I just deleted a bunch of bullet points about how I’m still feeling undeniably sad after only five days. Fuck that. There’s no need to spell it out in fine detail. I’m not well and I’m trying to manage my emotions as best I can.
The end of any relationship brings waves of memories from all over the emotional spectrum. I’m going to try my hardest to let the negative ones leave as quickly as they arrive and let the positive ones linger long enough to sustain my self-confidence.
I did all the right things. I stepped far outside my comfort zone. I took a chance and dove in head first. The water was the perfect temperature but I had no way of knowing what rested beneath the surface nor the number of lions that drank from its shore.
First, some relevant family history: my brother is 13 years older than I am. He is solely responsible for getting me into good music, inspiring and teaching me to play guitar, and taking me to my first concert. I was 15 in 1995 and just a sophomore in high school. By this point in my life he had already ignited my love for music and guitar; I was in a band and I was writing songs, but I had never been to a live music event. On the other hand, my brother was 28, seven years removed from a Cornell education that saw him end up with a business degree. After college he worked as a desk jockey for a few years at Chase before deciding that he had missed his calling in life to be a writer. Eventually he quit Chase and moved to Boston to pursue a Masters in writing at Emerson College.
Periodically I’d receive packages from him in the mail that contained magazine clippings and guitar tabs, cassettes with demo songs he’d been writing, etc., all kinds of stuff that 15-year-old-me thought was fantastic. At some point in late March I received one of these packages; one of the enclosed snips of paper was this:
As a 15 year old with few friends and no social life, it wasn’t difficult to clear my schedule.
April 14th, 1995 was Good Friday. He had driven home from Boston to celebrate the Easter holiday with the family. I was always especially happy when he would visit. He often came bearing musical inspiration and musical gifts (guitar strings, cassettes, picks, etc.). But what could possibly be so important that he made me reserve Holy Saturday? Friday night arrived and I went to bed, still completely in the dark about the plans for the next day. He woke me on Saturday around 10am and told me to get dressed and to meet him out front. I hastily threw on some clothes and grabbed a slice of toast as I ran out the front door to an idling car. “Get in!” he shouted through the drivers window, “We’ve got to get going!” I opened the door to that old teal Ford Escort and slid into the seat. Before I knew it we were on the road - destination: unknown, at least to me.
My memories of the trip itself are vague, but I remember that as a 15 year old, I didn’t know much about the roads besides “I’ve been in this car long enough to know I’m not in Rochester anymore.” I noticed signs indicating we were on the NYS Thruway, I-90, heading eastbound. “Where are we going? Where are you taking me?” I asked repeatedly. It may as well have been “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?” Surely I was driving him insane, but he was a rock and gave me no indication of what was in store. We continued driving east for quite a while. Hours and mile markers passed by. I was no travel buff, but I knew my geography, and I understood that heading east on I-90 would be sending us towards Albany, New York City, Boston, and other assorted points east. Eventually I noticed a sign indicating a major split in the roadway: keep left to continue towards Boston, keep right to head towards NYC. “This is it,” I thought to myself, “this should answer my questions.” Sure enough, and not entirely surprisingly, he kept to the left, continuing on I-90 towards Boston.
At this point it became pretty clear to me where we were headed. I had never been to Boston so that prospect alone was totally awesome. Soon though, my mind turned towards my mom, and home, and Easter, and “Holy shit! Tonight is the Easter Vigil at church. Mom’s gonna be so pissed if I’m not there!” I continued to beg him to tell me what was happening, but still, informational silence… that is, until we stopped for dinner at a rest stop on the Mass Pike between Worcester and Boston.
After scarfing down some McDonald’s, we returned to the car to continue our trip. We were close enough to Boston at this point that the car radio could pick up some FM stations. He had tuned into WFNX and just as I was buckling my seatbelt, I heard the DJ say it. “We’re gearing up for the big show tonight down at Axis; we’ll be on location. Slash’s Snakepit is in town! I hope you’ve got your tickets because this show is sold out!” Did I hear that correctly? My face must have lit up like a Christmas tree. I turned to him: confused, excited, sheepishly grinning.
Slash stood tall above all other influences on my music and guitar training (still does). My brother had weaned me on a steady diet of Guns N’ Roses as I was learning to play, and when that band imploded I discovered the first Slash’s Snakepit album after reading a review in Rolling Stone. As far as I was concerned, Jesus had already returned to earth: he let his hair grow wild, smoked cigarettes, shaved his chest, drank heavily, wore assless chaps and a tophat, he could fucking shred, and now… now I was only miles from the savior himself. As I begged my brother to tell me what was happening, he pulled two tickets out of his pocket. We were going to the show. I have no idea what happened between that moment and the moment we arrived on Lansdowne Street. I only remember pulling onto the street - a long row of bars on my left and the towering walls of Fenway Park on my right - and seeing tour vans parked in front of Axis. We parked somewhere nearby and made our way toward the club.
We were a bit early and had beaten the majority of the crowds; only a few people were standing outside the club waiting to get in. We stood at the end of the line and I don’t think I uttered a single syllable for a few minutes while I stood there and took everything in. This was all so new to me: my first time in a big city, my first time near a real baseball stadium, my first time standing outside a rock club, and ultimately, my first concert. Then I felt him tugging on my shirt. I looked over and he was pointing up the road… pointing at a group of people walking towards us. At such a great distance it’d be nearly impossible to identify any mere mortal, but what I saw standing in the middle of that group was no mere mortal. Rising above the head-line I saw a little black tower, a smokestack of sorts. Before I knew it, we had sacrificed our place in line and were walking towards the group. We met them half-way. There before me stood Slash’s Snakepit, including ex-Gunner Gilby Clarke, and the messiah himself, Slash.
Was I starstruck? You have no idea. I’m fairly certain I didn’t say a thing. I probably didn’t even look him in the eye. I mean, what are you supposed to do for royalty of this sort? Bow? Genuflect? All I know is that my brother slyly had pulled an index card and a sharpie from his pocket and handed it to Slash for an autograph. He signed the card, kept the sharpie, and continued walking towards the club. I stood there dumbfounded as my brother handed me the autograph. “What do I do with this?” I wondered. This belongs behind glass, perhaps behind an altar somewhere. He took it back from me and carefully put it in his back pocket. We ran back to the club and got back in line.
Eventually they opened the doors and let us in. I remember entering and being completely baffled by the whole scene. I’d never been inside a bar like this. If you’ve never seen Axis - it’s a truly tiny club. To think that just a few years prior Slash was performing for hundreds of thousands of people at festivals internationally, and now I was going to see him in a bar barely bigger than my garage - it was simply overwhelming. We pushed our way towards stage left, where Slash always stood, and took up a defensive position right at the front of the stage. I couldn’t believe this was really happening. If you had told me it was all a dream, I might have believed you. In fact, it WAS a dream; it was a dream come true.
The band came out, and they fucking rocked, and they rolled, and they grooved… but mostly they rocked. I distinctly remember them performing a cover of Magic Carpet Ride. Eric Dover (who I would also love a few years later as the singer for Imperial Drag) had a true rock voice and enough charisma to stand on stage and not be completely dwarfed by Slash. The band was clicking on all cylinders, but most of all, it was Slash. It was Slash standing right in front of me. It was Slash flinging sweat on me while he furiously strummed his Les Paul. It was Slash redefining, in an instant, what I defined to be cool. It was Slash setting the tone for the goals of the rest of my life.
After the show, we went back to my brothers apartment and I called home. Repentantly… “Mom, I’m in Boston. Sam took me to Boston to see a concert. It was amazing… sorry we missed the Mass. We’re driving home tomorrow, but I don’t think we’ll be back in time for dinner… I’m sorry.” (To this day I struggle with overcoming my Catholic Guilt. My mom is so dedicated to the church that I joke to people about how she is next in line to be the Pope.) It wasn’t until many years later that my mom confessed that she knew about the trip the whole time. The next morning, Easter, we drove back to Rochester. Along the way we heard the news about the Oklahoma City bombing. We got back to Rochester late Sunday afternoon, in time for Easter dinner, and the next day my brother packed his things and drove all the way back to Boston - ultimately he made two round trips to between Boston and Rochester in 4 days.
In 2008 I read Slash’s autobiography. He talks about how that first tour with Snakepit was an almost therapeutic experience for him. After dealing with the stresses of touring arenas and stadiums while a member of GN’R, and putting up with Axl’s bullshit night after night, he described the Snakepit tour as a return to what he loved most about being a musician: the experience of standing on stage and performing for a roomful of people that genuinely care about the music itself, rather than all the pomp and excess associated with major tours. I couldn’t stop smiling while reading that chapter of the book. To know that Slash himself enjoyed my first concert just as much as I did is undoubtedly among the most satisfying emotions I’ve ever experienced.
Out of a deep respect for my mother, who might very well be next in line to be pope after this dude dies.
It’s a genuinely awesome story. Whether or not we choose to believe it, none of us should deny that it’s pretty awesome, and perhaps even more impressive if it’s all invented (The Greatest Story Ever Told?). All religion is pretty interesting when you really dig into it.
I usually go alone which means I don’t really have to talk to anyone and I can stand in the back or on the side and just observe the proceedings. Yes, I’m judging most of the people there, like the parents with their flamingly gay son wearing a bright purple shirt under a white jacket, and the old people who themselves sit there judging everyone else for not wearing a suit or a dress or not following along with the traditions (even though their religion tells them not to judge others), and the parents who let their teenage daughters wear too much makeup and too short skirts in a so-called holy place of worship.
To see (watch) people I knew in high school. Maybe they were friends, usually they weren’t, but I like to see how they turned out.
It’s usually true when they say the “hot girls” get “uglier” and the “ugly girls” get “hotter.” I don’t feel guilty for thinking about that kind of stuff in a church.
Oh, she appears to be single… nice. If you need me I’ll be available on Facebook chat while I see what she’s been up to for the past 10 years and then close the page without making any attempt at communication with her because I’m anti-social to a fault.
Stop judging me!
I like when the priest walks by and sprinkles holy water on everyone. It’s like we’re the fans at a sweltering rock concert and he’s in the band spraying us with his water bottle.
What? It’s not like that at all? Yes it is. Shut up.
The body of Christ is the most delicious little cracker in this world. I wish I could buy those wafers and put cheese and pepperoni on them to make little tiny Jesus Pizzas.
I’d probably put Nutella on the wafers too. I bet that’d be delicious. Nutella Jesuses.
What was I talking about?
Now I’m gonna go listen to Jesus Christ Superstar for the millionth time.
Maybe Ian Gillian is actually the second coming of Jesus and his gift to the world is Smoke On The Water, Highway Star, and the rest of his excellent work with Deep Purple. And maybe the day of reckoning will come at the hand of his servant Richie Blackmore’s blistering riffs.
Jesus Christ Superstar - The Last Supper & Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say)
Go big or go home?
I originally planned on doing only The Last Supper, but it felt completely empty without Gethsemane, so I did them both. Doing both those songs would’ve been tough enough with my original plans - in which I thought I’d be able to spend a full 7 days working on them. Then my family came to visit for 5 days and so I actually only had 2 days to complete all of this. So much for seeing how much better I could do at a leisurely pace!
Skipping all the piano and orchestra parts meant both songs ended up a bit more “rock and roll” than their various original versions, as I replaced that stuff with some crunchy guitars. I would never pretend to have even 10% as much vocal talent as the great Ian Gillian, or Ted Neeley, or Murray Head, or Carl Anderson. Their performances are legendary and I tried not to imitate them wherever possible, though some of the crazy-high melodies are essential to the production, so I did the best I could do. Go big or go home. With these two, more than any of the previous 40, I surely can’t be accused of not putting myself out there.
So, after two solid days of recording and mixing, I thought I was done. I exported a version and while listening I heard a few things that I wanted to tweak, so I reopened the session and as I got to the end of Gethsemane I noticed that the drums, bass, and guitar tracks had vanished. I have no idea what happened. It may well have been my mistake, though it feels like a technical error. Regardless, the session is mostly lost and we’re left with this original export. It has everything in there and it’s good enough to get my point across - though it’s mixed a little rougher than I’m happy with, but as it’s nearly 3:30am, I’m going to chalk it up as a loss. Jesus might have resurrected, but these lost tracks certainly won’t.
This is the end. Thanks to all of you for joining me on this insane journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Happy Easter.
Originally recorded: April 21-23, 2011
1 year later and I’m still happy with how this turned out, warts and all.