To Z Or Not To Z:
The Stairmaster Epiphany
Ok, OK! I know what you're all thinking, yet again...what the fuck happened last week? Are the rumors true? Did Mike and I elope to Las Vegas, rent a room and...uh, er, I mean...are we still in Z? Is Music For Pets still coming out? What's the future of BFD? Will the AFC ever win the Superbowl? If I concentrate really hard and try and sort through the blur that was last week, I think I can answer all of your questions...except for the last one. Seriously, I'm going to attempt to tell you as much as I can about this without crossing the border into territory inappropriate for discussion (although you must be wondering after some of my NAMM show exploits what my standards for "inappropriateness" are...I am too). I think you know what I'm getting at, folks. This is how it felt from my humble perspective, and, as the introduction to this page promised, my angle just might be different than some others. So, let's go back in time, together...come along...
I remember when Mike asked me to join BFD. December, 1994. It's difficult to describe the feeling I had about it...
You know when you buy a CD, and you listen to it, and you know almost instantly that the artist wrote this music just for you. No one else. And you look at the packaging, the pictures on the inside sleeve, the lyrics, the stupid little picture on the CD itself when you take it out of the player, and you think...man, I wish I could meet these people. Or talk to them, or just breathe on them maybe. This is called being a fan. I am a Metallica fan, a Led Zeppelin fan, a Fishbone fan...and I've spent many hours holding the packaging while listening to the CD for the 84th time thinking the same thought that you do when you listen to your favorite material. Soon after I joined Z in the Fall of '93, Mike casually suggested that I pick up a copy of "hat"--I might enjoy it, he smirked. The above described "fan" experience followed very shortly afterward, like that night when I'd listened to it for the third time in a row. There was one notable difference between this and your normal fan experience, however...I already knew this guy. And I was going to see him tomorrow at Z rehearsal. 'Twas a strange moment when I saw him that next day, shuffling my feet a bit and stuttering about how great the CD was. (I always stutter when incapable of expressing myself...I need to at least make some sort of talk noise). The guy from the picture in that CD I soaked in last night...I'm in a band with him. Heavy, man.
1994 went kind of like this...Shampoohorn came out, and Z actually toured behind it, came back and started recording what two years later would be Music For Pets. The recording lasted most of the year, and we figured it would be out in Spring '95. Z was relatively busy, and felt more like a real, integrated unit than it ever had...it was a fun, cool thing. Meanwhile, during down moments in rehearsal, I'd play licks from "Day Of The Cow" or "I Can't Stop" to see if Mike would notice. He almost always would, and I'd get a knowing glance out of him. Me and Joe recorded some stuff for Boil That Dust Speck that year, and I occasionally subbed for Doug in BFD. One of those times was for something in December...we had an unbelievable rehearsal, and something made Mike think that I was the guy he wanted to play bass for him whenever possible. I'd never been "angling" for the gig--I didn't even think of it as a full "gig", since we were both in Z and busy recording all year. It was the most pleasant shocking news I'd gotten since I moved to California. The guy in that picture of that CD I know by heart...I'm in a band with him...hell, I'm, in two bands with him. At the end of '94, I felt pretty damn good about myself.
And why not? Early '95...I had an advance copy of "Music For Pets" which I listened to all the time and loved...Keneally's "Dust Speck" came out, which I loved...and I was on both. I devoured the music on "Dust Speck" whole, like a snake swallowing a pig, and tasting just as good. "Pets" would come out in March, and we'd tour again; I'd even get to go to Europe, something I didn't get to do behind Shampoohorn. And then, the bad news started...first, "Pets" wouldn't be coming out in the US, or Europe--only France. So the copy that I had became the "French version" as we now know it. That's alright, I told myself...we'll do France, then Europe, then the US. But it didn't happen like that. We rehearsed up a good set, and took it to Frankfurt (for the German NAMM...I prefer Anaheim's version myself, for obvious reasons) and Paris, for the French record release party. This little 9- day trip was only to give a little push to the French press for our new release, we were told..we'd come back to France and do a real tour shortly thereafter. We waited...the French tour never happened. There was no US release date. It was April.
Let me make this clear...I am NOT laying the blame at anyone in particular for the "business delays" that kept keeping the release of "Pets" from occurring--if you're looking for dirty laundry hanging on the clothesline, you won't find it here. I'm just trying to tell you what it was like from my personal perspective.
Meanwhile, Keneally and I are starting to form a strong bond, both musically and spiritually (don't worry, I'm not going fucking new age on you or anything, I could just feel that he had a special energy about him...). We're playing clubs around town and having a ball doing so. Dweezil had decided to concentrate on the instrumental extravaganza "What The Hell Was I Thinking" for a bit in mid-'95, so aside from occasional touch-up recording for that project, we had a LOT of free time. Months went by...May, June, July...during that time, BFD made the famous Northern California mini-tour journey up and down the Left Coast, and began playing steadily at a local hole you all know now as the lovely Bourbon Square in Van Nuys, CA. Toss left for Japan for a bit, and Joe Travers eagerly filled in as the BFD drummer of choice, thereby relieving him of some of the terrible frustration he was experiencing from Z's lack of activity and having no other current musical outlet. With Joe, BFD made a pilgrimage to San Diego in early August for a couple of gigs. And, lo and behold, there was another "Pets" release date floating around...late August. When that time drew near, it changed to late September. At some point around that time, we had a meeting, at which we learned that it would be a bad business decision to release the CD at that time, and that we should wait until January 1996. The look on Joe's face said it all...his head almost exploded with frustration and discontent. Mike sat sullen in his chair, and I tried to keep my chin up while we were told the reasons why the CD should not come out at that time. They were all good reasons, but it was hard to listen to them at that point.
Maybe in part to alleviate the tension resulting from the band's inactivity, maybe just to stay frosty, Z played locally at the Viper Room and at the Alligator Lounge in Santa Monica. With very little rehearsal, we really laid waste to the Viper Room...just an awesome preview of what a "Pets" tour could be like if it ever happened. The other venue's poor onstage sound made it less magical, but still fun. Around this time, BFD made a trip up to Reno, NV, for a gig and some of Mama Keneally's home cooked ham...it rocked. The only problem was that the trip occurred while we were rehearsing for the local gigs, and we were informed that this wasn't entirely cool. This was totally understandable, and there was talk about how to handle future possible conflicts, through financial arrangement or otherwise. A meeting was supposed to take place at which these issues would be discussed...it never did. As Halloween rolled by, we were in the studio, recording more songs for the new, improved US version of "Pets". It was November.
As time went by, BFD became tighter and scarier. Before we knew it, a year had passed since I had joined the group, and the steady gigging had paid off--word was spreading around town, and as NAMM '96 approached, the good word came down...we were going to be all over it. Shows on the convention floor, a big show at night in the (now famous) Hilton Lobby Bar, Keneally signing cool posters of his EMG ad...all sorts of attention would be heaped upon us, and it was all "Keneally" related, not "Z" related. Obviously people who know Mike know him due to the Zappa connection, but the point is this: these bookings were solely Mike's thing. I was really disappointed that Z couldn't do something for NAMM...people have been talking about their '92 NAMM appearance for years (you old-timers know of this show...highlights included the original 70's medley, a version of Paula Abdul's "Vibeology" in which Ahmet keeps saying "motherfucker" for no reason at all, and Josh Freese "challenges" any drummer in the NAMM audience to top his fantastic drum "solo". Truly a magic thing). In the end, there were no plans for Z at NAMM at all. December rolled around...the new Z tunes were finished, and the release date was mid-January...which became late January...which became early February. Joe left town for his hometown in mid-December, totally dejected. Toss had returned to BFD, and Z had played exactly two gigs in the last seven months; Joe had no musical release and it was starting to drive him insane, which he explained to Dweezil in the most urgent manner possible. Dweezil responded rightly that it was useless to simply go out there and play without a product to promote, which led to a discussion of why the CD wasn't already out, and the thing would go around in circles. I knew that Dweezil was just as frustrated as Joe was that the CD wasn't out yet...he's nothing if not a near-obsessive hard worker. But they were both right. Mike and I would just sit and listen, depressed and despondent.
It's at this time I want to make something perfectly clear. Tensions were building, and Z certainly wasn't as fun a place to be as it was in 1994. But, I would tell myself this...don't take this for granted, people would kill to be in your position, and no matter what, please, god, allow Pets to come out before something weird happened. Speaking for myself, I was into the material on Pets as much as anybody in the band, if not more. I wanted to tour behind it, desperately. It was my first album project...two years ago, I thought I was going to be in a blues band somewhere in NY, for Christ's sake. I gave up other work opportunities during the year of the never-ending delay (1995) because Z was supposed to be working at that time, and it turned out that Z ended up not working at that time and I was sitting home doing nothing but waiting for the next BFD gig at Bourbon Square, but that was OK because no matter what, I wanted to be a part of Z when "Music For Pets" finally came out. If I'd waited this long, what's another couple of months, right? Around this time, events began to occur that were beyond my control.
January arrived, and we had no word whatsoever from the Z camp about when the release date was. Meanwhile, Joe was still home in Erie, PA and we haven't played together as a band in at least a month and a half. I stayed in LA over the holidays, and spent a lot of time with Mike. He told me this--he wanted to be more "aggressive" in booking BFD this year. This new line of thinking both excited and scared me at the same time. Being the neurotic Jewish guy that I am, I instantly envisioned the nightmare scenario...a conflict with Z and the fallout thereafter. At the same time, I loved the prospect of actually devoting more time to Mike's band...I felt that not only was I a part of it, but that I had a stake in it as well. You can't buy that feeling for any amount of money. And, maybe more than anything, I had grown so close to Mike as a person, I couldn't imagine not being in BFD. Not like I could imagine not being in Z...I was determined to do the Pets tour. After all, this was the whole reason I came out here. I drank a lot over the holidays praying to God that I would never have to make a decision like that.
BFD's January 12 gig was crucial. Keneally had given me the opportunity to write the set list for the evening, and we played what was the band's consensus best gig to date. It was simply a mind- blowing experience to be a part of that night...avid readers know this as the night of the "Dreadful Drunken Drummer Drama" in which a fight broke out after the gig...you remember. Well, the fight obscured a near-flawless, off-the-rails gig that we all (Mike, Toss and I) wished could happen more often. Before we knew it, NAMM was upon us, and again, avid readers know all about what happened there (Act 6), for all you non-believers out there. And it went just like I thought (and maybe, at this point, feared) it would...people loved the big show we did, people were stopping us on the convention floor and praising our work with Keneally, and wondering why Z wasn't there...there were lots of awkward moments when I'd be talking to a representative from one of my endorsement companies and explain to them that "Pets" would be coming out real soon, and they'd look at me as if they knew exactly what my dilemma was, sort of like "yeah, sure it's coming out soon. Hey, you sounded great with Keneally the other night...". As NAMM went on, and business opportunities for BFD increased exponentially, I could see Mike's wheels turning faster and faster. By the end of the weekend we were all a house of fire, burning with the flame of Beer For Dolphins in our hearts. My excitement and fear rose accordingly. It was the last week of January.
After NAMM, we waited to hear from the Z camp about our upcoming schedule. All we could find out was a new release date...March 5. Rehearsals would begin in early February, and Joe made plans to return on January 29. I wondered to myself...is this really it? Meanwhile, the BFD dates started to roll in, and Mike stated to me his desire to make good on his promise to be more "aggressive" in his pursuit of his solo career. The dates started to spill into March. I wondered to myself...how the fuck am I going to deal with this? This is about where real panic started to set in, since Mike was really adamant about sticking to his dates. I knew I wouldn't desert Mike, not after the emotional high of NAMM and the bright future that we saw before us...but could I really be forced to leave Z in order to stick with Mike? It came down to this--Mike would call Gail to explain to her how he felt, and to try to work out a compromise, either financial, scheduling, or otherwise, which would enable us to continue to do both Z and BFD, without compromising his principle on not sacrificing the dates that he had already booked. If something couldn't be worked out, there was a good possibility that Mike would no longer be in Z, and then everyone would be looking at me like, "well, what the fuck are you going to do?" At NAMM, when I first envisioned this now-drawing-closer nightmare scenario, I was leaning toward going with Mike, but that was in theory. Reality was coming...I really didn't know what I was going to do.
January 29...I pick up Joe at the airport. Everything has happened so fast, it's easy to think that we all had lots of advance notice that something drastic might be happening, but in reality it was less than a week from the time that this went from idle talk to full-scale action, and me and Joe were in absolute panic mode over what could happen the very next day. We talk all the way home about it...he's been losing sleep over it. If I had little control over what was happening, he had even less. He asks me what I'm going to do. I don't even have an answer...I just keep telling him that I can't believe it's coming down to this. I thought back to the time when Mike, in the most cavalier way possible, said to me: "I think I want you to be in my band." The feeling I had about it at that time was...hey, that's awesome...the coolest side work imaginable...yet there was this subconscious euphoria that I couldn't really express. Looking back on it, it became a bit clearer how I got from there to here.
January 30, 1996...After sleeping very little, I wake up at 9:00 AM and wait for the phone to ring, for this is the day that Mike is going to attempt to make this all work somehow. After the high of NAMM wore off, Mike saw my fear factor rise quickly, and he gave me every assurance that he would try to work something out, and not be hasty in his conversation with Gail. At 2:00 PM, I called him...he hadn't spoken to her yet, but he'd left a message. I needed to go to the gym and abuse some workout machines to work off the intense stress in my body. In the middle of my workout, I walked outside to the pay phone and checked my messages. Sure enough, there was Mike, on my machine, saying something like this...."hey, man, it's me...I talked to Gail, and it went pretty well, all things considered...we discussed how I felt, and how she felt, and she asked me to fax her the dates I have booked already, and that she'd get back to me...". He then went on to say (I'm not going to print this word for word) that if things didn't work out, and I couldn't stomach leaving Z, that would be OK and he would completely understand, but that he saw us together as a partnership that could last a very long time...it was a very sincere and emotional statement. My stomach collapsed, my heart raced, and I ran for the Stairmaster, needing it desperately.
At this point, I had what I'll forever refer to as the "Stairmaster Epiphany". I cranked the thing up as fast as it could go, and I felt nothing as my legs pumped away and my mind raced through each scenario. I tried to imagine what it would feel like if I went to a Z show on the Music For Pets tour and someone else was playing bass...playing my parts. I decided that it would feel like walking in on someone fucking my ex-girlfriend that I had just broken up with. Not good. Then I tried to imagine what it would feel like if I went to a BFD show and someone else was playing bass...playing my parts, exchanging knowing glances with Mike. I decided that it would feel like walking in on someone fucking my fiancee. At that moment, the decision was made...in the worst case scenario, if no deal could be made, I would go with Mike. This was the Stairmaster Epiphany. I showered and raced home.
Remember when I said that I wasn't going to air dirty laundry here? Well, somewhere between when I checked my answering machine at the gym and when I got home, the laundry got dragged through an oil slick. So, obviously I can't talk about everything, but here's how it looked from my perspective...I had no further word from Mike and he was out, so I figured I'd call Dweezil to see what was up. He was, shall I say, annoyed. I attempted to be as conciliatory as I could possibly be, but it quickly became clear how he felt about working out a deal. Again and again, I asked if something could be worked out...again and again, the answer was no. You had three different viewpoints all clashing, all equally justifiable from each point of view...the Zappas wanted to be able to control their own schedule, Mike wanted to finally get going with his solo career, and I simply wanted to be able to do both projects. I still to this day don't believe anyone was wrong here, it was just a case of bad timing and interests that didn't coincide with each other. And, as I did when seeing Mike after I'd heard "hat" for the first time, I stuttered terribly...this time to Dweezil what my extremely reluctant but necessary position was. Words couldn't express my regret at how this was all happening...I tried to convey this to him, but he was understandably not moved by my emotional state. There was some awkward silence, followed by a strange "small world" story from me about how the girl I met at NAMM (yes, by dancing on the tabletop in the Hilton Lobby, THAT girl) spoke a phrase that Dweezil uses to comedic effect...something you would only know if you've known a Zappa. Turns out a friend of hers had known Moon. He said..."it's funny, the messages that you get sometimes." I agreed. We said goodbye. By the end of the night, Mike and I were no longer in Z.
So, this will be the last official Z update I'll give you, since I don't like passing along third-hand information over the internet. As far as I know, the CD will still come out on March 5. Yes, the cruel irony of a firm release date after all this time is massive, especially for me. I have no idea about plans for a tour or replacements for us. As of this writing, Joe Travers is still a member of Z. Ahmet and Dweezil are going to be on the Conan O'Brien show on March 8, I think...you'd better check the Pumpkin line for that. And, even though I know that Steve Dick is going to kill me when he sees this, another fine e-mail friend named Brian Lagerman has located a company named CDEurope that imports the French version of "Pets" for $28. They're accessible over the internet at, you guessed it...http: //www.cdeurope.com.....delivery time is 4-6 weeks, however, and I haven't confirmed delivery for those that have ordered it, but I just wanted to let you know about that. I personally believe that the band was at its peak when this version was released, and it reminds me of what could have been. You have to understand this, if you take away nothing else from this massive story...NEVER FOR ONE MINUTE DID I WANT THIS TO HAPPEN. My profuse apologies go out to anyone who feels that my actions have contributed to them not being able to see Z live sooner. Hopefully, after reading this, you will understand a bit better how it all happened. You know, less than a week before this mess occurred, I finally obtained a demo CD of the US version of "Music For Pets". I've listened to it a lot. When it comes out, I'll go to the store and buy a copy...just like you.
OK, enough down stuff...it's time for some positive thinking. First, I want to thank everyone who has e-mailed a show of support for what I've done. I feared the flaming from hell when word got out on the internet that this shit had hit the fan, and instead I got lots of really cool "good luck" messages, as well as some offers of real help for BFD. The number of people who've come out of the woodwork to offer to help us is astounding; on Mike's behalf, let me thank you all with a big, sloppy, wet kiss. Mmmmmm, that's nice! I am 100% committed to Mike and BFD, and hopefully some of you Z fans who've never heard Mike's stuff will bear with us and check it out. Hey, you never know, we might be in your area sooner than you think (now is a good time to check out the "Upcoming Giggage" at the top of Mike's page...it's unusually frantic up there nowadays).
Things are happening so fast, it's hard to keep track. "Sort Of Live In Hollywood" is a more urgent thing now in the land of BFD releases...and Mike and I have been poring over hours and hours and fucking hours of video in order to bring you the very best audio/video entertainment that BFD has to offer. Video releases will include the 1/12/96 Bourbon Square "Drunken Drummer" show, a NAMM special, a Northern Cal. special (video of the stuff discussed in the "Road Diary"!), and lots more shit, just as soon as we weed out all of the not-so-special moments (of which there are unfortunately very many). One thing I learned by watching 19 BFD shows in chronological order is that as the year went on, you can see the difference in the band...we became a band. A good one. I can't wait to get out on the road and show people this sparkling thing that I believed in so strongly that I did what I had to do to stay in it. Oh yeah...back to what's up for the future... recording of the new Keneally CD will begin sometime startlingly soon....I think that's it for now, but, as I said, look for many impending gigs. 1996 will be The Year Of The Dolphin.
I hope I've answered all of your questions. I've met a lot of really cool people since I've started this "Life Of Bryan" thing, and I want to thank you again for your participation. I want to know what you think of all this, so don't hesitate to e-mail me, even if you've got something unpleasant to say. Maybe the best responses will show up somewhere...who knows. Hey, if you really offend me, I can always have you killed.
And, I've been thinking...the AFC will NEVER EVER win the Superbowl. That's part of my world...good night...........B.B.
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