Archive for May, 2012

Perfect Timing

May 21, 2012

Saturday May 19th, 2012 – Eaton, IN

I wish I knew how and why, but every once in a while life will somehow fall together perfectly for a day and circumstances will line up without a hitch. Why that can’t be bottled up and used in a pinch is beyond me, but I’d love to find the way to control it. Today was one of those rare days.

My friend Darryl Rhoades called this morning to say hello. We’d been playing phone tag a few days, and he happened to be in Indiana for a couple of shows he’d booked on his own. He hadn’t known I was in Fort Wayne, and when I asked him where he was it was less than an hour away.

I really wanted to get home, but I like Darryl and we decided to get a meal since we hadn’t had a chance to catch up in a while. Darryl has been playing music his whole life before transitioning to comedy, so he’s been around the craziness of the business even longer than me. We’re lifers.

We get along tremendously, as neither of us tends to suffer idiots or bullies well. We both have had our share of run ins with less than ideal situations, and after enduring painful decades of that same old same old it tends to get stale. Sometimes it’s just nice to vent with someone who gets it.

I met Darryl at his raggedy hotel room and commented how it looked exactly like almost every other room comics on the road end up getting. It wasn’t a national chain, and had a distinct air of sleaze that could be felt from the road. I could easily picture an insurance fire in the near future.

Darryl told me how he was starting to book more and more of his own shows in smaller towns to avoid having to deal with the frustration of having to jump through the insane hoops too many bookers make us jump through. I can’t say I blame him, and he says it’s been working out well.

He bought his own sound system, and it fits in the trunk of his car. He also sells a lot of t-shirts and CDs, and says money adds up quickly in a one nighter situation as people aren’t bombarded every week like in some of the more traditional rooms. He says for what he does it works great.

I enjoyed hearing about how he’s putting these shows together, and then he asked if I’d like to come and see it all for myself. He said if I wanted to open the show he’d pay me at least a couple of bucks for my gas and effort, and I could see it firsthand. I did want to get home, but I couldn’t say no. Darryl was being nice, and I was at least a little curious as to how the evening turned out.

The hotel was in Hartford City, IN but the actual gig was in Eaton. I’d never heard of either of those towns, and I’ve been around the block a few times. It wasn’t a career move, and it wasn’t a traditional comedy venue – but the people who showed up came to laugh and it was a hot show.

I’d guess attendance between fifty and sixty, and they all paid to get in. I opened the show with a solid twenty minutes to get them warmed up. Darryl knew he was lucky to have an experienced emcee in front of him, but that’s fine. I didn’t mind helping, and was glad to see it work out well.

This was an example of old fashioned hard work, and I was grateful to Darryl for letting me be part of it and earn some gas money home. It was a win/win, and everything came together nicely and without incident. The hotel didn’t seem quite as grimy as I drifted off to sleep a little richer.

The Long Unwinding Road

May 21, 2012

Friday May 18th, 2012 – Pittsburgh, PA/Canton, OH/Fort Wayne, IN

   I’m not able to describe in adequate words just how stressful yesterday was, and it didn’t let up for several hours. No amount of money is worth that kind of aggravation, but sometimes life just works out that way. Could I have left for the gig earlier? Sure. Should I have flown in? Maybe.

But there’s more to it than that. This is a much deeper issue than just running into a few traffic problems on the way to a comedy gig. That happens to everyone at one time or another, and this was my time. I’ve had countless examples of other times too, but I can’t seem to learn my lesson.

There are just too many things to do, and not enough time to do them all. When that happens, it leads to situations like I just had to endure and ends up draining my entire being. Yes, I ended up making it in time for the show. But there were several hours of living hell when it was in doubt.

That’s not how I want to do business, especially after being in this game for so long. It’s never a perfect world, but it would be nice to have someone to help coordinate my travel schedule so it doesn’t boil down to a literal race against the clock to get there on time. I can’t keep doing that.

It’s funny for me to hear rock stars complain about how hard they have it. They have a tour bus waiting after their shows with someone else driving. They also usually have their meals prepared for them as well. They show up to a catered meal, do the show – and then get on a bus and sleep.

That sounds pretty good to me right about now. I have to haul my own carcass to my gigs, find a way to feed myself from a drive thru window without reigniting my diabetes demons with a lot of sugary junk food, and then have to get myself home when I’m done. No wonder I’m stressed.

I was so tight after the show last night I couldn’t have fallen sleep even if I wanted to. This gig was one of the few that didn’t come with a room included, so I got back in the car and started the long trip west. I’d just spent all day coming from there, now I had to drive back. How frustrating.

I made it back to the Pittsburgh area before starting to unwind. I found a sleazy hotel room that was not worth the $46 price, but that was the cheapest I could find and I was beat so I took it and shut up. I thought about sleeping in my car, but that would have totally destroyed my self esteem.

A hot shower, decent meal and a good night’s sleep can work wonders in stressful situations. It did the trick this time, as I woke up refreshed and ready to head home. I stopped in Pittsburgh for a lunch with Jeff Schneider and we recorded three half hour episodes of ‘The Unshow!’ podcast.

I made it to Canton, OH with plenty of time to hang with my old friend Tim Marszalkowski for dinner at the delicious Mama Guzzardi’s Italian restaurant. Tim is also stressed to the limit on his day job, and told me at least I was working for myself. He’s absolutely right, but stress is stress.

I got back in the car with a full stomach, and made it to Fort Wayne, IN and felt myself starting to nod out at the wheel. I could have tried to make it home, but what for? In the old days I’d have sucked it up and kept driving. Mountain Dew and Hershey bars would have helped a ton, but that strategy is what led to diabetes. Tonight’s choice was a big salad, water and a good night’s sleep.

A Stress Test

May 19, 2012

 Thursday May 17th, 2012 – Mansfield, OH/Bird In Hand, PA

   There’s nothing like an all you can eat buffet of stress to make one think of changing careers in a hurry, and today was it. I don’t think I could pry my ass cheeks apart with a crow bar right now as they’ve been clenched together in terror the entire day. This kind of stress causes heart attacks.

I had a 413 mile hell ride from Mansfield, OH to Bird In Hand, PA that was a lot more difficult than it needed to be. The weather was beautiful, and I expected to have a leisurely ride to my gig as I made notes about anything creative that popped into my head. I started out in a cheery mood, but by the end of the night I was ready for shock treatment and a sedative. This isn’t what I need.

As can happen at any time in comedy, today suddenly morphed into a one man NASCAR race against the clock. I needed to be in Bird In Hand by 6:30pm for a scheduled performance time of 6:45. That’s a little early for the typical show, but it’s their event so they can have it whenever.

I chose to take US 30 to avoid tolls, knowing it might take a little longer. I allowed myself time in case of delays, but it wasn’t enough. I got stuck in a nasty traffic jam in Pittsburgh, and I don’t know why. It was about 1:30pm, and it’s not like it was rush hour. Whatever the reason, I had no escape. I was caught in it and couldn’t move. The longer I waited, the higher my stress level got.

I knew I’d be in for a race against time, and those are never fun. The distance that needed to be covered was what it was, and there are no shortcuts. I could only do one thing – keep driving and hope I would get there on time. I knew I’d be cutting it dangerously close and needed to keep my wits about me. Any more long delays of any kind would have caused me to miss the gig entirely.

The entire state of Pennsylvania’s highway system seems to be under construction, and I had to go 40 miles an hour for much of the rest of the trip. I was trapped behind lines of other frustrated drivers who were trapped behind truckers who made it impossible to pass. I couldn’t go faster if I wanted to, and I totally wanted to. I could feel my heart lodge in my throat as time slipped away.

I put the gas pedal to the floor and sped dangerously through construction zones and wherever else I could to just get there. I couldn’t afford to not get paid, and I had to risk death or a ticket to make it to Bird In Hand. They were on a time schedule, and only had the hall rented until 8pm.

I finally made it with less than two minutes to spare, and I sprinted from my car to the room to discover that the motorcycle group members were all over 60. I wasn’t expecting that, so I had to adjust on the fly and go from there. The person who was to introduce me was out of the room, so I had to start cold as they were growing impatient. On a difficulty scale of 1 to 10, this was a 74.

Still, I managed to pull an extremely solid show out of this situation. It took every last ounce of the quarter century of experience I have to do it, but I did. I slowed down and gave them my very best, and they loved it. They were great laughers, but had no idea how hard this show really was.

I could have easily missed this one, and that would have been devastating financially. I was an absolute wreck afterward, but at least I’d made it. Barely. I don’t want to be living my life on this kind of a shoestring, but sometimes it happens. This is not a business for the weak or squeamish.

Eastbound And Down

May 19, 2012

Wednesday May 16th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL/Mansfield, OH

   My only work this week is one show tomorrow night just outside of Lancaster, PA in a suburb with the goofy name of ‘Bird In Hand’. There are a few odd town names out that way like ‘Blue Balls’ and ‘Intercourse’, but everyone out there has heard the jokes so there’s no point in trying.

I’d guessed it was roughly a 750 mile drive each way, but I was wrong. It’s longer. 813 miles door to door is what MapQuest says, but what do they know? I’ve been screwed by them before.  Whatever the case, that’s way too long of a drive for one night of work at this time in my life.

I took this gig because it came from an associate of my friend Marc Schultz. Marc was asked to find a comedian to entertain a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, and he thought of me. Apparently they’ve been booking comedians for years at this annual event, and they needed some new meat.

The pay is fairly decent, but not quite decent enough for me to fly in. Plus, I thought I might be able to rustle up a weekend somewhere in the region and make it worth the drive. I wasn’t able to find one, and that’s a red flag. Gigs just aren’t that easy to come by these days as they once were.

There’s a weekend room right in Lancaster, and I’ve worked there before. That’s the place that would’ve made the most sense, plus the guy that owns it owes me a favor – or so I thought. Last time I was there was the weekend my father died. He ended up booking Jim Norton on very short notice, and was going to cancel me altogether until I told him I’d be willing to work as a feature.

What were my choices? I’d have lost all money for that week, and I had another gig to get to in Pittsburgh the following week. I would have had to sleep in my car and have zero income, so the smart thing to do was just shut up and take it. Jim Norton was actually a very nice guy, and came up to me and apologized at the end of the weekend. But it wasn’t his fault. I see why it happened.

I don’t have a problem with anyone being able to make a buck, but there’s no excuse to cut my pay for a gig we’d already booked months before. I ended up eating several hundred dollars I had already spent, but that’s how it can go. Many owners couldn’t care less, and he was one of them.

That guy was notorious for bringing plates of food from the restaurant attached to the comedy club and telling comedians to ‘try this’ – and then giving us a bill at the end of the week. I had it happen to me, and found out I wasn’t alone. The only thing that cheers me up even a little is that he’s a big Steelers fan and I know it killed him when they lost to my Packers in the Super Bowl.

I asked him nicely months ago to help me out this weekend, but he sent back a short curt email saying ‘Booked already.’ That’s it. Not ‘Hey, let me see if I can make some calls.’ Nothing. I felt like an ass, but I shut my mouth because I’m already in enough trouble with others for running it.

I always said it’s time to quit when it’s not fun anymore, and I’m really to that point. I haven’t got the patience to deal with this kind of abuse anymore. That guy couldn’t care less about me or any other comic. I’ve had enough. I got a hotel room after driving 400 miles on the dot. I’ll give them all I have tomorrow, but I’ve really got some serious choices to make. This isn’t my future.

On the way through Northwest Indiana I stopped off for a fun lunch meeting with the members of Jerry’s Kidders, Ken Sevara and Tim Slagle. Those guys can relate all too well with what I am dealing with, as they’re in the exact same boat. There is an entire generation of nightclub comics between 45 and 60 that are really struggling right now, and none of us expected to be part of it.

Like rock stars and professional athletes, I think we all thought the comedy gravy train would last forever. How naïve and short sighted that was, bordering on flat out stupid. We’re all used to working regularly, and we came up at a time when it wasn’t out of the question to expect to work every week if so desired. Most of us never thought about an exit strategy…and now it’s too late.

Now there’s a group of younger generation comics who all used to open for us that are taking a giant bite out of the work pie, and it’s becoming a real struggle. Part of it is the natural process of aging. If patrons of comedy clubs are of a certain age, they want to see comedians that age also.

Another part is, there are fewer and fewer places to work that pay a living wage. There’s such a glut of supply that there isn’t a need to pay a premium for it. There’s always somebody who’ll do a gig for $50 less and drive twice as far. I guess that used to be me, and now it’s passing me by.

I’m sure athletes go through this process on a lot crueler level. They fight their way up the line to sign the big contract, and then the team unceremoniously cuts them at some point to bring in a younger player for a lot less money. Its economics 101, but it’s a lot harsher to live it in real life.

Ken and Tim and I are all in that boat and we know it. Believe me – every one of us in that boat is well aware we are there. There are no stowaways. We might not want to be there, but that’s an unfortunate reality. It doesn’t mean our lives are over, but if we’re smart we’ll start preparing for exactly that. The comedy dream doesn’t come with a retirement plan, but that’s kept very quiet.

It’s a different game altogether now, and there are two choices – play it or get out. Comedy is a craft, but there’s a business side of it too. It’s a process of evolution, and like it or not we all need to change our strategy. As much as all of us long time comics hate to admit, it’s no longer 1986.

Still, that doesn’t have to mean gloom and doom. I’ve had quite a few people call me bitter, but I don’t tend to sugar coat any situation. Bookers and club owners have always been difficult. Not all of course, but quite a few. One tends to take it a lot more at the beginning, thinking there’ll be a payoff at the end that will make up for the abuse. But rarely does that happen. It stays the same.

Jim Bouton was called bitter too when he wrote ‘Ball Four’, but it was true. He wrote about the way baseball was, and many didn’t like that. Comedy is the same way. I may be a pariah in a few circles, but at least I’m honest with myself and tell it like it is. This has never been an easy career path, but I knew that going in. It would be nice to receive a little respect from those who book us.

Maybe my expectations are too high, but I always thought it was important to be nice to people along the way. This just isn’t a business of ‘nice’, and I’m not able to let it go unsaid. I had better start, or start looking for something else to do. That’s a strong possibility. I still enjoy performing but the off stage insanity is getting tougher and tougher to swallow. I’m not equipped to handle it well, and I know it. Some people like to play the game, but I never did. All I want is to be funny.

Wheeere’s Johnny?

May 16, 2012

Tuesday May 15th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   This year marks the 50th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s remarkable thirty year run as host of “The Tonight Show”, and there’s a well produced two hour documentary chronicling his life and career on PBS. I watched it last night with some friends, and all of us were riveted to the screen.

What an astounding career Johnny had. He ruled the roost for three decades, and then went out on top and never looked back. It’s hard to believe he’s been off the air for twenty years now, but the tens of millions of us that still remember him will see him as a star forever. He was the king.

A career like that comes along so rarely, it sets the standards for a generation of others who are never able to come close. Too many things have to come together at once, and only an extremely small amount of lucky sperm club members ever get to take that ride. Other than Johnny Carson, who comes to mind in any field? I can think of Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin and Elvis Presley.

Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan both had spectacularly impressive careers and made huge marks in their respective fields, as did Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. They would all probably get a significant number of votes if there were a poll of the all time greats, but I don’t want to argue.

My point is, very few ever get to take the big ride and wear the crown as the undisputed king of any field. Johnny Carson was the king of late night television, and there are millions of witnesses that would testify accordingly if asked in or out of a court of law. His star status is unquestioned.

Besides the issue of talent, there’s always the luck factor. Timing is imperative, and without it talent is useless. Elvis came along at exactly the right time for what he was doing. He did what he did first, and he did it best. Rush Limbaugh would be another example of that kind of timing.

Johnny Carson came along right as TV was starting. His family moved to Omaha, and he got a job as an announcer on the only station in town. He was also good looking and that didn’t hurt in the least. He was the total package that came along at exactly the right time. Of course the talent was there too, but all the other ingredients combined with it made him the superstar he became.

It was interesting to learn some things I hadn’t known previously. Apparently, his mother had a way of stinging him with things she said about his career through the years. She didn’t seem very impressed with all his success, just as I read Steve Martin’s father was cold and aloof toward him as well. Far too many performers of all kinds get into performing only to seek parental approval.

The documentary also talked about Johnny’s relationship with his three sons and how it wasn’t great, nor was his track record of marriage. He was human as we all are, and had dents in his can too apparently. Most of us can’t relate to those kinds of dents, even though we’d like the chance. Just because somebody is on top of their field doesn’t mean they don’t have human foibles also.

Who’s to say any of us would be able to handle that situation well? Put any of us in the million dollar hot seat pressure cooker and see what we do when everyone has their eyes focused on our every move. Johnny pulled it off for thirty years, and he’ll never be equaled. The world is a very different place now, but he had his run. Wheeeeeere’s Johnny? In a prominent place in history.

My Radio Mentor

May 16, 2012

Monday May 14th, 2012 – Milwaukee, WI

   I find it extremely important to pay the proper respect and honor those who have had a hand at helping to make my life a more worthwhile journey. There have been several who have stood out far beyond the rest, and I’m humbly grateful for all of the kindness and guidance they’ve shared.

My grandfather is the shining example, with C. Cardell Willis following a close second. Those two had a personal influence on me more than I’m sure they know. Gramps helped me my taking the time to be the father figure my birth father never was. Maybe he wasn’t the father he planned to be himself, but he sure made up for it with me. He got a second chance, and he did it correctly.

Cardell was my comedy father, and he showed me the ropes that Gramps never could. I needed a mentor to help me live my dream, and he was it. I could not imagine anyone kinder or wiser for that role, and I’ll always remember him fondly. I hope I can live up to the memory of them both.

The person I consider to be my first and biggest mentor in the radio business is Pat Martin. Pat helped me get started in that snake pit of a racket, but despite that I like him anyway. I have often joked with him that I wished we’d never have met, but that’s not true at all. Pat is another gem of a soul that has been there for me through thick and thin and helped me when I needed it the most.

Radio has been a lot colder and crueler to me than comedy ever was. I only got into it because I thought I might have a better chance to not have to be on the road constantly and become ‘stable’ enough to create an environment to have a family of my own. I never thought it was fair to make a wife and especially kids have to go through the loneliness of me being on the road constantly.

How laughable and utterly ridiculous that all sounds now. Stability? Are you serious? Comedy has been WAY more ‘stable’ than radio ever was, but I kept going back like the abused wife in a trailer park thinking it would be different the next time. It never was, and I’m still disillusioned.

None of that was Pat’s fault. He’s had to drink continuously from his own cocktail poured from the bubbling cauldron of radio insanity. He started as a disk jockey, and worked his way up from there to program director, G.M. and eventually station owner. Radio has been his lifelong dream.

Pat was always there to offer a kind word whenever I got fired, as he could relate to it himself. He always told me I had big market talent, and that eventually I’d get my shot. When I was hired at The Loop in Chicago, I think he was more excited than I was. He told everyone he knew about how proud he was of me, and that I deserved it. Then I got fired, and he was there then as well.

Today is Pat’s birthday, and I wanted to take him to lunch to show how grateful I am for all his kindness. He told me I was one of the very few who remembered, and I could tell he loved every bite of our delicious corned beef and pastrami sandwiches at Jake’s Deli – his choice of venue.

I don’t know what this may mean in the big picture of life, but it felt great to be able to give the royal treatment to someone who I feel totally deserves it. I heard it in his voice when I called and saw it in his eyes when we ate. I know he felt appreciated, and isn’t that what we all want to have a chance to feel – especially on our birthday? I fall short too often, but today I did the right thing.

O Mother, Where Art Thou?

May 13, 2012

Sunday May 13th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   Most if not all of the dented cans I have ever met can directly trace the primary sources of their pain back to their parents. That’s where it all starts. I’m sure there have been examples of people who had a loving upbringing who flip out and go to the dark side, but those are rare exceptions.

I wonder what percentage of strippers, inmates or drug addicts have pleasant memories of their childhoods that pop into their mind immediately when asked to describe their family history? I’m betting under 1%. Life is hard enough without starting in a hole, but who has any control over it?

I’ve heard more than a few times we all choose our circumstances before we’re born, but I find that rather hard to swallow. If I did happen to choose my particular path, I must have been drunk or high and I’d like a second chance please. I don’t know why any sane mind would choose this.

I’m not looking for sympathy. All I ever wanted was at least some sort of a fair chance. My life started out off the beaten path, and wandered from there. Now I feel like such an outsider I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find my way back to the main road. Nobody ever answered my flares.

Today is yet another Mother’s Day, and it’s really hitting me hard. Some have been better than others, but I thought I was over being sad. I guess not. I honestly don’t know if my mother is still among the living, even though I heard she was as of a couple of years ago. It doesn’t matter now.

The damage is done, and she never made up for it. If she were dead it would be one thing, but I never understood how she could just walk out of the lives of three kids and not come back for us at some point. I’ve heard countless stories of fathers doing that, but rarely a mother. I don’t get it.

I don’t know what’s worse, having bad memories of a parent or none at all. My old man was as mean spirited of a nasty bastard as I’ve ever crossed paths with anywhere, and that’s saying a lot. I’ve met some major league wank bags in my day, but he was right up there with the elite forces.

The memories of my mother are few and fuzzy. The first time I saw her I was about 10, and she took my sister Tammy and brother Larry and me to the zoo for whatever reason. Maybe she was hoping to bring us back or trade us in for some monkeys or something. It was all very awkward.

I remember that she was upset we wouldn’t call her ‘Mom’, but she hadn’t earned it. We didn’t feel a bond with her, even though Tammy and Larry are older and they knew her a little before it all went south. I was only five months old, so I don’t remember anything. Again, what’s worse – having one’s mother walk out as a toddler or not knowing her at all? Neither one is appealing.

It’s easy for people to say ‘that happened long ago’ and ‘just get over it already’ and they often do. I can’t say they’re not right either, but on days like today no amount of pep talking or logic is going to take the pain away. There’s a gigantic vacuum void in my soul where a mother’s love is supposed to be, and I don’t know what else could ever fill it. Comedy hasn’t, and probably never will. I don’t think fame and fortune will either. There are things in life money can’t buy, and this is one of them. Dented cans of the world unite. Maybe we did get cheated, but it wasn’t our fault.

Fun Isn’t Enough

May 13, 2012

Saturday May 12th, 2012 – Wauconda, IL

   I had a very fun show tonight in Wauconda, IL at a place called ‘The Energee Center’. I did it a few months ago, and it was enjoyable then as well. The people who came out were there to see a show that night, and we gave it to them.  Even though it isn’t a gigantic venue, it was pretty full.

Tonight, not so much. Maybe twenty, tops. I felt horrible on many levels, as that’s just not how anyone is going to make a decent living. The people who run the venue are absolute sweethearts, and want comedy there. They only do shows once a month, and have brought in excellent talent.

Sally Edwards is a comedian who lives in Wauconda, and she both books and hosts the shows. She gets it as far as pairing acts together that fit well, and the comedians I’ve talked to that have worked there have all enjoyed themselves just as I did. We’re all hoping it lasts for a long time.

In theory, it totally should. There is NO live comedy within probably 25 miles or more, and it’s a cozy little place that really works well. There’s a nice little stage and pretty good sound system, even though in such a small venue that’s not a major requirement. It is a plus though, and they’ve got a nice setup all around. There’s a positive vibe in that room, and I’d love to see it keep going.

I don’t think they sell alcohol at all, but they may have wine coolers. I didn’t see any beer and I can’t say it bothers me, even though I know alcohol sales are the major source of revenue for the comedy business unfortunately. Trying to tame nasty drunks is not fun under any circumstances, and I’ve got a lifetime of experience to prove it. This is a much better scenario, and I cherish it.

There have to be at least some people who aren’t raging alcoholics who want to see live shows, aren’t there? I would think there would be quite a few of them within driving distance to a venue like The Energee Center in Wauconda or Improv Playhouse in Libertyville. There’s another little room that’s fun to work, and the people who run it get it. Why can’t places like this draw flies?

I was very disturbed to see such a small turnout tonight. Bill Gorgo was also on the show, and he’s a headliner in his own right. Those twenty people got way more than they paid for, and they were a tremendous audience. We all had fun, and there were no issues in getting paid either. We got our checks immediately after the show as promised, even though I know they lost their shirt.

The people who run it were upbeat, but I never like to see anyone lose money. They need to eat like everyone else, and they put out a very good product for what they charge. There’s no reason it shouldn’t have been full, and even been able to sell out two shows. The fact is it’s just not easy to get people in a room for any reason. I know, I’ve tried to for years – and have failed miserably.

I’m sorry to see this happen, as it’s such a fun room for everyone. The people who run it enjoy having comedy, and that makes it fun for us as performers. The cold hard fact that I don’t like to think about is – fun isn’t enough. It’s a business, and if there aren’t enough customers it’s a flop.

That’s hard to stomach, but it’s just how it is. The slow animals in the jungle get eaten. Period. It doesn’t matter how fun they are, or how much any of the other animals like them. If they can’t keep up, they’re gone. I don’t know who made up this system but it sure seems cruel, doesn’t it?

KISS vs. P-Funk

May 13, 2012

Friday May 11th, 2012 – Fox Lake, IL

   I’m still buzzing about how much I enjoyed seeing George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic light up the crowd at the Cubby Bear in Chicago last night, but there are a few factors that don’t add up inside my twisted little logic box. Let’s see if I can sort a few things out and make sense.

In my opinion, the show should have been held across the street at Wrigley Field. Concerts are no stranger to that venue, as I remember Paul McCartney getting booked there not that long ago. I think Bruce Springsteen is there later this year as a matter of fact. Why isn’t George booked?

Some might snicker when I suggest that, but they probably don’t realize just how major a draw P-Funk was at one time. I still remember them playing Soldier Field in 1977. I wanted to see that show, but had no means of getting there from Milwaukee at the time. I can only imagine the look of unbridled horror on my grandparents’ faces had I asked them to take me to see that concert.

“You want us to drive you all the way to Chicago to see WHAT?”

“A concert where a spaceship lands with black people from outer space coming out of it.”

End of story.

A lot of people also don’t realize that George and Parliament were signed on with Casablanca Records at the same time KISS was with them. That must have been a circus and a half trying to keep all of that together. But I never liked KISS, even though I tried. Their music flat out stinks.

I do love their showmanship, and they can still sell out all over the world today even with such an inferior product music wise. George and the boys still bring it musically and always could, but they’re playing the Cubby Bear for a few hundred people on a Thursday. Something doesn’t fit.

What went wrong? Is it a marketing issue? Creative differences? A black/white thing? I have to believe it’s a little bit of everything. Maybe George isn’t a very good ass kisser, or chooses to put his energy in the creative side and not the business like so many other performers do. That’s been a huge hump for me to get over as well, and I don’t know how to overcome it. It’s a real concern.

There’s something to be said about doing things on one’s own terms, and I’ve always chosen to make that a major priority with everything I’ve done, but was it always the right choice? Might it be a little smarter to play the game a little better and allow myself more choices in the long run?

That could be exactly the right thing to do, but as for me I never did it. KISS did it, and they’re still raking in major cash to this day with not only their less than stellar music, but merchandising as well. George had a few t-shirts for sale at the Cubby Bear, and a few obscure CDs. That’s it.

I still had a great time, and I’m glad I went. But I don’t want to be doing B and C venues when I’m 71. That’s not all that far off, and it’s rather scary to think about. The path I’m on now won’t lead me to any kind of Promised Land, so I’d better find a way to change that – or get a day job.

George Clinton At The Cubby Bear

May 11, 2012

Thursday May 10th, 2012 – Chicago, IL

   We want the funk! Gotta have that funk! I got as much as I could possibly handle tonight at the Cubby Bear in Chicago on Clark and Addison kitty corner from Wrigley Field as George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic passed through town to ‘tear the roof off the sucker’ one more time.

Anyone who knows me well knows how much of a fan I am of the funk. I still don’t know why a white boy from Milwaukee is so into that kind of music, but I totally am. I’ve been a fan since I first heard it on the radio in grade school, and I still am today. I’ve lost count years ago as to how many times I’ve seen them live, but an educated guess would be around 50. They’re my favorite.

The first time I saw them was about 1989 just up the street at the Cabaret Metro. I didn’t know what to expect, but was totally blown away by the energy of that show. They played for probably four and a half hours that night, and I knew every song on their list. I’ve been hooked ever since.

George is still a master showman, and when he makes his entrance it takes the already dynamic energy vibe to a new level of fever pitch. He’s just got a powerful charisma that lights up a room, and I never get sick of seeing it in person. Some nights are better than others, but tonight rocked.

Usually, the band starts slowly and eases into a groove. The drummer and bass player start out with a slow thumping beat, and before long a guitarist or keyboardist might join in. Then maybe one or two singers might come out and before long the band is cranked up with one of their hits.

This might go on a full half hour to forty-five minutes. The crowd is into it, and everybody is at ease just laying back and enjoying the music. Then the band kicks into the song ‘Cosmic Slop’, a signal to those who’ve seen the show before that George is on the way. The anticipation builds.

Cosmic Slop is one of my favorite songs, and it always gets the crowd whipped up into a funky frenzy. New and old fans alike get sucked in, and THEN George comes out and the show takes a giant leap even higher. It’s amazing to watch the dynamics of it, but I’ve seen it time and again.

Tonight was completely different. The band started off with one of their old Funkadelic hits I’d never seen them do before, much less open the show. George came out after about three minutes, but still had the crowd in the palm of his hand immediately. He knows how to work an audience. They could have played a polka and George still would have been able to get everybody into it.

It’s also noticeable that he’s completely changed his look of late. Gone are those multi colored braids of hair and floor length robes, and now it’s of all things a suit and tie. It’s a different look altogether, but none of us cared. HE was the one everyone came to see, not what he was wearing. Someone with that much of a stage presence can pretty much wear anything – or nothing at all.

They went back and forth all night from the classics to obscure gems only the longest time fans (like me) would know. I was delighted to get to see those old ones done live, and then they’d get right back to the old songs everyone expected them to play. Everyone was on their game tonight. There’s a great website to check out called for anyone interested in finding out more about the funk. Who knows, maybe you’ll get hooked and become a fan too.