Stu Sprill, Ketchup Grenades, and The Man

"Is the dreamer the cuckold, the adulterous wife the dream, and the hero the doer of the dream? I met a hero once, and my hand shrank into his as a challah crumb would into the pelican's edacious beak. I was the furrow of his brow and he was the ray of my sun, inspiring my dreamly skin with a bronze goodness, but ultimately offing its kilter."

-from Pony Sackheart's GHOULS OF ENRAGEMENT

I've been lucky enough to meet some of my heros. In the days of old, this would be difficult, especially being from Montana. I would've had to cut out magazine clippings, hang them by my mirror and then strike a like pose… wait a second, I used to do that. Now with the internet, it's easy to connect with people, but in my day, we had to tweet through the snow, uphill both ways. Anyways, here's some hero blab, and I may be outing myself as a silly fanboy, but I don't care. If it weren't for them, I'd be painting houses or something. Hang on, that's my job now… You know what? I don't care. Life should be a roller coaster, not a conveyer belt. And just to be clear, the term hero originates from the Greek word for warrior, protector, and defender, but is also a word for submarine sandwich. Even though, in the sandwich universe, a submarine sandwich might actually be a hero to a tribe of Ritz Bits, I am definitely not writing about that. Not until I run out of ideas. 

The Road To Spielberg  I was and always will be a film fanatic. In 1989 I went into extras casting for a production of a television movie called "Montana".  I wasn't cast, but was brought up to legendary producer and casting director Fred Roos's office to read for a part. I was 19 but looked 14, and I suddenly found myself reading for the lead in Black Beauty IV. Failure was a given, but here's why I failed supremely: They didn't have the script there. They had an old script for Back To The Future. Under normal circumstances, this would have been an advantage to me, because I knew that perfect movie inside and out. The reason it went horribly is because he called someone in to quickly read with me, and it was Lea Thompson, the female lead of Back To The Future. I had watched her VCR vision with moony eyes and pounding heart countless times, and when she came through that door, it was orange soda spilling into the keyboard of my laptop brain. You know those remote tribesmen that have never heard of movies or reading or writing and think planes are giant bird gods? Well one of them could have easily outdone me at that moment. I fell down the stairs of that script like Arbogast in Psyco, and wasted everybody's time and felt like a fool. However, when I make it big, bigger than any of them, they're going to tell this story with absolute wonder and glee. A few months later, a couple of buddies and I got cast as extras in Always. There was only one true goal here: Meet Spielberg, the man who directed my favorite movie growing up, Raiders of the Lost Ark. We drove up to Libby, MT. While there, we stayed at the local campground and ate canned beans over a campfire each night. It was fine to not have showers, because for our make-up in the movie we were smudged with soot so we would look like grizzled forest-fire fighters. Spielberg was amazing to watch work. His imagination was like a magical force that just made the movie come alive as it was filmed. "Hey, let's have the camera come through the wall of this log building…" and then guys were chainsawing out the wall and the camera was floating through the wall. You could almost hear the score playing the whole time we were there. Finally, the moment of truth came. My friends and I were standing all sooty and hardhatted, and here comes the man himself, on a little golf cart. We flagged him down and thanked him for the opportunity and all that. He asked us what we did and we said we were film students, and he signed things for us. I couldn't find a piece of paper, so I pulled out my wallet, and there was nothing in it at all, so he just signed my wallet, "Stu Sprill." Even though I was in reverent awe, I still had this horrible urge to say, "Thanks for Star Wars!" just to see his expression. Mr. Spielberg rolled off, and another golf cart came up to us. It was Richard Dreyfus. He had made it so we were in his way, even though there was an entire tarmac to drive on. He looked at us for a second and then barked in his most Dreyfussy voice, "Beep beep motherfuckers!"

Shower Singer Makes Good, Crarfs  I spent countless long showers in the 80's singing along to REM's Murmur which I would crank on a boom box I kept in the basement bathroom. This was before I ever played guitar or had seen a live rock band. I somehow was kind of good at singing all the parts though, and the album was a huge part of my psyche at the time. There was a deep undefinable meaning in the layers of sound, and singing the vocals and guitar parts in my steamy teenage cubicle was an important ritual. When I was first learning guitar, I had a couple of friends show me how to play a couple of dozen REM songs, and that is how I spent my first thousand hours on guitar. I read any article or book I could find on the band. 1996, Portland: I started Sunset Valley with two guys who had gone to the same high school as Peter Buck and had gone to college in Athens. Our first Seattle show was opening for The Dandy Warhols at the Crocodile. We had our first 7" with us, and imagine our delight when the first person to ever buy one was one Peter Buck. We kept eyeing him walking around holding it. This was crazy. We had a good show, and my main memory from the set was someone in the audience yelling at me that my t-shirt was too big. I also was impressed with the fact that Courtney Taylor and Eric Hedford practiced singing back stage before their show to get their vocal chords and harmonies all dialed in.  About a year later, we were playing a show there with Death Cab For Cutie and Pedro The Lion. We were with our friends who knew Peter very well, and we ended up going out to dinner with him. He graciously bought very fancy wine. I of course drank way too much, trying to look the pro. Then at the show, I had way too much beer. Then, after the show, we hung out with him in the back bar, long after it was closed. He was behind the bar pouring me tequilas, the glass an unwitting middle man to me becoming the drunkest I have ever been. Things are a little hazy after that, but I have two snippets. One: I was using ketchup bottles as hand grenades and smashing them on the walls. Two: I looked over at Mr. Buck walking down the sidewalk holding a payphone receiver with the metallic cord hanging from it and saying to me, "Check out my new cell phone!" Actually there is some debate over wether it might have been a complete desktop rotary dial phone. I got up early at the Moore Hotel, put on running shoes for a downtown jog, and then did not jog. The worst hangover of my life suddenly appeared. I spent the day simultaneously sobbing and throwing up, an activity known as "crarfing". It was definitely ketchup grenade clean-up karma. I didn't drink for a whole year after that, and refer to that hangover as "The Alamo". About to have one too many? Remember The Alamo, my friend, remember The Alamo. Anyway, Peter is one cool cat. When I told him I learned to play guitar from his records he replied, "Jeez, I hope you got better." 

Here Comes My Man  I have met the men who rocked my world the most. They are Frank Black and Joey Santiago. The work they did in The Pixies filled my ears and soul for many years. The first time it ever occurred to me that playing in a band was a thing to do was when I saw them from the front row in 1991 at the Gothic in Denver. It was the most powerful musical experience of my life. Kim Deal sweated on me, which is the only  sweat you can brag about. I could go on and on about my love affair with that band and also defend the current and criticized portion of their career, but I must stick with the hero blab. One fine day in 1998 I was in the bathtub and got the call to open for Frank Black at La Luna. I was much more nervous about possibly meeting him than about the show. There were three dressing rooms back stage there. One big one with a bathroom and a phone, and two tiny ones. I was sitting in my tiny room changing my strings before the show started when in barged my hero, Frank Black. He introduced himself and said my name like he knew me, and that my cd was on top of his TV. We talked for a while about random stuff, and he apologized that we were opening and not the middle act. Then he went back into his room. I thought, "Wow, I actually reached one of my goals. Now what?" But it got better. When it was time for them to play, I was standing between the stage door and his dressing room door. His and his band came out, all wearing suits. The band took the stage but Mr. Black hung back for a second and put his hand out to me. I took his hand and he shook it firmly without saying anything. Then he walked up onto the stage and started to play "Wave Of Mutilation."  This whole event put some permanent wind in my sails. Some time after that we opened for The Martinis at EJ's, Joey Santiago's band. I tried to get him to sign my strat but he only put a dot on it because he said, "We gotta be peers, man…" Those guys are cool and nice, and I still have great respect for them, even though snarky, shallow writers keep picking on them for continuing to tour. 

As I drop all these names in this blog thing, I'm realizing that I meet some pretty cool people and have had a lucky time with ye olde music career, even if I spend most of my waking hours with a paint brush in my hand. I've worked my ass off, studied the ways of the greats, and immersed myself in the world of it, but I know that doesn't always get people where they want. Not everyone I've looked up to has been so nice. Some have been complete dicks and brushed me off like Indiana Jones brushed those tarantulas off his back with his whip, but some have been truly great people. I should also add that once I started to play music back in '92, two important people that I looked up to and were local rock heros to me and many others were Jim Kehoe and Paul Rose. They helped me on my way to where ever I have gone, and long after I had left Bozeman I still felt their inspiration.

And now, here is a completely irrelevant Star Wars pun to end this entry:

Caesar Threepio: Et tu, Detoo?