Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Gig Most Embarrassing

Once in a while the question gets raised at a house party or barroom gathering:
"So what's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on the job?"
The answer is always horribly vivid in my mind. I envision a day when I won't cringe at the very memory, but I doubt it will ever come until I am finally released.

I was a young man of 18 and had spent a few days in Walnut Creek, California visiting with the most darling of young ladies and her family. The drive was shared with her grandparents who lived near me in southern California. I recall some excellent times visiting with all concerned on the drive up and the days spent at the destination, but the return down Interstate 5 began to reveal a dark cloud.

The grandparents and I headed off early in the day to begin what was likely a 10-hour drive. It was only a few hours later during a late-morning stop at a rest area when events soured. Grandpa (as he kindly asked me to call him) became violently ill in the parking lot. As he told me days later, "Son, I think I threw up food I ate in second grade!"

It became clear that he could not continue all the way to the Inland Empire where I had a gig that night playing with a top-40 band in Cathedral City. What happened next still impresses me to this day. They handed me the keys to their Cadillac, wrote down the entrance code to the home-security system, gave me some money for gas, and said, "You get on down the road. We'll rent a car tomorrow and be just fine." After some hemming and hawing on my part, I accepted their gracious offer and continued on my way.

Considerable time had been lost during the delay, but finding inspiration in a classic song by Sammy Hagar, I dropped that Caddy's hammer and pulled into Palm Springs to pick up my car, get my gear, and rush to the gig. I was just late enough that the band had to start the first song without me, but I rushed to set up my keyboard rig in record time. The guitarist thought he was going to have to play the keyboard solo in Scandal's "Goodbye to You," but no need: I came in on the second beat of the measure, right on time. Paul, the bass player, just looked at me with a big ol' smile and rolled his eyes.

Me and Paul at the Saddle Bar.

The band was called "MYX." Admittedly, not a very unique name, and every big city I've ever been in has a cover band whose members could do no better, right down to the spelling. But the name was easy to remember and served its purpose. We were a pretty good bar band; all five of us could sing which allowed for variety, and having a girl singer up front meant we could do material that all-male bands couldn't. Besides Scandal, there was Missing Persons, Berlin, Pat Benatar, Katrina and the Waves (quick, name their hit!), the Motels, and my personal favorite trivia answer: Quarterflash.

The gig that night was in what by all definitions must be called a dive bar. Not a dump, mind you--just a highway roadhouse that served two kinds of beer: Miller or Miller Lite. The seats at the bar were shaped like saddles in reference to the name of this fine establishment: The Saddle Bar. The regular patrons were raucous but a generally friendly bunch and that night they did me the greatest of favors by collectively ignoring what was soon to happen right there in front of them.

"MYX" as a 5-piece in 1985

As the set proceeded, I felt myself perspiring much more than I normally do, even onstage. The room felt unbearably warm and I tugged at the grey parachute pants clinging to my moist body. I called out over the music to Paul, "ARE YOU HOT?" To which he incoherently responded, "ABOUT SEVEN." He was no help. Then things got really weird. The lights hurt my eyes. The sounds of the band crashed through my ears. My mind swirled within my tottering body. It dawned on me that I must have gotten the same bug as dear old Grandpa. And then it happened...up came everything! Second grade; first grade; heck, I'm sure there was some cheese and crackers from nursery school in there. And I was right on stage with nowhere to hide.

The only saving grace to that instant of time was that an empty beer pitcher had been left right near me on the stage and I had just enough time to stick my face in it. So there I was filling up some of the Saddle Bar's finest plasticware while the dancers got their groove on to the band's attempt (being one man down) at ZZ-Top's "Sharp Dressed Man." And people wonder why I love show business.

I staggered through the crowd and headed for the bathroom with my near-capacity receptical and made it just in time to continue purging in relative solitude. Now, like I said, I consider this event to be the most embarrassing moment I ever experienced on the job, but I gotta tell you, it could have been so much worse. I could have been the brunt of jokes and ridicule that night and every gig I ever played in town for years to come. But, instead, not one person ever said a word about it. Not ONE, except, "How you doin' there? Feeling any better?" Talk about giving a guy a break when he was down.

So that's my humbling story. I bet you've got one like it. What do you say you share right here, right now?

While you collect your thoughts I'll just harden my heart because I'm a real tough cookie with long history after all this walkin' on sunshine even though nobody walks in L.A. and then suddenly last summer find that I am the warrior.

*** 


[Thanks to everybody who visited the Facebook page for my upcoming book (https://www.facebook.com/johnnyhartmanbook) and gave it a "like." I'm hoping to maintain a little pre-release buzz and you've all been so helpful--THANK YOU!]

P.S. I learned recently that the three founding members of MYX are still making great music in the Palm Spring area. Check them out at https://www.facebook.com/TheMyx.Biz?sk=info and tell 'em Gregg sent you.

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