8bitrocket Goes Backstage
I usually don't talk about this, but besides working on Flash web sites and games at my day job and in my spare time, I also run the official web site for the 80's new wave/rock band The Alarm. I struck-up a friendship with the lead singer of The Alarm, Mike Peters in 1995 when I wrote an article about The Alarm for Goldmine magazine (at the the time ,the leading magazine for record collectors). Soon after, Mike asked me to run his web site, and for the past 13 years I have done just that. In that time, I have become pretty good friends with Mr. Peters. Our children have played together, he has come over to my house, etc. As well, I have had the privilege (Jeff and my wife as well) to have the opportunity to go front and back-stage at nearly every small-to-medium sized concert venue in Southern California as Mike Peters has toured with various bands and solo and played live in the L. A. area. In that time, I've come to realize something that I try to tell people when they ask about going "back-stage". Going "back-stage" is really nothing special at all. In fact, especially if you like music, all the best stuff happens "on-stage". Back-stage is simply place where: the band gets dressed, the band drys the sweat from themselves after playing live, a drink or two get consumed, and various hangers-on (myself included) try to not look out-of-place while trying to figure out why they are there in the first place. That's pretty-much it. It's very hard to convince people of this fact if they have never experienced it for themselves, but in all honestly, back-stage is usually nothing special. In fact, sometimes back-stage in literally nothing at all. Take the back-stage at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. It's nothing more than an attic in which the most interesting thing you might "discover" is a head injury if you stand-up too quickly. Ditto for the House Of Blues in Anaheim where back stage is little more than staircase and small room. This is in sharp contrast to back-stage at the House Of Blues in Hollywood that actually contains among other things, a private club named "The Founder's Room". However, they are so up-tight about it that they have a dress-code!?!? How un "rock and roll" is that? Maybe it's "blusey" and I simply don't get it.
Anyway, last night was one of the few times time in the past 13 years when "back-stage" felt like what I had always imagined it would be when I was a wide-eyed kid. Actually that is not true. It felt like what "back-stage" would feel like if you had a dream about going back-stage. Not necessarily a "dream" like it was utterly amazing, but one of those random dreams where events unfold-on top of each other in such an inexplicable way that it only really makes sense while you are having the dream. On a summer tour with The Fixx and The English Beat, The Alarm had just ripped-apart a fantastic set (Three Sevens Clash, My Town, Fight back, 68 Guns, Situation Under Control, The Stand, The Alarm Calling, Rescue Me, Spirit Of '76/45 RPM) at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. Mike Peters had asked me to come back-stage after the show, but, for the life of me, I could not find the entrance. After looking for about 15 minutes my wife suggested calling his cell phone. Now, if you have ever tried to talk on cell phone in a general admission concert venue while a band is playing, you will know just how difficult it is to get any kind of reception, much less hear anything on the phone. Still, I tried it, and low and behold Mike Peters answered. In fact, he was clear-as-day, and he instructed me to find the "Exit" doors to the right of the stage, and go through, because that was back-stage. Second to the cell phone reception, this was the next odd dream-like moment of the evening. I've never known a back-stage to be through "Exit" doors on the side of a venue. At least, I've never noticed it. Anyway, Mike told me he would find us after we went through the doors and into the back-stage. Since we had not done this "back-stage" thing in a bout a year, I had to collect the knowledge I had acquired over the years about how to act when attempting to go back-stage (most of which was culled John Hughes and Cameron Crowe movies). The most important thing to do, I recalled, was to "act like you are supposed to be there". I tried to look "in place" when I walked up to the guarded door in my best "I'm supposed to be here" swagger, but it was for nothing. The orange "All Access" wrist-band that had given us at the will-call window took care of the guard at the door, and soon enough we were through to an alley-way outside the venue that led to a gauntlet of people with a similar "why am I here again?" look that my wife and I were sporting. You see, this was the third bizarre, dream-like occurrence of the night, as "back-stage" turned out to be "out side". It was a bit baffling
Next, we made our way down through the crowd towards a door that led back into the building and to the stage. I looked into the door, and instantly the guard said "oh, you have an orange band, you can go through". 'going through" was not currently in the plan, but since I did not want to seem like I did not know what I was doing, I went. However, instead of leading back-stage to where Mike might be (a dressing room, a private bar, etc.), it led to the ACTUAL backstage, or in this case the side-stage, where The Fixx were playing through their set. In all the times I'd been back-stage, I'd never actually been ON THE STAGE, and especially while band was playing,which was quite cool. This was the fourth dream-like occurrence as I can recall many nightmares I've had about going on stage and playing in band and trying to please the crowd with my complete lack of talent or ability. However, this time we simply watched the band from the side for bit. I noted that the sound was much better back there, then in the venue proper. In a way, I was sort of shocked at how cool it was to be on the side-stage watching band play. The other people there looked predictably bored, but I was pretty jazzed about it. The thought crossed my mind that maybe there is something to this elusive back-stage after-all, I'd just never been at the right "back-stage" before. Anyway, my wife and I turned back and as we did we saw the guitarist from The Alarm, James Stevenson coming up a set of stairs that led down towards the actual dressing rooms. James is very "rock and roll" in that he keeps his stage persona "on" after the show to some extent. I never know what to say to him, so I just waved. He was cool though, and he told us that he had not seen Mike (it must have been obvious that was why we were there). "That's odd", I thought, since Mike had told us to come back, but now he had disappeared. Just my luck, I was now officially an aimless hanger-on (my wife is excused because she was simply there to support me) looking exactly like an aimless hanger-on back-stage. We went back outside again, and stopped by the fence at the head of the people gauntlet. I looked at my wife, and back towards a gate that led through to the alley-way behind the venue. I was just about to ask my wife if she wanted to leave, when I head a vaguely familiar voice say "'eh Mike!", I turned around to see Mike Peters walking through the alley gate, and greeted by Billy Duffy, and Ian Ashbury, the guitarist and lead vocalist from The Cult. I'd met Billy Duffy before (I stole the ball and scored a goal on his team during a 5-a-side soccer game in Wales 10 years ago, but that's a whole different story), but I'd never seen Ian Ashbury in person before. Again, it was like a weird dream where random people from the 80's start showing-up unannounced. I half expected to Adam Ant and Captain Sensible enjoying a cup of tea around the next corner. Anyway, Ashbury looks a lot like Steven Tyler these days, and in a massive cliche, he's much shorter in person than I imagined.
So, the next cool, dream-like part came next. Mike had seen my wife and I waiting, and just after he greeted Ian and Billy, he kind of moved them aside, greeted my wife and I, told us to follow him back through the gate to the tour bus. I may not be describing this in the most effective way, but essence, Mike blew-off the better half of The Cult so he could chat with my wife and I in private. See what I mean about this seeming like a dream? And again, not necessarily "good dream", but weird one in which the cool guys get blown-off and the dorks get first-class treatment. (Ok, maybe that is a *good* dream!) Anyway, Mike really wanted to show us their tour bus, because: 1.), It was rock and roll to have a tour bus, and 2., he was really happy about it. However, the back-stage experience took an even more surreal turn as we entered the bus. Sitting behind a computer mixing songs for the next Alarm album was ex-Guns And Roses and Supernova guitarist and Gilby Clarke. What struck me about Mr. Clarke, was that, other than the Mac-Book in front of him, he was he overwhelmingly dripped of Hollywood rock and roll star. He just did not let-up. The clothes, the hair, the tattoos, and everything else ...except for the fact that he was exceedingly polite. As well, so was the gentleman sitting across the aisle from him, Slim Jim Phantom the drummer for the Stray Cats. However, he did looked bored an a bit annoyed. Didn't anyone tell him that back-stage is usually that way? Of course he already knew that. Anyhow, Mike led my wife and I to the back of the bus, and we sat down for a chat about the show, the new album, etc. The bus itself had a wood-lined interior with gold-inlay. It looked just like you would imagine a band's tour bus might looked like. Anyway, we sat to chat for a about 15 minutes about music and kids and stuff, and then "the Alarm" literally went off. Well, it was Slim Jim and Gilby Clarke actually. They were obviously waiting for Mike, and while they were polite, the were obviously not too happy that the "geek squad" was invading the rock and roll shrine (the tour bus). The funny part, and the final surreal, dream-like moment, was that Mike sort of blew-them-off himself in a way (but not really). Since Mike is such good guy, he tried to be polite, wanting to continue our visit, but instead my wife and I excused ourselves, said goodbye, and left the bus. I've always felt that in these types of situations it is never good to over-stay your welcome. As we left the bus I stopped just for a second to tell Gilby Clarke that I thought his mixes for the current Alarm album "Guerrilla Tactics" were great, and he replied with a warm "well thanks man." And all was cool. We left the bus, went through the gate, up the side of building past the people trying to look like they had a reason to be there, and for split second I thought to myself, "wait, I *did* have a reason to be here" However, that pompously ridiculous thought fleeted away as we left the theater, got back in the Honda CRV, and headed out of the rock and roll "dream sequence" and back to the baby sitter, the kids, and real, honest life.