When I wrote about the two worst parties I'd gone to, I was prepared to be inundated with calls from the people who threw those parties. I was pleasantly surprised that I only got one call. It was from a guy named Ubaldo. He said, "We have a party going down on Saturday night and a party Sunday night for the season premiere of The Sopranos. We'll treat you better than those chicks did at the Sex and the City party."
He was right about that. A full moon was coming up from the horizon as I headed east on 1-8 to La Mesa. An Italian guy named Jeff in his early 20s was having a party with Italian food. There was a big projector set up in the back yard for the show.
I remember a friend telling me about a Godfather party he went to in L.A. with people in pinstriped suits, toy tommy guns, and even a coffin. This party wasn't that elaborate: A bunch of guys in their 20s getting together for good food, some beer, and The Sopranos. I couldn't believe how delirious the spaghetti was. I asked Jeff, who was wearing a Francis Ford Coppola shirt, what was in it; I couldn't ask for the recipe, since I don't cook... and save the letters telling me spaghetti is just boiling noodles; I'd find a way to screw that up. He said, "It's an old recipe that's been passed down in my family. I use wine and sugar in the sauce. Did you see The Godfather? They talk about how to make good sauce. It's like that."
There was a cooler with beer and soda, but I opted for the red wine. I sat next to a guy in the military whose arms were covered in tattoos — remember the days when only guys in the military had tattoos? — and his beautiful wife, who, by the time the show started a few hours later, ran to the car to get coats for them. Ubaldo, who invited me, kept me entertained with music stories. He's in the local band Bumbklaatt. When I asked what that name means, his friend Mario said, "It means 'menstrual cycle' in Jamaican.”
When he started talking about a dream he'd had involving a weird creature, another woman told a story about a coworker who always tells her about dreams. She doesn't pay much attention to the dream stories and always gets caught saying, "And then what happened?" And her friend says, "Nothing. It was a dream." I didn't want to insult Ubaldo, but I said, "Why do people talk about their dreams? Nobody cares. And yes, we know it seemed real to you at the time." He laughed.
At the other table, I heard them talking about sports. At one point, I heard a guy say, "You better go get your Glock" — a type of gun, I shouted over there, "Are you guys gonna go whack somebody? That would make this a real authentic Sopranos party." They laughed, and one gal who was there with her boyfriend was talking about the different definitions of "whack." With mobsters, it means "kill." In urban cultures, it means you're crazy.
The first 45 minutes of the party were spent trying to get the projector working. One guy said, "You're critiquing our party, and we don't even have the stuff working properly." Jeff said, "Hey, if we can't get this thing working, we'll just watch it in the house."
The back yard had a basketball court, a fire pit (which one of the women sat next to later in the evening), three tables, and a room that was filled with DJ equipment and a foosball table, and it looked like a cool room for a party. The fences on both sides of the house were so low, you could see the neighbors' back yards and patios. I asked if the noise would be bothering them, and Jeff said "We've had lots of parties here. They are all real cool about it. I have great neighbors." There were different fruit dishes and appetizers sitting on the tables, and two big dogs (one a black Lab) kept getting close to the grub. When I finally sat down, one dog buried his head into my chest. My shirt was soaked. A few times I heard Jeff say to people, "If my dogs are bothering you, just let me know." I hadn't seen an episode of The Sopranos, but I knew enough about it that I wouldn't be lost. When I asked others at the party, I was surprised that half the crowd had never seen an episode before. This was the fifth season of the critically praised HBO series. I left 20 minutes into it. So I've still never seen an episode. I went to another party where I wondered whether the neighbors would be complaining about the noise.
It was the weekend before this one, and it was in Vista. John Hornbacher has parties at his place about once a month, and he probably spends more on the entertainment than most do. You see, he hires big-name musicians to play in his living room. The Los Angeles Times did a story about people who have "house concerts," and they said the people throwing them usually lose money. When I asked John how much he pays the musicians, and if he loses money on the deal, he replied, "These are definitely not a moneymaker. Most of the artists have asked us not to reveal how much they make. It's about the music. If we were to calculate any financial benefits, we might make 50 cents an hour putting them on."
He had Laurence Juber appearing at his next party, and I remember him telling me more than a year ago that it cost more to get Juber (a former guitarist with Paul McCartney and Wings) than he initially offered. And after he paid that price, and Juber sold all his CDs at the show (which people are often thrilled that they get autographed), Juber was happy with his appearance there. When I was at that Juber show, I asked him if he liked playing in a living room. He said, "Oh, this is great. It's such an intimate setting and the crowd is wonderful. They actually sit and listen to you play, and it's fun to meet them after the show."
Jamie Laval band
At this show, it was Jamie Laval. He was in town also playing at Dizzy's and a folk festival. Since he plays fiddle, and the band does some Celtic music, I thought it would get pretty loud. But you could barely hear the band outside the brick walls of this house, which has been featured in a magazine, and in the Union-Tribune's Home section. Laval did some slow tunes, but the crowd seemed to enjoy the fast-paced Celtic stuff more. They would clap along, and I was sure that people would start dancing, but with all the chairs lined up, there really wasn't room. Laval said, "That was a song that would be great with step dancing. A lot of times we have step dancers perform with us." He glanced down at the hardwood floor and said, "This would be the perfect floor for it, too."
Having a musician in your living room is easier when it's Juber, with just his acoustic guitar. This band had a guitarist, Laval on violin, and an electric six-string stand-up bass. They were set up against a wall, by a window. I was lucky enough to grab a front-row seat when an older gentleman was leaving. He said he comes to all the concerts, because he's a neighbor. I asked about the noise and he said "Oh, no. These adobe walls are so thick, you can't hear anything. And they never play too late." With so many people packed into the living room, I was surprised it wasn't stuffy. And neither of the ceiling fans was running.
During the intermission, I heard a guy yell to John, "I'm not leaving you any cookies." He usually serves muffins, cookies, tea, juice, and natural sodas. I heard another couple talking about stuff that was inside a glass cabinet. There were Star Trek items, Beatles dolls. Matchbox cars, and movie memorabilia. I wondered if the Hornbachers care that people they don't know look at all the stuff in their house. But John seemed to know most of the crowd. I heard him greeting some by name, and then telling another couple, "I told you this band would smoke. They're great, aren't they?" Some of the other national acts that have played at these parties include John Jorgenson, Muriel Anderson, Richard Perkoff, and Clare Muldaur. I asked if there have been any local musicians, and John said, "Only Mark O'Connor. And that's because he's a friend of ours." I think about Laurence Juber, who spent years as McCartney's guitarist, and after that won numerous awards for his classical style of finger picking. I wonder if, when people ask about his favorite gigs, he says "There was Madison Square Garden in the '70s. We had some great shows in Japan. Oh, and this guy's living room in Vista."