There I am in the corner of a Houston sports bar standing in front of a giant Texas flag that takes up most of the wall, holding a guitar and facing a room full of denim-and-boots bona fide Texans all giving me that “Okay, entertain us then, music boy” look with their chiseled Marlboro Man heads cocked back and eyes narrowed and eyebrows raised while I’m dolled up in my full vaudeville getup and eyeliner. I’ve had dreams that start like this, bad dreams, and I’ve had enough Shiner Bock tonight to not entirely be convinced this isn’t one of them. In two minutes and change, the entire place will be enthusiastically singing the choruses of “Just A Gigolo” with me — I don’t know this yet, so instead I can’t decide if I feel more like Peewee Herman in the biker bar or Boy George from that A-Team episode that I just mentioned in the last entry here.
The words “this wasn’t part of the plan!” keep running through my head, exclamation point included, and all I can focus on is that it’s an impotent and useless statement that isn’t doing anything to help me push the moment out of its current stasis. My act was a last minute addition to a show that was a last minute addition. Four of us from the Freaksheaux To Geaux burlesque/carny/vaudeville ensemble I perform with monthly went to Houston to guest in Kiki’s Sordid Sideshow at a performance space and represent the rest of the troupe. They do fantastical stunts and dances and lose clothing while I back them up with music and singing. A week before we left for Houston, Kiki let us know that they’d booked a second show at an outdoor venue the same night and wanted us to perform in that one as well. Ok, cool.
We finished our first show and got turned around on the way to the second place, which in Houston is a fine way to brush up on your swearing. As we were getting back on the right route, we got a text from the other half of our group:
“we’re here. this is going to be interesting”
“I wonder what that means?” we said. “Oh,” we said ten minutes later as we pulled into the sports bar’s parking lot. Because it had gotten really cold through the night, the show was moved indoors. One of the girls couldn’t do the act she had planned for the middle of the show because there wasn’t enough space for it inside.
“You’ll have to do a song,” I was told.
“What a great idea,” I said. “This place has no idea what kind of show is about to hit it. In the most ideal situation, they’re gonna be all worked up to see more glass walking and lady skin and here I’m gonna come sing them a song for three and a half minutes,” I said. “Can’t fail.”
“Can’t do anything else.”
I gripped a fist around my bottle of Shiner on the table and slammed the last of it in one gulp. “Can’t wait.” It really didn’t look as badass as I’m trying to make it sound there. I mean, I was just drinking beer and saying something sarcastic. It’s a Texas story though, so I’ve got to try to keep up.
A few minutes later I heard myself work up the crowd to sing a Louis Prima song with me. The show was a success and everyone had a great time, so I guess shame on us for judging a place by its look. And its surly patrons giving us the weird eye while we set up. And its 10’x10′ Texas flags. And its classic rock and country music blasting on the PA when we came in. Ok, really, what were we supposed to think.
After the show we went to a diner called House Of Pies, a place that has the honor of having one of the dumbest Yelp reviews I’ve ever read. The haze of exhaustion from twenty-one hours awake, six hours on the road, two shows and more Shiner than I can remember blurs the menu in front of me. I laugh to myself — it’s a rite of passage I go through on every extended road trip I’ve ever been on. By tomorrow, I’ll have shifted into a different mindset where I’m not nearly as edgy as I feel like I am when I’m rooted back home, when unimportant things I’d normally get all worked up over become barely noticeable. It’s why I like being on the road, even when the conditions are terrible. Some kind of food drama unfolds in the booth behind where I’m sitting, drawing me out of this rather self-absorbed train of thought and waking me up some.
“Excuse me,” a woman says through a mouth full of food.
“Yes?” a passing waitress answers.
“This, it’s not what I ordered. It’s not.” I can hear the flecks of half-chewed whatever spraying out with each “s”.
“Oh, I’m very sorry. What did you order?”
“I wanted the pancake breakfast with over easy eggs and bacon, this is french toast with scrambled eggs and bacon,” the woman says, finally mercifully swallowing her food. Her meal sounds mysteriously like the one I had ordered thirty minutes ago and was still waiting for. Suddenly, she barks “What are you doing?!”
“Uh,” the waitress stammers, “well, uh, I’m going to uh, bring the food back so I can get what you ordered.”
“I’m not done eating it yet,” the woman says.
“She’s not done eating it yet,” a man’s voice says.
“So uh, well, wait, you’re going to eat it, um, and not pay for it?” The waitress sounds very uncomfortable about this for some reason.
“There a problem with that?” the man asks.
“Uh, I really can’t…uh, you’re um, you’re going to have to talk to the manager.” Over the next five minutes, the manager shows up and gleefully allows himself to be bullied into giving the woman the meal for free. I used to play with a drummer who would pull that kind of crap when we’d go eat after shows. I don’t miss it.
The rest of the weekend was a combination of eating more food, good and bad, and hanging around at our friend Galina’s house reading terrible Yelp reviews out loud making all of us learn to hate Yelp and my voice reading it, wishing I’d brought my new left-handed guitar with me so I could try to maybe improve at it while I was hanging around. I’m a lot better than I was when I got it a few weeks ago, though that’s on an extremely relative scale, the same way a snail is a lot faster than a tree stump.
A couple of days before I left for Houston, I put together two brief videos using some of the scenes we’ve already shot for the “Targeted” project to showwhat kind of movie we’re making to the committee in charge of one of the exterior locations we want to use. So as a result, even though the film’s still months from being finished, we’ve got a trailer for you to watch now.
A couple of days after I got back from Houston, I went into Music Shed Studios with Remy and Thugsy to record thirteen tracks for our vaudeville music project that we really really need to figure out a name for like four months ago now. The studio’s still mixing it so–
Hold up, I just realized what an interesting new thing that is for me to be able to say. “The studio’s still mixing it.” For my entire career I’ve self-produced every track I’ve ever released, as well as a few other bands’ demos and albums. I’ve probably spent tens of thousands of hours mixing tracks over the years, and I’ll probably spend tens of thousands more hours mixing tracks over the coming years provided nothing awful happens to me. Mixing is all at once a grind of tedium as well as a demand of extreme educated focus on intensely subjective details. Changes more subtle than they should be can make a decent track sound amazing and can make an awesome track sound like terrible shit — it’s as rewarding as it is frustrating. Passing that responsibility to someone else who knows what they’re doing is uncharted territory for me and it only just now hit me. Huh. It’s nice, even if this ends up being the only time, and even if only for the experience of knowing what it feels like to have an alternative to doing every production-related thing myself. Anyway
The studio’s still mixing it so tracks won’t be up for a while. When they are, I’ll let you know. I’d like to put some of the non-copywritten songs we did on a record and do a limited run of those. If there was ever a project I’ve done that belonged on a turntable, I think this one is it.
Speaking of limited runs on obsoleted media, the Jak Is A Four Letter Word double cassette release is all dubbed, printed, folded and ready for action! I’ll bring one to every show I do where you can buy it for $12, or you can email me at email@example.com to see if I still have any and we can arrange for me to mail it and some other stuff to you. Put “cassette tape” or something like that in the subject if you do.
Oh, and remember that “email 90’s Jak” thing I mentioned last post? Some of you emailed 90’s Jak, so it’s a whole thing now. A new one gets replied to and posted every week, so if you want to send something to the 90’s yourself, email firstname.lastname@example.org. While you’re doing that, I’m going to go punish my wrists on this backwards guitar.