Archive for the ‘essay’ Category

Miss Adventure

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Note: For this, my 1500th blog entry, I’m taking a look back in time. The events described herein took place more than a year and a half ago, so please take the specific details with a grain of salt. I find that I had to wait this long to allow the events to settle in my mind’s perspective; an unpublished June 2013 version of this story didn’t capture the story’s essence to my satisfaction. I now know that — as some playwright once wrote — all’s well that ends well. — bk

In early 2013, I experienced the opportunity of a lifetime: the legendary virtuoso guitarist John McLaughlin had just finished recording a new album, and I was scheduled to interview him about it. The interview itself took place over the telephone – McLaughlin lives in France – and it ranks among my all-time favorite musical conversations. McLaughlin was engaging and forthright as we delved into all manner of subjects. When one is as well-known a figure as he is, there’s no worrying about “name dropping,” so he was happy to discuss his work with Miles Davis and others.

Near the end of our conversation, he made a point of telling me how much he had enjoyed the discussion. McLaughlin extended an invitation around his upcoming visit to Asheville NC: after the show, would I like to come backstage so we could meet in person? Why, yes. Yes, I would be willing to do that.

As the show approached, I was in touch with his publicist, making sure to iron out the details. Not that there were many: Am I on the guest list? Is my name on a cleared-to-go-backstage list? Yes and yes; his publicist is very good (you might be surprised how many times this sort of thing goes all wrong on the ground).

Around that time, another opportunity presented itself; a quite unusual one, in fact. A new friend of mine was planning a celebration around her upcoming 50th birthday party. The gist of the plan was that she had chartered a bus of sorts (more on that presently) and was planning on taking a merry caravan of friends on a trip from Asheville to Manchester TN for the 2013 Bonnaroo Festival. Would I like to come along? Why, yes. Yes, I think I might.

I had attended Bonnaroo in 2007, covering it for a feature that appeared in a print magazine where I just happened to be editor-in-chief. I went to that festival with my son Daniel, who at the time was only fourteen. We had a good and memorable time, but let’s just say that once it was over, my attitude about multiple-day, sleep-in-a-tent festivals was a resolute “never again.”

But this invitation had a number of appealing features. First of all, this bus – a sort of cross between the Merry Pranksters‘ Furthur and the coach that The Beatles chartered for their Magical Mystery Tour – had (I was told) sleeping quarters, air conditioning, a generator, and a rooftop stage where our little collective could stage impromptu “concerts” in the camping section at the festival. Second, most of the trip’s costs were to be covered by our host. And third, the bill for that year’s Bonnaroo included Paul McCartney.

So I said yes, and began sorting out my schedule to make time for the several-day excursion. As I learned of the trip’s itinerary, I quickly discovered that I had a bit of a conflict: the chartered bus trip was scheduled to leave a couple of days before the actual festival began. Why was this a problem? Because it meant that I would not be in Asheville on the night John McLaughlin was playing in town at the Orange Peel.

Luckily, it turned out that after his Asheville date, McLaughlin’s next-scheduled performance would be at none other than Bonnaroo! So I got back in touch with his publicist, explained the situation, and asked if I might instead meet the maestro backstage at the festival. No problem, I was told; they would even set me up with press credentials, meaning that I would have some backstage access for the whole of the the festival. Niiice, I thought. This was really working out well.

The crew for this adventure  included our host, who I had now known for just under two weeks. (Our initial meeting was actually a first date, but we quickly pivoted into just-friends mode.) Also on board would be an interesting and very nice couple who were close friends of hers. Another friend of our host had flown in from Alabama or somesuch to attend as well. And a last-minute addition – added because someone else had dropped out, and an extra ticket was lying about – was a friend of mine, yet another date-turned-friend. We’d be picking her up in east Tennessee, along the route to Manchester.

We were also slated to pick up two women who none of us knew, but who were described to me as “guards.” Their role, I was told, would be to stay behind at the campsite, keeping an eye on our bus and its contents while we enjoyed the festival. This struck me as a bit odd – who would go to the trouble to travel to an outdoor festival and then not take in the music on offer? – but there were lots of things about this trip that fell outside my sphere of experience. So playing strongly against type, I was just along for the ride, and had no hand in (or say in) any of the decisions about the nature of the excursion. Anyway, one of these so-called guards was to be picked up here in town before we left, and the other was to be collected somewhere (else) in east Tennessee, again along the way.

Our driver was a laid-back, friendly sort who also owned the bus; I wasn’t clear on his role in (and relationship to) the other members of the crew, but my vague impression was that he was a hired hand who would also be staying behind to watch the bus instead of the onstage performers. He reminded me of a cross between Shaggy from the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? and Timothy Leary; make of that what you will.

As scheduled, I showed up mid-morning at the point of departure. There I found the bus parked in its regular home, roadside amidst tall weeds, junked cars and mud puddles. I had packed as light as possible, though I did – on advice of our host – bring along a portable keyboard, stand, amplifier, and power cords. We were actually serious about staging some “jam” performances on the roof of this thing once we were set up at the campsite. (Those of you who know me in life may be raising your eyebrows at this point: I am decidedly not of the jamming sort. I would refer you to the immortal words of St. Ambrose: “When in Rome…”)

Joining me there were the driver/bus owner; our host; her out-of-town friend (both fully kitted out with many, many bags of makeup, hats, masks, costumes, helium-filled balloons, hair dryers, and god knows what-all else); and the female half of her friend-couple. The plan was to pick up the latter’s husband from the Federal Building downtown (he’s a lawyer, and had a case that morning). We rode the bus the five or six miles to the Federal Building, and since he would be briefly delayed, the bus was parked a half-block away, on a side street.

I sat there with my fellow travelers, popping open a beer or two and idly watching some of them fiddle with makeup and the like. At one point, I noticed a really loud hissing, and an odor that was both unpleasant and oddly familiar. “That smells like the inside of a tire,” I said out loud to no one in particular.

We ventured out to the curb to discover that yes indeed, we had a flat. We hadn’t even gotten anywhere close to leaving the city limits, we were already a tiny bit behind schedule, and…now we had a flat tire.

Once we collected our crew member from the courthouse, we headed to the only place in town that – we were told – could handle a flat tire on a vehicle of this size. It was a few miles outside of town, in the opposite direction from our destination.

When we got there, we had to wait: a giant fire truck was in line head of us, and for obvious reasons it took priority over a rainbow-painted bus filled part-way with luridly costumed revelers (all of whom were by now drinking iced-down beer from cans). Some two or so hours later, we were again on our way. Around this time, I worried silently for a brief moment: if we continued to fall behind schedule, might I miss my appointment to meet John McLaughlin before his performance? I brushed aside that fleeting concern: at this point, we were still scheduled to arrive nearly a day ahead of time. What could possibly go wrong?

At this point, dear reader, I hope you have picked up on my subtle literary use of a technique we writers like to call foreshadowing. If somehow you missed it, allow me to answer the question posited in the previous paragraph: Everything could go wrong. Yes, we finally got on the road. But some 77 miles into our trip (I measured it), the bus broke down. We had just finished navigating the section of I-40 that winds through the Pigeon River Gorge: ten or more miles of narrow, endlessly twisting road taken (by most vehicles) at around 70mph. The magic bus, it seemed, could only do about fifty, which was fine with me (I am prone to motion sickness). But mere moments after we came out of the gorge and into a resolutely deserted section of east Tennessee, the drive shaft (or something like that) broke. The bus ground to a halt on the roadside, and there we sat. For hours, in fact.

Once we found someone who could potentially fix the bus – and making that happen took a lot of cell phone work on the part of our host, and in fact we were lucky to get a cell connection at all – it was quite late in the day. I forget now just how many hours behind we were, but the more we learned, the worse the news got. The bus would have to be towed several miles east, using – wait for it – the shoulder of the westbound lane of traffic on I-40. A special tow truck – the kind you might see hauling a tractor-trailer or dump truck – would have to do the work. And because the bus itself was so tall (did I mention it had the body of an old VW Microbus welded onto its roof, with a portable performance stage atop that?) there was some real concern that it might not clear the underpasses between the spot where it died and the off-ramp (oh, pardon me: the on-ramp) to which it was headed.

Our rescuers arrived in a transit van, the type of thing designed to hold maybe a dozen people. Fine, right? Because there were (at this point) only seven of us: the driver, the host and her makeup-aficionado friend, the couple, one of the so-called guards, and me. But wait: because we didn’t know how soon we’d be getting the bus back, we had to take enough gear for – here it comes – an overnight stay. So the van was packed to capacity.

There was also road construction underway, so with lane closures, the twenty-mile trip to the nearest town of any appreciable size took us a couple of hours. By this point it was dark, well after 9pm. Meanwhile, the news from the repair shop (the bus had made the trip safely, thank goodness, with most of our belongings still on board) was not good: the magic bus had lost its magic, and would be sidelined for perhaps a week or more. So we bunked up for the night in a few rooms at a motel.

The next morning, we collected our two remaining travelers: my friend and the second “guard.” Once we were all gathered in the hotel lobby, we began to have discussions as to what we should do. Our host had by this point rented a pair of transit vans, big enough to carry all of us and a scaled-down version of our gear (the rest would stay with the bus).

My own contribution to the discussion was the idea that our host should cut her losses, send the inessential members of the crew home, and head onto Bonnaroo. By my reckoning, she didn’t need all of these people. The bus driver was wholly superfluous. So he could go home, or perhaps stay with his brokedown bus until it was repaired. We wouldn’t be staying in the vehicle campground, so we didn’t need those guards. (By the way, the two of them were chatting a good bit about which acts they were planning to see at the festival, so it quickly became evident that they weren’t going to be standing guard over our stuff anyway.)

And since our host hardly knew me at all (and knew my friend even less) it made sense to cut us loose. Besides, I figured, if we left for home now, I’d make it back to Asheville in time to see John McLaughlin play (assuming I could reach his publicist and convince her to change the plans to suit me yet again).

Our host was having none of it. She was bound and determined to see the trip through in a manner as close as possible to her original vision. It made no sense to me, but I bit my tongue and stuck to my along-for-the-ride approach. We trundled back east to where the magic bus was now in storage, went aboard and got the bare essentials. For me, this meant some of the food and drink from my cooler, and the rest of my clothing. My thousand dollars’ worth of musical gear (and that of some of my fellow travelers) would await our post-festival return.

Our host and her friend collected their bare essentials as well: the costumes, the shopping bags full of beauty aids (blow dryers, curlers etc.), and a few fistfuls of balloons (there were fifty total; mercifully, a few were left behind). All of these must-haves were squeezed into our vans, and we began our westward caravan. At this point we were almost exactly twenty-four hours behind schedule. I was supposed to be meeting John McLaughlin that very afternoon.

Thankfully, the remainder of the trip to Manchester went off with little interruption. Once we approached Manchester, however, the traffic slowed to a standstill, as it always does near the entrance to Bonnaroo. Getting through that traffic and the entry checkpoint took a few hours; by the time we rolled onto the parking area, it was minutes before my scheduled appointment with McLaughlin. As soon as the vehicle’s gear went into park, I said goodbye to my fellow travelers, leaped from the van, and began a one-mile-plus journey on foot through the entry gate and past many thousands of festivalgoers. My destination was the press area, conveniently situated on the opposite end of the Bonnaroo complex from where we were parked. With single-minded purpose, I navigated my way across the acres in record time.

When I arrived at the press tent, it was oddly quiet. There were very few people present, and a line of director’s chairs on the stage was empty. I spotted a TV reporter who was busily scribbling away in her notebook, so I approached her. “Do you know when John McLaughlin will be here?” She looked at me with eyes that said I wasn’t going to enjoy her answer. “He left about ten minutes ago.”

The remainder of the trip had its high points, but was mostly punctuated with misadventures that are best left unrecollected. We all made it safely home afterward, and we were reunited with our belongings about a week later. The bus wasn’t so lucky: I believe that I heard it was a few weeks before it was repaired enough to be driven the 70 miles or so back to Asheville.

But when I was still in Manchester TN, I was so downcast that I skipped the second of three days of the festival, electing instead to stay behind at the motel (a good half hour away from Bonnaroo). As it turned out, it was a low-key, highly enjoyable day. I took a swim, had a few beers, read a book, napped, and dined out at a nearby pizza place. I also spent a good portion of that afternoon on the phone with a woman back home who I was getting to know (though we hadn’t met in person at this point). Today that woman is my wife.

I never did get to meet John McLaughlin, but I did get to see his concert. It was predictably wonderful. McCartney was great, too.

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In Memoriam: Paul Revere (Part Two)

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Continued from Part One

All that said, Paul Revere‘s understanding of his band’s place in history was informed by that attitude. He was often willing to be interviewed, but would quickly tire of questions about “the old days.” By all accounts, he simply wasn’t interested in “preserving the legacy” of the band he started more than a half century ago. Thus, one never got much in the way of a quote from him to the effect that Paul Revere and the Raiders occupied an important place in music and/or pop culture history. He left others to make that argument, and he did little or nothing to back them up in their efforts. He was too busy lining up another show to just plain entertain the audiences.

What that meant in practical terms for this writer became clearer and clearer as time wore on: even before his illness, Revere wasn’t all that interested in sitting down for a series of career-spanning interviews designed to form the basis of a Raiders history. Even though I had (directly or indirectly) secured commitments from a long list of people in or around the band’s orbit, the whole proposed project hinged on Revere’s cooperation.

While his estranged co-bandleader Mark Lindsay had turned down my request for interviews connected with a planned book (“I’m writing my own book,” he says, which is, frankly, what they all say), I had a plan for dealing with that: once I had concluded my interviews with Revere, other band members past and present, roadies, friends and, er, former groupies, I planned to reconnect with him (I’ve interviewed him a few times in recent years) and give him the opportunity to help clarify a few things.

I had hoped that my 2010 trip to Branson would include a face-to-face interview with Revere, hopefully the first of several; many months earlier when I was researching for the Raiders cover story I wrote for Shindig! Magazine, I had endeavored to set up a phone interview. At the time Revere’s wife was dealing with some health issues of her own, so Paul was busy looking after her, and unavailable for comment. And in the end, I got only a few up-close-and-personal moments with Revere; we spoke briefly about the cover story and the group’s upcoming cruise gigs. The interview never happened.

I persisted through my intermediary for a long time thereafter; in fact I prepared a “Ten Reasons” sheet for Revere just three weeks before his passing. While there were others in recent years who had gone down a similar path, I was arguably unique in that I didn’t have a secondary agenda. Unlike another party who pitched Revere on a (different) project, I had no interest in engineering a rapprochement between him and Lindsay to serve as a tidy “wrapup” for my telling of the story. Thanks to unwelcome experiences like that, Revere was quite wary of people pitching him on books, films and the like.

As best as I can tell, Paul Revere never saw that “Ten Reasons” document; now I understand and appreciate why that was the case.

It was only the day before Revere’s death that a trollish woman posted on the band’s official Facebook page that “they were no good after Mark Lindsey (sic) left.” Revere wasn’t ever active online, but I’m certain he would have rolled his eyes at that statement, having heard it many times before. The point for him was never looking back. It’s a bit like telling a fifty year old, “You looked better when you were twenty.” Sure, maybe I did, but I’m here now and so are you: take me or leave me. And the heavy performing schedule that Paul Revere and the Raiders maintained up through the end of 2013 proved that plenty of people liked the current lineup just fine, thanks.

With Revere gone, the band has tweaked its branding a bit: they’re now Paul Revere’s Raiders. Paul’s son Jamie Revere has rejoined the group, and concert dates are scheduled well into 2015. To those who would argue that the band won’t be the same without “Uncle Paul,” I’d agree. It can’t, won’t, and shouldn’t. But neither was it the same without Mike “Doc” Holladay. Or certainly without the celebrated “power trio” of Phil Volk, Drake Levin and Michael “Smitty” Smith. Or Keith Allison. Or Mark Lindsay. Or Omar Martinez, for that matter. It’s about the music and the show, full stop.

And the show will go on. Paul Revere’s Raiders have a new single coming out very soon, issued on red 45rpm vinyl, a cut called “Still Hungry.” The title is an overt reference, of course, to one of the band’s biggest hit singles, 1966′s top-tenner “Hungry.” I’ve heard an advance of it, and while it has almost nothing musically in common with anything the Raiders did in the 60s, it’s a sturdy, rocking tune. As with pretty much every Raiders recording of note from ’65 onward, Paul Revere isn’t audibly present, but his (so to speak) spirit informs the performance, just like it did all the others. I’m certain he was proud of it, though he likely thought of the impending release more as either a show souvenir or a means to get more people interested to buy a ticket to one of his shows.

I expect now that longtime efforts to see Paul Revere and the Raiders inducted into the so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may finally bear fruit. And while they deserve the accolade previously given to such noteworthy “rock and roll” acts as Randy Newman, Public Enemy, ABBA, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jimmy Cliff, James Taylor and Donna Summer, I honestly don’t think Revere would have cared beyond the award’s potential short-term effect on ticket sales.

Now, the central figure in the Raiders story — the only one there from beginning to end — has gone silent, and done so without leaving a first-hand document behind to tell that story. Of the “original” band (in other words, mostly guy whose names most wouldn’t recognize), only Mark Lindsay remains. Of the most popular Where the Action Is era and later 60s lineups, several survive, and many are still active in music. If I can come up with a way to tell the story as it should be told with the help of several of them, the book idea might somehow get off the ground, but for now it’s on indefinite hold.

I’m sure too that in the meanwhile, various players in and around Revere’s orbit will come out with their own stories. And as is human nature, some of them will portray themselves as the protagonist, the one who gallantly slayed the dragons, stood up to the formidable opposition, and kept the flame burning. And while they all have merit, don’t you be misled: as Revere told Ed Osborne in 2009, “It was my band, and I ran that son-of-a-bitch like a sergeant.”

And he did it dressed like Captain Crunch, laughing all the while. Again, quoting from the Osborne interview (which forms the basis of the liner notes for the 3CD set of the band’s Columbia singles),

“Looking back, we really had an incredible run. We owe so much to Roger Hart and Dick Clark and all the people that worked so hard…overall I can’t complain because we had an unbelievable amount of success that most groups never get to have. Any mistakes that were made along the way don’t mean shit after it’s all said and done. Everything turned out for the best.”

Paul is survived by his third wife, Syd; his adult children; his bandmates current and former; and the legion of Paul Revere and the Raiders fans. A funeral service this coming weekend will be open to the public; after that, a private burial will have him interred in his home state of Idaho.

Read more of my Raider-related writing here.

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In Memoriam: Paul Revere (Part One)

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

As you have likely heard, Paul Revere passed away on Saturday. Age 76, he had been diagnosed about a year ago with brain cancer; despite that challenge, he remained active and onstage with his band Paul Revere and the Raiders until a few months ago.

As some readers will know, I have written extensively about the man and his band. I’ve also found myself right on the periphery of the inner circle, in regular contact with members of what one might call “the Revere organization,” some of those closest to the man himself. So while I don’t claim any special degree of access, I was perhaps a bit more clued into the situation than the average fan.

The reason for my contact was pretty simple: through intermediaries, I had – for quite some time now – been attempting to convince Revere to cooperate with me on a planned book that would chronicle his fifty-plus years in music. The book would have charted the history of Paul Revere and the Raiders from their earliest days as The Downbeats; through the period when they were one of the hottest bands on the Pacific Northwest scene (when they cut “Louie, Louie”); on through the most well-known period when they signed with Columbia and racked up more television appearances than any other musical artist before, then or since; through the lean years in the early 1970s, by which time the band had fallen out of popular favor and lost charismatic lead vocalist Mark Lindsay; and – and this is important – from then until now, when, save for a brief year or so – Revere continued to lead the band through a revue/nostalgia phase that brought joy to countless baby boomers (and their kids and grandkids).

That last part really is important, because knowing what I do know of the man, this post-record-deal period (lasting some thirty years now!) would have been every bit as important to Paul Revere as the hit-making 1960s era. Some (and if they have any self-awareness at all, they know who they are) go on endlessly about the so-called “Raiders legacy,” but at the risk of projecting a point of view onto someone who has passed on, I strongly suspect Revere would have shook his head and laughed at that. Paul Revere was that rarest of creatures, the likes of which one doesn’t stumble across much these days: an entertainer. His brief, as he saw it, was to entertain. He was largely untroubled by such ambitions as “artistic self-expression” and such.

Now, don’t get me wrong: the man could play some mean piano. Perversely, many of the obituaries now appearing in print and online credit Revere as “leader and organist” of his band. While it’s true that on many of the group’s biggest hits, the Vox Continental organ is the keyboard of choice – and Revere was often seen mime-playing the organ in video clips and on episodes of Where the Action Is – he’s on record as saying he truly disliked the organ. On record, the parts were often played, uncredited, by others: Glen D. Hardin, Van Dyke Parks, sometimes even bassist Phil “Fang” Volk. Revere was a boogie-woogie piano man of the highest order, and he could still wow ‘em when he wanted to. When I saw him onstage in 2010, he did a show-stopping solo number, and (cough, cough) there’s a private audio recording of that performance to prove just how amazing it was.

But onstage and in other idioms, Paul Revere sought to entertain, not make artistic statements. That’s why his revue band (circa 1975 onward) ran through somewhat perfunctory versions of the hit singles; the live versions were smashed together in an all-killer-no-filler medley that gave each hit something like thirty seconds to a minute. Revere rarely composed songs for the band, and as such his approach to the catalog might seem irreverent: give ‘em a few seconds and move on, he would have thought. His well-worn stage banter included a bit about successfully rewriting one of the band’s biggest hits “backward” so they could earn another hit. Coming from anyone else, such sentiments would have sounded cynical and antagonistic; from Revere, it was all good fun, all done in the same spirit of serving more of that elusive quality we call entertainment.

And it was Revere’s general disinterest in “artistic” statements that factored into his mid 1970s break with Mark Lindsay. (Yes, yes, hardcore fans: I know well and good that there are other reasons, but it’s not ours to speculate, and I’d argue that most of those issues flow originally from the two men’s basic lack of meeting-of-the-minds.) By the time of a fateful gig at Knott’s Berry Farm, Lindsay had decided he had had enough: he had aspirations (realized to an impressive degree) of a solo career, and had tired of cranking out the hits to amusement park and county fair audiences, so he split. With his focus on entertainment, Revere had no compunction about replacing Lindsay (and anyone else before or after who needed replacing) and soldiering on, so to speak. Long-time Raiders manager and confidante Roger Hart succinctly characterized Revere’s attitude toward his band: “a well-oiled machine, with occasional spare parts.”

Click to continue to Part Two

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Please Come To Boston; We Said Yes.

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Last week, my fianceé and I bumped into an old acquaintance of mine; he is a guitarist who, back in 2005, my then-current band had tried to recruit. It hadn’t worked out at the time, but I always remembered him as an especially good-natured and versatile player. When we were chatting, he mentioned that he had recently spoken to a woman who really liked that old band I had; sometime in 2005, we had played for her birthday party. Apparently now she was interested in asking if we’d re-form to play her upcoming birthday.

I replied to him that – for a long and occasionally unpleasant list of reasons – that would be extremely unlikely to happen, but the conversation did get me to thinking about that old band, and the highlight of its time together.

A little over eight years ago, I enjoyed a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While I have been in bands on and off since 1980, it has been the rare case in which I’ve ended up playing a nice stage in a classy venue. As a (mostly) cover-band musician, I’ve generally found myself onstage in places with names like The Shovelhead Saloon, Frank’s Buckboard and the like, playing to often disinterested and/or drunk crowds.

This was different. And it almost didn’t happen.

In the aftermath of the death of my good friend and lead guitarist Dave, my bandmate and friend Mike decided we’d try again to put together a group. We got with Dave’s surviving girlfriend Susie, and she brought along her friend Debbie, an expert at crafting vocal arrangements. Eventually we added my then-wife Joan to compete the female vocal front line, and we held auditions and settled on a guitarist and a bassist. (The guitar slot would change often in the band’s brief existence.)

As we built our song list – focusing on “sunshine pop” of the 60s with strong emphasis on vocals, since five of us sang – we also began looking for gigs. We found quite a few local engagements; most of these were private parties, events and the like. We were not what you would call a “bar band,” and since in 2005-6 smoking was still allowed in North Carolina bars, we were none too keen on that kind of gig anyway.

One among our membership had a good deal of disposable income, and was often adding instruments to his collection. He kept up with the latest and greatest technological developments to a much greater extent than did the rest of us, and so it was he who first told us about a new PA system developed by Bose, the high-end audio company based in suburban Boston. Bose was attempting to break into the live sound reinforcement market with something they called the Cylindrical Radiator. To me, the thing looked like a portable basketball hoop with out the net and backboard. The round-ish base was about two feet across, and held most of the electronics. The pole was filled with loads of tiny speakers, a precursor to the sound towers now common in home theater setups.

As it happened, our bandmate decided to take a stab at an endorsement deal: he sent a letter to the Bose people, enclosing a CDR with a few of our performances on it. I seriously doubt he expected any sort of response.

To everyone’s surprise, he got one. The marketing people at Bose HQ liked our covers of tunes like “Sunday Will Never Be the Same” by Spanky and Our Gang, and “Happy Together” by The Turtles. And they made us an offer: (please) come to Boston and play a concert for us at our facility, and we’ll send you home with loads of equipment, yours to keep.

Oh: I left out a little detail. Right around this time, that wife I mentioned earlier informed me that she didn’t want to be married (to me) any longer. (It’s cool: eight years have passed, and we’re friendly now.) But at the time, this – as you might well imagine – put the band’s future in no small peril. As it happened, she and I agreed that we wanted to keep the band together and do this gig. So several weeks later, I, my estranged spouse, and my buddy Mike road-tripped the fourteen-plus hour drive north to Massachusetts. The other members traveled their own ways: some flew, and I believe one tacked Boston onto an already-scheduled vacation. The guitarist – quite understandably – decided the whole venture wasn’t worth the effort, and declined to make the trip.

But we did need a guitarist. My long-time friend Jim lives just outside of Boston; he and I played together in a band back in the 1990s when we both lived in the suburbs of Atlanta. I asked him if he’d like to do a one-off gig at Bose: all he had to do was learn a dozen or so tunes on his own. There would be no practice nor rehearsal. He gamely agreed, and he and his wife even allowed me and a few of my bandmates to crash at his place to save on expenses.

The author onstage for soundcheck at Bose HQ, Boston, June 2006

The day of the gig arrived, and we showed up at Bose. We were quite surprised at the VIP treatment lavished upon us: we were invited to dine in the corporate cafeteria; we were given access to a comfortable and well-appointed “green room” (quite different from the filthy bar bathrooms in which I’d usually dress for a gig), and – best of all – we had plenty of time to set up.

The venue was a “listening room,” full of chairs and a large, well-lit stage. As it was explained to us, Bose had promoted our performance locally ahead of time; tickets were free, but they had to be reserved in advance. The room held about eighty or so people, and it would filled to capacity for our show.

The stage itself was largely unadorned: the back wall, however, had nine of those Bose PA systems lined up and evenly spaced. One for each of our voices and instruments, we were told. The house sound engineer was on hand to guide us through this unconventional setup, and sound check went off without incident. We even had some time to run through two or three of the tunes for the first time with Jim on guitar.

Just prior to showtime, we were asked to wait backstage while the emcee introduced us. This was yet another first for me: I was used to wandering out onstage with the band, announcing our presence, and starting the music. Or this performance, we entered the room single file to the sound of room-filling applause. It didn’t seem real, and my memory of it sometimes feels like I’m remembering someone else’s experience.

The show went smoothly, with some between-song banter that nicely strode the gap between rehearsed and off-the-cuff. The seated audience was enthusiastic and engaged. When we prepared to launch into a cover of The Spiral Starecase‘s “More Today Than Yesterday,” I bought a bit of time by narrating what I was doing: loading a “brass section” sample (on floppy disk) into my Ensoniq Mirage synthesizer, a machine that was vintage equipment even in 2006.

The set ended as it began, with plenty of heartfelt applause. Our new equipment was shipped to us in Asheville not long thereafter. The band folded a few months later, after I organized and executed a final gig at Asheville’s Orange Peel, featuring a reshuffled lineup. As we all went our separate ways, the bounty of Bose equipment was sold off; with my share of the proceeds I bought an old but fully restored analog synthesizer.

The Bose people were kind enough to capture the entire performance in digital audio, one audio file for each of the nine PA towers. Sometime after the band ceased to exist, one member took those files into a local studio and got them mixed down to stereo. I still have a CD somewhere, and as I recall, it sounds pretty good.

Since then, more often than not, it’s been back to the bars for me, though in my most recent musical endeavor, I’ve been playing original music (written by the band’s leader) in some very nice musical venues. But every once in a great while – and I’m not especially nostalgic by nature, especially for the year 2006 – I think back on that experience, and I smile.

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Five Years!

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Today, July 30th, marks what I consider the Official Anniversary of this Musoscribe blogzine. Five years ago today I began what would quickly become a daily blog: every business day since, I’ve posted something here – an interview, a review, an essay – generally in the 500- to 1100-word range.

At right: Bill Kopp with Tim DeLaughter of The Polyphonic Spree (2007)

The blog started in the wake of the effective death of the print magazine where I was Editor-in-Chief; for some time I had worked for them in various capacities. I got my start as contributor of a column (the still-occasionally-seen-here “Bootleg Bin”) for their online arm. In fairly short order I started writing album reviews, and since assignment of those was luck of the draw, I found myself covering hip-hop acts, black metal bands, crypto-Christian hardcore groups, and insipid singer/songwriters. Soon thereafter, I scored a few feature assignments, doing interviews and writing about some bands you may have heard of: Fall Out Boy, The Flaming Lips, KT Tunstall and several others. A few of them were even cover stories.

Things progressed from there as the magazine (which, owing to how things ended, I won’t dignify by naming) sought to increase its stature and credibility. I took on the role of co-copy editor, honing into shape the often very rough copy submitted by paid (but often inexperienced) reviewers and writers. When my co-editor found he couldn’t keep up with the demands of the workload, I took on the entire responsibility for the final edit on every word that appeared in or on the magazine (except advertisements). Things went well, the magazine expanded, and I was soon able to enlist the expert talents of some of the best writers-on-music working today, including J. Poet and Evie Nagy (the latter of whom went on to top positions at Paste and Billboard), while incurring the enduring wrath of some lesser lights who were sent packing. I also scored feature/interviews with Yoko Ono, Dungen, and Neil Finn.

Bill Kopp with Keith Emerson

In April 2008 I traveled – on behalf of the magazine – to New Orleans for Ponderosa Stomp #7, where I had the extreme pleasure of conducting an in-person interview with the mysterious ? of ? (Question Mark) and the Mysterians, and with no-hit wonders Green Fuz. Upon arriving home, I learned that the sole benefactor of the magazine (yeah, one guy was keeping it afloat while the “ad exec” did f**k-knows-what all day) had abruptly closed his purse, and that forthcoming issues of the print magazine would not be…forthcoming. To make matters worse, a few months’ pay owed to me would also not be arriving, ever.

Bill Kopp with Todd Rundgren

Thus ended the magazine and my association with it. I remain grateful to the people who put their trust in me to help produce a quality product, and I am proud of the work my team and I did during my time there.

But I quickly found myself at loose ends: I had made writing about music a major part of my daily life, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. I had no wish to stop. I began doing a bit of writing for my hometown’s excellent altweekly, Mountain Xpress, including feature interviews with The Moody Blues, Todd Rundgren, Henry Rollins and other big names. (Today I write a twice-monthly blog for MtnX, called “30 Days Out.”) I wrote for some other outlets as well, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy my creative urges.

Bill Kopp with Shuggie Otis

A good friend of mine (and a left-high-and-dry magazine subscriber who never got the lion’s share of her money’s worth) suggested I start a blog. I had a decent number of written pieces (about a hundred or so, including work I had done for other print and online outlets), so why didn’t I publish them on a site of my own, say, one a week or so?

Good idea, I thought. If nothing else, it would be a place to store all of my music-related content. So I started, initially hosted on a free (read: crappy) web server. I loaded all of my written pieces on there, including full versions of some pieces that had been edited down to fit in a printed space. And there were also a handful of pieces slated to appear in the magazine: written, edited and laid out, they nonetheless had never appeared in print. The most notable of these was an interview with David Johansen of The New York Dolls. This new site wasn’t really a blog; it was more of an archive.

Not long after I took my friend’s advice (which also included getting active – against my initial better judgment – on Facebook and Twitter), I decided to go ahead with the blog idea, but with new material. And since I remained on good terms with many industry and publicity people, I was continuing to receive music for potential review, and offers to conduct interviews.

Bill Kopp with Henry Rollins

And that’s how I got here, five years ago today. For the first month or two, I did in fact post just weekly, and the pieces were very short. But on July 30, 2009, I posted three reviews, and since then I’ve never looked back…

Well, of course I have looked back: I’m doing so right now. But what I really want to say here is a big, sincere thank-you to anyone and everyone who’s ever read one of my reviews, features or essays. Even if you didn’t agree or didn’t like what I wrote (or how I wrote it). Thank you also to all of the fine music label and publicity folks who keep me current on the surfeit of great music that continues to come out every day (about that: reader, don’t let anyone ever try to convince you otherwise). And a massive, heartfelt thanks to each and every recording artist who has had their album reviewed or covered by me, and/or who has taken the time to talk with me about their life, career and music.

I have so much stuff in store for this blog’s future that I’m nearly bursting with excitement. Stay tuned. And once again, thank you.

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In Memoriam: Johnny Winter, 1944-2014

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

According to his publicist, legendary guitarist John Dawson Winter III died on July 15 in his Zurich, Switzerland hotel room.

I count myself lucky to have interviewed Johnny Winter twice (please see the list of links at bottom of this essay), and to have seen him play onstage once. I know very little about albinism, but what little I have read suggests that those with the condition tend to have a shorter life expectancy than the general population. And the same is true of junkies; though Johnny was a great talent, nobody will deny that he was hooked on hard drugs for a major portion of his life. Those two facts taken together make it all the more remarkable that the Beaumont, TX-born guitarist made it past his 70th birthday.

In his last decade or so, Johnny really did turn things around. The stories I heard strongly suggested that he had been at the mercy of manipulative and exploitative management for many years. But my the time I first connected with him (2007) he had hooked up with Paul Nelson, who served as his manger and second guitarist. Nelson worked with Johnny to reassert control over parts of his catalog, and was clearly a very positive figure in Winter’s life and career.

The qualities that came through to me about the man were his forthrightness and his taciturn nature. Even though Nelson had warned me in advance (“Hit him hard,” he coached me in advance of my first interview with Johnny), I found myself unable to get much out of the guitarist. If there were any conceivable way to answer one of my questions with a single word – usually “yup” or “nope” – Johnny would find it.

I did manage to draw him out a bit in our first talk, enough to have him tell me about the time he had a date with one Janis Joplin; they went to see Candice Bergen‘s Myra Breckenridge in a movie house. But the cliché “He prefers to let the music do the talking” may as well have been written to describe Johnny Winter.

When we spoke again in 2011 about his involvement with the latest “comeback” album from Sly Stone, he made it clear that he – like everyone else associated with the project – had never met the enigmatic artist. Though he never came right out and said it, the clear implication was that Winter’s guitar playing on one of Stone’s tracks was just a job, nothing more.

That certainly wasn’t true of Johnny Winter’s rock and blues recordings released under his own name. Even when his health was poor and he was (reportedly) being exploited by those close to him, the music rarely suffered. His Alligator releases of the 1980s have worn well, and are happily free (for the most part) of the era’s production/arrangement clichés. And of course his output in the 1970s is virtually without peer. My favorite of all his recordings are a pair of tracks form his 1978 LP White, Hot and Blue: “Walking By Myself” and the Junior Wells standard “Messin’ with the Kid.” On both of these Johnny is joined by a second guitarist, freeing Winter to spit out blistering solos. And that –along with Winter’s growling vocals – is what draws people to Winter’s music.

I didn’t manage to meet Johnny in person when he played Asheville’s Orange Peel in 2007, but I did manage to snap a number of photos. As my own tribute to the man and his music, I’m sharing a few of these below. With the exception of the one in which he’s seated at the front of the stage (with the “Bar” neon sign clearly visible behind him), these are all previously unpublished shots form my private collection.

At the close of our first interview, I thanked Johnny for taking the time to speak with me, and made a point – as I often do – to thank him for his music. I thank him again and send positive thoughts to those – his band mates, business associates and his wife – that he leaves behind.

For more of my writings on Johnny Winter, feel free to explore these links:

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Bonus Weekend Post: Call Me “Steve Asheville.”

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

I needed some chimney work done this week, so on the recommendation of a Facebook friend, I called a local business. When I spoke to the guy, his name (Joe Carlson) sounded familiar. I asked him if he was also a musician (in Asheville, you have to be one of those, a poet, a massage therapist or “life coach,” otherwise they turn you away at the city limits).

Anyway, he said yes. “I thought so,” I said. Then I reminded him of a studio session I did for an album he was working on. I laid down keyboard overdubs on four or five of his original songs, mostly using Wurlitzer electric piano and Mellotron string samples. This would have been back in February 2006 (I checked my records). We hadn’t met before the brief studio session, nor did our paths ever cross again, until today.

Turns out that when time came to finally release the finished album (in 2011, some five-plus years after my overdub sessions) he didn’t remember my name. So on the liner notes, the credit reads: “Steve Asheville: mellotron and synthesizer.” I had never heard the finished mixes until today when he brought me a copy…and sealed my chimney flue.

I had totally forgotten the session, as well as the session fee. I gotta say, I really like the ‘Tron textures on the title track of Living Sideways (I come in just before the one-minute mark). And I’m a fan of any mix that puts my work up-front, especially when it also means I can claim to be on an album with such musical heavyweights as Eliot Wadopian and River Guerguerian!

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A Personal Note to My Readers

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Happy Memorial Day.

As readers who’ve clicked on my profile page may know, I encourage readers to “friend” me on Facebook. Many have done so. And those who have may know that of late my life has been a series of changes and a hive of activity these last several weeks.

The good news is that it’s all good. I got engaged to a wonderful woman, put my home of seven years up for sale, got said home under contract, went house hunting, made an offer on a new home (accepted), closed on both homes, moved, combined households, took a quick vacation to New York City, finished (well, nearly) the largest project of my day-job career, attended my sister’s college graduation, covered two major music festivals (Big Ears and Moogfest, the latter yet to be written about), went to several other shows, conducted several interviews, and kept up my schedule of a new blog entry every business day as the fifth anniversary of the Musoscribe blog approaches next month.

Whew! See what I mean? Busybusybusy. And there’s a lot to come; I have amassed a huge backlog of CDs (reissues, compilations and new releases), music-related DVDs and books, and have several interviews “in the can” but not yet written as features.

So thanks for your patience as I simultaneously work my day job, unpack and feather our new nest, and work through this backlog. I also invite you to peruse some of the more than 1300 pieces already here. I hope you’ll find something you enjoy. Stay tuned!

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Iggy in ’80

Monday, August 26th, 2013

It was 1980. I was all of sixteen, and enrolled in a private high school that had only gone co-ed the year before I started 9th grade. I lived in the white-bread suburbs of North Atlanta, and my idea of going to “the city” was getting my Dad (or one of my friends’ dads) to drop us off at the mall where we’d catch a MARTA bus into Buckhead. Now, Buckhead wasn’t (and isn’t) the city-proper; in those days it was a conglomeration of high-end shopping malls, restaurants, stately older homes, and Oz Records.

No points if you guessed that Oz was our favorite (read: only) Buckhead destination. This large record store not only had a great selection, it was equipped with a used department; there I scored copies of relatively recent titles such as Wings at the Speed of Sound and Gary Wright‘s Dream Weaver for not much more than $2 or $3. And they had bootlegs, too…but that’s another story.

Point being, really, that I lived a safe, somewhat provincial life. One semi-edgy thing that I did do was spend study hall or free period with some of my good friends (usually Randy, David and/or Eddie – how’s that for a bunch of suburban-sounding names?), listening to albums we’d each bring from home. We’d check a portable phonograph out from the school library, and take it down to the breezeway (the classroom buildings were sort of built on stilts), find an outlet and spend an hour or so spinning new music. Those times would be my first exposure to groups like The Psychedelic Furs (they had just released their first – and best – LP) along with some true “outsider” acts and titles. While I’d as often as not bring something along the lines of a George Harrison LP, my friends would turn me onto things like Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music, Half Japanese, The Residents and other decidedly uncommercial offerings.

So when my friend and classmate Randy suggested I go with him to an upcoming concert, I knew it would be pretty well outside my frame of musical reference. To that point, I had only been to a few concerts, most notable among them my very first: Electric Light Orchestra in October 1978. (Yes, that was the spaceship/hamburger bun tour. Pretty cool.) This show would be taking place at a (then and now) legendary club in midtown called 688. The artist in question would be doing a five- or six-day residency, and while 688 was most definitely a bar (and a punk one at that), this residency was to include a special “teen night.” So we could get in on this no-alcohol club date.

So having convinced my parents that we’d be safe, I went to the local record store (“S.E.A.T.S. Outlet”) and bought my ticket to see…Iggy Pop. Now, I had never heard The Stooges, nor any of Iggy’ subsequent work, so Randy set about schooling me. He brought in the Bomp Records green vinyl Kill City, and I thought, well, wow. This is some pretty abrasive, angry stuff. Then he played me Iggy’s then-current album, Soldier. That was a little easier to take, I thought. I think Randy might have brought in and played The Stooges, but I am sure he didn’t turn me onto Fun House.

Having heard these records, I felt reasonably confident that I knew what I was in for.

I was wrong.

Monday, September 15. We arrived at 688 when it was still light outside. The area around the lonely, dingy white concrete block building at 688 Spring Street looked like a fairly dangerous place to be once night fell, so as soon as the doors opened, in we went. The place was dark and pretty decrepit. There was a bar near the back of the smallish room, but as I recall it wasn’t open, even for sodas and such. There was no snack bar.

The stage was no more than two or three feet higher than the main floor. And it was no larger (and in fact probably smaller) than the stage I recalled from my old elementary school’s cafeteria. The ceiling was pretty low, too. So while I had very little prior concert exposure, I could see that this would be a different experience. Unlike the Omni sports arena or Fabulous Fox Theatre, there were no seats! We’d have to stand the whole show.

I did notice that on the right-hand side of the stage, someone had scrawled in large, crude black lettering the entire setlist. A few of the song titles looked familiar: “Search and Destroy” from Raw Power, “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “No Fun.” (As it happened, Iggy’s set list would remain on that wall, enshrined for history, as long as 688 remained open.)

A little while after the supposed official start time, the band came out. While I didn’t know (much less appreciate) it at the time, I would later learn that the bassist on the tour was Glen Matlock, most well known as the man who was kicked out of the Sex Pistols in favor of non-musician Sid Vicious. I don’t recall even knowing who the other players were.

And there’s a good reason for that: when Iggy Pop hit the stage, everything else became secondary. Almost immediately, he stripped down to bikini briefs and socks. I laughed (to myself; I didn’t want to get beaten up by some hardcore fan) as I noticed that they were a matched set: lavender with what looked like little crescent moons or some other pattern on them. I wasn’t about to get close enough to find out for sure.

Iggy grabbed the mic in that Iggy way of his, and roared into it, “Anybody got any drugs?” I didn’t know what to think; was he joking?

He was not, and the crowd did not mistake his request for a joke. From all directions, hands extended toward him, offering all manner of illicit substances. He received all of them, consumed them all on the spot, and then the show started.

I’d like to be able to recount the evening’s details from this point on, but I was so unnerved by what I had just witnessed that the rest of the evening went by in a blur. I do recall that it was very loud, that Iggy jumped into the audience several times, and that every few minutes an audience member would storm the stage, only to be violently manhandled by bouncers back into the crowd. Iggy didn’t do anything that involved broken glass or peanut butter.

I suppose I enjoyed the show. But more importantly perhaps, I think I realized that I had witnessed something historic. I saved my ticket stub (I still have it) and on the way out, I pulled the black-and-white concert poster off of the grimy wall. Some thirty-three years later, it is framed and proudly displayed on my living room wall.

I’d return to 688 a number of times in subsequent years (once I turned eighteen). Some of the more memorable shows I witnessed included LMNOP and Alex Chilton. When I saw the latter, there was a sort of nerdy guy standing next to me in the crowd, wearing an FFA jacket. I stared at him for a moment, and finally worked up the courage to ask him: “Are you Mike Mills?” The bass player for R.E.M. said yes. But while that was cool, nothing would really compare to the experience of seeing Iggy Pop on that stage in his socks and undies, singing to us teenagers that he wanted to be our dog.

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His Phone Calls Suck. But You Will Laugh.

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

And now for something completely different. If you’ll forgive this sort of inside-baseball indulgence, I’d like to share some spit-take-inducing mirth with you.

You might not have given much thought that such a thing exists, but in the music business there’s a job title known as “music publicist.” This person – sometimes in the employ of a record label, but more often contracted by a label, management or artist for the duration of a project – bears the responsibility of getting the word out about (for example) an artist’s latest album. He or she creates a press kit, promotes that kit to a mailing list of publications and freelancers, follows up with them, makes advance copies of the music available, and facilitates interviews and show passes.

It’s a lot of work, and although some publicists make a great living at it, most do it primarily for the love of music and the people who make it. In that way they’re similar to the musicians themselves as well as the writers who cover ‘em. In fact, there’s a tremendous amount of overlap: many publicists are musicians themselves, and even more are (former) music journalists.

There’s one component of the music publicist’s job that’s not often remarked upon, and that’s the role of gatekeeper. All manner of opportunists, rank amateurs and just-plain-clowns are constantly lining up for free show passes, free CDs, free access to the artists, free whatever anything and everything. And the chutzpah with which they request (and often, believe it or not, demand) these things is shocking. It’s the publicist’s often unpleasant responsibility to keep these characters at bay. Sometimes they’re harmless/clueless, sometimes not.

But, in the right light, said chutzpah is also funny. Very funny. So funny, in fact, that collecting a bunch of the exchanges (via text, email, telephone, etc.) between them and publicists might make a great blog.

And guess what: such a blog exists. More remarkable is that all of the exchanges on that blog are transcripts of the experiences of one man. One person. That person is Rey Roldan, president of Another Reybee Production, Inc., a NYC-based PR firm that represents A-list artists (as well as a number of up-and-coming ones, and some hey-we’re-back ones you’d be delighted to know about). He was involved in the early success of Britney Spears, and to his credit, he’s unashamed of this fact.

In my own role as a music journalist, I am in communication with perhaps a half dozen or more music publicists every work day, and while the overwhelming majority of them are supremely professional and a delight to work with, Rey rises above even that standard. A consummate professional. But he’s also possessed of a wicked sense of humor. Here’s an example from his Tumblr blog, My Phone Calls Suck (it should go without saying that Rey redacts identifying information from the transcripts he publishes:

[via email]

FAN: I am looking at whether or not to get a VIP badge for the [FESTIVAL] this year and just wanted to see if one of the ‘perks’ or opportunities is to actually meet members of the cast of the [FILM] itself? There isn’t very many details yet on the website but I see that the early bird date is approaching so just making sure before I make my purchase.

ME: Hi there. Unfortunately, purchasing a VIP badge doesn’t insure meeting the cast of [FILM]. Sorry.

F: Ok, listen. I’m a huge Harry Potter fan and I need to meet [ACTORS]. How do I do that?

M: Stalk?

Here’s another gem:

EDITOR: Subject line: urgent press inquiry [BAND]

Dear Rey,

I am the editor in chief of [MAGAZINE], a weekly online arts and culture magazine. Would [BAND] be available for an interview hosted by [MAGAZINE] in August, September or October? It can be on a day of his preference (we just need to know the date and specific time), as long as it is in the evening hours EST. The whole band can participate.

ME: Hi there. The band won’t be touring till this fall so I won’t know what their schedule is till closer to the kickoff. By the way, what’s the “urgency”?

E: Thanks for your swift reply. That’s fine. Whenever you find out. Thanks.

M: Dear [EDITOR]. No problem, but again, what is the “urgency”?

E: Oh there was none. I needed to get your attention since publicists tend to ignore me.

M: This is just the beginning of our relationship and already you’re starting with lies? How am I going to believe you when you tell me you’re going to be working late at the office? Or that this girl “Clarice” is just a coworker? Or that the lipstick stain on your lapel must’ve come from the drycleaners? No wonder I have trust issues!

E: Hi there, Rey. Was that email meant for me?

Though you’d be forgiven for thinking, “this guy is just a really good comedy writer; clearly he’s making this stuff up,” he’s not. These are real. People are really this bizarre, random and blissfully un-self-aware. But whether they meant to or not (and clearly they didn’t) they have justified their existence on some level: via Rey Roldan, for you amusement. It’s comedy gold.  Go have a look.

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