Brad Spurgeon's Blog

A world of music, auto racing, travel, literature, chess, wining, dining and other crazy thoughts….

Meetings With Remarkable People. Episode 4: David Douglas Duncan

David Douglas Duncan / Credit Jorge Zapata/European Pressphoto Agency

David Douglas Duncan / Credit Jorge Zapata/European Pressphoto Agency

This is the fourth podcast episode in my series “Meetings With Remarkable People.” Before I even finish posting all of my episodes with the remarkable Colin Wilson, the angry young man of British literature, today I wanted to leap ahead into January 2013 and put up today this interview I did with David Douglas Duncan. It felt urgent to me because today, 23 January 2023 marks what would have been the 107th birthday of David Douglas Duncan, one of the greatest of the 20th century war photographers, and a friend and photographer of Pablo Picasso. It just seemed I could not miss this anniversary, as it was also precisely 10 years ago this month that I conducted the interview with him. While I may have feared meeting this new friend too late in our lives, he went on to live for another five and a half years, dying only in June 2018 at the age of 102

And what a life this man – often referred to as DDD – had! From his very first published photograph in the 1930s when he was just a teenager and caught a shot of a man running in and out of a burning hotel in Kansas City that turned out to be the infamous gangster John Dillinger to his first ever photo of Picasso … in his bathtub! He had a blessed life, and one that traversed almost every major historical moment of the second half of the 20th century.

David Douglas Duncan Soldier

David Douglas Duncan Soldier

I was fortunate to meet him through my Formula One writing, as Duncan also had a love of cars and racing and I learned through a friend of his who was a Formula One photographer that he wanted to contact me about one of my articles on the series. I went to his place in the south of France for lunch one day and then asked if I could conduct an interview with him for a future column I planned about meetings with remarkable people who were also Formula One racing fans! He agreed and I left his home that afternoon with this extraordinary recording of his life in history.

Part 5 of the podcasts will probably return to Colin Wilson But I could not miss David Douglas Duncan’s birthday, and the 10th anniversary month of this recording!

The Sudden, Tragic Loss of Formula One’s Calm Anchor: Charlie Whiting (1952 – 2019)

March 14, 2019

Charlie Whiting

Charlie Whiting

The sudden death at age 66 in Melbourne of Charlie Whiting, the Formula One race director, official race starter, rules-writer and rock-solid leader in many other roles in the world’s premier racing series, hit me and anyone else who knew him even marginally as a complete shock. It also came in a dramatic manner the day before the new season’s first track action at the Australian Grand Prix, and while the series itself continues to pass through a transition from its old management – that of Bernie Ecclestone – to its new owners, Liberty Media. That Liberty Media asked Whiting three years ago to remain in the series just when he was contemplating retirement after a 40-year career in the series, and at the same time Liberty were preparing to fire Ecclestone, speaks volumes about the importance of this man to the smooth operation of the series.

But probably the thing that most comes to mind in all of the tributes from friends and colleagues around the world since his death last night is Whiting’s simplicity, kindness, sweetness and fairness as a human being. He was much loved by almost everyone in the series, despite having probably the most difficult job of all: to act at least in part as a rules enforcer and referee during both technical and human racing disputes. Whiting was one of the rare people in high positions who had no airs of self-importance, and he was hugely respected by the drivers – with whom he performed pre-race briefings at each event – and with the media and team personnel.

I had a wild first meeting with Whiting at the Belgium Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in 1998 on the morning of the race. But it was wild for just about every external reason – later that day Formula One had the biggest multi-car pile-up in its history with 13 cars crashing in the first corner – rather than my interaction with Whiting himself being wild. I felt slightly nervous conducting this first interview with the race director – then in his second season in the role – but very quickly as I sat in his small office off the side of the paddock with the rain pounding down outside, I started to ask myself: “Does he appear to be more nervous than I am about our interview?” His manner put me quickly at ease.

I would conclude over the years that, no, he was not likely nervous during our interview. He simply had a very human, very natural way of speaking to a reporter, or a whole media center full of reporters, that felt very unlikely for a man of his power within the series. It was the same as he spoke to anyone in any circumstance, it seemed. There were no external facades put on to persuade anyone of anything. He had a balanced, calm, cool way of dealing with the problems at hand, and seemed so perfectly suited to being the dispute-defuser that he was, that it was clear to see why Ecclestone – and the International Automobile Federation – had trusted him from Whiting’s early days in the series working as a mechanic at Ecclestone’s Brabham team in the 1980s right up until today over his more than 20 years in his race director role.

Whiting, left, at press conference

Whiting, left, at press conference

As one paddock person after another (journalists, drivers, co-workers, and other related F1 people) have said today in their outpourings of grief, Whiting had time for everyone, and could be counted on. It is difficult to imagine how Formula One will cope in the coming season – or even beyond – without him.

In order to give some idea of the kind of life Charlie Whiting lived in his daily working life, I have decided to re-print on my blog the article I wrote outlining that weekend at the Belgian Grand Prix in 1998 when I met him. Before our meeting on the morning of the race, I had also been invited to spend the Friday practice session in the race control tower watching how Whiting and his team worked during the race action. That, too, turned out to be something of an historic, frantic session, as the cocky young reigning world champion, Jacques Villeneuve, decided to test his manliness by taking the series’ most wicked dangerous corner at full speed, and he paid the price with a spectacular accident into the barriers.

The story, which follows here, appeared in the International Herald Tribune on 11 Sept. 1998 as the race preview of the following race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza:

The atmosphere will be tense at this weekend’s Italian Grand Prix, not only in the battle between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher for the drivers’ title but also because it is the 20th anniversary at the Monza track of a 10-car pile-up that seriously injured two drivers and took the life of a third, Ronnie Peterson.

That anniversary might have passed unnoticed were it not for a stark reminder Aug. 30 at the Belgian Grand Prix when 13 cars were destroyed in one of the sport’s worst pile-ups. The fact that no driver was injured is partly a tribute to the strict safety rules now applied to the cars’ cockpits, which are much more solidly constructed than they were in 1978. But it is also due to luck.

Nowhere will the off-track tension be higher Friday in Monza than in the race control tower, where the most important safety decisions are made. During the Friday practice session in Belgium, this reporter was invited to watch the scene in what is normally the privileged domain of a handful of officials who have the best seat at the track. The 20 officials sat in deep concentration watching 39 television monitors in their room high above the track, in what looks like a cross between a TV station and NASA’s Mission Control.

When a car suddenly spun off sideways into a tire safety barrier at nearly 300 kilometers an hour (185 mph) , the silent watchers sprang to their feet and spoke into walkie-talkies and cellular telephones. ”Red flag! Red flag!” called out Charlie Whiting, the race director, to stop the practice session. ”Send the break-down truck,” another official barked. ”Go to the site,” ordered another, as Whiting put on his windbreaker to go to inspect the scene of the accident.

Jacques Villeneuve, the car’s driver, climbed out of the wreck and teetered like a boxer after absorbing an effective uppercut. But within 20 seconds, Sid Watkins, the track doctor, was by his side, having been dispatched to ”corner 3” by the control tower. Fortunately, Villeneuve was not hurt, and the session continued after a 15-minute track cleanup, done by the track-side workers following directions from the control tower.

The control tower is manned mostly by local officials, the most senior of whom is the so-called clerk of the course. They communicate with about 300 officials around the track. Whiting, who represents the International Automobile Federation, the sport’s governing body, oversees them all. As race director, he ensures that the locals do things the same way in every country. He is also the official race starter, which can turn the best seat in the house into the hottest seat.

Both the Monza accident 20 years ago and the recent accident in Belgium occurred on the first lap. Two hours before the Belgian race, while the rain fell in sheets across the track, David Coulthard, the British driver, pleaded with Whiting to start the race behind the safety car.

A safety car leads the racing cars, in their grid order, around the track until it drives off, allowing the race to start in earnest. This kind of rolling start – rather than a standing start – can reduce danger of cars fighting for places at the first corner through poor visibility on a slippery track.

”We’d like you to use the safety car because otherwise a lot of us are going to go off the track,” Coulthard said, ”and I’ll probably be one of them.”

But Whiting, at noon, could not give Coulthard a definitive answer for the race that would begin at 2 P.M. He was nervous about the treacherous conditions, but said he would decide only just before the race.

”You have to address every problem individually,” he said. ”The weather can change.”

By 2 o’clock it had cleared a little but the track was still wet under a light drizzle. The safety car was not used and Coulthard’s words proved strangely prophetic: He was the first to slide off the track at the start, setting off the chain-reaction pileup.

After the race Villeneuve said the use of the safety car wouldn’t have made a difference, while Alexander Wurz said the safety car should have been used. Whiting said that the safety decisions are always ”a human thing as opposed to a machine.”

The 10th Edition of the Singapore Grand Prix – and a New Racing Section to this Blog

September 14, 2017

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo:  Brad Spurgeon

Chase Carey of Liberty Media at Singapore GP 2016. Photo: Brad Spurgeon

This weekend marks the 10th edition of the Singapore Grand Prix, the first running of which took place in 2008, as Formula One’s first ever night race. As it happened, that first edition would take place just as the world financial markets began to fall apart in the beginning of the financial crisis the effects of which we are still feeling today. I recall the strange atmosphere in the paddock perfectly: We were gathered in the financial hub of Southeast Asia in the slickest racing environment in a downtown setting that we had ever seen, and basking in the paddock in an atmosphere of wealth and luxury. While all the talk was about the underpinnings of that wealth and luxury falling apart around us – banks going bust, the global financial system sinking into an apparent abyss, and with it, the prospect of so many of the series’ sponsors pulling out and leaving Formula One adrift in a series that survives on begging for money.

As the series continues to negotiate for a new contract with Singapore, and in a season in which a new company has taken over the running of the series – the U.S.-based Liberty Media – I thought it would be a great time to look back at a couple of the stories that I wrote in the past, as well as to start a new auto racing section on this blog. Today I am running what I feel is the biggest story I wrote about Formula One as almost classical theater, a big, world story of glamour, glitz and drama. This was a Page 1 story in the International Herald Tribune, and later ran in the New York Times, and summed up the state of Formula One at the time, at its biggest race of the season: The Monaco Grand Prix. Read the story and tell me if the series is the same today 15 years later?

Tomorrow, I will run my preview for the first ever Singapore Grand Prix, and talk a little more about how the weekends go in Singapore.

By the way, while we all thought the first night race and the collapsing financial markets were the biggest story of the weekend in 2008, it turned out that there was a much, much bigger sporting story going on behind the scenes. But that scandal would only be revealed a year later when Nelson Piquet Jr. told the world that he (and his team directors) had staged a fake crash in order to help his teammate at Renault, Fernando Alonso, with his race strategy. The help would lead to Alonso’s first victory that season, and a year later, to the banning of two of the team’s directors from the series in one of the sport’s worst cheating scandals. Last year also marked the beginning of the Liberty Media story, as the announcement of the takeover of Formula One had just been made at the beginning of the month and Chase Carey, the new boss, visited the Singapore paddock – his first ever visit to a Formula One Grand Prix.

This is a Blog, Right? So What the Hell! (800th Post)

February 24, 2014

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

Thumbnail Open Mic Guide

PARIS – This has been probably the lowest month ever in terms of me updating my blog. I should be ashamed of myself, or feeling guilty, or thinking that I’m lax, undisciplined, a scoundrel in the world of blogs who is incapable of updating on a regular basis. In fact, I’m celebrating! For a month of February the blog has never had more page views. The reason? Because my Thumbnail Guide of Open Mics Around the World continues to feed the blog and give it action and interest with evergreen material. But most of all: Because I am able to announce that I will continue once again this year my 20-country (at least) around-the-world open mic and open jam session adventure. It will all start in exactly two weeks from today with a return to Melbourne, and then will follow – as usual – the Formula One world championship car racing events as I continue to make my annual trip around the world to cover that series AND continue my exploration of the world’s open mics and open jam sessions. And I will update the open mic guides that I inaugurated last year, and actually, a few years before that with the Thumbnail Guide to Paris Open Mics and Jam Sessions. Is this a crap post or what?!?! Answer: It’s a blog and I can do what I want, and have fun with writing! Thanks for your ongoing interest!

PS: One or two of you might have noticed that I’m in the process of updating the look of the blog as well – although it is far from my desired end-result….

PPS: Oh, yes, I forgot to mention: This is the 800th post on this blog since I began it almost exactly 4 years ago. (We’re a week or two shy of that anniversary.)

An Unexpected Jam at La Pepica Restaurant, in Valencia

June 22, 2012

la pepica

la pepica

I’ve been saying a lot lately that if you want something interesting to happen in your life, carry around a guitar with you. I might also add a guidebook. At least, that is what happened to me in Valencia, Spain, last night – something very fun and interesting thanks to my guidebook and my guitar. And it also happened at a very interesting place where Ernest Hemingway, Lauren Bacall, Orson Welles and others used to hang out.

To step back a little…. I finished my day’s work at the Formula One race track at the Marina in Valencia and I decided, exhausted after a long night the night before and the travel and the work, that I would not even look for a place to play music. Valencia has never been good for my musical adventure. So I opened up my guidebook, called Cartoville and published by Gallimard in France, to see if there were any good restaurants nearby.

hemingway at la pepica

hemingway at la pepica

Carrying these Cartoville guidebooks is a new thing I have been doing this year after I was introduced to the books by my friend Vanessa, last year, and she took me to some amazing places thanks to these books. So I thought, why not find one for each town I go to. Tourism was never my thing – but there’s no point traveling around the world for my work and being dumb about finding places, either.

The books are great because they split up the cities into sectors, and in each sector you have only five or six choices of bars, restaurants and shopping. So the choice is done very carefully, and I am rarely let down by what I find. I looked in the area around the Formula One track last night and saw this restaurant overlooking the beach; it was called La Pepica, and the guidebook described it as a “local myth” and that it was mentioned in Hemingway’s novel, “The Dangerous Summer,” and that these other celebrities had followed him there, etc. And the food was said to be good, and the ambiance was good, and simple, too.

So I walked over to the place, dragging my luggage behind me, and with my guitar on my back – for I had still not checked into my hotel. As I approached the restaurant, I saw suddenly some familiar faces: A massive table of maybe 35 British journalists sat on the terrace of the Pepica, in some kind of get-together for before the British Grand Prix, which is the next race after the one this weekend. There they were, BBC, Sky TV, magazine journalists, newspaper journalists from all the major publications and wire services, web journalists, other television and whatever journalists – the cream of the British racing media.

As soon as they saw my guitar, two or three of them requested I play a song. In the state I was, and given that it was the beginning of the evening and still bright out and they were just being served their first course, I thought, No way. I laughed off the invitation and said that perhaps once I had eaten, I would play.

I went inside, found a table not too closely within sight of the Brits, and I had a wonderful meal. The first course alone consisted of three dishes: a Valencia salad, calamari and some kind of mini muscles, shellfish. I had a nice half bottle of Rioja, and an amazing desert of some kind of parfait ice cream. It makes me want to run right back there as I write these words.

So I finished the meal, reading my New York Review of Books and the latest issue of Rock&Folk, the French music magazine, and then I went out and wondered over to say goodbye to the British journalists. Some had already left, but I was immediately invited once again to play music. And now, I was really ready, and desperately wanting to sing. And what a place to do it in? An old Hemingway hangout in the country of the flamenco guitar….

I ended up playing perhaps a total of 10 songs, split up by periods of talking, carousing and drinking the wine they offered me. Somehow I managed not to drink so much that I would lose hold of the notes, and I must say, with the beach in the distance, the sea a little beyond that, and even the appreciative waiters at this wonderful restaurant, it was an unbelievably great way to finish my first day in a town that has never been nice to me on this musical adventure – until now.

(Unfortunately, although a number of the journalists took photos and made videos of me playing, I have none myself, exceptionally, for this post.)

All Right Now – Inside Scoop on the Life of Andy Fraser of Free

June 19, 2011

Andy Fraser

Andy Fraser of the band Free

It has been a quiet weekend for me for once, no place to play on Friday, no place to play on Saturday. But that has given me more time to try to memorize a new song and also to continue reading this thing I’ve been reading on my computer since the Canadian Grand Prix. And of that, I am really excited. I just love reading friends’ book manuscripts, and I can truly say I have never had one quite like this one. In Montreal, when I attended that Charnobyl Voice evening of music, I did so with a Formula 1 friend and colleague, fellow F1 journalist, Mark Hughes. During the evening Mark let out – after I complimented him once again on an amazing book he did with and on the life of a racing car driver named Tommy Byrne – that he had just finished doing another similar book. But this time it was on the bass guitar player from the 1970s band Free, whose biggest hit was “All Right Now.”


Yup, I had heard him correctly. He told me a few more of the details. The book, titled “All Right Now” (what else could it be called?!), was done in the same style as his book on the racing car driver, called “Crashed and Byrned,” which is one of the best racing memoires I’ve ever read. That story was about Tommy Byrne, who was possibly one of the greatest racing drivers to make it into Formula One but never really get a chance at a top team, spending his five races in F1 in a back-of-the-grid team despite a massively promising career in the lower series. But the key to it was the interest of Byrne’s life growing up from nothing in Ireland, of Byrne’s voice telling the story, and of Hughes’ interjections telling bits of the story in his own voice to give an added layer to the whole.

So Hughes told me that he had now done the same on Andy Fraser, who was the bass player in Free, and creator with Paul Rodgers of most of the songs – like Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards – including the big hit, “All Right Now.” He had approched the musician himself and proposed doing a book. Fraser agreed, and Hughes went on to meet him in California. So since reading friends’ manuscripts is one of my favorite activities, I immediately asked if I could read it – or he offered and I immediately jumped at the chance. The book is not yet published, but this thing is as good as the Byrne book and has a potentially much bigger public to reach.

So far the story is interesting not just to read up on what might otherwise be considered an obscure musician from the 70s – I mean, it’s not McCartney or Jagger – but also because as with the Byrne book, there’s a bigger, much bigger story here. Fraser joined and formed Free at like 16 years old in 1968. He was catapaulted to fame, never had a regular teenager’s life of discovery and only much later realized he was gay. Then he contracted AIDS. But not only did he not succumb to the disease, but he has surmounted it and lives a fully creative life. The book is full of this kind of message, and his life is an example. Fraser went on to write the hit song, “Every Kind of People,” for Robert Palmer in 1978. And he has also written hits for Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan, Rod Stewart and Paul Young. AND he has done solo albums, and continued to develop his music to this day. He is also nearly 60 years old and in amazing physical condition, seemingly relishing his unique life from, in his case, like Byrne’s, humble and unlikely origins.

But for me the real beauty of this book also is just to see how another musician created his life in music, and what I could not imagine when I started reading it, to have another – and unusual – look at the music scene of the last 50 years. I mean, this guy as a teenager actually played with John Mayall AND Alexis Korner. In fact, it was through dating Korner’s daughter that he met Korner and eventually got the gig with both Mayall and then met up with the future members of the band Free. While I still battle my way into the Keith Richards autobiography, I am filled with excitement in reading this one and won’t put it down – even though my computer printer is not working and I have to read it from a PDF!

I don’t know how happy either Mark or Andy Fraser would be for me to quote much from an unpublished book, but I did want to put in at least one nice bit from Andy, hoping that “fair use” copyright laws allows me to do so! Check out this bit Fraser says when talking early on about Free: “The thing that really made it feel unique was how we all gave each other space in our playing. That really stood out for me and it lent the whole sound a great power and spirit. It’s something I see in the great orators. You watch Barack Obama for example, and everything comes from silence. It starts off and you can hear a pin drop, that space in between is everything so that anything you add then has a big effect. A good speaker knows this, knows how to command silence; they begin softly and so when they start saying things with vigour it becomes incredibly powerful. We had that with Free, just naturally fell into that from the very first moment. Although people say they would love to hear Free together now, aside from the fact that Koss isn’t with us anymore, it could never be the same anyway because although everyone was talented, the most important thing was the spirit and what was in between the notes. That was derived from the respect we had for each other and the joint vision, how we each understood, without it being said, what we were trying to do. If you heard us now and there was no spirit you’d realized there were just some very simple riffs that didn’t mean much without spirit.”

Gimme more!

Istanbul: Music, Music Everywhere, Nor Any Place to Play

May 5, 2011

My first night in Istanbul reacquainted me with the fabulous sounds of the downtown quarters of this most musical cities of the world. Everyone talks of Phil Spector creating the so-called wall of sound, but I bet it was invented in this city that traverses Asia and Europe with a brilliant cacophony of musical mixes all splashing into each other from one café and bar and restaurant doorfront to the next throughout the night.

But if I easily found several places to play in the past, this year I fear that I am heading into a less than fabulous opportunity to find an open jam or open mic situation. The owners of the Blues Live music club where I played before told me they no longer ran their official Monday night jam, but the stage remains open when musicians and the right vibe come together. They still run a band on the weekend too. But I did not feel very positive about my own chances of getting up as last night there were only two people in the place when I was there.

But my musical journey around the world has ALWAYS been about shifts from desperation to success and ecstasy as the weekend progresses and I suddenly fall into an unforeseen musical situation. Last night, in fact, I was ostensibly invited into a bar to have a beer and play some of my music, when the man outside trying to get clients saw me with my guitar and offered that I come in and play on the stage where he had a musician already. I had the beer, but I did not end up being invited to play. Nor did I insist.

Did I ever find a wonderful vibe throughout the city, however, and mostly in the Taksim and Beyoglu areas, and down near the Galatasary Tower. In fact, I decided on several occasions to do turn my handheld, Q3 HD video recorder, as I walked down the street to show you how full this place is of music. But with on musician in almost every single restaurant and bar, I suppose that is partly why the open mic and jam session mentality is not as big here as in some other cities where musicians are less often employed….

But music just fills the air everywhere here, and it is of every style imaginable, from the Blues Live rock of the Hendrix, Clapton, John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray Vaughan style to the local rock and the traditional and classical Turkish music. Oh, I even made a brief stop in Nardis jazz club, but elected not to pay the cover charge and go in and listen. I also found some new places with local rock and jazz. I even passed a music shop without clients where the workers were involved in a jam session, and music is so well loved that they didn’t even blink when they saw me enter and film them. My hotel receptionist upon check-in wanted to see my guitar – he being himself a guitar player.

I just keep my fingers crossed that I will finally find some place for myself to play in this music-loving city.

Three Dead Leads and Another Tale of Woe from a Friday in Melbourne

March 26, 2011

Friday is not the best night for open mics anywhere in the world. But in Melbourne last night, it turned into a nearly comical search for a grail that would never be found as I followed three leads only to be disappointed three times, each in an odd way.

I had never so far played in an open mic in Melbourne but yesterday I found traces of three possibilities. One in a place called ET’s Hotel in Prahran, another in St. Kilda at a place called Greyhound Hotel, and a third at the Junction Hotel in Newport.

I settled on walking from the F1 circuit to ET’s Hotel, as I judged it would be no more than a 30 minute walk and my phone calls and emails to the organizer had not been answered. In fact, with the telephone calls to the hotel, there was simply no answer. But I thought I could walk there, and then backtrack to St. Kilda’s, which is also near the F1 track.

et's gloom hotel in Melbourne - closed down, no more open mic

et's gloom hotel in Melbourne - closed down, no more open mic

So I walked the 30 minutes or so to ET’s Hotel hoping that I would not be let down, but when I arrived I found the worst possible thing: The hotel had turned into an extraterrestrial carcass of a place. It had closed down and been gutted and turned into a construction site. There remained posters outside for shows that had long since past. It was a little eerie. No more open mic at Et’s Hotel!

et's hotel is now a construction site

et's hotel is now a construction site

Out front of the hotel I finally managed to connect with my phone call to the Greyhound Hotel in St. Kilda.

“Hello,” I said to the man who answered, a man with a slight affectation to his voice. “Do you have an open mic tonight?”

“No,” he said. “But we have a drag show.”

I knew that the drag show had nothing to do with drag racing cars, and thanked him very much and decided to move on to trying to contact the third venue. After all, I was not prepared for a drag show, even if I do open myself up to all different kinds of open mics and jam sessions….

So I called up the Junction Hotel with the number I found on an Open Mic venue list on the Internet.

“Hello,” I said to the man who answered. “Do you have an open mic tonight?”

“What? Oh, no. You have the wrong number, I’m afraid.”

“This is not the Junction Hotel?”

“No. You have the wrong number.”

I checked the number and saw I had dialed the number from the Internet correctly.

So end of open mic story for Friday. It made me feel once again just how wonderful it is when I actually DO connect and find a place to play on this adventure. When that happens it feels like the world is easy, the trip is easy, cool, all fits, and life is a ribbon of dream. Meeting with adversity, suddenly I realize how difficult the task can sometimes be to parachute into a country and hope to find a place to play music instantly and every night.

Having said that, the hazards of travel are multiple, and I neglected to mention the one of Thursday night before I went off to perform at the U-Bar and meet Lara. I had spent a very productive day at the track doing interviews with drivers, team directors and other important people. I had used my Zoom Q3 HD video and sound recorder, the same one I use for the video images of this blog.

At the end of this long and productive day and as I prepared to leave the circuit and go and do my open mic and record with the Q3 some of the stuff for this blog, I went to the toilet. Suddenly, without the slightest warning or provocation of any kind at all, my two-month old 250 euro Q3 recorder fell into the toilet bowl. I removed it in 3 seconds flat, no more. I shook out the water and tried to dry it. I ran back to my desk in the media center at the race track – desk C13, which I had hesitated to take that very morning as it had the No. 13 and was therefore bad luck – and I promptly plugged in the recorder to my computer. The computer message read: “USB device malfunction.”

All was lost, a full day’s work, and even my ability to record the coming nights of open mic shows. Unless… I realized that although the Q3 had died through 3 seconds of toilet water exposure, perhaps the 32 gigabyte SD card that held the data had survived. It was 18:10. I did a quick internet search to see if anyone sold the Zoom Q3 HD in Melbourne.

I found a place called Mannys music store. I called them up. They closed at 7 PM. But they had six of the Q3s in stock. I asked how long it would take to get there from Albert Park, where the race takes place. The guy said about an hour with the traffic there was – or 25 minutes if there was no traffic.

I took a cab and kept the man at Manny’s informed of my progress through the interminable traffic and everlasting traffic lights.

“Tell you what,” he said finally when I told him I would be five to ten minutes late. “I will stay here for you. I will wait.”

So I arrived at Manny’s, it was closed, but the staff let me in. I bought the Q3 and I bought a Zoom H2 hand held sound recorder as well in order not to use the Q3 in the paddock. As I paid for the recorder I removed the 32 gig SD card from my pocket that I had taken from the toilet water damaged recorder, and I put it in. Eureka!!!!! My 9 interviews were all intact! I had been saved by Manny’s and by the SD card. Now all I had to do was take the cab back to my hotel, grab my guitar and get to the All Nations U-Bar as soon as possible to not miss my two dates: The open mic, and Lara.

It worked. Isn’t the life of the traveling minstrel full of unexpected barriers, which can all be overcome with a little persistence.

Hope I find a place to play tonight. Already have two dates lined up for the next race, by the way, including an open mic with a 30 minutes slot at Laila’s Cafe & Lounge for the Wednesday, and another 30-minute slot opening for a local band at a TexMex restaurant, which I will post later.

Gospel at the Highlander, a Warm Audience and Overseas Beckons

March 10, 2011

I debated with myself over the last hour if I should actually do a blog item even when I have nothing much to say. I’m against it in principle, and last night at the Highlander it was pretty much business as usual – except for two things, one of which leads to a third thing. So what the hell:

The first thing had to do with another fun performance of gospel by Haylen and band, this time joined on guitar by the Tom Waits of the Highlander and Tennessee….

The second thing was entirely personal about my own personal experience playing last night: Even though I had to wait until nearly 1 AM before I got to play – my fault as I arrived late – I was really, really happy with the reception for my performance. I mean, there were cheers, ovations, encores, all sorts of stuff. All right, everyone was flying on alcohol and whatever else they fly on by that point, and there were enough people to have that crowd power…. And I had befriended just enough people to have a fan club…. And I had noticed that big, popular well-known hits had been going over well – Hotel California, etc. – no matter how well they were sung. And I had met a Formula One fan and his girlfriend at the bar and she liked Cat Stevens…. Ergo, I decided to do “Father and Son” and then to continue on the hit path with “Space Oddity.” Both went over really well, with people singing along – as far it is possible to do with my interpretations of the songs – and then I did my own “Let Me Know.”

But those two subjects also bring me to the next subject, which is just a sudden realization that in a week and a half I will be heading of for Melbourne for the start of the Formula One season – and the beginning of my worldwide travels to the open mics and jam sessions. So that will mean that this blog will once again cease to become so Paris-centric as it has been for the last three months or so! Hallelujah!

A Day At Ferrari, the Complete Video

April 30, 2010

I’m a bit behind on my various adventures of the week. So I will try to update as quickly as possible. I wanted to put up this video of my day at Maranello, Italy, visiting the Ferrari factory. I will shortly also be putting it up on my F1 blog at the New York Times, so you can check it out there with a little story on a Ferrari tobacco sponsor controversy at the moment.

But for the moment, here it is here – also, it’s coming from my new YouTube channel, by the way – and I hope that even for people not interested in racing that it will be something of a bit of interest. In any case, I have several more musical adventures to post from the last couple of days, so stay tuned….

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