It’s Been a Long Time, I Shouldn’t Have Left You

12003913_10205217556379554_430171498094070578_n

I know some of you haven’t missed me that much (Hi, Volando!), but I’ve been super busy and stuff as of late and, as a result, haven’t been doing much writing at all. I’m incredibly fortunate that I don’t have to write for a living. That sounds like a strange statement to make—after all, who wouldn’t want to do his or her passion for a living?—but, in many ways, it’s a blessing to be able to keep one’s avocation exactly that.

Allow me to explain.

The year was 2005. I’d been playing on the road with a blues singer who shall remain nameless, mostly because I am about to say a bunch of mean things about her. The band that her musical director and guitartist had put together was incredibly good (he would go on to win the Albert King award as the world’s best blues guitarist only two years later),  but she treated us like dirt. In fact, she was the least talented member of our band, but her name was on the marquee so she was in charge. She had inherited a bit of blues legitimacy due to the fact that her father had written a big hit back in the Sixties that Bill Haley & The Comets, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, and many, many other people covered and recorded. She, however, was a mediocre talent, at best.

In addition to being just an awful person to work with, she was a legendary skimmer. For those of you who don’t know what that means, I’ll give you an example. Let’s say a gig paid a thousand bucks. She would keep five hundred, pay the five-member band the other five hundred, and claim that the gig only paid six hundred. For those of you playing along at home, that meant that she often made five times as much from a gig as the guys who were backing her. Lovely woman, really.

Anyway, I remember one night in particular that altered the course of my life for good. We had been playing at little restaurant on Long Island called Paula Jean’s Supper Club (it appears to have been out of business since 2009—not at all surprising) as part of a “tour” up and down the East Coast. The previous night, we had played until 2:00 in the morning at Black Eyed Sally’s (which is, thankfully, still in business) in Hartford, CT, stayed at a Super 8 (where a hooker mistakenly banged on my door at 4:30 AM, claiming that I had underpaid her), then we drove to play the since renamed Poconos Blues Festival at 2:00 PM, and then we got in the van and drove to play at Paula Jean’s until 1:00 AM. It had been a very long and taxing 24 hours, to say the least.

Well, our dear singer decided that she was too cheap to pay for hotel rooms that night, so we were going to have to drive to her daughter’s house in Allentown, Pennsylvania and spend the night there. This was approximately a three-hour drive, which we would be making while she slept in the back of the van. The guitar player and I, both exhausted from loading gear in and out while she rested, put our collective foot down and said No. After a bit of complaining about how ungrateful we both were, she agreed to pay for a single roadside motel room for the entire band.

Naturally, she took the one bed in the room, and made the rest of the all-male band sleep on the floor. That’s correct—I had to sleep on the floor of a $35 motel room. Well, when I rolled over in the middle of the night, only to be awakened because I had rolled into a wet spot I pretty much lost my shit.

“That’s it. I fucking quit,” I yelled as loud as I could. I grabbed my bags and went out to sleep in the van, where I waited until the morning for the rest of the band to join me. I don’t think I spoke a single word on the ten-hour drive home. If memory serves me correctly, that was the last gig I ever played with her.

From 1997-2005, I had played over a hundred nights a year, per year, nearly always as a sideman with acts ranging from the totally unfamiliar to Barry White. It never paid me very much money, but I loved every minute of it—right up until that moment, when I decided that I didn’t. It wasn’t worth the $100 a night to put up with the terrible travel, the ridiculous egos, and the sporadic crowds. I gladly gave up the ten to fifteen thousand dollars a year in additional income in order to get back some semblance of a normal life.

I don’t think I’ve played more than a hundred gigs total in the ten years since. But you know what’s been great? I haven’t accepted a dime for any of them. Every gig I’ve actually accepted has been because I wanted to take it, whether it was the opportunity to tour Europe, or to play with one of the greatest blues musicians on the planet, or to play second alto with the Count Basie ghost band. I’ve done everything from play the main stage of a European blues festival in front of ten thousand people to playing a Thursday night in a tiny club in front of ten. And I’ve only done it because I loved playing music.

So, for me, writing has been the same way. I take whatever minor income comes my way due to the written word and roll it into my Fiesta ST lease so I can write it off on my taxes. I don’t do it for money. I do it because I love the chance to put my thoughts into ones and zeroes that are occasionally read by as many as a hundred thousand people—and sometimes read by a hundred. I do have some semblance of a deadline at TTAC, but I find that the best work I do there is done when I write about something about which I’m passionate, not because I have something due on Wednesday morning.

If I had to produce something daily? If I had to write news articles or, God forbid, car reviews on a deadline? I think I’d quit and never, ever do it again. It wouldn’t be an avocation any more. It would become a job, and I don’t really want another one of those.

So thanks to all of you who have ever clicked on a single link or read a single word that I’ve written. It’s given my life that much more fulfillment over these last four years. You’ve become part of my extended family, in a way, and I appreciate you.

Have a great weekend.

15 Replies to “It’s Been a Long Time, I Shouldn’t Have Left You”

  1. kvndoom

    Like they say, it ain’t work if you love what you’re doing. Touring sounds so stressful and demanding. It’s no wonder the big & famous musicians have to do coke to survive. Screw that shit.

    Reply
  2. Jim Zeigler

    Word. I like writing about cars, and have made it to the J-L-P-N-K front page a couple times via Kinja. But after spending last summer sending resumes to car blogs and getting completely ignored, I’ve decided to make it a hobby.

    Maybe I’ll write a novel one day, if I’m drunk enough. But you gotta have an interesting life first before you can write about it.

    Reply
  3. Ronnie Schreiber

    When I started feeling a little bit stressed by the thought of taking photos of ever car in a show, I got more selective and started hanging out with the owners more. People read stories about people.

    At the recent Orphan Car Show, which I attend every year in Ypsilanti (and have sometimes shot every car there), I got there relatively late but all the cars were still on the show field. I spotted a Panhard driving on one of the paths and I thought it was leaving. How often do you see a Panhard? I hustled over to get some photos and it turned out to be owned by a former co-worker at DuPont who also owns a very rare Citroen DS convertible. By the time I was done talking to him and taking photos of his car, most of the other cars had left. There was some kind of neoclassic being loaded onto a trailer near some Crosleys also being loaded up. I’d written about Crosleys at the OCS before, shown by Ron Kasczmer, who got turned onto Crosley’s by his late brother back when they were teens in the 1950s. Actually, the article was really about the brothers. Turns out the Crosleys being loaded were Ron’s and he brightened when he saw me. He doesn’t have a computer but people brought him hard copies of my piece. Can you ask for more as a writer (well, besides getting paid)?

    The guy loading the neoclassic turned out to be oddball car collector extraordinaire Myron Vernis, who has become a friend from seeing him at shows over the years. The car was an Excalibur. I told him that I was kind of compiling photos of aesthetically challenged neoclassics but hadn’t come across any Excaliburs recently, but his didn’t look terrible. He explained that was because it was a 1st generation car, that the later ones are overwrought. We agreed.

    I’ve found that the more I focus on the people, using the cars sort of as a McGuffin for the story, the better people respond to what I write.

    Reply
  4. -Nate

    Mark ;

    You’re very lucky you figure this out at an early age .

    I do a different thing and I’ll do it , the very best I can until I die , regardless of payment so making some decent $ at it occasionally is very sweet as you well know .

    Best of all is seeing my work decades later or having a face come out of a crowd and tell me ” hey , THANK YOU for that job you did for me way back when ” .

    Peace and rock on .

    THE BLUES forever .

    -Nate
    (who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket)

    Reply
  5. Domestic Hearse

    I’ll take old blues rock songs for eight-hundred, Alex.

    “What was Hi Heel Sneakers?

    Okay, overrated blues singers for a thousand.

    “What rhymes with Weenie F@cker?”

    Reply
      • Domestic Hearse

        You all are the blues version of the Ohio Players. Find one and pretty soon, you connect the dots — who played with who, bands, jams, hometowns.

        Glad you can still go out and play for the love of music. I bummed around a couple years after college, working in a music store, picking up gigs where I could. Traded in poverty for the security of a corporate paycheck, but still jam with a good group of area “dad musicians” and play for the church praise service a couple times a month. (No, Jack, we haven’t covered Stryper or Petra for a couple decades : )

        Keep letting us know when and where you’ve got upcoming gigs. If you’re ever in my neck of the woods I’ll be sure to stop by and buy you a beer or three.

        Reply
  6. VolandoBajo

    Thanks for the name check, Mark, er, Bark. Bark, Bark, Bark! OK, sorry, bad attempt at humor. Mea culpa.

    And actually, I have missed your writing, having noticed a marked decrease in output the last few weeks, on your part.

    While I reserve the right to question your theory of business dress, or at least some of your conclusions surrounding the topic, and while I am not very gassed by your idea of female singing talent either, I do find your writing interesting, and often entertaining, independent of whatever degree I might agree with your viewpoint.

    Personally, I’d like to see more stories from you about adventures, whether solo or with your brother. In the grand scheme of things, and especially since we don’t hang out in the same businesses in real life, it “machts nicht” whether we have the same take on business dress or not, for example.

    But I suspect you have a nearly equal number of outrageous adventures in your past as your brother does, though you tend to write about them less. Please let us have a sample or two. I am especially hoping that you will grace us with the backstory about why “Bark M.” and not “Mark B.” While it seems that certain details might have to be obfuscated into a fictional setting, I’m sure you could find a way to convey the essence without the need to plead the Fifth, or whatever.

    My money is on you…that there are some truly interesting stories you just haven’t published, for whatever reason. Although I am not much of a musician, I have known more than one person who has followed the muse wherever she might lead, and I have known them well enough to know that there are usually decent sized collections of outrageous adventures on the road. While I realize that you are now a happily married family man, and want to remain that way, surely you could find a way to draw upon the material without nailing your foot to the floor in the process.

    I’d also be curious as to what other musicians ring your bell, if only to see if your choice of “highly talented female singer-songwriter” is an aberration, at least from where I sit. So maybe I can coax you into covering some new ground.

    At the least, while I may disagree with some of your viewpoints, I can at least guarantee you that I will keep my disagreements within the realm of the subjects themselves, and won’t descend into flame wars. I may not agree with all of your views and tastes, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy reading at least a good percentage of your work.

    But when you get into dictating either fashion or entertainer preferences, you are automatically going into territory where mathematically you are more likely to end up with readers differing with you, than you will with tales of a more picaresque, raconteur-like bent. And I am one of those who has no problem telling you when I think your viewpoints are full of it. That doesn’t mean that I think you are full of it, just that some of your viewpoints seem to me to either be inexplicable or indefensible.

    But that’s what makes horse races, so I’m sure you’ll keep on calling them like you see them, just as I do. Nothing personal. Just what seems different to me than it does to you, which is sometimes, not all the time. You just happened to start off 0 for 2 with me, with two button suits only, and with Fiona Apple as the greatest. But since I have traveled in different business circles, and on the East Coast at that, it was almost inevitable that I wouldn’t think that only two button suits are acceptable in conservative business environments. And since I can listen to Laurie Anderson’s “Home of the Brave” several times a month, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that I don’t find that Fiona Apple transports me to another dimension. But there is much more to life than just those two things.

    By all means, continue to toss out your views on clothing and women, but please, give us a bit more, both automotive and of a life adventure nature.

    Your story of life on the road with Weenie F@cker was an interesting glimpse of what life is really like, when traveling and working in the space that is neither Holiday Inn lounges nor giant stadiums…instead in the supposed “sweet spot” in the middle. Most of all, you perfectly captured that point in many peoples’ lives where they finally reach that spot where they have had enough, and they decide it is time to head off in a different direction.

    And to the extent that one believes that a story should have a point, or a theme, or whatever, you did a really good job of bringing the story in for a landing with that feeling of “enough!”. Might not quite be a Hemingway or a Kerouac piece, or whatever, but overall, a nicely crafted true life behind the scenes story. Perhaps not a homerun, but a solid hit up the middle. Keep it up.

    Reply
  7. galactagog

    Tales from the Road

    sounds like a book?

    But maybe you wouldn’t want to relive all of that again 🙂

    You get a shiver in the dark
    It’s raining in the park but meantime
    You roll over into the wetspot on the floor
    of a $35 night hotel, and pretty much lose your shit….

    Reply
      • VolandoBajo

        Part of the challenge of writing of the picaresque when the author has been the central character is to find a way to convey the essence of the adventure without self-incrimination. Nobody said it would be easy. But it could make for some interesting reading. Certainly more interesting than the hours I spent during last weekend’s consecutive rainy days, when, with my wife out of town for four days, I spent much of the time finally getting around to reading Buffett’s “A Salty Piece of Land”. A crashing disappointment. A hodge podge of a travelog of the Caribbean, Central America and southern Mexico, 500 plus pages held together mostly by stringing together a lengthy series of improbable events in order to stitch up a plot that might be said to have come together in the end. (Though not by me.) A bogus feelgood tale of a bunch of people connected by increasingly improbable coincidences in order to end with the author being able to live happily ever after, due to the fact that he, as well as every other character he liked, having lucked upon more than enough money to lay around in the sun for the rest of their uninteresting lives. A harsh review, to be sure, but one that I feel is well-earned and well-deserved.

        Even the little bit you let peek out from behind the curtain for us, Bark, both rings far more true, and tends to be far more tantalizing. Sort of like the smell of a good steakhouse, after having just binged on cheap cheeseburgers in a heavily fictionalized paradise.

        If that sort of writing can hit the top of the NY Times bestseller list, Bark, I think you need to overcome your apprehensions, and boldly go where only you can go, as you are the only one who has been there and has seen the outrageousness unfold. Certainly you have both a collection of real enough adventures, and the intelligence to be able to cobble it together in a way that provides a defense that it is simply “a work of art”, not to be construed as resembling any actual person, either dead or alive.

        Now excuse me while I work on that B-Shhh! sound that Tom Cruise manifested as a fake sneeze at a time when he couldn’t actually dispense a pair of four letter words. No one will care how much of your story is real, and how much of it is real-like.

        If Buffett can give us a Willie Nelson-like character flying the Pacific in a WW II cargo plane, searching for a lighthouse lens to help pull the plot together, and can get away with calling him Willie Singer, I think you are intelligent enough to do far better than that. So please do…whether it is just another installment of Tales from the Road, or an attempt at capturing a whole era of your life, as seen by you.

        Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.