one of my aggressively stupid pictures of Jamie taken for art class, June 1989
Tonight Jamie Block showed up on one of his whirlwind visits to Los Angeles – if you’re unfamiliar with Block, I’ve waxed romantic about him in these pages heretofore. He was due to play a gig at the Mint just south of Hollywood, with the two other members of his band flying in from New York and Texas. I got there at 10:30 hoping to see the boys, but instead was ushered into the green room, where the band was loading up on Coronas and scotch. They’d been told a booking error had scheduled them a week from today, and thus crossed the country for no apparent reason.
There was also a music journalist there, an extremely nice woman who gamely interviewed them despite their lack of actually performing. After a few minutes, the manager came in and said they had a recording studio out back, and if the band wanted to play for the journalist, they could do it back there. Insulted yet sanguine, they said sure.
So we wandered through the bowels of the Mint, like Spinal Tap trying to find the stage via a janitorial labyrinth. At last a door led outside, where we were met – no lie – by giant bales of hay. Like for elephants. Behind the hay was another door, which led into a recording studio.
Dark red velvet was draped from the cavernous, twenty-foot ceilings, all covered with eggshell foam and velour. 40-year-old guitars and basses hung on the walls, including a late-60s Hofner violin bass made famous by Paul McCartney. I have been in a lot of recording studios in my day, and frankly, this was the most elegant, creative space I’d ever seen. It was like a piece of New Orleans in 1967 had drifted into Hollywood.
The band quickly set up shop and played songs some of you heard in the East Village in years past, and also new ones several of you downloaded from iTunes. I was present only as an amicus curiae, strictly moral support; however, by the third song, I was placed in front of a gorgeous Rhodes electric keyboard forged sometime in the 1970s. After a couple of chords, I was jamming on that thing like Billy Preston.
Block even pulled out Bob Dylan’s “Mozambique,” a song from a collection Jamie and I should have entitled “Songs We Played in 1988 to Seduce Unwitting Pi Phis.” We’ve run through this one countless times, and I thought we’d perfected the definitive version a decade ago. Not so. The four of us unleashed the prettiest, dead-on version ever. At the end, the recording engineer, usually the most cynical heard-it-seen-it-all-before brand of human available, was speechless. Used to kicking people out, he invited us to play all night, and I did make it to about 1am thanks to the bar’s foresight in possessing a delightful Macallan 18.
In the end, losing the spot at the Mint turned out to be the best thing Block has done in a long time. Like Gill Holland, Lindsay Bowen and other UNC luminaries, he possesses an uncanny ability to land on his feet in the most insane situations; they’re the kind of guys who’d never book a hotel room for road trips, because they’d always run into some old friend with a waterbed for each of us.
I’m incorrigibly social and unrelentingly gregarious, but I never had the serendipity those fellas had. When I’d lose my motel key, I’d be sleeping upright in a train station with all my money stolen. The key is to stick as close to the cats with nine lives as you can.
jamming at the farm while snowed in, December 2005