Thursday, July 16, 2009

Road Stories

Between the ongoing t-shirt discussion on the old roadies mailing list and This is Spinal Tap showing on Palladia last night, I have old road stories bubbling around in my head, so I might as well tell one or two. Actually, I was going to go another way with this, but let's start with the movie.

Spinal Tap is undoubtedly the best movie ever made about the rock monsters of the sixties and seventies. Besides being funny enough to make things shoot out of one's nose, it is a more accurate depiction of the people and the life than most documentaries* I have seen. Every stupid thing that happens in that movie reminds me of a (more or less) true story from the day, and every slimy or bitchy or otherwise ridiculous person in there brings to mind someone that I knew. And don't even get me started on the hair.

I remember a night, I think with Rufus (with special guest Chaka Khan!) and the Brothers Johnson in Kiel Auditorium (may it rest in piece) in St. Louis, where the promoter kept running back and forth to the ticket office to get enough money to pay us enough that we would turn on the lights and the show would go on. I'm pretty sure that was also the show where they served Manischewitz Cream Red and Cream White to the band to satisfy the contract requirement for red and white wine in the dressing room. Chaka Khan didn't show up. But she was like seven months pregnant, so that happened a lot.

REO Speedwagon trashed their dressing room one time because they didn't have the right color M&M's. The Kiss roadies stuck a girl to the wall of the Pontiac Sheraton with gaffers tape** a few days before we came through. Speaking of REO, they didn't exactly have lighted electric uteri to walk out of, but they did have the worst opening effect I've ever seen in person. Bob "Flash" Gordon, their lighting designer, thought it would be really cool if they started the show by walking through a curtain of dry ice fog. It wasn't actually a terrible idea. CO2 fog is considerably heavier than air, so if you can get enough of it way up in the air somehow it will fall rapidly and run over the front of the stage. The problem is getting the fog 20 feet up in the air and getting it to come out in any sort of even curtain, given that it is heavier than air and the fog machines weren't pressurized***. The only good solution would have been to put the fog machines on the lighting rig, but since they weighed almost 500 lbs. each, pulled enough power to light a small house, and had to be loaded with dry ice right before the show, that was a non-starter. I won't bother you with the details, but it usually ended up looking like five or six randomly placed fire extinguishers shooting at the stage. The band threw a fit about it almost every night. You would have thought that after thirty shows or so they would have figured out it was never going to work, but they were pretty much impervious to learning.

Image from here

Flash Gordon was also responsible for the worst day of my life -- at least until my first marriage -- but that's a another story. Oh, good. One of the elder alumni just stopped the t-shirt conversation with a 36-point typeface rant. It had been going on for over a week and was really starting to get on my nerves. So, any good concert memories out there?
* Or "rockumentaries", if you will.
** Think of black, extra-sticky duct tape. Show business runs on it.
*** Our fog machines were custom built and famous for the time. Two of them could produce enough fog to asphyxiate Lionel Ritchie at the piano, though I am not at liberty to say how I know that.


  1. i particularly enjoy the demise of the drummers in Spinal Tap... have had the pleasure* to know a few in my time...

    *as in 'dis...'

  2. I love the part with the pimento olives.

    "See this one, this one's empty, and then in here, there's a little guy."