Friday, October 9, 2009

A Trace of Doubt in My Mind

“Cut! Cut! Cut!”

Director James Frawley sprung out of his chair and made a beeline for Stephen Stills. Micky, Davy and Mike casually sauntered to the side of the set, stage left, glad to be out of the line of fire.
“Stevie, baby, you’ve got to be staring at that chimp. You’re wandering off into space. You’ve got to concentrate.”

“Mmm, OK,” Stills muttered.

Concentrate. Concentrate! On a staring contest with a monkey! This is a big mistake. I should be writing and playing with the band. Just last month we were wowing them at the Whisky, now I’m facing off with an ape. I never should have auditioned for this show, and now I’m stuck.

"That’s right Stevie, a blank stare, just like the one you have on right now,” Frawley went on, congratulating himself on getting what he needed from his “actor.” For a first time director, it was a challenge working with the musicians in The Monkees, Stills and Nesmith. The show biz guys, Jones and Dolenz, were fine, happy to ham it up without feeling self-conscious, without thinking they were selling out to the man.

Stills turned to the chimpanzee on the stool before him.

We were set to take off in the summer of 1966 and our shows at the Whisky a Go Go were our coming out party. All the labels were there, itching to sign us on. All of them spouting the same pitch, “We gotta have Buffalo Springfield. We’ll make you guys big stars.” But I couldn’t do it. I was spoken for. I never should’ve gone to that audition, but that was in September of ’65 I was going nowhere, the band didn’t even exist, Neil was still in Canada. So, what the hell, why not try TV? I knew it wasn’t my bag, that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. They liked me and, for what it’s worth, that was good enough for me.

Frawley pushed back his dark hair and hiked up his white slacks.

“Stevie, come on, I know you’re the sensitive type, but you have to clown around more. Get into it, man. Have fun. Free up.”

“Free up?”

“Yeah, remember our improv classes, be free, be bold, be committed to your role.”

I should be committed, committed to my music, not this slapstick shit. Here it is, the middle of June, and instead of writing songs I’m playing with a monkey. Hell, I am a Monkee! I wish I could find a way to freedom, but what’s the cost of breaking a contract?

“Action!” Frawley yelled. Stills held his gaze on the simian before him. The chimp looked back. Was that a sympathetic look?

“Cut! Nice job guys, nice work Stevie. Head to costumes for the war scene.”

The war scene? What the…? Oh yeah, camouflage and greasepaint. Meanwhile there’s a war taking place for real out on the streets. The heat were pressing hard down on the kids on the Strip, kids just grooving to the sounds coming from the clubs like the Whisky and Pandora’s Box. Battle lines were being drawn out there and I’m in here, putting on a beret and uniform.

Micky was working it like a pro from his platform, breaking his pointer on the map, but Stills was drifting off again, thinking about his music, thinking of the electricity the Springfield created on stage. Frawley noticed but did nothing, hoping Stills would snap out of it. He wouldn’t.

“Cut! Cut! Cut!”

Stills slowly looked up and Frawley was already on top of him.

“Stevie, baby, you have to pay attention. When Mike and Davy turn their watches over you have to be ready to turn yours over too, kapish?”

“I don’t have a watch.”

“I know, I know,” Frawley was exasperated. “You don’t have a watch, that’s the gag. You have to turn over a big hourglass. Where’s your hourglass?”

“Umm, I must have forgotten it in the dressing room.”

“Props! Bring out the hourglass.” Frawley ordered loudly.

A stagehand scurried out quickly, huge comic hourglass in hand. She began to attach the band to Stills’ wrist.

“OK, Stevie, timing now. Be alert. You have to turn over the hourglass after the other two boys turn their watches. Ready. Now…action!”

Now ATCO wants to sign us for an album and they’ll have to do it without me. Even though they won’t let me play on The Monkees tunes, I can’t play with the Springfield. Over here, they prefer ‘studio musicians.’ Well, I did session work too, but that’s not good enough for them, I guess. Time to turn my hourglass.

Stills turned his hourglass upright on cue. Scene over.

“Cut! Print! Nice job boys. Good work Stevie. Next shot is the hotel room. Don’t forget Stevie, you get to play a footstool in this scene. It’s gonna be a gas!"

A footstool! Figures; that’s how I feel anyway, a piece of furniture with nothing to do but get walked on.

As Stephen Stills left the set, stage right, he noticed the sign by the fire extinguisher on the wall – “In Case of Fire, ‘Run’.”

In early September 1965, Stephen Stills auditioned for The Monkees television show. While the producers liked him very much, Stills declined, realizing it was not for him. He recommended his good friend Peter Tork, who got the role. From May 2 through June 18, 1966, Buffalo Springfield, featuring Stills and Canadian pal Neil Young, played a series of legendary shows at the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Strip. After the Sunset Strip “riots” in November, Stills penned “For What It’s Worth,” the song which catapulted him to stardom.

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