part i, a sylvan fable
as we step off the motorcoach into the idyllic sylvan setting, we are greeted warmly by gnomes and wood creatures, who—chittering and chattering—usher us toward the theater, pressing a variety of homemade items into our hands for alanis to sign and return to them. “we’ll do our best,” we promise, secretly knowing that our best isn’t likely to be good enough. “we’d like to, but we hardly know her,” we say. the woods go silent and stay that way for a while. “but...” the stunned woods creatures eventually protest, “if i were she...” we smile wistfully at them. “we’ll do our best.”
part ii, a day in the life
forest national, we are told, is the largest and most prestigious theater in all of belgium. absent any compelling evidence to the contrary, we choose to believe this. once inside, we begin a tightly choreographed and time-tested routine that goes something like this:
instead of allowing me to lead the way, asking carefully worded questions of the appropriate people, adam barrels ahead with carson in tow. they pass gabriel and me several times going different directions, complaining wanly about my not having phoned ahead to determine the exact locations of everything they want. carson occasionally stops to read signs and other literature that piques his interest, like ingredient labels.
eventually, whether by process of elimination or inquiry, we all arrive at the dressing room, at which point the bands bags are spread in an elaborate obstacle course on the floor and attentions are quickly re-focused.
“i am so g-d hungry.” “al, where is catering?” i am asked, without any particular regard for the answer. speed is more important than accuracy when it comes time to quell the band’s primal needs. i maneuver to cut them off, with the vain hope of asking permission to eat the left-overs before they start main-lining them. tam’s buckwheat vegetable soup pleases them greatly.
once sated, they hunt down their equipment and begin the assembly process. if we are lucky, my post-show instructions have been followed and no one has adjusted the altitudes or angles of adam’s drum stands.
while they situate themselves, i deliver the guest list—on this occasion, filled with the names of our couchsurfing.com hosts and some friends of lenny and tjerk (see april 17-20) — to the production office and take the piece of paper destined to become the night’s set list. i also like to check in with the evening’s merchandising machine, whose wheels jeff skellon (alanis’ merch guy and irreplaceable friend to the band in their efforts to maintain financial solvency) has usually already greased. little signs are made indicating that autographs will be signed by the burgeoning rock stars after their show and alanis’.
when i return to the stage area, the band and sound crew are usually taunting each other over the sound system. when they have exhausted their repertoires, they launch into an impassioned-if-somehow-incomplete tour through Toto IV. i have, after all, arranged for them to be professionally filmed tonight by alanis’ video crew; so, why on earth would they be practicing their own material? paul, alanis’ assistant sound engineer, comments on the quality of the selections and i assure him that they are carefully chosen in order to irritate others and pre-screened on unfortunate train passengers.
i deftly switch to my documentarian mode and begin photographing and filming these magical moments—moments we are sure to look back on (possibly in the bonus material of some retrospective dvd), surrounded by commemorative triple-platinum records and oxygen tanks. for my efforts, i am chastized about my unsteady hand, likely trembling from lack of sleep or consistent malnutrition and/or fear of reprisal.
back in the dressing room, it isn’t long before it occurs to the group to eat again. when our mouths are full, we have discovered, we do not have to talk/listen to one another. and, as has previously been observed, the catering on this tour is worth the price of admission. if i leave this tour with a small collection of recipes that includes treacle pudding and custard sauce, i will consider myself a wealthy man.
our final pre-show trip to the dressing room sees adam “warming up” on his practice pad while gabriel and i walk through the night’s set-list. after teasing me with the possibility for weeks, the band has finally agreed to play “overflow,” which is my favorite song. we drop it in in place of “wish this love away.” copies are made and topical notes are added for gabriel and the video and lighting guys. carson heads out to the stage EARLY for his pre-show tuning ritual and i head out to drop the lists and the cd-r off in their various spots. then, i lose myself in the floor audience and prepare for filming.
the set looks and sounds good and the crowd seems to be into it, but the guys leave the stage a little disappointed in themselves—gabriel’s voice had started to give a bit mid-way through among other things. although, as i’ve occasionally reminded them when they become too self-critical, it’s far more important to have fun on stage than it is to play a seamless set. when the audience sees you having fun, they’ll forgive a lot. anyway, the hardest workin’ band in show business helps me and the stage crew clear their equipment and heads off, sharpies in hand, to sign some discs.
while they are away, basking among the glowing embers of stardom, i hurriedly pack up their equipment—with varying degrees of help and enthusiasm from the local backstage crew—before alanis hits the stage. for my entertainment, my employers sometimes hide the cases in different spots around the venue, leaving me to a sweaty easter egg hunt in the dark.
near the end of the up-packing, the band usually passes by to check on my progress, sometimes stopping to teach me some finer points about the disassembly and care of their instruments. they are doing their best to turn me into a true renaissance man, and i express my appreciation, laced with snide back-talk.
once alanis makes it to the stage without tripping over a pile of instruments, most of my evening responsibilities have been fulfilled and i am free to take in some of her stage show with the band. for my money, you can’t beat the song with all the jumping in it. jumping is infectious. i like to watch it; i like to do it. who knows? maybe i am doing it now.
towards the end of miss morissette’s set, i put on my game face and head to the promoter’s office to collect the nightly fee. no, we does not want it in kroner/euro/whatever, we wants it in dollars, baby. that’s what we use back home to buy the super big gulps and all-you-can-eat buffets, see?
i wrap the money in the little receipt it comes with, sort of like a fish monger, and place it alongside other, similar packages in an elaborate and exacting accounting system from which i perform currency exchanges, pay for all band expenses, and (please don’t tell gabe) bet on the ponies.
a post-show trip to the cd/merch table, during which cds move much more briskly and the fellas are often mobbed by lovely autograph-seekers, is the high note on which our evenings tend to end. i lurk in the shadows, shooting footage of the frenzy.
afterwards, the band heads for the dressing room for organized looting, filling their bags to the bursting point with a healthy array of chips, chocolates, wine, beer and soda, while i collect a second pile of cash-ola from the vendors, less the taxes europeans use to finance silly things...like healthcare, daycare, and education. talk about a priority problem!
part iii, denoument
as our night ends, we discover that our hosts have tired themselves out the previous night and will be unable to take us out for a night on the town. and it’s likely just as well. after the siren-song of the sprite-light girls distracts us just long enough to miss a cab, we find our way back at the apartment in time to sleep for, oh, maybe THREE hours before the cab i’ve scheduled arrives at 5:30am—my absolute favorite time of day. going to sleep under those circumstances with as much at stake as there is here makes me a nervous wreck with signs of OCD. on/off. on/off. on/off. no snooze button on this baby.