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Joel Gion, November 27, 2023

Backstage Beer Bums

Filed under: Brewing Folk / My Life In Beer
Backstage Beer Bums

December 10th, 1996

Tonight at The Whiskey a Go Go is for us the first time at the scene of the crime. The crime being our San Francisco party crew sending Oasis down here to implode on our crystals of narcotic madness during their first trip over to the States. I suddenly realize the random criss-crossings of circumstance, as we had then just returned to SF from performing down here at the Troubadour to play with Oasis the next night right before they came down here and broke up at the club we were now playing tonight.

As far as L.A. was concerned, the coolness of the “turned on” Sunset Strip days, the huge local glam scene, the inadvertent hardcore punk innovators, or even the Paisley Underground movement that were by today long ago and worlds apart from what was now a broke scene so overtly saturated with bad bands that it had been enabled to implement the now widely adopted “pay to play” system. 

While we certainly were not nor would ever be to do with something like that, because where we lived in San Francisco a coastal cliff to off oneself was always closer, what this still meant was that even for visiting bands with a growing hype like ours, as openers we could expect next to nothing hospitality-wise and that’s exactly what we receive in the form of a single lonely six-pack of Budweiser cans and a pile of napkins sitting atop an otherwise barren fold-out table. 

Although tonight’s headliners Ocean Colour Scene were the latest in a long and welcome parade of bands coming over from Britain, they were not one of “my” bands, so considering our dire beer situation, this was actually a welcome circumstance in that it freed me up from any apprehension I might normally have to cause a bother to heroes. 

Oh good, the door is ajar. 

Knock knock knock on the door causing it to open further and poke my head in to reveal myself to the very audible British accents inside.

“Oh, hi there! Sorry to bug you cats, but I play in the opening band and well, they’re being incredibly skimpy on the beers with us, we’ve got like less than one per member, haha… ahh, where I can see you guys have a full tub here. Any chance I could grab one from you? Really excited to be playing with you guys tonight”, I tag on in exaggeration. This little extra razzle-dazzle should surely be enough to seal the good fellowship deal. 

Guitarist Steve Craddock fields the intruding American while animatedly dialing his accent up to eleven by way of sarcasm. “Beah? You want some of our beah, mate? Well, whot you gonna dew for it then? Wot about yew donce forrit, ey? Dew a lit-ol donce then. Then, maaybe, depending on aww good et is, yore doncing, we’ll decide if ew can ‘ave one of our beahs, awright?"

“OH, ok…” Next to the door is a table covered with a fully loaded backstage spread of cold cuts, cheeses, breads, fruit, vegetable platter, dips, a huge silver tub of beers and other beverage assortment, and on the very end is one of the largest bags of tortilla chips I’ve ever laid eyes on.

“You mean like this?” I grab the full “family size” bag of tortilla chips, peel the top seal all the way open and begin skip-dancing around the room, all the while steadily shaking the bag upward, causing an eruption of chips from the bag like a steady flowing crispy tortilla volcano. I continue to zig-zag around the entire room while they just stare as I make a few bag shakes over my right shoulder, then over my left and back again as I shake out the whole bag evenly over almost the entire real estate of the floor. 

“How was that? Can I have a beer now?” I ask already reaching inside and pulling one of their crappy Heinekens from the bottle and ice-filled tub. 

“Lewk maan, you’d bettah clear off outta of ah dressin’ rewm roight feckin’ now, an yew can leave the beah right where it ease.”

“Hey, I bet you wouldn’t do this to Keith Moon!” I sarcastically protest now halfway out the door with the beer.

“You’re naw Keith Mewn, mate”, he quips in dismissive disgust. 

This type of situation is often the rub with the impoverished of the musician species. Always on the make out of necessity for adequate (ie: beyond necessary) amounts of backstage beer. All of the other whatever bands in our local San Francisco garage/psych/shoegaze scene had no problem with acquiring beer, and that only was because they had money from day jobs. We didn’t want jobs, we wanted to be a band. The Velvet Underground never had jobs. The Jesus & Mary Chain never had jobs. Luckily, we were in that in-it-for real way, as in in that what turned out to be timeless music-meets-fun-to-hang out with kind of way, seemingly, and so a at least passable amount of beers could usually always be acquired by simply allowing ourselves to be invited somewhere within our network of providers.

Earlier this year our friend’s the Dandy Warhol’s career had been bumped up to the level of touring with big bands like goth legends Love & Rockets, while on their SF stop of the tour we were suddenly and for the first time the third ‘local band’ opening the show. 

We hadn’t hung out with The Dandys since they’d finished their new major label album for Capitol Records, and they had now returned to our sacred San Francisco grounds putting on some new airs. Singer Courtney was born on a cloud of airs, so that was ok, it’s who he already was before, and him huffing and butt puffing off a gas truck sized tank of those airs was the main source of wind to get them where they now were. Guitarist Peter seemed to be unaffected by their recent upgrading and was out of all of us the closest farthest thing to being the Zen one. To salute two fingers, it was Eric the drummer and keyboardist Zia who had taken on these brand-new airs, and freshly highfalutin postures that came off like high school prom royalty. 

It’s a large club we’re playing but still only equipped with two backstage rooms for tonight’s three bands. I enter the shared opener’s painted wall-to-wall black and grimy rock backstage area, where those two are sitting in stain spotted hand-me-down living room chairs yet posturing as if in a tea party scene from Barry Lyndon.

“Oh cool, the beer arrived first for once” I say from the doorway with casual enthusiasm.

“Oh, great. Now they’re drinking our beer.” Eric loudly bemoans to Zia as he reaches into his pocket, probably going for a snuffbox.

This would not stand. To suddenly pull rank on beer rations was going too far, and for me at least, whatever “friendly rivalry” we had had just got real. I grab one of the shitty Miller beer cans and sarcastically say with unnecessary volume “THANKS!” Wishing there was something else delivered from catering around that I could annoy them with.

Just a couple of years later we graduated to having our own private backstage band rider, but it often happens that by the time you get off stage all your beer is gone, which is one of the problems with having friends, and so in a weird twist of being less twisted, drink ticket nights can sometimes be better. Saddling up at the bar alter at one of our many gig spots around San Francisco armed with carnival fair tickets while basking in the warm low-lit glow and smells of quality spills most welcoming while serving sight to the uniformed yet haphazardly arranged neon liquor memorabilia of logos I’ve recognised since infancy, all and only serving as something to sort of look at while waiting on the pour. Where behind tender’s bottles of all shapes of similar sizes refract the electric colours from the mirrored walls behind, all of which deflect and intersect simultaneously into a buzz prism that plays enticing games with yer eyes in sweet pre-moment hiccup-nosis. Ticket trip number three finger taps out a tune on the varnish of the bar glowing warm to the eye yet cold to the touch and of what, why and what for if you want for your frothy glass of ale is now placed and proves is the most glistening of all as I eagerly groom myself with a white foam moustache. 

Despite my total disbelief at the time, it only took a few more years before I wound up finding myself turning the blotto dial down a few notches and thus proving Steve Craddock right. I in fact was no Keith Moon, which was as it turned out a very good thing. So, apologies Stevesy for rolling out the wall-to-wall tortilla chip carpet. 

Still, these days I’m not all that casual, and whilst on tour I can often be found having what I call an ‘Aluminium Rooster’, which is my term for the psshhhtt sound from opening a beer can (preferably in this scenario an ice cold Tecate) as a morning wake-up alarm for anyone who might be stirring in their bunk hungover and needing that extra push through their “privacy” curtain. From there these kinds of days will continue to roll just as the above implies. 

For many years my go-to pint had been local San Francisco brew Anchor Steam, which had also been in those younger days my ‘fancy’ beer for when I could afford its upgrade status from the cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon variety. It also happened to be the oldest beer brewery in America, dating all the way back to 1896, practically a galaxies lifespan in yank time. Unbelievably, Anchor Steam finally went out of business this last year, a change that hangs down low along with the bummer realties of shrinking opportunities for lower class musicians (like we once were) to have a chance participating in today’s DIY-less music market, the demise of movie theaters and budgets for art house cinema in general, and in general all that was ever dear to me having its very existence threatened by the real-life Blue Meanies’ complete takeover of planet earth. 

Regardless, the revolution will not be televised, the revolution will be serialised, because we still have publishing going strong, and so as John says to the rest of the boys in Help! when they finally decide to stop riding away and turn around to go face the baddies, “Let’s go back and get ‘em, ay?” 

Sixteen years after that Ocean Colour Scene gig and an ocean of white suds later from countless glass fruit-bottles of our labor, we last-minute deny The Arctic Monkeys their advance request to have access to our backstage at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. They say it's so they can have somewhere to be and not be bothered by all their fans who will surely be at our show in droves, I guess, which more so just seems like a trojan notion for getting to drink all our beer while we play. You can’t beer-con beer cons, and so we turn down this trick, which comes with the added bonus of not having to hang out with them. 

Beer bums, I tell ‘ya…


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