Sunday, January 28, 2018

My Weekend With the Commonauts, October 5th - 7th, 2017

Disclaimer: Memory is a funny thing, and an elusive one. Meaning; I might have some of this wrong, as 1. My memory is not always accurate, like anyone and 2. It is from my perspective only. Any friends  who were there, feel free to correct me or add things I have missed. It helps! Also, no gossip on anyone here, it ain't about that. Personal details are on a surface level, and friends, girlfriends and others are re-named to respect their privacy. People in bands generally put their names out there on albums and in interviews anyway, and are not in the habit of staying anonymous, and therefore are named here. That said, anyone who is in the blog that wishes me not to use their name has only to ask. 

All photos this entry by me unless otherwise noted 

Taking a break from the chronolical timeline of this blog, as I like to do now and again. This takes place during my visit last October to Boise to play shows with the band I currently play drums in, a band integral to my history as a musician, Commonauts. I hope you enjoy this diversion, many tale-worthy things happened and I thought I would share them with you.

Prologue and a brief history of Commonauts

Original Commonauts logo from the early '80s - Design by Greg Bowman

In the earlier entries of this blog, you will see what inspired me to play music, or at least in a band (as my older brother William is the one who lit the spark first) was that at age 16, I began helping to put on shows that were among the very first punk shows in Boise, Idaho, for a band called Commonauts (who also put out the first vinyl of original punk music to come from Boise, in 1981). Long story short, (you can read the long story in earlier entries here on this blog, including some liner notes on the band history I wrote which will be included in the official release of the new record, more on, and a link to, that album below) we all went our separate ways, I started my music journey shortly after this period in 1983 in a hardcore band called Dissident Militia, who played shows with and rehearsed in the same space as Septic Death (go to the depths of the early entries of this blog to find out more, ya so-and-sos!) and Jon Hale, the singer in Commonauts, moved to Seattle and formed one of the coolest Seattle bands of the time, the drunk punk band Gorilla, made up of other talented ex-pat Boiseans (the band I ended up drumming in that also gravitated to Seattle in '89, Treepeople, gigged with Gorilla often, and in my biased opinion, that was a great bill, always). RIP Curtis, you were the real deal, Brother.

In 2014, decades after all this was set in motion, and the players in Commonauts had long ago traveled on through the years to widely varied professions, settling in different locales in the US; NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, world class lighting design in LA, a successful professional music career in Boise and other major cities, fashion design in NYC, paraphernalia sales in Seattle, heavy equipment rental management for Hertz (the last three all one guy, Jon Hale!), and me, going from shit jobs to owning a cleaning business to falling into software biz tech support and client management that moved me from Seattle to Boston, then I redirected in Portland, Oregon (over a span of nine years) and once that all crumbled, back to college (how's this for a fuckin' run-on sentence?) I get a call from Jon Hale, with whom I had recently reconnected on Facebook, and he informed me that Commonauts were doing a reunion show. [gulps for breath] Jon had read my blog, and asked if I wanted to introduce the band at the show. Of course I did. And then, another call; the drummer didn't work out. And Jon asked me to play drums, and then that led to to a reunion show and the recording of an ep, and that led to the band reforming and meeting up once a year to record and play shows. And it worked/works well. We all rehearse on our own and get together and, bam, record a record and do some shows. And now we have two amazing guitarists, Fred Speakman and Jon Faulkner. And, we just released a killer new LP, 'Spud Eye'.



Cover art by Jason Sievers

Listen to Spudeye: Commonauts - Spudeye LP

The Assumption

Over the last three years a little routine has evolved on my trips to Boise for Commonauts projects and shows, even though it has been over a short number of visits (once a year); I would stay at Jon and his wife's house, Jon would pick me up at the airport (I'm a spoiled mo fo, no?) and this last trip I just...assumed, like a bonehead, that Jon was picking me up at the airport, and, that I was staying at their place. Yeah.

I texted Jon upon exiting the plane and heading to the baggage claim. Picked up my snare drum, went out to where people pick up de-boarders. A woman with a thick German accent was visibly distraught and approached me. She said her friend hadn't shown to pick her up, and she had tried to call but her phone didn't work. I let her borrow my phone and she said it wasn't working either. I tried the number she was trying and it was the actual number that wasn't working, not the phone, which I told her. I also suggested that she talk to an employee at the airport to get help. Then I got a call from an ex girlfriend (I am close friends with two of the three long term ex girlfriends) and we chatted for about 15 minutes. I decided I better take a cab to the Hales', so I did.

When I arrived at the house, it was dark, and both cars were in the driveway. Not a good sign. Believe it or not, it was only then that it dawned on me that they had no idea I was coming, and of course they wouldn't! So I reluctantly texted Jon again, called, nothing. I even more reluctantly texted Jon's wife. No response. Then, even MORE reluctantly, I rang the doorbell. Their dogs barked. Surely that woke one of them? Nope.

Then, as I tried to launch a browser on my phone to look up nearby hotels/motels, my phone battery died. Awesome. The Hales' neighborhood is in a bit of a suburb on what is called 'The Bench' in Boise, located on the mesa above the Boise River. I was only somewhat familiar with the neighborhood, having grown up in the North End (and not having lived in Boise since 1989). But surely there was a hotel/motel somewhere fairly nearby

I began to walk, dragging my wheeled suitcase, with my snare in its case on top, along through the darkened streets, between dark homes of sleeping people. I ended up at a main intersection about a mile away, not having seen a hotel or motel. In fact the only businesses I saw were a church and a Pho restaurant. One of the main roads led down the hill to an area called Garden City. This is an odd little area, most of the residences are mobile homes (and in fact my father sold them at a lot in Garden City, and lived in one, as did my brother later). There are car lots, mobile home lots, various dive bars and strip clubs (I heard a rumor that Garden City was specifically set up to get around laws on the books banning strip clubs, not sure if that is true) industrial businesses, and, the venue we (Commonauts) were to play at.

Easy as Pie

So I walked the 1/4 mile stretch of road down the hill, and ended up standing kitty corner (as me mum used to say) from the Fairgrounds (where there are horse races, yearly fairs and concerts) looking down Chinden Blvd, hoping to see a welcome Motel 6 sign, or some hotel/motel. Nothing. But, to my left I saw a Shari's Pies restaurant, and an 'open 24 hours' sign (by then it was 11:30 pm). I could get a bite to eat, charge my phone, look up hotels.

I was greeted when I walked in by a kind white woman in her late 50s (which these days is around my age). She asked how my night was going. "Well," I answered, "I have had better nights," and explained my situation. She sympathized and showed me to a table in the back, near the kitchen entrance and by a power outlet. I plugged in my phone and began searching the internet for hotels and cab companies. 

The woman who sat me came over to take my order, I ordered the stuffed hash-browns. She offered to buy them for me if I filled out an online survey rating their service, so I did. Later, she came back and said that the boyfriend of one of her waitresses (I say her waitresses as she was the manager filling in for one of the wait staff's break) was living in a motel up the road, and he could give me a ride there. "Really? That is great, thank you!" She smiled and then the smile straightened, "It's not a fancy or nice place, kind of a dive motel," and I said, "Oh I don't care, I just need a bed for the night."

I forget the name of the waitress of whose boyfriend the manager spoke, but she came out and introduced herself, a Latina woman in her early 60s. Once I gathered myself up she took me to meet her boyfriend, I will call him Ron, who sat at the little food bar area up front. Ron was a white man, also in his early 60s. As we got into his car, he said, "This place ain't all that nice, but it's clean and there are no bugs."
"That's all one can ask for!" I replied.

On the drive, Ron asked the usual 'getting to know someone' questions, which led him to ponder some memories based on what I had told him. "I went to Seattle once, in like '87, a friend of mine moved there to play music and I stayed with him and we went and saw that one band...They got real famous...Pearl Jam?"
"No, it wouldn't have been them, they hadn't started yet at that time."
"The one where the singer killed himself..."
"Yeah, Nirvana. And they were pretty good, but they had a song that was like 17 minutes long. So after I spoke to one of the guitarists (they had two then) and I said that song was great but it would be way better if they cut it in half time wise, and the singer guy, he came over and started yelling at me and getting on my case."
"Yeah," I said, laughing, "That sounds about right."

We pulled into a divey motel, I won't say the actual name, I don't want to affect their business, they were nice and it was cheap. The window reminded me of hotel, liquor store, or any late night windows for service in bigger cities; thick glass, small window. An elderly East Indian woman appeared after I rang the bell. Ron waited in his car, kindly, to make sure I checked in OK, and even came up and told the woman, "This is a friend of mine, he's a musician," which gave me $5 off - so it was only $50. Can't beat that anywhere these days, even for a dive. I paid, said goodbye to and thanked Ron.   

The room was amazing in terms of how it was like some museum piece of what a dive motel is. The nice thing was, it was second floor, and on the end. I shut the orangish door and saw on the back a taped up random National Geographic photo of a lynx. Sure, why not? The smoke detector hung from its socket by the cord. The front of the heater unit, of the usual cheap motel variety; wall-mounted, under the front window, was rotting off. The mat in the shower, once white, was now a gray I have never seen before. It was also a smoking room as was first evidenced by the classic plastic mold ashtray by the bed, empty and laced with a layer of decades of fine ash, and secondly evidenced from the cigarette smelling pillow. I was in a freakin' Tom Waits song. But it was a bed, and I was grateful for it, and for the kindness I had just experienced from strangers, solidifying my belief that most humans are good at heart.

Below: Photos of the dive motel I stayed in in Boise (name covered to protect the business, I mean them no ill will, I was glad to have a bed and it was cheap as hell!)

I actually think this is a rather nice painting (above: shower mat - Let's just say I passed on a shower)

Sure, this all meets fire code

My stunning view from the balcony outside my room

Following in my father's footsteps...

The next morning I saw some of my motel neighbors loading up a car; super buff, badass looking Latino guys in muscle shirts, with lots of great tattoos. We nodded to each other. I dropped my key in the drop box and walked up the street to cross and see when the bar with the sign, which includes a life-size, fake horse rearing up, called 'The Ranch Club,' which had technically been around since my father's days of frequenting the bars up and down Chinden in the '60s and '70s, when he sold cars downtown, then lived in Garden City and sold mobile homes there. The Ranch Club had recently been bought by new owners, who had made it more hip (as I later saw when I finally went inside). 

There was a man outside the club changing the sign out front, I asked him when they opened and he answered 11 am. It was 10:35, didn't want to wait, ended up asking him where else I could try. "The Stagecoach, up the road a bit." Right! That was my dad's favorite bar, if I remember correctly. It was about 1/4 up Chinden. I walked. But when I got there, they were also clearly closed, not a car in the lot. I figured that by the time I walked back to the Ranch Club, they would be open, and they were. 

Not a soul in the place upon my return but the pretty young woman bar-tending (I mention that she was pretty and young as you would never see a woman, at least not a young and pretty one, tending bar under the owners during my father's time and mine in Boise). I sat at the bar and looked at the menu, all very meaty fare, and fish is the only meat I eat. I asked the bartender if they had any vegetarian options. "Hmmm. We have a mac n cheese special."
"Is there meat in it, like bacon or something?"
"Lemmie go check," and, upon returning, "It has elk meat in it." I laughed and thought, 'Of course it does.'

I was joined at the bar by an old alcoholic man, the kind who has the leatherish skin of someone who has spent most of their life under the sun, and that permanent bleary-eyed look of a seasoned drinker. He nodded at me, as all these kinds of men seem to, as if I am one of them, though I have never had a bad drinking habit. (I was still in a Tom Waits song). "Wanna a beer? I'll buy you a beer'" he kindly offered. But I wasn't going to stay, nothing to eat, and I have a strict rule about not imbibing alcohol with alcoholics. "No thanks," I answered. After turning down his next three offers to buy me a beer, the man turned his attention to a Buck knife he pulled out of his jacket pocket. The bartender looked a bit nervous. "Dang this thing!" said the man, trying to close the blade, "the guy who sold me this said you can close the blade pushing a button somewhere on here." I tried to help, but it seemed genuinely stuck. "Sir," said the bartender, "you're going to have to put the knife away." I took my exit.

Commonauts were/are influenced by late '70s, early '80s 'new wave' and punk, and on a performance level in the early days, the band KISS was an influence, as well as Devo, thrown in with a dash of Residents.

In the second life of Commonauts, I have been the guy in black, in the back, playing drums behind their wonderful, colorful stage wear, one show amidst this, our two hot shit guitarists flanked the crew in white, Elvis-like jackets and big sunglasses. I have often joked that, during my time in the band, I have been like the puppeteer in Kabuki Theater, dressed in black, moving the masks and puppets. That all said (written), it is fun as hell, and a change of pace (a welcome one) in my music career to play in a band with people who: Take not only the music, but the performance of it seriously, in a way that ensures they don't take themselves too seriously (if that makes any sense). 

I had conversely talked shit a couple of times to my band-mates that I would open a show in a robot suit, so this time, this performance, I was determined to make a suit of some kind and commit to wearing it, so I got work with cardboard and duct tape. It was simple but looked cool. I cut mouth and eye holes in a box, covered it in duct tape (as was all cardboard used was) and the plan was to use swimming goggles under that. I made shoulder pads and arm and leg panels. I ended up using my sweat jacket as it needed a sort of spine for everything to be taped to on the upper half of my body. My friends helped make it all immensely better, Dustin Jones, whose amazing band The Guardians of Virginity played this very show, and who had played for a time in the band Green Jello (a band I admittedly was ignorant of, who have a grand stage show, apparently) he helped tape and reshaped the crude nose I created and it centered the whole mask thanks to his skill and Catherine C. Merrick, whose wonderful band AKA Bell played this show as well, helped me to tape the panels on to my arms and legs. But I am jumping ahead here...bookmark this moment...

The Shows...

All Ages Show at Gigs Music

This show was an all ages show held in Boise at an awesome musician supply store called Gigs. Bands set up at one end of the store amidst equipment and rock out. The opening band was a great two-piece band called Zemon Lemon, catchy indie rock with heart and intelligence, some of it reminded me of the band Verses. We hung out with the songwriter later that night, cool cat. Then up was the phenomenal Boise band Fiberz, two members, including the songwriter, formerly of the Boise band Mindrips, both bands Jon Hale has helped to record and put out on his record label called Missing Beats Records. Fiberz tore it up, playing Nirvana-esque songs in a way that wasn't annoying, as many of those kinds of bands can be, because the songwriting is still unique to these guys, and they have a lot of fun playing.

Zemon Lemon



 Here is the photo I took of Mollie taking a photo of me taking a photo of her taking a photo of me (with Greg and Beth Bowman of Commonauts in the background (though Beth's head is blocked by Mollie's phone!)

Here is the photo Mollie took of me taking a photo of her taking a photo of me (photo by Mollie Long Williams)

Jon 'Cap'n Commonaut' Hale out of costume, this was a sneaky reach around shot - he said he likes it.

The night after the gigs show, we ended up at a favorite local bar called The Navajo, one of the last of the cool dive bars in Boise. I had made a comment earlier that day to Fred, one of the guitarists in Commonauts, that he shouldn't stay out too late drinking as the big show was the next day. At times I play unsolicited 'band dad' about these kinds of things, and I really shouldn't. I am in bands with people who are adults. They make their own way. And I ended up closing down The Navajo that night, hanging with old friends, making new friends. I had a blast. But of course, beyond my hypocrisy settling in uncomfortably, this night would haunt my body the next day, exactly what I was warning Fred against. Deservedly, my band-mates gave me shit about this.   

Above photos are 'artsy' photos I took at The Vista bar. We closed the joint that night.

 A set of pipes that looked like a dog which I saw on the way to the store

The next day at lunch, I made a couple of frozen burritos and was pretty happy about it, until Fred showed up with a real burrito, and then I had burrito envy...

Show at the Visual Arts Collective...
...started with a local Boise band called King and Queen of the Losers, great poppy indie tunes, crafty songwriter and singer and a solid rhythm section, plus the bass player sings well and it seems wrote half the tunes? Next up was The Guardians of Virginity, a new Boise band featuring very talented musicians (including the aforementioned Dustin Jones, previously of The Hand among other bands). Their music is a lot of fun, swerving from hard rock to funk to pop, and with hilarious lyrics and great stage presence. Then Boise band Dirty Moogs played a double-synth band in the tradition of Depeche Mode (not a comparison of sound, DM do their own thang) with a great live drummer and an awesome front person, they were groovy. aka Belle was the last band before Commonauts took the stage. This is a wonderful Boise band crafting songs into tales, with a style that is toe tappin' fun, played by old friends of mine, including one of my music heroes; Catherine. C. Merrick, and Sam Merrick (Catherine's husband) who is somewhat of a Boise legend, having played in the band The Leaving Trains and The Nymphs, among others, and the new 'honorary Commonaut' and back up singer extraordinaire, Mollie Long Williams. Closing the show after Commonauts (read about our set below) was the infamous Boise band Mantooth, playing driving hard rock and fronted by the talented actor/singer Jon Edsal, who transforms himself through costumes and make-up into different characters who stir up the audience (and who also perform with Commonauts) often walking out into the crowd and provoking a reaction from a chosen victim (sometimes me!). The band is super solid, and they are always fun to watch.

Old Man Drums in Robot Suit, Nearly Passes Out, WRF News at 11... (WRF News is Wayne Ray Flower News, a joke news organization I have fun with on Facebook...where were we? Oh yeah...)...

Back to the moment I asked you to bookmark; I had been taped in to my hoody, with the help of friends, and as I rushed up the dark backstage steps, my swimming goggles began to instantly fog from my rapidly rising body heat. I turned around and like a burning race car driver to his crew, said, "Goggles fogging! Gotta get 'em off!" and they immediately un-taped me, took the goggles off, re-taped me, I turned back around and...

...snuck on to the semi-darkened stage and assumed a mechanical pose, one of a powered down robot, with a drum stick in each hand. I had gone over the idea I had with the keyboard player, whose brilliant sample tune from our record 'Spud Eye', 'Please Wait, On Hold,' we were to open with. Greg, the keyboardist, used an Apple control wand as a prop for a remote and 'turned my power on' - I jerked to  life and stiffly walked to and sat down at the drum kit. And waited.

Greg started the song and left the stage and I played along, which was a wee bit challenging, robot suit or no. I was committed to the performance enough to maintain looking in one fixed direction at a time, and to hitting cymbals in a mechanical, yet awkward way. It was really fun, but also really challenging! And it was about then that I began to realize, as my body temp rose and rose-
                  -I hadn't set up a fan
                        -I hadn't eaten dinner and-
                                -see above about my hypocritical night of drinking...This robot was hungover!

Me drumming in Robot suit, playing with Commonauts at The VAC, Boise, Idaho, Oct. 7th, 2017
Photo by Jason Sievers - unfortunately, the only photo of me in the suit that I know of - except blurry distant group shots - if anyone has photos of this, send them to, I will post and credit (as always)

We then went into our cover of the Devo song, 'Freedom of Choice', which I feel like we did justice to, and then I ripped off that fucking furnace of a costume and resumed the set, and I was off the whole time, to me, anyhow (others, including bandmates, told me I was great, but no drummers told me that!)

All of the aforementioned afterthoughts (no fan, slightly hungover, no dinner, etc.) converged on me while playing those first two songs, which had the result of, for the rest of the set: fogginess of the brain, difficulty focusing, getting my bass drum beater stuck in my pant leg... I was making many small mistakes here and there, but as often is the case, the spirit of the performance is first, then ultimate tightness, and, that most folks don't notice all the small mistakes a musician is painfully aware of. I am notoriously self-critical, though not as much as I was as a young musician, but, it keeps me on my toes, and, humble. Everyone, including my band-mates, said I sounded killer. I guess that is all that matters (but my mind remembers every fuck up to fix later - that is how it is, how I do...). By the end of the set, as I was breaking down drum hardware, I was so overheated and exhausted I almost passed out a couple times.

Out back, as all the bands loaded gear, Jon Edsal and I met up, hugged, told each other, truthfully, that our bands had done well. Jon said (from memory), "Man, never perform on stage in fur!" to which I replied, "Oh yeah? Try opening playing drums in a robot suit!"

The End, 

RoboNaut Wayne Ray Flower II (model III is of course much better, coming soon! No! That does NOT mean me and someone are having a baby! This is blog comedy, Baby!)....~~~~

November 24th,  2017