Backstage Adventures

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The Adventures of Zoë

Chapter 10 -

In which Zoë becomes a "side stage female" in a rock video; then has champagne with King Crimson.

Jefferson Starship, Willy Brown, etc from "We Built This City on Rock 'n' Roll" video shoot c Robert Specter

(front row) comedian Pat Paulson and MTV executive Les Garland
(second row) director Irv Goodnuf (right)
(third row) Grace Slick. & Craig Chaquico of [Jefferson] Starship
(fourth row) California Senator Willy Brown (far right)
from the video shoot of "Lay It on the Line"
San Francisco, CA, 1984

photo © Robert Specter

"Hey Zoë," it's famed San Francisco music journalist Sheila René on the phone, "how'd you like to cover the making of a video?"

It's only a year and a bit into Zoë's career as a rock journalist and not many videos have actually been shot in San Francisco, so "Of course! I'd love to," she quickly agrees.

"OK. Here's the deal: There's a building down by the Bay that was built just after the 1906 earthquake and fire. It belongs to the City and it's never used, it just sits there, waiting for the next Big One. And when all the water mains are busted and there's no pressure, they can use this building right on the edge of the Bay from which to pump water out of the ocean to put out the fires that will of course sweep the city. That's where they're shooting the video. The director's name is Irv Goodnoff, and he'll be expecting you."

The next morning when Zoë arrives she finds she's just one of many people involved in the making of this particular video. Irv's been flown in by the record company from somewhere, and though madly rushing about getting things set up and people organized, Zoë eventually manages to corral him long enough to talk.

It turns out that Irv has a vision for this video of the Jefferson Starship's "Lay It on the Line", and he's determined to get his hands on every important  representative of San Francisco that he can convince to appear in a rock video, including California State Assembly Speaker Willy Brown and Mayor Diane Feinstein—as well as many representatives from the long musical tradition in San Francisco—to prove his point that music videos can have a serious message as well as be entertaining. Remember, this is 1984 and MTV hasn't been around all that long yet.

"It's social satire," he tells Zoë earnestly. "People can laugh at themselves, but at the same time they enjoy it, they can still learn. And when they've walked away, it's not just been mindless time consumption; it's entertainment with a planting of seeds that hopefully will raise the level of life on Earth."  Zoë nods her head in empathy, and Irv decides he likes her.

"You can be in the audience scenes in front of the stage," he tells her. And what starts out as a one-hour gig eventually turns into three full-on days of craziness as Zoë takes up her assigned position... but soon makes friends with one of the guys onstage who pulls her up next to him. Glancing over at Irv to see his reaction, he just raises an eyebrow and bellows, "Get yourself to makeup!"  And, voilá, that's how Zoë becomes a "sidestage female," as those women you see on the edges of videos are called in the biz. (If you watch very carefully, you might see her for a second or two in the video, after the editing process.)

At 6 the next morning when Zoë reports for work, someone's forgotten to tell the guards of her new status, and it takes an hour to argue her way in this time, then she's chewed out for being late. But soon all is forgiven (or forgotten) as the crew works madly and Irv, resembling for all the world John Belushi (both physically and in his behavior), dashes here and there madly, loudly, like a spinning top. Makeup done, breakfast eaten (video shoots, Zoë is to discover over the years, always have lots of food about), and has a bit of a chat with one of the firemen assigned to guard their giant concrete building and watch over the pyro.

"You know," he says, watching everyone feverishly working, "I had no respect for people in this business yesterday—thought they were a bunch of lazy bums—but I'll tell ya, I've never seen anyone work so hard!"

"Yes," Zoë thinks, "things are seldom the way you imagine they will be."

There's lots of free time when she's not required in a scene, so Zoë hangs about, chats to more people, compares who can curl their tongue and who can't with Grace Slick and a couple of others, sniggers with everyone else when the call rings out for Grace Slick's and Paul Kantner's 13-year-old daughter China and her friends: "Hey, little hard-bodies, c'mon!" 

And finally it's a wrap. But by this time, Zoë and Irv have become good friends, and he invites her to come along to the studio to watch the editing sessions, which are fascinating. In return, she invites him as her +1 to the King Crimson concert, which, fortunately, isn't for a couple of days because first the King Crimson interview has to be completed.

Drummer Bill Bruford (Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, the Bill Bruford Eathworks) defies the stereotype of the drummer being the "dumb one in the band." It turns out Bill is a charming, intelligent Englishman and the interview goes very well, lasting for some three hours—until it's time for him to leave for soundcheck.

Bill Bruford/King Crimson c Chester Simpson/Artist Publications

Bill Bruford of King Crimson
Hotel Kabi, Japan Town, San Francisco, CA, 6/2/84

photo © Chester Simpson/Artist Publications
digital effects © Joy Williams/Artist Publications

"Oh, um, before you go, could you perhaps let Chester here take just one photo? Please?"  "Sure," he smiles. "Whoa, lucky break!" Zoë smirks to herself. Can't always listen to those things management forbids—as long as the musician himself says it's OK, it is."

That night at the Greek Theatre, a lovely open-air amphitheater seating 5,000 on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, Zoë fronts up at the special kiosk reserved for people picking up guest list passes. Zoe is known to Colleen, BGP's frequent guest ticket window rep, so she tells Zoe that someone had previously come to the window claiming that I was down the hill in a wheelchair so he needed to pick up the ticket for me. "Oh, yeah?," BGP's Colleen tells him, "tell her to come up here and get it herself!" But now she holds up a backstage pass. "You," she exclaims, wide-eyed, "have the only backstage pass tonight!"

"Wow," Zoë smiles to herself. "I guess the interview went even better than I thought!"

It's a great concert, one of those magical times. So magical Zoë forgets to smoke, even once, so entranced is she by the spell King Crimson weave with their complex, beautiful sounds.

Afterwards, Zoë gets backstage (there's no pass for Irv) without a problem (another minor miracle), then finds herself alone in an underground, concrete-walled room. Well, there are two other women who obviously know each other, but they just give Zoë a strange look and then ignore her. And soon they're gone, too. Zoë sits there in a comfy stuffed chair, waiting, not knowing quite what to do. "This is very odd," she thinks, "usually there are a bunch of people about, or a tour manager comes and gets you..."

And then the next thing she knows, she hears someone calling her name: "Zoë? Zoë? Are you all right?"

"Oh!" Zoë wakes up with a start. "Um, I, I, oh..!" 

But Bill just smiles and says, "C'mon, I'll take you to meet the others," and leads her into the dressing room and introduces her. "Robert [Fripp], Tony [Levin], Adrian [Belew]: This is Zoë."

And turning again to Zoë with a bottle in one hand, he proffers a glass with the other, and smiles: "Champagne?"

Interview with King Crimson next


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