Mariachi Bands and Front Seat Human Origami
I stepped out of the exit terminal and walked as fast as I could ahead of the rest of the passengers, desperate to breathe in that sweet and hot Los Angeles air (smog).
I was wearing a plaid shirt, Red Wings boots, dirty jeans, and a huge 7-8 month old mountain man beard. Not only did I want to get away from the swarm of travellers I had just spent 5 hours squished together in a flying tin can with, I also wanted to crack a beer and smoke a cigarette, if we’re being honest here. I never check bags, after far too many incidents of lost luggage, so I walked past the baggage claim carousel with a stupid grin as if I knew all the secrets of the universe and out into the heat of the night.
Now, I had been through this airport at what seemed like over 100 times by now, and I guess I didn’t realize that there is nothing really close if you’re on foot. I discovered this fun fact by, you guessed it: walking around aimlessly like a fool praying for a gas station. This was before there was instant GPS on the ol’ iPhone so I was left to my own terrible navigation. I walked and walked, got annoyed as all hell, and finally went back to the cab stand.
I should mention that the reason I wasn’t just leaving the airport entirely via vehicular transportation is because I was waiting for our drummer to arrive on another flight, about 2 hours behind me, and we would then share a ride to Hollywood together. You see, we were here to shoot a music video for our second single, and the rest of the band had already arrived. We all lived in different cities so naturally all our flights were arriving at different times. Back to my dilemma: 2 hours to kill and a life to live. I get in the cab (this is pre-Uber lets not forget) and crack the whip to the nearest gas station establishment.
We arrive, I walk in, and now standing in front of the beer cooler, I am faced with the question: “where the fuck am I gonna drink this bad boy(s)?” So, being no stranger to the Back Alley Booze Crew I purchase two 32oz cans of Miller Lite, a pack of Parliaments, and walk around the back of this gas station, next to the dumpsters and milk crates. I should also add that it’s around 8pm by now, and in my immature brain the night is just getting started. I set up shop on a milk crate “chair”, nestled between two dumpsters and crack beer #1, light up that first delicious smoke, and cue up a little Tom Petty in my headphones. I gotta tell ya, hearing “Even The Losers” while drinking a beer between two dumpsters behind a gas station in Los Angeles is one of life’s greatest pleasures, I highly recommend.
I zone out for a a little while, nervous about the next few days and what this video and trip will entail, and the future of the band etc etc; if left alone for too long these thoughts about the future and life in general begin to wear on me a bit.
But, for now it’s time to let life happen and enjoy the ride. I spent a glorious hour and a half behind this gas station and felt much better after draining beer #2 and then inevitably #3. Time to go. I taxi back to the airport and wait for the drummer outside. He arrives alive. And just like clockwork our director and producer pull up instantly in a rented passenger van and kick the doors open and essentially yank us inside. Once onboard, a half empty/full bottle of room temperature tequila is thrust into my hands with only one command: “drink!”. I oblige. During this drive to our hotel I notice two things: our director was actually a gorgeous woman (a fact that had escaped me from our previous interactions) and that our producer was a fuckin’ rad dude (we had not met previously).
We check into our hotel and meet up with the rest of the band, who had clearly already started to enjoy themselves. Naturally some of us headed out into the night before Day One of the shoot because why not. Its been a reoccurring theme in my life to attempt to squeeze every ounce of life out of almost every experience, and if that means drinking till 4am the night before a music video shoot then so be it. Once we had settled into our hole in the wall bar for the night, the real stupidity ensues. Myself, the guitar player, singer, and our best bud who was a local get all the way fucked up, not thinking at all about how close the morning is and how much that alarm going off in a few hours is going to suck. The night ends with us stumbling blindly like 4 robot monsters with rapidly dying batteries, arguing about something usually meaningless (ie: sports) and searching for pizza by the slice to alleviate the impending hangover.
How interesting it is that we can be the best of friends and in love with everyone within a 10 ft radius, then fast forward to 4 hours later and we are absolute rabid animals hurling the most vicious insults towards each other in a dark and disgustingly humid hotel room. Someone was knocking loudly on the door and had woken us from our much needed snore laden slumber. Which then turned into an episode of “Dibs Out” for who had to answer the door. I unfortunately lost this round.
I open the hotel room door half naked with my eyes completely closed, terrified of the glaring California morning sun burning my inebriated retinas. It’s our gorgeous director and she is holding something in her hand, with a smile on her face. She says and I quote: “Ok. You guys need to get up right now and YOU need to shave your beard”. She holds up a pair of clippers and continues smiling/laughing.
Now, there had been some brief correspondence prior to this trip about me possibly shaving my huge beard, due to the fact that it was “super hot in LA and a big beard wouldn’t fit the vibe”. Make sense to you? Me neither. But, I am a team player and sometimes you need to trust some people’s creative vision. Sometimes. So I shave the bastard off and stare at a stranger’s face in the shitty hotel mirror. It looked like my face literally ended just below my nose, truly the weirdest moment ever. It looked and felt like I had no chin, just nose and neck. I stared at the pile of beard hair in the sink and immediately regretted my decision. Oh well, life goes on.
We get ready and then head to the “set” which was essentially a street, a minivan, and an old car that yours truly would be driving throughout the video. I begin to try to remember exactly what the hell scene were we shooting today?
We then meet the models for said scene. One fairly handsome dude who was every bit of 5’5 and one fairly beautiful brunette girl. We go through the usual small talk where models/talent love to launch into either their life story, or their life plan. People love talking about themselves, and no one is more of a testament to this than models and actors.
I recall standing around for hours and hours waiting, smoking and chatting until we all had run out of stories, which is a strange position to be in, except my guys in the band and I have devolved to literally non verbal communication where we barely speak anymore. However, beer helps.
So after many agonizing hours of endless takes and annoying everyone around us, we are wrapped for the day. However, the day doesn’t end for us; through one of our very close friends who worked for a TV network, a meeting had been set up for us to meet some producers to talk about possibly creating a new reality show revolving around our new band. Here we go again. It seems the show business carousel was harder to get off than you’d think. So, we went…still dressed up from the video. Before the dinner meeting we stopped in a 7-11 to get cigarettes and Gatorade (tonight was gonna be another one) and some dude in line turns around, has a confused look on his face as he looks at this gang of weirdos in western style suits and asks “Are you guys in a Mariachi band?” to which I respond without hesitation: “yes”.
The next morning was slightly more bearable than the previous, most likely because we were in our motel beds before 3am. In fact, if memory serves, we actually took it pretty easy that night.
Day 2 of shooting began with my tired eyes and ears waking up to the sound of someone moving around the hotel room, more accurately Pat our lead singer searching the room for half full beers from the night before and then, drinking them. It seems we had run out of booze and this was his solution to get the party started. At 8am.
Today was our performance scene and it was actually so much fun. In the corner of a dingy bar we pretended to play our song for hours and hours, while watching the model girl act out a scene with one of the bar patrons. Part of the scene had her walking past the band, turning, and going behind the bar. During her turn, she was closest to my side of the tiny stage,and for some reason, made eye contact with me during every single take. This wasn’t the usual passing eye contact, this eye contact meant business.
Now, according to our trusty call sheet, it said we have to head to a house nearby to shoot some storyline scenes. Why did the band have to go to this house to literally stand around and do nothing? I have no idea. So, with a little light convo and more eye contact I am now riding shotgun in the model brunettes car, headed to the next location, with my half a case of beer securely stowed in the back seat.
For the next scene the actors were inside the house shooting God knows what so we, the band, really had nowhere to hang out aside from the front lawn, and side entrance to the house. We do what we do best, and continue to enjoy ourselves, drinking beer in the hot sun on somebodies front lawn. I excuse myself to the restroom to rid my body of this poison known as beer and upon entering the bathroom and closing the door, I literally did the cartoon double take at my reflection in the mirror. Who is this chinless man?! I swear I was all eyes, nose, and neck. What was even more strange, was for about a week after I would wake up with the feeling that I still had the beard, like some sort of phantom hair on my face…
By now night had fallen and we are back at the dingy bar to shoot the final scene, which is a bunch of story telling b-roll that consists of us, the band, standing at the back entrance while the model brunette essentially pushes her way through us and into the bar to start her shift. Really riveting stuff here guys. So we stand and stand until every angle has been filmed and our director shouts ‘thats a wrap!”, followed by hugs and high fives. Now, just a little insider info here, the wrap party is quite literally the best part of any music video or film project. Like being on a ridiculously long flight and the wheels finally touch down and you are one step closer to being free of your imaginary shackles. For this specific wrap party however, it was very low key and actually ended up being at the same bar we were shooting in. If theres anything to be learned from this whole story it is that you: don’t always need a huge club or big production to have fun, I mean there was maybe 10-15 of us in the entire bar and it was one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had. Either a dive bar or a kitchen counter, these are the places where real fun happens. So I drink with the boys for a little bit and eventually I see the model brunette walk up to the bar, now cleaned up from her role and looking even more attractive. Of course I get up to talk to her and soon enough we are in a strange conversation about life and existentialism (after a few drinks I can talk about this forever FYI). I remember thinking, that this chick was very pretty and how exciting this whole video had been so far, which is also something I do while intoxicated, I get nostalgically sentimental about current moments. Just me or does anyone else do this? Anyone?
After a few rounds and conversation with suggestive undertones I am now in a thigh jigsaw puzzle situation with the model brunette and we are slowly inching closer to each other. The conversation had been amazing from what I can recall, but I also had to deal with the shouted comments from the boys who were seated at a booth a few feet away. Sigh. The small price you have to pay when you leave the herd. The night rages on as everyone becomes increasingly drunk and giddy, any and all past differences and disagreements while filming are now water under the bridge and liquor to the brain. I’ll never forget some of these moments in my life, where everything seemed to be perfectly aligned and exactly correct.
From here though, the night took a turn for the interesting. I was headed out for a smoke when the model brunette stopped me, questioned whether I was leaving or not, then joined me outside. Where it was raining. It never rains in LA so what the fuck was going on?? We run through the rain to the shelter of her car to smoke a cigarette. It is here in this compact car in the pouring rain, with the back entrance light illuminating the interior with a red glow, where model brunette and I begin to smooch. I feel like this was bound to happen following our initial car ride to the house location and it was only a mere matter of time. Well, here we are. Smooch City. We eventually come up for air and smile sheepishly at each other. Maybe we should get back inside eh?
Back in the bar it seems to be winding down, the whole group is making plans to leave. So, being the eternal optimist (read: maniac) I am, I decide to stay and the model brunette voices her enthusiasm to also stay. So we stay. The bar clears out eventually and we are now the only souls left save for the tired bartender cleaning up. Here in this magical moment of uncertainty, neither one of us wanting to suggest the obvious, we settle for one last cigarette in her car before ending the night. With all the ingredients of a strange and gritty rom com we immediately resume making out until things escalate from PG to X-Rated.
Of course whilst reminiscing about times like these they replay like a movie in my mind and I’m sure I am forgetting certain details, however, I will say this: until you’ve been half naked in a car with a beautiful model bathed in the red glow of a seedy bar’s exit light, you have not truly lived my friends. To be continued, as always...