10 Years Later: Good times never seemed so good…March 2, 2012
It was 10 years ago today, on March 2, 2002, that I played the first gig of a tour that would end up lasting approximately three and a half years and changing my life forever. I think it’s been long enough now that I can actually talk about it with a sense of humor.
The show was in Atlanta at a club called CJ’s Landing, and it was one of the most important gigs I’ve ever played. Not in a professional sense — it did absolutely nothing to advance my career — but because in the span of one evening, the Universe made sure I had every last remnant of naivety smacked out of me.
I was really excited about playing there, and I had the feeling they were excited about having me, too. The agent had told me I’d be the opener for one of the top drawing acts they booked. Back then I had no qualms about touting my resume, and didn’t see a problem with the club putting “formerly of Vertical Horizon” in all their promo — the agent thought it was a “hot-sounding ticket”, and was very enthusiastic about booking me.
I was pretty excited to play a solo show in a big club, and I showed up to find a staff of friendly people who seemed intent on making the night run smoothly. I was lulled into a dreamy sense of confidence about how my performance would go by the venue’s sound man, who gave me a thorough sound check and did everything I asked him to do… though the look on his face told me clearly that he had no idea how to mix a solo bass player who sings.
I was treated really well by everyone, and served a fantastic meal in the musician’s backstage area. It was here that I met the band I was opening for. They showed up a few at a time, and each of them seemed really nice. They looked like typical rocker-dudes, and nothing seemed unusual about them. All was serene. Until their lead singer arrived.
He stopped me in my tracks as he entered the room and shouted out a greeting to his bandmates. He had what appeared to be a tuxedo bag flung over one shoulder, and it was thick with clothes. He saw me, and came over to introduce himself. I was speechless.
He looked exactly like a young Neil Diamond. It was scary how close his physical appearance matched the erstwhile “Jazz Singer” of yore. He had all the hair; all the mannerisms; all the charisma. Sometimes you meet someone who resembles a celebrity without trying. Sometimes you meet someone who WANTS to look like a celebrity but doesn’t. This guy both resembled Neil and went the extra nine yards to look like a body-double. The realization of what was about to happen dawned on me like a moment from a horror movie.
“I know that look, man,” He smiled. “Didn’t they tell you? We’re [band name censored], man. We play Neil… but with an EDGE. Think like, Neil if he was backed by Van Halen.”
From here, the story deteriorates rapidly.
I stepped on stage as scheduled. The booking agent had been right about the headlining band’s draw; there were were a TON of people present — hundreds. It was a completely filled club.
But I was eaten alive. It’s tough to hit folks with “Something Pretty” when they’re jonesing for “Sweet Caroline” on steroids… There were blank stares, confused and betrayed expressions, occasional “boos”… but mostly indifference… just a bunch of folks smoking, drinking, and waiting, forever in blue jeans.
I don’t know what happened to the sound. It’s true that the acoustics of a large, empty room change dramatically when it is filled with hundreds of people, but it was as though the sound man had completely undone all the work he had so ably handled during my soundcheck. It was as though he was surprised all over again that I was a solo singer with a bass guitar. Every problem we had fixed was back again, and this time there were new issues. Apparently he had used a bad cord on stage somewhere, and had to stop my set to find it and replace it — he could NOT get rid of the feedback that kept ringing every time I approached the microphone, and most importantly, he kept trying to muffle my bass sound as though it would be too loud for ‘the rest of the band’. I sounded awful. The crowd may not have been there to hear me in the first place, but this guy made certain that there was no chance they’d ever want to hear me again. I kept an eye on the clock, and played not one minute longer than I’d been contracted for. Half the room barely noticed I’d finished, and the headlining band was preparing to perform what seemed like only ten minutes later.
As they took the stage, the room erupted with savage force. These people didn’t just cheer; they ROARED. I watched from the side of the room as the lead singer strode out to the microphone in a ridiculous rhinestone encrusted jumpsuit, greeted his emphatically enthusiastic audience and then shouted:
“Give it up one more time for Shawn Whorrin!”
I’ve grown accustomed to the music world butchering my name, but that was the first time it happened, and it made me hate him.
I don’t feel bad about hating him though, because he sucked. It was obvious from the first note that he got the gig because of his looks. He wasn’t tone-deaf, but his voice box just wasn’t built to sound like Diamond’s, tried as he did to imitate the man. He ended up coming off as over-strained and garbled; completely amateurish, much like so many untrained, post-pubescent white dudes who jumped onto the “yarling”-bandwagon in the late 90′s and early 00′s, trying desperately to sound like Scott-Stapp-imitating-Scott-Weiland-imitating-Eddie-Vedder… who, ironically, never actually sang like that in the first place.
But I digress… the room loved him. They hadn’t come for original music; they had come for a Vegas-style revue.
I couldn’t wait to leave, but forced myself to watch their first half hour, trying to make sense of it; to learn something useful. I struggled to maintain some objectivity and decided I’d be better off just splitting before I lost any more self-esteem. I gathered my things and made for the door. It was nearly eleven o’clock, I was sweaty and dejected, and it was POURING rain. Bass on my shoulder, untouched box of CDs under my arm, and $100 in my otherwise empty pocket, I walked the meandering streets of the Buckhead district out to where I’d parked my van.
And it was gone.
I’d been towed, despite the fact that when I’d parked at seven, the curb was packed with cars. It was a Saturday, and the sign at the corner said it was legal to park there on a weekend, but that didn’t change anything. I went back to the club, where the bouncer told me quite matter-of-factly, “Yeah; they’re assholes — that happens all the time.” He provided the name of the yard to look for my van, and got one of his guys to take me there to retrieve it. His guy’s name was Matt. The bouncer told Matt, twice, how to get to the yard. Matt said not to worry, as he’d been there before. Twice.
Matt, as it turned out, was about as sharp as a marble. He got lost… TWICE. After calling the yard, we finally arrived. I was permitted to get my paperwork out of the van, and told that I’d need to go to the police to get a release form before I could have it back. Despite the detailed written directions we were given to get to the police station, Matt managed to get lost again, though he made the return trip to the yard in one pass.
It was by this point 2:30 AM on March 3rd, and in the chaos of the preceding hours, I had completely forgotten to call my host, a local singer/songwriter who had been far too kind in offering to let me stay with her family. My ensuing arrival at their home at about 3 AM during a thunderstorm was awkwardly humiliating, and left me feeling lower than low.
The tow yard charged me $85 to release my vehicle, making my first night on the road look like this:
GIG PAY FOR OPENING FOR NEIL DIAMOND TRIBUTE BAND: $100
CDs SOLD AT GIG TO INAPPROPRIATE, NON-IMPRESSED AUDIENCE: 0
FEE TO RELEASE ILLEGALLY TOWED VEHICLE FROM IMPOUND: $ 85
MONEY LEFT OVER TO BUY GAS & FOOD: $ 15
HOW YOU FEEL SHOWING UP AT YOUR HOST’S HOUSE AT 3 AM Priceless
I don’t know how I managed to pull myself together after this, much less resolve to press on for over forty more months of nearly non-stop touring. But I think I convinced myself that no matter what else happened, things just couldn’t get any worse than that… that I had somehow managed to pack a tour’s worth of misfortune into my very first night.
Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure that must have been how I felt… so I have to amend one of my opening statements: I said that I had every last remnant of naivety smacked out of me. Obviously, there was a little bit left over.
For that, I’m grateful. If I’d decided that it was too hard and packed it in at that point, I probably wouldn’t have had the chance to play for you; the very people who are reading this, and you are all so very, very important to me.
…even if you also happen to be Neil Diamond fans. ;)
Thanks for listening,