Dead Zone

I’d love to find some good local musicians to play with. Unfortunately, the Livermore/Pleasanton area seems to be pretty much a dead zone musically. The most dynamic venue in the valley seems to be … Borders, the bookstore-with-a-coffee-house chain.

Googling for “music livermore” or “music pleasanton” turns up an assortment of retail stores, teachers, and an occasional wedding band, but not much else.

Livermore Downtown (a civic organization) hosts “Music On The Green” on Tuesdays in warm weather. This is a 3-hour outdoor gig, complete with traffic noise. Livermore Downtown has the unmitigated cojones to invite local businesses to pony up $400 to sponsor a concert — but none of the money goes to the musicians, who play for free.

Or you can set up in the Panama Red coffee house, which is tiny and has no stage, and play for maybe $25 per person.

The other alternative is, I can drive over the hill to Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. A lot more is going on there! You’ve got your hip-hop and thrash metal wannabe’s, your wedding bands — and this craigslist ad, which is charming in its breathtaking blend of insight and cluelessness (I’ve replaced the line breaks with poetry-type slashes to make it more compact):

“Lousy drummer with lousy gear seeks lousy situation. / No perfect people, and no conformist squares, please (unless you play cheesy organ sounds, then bring it on.) / No fills, no frills. / keeping time is all.  / rock. / dregs, drecks, scruffballs and undesirables welcome. / (can you tell i’m tired of all the talk?)”

Plus, there’s the age gap. Most musicians who are out there looking to play are in their 20s or 30s. Some of them are talented, I’m sure, but our lifestyles and musical tastes differ. Here’s a cute ad, again from craigslist, that gives a flavor of what’s on offer. The e. e. cummings punctuation and misspellings are in the original, but I’ve changed the guy’s name so as not to abuse him for his ignorance. Unlike the ad quoted above, this one seems to be entirely in earnest:

“hey my names roger im 18 and i play bass im mainly into death metal and all metal but ive been really interested in bands like porcupine tree and tool lateley so i really would like to start a band thats heavily porcupine tree,blackfield and tool related so if your interesed let me know. i would like a vocalist drummer and guitarist maybey 2 and even a keyboard player. so once again let me know also must live near dublin pleasonton or livermore unless your willing to commute.”

This kind of thing makes me tired — partly because I’ve been through trying to find or start a band using classified ads. That was in the late ’70s. After a few experiences with the rogers of the music world, I gave up my performing aspirations and started writing science fiction instead.

But now, like a bad penny, the desire to play a few gigs with some good people is coming back.

The band I was playing with in the 2005-07 time frame, Night Harvest, is still around, more or less. I don’t think they have any gigs right now. When I think back on it, just about all of their gigs were outdoor venues. The thing about outdoor gigs is that they always suck. Everything about them sucks except (a) getting paid and (b) you get to watch 3-year-olds dancing on the lawn. We played outdoor wedding receptions, outdoor farmer’s markets, outdoor street fairs, and outdoor winery events.

The only indoor Night Harvest gigs I can recall were in what I dubbed “the echoing, freezing room of giant vats” (which the guys quickly amended to “bats”), the wine cellar at Wente Vineyards. This room had worse acoustics than a high-school gymnasium, and was kept at a steady 57 degrees Fahrenheit so the wine would ferment properly. We were surrounded on all sides by wine casks the size of small boats, and there were no chairs for the audience to sit in, just a cold concrete floor on which nobody sat, because they weren’t really there to listen to us, they were there to drink. These were Wente’s “wine release parties,” for wine-club members only, which meant you had to be serious about wine to be there.

I’m not serious about wine. I think of wine as rotting grapes (which is what the Wente cellar smells like). Anybody who raves on about the varieties of fine wine is, in my opinion, just bullshitting themselves about the fact that they want to get tiddly, or maybe plotzed.

I’m a classical musician trapped in a pop musician’s body. I want to play improvised solos on changes, but I also want people to be sitting down and listening quietly while the band does its thing.

That sounds like a description of jazz, and it is — but my grasp of the intricacies of jazz is not what it might be. I was raised on Beatles, not bebop. I understand jazz theory intellectually, but when my fingers find the right melodic mode for a given chord I tend to want to stay on that chord for a couple of bars. Cycling through changes at a breakneck tempo is just plain beyond me.

So I’ve got this great 5-string electric cello sitting here gathering dust. If you’ve got a gig, call me, okay?

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