Chapter 18: Inspiration Meets Action

April 6, 2009

When we last left off, I was in search of inspiration only to find that it was right in front of my eyes.

There’s nothing I find less inspiring than the meeting of two movies.  Or TV shows.  Or genres.  Or bands.  The only meeting of two categories that I find beneficial is that of ice cream flavors.

Now that I’m in Hollywood I hear it all the time: It’s Die Hard meets Harry Met Sally.  It’s MGMT meets Eminem.  It’s The L Word meets Sesame Street. 

When will it end?!

My roommate Jimmy’s pitch of Spinal Tap meets The Muppets was pretty standard, but it was his idea for a modern adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds that I found fascinating.  His version would feature a terrifying flock of a particular creature, but that creature would not be a bird.  Having jogged through North Hollywood Park, I had a newfound appreciation for how ominous Jimmy’s choice of animal was:

The Squirrels.

I was reminded of his movie idea every time I noticed how aggressively social the squirrels are in this town.  So it was with substantially less of a surprise that I reacted to Jimmy’s news one day:

“Dude, I got bit by a fuckin’ squirrel.”

Not putting two and two together, I asked him about the incident as I would had anyone gotten bitten.  “What happened?”

“I was taping this squirrel, right, and then outta nowhere he just fucking attacked me!”

Whoa.  Backtrack.  “You were taping him – like video taping him?”

“Yeah, and the fuckin thing like pounced on me and fuckin bit me.”

“Wait…so you’ve got it on camera?”

Much to my delight, Jimmy had the entire incident on tape.  I was adamant that he put it on YouTube, but he quickly took it down a few hours after posting it because, in his words, “it made me look like a chump.” 

The tape was perfect from the start.  We see the squirrel, distracted from his squirrel-business by the camera man.  We hear the camera man trying to get the attention of the squirrel.  We see the camera man’s foot entering the shot and attempting to nudge the squirrel, perhaps for the sake of creating some action on screen.  We see the squirrel pounce almost directly at the camera, in all it’s pouncing glory, presumably going for the hand holding the camera.  The camera gets shaky and we hear the camera man: “Ah, motha, ah!  Stupid fuckin’ squirrel!”.  The camera finally turns off.

I was in heaven watching this.  Judging by the gash on Jimmy’s hand, the squirrel was successful in his pounce.  Jimmy wanted to make a scary movie about squirrels, and that he did, whether channeling Hitchcock or not.

Careful what you wish for…

Jimmy, like any American that enjoyed partaking in a little smokey-smoke, had another wish come true when he was granted a medicinal marijuana card.  I’m not well versed on the law when it comes to this subject, but the basic idea of a medical marijuana card is that you must have some sort of chronic pain in order to get a prescription for the chronic.  For Jimmy it was headaches.  Yep.  Headaches.

What was for Jimmy an occasional dabble became a regular routine.  As I sat down with my newspaper, coffee, and bowl of bran cereal with sliced banana, Jimmy was having his “morning bowl of Weedies”.

At first it was something that was done outside of the house and off the property.  I remember walking out to get something I had left in my car, which was parked on the street.  A bit groggy, I wasn’t sure exactly where the “hey bro” came from.  Turning a 360, I stopped a quarter of the way when I saw Jimmy sitting calmly in his street-parked truck, eyes glazed, with no indication that he planned on turning it on and/or going anywhere in it.  Jimmy’s nod confirmed that it was in fact he who was speaking to me.  The first time it happened I was a bit confused, but it quickly made sense.  Just as my car served as the occasional rehearsal room, Jimmy’s truck would often double as a smoking lounge.  I nodded back and continued on out to my car, nodding once again on my way back to the house.

But as time went on, Jimmy moved it into the front yard, and eventually the porch, and eventually the bedroom.  Jimmy was not a disrespectful guy, he just had more and more time to walk through the logic of it all.  It’s legal to have it, legal to smoke it, and legal to grow it.  What’s the problem having it in the house?  It is, after all, prescribed by a doctor!

There’s really no arguing that.  I know this because I was trying to make a case when I took Jimmy to my favorite coffee shop.  I had been so excited to bring Jimmy along to the Amsterdam Café on Magnolia, where you could get hookahs and sit out on the back patio.

Careful what you wish for…

After a few minutes with the hookah, Jimmy deduced that it must be OK to light up some Mary Jane.  “Dude, a doctor wrote me a prescription for it!”  How do I argue with that?  Having successfully sold Jimmy on the phenomenon that is the hookah, he was eager to see what it’d be like to smoke some of his medicine out of the contraption we were renting.  For those of you that follow my music career, you’ll remember that Amsterdam Café is where I had my first gig.  So it was with creeping anxiety that I tried to persuade Jimmy to hold off on the medication.  But alas, out walked Mos, the extremely wonderful owner of the establishment.  Jimmy being a very social guy, we ended up conversing for several minutes.  I remember the exact moment Mos realized what scent was in the air.

This was more or less the end of my days at Amsterdam Café.  Mos didn’t call us out, but I wasn’t really able to feel comfortable there anymore.  This was rather unfortunate for me, given that the gig was only a week away.

Although I’ve been writing and playing music for over a decade, this was one of the few times anyone had offered me a show.  I was going to be opening for two formidable acts, Eddie Gomez and Hello, I’m Chris.  I was assured by Mos that Chris attracted a big crowd, and that the last time he played there the place was packed.  I did my best to tell everyone and put a lot of thought into the set I was going to play.  Then the day came…

Ah jeez was I nervous!  I had told damn near every one of my friends, some old some new.  I sent out emails in multiple installments, determined to get a big crowd for what I was convinced would be an incredible show.

Careful what you wish for…

I had forgotten to account for the most important factor of my show: it was taking place in the Los Angeles area.  Oh yes, there’s lots of people in this town, and they’re all into the arts.  But they also have twenty other people that invited them to something and they’re extremely tired and they don’t feel like driving and they don’t live in the Valley.   And this is ironically the exact reason I love living in this town…

Were I to live in Lincoln, Nebraska, I could send out a bunch of emails and expect people to show up.  Roanoke, Virginia?  Sure thing people would make it out.  Austin, Texas?  Hell, even with everything going on there’re still plenty of people with nothing to do there.

This was a reality I already knew about Los Angeles, but for some reason did not allow myself to remember when I pumped myself up for the show.  I stalled the show for fifteen minutes, convinced that there were more people on the way that were held up in traffic.  Thus far: one of my coworkers, my good friends and neighbors Eric and Kelly, and a handful of people that were there for the main act. 

The crowd was so much bigger in my head.  Jimmy had promised me he was going to round up the housemates and make it to the show, and I was really hoping he would follow through.

Careful what you wish for…

With more than half of my set done, a crew of five of my housemates finally arrived, rounded up by the very reliable yet not particularly punctual Jimmy.  I finished the song I was playing and began what was to be a shout out to Jimmy.  As I started to speak I was cut off by Jimmy’s holler:

“Jesse Gavin’s a faggot!”  Jimmy’s wasn’t looking directly at me when he yelled it, but turned afterwards with a mischievous grin to make sure I knew it was him. 

Well, alright.  On to the next song…

I finished my rather stifled set and said some hello’s before the next act started.  Towards the end of the Eddie Gomez set and well into the Hello, I’m Chris set, my group of housemates, all of whom seemed to be under some sort of influence, seemed to have mistaken this small coffee house for a Frat Party.  There’s a slew of differences between the two, but what stuck out the most was the loud talking.  Some circles, including the coffee shop circles, would call it “shouting”.

This did not go unnoticed.

After the show was done I thanked Mos and Chris Hawley for the opportunity and hung out with my neighbors.  I felt myself in that detached mode where I was amongst those having fun but couldn’t quite cut loose myself.  Something was eating away at me.  I’d been spending all this time in Los Angeles pursuing the music scene, and this seemed to be the culmination of the two months I’d been there.  But was that what I wanted to do?

I had planned to meet up with my housemates out at a bar, but it turns out they got distracted by the wavy lines following their hands when they moved them, and were still hanging out at home.  I walked in to a warm reception.  Jimmy was in the living room practicing soccer moves in the 12 square feet of floor space.  While he worked on his skills, Jimmy broke down the show for me.

As I listened to Jimmy’s frighteningly articulate assessment of the entire show, including the three songs of mine he had seen, I realized what my issue was and perhaps what the solution was.  All those books on being a professional musician tell you to decide who your audience is.  Like any jerk, I couldn’t help but assume that my music would be that which would bring all audiences across the world together, perhaps bringing world peace or at the very least one of those things where everyone holds hands and sways.

As much as their tardiness and brazenness and noisiness made me a bit uncomfortable, my roommates were a breath of fresh air for me.  And yet they acted like they were at a Frat Party.  Frat Party?  That’s it! 

I need to play Frat Parties.

College kids have two important priorities that would make them the perfect fans: they prioritize partying, and they kind of enjoy thinking.  There’s really no other group of people that do both.  It’s usually one or the other, but with college kids you get the apex.  The intersection of wooh and hmm.  As I was thinking of all this a smile came across my face.  Jimmy had noticed that I had zoned out and wasn’t quite paying attention to his analysis of the show. 

“Jesse.  Hey, Jesse Balls.  Jesse?”

I came to: “Did you just call me ‘Jesse Balls’?”

Jimmy’s signature grin came over his face.  “Ha ha – yeah dude.  Jesse Balls…I am the King of Zingers, bro.”