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Brad & Chris & Kevin & Alanis (a classic tale)

This true story was originally posted in 1998. In honor of Kevin Smith’s being back in town to make a new film, I’m reposting it here:

Well, it all started back on the evening of Sunday, May 3rd 1998, when, at about 8:15pm, I showed up at Café au Lait for my usual 8:30 gig (running a little late, as usual). I burst in, and who should be sitting at the table just inside the door but Kevin Smith (the director of Clerks and Chasing Amy), and Alanis Morrisette (Canadian multi-platinum rock star-person, who, I happened to know, had a role in the movie which Kevin was filming in Pittsburgh at the time, Dogma, released in 12/1998). I don’t know if I would have recognized them if they hadn’t been together, but since they were, and I had some background info, I went up and said “Are you guys Kevin Smith and Alanis Morrisette?” to which Kevin replied “well, not right now, but sometimes.” I said, “Well, for famous people, you both have pretty good ‘blend in’ faces,” to which Kevin replied “yeah, isn’t it cool?” I then asked if they could move bit, since they were sitting about where I usually set up to play.

They shifted over to the other side of the coffee shop, and I started setting up frantically (I wanted them to hear a little Yoder before they took off). I even left my car trunk open, and a small lake of rain accumulated in there during the show. After about 3 songs, they went to the back room, and Kevin gave me the “we’re going to smoke” hand signal (the front room is non-smoking), which I thought was polite of him (as opposed to giving me the “you suck and we can’t take it any more” hand signal…) At that point I played out my first set (playing my ass off—I had famous people in the back and, more importantly, a full & attentive house in the front room.) At the break, I stuck my head in back, but didn’t see them, and was kicking myself for not getting a CD into their hands, just for the hell of it, when the friendly coffee-person behind the counter told me they were still sitting at a table in back, tucked out of sight around the corner.

Sure enough, when I went back, there there were, smoking away, and enjoying what looked like a rather fun conversation. I said “Excuse me..”, they both said “Hey, good set..”, I had them sign the guest book (both signatures quite illegible, but hey…), I gave them both a CD, confessed to only have seen “Chasing Amy”, to which Kevin replied “That’s okay, the others sucked anyway,” and I told Alanis that, although I had heard Jagged Little Pill, the records of hers I was really interested in hearing are the ones she’s going to make, to which she replied, “me too.”

That was extent of our interaction; I saw them walk past the outside window during my last song of the evening (just before 11pm), so they had stayed for my whole show, although they had by no means come there “to hear Brad Yoder play.” Both “stars” gave the impression of being personable, witty, and self-deprecating (all characteristics I admire). I particularly liked the irony of me handing a CD to Alanis, who has sold about 8 gazillion records (I was just over 500 at the time!)—it was a cool little random happening. But, the story continues…

I had this random thought, which was, “I wonder if there’s a song on my CD which would fit into the movie he’s making?” About 5 seconds later, I thought, “nope, there isn’t, and besides, getting songs into movies isn’t something ‘unsigned’/self-employed artists like myself generally do.” Not too long after that I had the dangerous, yet somehow inevitable thought, which was “well, then you should write a song for the movie” (beware of thoughts which refer to you in the second person!) At this point, despite all my best efforts to the contrary, the constant voice of reason notwithstanding, I ended up doing just that—in fact, I wrote two, “What Would Jesus Do?” and “Bad Day.” The latter was written particularly with the film in mind, and I even went so far as to download a draft of the script from the internet, to try to get the text to fit the plot.

When I was basically done with those two songs, I had the disturbing realization that they were actually pretty good. That was when I made the decision which put me into full hypo-manic mode—I should record decent sounding demos of these two tunes, and get a CD of them into Kevin Smith’s hands. In fact, I was pretty sure that doing that was the only way to put this “creative curse” to rest. So, to make a long story short, I did, and about 10 days, too much money, and several late nights later, I had the CD. The only problem, now, was tracking down Mr. Smith, and I knew, from checking out his website, that his days of filming in Pittsburgh were numbered.

I checked out a filming site where I knew they had been in East Liberty (just a few blocks from my day job, an after-school tutoring program), but had no luck. This was where my good friend Chris (girlfriend of my good friend Paul) came into the picture. She agreed to be my “stalking partner, ” and together we spent a couple nights at a bar on the South Side which the director (I had been told) was known to frequent. We played pool, drank beer, and laughed at ourselves for becoming celebrity-hunters! However, we were determined to “deliver the missle,” as we referred to the CD with the demos on it.

It was on the evening before what we knew was the last day of Dogma shooting, when Chris finally played her trump card. A couple months earlier, while waitressing, she had been vaguely hit on some guys who were catering the movie, along the lines of, “Hey, baby, we make little sandwiches for the stars, why don’t you come down to the set sometime, and maybe you can meet Ben Affleck!” In their defense, they had been really drunk, and not really obnoxious. In any case, Chris called one of them up (as I listened) and said, “Hey, I never came down to see the set, is it too late? where will you guys be tomorrow?”

Ah, the power of feminine wiles… The last day of shooting, it turns out, was taking place at a hospital in McKees Rocks. When Chris got off the phone we both said, “well, I guess we’re driving to McKees Rocks tomorrow!” The next day we headed out to the hospital, got there early, and Chris, ever fearless, asked a friendly older volunteer guy about where they might be filming: “We’re meeting someone with the crew.” (a caterer?) He showed us to the old, unused Intensive Care Unit. We staked out a good “stalking place” where we could see everyone who came in, pulled out some paperbacks, and started waiting.

We began to see trucks pull up, but there wasn’t much action up on the ICU. Twice, Chris went back down to look around, and the second time she came back and said “Quick! they’re filming something outside first!” We rushed outside, where they were indeed setting up some shot on the upper parking lot. At that point I gave my backpack to Chris while I ran down to the lower parking lot to grab some stuff from my car. As luck would have it, standing not 40 feet from where my car was parked, outside his trailer, was the director himself. “The missile,” of course, was still in my backpack with Chris.

I quickly went to the car, grabbed my stuff, hurried back up to the other parking lot, grabbed Chris, and we headed back down to the car. At first, Mr. Smith was nowhere to be seen, but as we looked a bit, I saw him on the phone in his tailor, pacing. He saw me as well, and gave me a “just a minute” gesture. Chris and I waited, and when he got off the phone, we had a nice 5-minute conversation with him, in which I explained that I had some music, he should listen to it in moving vehicle sometime, preferably loud, blah blah, etc. He asked if Chris was “Mrs. Brad Yoder” ( She’s not.. :] ), asked if there was contact info on the CD (there was), and said he’d give the demos a listen the next day on his drive back to Jersey. He couldn’t have been more friendly, personable, and generally cool.

Having finally (and in nearly the last minute) successfully handed off the CD, Chris and I headed back into Pittsburgh to celebrate with some Dave & Andy’s ice cream (the best in the ‘burgh.) It was a great relief to have actually pulled it off, and we both kept saying, “this is one of those stories we’ll be telling people for a long, long time.” Without too many lucky breaks to mention, and the help of Chris and others, it would’ve never happened.

So, did I ever hear back from Kevin Smith? No, and actually I didn’t necessarily expect to (although it wouldn’t’ve shocked me, either). As I’m well aware, “unless you’re under contract with a major label, it’s a helluva time trying to get you on a soundtrack,” (response to a similar request posted on Kevin Smith’s Production Company’s web page.) The point is, the whole experience was a tremendous hoot, I got two strong songs, plus a great story. More importantly, I’ll never lose any sleep thinking “what would’ve happened if…” And, you just never know what leads to what—connections come back around sometimes in quirky, random, unexpected ways (I did find out since then that my CD had been played on the set at some point, since it was heard there by a local make-up artist working the movie). In any case, to quote Bob Mould (formerly of Hüsker Dü), “expectations only mean you think you know what’s comin’ next, and you don’t!” Amen, brother Bob. Gotta love the random stuff…

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