The following are excerpts from a diary I kept during my days on the road with the band Crazy Town. Prior to the band signing to a major label, they were a struggling act that toured relentlessly and partied relentlessly, as well. Little did I know when I answered that Craigslist ad for a roadie what I’d be getting into. Due to the length and amount of hours logged into my tour diaries, I’ll be breaking this up into several chapters and separately releasing each. Godspeed.
Gary decided he would go with me to L-Doug’s house and give me a little inside information about this aspect of my new job. Shifty made it a point to never buy his own drugs or meet any dealer-types face to face; this included L-Doug. In fact, the entire image Shifty had of L-Doug was of some hardcore gangster hiding out in Northern Pasadena selling rocks on the down low. Why? Because that’s what Gary told him. It made Shifty feel like he was a hardcore gangster himself. The fact of the matter was that L-Doug had been Gary’s college roommate and was addicted to two things: cocaine and science. L-Doug – sorry, Doug – was set to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena before his mom got sick. He took on the responsibility of caring for her, but lost the job because he couldn’t juggle being both a scientist and a nurse. He did, however, find a way to supplement his income while applying his skill set: producing quality rock cocaine!
Gary told me to park a block away since Doug was a bit paranoid about new visitors these days. As we walked up to the house a voice called to us from the garage at the back of the house.
“Gary! Come in. Tell your friend to wait outside!”
We obliged him. His voice sounded nervous and I was fine with not meeting the infamous L-Doug in person this time around. Gary entered the garage and I lit up a cigarette outside as I stood in the driveway. Suddenly, I heard a woman’s voice coming from a window at the back of the house.
“I smell a cigarette! Please, let me have a drag!”
The voice sounded very raspy and weak. It had to be Doug’s mother. Curiosity got the better of me. I walked over to the window.
“Hey, who are you? Let me have a cigarette!”
Now, I had a face to connect with the voice. The poor woman looked like a corpse already. She didn’t have months to live; she had days. Gary was still bickering with Doug in the garage over the massive amount of cocaine Shifty had demanded, so I decided to give this lady her dying wish. I opened the window enough to slide through. I didn’t account for the medical equipment littering the room. I tripped on and fell down against her dresser knocking over most of its contents.
“Sorry ma’am, I’m a bit clumsy.”
Her breathing was so labored, I feared a drag of a cigarette might be the last nail in her idling coffin. I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that this lady was suffering through the ravages of cancer and she wanted one last smoke. And, god willing, I was gonna be her Marlboro Man. Doug’s mom stared lovingly at me while I lit her a cigarette.
“You remind me of my late husband, Charles.” That made my skin crawl.
Her skin looked like tissue paper. She had no hair but there was a spirit in her eyes. I placed the cigarette between her dry lips. She took a small drag at first then coughed a little. After taking a hit off of her oxygen mask, she proceeded to suck that thing down to its filter in two puffs. She let out plumes of smoke and smiled. This was probably the happiest she’d been in a long time. I felt tears forming in my eyes and I asked her if she had tissue. No response. She was in Flavor Country. I found a box of tissue that I had knocked off the dresser. I dried my eyes and climbed out the window. As I popped my head back in to say goodbye, I noticed she was no longer breathing. We needed to leave immediately!
I waited in the car for Gary. A layer of sweat had formed all over my body, but I felt cold. He was taking a long time. Too long. And then, I heard sirens. Oh god! Did she have a Life Alert or some device that contacts the authorities when she has been murdered by a good Samaritan? I tapped drum beats from every Metallica song on the steering wheel while waiting. Hurry up, Gary. Two minutes seemed like an eternity. The sirens were still heading this way and now they seemed to be coming from every direction. I nearly jumped out of my skin when Gary opened the car door.
“Dude, what’s your problem?” he asked.
“Nothing. Let’s go now!” I said.
Gary told me Doug had decided that he wanted to meet me since I was going to be the new pick-up man. I told Gary we’d get better acquainted next time.
Not much was said on the way back to Van Nuys. I told myself I had to get my head in the game. The band was getting ready to hit the road and they had a farewell show in a few days. I got home that night and drank the most vodka I’ve ever had in one sitting and blacked out. It was all I could do to try and erase that day’s events.
I came out of my stupor two days later to my answering machine beeping. The red numbers flashed 89, letting me know I had racked up double digits in two days. That had to be a record for someone at the poverty level. As I gathered myself, I played all the messages. Most of them were hang ups. Ten were from Shifty calling me a ‘bitch’ in all sorts of creative ways. Two were from Gary demanding that I call him. One was from my landlord; I had three days to pay my back rent or my ass was on the street. It was time to get to work.
I met the band at a rehearsal space in Hollywood. They’d been there all weekend getting ready for their gig. Gary was outside looking annoyed.
“You’re lucky Shifty didn’t fire you for not showing up all weekend!”
Obviously Doug had yet to invite Gary to his mother’s funeral.
“Sorry, got food poisoning, pissing out my ass!” I said hoping that would quell his anger.
He told me point blank, “Look, I have a girlfriend who is sick of this shit. I barely make any money and when they can’t pay me at all, they give me a bunch of drugs. Random shit like elephant tranquilizers.” He continued, “I’ve been locked up four times because of Seth. He opened seven different credit cards in my name and threw a huge cocaine party at the Rainbow Room. He also tried to fuck my girlfriend… numerous times!”
His point was that food poisoning was a poor excuse for being absent. Just as he finished his tirade, the door of the rehearsal space flew open and Shifty emerged looking sweaty and bedazzled. He said their set was “tight as fuck and those label pussies would be fucking lame for not signing them.” The rest of the group also seemed to share his enthusiasm. Even Bret a.k.a. Epic said the new tracks were gonna put them on top. Suddenly, I found myself cheering and celebrating along with them over their budding success.
We took the party back to Janet’s place and this is where I was introduce to crack. I’m not sure how much I smoked, or what is considered “too much” rock cocaine. All I know is that if you smoke enough rock cocaine, you will believe you have super powers. Shifty proved this to me by throwing Gary off of the balcony. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to react. It was like he tossed a bag of trash out of an open window. Just like that. Shifty laughed manically and soon the whole crew was laughing out loud. I ran to the window. Gary’s fall was broken by his legs, which is a fucked up way of saying both of his legs shattered when they hit the pavement. You’d think that would have been enough to end the festivities, but apparently this had happened before. Gary had managed to land in the pool that time. The party raged on.
I punched in Janet’s television because Shifty said he didn’t think I could. I proved him wrong and broke two fingers in the process. Whitey, Freddy D, and Chump Change the God went to take Gary to the hospital because, as Seth put it, “his crying about his stupid legs is killing my boner!” Bret wasn’t at the party as late as everyone else. He decided to turn in early and get some sleep before the show tomorrow night. Shifty gave him a pass which surprised me because he seemed like the type to force you into shotgunning a 12-pack when you’re trying to leave a party.
The rest of the band filtered out over the next few hours until it was just Shifty and me. For some reason it got quiet. The music stopped. The apartment was trashed but completely peaceful. Even Janet’s lifeless body looked angelic sprawled out on the floor under a mountain of garbage. Shifty sat across from me at the kitchen table.
“So what do you do when you ain’t being my bitch?” Shifty asked.
I told him that I’m was a failing writer and a failed musician. My hobbies included avoiding the IRS and my landlord and that my severe depression and anxiety made it hard to hold a normal job.
“Dude, you need to relax!” he said.
I was still amped up from all the coke and whatever else I ingested. The only way I was gonna relax is if I shot up.
“We got that too!” he said and grinned. “Dude I’m kidding, I’ve never shot up drugs… at least not tonight.”
This worried me. Hours passed and I finally drifted to sleep on the couch. Shifty stayed up playing Mario Kart.
I woke up and the apartment was quiet. It was still a disaster area but I was all alone. I found a note from Janet saying she took Shifty to the hospital to visit Gary. I looked at the kitchen clock thinking it was morning because it was still dark out. But it said 9:32 PM. I had managed to sleep through the entire day and now I had to get to the club. I was in a panic as I searched the apartment for my car keys. As soon as I located them in the toilet tank, I was out the door, in my car, and crawling over the Cahuenga Pass – because no matter what time it is in Los Angeles, there’s always traffic.
I got to the club, a Hollywood rocker dive that still believed in Pay To Play. The boys had signed a contract promising to fill the place if they sold tickets. The downside was that they would owe the club money if a certain number of bodies didn’t show. This horrible practice started in the L.A. clubs in the 80’s and here I was in 1998, at the end of a millennium, and these scumbag club owners were still nickel and diming bands. Not to mention that this was a band that had label interest and were about to go on tour. That’s when I realized it. Where were the label people and why hadn’t they set up a showcase for their new act? Considering I had been beaten up, bought crack, smoked crack, and then saw someone thrown off a balcony, I wondered if the boys in Crazy Town had scared off the A&R guys.
Shifty was already on fire when I arrived backstage. He was with the owner and they were screaming at each other. Crazy Town hadn’t sold the tickets they were supposed to. Shifty thought the stack of tickets were for fans and gave them away for free. The club owner didn’t think that was funny at all. He wanted his money. The place was filling up, which looked great from the stage. But that didn’t translate to dollars for the angry owner who was threatening to pull the plug on the show.
The venue was at capacity and the crowd was drinking heavily. Crazy Town fans love their music and their alcohol! This calmed the owner since the bar was cashing in. He decided to let the boys go on an hour and a half later than their scheduled set time. Shifty got angry but the owner assured him they’d be square as long as the bar made more money. We had to wait. Feeling slighted, we adjourned to the backstage green room to decompress. The club owner obliged us by bringing a few bottles of booze, then left us to our devices. In ten minutes, the room was trashed. Horizontal surfaces became caked with blow. Shifty emptied the majority of a Jose Cuervo bottle and declared that he was ready to hit the stage. They were early. I decided to seek shelter at the merch table as I waited for the show to begin.
I was unloading shirts from the bins when the house music abruptly cut off. Chump Change had hijacked the sound booth while the rest of Shifty’s hench-bros held the owner and his bouncers at bay. The crowd hadn’t noticed the club had been taken over by the headlining act because the stage lights suddenly went on and the open licks to “Butterfly” came blasting through the house speakers. Everyone in the crowd cheered. I was impressed. I hadn’t seen them perform live before. They had a following and a song people wanted to hear. I’ll admit it was really exciting to see a band who was about to break big. There was so much love from the crowd. Shifty and Bret worked the ladies in the room. These guys really had something.
That moment of introspection was cut short by a chokehold that was being administered by one of the bouncers. It was at this point that my vision went black. I remember hearing the band get to the middle of “Butterfly” and then I heard screaming. I woke up in the parking lot behind a dumpster. My head throbbed. As I was getting to my feet, someone grabbed my shoulders and threw me back down behind the dumpster.
“Don’t fucking move! 5-0 everywhere, dawg!” Shifty said.
He was shirtless and sweating more than normal. He told me the bouncers had tasers and had zapped the whole crew several times and were heading to the stage when a fight had broken out between the crowd and the bouncers. Then Shifty started a small fire as a diversion so the rest of the band could escape.
“But what about your fans?” I said. “You set a club on fire with people in it.”
He looked at me and laughed and said, “Bro, I said it was a small fire.”
I don’t know what came over me at this point. But I looked at him and said, “Seth, that was not a good thing that you did.”
The smile melted from his face and formed into a grimace usually reserved for toddlers.
“Bro, you sounded like my old man just then. Real talk.”
He apologized for the fire and I accepted it. Maybe Shifty was nervous about the upcoming tour. That’s why he took hostages and destroyed the club. It seemed to almost make sense in my head. Even though my brain, heart, guts, and asshole were telling me to run for the hills, as per my design, I ignored all warnings. I drove Shifty back to the Valley and we joked about all the shit we were going to get into on tour. I was kidding, of course. He was not. I was going to have to babysit this lunatic because half the shit he was planning was both gross and really fucking illegal.
The memoirs of a career roadie.