So I was in a Frat in college for all of a year, it wasn’t a good idea. However, in a twisted mix of weird fate, there wouldn’t be a Jam in the Van had I not been in a fraternity. Without going too far into the backstory, Dave Bell and myself met through a mutual friend who happened to be my roommate in the fraternity (his name was Jake, my name was Jake, we were the Jakes). The first time Dave Bell and I were ever acquainted was actually in New York City my freshman year when I crashed his New Year’s eve party and (accidentally) broke a lot of stuff in their hotel room and left the sink full of vomit, but that’s neither here nor there. Our true first memorable interaction actually took place inside my afformentioned fraternity when Dave came to visit the other Jake over Halloween weekend. He wore a shirt that said “costume” to our Halloween party and spent much of the night on the couch in my room on account of having eaten a Halloween brownie that I had convinced the fraternity chef to make special for me. So long story short, Dave Bell and myself became good friends after that, and here we are over a decade (Jesus Christ) later, partners in this very worthwhile endeavor that you know and love as Jam in the Van! However, let’s return to my first sentence, the fact that for myself, being in a fraternity in college was not a good idea.
I didn’t have a good time, in fact I probably wasted a lot of time and our parties weren’t even that cool. So you would think that I would have washed my hands of the Greek scene, having left it with such unfavorable memories, but, eh, seems like I didn’t listen to myself. Because whilst in search of a location to hold a Jam in the Van Session shoot, the idea was proposed to me by Spud’s younger brother, James, “hey, weren’t you in a fraternity in college?”
“Man, you should call them up and see if they’d let you film there. They always have parking lots and they love beer.”
“Hey, that’s not a bad idea.” This is where I should have paused and remembered that for me, fraternities were actually a bad idea. However, I did not pause. Instead I had our PA, Jack, email all of the fraternities in the LA area and let them know that if they would be so kind as to let us park our Van in their lot for a day we would reward their of-age-members with a boat load of Lagunitas beer and a free concert. We got a response from one house, Theta Xi at USC and it went exactly like this: “Jake, we’re interested, exactly how much beer are we talking?” Sometimes that’s how you make a deal in hollywood. At this point, everything seemed copacetic. We had what looked to be a good lot to park in. Four bands were lined up, and we were going back to college for a day.
It was around 10 AM on the morning in question that Dave called me up and asked me if I knew that Spud was still at Mike Thompson’s RV service center. I said I did not. It all started to go south from there.
Mike Thompson RV is about an hour and a half (in a Jam Van) outside of Downtown LA, which is where the USC campus is located. Which is where we were filming. So since call time was at 10AM it didn’t look good for Spud making it to the shoot on schedule. So I called him up and we had one of those Jake to Spud talks whereby he gets a little bit upset and I try and assuade his emotions. Spud (who I know is reading this) hates to be wrong. We all do, but Spud really does. On this occasion he didn’t give me a call to let me know that The Van wasn’t going to be ready in time, which wasn’t proper protocal. Albeit, his reasoning, “I figured you were asleep and didn’t want to wake you,” was not terrible, yet still wrong. Regardless, we hugged it out, and we moved past it, and Spud got that Van out of Mike Thompson’s and on the road. I told the crew, who were already on site, to go grab some lunch and meet back at the location in an hour. Didn’t seem like too bad of a scenario. We had the first band, Banta, push their arrival back a little bit, and no biggie, right? Ha.
I picked up some mic stands at Guitar Center on my way downtown from Venice, and when I left the store I checked in with Dave to make sure everything was back on track. At that point Spud had not arrived, and Dave alerted me that the parking lot might be a bit tricky to pull into. “I’ll be there in twenty,” was where we left it. When I pulled into the alley behind the frat house I expected to find The Van in the parking lot and the crew setting up for the shoot. What I instead found was the van jack-knifed perpendicular in the middle of the alley trying to back into a lot that was extremely over-crowded with cars and had a bit of a hump that had to be driven over in order to pull in.
I have a graduate degree from USC, it’s a good school. That being said, nobody will ever argue that college kids are smart. They may be intelligent, they may test well, and have promise, but they are not smart. They spend too much time thinking about getting cooz and getting trashed to be smart. I wasn’t smart when I was in college, so I should have realized this when dealing with the fraternity brothers. Well, actually, I only dealt with one fraternity brother, his name was Andrew. Before I showed up he had already apparently come looking for me, but not really for me, more so for the beer. What he hadn’t done is told his brothers to clear their cars out of the front spots of the parking lot so that The Van could park with ease. Instead, the lot was a cluster fuck and The Van had to carefully be backed-in. Spud’s a damn good driver, and he navigated the maze fairly well, but there was the tricky matter of the little hump that he had to drive over to get into the lot proper. The Van was struggling to back over that little hump, and every time Spud tried to gun it up the hill the engine stalled out and the battery gave.
We jumped it with our battery charger no problem the first time, then went about backing it in again, and the same thing happened and this go around the battery charger wasn’t bringing the engine back to life. I had Jack drive my car around the block and come through the other side of the alley (because we were blocking the alley completely) and we tried to jump the engine with my car. No dice. So Dave pulled out his AAA card with all intentions of calling for service, but there were a million things going on at once and amongst the chaos the AAA card disappeared before we were able to call. That’s not a big deal because we were able to call AAA and sign in with our name and and other information, but the lost card just added to the hectic scene that was quickly unfolding in all the wrong ways. Dave was looking for the card and at the same time wondering if he’d lost his mind because he just had it in his hands, so I called AAA and they sent help right away.
At this point we told Banta that they were going to have to push to the end of the day for their session, because it wasn’t going to happen right then. They were cool about it. The second band on the schedule, The Bots, showed up around the same time that AAA did. Luckily they were mellow dudes and they saw the humor in the situation and had an AquaHydrate and took five while we tried to figure the engine situation out. There was also the matter of a very polite Asian girl whose car we had trapped in her driveway, by blocking it. She had somewhere in Korea Town that she had to get to. So I thought quick and threw Spud my car keys and asked her if she didn’t mind if Spud gave her a lift to where she had to get to. She was cool about it, because, well, she didn’t really have a choice, that van wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I told her we’d pick her up as well, and I gave her my phone number, but I never heard from her. I guess she didn’t love the Spud-Uber situation as much as she should have. Meanwhile, our boy Andrew from the frat organized a crew of his finest brothers to come and empty all of the beer out of my car. The Theta Xi brothers aren’t good at moving cars, but they jump to when it involves moving beer. Now, this was about the only time that we saw the brothers, I guess they aren’t big on music. That kind of didn’t surprise me, because from the looks of them, they were not the creme de la creme of fraternity row. You know the frat in “Revenge of the Nerds?” Yeah, that’s pretty much these guys. From our brief interactions, they were perfectly friendly dudes, nothing against them, but they were not by any stretch of the imagination, cool.
AAA proved pretty worthless. They tried to jump The Van with their super-powered battery charger, no dice. They tried with their truck, no dice. Then they tested the battery and found out that it was fully charged, which in layman’s terms meant bumm-er. They told me that it was most likely the starter, which we knew it was %100 not, because Ethan, our sound engineer, is a mechanic, and diagnosed it as such, and also because you could hear the starter working, the engine just didn’t want to turn over. Ethan thought it was more likely an alternator problem, or something else, either way, it was not good and we were still jack-knifed in the middle of the alley. AAA wanted to call a tow for us, but I wasn’t about to spend a thousand bucks on a tow and lose the entire day of shooting and even more money on the crew, before I exhausted all options. So I thanked the AAA dudes for nothing and sent them on their way. I gave our regular Jam Van mechanic, Louis, a ring and pleaded with him to come and make a house call, or rather, an alley call. Also, when I say I pleaded with him, I mean I offered him extra money. Louis said he’d be there in about thirty minutes. So there we were, blocking the alley, and there were The Bots, still ready to Jam in the Van. So I turned to Dave and I said, “well, it’s not like we’re going anywhere, let’s just shoot it like this.” So we loaded in The Bots right there in the middle of the alley and we had our first ever illegally parked Jam in the Van Session. By some miracle, the cops did not show up, and The Bots played two very loud rock and roll songs right there in that alley. So regardless of what was to transpire next, the day was not a complete waste.
About when The Bots finished their set, our mechanic, Louis, arrived. However, we were on a bit of a time crunch. The second (what should have been third) band of the day, Tokio Hotel had also arrived, and they only had a very limited window of time to film their session in. They also happened to be the band whom we set the day of sessions up around. They’ve got a pretty huge following, and we wanted to capitalize on that, because as we all know, it’s all about the mouse clicks baby. So since no cops had shown up yet, we decided to roll the dice again. I gave Louis a bottle of AquaHydrate and asked if he was cool to hang out while we filmed a session really quick. He was cool with it, because afterall, I was paying him to stand around. Tokio Hotel’s session went off without a hitch, and we’re sure glad it did. Because as anticipated, they blew up our social media feeds with they’re absurdly devoted fanbase that refers to themselves as Aliens. I’m not sure why, but regardless of the reasoning, they are insanely loyal to their favorite band. To testify to the level of fanaticism that we’re dealing with here, some how a photo from the shoot of lead singer Bill Kaulitz using his I-Phone hit the internet and spawned a ridiculously over-tweeted debate as to how much he uses his phone. This caused my phone to vibrate non-stop for the entire day notifying me of new tweets and comments from Tokio Hotel’s fans.
When Tokio Hotel wrapped up we tossed Louis the keys and told him to have at it. So he went over to The Van and gave it a preliminary crank, and sure enough, it started right up. Ain’t that some shit? We had Louis dig around in the engine some more, but he came up with nothing. his diagnosis was that one of the cells in our battery was blown and so it was struggling, and just had to rest. I paid Louis for what was most likely his easiest job ever. It was right around then that our first encounter with the police occurred. I had been expecting them to show up hours prior and be a huge thorn in our side, but they hadn’t. When they did arrive they asked whose Van it was, I told them what the situation was and that our mechanic was just wrapping up and that we’d have it moved in five minutes. That was all they needed to hear, and they took off. Really, it was that simple. Moving The Van in five minutes was actually not that simple.
Throughout the day the frat boys had continued to pull cars into the lot, and so when it came time for Spud to turn The Van back into the alley he had even less of a turning radius to work with than before. So we found brother Andrew and asked him if he could find the owners of some of the cars. I think we found one. Nevertheless, Spud, the consumate professional (except when debating sports), pulled off what must have been at least a 33-point turn, and we un-blocked the alley. That was a big relief, because we were looking at a really hefty tow fee and probably a big ticket from those police officers who would have no doubt returned at some point had they seen the van still in an obstructing position. Instead, we were on the side of the alley with an entire lane available for cars to pass. Since we were out of the rough and still had one more act to perform we figured why not give it a go real quick before the fuzz returned.
Courtlend had only planned on performing one song for us, and given the circumstances we weren’t going to plead with him to give us more. He layed down one version of his viral single, “Kylie Jenner,” but he wasn’t loving the energy that he’d brought. So Spud gave him a little pep talk and told him to imagine that he was performing at the Super Bowl. Then he did a second take of the same song, this time around he jumped up and down like a maniac and sprayed AquaHydrate all over The Van. A fitting celebration to cap off a most stressful of days.
At one point towards the end of the day I had turned to a friend of mine who had come with Courtlend’s entourage and said, “man, this type of shit happens a lot, but we’ve always seemed to get out of it.” That day I really didn’t think we were going to find a way to get out of it, but we did. Which makes me even more confident that we’re doing this Jam Van thing for a reason. I don’t have a completely firm grasp on what that reason is yet, but I know it’s out there, and I know that the following day we spent a lot of money on a fancy new engine battery so that we can find it…