the newspapers autograph

Copyright 1991-1997 by Larry Hastings. Free to redistribute, provided it is redistributed intact including this copyright notice.

What you're about to read is the truth––the cold, hard, gristly facts about the events of that fateful evening. No names have been changed, no events forgotten, no convenient lies left intact. It really happened, during Stan Ridgway's performance at The Edge in Palo Alto on the Partyball tour in the autumn of 1991.

Now, wouldn't you know it, there were not merely one but two opening bands. Opening bands are generally a trial; something to be withstood, not really enjoyed. My friends and I gritted our teeth, planted our earplugs firmly in place for the din that was to come, and prepared to wait.

This time, though, I'd planned ahead. I was still a student back then, and I brought some homework along to occupy that long dark hour of the soul. I wanted to bring along something that I didn't need books for; after all, I was going to be in a dance club, and I was going to look geeky enough as it was. So I brought my folder for MUSC 15, Music Composition. Our homework was to compose eight or ten melody lines, and I figured I could do that even set against the anti-melodic strains of the opening bands.

While I'm sitting at a table at the club, ignoring the clattering and braying from up front, my friend David Van Brink wanders over. (David is a longtime Stan Ridgway fan––he says he remembers Wall Of Voodoo concerts where they were saying "Buy our EP!") David is also doing his best to ignore the bone-jarring racket, so to take his mind off it he asks me what I'm doing. I show him, and he says "Hey, that's great! You should hand that to Stan while he's on stage––he'd probably get a kick out of it! He might even try and play 'em!" I shuddered to think about Stan trying to play my untested melodies, but thought for another second and said "Well, if I was going to hand him anything, I'd hand him... this."

"This" was my sheet music to Newspapers. I'd written up the first page of my own piano arrangement to Newspapers as the first assignment in MUSC 15; the assignment was merely to write up a page of sheet music, anything we wanted, so our professor could judge our music writing skills. I elected to do Newspapers just because... just because it was my own arrangement, so it wasn't like I was copying anyone else's notation, and it was easy enough to write, with just the standard two clefs, and I had it down cold. The teacher had written "OK" on it and handed it back; I'd jammed it in the back of my folder, and hadn't thought about it until just then in the club.

David thought that handing Stan his own music was an excellent idea. So I stashed it on my person, and pretty soon began my pilgrimage to the front center of the stage. That's the best place to be at a Stan Ridgway concert––you get to watch what everyone is doing, including all the cues back and forth between the performers. And if you do it while the opening band is repelling the Stan-hungry crowd, you won't have any trouble.

Stan starts his set, and after the first couple of songs he introduces his band. He's got two new members; I think it was in fact Mark Schultz on guitar and David Sutton on bass. They play all the oldies, all the hits, everything you would want to hear Stan Ridgway and Chapter Eleven play. Once, then twice, his new members have equipment trouble and delay the next song; but Stan, ever the master showman, easily distracts us audience members with stories about the Christo umbrellas and other current events. The equipment restored to working order, the music continues.

The evening goes on. He plays I Wanna Be A Boss, and at the end a woman next to me attempts to hand Stan Ridgway a cigar, saying "Here, Stan, here! A cigar for you! Because... you're... the boss...", trailing off at the end1. Stan doesn't bite; the woman gamely withdraws her cigar. I wonder whether my sheet music is going to pay off.

Stan nears the end of his set. Then, between songs, one of the new members has a third equipment failure. The guitarist is twiddling dials on his amp, shaking his head, getting out a soldering iron, praying to God or Zeus or whoever––doing all those things that you do when you're trying to fix persnickety equipment on stage. It's been a long show, and with two previous outages Stan has already used up a lot of preplanned jokes. Plus, he's had a couple of beers, so he's not as fast on his feet as he could be. He begins st-stammering into the mike, literally saying "So... how about them 'Niners?", surely the tiredest conversation starter known. And then the realization hits me––Stan is out of material. Stan needs help.

I strike.

Like a cinematic moment, like it was planned beforehand, like a story that I'd tell again and again over the years and someday write up on a web site––I whip out my sheet music for Newspapers and proffer it up to Stan, who is standing right in front of me and looking a little panicked. He looks down, sees it, and grabs it. And, once again confirming his master showman status with his split-second situation analysis, he runs with it. Stan snatches it out of my hand and starts pointing at it, saying2

"Hey, look at this! Someone just handed me sheet music! You know, I do believe this is the strangest thing I have ever been handed while on stage... and look at this, lots of perfect little golf clubs, drawn all over it! What is this, anyway, Yankee Doodle Dandy?"
On he goes. He covers for a minute, the guitarist once again becomes operational, and Stan hands it back, saying to me "Come backstage after the show and I'll sign it for you." (The woman next to me turns green.)

And go I did. After two encores, skipping the third on his set list (always leaving 'em wanting more, dammit), I head for the stage entrance at the back of the building. My friends Matthew Kaufman and Qarin Van Brink (yes, David's sister) ask me what I'm doing; I tell them, and they follow along. The guy at the stage door checks out my story, and lets us in, and we follow him to the dingy green room of the Edge. And Mister Stanard Ridgway himself.

Stan's sitting down, smokin' and drinkin'. He thanks me for helping him out back there. He asks me what the sheet music is for––it was hard to read up on stage––and when I tell him he says "Really––huh. I hadn't worked it out that far." He asks where we're from; at the time, I was living in Santa Cruz. He says "Oh, that's where they've got the fun zone", which confuses me, but Qarin says "That's right." (I'd never heard of the old Wall of Voodoo track; Stan just meant "amusement park". He was talking about the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.)

Stan's really not at the top of his game conversationally, but then who is after a live performance and a couple of beers to boot. He's just sort of mellow, coming down after the show––he isn't really into having a conversation, we realize we should just let him relax in peace, so we say our goodbyes and make our exit.

On our way out, we bump into the bass player (it was David Sutton, I'm sure of it), who chats us up for a moment. He says "Sorry for all those wrong notes out there––but I am new to the band. I hope you guys didn't notice!" We look at each other, and I sort of uncomfortably say "well, uh, yeah, we did." The bass player looks a little crestfallen3, and we hurry out.

But, you ask, did he in fact sign it? Well, now, there's a silly question. Of course he did. He signed it "To my composer friend Larry Hastings––all my best––Stan Ridgway". Don't believe me? Well, dammit, I'd scan it in and put it up, but I can't seem to find it.


1: Kind of like Donald Pleasance did when he shot "The Duke" in Escape From New York.

2: The text for what Stan said about the sheet music is approximate. Hell, I couldn't remember it precisely the next day, much less now (six years later). But those were the highlights.

3: Note to Mr. Sutton, if you're reading this: my apologies.

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