Surviving Dubuque

So, you wrote the songs, you formed the band, and you are gonna see a million faces, and you’re gonna rock them all.  Or perhaps you will end up playing to 19 people at the Copper Penny Cantina in Dubuque, Iowa. There is no great way to get to Dubuque from Minneapolis, Minnesota. It’s not a straight shot. No, you will have plenty of awkward twists and turns, lots of time to let your mind wander. “Maybe it’s NOT too late to go to college.  Perhaps there is still a job waiting for me at Fantastic Futons. I bet I could make manager in a year if I put my mind to it.” At times like that, it’s best to be amongst friends. If there would have been an asshole drummer along on those trips, it might push you over the edge and give up Show Business forever.
If that is true, then I had surely been blessed. The drummer in the The Bullies was not only talented, but had a terrific sense of humor as well! Actually, the whole band was gifted and funny as hell. Good songs too.
The late ‘90’s! Grunge was over, and since that had gone so well, the next musical revolution was surely just around the corner.  In the meantime, The Copper Penny Cantina seemed like a perfect place to spend time awaiting the Good News of the new millennium. I kept reminding myself that it’s not all about instant gratification. Winning America over, one bar at a time almost appeared as possibly the most noble of pursuits. Bringing the music to the people!
The CPC actually had quite a few things going for it. The band ate and drank for free, and if you really felt brave, you could crash in an “apartment” upstairs from the bar. The bar had a tiny stage with an awkward kind of fence in front of it. I don’t think there was ever any stage diving going on at the CPC, so it was most likely there as some kind of ill advised western decoration. I seem to recall an abundance of wagon wheel planters as well. The van ride down from Minneapolis had been blessedly incident free. No blown tires, no speeding tickets. That huge crack in the windshield had not spread an inch in over a year! That’s gotta be some kind of record! Yeah, I got precious little to whine about. We arrive on time, get the gear out of the van and the following words were uttered by one half of the rhythm section:

“Has anybody seen my bass guitar?
A thorough search was executed, and did not yield the results we had been hoping for. The bass is question was a natural1975 Fender Jazz bass with a maple neck with beautiful pearloid inlays. I had helped Mr. Bassman myself to find this wonderful piece that was in mint condition.
Activate Plan B: Find someone in Dubuque, Iowa that owns a bass guitar. These days we would have all reached for our iPhones, but in 1998…well…You just start asking people. How hard could it be? The closest we got was finding someone with a super cool Rickenbacker 4001. Sadly, for us, it had not one string on it.
At this point there is nothing to do but make the best of it. No iPhones…No Black Keys, No White Stripes, no Red Pens. Kids: Remember: This is long before it’s da shit to not have a bass player in your band. This is the time to plug a Les Paul into the bass rig, turn off all the treble and avoid hitting the top two strings.
The sum total of this experience was that you have not really lived until you have heard “Peaceful Easy feeling” performed by four guitar players and a drummer.
On the van drive back to Minneapolis the next morning I am still fuming. “How does one forget to bring the bass?” I think to myself. I was certainly prepared. I brought TWO guitars! Back in Minneapolis, it’s time to unload the van, and something is seriously amiss.
At The Copper Penny Cantina, of course. The shame! The irony! The humiliation!
I eventually get the guitar back from another Minneapolis band that had the heart to bring it back to me after their stint at the Copper Penny Cantina in Dubuque, Iowa. It was completely covered in sheets of Jägermeister. I’m sure it had a great time. 
Today, it’s Friday. Tomorrow morning I will be making the trip to Fairmont, Minnesota to play an entirely different repertoire, but with almost the same lineup as in The Bullies. Having said that, this is a much more sophisticated affair, I assure you! We will be covering the songs of one of America’s most beloved duos from the 60’s. Accordingly, we are appearing at an opera house (!) with nice cushy seats and a wine bar in the lobby.
Just today, I spent $900 for new brakes in the Volvo station wagon. There is only a tiny chip in my windshield, but that ain’t gonna go anywhere, ever.
So, what’s the problem?
For the past two years, the bass player (who still enjoys traveling to gigs without a spare bass) has been getting away with playing an instrument that is a ticking time bomb of willful negligent disrepair. I think he might be enjoying this. Perhaps it’s some kind of cruel mental experiment that is designed to drive me insane, never to return to Show Business.
Anticipating my own shortcomings, my wife recently gave me a box of nuclear waste green nametags for every piece of equipment I own. I suppose I wanna remain in Show Business for a little bit longer. I’ll let you know how that turns out…

Leave a comment

    Add comment