To say that the last two years have been harrowingly replete with musician deaths would be the mother of all understatements. I commented at a gig the other day that I could play two or three hours of only the music of artists who’d recently died. I Googled the stats, and this is just a list of artists whose music had a profound effect on me. I’m leaving out a HUGE number of artists who were influential in their respective genres. Here’s my truncated list: David Bowie, Chris Cornell, Prince, Gregg Allman, Chuck Berry, Glenn Campbell, Walter Becker, Allan Holdsworth, J. Geils, James Cotton, Glen Frey, Leon Russell, Merle Haggard, John Wooten, Butch Trucks,
George Michael, Keith Emerson, Maurice White, Leonard Cohen and now Tom Petty. Greg Lake
Bowie, Prince, Cornell, and Gregg Allman all really hurt. But damn! Tom Petty? While I’m writing this I’m listening to the first album: “Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers”. Of the ten songs on that album, four are under three minutes and there’s not one that’s four minutes long. That’s economy at its finest. And guess what, songwriters? That’s why people want to play them over and over again. The old adage “leave them wanting more” was originally supposed to be the eleventh Commandment, but there’s that economy thing in action again. Brevity is a beautiful word (although it should be shorter)!
The Beatles were masters of the short form and Tom Petty was a virtuoso of restraint. The two obvious standouts from a view of commercial success are “Breakdown” and “American Girl”. Yes, they’re both on his FIRST album. In his career he sold more than 80 million albums which makes him one of the top-selling artists in the history of music. Not just ROCK, but MUSIC.
One of my favorite stories about Tom Petty (besides his notorious fights with record companies and refusals to ever back down) was when he was asked how he felt about the fact that some musicians slam him for writing three chord hit songs. Petty (and I paraphrase) said “If it’s so easy why isn’t everyone doing it?” He also said that if you can’t pick up an acoustic guitar and play your song, then it’s really not a song at all. As a musician who has been fortunate enough to make a living primarily as a solo acoustic act, I agree wholeheartedly. You take away all of the bells and whistles (noooo, not the whistling! I like the whistling) and if there isn’t a song there, then really what’s the point? It all has to start somewhere. You can play the world’s greatest guitar solo, or piano solo or pan flute solo or harmonized syncopated riffs that you shred behind your back while riding on flaming unicorns, but if you can’t strip it down you’re just pissing in the wind, buddy.
Petty’s longtime guitarist and collaborator Mike Campbell played fewer and fewer notes in his solos as their career progressed, to the point that I think several of his last solos might have been him thinking the note rather than playing it. But it all made sense within context and proves it’s not how many notes you play as long as they’re the right ones.
In the past few weeks, every night people have been yelling at me to play Tom Petty songs. Go back up to that list that begins this story. Yes, many people did and still do request songs from the first few artists on my list. But the Tom Petty thing ain’t goin’ to end anytime soon. His catalog was enormous and his gift for writing catchy songs that make you smile or dance or yell or sing is undeniable. He also had a deft hand with lyrics and every song has some clever one liners that stick to the craw. I thought about it and I think in my long-ass career I’ve probably played over twenty Tom Petty songs. I’m not a Tom Petty Tribute Idiot, but I guarantee (with the possible exception of The Beatles) that’s the most music by any artist I’ve ever played. And I didn’t even realize until now, that I was that big of a fan. Thank you sir, for decades of great music. In your own immortal words: “Buy me a drink, Sing me a song, Take me as I come ‘cause I can’t stay long”. Cheers!
Back in December, I praised the joys of WestWorld. Now, I tout the glorious insanity of Fargo and The Leftovers. Both shows are in their third season, and both manage to astonish with each installment. Fargo began as a reimagining of the classic Coen Brothers movie of the same name. The setting is Minnesota, but the era and the stellar cast change each season. This time around, Ewan McGregor plays two brothers who couldn't be more dissimilar in look and character. How is it that English actors can master American accents (McGregor nails the famous Minnesota tongue) while us Yanks almost never replicate the Queen's with any believable success? Mary Elizabeth Winstead and David Thewlis also shine as a savvy, sexy schemer and a twisted, verbose mobster who put the screws to McGregor's "Parking Lot King". The Coen Brothers are the show's producers and their fingerprints are all over this quirky, dark comedy. It's like getting a mini-Coen-movie every week. Eureka!
The first season of The Leftovers was startling and electric. The second season was an acid trip. This third and final season is just as challenging and surprising as the two that preceded it. Carrie Coon stars in both Fargo and The Leftovers and her star is ascending with this impressive double-tap! Justin Theroux is excellent as the glue that binds the whole tapestry together, and Scott Glenn delivers the best acting of his career. I don't want to jinx it, but series co-creator and writer/mastermind Damon Lindelof seems headed toward certain victory in the final lap. He caught a ton of shit for the final season of Lost. I predict his redemption draws nigh!
Normally I don't watch daytime television, but the old adages "when in Rome" (and more importantly) "the mob rules" are true. I can't tell you how my soul barked with joy when I discovered that Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos and Maury Povich are all still gainfully employed and beaming wholesome family entertainment into the world's living rooms five days a week!
SPOILER ALERT! For the two or three of you out there who've never been exposed to these quality shows, here's a small sample of what you've been missing: Paternity Tests, Lie Detector Tests, More Paternity and Lie-Detector Tests, Cat-Fighting (Ladies, why do you spend so much time pre-show primping when you know that within minutes of hitting that stage your wig, false eyelashes and dignity will be stripped from your body and tossed willy-nilly into the studio mosh-pit?) Man-Brawling, Man/Woman Tussling, Woman/Woman Fisticuffs, Guest/Bouncer Wrangling, Slander, Defamation of Character and Gender, Mud-Wrestling, Endless Accusations of Infidelity and Cross-Dressing, Pole-Dancing, Screeching, Shouting, Howling, Spitting, Hair-Pulling, Eye-Gouging, Nugget-Punching, Butt-Whupping, Chair and Couch Humping, Little People Tossing, Breast and Crotch Pixilation, Intentional and Unintentional Wardrobe Malfunctions, Every Conceivable Form of Degradation and then some not yet Conceived, Public and Pubic Displays of Affection and Other Heartfelt Confessions of True Love. God Bless America!!
To sweeten the already overflowing pot, all three of these shows are shown in our area back to back. And if that weren't enough goodness, they are broadcast again in the same order as soon as the first loop ends! The movie "Groundhog Day" has never seemed more prophetic. With this level of programming, how could I ever bitch about my exorbitant cable bill?
On an unrelated, but infinitely more entertaining note: Steve Harvey is officially the hardest working man in show business. Is there ANY show that he won't host?
I recently spent ninety-one days of quality time in the "Big House" as a guest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Throughout my life I've been guilty of countless crimes against humanity, the arts, fashion and common sense. I shall spare you those confessions until a later date (preferably after I depart this mortal coil) but for the time being, here are five impressions gleaned from my incarceration.
1) WHITE MEN GUARD THEIR JUNK CLOSELY
I don't consider myself to be a prude, but when did it become de rigueur for grown men to walk around with both hands buried deep within their skivvies, excavating for that lost roll of Certs or misspent youth? It's truly disconcerting when you stumble upon a summit meeting of these waistband spelunkers. After solving the world's problems the hands resurface for high-fives, fist-bumps, ass-pats or a quick punch to their neighbor's nuts and then disperse to play cards, or use the public telephones.
2) BON APPETIT!
Cuisine gets creative in the slammer. On my first full day of lockup, I watched with fascination as my fellow diners slavered three pieces of bread (the average inmate consumes at least half of a loaf of bread a day- but hey, at least it's wheat!) with margarine, applesauce, cooked carrots and a bifurcated baked potato. This masterpiece was topped off with a thin, oblong hockey puck. EDITOR'S NOTE: I later discovered a menu plastered on a wall by the bathroom. The mystery meat in question was listed as "Beavertail". I shit you not. Beavertail also appears on the menu under the aliases "Meatloaf", "Salisbury Steak", "Hamburger" and "Chili"(???). I didn't have the tools at my disposal to perform a proper autopsy, but my edumacated guess is that Beavertail consists of soy, shredded cardboard and any entrails deemed too risky to be legally added to hot dogs. The "meat" is then mashed, ironed and molded into a patty and cooked until all moisture and flavor evaporates. Before serving it is repeatedly reheated until it turns at least two shades of dark, which I have dubbed "Asphalt" and "Staring into the Abyss".
If you have money in your account Commissary is King, and the barter system is alive and flourishing in York County Prison! Food is the coin of the realm. Monster Iced Honey Buns are the Gold Standard, followed by Sun Butter and coffee. Sun Butter is margarine made from sunflower oil and is given to those who qualify for "special diet". It is breathlessly compared to peanut butter and is often consumed by the spoonful. I tried some, and although it does have a whiff of peanutyness I remain unconverted to its charms.
Ramen Noodles are no longer just for musicians, college students and other unemployed homeless people. After dinner the true chefs of YCP take center stage. My next door neighbor was the master of jailhouse stromboli. He created the dough from pulverized Ramen Noodles, crackers (Ritz, Saltines or both) and water. This was meticulously kneaded and rolled into a giant ball, wrapped within a towel and left to "cook" for how ever long the chef felt necessary. It was then rolled out into the desired dimension and filled with the meat of the day along with cheese and chips and whatever other ingredients were handy. On Stromboli Days the driveway next to my bunk was Standing Room Only.
Another favorite is "Chi". Chi is basically a combination of Ramen Noodles and the kitchen sink. Chi how easy that is?
3) LEGAL EAGLES
Everyone in jail could pass the bar exam right now without any further prep work. The inmate population knows more about your legal situation than all of the Supreme Court Justices combined. You will never find a group of more learned men in one place in your life. And the best part is...they're all INNOCENT!
4) ANIMAL FARM
After a week in "Pre-Class" I was moved to a dorm. This is a large, rectangular, concrete room with a high ceiling with six slotted windows that supply minimal light. The room is divided into two sections by a short, split wall. The first section is known as the Day Room. It's furnished with eight octagonal tables that have four hard, round seats connected to its base. I searched but couldn't find a plaque or engraving crediting the inventor, but I guarantee it was the Marquis de Sade. These, along with tabletops jutting from the rec room wall with corresponding benches are meant for eating and lounging. The only furniture in the dorm with a back is the C.O.'s desk chair. My spine is now shaped like the letter "S".
Both sides of the Day Room have a lavatory and shower room. There are no doors. The toilets and showers are separated by tiny, four foot high walls. "Hey, buddy! Wassu...nevermind..." The stainless steel toilets have no seats. The water's deep. Cold, too.
The second side of the room consists of metal bunk-beds for 56 male inmates. At night it transforms into a living, snoring, farting beast. Lights Out is at 11:00 p.m. At 11:30 everyone is supposed to be in their rack and quiet. Shuh! Imagine you are an only child having a slumber party and your parents left town but forgot to call the babysitter. Apparently no one has a chance to chat during the day. My buddy Jose' likened it to a chicken coop. Yeah, if the chickens were tweaking on caffeine and honey buns and hadn't seen a women in months! You gotta give them credit, though. They sure do enjoy themselves. The room ricochets with laughter and profanity. And it seems that the dreaded "N" word has now replaced "shit" as the most elastic word in history. Verb, noun, adjective, adverb, propositional phrase: you name it! It's that versatile!!
5) LIFE IS A CABARET, MY FRIEND
If someone were to film a documentary at York County Prison, I'm sure they would be shocked to discover that it's a musical. Everyone from the inmates to the correctional officers to the infirmary staff and all points in between will burst into spontaneous song without coaxing or embarrassment. It's like "La La Land" except the cinematography is predominately orange. The voices range from impossibly high falsettos to monotone (although falsetto is clearly the preferred choice).
One day while reading in my bunk, the afternoon movie ended and something unexpected and wonderful happened. I have no idea to this moment what my fellow detainees were watching, but the song that played over the end credits was Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'". Without prompting, every person on the other side of that wall began to sing along. In falsetto. Porpoise-high falsetto. It was magical.
The moral to this story (as I see it) is that even though life is often unfair and may seem hellbent on knocking us down, there is still hope and laughter and Journey to inspire us to hitch up our petticoats and wade through the funk. Soothe that savage beast, baby. Sing!
However, there has always been one book that defies this rule. I have never hesitated to claim “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my favorite novel.
I didn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” the first time for school. I sought it out on my own. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I can say without hesitation that the amount dwarfs any other novel I’ve ever reread. With the news of Harper Lee’s death at the age of 89 last Friday, I have picked it up again. And once again, the subtlety of its depths stagger me. The huge cast of beautifully realized characters in itself should have made it a classic. It weaves courtroom drama, alcohol and drug addiction, race, bigotry, tolerance and intolerance, poverty, class, wealth, heritage, politics, comedy, tragedy and the perils and joys of family relationships, within a tale of a young girl’s coming-of-age. It is also a crystal clear encapsulation of a specific period in a small town of the American South, and manages to be unflinching in the depiction, yet graceful and forgiving.
Through the wise eyes of our tomboy narrator, “Scout” Finch we experience the human capacity to
survive and endure love and hate from the vantage of both sides of every story. While watching Tom Robinson’s trial from the balcony, Scout realizes that Mayella Ewell “must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years.”
survive and endure love and hate from the vantage of both sides of every story. While watching Tom Robinson’s trial from the balcony, Scout realizes that Mayella Ewell “must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years.”
This is a deeply human story, and Ms. Lee at a young age was able to distill and report in a deceptively, simple way all that it means to be an adult and a child during difficult and yet, rewarding times. If you have never read it, I urge you to give it a chance. I will even lend you a copy. I say this, as someone who has lent and subsequently had to buy enough new copies to fill a closet. You will laugh, and…if there is a heart beating in there, you will cry. If you are not inclined to read, this is one of the few novels where the movie version does the story and characters justice. After watching, I defy you to read it and imagine anyone else but Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Hell, that can be said of the whole cast. It was a perfect storm of the right actors for each respective part.
In closing, please allow me to paraphrase one of the multitude of great lines from “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Harper Lee is passin’.”
Somewhere during the mid to late 1980’s I began toying with the idea of performing in an acoustic duo.
I was originally a bass player, but became a singer by default. No one else would take the job. I played bass and sang in a band in high school, then in a band in college, and then with 1/2 of the band from high school after graduation from college. Distressed by the nodules I was convinced were growing on my vocal chords from over singing songs that weren’t in my range, nor any humans not equipped with the larynx of a porpoise, I planned to return to my home town of Phoenix, Arizona and become a writer.
Instead, I was shanghaied into a popular local band whose new lead singer, Sean Contres could assimilate the screaming porpoise style so prevalent during that era. Originally the band’s bass player, Sean now supplanted their former singer. I in turn took over Sean’s duties on the bass. All I had to do was jump around and froth at the mouth like a rabid dog and every once in a while use both hands to play. Oh…and sing maybe four or five songs that Sean felt were beneath him.
Not long after we began to gig at least three times a week, the inevitable happened. Sean shredded his vocal chords. As he was already a gifted bassist, I was shoved into the spotlight without my blankie. For someone who has had a shield for all of these years, this is tantamount to being stripped naked. I became a “lead singer”.
True to rock’n’roll cliché, various members were replaced or deported, and tragedy befell us. Soon, Sean was the only original member left standing. It was time for a name change. We settled on “Back Talk” as it was the one name no one really cared about. Suddenly, we began writing songs! Lots and lots of songs. Before we knew it we were a 99% original act. This was a godsend for me. Now, I could sing in my own unwashed, untrained voice and not have to attempt to be an impersonator. Yippee!
After I was (rightfully) evicted by the girlfriend I was mooching off of at the time, I finagled residence above the local nightclub, Swizzles.
If you were of legal age during the ‘80’s you will understand that if you live above a bar; particularly a bar that hosts live bands (and strippers), there will be a party in your room EVERY night. This is the law, and I do not enjoy breaking the law. In short time I became Swizzle’s doorman, then d.j., and ultimately bar manager, radio spokesman and owner of the smallest colony of brain cells on the planet.
I’d been noodling with the acoustic guitar for a few years, and used it as a tool for writing songs. Notice, I don’t claim to have learned how to play it. Still don’t. Mostly, it is propped in my lap or substitutes as a table for drinks. When the inevitable party began, someone might ask me to play. A slew of dirty, slurry, random songs coalesced and became staples of my late night set list.
During this period, it took about four hours for our road crew (and me) to set up for a Back Talk show. This does not include the painful hours of tearing it all down again. As lead singer you would think I would NOT be involved. Have I mentioned that I owned our $10,000 light show? I can’t say that I didn’t wander off from time to time after a gig, but I’m pretty damn sure I was always there for the hated setup.
That’s when a seed germinated in my soggy mind. “What if” I wondered, “I was to start playing acoustic shows on the side to augment my income?”
This was pre-MTV-Unplugged and there weren’t many people in this region doing the “stripped down” thing. As I’ve always enjoyed hearing solo performers or duos hammering away on acoustic guitars, I counted myself “in”.
As someone who prefers a good “B-side” to a hit single, I mused to myself “What if we play a variety of rock songs, that people may not be familiar with?”
You'll notice that I didn’t say acoustic songs. Nope. We left poor James Taylor, Jim Croce, Jimmy Buffet and all of the other James, Jim’s and Jimmy’s alone! I’m positive that if they had known, they would have been eternally grateful!
I enlisted our sound man, Mike Couch as my partner in crime. Mike is an incredible, versatile guitar player who at the time owned and operated a studio where we recorded. He had just recently joined “Once Fish”, an original jam band who still perform locally under the name “Hexbelt”. I figured that if we kept our gigs to off nights, neither one of us would have to worry about butting heads with the schedules of our respective bands.
My goal was to keep the show as simple as possible. Since Back Talk had a light show of 100+ par cans and rain lights, and fog machines and a drum riser with a strobe light built into it, I decided to use a tree lamp of mine that had three bulbs as our lighting. Depending on the tone and “weight” of the song, I would refer to it as “One”, “Two” or “Three bulb” and turn the knob for the desired effect. I know: Genius. And just like that I had our name: Two Idiots and a Lamp.
Mike is much younger than I, and at that time suffered from “stress”. Is it necessary for me to stress how often my antics “stressed him out”? I remember one fateful evening where he got so pissed off at me that he smashed his guitar on the wall of the bar where we were playing. To add insult to injury, I laughed at him and told him that if he wanted to get my attention, he should have smashed my guitar! (Disclaimer: I wasn’t being mean, just making a point. If you want to hurt someone, don’t bust your own stuff. That’s like punching a wall, when you really want to send someone’s teeth down their throat. Now, you’ve got a broken hand, dummy!!!!! You’re welcome.)
For “Two Idiots and a Lamp” inaugural gig we opened for Back Talk in my downstairs living room, Swizzles. Scroll back up a few paragraphs. Remember when I said I wanted to keep the show “simple”? Temporary amnesia must have set in. At the time, comedic songwriter Martin Mull was touring the country with living room furniture. I thought that sounded like a great way to debut the “Idiots”. We drug a couch, coffee table complete with magazines, end table furnished with a black and white television that was on, with the sound turned off, and “the lamp” from my upstairs “apartment” onto the stage in front of the drum riser.
Showtime! Mike and I ambled onto the stage with our guitars, propped our feet up on the end table and basically said “Whassup?” to the packed room full of puzzled faces. We then careened shakily into our set. Uncle Igor from Starview 92.7 taped the gig and aired pieces of it over the years. Somewhere, languishing amid cobwebs I believe I have a cassette copy. I’m scared to search, on the chance that I may find it.
Before long, Back Talk and Once Fish were playing more and more week day shows, and it was difficult for me to schedule “Idiot” gigs without double-booking. Or… maybe Mike grew tired of pulling his hair out. Either way, the torch was passed.
My songwriting partner, Back Talk guitarist Eric “Todd” Wisniewski seemed like the obvious replacement. We certainly weren’t going to interfere with the other’s schedule. This way we also incorporated unplugged Back Talk material into the mix along with many of my original acoustic songs which we didn’t play with the band.
We started playing a gig every Sunday night at 55 West in downtown
York. Hot wings had just become the big
thing, and 55 West served five cent wings every Sunday. Read that again: five
cent wings! Prior to the Wing Craze you couldn’t give those things away! Now,
you can’t buy them for much less than a dollar a piece.
The Sunday night gig took off and a new phenomenon began to develop. People began to gift us lamps. Not Granny’s sixty year old gummed up lamp with a frilly shade, but vintage lamps, Disney character lamps and crazy decorator lamps. The pinnacle was finally reached when a young lady bequeathed us a giant ceramic bust of Elvis lamp. The damn thing had to have weighed fifty pounds. A new stage of evolution began: people began to accessorize Elvis. On a good night, Elvis might be wearing purple sunglasses with a lit cigarette taped to his mouth, while sporting a fright wig and bow tie that lit up with blinking red lights. Just like in real life!
One fateful Sunday, a good friend of ours who may have been drinking (wasted) bum rushed the “stage” in an effort to tell us some sort of vital information that couldn’t wait for the song to end. You can see where this is going. He knocked poor Elvis right off of his perch. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis wasn’t just all shook up. He was spread across the floor in a million shards of ceramic sequins and scarves.
I made an executive decision. From now on: No LAMPS. We became “Two Idiots”, or more commonly “the” Two Idiots.
It was also at this juncture where I decided to test my mettle and perform every Thursday at First Capital Dispensing Co. as a solo performer. I was the day bartender at First Cap, and Terry, the owner wanted to try something new on Thursdays. I volunteered to pop my “solo” cherry and give it a shot.
This also continued the serendipitous connection between yours truly and hot wings. Terry decided to make the Thursday night special a dozen (!) wings for a dollar. The reason that this special deserves an exclamation point is because most places cut their wings in half; severing wing from drumstick. This way they charge you for one wing, when in reality it is only half of a wing. Terry gave you the whole wing and he bought the largest damn chicken wings I’ve ever seen in my life. They had to have been raised on steroids, or incorrectly labelled “chicken” when they were actually turkeys. Wingzillas! He marinated and breaded them overnight and they were the best damn wings I’ve ever had! They weren’t “hot”, but they were tasty, and you could add as much sauce as you wanted to them for no extra charge.
One of the original caveats to me performing on Thursdays, was that I would also deep fry the wings to order. Picture this for a moment. I am playing for an audience, and you decide you want wings. I now interrupt the song, put the guitar down, go upstairs, cook your wings, then deliver them to your table piping hot. Hmmmm. That lasted one week.
This new gig presented a new quandary. What name would I go by? I wanted to remind people who had heard of, or followed “Two Idiots” that I was indeed one of the two, and yet stand alone. My dear friend and drinking buddy, Gina London from Starview 92.7 had given me an ugly framed black velvet portrait of Elvis. I don’t know why, other than it was so splendidly tacky that she knew I would love it. Hello, Inspiration! I billed myself as “One Idiot and a Bad Black Velvet Elvis”. Once again, I was forced to carry around a prop, and once again that didn’t last long before I rechristened myself “Kirk the Idiot”.
People seem to forget that I willingly labelled myself an idiot. I gave MYSELF that name! It wasn’t a childhood nickname that stuck or a misprint on my birth certificate.
Flash Forward: I became a father. Around the time my son, Skylar was five, a good friend of mine and her son spent the day with us at the the York Fair. We were wandering along the thoroughfare, when a voice over the loudspeaker said “There have been a lot of idiots here today, but now we have the biggest idiot of them all: Please give a round of applause for “Kirk the Idiot”!”
My son wanted to know why the man with the microphone was calling me a mean name. Lucy- you got some ‘splainin’ to do! For quite sometime after this revelation, Skylar would respond to a scolding with “Well, at least I’m NOT an idiot!” Touche’ and well-played, sir. I worried that fights during recess would become part of Skylar’s daily routine. "But Dad! His dad said that YOU are an idiot!!" I’m happy to report that as of this moment, they have not. Another bullet dodged…and enough digression. Back to the story in progress:
Another unforeseen wrinkle of the every Thursday, First Cap gig was that people would respond to my heckling by whipping masticated wing bones at me. On Friday mornings, with a searing, cross eyed hangover, I would often run into Terry when I opened the bar. He would be grumpily mopping the floor from the night before.
“Why the f*** are there chicken bones everywhere?” he would ask in an agitated bar owner tone. “Huh! I don’t know, that’s weird...isn't it?” I would mumble while stealthily plucking bones from the top shelf liquor bottles and the light above the bar. It wasn’t long before he showed up on a Thursday to see what the hell was going on. I’m pretty sure he pelted me with more than his share of wing carcasses.
In the meantime, Eric married another d.j. friend from Starview 92.7 and followed her to her new job in
. I don’t remember why or how
he knew that this job was only going to last a few months, but he threatened to
return, and warned me not to dismantle the band or give away his spot as an
“Idiot”! Toronto, Canada
During this interim, my buddy, Don Carn volunteered to be Eric’s replacement. Don is a high school music teacher and jazz musician. He’s been a staple on the local music scene since before fire was discovered and was known for his fantastic bass playing with the band “Extremity”. But Don had other ideas. He began to carry a violin around like a third arm and sit in with anyone who would let him. I was one of the anyone's, and it wasn’t unusual to find Don killing cats with his violin with one or both Idiots on a Thursday or Sunday night. With bowstrings snapping and fraying,
Chile Don Carne' became an Idiot...until Eric returned from the Great White North. I thought there might be
a duel between pick and bow, but I reminded Don that he knew his reign as an Idiot was only
temporary, and he would always be welcome to sit in and wow the crowd with his
frenetic guitfiddle. And he has, and continues to do so on a whim to this day.
Time travel ahead a few years: Back Talk dissolved. Right before the implosion, Johnny “Star” Stauffer had begun playing bass with us. A longtime friend, and gifted musician, Johnny sidled right into the Idiot lead guitar slot without a stutter. This was by far the most gratifying and prolific period for me as an Idiot. We gigged an average of seven nights a week (often with two gigs a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) and learned a ton of “new” cover material while writing originals. During Johnny’s tenure, I watched him transform from a good guitarist to an exceptional one and his melodic playing and choice of notes elevated every one of my original songs and made them complete. We formed, disbanded and put out CD’s with both “Duck Butter” and “Cotton” and were together so much we were like an old vaudeville team bouncing off of each other’s wit and providing a foil to the other’s warped sense of humor, tics and pecadilloes. Even during our worst moments, I had a perma-smile.
With “Cotton”, we were fortunate enough to have our world class bassist and inspirational friend, Ralph Weyant Jr. frequently join us as the third Idiot. After Ralph’s tragic, devastating death from cancer, Johnny and I parted company, and I didn’t have the heart, desire nor ability to replace either of them.
I continued playing solo gigs for years, until I reunited with Back Talk drummer Alan White, and connived Linda Kopp into anchoring the “Rhythm Junkies” with her sassy bass playing. As a woman, and for fear of bodily harm, I knew better than to ask her to be an “idiot”. We perform as a duo under the wildly imaginative moniker “Kirk and Linda”.
Over the years “Two Idiots” have opened for classic rock legends “Blue Oyster Cult”, “Robin Trower”, “Molly Hatchet”, “The Romantics”, “Blackfoot”, “New Riders of the Purple Sage”, “Pat Travers Band”, “Foghat”, and “Black Oak Arkansas” to name a few.
In hindsight, dubbing oneself an idiot provides it’s own set of complications. To this day, it is extremely rare that I don’t hear “Hyuk, yuk, there’s an idiot!” when I walk into a room. These are the same people who ask me (while I’m lugging in my guitar, speakers and amplifier) “Are you playing tonight?” I often answer with “No; just practicing setting up”. This is usually met with a dull, blank stare before a dust mote captures their attention and leaves me free to continue prepping for my gig. Who be the Idot now, eh?
As I am not currently riding the crest of the bestseller list and house-hunting in
I decided to take a “seasonal” position at a well known parcel delivery service
over the holidays. The job description is “driver’s helper”. Translation:
driver’s bitch. I didn’t really read any of the paperwork I signed when I
applied for the job, but I’m pretty sure there is a clause in there where you
are not allowed to write in your blog about what went on during your
employment. In keeping with their “loose lips sink packages” code of secrecy I
will only say that once I donned my uniform I looked like a giant turd.
Since I had worked for this company in this same “seasonal” position six years ago (and there weren’t many applicants) I was a shoe-in. Let me restate: six years ago. That’s practically a lifetime in dog years. Taking a page from Toby Keith’s song “As Good As I Once Was” I figured I could stumble through.
During orientation it is repeatedly drilled into your psyche how when the driver says “Take this package and run it to the side door” they do NOT mean to actually RUN. Yeah. Right. They also stress that you are always to deliver from behind the truck. In other words, you are a much better target for speeding cars if there are no obstructions in their way (you know, like a big ass truck full of packages).
So…the way this works is, you call in at 8 a.m. and they tell you where and when you are to meet your driver. My first five days I worked with five different drivers on five wildly different routes. I’m not complaining. There is no time for monotony. After the fifth day they assigned me to a driver who has worked for the company since they delivered by pony. His route is very much in the area I live, and I got a whole new view of the town. This driver is a font of knowledge about the people he delivers to. I’m not sure how he became privy to so much inside scoop, but he could write a book and it would be a doozy. I mentioned this to him, and he seemed intrigued. Should he decide to move forward with this plan, I’m throwing my hat in the ring to be his ghost writer. Lurid, is too mild a word. I smell a hit.
In keeping with the nondisclosure nature of this piece, I am going to give my new best friend an alias. From now on I will refer to him as Scooby. Not because I’m a fan of talking dogs; just because I know how mortified he would be to be called Scooby. Hey, if that’s how I get my jollies, who are you to question it?
In our area, Scooby has the most seniority with this company…hell, probably nationwide. And, since he has seniority (this IS a union job) he is still allowed to use an “old school” truck. That means it is the only one in operation that is NOT wired so that the man behind the curtain can see exactly everything the driver is doing. The Eye in the Sky knows when your seat belt hasn’t been fastened and how long it takes for you to make a delivery down to the millisecond. They even know what you had for lunch (if there was ever time to take one)! Being an old school truck, the step into the cab is at least a foot higher than any other truck I delivered from. This means that you have to catapult into the cab and parachute out, roll and run. I’ve got a knee that’s been welded together with leftover car parts and gum and have broken and sprained both ankles multiple times. I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve broken all of my toes.
During orientation, you are also told that you will exit the truck an average of 200 plus times a day. Their math is shoddy. To exacerbate the jarring joints factor, 95% of the houses that we delivered to had driveways that were at least a mile long and were either 60 degrees straight up, or 60 degrees straight down. Whether leaving the truck or returning, you were scaling
Olympus. By the time I finished the “season” my legs were
chiseled from marble. From the waist up I still look like the Pilsbury Dough
Idiot, but my legs look like Brad Pitt’s in the movie “ Troy” (except shorter, hairier and covered in
scars). I would characterize my delivery style as “wounded trotting”.
The helper must also carry a scanning device which is the size of some of the earliest computers and just as cutting edge. Once you have set the package(s) down (oh, yeah- there are innumerable rules on how and where to place the package) you scan it and then input a constantly evolving set of codes. More frequently than I care to recall, Scooby would yell “What’s taking so long?” from the safety of the truck as I mashed my fingers repeatedly against every key in a vain attempt to make it work. Sometimes, Scoob would get so fed up that he would emerge from the truck, make the arduous trek to where I was beating the scanner against a wall and (to my absolute pleasure) not get it to work. He’d be forced to whip out his tiny pocket sized scanner and bingo! Back to the truck we’d hobble.
Have I mentioned that the helper’s door stays forever open? There is no reason to close it. Most of the time I would pole vault into the truck, fasten my seat belt and already be halfway back out the door. Luckily, the weather, for the most part, was gloriously cooperative. Six years ago, I spent most of my time diving out onto glaciers or into banks of snow. This time everything was hunky dory until around 4 p.m. when the temperature and sun would simultaneously drop. My last day, I was christened by an unending torrential downpour. Defying the laws of probability, I leapt into a pond of water at every stop. As if the insult of having my shoes and calves drenched the whole day wasn’t enough, there was a constant rivulet of water that poured from the doorway onto my legs during the ride and down the back of my collar whenever I dismounted and reached back in for the stack of 95 pound packages.
In closing, I survived another season and swore that I would never submit myself to this abuse again, but I forgive and forget pretty easily. Mainly forget.
In all seriousness, I commend and salute parcel delivery drivers around the world. It is fast-paced, relentless work and their days are long with no room for goofing off. They don’t go back to the Alpha Base until their truck is empty. All of the drivers I worked with were pleasant, entertaining characters who handled themselves with good cheer and professional courtesy. It is often a thankless job, although I was very impressed with how cordial the majority of the people we interacted with were. There is still plenty of good in the world. And from what I’ve seen, Amazon is distributing the lion’s share of it.