20 – AMERICA-VISION
It was cold outside…and not in that Tom Jones/Cerys Matthews pervy kind of way, but in a very real, freezing, chilblains kind of way. The sort of cold that every frozen-balled Siberian knows. If Valentin Dmitrovich Zukovsky had been here, that knee that Bond shot him in would have been giving him some right gip! So why brace that temperature and get those opposable digits chilly?
We were off to the airport that is why.
And why were we off to the airport? Because we were going to LA. Los Angeles. City of Angels and all the other clichés.
It was time for Taurus to take up that option of featuring in At Your Leisure. Michael had suggested that if the boys ever had one last chance to cash in on their limited success, now was the time. We could all sense that it wouldn’t be long before this insane journey would come to an end. With that in mind, we wanted to make the most of it. If you’ve been offered the chance to make even the smallest background cameo in a hit US TV show, you don’t turn that down. And it was my privilege to go along for the ride. I was not going to turn down the opportunity to hang out backstage with some LA lovelies!
So whilst the UK was a maximum of two degrees, we were going somewhere ten times hotter, hoping to find some actors that were ten times hotter too.
It was amazing to think how far we’d come as group of friends in less than two years. Rewind back to Christmas 2002 and Taurus was a prospect that nobody could have foreseen. Exactly two years ago we were all at Ashley’s Steps Remembrance party. You know there’s actually a home video somewhere of Ashley doing a Steps dance. I believe it was to "After the Love Has Gone". Ah, the lost classic! Or was it "When I Said Goodbye"? In any case, nothing says funky like a drunken twenty year old doing "Eastern" style dance moves. I’m sure it will end up on the Internet one day.
Skip on only twenty-four months and here you’d got a band with a greatest hits compilation out who were flying to America to appear in the hippest new show, featuring sexy young twenty-something actors playing sexy young teens. (Incidentally do hip people actually say hip or should I have been born in the sixties?) It was all fairly improbable when you think about it, but I guess this type of thing has to happen to someone.
When you take all this into consideration, the chances of the boys planning ahead for this trip were slim. Nobody was ready for Christmas yet. They all had a couple of things left to do. Inconsequential things like buying presents, and just the small matter of deciding what they were going to be. If needs be they could always give someone a signed copy of their Greatest Hits.
Initially I felt like more of a foreigner in LA, where everyone spoke English, than I did when I’ve visited European cities before, and it’s very obvious that I’m the only one speaking English, struggling to communicate. Is that indicative that I’ve got more of a European leaning? I suppose I’m more familiar with European culture than American culture. Even then I expected to be able to deal with American’s more easily.
It was the little things I noticed at first. Like you know when you go to an airport in Europe? Everything is written in English and French generally speaking. At LA X, everything was in English and then Spanish. It just threw me a little bit, even though I knew that there are loads of Spanish speakers in America. And then the security we had to go through was incredible. They took photographs of us, as well as our finger prints at customs and I felt quite intimidated as the police were shouting for us to get in line and generally demanding.
Gratefully we got some time out to acclimatise over the first few days in LA. Even at tourist attractions security was tight though. Visiting the LA City Hall was like going through departures at an airport. You line up, then you have your bag taken off you and searched and then you go through the metal detector and then you get frisked as you go through. And yes I did enjoy the frisk. Big strong hands. I can understand the reasons for it but it didn’t hit me about how strict they need to be until I was there.
It’s those subtle differences that you wouldn’t expect, that can make you feel like an alien. It is confusing. It caught me by surprise when I popped into a clothes shop and the attendant greeted me without any sense of irony with the phrase "What up dog!"
Feeling like an alien compared with European countries, I expected to be treated like it was a surprise to meet someone from England. But there are that many people from that many different countries in LA, that I couldn’t even make out what a California accent is. I suppose that it just got mixed in with the many different accents from all over the world and USA in particular. It’s a city of tourists and wannabes.
On the flight over, I read an interesting magazine article entitled: When did this happen? One of the questions addressed in the article was: at what point did Americans start speaking with American accents?
The answer given by a linguist and anthropologist was that it is far more likely that the English changed their accents rather than those arriving in America. The reason given was as people went away from the home country, they would try as hard as possible to continue to speak as they always had to retain those links initially. And as they were thousands of miles away, it would be the home language would have evolved differently. Therefore, it’s more likely that in those days the English accent was more like the American one.
Fascinated by this concept, I tried to explain it to the others.
"It’s an interesting twist on it but it’s basically bollocks." commented Patrick.
"Look, at one time, British people and American people were essentially the same people. The British people went over to America and then we obviously broke up…" My attempts to clarify were interrupted.
"Over some minor disagreement, which it doesn’t matter who won or who lost. It’s not a competition!" said Robert, staunch patriot that he is.
"I think that the article was mainly referring to the New England colonies rather than the whole of America, as to be fair, that took a while!"
"In which case I retract my initial statement," said Patrick.
"No, I think it a valid point and one that you expressed beautifully."
One of the highlights of our stay in LA was the friendliness of the people. I thought I’d find everyone a bit false. TV had made me think that Americans are over the top and over confident. I thought all the "have a nice day" stuff would be a bit plastic. But because everyone is like that, and that’s the way it’s always been, it feels right. People are just a lot friendlier than they are in Britain. And I think possibly a reason why it doesn’t grate is that it feels genuine. That’s just the way things are.
Our only prior experience of this type of people-friendly service is when staff in Britain do it. This all stems from American based companies setting up over here and investing in the same policies and behavioural standards. But because this is not natural to a Brit, it comes off as false. You don’t want to hear it. You want to go into the shop, buy your thing and get the hell out again.
So you imagine that’s how it will be in America as well. But it’s not. Because of the cultural difference, that’s how it is. We just don’t do customer service very well over here. In the restaurants and the service industry, we tip because we feel that we ought to. But we don’t tip very much. In America it’s expected that you tip, because people don’t make enough money without it. And I think that breeds a culture of people wanting to give you the best possible service they can give you. I’m not saying that it’s particularly moral, because with that set up Americans can lose out if people don’t tip them. They don’t have that salary up front even though they might be doing a better job. But what it does is breed that culture of excellent customer service.
So the customer service we received was one of my highlights, but it certainly wasn’t the best. That was yet to come. I thought that the highlight would have been the TV shoot, but it wasn’t. In comparison, that was one of the duller bits.
For a start, the boys had to turn up to the studio very early in the morning to begin preparations. There was lots of stuff like make-up, wardrobe and briefings with the director to be done before the actual shoot began. All this meant that Michael and I spent most of the day hanging around.
I wouldn’t have minded the hanging around, if I’d been able to hang around with stars of the show, but I didn’t get anywhere near them. This was particularly annoying considering how good looking they are.
The whole reason for Taurus being there was to appear as a band in a nightclub scene. For the scene itself, the music and performance was nothing but background material. Despite this fact, the performance had to be shot from multiple angles, with and without extras, and with and without the main cast. Between shots with the main cast, the cast disappeared to their trailers or to make-up.
The song the boys were performing in this scene was Car Wars, a suitably up-tempo number for the occasion.
great thing about this was that this meant that two Taurus tracks would be featured in the same episode of the show; with the obvious inclusion of Snapshots, the opening title track for the show.
Unfortunately I must have heard the chorus of Car Wars at least a hundred times during the course of the shoot. Incidentally it’s no longer one of my favourite Taurus songs.
As the day wore on, and just as I was thinking. if I have to hear that track one more time a tanned and sharp-suited man headed over to Michael and I.
Shane Mearns is one of the Executive producers of At Your Leisure, and a particularly charming man too. He wanted to introduce himself to us, a fan of the band, and the man that had contacted Project Y records to ask for Taurus to appear in the show. He chatted to us at length about the band and about the industry in general.
Shane was particularly interested in the subject of Eurovision when it came up as well. We discussed the format of the competition and he wondered whether it would be possible to adapt for an American audience.
Potentially you could have candidates from each state and at the end of it they compete, but I guess this would be more of a drawn out competition as there are more states than there are European nations competing.
When you think of it in today’s terms though there are over forty countries that enter Eurovision and there are fifty American states so that’s not too different. How you could fit in all countries I’m not sure. I suppose you could have semi-finals in a similar way to how Eurovision works now.
But what are your thoughts on that Americans? Sorry if that seemed a little aggressive. I didn’t mean it that way. If you take it as an insult then that’s just the chip on your shoulder. Sorry, French Frie.
Michael said that he didn’t think it would work. Surely it wouldn’t be the same if nobody says "nul-point". What’s the point of it then? It needs to be in English and French! Although, English and French is becoming increasingly redundant in Eurovision as we know. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s going increasingly Balkan.
Shane said that he might look into buying the rights to the format of the competition from the European Broadcasting Union. Surely it would be an interesting experience if nothing else.
I discussed it with the boys in a bar after the shoot and they thought it would be interesting from a European perspective because we have our own stereotypical slants on the different regions of America and what we thought they’d be like. Robert and Patrick thought that rappers would feature heavily but for different reasons.
"I’ve got an East coast slant. And you’ve got a West coast slant," said Rob.
"Which I guess gravitationally pulls us together."
"Does that mean we have to start shooting each other?"
"No, because we’re not rappers."
I don’t my rappers well enough to know which ones are from the east and west coast and therefore who mentioned whom. It does seem that there’s an awful lot of collaboration going on nowadays though and that most of the American rappers are good mates.
"There’s no beef between them anymore." Ashley chipped in.
"Is that because all the bad rappers are dead?" I asked.
"I don’t know." He replied. "I don’t know enough about it. I know that Will Smith’s still alive though so not all the bad rappers are dead."
"Where’s Will Smith fit in?" asked Robert. "Where’s Philadelphia?"
"It’s on the east coast I think. We need a map of America. It’s a long way away from Bel Air isn’t it?" said Patrick.
"That’s where he was sent from though wasn’t it? Philadelphia is where he was born and raised. On the playground he used to spend most of his days. Playing B-ball wasn’t it? Outside of the school."
"Don’t tell the whole story Ashley!" said Patrick.
In the TV Show, Will Smith moves to Bel Air which is in LA.
"He goes to Bel Air in a taxi as well if the opening credits are anything to go by. That’s three million miles!" Ashley continued.
"It’s not in a galaxy far far away. But it is a whole continent basically. It’s like getting a taxi from London to Moscow!" said Robert.
"Well, using the geography generator in my head, it’s not that far is it!?" said Patrick sarcastically. "Plus you’d have to go over the sea to get to it!"
"I meant distance wise, not in terms of roads."
"In which case you could say it’s the distance between London and the stratosphere."
"I don’t know."
"But the rappers are mainly from the East and West coast I would guess." I chipped in.
"They’re the main culture centres we have reported in Britain, but you’ve got your other old stereotypes too. Like a cowboy for example, from…somewhere in the middle." Ashley was struggling. "And then a Texan, oh I don’t know."
"You know nothing about America!" exclaimed Patrick.
"I know about America, but we don’t get much from the middle bit do we?"
"Maybe we do, we just don’t realise."
"We certainly don’t get much from Alaska or Hawaii," said Robert. "Everything we know from Hawaii is from Magnum PI. And everything we know about Alaska is from Northern Exposure."
"Why is Alaska not joined?" asked Robert.
"Because it used to belong to Russia I believe," said Patrick. "And at some point in the 19th Century, the American government bought it from the Russian government. That’s why it doesn’t actually directly link."
It just goes to show though that all of our American knowledge comes from TV and Film. That’s why I’m convinced that aliens come from America. On a similar theme, when I think of outer space, and the dawn of time, and the Universe that’s out there, and anything that has not been touched by humans ever, I think of America. That’s not because of NASA and their space exploration, and it’s not because of Aliens the film; it’s because of movies in general. Science Fiction films, and looking up and seeing the stars, and even the film company Orion, which has a titles sequence where all of the stars from the constellation Orion turn round in a big circle and form the O of the word Orion. All this makes me think of America. (You don’t see much by Orion nowadays do you? They must have been taken over.) But when I was a child I watched films by Orion, or saw Sci-Fi classics like Close Encounters of a Third Kind, or ET, and I sub-consciously linked the space, with the place that the films were made. Now of course it’s a conscious link.
Whenever I think of undiscovered places, like looking up at the stars, or looking at a wilderness, or looking at a natural untouched place, I imagine Morgan Freeman doing the voiceover. It’s not that other nations don’t do space exploration. I’m sure they do. I’m sure the Belgians have got a very valid space programme. But it’s that these films need a big budget, and the biggest English speaking centre of films is Hollywood. It’s inevitable that it will be USA-centric.
Speaking of large film companies, and to bring you back to what was the ultimate highlight of the LA trip, earlier in the year Universal Pictures had been sold to General Electric, the parent company of NBC, forming media super-company NBC Universal. Shane Mearns, who had moved to work for NBC during the buy out, still had tonnes of contacts at Universal Music (who were no longer part of the same group of companies.) So a few quick phone calls and we were on a plane to New York to meet Thomas Madison, A&R man for the largest group of Record Labels in the world. Suddenly this trip was seeming very worth it.