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WEDNESDAY READING: It's a long way to the top

Geoff finally rock 'n rolls for real

The Weekly Volcano's in-house drummer, Geoff Reading, publishes his weekly music column on every Wednesday. It's called "Wednesday Reading." Get it?

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The spring and summer of 1999 was (finally) what I had always dreamed of: touring and getting paid to be in a working rock 'n' roll band. Honestly, the images in my head I chased with a deaf, dumb and fevered tunnel vision were never of selling out stadiums or having a private jet. 

What I had worked toward since finishing high school was to constantly improve. It took ten years of sucking, of getting shit on in public enough to have to go back to the privacy of the woodshed and wash it off my psyche. Nine years after I started performing original music in public, it finally started to pay off. 

Then it all seemed to happen at once.

In 1997 I replaced the drummer in an obscure local band signed to Reprise. Then, I got fired from that band only to land in another local band - this one signed to Columbia, quite popular, and packing a buzz that was supposed to bring them in line with the rest of the Seattle hierarchy. 

The first, lesser-known band demanded I go out immediately and buy everything I would need for the impending journeys across this great land of ours. I call it a "gear day." Its like fucking rock-n-roll Christmas, and it's a beautiful thing. New drums, cymbals, stands, cases... all on the labels dime. Three months later in an all too familiar music industry cliché, I was served with walking papers. Very UN-typically, I was allowed to keep everything that had just been purchased for me. 

That year, after finding my way to the second, more happening label band, I took my first and second plane rides to Los Angeles for rock. At the Three of Clubs (made famous by the movie Swingers, where the crew decides to ditch the packed full bar, classically noting, "This place is dead anyways"), my band's singer introduced me to Rose McGowan. She was flawless in her youthful beauty. She had a filthy mouth into which she poured Makers Mark - neat. A true starlet on the rise.

In early 1998 I took my first plane ride to New York for rock. In the basement of the club we played, after the show I was introduced to Joey Ramone. He was the tallest, strangest looking person I have ever met. He had the handshake of a recently deceased person. It was amazing. 

But still, a serious bout of touring eluded me. With both of these first two professional bands, the emphasis had been, "Be ready! We're leaving VERY SOON!" It was always just around the corner. 

The trip to New York turned out to be the beginning of the end for the beloved Green Apple Quick Step. By Christmas that year I was back off the Major label Tit, and back to working shitty temp jobs where ever I could. My real occupation was being involved in as many musical projects as I could fit into a week of days - which ended up being around four full time bands and a couple of "projects." I was playing as much as I could, whatever style. Just playing. 

In January I got the call. In February I got the tryout. In March I got the chair. And In April we played the show at SXSW that got us a record deal. Our own. Not a band with history. We were in, from virtually the ground floor. We were on the road before Mother's Day and would be gone for most of the rest of the year. 

The guitar tech we had met just moments before was yelling at Kelly (bass player) and me to "GET IN THE VAN!! WE"RE LEAVING!!"

Kelly and I exchanged this look of "Jesus shit!? Is this what we signed up for?" We were JUST leaving our practice space for the first real touring any of us had done. We would spend the next four days on Interstate 90 getting to Chicago to start the ten-week Local H tour. It so happened the first show was with opening for Liz Phair - a very strange bill.

But it was EXACTLY what I had been waiting to sign up for since my first concert. Van Halen 1984 had sealed my fate.

It all came together for me one night a few weeks later as we swung back through Chicago. We had five days off from the Local H tour and we picked up four dates with Kid Rock and Staind. 

Kid Rock (aka Bob Ritchey) was a label mate of ours. He had come out to dinner with us in New York and had been at the table when we signed our record deal. He had our backs and would give us opening slots on his gigs whenever our days off collided with his nearby tour dates.

The show was at the House of Blues, which in Chicago is an A-mazing room. The floor is the size of a mid-sized theater, but the magic is in its balconies. They open horseshoe above the stage, and it seems like they go up into the rafters forever. There are all sorts of VIP boxes, bigwig-only rooms and catacombs connecting them all.

All of our label folks had come out from New York. The place was ours. Devil Without Cause was starting to slowly climb the charts and would eventually go on to sell seven million copies, spawning the unfortunate copycats of "new metal." A few weeks later, from a hotel on the road somewhere, we would watch Kid Rock, live on MTV for the first time, rock out on the streets of Manhattan somewhere. The song went on for almost ten minutes while Kid went around the stage and taking a turn shredding on each instrument. He had arrived.

But on this night there was still the excitement the being on the inside of a scene yet to be soiled by the masses - of the seemingly inevitable that was to come. It felt like the sky would be the limit. 

As the time for Kid to hit the stage neared you could feel the electricity. It was tangible. It was like dark matter. A static that took up every bit of space not occupied by human or structure. It was alive. 

I wanted to get down stairs and to the side stage before it got too dark to walk around. There is nothing better than being on the stage when the room goes black and the roar of unglued, broken anticipation from the crowd crashes forth. It doesn't have to be YOU they're cheering for to blanket you from head to toe with four layers of goose bumps.    

I got down to the stage level no problem. The back of a theater stage is a place full of pitfalls. I was trying to hurry without tripping into this, or cracking my skull on that. Kid's posse, The Twisted Brown Trucker Band, had already taken their places side stage, just out of site. So I knew time was getting short. 

I pushed my way into a little space cordoned by stage curtains that was maybe 8x8 and housed one road case and two people. It was Kid Rock and his then sidekick, the 3-foot-tall Joe C. Just as I gave them an embarrassed "Oh! Hey guys..." (that must have sounded just like flounder from Animal House) the place went black. There is absolutely NO way to navigate a backstage area in the dark. I was going to have to wait it out (like a dick) with the stars of the show. The crowd was absolutely defecating themselves. 

The band, still enveloped in darkness, epic-ed into a buzz saw intro riff.  My two Compadres were chill. Seriously chill. Like maybe they might bounce outta there cause that place was dead anyway. 

But there in the dark there was some unspoken dialogue. They didn't freak out. It didn't spoil some vibe that needed to be protected because I was there. I wasn't a fan or an outsider. I was on the team. I belonged. There was an amazing party going on in that room, and while I wasn't in the band on stage, I was one of the few. The special. I was consciously in the moment of living a dream. It made me shiver.

The lights finally went up and the crowd wet itself again. An unseen torso produced a hand that drew the curtain aside. I gave the obligatory "Have a good set," and Kid answered with a thanks.  

Then he went on stage and tore it the fuck up.

Comments for "WEDNESDAY READING: It's a long way to the top" (2)

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Robby B said on Sep. 10, 2010 at 12:48am

Awesome. I know the back story behind that Van Halen 1984 concert!

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JeRe said on Sep. 10, 2010 at 2:48pm

Favorite lines: "the handshake of a recently deceased person" and this:

"As the time for Kid to hit the stage neared you could feel the electricity. It was tangible. It was like dark matter. A static that took up every bit of space not occupied by human or structure. It was alive."

Nice reading, Reading.

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