Good Old War drummer and singer Tim Arnold recounts what it’s like to play for the “towering ginger man who cracks jokes.”

Photo: The Cable Show

I’M IN LA and I am laying in bed, at the crack of dawn. Yesterday I was in Boise. How does this happen to me?

Really feeling strange on a Z-pack as a result of bronchitis. I take a shower and attempt to squeak out some notes. It goes OK but mostly what I’m thinking about is why we have to go to the Warner Brothers lot so early. I just want more sleep. It’s not gonna happen. Shut up Tim, just shut up.

This is our first TV appearance and I’ll be damned if I fuck it up. We arrive, say hello to the crew, run around in circles setting up our gear, change a drumhead, ask the LD for gaff tape, apply it to my snare drum to get that nice warm thud I like. The bass drum is a rental and the heads are not tuned so I ask our sound engineer / producer / friend Jason Cupp to tune it up and he does with a quickness and skill that I expected.

Everyone is setting up and there is excitement in the air but it is wafted away by a sense of urgency or business. Get it done. As a fan of the show I keep looking around to maybe catch a glimpse of the towering ginger man who cracks jokes. He is nowhere to be found.

We soundcheck our song “Better Weather” a couple times. The camera crew gets what they need. The sound guys are pleased. Everyone agrees that everything is OK and we retire to the dressing room where we wait for about six hours until the show tapes.

Tim Arnold is a member of Matador Ambassadors, a collective of journalists, athletes, musicians, and filmmakers gifted at storytelling.

My favorite thing to do.

I haven’t been smoking because of the death-sickness, and the lack of nicotine in my system is starting to nag at me. The Brookstone massage chairs in the green room mellow me out. Jason and I take a walk around the Warner Bros lot because it’s something to do. It’s lined with trees and the grass is green and the golfcarts whizz by us and every time I see one un-manned I get the urge to hijack it. Fancy cars are parked in “reserved for” spots and people with walkie talkies walk by chattering and buzzing.

We muse on the fact that we don’t need passes or any credentials because we probably look like we are here for a reason. Maybe it’s our haircuts or sunglasses or tight pants. We walk through the lots, seeing men working on sets, tour guides revealing the magic. We get a kick out of the massive sets of city streets, empty and hollow.

Back in the room our “people” begin to arrive and it is good to see them. Christina Hendricks walks by and she seems like a nice lady. Still no sign of the towering talk show host. The TV in the green room constantly reminds us that we are in Conan’s house and there will be a show airing soon. Our manager Tom tactfully clears the room for us and gives us a bit of “peace.”

This is the time where we run the song over and over in our heads, sing it twice before I have to stop because I don’t want to blow my already shaky voice, which has been raped by bronchitis, lack of sleep, constantly moving, constantly singing. I want a cigarette. I want a hundred cigarettes.

The show begins and is played live on the TV in the room and it all starts to get “real.” It’s happening. The jokes are funny, they tend to cut the anxiety. They tell us we have 20 minutes. We take deep breaths. They let us know again at “a soft 15.” Again at 10, 5. “You guys ready?” We are ready.

We get to the stage and look to the right and see the man at the desk with his attractive guests chatting off air. The house band is playing a song I can’t remember but it’s loud.

Keith’s computer, which supplies the keyboard’s sounds, is fucking up. A group of nervous-looking people in charge begin to surround us while we all stare at Keith and his computer, while he sweats and reboots. After what seems like a very long time the sounds of a bass start to emerge from the amp on stage.

The crowd of concerned directors disperse and give abstract hand signals to the men behind huge cameras and it’s go time. Conan introduces us and a chill is sent through the three of us. 1, 2, 3…music! We do what we came to do and what we do every night and it’s going well. We finish the song and the giant comic comes over and shakes our hand and asks Dan about his picking technique. All the while there is applause and noise and I don’t know what to do with my hands.

Once we are done I make a bee line for the green room to get a smoke and enjoy it outside with mixed feelings, high on the first inhalation of tobacco in days and feeling bad for acting like a jerk for needing this stupid thing I’m sucking on so bad. I go back in and mostly everyone is gone. The guests, the band, Conan, the crowd. Everyone is packing up and I feel as though I will be left here alone or swept away if I don’t hold on to something.

Afterwards we go to a bar to celebrate. It all seemed kind of anticlimactic in a way. Maybe I thought I would be partying with Conan and the gang, with celebrities all night in some swanky hotel penthouse. Instead it’s drinks at a bar, some laughs, and a couple beers in a hotel room with Jason waiting for the show to air so I can watch myself on TV.

We’re up at 6am tomorrow to fly to Denver and play another show. Life.