Red light. I guess we’re rolling. Funny how a red light means stop to most people. For those recording, it means you’re live. For those who have recorded long enough, it is a stark reminder of the passage of time, your time, your life. For me, recording gradually transformed from hobby to compulsion.
From 1992 to 2010, I made bootleg recordings of every show I attended. After painstakingly going over the stacks of boxes filled to the brim with the CDs I had burned from the tapes I had made, I determined the exact number of shows to be 1,516. Bear in mind, this doesn’t include the shows I saw before 1992 that I didn’t record, my years recording professionally at the Maritime Hall from 1996 to 2000, or the shows I’ve seen since I stopped recording. Going over the chronological and alphabetical lists I made, I feel paradoxically overwhelmed by the scope of it, while underwhelmed by seemingly meager number of times I actually saw some bands.
Ask any person who has seen as many shows and they’ll tell you, despite ones best efforts, there’s no way to see them all and there will always be somebody who has seen more than you. It is a thirst that can never be quenched, indeed a diuretic like alcohol that will only make you thirstier. Be that as it may, I can’t bring myself to regret the time and effort I put into this endeavor, nor can I criticize the friends I made doing this that are still seeing shows night in and night out.
This is a confession, my confession. I promised myself years ago that I would spill the beans about it all and, God as my witness, it’s all true. I have faced the music and now is the time to pay the fiddler.
This habit of mine evolved gradually. Let’s go back to the beginning, to how I learned about music in the first place. Mom will always be my first and most important influence to my love of music. She, having taught piano and voice in school and privately, was keen on educating me, as well as my older brother, Alex, and my younger sister, Erica.
Mom would play Mozart sometimes and I got hooked on “The Marriage Of Figaro” and would try to sing along. She will claim to this day that I had the whole opera down cold, but I’m pretty sure I only really knew the Overture with any confidence. The first record I was into, believe it or not, was the soundtrack to the Disney film, “Pete’s Dragon”. I liked it so much that I would put my ear to the carpeted floor in front of the record player to hear the bass more. I know Mom wanted to teach me privately, but I refused. Even at that young age, I knew that keeping our relationship on a strictly personal level was the right choice, but that didn’t mean that she wouldn’t find instruction for me elsewhere.
When I was in the second grade, Mom had befriended the mother of one of my best friends from school, Jeff Lin, who would be known later in high school as Hefe. Hefe’s mom was an opera enthusiast herself and was having Hefe audition for the San Francisco Boy’s Chorus. Since we hung out most the time anyway, Mom suggested that we tag along. Little did I know of her sinister plot to casually nudge me into trying out too. Before I knew it, we were both in and were indentured to come out there and practice twice a week. But it wasn’t so bad. It got us both excused to leave school a half hour earlier on those days.
We moved on the next year and joined the school band, Hefe on saxophone, me on trumpet. I wasn’t totally thrilled about it, but I liked band better than math and P.E. anyway. I had a good music teacher named Mr. Ericson, a tall man with a clown-like head of curly brown hair. The band would play typical Souza marches and kid’s songs, but I did enjoy having a solo once playing “Eye Of The Tiger” from “Rocky III” at an ice cream social.
All the while I was in elementary school, Mom was performing musicals and plays with the On-Stage Theater Company, a community theater in Walnut Creek. I saw all the shows she performed at least one time, except “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” which I guess they felt was too mature for me. The folks threw a cast party for that one at our house, making the southern delicacy “Hoppin’ Johns”, which didn’t look appetizing. On occasion, after school, Mom would take me to her rehearsals. Sitting quietly, (most of the time), I got to go know the nuts and bolts of what it takes to put on a show.
Strangely enough, my first real show experience has a show I didn’t actually attend. I was twelve years old. The second most important musical influence in my life, my older brother Alex, got tickets with his friend, Jason, to see Van Halen at the Cow Palace for their 1984 tour. They needed a ride there, so mom gave them a lift in our Oldsmobile diesel station wagon and, being curious with nothing else to do that night, asked if I could go for a ride along. I’ll never forget on the last stretch of road before arriving at the Cow Palace, there was a Marlboro cigarettes billboard with the trademark Marlboro man with a mechanical arm. It would bring a cigarette to his lips, the end would glow from a bright red light bulb, and a puff of smoke would emerge, generated by a smoke machine. To me, it was like something out of Disneyland or Chuck E. Cheese.
When we arrived, I was dumbfounded to see the parking lot overrun by hordes of concert goers on their way inside. I couldn’t believe that so many people would gather to see… a rock band? After we dropped them off, mom and I rolled back to Alamo, and she drove all the way back to pick them up later, but I couldn’t come along that time. I was too young and it was past my bedtime. The next morning, Alex was understandably ecstatic about what he saw that night.
Around that time, my family purchased a VCR and video camera set, one of those rare ones by RCA, that came in two sections, each the size of a bread box, heavy, and silver colored. One section played and recorded tapes and could be carried around powered by a battery the size of an assault rifle clip, while you shot things with the camera. The other section was a receiver that would plug into the TV and change channels, though it really only got a few in clearly. If you used the whole thing, shooting next to the TV, you had a little recording studio in your living room. My friends, Alex, and I made silly homemade movies, skits mostly, with the occasional crude attempt at stop motion animation.
We discovered that the player/recorder section had an “Audio Dub” button and if you plugged a microphone into the mic jack, you could play a tape, hit that button, and record your voice over any tape. One day it dawned on us that we could dub over movies and television shows, making our own hilarious impromptu scripts. They were hilarious to us anyway, though clearly Alex and Jeff were the funniest at it. Our first “dubbage”, as we called it, was the fantasy movie, “Hawk The Slayer”, a sort of “Lord Of The Rings” knockoff starring Jack Palance as the villain. Understand, Dungeons and Dragons was a big thing at the time. We were all still boys then, except for Alex. Our voices were notably high pitched before we all hit puberty.
As luck would have it, the mic jack in the player/recorder was a mini plug one, 1/8”, the kind one finds commonly for headphones. The time came when we couldn’t find the normal microphone, so just to experiment, I plugged in a set of ear bud headphones and it worked, though only the left one was functional. I don’t think that microphone ever turned up again, so it became our weapon of choice for dubbing. The headphone was mid-rangey and we had to stay within a few feet of the TV to do it, but, it took a pounding before overloading and didn’t require phantom power. It was this method I would later use in my bootlegging much later down the road. Until then, the dubbing continued all the way through high school.
By the time I got to high school, I thought I’d be clever and join the marching band, which doubled credit as an elective and P.E. class. To my dismay, I found out quickly that it was difficult physically and emotionally. For starters, we had to wear uniforms that, worn in the blazing sun, intolerably hot. Second, our musical selection was pretty bland. Third, and I think most importantly, it was a searing reminder of the injustice of the social classes in high school, and by extension, the rest of society. I will say this positive about the marching band, my rejection of it brought me to more rewarding musical outlets and it gave me the ability to walk in a straight line without bobbing, an ability more useful than it sounds. Believe me.
Luckily, by that time my brother, Alex, had amassed an impressive record collection. He’d mostly got into hard rock bands, like the aforementioned Van Halen, as well as their contemporaries like Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, lots of hair metal. But his taste, as high school went on, started to branch out into more punk rock stuff, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Dead Kennedys, etc. Having no music collection of my own and being for the first time without any musical instruction at school, my education in music continued there, listening to Alex’s records. To my eternal embarrassment, the only vinyl I ever owned during that time was the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ Superstar” and a 45” single of “One Night In Bangkok”. It makes me shutter to this day.
But it wasn’t long until my friends and I starting accumulating music of our own. I was lucky enough to first be turned on by “Sgt. Pepper’s” by the Beatles, a perfect first start for any lover of music. Most of my friends started with it too, as I imagine many others my age did. But we all soon added such notable classic acts like Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Bob Marley, and Jimi Hendrix. Me and my friends dabbled in a few newer bands like Rush and The Police, but we mostly focused on those core groups. We didn’t get into the Grateful Dead or any of our contemporary bands until around senior year.
During this time, Alex was playing in various local punk rock outfits, first being No Comment with his friend Jason Hammond. He would later join Jason and his younger brother, Gavin, in the band the Dance Hall Crashers.