Soooo, this happened . . .
We were out there at Sands Point, Long Island, shooting a Steve Winwood video in one of those Great Gatsby mansions, hanging at this round banquet table with just Steve and the prop guy and a couple others, and he was talking in his gentle British accent which seemed so perfect for this estate we were on since it was originally built as a replica of an English castle — and somebody at the table was complaining about the new Bob Dylan album, and Steve, who’s a very reserved guy, like an elder royal himself, and after this slagging of Bob goes on for a while, finally Sir Winwood speaks up in his soft tone and says, “For me, he can do no wrong,” and that pretty much put an end to the Slag Bob conversation. “In fact, when he was in England on that first electric tour in ’66 we met up and went exploring places like this out in the English countryside. Very curious was Bob.”
As usual on these shoots there’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait downtime, and besides listening to the sound of the Traffic, I started exploring this huge castle, and these things are so stupidly big you can get lost in them — hallways that go on forever, and rooms beget rooms beget rooms. This particular mansion has been a set for loads of movies and TV shows and such and so all different sections of it were decorated like different sets — there were futuristic rooms, psychedelic rooms, 1800s rooms, royal rooms, billiard rooms, dining rooms, and half of them have giant fireplaces imported from Europe that you could park a truck in — so I’m just prankstering about hell-bent on exploring every inch of it, and after I get a fair handle on its architecture, I go check back in with the shoot, and they’re mucking around with these Ferraris out front and I start talkin’ to the prop guy again who’s out there and actually lives on the Island, and he’s saying, “Yeah-man, these Japanese guys are precision-guided maestros,” nodding to the collective of cinematographers. They’re all speaking Japanese and nobody else knows what the hell’s going on, but it’s a glorious day and no one cares. And I look at the mansion from the outside, which I hadn’t really done seen since we arrived when it was still dark, and notice for the first time there’s a giant turret at one end that I somehow missed. And I’m like, “Who-boy, this is some kinda house, eh?!”
And there’s a long pause as he sizes me up anew. “Yeah, sure is, … Canadian. … You never been here before?” he asks as I though I should have been, and maybe he’s right.
And I’m, “What’s with that turret? Can you get up in that thing?”
And he’s, “Yeah, of course.” Then another long pause. … “You wanna smoke a joint?”
And I’m, “Hmm, lemme think about it for a minu… — yeah.”
And he flashes the eyebrow high-beams, a slight nod towards the front door, and, “Let’s do some location scouting.”
And off we go. He’s got the walkie-talkie-thingie and we can hear people squawkin’ away, and he’s, “We’re done with the interiors, I’m basically off for the day.” And since I’m the producer’s assistant who seems to have forgotten I’m here, off we go, up the grand staircase with carved heads on the corners of the banister, and down the dark hall past supplies left behind from various shoots and stray furniture that made it look like you were at some mansion in the middle of moving day. And at the very end of the hall he goes, “This was the master bedroom,” as we walk into this massive room with stained glass windows on three sides and another ornate fireplace the size of a garage and enough floor space to drive around in circles.
And Rick, that’s his name, walks straight into the corner of this paneled wall like he’s going to disappear into it but pulls a little hidden handle right outta the wall and this big wooden panel opens up and there’s a dark spiral staircase! In we prank, and up we go, creakin’ ancient wood that was clearly not part of any restoration plan, until we open a door and Boom! There’s the Atlantic Ocean! Actually, Rick corrects me, “It’s Long Island Sound,” but it’s still the ocean saltwater, and you still can’t see land on the other side, so I’m stickin’ with “ocean.”
And we’re on the top of this big round turret with battlement teeth for the archers to hide behind, and although it was perfectly calm down on the grounds, there was a healthy summer’s breeze up there, so we spark the fattie behind a rampart, and he starts telling me how he grew up on the Island. “Yeah-man, I’ve seen these things change so much over the years. Half of these old mansions are falling down, and the other half … found me stumblin’ around drunk on Burgundy wine,” he starts singing from “Wharf Rat!”
“You’re a Deadhead?!” I blurt in surprise.
And he smiles mid-puff and somehow knew that I was already.
And after he holds in the smoke a couple of beats and blows it out, “Yeah-man, since Englishtown ’77. You?”
“Seattle 1980. … But Radio City were my 2nd through 7th shows.”
“There ya go. … That was the best New York run ever.”
“I snuck into my second show there,” and I tell him that helluva story, and weir riffin’ and the walkie-talkie’s squawkin’ at the seagulls, and the blue sky is lookin’ bluer, and the day just keeps getting better.
“Yeah, we used to sneak into a these old mansions when we were kids.”
“No WAY! We did that in Winnipeg! … But of course the mansion was the size of the gatehouse at this place, but still!”
And he’s, “Yeah-man, they’d have them fenced off, but … we were kids, right?” and he winks and I know and we laugh. And out of the blue sky he says, “If this thing wraps early, and it looks like it might, there’s a benefit dinner just down the road that my buddy’s doin’ sound for. We should stop in. You wanna see a real castle?” and he does that prankster nod, like, “You ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, kid.”
So, we go back to the front grounds and the mid-afternoon Ferrari exteriors were the last scene of the day, and my producer pal was beaming with how everything had gone especially since Winwood was being so agreeable, happily sittin’ or standin’ or walkin’ or doin’ whatever they asked him to. He’d said at the table, “I have no idea what they’re doing. I just make the music. They can take whatever pictures they want.” And finally you hear those magic words on every shoot, “Okay, that’s a wrap for today, folks. Tomorrow morning 5AM, Wall Street” — and it’s like “Action” was just called for the hundred or so fairly stationary crew people who all snap to and start breaking down gear.
I go over to the producer. “How YOU doin’?!” and she smiles a huge, “Oh yeah!”
“Okay, I’m gonna help the prop guy pack up,”
“Good,” she says, already lost in her next-step production thoughts.
“And I think I’m gonna catch a ride back to the city with him. You cool for the rest of the day?”
A long pause, “Yeah. I’ll see you at 5 tomorrow at Wall & Hanover. Get some sleep,” she says.
Woo-hoo! I’m off!
And I spot Rick already driving his van around the car-wide walkway to the parking-lot-sized terrace overlooking the Sound, and we load up candelabras and ornate music stands and a cello and giant framed paintings and all this weird stuff that appeared in the shoot somewhere, and he looks at the time. “The benefit starts at six, we should be good.”
On the drive there he starts telling the whole backstory of the Gold Coast scene to this wayward Canuck. “Yeah-man, these things were all built around the turn of the century before there was income tax — the megarich industrialists and bankers and shit —Vanderbilts, Morgans, Guggenheims, Woolworths … all those guys who made more money than they could spend — so they built these castles to show off and entertain their friends — Great Gatsby land, ya know? — except they actually shot that in Rhode Island, the bastards. Course, that was before my time anyway.”
And suddenly we hit the town of “Manhasset”!! — “NO WAY! That’s my name!!”
“Yer kiddin’, really? Funny. Maybe your ancestors were here. Maybe one of these mansions is yours. Never know.” And I’m half-way believing him and spend the rest of the trip craning my neck for “Hassett House.”
And after a while weir drivin’ along a road past a tall vine-covered fence and he points with his thumb, “This is it.”
“What, Hassett House?”
“No,” he laughs, “Where the benefit is.” But we still keep driving what seems like about an hour before we get to the gate, and of course there’s rent-a-cops and guys with clipboards and headsets, and Rick pulls right up to the giant gatehouse, “We’re Magnum Sound.” And the guy starts flippin’ through pages, and he says, “Okay,” but then, “Wait — there’s only one vehicle,” meaning only one truck cleared to get in, and it’s already there. And Rick goes, “Yeah, that’s Marco. He just called and the patch cords are fried,” and he points behind in the van like we’ve got the new ones. And the doorman nods, then motions to the gatekeeper, who swings open the black gate and suddenly weir driving past the guards into this private park of a front yard with a canopy of trees like The Mall in Central Park except the road weaves and winds until we come out at this castle about three times the size of the last one!
There’s a bunch of production trucks and another guy with a clipboard and a headset. Rick: “We’re sound.”
“You have to load in?”
“No, already did. We’re tech.”
“Okay, follow this around to the right and there’s parking in back.”
And Rick doesn’t say a word, just nods like he’s done this a million times, and I bet he has.
Then Boom we’re walking into this giant shiny modern kitchen in this old Versailles of a palace, with men and women completely dressed in white cooking up a storm and it’s loud and everyone’s moving fast and Rick and I just swim through the rapids and whoosh out the far door into some other anteroom leading into a giant high-ceilinged banquet room with about 50 chairs along each side of a single long table with all these men and women dressed completely in black putting the last touches on the table and placing covered trays of food around on side tables, and Rick & I just saunter through like we live there, then through another anti-room and into a giant ornate ballroom! with a two story high ceiling and huge oak beams and arched corners with a twinkling galaxy of stars painted on the ceiling between the beams. And there’s a black temporary stage and P.A. at one end, and sound mixer at the other. And Rick calls across the empty echoing room, “Marco!” And without missing a Beat, the figure behind the board starts speaking through the PA.
“Call in the clowns. I need all clowns stage left. . . . Jokers, you’re up next.”
“Hey, brother!” and they hug a quick one. “We just got off the Winwood shoot. This is Brian — Deadhead from Canada.”
“Canada!” Marco bellows. “Copps Coliseum! 1990. Best Hey Jude / Fantasy I ever heard,” he says without looking up from his board that he’s adjusting even though there’s no sound.
“The Boys doin’ Steve Winwood,” I add.
“Good one,” they both smile.
“So, what’s on tonight?” Rick asks.
“WHAT?!” I scream in my head but don’t say a thing to keep my cool, and look out across the ballroom floor to the stage and realize this is gonna be a private home performance by one of my favorite performers ever!
And the guys start talkin’ shop but I’m flashing back on all the times I’ve seen her — opening for Dylan at Roseland, the Irving Plaza show, Woodstock ’94 — and I’m also flashin’ on that 5AM call on Wall Street, and realize it’s gonna be one of those sleep-when-I’m-Dead routines.
And Marco looks at the clock on his board and goes, “Okay, they’re gonna be arriving in a couple minutes, have you seen this place yet?” and he takes us on a private tour of this private castle.
One crazy thing is … every room had another room in between. Like, you never just walked from one room into another, there was always some little sitting room or storage room or bathroom room or something in between every other room. And suddenly weir in this big library with floor-to-ceiling books behind leaded glass doors with big reading chairs you could picture Sherlock Holmes sitting in and of course another one of those giant marble fireplaces and it’s all dark except for bridge lamps leaning over each of the plushy chairs.
Then we wandered through this sunken indoor garden with a fountain in the middle and skylights for a ceiling, and everywhere there’s walls of windows that look like a church, and I’d lost count of how many fireplaces we’d walked past.
And we get out to the grand foyer that’s about the size of a cathedral with tall arching columns and these little chapel-like rooms that extend off the sides and the whole space has been turned into a giant bar for the night. Or multiple bars, such as it was, with more gorgeous women and men all in black, and apparently patrons had already started to arrive, and the room was alive, and everything echoes in these places so it sounds like a really loud party already. And there’s a guy in a red-&-white striped costume at an upright piano by the front door playing ragtime, and ol’ Marco goes, “You want a beer, Canadian?” The guy delivered everything totally deadpan. Never cracked a smile but was always sayin’ sumpthin twisted.
And we get to the bar and it’s nothing but bucketfuls of micro-breweries from Europe that I’ve never heard of. I get some Belgium white, and we make the rounds, but it’s obvious we’re not dressed for the occasion, so Marco’s like, “Let’s go check out the cliffs,” and Rick nods, and I’m like, “Cliffs?!”
And weir out the back door, and where the last mansion had a back yard, this place had a statue-filled fountain garden. And as weir walkin’ through it Marco starts explaining, “It’s some world hunger benefit. It’s ten grand a plate in there,” as we walk past reflecting pools with spouting putti and marble basins. And sure enough at the far end are these rockin’ hundred-foot cliffs with the sea crashing below, and Rick pulls out another stick o’ dynamite, and mid-conversation runs it through his mouth to dampen the paper so it’ll burn as slow as the fresh weed, and three old warriors get right with the muta to the crashing waves in the eternity of it.
And I’m flashing on Gatsby and his friends along these same cliffs at these same parties, and how even then I would not have been the guy in a suit, but the guy in the band or some other prankster in the play not wearing a uniform, as we riff on history with these Long Islanders from long before there was a hockey team or a Billy Joel, telling stories about Halloween parties on acid and seeing Springsteen in ’73 at My Father’s Place, the Island’s legendary music joint.
And after losing all sense of time with our feet dangling over the cliff, we all moan to get up, and mosey back to the palace, and enter through that same kitchen but this time it’s even crazier and louder and smells ever better, and we cut back to the grand foyer party which is now full, and the lights seem dimmer and it’s much crazier and rich people are letting loose, and I realize it’s sort of a rock n roll / film crowd — not Wall Street rich, this was crazy rich, and with the lights low and the crowd thick and the dress funky, suddenly weir sorta blending in, and I go back to the front door where there seems to be excitement, and people are comin’ in and having their picture taken, and they all look like movie stars, but I’m so not on that beat I don’t know if they are or not, except then somebody comes in and suddenly I see Tom Cruise come climbing over the top of the ragtime piano like a monkey, calling out to the people arriving while laughing his head off, and I’m thinkin, “Geez, this guy really is a climber!” as he comes down over the front end stepping on the keys and jumping into the arms of his friends.
And then there’s another fluster at the giant door and these two old ladies come in very slowly, and right behind them is Steven Spielberg! I think one of them was his mother, and flashbulbs are goin’ off, and there might have been applause or something, and I’m realizing this is gonna be some night! And also, who the heck else is here?!
So, I head back and score an unpronounceable German beer, and meanwhile Marco and Rick have disappeared, and I suddenly notice these people all know each other, and a solo prankster in workaday shorts ain’t gonna be making time with these cover girls, and I also realize it’s definitely true that rich gentlemen prefer blonds, and skinny ones, and young ones, and so before I get busted for staring I’m thinkin’ its time for a smoke on the sacred grounds and go out and join the welcoming crew on the white gravel driveway in front, and there’s a line-up of limos and cool vintage cars stretching back along that long and winding road we drove in on, and I fall in with the valets who didn’t have much to do that night, but here were the modern-day Neal Cassadys, paid to park cars. And like Neal, a lot of them were on the make for connections or chicks or whatever, but one of them was standing there just digging on the simple glory of the night, and he and I riffed back and forth about cars and luxury and celebrities, and just then a black Rolls door opens and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins get out! And I get a flash of that art imitating life last scene in “The Player” when the executive arrives home at his mansion driveway and kisses his blond wife.
And pretty soon all the beautiful people go into the beautiful banquet hall for their beautiful meal, and I scootch in while they’re packing up the bar and snag a fresh Dutch frosty to go with the fresh Dutch tobacco, and schlep around back to find Marco and Rick lounging at a table on the terrace. “Hey! We were wonderin’ where you were!” And after a few minutes of ketchup and jam, without any of us saying a thing, a couple girls from the kitchen must have seen us out the window and brought out three plates, and we had fresh salmon and veggies in the green garden with the sea air and the silver silverware. “So, … this is about 30 grand we’re eating right here?”
And I mine ‘ol Ricky for details on Englishtown, and he mines me for details on Wayne Gretzky, and Marco didn’t mind any of it.
And then Boom! I suddenly remember Sheryl Crow’s gonna be playing!! What?!?
And after a fine after-dinner Dutch cigar we head in and now everybody’s drunk and gettin’ drunker. And weir back in the ballroom but it’s full of people and the lights are low except for a subtle illumination of the stars above, and Sheryl and her band come out to a roomfulla friends and play it as such and have a grand ballroom time.
So of course I go right up front and it’s just a little three foot stage that I coulda just jumped up on and hugged her, which I certainly wanted to do, but instead just danced at her feet.
She opened with the perfect “It’s Hard To Make A Stand” for everyone who was there doing that with their presence. Into “Redemption Day” and I was getting the feeling this whole set was gonna be thematically linked, and boy did that turn out to be right, and I bet she does a lot of these benefit gigs that nobody ever hears about. “I’ve wept for those who suffer long, But how I weep for those who’ve gone,” and I gotta admit I totally lost it — for those I’ve lost and we’ve lost and the beauty of fate and life that put me in this place at this time. Then if that wasn’t enough she goes into the beautiful tear-inducing ballad “Angels” and this has become some kinda gospel show — “When you’re pulled from the wreckage, You’re in the arms of an angel, May you find some comfort here.” And it’s weird because you gotta sorta hold it together when you’re in a room full of people, but I wasn’t doing a very good job.
And then thank gawd she left the tear-jerkers behind and went into a rockin “Love Is A Good Thing,” with the lyrics about “buying a gun at Wal-Mart stores” that got her album banned at all their shit stores in the world. Then she went into the challenging “Strong Enough” from her first album — every song about empowerment in one way or another. And then into a thrashing “A Change Will Do You Good” and I looked over and there was Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon dancing like teenagers, and Tim was like me with my girlfriends in that he’d dance away and film some partygoers or Sheryl with this little hand-held he had and then go dancing back to Susan, and everybody’s havin’ a grand time, just fans of the Dance. Then I couldn’t believe it — she did Dylan’s “Mississippi” — a song of his she recorded before he did. And again I’m half-way losin’ it standing five feet from Sheryl singing Bob in this private ballroom with no thought a few hours ago that anything like this was gonna happen. And there may have been a few other songs in there but she ended with my bar-none favorite live song she does, the Keith Richards-channeled “There Goes The Neighborhood” and just rips the roof of the place. “Hey! Let’s party! Let’s get down!” And I remember this song winning the Grammy for best female vocal performance and MAN you can hear why!
And when it’s over I’m just a ball of sweat and a beaming sun, almost frickin’ shaking, and on wobbly knees make it back to the soundboard and there’s Ricky smiling. “Enjoy yourself?”
And the wonderful thing is, it was over by about 10:00 or sumpthin and Rick’s, “We gotta go.” Old pro that he is, it’s a 5AM call. And Boom! Long story short, we pull off the drop off, and I next see him but a few hours later, reunited in this same evening’s darkness for the next scene on a silent empty Wall Street in downtown New York City.
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For more Adventure Tales, you might enjoy . . .
or … the wild physical confrontation both Al Franken and I got caught up in at a Howard Dean rally in New Hampshire.
or … the time I jumped on the Pittsburgh Penguins team bus during the playoffs.
or … scammed my way into the “On The Road” premiere in London in the courtyard of a palace.
or … snuck backstage at the world premiere of the new “On The Road” in Toronto and met up with Walter Salles.
or … there was the greatest single night in New York’s history — when Obama first got elected.
or … the worst single night — when John Lennon was murdered.
or … there was the time The Grateful Dead came to town and played my 30th birthday party.
or … the night I went out in the Village with Jack Kerouac’s old friend Henri Cru on his 70th birthday,
or … went running with the Olympic torch when Canada was hosting in 2010.
or … the time I snuck in to Dr. John and ended up hangin with his whole band.
or … the time I found that cat while out waterfalling on the Niagara Escarpment.
or … the time my mom and I got trapped in the worst hospital in Italy and barely escaped with our lives.
or … of course one of the great multi-day Adventures of all time — Obama’s first inauguration.
by Brian Hassett
karmacoupon@ gmail.com BrianHassett.com