Monday, June 29, 2015

Blood, Mud and the Convergence of Fifties

Last week was the first week since 2010 in which I have not posted a single piece. The reasons for this are many, including a major storm that knocked out our home's power for five full days. Other factors range from a serious health scare to a band gig, outside, in a near-tornado while water ran under and around all of our electronic equipment. (Idyllic setting, though, on the banks of the Chesapeake, if we could see it through the deluge.)

The beautiful house at which we played in Maryland. 
Of course, everything is "worth it" if there are lessons to be learned; and, there are lessons to be learned from everything, so I suppose that means everything is "worth it." So, let's do this in order of lessons learned:

I. Weather is not kidding around. Take it seriously. 

Around six PM on Tuesday, last, my wife and I got tornado warnings on our phones. The message was: Take cover now. I was packed and ready to go to band practice, so I texted the guys (censored, in order to keep this blog family-friendly:

Me: Serious tornado warning. Take cover now. We worrying about this? 

Tony: Yeah, right. 

Two minutes later, after texts that some of the guys are on their way to practice already:

Jeff (on the road): Stay home. I'm stuck. No power anywhere. Stay home, I'm not f-ing around. 

Various other texts from everyone, then Jeff, again:

Jeff: I'm in a tornado.

Tony: It's here. 

Then the lights went out. For five days. Live power lines were everywhere in my neighborhood. We were some of the last people in our area to get power. The sound of the generators at our house and those of our neighbors nearly drove me to the brink.

This little guy came out of nowhere to lift our spirits
and he lifted mine as only a dog can do. 
II. Don't skip your blood pressure medicine. 

Before the storm, I'd started a curriculum workshop in various locations around South Jersey. I had re-ordered my meds on Sunday, but through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with all of the craziness, I had forgotten to pick the prescription up. No pun intended: there was a perfect storm of the blood that followed. Four days of conference breakfasts and lunches (all salty stuff; sandwiches, chips, etc.) after a month of bad meal choices, even on family time ("School's out! Let's celebrate!") added to the stress of the major storm all ran down to a moment, on Friday, when my son looked at me and said: "Dad --  you have blood in your eye." 

I looked. I did. I thought it was a broken blood vessel from a sneeze or something. I told him not to worry -- I was fine, but he texted my wife on the sly and told her. (She was at a friend's house working because we had no power. She's a former cardiac nurse.) 

Karen texted me back and suggested I go to the local pharmacy and have my pressure taken. She knew I had forgotten to renew my meds. I went. It was 150/100. (Normal is 120/70.) For the rest of the day, after taking the meds, it continued to drop, but I had to go play with the band at an outdoor party -- party number one for the the heat, under the sun of an uncovered stage that leaned severely to the left, which wrought havoc on the spines of everyone in the band. ("We have to make a note about this for future contracts," Jeff, the keyboard player, said.) 

III. There is a difference between being tired because of stuff on the outside and being messed up on the inside.

We played the first set. We came off. Jeff, the band's singer, approached me.

"You know I love you, right?" he said. "You know I am honest with you, right?"

"Yep," I said.

"That was," he went on, "The worst set you ever played since being in this band. Are you okay?"

I got a little defensive, but I knew he was right. I wasn't alright and I knew it. My concentration was all over the place, worried as I was, and I was feeling horrible. I did recover for the next two sets, but it took all I had. Breaking down the stuff that night, we had to use brute force instead of wheels because of the mud. As we were carrying stuff to the car, all I could keep thinking was: This is bad. I shouldn't really be doing this... It wasn't the usual post-gig exhaustion. Sometimes muscle fatigue can seep right into your soul.

IV. Joy sometimes overcomes mud. 

On Saturday morning, the band had to travel to Maryland from New jersey to play at a really nice house on the Chesapeake for a fiftieth birthday. This was supposed to be fun. Big payday; hotel rooms; the wives were even coming, some along for fun, one celebrating her fiftieth birthday and my wife and I celebrating our anniversary.

With the power out at home, my wife, Karen, had to stay home with the generator we'd bought to keep our food edible. Happy anniversary. So, okay, circumstances...

The rain poured most of the way down to Maryland, and when we got to the house, to set up, tornado warnings started rolling in. The rain came down harder; lightning flashed which made us stay far away from metal tent poles, which really didn't matter because we were walking in puddles running from those very poles. As the rain intensified, water started pouring in around the electronic equipment. Tarps came out and Tony started digging trenches to divert the water away from the band and down to the Chesapeake.
A muddy-feet-pic, shared by someone in the audience.

By the end of setup we were wet, tired and covered with mud. After a quick trip to the hotel to change and after a quick dinner, we went back to play. And play we did.

By the time we started, the grass had turned to mud and people danced barefoot in the muck, covered to their knees. But everyone had come for a party, some from very far away, and nothing would stop them from throwing their own mini Woodstock. (Kurt, the bass player, called it Bryan-stock, in honor of the gentleman whose birthday it was.) It was a great gig and the band played its collective butt off.

The musical night ended on a hilarious note, as a possibly-tipsy, rather attractive and completely muddy woman asked one of the wives where they were going after the party. When she was told, "Back to the hotel with the band," not knowing the ladies were the band's wives, she jested: "Oh -- is that an option?"

Not a very good picture, but it shows
the trampled, muddy "dance floor." 
V. There really is a difference between being tired because of the outside and being messed up on the inside.

Soggy, exhausted details, aside, the band broke down the equipment, trying to avoid the muck and mud, only to find out the the key to the truck that was pulling the trailer for our equipment, had gone missing. The meant another hard walk, carrying even the things that have wheels, over a swampy mess. From the end of the gig, at 11:30 until around 1:30 AM, we had to carry things to the singer's van and transport them to the trailer, which was about an eighth of a mile up the gravel road, and load things, one van load at a time, by the glow of an iPhone light.

As we moved things from van to trailer, I realized I was dog tired, as they say, but that it was a healthy kind of tired; not the insidious tired I had felt the night before.

"Well," I said to Jeff, as we unloaded the last of the stuff, "Look at the bright side. We're actually getting back to the hotel earlier than we'd get home after a normal gig." (We usually play until 1:30 or 2AM.) 

He had to agree. Later, Jeff said, "We must be crazy working this hard to play music."

I thought about that. We're not crazy. We're musicians. It's what we do.

I thought of my dad, who has been gone for going on two years. He was a lead trumpet player, the lead guitarist of his day; the hero of the band. At one point, he put down his horn, stepping aside, thinking he no longer had the stuff to sit in the center chair. After that , the decline began, slowly but surely, over a few decades. He'd put down who he was because keeping it going would have been a tremendous amount of work and he felt he didn't have it in him. An understandable choice, but one that, I think, eventually did him in.

It's not crazy. If there's a fire in your heart, you have to tend it. A lot of guys don't get the chance to make music, or they let it take a total back seat to everything. Sometimes doing what is inside you is worth a little tornado/electrocution risk. Sometimes it's worth the mud. It's good for a bunch of guys in and approaching their fifties to put aside talk of Metamucil, back pain and plantar fasciitis and rock out, tornadoes and blood pressure be damned. 

Oh, for the record, after we finished our ridiculous piecemeal load out to the distant trailer, the key was found, right where it was supposed to be, in Tony's backpack.

"In a few years, "Jeff said, "This will be that 'Hey -- you remember that Maryland gig?' story."

Indeed it will be. Or it already is. 


  1. Holy crow. I'm glad you and yours are all okay.

  2. That's a great 'triumph over adversity' anecdote and I bet you'll remember it long after you've forgotten about other gigs.

    1. Steerforth -- A hero of mine, from my teenaged days, is Neil Peart, who, somewhere, says: "Adventures stink when you are having them." But they sure do yield good stories. As long as the wear on the soul and body is worth it, in the end, I guess that's a good thing...