Crazy Gig Stories

I’ve written a lot of gig stories over the years. Check out mine plus several contributions from other folks here.


How I Almost Sank My Teaching Career

The year was 2009.  My blog had gotten to be quite popular in certain circles and was getting some traditional media attention.  I was taking calls from reporters from major publications like the New York Times for perspective on the arts music scene, and my podcast had really started to connect.

At the same time, I was enrolled in a post baccalaureate eduction program and hoping to teach high school orchestra.  It was a strange experience fielding phone calls from major media outlets while walking between classes with a bunch of 18-year-olds.  I was definitely the odd man out.

My Big Mouth

I got a call from Doyle Armbrust, one of my longtime music friends who was writing for TimeOut Chicago.  This was the heyday of the TimeOut franchise, and the weekly magazine could be found everywhere.  I was totally thrilled.  Doyle is a gifted writer, and I couldn’t wait to do the profile.

In addition to the crazinessinmylife that you probably know about, I had gotten a particularly scary bit of anti-semitic comment vitriol directed at one of my recent podcast guests.  Some of those comments were pretty scary, prompting my wife to ask me to remove any mentions of my home address on the blog.

Doyle and I had a great and quite frank chat about the music business, and I was thrilled with the piece when it came out.  It made me look way cooler than I actually am!  I had forgotten how much I had cursed in the article, and I cringed a bit as I read some of what I had said.  I won’t repeat exactly what I said here to keep the blog G rated, but you can read it in Doyle’s original article (third paragraph).

Jason-Heath-Time-Out-Chicago

I had just gotten hired for my first high school teaching job when this came out, and it immediately went to the top of the search rankings when looking for my name. I believe that the words “jason heath” came up with this exact quote:

TimeOut Chicago – Jason Heath’s Double Bass Blog

Jun 30, 2009 – Jason Heath is not “a facilitator of the Zionist plot to overthrow the Palestinians.” Yet after … published in Time Out Chicago on June 30th, 2009.

Not “a facilitator of the Zionist plot?”  Oh no! That’s the exact sort of thing that a potential employer would click when doing some web sleuthing.  Clicking on that would then feature me cursing and talking about how music school is a pile of lies.

I had a tense few days waiting for a phone call from my school’s district office.  Visions of conversations like “Jason… can you come in and talk with the superintendent?” danced in my brain.  Lucky for me, that call never came, and I successfully flew under the radar into my new job.

One of the things that I’ve heard in all three new teacher training programs I’ve done is to not say, do, or write anything that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the newspaper.  Well, I’d done something that was landing me on the first page of Google!

New Jobs, Old Skeletons

Two years later, I decided to apply for a new job.  As I was putting in my paperwork, I decided to chance another vanity search on Google.  What did “jason heath” bring up?  That same story!

I vividly remember sitting in the principal’s office doing the “final interview” for the job with two former coaches turned principals.  I remember tensing up as they began each new question, waiting for the inevitable probe about my “Zionist plot” or how “You are sold a giant lie when you go to music school.”

Though my blog did come up in the interview, thankfully the conversation never went to a dark place.  I guess the good news for someone like me is that while there was one story out there in which I let loose about the music business, there were literally thousands of other articles featuring me contributing to the music world.

Lessons Learned

Despite the occasional scary comment, putting myself out there online has been 99.9% positive.  It seems like you don’t even exist if you don’t have a web presence these days.  Also, I more or less relinquished my privacy online years ago.  Having a policy of openness has worked well for me, but it’s not for everyone.  Having a web presence while also maintaining a sense of privacy is very challenging these days, and it doesn’t look like it’ll get any easier in the near future.

Though everything worked out just fine for me balancing these two worlds, it’s probably not a good idea to put out things that make you sound extreme if you are looking to teach children.  I think that I was a special case given the totality of what I had been doing, but if a potential employer goes to your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and sees a string of questionable content, you’ll probably be dropped as a prospect in a millisecond.

It may be unfortunate, but teachers really do live in a fishbowl in terms of their community, and they are subject to scrutiny above and beyond what they do in the classroom.  Partying to the max in the local bar that all the parents frequent is probably not a super-smart move, for example.  Nor is buying three cases of vodka at the grocery store where your students bag groceries.

While it all worked out for me, it’s probably good to follow a policy of not putting extreme opinions on the public record in a teaching job as well!


I Found a Dead Body 2

Dead Body

My wife and I were taking a stroll through Golden Gate Park one sunny morning, forking back and forth on the running paths that line the hilly landscape.  As we ascended a hill by Fushsia Dell, we noticed a man laying under a grove of trees.  He was dressed shabbily and sprawled atop a sleeping bag.

Homeless people are a common sight in San Francisco, especially in Golden Gate Park, so I thought nothing of it, until my wife exclaimed in my ear:

“Jason… that’s a dead body!”

My heart jumped into my throat, and I looked more closely at the human figure.  Looking more closely (we were a good 20 feet away), I noticed certain… things about the body (I’ll spare the exact details for the faint of heart) that indicated that he was, in fact, most likely dead.  Not least of which was the swarm of flies buzzing around the grove of trees.

My wife’s a doctor, and I watched from the sidelines as her instincts kicked in.  She called out to him.

“Sir!  Can you hear me?”

No response.

She approached, getting close enough to discern that, yes, this was most certainly a dead body.

Emergency Response

She called 911, and we watched in amazement as the San Francisco emergency response wheels were set in motion.  Trying to explain precisely where we were in the park was a challenge, but we flagged down the approaching cruiser and within five minutes a cop was taking my wife’s statement.  Nobody seemed to want to get too close to the body.

“Did you attempt to rouse him?” asked the cop.

“I got close and called out to him,” said my wife.  “He is dead, isn’t he?”

“Well,” said the cop.  “We’ve seen people that look as bad as he does that are still alive.”

That was an astonishing statement given the condition of the body.

The medical examiner arrived shortly thereafter, briskly dispelling our concerns that maybe this poor guy was still alive.

“That’s obviously a dead body,” said the ME.  “He’s probably been out here for a few days.”

Yellow tape went up around the site and we were allowed to take off and resume what had suddenly become a much more somber morning.

The Homeless All Around Us

I’m no expert, but this certainly didn’t look like an act of violence.  The body looked quite frail, with gray hair and stubbly beard, though it’s hard to tell age on a dead body that’s been exposed to the elements for several days.

At first, I thought it amazing that this body could be laying out in this park for a few days without anyone noticing.  After all, it was only a few feet off of a heavily traveled running path in a popular park.  But then I started to think about how many homeless people I “see but don’t see” on any given day.  I’ve lived in urban ares with significant homeless populations for decades, and street people kind of fade into the fabric of the city for me.

This wasn’t always the case—I clearly remember the extreme discomfort and embarrassment 18-year-old Jason felt when first encountering people asking for money on the streets of Chicago.  How could all these people have ended up at this point in their lives?  I didn’t get it and it troubled me.  Probably a good thing.  Over the years, that reaction got cauterized out of my brain and I started to see street people more like an obstacle to wheel my bass around, like a lamp pole or bench.

He looked like he died peacefully.  Overdose?  Cancer?  Who knows. But if it’s time for your card to be punched, leaving this world under a grove of trees in Golden Gate Park is not a bad way to go.  It’s got to be better than dying in the subzero temperatures under a bridge in Chicago.

Shocking the Doctors

You’d expect that, given their profession, doctors would be the least likely people to be squeamish about someone finding a dead body.  It was surprising just how shocking us finding that body was to my wife’s doctor colleagues—they all seemed scandalized upon hearing the story.  I suppose there’s a difference between encountering death in a medical setting and finding a body in the park, but the reaction was still surprising.

Shocking the Kids

There’s an absurdist part of my personality that enjoys saying strange things (within reason) to large groups of teenagers and observing their reaction.  It’s a good way to break up rehearsals, and it can make you seem quite mysterious if applied judiciously.  I’ve told many a crazy gig story in orchestra rehearsals, which results in a lot of laughter and quizzical looks.

So… I had to decide… do I talk about the dead body with my orchestra?

The next day, I found myself up on the podium in front of one of my orchestras (about 60 students), and they were merrily playing, tuning, chatting, and settling into rehearsal.  I couldn’t help myself.

“Hey guys, guess what?  I found a dead body!

Note to self: if you ever want the total, rapt attention of a large group of high schoolers, just say the words “dead body.”  Never have I heard a room fall so eerily silent.  I had their complete, rapt attention.  If only I could get that attention when trying to give them a new bowing!

I related the story, they asked some questions, and we proceeded with a very somber rehearsal.

Dead Body Club

Coincidentally, my orchestra director colleague at my school has also found a dead body.  He was in Laos on vacation and was chilling out on the beach when the lower half of a body (no upper half in site) washed ashore.  It had obviously been in the water for quite some time.  He found the manager of the property, who shrugged and said that he’d heard about that body bouncing around in the surf.  He said he’d take care of it sometime soon.  A little bit of a different response than the San Francisco authorities, huh?

What are the odds that two orchestra directors working together would have independently found dead bodies?


CBC 212: Real Men Don’t Rehearse with Justin Locke (from the archives)

bassist, author, speaker, and playwright Justin Locke

bassist, author, speaker, and playwright Justin Locke

Today’s episode features an entertaining couple of conversations that I had a few years ago with bassist, author, speaker, and playwright Justin Locke.  These have been some of our all-time most popular and commented upon episodes, and bringing them back into the spotlight seemed like a good idea.

Justin has written several books, including:

About Justin

Justin Locke came to Boston at age 18 to go to music school, and within a year he found himself playing every freelance gig in town, including the Boston Pops.

His 18-year bass-playing stint with the Pops included the Bicentennial Concert in 1976 with Arthur Fielder, which is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest audience ever at a classical music concert. And of course he also worked with many of the great conductors of that era, including Leonard Bernstein, John Williams, and Henry Mancini.

One day, after playing (and criticizing) a particularly dull children’s concert, Justin was challenged to write one himself. The result was Peter VS.the Wolf, a courtroom comedy based on the classic Prokofiev fairy tale.

Justin’s work in other facets of “show business” continued to expand. Already a playwright and publisher, he then became a video producer, the “score reader” for live Boston Pops TV broadcasts, and manager of the Bose Philharmonic. His books, including his laugh-out-loud Pops Memoir “Real Men Don’t Rehearse,” have sold thousands of copies.

Justin is now a management coach and speaker. He shares what the music business taught him about managing people, through his presentations, individual coaching sessions, his blog, and his books.


My Favorite Gig Stories

I started writing Crazy Gig Stories 10 years ago.  Though sharing gig stories was never my intent, as the blog grew in popularity I decided to put out some tales from my past.

The response was great, and I started writing these tales weekly. If you really think about it, strange stuff is happening to musicians all the time.

I finally started to write crazy gig stories again after a long hiatus, which has been super fun.  I’ve got many new ones to share, including several from the world of teaching, but for now I present you with some of the stranger ones from the past.  Enjoy!

 

My Car Caught Fire and Exploded!

In what may quite possibly be the worst gig story ever, I attempt to recall a very surreal night several years ago in words and hand-drawn pictures. Sometimes you drive home from a gig listening to the radio and smiling. Sometimes your car starts on fire and exploded on the south side of Chicago as you run screaming down the Interstate. This story is about the latter.

burning car

I Have No Pants

Sending a bass section into a hysterical fit of the giggles during a performance is not exactly the hardest thing to do, but I remember a moment a few years ago that will definitely stay with me for years to come.

no-pants

Angering Conductors 101 

I probably shouldn’t have put the exact orchestra in which this happened in the post (I stopped doing that eventually).  This is one of my second-hand stories (but from a credible source). This documents a very funny series of events surrounding a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony with the Louisville Orchestra. Contains some…ahem…adult humor.

Angering Conductors 101

Symphony on the Swamp

Some places just aren’t built for classical music concerts. This story is about a curious tradition of the Spoleto USA Festival–an evening concert on the edge of a massive swamp. Darkness…bright lights…giant swamp…read the story to find out what kind of a horror show these factors produce when combined.

Symphony on the Swamp

Extreme Gigging: All-Night Drives

Kind of precursor to Road Warrior Without an Expense Account, this story documents some of the complete insanity that I went through as a freelance musician, documenting my nutso drives from Memphis to Milwaukee in the middle of the night.  This is an early post of mine, and my writing certainly got better over time, but it’s describing a pretty surreal experience.

All-Night Drives

I Fly Plane!

Sometimes Russian musicians take over commercial airliners and fly them. I’m not kidding.

I Fly Plane

Grant Park Symphony Audition Story

I heard this great audition story a few years ago firsthand from the people who were involved. This was one of the rare times where I actually knew both the committee members and the audition candidate in this story.

Grant Park Symphony Audition Story

More Stories…

The above are just a sampling—I’ve written many more:

I’ve also done This American Life-ish audio versions of some of these stories.  I had a great time putting these together and might tackle more audio renditions in the future.

 


Who Knifed Me In The Face?

I’ll admit it—I had been under a lot of stress.

It seemed like everything in my life was all of a sudden coming to a head. I was living 2600 miles apart from my wife in what may very well be the world’s worst bachelor pad. My school orchestra was performing at the Midwest Clinic, the world’s most prestigious pre-college music event. I was gigging like a fool. And I had decided to leave my job but not tell anyone just yet.  I was in hardcore orchestra director mode, recording rehearsals and listening back while furiously scribbling notes, trying to keep my temper in check and my outlook positive so as to not go postal on the kids.

Layers upon layers of pressure…

I collapsed most nights on the couch, intending to watch a little Netflix but falling asleep in some contorted position moments after kicking up my feet.  But I always made sure to set my multiple iPhone alarms the moment I walked in the door, knowing that, if I didn’t, I would be likely to fall asleep before even thinking about it.

My Brush With Surreality

One morning, with a wooden taste in my mouth and a feeling of unease creeping into my mind – my circadian rhythm felt off – I was asleep in a vampiric pose, arms crossed over my iPhone.

I glanced at the clock—7:30 am! That was a full two hours past my alarm. I’d never slept that late. What the heck?

I got up and staggered groggily into the bathroom to brush my teeth. As I turned to face the bathroom mirror, I gasped at what I saw: my face was covered in blood! And not “cut yourself shaving” polite little blood spots but more like something out of a horror movie: thick, ropy blood was all over my face, neck, ears, and hair!

Whaaaaa??

Wounds!

Deep wounds! Why? How?

My initial panic at simply being late to work took on an aura of surrealism as I washed off the dried blood, revealing two wounds of surprising depth and length.

What on Earth had happened the night before? I hadn’t been staggering around like a drunk idiot the night before. I had pretty much just gone to bed when I’d gotten home.

Could I have been sleepwalking? Well, I’ve been together with my wife for the past 16 years, and she has never once seen evidence of me sleepwalking. Neither had my family growing up. It could have just started happening, of course—it had been a really stressful fall, after all, much more so than normal… but was that how stress was going to manifest itself? Also, what the heck in my place would have cut me exactly like that? I did a quick glance around the place but couldn’t find any sharp corners spaced like that, nor anything with dried blood on it (which I’d imagine there would be plenty of given the condition of my face).

Could it have been… the cats? Our cats aren’t declawed, and it had been a while since I’d trimmed their nails, so they were both sporting a pretty fearsome set of talons. Also, they loved to sleep on top of my chest at night. Usually, one cat would sleep on my and one would sleep on my wife. Since my wife had been in San Francisco, the cats had taken to fighting with each other over who got to sleep on my chest.

The likely scenario suddenly became clear, and as I came to this realization I also noticed some other wounds that, while not as obvious as the facial lacerations, were actually more puzzling.

  • I had a few other short lacerations (though not as deep) on each hand
  • I had strange cuts and scuffs on the inside of my wrists
  • Both of my knees were rather badly skinned.

Ummm….

Never in my life have I wished more for security camera footage to consult (footage of my car inferno would be a close second).

(more…)