BY MONTY LEE WILKES
Monty Lee was one of the first A-List guys I met. Summer 2002. I had just moved into the big boy chair and been hired to launch a brand new audio mag called Front of House. The gig was a Wango Tango KISS-FM deal at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Same gig where I met Pooch. I don’t even remember who I was sent there to meet. Monty Lee was mixing Lisa Marie Presley, Pooch was mixing KISS. I still remember him carrying in a TC pitch corrector and telling the patch guy to make sure that was patched in to the vocal channel first and foremost. After her set, we stood at the back of the raised house mix position with the party deck for celebs up above and chatted and I remember a hilarious and totally filthy observation that I won’t share publicly. But it was funny enough that I still remember it almost 15 years later.
I got to hang out with Monty Lee on a few occasions, the last probably being a battle of the bands deal that Mikey Caterina asked me to come out to in Duluth and that had to be at least three years ago. I rode him about writing for SoundProLive every time we talked and he always said he wanted to. A couple of years ago he finally gave me something. It was, no surprise to those who knew him, wild. He swore it was based on something that really happened and that he had just kind of written a story around the basic facts. And it was almost lost. SoundProLive has been through a few platform changes and not everything made it to the latest site. Including his piece.
On the day I found out about his passing, I remembered the piece, went back into the archives and pulled it up. I can think of no better tribute than to finally get this up onto the current site and put it out there for those who knew him.
“Yeah…” drawled the Front Of House guy as he looked over the roof of the conference center, surveying the hotel grounds to the stage beyond, “I don’t foresee anyone saying ‘KICK’ anytime soon today.”
“You know what would be awesome…?” Began the Monitor Engineer.
“Enough of this here shit to last us all day?” smarted off the Front Of House guy as he exhaled a California wildfire sized cloud of smoke into the confines of the cramped and sticky hotel room. “Toronto Jazz Fest my ass,” he bitched. “We’re hours from YYZ let alone anything even remotely resembling fun in actual Toronto. It’s a fucking hotel! In the middle of nowhere. I was told we were doing a big festival. They call this a ski resort? Last fucking resort is more like it. We might as well be at Spirit Fucking Mountain.” He was wrong only in the sense that it was indeed a “resort.” A last resort, indeed, where the uber rich went to avoid having to rub elbows with the great unwashed.
“Dude, get in the fucking bathroom you moron, there’s a fan in there!!!” the Lighting Guy yelled and attempted unsuccessfully to duck the approaching cloud. He quickly came to his senses and breathed deeply.
“It would be awesome of it started to rain,” said the monitor mixer. “Not just any old rain, but fucking buckets of the shit.”
“Bathtubs of the stuff” oohed the front of house guy.
“Black sheets of… bullshit.” nodded the lighting guy as he surveyed the site below them.
“Nothing short of torrential, ah, yes…” the front of house sighed.
They all nodded in profound agreement. Another of the world’s problems solved.
“So to achieve your desired results, you’re talking about, say, at lest eighteen inches of water down that trail leading up the hill?” front of house asked monitors with an expansive wave of his arm toward the window, as though to emphasize all the more the breathtaking sheer majesty of the show site nestled far up in the highest reaches of the mountains. In reality, it wasn’t much more than where the garbage trucks ordinarily parked when emptying the casino’s dumpsters by a, uh, ski hill, I guess. There was, indeed, a small dirt path leading all the way up the ‘mountain.’ The garbage trucks framed the line of private jets in such a way that the sound technician coughed out loud at the dichotomy. He thought back to something another engineer had said to him once; “Irony can sometimes be so… Ironic.”
“Oh yeah, all that and more” dreamt the monitor engineer out loud, the wistful look in his eye indicative of how much he could really go for a day of Not This.
As all dreamed a little dream fantasizing of getting out of the bush league bullshit that awaited, the wind picked up. Front of house did remember the trees outside his window last night having the living crap kicked out of them by the wind and were brilliantly illuminated by the hotel’s exterior lighting. It was so intense that the ordinarily easily irritated sound jerk actually refrained from calling the front desk to bitch about the lights glaring in his window as he couldn’t get any sweet, glorious sleep for yet another night in a row. Instead, he spun one up, had a sandwich and made a night of it.
But wow, it was really blowing now, making last nights tree people episode look tame. And with it came billowing black clouds.
It started rather slowly. I suppose so, as people always seem to say that these things always do… Actually, no, what the hell am I saying, still dreaming that little dream… Ah, phone ringing with the Tour Manager on the other end of the line with a “Gee, terribly sorry boys, but the gig’s been cancelled” followed by a leisurely stroll down to the lobby for a relaxed ride to the airport where we’ll all fly home eating steak in first class to fat paychecks already waiting for us in our mailboxes.
No. It came on like gang busters, man. Holy crap! The black clouds may have well has been from some form of industrial chemical fire worthy of creating it’s very own nuclear winter. There was a twenty four inch deep torrent of water coming down that little trail so violently that it, in itself, left a rooster tail… Of dirt, rocks, sticks, bushes, all manner of stuff. It was like a tunnel boring machine was coming up for breath. No kayakers, but I’m pretty sure there were some tourists shooting video on their iPhones of bears pulling salmon out of the now rapids.
The follow spot position was, no joke, a good one hundred feet behind the Front Of House mix position. It held four big, old, old school follow spots spread as widely as possible on a riser that by itself was so wide that it ably illustrated the curvature of the Earth.
“Do you suppose we ought to go down there and make sure everything’s all right before it gets much worse?” asked Monitors.
“Hell no!” came the resounding reply.
“Ah shit,” griped the house mixer. “I’ve got a laptop at FOH.”
“My backpack’s out there” said the lighting designer.
He could feel the glare of the front of house sound guy like ten thousand white hot suns. This was potentially, no THE worst news of all. The contents of their piece of crap laptops (you think I’m bringing my nice one out on a gig for you?) were safely backed up on USB sticks on their person.
“So the computers are crap you don’t care getting trashed, the data is freshly backed up twice, what’s the problem?” asked the monitor engineer.
This meant that the fucking weed was out there, too!
They bemoaned their lack of proper rain gear, and headed for the elevator where one of the hotel maids from Jamaica expressed how much she loved their cologne. In the time that it took the elevator to get them to the ground floor, water had begun backing up behind the follow spot position mentioned earlier. By the time they got to back stage, it had grown to be a large pond. By the time they got to Front Of House it was a full on lake.
The next part did indeed start slowly, or perhaps more accurately, unfold rather slowly, or so it seemed. Things got plenty fast quickly enough though. The small trickle of water coming out from under the spot light risers was starting to build up behind the mix position. As a discussion was underway regarding the most prudent course of action in the event that the waves lapping at the back of the riser should actually reach their feet, there was a single “tink!” sound from behind them.
It could have been anything, I suppose, it probably would’ve sounded like a piano wire breaking, or something like that to a civilian. It might have been a riser leg, it might have been damned near anything, but whatever it was, it was the small tink was from a large bolt that was now NOT holding the spotlight risers in position, whatever the hell bolt it may have been at one time.
First it went a bit left, then a bit right, but it was coming right at them, all right. No question, the entire damned follow spot platform was coming down the hill directly toward them. As mentioned, it did start slowly enough indeed, but by the time it got to the mix position, almost like a giant “Transformer” toy changing from spotlights on a riser to some form of metallic monster crab walking down the hill. It was actually majestic to the point where they could not move. Rooted to the spot by the sight of the out of control mechanical crustacean bearing down upon them.
Part of what was slowing things down were the hundreds of feet of “feeder” cable that was leading from a generator located all the way backstage quite literally as far as one could physically separate the two. This run of feeder cable consisted of several shorter sections of very heavy duty electrical wires. At every junction, which occurred smack dab in the middle of the audience, it was wrapped in a trash bag with a safety cone to alert the drunken concert goers to the dangerous electrical conditions that that they are currently throwing up into. Earlier in the day, one of the technicians had thought “no harm should come of that, huh?” Of course, by this point, a bit of lingering vomit was soon going to be the least of anyone’s concerns.
The feeder cable had been deployed in such a fashion as to go around a couple of trees on it’s journey from it’s diesel generated power source and the spot light riser where it terminated. This was indeed the best way to route the cable, there is no question about this. It also slowed down giant crab doing the limbo down the side of the hill. But what goes up must come down, but it this case it was the other way around. With each twisting tipsy turn the riser did the feeder cable, which was very securely lashed to the riser as though someone’s job depended up it, and at the risk of pointing out the obvious, was performing in a manner nothing less than outstanding, began to tighten up until it was taut against the trees.
At first, it just moved a bit. A second or two passed and then the generator spun in a circle as though possessed. The next one snapped the beast right off of it’s wheels and sent those spinning through the horde of screaming sponsor sign putter uppers. The next one was described by CNN to be as “visually striking as the first time you saw the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.” It did indeed arc quite gracefully through the air before smashing into the end of a line of porta potties, turning everything within a fifty foot radius a dark, yet electric, blue. Coming down with some force, as one might imagine, what was left of the generator, feeder cable hanging on like a champion all the while, embedded itself quite deeply into the already soaking ground. This made the next tug o’ the feeder to make it act, oh, as though Paul Bunyan was pulling a plow with Babe The Blue Ox. Now everyone within fifty feet no longer looked like members of one of the Blue Man Group troupes, but more like Invasion Of The Mole Men.
When the spot riser finally did shudder into the mix position riser, it wasn’t as disastrous as one might think. As mentioned, it did start slowly. The shock was enough to knock both the sound and lighting guys on top of the front of house console.
“Wow, I that sucked, but I really thought the impact would be more” said the lighting guy.
“That’s because we’re MOVING” shouted the sound guy. Sure enough, the energy of the impact had been somewhat dampened by it’s last violent “shudder” coming to rest just at the back edge of the front of house mix position’s riser. So with the next one everything just travelled right on ahead, but now that the front of house riser was freed from whatever moorings it may or may not have ever had, the entire mass was now free to move as it liked. The feeder cable had flung the generator around the one of the trees, up into the air, and way off into the now twenty foot seas of water behind, taking a couple of follow spots with it. Now the entire mess was moving toward the stage.
The barricade may have well been a paper ribbon as they tore through it like a marathon winner. Four feet later the stage, on the other hand, stayed put. Since everything at the mix position was on wheels, it all just kept going. the sound and light guys flew over and above the surface of the deck atop of the console as though it were a magic carpet ride.
This was a good thing, as right about the time they cleared the drum riser the front supports of the stage buckled and the entire damned thing began to roll forward like a giant dice cube. This. following those pesky little laws of physics, caused the deck of the stage to angle upward. Figuring they were as good as dead, they clung to the console for dear life as they were lofted high above the wreckage that was collapsing below them. Funnily enough, sound guy’s first thought as the three of them, including the console came down smack dab in the center of the pool, was “Keith Moon put a car in one of these things? Hey this is kinda cool!”
The console went to the bottom of the deep end. So much for digital desks being lighter, albeit no more buoyant, than their analog counterparts. Fortunately the several pounds of bagged marijuana that the average roadie has on him at any given moment caused their backpacks to act as life jackets. As they pulled themselves out of the seemingly shallow end of the gene pool, they wondered why they weren’t buried under tons of gear. I mean, hell, there was enough time to make a smart ass comment about analog versus digital, surely there had been ample time for the thing behind them, which by this point was sounding like a thousand of those unseen monsters on the hit tv show “Lost.”
If they were all on wooden roller coasters.
In that the stage had rolled like the tumbling dice, the skin of the roof was now perpendicular to the ground, and as it filled with water it began to loom like the marshmallow guy in Ghostbusters. The seams began, bit by bit to stream high pressure jets of water until it looked like some kind of seething cactus gone mad. The roar of straining steel, collapsing beams and snapping wires was almost deafening. “And some asshole was worried that the SHOW might be too loud?” was the sound guy’s first thought. The lighting guy, who was also a rigger, looked at the moaning, bulging behemoth on the one side, and the tall concrete wall of the hotel on the other, pointed at what appeared to be a door on the seemingly endless expanse of that wall which comprised the conference center and said “FOH means FUCKIN’ OUTTA HERE!!!”
The door, of course, was locked. As the creaking mass behind them that was intended to be some form of spectacle later began living up to it’s name, it reared it’s ugly head like some form of Kraken sea monster and actually began to blot out the sun as they began to scramble, desperately looking for another way out. To this day the local townsfolk will only whisper in hushed tones about the county’s worst natural disaster in one hundred years of record keeping and still wonder how no one got hurt in the end.
In the conference center, things were just getting down to business when what appeared to be… Grizzly Adams and Albus Dumbledore dressed in camping or fishing gear? What the hell was this? wondered Elizabeth Coal, Executive Assistant. Glamorous as it may sound, it was a title she was loathe to repeat. She was smarter than every corporate ass clown whose asses she saved on a regular basis
The guys tapping outside the window were too, well, clean to be derelicts, yet clearly looked, well, just “slightly off.” No. Pretty far off. Also the backpacks they sported appeared not to be inexpensive, and had an almost but not quite finished customized look. It was weird, she thought,
However, these guys were soaking wet. She knew it was raining, but they were soaked, as though they had been dipped into, well, a dunking machine of water or something, probably booze or glue for that matter. What the hell were these ne’er do wells doing within fifteen hundred feet of this place? This was a conference center for fuck’s sake! She had paid good money to make sure everyone in that room was happy with their pissy needs and wants so they could act as though they owned the place, and now this! Bums!
The last thing she needed from this frickin’ backwoods hotel at some damned one horse ski resort was any form of distraction of anyone was going to get out this meeting with his or her balls intact. She comforted herself in the knowledge that somewhere, someplace, there was a corporate travel agent that she was going to delight in tearing a new asshole for, oh, a good forty five minutes or so depending less upon how she felt and more upon who was around to watch it.
The suits on the inside of the window regarded the men with the same expression my wife probably had when she realized she had left her purse in a porta potty hanging by the hook on the inside of the door. You can guess what happens when the door slams closed.
And that was when it occurred to her. “That sneaky son of a bitch…” thought Elizabeth Coal, currently McDermoot Fogg’s “Executive Assistant” as she rearranged her legs under the conference room table, secretly disappointed that the rest of the room couldn’t see legs. She knew she had gams that most men would walk in traffic for, and was no stranger to using them to manipulate rich men wearing expensive suits with the same aplomb as Ben Kenobi’s Jedi Mind Tricks.
McDermoot Fogg had pretty much the same thought going through his head, that he would rather be looking at Miss Coal’s legs than the hundreds of pages of contracts on the table in front of him. Probably the coolest head on the room in hindsight. All he could think about were the legs under the table and from how much they were kicking him, he was assuming, not presuming, that with the, in his mind, passion with which they were vying for his attention, that tonight was going to be the night. His unexposed hand began to move accordingly under the table, certain that she too, was, well, you know…
“What a fucking moron” was actually the thought going through Miss Coal’s promotion scheming mind as she brushed Foggs withered liver spotted hand away from the sanctity of an inner thigh worthy of having a Prince song written about it. “Rosemount Thorne has fucking paramilitary security on our asses and all he can think about is getting his hand up my skirt.”
And with good reason. The man at the other end of the table was no one less than THE Rosemount Thorne, and what the hell kind off goofy ass name was that anyway? The kind that got the crap kicked out of you a lot in school, that’s what, she ruminated. Well no one kicked the crap out of Rosemount Thorne any more. He snapped up and spit out supposed captains of industries like McDermoot Fogg before he took his first dump in the morning. It wasn’t talked about, well not much outside of the Group Of Six, but everyone knew that of all the financial strings and wires that he pulled, his favorite was a security company that didn’t exist and didn’t have a name that know one knew. He was on a first name basis with all the bay windows at Langley and secretly loathed being invited to the secretary of defense’s daughter’s wedding because the registry was a bunch of “pretentious useless overpriced shite better suited to a Sky Mall Catalog.”
“Don’t be silly, we’re just a cable company” Fogg had assured her before the meeting. “This is nothing to him. No big deal. It’s not like were those crazy arms dealers dorm the Middle East that he flies around in black helicopters with. I mean, that I may or may not of heard or not heard of.”
“Just a cable company?” She winced inside. Cable tv and food stamps, the Romans called it “bread and circus” as she recalled. A guy like Thorne looks at that and thinks nothing could be better for keeping those unruly peasants otherwise known as Middle America where they belong, and that was out of his fucking way. Not unlike Thorne’s biggest hero, Henry Ford, he considered himself nothing short of a Social Engineer.
But just before she was able to call Fogg’s own security guys, not nearly as ninja looking as Thorne’s, (which in reality were fifty plus year old roadies just trying sneak off and fashion a bong out of stage pieces in peace and quiet but would really, really, really like to think that they’re still bad ass enough to look even a little bit dangerous.) “where the fuck do they get all those cool flashlights and shit?” she wondered. “Our guys don’t look nearly as able to blend so invisibly into darkness.”
However, her reverie of being carried on aloft on the adoring shoulders of the board of directors shoulders for being the only one in the room smart enough to see through all of this skulduggery was interrupted, and quite abruptly as something bigger than a breadbox, but round, was impelled through the conference room window followed by, hell, what appeared to be a goddamned tsunami. She stared at the round thing wondering what the fuck it was as it spun around the room like one of those dam busting bombs in that show her husband always watched on The Military Channel.
Just then one of the roadies outside the window, the sound guy, of course, heard the oncoming roar and said just quickly enough that they could all leap to safety…