All Those Who Came Before Me In Brooklyn
— in three parts
nights stack up upon nights. dawn is hot coffees and stretches of reluctant slumber. the days are hot (’tis summer, ’tisn’t?) but fleeting. and in the evening, we rise, and don our armors, our medallions of service, our ribbons, our pledges and writs — and we go out. we are music. we are musicians. crawling and swirling like plankton on the underbelly of the world. painters and photographers praise the light; we praise the night. you may dance, you may huddle close, squeeze tight, and weep. yea, you may even sing along (but i won’t force you). some times are hard. hell, most times are, actually. but as payment for what we do, it is less than, perhaps, we would pay. flesh, and peace; companionship and succor; food and rest and the comforts of the mundane. all are lost in the fray. even now, i stand upon the cusp of evening. this night, which shall go on and on (a soundcheck, a talk-through, a show, drinks, a cab to the airport, an early morning flight, a lay-over, an early afternoon flight, a gig, and a gig, and gig). the drop is vertiginous. a strange wind sweeps up from the abyss. i do not close my eyes. i do not hold my breath. sure of step, and deliberate of purpose — i step off the ledge and fall. ’tis evening, ’tisn’t? ’tis another night upon the heap. a feast of feats to be rended in our singing fingers. i know myself, and the toils to come. and i take comfort in the strangeness. night is like a home.
darkness is our time — and darkness always comes.
the weekend began with labors. i played a show in a lovely new outdoor space right at the foot of Madison Square Garden. playing keys for the wonderful Grace Weber. it was friday night. a long set from dusk well into night. we finished around ten o’clock. we broke down and hung. there were friends, acquaintances, and (as always, in this life) strangers aplenty. when the bustling crowd became a dry bed of pools of disparate groups, i said my goodbyes. collected my belongings and found my trusty ’08 Toyota Camry. and i drove a couple hours north to Rosendale, NY.
arriving well after one, i stole in to a friend’s house. tip-toed up the stairs to the spare bedroom. closed the door, closed my eyes, and slept three uneventful and dreamless hours. the alarm rang at 545a. Ken McGloin — said friend and musical compatriot — was already up. making espresso in his kitchen. packing the car. i came down the stairs, silent but surly in the fine, threadbare light of dawn. i greeted him gruntily. i excused myself to the bathroom.
then, hurriedly, i packed his car with gear from my car. Steve Riddick, the band’s frontman and singer, arrived just around then and did the same. at sixish, we piled in to Ken’s car and drove off. the light was beginning to give warmth. it would be a long drive.
to Columbus, Ohio. nine hours, in fact. we stopped but twice: once for gas, and once for coffee. somewhere along I-80 in northern Pennsylvania. Ken asked me to look and see if there were any Starbucks on our route. it’s not that Starbucks makes the BEST coffee. but, like most nationwide chains, it makes consistent coffee. and when find yourself on those parts of America that, though beautiful, pastoral, and quaint are, still, parts-inbetween, well, you look for that consistency to keep away from distraction.
alas, no Starbucks were to be found. none directly on our route. we wrestled with veering 20 or so miles of course to get ‘there and back again,’ but it seemed unworthy of the drive. so, searching, we found something well-reviewed on the way and headed for that coffee shop. leaving the highway, and using Google to navigate the swirling streets of an unknown town, we made our way to the joint. it looked closed. but the sign said it would be open in a few minutes. we parked and waited. no joy. no one came by with keys. we looked through the windows. no one bustling about in the back room or flipping switches in a tiny kitchen. gloom and disarray. it was: closed.
disheartened we headed back to the car. maybe something further on? Steve made us of a local eateries bathroom and I considered doing the same thing when, standing on the corner, Ken spied a bakery and said, “maybe *they* have coffee.” a busy intersection — like those in a town by the highway… two lanes to a side and no discernible regular interval for the walk signs. so we jay-walked deftly and entered the bakery.
upon inquiring about espressos (after ken saw the machine behind the counter) we discovered that the owner and main-doer of the establishment was off at some bakery event somewhere. and the woman tending shop was really more the book-keeper and business-minded partner. she admitted to not knowing how to make a cappuccino — that she had been brusquely instructed by the main-doer on his way out the the door. Ken offered to help her make them (you will recall, he was making them not five or so hours earlier in his own kitchen) — help which she gladly took. and then i made use of the facilities.
behind the counter, ken was quick and efficient but also instructive. i dare say much passed between he and she on the subject of coffee. Steve found us there.
we got waters to go with the coffees and departed.
and there were another four, mostly uneventful, hours of driving. Ken did it all. we listened to half of a long podcast about the end of World War I (my “Hardcore History” and Dan Carlin lovers know the deal) and a few of my own strange podcast confections (Spontaneanation and Star Talk) and then we were there. in Columbus around 330.
what of food, you ask? surely you did not pass 9 hours and change driving without some stop for sustenance. ah, but, dear reader, we needn’t have stopped. Steve brought more than his voice to the party. he’d woken up earlier in that morning to fry a host of chicken pieces up. wrap them and bag them. and with some tabasco sauce to garnish ’em with.
we are that. as we drove. why stop? why cease? do it right the first time and ’tis never done again. sort of.
and so we arrived at the hotel. and checked in. and briefly, rested.
the Jon Bates Band is how i spend my weekends in summer and fall. we play weddings and parties and birthdays and events. we go where the work is. the Hudson valley, Northeast Harbor Maine, yea, even unto Columbus, Ohio. we fear no trek, so long as music is at its end.
the other half of the band had conservatively — but one admits, wisely — arrived the day before. and so, had loaded in and soundchecked and everything by then. Our car was still chock full of musical materiel.
but the wedding was at 7. and i had a cocktail hour at 6pm. so Ken gave me the keys and sought to catch a ride over with that more wisely-dispositioned half of the band. Steve, too.
who, while reckless with me, were still wiser by half. as i hard but a scant hour or so before having to get showered, and dressed (tuxedo dressed, mind you), and head further into Columbus to the venue.
’twas a treacherous load in, as sometimes happens. pull up to a service door behind the establishment. slam on the hazard lights so the car is not ticketed or towed. open up the trunk and grab two armfuls of gear. in through the door, a short flight of stairs, a quasi-corridor, into the kitchens, past the chopping station, around the ovens, past the long tables heap’d with appetizers in various states of readiness. through a set of swinging double doors. around a staircase to the freight elevator. up one floor. out of the freight, gear still encumbering — use an elbow to his a big metal button on a wall and another set of double doors swings open. into a rug-ed and art-lined hallway, past the bar, into the ballroom, and to the end of it to the stage. there to drop the gear.
dressed as i was (but not yet with the bowtie on), I made this trip some four times. i had originally planned only to bring up my stuff and Ken and Steve would have gotten theirs up when they arrived, but the parking situation made that untenable. the cars needed to be put in a lot on the other side of the building and down the street. it would have made Ken and Steve’s load in particularly unpleasant and i had the extra time. so i cleared the car.
i parked it.
i walked back over to the venue. i set up the keyboard, the amp, the mic, and the music stand. i retired to a green room of sorts to get my bowtie on. and, with about ten minutes to spare (for looking at my phone and answer texts and emails ignored in the interim from first arrival to load-in.
and at six, i grabbed my music, walked back down the hall to the bar, sat behind a grand piano, and began to play.
til midnight, we played. there were breaks. we ate. we drank. we made merriment amongst ourselves. but, too, we sang, and banged, and screamed, and cajoled. cheered, and clapped, and jeered and jived.
after an unexpected demand for an encore, we closed ranks and began the arduous break-down. now, all the set-up work of the harried hours before the gig becomes one cooperative frenzy of stand-collapsing, instrument bagging, cord wrapping, book collecting, tie un-slinging activity. some folks pull down the speakers, some folks run to get the cars, some folks congratulate the bride and groom, collect the check, and thank the hosts.
a little over an hour, and all that is left is a bare-stage littered with loose bits of paper, napkins, straws, and some empty (and half-empty) glasses.
a diligent band sends a few back to check all around the stage for any lost cords or connectors, any important documents, discarded shoes, glasses (like for your eyeballs), keys (like for your car), and wallets. more than once, these things have been left behind in that breakdown frenzy. no dance performed by the attendees of the wedding is more complex, consistent, or complete than this final dance the band must carry out.
and, then, reversals: back out of the ballroom, back past the bar, down the rug-ed hall, hit a big metal button, automated doors open, back into the elevator, back out and around a staircase, back through manual double doors, back through the kitchen (all the stations now gleaming with empty promise or menace — or both), back down a short hall, down a short staircase, our the service door, on to the street, and back into cars.
there are goodnights, and iterations of goodnights, and reiterations of goodnights. and two cars drive separately off in the same direction.
on the way to the hotel, we debate a departure time. 9 hours back to Ken’s, and two hours back to Brooklyn, and plane to catch at 6am Monday morning. the time of arrival back to the hotel is about 130a. we debate 6am, 7am, and 8am. Ken wins out with 8. he drives, his car, his toil — we support it.
then into the hotel, a stop at the front desk for sodas or waters or candies (or all three — screw you for judging me!). one slips the Do Not Disturb tag on the door with a deliberation with that says “in case of fire — let me burn.”
and the sound of the hotel room door closing, is like a low gong. what you do now is private rest. you may have your music — if you are not worn out — you may rest — if you are unwound enough — you eat your candies and write a blog post for an hour or so til your drooping eyelids start to grate against the now-dry skin of your eyeballs.
then, lights out. and be quiet. i like to pull the curtains back once it is dark, dear reader. if you pass my windows, you may peer in, even as i am sometimes peering out. i see you.
and the night. and the darkness. and i am full up of thoughts and dreams and regrets. the flavor of life is a full and splendor’d thing. even as i drift off to my, as usual, dreamless sleep — i think of these things. and ready my will for tomorrow.
the final passage is just a drive home. wake. hydrate. make a final check of the room. check out and meet Ken and Steve at the car. we get gas, we get water — and we drive out east. back home.
another nine hours. but this is slightly more fraught, it being the return trip. we stop more. we weary more. we wait upon the miles more. we only want to finally be where we say we mean to go.
Ken’s by 6pm. and more reversals. Ken to his house, Steve and I attack the trunk and return our respective equipments to our respective cars.
Steve departs — a 30 minute drive home. I make use of the facilities once more and drink a final capp from Ken’s Kitchen.
then, too, i hit frog and toad [i forget how that one goes].
Sunday traffic is no blessing but a knowledgeable driver goes out of the way to find the fastest indirect route home. two hours is easily three. but less than four or a creeping five.
stops in Brooklyn: the bank, the store, the gas station. arrival in Boro Park is something like 10pm.
i come in. feed the cats. clean the waste. i consult my ledgers, my computers, my phone.
i dwell in the land between sleep and waking. it is 1am now.
i have packed for LA the next morning. or, really, the same morning. I retire, at last, to my own bed. hard and unforgiving as ever. the frame cracked and bending where time has worked the cheap wood of the futon frame. and, again: down go the lights. down go the eyes. down goes the mind. in to darkness, once more. the sleep, itself, is insignificant. i wake at 3, a mere two hours later. and it will be a pitched battle to drag myself forth from that sweet, disreputable darkness. but what must be done must be done. there is no peace in peacefulness. no succor in sweet repose. what we live for is the weary world that NEEDS our music. we feed it bit of ourselves. we carry on.
i will lay down in darkness. and wake up in darkness.
i said before, it always comes. but, in my maturity, i really know better. departure is an illusion. out beyond the fragile atmosphere of this world, the darkness is. the darkness always is.
and darkness is our time.