I walk into the theatre with the confidence of a man who’s been recommended by Jesus. Boosted by the hubris of a few things:
- I’m still in my twenties, so, I must be good at anything
- I’ve been listening to and playing songs from Godspell for most of my life
- I’m available and the show starts in three days
To be clear – Jesus was Richard Chaney. He and I were in a show together (my first real show, which of course makes me an expert in all things show biz), and he had initially said that the Edge didn’t need a guitar player. Now that opening night was close, they were re-thinking, and Richard thought I was the guy for the job.
So in I go – for safety, I bring my acoustic, my electric, my banjo, my mandolin, and a shit ton of gear. Just like a guy would who thinks he’s already got the job.
The cast is in rehearsal when I walk in. Stage isn’t built out. Set isn’t built out. SEATS AREN’T INSTALLED YET. But the vibe is great – 100 seats, energetic sounding cast, and a Hammond Organ. (More about that later). I’m about to meet Roger.
Roger is imposing – if he isn’t smiling (and when he’s working, he’s frowning, not smiling): he’s tall, big voice, confident. He strides over when he sees me with my guitar and says something like “Hey kid, Jesus here thinks you can play the guitar”.
I’m a bit daunted, but not overly much – I love the show, and I think I know it.
Roger disabuses me of that immediately: “We’ll skip the Prologue for now”, he says. “Grab your axe”.
Okay – so – I didn’t know there was a Prologue, but whatever. Roger brings the cast over, puts a foot on the stage, waits while I tune up, and then goes right into the first tune of the show. Fine with me; I know that one.
It’s “Prepare Ye”, and it’s super fun: Lots of vocal pyrotechnics, fun syncopation. Roger doesn’t play it like I do, but we’re close. When it gets to the end, and I play the solo, he grumbles at me “So you think you can solo, hey kid?”.
“Save the People” is next, and also a stable in my tool-kit, right down to the finishing guitar lick.
So I’m feeling pretty good. Into the next tune (Day by Day) which also has a cool little guitar lick at the start, and also has a neat time change: it starts in three, and then switches to four. Anyway, I hang in there with Roger for that tune, including another cool little guitar part to finish.
I hang in on the next tune, but barely. It’s a vaudeville style tune (and wickedly fun to play, turns out) but I’m not good at it. I feel like I’m slipping.
“Bless the Lord” is good – I know that one. Roger isn’t exactly smiling, but he’s not frowning.
When we get to “All Good Gifts”, I also get out my recorder, and play the solo – I want Roger to know I’m serious.
And so it goes. Win some, lose some. Most of all though – it’s super clear to me that Roger knows the show FAR better than I do. And that he’s a WAY better guitar player than I am.
I totally punt on the first two tunes of the Second Act. Turns out I don’t know the show like I thought.
But Roger rolls his eyes, sighs, and says something like “Okay kid, I think you’ll do. But you better go learn the 2nd act”.
And just like that – I’m in. And by in – I mean I’m in the show, and I’m in Roger’s circle. I don’t really know it yet, but I kinda feel it: he’s got my under his wing.
So. This story is about Roger (and Godspell). But Roger’s brother Michael and the Hammond Organ are a part of it, too. I don’t know this at the time, but Michael and I will sit next to each other for 5 nights a week for 160 nights. Michael is the director, and the keyboard player, and Roger the musical director. So after Michael gives final stage direction, he puts on his keyboard hat, and that includes playing the Hammond.
Not the one we used for the show, but close!
It’s a gorgeous piece of furniture and the best sounding rock keyboard in the world. They are rare to find in good condition, finicky, and at their best – also include a Leslie speaker. It’s the thing on the left – a big speaker on a spindle. And slots in the cabinet for the sound to spin through. Michael can control the speed of the Leslie, and there isn’t anything like the sound of a Hammond organ played through a Leslie slowly coming up to speed.
So I know I’m in because now that I’m in the band, I have to help move both of them. The Hammond is close to 500 pounds, and the Leslie another 150. But the stage isn’t quite ready yet, so we move it around for our first practice (which is starting right then) and I know that we’re going to move it a few more times before the show starts.
Roger tells me to go get the rest of my gear, so I do. The theatre is on the 2nd floor of a strip mall, so getting the banjo, mandolin, and stands isn’t a big deal. But my amp is another story. Roger conveniently waits until I’ve moved it up before telling me “Hey dumbass – you can park behind the theatre to load in your gear”.
And that’s the start of my relationship with Roger: he insults me in a way that’s like having a nickname: you know he had to think about you enough to get one. And it’s funny, what with the eye rolling, the sarcasm, and so on.
I went out and purchased the full soundtrack to Godspell this week; I had bits and pieces of it from various different collections, and I wanted to have it start to finish. I listened a few more times this week and I’m already a little less sad. But I can also see Roger when I hear the music; he was always across the stage, with the drummer. He was super particular about the tempo of “Save the People” and super particular about the exact moment he wanted me to start. He couldn’t count it in, not from across the stage. So he’d give me a silent foot tap to watch for tempo, and then he’d point his finger at me like a gun, and then pull the trigger for me to start. I miss that. And thought I’d get to do that again, despite the theatre not being in business. Talk about cognitive dissonance: I really still thought it would happen. Or that me and Roger would chat about it someday, all of the small things that we did when we played together.
So. I’m collecting my Roger stories. I fall asleep at night, switching a bit between sad and happy. Sometimes laughing out loud at some comment I remember Roger making, and sometimes getting a little tripped up when I think of him being gone. This lyric from the show, helps, because me and Roger did this, for awhile:
“Let me skip the road with you, I can dare myself, I can dare myself”.
More to write.