Green Rooms and Restrooms:
Idiocy from the Van: That’s why I sing the blue.
This would be our first time playing Providence, though not for a lack of trying. When Lisa and I were doing the booking we tried repeatedly to get a show there but (insert sports metaphor for failure) every time. I have history in Providence and haven’t been back for a long, long time. Around 25 years ago I spent a lot of time around the area of RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) and Brown University courting my future former wife. I also played the first shows of my life as a solo singer-songwriter type fella in Providence. It’s an amazing thing to be so bad at something but get up in front of people and do it anyway. I love that about the arts. You can try and become awesome in private but eventually you have to test out your art’s worth in public. It’s not even about whether people like it or not because in general they lie, but something happens if you can lay down your ego a bit, where suddenly it’s obvious what your weak spots are and what your next steps should be. It’s a fascinating process. At least for someone like me who has always had to take the slow ladder to competence.
We went to Thayer Street near Brown University, had lunch at the Meeting Street Café, and everywhere I was surrounded by a weird, deep, intimate unfamiliarity. It felt a little like going to a high school reunion with people you haven’t seen in 20 years, where the echoes of a life you used to live are hidden within the softened shadows of their faces. Chuck asked me if it was a sad feeling and I said that it was for the most part. But not sad for the broken marriage oddly, because I still have a living relationship with her that has evolved, as we have raised our children, to the point of benign amicability. I think it was just a mild grain of sand in the oyster shell of sadness from jumping back to the age of 21 without proper decompression. That age of working a first job, little sleep and intense friendships, but mostly of being free to be drunk, silly, ignorant, and stupid. * In the end though, I have little tolerance for nostalgia in myself. To me nostalgia is a symptom that it’s time get doing something. Of course I’m only 48 and that could change as the world becomes more inexplicable. I’ll let you know.
We were to play the Columbus Theater located in East Providence, an area I thankfully didn’t know and one with a growing hipster population.** The theater was built in the 1920’s and was obviously once rather grand. It was reopened by a young gentleman we shall call Tom. Because his name is Tom. When you walk in straight ahead of you is a gorgeous big theater with balcony seating, a pit for the orchestras, and miracle of all miracles, a working Wurlitzer organ from the silent film era. The organ has special buttons for sound effects like trains and nice doorknockers. We were of course in the small theater up the stairs on the second floor. A little more dilapidated but still quite cool. This place has everything. Down another hallway they have converted a bunch of former dance and acting studios into a recording studio. Old wooden floors, a nice organic feel with lovely natural light, lots of instruments laying around, and sweaty, shirtless engineer named Bruce, who was quite frankly a tall drink of lemonade on a hot sticky day.
Before soundcheck John and I were admiring the projection booth in the small theater and our soundman asked if we would be interested in seeing the original projection booth from the 1920’s? Good Lord yes, thank you very much. To access it you open an unmarked door and have to enter a skinny closet with iron rungs leading up and out of it. It felt rather super hero-esque I must say. If I worked there I would hang several changes of clothes up there just so I could emerge changed and fabulous as often as possible. At the top of the ladder you flip yourself around and pop out into whatever you call an attic in a theater. Then walk across a catwalk, take a left and duck into a small room that looks frozen in time. Cigarettes still in ashtrays, tools and penciled notes laying on the workbench as if still waiting to be acted upon, signatures of the projectionists written or scratched into the ceiling going back to 1926. I felt like I was in Cinema Paradiso looking out a secret window and seeing the theater below. I truly love this building.
And then on to the show. Playing electrified music in a theater is a challenge. They’re designed for the human voice and the acoustics can get weird with loud sounds. Also, people sit in chairs that rise in front of you so you feel like you’re on an operating table in some old-timey surgical classroom. Regardless, the soundman, a sweet and funny guy named Bruce as well, did a great job and the small crowd was happy to finally have us in their town. Oh, and go see the Tall Teenagers. They put on a great rock show.
Tomorrow is Boston
- They’re different things. Especially when you’re young.
** Hipsters show up and poop out gentrification. Is it sanitary? I don’t know, but I sure do love all the brewpubs that seem to sprout up in their leavings.