Eventually, we did get there, you know. The little Holiday Inn Express at the corner of Sunset and La Brea. Perfectly fine spot, if you discount the nearby strip clubs. (Thanks, Neil, for the recommendations of Mashti Malone's (rosewater ice cream, yum!) and Le Balcon across the street - sadly, we made it to neither one, but I'll aim for them next time!) Having the best stripmall Uzbek joint in Los Angeles - okay, the only stripmall Uzbek joint in Los Angeles - next door was a bonus. As our rooms weren't ready, we had a lunch of plov and manti, and, for the first time in ages, I got to speak some Russian. That felt good.
Unfortunately, our cramped schedule meant that we'd be having dinner a mere 3 1/2 hours after lunch. Oof. That's what you get with a 48-hour trip. I went off to my room to attempt sleep. The Sasquatch had to deal with exploding preshave in his luggage. Gonzomantis, with the advantage of a wee bit more sleep, retired poolside to read a book.
Of course, I didn't sleep a wink. I ironed my clothes for the club (yeah, I know - no one was going to be looking at me and my clothes, but still, a girl's gotta try) and flopped on the edge of the bed. I may have blinked for a few minutes, that was about it. I flipped around the TV and found an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on, featuring the recently deceased Chris Penn. I was suddenly struck with sadness - Chris Penn was extremely talented and horribly underrated as an actor. Good character actors are hard to find, and Penn was a fine one.
I felt bad for his family - likely a few miles away from where I was -waiting to hear the whys of his death and considering the fragility of life and the casual cruelty of the media. Oh, he was fat. Oh, he did drugs. Oh, he did "Corky Romano." Each of those pronouncements made me cringe, and I never even met the man. His oldest brother, Michael, is one of my very favorite musicians, and, although I cannot say I know him, I've met him a couple of times. You want to reach out, as you would to any acquaintance you admire, and say, "I'm so very sorry." Michael, despite his vast talent, is in the shadow of his younger brother, Sean. And, even in death, Chris was in Sean's shadow, too. Sean Penn's brother found dead. How rotten to be stripped of your own identity even as you leave the earth.
There's an exceptional tribute to Chris Penn on the San Francisco Chronicle website, written by their pop culture critic, Peter Hartlaub. Give it a read here. Well worth it. (And my thanks to Paul Brennan on the Michael PennList for posting the link.) Turns out, the Sasquatch, while washing a whole bottle of manly scent out of his garments, had seen the same episode and was struck by the sadness, too. Adios, Chris. May you be the patron saint of character actors everywhere!
Before we knew it, it was time to hit the road for House of Blues. Running out the door, I got a call from the fabulous Javi - we made plans to meet up for breakfast the next day at a cool little place called King's Road Cafe. Again, just a hop, skip and a jump from the hotel, for which our intrepid travelers (armed with a crappy map) were tremendously grateful.
House of Blues is easy to find, it's fake ramshackle shackiness right in the heart of the Sunset Strip. Amazingly, valet parking was only $15 - a price that doesn't make me blink an eye after more than a decade in DC. "Fifteen bucks? That's all???" I need to spend some more time in a Normal Part of the United States again. Get a reality check.
Our dinner reservations were for 5:30. The way things work at House of Blues is, if you eat dinner there, you get to enter the nightclub before the non-dining patrons. Not a bad deal, really. Already dining were old friends - Pirate Twin and her spouse, plus Keith (the Sole Inhabitant), and other folk who dig the Dolby. I hadn't seen the Pirate Twin in years - not since my last trek to L.A., when we took her kids to Disneyland on my day off from a (god help me) waste water conference. (I was teaching a seminar on grantwriting to a bunch of Russians.) Keith I'd know via e-mail for years and years, but had never met. It was cool to finally see this nice dude in person after a decade of words through the ether.
Our trio of diners ended up all having big plates of jambalaya. (Yeah! More rice after a lunch of (Uzbek) rice!) It was pretty good, I have to say. And nice and spicy, too. Jambalaya while traveling is (no joke intended) a crapshoot. Is it edible? Will it make me sick for the next three days?
In the end, it wasn't the jambalaya that made me sick. It was standing in the nightclub for six hours that would make me feel like death on a stick.
That was the only thing this whole weekend that sucked. And it sucked hard.
When we finished dinner, we queued up outside for an hour to be allowed into the club early. From our vantage point on the stairs to the club we couldn't see anything, but we did hear Thomas doing his sound check. It was utterly tempting to stick my head in and take a look, but I don't think the club security folks would have let me. Squatchito, Gonzo and I stood out there, chatting with other Dolby fans who had come great distances (Vermont?! Wow!) to hear him play. We are a small, but hearty group, and we're pretty dedicated.
One woman stood behind us, looking a little disheveled and clutching an old album cover, which she wanted to have signed. I didn't have the heart to tell her Dolby had told me he wouldn't be doing any meet and greets. She seemed so earnest about meeting the man. In these situations, I never know what to say or how much to say. Someone asked, "So, how do you know Dolby?" The Sasquatch responded that he didn't know him, but he'd met him. I don't know why I felt compelled to do so, but I piped up and said, "Well, I think I can say I know him." I looked at the Sasquatch. "Right?" I guess I needed some validation there.
Is someone still just an acquaintance if you exchange holiday cards and see pictures of their kids from Halloween and grab a cup of coffee and talk about Harry Potter movies? Or are you friends at that point? I feel presumptuous putting myself in that category. I'm also hyperaware of people with any measure of fame needing privacy and wanting to stay away from the loons that pop up from time to time. (I saw plenty of that when I used to watch filming for "Homicide: Life on the Street" up in Baltimore. Fans just assumed that the actors all wanted to hang out with them - that they were somehow bonded in friendship. It was creepy.) So, I guess I have to leave it at the nebulous "I know him" mark. It works for me, and it doesn't presume anything more than it is.
After an hour, we were let in to the club, and we made a beeline for the front of the room. I haven't planted myself at the foot of a stage since I was in college in England, maaaany years ago. I recall being at a UB40 gig at the Brixton Academy, surrounded by people with ganja and whistles and bottles of booze. That was the night that the freshly broken-up Madness took to the stage briefly (much to my delight), and Ali Campbell, lead singer of UB40 reached down from the stage and took my fedora off my head. He looked very spiffy in my hat all night.
But it ain't 1986 anymore, and I am no longer in the Spring Chicken category. I knew that I'd be standing for a couple of hours before Thomas hit the stage. I'd already been on my feet for an hour when the doors opened, and I was willing myself to not be in pain for the next hour of waiting at the padded stage gate. Standing like a midget between the Sasquatch and Gonzomantis, I put my chin on the padding, shifted my considerable weight from foot to foot and leaned on my cane. (I've had back problems since I broke my leg in 2002.) Another Dolby-phile, Dr. De, got word from club security that Thomas wouldn't be going on until 9:30.
Dolby's Webmistress, Lunesse, who was there taking photos for his official website, confirmed the bad news to me - no Dolby for another damn hour. I could do this. My feet and back would hold up. Doing this without throwing up, however - that was another question altogether. There was no place to sit, save for a small pile of VIP seating, and if you weren't a VIP, you absolutely weren't sitting down. There were burly bouncers guarding those seats, occasionally escorting someone to chair and staring daggers at anyone who made a move to sit down. Also, the club has a policy that does not allow you to go outside and come back in. (Although they would violate that rule for me much later than night, likely because I looked like death on their doorstep.)
I would have given my soul for a couple of Vicodin and earplugs that worked better than the craptacular ones I'd bought at CVS before leaving DC. (A good recommendation for exceptional earplugs came via the Dolby mailing list, Alloy, today for great earplugs. Now, all I have to do is turn some "specialty tricks" down at 14th and K, and I can buy some! Thanks to musician/producer/nice guy Clif Bridgen for posting that link to Alloy.) The canned music that House of Blues was playing was horribly, horribly loud, and I was losing my voice just trying to talk to my friends. Ungood, House of Blues - the goal should not be to deafen the audience before the musicians hit the stage.
At last, at 9:30, Thomas Dolby Robertson hit the stage. In a one-off John Galliano trenchcoat and with crazy antennas and goggles on his head, Thomas tuned up his keyboards and computers and let loose. It was fantastic. Nearly 25 years I'd been waiting for this, and it was worth it. Sore feet, screaming back, and all, it didn't matter. I heard the songs that mattered to me, surrounded by my friends. Thomas grinned down at us between numbers, and I do believe he grinned right at me a couple of times. My face hurt from smiling so much. There were a couple of technical glitches and, if you ask the technicians who were there, they'll say that House of Blues did a lousy job of mixing the sound, but I didn't care.
I had a moment. A very good moment. Geeky Beatlemania. A little new wave/techno Nirvana. And it was over far too soon.
Thomas left the stage, and I fled for the bar, leaving my guys behind. I couldn't sit, but I needed a beverage, immediamente. Backstage, it turns out, Thomas went to open the bottle of Moët that Pirate Twin and I had sent back to him only to discover that someone else had made short work of it. (Bastards!) Ah well - it's the thought that counts, right?
At the bar, I must have looked fairly pathetic, for the bartender gave me free Coke all evening. I imagine, from the size of the crowd, House of Blues was making money hand over fist in booze sales. A couple of Cokes in plastic cups wasn't going to break the bank. At this point in time, by the way, I should have left for the hotel. Just called it a night. I'd been up for nearly 24 hours now, and my body was in revolt. However, word was, Dolby would be returning to the stage to encore with Dave Wakeling and the English Beat. After traveling all this way, how could I possibly miss another tidbit of Dolby?
I'll tell you how.
Make me stand through two freaking hours of some dreadful 80s rock band singing what sounded to me like the same three songs over and over and over again.
Evil, thy name is Dramarama.
Seriously, I never heard of this band back in the 80s. Yet, they clearly have a fan base. A very vocal (and on this particularly evening, well lubricated) fan base. They knew every word to every rambling, guitar-screeching song. I mean them no offense. Dramarama simply is not my cup o' joe. Some of the songs, I swear, had to be more than 10 minutes long. (Well, at least they felt that way.) One song rambled on so long, I had to assume it was about Middle Earth. Rock songs that exceed ten minutes in length are required to mention Mt. Doom or Frodo or the Ring, right? (Or is that just Led Zeppelin songs?) All I know is, I had my earplugs so deeply into my ears, they may have met midpoint in my brain.
This was the low point of the trip. Although the freaky dancing old guy in the VIP section did add a David Lynch-esque spin to it all. Seriously - this guy was probably 80, wearing a $1K suit, and dancing like the dream sequence dwarf from "Twin Peaks." Aaron Spelling-cum-Yoda.
It just wasn't right.
End result of all this? We stood around for six hours. Six freaking hours. The guys thought I'd found a seat at the bar. (No such luck, just free sugar water, dudes!) Meanwhile, drunk broads were grabbing my friends' butts up by the stage. (I have a feeling, had the roles been reversed, my friends would have had their rumps tossed out of the club. The dumb chicks just said they were havin' fun. Yeesh.) We were wiped by the time English Beat hit the stage. We stayed for only a few songs and then total exhaustion got the better of us. My head was tipped so far to one side, I looked like I'd had a stroke. Only Gonzomantis still seemed fairly perky. I was the worst for wear. We left the club around 1-ish, missing what turned out to be a one-song encore with Dolby. Paramedics were outside by valet parking, tending to someone who'd apparently gotten into fisticuffs with another patron outside the club entrance. A little blood, some dulled eardrums... The excitement never ends!
I don't even remember getting into bed. I do vaguely remember letting out audible sighs when I took my shoes off. My feet were numb. Just totally numb.
I had black circles under my eyes so big, I looked like I was going to take the field at a football game.
I don't think I've slept that soundly in a long time. The sleep of the damned isn't necessarily quality sack time, but it sure as hell is deep and unmoving. Amazingly, I didn't sleep through the alarm.
Breakfast with Javi was set for 10 a.m. Now, I just had to hope that I could actually walk after the night before...
(For those playing at home, Part One of this unintential epic is here, Part Two is here, and Part Two-and-a-Half is here.)