Lessons from Parachute @ 20… by Brian “Thundergod” Rosenworcel

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On Sunday we played our college album Parachute from start to finish, live at a bowling alley in Brooklyn.  Twice.  It’d been 20 years since we recorded those eleven tunes while earning incompletes from our professors during our junior year at Tufts, back before we added the TER to the GUS.  It had probably been 17 years since any of us had listened to the album (Luke listened to it in October for the first time ever).  And with the exception of three survivors who limped their way into our setlist every year or two (that’d be “Mona Lisa,” “Window,” and “Parachute”), most of the songs were retired before the the turn of the millennium.  14 years ago.

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We each had our moments where we cringed while checking in with our teen-songwriting-selves, and unless you’re The Strokes or The Violent Femmes, your first foray into album-making is bound to show some noob.  For me I cringed at my percussion parts, front and center, the busiest bee in the room, buzzing exactly the same way on almost every song… it wouldn’t be until Lost & Gone Forever five years later that I’d figure out how to put space and creativity into my kit to let the songs breathe.  But I also cringed along with my bandmates at their age-appropriate lyrics and overzealous vocal stylings.  Adam and Ryan pretty much played the same guitar part on every song back then — it’s unclear who was copying who.  But these weren’t the major takeaways from the Parachute revisit.

Because there were a lot of musical things going on in those songs too — and the production by Mike Denneen, on reflection, was genius.  He managed to complement our instrumentation with great, subtle players who gave each song an identity it wouldn’t have had.  A handful of our college buddies contributed too, most notably Tom Swafford who brought “Window” to life with a thoughtful and virtuosic violin performance — but Denneen’s guys really stepped up and helped Parachute become a sonically pleasing record.  I am talking mostly about Jay Bellerose, who played drums on “Mona Lisa,” “Eden,” “Dissolve,” and “Parachute,” and Mike Rivard, who played upright bass on a number of songs.  If you happened to catch us really enjoying playing “The Prize” at Brooklyn Bowl the other night, it’s probably because Mike’s bass line added a deep jazzy flair to the verse of a country song.  Our first country song.

And I think we all were struck by how powerful it was when Ryan and Adam’s voices came together the way they did at many times on that album.  When harmonies and counter-melodies were huge priorities for our band.  I might be imagining it, but didn’t Ryan Miller tell the crowd that “we learned something” by visiting the album again the other day?  I am not sure what he learned, but I will guess the vocals struck him.  I was feeling it on “Cocoon” during the inter-woven “dream yourself to sleep at night” broken-down verse.  Do you know how many times I played the song “Cocoon” between 1993 and 1997?  Between 8 sets a night on weekends in Harvard Square where we often opened *and* closed with it, and endless van gigs where “Cocoon” brought down the house before it was replaced by “Fa Fa” in 1998 — it’s no wonder we really needed very little time to get the songs into working condition.  They’re in our blood. Forever a part of our DNA, for better and for worse.  Insert your own riding-a-bike metaphor HERE.

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So after years of being disparaged on stage, ignored in our set lists, and left to rot like The Big Friend itself — a stuffed animal that I received as a gift from my aunt at age 9 that probably wound up dumped in a landfill after being stolen along with the contents of our trailer from the mafia-run landscaping parking lot in New Jersey where Adam’s mom recommended we park our trailer during some downtime — after years of that sort of Big Friend-fate…. Parachute gets its moment and gets a respectful nod from the man who almost ruined it with his bongos.  I’ll even say that the *song* “Parachute” impressed me.  What a great song.

Because I also listened to Goldfly, which we recorded at the end of 1996, and was shocked to discover how much worse it sounded than Parachute.  I mean it sounds awful.  That we ever got a chance to redeem ourselves a few years later on Lost & Gone Forever is a miracle.  There will be no anniversary celebrations, Goldfly.

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Oil-spotted

This might be the last road journal for a little while.  Let’s go out with a bang.

Everyone remembers rule #1 of tour bus living, right?  No dropping #2’s on the bus.  That is, unless you poop in a bag of shame.

I don’t do the bag of shame.  That is not how I choose to live my life.  But last night around 2:30 in the morning we pulled over at a truck stop in Connecticut and I had to crap.  We were en route to Providence for our last show of the tour.  I was awake because no one really sleeps on tour busses, they just lie in their bunks as if they’re sleeping.  So imagine my good fortune to have the opportunity to do my business at a clean rest stop rather than clenching my sphincter all night and hunting for a random Dunkin Donuts bathroom at 9am in Providence.  

I threw on some shorts and CROCS and headed inside to the rest stop facility.  I was careful to leave one of our driver’s wintergreen mints on his seat to indicate that I was not on the bus and he shouldn’t leave until I’m back.  That was his rule.  

It probably took five minutes.  Isn’t five minutes about the average time for this activity?  I’m totally normal!  When I went outside the bus was gone.

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Gone.

I thought maybe it had just pulled over to the parking area to get out of the way of the gas pumps and wait for me, but I didn’t see it anywhere.  Maybe it’s a last-night-of-the-tour hilarious prank!?  Nope.  I was what we call in the business, “oil-spotted”… and so I had to consider my options:

1.  There really are no good options

Because I didn’t bring my phone or wallet or anything off the bus with me — I was stranded.  Remember the days before cell phones when you actually memorized your friends’ phone numbers?  In this moment, I missed those days terribly.  I thought of whose numbers I had actually converted to memory.  My wife!?  She doesn’t hear her phone at 2:30 in the morning.  My parents!?  Please, there has to be a better option than waking up my parents in Hartford and having them drive an hour and a half to Stamford to pick me up and bring me to Providence in the middle of the night because I decided to take a crap at a rest stop.  Maybe I could get away with that when I was 39.  Ryan Miller!!

Ryan wasn’t riding the bus that night.  He was out in the Hamptons partying with ScarJo and meeting us in Rhode Island the next day.  Wasn’t his phone number some easy moniker like 617-HOT-DUNG, and he’d be up, and he could call everyone on the bus and catch someone who’d tell the driver to turn around because I’d been abandoned at the rest stop?

I walk up to the person at the McDonald’s counter and blather on and on about a missing tour bus and needing to make a call and six one seven hot dung.  I start speaking horrible Spanish half way through because I am losing my mind and that’s what you do.  The manager comes out and lets me use his cell phone but doesn’t take his eye off me.  He shouldn’t.

Okay, 617-HOT-DUNG was Ryan Miller’s phone number in like 1998, and has been disconnected.  That was so stupid.  I am resigned to spend the night sleeping under the fluorescent lights of the Mobil / McDonald’s Rest Stop, but I am not panicky.  I feel too good after having a pretty good crap.  Nothing else matters.

That’s when I remember our manager’s cell phone number, good old Dalton Sim.  Under the persistent stink-eye gaze of the McDonald’s manager I dial up Dalton Sim, who can be seen with a towel around his neck halfway through this video.  This is my last chance.

Voicemail.  I leave a blathering message about wintergreen mints, McDonald’s managers, and how long it’d take to walk to Providence.  I call him back five minutes later.

“Hello?”  Good old Dalton Sim!  He is asleep, and he is talking to me on the phone from Martha’s Vineyard.  It’s a miracle, but he still has to connect with someone and turn the bus around.

And an hour later, the bus arrived at the rest stop.  

My conversation with Kevin, our bus driver, went like this:

Brian:  “I think we need to reconsider that wintergreen mint policy”

Kevin:  “Huh?”

Brian:  “I left the mint on your seat when I went in, you didn’t see it?”

Kevin:  “You’re supposed to leave a *poker chip* not a mint”

Kevin:  “Don’t be puttin’ no candy on my seat”

Brian:  “Goodnight Kevin”

Kevin:  “OK goodnight”

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Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Last night in Charleston SC, Ryan told the story of how members of Guster joined members of BNL on a boat that day, singing along to a mix of yacht rock favorites and enjoying the view of the city from the bay.  Luke refused to let another guy lube up his back with sunblock, leaving a “homophobic patch” of sunburnt pink skin in the middle of his back, where he couldn’t reach, despite bending his elbows and stretching his fingers in an attempt to cover his entire back on his own.  Or as Ryan said to the Bible Belt Area Crowd — “in an attempt to cover his entire back without the touch of another man“…

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Thanks Luke, for being a good sport and showing us your homophobic patch of sunburn, even though you say Ryan has the story totally wrong — but we’re actually not interested in your version of the story.  Enjoy this inter-coastal yacht rock video of their day on the seas:

You can’t see Luke’s backside to know that he’s slowly growing a pink homophobic patch as they Ride Like The Wind, but it’s happening.

Conspicuously absent from this voyage was yours truly, the 40-something Thundergod, who has been all SARS’d up since his birthday.  They did post a pic of my backside on the BNL twitter though.

And since I began this road journal earlier in the day, we played “Either Way” in Raleigh with Ryan and Ed Robertson from BNL holding hands while singing it.  Full circle.  If anyone has a picture of that, send it to me and I will post it here.

UPDATE:  Thanks for the pic, Maia!

RJgayphoto

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Toronto

I went home for a couple days while the bus rolled on to Canada for two days off this week.  Look at this picture of the flooding that occurred in Toronto right before the band arrived:

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It made getting to the Molson Canadian Amphitheater a bit of an adventure for all involved.  Our terrific and usually interpersonally-savvy bus driver, Kevin, had a not-so-bright moment entering the country while the rest of the band and crew were asleep in their bunks.  The Canadian border patrol folks started in with the usual questions — what’s the band name?  where are you performing?  do you have your work papers?  are you selling any merchandise?

The interview was going smoothly when Kevin was asked if there were any firearms on the bus:

Not that I know of” said Kevin.

Everyone wake up.  Put on some shorts.  Off the bus, into the holding tank at the Canadian Customs Agency.  Bring on the genital-sniffing dogs.  Thanks Kevin.  We’re lucky they didn’t search Guster’s cavities.

Meanwhile after two lovely but sleepless (twin babies) days at home, I nearly missed the Toronto show — a four hour delay at JFK airport followed by a $53 cab to “somewhere in the vicinity of The Molson Canadian Theater”… flooding and some strange Canadian NASCAR race had rendered the area around the theater confusing and “unapproachable” — at least according to my cab driver, who told me that I merely needed to walk for a few minutes across a pedestrian foot bridge to reach my destination, while in the car it’d take forever to work through the traffic and detours.

I eagerly accepted this explanation and showed my earnest NYC love for pedestrianism by hopping out of the car and paying him fifty three bucks and wishing him well as he drove off.  I think I was blowing him kisses.  Then I walked right into a 7 foot tall chain link fence with no openings in it.  This fence stretched on for miles.  I was in a strange parking lot.  There was a middle aged woman in this parking lot, talking on her phone.  Now I am in Alice in Wonderland.  

The woman is trying to explain to her son where she is, and waving her arms randomly to no one in particular.  I wonder how many years she’s been in this parking lot.  On the other side of the fence is a dead highway.  I can hear race cars zipping by across another fence.  The woman on the phone is my only hope.  

She asks where I’m going and then laughs when I say I am trying to get to the Molson Amphitheater on foot.  She tells me my only option is to hop the fence and cross the highway to get to the bridge.  Then she turned into a hobbit.  No.  Then she went back to her phone call and left me to my own judgment.

The fence was taller than I was.  I had a backpack with my toiletries, some clean clothes, and a laptop computer in it.  I also had a cardboard box with three snare heads in it.  The top of the fence was not a smooth horizontal pipe, but pointy jagged sawed-off chain links.  I walked up and down looking for an entry point.  I found a tree.  

Now I am in a tree and I never have been good at climbing trees.  I am going on whatever sleep I got in a chair at Terminal 2 during my delay at JFK.   I am trying to plop my luggage over a fence, onto a highway, so I can get to my show before it starts.  I manage to hurl the cardboard box with the drum heads in it over the fence.  Vertigo.  I decide the tree is a bad idea and I climb down.

I am now officially committed to this fence plan.  I’ve thrown about 60 dollars worth of drum heads over the fence, onto an abandoned highway.  I doubt I can climb the fence at all, but I certainly can’t climb it with this backpack.  So I reach up and dangle it over the fence, dropping it so it lands on the cardboard box, and hopefully not smashing my computer to bits.  This is so dumb.  I am so dumb.  Why does this always?  I am doubly committed now.  In addition to my drum heads, my electronic toothbrush, passport, and laptop are sitting on the pavement on the other side of this fence.  

Using the tree to sort of shimmy myself up, I awkwardly get a leg up on top of the 7 foot fence.  I am definitely bleeding in one, maybe two places.  I cannot rest my torso on top of the spiky fence and flop over, so I have to pretty much perch myself on top and just jump.  Standing semi-upright on the fence, my legs are shaking and I start wobble.  I make sure to fall on the highway side, but the rubber on my shoe gets snagged on the loose top fencing and my legs give out when I land.  It is not pretty.  I look up for the hobbit-woman, and she didn’t see it.  She is too busy waving her arms at an imaginary person.  I brush myself off and walk to my concert.  I passed a 17 year old kid on the way, talking on his phone and looking around frantically, and pointed him towards his insane mother.

So it should come as no surprise that, while the Guster set went off without a hitch, I brain farted my guest appearance with Barenaked Ladies on Brian Wilson.  I was sitting content in a leather chair in our dressing room, actually checking out Andy Creegan’s conga parts on the original Brian Wilson recording from the album Gordon, when Ryan Miller busted into the dressing room, and said “you have no idea what just happened, do you?”

What happened was that my song came and went, and Ed Robertson was stuck on stage introducing a Thundergod that never came.  Lucky for me, BNL is the one band incapable of having an awkward moment on stage — they actually changed the lyric of the song from “lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did” to “lying in bed, just like Brian Rosenworcel is”… that is some serious flow.  

And I think lucky for me, an inebriated Ryan Miller stumbled out on stage and played conga during Brian Wilson in my stead.  Thanks for bailing me out Ryan!  Now everyone knows that banging on hand drums is easy as pie.  A bunch of people saw Ryan on their way out of the concert and said “there’s the bongo player dude!”

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Baby, I’m a Firework

We will let @KariPizza, a Milwaukee native and a bartender at Summerfest, narrate this road journal:

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Not every show, @KariPizza, just the important ones.  And it’s no secret we are huge fans of Summerfest, a two week festival on Lake Michigan (under a highway) in Milwaukee.  Milwaukee seems to understand something that other cities don’t – music should be accessible to everyone.  For like $15 on July 4th you could see over 100 bands, sometimes involving some tough choices, like when we went head to head with touring partners Barenaked Ladies last night, and when “Rush” was playing opposite “Skillet” earlier in the evening.

Anyway, back to our story.  I worked all day to learn the lyrics and melodies for “Firework” — a song I wasn’t familiar with but one that was very holiday-appropriate.

Also, for a little Katy Perry vs Guster history, check out this exchange from last summer:

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See — she started it!  She started this whole thing!  Mercifully, Ryan promised that this would be the first and last time we ever played it, before I went out in front of a festival crowd and sang Firework as best I could.  Let’s call in @KariPizza again for the commentary:

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Talk about hurt feelings, don’t you know that vocalists are sensitive people, who search for themselves on twitter after their performances to ensure that their message is reaching the people?  At least I can spell “and” …

Thankfully, @DailyJoce had my back:

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But let’s not do this.  Let’s not create twitter wars.  Let’s not fill the British tabloids with Katy Perry vs Guster drama that will only create strife and ill will.  Let’s let you all judge for yourselves.

By the way that was Ryan taking this panoramic of the crowd with the house lights on before we started the song.

The rest of the evening was just typical Milwaukee… I borrowed Ryan’s bike lock and snapped the key off trying to unlock my bike at a bar, so I had to recruit people to help me lift my bike over the street pole it was locked around, and then I couldn’t ride it back to the bus (people in NYC are trained to put the lock through the front wheel)… some bouncer wrestled a patron to the sidewalk right in front of us and put a boxcutter to his throat… meanwhile Ryan was in a stretch hummer (sorry Adam!) with 6 members of the NY Mets and why don’t I come meet them?  Including a certain All Star rookie pitching phenom who I would have foregone mac & cheese pizza to meet?  Terrible timing.  I have to stay with my bike which has a lock through the spokes of the wheel, sorry Matt Harvey.

I ended up with a purple shiner from bashing my own bicycle into my eye trying to stuff it in the storage bay of the bus when the bus finally bailed me out and picked me up at the bar.  At least I got my mac and cheese pizza.

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Montana

O port o potty
What lies beneath — discover!
Your sunken treasures

(that is a haiku because the syllables go 5 then 7 then 5) (let me explain)

This is my 11th road journal about port o potties.  I am counting.

Missoula, Montana.  Stage in a field.  Catering tent.  Gravel parking lot.  You do the math….  I will definitely be doing my business in a port o potty today.  But it’s already 11am when I stumble off the bus ready to start my umm, daily routine  — I am late to the game and there appear to be only two port o potties here, baking in the sun.  This is awful.  It’s 95 degrees in Montana today.

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From inside the one on the right I can hear Adam on the phone.  There are no words to describe Adam’s dedication to his work with Reverb.  That he can hold a tele-conference in one of these shit coffins is true testament to his focus.  And his insanity.  The one on the left is unspeakably gross.  What now?

I prefer not to follow Adam directly.  Strange, I know — apparently I would prefer to follow a truck driver or a grimy local stagehand, perspiration dripping down into The Hole as they do their business — but I just don’t want to know whose poop mine is landing on top of.  Let it be a mystery.  I need to eat a piece of ginger and reboot.  I need a real indoor toilet.  This sucks.

And there it is, like an oasis… a row of twenty port o potties in the distance — the ones for the concert goers!  Of course.  Duh.  Civilian port o potties, before the civilians arrive for the concert.

The first one I pick, and I just use my ouija board intuition on this (like putting chips down on a roulette board)… the first one is pristine.  A virgin port o potty.  I think they were all virgin potties, like some enchanting island full of beautiful port o potty sirens, but I didn’t bother to check.  I was too busy photographing my own reflection in the water (before I crapped in it).

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Crystal clear, all the way to the bottom, just the like Clark Fork River of Missoula, which we would float in a tube in (and pee in) later that day.  

Thanks Montana, for welcoming us so pleasantly to our first show in your state in 22 years as a band.

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The year was 1974.

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The year was 1974.  Ryan Miller was wearing the same shirt and pants he’d worn the night before at the Greek Theater.

One of those statements is true, anyway.  Thanks to Charlene and April, our fearless string section (that you might recognize from our acoustic tour), for filling in and adding another dimension to our radio interview on KCSN in Los Angeles Monday morning.  Adam and I had already left on jet planes hours earlier.  Seemed like a fun studio gig, but it’s better here on the east coast, where I get to change diapers in 95 degree heat.

Southern California (specifically, the crowds in Santa Barbara and LA) embraced us like never before the last couple of days.  Apparently they were just waiting for us to turn 40 before they decided it was okay to shower us with affection.  Also, because the local string ladies joined us on stage at the Greek, Ryan called us “an LA band” which should be obvious to anyone who saw this Larj post of mine.

And as long as we’re going with a retro theme in the post, here’s an actual vintage Thundergod pic from 1998 that just popped up on my Facebook page.  This is one tag I’m not going to remove.  Enjoy!  I’m holding orange juice!

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June 27, 2013 · 5:41 am