At the Casbah, Mays credits his longtime staff with handling the lion’s share of the work. “I can probably go a whole month without being here at night…it’s just gotten to the point where I don’t need to be here because all of my stuff’s done, booking the bands, and making sure the whole thing works. But I still make a point of being here at least one night a week.”
With all of the artists who have graced the stage here, I expect Mays to have loads of colorful anecdotes about wild rock ’n’ roll debauchery. He tells me that none spring to mind, so I ask if he remembers the first time the Strokes played here in the summer of 2001. Halfway into the set, singer Julian Casablancas got a bit overzealous with his drunken Johnny Thunders impression and broke the head of the microphone right off its stand — on the forehead of a girl in the front row. That girl was me. Mays doesn’t remember this incident but thanks me for not suing the club. “I do remember him [Casablancas] puking outside and almost passing out.”
I ask about who has been the biggest diva. Hasn’t anyone just been an asshole? “Not that I can remember, really,” he says. “I think the hardest person I’ve ever dealt with is Crispin Glover. Yeah, he was really difficult. He’s difficult because he had a show that he put together that was super exacting, and he knew what he needed to do. But there was a miscommunication, communicating to us what he needed to make his show work. He got to a point where…I don’t know if you’ve seen any of his movies, but he’s really like that!
“He was showing a film, reading out of a book, and doing a spoken-word thing, and he’d missed a couple of flights so he was really late. We had chairs set up out there, we had to rent a projector, all this stuff, and this was in ’94 I think, so this was pretty new to us. All we did was punk rock shows, so this was a pretty major production. So he got here, and we had to change everything around. Unbolt tables from the floor, move seats around, make an aisle, so if anybody got up to go to the bathroom you wouldn’t stand in the beam of his film — just, you know, super-difficult stuff. Then, at one point, I’d misread the rider. He needed a wireless mike, but he needed a clip-on one, to keep his hands free, and I had got him a hand-held, and he had a meltdown. But by that time we’d been there all day waiting for him, like Waiting for Godot or Waiting for Guffman or something. My friend Sam was down at the airport waiting for him — Sam wanted to meet him, so I said, sure, go pick him up. Sam’s sitting there for six hours. So at that point, when [Glover] is, like, ‘I need this mike, it is imperative for my performance that I have this mike!’…I had to walk away because I was ready to say, ‘Take off. You know what, I don’t want to do this.’ But my sound guy came and fashioned something out of a little drum mike with a paperclip, and it all worked out fine. But it was tense, very tense.
“Then, there was a guy in a band called Material Issue, a long time ago, they were popular, like, in the mid-’80s, early ’90s. And they played here; they had a bus, but there wasn’t a huge crowd or anything. The guy in the band’s kind of a prima donna, and he did something onstage where his guitar almost hit my friend in the face. So my friend just pushed the guitar out of the way. And the guy came over and started yelling at him, started yelling at my door guy, and basically this guy ended up having to jump offstage and run to his tour bus because people wanted to kick his ass! He was just rude and a prima donna…there were, like, 100 people here, and he’s used to playing at places for, like, 2000 or something. So he was just a jerk. He was out in the bus yelling out of the window, and people were yelling at him, throwing stuff at him. The guy later committed suicide for some reason, so maybe his career didn’t go the way he wanted. They were a horrible band anyway.”
We are outside the Modest Mouse show, a Casbah production being staged at club SOMA. Mays stands backstage in a black leather jacket, his breath visible in the early evening chill. Everyone else is dressed in multiple layers of sweats and knit caps with big gloves. Mays directs his staff, asks the runner to take dinner orders for the crew, and doles out pay at the end of the night. In between, he’s talking with one of his guys about how great the Art Brut CD is and how clever the lyrics are. “That one song about ‘drinking Hennessy with Morrissey’!” Mays’s son ambles over with two friends who are clearly stoked to be backstage for one of their favorite bands. At 14, Keith stands a good five or six inches taller than his dad, a fact that does not go unnoticed. Two people will ask Mays, “So, where does your son get his height?” before the night is over.
Later, after giving the three kids their “WORKING” access passes, Keith will lope back to pull his dad aside. He shakes his shaggy blond hair off his forehead. Apparently a few more friends have shown up — can he get a few more passes? Then, after the show, he asks for a Modest Mouse T-shirt. Mays gives him a look. “How much are they?” he asks. “Twenty-five bucks.” Mays could probably get a free shirt and more from the merchandise guy with no problem. But he pulls a couple of bills out of his jacket pocket instead. At the end of the night, all the teenagers will walk away sweaty and smiling, with CDs autographed by the whole band, and I wonder if there is any kid at their school with a cooler dad than Tim Mays.
— Jennifer Cooke