The Cro-Mag Comedy Competition polls have closed. We have a winner and two runners-up tied for second.
The gold medalist is wrangle, for his touching coming-of-age tale about the day he learned there’s a reason musicians say “One two three four” before they start playing. Tied for second: Mark Spangler’s harrowing near-death experience as Jeff Beck’s hand-picked opening act, and Roel Torres’s terrifying tale of being hoisted skyward by stage machinery. (Think twice before wearing a hoodie onstage, kids!) Both are worthy of reenactment on one of my fave guilty-pleasure TV shows, I Shouldn’t Be Alive.
Winners, send me your snail mail addresses, and I’ll send you something noisy.
Thanks to everyone who submitted a story, voted in the poll, or just read the stories and spewed coffee on their computers. Thanks for holding court while I was traveling, and for giving me plenty of good laughs on the road. In the meantime, I’ve pretty much gotten over jetlag, flu, and a mountain of postponed paying work, and I’ve got some cool and intriguing posts planned for the coming days!
Count like a drummer, version 2. In the early ’90s, my friend “Dan” and I decided to form a no-nonsense, loud-guitar rock band, which Dan kept insisting would help us meet girls. We were both just out of college, and had grown up listening to classic rock, punk and (what later became known as) alternative rock. Neither of us were really musicians or had any experience playing in actual bands. We mostly had just spent a lot of time on our own as teenagers, making obnoxious noises with guitars and distortion pedals.
We started off by getting together at his apartment, bashing out some lyrics and barre chords. I would bring along Dr. Rhythm, my trusty old analog drum machine, and we would work out song ideas on Dan’s 4-track. Now, obviously, a cheesy drum machine wasn’t gonna cut it for a “real” rock band, so we had to go out and find an actual human being who would be willing to play with us.
I ended up tracking down another friend of mine from college, “Stacy”, who had just graduated with a degree in world music. She was already an accomplished percussionist and vocalist, and had performed with a handful of smaller national acts. By a sheer stroke of luck, she had recently acquired a well-worn used drum kit, and was (surprisingly) interested in being a part of our band.
Our first attempt at playing together was in an appropriately cramped and dingy basement, covered in scraps salvaged from a carpet store dumpster. As we began to work on our first song, Dan and I were showing Stacy the basic structure. We simply looked at each other and started playing at the tempo we had originally set with the drum machine. Stacy looked a little baffled, and asked me to do a count-off, so that we could all come in together.
So I tentatively barked: “One… two… THREEFOUR!”
After several aborted attempts of this, Stacy finally picked up her drumsticks and clicked out an even rhythm, demonstrating how it transitioned into a steady drumbeat. It was then that I had a startling realization: A count-off was not, in fact, simply a stylized way that the Ramones or Led Zeppelin started a song, but actually had the purpose of SETTING THE TEMPO.
Wardrobe malfunction. Back when I was in college, I was in a new pop rock band called the Neverlovers. We were playing on a bill with a bunch of other bands as part of the annual spring Arts First festival. We were scheduled to go on first, so we had our equipment up on the stage ready to go, and I was feeling nervous as hell. The theater had a heavy stage curtain that was lifted by a backstage mechanism. I was so busy going over our set list in my head that even though I could feel the curtain brushing up against my sleeve, I did not realize that my hoodie tangled in it until it was too late. The curtain lifted me up about foot off the ground before they lowered it again and helped me down. I was nervous as hell before the curtain, embarrassed as hell afterwards, but the rest of the gig was fine. My shoulder was sore for about a month, but it makes for a great story. (My wife, who was not at the show but has heard about it many times over the years, loves to bring it up whenever she wants to make a point about how oblivious I am to my own surroundings…)
Thanks a lot, Jeff. In the fall of 1980, Jeff Beck came into a club where my band was playing. We were doing a medley of “Hip Hug-Her” and “Green Onions,” and there he was standing back by the sound board, with his perfect English rock hair, bobbing to the beat. We’d heard a rumor he was in Portland, rehearsing before the start of a tour, so it wasn’t a total surprise to see him, just a bit surreal. But things got weird when he followed us backstage after the set, gushing about how much he dug us.
“Brilliant, mates,” he said in his mild English accent. “How would you like to open my show in Seattle?”
We were, in Brit-speak, “gobsmacked,” and felt compelled to make him aware of a couple of pertinent facts. First, we’d never played anything bigger than a 200-seat club. Second, he was talking about the day after tomorrow.
Beck laughed off our concerns. He said, “Just play Green Onions for thirty minutes. It’ll be great!”
We arrived at the Seattle Center Arena plenty early and spent the afternoon hanging around the venue, getting nervous. By the time Beck finished his long and totally intimidating sound check, we were terrified.
With no time for a sound check of our own, we quickly set up our gear in front of Beck’s stuff, and headed back to the dressing room to wait. Soon enough, a guy stuck his head through the door.
“You’re on, let’s go.”
We were walking up the ramp to the stage when the house lights went down. The roar from the packed arena was deafening, like a jet taking off. We made it to the stage in the dark and found our positions. A local DJ walked on stage and grabbed the microphone.
“Seattle!!!!…ARE YOU READY?? Will you PLEASE WELCOME…”
The stage lights came up just as he said our name. Our drummer counted four and we blasted into the first tune; not Booker T, but one of our rockin’ originals that went over so great in the clubs. But something was wrong. I could barely hear the band. We were being drowned out by the ominous roar of five thousand people booing in unison. I looked down at a guy pressed against the lip of the stage. He gave me a death stare and bellowed, “F**k you! We want Beck!!!”
Then it occurred to me. Our presence on the bill had not been advertised in any way. When the house lights went down, these people thought Jeff Beck was taking the stage. We were doomed.
In the corner of my eye I saw a large object making a lazy arc through the air, headed my way. I took a quick side step as a jumbo soda exploded at my feet, drenching my sneakers and soaking my jeans up to the knee. The people down front thought this was hysterical.
“Ha ha ha…you guys suck…get off the stage!!!”
We finished one song and started into another. Now debris was raining down on us. I watched the lead singer recoil as he took a size-twelve Chuck Taylor in the chest. I glanced back at the drummer: he’d been hit square in the forehead by some kind of projectile and his face was dripping blood.
The second tune lurched to a halt. The crowd surged forward, seconds away from a full-scale riot. We looked at each other in total panic. The singer gave us the high sign and we bolted stage right, running for our lives.