Andrew W.K. - Cafe Wha? - Uncensored

Panic 10/28/2016 Views: 5,593

When Andrew W.K. was a teenager, he moved to New York City to become a fashion designer, but instead, he ended up participating in a terrifying audition for a band. (16:40)

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- They were witnessinga nightmare.

It wasn't even a train wreck.

It really was more a--

it was like an existentialshattering of a human soul.

- Yeah!

[cheers and applause]

[in slow-motion]Yeah!

[indistinct slow-motion chatter]

[dark electronic music]

[in slow-motion]- [growls]

[audience gasps]

[grunts]

- [screaming]

[mud splashes][slow-motion yelling]

[grunting and yelling continues]

[struggling vocally]

- Super excitedto bring this guy up.

His album--the album "Get Wet,"

one of the bestparty-rock albums of all time.

You guys, a rabble-rouserof the seventh degree--

give it upfor Mr. Andrew W.K., everybody.

[cheers and applause]

- When I was 16,

I wanted to bea fashion designer,

in case you didn't getthat impression already.

But I wrote a letterto a company

that was actuallybased in Japan

called Comme des Garcons.

And I want to workfor this company,

and I was 16, so I figuredthat what you do

is you write a letter to Japan,and then they hire you.

And they actually wrote back

through their New York officesand said,

"If you really wantto work here,

"in two more yearswhen you're 18,

write back and we'llsee what we can do."

So I waited two yearsand then wrote back

and then said, "Yeah, I stillwant to work there."

So then I moved to New York,and I was given a job

in the basement officeof Comme des Garcons

on Wooster Street.

[scattered cheers and applause]

And, uh...

was fired two months later.

For stealingand other petty offenses.

When I was fired,I was crying quite a bit,

which the woman in chargeasked me not to do.

And I decided that I wasn'tmeant to do fashion.

So, at that time,I was living in the living room

of two folks from Michiganwho I didn't know really

and looking throughthe want ads every day

in the back ofthe "Village Voice"

and came across a jobfor a musician.

I thought, huh, I've neverthought about doing that.

Now, I had taken piano lessonsand played piano

and made music,but that to me was like reading.

I never really thought--

you know, once you learnhow to talk,

you don't necessarilybecome professional,

unless you're gonna bea stand-up comedian

or something like that.

[sighs]

Anyway, so--

This is easier than I thought,

'cause that wasn't evensupposed to be a joke.

So I thought,well, at the worst-case,

I mean, the job paid$700 a week,

which was more money thanI'd ever imagined

you could really makedoing anything.

It was a lot more than I wasgetting paid at the internship

at the fashion place,so I said, "Okay, I'll try it."

Now, I figured,having never auditioned

for a musical job before,

that I would go inand I would have a meeting

and they would give mesongs to learn

and we would talkabout the band.

I'd only beenin high school bands

and things like that,and we did have original songs,

but I think we once learnedsomeone else's song

and played it very poorly,

and it took about twoor three months of practice

before we got it, and thenwe never played it again.

Went back tothe original songs,

'cause no onecould judge those.

So I dressed up as mostprofessional musicians

did at the time,which I envisioned to be

a sport coat withthe sleeves rolled up,

and I got myself psyched up

and really tried to use thepower of visualization,

which I'd just been learningabout at that time,

that you could kind of picturehow things would go.

I learned actuallydoing piano recitals

to picturethe recital going well,

and then when it goesterribly wrong and you mess up,

much like the way I feelnow on this stage,

you'll at least be ableto compare it

and really realizehow poorly it's going

compared to whatyou visualized.

So, uh, I visualized thatI would get to sit in a room,

maybe with a piano--kinda like I imagined

it would be likea ballet studio for some reason

with mirrors along one sideand a railing.

And this nice gentleman

who was gonna give methe stack of songs to learn,

"Come back in two weeks.We'll review.

We'll go over this,as much time as you need."

And I make my way down thereon the subway,

you know, all by myself.

I didn't have any friendsreally at that time.

I had two roommatesthat I was irritating,

but I don't thinkthey would have

considered themselvesmy friends.

And then found my wayto this place,

which was inGreenwich Village.

It said on the sign--it said "Cafe Wha?"

in kind of bold colors.

And I really didn't likethe name.

And I thought, "That doesn't--this is not a--

this is a bad omen."

So I listened to a deepervoice that said go in,

and I went insideand went down some stairs.

There was actuallya very nice women there,

that I explainedI'm answering this ad.

And she hada slight look of concern

mixed with fear.

And she seemed to say,

"Okay, well, you know what,come over here,

"and you can take a seatin the back,

and I'll go tell the manageryou're here."

And I thought,"This is great.

He'll pull me into his officeand we'll talk."

In the meantime,it was a packed house.

It was very much like this.

In fact, I haven't felt as muchlike I did that night

until this night.

And I really mean that.

I mean, my heart is racingso much so

that if I just sit still,

I just could be--seem to pulse.

It's a very intense feeling.

And so it was a packed house.

It was a live music club.

And it was a veryboisterous audience.

Standing room only.People were singing along.

I cannot exaggeratehow fantastic the band was

that was playing.

I mean, world-class.

And again,it was really in a place

really aboutthis exact size,

uh, in the most eerieof ways.

There were a lot of mirrors,much like this,

and helped make the room

somehow seem more claustrophobicin a strange way.

And I found the oneonly person seat

for this whole club.

Sat down, ordered a Sprite.

And just waited for herto come and tell me

when the manager was ready.

So I'm watching this band,

and then this gentleman who hadbeen more like the sideman

stepped upand took over the mic,

speaking with the audience.

And it was very strangefor me at this time

to watch this guy.

I was just fascinatedby his confidence,

because in my eyes

he had absolutely no reasonto be confident.

He looked like the friendsI had in high school

that were really intocomputer repair,

which was a higher leverof computer enthusiast.

And was playinga Fender Stratocaster guitar

with the strapat that height,

that certain heightthat just doesn't seem like

it can't possiblymake it easier to play.

So I'm watching this guycommand the crowd,

and I'm really amazed by hisalmost overconfidence.

It turns out, of course,he's the host,

and actually he's the manager.He's the manager.

How amazing is thisthat the manager of the club

is playing in theirworld-class band?

So he's banteringwith the audience,

he's talking about how greateveryone has been so far,

what an amazing lineup--

"And I understandthat there's a young man

"somewherein this audience tonight

"that's gonna come upon stage here

and audition for us."

And the first thought was:

shoot, someone elseis gonna get this gig.

This other kid.This other guy.

And I'm not even gonna geta chance.

And then he asked again

if the young man wouldplease show himself.

And that's when I realizedit was me.

And, uh...

I just realized,I could sit there

and not acknowledge myself

and wait untilthey passed over,

'cause he did wantto keep the show moving,

or, um, I could go up there.

And at that time,that really surpassed

any asking out a girlfor the first time.

It certainly surpassed havingbeen fired from that job.

I could tell this wasthe most underwhelming

overwhelming thingthat was about to happen.

And I was about to actuallyjust cop out,

'cause it was gonna be--

you know, it wasn'tgonna go well.

It was a living nightmare.

And there was a very clearvoice in my head.

It wasn't my voice.

It's kinda like the voice

that when you're readinga book silently.

It's just this voice thatdoesn't actually have a sound,

of course.

But somehow it's sayingthese words to you.

So I don't really understandhow exactly that works.

So who--

whose voice that is,

but it's right--it's very intimate.

You can't--can't shut it out,

and it said, "This is whatyou're supposed to do."

So I said okay.

So I got upand went on the stage,

and as soon as I stood up,

there was one of thoseprison spotlights,

and so thenI couldn't see anything,

except that I wasvery lit up.

And right away,the host's face just sank,

'cause he sawthat I was 18 years old

and probably gonna bereally amazing

or really, really bad.

And I managed to be both,I think.

I walked up and I kindascooted through the stage.

It was very crowded.Once you get up there,

you realize that everyone'skinda overlapped

on top of each other.

And the keyboard playerspecifically

was not happy about me

taking over his, at least,

three racks oftriple-tiered keyboards,

and then a whole nothertriple tier,

and then the ones thatyou can't play behind you.

That's always been--you know, I can play one barely.

So this idea of nine was--

again, I justwas very intimidated.

And all the whilethis is happening,

I can't believethat it's happening,

and I still think aboutjust fleeing.

And I'll try to run throughthis part quick

because it's just very painfulto think about.

So the host is here,and he says--he says,

"Okay,so what do you got for us?"

And I--you know,my mouth was so dry.

It was like all the moisturehad gone to my--

the palms of my handand behind my knees.

I could barely speak,and the mic was way too loud.

I said, "I didn't thinkit was gonna be like this."

And before I could evenfinish uttering that,

the whole crowd--the tension, it just--

they were having the greatestnight of their lives,

and it was just cut off.

They were witnessinga nightmare.

It wasn't even a train wreck.

It really was more, uh--

it was likean existential shattering

of a human soul.

And this guy hostingrealized that,

and he says,"Okay, well, let's go all-in."

He said, "Well, how couldyou come to a thing

"and not haveanything prepared?

What song can you play?"

I said, "I don't know--"I really was thinking

maybe I would play scalesor something backstage.

I didn't have the nerveto say that.

I said, "I didn't thinkit was gonna be like this.

On every level."

He said, "Well, name a songthat you can play."

And this is the part that Ialmost wasn't gonna tell you.

'Cause it's just--out of all the songs--

some that I would know,

like "Happy Birthday"or something.

I could've played that.

A song I've never played,still don't know how to play,

haven't even tried to play,especially after this.

Hadn't heard itearlier that day.

Had no particularrelationship to the song,

no special memoriesabout the song.

I said "Rocket Man"by Elton John.

And at that point, I almostfelt like looking back now

the voice in my head was like,

"What--where--where did that come--

"What the hell are you doing?

That's not howthis is supposed to go."

So he said,"Okay, 'Rocket Man!'"

And then all of a sudden,it dawned on me

that this bandknew every song.

They knew "Rocket Man."

They had it memorized.

No one gave themthe sheet music.

They--I could havecalled out any song,

they'd go, "Okay,one, two, three, four."

Pachelbel's "Canon in C."

"Mary--" ugh.

So they kick into it

and it soundsjust like the album

except that there's nopiano playing.

And I say,"Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait.

What key is it in?"

You know, I normallyhave the music,

and even thenI need a lot of practice.

He said, "Well, it'son the same key as the album."

I said, "Well, I don't knowwhat key's that in."

And then I thinksome of the other band

was starting to get irritated.

It was startingto make them look bad.

And then, uh--

So he said, "What keydo you want to play it in?"

And I said,"C. C major."

But the problem is--if you're even slightly familiar

with "Rocket Man,"whatever key you start in,

within the first few seconds,it's changing and modulating

and movingto about 18 different keys.

It's probably oneof the more complicated songs

to try to just fakeyour way through.

And I faked my way through it

by turning the volume downon the keyboard.

One of the great things aboutkeyboards versus real pianos.

Just turn that downand have a ball.

And then I realized I didn'tknow all the words,

so he said, "I'll feed youthe words one line as we go."

I mean, and at this point,my face was so red and hot.

The way it feels right now.

When your ears are so hotthat they hurt

without even being touched.

You can leave a thumbprinton your cheek.

But eventually, I gotto the line where he says--

where it's, "And I think it'sgonna be a long, long time."

Which was the one lineI really did know.

So I was excited,and as I started to sing that,

he said, "And I thinkit's gonna be a long, long time

till you ever performat Cafe Wha? again."

[audience awws]

And in part, I was relieved,of course, like--

"Good, let me get out of here.Gee whiz."

And at that moment,the crowd kind of--

it was just so bad,something had to give.

'Cause he wasn'tletting up on me,

and I don't blame him.

But someone yelled,"Hey, let him finish."

Or, "Let the"--you know,"You're doing great, kid!"

And-and the feelingthat some other person

that I didn't knowthat had no reason to--

they cared about me.

They were shouting for me.

And, like, a whole sea change--the whole vibe changed to,

"Come on, you can do it!"Like an underdog.

But the thing--I really couldn't do it,

so it wasn't likeI won the game

or scored this three-pointerand brought it all home.

Finished the songvery, very badly,

left the stage,but there was still

something kind ofsatisfying about it, I guess.

The bass player,he put his hand on my shoulder

and said,"It's gonna be okay."

Sorta like, you know, "You'regonna live through this."

And I walked downthe stairs,

and I went back,and then, you know,

very slowly walked out.

But the feeling was that if Icould not make it through that,

I could not make itthrough anything.

[cheers and applause]