Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

The Natural Course of Goverment

This Post is from a friend and former business partner of mine, Charlie Mason, Chairman and CEO of Mason Inc. , a New Haven area branding company.  He points out correctly that Government is nothing but overhead.  In business parliance overhead is expense that you must bear to operate your business. Government’s role is providing a stable society, common defense and enforcing the rule of law. It does not create wealth. So when you hear about Government hiring, all it means is more expense to be borne by the taxpayer.  Do not be lulled into believing that Government creates jobs etc. It’s all out of your pocket! Charlie’s observations on the trajectory of Government are concise and poignant, enjoy!

 

“It appears that the natural course of government is to constantly expand its control over the society it serves through more and broader laws and regulations.  The problem is that the unintended consequence of an over-legislated society is bureaucracy that stands as a barrier to innovation and entrepreneurism.  In response to shrinking productivity, the government then tries to improve the situation by asserting more control with more regulation… which requires more bureaucrats, etc., until the government sector requires such a high percentage of GDP that the society can no longer rationally support the cost of its governmental infrastructure.  Add to that the promise of “free stuff” which is used as the mechanism for achieving elected office, and you end up with a government that is driven to grow and spend way beyond the means of its society to support.  Could this be why so many societies time out after only 250-300 years?”

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Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Autumn in Rural America – 2011, “What have the Progressives Wrought?”

Up here in New Hampshire, Summer has slipped by us like childhood, accelerating on the flat straightaway towards Fall and Winter. Leaves are turning and the transient spectrum of Fall will roll softly across us, from north to south, over the next few weeks. Kathy and I drove into the North country today, through the White Mountains forest, past Mount Washington and back again.  It was spectacular and humbling. We live in such a beautiful place.

The tourists are gone but have left copious amounts of cash behind, which will sustain many of my neighbors through the coming winter. This is a good thing (as Martha Stewart would say) as we exist in a sort of seasonal economy.  It’s very common here for people to work a couple of jobs, farm, do odd jobs such as cutting and selling firewood, and barter to make ends meet.  This past week my friend Peter from the next town over cut and bailed hay on my fields; this will be the primary feedstock for his herd of 30+ cattle this winter.  He’s a good man, works hard for every dollar he makes. Our deal is simple, he cuts my fields once or twice a year and keeps the hay. This year he asked me if I could call around and check with my neighbors to see if they were interested in a similar deal. I did, and he picked up a couple more fields and a couple new friends in the process.  The principle is simple:  do what you can for your neighbor and he’ll do what he can for you.  Peter cut my fields, I found him a couple new fields, he’s now going to fertilize my fields for free. Everybody wins, although a couple of his steers will end up in the freezer this winter. But that’s what life on the farm requires.

Most people right now are getting ready for winter. This means getting in the feedstock for their cattle, sheep and pigs, gathering up the end of the harvest – corn, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash etc.- , stacking firewood and figuring out how to make it through the winter. Some people will be fine, some will need to take a deer or two to have enough meat to get through. The basic needs don’t disappear in rural America, they just get met in different ways: sharing, harvesting, canning, hunting, cutting and splitting wood. And in some cases, charity. People here give what as much as they can, they donate their time, their money, and their harvest to help those in need. You give what you can, you keep what you need. Simple.

It’s a classic example of American values I think; working hard, cooperating, sharing and looking after your family. And the best part of it all is that very little cash changes hands. I read in the NY Times, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Time etc about the underground economy. It’s all about cash moving around and not being reported. In rural America the underground economy is not about cash, it’s about helping, trading, bartering, favors and so on. Cash isn’t king, trust and faith in your neighbors is. At least here. This isn’t about cheating the government of their fair share (which I would argue is total bullshit; Government is nothing but overhead and only interested in it’s $16 muffins and $8 coffees, at least that’s the pricing reported on tonight’s news about the Justice Departments excesses) it’s about keeping things working so everybody prospers, or at least gets by.

Government is worried about cash flow, keeping the gravy train flowing for the people in power. That’s not American values. Wealth is created here, by people working hard to get by. We share amongst each other and create value; government doesn’t create value, government confiscates and redistributes wealth to buy votes, while keeping a fat percentage for itself and those $16 muffins.

Yet the commitment to American values persist here in rural America. We represent about 20% of the population, yet over 42% of the men and women serving in the armed forces come from rural America. Do the math. The remaining 20% of the population is in America’s 100 largest urban centers, the balance, some 60% is in the spaces in-between:  suburbia. And where do you think the other 58% of the armed forces enlistment is coming from? Is it the cities or is it the suburbs?  You can research that for yourself and I expect the answer won’t surprise you. Cities can’t exist without rural America, yet they find us to be rubes, fools who just fell off a turnip truck.

Perhaps, and the average farm boy may talk slow, but I have yet to meet a dumb farmer. Dumb farmers don’t survive.

Winter is coming, and we will survive out here in the hinterland, despite whatever happens in the cities. Especially Washington DC.

It would be interesting to see how Michelle and Barack Obama would do out here. Michelle would probably struggle with her garden (unlike her White House garden) since she wouldn’t have professional gardeners, servants and press agents to do the work for her. Weeding is hard work Ms. Obama, nothing you’re used to. And Barack, well, out here talk is cheap, deeds are dear. I expect we’d expect you to do something other than talk. But that’s nothing you’re prepared to do I expect. (Sorry about overusing the word).

Fall will turn to Winter and then Spring, and Fall again, and perhaps then America will return to its senses and elect a government that does something other than talk.

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Friday, September 23rd, 2011

A View from Rural America – July 3rd, 2011

Saturday night July 3rd was an exceptionally clear night up here and after a couple of drinks after dinner I decided to do a little stargazing. So I hauled my telescope out onto the front lawn. Those of you who have spent any time here know already that we’re situated at about 1000 feet of elevation on the side of a hill with unobstructed sky views. Lake Winnipesaukee is about 500 lower, and we can see across the lake and to the mountains and hills to the south/SW/SE, about 35 – 40 miles away.

My goal was to get a good look at Arcturus, and there it was in the West/Northwest sky shining brightly with the handle of the Big Dipper off to the right, pointing the way. Beautiful!  It was so easy to spot that I was bored and started casting about for something more interesting. And moments later there was a blinding flash in my viewfinder and I jumped back to see what was going on. It turned out to be a lightning bug on the lens, and looking around I could see that he, and a few hundred of his closest friends had started their nightly mating flight. The lightning bug version of the neighborhood bar crawl I guess.

A few moments after this, around 9:00 PM, the horizon over the lake erupted with fireworks displays. Not just one or two, but hundreds of rockets and displays from one end of the lake to the other, some obviously  retail fireworks, some professionally made. At the same time, on the horizon of the hills to our immediate west, east and north there were flashes of light and the chest throbbing sounds of explosions. At first I figured it was arranged, but after a little thought realized it was just everybody had waited until 9:00, when darkness was full, before setting off whatever they had stashed in their tools sheds and garages. Seemed like everybody was feeling the spirit of the 4th and celebrating.

It went on until about 10:30. Everywhere I looked I saw either fireworks or the flash of lights. It was spontaneous and spectacular and I kept hearing the refrain of the Star Spangled banner in my head. Couldn’t help it. And it got me to thinking a little about why this country has succeeded. So a few observations, and please forgive me if you find this uninteresting. Just stop here.

1)      We’ve succeeded because our ancestors came here to throw off the conventions, strictures and cultural biases of their ancestral homes. They were tired of being locked into stratified societies with rigid social and cultural norms that kept them oppressed. Here they found freedom; true, the freedom to succeed or the freedom to starve, but somehow they made it. Hence you sitting here reading this.

2)      We’ve succeeded because although they retained their cultural heritage (Irish, Italian, English, Russian, Polish, etc) they became Americans. The old notion of the American melting pot, or as the founding fathers expressed it in their vision for the states and the country as a whole, e pluribus unum, (out of many, one). We have been one people, with many origins and much heritage.

3)      We’ve succeeded because our culture operates as sort of a free marketplace; everything competes and some things lose, others win. So Italian food is the most popular cuisine in the US and the cold beer of Germany triumphed over the warm beer of England.  The founding fathers even saw faiths as something that should compete with each other (while believing that Christianity would win over other faiths.  Note:  Read Founding Faith – http://www.amazon.com/Founding-Faith-Providence-Politics-Religious/dp/1400064376 – A definitive book on the subject of whether or not this country was founded as a Christian nation. Get ready for a surprise.)

4)      We’ve succeeded because once people acclimated to this country and our culture they were willing to fight fiercely to defend it. Hence July 4th and our truly “martial” heritage.

A simple formula I think, and today, I believe a couple of core components are under assault.

Progressives promote open borders and reward immigrants (illegal or otherwise) with entitlements, where’s the “struggle”? Is anything that is given freely valued? No it becomes expected, a human right, an incentive to not work or struggle. Just hand it over.

Progressives tout diversity and multiculturalism, both of which stress being NOT a single people but a “community” of peoples. So we remain divided, and people aggressively pursue their differences, not their similarities. Is there any wonder our political and social debates are so fractious? There is no value placed on creating a unified cultural norm, instead hundreds if not thousands of sub-groups are all screaming out their demands for entitlements and privileges. How many are quietly trying to build something that works for everyone? Not enough.

Progressives want to cut military spending and divert the money to more social programs and entitlements. The only fight they understand is at the ballot box. So they try to buy votes with entitlements, and they focus on the cities because there are more people there who are looking for handouts. The fact that every tin pot dictator, religious nutcase and oppressive regime in the world wants to see us stumble and fall eludes them.

Out here in the country, in rural America (where 20% of the population lives, 60 million people, about the same number of people who live in the 100 largest US cities) there is hope. The traditional values live and thrive. No surprise, rural America is largely conservative and independent. Rural Americans are still willing to fight for this country. The way I see it, the 2012 elections will be the biggest fight for the heart and soul of this country since the revolution. Think rural, think independent, choose freedom, not political correctness and entitlements.

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Monday, May 11th, 2009

Mort Sahl – unfunny and unprofessional.


I read that today was Mort Sahl’s birthday. Big whoop. Mortimer appeared at the Cellar Door for one un-stellar week in 1972 memorable only for his utter unprofessionalism and lack of humor.� Monday night he opened to two kids and a dog (an empty house for those of you short on subtlety).� The opening act, a C&W band drew more than he did and most of the audience left after they performed. Mort’s reaction?� He demanded that their contract be terminated and something less “contradictory” be found. The replacement was Fat City (Bill and Taffy Danoff) who later went on to co-author Country Roads with John Denver. Another and more interesting story. Anyhoo, Tuesday night was another empty house, and by Thursday the waiters were in revolt since none of them had made more than $2 for the entire week. Mort of course was oblivious to any of this; he was insisting that the Cellar Door purchase a complete set of the Warren Commission report on the Kennedy assassination as a prop for a bit in his routine.� At the time the price was something like $600 for the set, which was more than the club had sold in cover charges and liquor combined for the entire week. Still, reservations for the weekend were looking decent and there was some hope that the weekend shows might just pull the whole thing out. We didn�t buy the books and he stomped his feet and cried and rolled on the floor for an hour or so and then finally stormed off. He did give us an honorable mention that evening pointing to an empty table on stage and commenting that that was where the Warren Report would be in the Cellar Door wasn�t so cheap. It didn�t get a laugh and he moved on to something else which also didn�t get a laugh. Then Friday night Mortimer out-did himself by getting in an argument with a customer. He made some remark about women being less than politically astute. A woman in the audience began heckling him and his response was that he didn’t come to Washington DC to be heckled by some stupid woman. She stood up, started retorting his comments and in response he walked off stage. This was pretty unprofessional.� Over the course of my three years at the CD I had seen some great comedians perform…David Brenner, Gabe Kaplan, Jimmie Walker, Richard Pryor and others. Any of them would have dealt with a heckler quickly and easily, and in some cases without mercy. Morty couldn’t stand the pressure and stormed off in a hissy fit. When the manager pointed this out to him he went crazy and threatened to break his contract. You can imagine the rest, an apology followed of course and Mort went on to bore five more audiences. The week was a bust, and old Morty showed all of us just want the meaning of the word unprofessional was. No doubt today he was complaining about the candles on his birthday cake not blowing themselves out for him. What an idiot. How did this guy ever make a go of it in show business?

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Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Linda Ronstadt � Live, nude, at The Cellar Door

In the spring of 1970 Linda Ronstadt made the first of three appearances I was present for at The Cellar Door in Washington DC where I worked during college as bartender, waiter and Assistant Manager. Each of these appearances was the standard Cellar Door 6-day, 14 show contract: 2 shows each at 8:00 and 10:00 PM Monday through Thursday, followed by three shows on Friday and Saturday, 8:00, 10:00 and mid-night. It was a long week, but over the course of 14 shows, you developed an appreciation and understanding of the artists work that you could never glean from their recordings alone. This tour was right after the release of Linda�s second album, Silk Purse, which would later earn her the first of her 27 Grammy nominations. She was 24 years old, beautiful, talented and at the start of her career.

Staging and sound check was set for Monday morning at 10:00 AM and Linda was right on time with her back-up group, Swampwater, which included Gib Guilbeau (one of the original founders of the Flying Burrito Brothers) who would, along with John Beland, another Swampwater member, reform the Flying Burrito Brothers as the Burrito Brothers in the early 1980�s. Everything went well, and Linda just charmed everyone she came in contact with during the setup. Fact is, Linda is one of the nicest, most sincere people you�ll ever meet. We all loved her after only a couple of minutes.

Linda and Swampwater opened to a packed house Monday night and played to sold-out shows for the rest of the week. If you�ve ever seen Linda perform live, you know she can belt out a song. Her voice and vocal range are incredible, and she radiates energy when she sings. For this tour her stage dress was a tight, short-sleeved top, a pair of blue jean hot pants, sheer stockings and platform shoes. So, both the visual and aural senses �delighted� the audience. Hell, every male in the place was transfixed the moment she stepped on stage and the spotlights hit her.

One of the interesting things about her shows that week (and every time she appeared) was the number of single, older men who showed up for every show. Invariably they would tip the doormen to seat them at the stage tables and then give notes to the waiters to bring to Linda backstage. She almost always wrote a little note back to each of them (generally on their note) explaining that she was seeing somebody, it was serious and she couldn�t see them after the show. I thought it was a nice touch and mentioned it to her. Her response was surprising, she giggled and said �Oh, they�re just lonely, and they almost never write anything improper. So why not be nice to them?� This is pretty typical of Linda, she�s a sweet, thoughtful person. The one really memorable moment of the week was Monday in the middle of the second show she finished a rendition of Silver Threads and Golden Needles, raised her right fist in a dramatic flourish and yelled, �The Boogie flag is up.� This turned out to be a signal to the rest of the band that this was going to be a party week, and it was. By Wednesday the cleaning crew was demanding extra pay for having to cart out the cases and cases of beer bottles left behind every night in the dressing rooms. There was also an awkward incident with the Washington DC Police � it seems that somebody at the hotel where the band was staying was using a slingshot to shoot gumballs at the hardhats of construction workers on the building site next door. They were not amused, but Jack Boyle, the club owner, was able to sort the whole thing out quietly, off the record. After all, the Boogie Flag was up!

At the end of the week Linda said goodbye to the club�s crew, told us she had a wonderful time and would be back soon. We were all looking forward to her return for a bunch of reasons: the music was great, the crowd tipped well and the entire band was a joy to work with. For anybody who�s ever worked a service job, let alone a night club, you�ll know, what was there not to love?

She was as good as her word and was back again about six months later. Nothing much had changed with the act, except during the Monday sound check Linda wore a wool sweater and a long wool skirt instead of the usual blue jeans. For Monday night�s show she was decked out in the hot pants outfit again and on her way down the back stairs to the club I asked her if the boogie flag was up. She gave me a big smile and said, �Oh yeah!�

Tuesday night I walked into the dressing room with a tray of beers for the band and Linda was wearing the wool sweater and dress again. I figured she would change before the show, but no, she took the stage as usual, gave a hell of a show and went back up to the dressing room to relax for the 10:00 show. When I gave her the 5 minutes heads up for the show I asked her why she was wearing the sweater and dress. Her answer had me laughing out loud: �I fell asleep in the bathtub last night and my only other clothes were soaked this morning.� So I learned that the boogie flag was indeed up, and that Linda packed pretty light when she toured.

During the 10:00 show I was behind the service bar, which at the Cellar Door was located to the left of stage behind a black soundproof curtain. It was where the waiters ran in to order drinks and club guests lined up for the men�s room. Mid-way through the show Linda ran off stage and ducked into the service bar area where she proceeded to pull up her top (not wearing a bra) and then pull down the skirt (not wearing panties) to scratch herself vigorously. She pulled her clothes back into place, looked around and said, �That wool is itching me like crazy,� and then ran back on stage leaving behind several stunned waiters, customers and of course me. I don�t know who started laughing first, but it was all we could do.

Linda was back within a year, this time with a different backup band which was really more of an assortment of musicians she was close friends with (Of course some of them went on to found the Eagles). One of them was Chris Darrow, vocalist and fiddle player formerly with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Chris is a talented musician, and like everyone Linda seemed to associate with, a really nice guy. The boogie flag was up, but the most memorable part of the week for me was asking Linda to sit in on my radio show at WGTB-FM, Georgetown University�s student run radio station. At the time the station was live, on the air, unlike today where it is on-campus only, broadcast over carrier current. Linda brought Chris along and they spent an hour and a half on my show talking, telling war stories and singing both �a capella� or accompanied only by Chris� wonderful fiddle playing. I recorded the session on the station�s reel-to-reel deck, and I still have the tape; a wonderful memento of a wonderful lady and her music. Linda went on to a slew of career achievements, recording over 30 studio albums, number 1 and number 3 singles on Billboard�s Hot 100 plus two number 1 hits on Billboard�s Country Single chart. Overall she has 37 Top 40 hits and was the top-grossing solo female concert artist during the 1970�s. Despite all that success, I�m betting she�s still just as sincere and sweet as she was in 1970.

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Friday, January 26th, 2007

Bonnie Raitt’s 21st Birthday Party at the Cellar Door

In 1971 The Cellar Door, a nightclub in Washington DC, was on a roll, discovering and booking fresh new musical talent virtually every week. That year alone The Eagles had made their first public appearance at �The Door;� Emmy Lou Harris had been �discovered� at The Door;� Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert had written and performed Country Roads with John Denver at The Door and their song was a breakout national hit.

As the year was winding down, all of us working at The Cellar Door were energized. We felt like we were living on the leading edge of the music scene and wondering who Jack Boyle (who owned the club and booked all the talent) would bring in next.� It was a heady time, and we were not disappointed when Jack announced that he had booked John Prine for the week of November 8th.

John had been recently been discovered by Kris Kristofferson and released his first album to critical acclaim, not to mention ours.� Being located in DC had turned us all onto the country and folk music scene, and The Cellar Door was a premier venue for country artists in those days. After Jack had finished briefing us on the schedule for the month one of the waiters, Dave �The Dude� Sless (now a professional sound engineer in Washington DC) pointed out that we had missed the biggest news of all:� Bonnie Raitt was opening for John Prine.

We all looked at each other and shrugged. The truth is none of us had a clue who she was.� Dave stood up, and proclaimed, �Bonnie is going to blow John Prine right off the stage,� waving his arm across the room for emphasis. We�d seen a lot of talented musicians over the year, so Dave�s proclamation set a pretty high expectation. Two weeks later we met Bonnie.

She showed up early Monday afternoon for the stage setup and sound check with a single back up musician, a bass player who went by the name of �Freebo.�� None of us ever learned his real name, but he was a very talented musician and had a seemingly endless supply of hashish. He became very popular with the waiters very quickly.

I�ve met musicians with egos, musicians with an attitude and musicians who were just �plain folk.�� Bonnie turned out to be something special; probably one of the most sincere, genuine people I�ve ever met.� She was sweet, soft spoken and funny. She played a mean guitar and sang with conviction. Her most remarkable trait was simply paying attention to you and making you feel like she really cared about you and what you had to say. I can say this with some conviction, Bonnie is a �real� person, and she cares deeply about the people and world around her.

By the end of the afternoon we�d had a preview of her songbook and were excited and impressed with what we�d heard. Oh, and� we were all in love with her, and looking forward to her first show that evening at 7:00 PM, which is when Freebo let it slip that today, the 8th, was her 21st birthday.

After the show that night the waiters, the cook and I conspired with Freebo and planned a surprise party for her the next night. Most of us were working our way through college so we had classes to contend with but we managed to get everything pulled together in time. By four o�clock we were at work in the Cellar Door�s modest kitchen (this was not a club known for its food) whipping up a vegetarian birthday buffet for Bonnie.� It was one of those meals where everybody cooked something they loved; for me it was stuffed mushrooms; one of the waiters whipped up some baked zucchini, one of our doormen made a pasta dish and a couple of the waiters actually baked a birthday cake with vanilla frosting. Amazing what a bunch of college boys can do in a pinch.

Freebo somehow delivered Bonnie to the dressing room a couple of hours early where we had assembled most of the waiters, doormen, the assistants, even the club accountant. When Bonnie walked in we all yelled �surprise� and started singing Happy Birthday.� She put her hands to her face, bent over a little and then came up with a huge smile. We spent the rest of the afternoon just eating, talking and getting to know this lovely, talented woman.� That evening, during the first show she told the crowd what had happened and dedicated a song to us.

I think the birthday party may have been the high point of the week for Bonnie. John Prine�s audiences were more folk and country oriented, and Bonnie was singing the blues at that point in her career.� The audience was receptive, and sometimes enthusiastic, but they were really there for John. Dude�s prediction wasn�t far from the mark for us though; Bonnie blew us away with her music and her personal warmth.

Harry Viens, a former advertising executive and author of the novel Virgin Logic resides in New Hartford, Connecticut and is currently writing a novel about his years at The Cellar Door. He can reached through www.HarryViens.com

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Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

Eagles First Public Appearance

The Eagles Little Known First flight as Jackson Browne�s back-up band.

In 1972 two icons of the entertainment world got their start without much fanfare or initial public notice. One, The HBO subscription channel, virtually created premium subscription cable channels. The other, the founding of the seminal band, The Eagles, changed the music scene dramatically, bringing country-western inspired rock into the mainstream and onto the airwaves across the USA.

Starting out as a road band for Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner had quickly discovered the personal and musical chemistry that would later make them successful. Once the Ronstadt tour was finished they had begun practicing together with the goal of recording an introductory album and beginning to tour. Late in the winter of 1972 they took a break from the studio and dropped by The Cellar Door in Washington DC to spend some time with an old friend, Jackson Browne. Jackson Browne had just released his album Saturate Before Using in September of 1971 and was in the middle of a post-release club tour.

The Cellar Door, under the astute management of Jack Boyle (now retired and former chairman of the music division of SFX Entertainment,) had recently achieved national stature as a premier live music venue and was considered the East coast equivalent of the legendary Troubadour in Los Angeles. Jackson Browne was there for a weeklong gig along with David Blue who was the opening act. I specifically remember that Blue performed his song Outlaw Man, which a year later would appear on the Eagles second album Desperado, featuring Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Some 22 years later in 1994, I was thrilled when The Eagles performed this song in their first reunion tour after 14 years apart. In 1972, I was the bartender, and right out of college.

The Cellar Door was a terrific live venue with a high profile in the music industry. The smallness of the club, seating at most two hundred and twenty people (if the fire marshal wasn�t looking) made every show intimate and exciting. The professional lighting and sound enhanced the experience and made for a near perfect show time after time. It was a grueling gig for most musicians though. The standard contract paid between $6000 and $8000 for the week and required fourteen shows: two each night Monday through Thursday, three on Friday and Saturday night. Some groups, the Butterfield Blues Band for example, barely cleared anything for themselves once they paid their bar tab. It was a far cry from today�s concert scene where a single performance in a large stadium can gross well into seven figures. In 1972 musicians really worked for their money!

During the Monday afternoon set-up and sound check Jackson told the club manager (Ralph Camilli, who today owns and operates Blues Alley in Washington DC, one of the premier jazz clubs in North America) to expect a �drop-in� from some musician friends and to please extend every possible courtesy to them. Actually the words were more like, �Take good care of them.� Ralph passed the word along to the doormen, the sound engineer and me. As bartender I provided the second most valuable service to the musicians: access to free booze.

None of us knew at the time who Ralph was talking about, and even Tuesday evening when Glenn, Bernie and Randy showed up at the bar with a mighty thirst it took us a little while to sort out where we knew these guys from. Through casual conversation it dawned on us that we knew them from one of Linda Ronstadt�s appearances at The Cellar Door; we also knew Randy as a founder of Poco and from his work on their first album, Pickin up the pieces. and we knew Bernie�s work with Dillard & Clark and The Flying Burrito Brothers. It was exciting to really have a chance to get to know these guys face-to-face, and at the same time it was pretty ordinary. Working at The Cellar Door had exposed us all to some remarkable talents such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Tom Rush, Linda Ronstadt, Neil Young, Richard Pryor and dozens more. The simple truth of it is that, at least in 1972, most of these fabulously talented artists, when off stage, were �just regular folks.� By Wednesday a few of the waiters and I were playing poker together with Glenn, Bernie, Don and Randy in Jackson Browne�s room at the Marriot hotel in Arlington, drinking beer and carrying on like a bunch of fraternity brothers. (Important note, if any of them ever invite you to play poker, don�t, unless of course you have plenty of money to lose. They�re that good.)

We had some great conversations at the card table that I still remember to this day. Glenn told me he was from Detroit and was a big hockey fan. A couple of years later after The Eagles made it big, I would always see pictures from their concerts of Glenn onstage in hockey jerseys of the Chicago Blackhawks; every time I saw him in one of these pictures, I would wonder why he was never wearing a jersey of his hometown Detroit Red Wings. Go figure. Bernie was very mild-mannered and we both talked about our upbringings in the Catholic Church. I think he told me that he was one of nine kids. I always thought him to be conservative in his mannerisms. I would have a chuckle four years later at the height of his fame with the band when I learned that he had been living with Patti Davis for a while; it seems that her father, Ronald Reagan, the nation�s premier conservative, did not invite her to join the rest of the Reagan clan onstage at the 1976 Republican convention (in which Reagan narrowly lost the nomination to President Ford) because she was �living in sin� with a rock star.

It was over a hand of five card stud that Jackson first suggested that they take the stage with him. The remark was a game stopper. Hands were folded up or put (face) down on the table and a pretty serious discussion ensued. There were lots of reasons not to play. They didn�t feel like they were ready. Their material was new and still coming together. They�d really only performed the material in the studio so far. Frankly they were unsure of themselves and they were a little bit scared.

Jackson pooh-poohed their concerns and just kept repeating the idea. The concerns, fears and hesitation continued, but in the end, their enthusiasm and passion for what they were trying to do won out. They agreed, sort of, and Thursday they nervously filed into the dressing room where they continued the debate. I was busy running bottles of beer back and forth, supplemented with some shots of tequila. The club opened its doors at seven PM and I went to work putting out drinks for the crowd filling up the floor and two balconies of the club for Jackson�s first set at eight. The club was packed for the first show and Don, Glen, Bernie and Randy were walking back and forth from the stage entrance to the bar, detouring through the club, sizing the crowd up, lifting their heads up and around to study the lights, the acoustics, the size of the stage. It was as if they were looking at the room for the first time. Sometime between the eight o�clock show and the ten o�clock show the decision was made.

I was on the club floor helping the waiters clear tables as the early crowd filed out past the line waiting for the ten o�clock show. Randy walked down the main aisle of the club looking for Glenn. They literally stumbled into each other at the curtain to the service bar and I heard Randy say, �So, we�re going to do this?� Glenn nodded his head and that was it. While the waiters set the club up for the next show, the doormen, Ralph Camilli, the light and sound engineer and I helped move their instruments onto the stage, set up some extra microphones and got their amps powered up. The whole set up took maybe twenty minutes and the crowd started piling in moments later just as the lights came down.

David Blue took the stage precisely at ten o�clock for a thirty minute set. The waiters worked the crowd putting out a second and third round of drinks and Jackson Browne took the stage at ten-forty-five. He opened with his standard set but after the second song he stopped, stepped up to the microphone and said, �Paging Mr. Blue.� David joined him on stage, and then Jackson turned to the audience and said, �I have some friends here tonight, Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner. They�ve started a new group and I�ve asked them to play with me tonight. So, here for the first time anywhere live, won�t you please welcome The Eagles.�

There were only about two hundred people in the audience that night, but it was the loudest round of applause any of us had ever heard. You could see Don and Bernie shaking a bit as they picked up their instruments and adjusted their microphones. Glenn grabbed a microphone, blabbered something to the effect of, this was their first time as a group in front of an audience and they were nervous as hell. The crowd responded with a knowing laugh and encouraging applause and a moment later, with Jackson taking the lead, they launched into Take It Easy.

I closed the bar and was standing on the club floor just enjoying the show. The waiters, the doormen, Ralph and the assistant manager all did the same, all of us just basking in the magic that was taking place on stage. At the end of their first song the audience went wild. You could see the tension melt off of the faces of what was now, forever, The Eagles. They launched into their next song and proceeded to turn the place out. Ralph shooed us all back to work, but as we plied the crowd with liquor we all found ourselves moving to the rhythm the band was laying down. By Saturday we knew most of their first album, Eagles, by heart.

Friday and Saturday Jackson Browne and The Eagles played to a sold-out club. They played with energy, enthusiasm, passion and by the Saturday night midnight show, a confidence that hasn�t waned to this day. Their �official� first public gig would be later that year in Venice, California at a gallery opening party for Boyd Elder, a well-known artist and friend of the Eagles, but a select few hundred Jackson Browne fans in Washington DC had the real �first appearance� privilege. I wonder if any of them have ever realized that they saw history in the making?

The Cellar Door closed in the late-seventies as large venue concerts became increasingly the norm. No surprise I guess, how can you charge only a $3.50 cover charge per person and expect to compete with stadiums that seat thirty thousand and more? It was the only time the Eagles ever played The Cellar Door, and I would guess it was also the only time the Eagles played as a backup band, for no pay.

Copyright 2005 Harry H. Viens All rights reserved.

http://www.harryviens.com�

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Friday, January 19th, 2007

Richard Pryor at The Cellar Door

How Richard Pryor taught me to cry.

In the Fall of 1971, Richard walked into my life, sat down at the club where I was bartending, and ordered a ginger ale. The place was The Cellar Door, a Washington DC night club that would ultimately be ranked with the legendary Troubadour in Los Angeles. On this particular evening, The Cellar Door was still mostly unknown and I was a wet-behind-the-ears college kid.

Like most of the entertainers I met Richard Pryor was a pretty nice guy one-on-one. In 1971 Richard was getting his career back on track, and on this particular evening was quiet and introspective. I served him the ginger ale in a tall glass and introduced myself. He shook my hand and whispered that what he really wanted was some �coke.�

At the time cocaine was considered a recreational drug; looking back I don�t think anybody anticipated the monster it would become in general or for Richard Pryor, in particular. Nobody I knew gave �a couple lines� much more thought than downing a couple shots of tequila. I knew somebody, who knew somebody else and as a result of my assistance, Richard and I became �buddies,� at least when he was in town.

Offstage Richard hung out with the club staff, sharing cocktails and stories about the business. It was then we learned what had really happened in Las Vegas in 1970 when Richard�s career had been �interrupted.� The official story was that he had stormed off stage, tired and frustrated with doing comic �bits.� According to him the truth was that he walked on stage, saw a well known singer in the front row and remarked to the audience about what he would like to do with her, using a word that was not considered appropriate in polite company. The curtain closed and he was escorted off the premises. This obscure event was the catalyst for Richard re-evaluating his career and material.

Since then Richard had been steadily rebuilding his act with new material and a new stage attitude. The week was fantastic. Richard sold out fourteen shows and kept us laughing off-stage and on-stage. Saturday night I was

working the cash register behind the bar and Jack Boyle, the club owner, told me that I should count out ten thousand dollars in cash and bring it to his office.

In those days you didn�t see many large bills. It was mostly twenties, and by the time I�d counted out the full ten thousand, there was a pretty thick wad of cash. Jack and Richard were waiting for me and I handed the envelope to Jack who handed it to Richard and then stood, assuming that everything was settled. Richard insisted on counting the cash and when he was finished, stood up, yelled �Yippee!� and threw the money up in the air like confetti. I broke out laughing. Jack, a man who took cash very seriously, giggled at first then broke into uncontrollable laughter. From that day on, Richard and Jack became fast friends.

Six months later Richard was back selling out the club again. Now he attracted entertainers and celebrities including Bill Cosby and Nat Adderly. And he was �hot.� When he stepped on stage he effortlessly transformed himself from comic to social commentator and back. His show

material was no longer comic �bits.� At the time he was working on a new piece called �Winos,� presented like one act play, a tragicomedy of the street. It was raw social commentary and was packed with powerful emotion and disturbing insight.

Thursday night after the last show Richard took a few of us out to a Black after-hours club downtown. He bought us a round of drinks and disappeared into the crowd. A few minutes later we heard his voice screaming, �Now who let the white men in here?� He was pointing at us and �performing� in the persona of one of his wino street characters. We were terrified college boys while Richard was in his element, moving people�s emotions and making them think. Fortunately he also got us out of there alive.

But that ability to think was Richard�s gift to us all. His humor and commentary transcends class and racial lines, forcing us to examine who we are and what we believe in.

The last time I saw Richard was in 1973 after another week at The Cellar Door. He was the opening �act� for

Herbie Hancock, who was on the road promoting his new album, Mwandishi. That night, Richard closed his show with his Winos skit. It was probably the thirtieth or fortieth time I�d seen it, and although the audience was laughing, I found myself moved to tears. Thank you, Richard, from all of us who loved you.

Harry Viens, a former advertising executive and author of the novel Virgin Logic resides in New Hartford and is currently writing a novel about his years at The Cellar Door. He can reached through www.HarryViens.com

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Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

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