Editor’s Note: Gilbert told me about his new book a few months ago when I visited him in Mexico. I said I would do whatever I could to help him sell copies because I like Gilbert and his writing. And, let’s be honest, the lucrative world of being an author isn’t as lucrative as it once was (hint, it never was). Plus, you know how they say the book is always better than the movie? You should meet Gilbert in person. He’s even better than his books. I mean that in the best way possible. Gilbert is such a great person who has lived an incredibly colorful life.
Anyway, Gilbert asked if he could include a link to his new book in this article. I said of course and I demanded that he include a link in the article. Gilbert won’t let me buy the new book, insisting he send me one instead, but I’d love it if the CA Community could support Gilbert’s latest endeavor by picking up a copy of God Watches Over Drunks and Fools and I Don’t Drink. Heck, fill a few stockings this holiday season with missives from Gilbert. Thanks for supporting Gilbert and CA over the years.
The Missing Musicologist
I wrote this story for CA about a year ago. At the time, I was putting together a collection of my adventures in life, music and et cetera, and my pal said, “No, this should go in the book.” So here it is, and at the end of the story I’ll put a link to the book’s site. But first, let me tell you about the time…
Well, maybe you’ve read some of these stories by now, and I feel like maybe we know each other enough to expose some of our most embarrassing moments. I’ll go first.
Back in 2008, The Tall Ships, also known as the Festival of Sail, were coming to San Francisco, and my friend Fil was hired to manage a lot of it. Fil asked me to do the hiring, placing and overseeing of sea chantey-singing groups in several locations, and I thought, “why not?” I had nothing against sea chanteys or those who sang them, but of course this was before I was exposed to the whole sea chantey-singing community and started booking them.
First, I was amazed at how many sea chantey singing groups there were. Then I was amazed at how many people admitted to being in sea chantey singing groups. I joke, but generally I found the people who sing in these groups, and the one guy I met who sings them solo, have all been lovely, personable, and intelligent people. I liked every person I dealt with over the long weekend and the run-up thereto, but after so much close and constant exposure to the form, to this day if I hear even one line of “Yo ho, and up she rises…” I’m going postal! You’ve been warned!
So I could tell you about the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me, and I will, elsewhere in the book, but this one is in second place. Not only was it pretty damned embarrassing personally, but I’m afraid I also managed to embarrass an entire city. If I was smart I’d keep it to myself, but everyone has a price, I’m getting paid for it, and this is what happened.
My pal Fil (yes, that’s spelled correctly) had successfully produced all kinds of events in San Jose and was expanding his reputation by taking on events all over the Bay Area. Among other events, for several years Fil booked and oversaw every damn detail of San Jose’s massive, three-day July 4th festivities. He hired the vendors, laid out the sites, oversaw set-up and out-go, booked the bands for all three days of shows, hired the stages, booked the band gear and the sound and lighting systems. He also managed all the PR, hired every crew for every job and did everything else, and that’s how I’ve had some wonderful times, met some wonderful people, heard some great music, and gotten paid for it. Fil was good at his work and his list of successes was growing when the Tall Ships came to San Francisco, after having been in Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. You would think that such a long-established international event would have had its act together, but you would be wrong. They were disorganized and critically under-funded, and Fil got screwed in the end. But I got this story, so all’s well, right?
I was given a budget and tasked with hiring purveyors of sea chanteys, each group for an agreed-upon number of hours at agreed-upon locations. When I started putting some effort into finding these performers, I was quickly inundated with applicants; the Bay Area sea chantey groups knew about it and wanted in. To be honest, they were all fun people, as I guess you need a fun personality to be attracted to preserving this music and this bygone period. These people were historians in their replication of the songs and costumes, and I admired their refusal to let such a colorful art form disappear. Great, funny people, and I had many a laugh whilst booking them. Frankly, from their enthusiasm and reluctance to ask for more money than I was offering (which was a first), I knew that alone in my band-booking experience, these people were happy to be allowed—much less paid—to perform in public before what promised to be a fairly large crowd of people. “Huzzah!” they might have said among themselves. “We’ll do it!” they said to me.
Everyone I spoke to was a member of a group, but there was one fellow, Richard B__, also known as Dick, who performed alone, and was, I was told, the Grand Old Man, the éminence grise of Bay Area sea chantey singers. Everyone recommended I get him for the gig, so of course I wanted him, too. I called and we spoke, but he was indifferent to the gig—sort of snobby, in fact—and when I asked him to perform and told him what I had in the budget, frankly, I expected him to accept, but he declined. He didn’t seem anxious to play the gig, and he told me why, but I forget what he said. ‘Tweren’t important, what he said- he refused the gig and I moved on.
Then, as I was about to send out contracts, they cut my budget, which is always a bad sign for an event, and it meant that I had to do some fast re-negotiating. Then, right after I sent out the hastily redrawn contracts, they cut my budget again, which told me that the event was in trouble at the same time that others on Fil’s team were also finding this out. However, while one generally eschews self-aggrandizement, I must say that I had my end of the gig covered. With the new budget cut-backs, I made calls, I sent out new schedules where I stretched hours here and cut hours there; I had the main site—the corner of Jefferson Street at the Hyde Street Pier—covered, and the other sites almost covered, but I was within my budget and all I had to do was hang out in the grounded tugboat on the Hyde Street Pier that was going to be my office- and run some periodic checks to see that my groups were working. And thus I settled in for a fun weekend.
The tugboat office actually belonged to the National Park Service, but when I showed up thinking the tugboat was my office, the Park Rangers welcomed me, but had not been told of my assignment there. They were gracious, as they knew their turf was about to be inundated with thousands of
idiots tourists, and some of the inevitable upcoming issues would be my responsibility, not theirs. Welcome aboard, Gilbert, want some pizza? Yes, thanks.
Now, to backtrack just a bit: I have a certain predilection, a tendency, as it were, to have fun with my work. One of the rules of the event was that everyone we hired had to wear some sort of identification to show that they were part of the event, including guides, vendors, docents, executives, managers, and that included my singers. They all had to wear those silly crack-and-peel labels that had the Tall Ships logo, but I thought they were boring. I wanted my people to have some ID that would be… impressive. These groups, I found, were generally thrilled when they were allowed to play in some pub, and the evening was a success if they were given beers for their efforts. Now they were not only a) getting paid to perform b) for what would undoubtedly be large crowds, they would also c) be associated with the Tall Ships, an internationally-known organization that celebrated the bygone era that they were so clearly enamored of. This would be a big deal for them, and I wanted something better than those crack-and-peel “Hi! I’m _____” stick-on tags you got at conventions, reunions and such.
If you’ve ever been invited backstage, you’ve probably been given a crack-n-peel sticker to put on your pants or shirt, and it means you’re allowed to be back there. They’re cool and a lot of people save them, but they’re for punters like you and me. The IDs with real value are the lams, the laminated passes, and they’re only worn by those in the crew. Everyone from the stars in their dressing rooms to the lowly merch guy sharing a van with a punk crew, they get the lams. It’s the sign of the real Insider. So, my people would be given the valued sign of in-ness, the laminate. Yes, my people would have lams. Who’s a good Gilbert?
And again, I like to have fun with my work and I like to toss around multi-syllabic words, so I came up with a design using the Tall Ships logo on top, and below that in a large, easily readable font, it said NAUTICAL MUSICOLOGICAL AUTHENTICIST. You can see the lams in the upcoming video. I handed those out with lanyards, and their eyes lit up. You could see it: they were a huge hit. From the occasional bar or pub in the far corners of the East Bay to the tourist-filled streets of San Francisco, the sea chantey-singing community was already ablaze with enthusiasm, and then they were handed the best freaking souvenir they’d ever been given. You knew they were going to keep these forever, put it on the mantel, frame it, stick it on the fridge- something. They loved them! I’m a good Gilbert!
I mean, they weren’t going to fall down and weep in gratitude when I handed them out, but I knew that they were a big hit, and I had that confirmed as the first day of the event was winding down and I got a phone call from Dick B__, who’d now decided that he wanted to play the gig. Did I still have a place for him? Could I still use him? Yes, I could use him at noon on Sunday, but I only needed him for four hours. Was that okay? Sure. I told him to meet me at the tugboat—Sure, he said, he knew where that was—20 minutes before noon. Then we discussed a few details, and then he asked me…. ‘Uhh, if he performed, uhh… could he still get one of those laminates?’ Yes he could, and I scheduled him for Sunday, expected to be the biggest day of the event. I’d left a little flex room in my budget, so I put him on from noon ‘til four, also expected to be the busiest hours. I reminded him about checking in with me at the tugboat at least twenty minutes before his start time, and that’s when I’d tell him where to sing. He said he’d see me there at 11:40.
The tugboat office was just off Jefferson Street, on the Hyde Street Pier- a popular tourist site, as it was the permanent site of the Balclutha, a fully restored and rigged 19th Century Tall Ship, plus some other restored old-time ships. All of them would be open to the public for inspection, tours, demonstrations and lectures. It was family-style entertainment, and there’s never enough of that in San Francisco. Ask any grandparent.
The pier was chock-a-block with families at 11:30, with strollers, prams, children, couples and groups, milling, talking, looking, hanging out, watching the singers and taking photos. I remember hearing a lot of Japanese and I heard a wide diversity of European accents. It was international and multi-culture up the wazoo out there, but I was waiting at my office, it was now 11:45, and there’d been no sign of Dick. Of course I was concerned; everything else that weekend had gone wrong for every part of the event but mine, and I wanted to keep it that way. I had an end-of-event report to write and I wanted it to glow.
I was the stage manager for this variety show, there were people out in my audience who needed to be sung to, and Dick was supposed to be singing to them in… nine minutes! I walked up and down the length of the pier, always looking behind me for fear that Dick would get to the office, not find me, and wander off. Oh no! I told him yesterday that I’d place him where I needed him, and I’d tell him where that would be when he got to the tugboat. So if I missed him he might wander off and just start singing… anywhere! Oh no!
I made it all the way to the end of the pier and back and still no sight of Dick, so I made a quick jog to where the pier meets Jefferson Street, and looked among the crowd there. Lots of people, but no Dick. I’d never met him, but I’d seen his photo, so I knew what he looked like, and I didn’t see him and I went back to the tugboat, and… still no Dick. Now it was five before noon. About twenty yards up the pier from the tug was an empty bench and I walked over to it and stood on it and looked over everyone’s heads. The pier was jammed with tourists, but I saw no sign of my missing singer. Standing on the bench, looking, scanning, over to Jefferson Street, about forty yards away, I saw one of the singers from another group, the Seadogs, walking on Jefferson Street. I waved my arms to get his attention and luckily he turned and looked up the pier, and saw me. I wanted to shout to him, but there was street noise, people talking, cars moving and honking, and a plane going overhead. Now it was noon and I was beginning to panic but I needed to be heard, so I cupped my hands around my mouth and took a breath and shouted as loud as I could, slowly and carefully enunciating every word, loud as I could, so he could hear me all the way on Jefferson Street, “I’M… LOOKING… FOR… DICK!”
On the pier, everyone froze. Until that moment the place had been bustling with happy, chattering tourists, everyone involved in their little dramas, but suddenly everyone stood stock still. No one moved, no one spoke, not one stroller was pushed, not one person spoke on that pier in that moment as everyone within fifty yards stopped and looked at me with open mouths and puzzled looks. Then it hit me: Oh, my God! What did I just say? Did I just say that? Did I just scream that? Yeah, I did…
So I lowered my head and hunched my shoulders in an attempt to disappear, waved a “never mind” to everyone to indicate that I didn’t mean it that way, and I got off the bench and headed for Jefferson Street where I could hide in the crowd. I wouldn’t go to my office because I was much too embarrassed to let anyone know where that guy was hanging out. So, out to Jefferson Street I went, mingled with the crowd for a few minutes, looking innocent, waited a few minutes and snuck back to the tugboat, hoping none of the Park Rangers had heard it. No one was there, so I sighed and sat down, and moments later, Dick came through the door, out of breath, and apologized for being late, saying that parking was… and he… and y’know…
Except for Fil getting the shaft, all went well after that, and I still enjoy telling this story, telling people what happened that day, and we’d have a good laugh, and then I’d wait a couple of beats and say, “yeah, it’s was embarrassing and all, but I got a date out of it.”
Well, I won’t do that to you, but the wrap-up is that my end of the gig went well, I’m proud that the laminates were a success, and I’m sorry about Fil getting screwed. But mostly what I’m left with from that weekend is the knowledge that when some of those tourists went back home and talked about their trip to San Francisco and told their friends that what they’d heard about San Francisco was true. They’d all heard it was a sexually liberated place, sure, but they could tell them it was not only true- it was worse. They’d seen it themselves: people stood on benches in crowded parks in San Francisco and screamed for sex.
Sorry, San Francisco.
I have just written a book recounting some of my more… unusual …experiences. Please check it out: http://www.drunksandfools.com
Also, if there’s one of my essays I’d like you to read, it’s this one: http://www.twominutescreed.com/You-Knew.html
Gilbert Klein has enough degrees and not enough stories. He’s been a radio talk show host, a nightclub owner, event producer, and has written two books: FAT CHANCE about the legendary KFAT radio, and FOOTBALL 101. He threatens to write one more. He spent 25 years in New York, 25 years in San Francisco, and is now purportedly retired in Baja.