the pharoah sanders thing

Copyright 1999 by Larry Hastings. Free to redistribute, provided it is redistributed intact including this copyright notice.

This is a true story. No names were changed, as nobody is ever innocent. It rambles a bit, just like real life!, but there is definitely a point to it all.
Big ol' Stan Ridgway fan that I am, I went down to Los Angeles this past weekend just to attend the Anatomy CD "release party" live show (November 6th, 1999). No expense was spared—I flew down United Shuttle, rented a mini-van, and stayed at the luxurious Motel 6 in Hollywood. After barely making my flight down, everything went pretty much by the numbers, and shortly after 8pm I found myself inside The Roxy in Hollywood, California.

I had travelled alone, so I really didn't have anyone to talk to. I sat for a couple of minutes at one of the few non-reserved tables, but quickly decided there was no point, and there was something much more important to be done: I had to stake out my spot front & center at the stage. So, after about five minutes of noodling around inside, I went and sat on the stage, front and center, and pulled out my Palm Pilot and started playing Milles Bournes and Solitaire. (Geeky, no?) Another gentleman came over and we chatted for a time, and then it was 9pm, the lights went down, and the show started.

The opening band, Gadfly, comes and goes. They were monumentally, freakishly, amazingly loud. Bass drum shock waves crash and break against my head. Luckily, I came prepared (as always) with hearing protection. I couldn't survive front & center stage without it. And even as it was I got a headache. It was too loud, which I guess means I'm too old.

Unfortunately, I still have my hearing protection in when John (the Stan Ridgway roadie) comes out, kneels on the stage right near me, and asks "muffle muffle muffle Stan Ridgway?" It sounded for all the world like "Who here wants to introduce Stan Ridgway?", but I couldn't be sure. After a heartbeat, one guy raises his hand, John helps him up on stage, and they head backstage.

And, sure enough, five minutes later the guy comes out, mumbles his way through something about Stan making him a B.L.T., then introduces Stan Ridgway and gets off the stage. And I think to myself, "Egad! What an opportunity missed! Why, that should have been me! Me, with my marvelous, often-commented-upon resonant, pleasing speaking voice! Oh, cursed hearing protection!" But it was of course too late.

Stan starts out the set acoustic-only, just him and a Gibson acoustic guitar. After four or five songs, the rest of the band sneaks on stage, and join him mid-song in Deep Blue Polkadot. The concert is now going full swing.

Stan starts introducing another song, saying (quotation is approximate):

Some years ago, I was in a band called Wall Of Voodoo. And I was working up this one song. Well, it needed something... something to add a little excitement to the song. And I went and pulled open a drawer, and inside it was: this flute.

(Stan reaches into a tin full of things he brought out on stage with him, and pulls out a plastic one-note flute.)

And I added it to the song and it worked out great. Now, I'd like someone in the audience to play the flute tonight as we perform this song.
The gentleman next to me goes spastic—"Me, me! Me, Stan! Pick me!". Stan ignores him and continues talking about the song, and demonstrates how to work the flute. You blow in the top, and you quickly cover and uncover the bottom like so...

But I don't hear him—I am having a revelation. Suddenly, I know that This Is My Destiny. I was meant to be Chosen. I am The One. I reach out towards the stage and open my hand. Calmly I wait, hand open, arm outstretched, simply waiting for Stan to realize that, yes, tonight I will be playing The Flute. The personification of confidence.

Stan looks down. "You want to do it? Okay, here. You'll know when to come in." He hands me the flute. I calmly take it, unsurprised.

He calls to John the roadie, and says "Can you borrow Rick's microphone? Rick, can we borrow your microphone?" (Rick being Rick King, the guitarist.) "At the appropriate point in this song, I want you to mike this man so we can all hear him." John unwraps and untapes Rick's microphone, and kneels on the stage in front of me, holding the microphone away from me for now.

The song starts up. I'm thinking, what the hell? What song is this? I don't remember any flute parts in any of Wall Of Voodoo's work. And I don't recognize this song! God, I hope I know when to come in.

Thirty seconds later, Stan starts singing:

The room was dark, it looked like someone had to get out fast
A window open by the fire escape
Of course! I realize, it's The Big Heat! And the flute part must be that wee-oo-wee-oo sound during the chorus!. I mentally prepare myself.

The first time through the chorus, I just play the flute like Stan demonstrated, just blowing through it and batting my hand at the bottom randomly. No problem. John mikes me, I come through loud and clear, mission accomplished. But then I realize: hey, wait a minute, that's not how it really goes. In the album version, it has a very specific timing and meter, and as it fades out it drops in pitch, and and and. And I think, you know, I could probably play it right, if I tried.

Second time through, I try and—succeed. To the best of my recollection, it sounds dead-on, and believe me I've heard the song more than once.

During the instrumental bridge in the middle of the song, Stan looks down and says:
    Are you union?
He walks back to direct the band for a minute, then turns around and says
    'Cause if you are, I can't afford you.

The song goes through a couple more rounds of the chorus, and I keep knocking it out. Knowing the song as well as I do, I knew when I'd played the last one. I take the flute away from my face, start to wipe it off a little. Stan sees this and says "Yeah, that's good, wipe the spittle off it before you give it back to me, thanks."

The song is winding down—in the studio version, they just go instrumental and fade out. Stan looks down and says "Hey, take a solo, do some sort of Pharoah Sanders thing." Now, I'm not intimately acquainted with Pharoah Sanders, but I'm pretty sure he was a bebop sax player, so I can imagine what a Pharoah Sanders solo might sound like. So I go to town and start wailing on the thing.

Realize, gentle reader, that there's not really much wailing one can do with a one-note flute. You cap the end, and it doubles in pitch (goes up an octave), and if you uncap the end and blow less air through it, the pitch falls off. But I took a class in the physioacoustics of music in college (!), and I knew that this flute was a type of Helmholtz oscillator, yada yada yada, and anyway I knew that if I blew really hard into it with the end capped I could get a double-frequency standing wave and squeak out an even higher note. Which I eventually hit. Along with my just general wild-and-crazy one-note flautery.

John is crouching in front of me, holding the mic in one hand, and making rolling motions with his other as if to say "keep it coming, more, more". Finally Stan cues everyone to stop, and we all stop together. The audience applauds. Stan reaches down, first to shake my hand, and then to take the flute. He says "And how about a round of applause for our flute soloist!" And I get my own round of applause... which I dimly hear, lost in my own world.

To finish this story, we rush forward to after the show. After the first—and, sadly, the only—encore, John comes out and announces that Stan will be in the lobby in ten minutes and will sign "anything you want him to". I eventually make my way over, and discover that the teeny little lobby of The Roxy is teeming with fans, packed shoulder-to-shoulder. I get in line.

Various band members drift in and out. Over the course of the next hour (while waiting in line) I got to shake hands with all of 'em (except for Pietra who never came through). I congratulate them on their job well done, and they are all as polite as you could want.

After waiting for an hour or so, I'm finally next. I'd scored a copy of the set list from the stage (courtesy of John), and I drop it in front of Stan. Stan looks down, and says "Oh! This is a set list! You stole this!" And he writes "you stole This!" along the bottom. (This is par for the course—he's been writing all sorts of entertaining things on people's shirts and hats and CD booklets and things.) He says "And who should I make this out to?" I say "My name is Larry Hastings."

Stan looks up. "You're Larry Hastings?" He looks up and silently stares for a moment. Then he rises out of his chair and shakes my hand.

He proceeds to tell me that he loves my site, and uses it "all the time" (to look up his own lyrics!). Well, he'd had a few beers this evening, and was pretty "loose" as he put it, and now and then gets stuck for words. So he'd just shake my hand again, and again, and again. He writes "to Larry Hastings OUR PAL!" on my set list and signs it.

After discussing things for a minute or two, I say "By the way, you probably didn't realize it at the time, but... I was on the flute solo tonight." Stan looks a little stunned. "That was you?" His jaw drops a little. Once again speechless, he shakes my hand...then says "Well, no wonder. I was talking to John backstage, and we both said, man, whoever that guy was on the flute solo, he totally nailed it."

Stan urges me to send a JPG picture of myself in to the Dis-Info fan club, so "we can commemorate this event with a web page". I sent in this picture:

Larry, smiling
No flute, of course, but I am wearing my favorite Stan Ridgway tour T-shirt.

Let me end by putting it in "so many words". I have realized a longtime dream of mine: I have played live with Stan Ridgway. Granted, it was a one-note flute sideshow, and I was just an anonymous audience member when it happened. But I performed admirably. And how many others can say the same?

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