ConstantCommentary® Vol. XII, No. 178, April 7, 2011

Mike Jasper at 56



My life as a BBC correspondent
(Part one of a three-part series…)

I was halfway to north Austin in my green and tan Ford 150 when I got the text message from Steve Down, tour manager for Bombay Bicycle Club.

"I'm so sorry, but I sent you to the wrong Howard Johnson's. We're at the South location off I-35."

Great. It's to be expected, I guess. Gotta haze the new guy.

It was Tuesday night, March 15 to be exact, and alternative rock band Bombay Bicycle Club—replete with tour manager, back-line technician and personal manager—planned to take me out to dinner for a meet-and-greet and one final interview before I took the job as guitar tech during the band’s whirlwind tour of Austin, Texas.

In other words, they wanted to eyeball and interrogate me to find out if this guy-they'd-never-heard-of-until-now from Bumfuck, Texas could really do the job.

Two days earlier, I had received a somewhat panicky email from both my editors at Tape Op magazine. Did I know anyone qualified to be a guitar tech during the South-By-Southwest (SXSW) music festival?

I knew quite a few people qualified to be guitar techs, but they either had serious gigs during SXSW, serious day jobs, or other responsibilities that wouldn't allow them to drop everything and take a four-day job from Wednesday to Sunday.

What I needed was someone without any commitments or income prospects whatsoever, someone either underemployed or completely unemployed with no sense of social dignity.

Clearly, I was the man for the job.

My editors told me I'd be hearing from Pete Weiss, the BBC's former guitar tech who took ill in New York and had to cut the tour short before it segued to Austin. Pete called Tuesday morning and he gave me a rundown of the players.

"Jack Steadman is the lead singer, the main songwriter and something of a Zen master. Definitely the leader of the group. Jamie MacColl is the lead guitarist, so you'll be working with him the most. He's more of a regular guy type, while Suren De Saram—"

"What the what?" I asked.

"Suren De Saram. He's the drummer. He's the quiet one. And Ed Nash? He's the bass player. Also the comedian of the bunch. Don't be surprised if he shows up wearing a sombrero or a panda hat some time."

Then the conversation turned ugly.

"How old are you?" he asked. “Everybody in the band is 21, except for Steve the tour manager. He’s twenty-nine.”

When it comes to age, my philosophy is don't ask, don't tell.

"Ahhhhh, 47. Yeah, that's right, I'm 47. I was born in nineteen fifty, ahhh, sixty-three. Yeah, that's the ticket."

I thanked Pete for the info and Googled the band so I could hear some of their music. Fortunately, I liked what I heard. That makes things a lot easier.

Since I was at the band’s website, I figured the smart move would be to memorize their names. I got everyone down right away except for Suren. Fuck it, I thought. I'll call him Gaddafi or Osama. I can't be expected to memorize every terrorist name thrown my way.

Meanwhile, wasn't I in a Ford 150 heading south on the freeway? They asked me to recommend a restaurant, so I steered them to Jack Allen's Kitchen in Oak Hill, conveniently located a mile from my house. But as I sipped a beer at JAK's, I got yet another text message from the band—they couldn't get a cab, so they'd have to meet me downtown. They suggested an upscale dinner house, Eddie V's on Fifth and San Jacinto.

More hazing for the new guy, I guess. When they told me they were staying at the Howard Johnson's, I figured we would be eating at Denny's, so I dressed like a roadie/guitar tech in a grey Sennheiser tee-shirt, jeans and old work boots. Sadly, I arrived at Eddie V's before the band did, so I got the opportunity to annoy every patron with a British accent in the joint. There were many more than you’d think. Finding no BBC among them, I decided to wait outside, mainly so I wouldn’t get kicked out.

Finally, the entourage turned the corner and appeared before me. I recognized MacColl right away from his Internet photo, since he sports that wild red hair you usually see on public school kids depicted in British movies (although usually they're playing the violin). I recognized Ed right away, too, but I confused Jack for someone else.

"I'm Louis," he said. "I'm the back-line tech." That would be Louis Bhose, who plays keyboards in the band as well. Louis looked like he walked off the set of Beverly Hills 90210, what with his combed back hairstyle and complicated shoes. He also spoke in an aggressive, clipped accent—very different sounding from the others. He must hail from the Brooklyn section of London.

I broke the ice with a joke. "Look," I said. "I stole these boots from a lesbian. I'd show you the bruises, but she couldn't make it out here tonight."

Great. Let's start with something inappropriate and homophobic right out of the gate. They laughed anyway, but it was a nervous laugh.

There were eight of us now—the four band members, keyboardist Louis, tour manager Steve, the band's personal manager Jason Marcus, and me.

After some discussion, seven of us decided to go in on two huge 22-ounce ribeye steaks, which worked out to about 1/2 pound of steak per man. Good start to the gig. Sirhan (what's the drummer's name again?) went with the fish. I know. Totally un-American.

When they brought out the steaks, Steve took a picture of Jason as he prepared to cut into the meat. The scene couldn't have been gayer if Jason had actually been blowing the steer.

That's my new line, by the way—blew the steer. It's kind of a cross between screw the pooch and jump the shark.

"Well, you really blew the steer on that job."  Remember. You heard it here first.

Anyway, during the meal Louis asked me some key questions.

"Do you have any tools?"

"Oh, yeah absolutely." I had a string winder and some wire cutters. That's all you need, right?

"Have you been a guitar tech before?"

"Only for myself," I admitted.

Louis gave me a long look. "You remind me of The Dude from the Big Lebowski," he said.

It wasn't the first time I had heard this comparison. I also get Cat Stevens, Manson, Jesus Christ and the Unabomber.

When they all toasted The Dude, I knew I was in. Nobody gives nicknames to people they're not going to hire.

To celebrate, I decided to drink a white Russian for dessert. Huzzah. I made it past the final interview and got the job. So… now what?

* * *

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: This column aims to be funny. If you can read anything else into it, you're on your own.




Mike Jasper is a writer and musician living in Austin, Texas.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, he claims strong ties to Seattle, St. Petersburg, Florida and North Platte, Nebraska.


© 2011 by Mike Jasper, All Rights Reserved. ConstantCommentary® is published whenever Mike Jasper feels like it. All material is the responsibility of the author.