Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DAILY DOSE #67: "When We Were Young And Dreaming"

Dreaming and then making those dreams real are sometimes the exclusive province of the young.

Its not like I haven't stopped trying in my middle age, but I do tend to pick my spots more carefully these days. I can still throw a well aimed pebble in the pond, but I try and weigh carefully outcomes, probabilities, and the potential for possible collateral damage before cocking back my arm and chucking one. Truly believing in living by the Hippocratic Oath ("First Do No Harm")took me awhile to take to heart.

When I was young, I didn't give a tumbling fuck about any of that. With naivete comes a certain form a bravery that I just can't recreate in the here and now. I'm just not as blindly stupid as I once was. Admittedly, I miss that bubble of clueless stupidity at times, because when fully enveloped within that bubble, I did have a lot more fun than I do now.

So here's a little story of the bubble, and the feeling of security it gave me. It, like all things in life ended up being temporary. At the time it was authentically real. This story comes with a little attached piece of evidence that for me proves that distant dreams and friendships were in fact true, and motivated by love.

I have a tendency to forget that, mostly for justifiable reasons, but sometimes not.

Sometimes stupidity is not limited to the young.


I had cut my performance teeth on the corner of Thompson Road and Erie Boulevard throughout my third decade on the planet, courtesy of my tenure in Ed Hamell's band "The Works", and the good graces of the owners and operators of the club; The family Italiano, particularly Greg and his father Tony.

In addition to those performance opportunities, whenever I found myself with nothing to do, a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of (of which was a state of constancy throughout that decade), my then roomate Scott Sterling filled the breach whenever he could.

The Lost Horizon was not only a popular rock venue for local bands that could draw a respectable number of fans to fill it. It was also a favorite stop of "Nationals", bands that may have had their first hit on MTV per example; basically a gas gig on a first tour; an off-night club stop on the way to a larger market.

Scott adminstrated and operated the house PA in the club, so if the opportunity arose, he always offered me a gear humping "load in/ load out" gig whenever one of those national acts on a club tour played the Lost. The gig didn't pay all that much, but the experience was incalcuable. Working those shows gave you access, the most treasured commodity in any business, and certainly the business of Rock and Roll.

You got to see how the big boys operated on their way up the ladder, basically. As time progressed I learned many useful skills along the way; how to wire a PA, how to focus a light show, how to operate a monitor desk; because I lived with Scott, I saw and learned how all those gigs were advanced. Scott enabled me to acquire real world knowledge of the business of Rock and Roll from the trenches.

Sometimes those National shows absolutely tanked, and sometimes the were like the battle of the bulge. It was a crapshoot depending on airplay and word of mouth. Watching Chuckie the promoter repetitively bashing his head against the bar in frustration was a common occurence at the end of particularly ill attended shows.

Whether those shows were a financial success or failure, observing the musicians close up and being able to have conversations with them through soundchecks and on their respective tour buses was the real "college of musical knowledge". They were life lessons on how to conduct yourself in the world you wanted to be part of.

Per example, Richard Marx was a complete flaming pissant, hissy-fit throwing asshole when forced to play in the provinces in front of a paltry 28 paying customers. Jon Bon Jovi, touring in support of his first hit "Runaway", may have looked like a rockstar when he walked off that bus, through the side-load in door only to get assaulted by the patented Lost Horizon stale beer and smoke stench, but he was anything but a rockstar in his actions and reactions. A true sweetheart and gentleman, grateful to have the opportunity to play in front of approximately the same paltry number of Syracuse fans and win their hearts, minds and loyalty... one fan at a time.

One of those guys went on to and can still fill arenas, if you get my drift.

Without my friendship with Scott, and his support, I would have never received those practical life lessons. They still serve me well to this day.


Towards the back end of the 1980's I was trying to find new things to do. After seven years of faithful service in "The Works" I had a tiny radar blip of a brief tenure in "The Masters Of Reality"; signing on to briefly replace Mr. Owl to perform a string NYC showcases that led to their first record deal with Rick Rubin on Def American, only to then getting promptly shit-canned before a note was recorded in reward for the effort.

Rock and Roll can break your heart and your will at times. Lets just say my dream, and self-esteem, were both simultaneously approaching a swirling downward status.

In all honesty, the next part of this tale gets real sketchy for me.

The Black Crowes were flapping their baby wings through Syracuse, landing at the Lost Horizon on their first tour in support of their debut recording "Shake Your Money Maker". I'm a little foggy on the date: 1990 perhaps? '91?

Scott got an advance copy of the record. Local radio hadn't caught on yet, although MTV had.

Perhaps the point of inspired illumination and motivation for Scott was the combination of George Drakoulias (engineer of "The Blue Garden" recording for The Masters Of Reality) producing The Crowes debut and the fact that my childhood piano hero Chuck Leavell (then Allman Brothers, Sea Level, and soon to be Rolling Stones Musical Director.) was all over the record in a very integral way.

By the time Scott was advancing the Crowes gig at the Lost and realized they weren't touring with a piannaplunker he clearly and creatively connected some theoretical and conceptual dots and saw an opening; even if it might have been a figment of his own fertile imagination.

I don't know how he did it, really. But somehow, he bum-rushed management, he bum- rushed the band, and he bum-rushed me all at the same time and convinced everybody that The Black Crowes should give me an audition and a trial by fire in front of an audience of the Syracuse faithful.

He made it happen, and wouldn't take "no" for an answer from anybody. A prime example of youthful enthusiasm, pure balls, and a testament to our friendship all in one shot.

I don't really remember it actually happening... not in detail anyway. He just stuck me in a room and made me learn that record to the best of my ability, and he took care of the rest.

I do remember feeling like I was inappropriately invading someone else's space. The guy that just humped their gear was now going to play with them, and it felt like I was getting shoved down their throats to some degree.

Scott didn't care. He was going to make something happen, and not be deterred.


In twenty one years after the fact, a lot of water rushes under the proverbial bridge.

I had forgotten all about this little episode until I started posting dog beauty contests, anti-hydrofracking initiatives, cooking videos, and blogs on various social networking sites.

A new facebook friend had recently reminded me that I had played with the Black Crowes at the Lost Horizon. I had totally repressed the memory. Just another epic failure, and a reminder of days that I didn't want to re-live.

Not only did he remind me of the lost memory that occurred behind the omni-present pole at the Lost Horizon, he offered proof: A bootleg recording, and hard evidence that this wasn't a distant dream or memory. It actually happened.

So with all due respect to the Robinson Brothers, their publishing company and their record label, I offer that proof now: Here's The Black Crowes at The Lost Horizon in all their crunchy glory, taking their first steps of their touring career, playing their first hits "Hard To Handle" and "Jealous Again" with yours truly plunkin' away in support. I'll let you all decide whether I held my own or not.

Hard To Handle by The Black Crowes

Jealous Again by The Black Crowes

Whether I did, or whether I didn't doesn't matter in the here and now. What does matter is that I was reminded of a time when friends were friends, and a sweet innocence long gone sour got tasted once again, if only for a moment. It serves as a gentle reminder:

Look for, and lead with gratitude, always.

Thank You, Scott, for your blind faith and belief in me when I needed it most, and for a still fond and newly found memory that was once lost in the distant horizon.

"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 Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.

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"




Anonymous said...

Ah, glad to see you back on your game my friend. And what a lovely tribute to Scott and the Italiano's. Those were the days...The Lost was a major part of my childhood, and yes I mean childhood: I worked at Gerbers at 15, I was on the "guest list" and no one checked those paper drivers licenses anyway. My PARENTS would drop me off as they supported local music, and we lived just up the street so dad would pick me up at 2AM......sigh...

Rick Short said...

Great job, George!

You wrote, "Dreaming and then making those dreams real are sometimes the exclusive province of the young."

So, we all must stay young!
Thanks for the reminder.

George Rossi said...

@ Rick:

Unfortunately, there's the reality of the fact that time waits for no one... and the fact that as we age, hopefully we accrue some wisdom, which leads to pragmatism.

Pragmatism is the dream killer. To stay "conceptually young" you have to continue fly in the face of pragmatism and always challenge it, if you are to find a truly unique platform...

I don't always win that battle, but I am always aware of it...

Rick Short said...

PS: You SMOKED Jealous Again! I can't believe they didn't hire you on the spot. FANTASTIC, George!

Rick Short said...

Agreed. Pragmatism beats us down (or are we first beat down, then we acquire pragmatism?).

Being aware of it is critical. Excellent advice. Thank you.

None of us can ALWAYS remain in a constant state of "young", but some sad people simply give up, relinquish, become permanently pragmatic. Sad.

I am old, but I've still got a lot to give, and a lot to experience, and a lot to learn, and a lot of fun & laughs to share. So I will fight the fight. Your reminder is so helpful. Thank you.

George Rossi said...

@ Rick

Yeah, hearing the evidence was a pretty cool experience 20 years after the fact.

If anything, I know how to rock and roll...or at least I did then.

It felt like a failure at the time because I stupidly believed I had the goods to get hired. That isn't how the music business actually works in terms of band personnel hires, but it was not the first, nor the last time that I had the opportunity to learn that lesson.

Its all good. I like where I ended up. Had I gotten the gig, I would have stayed a sideman forever, and I have learned much more by transitioning out of that role.

Jane said...

Those days in Syracuse were the best days of my life. Working for the Citizen, I was able to cover so many bands at the Lost, remembering everything from when Tommy Conwell (of Young Rumblers fame) jumped off a table and onto my FOOT, (he said he was sorry) to that night YOU played with the Black Crowes (yes, I was there). One of my greatest recollections was the Neville Brothers, I thought I was in heaven standing on a chair (too short and chair wouldnt move because it was stuck to the floor, lol). The Lost holds so many memories for all of us who cherished live music. You were the LUCKIEST to have so many opportunities....to learn, to grow and to LIVE.

Ron Wilkinson said...

Thank you for your friendship. I am sorry that I was not able to make it to the show in Auburn. I will be sending you the original tape of the Black Crowes concert for your archives. Hope you play another show soon, hopefully in Syracuse (with no Sat. night parades that block access for some of us) Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and keep on rockin"

Anonymous said...

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that enclosed your understanding. – Kahlil Gibran

Anonymous said...

Hey Georgie, I took photo of you and Scott I think. Your bachelor party upstairs on Teall Ave. Love Scotts animal crackers necklace. I remember the Black Crows gig and one of your many brushes with stardom. Dave Peck

Suzan Farlow said...

A soul which never forgets, by imprint, during its human pass through time and space, that 'young presence' is a state of mind/heart/soul/body to be at the core of existence here, no matter how bizarre, confusing, misleading, terrifying, dizzyingly rapturous, or painfully deadening the roller coaster ride is, IS the one that always grabs the golden ring. Rock on Georgie, keep us in touch with that universal beat. Thank you.