What the hell is this?

I Can't Stand [Meeting] You is a collection of all the ridiculous things I've written to and about drummer and composer Stewart Copeland.

I actually did meet him for about five crazy seconds in 2007, again for a few exciting moments in August 2009, and my most recent (and most thrilling!) encounter took place in October 2009, where I proved myself capable of being, yet again, a total dork in the man's presence.

I can't believe what I get up to. And neither should you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Surprise Guest Not Exactly a Surprise

Surprise Guest Not Exactly a Surprise
By Laurel Valentino

I recently attended a CD release party at City Garage Theatre in Santa Monica. Now, before you get excited and think to yourself that City Garage is available for rent for events and parties, you should think again, because it isn’t. For those of you who don’t know what City Garage is (and you really should take the time to find out), it is a tiny theater located in the alley between the Third Street Promenade and Fourth Street; and Santa Monica Boulevard and Arizona Avenue. Hidden away in the alley between Parking Structure #3 and a food court, City Garage pumps out, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, thought-provoking and visually stimulating (to say the least) live theater. Most people, locals included, don’t know where it is: the Gap and Hooters are often used as reference points for lost visitors; passersby often poke their heads in and enquire “What is this place?” “This place” was a parking garage, but now it’s a theater, and not just any theater: it was recently hailed as LA Times Theater critic Charles McNulty’s number two favorite theater in L.A. And just to be absolutely clear, it is not for rent. The only parties held at City Garage are on opening nights, when the cast, crew, family and friends gather to celebrate a few weeks (or months) of rehearsals. This CD release party was a special event, a one-time thing, attended by friends and family of the musicians; I was the only reporter present, and I will never forget it as long as I live.

The CD we were celebrating is I Can See Now?, the first and hopefully not last effort from Irene Casarez. It was released in a small pressing in February 2008, with little fanfare (if any fanfare at all), and this second release was for a slightly revised version which will be shipped on a larger scale. Ms. Casarez came out of nowhere, and if not for her partner, Stewart Copeland, and the quality of their work, nowhere is where she would have stayed. Ms. Casarez, who sings, plays flute and some percussion, speaks on one very memorable track (“This Is a Euphemism”), and wrote most of the songs on her album, is a self-proclaimed “lazy girl who got really, really lucky,” and if one studies her biography, the truth of that statement certainly can’t be denied; the reality is, that lazy, lucky girl put out one hell of a debut album.

To sum up a story that has been told elsewhere (see Terri Gross’ interview with Ms. Casarez and Mr. Copeland on “Fresh Air,” which aired on NPR in March 2008), Ms. Casarez submitted a rough cut of her song “Wow” via YouTube to Mr. Copeland’s website, http://www.stewartcopeland.net/. The song was inspired by a brief meeting she had with Mr. Copeland at the Guitar Center in Hollywood. The title of the song refers to the one word she was able to speak in his presence, which he then repeated. Mr. Copeland didn’t remember the meeting, and heard the song thanks to his assistant who loaded the song and video onto Mr. Copeland’s iPod. He was intrigued by the music, and interested enough that he contacted her. It should be stated for the record that this type of thing rarely happens. Not since a kid named Ed Crawford tracked down Mike Watt in San Pedro and showed up on his doorstep has any unknown singer/songwriter gotten this lucky. Ms. Casarez wasn’t just unknown, she was unknowable. She had not so much as performed at an open mike night. Her performance experiences were limited to two plays at City Garage, some low-end high school level orchestral work, a 20-year involvement with a local flute choir, and a couple of nights of karaoke at the Scarlet Lady Saloon in Culver City where she performed “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty with her friend David. She obviously needed some work. When asked why he even considered working with someone so green, so untested, so outside, Mr. Copeland has stated, “there was just something there that interested me.” Ms. Casarez’s well documented response to this statement is, “I was sick of just wanting to do things. I wanted to try something for a change instead of just dream about it.”

After working together in a private studio in Santa Monica, a few months later I Can See Now was ready to go. And in some ways, so were Ms. Casarez and Mr. Copeland. As they have admitted, the long hours in the studio, their natural, easy rapport, Ms. Casarez’s longtime crush on Mr. Copeland (the lyrics to “Wow” depict that first meeting as a moment that changed her world; somehow she manages to make Mr. Copeland not quite god-like – it’s a sweet song but with a surprising edge. One imagines she has since been able to speak slightly longer sentences to him), and his own respect and curiosity for her work combined to make for a relationship they both refuse to define. Both are married to other people. Both continue to live with their spouses, though recently they have been traveling together, making appearances in small clubs in California, Texas, and New York in between Mr. Copeland’s appearances with his band The Police.

The critical reviews of the album were surprisingly good, but where Ms. Casarez was really untested was live performance. Most people who heard the album and knew her history didn’t think that she could pull off a live show. And indeed, the live performances were rough in the beginning. Their first shows, which took place in bars in Long Beach and Palm Springs (they performed, in disguises, under the name “Miss Gradenko Gets a Job”), were, as Ms. Casarez told me at the CD release party, “the worst moments of my life, and possibly for the few people who were listening, too.” She went on to say that were it not for the intervention and coaching she received from Frederique Michel, the director of every play produced at City Garage, she would have given up. Ms. Casarez wouldn’t say exactly what Ms. Michel, who has a reputation for being tough on her actors (but, if they can handle it, go on to present some pretty amazing work onstage), told her, but she did tell me, with a huge smile on her face, that the words “Just do it, baby!” were involved. Eventually, at a show I attended in April at Space Land in Silver Lake, I could see that with Ms. Michel’s encouragement and Mr. Copeland’s professionalism and support she got it together. Subsequent shows have been just as successful, and the so-called lazy girl has definitely learned a lesson. Whatever level their friendship has reached, she and Mr. Copeland seem to take enormous pleasure from being together, onstage and off, and that kind of partnership is a delight to listen to and to watch.

The invitation had stated that Ms. Casarez would be joined by a “special guest,” and though for whatever reason Mr. Copeland wasn’t mentioned by name, I was certain that he was the special guest referred to. Ms. Casarez took the stage dressed casually in black jeans, black pumps, and a black sweater; she wore no makeup that I could see, and her dark brown hair was long and wild. Ms. Casarez wears black sunglasses on stage; she told me earlier that the sunglasses keep her from focusing too much on the audience, which still tends to cause her some anxiety. Mr. Copeland wore an olive green jacket over a white v-neck t-shirt and black pants. After thanking Ms. Michel and her husband, Charles Duncombe, as well as some of the other members of the theater company, Ms. Casarez announced, in the worst fake French accent I’ve ever heard, “Let’s do it, baby!” She and Mr. Copeland launched into crowd-favorite “Wow,” and followed that with a very funny, x-rated version of “This Is a Euphemism.” For the third song, they were joined onstage by David E. Frank, an actor at City Garage; Patrick Palma; and El Paso guitar hero Adrian Esparza to perform “Those Black Jeans.” Mr. Palma is the co-writer of the song, and a member of the now defunct punk band, Magnolia Thunderpussy. Mr. Frank joined Ms. Casarez on vocals, Mr. Esparza plugged in his Fender Telecaster, and Mr. Palma, who had stashed a second drum kit behind a scrim positioned at stage left, joined Mr. Copeland on drums. Seeing that this tiny space was about to be assaulted with dual drummers, I have to admit that I was a bit worried that Ms. Casarez would be overshadowed by her backing band or that the audience would be blown into the alley – but my worries were unfounded, because what I heard was brutal, beautiful and confident. And when I realized that Mr. Palma is Ms. Casarez’s husband of ten years and saw their connection on stage, which is just as magical as her connection with Stewart Copeland, I realized that the only surprise was how much better something that had already been very good could get.

Laurel Valentino is a freelance writer from Culver City, California.

Nothing in this story is true, jackass. Well, except for the bits about City Garage: now, that place is truly magical. You should check it out, and take your friends.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Wow! I was there and that gig left me speechless. It splattered my brains just the way I like to see them splattered."
--Studebaker Hawk
Kakaoke Host Extraordinaire