Hawaiian (one extremely bad ass hotel) and had a Mai Tai as mandated by Catherine Hardy before I left. Actually, after I told her I was coming to Hawaii, she grabbed the calendar out of my hands and wrote in the names of bars I had to go to and what to order and maybe something about food, but that’s not important. The Mai Tai was spectacular as was the setting. Very old school. My mom told me she had be there in the (19)70’s and wondered if it was still there. Yes, Beatrice, there is a ________.

Did I mention the 5 people (well, maybe 4 people and a dog) having loud squeaky drunk sex in the water not too far from my room at about 5 this morning? I was hoping for a great white shark to swoop down upon them, but I guess that’s Australia.

Ballard shows 59 degrees and frogs falling from the sky. Honolulu is 70 something, might be raining. Was that lightning? Could be the 2nd Mai Tai and the 6 pack of local brew.
Did I mention cultural diversity? Ever? OK, I mean, I’ve been in the music business for 30 years. How much more diverse does it need to be? Did I actually get my Samurai swords and cut a swath through the Koreans at Han Woo Ri? Have I ever unleashed stores of nerve gas on hippies at Folklife? Do photos exist of me plowing down slow moving tourists at Bumbershoot in a stolen Gator?
NO, NO and NO again!
So why should I want to blemish this perfect record and annihilate the throng amassed around the pool?
They might call it “Free Entertainment” as you drown in overpriced fruity iced slushy drinks and salt-petered fries and tuna of questionable parentage, but I still call it a fucking drum circle! Granted, I’m in Waikiki and they are playing “Hawaiian” music to an enthusiastic (drooling drunk and semi-captive) audience, but still, they could’ve asked first. Let me opt-out. Bungee cord me to a dolphin for 3 hours.
Never mind. It’s Sunday. The dolphins have a better union than I do.
Let’s see. Subtract 3 hours, Daylight Savings time, and 2 more beers…maybe another 2 hours of this shit. Maybe the painkillers I found secreted in the pineapple lamp on my writing desk will kick in and I won’t be reduced to a proto-babbling state before dinner.
So I complain….
Actually, I think I’m going to lose this argument/debate/diatribe. At times, I feel like a martyr for you, my beloved readers, taking the whippings and stonings and aural assaults in your place. But, for the most part, I love what I do (although, for the above mentioned most part, I am surrounded by fucking idiots), I do love my job. I love my family (when I get a chance to see them), I love my friends (when they have to endure my boorish company) and I love my life (ANXIETY aside).
So, I’ve got the beginnings of a spectacular tan, my blood sugar is the lowest it’s been in a year, I’m in what was a paradise until 150 years ago and I have the unmitigated gall to bitch.
Please find it in your hearts to forgive me. After his botched impeachment, President Clinton was asked, “In your heart, sir, can you forgive and forget?”
His reply was thus,” I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.”
I admire the man. He got a blowjob and the country was subjugated to one of the most horrendous wastes of time, money, energy and politics we’ve ever had to face. And for what!?
Sorry, I digress.
My point was that maybe, hopefully, I get to experience these adventures, these farcical scenes of backstage at the theatre of the absurd, to spare you having to go through them yourselves. I have learned in my many years of recording and live sound that the best way not to make a big mistake is to actually make it in the first place. You will not do it again. My good friend Richard Donin was once asked by a student teacher for advice. He told her to give him $1. She was perplexed, but gave him the dollar and asked why. Richard answered her original question and then informed her that the only way you really learn a lesson is to pay for it. If you have a scholarship or your parents pay for your college education, you won’t retain as much as the person who has to work 2 jobs to keep him/herself in school. He gave her the dollar back (the first one’s on the house).
Does this make sense? Have I lost you and my mind?
Because those fake fucking Rastas playing for helpless hopeless senseless clueless hatless shoeless tourists just played “Margaritaville” and every bit of goodwill, good vibrations, good tidings, good morning Vietnam, good on ya mate, good golly miss molly….Well, gloves off and prepare to defend yourselves!

Tomorrow, another island and whatever détente I can muster.



Fish Sandwich In Paradise


St. Patrick’s Day 2007.
It’s probably the first one I haven’t worked since the beginning of time. It would be tough to work, though, as I find myself in the boarding area of Sea-Tac, ready to fly the friendly skies to bluer skies. Yes, intrepid readers, we’re on our way to Hawaii for 10 days. I somehow managed to get a free trip to our 49th or 50th State (depending on who you talk to), but it looks like I’ll be paying for it metaphysically.
Already been up for 7 hours (not even Noon), weak coffee, artery clogging breakfast with my friend Dan who volunteered to bring me to the airport. Mister Toad’s Wild Ride (no power steering and Dan had HazMat gas) ensued. Breezed through security even though people say I’m looking like one of the 9/11 masterminds (definitely the first time anybody’s used me and mastermind in the same sentence). TV’s blasting Blair/Cheney/Guinness/St.Paddy’sParades. Is it actually legal to broadcast Fox in a public place? Sorry, it’s Headline News….remind me to either cancel my satellite dish or gouge my eyes out when I get home. I ponder the 7-hour flight ahead. I’ve brought 2 books and enough cash to be ejected from the flight if the drinks cart parks near my seat. Also, MacBeth and a bunch of Beatles DVD’s. Who will be seated next to me? Someone who wants to talk? Somebody who falls asleep immediately and snores for 2424 nautical miles? A screaming child? A nymphomaniac? I seriously doubt it’ll be empty. The robot which spat out my boarding pass asked if I would give up my seat and I haven’t even had a drink yet and I ran out of painkillers Wednesday.
Fuck, what have I gotten myself into? I’ll check back in mid-flight. Need to conserve battery power until I can tap into the plane’s dilithium crystals.
Back. Can talk now. OK, the flight was uneventful yet long. Drink service erratic. Must figure out how to fly 1st Class going home. I hid my complimentary pretzels where only a flight mechanic might find them. Movies included a dancing singing (?) fucking penguin movie. No thanks. Been trying to get through Bill Clinton’s autobiography since before he left office and he’s only now coming clean about Monica. The second movie is the new James Bond flick, which I’ve seen 3 times (the last time being Tuesday). Like “Band of Brothers,” I almost know the dialog by heart, so I eschew the headphones and remember to look at the screen during the juiciest bits. Bond dodges a poisoned Martini and love, Bill dodges impeachment and here we go.
Quick aside….during the flight, I was really really hoping for blue skies above and blue oceans below. Nope, sorry. Cloud ceiling about 15,000 feet. Every now and then there’s a cloud break and I can see some blue below. After a non-window browsing break, I look out the window and see…well, it was like the sky was up and down. The ocean was the same color as the sky and the clouds split the two, but not at the horizon. Pretty trippy. Must attribute to sleep and alcohol deprivation.
Land. Get met by someone expecting me. Suddenly thrust into an unmarked white van with a driver from Hong Kong, a couple from San Francisco who just won’t shut the fuck up about the British couple behind them. Get stuck in traffic for over an hour (a 3 hour tour, a 3 hour tour) for what should’ve been a 10-minute ride. Why? Well, I guess a cross between the aforementioned Mr. St. Patrick and the hope-to-never-be-mentioned-again-Mr. President.
My first impressions of Paradise are this…. Strip joint Home Depot McDonalds Orange Julius Fishing Boats Exotic Paintball Traffic Traffic Traffic a 3 hour Tour Malls Hotels Starbucks Subway that sells Sushi! Lush Greenery Rainbows Everywhere another mall more traffic Beautiful Women Hippies Reggae Lady Shut the Fuck Up already Burger King. Is this what we do when we invade/occupy/civilize/bring democracy (sic)/grant protectorate/statehood to a country/kingdom/dictatorship that didn’t invite us in the first place? Is this Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa, the Virgin Islands, Afghanistan and Iraq? Well, I appreciate being protected from the local culture, but…

Hotel. Check in. More people expecting me.
OK, so one of the reasons I’m here is to see my old landlords and dear friends Don & Billie McDaniel, whom I have benevolently spared from these pages as of yet. They moved back to the Big Island a few years ago. It seems Don had the bad joss to suffer a stroke a few 3 weeks ago, probably just to fuck up the trip. Called them. Will see them in a few days.
Need sun, women, alcohol and food, probably in that order.
I don’t know why I should feel like a tourist in Hawaii! I mean, I haven’t seen the sun since September in Mexico. I didn’t feel like a tourista then, just a lush. Here, I can stand back and let the floor show unfold. 3 largish Bloody Marys and the most expensive fish sandwich I’ve ever punched in the snout later, I try to scribe these events down in a violent yet cohesive manner. The ocean laughs at me, as do all of the St. Patrick revelers. Hawaii and St. Patrick. 2 taste treats that don’t necessarily go well together, but it sure beats the fuck out of Ballard.
Tomorrow, in search of the Royal Hawaiian and their fabled MaiTais.


What is it about Me and Smelly Hotel Rooms?

So, what is it about smelly hotel rooms that makes me want to write about them, that so inspires me to lay down dozens of words in their honor? Dunno, but I find myself again poised over the keyboard, spilling my guts (figuratively and probably literally as well), so you, dear readers, don’t have to.
Actually, we’re back to where we began this road journal, or at least an exit or 2 away from it. We find ourselves back in Fife, Washington after working in Tacoma yet again. As you recall, last time it was the dreaded Motel 6 while working the Festival of Trees a few years ago. This year, it’s my very first Wintergrass festival, a multi-day Bluegrass gathering that’s so famous that I’ve managed to miss it for the past 19 years I’ve been in town. It’s held at the Sheraton and a few other venues around downtown Tacoma, a mere 40-some odd miles from home, and only a block away from the last place I worked. What brings us here friends? Well, let’s look backwards, always backwards…
So, I get a phone call from Tim O’Brien, who, as we all know, is a superb songwriter, musician, producer and political assassin. I’m assuming that Tim got my number from Danny Barnes, who, as history reminds us, is about the best banjo player on the planet. Besides that, he’s an amazing guitarist and fiddle player. Danny used to be in Bad Livers, a duo from Austin. He’s also played with Bill Frisell in the Willies and lots of other projects. I even managed to get Danny to play backwards banjo on “The Hand of Dog,” although, at the time, he didn’t realize it. Danny probably got my number from Garey Shelton, who must’ve gotten my number from me.
I digress, of course. Point being that I was very honored to be called by the festival headliner to mix for his group. OK, Danny’s playing with Tim, so I’m most likely the only sound guy that Danny knows by name in Seattle.
Whatever, here I am.
Friday, I show up around 1 or so. Can’t find parking anywhere. On my 3rd lap around Tacoma, I grab a spot across the street from the hotel! Score one for the home team. Get credentials (stupid sparkly wrist band) and find a stage. Well, there’s Vince from Triamp and Al Bagley from Carlson, all working for Dan Mortensen, my boss from the Backstage 17 years ago. Lots of familiar faces and tons of new ones.
For those of you who have never been to a bluegrass festival, there’s a phenomenon that only happens in acoustic environs like these. It’s called jamming. But unlike normal jamming, which has a very civilized set of rules; Bluegrass Festival Jamming (or BFJ) is a moveable feast of sorts. That means hotel corridors at 3 am are fair game. Knowing this, I brought a tazer and mace, but nobody seems to wander the halls at the Econolodge. At least they have something akin to wifi, but it’s more like 2 juice cans and string.
All in all, Day 1 was a success. Festival food (at least the free stuff they so magnanimously shovel our way) is better than most, but weird and must be fought for. Little sandwich wrap thingies, fruit, cookies (a diabetic treat!) and lots of water (it’s raining pretty heavily, so all they have to do is dumpster dive for empties and leave the open bottles outside). I mixed Tim and band twice, once and the main stage and then again in a church 2 blocks away. Midnight Mandolin Madness was that and lasted until after 2 am. Got to the room at 2:30 and wasn’t sure until I had actually opened my door that I even had a room at all. I heard horror stories Saturday morning from the monitor engineer at the church that she was told there were no more rooms, then had to wait 45 minutes to discover that there were many still available. The good news is that crack whores can find work in today’s job market. The bad news is that crack whores can find work in today’s job market. Am I to return to my room tonight to find it stripped bare of my belongings?
Day 2 started with a songwriter’s workshop with Tim, Danny, 2 brothers and somebody’s sister. After that, I pretty much hung out at the main stage unless Tim was playing elsewhere. His set at the church that afternoon was amazing. Danny performed one of his songs and had the audience in the palm of his hand. During their late night set, Tim mentioned that it was Pete Wernick’s birthday. Pete, of course, is one of the best banjo players around and he played with Tim in Hot Rize and Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers. It was Pete’s 61st birthday, so Tim got a cell phone from Vince, set it to speakerphone and called Pete’s house in Colorado, where it was already 1 am. After exchanging pleasantries with Pete’s wife, Tim asked to speak with Pete. His wife said that he was on the john.
Mind you, this is going through the PA system with about 1000 people listening. When the audience started laughing, Pete’s wife asked him where he was. He replied he was with a “few friends at Wintergrass!”
When she asked who was there, Tim said just about 1000 people and that he’d get names for her later.
Pete finally came to the phone and then it got even weirder.
Thinking that I had an early evening, I got ready to go back to the hotel when Dan asked me to go to the church and help load out the system there. OK, how could I refuse? Of course, that led to going back to the Sheraton and loading out 2 more systems. I finally made it back to the room at about 3:30, where, with the help of an hour of electroshock therapy, a painkiller, 2 muscle relaxers and bad television, I finally fell asleep.
Saturday’s only casualty was Liz, the stage manager’s laptop. She was grading science papers on a table backstage when either someone bumped into it or the legs just decided to collapse then and there, but a flower vase emptied it’s contents into her computer. Mine was on the table at the same time, but just slid to the brink of existence. Liz walked my computer to me in monitor world and mumbled something about virgin sacrifices and submitting paperwork and witnesses. She was pretty bummed out because the computer was brand new and had all of her schoolwork in it. She’s a science teacher by day, meerkat impersonator by night. Poor Liz. Poor computer.
The muscle relaxers must’ve waited until I woke up to kick in, cuz I was fighting gravity and lucidity for 2 hours. Checked out of the hotel, had very bad breakfast across the street and then back to the show. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but sleep deprivation, a narcotic hangover and Gospel music…. 3 taste treats that don’t go well together.
I like bluegrass music. I’m getting a little tired of the bluegrass jams that happen in every other bar every other night in Seattle, which is why I don’t hang out in bars anymore (among other reasons…)
That being stated for the record, even the mediocre bands this weekend were great and the great bands were electrifying. Mike Marshall gave 2 more incredible performances and Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver closed down the festival on a high (lonesome) note. Dan told me I could bail on load out, but I figured what was the worst that could happen. I already destroyed my back and neck last night. What’s a little insult to injury (sic)?
The load out took maybe 1.5 hours.


Good Bad Good Bad

I suppose it’s the balance of good and bad, which balances our lives. I wish someone would put it in writing and give specific formulae so we can cry foul when the scales are tipped in an inappropriate fashion.
Case in point, Friday’s show at NPAC was a clusterfuck that almost put me in traction. The performer was an impersonator of female singers. She does Patsy Cline, Connie Francis and others. She should be playing Elks clubs and high security prisons, but she ended up in Bothell. The old directors of the theatre had a bad habit of booking questionable talent at exorbitant fees. They didn’t bother with petty, mundane things, such as budgets and recordkeeping. Their method of reconciliation was to throw all of the receipts in a pile and calling it good.
This explains our show. I had to arrange for transportation from the airport to hotel to theatre and back again, which I did.
Until the limo company forgot to schedule the first airport pickup Friday morning. I told the musicians to go ahead and take a cab to the hotel and we would repay her. She then told me that if the hotel wasn’t ready, well, her exact words were, “No hotel, No show!”
I almost told her to turn her fat ass around and jump on the next cattle car back to Stockton, but my Superior Customer Service Chip (SCSC) clicked on and I informed her that it was all good, but I would confirm yet again. Then she hung up on me. At this point, my neck and shoulders seized up on me and I couldn’t turn my head more than a few inches and my cell phone mysteriously flew from my hands into a wall, shattering into a bazillion pieces.
Too many cooks spoil the whatever. Too many phone calls spoil my show. Murphy’s law was strictly enforced to the point where even carefully laid plans were thrown out with the baby and the bathwater. Somehow, we managed to pull the show off to everyone’s satisfaction. We predicted an empty house, but a tour group bought 120 tickets for a retirement home for the criminally insane and we did pretty well. Even sold out of Depends!

That was bad.
Saturday was good.

Yesterday, I got to meet the man whose influence made me what I am today (insert snide comment here). Geoff Emerick, the engineer who recorded the Beatles from Revolver through the White Album and then Abbey Road, spoke at the NW Studio Summit brought to you by the Recording Academy (NARAS), the nice folks who inflict the Grammies upon us all. Geoff was accompanied by Howard Massey, a producer and engineer in his own right, who co-wrote with Geoff his experiences with the Beatles (Geoff’s, not Howard’s). It was a wonderful interview with photos, video and music from days of old. This is the guy who invented techniques that we take for granted these days, whose experiments are now stomp boxes and effects racks and plug-ins that we use daily (except for those of us who don’t record with computers and actually have to figure this shit out for ourselves). I had Geoff autograph my copy and got to speak with him for a moment. Garey went with me and we hooked up with Tom Hall (another great engineer) and had a great time.
After sitting through a pointless seminar on studio monitors (which was nothing more than an hour long infomercial for JBL speakers), my neck told me to take it home.

A particularly muddy hour at the dog park ensued, followed by pizza and beer (for me, not Mifune). Caught up on sleep and woke up to incredible neck pain. Going to see an orthopedic surgeon tomorrow and schedule an MRI.

Got the plans back for the studio. Jon Stone did a great job drawing the rooms out. Hope to get the first load of lumber this week and start building. One more week at Triamp and then I fly without a net for a while.

OK, back to the dog park and painkillers.