Sunday, August 1, 2010

Andy Shernoff's Invaluable Lesson

Boy I pulled a Brant Brown big time.

In late September of 1998, playing left field for the Chicago Cubs, Brant Brown made an error that basically put a signature on his career. The Cubs were tied for the NL wild card lead with the New York Mets with just three games remaining on the schedule. Playing in Milwaukee, the Cubs had a 7-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth with two out. One more out and the Cubs would be in the driver's seat of the wild card race, and in a good spot to be in the playoffs for the first time since 1989. Fans were ecstatic... But in typical Cubs fashion they allowed the bases to be loaded. Geoff Jenkins came to the plate and Cubs fans held their breath. The entire Cubs nation was focused on this moment and exhaled as Jenkins hit a long fly ball to left field. It was a routine fly ball that would end the game. The Cubs would take that wild card lead over the Mets and life is good and there would be dancing in the streets of Wrigleyville...

But wait... Oh no! Brant Brown dropped the ball... Are you kidding! Three runs came in to score and the Brewers won the game 8-7.

It is a vivid and horrifying memory in the minds of Cubs fans. The Cubs did mange to edge themselves into the playoffs, but with lost momentum and were swept by the Atlanta Braves in the first round. The Brant Brown play became the signature to the season, even though it was arguably the most exciting Cubs season in history.

I too dropped the ball, and in my own mind it is of equal proportions.

In life we are given few opportunities to actually live the proverbial dream. We go through our daily routines and pretty much take life for granted. We work, play some, spend time with family, grow old, and eventually dehydrate into the ground. As time takes it's toll, the windows of opportunity grow smaller. And in effect, the older we get the further away those dreams appear from a reachable distance. I for one, am not living my dream. Now in my 40's I don't really have a career per say, just a lucky tendency to find a job as I need to. I haven't played professional baseball as I envisioned myself doing while I was a kid. Nor am I writing for a big-time rock magazine as I saw myself doing while I partied my way through two years of community college. You reap what you sow they say, and I guess I am sowing my underachieving oats.

The invention of the Internet and blogging has given me a sense of something... But I am not sure what to call it. It fills that void I have when I need to express myself. It really does not matter who reads these words, just the fact that I have the opportunity to lay them out there is a release for me. With this wonderful invention I am not totally separated from my dream, it does give me a string to grasp on to. The Bigfoot Diaries is that giant step forward for me. At it's inception I decided that I was going to take blogging to a (personal) higher level and go places with it that I never had in the past. I was going to do music reviews, interview rock stars, you know... Live my dream.

(Although in the rough draft of my dream I collect a paycheck.)

I have a few idols that I really would like to connect with. Even though I have grown older, I haven't lost my lust for music and the people who play it. The songs I listen to now are pretty much the same songs I listened to 25 some years ago. The people who play these songs are still rock stars to me, and until this stage in my life, unreachable idols that I never thought that I would get a chance to intervene with.

At the top of this list was the founder of and the bass player for the Dictators, Andy Shernoff. He was my pinnacle...  I had most of the Dictators' albums growing up and would attend (the now obsolete) record show conventions looking for new and different material. I remember sitting in my pal Dave's basement apartment as a teenager spinning one record after another Beavis and Butthead style... Flipping through Cream magazine, and later the more metal geared Circus. I think that Dave even had a copy of or two of Shernoff''s Teenage Wasteland Gazette, a fanzine that  Andy started as a teenager which included the writings of Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer. It was the true definition of punk rock... Most of the material was made up, or satirical, and generally rejected from the mainstream press. It was brilliant and rare, and it added to the mystique of the Andy Shernoff phenomenon. Meanwhile in the background, songs such as "Cars and Girls", "Pussy and Money", "The Minnesota Strip", and "Who Will Save Rock and Roll" were blaring from Dave's low-fi turntable. It was usually so loud the neighbors would pound on the floors from above or the walls next to us. We never turned it down, and amazingly were never forced to deal with the cops.

I located Mr. Shernoff last winter and asked him to do an interview with me, which he agreed. I was beside myself... It was like I had discovered a vortex to the kingdom of God. I immediately ordered a digital voice recorder off of the Internet, and tried to keep the interview at bay while waiting for it to arrive in the mail. We were eventually able to negotiate a time when Andy would call me, and I was careful to make sure that my brand new voice recorder was hooked up correctly to the telephone line so that I wouldn't miss anything during our conversation. Then, at the time that we had specified, I sat next to the phone and literally stared at it waiting for it to ring. Fifteen minutes later it did... And my adrenaline rush was at car crash levels. It was surrealistic to see Andrew Shernoff come up on the caller ID. I will never forget that.

Mr. Shernoff was extremely gracious, and he didn't treat me as an amateur at all. He was very genuine, and took the time to answer each of my questions with thoughtful and elaborate replies. I remember one part of the conversation when I was asking him about the way he spells his name on the old Dictator albums (Adny, not Andy) and jokingly asked him if I should refer to him as Adny or should I call him Andy... His answer took me by surprise, and actually taught me a valuable lesson. "You can call me Mr. Shernoff," he said.

Wow... The interview was wrapping itself up at about that point, and I felt like a puppy with my tail between my legs. Of course it would be Mr. Shernoff... While I had nothing but heavenly levels of respect for this gentleman, I wasn't showing it by calling him by his first name without permission. That lesson has STUCK WITH ME.

We finished the interview which was all neatly tucked inside the digital voice recorder. My plan was to transcribe it to written form, which I got started on right away. However, I did not understand the intricacies of the device, and each time I paused it, I would have to go back and re-play through everything that was already written down. It became a very long and tiresome process, and eventually I shelved the project figuring that I would pick it up again soon, and finish the transcription. Well, it didn't happen that way. I think in the next 3 weeks I tried twice to retrieve the rest of the recording, each time shelving it again after a short time under the same guise that I would finish it later. It sat on the shelf for several months before it got to a point where I thought that I HAD to get this done, and was going to take the time, exhausting as it may be, and actually finish the transcription of Mr. Shernoff's interview.

I sat down at the computer and picked up my digital voice recorder. I turned it on but nothing happened.

Hmmmm... Must be the batteries, I thought.

I had a new set of batteries which I put into the device, but again nothing. Now... While new technology is a wonderful thing, it kind of screwed me on this one. The old school recorders have a mini cassette tape that captures the sound, and if a device stops working for any reason, you simply pull the tape out and put it into a device that DOES work. With the digital technology, it isn't that simple. For whatever reason my digital voice recorder stopped working, and everything recorded on it has been lost. I even took it to a technician at the local Radio Shack, and he told me I was out of luck. My Holy Grail of interviews was gone forever.

I learned two valuable life lessons from Mr. Shernoff from that experience. One was the respect factor... Of course I should refer to people as "Mister" or "Miss" until given permission to do otherwise. Most people worth interviewing have paid their dues, and they do garner a high level of respect. The other lesson learned has to do with procrastination... Had I taken the time to immediately finish the job, you would be reading a wonderful and insightful interview right now and not this trashy description of what could have been.

I contacted Mr. Shernoff, and he surprised me by being ok with it all. He even took it a step further by telling me that we should do a new interview, because he had so much more to talk about. He was just as gracious to me the second time around as he was the first. I knew he had been doing a European tour with a newer group, the Master Plan, as well as spoken word engagements up and down the East Coast. His kindness and genuine friendship has blown me away.

Unlike Brant Brown, I have been offered a second chance.... All I need to do now is buy a digital voice recorder...



CVEckian said...

A great tale of insight and I could absolutely feel the pain and anguish you must have felt when you realized that recording had been lost.

I had something similar happen to me when I met B.B. King as a bell captain in Des Moines. I took his things up to his room and was given the opportunity to hold his most recent version of Lucille. I asked him if there was any chance I could get a photograph of the experience and to my surprise he agreed. I rushed back down to the offices to grab the cheap Kodak 110 (there were no digital cameras in those days), used primarily for Employee of the Month functions, and grabbed one of my bellhops to take the picture for me.

Everything went perfectly. The photo was taken, my bellhop Mike Kellner (who would die the next year of an AIDS related illness) got his picture taken as well, and Mr. King was even gracious enough to throw in a couple of front row seats (to a show that would turn out to be beyond amazing). It was a dream come true for me without a doubt.

Well, I couldn't take the camera home with me, since it was property belonging to the hotel, so I secured it in the desk of a banquet manager I was good friends with, and planned on buying a fresh roll of film to replace the one I had used when I returned to work the next day. I would forever regret not simply snapping off the rest of the roll and taking it with me because when I took it in to have it developed the resulting pictures were nothing more than black frame after black frame. Apparently someone had accidentally opened the back of the camera and exposed the film. I would get no second chance. B.B. King had long since left for his next venue. I literally wept.

So, if you every want to buy a simple land line phone, I could easily rig it to an analog recorder so that you never have to run into the unforgiving antics of misbehaving digital technology. Just say the word.