9 a.m., last Thursday morning my phone rings. In a confused, still-drunk-from-the-night-before stupor, I answer, thinking it’s probably my Slate editor calling with questions about the piece I turned in a little over four hours ago.
“Hello, Dan Crane?”
“Yeah …?” I mumble.
“This is Florence Henderson calling.”
Perhaps this is just a dream—a fulfillment of some twisted Mrs. Brady Fantasy lurking deep in my subconscious. No, it actually IS Florence Henderson. I had called her last week to see if she had any home movies I could use for the project I am working on in L.A., and she is calling me back.
This may be the highlight of the tour.
Late Thursday afternoon my band, Les Sans Culottes, rolls into Oakland to drop off gear at the Stork Club. Nearby, we spot a billboard promoting San Diego tourism. Based on our recent experience playing there, we are not really sold on their terribly inventive tagline: Mellow. Dramatic. San Diego.
We arrive at the Stork Club. I am immediately despondent.
With the lights off and the two old guys at the bar, the venue seems like a depressing VFW hangout with a horrible sound system. Later that night, with the lights on and a few hipsters scattered about, it seems like a pretty cool bar with great décor … and a horrible sound system.
Despite another mediocre turnout (maybe 20 people) we put on a decent show. A very drunk woman is the only person dancing, and at one point during the set she decides to stand in front of the stage and give the band the finger.
Is it too late to call off the tour? Can we go home? The graffiti in the bathroom stall ironically sums up how I feel:
Friday night’s show is in San Francisco at a club at which we always do very well: the Bottom of the Hill. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to see shows there all the time, and I really love playing there. I hope this show will make the past three nights disappear.
After dinner with some old SF friends, I arrive at the Bottom of the Hill, say hello to some of my band mates, and wish René Risqué a good show.
I run into our lead singer, Clermont Ferrand, who, as I mentioned in the last diary entry, doesn’t really speak to me.
“So, you know that song … ’Allô Allô’?” he asks (with an obvious touch of sarcasm since I wrote and sing the song).
“Uh, yeah, I’m familiar with that number,” I reply.
“Well, I believe it’s spelled with two L’s, not one.” I nod affirmatively as he continues, “And you know that song, ’Tout Va Bien’?”
“Yeah, I know that one too,” I reply.
“I believe that song is spelled, T-O-U-T and not T-U Va Bien.”
It appears Clermont has discovered my Slate Diary.
“Thanks,” I say. “I’ll make a note of that.”
This is about as much conversation as we’ll have the entire tour.
The show is packed, and both the band and the audience have a great time. After the show, we continue drinking in the club, I play “Belly Round the Corner” (a competition to see whose beer gut can be made to look the largest and most rotund when poking from around a corner) with the guitarist from René’s band, and we eventually make it back to the hotel.
3 a.m. I decide to check in again with the Saggy Eye Patrol. I’m starting to look like Bill Clinton around the time of Lewinsky-Gate.
The next day I drive the 15-person van the entire 370 miles back to L.A. in roughly six hours. I prefer driving the van, actually. I control the music, and I trust my driving more than anyone else’s.
The L.A. show is at a place called Tangier, which is more of a restaurant than a music venue, but it is apparently a hip place to play. A friend of guitarist Cal D’Hommage shows up and insists on dressing us in his handcrafted jackets. I try one on and sense that I look more like Duckie from the film Pretty in Pink than a French rock ’n’ roll star. I wear it anyway. The show is packed and unbearably hot in my Duckie jacket.
The show goes well, and afterward I settle into several cocktails, relieved that the tour is finally over. I can’t imagine what three months on the road would be like.
Looking back, it seems that the questions raised at the beginning of the tour haven’t really been answered. I’m still in the band, and I sometimes wonder why. We may never get a record deal. We may never become famous. My ears are still ringing, maybe slightly worse than before, and they may not cure tinnitus or hearing loss in my lifetime. I might indeed be going deaf.
At least we didn’t get beaten up.
On the drive from San Francisco to L.A., I had been thinking about a song by René Risqué called “The Mile High Club.” The song’s chorus has a lyric that I could not make out in any of the four shows I saw them play up to that point. I finally asked him at Bottom of the Hill what the lyric was.
“The initiation takes place/ in the Sal de Bain,” goes the lyric. “It’s French, you idiot!” René barked at me. Of course the one French lyric is the one I can’t make out.
I thought about our potential for real success. Our songs are great, our shows are incredibly exciting, but … our lyrics are in a language most people, including myself, don’t understand.
Early on in the band, one of the now former members asked, “Why are we writing songs in French?” We all laughed at her naiveté. “Silly person! That is what we do!”
I still wonder if it will catch on. Maybe if you buy our new CD, it will.
P.S.: Thanks for all the positive feedback in email and in the Fray. Like applause, or better, dancing, it makes it all worthwhile.