In 1992 my band broke up. I turned 25. I got fired from my day job. My life was over.
When the Young Blue Bucks (my band, a duo actually) got back from Paris it became very apparent that things were not going well. The drummer wanted to play other music. Our manager had gone to a music conference while we were away and received feedback on our recordings. They told him 5 years. Whatever that meant it wasn’t good.
Then the recession hit. Our manager was laid-off from his job. He had been paying for everything: all the promo materials, cassettes, mailings, gas, after gig restaurant meals…everything.
We decided to play our last show and call it quits. Ironically a bass player walked in and jammed with us on one song. It totally electrified the audience and gave the extra dimension we always thought was possible. I’m not sure if it was arranged by someone or totally random, but it didn’t matter. It was over.
A few weeks later I turned 25. Then I was fired. (see part II)
With no income I had to move, which was a relief. It was very hard to live with my former bandmate. A friend said he had a very small room in his flat in Bernal Heights he could rent me for $125. It turned out to be a walk-in closet with windows. It was big enough for my futon and a guitar. Perfect.
I started busking. A month went by. Then another. I was able to scratch out a subsistence living. With two years of playing experience under my belt I could now hold a lunch time crowd’s attention at Justin Herman Plaza in the Embarcadero. A couple years before I would see musicians playing there and wish I could do that. Now I was one of them.
I remember a guy in a sharp suit walked up to me on the Embarcadero, handed me $20 and started gushing. One of my songs “Blue Moon Fallin’” had really hit home because he was going through a divorce. That made my day.
The Picaro Café on 16th Street in the Mission became my regular gig. This was a real hangout place full of artists and writers and students and regular live music. They paid the musicians with a meal and we were able to walk around and collect money from the audience between sets.
One Tuesday in July it rained all day which was very unusual for San Francisco. I was scheduled to play at the Picaro and because of the rain couldn’t leave without getting my equipment wet so I stayed and played. The place was packed. These were the days when you could smoke in restaurants so you could hardly see to the back of the room. With the thunder and lightning and even a power outage (I had a battery powered amp) it was one of those magical experiences where everyone knows something’s going on. When I walked around with tip hat in hand everyone’s eyes were gleaming. I made over $300! $60 was usually a good haul.
The manager took notice and asked me if I would play on Sunday mornings. Sunday morning? He said it might bring people in. I couldn’t tell if he was for real or if he was just trying to make sure I was getting fed. We tried it for a few weekends but the crowds did not appear.
Later that summer the café was picked to be used for a scene in the upcoming Mike Meyers movie “So I Married An Axe Murderer”. This was bad news all around. They closed the place down and remodeled it. The manager said all the regulars could apply to be extras in the movie. Many people did and were chosen. Of course I had stars in my eyes. “I’m going to be in a movie! Maybe they’ll have me play!” But no. My big cameo was to walk across the room while the actors were talking at the counter. When the movie came out the following year the café scene was cut. Oh well.
Unfortunately, after the movie the Picaro remained closed and then reopened as an upscale Tapas bar. With my main source of income gone I went back to working in the coffee mines.
To Be Continued…