Friday, July 15, 2016

what's in a name?

Since my email address is 'prezbass', I get asked all the time the significance of that alias.  I usually tell people that it's a long story and that I don't come out well in the story.  I also get told that I need to write a book about experiences I've had a a musician on the road- and perhaps I will one day, but it's high time I at least told the story behind that alias.  And, bonus: it's actually two stories in one.  Buckle up.

Way back in 1987, while living in Southern California, I got hired to play with a band from South Africa.  Their bassist had had an accident (I believe it was skiing- he had never seen snow before) and I got hired with just a few weeks notice before they were to begin a tour of the western US.  Our buses were filled with various sizes of water bottles- pretty much strewn everywhere, and it wasn't uncommon for folks to just reach between seats and find (and drink) whatever they found there.  (When you're in close quarters, hygiene becomes secondary quite quickly)

We had just finished playing a gig in Denver, Colorado very late on a Saturday night and were headed back to our accommodations for the evening.  I was in the equipment van (which was in the lead of a small convoy), sitting in the passenger seat, with our local contact, Laura, driving the van.  The rest of the band was in a car following the van.  All of us were dog tired from the day.  It had begun to snow lightly, and we were trying to keep the other car in view so they wouldn't get lost.  We had just passed through an intersection, and the car didn't make the light, so Laura stopped the van under a freeway bridge to wait for the car.  As we waited, I reached under the seat and pulled out a bottle of water, and while Laura and I chatted, I took a drink.

My first thought was, "Wow.  Who brought booze?"  The underside of the bridge had made the inside of the van very dark.  I took another, larger drink.  And then another.  The van moved forward as the light behind us changed.  I took another drink.  We went directly under a streetlamp, and in the glow I could see the bottle.

I had just taken several huge gulps of anti-freeze.  Being an ex-medic, I knew that I needed to remain calm to keep the ethylene glycol from getting into my system too fast.  I turned to Laura- who was still talking, and I interrupted her.

"Uh, Laura.  We've got a problem.  I just drank a whole bunch of this," and I showed her the bottle.

Laura stepped on the gas and we were flying down the road.  We had no cell phones in that day, so all the car behind us could do was to try and keep up without knowing the reason why.  Laura knew her way around the area, and she was headed to the nearest emergency room.  Trouble was, the anti-freeze was going to work very quickly, and I quickly started getting extremely light-headed.  We went roaring by a Denver police car, who immediately went to lights and sirens and pulled us over, and Laura quickly jumped out of the van and ran to the police cruiser.

At this point, I decided it would be a good idea to induce vomiting, so I opened the door and jammed my finger down my throat- and that didn't work.  I kept trying, all the way up until the Denver paramedics showed up.   I scratched the inside of my throat with my fingernail, and started coughing blood.   By this time, I'm getting pretty out of it- my speech is getting really slurry and I can't keep my eyes open.  I'm also not entirely sure where I am- you see, ethylene glycol causes blood to turn to the consistency of jelly in your veins.  I was becoming hypoxic from lack of oxygen to my brain- I was dying.

The medics got me on their gurney, placed oxygen on my face and then started putting me in restraints.  I was not combative at all, so this confused me further.  The Denver cop then comes and hovers over my face and starts telling me, "You have a lot to live for" and "Why do you want to hurt yourself?" - he thought I was suicidal.  Laura corrected him as they loaded me in to the ambulance and we went to the ER.  Once we arrived, they started treating me with heavy oxygen flows, IV's and activated charcoal to neutralize the toxins.  I would be ok, but the doc said, "You're going to have the hangover from hell in the morning" - and he was RIGHT.  I felt like I had been hit with a shovel the next morning- and the band had a gig the following Sunday morning.  (That gig is story #2)

When I told this story to my good friend, trumpet player Ron Cole some 20 years ago, he started calling me "Prestone".  This eventually (de)evolved into "Prez-Bass" and thus, the alias was born.

I did tell you I didn't come out well in the story.

On to story #2.

The very next morning, the band was to play at the original Vineyard Church in - I think Lakewood, Colorado - which, at the time was being housed in a former liquor warehouse.  (You can't make this stuff up.)  This church was one of the band's sponsors in the US, and it was a huge "church-in-the-round" sanctuary, with the stage in the middle of the room, kind of like a boxing ring.  We played- I had to sit down to play because I felt like......death might be preferable.....- and we sat down to hear the pastor deliver his message.  While cradling my hurting head and rising stomach, during that sermon, that's when it happened-

There was a trucker who couldn't be too far away who's CB radio burst in to the PA.  And he was cursing something awful, and it was VERY clear to the congregation.  Before anyone could do anything, a guy stood up about halfway back in the sanctuary and started yelling.


The pastor stopped his sermon as the soundman dropped the mains.

"We are not rebuking inanimate objects.  Sit down." said the pastor, who was clearly miffed.

The man sat down, and the sermon continued for a few seconds.  The trucker breaks in again, cursing wildly.  The man stands back up, his arms in the air.

"IN THE NAME OF GOD THE FATHER, I REBUKE YOU...." he yelled.  The soundman dropped the mains again.

"Look.  I already told you to sit down once and stop that.  If I have to do it again, I'm going to have to ask you to leave." said the pastor, sternly.  "Let's just try to do the rest of the sermon without the PA." he went on.

All the while, I'm in so much agony I just want to leave and go to bed.  Forever.

The pastor got perhaps 5 minutes in to his sermon without the PA, but his voice just couldn't take trying to make it go to the back of the room that size.

"That guy is probably gone by now.  Let's turn the PA back on." says the pastor, motioning to the soundman.

I swear that within 15 seconds, the trucker is back, badder and louder than ever.  The man stands up, again-and this time, he's really into it.

"SHE-KANDA ZOOM GLORY SHEKINA IN ALEHU!" he screams. Oh, good Lord.  He's rebuking in tongues now.  As the mains come down again, the pastor motions for 2 of the ushers to come down and remove the screaming man from the sanctuary.  Since I'm sitting the front row where everyone can see me, I'm doing everything I can to not throw up onto the stage, and my skin color is alternating green and purple while my head feels like it's in a slowly tightening vice.

As the ushers reach the screaming man, one of them reaches out and touches his upraised elbow.  The screaming man wrenches his elbow away suddenly, spins around in the row a full 360 degrees, and when he returns to his original position, he hits the usher with his fully balled up fist, dead in the middle of the face of the usher.  The usher goes down, hard.  The second usher literally vaults the row he's in (which is full of people) and performs a forearm smash to the back of the screaming man's head and shoulders, pushing him over the first (dropped) usher and fully into the row behind the fallen man, knocking over at least 4 people that I could count.  He barely stays down for a second, hops to his feet and charges usher #2 - still screaming in tongues (I believe he was now rebuking the usher, but I can't be sure- there was no one around to translate....ahem......) - and grabs him by the necktie and begins raining down blows on usher #2.  Usher #2 manages to grab the screaming man's belt while being punched and spins him around while he begins kidney punching the screaming man.  Both men are now cursing wildly.  At this point, usher #1 regains consciousness and stumbles out of the row, bleeding pretty profusely from his nose and mouth and collapses about 10 feet away from me.

All of this happens in mere seconds.

And, the congregation is totally silent for those seconds.

"WILL SOMEBODY GET THOSE GUYS OUT OF HERE??!??" yells the shocked pastor.

Several large men lurch forward and grab these two men - who are now in what looks like a hockey fight - and literally throws them out the front door of the church and into the parking lot - where they continue to fight and yell vile curses at each other.  And the police arrive.  And, when the police arrive, pretty much the entire congregation goes to the windows on the front of the church or leaves it entirely to watch the fight.

The service has come to a monumental, completely unceremonious end, and all the while, I just sit in the front row- now completely alone, save for the dazed usher - and try not to throw up.

I was not successful.

As luck would have it, that day was the last leg of that particular part of the tour, and I returned home to Southern California.

Thank God.