Song Of The Day 3/18/2017: The Beatles – “Nowhere Man”
The Final 12
First of the Last HurrahsOh, that certain summer. In my case in was 2003. It wasn’t perfect, and certainly I could have made some better, oh, choices, let’s say. But if the hippies had their summer of love, and Bryan Adams could have his summer of ’69 (fact: Bryan Adams was only nine years old in the summer of ’69), then I could have my summer of ’03.
I’m not sure exactly how I’d place it in the normal American male timeline of notable life passages. But I’d figure I was about 10 years behind everyone else because of the religious upbringing and all.
So for lack of more suitable categories I’ll just call it the final year of my extended adolescence.
Come Join the Fun at a McMenamin's Near YouRodeo Kill was on fire. A small brush fire, maybe, but still a healthy fire. A well-contained fire. A fire that the authorities had under control.
Until we got to the Olympic Club in Centralia, Washington.
We were booked to play a show with our friends, the Dirty Birds, at the McMenamin’s-run hotel in the small town about 25 miles south of Olympia. (For those of you outside the Northwest, McMenamin’s is a business based in Portland that owns more than 50 brewpubs, restaurants, inns and other leisure-centric endeavors in the Northwest. In many cases these business are historical sites in need of refurbishing. McMenamin’s is like AEG, but more homey, and kind of equally loved and hated. I like them all right.) All of us got overnight accommodations and breakfast in the morning. We were done early enough to have an extended party under the stars in a fairly temperate night.
I can’t say what everybody else did. I can only account for myself. And I’m not gonna say what I did either. I do know we ended up on the roof of the hotel. By “we” I mean about 25 or 30 band members plus friends. A lot of things happened, I’m guessing. I seem to remember an ad-hoc U2 doo-wop group being formed but I’m pretty sure that’s just a wild delusion on my part. If anybody from that night can verify it one way or the other I’d appreciate it.
The next morning we had a nicely hungover breakfast and went back to our shabby lives in Olympia.
A couple of days later Ryan informed us that we and the Dirty Birds were banned from the Olympic Club for life. Just as bands. Not as individual visitors. But whatever happened was enough to cause some tumult, and the hotel management got a lot of calls or visits from still-awake guests not connected to the party.
I wish I had some additional information (and I swear I’m forgetting one additional band that might have played, but I can’t recall who it is), but maybe someone else who was there and believes in keeping the history alive can fill all of us in. If it doesn’t violate the terms of their witness protection program, that is.
Great Moments in Gig CancellationIn the spring Rodeo Kill had a gig at Charlie’s Bar & Grill in downtown Olympia. This was the actually the lineup before the “classic” Rodeo Kill lineup. We were really looking forward to it. Unfortunately there was some sort of communication mishap with our bassist, who never showed up and wasn’t answering the phone.
A lot of our friends had already shown up, and it canceling a gig was something we hated to do. So we decided to wing it and just do something. Or anything. We just played whatever we knew from the top of our heads. We also had any musician friends that happened to be there come up and play as well. The one I remember most clearly is band friend Shanon doing an acoustic cover of the first part of Rush’s “2112” (“We are the priests of the temples of Syrinx”). It was a slapdash evening full of tentative covers, unfinishable jokes and gleeful fatalism. Kate said “it was the best time I’ve ever had watching something fail.” The owner of Charlie’s thought it was a blast, and she asked whether this was something we wouldn’t mind doing over the summer.
The proposal morphed into something called Cocktail Hell. It was lounge piano for those who hated lounge piano. For a few weeks over the summer of 2003 I had a happy-hour residency on Friday’s at Charlie’s in which I’d play songs uniquely unsuited for cocktail lounge piano. Favorites included:
- “Search and Destroy” by the Stooges
- “Touch Me I’m Sick” by Mudhoney
- “Hell’s Bells” by AC/DC
- “Where It’s At” by Beck (in which I quick-changed the settings on the keyboard so they were all percussion instruments, pounded on them for four bars, then sang “That was a good drum break” as on the original)
- “You’re No Rock ’n’ Roll Fun” by Sleater-Kinney
- “Must of Got Lost” by the J. Geils Band (the live version with the extended Peter Wolf spoken introduction, written down and read like it was a business meeting)
- “It’s Raining Men” by the Weather Girls
- “Rio” by Duran Duran (Liberace style)
If you wanted me to play Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” (the “Free Bird” of lounge piano playing) you had to pay me $10. If you wanted “Piano Man” with the original lyrics, the price went up to $20. It was a nice thing to do. Ross Raihala, the entertainment editor at The Olympian (for whom I had just started writing features), did a write-up about it in his column. It was the original “sort of a big deal.”
I also had guest artists. There was this one guy who was always there—a middle-aged confirmed bachelor type whose name escapes me but it starts with “M”—who repeatedly requested that I accompany him singing Elton John’s song “Ticking,” perhaps the most depressing song in his whole catalog. It’s about a mass shooting and goes on for seven minutes. I think we did it three times.
One edition of Cocktail Hell featured my close associates Scott Taylor and the late Paul Plagens, people who actually wrote great songs and were defenders of the pop as well. My grasp of vocal harmony was limited to a semester in madrigal choir and whatever drunken notes I could manage over King Dinosaur in Rodeo Kill, but the other Paul P. and Scott were exceptionally good at it. We did a three-part vocal harmony rendition of the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” when they played at Cocktail Hell. It may have been the greatest single moment I’ve ever had as a musician.
Cocktail Hell ran its course. Like Shrug Festival, it’s over. I reanimated it once a few years ago for a benefit concert and it was awkward to say the least. If I ever do anything like that again it’ll be with a group. But it was fun. As Ryan joked once, “that Rodeo Kill cancellation was the best thing to ever happen to your career.”