People (photos to come later)
The largest unknown about this experience was the people. I had only met Napoleon as a fan/musician and never as part of one of his bands. Beyond that I knew absolutely nobody at this festival. As well, I was going to be playing with musicians that I had no common ground with. I looked up the band Peach Noise on YouTube and I noticed two things: very good musicians, and their bass player plays very differently from me. Coincidentally his name is Philby Brunelli! At least we have that in common.
I landed at CDG at about 0700 local, and then went to the baggage claim and grabbed my bag. With perfect timing, drummer Charly Doll pulled up in front just as I walked out of the terminal. As we walked back to the car he passed around the back of a huge Mercedes 500-series, and I thought “if he gets in that ride it will be a huge disappointment…” because Charly does not look like the luxury sedan type. Parked in front of the merc was a 1978 Camaro… more like it. Charly *is* that car. We had a great drive to his home out in the south of Picardie, in the village of Louatre. I was sitting in the yard by 0830 and listening to the chirping of birds and breathing the clean air. This, I thought, is more like it. I barely left the “Doll House” until we left for Rochefort on Monday morning. Why would I?
First I met Veronique, a friend who had signed on to handle the food preparation for the weekend. That was no small task as there was a crowd of musicians, family, and friends at the house from lunch through the end of the day. Veronique is a marionette master and works on that French TV show with the marionette round table (Les Guignols de L’Info). It was quite an honor to have someone of her talents preparing the cuisine. Helping Veronique was Sandy, who performed all kinds of tasks including being the master Sommelier! He is an artist and I need to find a way to get a better look at his work. He had a few images on his phone, and what I saw was fantastic. Also, Brigitte, who was pitching in and getting into all kinds of trouble. We all had a few truly great conversations out in the garden and around the table.
And Then… who should roll out of bed but mallet-percussion maestro Benoit Moerlen. I will admit that his work with Gong is not part of my musical background, and I think we got on great because of that. He doesn’t relate to that period of his past, and since I don’t either it was a great match. He fills out the other end of the energy spectrum from Charly. Where Charly is the force of nature that Napoleon and I nicknamed “Hurricane Charly”, Benoit is like a sleepy cloud drifting by, but that does not mean that he can’t turn into a storm when the time comes. His playing is just top shelf. When Steve Chillemi and I saw him play on YouTube we just looked and nodded… “The band is good, but that marimba player is a motherfucker…” That is the truth.
Nicolas Mignot lives about 15 minutes away and was hosting some of the other musicians at his home, so when I saw him it was usually when the whole entourage of him, his wife Pascale, her son Owen, and others arrived with Moris, Napoleon, and others. Pascale is amazing, with California-girl looks and an amazing soul. Owen is the same age as my Nephew Nick, and also a drummer. Nicolas is the middle man in the Peach Noise energy spectrum, never too high or low, but daummmmm can he play guitar.
We also met Charly’s mom, Bette, who is about 94 and sharp as a tack. Charly built her an apartment with an attached hallway that is a beautiful and touching way for her to live the highest quality of life with family and friends. She doesn’t get around so well, but her mind is clear as a bell. We had a conversation about the tragedy of families not eating dinner at the table together, and she told me, in English(!!) “The children do not learn from the parents”. I almost cried. What a beautiful person.
I can’t remember everyone I met at the house that weekend. There was Saul and Claire, William, Alex and his brothers, … as bad as I am with names I remember how great everyone was, how open, how friendly, and how generous.
Sunday involved about 7 hours of rehearsals and run-throughs, just to get some music going and feel like we were making some progress. Also it was a chance to see how we would work together. We worked on Willie the Pimp, and a few other things with Napoleon, confirming that this would be a precision effort. We also worked on a few things with Moris, confirming that he was looking for something very specific, and not just “the feel”. We were also joined by Eric Drew Feldman and Laurie Hall, who were sleeping at the house across the street from Charly and got in some rehearsal on the piano there. Additionally, Rob Laufer was there, I think he was staying with Nicolas, and I had no idea what to expect. What I found very quickly was that he is a monster player and musical mind and IMO should have been the Musical Director for both Moris and the Beefheart tribute. The guy can play so well in so many styles, and process so much music so quickly that it was hard for me to absorb it.
Of course, the party situation was what the trip was all about. I was quickly introduced to the “truth about French wine”… and here it is: Wine is a birthright, good inexpensive wine is the cornerstone of that birthright, and the French have many rationalizations for their failure to export these great, affordable wines to the world at large. The wine does not like to be shipped. They don’t want to use preservatives. The production is very small. and so on… The reality is: they NEED the wine, you don’t. Therefore, No Wine For You. We get a lot of Vin Industrial here in America, or very expensive wines that are essentially made for export and not for the French. In France, 4 Euro gets you a wine that is a monument to balance and terroir, and 15 Euro gets you a monster of a wine. The “big boy” 30 Euro and upward wines are better than what we get here in the USA. So, deal with it, American pig-dogs. They have the wine you want, but you have to come here if you want it. And if you don’t like it? Pitche Le Vache!