True Stories and Legends
IT'S JUST STUFF
1. The Ugly Suit
Nudie made the greatest suits in the world. He made Elvis' famous gold lame outfit, which was reputed to have cost $10,000. Nudie would add that $9,500 was profit. He made all of Porter Wagoner's rhinestone suits. He is credited with having invented the rhinestone shirt. He made the light-up suit for the movie "Electric Horseman." Tammy Wynette found out she was pregnant with George Jones' child when she noticed her Nudie Suit didn't fit. Nudie was, not arguably, the greatest cowboy tailor. He had come from the Old Country and made a name for himself. At his peak, he could be seen driving his huge, handcrafted, horse-trophy-bearing limos through Hollywood, passing out dollar bills to kids--his picture was pasted over George Washington's. A special man, and a real artist. He died in 1984 at age 81, and his shop closed ten years after.
In the early Nineties, my brother Dave called me from Taos, New Mexico. Dave is the drummer for Asleep at the Wheel, a job which has earned him a small fistful of Grammies. Dave was calling because he had found two Nudie suits in a second hand clothing store. He whispered into the phone that the owners didn't know what they had. He wanted the "good-looking one," for himself, and I could have the "ugly one" for $250. I told him I didn't care what was on it, what condition it was in, what the pattern was on it, or what size it was, I wanted it. One day, I had a feeling it had arrived. I waited by the mailman's truck until he showed up and handed me the big, brown-wrapped package. When I tried on "the ugly suit," which was a perfect fit, I felt wonderful. At last I was where I belonged. I felt, I imagine, the way a transvestite feels when he first tries on the bra.
It was great for my career. All of the pictures of me that are well-known were taken in the suit. I wore it to every trade show. After a while, I traded a computer to Dave for the "good-looking" suit, but I had to promise that I'd leave it to him in my will. Some folks would say I got pretty famous with the help of those two outfits.
"The Ugly Suit" is brick red, with about 50 hand-stitched, painted leather silver dollars on it. Each silver dollar is about the size of a pizza or cupcake, and is surrounded with a tightly spaced circle of the finest rhinestones. The dollars on the right side are all stitched tails, and those on the left are heads. It's the best-looking thing I'd ever owned.
"The Good-Looking Suit" is black, with hand-embroidered gold buckets of money dumping out all over it. It's gaudy and elegant. It appears on the cover of Hank Thompson's "Live in Las Vegas" album, which I've heard said was the first live country album. Who knows.
Dave wore the black suit to the Grammies, and was the best-dressed guy there. Bonnie Raitt got on the elevator with him and gave him a look. "Heavy Suit." "Thanks." At a later Grammy show, Dave ran into Hank Thompson. They talked about the suit as though it were a woman they'd both slept with. "Sure was heavy." "Yup." As Dave was leaving, Hank's wife showed up. Dave thought he heard Hank's wife call after him--something about the suit.
In 100 Years of Western Wear, the book about outfits like this, there's a chapter or two about Nudie. A couple of Hank Thompson's suits are shown. Hank is a great Country singer who was one of Nudie's biggest customers (http://www.infocs.com/hank/). Nudies were Hank's trademark. The book says, "if anybody knows the whereabouts of Hank's Gold Nugget Suit, please contact the publisher. I called, got in touch with Hank's manager, and was assured that there was no problem with my owning the suits.
2. Cousin Ernie
After my first really, really good year in business, I went with my friend Kevin to the Dallas guitar show to buy myself a treat. Maybe a "White Falcon" guitar. We looked at every guitar in the place, and came back to one very strange one. "Cousin Ernie" (which was its name, for that is what was painted on the pickguard) was a big '58 Gretsch, that much is certain, and as such is worth more than I paid for it. However, there was so much uncertain about it, it was universally known and despised by Gretsch collectors, so I got it for a steal. For one thing, it looks just like a "White Falcon," but it's finish was an outrageous gold sparkle. For another thing, there was a little red button next to the other switches. The button did nothing and shouldn't have been there, and the purists didn't like that. What's more, "Cousin Ernie" is the stage name that Tennessee Ernie Ford used on the I Love Lucy show. Nobody has ever shown me pictures of Ford with this guitar, but, in the unofficial opinion of Teisco Del Rey, the great expert on weird guitars, it's too weird not to be real. Who would paint "Cousin Ernie" on a perfectly good instrument if it weren't for Cousin Ernie? I mean, who would bother to forge something that stupid?
My conversation with the salesman was colorful. I asked him "what's Cousin Ernie's story?" and he told me to sit down. That's a good sign. He said that Mac Yasuda, the famous collector of vintage guitars, had once bought Cousin Ernie for $28,000, but Gretsch wouldn't authenticate that they had made the guitar in-house, so Mac hadn't taken delivery. As for the red button, he swore that it was stock. There was, he said, a picture in some book somewhere of some famous guy with a stock Gretsch Anniversary with that same button.
There is a group of guitar enthusiasts who complain that the Japanese are ruining the world buying up all the "real guitars." It's generally thought that the guitars sit around, collected but unplayed. I have come to believe these enthusiasts are complaining about Mac Yasuda. Mac now also collects Nudie Suits. Some folks worry about that.
During what I imagine to be years of disuse, waiting for the collectors to stop arguing, the jack on this poor guitar had fallen into the body, indicating that the thing hadn't even been played for a long, long time. I asked the salesman to fish the jack out. I played Cousin Ernie. That was that. I bought Cousin Ernie, for much, much less than the $28K Mac Yasuda had supposedly paid. I pretty much haven't played another guitar since.
One day, a few months later, I decided to explore the vintage guitar store nearest my home. I'd never been in. The owner recognized me. He had a color newspaper picture of me and Cousin Ernie up on the wall. I think I was wearing the Good Looking suit in that picture. He was glad I'd come in--he had wanted to get a good look at Cousin Ernie, maybe a photo, and didn't know how to reach me. We talked slowly and appreciatively about guitars for a while--I told him all about Tennessee Ernie Ford and Mac Yasuda. I went home and got the guitar, came back, opened the case--now remember this was, like, a Thursday afternoon--and into the empty store walked a Japanese guy, followed by two guys carrying briefcases.
He pointed at the guitar in the case, and said, very deadpan, "Cousin Ernie. I know this guitar. It's not real."
"You know this guitar?"
"Yes. I once paid $28,000 for this guitar. It's not real. I didn't take delivery." He turned to go.
"Wait! Can I have a card? I might want to get more information on the history of this guitar." He scrawled his name and number on a piece of paper. Mac Yasuda.
"Are you going to the Dallas show this year?"
"No, I've got a guitar I like playing."
"Hmmmm." He left.
"Who was that guy?" asked the store owner. I showed him the piece of paper. "MAC YASUDA?!?!" he screamed, and started wildly flipping off the exit door. "I wouldn't have sold you anything anyway, ya jerk! I don't NEED your money!!!!"
3. The Nile Valley
On the way out to the NAMM show in LA in '98, where the rest of this story will take place, I had the good luck to be on a nearly empty plane from Austin to Phoenix. After hauling the Ugly Suit to the airport in a big, heavy Keel case, I was delighted that I might get to sleep, since for the two previous nights I'd been partying hard for business and friendship at the Austin Computer Game Developers' Conference. But the sleeping was not to be, for assigned to the seat across the aisle from me was Awad.
I had seen Awad twice before, and had each time had a wonderful, though short, conversation with him. He wears white robes, and has three deep scars down each cheek. He sells incense and herbal tea under the brand name Nile Valley (http://nilevalleyherbs.com/). He uses the profits to buy solar power and clean water for the villagers in his homeland on the banks of the Nile. Awad is a Nubian.
We had wonderful talk, which led to my telling him about a dream I'd had recently. I was in the poor part of town, near some parking lots. There were homeless folks all around. There was money on the ground. I'd pick up a dollar, then a five, then a hundred. It felt pretty good. Then I saw that one guy, one really old guy, was dying. I gave him all my money. It felt really good.
Awad said "it's always better to give than to receive." I guess he'd know.
On the next plane, from Phoenix to LA, I was ready to sleep. But I got to talking to the guy next to me, who was into Big Investments and moving money through time and all that cash stuff. He seemed pretty "up." He especially was excited about model trains. When I asked him what motivates him, this is what came out: "I had a rough divorce. My wife set fire to my house, destroying everything I owned. She was convicted of arson, so there was no insurance. She then killed my 14-year-old daughter, and herself. That changed my priorities. Now--I have good days, and great days. That's it."
4. NAMM. I was There.
I arrived at my hotel room, and found my roommate, Jim Cara, had already arrived. I told him about my having sat next to Awad, thinking he'd love the story. But his airplane story was better--sort of a "Dear Penthouse Forum, I never thought this would happen to me" story. Part of the fun was that Jim, married, acted the perfect gentleman throughout his adventure. So I got really mad at him for beating my story, and that became our running gag. "...and The Forum team is still just a little bit out front--but wait! What's this? Out of Nowhere, The Nubians Score!!!"
Every month, the back page of Music and Computers magazine (published by Miller-Freeman) features a photo of me in The Ugly Suit, with a few paragraphs of crackpot philosophy, which I narrate in about an hour every month to editor Dave Battino. Dave edits it brilliantly (modest guy--he says he just "takes out the 'um's'"), and the column has gained a bit of a following among computer-oriented musicians. I was at the NAMM show to sign autographs at Miller-Freeman's booth. The slogan for the event was "It ain't over 'till the Fat Man Signs." To be recognized, I wore The Ugly Suit. It's interesting to note that the signing event was taking place at the LA Convention Center, the same building in which I had once used the Heimlich maneuver to save the life of a movie producer, in front of 300 people, dressed in my "cowboy hero" clothes. How all those people got in my cowboy hero clothes, I'll never know.
At the booth, during signing hours, things went slowly. To pass the time, the Miller-Freeman staff and I took to swapping some stories. When my turn came, I opened with the phrase "Amazing things seem to happen to me." I began to tell of opening my guitar case in the little store in Austin. I told how Mac Yasuda had walked up, and how he had said "I once paid $28,000 for that guitar." I was doing my best gruff Japanese accent, which is somewhat thicker than Mac's. At exactly that moment, somebody stopped right in front of me and waved. I looked up. It was Mac Yasuda.
The two or three people who had stayed with me during my story were dumbfounded at this coincidence. I told Mac that I had just been telling a story about him. I even repeated the last line in my awkward "Mac" voice--I don't like to say things about people behind their backs that I wouldn't say to their faces. He touched me on the brick-red rhinestone-studded sleeve and said only this:
"Hank wants the suits back. I'm seeing him in two weeks."
5. Horse Trading
I mentioned that I had checked into it, and all I could figure out is that maybe Hank's wife wanted the suits back. For a Hank Museum or something.
Of course I was a bit stunned. I mean, the suits were my trademark, but they had always been Hank's, too. I'd seen a music video recently of Hank and Junior Brown, which featured a couple of Nudie Suits. I told this to Mac. He said "He gave them all away. He doesn't know where they are."
I said maybe we could work something out. A trade. "Mac. You're a famous horse-trader. You could work this out for us."
His reply? "Horses. Yes. White ones. I have five of them. Are you going to the Dallas guitar show this year?"
I went home that evening. I slept, but not a lot. Around four in the morning, I was thinking about Awad and that dream about giving the money to the old man. Suddenly, I felt great. Come to think of it, I've felt great ever since.
The next day, I took the suit to Mac and told him to give it to Hank.
Turns out Mac's a pretty nice guy. He's a country singer, performs at the Grand Ol' Opry, and loves Hank Williams. He wears Nudie suits when he plays out. He gave me a CD of him singing Hank Williams tunes. On the CD, he plays Hank's actual guitars. Sounds good. Looks really good.
When I went back to the hotel, I told Jim Cara what I had done. He said I was like Jesus or something. Then he figured maybe that I had an angle and I'd get some kind of reward. Grin. Wink. I told him that the only reason I had done it was to kick the Forum Team's butt.
I had a run of great luck. Our hotel room had been paid for, I guess by Miller Freeman. I tried to take a cab across town that evening, but the hotel insisted I take a limo. The next day, the hotel's ATM was broken. I checked out and there was a $9 refund, which they gave me in cash--exactly what I needed to make it to the airport and still have some money left for lunch. I took a cab to the airport. The cab driver, Amat or Ajak--sadly I only remember that he was Armenian and his name was only two letters from "Awad"--asked what I was carrying in the big Keel case. I told my story. He said I was like Elvis.
Amat, the cab driver, had been interested in playing guitar when he was in high school. His dad had said that if he got good grades, he could have a guitar. He couldn't get the grades. My parents and I had made the same deal, and I got my first good guitar that way. I said, "Amat, I'm you. You're me."
Amat and I stopped for lunch at In-n-Out Burgers on the way to the airport, and he paid for my lunch. I told him he was like Elvis.
As of this writing, my favorite music is Mac Yasuda's Tribute to Hank Williams.
This happened to me at the E3 "Electronic Entertainment Expo" Conference in LA, 1996. I don't claim any credit for having been brilliant or heroic. Some generally playful force, like Spirits, Angels, a Higher Power or what-not, seems to have set me up. Actually, that sort of thing seems to be happening quite a bit lately. The same may be happening to you. Or not. You have to decide for yourself. But this is my story, I'm stickin' to it, and every word is true, so help me Texas.
Because of the E3 show, I had to miss my son Glen's gymnastics show. Glen is five and a half. I called him from the big, well-lit glass-covered cafeteria area of the LA Convention Center. I was wearing a rhinestone cowboy suit covered with gold embroidered buckets of money, made by the great Nudie, Elvis' late and legendary tailor. There were about 200 potential clients who could see me from where I was standing. I told Glen I was sorry I missed his show.
"That's OK, Daddy. Here, I'll do some gymnastics for you right now." He put the phone down for a while, picked it back up and said "How was that, Daddy?"
"Wow, Glen. That was great!"
"Now you do some," said Glen.
"OK, Son. I'll fly around the room."
So I put the phone down, yelled real loud, got some looks, of course, from the room full of potential clients, but what the hell. "How was that?"
"Great! You did it! You flew around the room!"
The next morning, I got a call at 8:30 from Bob, my agent. "I got you an interview with the biggest magazine of its kind in Europe. I think what these guys want is a sort of American Hero. They're nuts for that sort of stuff over there."
"OK, Bob. American Hero. Got it. Thanks."
I climbed out of bed and went over to the show to meet with some chip manufacturers in the same cafeteria area from which I called Glen. I sat in a part of the room that was a little more out in the open, so about 300 potential clients could see me. I was wearing a US Cavalry outfit that had been "Indianized." In other words, it had not only gold buttons and insignia, but intricate beadwork, suede fringe on the shoulders, the works. Had the white cowboy hat too, of course. 10x. Only the best.
Now the chip manufacturers had heard all the Fat Man stories, but they hadn't quite bought into the legend yet. I'll refer to their spokesman as "Chip." Chip had heard that some other chip manufacturers weren't able to sell non-Fat-certified chips in Taiwan to sound card manufacturers. "Don't even think about it" is what the Taiwanese told the salesmen, in one case.
But I think Chip was not fully believing the stories. I think he thought them exaggerated. Maybe I was reading too much into it, but I thought he rolled his eyes a bit when he said "oh, yeah, we've heard all about Taiwan and everything." Other than that, the meeting was going very well, and I thought they had a product that was worth endorsing. I hoped they would understand the value of the Fat Seal as a sign of integrity, and consider associating my name with their product.
It had been hard during the meeting to get down to brass tacks. A lot of folks who knew me were coming by, most of them with some business matters to discuss. I thought this might lend me an air of credibility. Or was it just annoying?
Just then, along came Bob the Agent, wearing Hollywood sunglasses, an FBI hat, and a huge Fat Seal across his shirt. I flagged him down to meet the chip guys. He then launched into an incredible pitch...but maybe not exactly the right one for a skeptical audience. How could he know? "I've gotta tell ya about this guy. Have you got two minutes, because I'm really gonna embarrass him," he began. "I mean, I work with Alan Sylvestri, James Horner, bla bla bla, and all that sort of good stuff, and all those guys. And I gotta tell you, you ask the average moviegoer who wrote the music to the movie they just came out of, and maybe one guy knows John Williams, and that's it. But you ask game players about THE FAT MAN, well, that's different. I mean to tell ya, they ALL know about him. I mean, they buy games because of his music. Nobody goes to a movie just for the sound track. Not even for John Williams. Have I embarrassed you, George?"
And off he went. I thought it was a swell pitch, but there was that little roll of Chip's eyes again. Damn.
The next thing that happened is that a guy about 12 feet from me threw up a little bit, then stood bolt upright, eyes straight ahead and bugged out, clutching his chest, and began wheezing very loudly. I heard a voice, whose source I have yet to track down, say, "George, do you know Heimlich?" I got up and asked the guy if he was choking, but he didn't seem to notice me. So I got behind him and popped him in the chest. Out flew a piece of chicken the size of a PC mouse. Chip said "you got it, George." I asked the choking guy if he needed another squeeze, but he signalled weakly that he was OK. I helped him sit down. I stayed with him for a minute, then, when it seemed he was OK, I went back to my table.
There was silence in the room, which is unusual for these trade shows. I tried to be cool and pick up the conversation where we left off. "Now, we were talking about doing something more than the standard endorsement..." But it was hard not to grin.
The chip manufacturers, whose jaws were open to the floor, said "Oh, my God, George. That was incredible! You just saved that guy's life. Do you realize what this means? Now we have to go back to our company and say, 'We gotta work with this guy...bigger than James Horner...can't sell chips in Taiwan without him...and he saves peoples' lives!"
As the sound came back to the room, I tried to get back to business, but people started to come by. "Fat Man! Do you have a card?" (yes, but I'm out of silver bullets...) "Are you The Fat Man? That was amazing." "I was eating with some Japanese guys, and all I can think of is that they'll be telling their friends, 'I went to America and saw a cowboy save a guy's life!'"
We actually did get some pretty good business talked about. After about 20 minutes, the floor had been mopped, and the choking guy recovered enough to come over. He said, "I know you're not expecting any kind of repayment, but I'm a movie producer."
He handed me his card. I didn't think anybody would make a card like this one. It said, "John S______: Movie Producer."
He went on: "When you get your script written, send it to me. I'll read it."
I said, "That's great! I don't write, but I do music for those things."
Walking away, he said, "That doesn't matter! You can't have a movie without a script!"
He walked off saying "Thanks again."
"Thanks for the opportunity."
At that, the guy behind us piped up. "That's the funniest thing I've ever heard. Do you realize what that says about how hard it is to get your script read in this town? I have a friend who's a reporter. Do you mind if I tell him this story?"
Well why not? That's the kind of day I was having.
Bob came back around to the table. I caught him up on the whole story. I told him that I had been sitting around trying to think of ways to further my career when this annoying guy started making a lot of noise. I told him I had been thinking "Think. Think. Career. What's all that noise? Oh, another damn movie producer choking at E3. Now, what was I thinking? Oh, yeah. Bob said something...American Hero! That's it! Hey, I know what to do! So I saved his life. I mean, what the hell. There's all these potential clients around. I'm dressed for it. And if it had happened yesterday and I'd been wearing the rhinestone suit--well, who knows? It might have gotten messy."
Bob looked at me admiringly. "You know, George. The only thing I expect from you now is for you to fly around this room."
PS: At E3 1999, in the same room, I told this story to some friends. I told them that it changed my life. "Things like this happen fairly frequently to me now, and when they do, I'm no longer surprised, just delighted. And I tend to say 'thanks' out loud. Or when a bird flies by in front of me, I wave to it."
At this, Michael Land, who was sitting across the table from me, got an awestruck look. "Uh, excuse me, George, but immediately after you said that, a bird flew by right in front of me."
I hope you have all had moments like this.
I have only been working on cars for a year, since I first got Good-Bad (1958 Silver Cloud I, SGE 302, shown here). I've installed A/C, replaced a broken axle, replaced a differential, and numerous other intermediate repairs. I met with nothing but encouragement from friends.
"Oh, go for it, George!"
"You've got to show it who's boss."
"It's just metal. You can do it."
"I know an old lady who replaced her own rear end..."
And they were all correct. I mean, repairing a Rolls-Royce may seem impressive, but it comes down to this: Compared to a computer, it's a piece of cake. The _manual_ is forty years old. You will never, ever be the first to experience a malfunction. Somebody, somewhere can help you. And if a part breaks in half, you just put the parts back together. Try that with your hard drive.
HOWEVER, when the transmission failed to proceed, the advice I received was radically different:
"What makes you think that you can just waltz right into a Finely Crafted Rolls-Royce Transmission and fix it?"
"That's just a GM, same as the Cadillacs. But don't nobody know how to work on them thangs anymore. Well, there's Ol' Bob, but he won't do it."
"I've been working on these cars for thirty years, and only met two people who can do that. One of them is dead and the other's an ass."
"Look, that's an exotic piece of machinery. Just the tool to _adjust the bands_ costs a thousand bucks. If you want to do it right, I can fix it for you for 20 grand."
And the skinny, cigarrette-smoking 15-year veterans at Aamco were a riot! "damn, bob. I dunno WHUT the hell that thing is in there."
I was fortunate enough to have had access to one of the best mechanics in Texas. I removed the tranny myself, and had it torn down and put back together, and I put it back in (with the help of a good-hearted reporter from Switzerland, but that's another story). Miraculously, my mechanic did the proper voodoo, the car worked well enough to move the car in a forwardly direction, and as Good-Bad is my only transportation, that was quite satisfactory for me.
But certain shall we say "inelegancies" still existed in the car's ride. I studied and studied the transmission manual, and found that it was at precisely the level of a good game: easy to play, difficult to master.
Last weekend, the mechanic and I both had some time to attempt to rectify the problem. Here's the sweet part:
I gave my diagnosis before the jack went under the car, and it turned out to be ABSOLUTELY CORRECT!!!! Within a couple of hours, we were attending the burger stand in proper smoothe-as-glass British style, and doing the "Dr. Pepper Buzz and Milk Shake Cold Headache Victory Dance." And I'm _sure_ I could have done it myself--but it was wonderful to have had the effortless-looking help of an expert.
It may not be a big deal to the true mechanics among you. BUT...I have to take a victory lap.
To the nay-sayers, I say, "HAH!"
To the mechanics and my friends, I say, "Warmest Thanks!"
And to Mssrs. Rolls and Royce, [and Blatchley, the body's designer] I say, "You dudes rock. Do you know Ozzy?"
May the same luck befall all of you, and may you enjoy your victory dances as much as I have enjoyed mine.
Can you diagnose the problem?
The biggest issue is that 2nd to 1st gear downchange happens at 10 MPH and is unseemly--the car lurches as it decelerates.
Other symptoms: Shifts up or down always happen at the same speed (approx 10, 20, 30 MPH) regardless of throttle pressure or throttle valve linkage adjustment.
Forced downshifts do not happen at all.
Reverse is not secure--it can occasionally slip into a forward gear, depending on temperature and luck.
The TV lever seems to have very little travel--and it's all "springy."
The speeds at which upshifts occur are right in between the correct numbers for high and low throttle pressures. Shifting down at those numbers, though, is not comfy. It should wait for very low speeds before it downshifts.
In the transmission's Control Valve Assembly, there's a pair of valves in line with each other, like two tennis balls in a can, but with a stiff spring between them. A mechanical linkage from your gas pedal presses directly on the "T-valve," which is responsible for down-shifts when you (sorry, your Driver) floors it. As the T-valve moves down its tunnel according to your gas pedal's position, it presses on the stiff spring, which doesn't compress yet, but rather displaces the next valve in line, the "Throttle Valve." The job of the Throttle Valve is to "tell" (by varying the pressure of oil in certain passageways) your precision built Rolls-Royce transmission about the physical location of the gas pedal, so that it might raise the ground speeds at which it shifts gears in the event that the pedal is down.
(FYI here's what the T-valve does then: Once the Throttle Valve bottoms out, further pressure on the gas pedal against the T-valve finally compresses the stiff spring to where the T valve can get to a place in the, er, tennis can, where its presence is finally useful. The resulting oil flow tells the transmission "I say, Bertie, this fellow really means business, as his petal is pressed to the Pressed Steel, if you know what I mean. You might consider doing something-or-other to get him the hell out of here, but only, of course, if it's appropriate.")
SO! Since Good-Bad's shifts always occurred at the same speeds, regardless of gas pedal position, the transmission was clearly unaware of changes in pressure that should have been transmitted by the Throttle Valve. And since the shift points were pretty much halfway between the higher and lower speeds at which they should have occurred, I surmised that:
The Throttle Valve (the second tennis ball down the can) was stuck halfway through its travel.
This was backed up by the fact that forced downshifts were not happening at all (the T-Valve never did get to the end of its travel) and the throttle lever seemed a bit stiff and had limited motion--because it was only compressing the stiff spring, not moving the Throttle Valve.
The award for closest guess goes to Van Webster, Audio Futurist and Last of the Great LA Hot-Rodders, who suggested I check the vacuum lines to the transmission, which, in an earlier or later GM transmission, would have replaced the mechanical linkage to the pedal, which did indeed provide an essential clue, so Van would have eventually unearthed the issue.
As we say in the studio, "it's always cables."
January 21, 2000
Music for interactivity? I've actually heard artists scoff at the idea of writing music, or _any_ kind of audio, when the creator is not in control of the timing of events. Indeed, some of the greatest music directors of the best companies have given up on the idea, because it can never be crafted to a high enough standard to be called a high art. The argument goes that if the audio varies with what the user is doing, you are giving up too much control to be certain the user is always getting an effective sound at an appropriate time.
Brian Schmidt has been known to say that the Holy Grail* of music for interactivity is audio that always sounds as though it was written specifically for the situation. I like to think that there is a possible way to do this to the high standards that some of us dream of. I remind myself that there _is_ a type of art that is to painting what interactive music is to linear music. There is a visual art that changes depending on what the user is doing, and is effective regardless of what he does. It's called "sculpture!" Our mission is to find the audio equivalent of sculpture.
*"Holy Grail" seems to be this year's Holy Grail of buzzwords.
Some composers are so into interactivity, giving up time isn't enough...they surrender their vertical axis as well!
Mixing for cinematic scenes in games is precisely identical to doing so for the conventional cinema. The expectations are the same. There is the same crunch-time between when picture is ready and when the scored cinematic is needed.
Oh, wait, there are some differences.
Transitions are the great black hole of interactive audio design resources. You could save unimaginable amounts of money, effort, and tears if you could bring yourself to wake up tomorrow morning saying, "'Wing Commander I" sounded good enough without transitions. That is what games sound like. It's more satisfying to the player to have instant audio feedback than it is to have games sound like movies, and that's that."
And we are pioneers, so we can say things like this. We can define the sound of the genre. But our choices will have consequences.
I've been asked if the equipment I have now is better than what I had when I started.
It seems to me that I've always had exactly the right equipment, and that I always will. And if they take that away, I'll by-God whistle!
January 14, 2000
GREAT FAT MOMENTS IN HISTORY
In "Zombies Ate My Neighbors," for Super Nintendo, the last level takes you to the offices of LucasArts. Look for the two guys in cowboy hats. When you bump into them, it'll tell you that you've just met Joe McDermott and The Fat Man.
In "Putt Putt Saves the Zoo," by Humongous Entertainment, there is a billboard near the road. Click on it until you see the ad for The Fat Man and Team Fat!
The hilarious Rhymin' Monkeys in "Putt Putt Saves the Zoo" are actually the voices of The Fat Man, "Professor" K. Weston Phelan, and two-time world freestyle Frisbee champion "Rappin'" John Houck.
Just about nobody knows this one: "Professor" K. Weston Phelan wrote lyrics for the theme for Compton's "Invaders from Glixer: Rescue the Scientists." Team Fat recorded it in Gino's Bar and Grille in front of a live audience, and it kicks butt! You have to put the CD into your audio CD player and advance past the first track. There's no indication in the game's documentation that this tune exists.
Of course everybody knows that The Fat Man's portrait is hanging in the portrait gallery in Trilobyte's "The 7th Guest." That was his first cowboy suit, which he took back to the store the next day because he decided he couldn't afford it. The cigar is a Davidoff.
Fat's portrait is there again in "The 11th Hour," covered with mold and mildew. He's also in the doll house, we hear. The rule at Trilobyte during production and testing was that you had to say "Fat Man" every time you saw the portrait.
The Fat Man himself is the main pilot voice in EA's "US Navy Fighters." He's the one saying all that "Pilot S---" that kids aren't supposed to hear. Dave Govett's in there, too, as the ground control voice.
Well, I guess that goes for "Marine Fighters," too!
Hey! There it is again in "Advanced Tactical Fighters." Is this a trend?
Here's some modern news: The Fat Man will be the voice of the "Eel Thug" and several other characters in Blue Sky Productions' "Spongebob Squarepants: Revenge of the Flying Dutchman" when that one comes out.
In some early versions of EA's "SSN-21 Seawolf," there's a secret key that plays a movie of The Fat Man singing the lyrics "Blow them out of the water" to the theme tune. He's dressed in a Navy uniform, sunglasses and all. As the camera zooms out, he falls backwards into a hot tub. It's truly one of the industry's great moments.
Linda Law, Team Fat's beloved "Mission Control," plays the newscaster in "SSN-21 Seawolf." Her picture is on the back of the game box.
Don't miss the team's car in Papyrus' "Nascar Racing." It's got the Fat Seal on it, and Joe McDermott's listed as the driver!
In Spring of '96, newspapers across the nation ran the cartoon strip "Making It," which showed the Sprites of Spring romping through the strip. Their tune, shown in musical notation trailing behind them, may look familiar. It's Fat's first game tune ever, "Thin Ice" for Intellivision! Seems the producer of the game, Keith Robinson, has gone on to be one of America's favorite cartoonists...and owner and caretaker of the Intellivision name and games!
The little winged angel in the last frame of the "Making It" strip above has the face of Dave Warhol, programmer for "Thin Ice." Dave, now CEO of Realtime, "discovered" The Fat Man and got him his first game gig, rediscovered him for his first Nintendo gigs, got him "Loom," and even, we recently found out, helped get Fat the "Wing Commander" gig. Hats off to you, Dave! Need a career? Team Fat owes you a few.
Many years ago, February, 1997, a match was held between two players, and many felt that it determined who was the best Quake player in the world.
To everybody's surprise, the winner turned out to be a charming young lady. Her name was Stevie Case, but online she was known as Killcreek. She came to Texas from Kansas to challenge John Romero, founder of Ion Storm, and the closest thing the game world has to a celebrity. They played, and he lost.
Killcreek worked on a Quake Mission Pack at her own company, Primitive Earthling Games. By the time she applied for a job in QA at Ion Storm, her gaming prowess was known to the company. She got the job in QA, then moved up to other levels. She dated John.
She made great money at Ion Storm. She bought herself some new boobs. She did a center spread in Playboy.
In 2002, when the game Age of Mythology was released to manufacturers, Ensemble Studios threw a very nice party in Dallas, Texas. There was a mechanical bull. The Fat Man was there to participate in a celebrity tournament of the game. He and his friend Jamal arrived early and played two rounds of the game, getting instruction from a quiet, excellent gamer named "Blue." Jamal did have the pleasure of using the Curse power to turn The Fat Man's most promising invading army into pigs. Then he fed them to his villagers, which was a classy move. However, by the end of both games The Fat Man had beaten Jamal quite soundly. He made a promise to himself to rub this fact in by writing about it someday in a book, because that's the kind of thing Real Gamers do when they win.
Later at the party, The Fat Man was surprised to find out that the only other celebrity in the tournament was to be the famous John Romero. When Romero showed up, he asked The Fat Man if he was ready to be crushed. He introduced his partner, whose name was not entirely unlike "Evil Death To Your Mother From Hell." Fat asked if John played the game much, and John responded by saying that he and Evil Death played it all the time, and were quite good.
Mr. Romero wanted to know who The Fat Man's partner was to be. The Fat Man had never played with a partner. The Fat Man, trying not to shake, let his eye wander past Jamal, and then land upon the other person he happened to be hanging around with, Blue. "I believe this is my partner. Is that OK with you, Blue?"
It was a good game. The Fat Man created an invading fleet, landed it on the other island, and when his army refused to attack, the entire room burst into laughter. He had accidentally invaded Blue's island.
In the end, Fat and Blue crushed their enemies. Fat liked the part where Blue leaned over to him and whispered, "I think we can relax. All I have to do now is make it look good." He also liked the part where he delivered the turn-them-into-pigs curse on John, shouting at the top of his lungs, "SooooooEEEE!!! Eat Musical Death!!!!" He liked planting an earthquake on John's city. He liked that his individual score was higher than John's or Evil's. He liked that the food was free.
On the other hand, he was humbled by the fact that in the rematch, which pitted John, Evil, and him against Blue, Blue trounced them all. But then he went and rode the mechanical bull a couple of times, and forgot all about that.
And it is said that by the Grace of Hera, The Fat Man won a beautiful trophy that night, and furthermore, something magical happened. It came to pass that nobody would ever be able to accuse The Fat Man of not being a real gamer. He beat the Great John Romero.
And The Fat Man spoke, saying,
"Now my future is clear and my fate is sealed."
"I'm going to make great money, spend it on some nice new boobs, date John Romero, then do a spread in Playboy."
"Because that's the kind of thing that Real Gamers do when they win."
This is a beautiful story--I'm proud to tell it.
When we found out a few weeks back that Microsoft (X-Box specifically) was going to give the keynote address to the Game Developers' Conference (GDC) this year, my friends and I put out kind of a collective eye-rolling via e-mail. Predicting that the take-home ideas of this presentation would likely once again be the relationship between technology and profits, I suggested an alternative keynote, and Linda suggested a fringe (or "fridge") conference based on it. Here's the proposed topic:
> "If the primary point of your gaming career or even your trip
to GDC is to maximize profits, then you haven't spent nearly enough time
in a near-death situation. I assure you that your problem will someday
solve itself, and you will be embarrassed at all the great gaming opportunities
that you threw away."
This topic resonated well within our circle of friends. It even went so far that one person who had acted as an advisor to the GDC committee promised to suggest the idea of the Fridge to them.
A few days later, my good friend Mark Terrano called me. Mark is pretty much as high-up at X-box as you can get and still be a gamer. Not only that, he's a champion of risk-taking over stagnation, of art over ignorance, of gameplay over technology. For gamers, this translates to "Love Over Money." Mark even gave a speech that ended with a two page rant on "spirituality in gaming." He was for it. Eloquently.
Mark had called me because he was involved in planning the dreaded X-Box Keynote. He was charged with creating a 4-8 minute slideshow of screenshots of games through history, from the '70's to the present. The idea was that Microsoft would introduce High Definition (HD) at this GDC. The slideshow would set this up by implying that first there were 2-D games, then 3-D games, and now, HD. I was asked to make the music for this slideshow. Something that started sounding like the '70's, then the '80's, then the '90's, etc.
In my mind, the mission for me was to work the message of the "fridge keynote" into the Microsoft presentation in a way that would elevate Microsoft's standing in the developer community. Maybe even provide a little cultural icon for the Microsoft workers to be proud of. Mark was willing to support me in this. I was optimistic.
While I was laying down tracks, Verin Lewis called. Verin is the custodian of Josh's World (http://www.joshsworld.net/gallery.shtml) and a longtime GDC regular. He had called in the middle of my session to tell me he was reading my book, and that he wished he'd been in it. He had no idea what project I was working on, and for whom. I asked him why I should put him in a book, and he said he had lots of "myths and legends." So I told him I was taping, I hit the record button, and what you hear is what I got. Exactly where it landed on the track. I didn't even scoot it to the left or right.
Then Fortune smiled upon me, and the hook "Viva La Resolution"
came to me, so the song wrote itself.
He had been directed to ask me to remove the line about the boobs.
That's it? There's no problem with "up against the wall" and that?
"Nope! Just the boobs!"
Well, I've done harder things than taking out my boobs. I wrote "Will you use it to make smarter troops/or will it be the perfect robot girlfriend for you?" Got it recorded, got ready to ship and...
PROJECT CANCELLED! But we're willing to pay you in full anyway. And the Direct X team decided they really don't like the spoken introduction, they'd like to forget that day ever happened. And since we're paying for it, we still need the boobs out of there.
I _really_ wanted this song to get heard, and if I sold it, there wasn't anybody at MS who was hot to use it, modified or not. But just in case, it had to be modified.. After much deliberation, and after listening over and over to the line, "Did we do it for the dollar bills? NO!!!" I decided to buy the song back and just cancel the contract.
The punch line:
An email was sent to Mark saying, more-or-less, "Let's let The Fat Man cancel the contract on the condition that he take out the intro and the boobs."
They saw the light.
Anybody need a song? It's available!!!!!