I spent most of my third decade on the planet pursuing the dream of being a “Rock Star”.
I quit high school to travel on that road, and stayed on it. Throughout my twenties I came very close to realizing that dream… but it always persisted in being just outside my grasp.
I closed that decade out as a member of a band that had a record deal ("The Bogeymen”, Delicious Vinyl). Delicious Vinyl was a hot little indie at the time, Tone-Loc, Young MC, and The Brand New Heavies being their most recognizable roster talent.
The brothers Ross ran Delicious V, and its creative output was overseen by Matt Dike (sort of the “West Coast” Rick Rubin, at the time)…. They embroiled us in legal sleight of hand and sued us for a year due to a contractual technicality to sign the band (another “Epic Failure File” in and of itself; more on that little “music biz” tale later), so we weren’t exactly happy campers by the time management conceded to accept a deal that was way below our market value.
But they basically left us alone to record the first record… and all the outwardly appearing steps toward eventual success were starting to materialize (advance money, drunken junkets to LA for mix down, video on MTV in nominal rotation, preparations for a tour, tons of international press, endorsements, etc.).
But then they became cash poor. So it was decided rather than hit the road and play, the band needed to get back in the studio and get another one in the can.
We spent about a year on that one, and by the time we delivered the master, the label was bankrupt. A year’s worth of work was permanently shelved, never to see the light of day. No more record deal, and the dream was hurled off a cliff in a mangled ball of fiery metallic twisted wreckage... again.
When everything officially crashed and burned, and I found myself penniless, jobless, my marriage also crashing and burning simultaneously (another forthcoming entry in the “Epic Failure Folder”)… I decided to basically hide under my bed for a few months.
All dreams shattered, all at once… I was living the nightmare, not the dream.
Out of the blue, in the depths of depression, I got a late night phone call:
Them: “This is Henry Hirsch…may I speak to George Rossi?”
Henry Hirsch was Lenny Kravitz’s partner/producer. After giving me a little background on who he was (I already knew, but his schpiel was obviously honed and prepared…and I love a good schpiel.)
Tracing the linear history of how he got my phone number (The fellas at Delicious Vinyl to George Drakulious (Rick Rubin’s engineer and future producer of The Black Crowes) to him... evidently Matt and Mike felt bad about how things ended at Delicious Vinyl, so Karma points were and still are awarded), he made this offer:
Henry: “Lenny’s looking for a keyboard player to tour with him for the next three years ...would you like to audition?”
My Internal Monologue: “Holy Shit!”
Me: “Uh…. yeah, I guess so….”
The only problem was that auditions were being held the next day at 10am… in Hoboken, NJ. I was in Syracuse NY, about a five hour drive away, I didn’t own a car that could even remotely make that trip…and it was midnight.
So with no preparation whatsoever, sleep deprived and road weary, I pulled into the Hoboken parking lot (in a rented car) of Lenny’s and Henry’s warehouse studio facility at 9:45 am.
I’d like to tell you that my invitation was an exclusive one, but it wasn’t. There were about fifty leather-clad rock and rollers, way cooler looking than me, in full dress waiting in front of the studio’s door. It was a cattle call, and I was the last steer, bringing up the rear.
When it eventually came my turn to sit with Henry at the piano (Lenny skipped the audition process), his first point was they weren’t interested in “New Orleans Style” piano playing…a huge liability for me, since this was my area of expertise…and although familiar with the “Let Love Rule” record and never having heard Lenny’s sophomore effort, the music was piped in the piano room, and I was expected to shine.
I didn’t. I flat out sucked. Shot the pooch, ran over it with a tractor, and then had anal sex with it’s corpse kind of sucked.
So with the classic utterance of “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” ringing in my ears, I took the long drive home back to Syracuse, hoping to get there before I got charged another day’s rent on the rent-a-wreck.... the acrid taste of failure in the back of my throat for the entire trip.
Two weeks later, I received another midnight call.
Henry: “George, it’s Henry…. can you make a call back at 10am tomorrow?”
Me: “Jeez ,Henry…. I’m five hours away…couldn’t you give me a little advance notice?”
Henry: “If you want the gig…. be in Hoboken by 10am”
Me: “ See you tomorrow”
And so my dance with Henry and Lenny had officially started, always following the same pattern…the midnight call, the car rental, the incremental counting of chickens before the are hatched along with the Lenny “carrot” getting dangled closer and closer, the sleep deprived and absolute suck-ass playing during the private audition with Henry, the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” unceremonious kick out the door, and the long cross-eyed drive of savoring complete and utter failure back to the wastelands of Central NY.
But Henry kept calling (at midnight…every fucking time!)…finally admitting after four auditions that a field of two hundred and fifty candidates had been winnowed down to only two: Richard Bell (one of the greatest NY session players of all time) and me (the cross-eyed, sleep deprived, clueless one-handed pianna-plunkin’ choke artist). One more 10am, next day call back. But this time, Lenny will be there.
“Do not count your chickens, Jack…” was the basic mantra on the drive down.
So I went and did a private audition for Henry, Lenny and his entourage (never once did I actually get to play with the band), cross-eyed, sleep-deprived and shooting the pooch for the fifth time, and taking the same solo drive of failure: Sitting on my tail, which seemed to be getting quite comfortable on these Hoboken NJ to Syracuse NY treks in its familiar resting position of being situated firmly between my legs.
The midnight call came two evenings later.
Henry Hirsch: “George, it’s Henry”
Here comes the lowering of the boom…I’d love to say that at this point, getting hit in the head with the boom didn’t matter, but at this point…it did matter. It always hurts, and I had experienced enough boom lowering to last a lifetime…I know exactly how much it hurts, and how much recovery time is needed after getting your skull cracked.
Me: “ Hey, Henry…. what’s up?”
Henry: “ Congratulations, you got the gig. The tour starts in Japan in two weeks…. get down to Hoboken
five days from now…. Fax your passport info and lose fifteen pounds before you get
My Internal Monologue: “ Holy Shit!!!!” I had finally won one…and this was like hitting
So preparations were made and deals negotiated. I was to hustle down to NY to get “styled”, clothed, tattooed and pierced…. for three grand a week plus per diem for three years. No more living on Kraft Mac and Cheese. No more abject poverty. My moment has finally arrived. My ship has finally docked at port.
On the fifth moonrise, with my bags packed, plane tickets purchased and my incredibly bright future ahead of me, the phone rang one more time.
Henry Hirsch: “George…Lenny has decided to go out in a “power trio” format…. the
deal’s off. I’m so sorry…I know how disappointed you must be.”
Me: “No worries, Henry. You’re a real mensch. Business is business. Tell Lenny I hope
he has a wonderful tour, and thank him for the opportunity.”
My Internal Monologue: “ARRRRRGGHHHHH!!!!” (Insert the sound and visual of my
life’s dream, once again being hurled off the side of a cliff in a
mangled twisted metallic ball of fiery wreckage…here)
That boom can sure be a sneaky motherfucker when it wants to be.
"Are You Gonna Go My Way?"....evidently, not.
This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened to me, and it wasn't going to be the last. Unfortunately, I'm actually good at being graceful at fiddling while Rome is burning. I've had lots of practice. The Universe likes to bat me down, hard, at the most inopportune moments it can pick.
I have become philosophical about these types of moments.
You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied…. but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earth bound.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right.
Flash Forward 17 years or so:
Lenny Kravitz hangs out quite a bit in New Orleans (my adopted residence of the past eleven years) nowadays. One of his former roadies ended up getting a post-Katrina no bid sweet-heart deal to start a garbage removal company, which basically is responsible for most of the city’s garbage removal biz. They’re pretty tight.
So a couple of months ago, as I was sitting on my Bourbon Street stoop smoking a cigarette watching the sky darken and the stars materializing, Lenny happened to walk by and I struck up a conversation…and I regaled him with the events just outlined in this tale of woe.
We both laughed our asses off, with the French Quarter sounds of clacking mule hooves, train whistles, and the wheezing melodies of a steamboat calliope functioning as a soundtrack as I spun the yarn… the unique, faint olfactory combination of the hot, fetid breath of the Mississippi River, stale beer, mule shit and night blooming jasmine washing over us, the brightest stars oscillating as they made their first entrance on the stage of the night sky.
It was a good moment.