Being the elder statesman at our family-owned restaurant, the Slippery Slope, I was the first to be voted off the island when the Coronavirus hit our little suburban hamlet. I was the ‘Okay, Boomer’ guy. The rest of the family thought they could handle it, with the orders now being pickup or delivery. I guess having a compromised immune system has its privileges.
With day one of semi-retirement in progress, I took a step back for a big picture view of all that had accumulated in the garage over thirty years. Hard to believe that we never found the
time to clean out the clutter and organize. Every shelf, every corner, every nook and cranny, a box or storage bin containing a memory stashed away with honest, sincere intentions of getting
around to it at some point.
I spent the morning unpacking, reading, reviewing, admiring, reminiscing, consolidating, repacking, and then meticulously re-placing everything into its newly assigned place. There were
sports and movie and music memorabilia, and the school awards and Little League trophies bequeathed back to me when my parents did their own spring cleaning.
In only a few hours, I had successfully reorganized and accurately labeled no less than eighteen boxes, the last being a brittle, plastic tub marked “Los Angeles Stuff.” Having spent
three years occupying a small apartment in the San Fernando Valley, I was amazed to find that I had managed to flee the City of Angels with only a single box.
My most valued items were the many books of autographs, all signed by the rich and famous whom I had encountered while working at Music Express, Southern California’s premier
limousine and courier service. Yes, I was living the dream in the land of opportunity, as I had once considered it to be. Slowly flipping the pages, there was Sidney Poitier, and Liz Taylor,
followed by Eddie Van Halen, Natalie Cole, and tennis star Jimmy Connors.
I wrapped up by perusing a collection of CDs and a crate of vinyl albums not lost along the way or warped and no longer playable. What was left, I flipped through, remembering when,
where, and how I had obtained them.
It was three-thirty when my twelve-year-old grandson, Christopher, swooshed in on his mountain bike with that obnoxious little Tommy Hazlet from down the street. My day of
serenity was about to end.
“What are you doing, Grandpa?” inquired Chris.
“Finally motivated enough to clean out the garage. Must be twenty years.”
“Are those CDS?” asked Tommy, pointing to the two towering piles I had stacked on the workbench. “My mother has a bunch.”
“Yeah, some CDs from back in the day and albums.” I pointed to the crate. “You’ve probably never seen any of these before.”
I grabbed a handful, exposing them like flashcards.
“How about Barbra Streisand?”
“My grandmother likes her,” said Tommy.
“Even I know Johnny Mathis,” chimed in Christopher. “My mother likes to play him when we put up the Christmas tree.”
I had to chuckle a little at that.
“I used to do work for Johnny. I worked for Barbra, too.”
“No way.” the doubting Thomas interjected.
“Yes, way. I used to live in Hollywood, about a hundred years ago.”
“You never told me that,” added my grandson, as if letdown to now only learn this.
“I was a messenger. I was known as the Messenger to the Stars. If you needed something delivered, I was your guy.”
I grabbed a handful of CDs.
“I know the guy with the hat,” said the proud and smiling Tommy countered. “That’s Slash.”
“Ever hear of Izzy Stradlin?”
“We know Ozzy, but not an Izzy,” said Christopher.
“Guns ‘n Roses. Delivered a gold record to him. Now that I think about it, I worked for Ozzy, too. That’s a story for another time.” I held up another. “How about these guys?”
“Nirvana!” they yelled in unison.
“They were an interesting bunch, to say the least,” taking a quick look at the cover, with the baby floating in the pool. “Got to know Dave Grohl pretty well.”
“Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters?” blurted out Christopher’s energetic friend. “Tell us some stories.”
“Yeah, Grandpa. Tell us how you met all these famous people,” said Christopher, quickly overcoming his earlier disappointment.
Scratching the new growth on my chin, I gave this some consideration.
The rain was falling steadily, a rare occurrence for Los Angeles in 1992. It was a perfect night to sit at home in my Studio City apartment with some homemade sauce and meatballs over
rigatoni. I topped it off with fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano purchased at a little Italian deli on Ventura over in Encino.
As Andy Rooney was shepherding the viewership out of that week’s episode of 60 Minutes my pager buzzed. I was always on-call during the weekends, as the pay was higher, and few had been interested in breaking up weekends with their families. I was single and alone, so what did I care. It was money.
Mobile phones were not as ubiquitous as today. I don’t believe that I actually knew anyone who had one. My present line of work usually entailed having a fistful of quarters at hand at all times. Not having a home phone either, I would make my way to Ventura Boulevard, where I would find a single payphone and the lifeline to a steady income.
Dialing the Burbank offices of Music Express, I learned that one of our longtime regular clients required a last-minute emergency pickup. I retrieved my 1985 Chevy Camaro for the trip
over the hill to Hollywood. The orchestra resonating from my stomach was a reminder that I had not gone too far into the rigatoni, and it would have to wait.
Twenty minutes later, I walked through the doors of Sunset Sound, where some unfortunate soul had left a cell phone. You know you’ve made it when you can afford a messenger service to do
your retrieving. He or she must have been of some importance. Back then, only a select few of the masses could afford such a luxury.
It was standard procedure to check in with the office at every stop. Having secured the phone from Sunset Sound’s Studio Two, I walked over to the payphone in the corridor. Finding it occupied, I waited…and waited, and then I waited some more. I had been jingling my pocket change and keeping a respectful distance when a familiar voice became evident. I knew this
voice from somewhere, one unmistakably of the working-class British variety. It was then that Mick Jagger turned slightly, shot me a look of acknowledgment, and swiftly completed his call.
“Sorry, Chap. Didn’t notice you there.”
And he too was gone. I never did see Mick again. It perplexes me as to why I didn’t make an effort to add to the autograph collection. Had I been too blindsided by the impromptu meet, or was I stunned to find out just how tall Mick wasn’t? I suspect most people tend to think of celebrities, like the Jaggers and the Bowies and the Steven Tylers, only as larger than life personalities, but rarely are they over five-ten and a half.
Not five minutes later, I arrived at the Record Plant on North Sycamore. Phone in hand, I wandered a bit and followed the faint sound of a conversation that fell within earshot. Entering an open doorway to one of the control rooms, I found the sound engineer listening in on some disgruntlement between three men on the other side of the studio’s glass partition.
“When one member of a trio neglects to show, then that creates a situation, one where we now have a duo, so yes, it appears that we do indeed have a situation,” said the older Englishman sporting long, wavy, graying hair.
“Krist had an issue to deal with. I don’t know,” said the young man twirling the drumsticks uncomfortably. “It’s not like we planned this.”
“Simon and Garfunkel, Steve and Eydie, Cheech and Chong, I’ve produced all of the great duos,” continued the man holding court. “This…this is costing the label a pretty penny.”
The man paused to reassess his thoughts.
“Thirteen-thousand bass players in Los Angeles. I suggest we find one.”
I handed the engineer the Motorola cell phone, and as I waited on a signature, four simple words made the great leap from my subconscious.
“I play the bass,” I said to myself, accompanied by a slight chuckle.
No sooner had the words left my lips, I was astonished at how quickly my statement had traveled through an open microphone, into the studio and back through the control room speakers, reverberating in such a manner that my aural senses experienced them in slow motion. Time stood still as the three argumentative men stopped arguing and turned their heads in unison.
“Of course, he does,” as the head honcho in charge motioned in my direction. “The guy working for the delivery service even plays the bass.”
The engineer found some humor in this but kept it to himself.
“Excuse me, young man,” said the man in the studio, addressing me directly. “Might you bless us with your presence?
I pointed to myself as if to say “Moi,” even though there was only one other choice.
“Yes, come,” as he waved me in. “Please join us.”
And I did.
“Reginald St. George,” is how he introduced himself. “This is Kurt and David.”
“Hey,” was all the two could collectively muster, as the dressing down had drained them of any positive energies that may have existed. It was only then that I had an epiphany.
“Wait!” I exclaimed, too enthusiastically. “You guys are that group, on the radio. That Nirvana! You do that one song.”
And I broke into the best air guitar in the history of air guitar.
“Dah dah, da ding a ding. Dah dah, da ding a ding.”
I had to resist the urge to demonstrate the third and fourth bars, an exact repeat of the first two. The drummer stared with a slight hint of amusement. The Kurt fellow, not so much.
Mr. St. George inquired, “And you are?”
“Rich. Well, back home, most people call me Richie. Some people call me Richard." I rambled. “That’s when I know I’m in trouble.”
There were more silent stares.
“Yes, well, Richie, if I may call you Richie, as you have likely ascertained,” the producer continued, “the boys are in dire need of someone with minimal competence to handle the low end on some new tracks we’d like to work out. Would you be available?”
What kind of question is that? If I had a pregnant wife about to pop out our first child, I am pretty darn sure that I am available.
“My friends call me ‘One Take,’” said I. It’s all I could think of, but it was true.
“Wonderful. Over in the corner, you will find a fine assortment of basses. Please choose one to your liking. I ask that you stay away from the Rickenbacker. We don’t want to overpower that little Fender that Mr. Cobain here has an affinity for.”
We jammed a little so the engineer could set some levels then started with a tune I could easily remember called Serve the Servants. Only when the brutally critical Reginald was satisfied
did we move on to others, catchy songs such as Heart-Shaped Box, All Apologies, and Sappy. The more ethereal Dumb was my favorite because I harmonized on the backing vocals.
Six hours later, much had been accomplished. They took a break and headed for the control room for a listen.
“Nice work,” Dave said, as I unstrapped the Fender Precision bass I had chosen. “Mind hanging out here for a few?”
He headed out to join the rest, closing the studio door behind him. I watched as they repeated a scene, not unlike when I first arrived. Three young executive types had appeared at one point, looking as if they had been partying all night. It’s not as if sparks were flying, but I could see there was a fair amount of disagreeing banter between the parties. Every so often, one of them would point in my direction and continue arguing. Had I done something wrong? I began to question whether my playing was less than the minimum competence required.
Still, I had managed to spend the night and into the early morning as the temporary fill-in, rehearsal-only bassist for the most iconic and influential grunge band of all-time. It’s as if I had
been crowned Queen for a Day, and my reign would indeed be short-lived. After the uproar had died down, Dave returned.
“Here’s the deal. You did a great job, and thanks for being there in a pinch. The consensus among everyone, except for Kurt, our management, A & R, marketing, and publicity, is that you should be in the band. Also, the ladies who clean the bathrooms think you’re the bomb. The problem is Geffen is going to have a fit, and Krist is going to blow a fuse since he’s the bass player and started the band with Kurt.
“I’m not sure I understand,” I replied, a bit confused. “I thought I was just helping out.”
“You are. Go in there and listen to this stuff, it’s just too good to ignore.”
“I’m still not sure I’m getting any of this,” as my bewilderment was increasing.
“Hmm…Let me see,” as Dave tried to figure out a novel way to get his point across. “Richard, human resources says we need to let you go.”
“Oh,” I kidded. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
“The good news is there’s no sense fixing what’s not broken,” as he grabbed me by the shoulders. “Reggie wants to use your tracks on the new album.”
I glanced over at Reggie, who gleefully gave me the thumbs up. I allowed a moment for this to silently run amuck around my brain.
“You want to use my bass part?” I asked with some doubt, making sure I had heard this correctly.
“Hell yeah, if that’s okay with you,” Dave replied with some reassurance. “So here’s the thing. No one wants the lawyers getting involved and all that. Kurt and I were hoping we might keep this on the down-low. We’ll figure a way to explain it to Krist.”
“I’m no legal eagle, but….” I gave it little thought. “Sure?”
“Great, I’ll tell guys,” said an elated Dave Grohl as he retrieved a pen and paper. “Write your information down in case we need to reach you someday. Oh, and thanks for the phone. Cost me nine-hundred dollars.”
My brief time in Nirvana had run its course. I drove back over the hill to my humble apartment in the valley. A few hours of sleep, and I was back at my day job as Messenger to the Stars.
Little did anyone know that the album would be the band’s last.
I snapped myself back from the deep recesses of my mind and into the present day. I was tracing the edge of the Nirvana In Utero CD.
“Those stories are great, Grandpa,” said Christopher, once again impressed with his old Grandad. “I can’t believe you knew all these people.”
“I call bull crap,” said his disbelieving friend.
“Does your mother know you use that language, Tommy?” I inquired.
“Where do you think I learned it?” was the retort from the teenaged delinquent.
“You can believe it or not, but it’s all true. I played the bass on all of these songs,” reaffirming my case. “Two years later, I got a check for twenty-five hundred dollars and Dave Grohl has been sending me a check every year since.”
“I don’t believe any of this,” said Tommy. “but your grandfather’s a pretty good storyteller. Come on, Chris. Let’s get some ice cream before dinner.”
Tommy was gone, riding off to annoy someone else.
“I believe you, Grandpa,” Christopher said with a reassuring smile. “See you tomorrow?”
That brought a big smile to my face, too.
“Tomorrow, Christopher. See you tomorrow.”
Christopher departed, and I reflected on my first day of retirement. I opened the top draw of the workbench and removed the envelope I came across earlier that day. Aware of its contents, I carefully pulled out the single item contained within and pinned it up in the corner above the bench. It was a faded picture of two smiling faces. It was a faded picture of Dave and me hanging together on the Santa Monica pier.