Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Choir Invisible - My First Tour

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, April 22, 2007)

I've been really tempted to go off on another political rant this week. There were several big things that happened this week here in the States. First was the horrifying slaughter of students at Virginia Tech. Then there was the almost equally horrifying attack on women and doctor rights by the conservatives in the Supreme Court when they allowed a ban on partial birth abortion. And after that, practically unreported by our major news services, was the story about the Bush administration giving up on their program to train the Iraqi army. In other words, even Bush doesn't believe they'll ever be ready to step up and take control of their own country. But I just don't have the fortitude to take on politics two weeks in a row. So I'll let others argue the finer points of those events and instead I'll tell you all another tale in my continuing road stories. And although I have a million tales to tell about life on the road with Thin White Rope, I think I'll give that a rest for a month as well and tell you all about my first every tour. As with everything, I don't remember many of the finer details of this tour. I don't have an itinerary, so I can't remember every show we did and when we did them. But I still remember many of the fun details of the tour. In fact, they're etched in my mind and I'll never forget them.

Way back in 1980, Frontier Records signed their first act. That was LA punk band, The Flyboys, who put out one EP before falling apart. The band regrouped in 1981, adding Danny Benair (the Quick and later in the Three O'clock) on drums, and became Choir Invisible. The band had little of the punk sound of their previous incarnation as the Flyboys, instead choosing to latch on to the "new romantic" sound coming out of England at the moment. They were energetic, but with a dreamy, lush keyboard heavy sound.

Lisa at Frontier was looking for someone to go out on the road with the band and make sure all went well for them. I was unsure of what I wanted to do in life, so she asked me if I would want to spend a couple of months touring around America with a rock band. I didn't even have to think about it and signed on for my first ever tour manager gig.

We decided not to go out as normal bands do. That is, taking a van full of band members and equipment and finding fans of the band who would let us sleep on their floors after a show. Instead we went with a plan that was rather extravagant for a first time tour. We rented a motor home and stocked it with merchandise and food. We also decided that sleeping on floors was something we didn't need to do, so I started calling Motel 6's and other cheap motels to make sure we had a room rented in each town we were playing in. The tour was still kind of dodgy. A good number of the dates still needed to be confirmed, but we were ready and one sunny day, we got in the motor home and headed to our first date.

Almost immediately, disaster struck. I was driving through the California desert when the driver's seat started to wobble. And while I was pushing the metal at 60 miles per hour, the seat suddenly just came loose and fell over while I was sitting in it. We were smart enough to have brought along a tool kit, and after pulling over, we found the loose screws and had the seat back on and ready to go in no time. There were authorized mechanics all along our route and I planned on taking the thing in to make sure the seat was fixed as soon as we hit the first town. But at least we had it working well enough to drive.

Now, a word about Choir Invisible. They were a four piece band: John, Scott, Thames and Danny. As I said, they had aligned themselves with the so-called "New Romantic" movement, and like most of the bands that labeled themselves such, these guys had the look. They wore frumpy, frilly clothes and wore a good amount of make-up. And their haircuts were not what you'd usually see a red-blooded American male wearing at that time. Think back on how early Duran Duran or A Flock Of Seagulls looked and you'll have a good idea what Choir Invisible looked like.

So, we did one show in Amarillo Texas. That show went pretty much without incidence, but we woke up the next morning and decided to go get some breakfast. We pulled up to a country breakfast place and the band poured out of the motor home looking all their finest. We got through the front door and that's about as far as we got. We stood there for quite a long time, being ignored by all the waitresses in the place. Every person in the place was giving us sidelong glances and whispering and pointing at us. I finally asked if we could be seated and was told flat out that they would not seat us. People like us were not welcome in that place, so we might as well just leave. So that was that, or so I thought. We headed out to the parking lot, got in the motor home, and just as I started up the thing and began to pull out of the parking lot, John, the lead singer, yelled for me to stop. He calmly got out of the vehicle, walked to the large front window of the place and dropped his pants. All hell broke loose. I'm sure they could hear the screams from the customers all the way down to Mexico. John immediately pulled up his pants and ran back to the motor home, screaming at me to get going. Just as he got back inside, the door to the restaurant burst open and about a dozen shit-kicking cowboy-types came pouring out of the place, yelling and screaming and swearing up a storm. I took off while they were piling into their pickup trucks to give chase. And chase us they did. They tried to run me off the road, but my vehicle had a bit more weight then their measly pickups and I stayed the coarse. A few even pulled guns, but were smart enough not to fire at us, although I have to admit, I was afraid we were going to die on Highway 40. Fortunately, as soon as we crossed the city limits, the shit-kickers dropped back and let us escape. But even to this day, I still get uncomfortable when I'm in that area of Texas.

Eventually, we made it to Chicago. We had a week between shows and that turned out to be a good thing. When we began this tour, the only cities I'd been to outside of Los Angeles were New York, Washington DC, Las Vegas and London. I was really excited to be in Chicago and the city didn't let me down. I pulled into the middle of downtown and immediately got lost. But when I rolled down the window and asked the driver next to me where the club was, he just told me to follow him and took me right to the door. That type of friendly response was an amazing thing to me, especially coming from someone in a big city. And every time I've been to Chicago since, I've found the same friendly response from the people who live there.

After the show, we were talking to a group of fans and were told that we should all go along to a local disco. It was there that I started talking with one of the local DJs and that turned out to be Al Jourgensen, who was just started Ministry at the time. I spent the evening hanging around with him. Over the years, I've heard quite a few horror stories about stuff he's pulled, but in those early days, I thought he was a great, fun, friendly guy.

We were originally planning on spending a few days in Chicago and then moving on to the next town to spend a few more days off, but it started to snow. And we ended up getting snowed in and stuck there for most of the week. We met lots of great people, hung out with them and went to parties and generally had a blast. The only bad point came when I woke up one morning and went out to the motor home to make sure everything was all right. I walked in and everything was soaked. It turned out that some of the water supply had frozen, pushing unfrozen water out of the shower drain and all over the floor of the motor home. And to make matters worse, the shower was where we were storing all our merch and most of it was destroyed. Lisa wasn't very happy to hear about that.

We finally had to leave Chicago though and made our way to a show in Dayton, Ohio. There was something weird about Dayton that I've never been able to put my finger on. But just pulling into town put me on edge. At the time, I remember thinking it was the city of the dead. Lots of good bands have come out of Dayton though and maybe someday I'll get back there and give it another chance.

The show went fine that night, but the promoter wouldn't hear of us spending money on a motel. He lived in Cincinnati and he wanted us to follow him down there, where we could spend the night in his large house. Besides, he told us another band was staying there and it would be great fun to have us all around. So we got in the motor home only to find that the headlights wouldn't turn on. That whole part of the electrical system seemed to be on the blink. We decided that the promoter would drive in front of us and we would closely follow him. It worked out, although it was a slow and unpleasant trip.

When we arrived at his house, we went inside to find out that the other band there, which had played in Cincinnati that night, was Ronnie Spector and her band. That was initially pretty exciting for us to be spending the night in the company of a real rock and roll legend. But as the night wore on, we began to realize that these people were crazy. They were constantly using some kind of drug or another and other weird folks kept dropping by, many to sell them more stuff. We grew increasingly more uncomfortable as arguments broke out and we began to suspect we might not live through the night. So, we did what any courageous rock band would do and we snuck out. To this day I don't know if anyone actually noticed that we left. But we drove down the highway without headlights until we finally came to a motel.

Now, this hotel was another problem, but only for me. Since I was a little kid, I've always been uncomfortable with motels, and especially those of the older, non-chain variety. This motel was one of those and it sat in front of an old Victorian house that was on a hill behind it. I was terrified and had no idea why. I didn't want to spend the rest of the night there, but I had to get the band into someplace they could rest, even if it was for only a few hours. So, I went in, booked two rooms and I spent the night in the motor home.

I now understand this fear and have it under control. Several years later, I saw Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" and there was everything that was in my motel nightmares. Whole scenes from that movie had played out in my dreaming mind. But I didn't remember seeing that movie before. It turned out that when the movie was released in 1960, my parents wanted to see it. So, they loaded me, all of five years old, into the old station wagon and parked at a drive-in theatre to watch the movie. They figured that I would fall asleep and be unaware of what was going on in the movie. But I didn't fall asleep and ended up watching most of the film from the back seat of the car before my parents noticed. I can truly say that that movie scared my young mind. I'm seen it dozens of times now in the last couple of decades. It still terrifies me and I love it. Its one of the best movies ever made. (Although I think "Strangers On A Train" is Hitchcock's best film.) I still don't like motels, but I stay in them all the time.

And it turned out that motel we stayed in had a mechanic next door who fixed our electrical problems quickly and cheap. So that was a good thing!

Choir Invisible finally ended up in New York. We had a date there at some sleazy gay bar. I had never been in a sleazy gay bar before, so I was rather fascinated, although I didn't really understand why the band was booked to play there. The show went well though and all the leather boys seemed to like them.

Somewhere Skip has a photo taken back stage at this show. I don't look very well. My eyes are sunken and I have black rings around them. And it wasn't make up. I look gaunt and very mentally disturbed. This tour was taking its toll on me.

The next morning I had to call our booking agent to find out where the next set of shows would be. He told me that he couldn't get anything for the next two weeks, but he had dates starting in the South after that. After a few minutes of intense discussion, we all decided to tell the guy to shove his shows and we called off the tour. It would be ridiculous to spend a couple weeks on the east coast waiting for new shows to happen. We couldn't afford it, for one thing.

The tour had been uneven and costly for the band. There were weeklong stretches, like Chicago, without shows. Shows seemed to be put together at the last minute and we were never sure where we were going to be until a few days before. I was getting sick of the damned motor home and seemed to be spending most of my free time getting it fixed.

And we were constantly getting hassled by people for the way the band looked. This was 1981 and the whole new glam thing hadn't been going on very long. We were tired and fed up.

We decided to immediately drive home, so we packed up the motor home and headed west. I think we set a record. We didn't stop except for gas. Several of us would sleep in the back, while the others drove and then we would switch out. We made it from New York City to Los Angeles in 2½ days.

I swore never to tour again. But I also knew that something was now in my blood. It was tiring and frustrating, but I was seeing places I could never get to and meeting so many great people. (I'll ignore the ones who weren't so great.) About 5 years later, Skip and I were having some problems and we decided we needed to be away from each other for a while. I moved to New York with my friend, Karl; apartment sitting for Lydia Lunch while she was on tour of Europe. My plan was to stay in New York and I found a great job working in the Baruch College bookstore. But after only a month, I was missing Skip terribly and while I loved New York, it never really felt like home to me. Three months after I arrived, Lydia was coming home and I had to decide what I was going to do. But my mind was made up for me when I got a call from manager John Silva asking me if I wanted to work for Three O'clock and Redd Kross. That was the excuse I needed and I quit my job (although they offered me a giant raise to stay) and moved back to LA. And by 1986, I was back on the road again. As well as Thin White Rope, I've now toured with Three O'clock, Redd Kross, Poster Children, Young Fresh Fellows and Dharma Bums, Underground Lovers, and Graves Brothers Deluxe. But all those are stories for another time.


  1. Hi Michael,

    I hope you are well. I'm a fellow angelino and huge Choir Invisible fan and know you managed them for a bit back in the day.

    Other than their fantastic records which I own I have not been able to find anything else from this amazing band. I have been searching for years with no luck. So I was wondering if you have any memorabilia from them that you might consider selling??? Perhaps shirts, fliers or anything!!! I would be eternally grateful!!!

    I am hoping to hear from you through your blog then hopefully we can exchange contact info and discuss.

    Thanx & Take Care!!!

    1. Hi. Sorry. I just saw this. I didn't manage the band. I was just the tour manager on their first USA tour. Unfortunately, I don't own any memorabilia by the band. I'm not even sure any exists. I don't remember selling anything, even t-shirts, on the tour. Sorry.