17 May 2009

Saturday Night Live

Most of you who have mothers have probably at one time or another heard some version of "Wear clean underwear because you never know when you might get hit by a car and taken to the hospital." I can't remember if my mother also told me about not letting the laundry pile up because you never know when you might need clean clothes, but if she didn't, she should have. When I got back from London last week (who am I kidding, it's getting closer to two weeks now), it was my intention to go down to the laundromat my first night back, but being pleasantly surprised to find several clean t-shirts and an extra pair of jeans in my dresser drawer, I decided it could wait.

The result being that when I unexpectedly got an invitation to come watch Green Day appearing on Saturday Night Live, I had almost nothing to wear except some ratty old things that made me look even more than usual like some bewildered tramp who'd wandered in off the street. If I'd only been sitting in the audience, this wouldn't have been the worst thing in the world (and, on reflection, it's still pretty far from the worst thing in the world regardless of how you slice it), but as it happened, I spent most of the night backstage, cheek-by-jowl with more TV and movie stars than I could shake a stick at (or name, for that matter; I kept having encounters with people where'd I'd be like, "Oh yeah, it's that wacky guy from Forgetting Sarah Marshall), but even weirder was running into people who seemed so familiar that I was sure I'd known them half my life before realizing that while I had indeed known them half my life, it was from the movies, not real life.

Which is better than I did with Tom Hanks: standing right next to him and didn't even recognize him. Wait, it gets worse: I didn't even realize he was there, let alone on the show, until someone else mentioned having a conversation with him. At least I recognized Will Ferrell, but then I must have seen a dozen of his films and I'll admit I'm kind of a fan. Did I meet him? No, not really, but he came bounding into Green Day's dressing room (his was next door) after the show to discuss the song he'd jammed on with the band (more about that in a minute), and then a bit later reappeared wearing a rather astounding two-piece orange velour lounging suit that in color and texture was straight out of a 70s blaxploitation flick and munching on a banana. He easily got the award for most costume changes over the course of the evening, and that's without counting the show itself.

Speaking of which: not only was it the first time I'd ever visited an SNL broadcast; it was also the first time I'd even watched it in quite a few years (nothing against it, just that I'm usually out on Saturday nights, and then there were the 10 years I spent in England where, if it was shown at all, was generally only in reruns). So I was pretty unaware as to who most of the cast members were, and many of the in jokes sailed right over my head. But most of it seemed pretty hilarious to me, and SNL connoisseurs seemed to concur that it was an especially good episode, particularly in terms of Will Ferrell's contribution.

Having the best band in the world (sorry if you disagree, but I'm sticking with it) as musical guests couldn't have hurt, either, and it was only when Billie started strumming his acoustic guitar during the rehearsal of "21 Guns" that I realized just how long it had been since I'd seen the band close up in a small room (the SNL studio is not even as big as many bars and clubs where I've watched bands play), which was exciting enough, but when the whole band kicked in with sound quality that would have been at home in an enormous arena, it gave me shivers. I must have seen Green Day, oh, I don't know, 100 times? Probably more than that, but most of them were many years ago, often in basements or backyards where pro sound quality - or any sound quality - was, shall we say, not the first priority. If it was even an issue at all. Hey, there were shows where the entire production crew was yours truly, in that I plugged their microphones into my Peavey 600 Mixer and cranked it as loud as it would go without feeding back.

Today they have production values that are as good as if not better than any band in the world - no, more than that, that are simply breathtaking, and that's before you even get to the music itself. On one hand it's staggering to see how far they've come these past couple decades - I continue to maintain that they're making the best music of their career right now - but backstage, you can sometimes forget that anything has changed at all: the goofing around, the jokes, the conversations that spin from silly to deadly serious and back again in the blink of an eyelid could make you think 1989 never went away at all.

Or maybe it's just me. Especially with Tre, who I've known seven years longer than Billie and Mike, i.e., since he was a small child - I'm likely to regress to old behavior, and at one point - I feel really bad about this now - I started picking on him by making fun of a painting he'd bought and which he was very proud of. He got me back pretty good, however, by accusing me of "blogging with 12 year olds," and though I'd swear at least some of you reading this are a bit older, I didn't have a decent comeback. I thought of a couple good ones once I got home; isn't that always the way it is? On the other hand, at a party the night before, Tre kept trying to wrestle me and I'm pleased to report that after all this time, and with me only a few years away from Social Security, he STILL can't take me down. And he's got some serious muscles now, folks. I assumed he must have been hitting the gym, but he swears he never sets foot in one. It's all just from drumming, but from the way he hits (the drums, not me), it shouldn't be surprising.

I got to the NBC studios when the pre-show rehearsal was about halfway through, and we watched that on a TV monitor in the dressing room, except for when Green Day played, when we went out into the studio and watched from the side of the stage. Then when the actual show started, I, along with the WAGS (English football-speak for "Wives And Girlfriends") went up into the balcony to watch. They weren't ideal seats, but at least they were seats; next to us a huge knot of celebrities, including what looked like half the cast of 30 Rock, had to stand for the whole show.

It was surprising how much of the show was cut out or changed between the rehearsal and the actual broadcast. The swear words, for example, but one thing I wished they'd kept was Amy Poeler and Seth Myers trading (well, actually it was mostly Amy) Chewbacca imitations during the Weekend Update. And the part where Green Day joined in on the Saigon singalong was thrown in at the last minute and hadn't been rehearsed at all.

But possibly the very best segment of the whole show came after the finale and was not broadcast at all: Green Day came back out and played two more songs, "She" and "East Jesus Nowhere." A minute or so into EJN, Will Ferrell suddenly appeared on stage banging on a cowbell (in reasonably good time with the music, it must be said), and generally hamming it up to hilarious effect. At first the band were kind of unsure what was going on, but then they rolled with it, even when Ferrell took up a position behind Billie for a shameless bit of monkey-faced mugging that while putting the audience in danger of falling out of their chairs with laughter, somehow didn't detract from the song at all.

When the song went into a kind of breakdown, Ferrell was temporarily at a loss for what to do, since there was no clear cut rhythm to bang his cowbell to, but he recovered any lost aplomb and then some when the band went back into the power finale by sticking his head in front of Billie at the microphone and inquiring loudly, "Is this song still going on?"

After it was all over, the party started, and I'm not just talking some little intimate encounter where the cast sits around and hashes over the episode concluded, but some pretty glitzy do (recession? not here?) for one or two thousand people on the ground floor of the building and spilling out into what I just now realized was the Rockefeller Center ice rink (which explains all those puddles of water I found myself wading through). But mostly we just sat and talked about, well, stuff, until I realized it was getting on toward 4 am. I hopped aboard my pumpkin to Brooklyn, in the form of the F and the L trains, and returned to normal life, or at least the life where my shabby old clothes would fit right in. That being said, I swear I'm doing laundry tonight, and maybe even finally breaking down and buying a new jacket. Just in case, because as Mom may or should have said, you never know.


paxton quigly said...

Green Day's performance on SNl not so much... that first song where it is one line and hes saying do you know the enemy or whatever was such a toss off B sider it couldnt hold a candle to the stuff on their last album.
btw more cowbell...

jnine said...

Thanks for sharing this. It's nice to hear they're still hanging with their old friends. It would be nice if those songs ended up on youtube, I have a friend who keeps insisting they need more cowbell, maybe she was right.

Ricky Gremlin said...

Tell Tre some of us are 29 years old.

Anonymous said...

Great read, thanks for sharing! Tell Tre to eat it, not all of us are 12.

René said...

Hey Larry, what was this Tom Hanks jamming with Green Day thing about? I'd like to hear that.
Pretty damn good read by the way.