The most true-to-life and hilarious movie ever made about musicians is called This is Spinal Tap. If you have never seen it, get on your computer and order it, or run right out and buy a copy – it should be required viewing for all family and girlfriends or boyfriends of rock musicians. Largely improvised, it was presented as a ‘rockumentary’, but was actually a parody of rock documentaries, directed by Rob Reiner in 1984. It chronicled the travels and successes and excesses of an English heavy metal band called Spinal Tap, and satirizes their wild personal behavior and musical pretentions. It is also the basis for many musician ‘inside’ jokes and quotes – have you ever heard guitar players talking about turning their amp up to 11, or a band singing “Big Bottoms – My Baby’s Got ‘Em”? Metallica made a black album in homage to Tap’s “Smell the Glove” black cover, Steve Tyler thought it was too true to be funny, and U2 guitarist The Edge said he didn’t laugh at it, he wept, because it summed up what a brainless swamp big-label rock music had become. Amazingly, it was deemed “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the US Library of Congress and is preserved in the National Film Registry. The sad thing is, I’ve heard musicians (after watching the movie) ask where they can catch the band…hello, it was made in Hollywood – it’s a movie – there was no real band called Spinal Tap until after the movie came out and the actors (who could actually play their instruments) did some special appearances. One of the running gags in the movie is that their drummers keep dying in mysterious and odd circumstances – one drummer from spontaneous human combustion that left a globule on the drum seat, another in a bizarre gardening accident…. It’s a very funny movie.
And the life of a musician, especially if you’re on the road a lot, is a very funny life. I sent out a request to some of my musician buddies to spill the beans of their funny or stupid moments on stage, and got reminded of some pretty wacky stuff. It seems that real-life drummers are always in the middle of some embarrassing scene – I was on tour once traveling in a couple of motorhomes, and the drummer went out to the RV to use the john on our break, got himself locked into it and our roadie took that opportunity to go gas up the vehicle. Of course the roadie had the music blaring so couldn’t hear the drummers’ frantic banging on the door and yep, he missed the whole set. One of my favorite local drummers, Richard Abraham, told me about when he was playing in a very professional and proper show band years ago and he fell off the back of a fairly high stage. The rest of the guys couldn’t even figure out where he went, until they finally found him stuck on his back wedged between the wall and the stage – a sort of overturned turtle with drumsticks. My friend Ted, in Colorado, told me about his college bands first time playing at the Student Union – they were young and nervous and in their 3rd song the drummer fell off the back and everything came to a halt. Those drummers….
Another old pal brought up a gig we played in Park City, Utah, where we had been skiing all day and had to rush back to the hotel and change clothes real fast to get to our gig. During the first set I felt something weird in my pants, and kept shaking my leg trying to get it out of there. Well, somehow when I had taken off my cold weather long johns I had left my underwear in the pants – which is what finally fell out of my pants onto my volume pedal. Even though the entire audience had been riveted to watching my leg shaking antics, I kept trying to nonchalantly shove them to the side with my foot, only to finally fling them onto the guitar players legs. Pretty hard to pretend that was part of the show…
Last year when I was playing a Quepos gig with Ben Orton, of Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers, he got some kind of large, noisy bug stuck in his long hair – lots of gyrations trying to play and get it out of his hair at the same time – much to the audiences’ enjoyment. But his critter and hair problems didn’t start there – when he was playing a big outdoor concert back in Arkansas years ago, there had been a bird circling over the stage and the audience, which finally landed on Ben’s head, much to everyone’s amazement and amusement. He had on a hat, so he didn’t really realize what had happened – it sat there calmly watching the audience for an entire song before taking flight again.
It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but most musicians are kind of stuck in an emotional adolescence, so there are always plenty of pranks and practical jokes going on. At the end of the Jimmy Buffett tours the crew and musicians would go to great lengths to crack up Jimmy. He normally would do a few songs where his back-up singers would perform in tropical Carmen Miranda style outfits, complete with bananas on their heads and ruffled dresses – one year the wardrobe lady altered them to fit our burly drummer and a couple of big hairy crew guys, who took the girls place on stage. When Jimmy looked back, expecting to see his lovely singers, he didn’t completely lose it, but he sure couldn’t sing for a minute or two and was clearly horrified and at a loss for what to do.
Blues artist Coco Robicheaux used to drink Tabasco hot sauce straight from the bottle during his shows – I guess partly to show his Louisiana voodoo Cajun roots, partly ‘cause he liked it, and partly to shock folks. We were playing a concert in France once where he made a big show of pouring some hot sauce into his goblet of red wine – whoa, those French people take their wine very seriously and were apparently highly insulted by this defilement of their national nectar. A thousand or so people went stone quiet and for a minute there I thought they were going to storm the stage in righteous indignation. Ooops.
Most of us have had wardrobe malfunctions, or clumsy moments where we knocked something over – I tripped once getting on stage (late as usual getting back from a smoke break) and knocked over the drummers high hat cymbal, which fell into the rest of the drums, then they fell into a couple of mic stands and in one fell swoop I basically destroyed the stage. I can still remember my band mates looks of disgust – only now is it sort of funny.
My father, a classical and jazz violinist, became part of local music legends when early in his career he was performing with a symphony orchestra and the unimaginable happened. He stood from his seat in the orchestra near the front of the stage to play his solo, and apparently was so loose and yet engrossed in his big moment that in his enthusiasm he let go of his bow. It flew into the horn section, but he barely missed a beat and picked up the nearest violinist’s bow and kept right on going. That’s the point – the show must go on no matter what stupid stuff happens!
Thanks to everyone that comes out to hear live music! Now that everyone has a damn camera in their pocket these stupid moments will be captured on film to embarrass us forever. But that is part of the one-time-only aspect of live music – which is a lot more fun and entertaining than listening to over-produced techno canned stuff! Ben Orton and I play every Friday night at the beautiful and spacious Roca Verde bar and restaurant in Dominical – come on out and have some fun with us, and check out other local venues where you can help support live music in our little corner of the planet!
Quotes from This is Spinal Tap
Well, I’m sure I’d feel much worse if I weren’t under such heavy sedation…
I believe everything I read, and I think that’s what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything.
We’ve got armadillos in our trousers. It’s really quite frightening!