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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

Backstage Passing

By Gary Singh

WITH LITERARY TRAVEL on the rise these days, more and more people are feeling the need to follow in their favorite authors' footsteps or to explore the locales that writers have placed in their novels. Longtime media consultant and video engineer Mark Hager is currently working on a novel about backstage life in Silicon Valley's corporate venues, and if I'm still around when this thing comes out, I will organize similar tours like the one he and I recently undertook.

Tentatively titled Boom! Backstage Pass, Hager's work in progress takes us through the chaotic circus of the house and backstage operations on show days at places like Shoreline Amphitheatre, the Mountain Winery, the San Jose McEnery and Santa Clara convention centers as well as HP Pavilion and the California Theatre in downtown San Jose. He claims to have a zillion stories from behind the curtains at all these venues, and he also says the novel is "the largest single collection of stagehand humor in one place, painstakingly collected from road crews from around the world."

So, just like others would jump at the opportunity to have Elmore Leonard himself point out skyscrapers in Detroit where certain characters of his shot each other, I couldn't resist when Hager graciously offered to escort me through the backstage confines of Shoreline Amphitheatre on a non-show-day and point out the locales he used in his unpublished novel.

(Full disclosure: There was a dark ulterior motive here on my part. I actually worked at Shoreline when I was a teenager. After surviving the first 16 years of my life as an only child in a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father who had just died, I was way too emotionally immature to understand that I had no idea what a normal social relationship was and that I unconsciously just felt more natural surrounded by conflict. So I badmouthed everyone on the job, constantly snuck backstage where I wasn't supposed to be, stole alcohol from everywhere and basically abused every privilege until I got fired, not once, but three times. That was the late '80s, and I hadn't been back to Shoreline since, so it felt like a redemption to be actually invited backstage 20 years later. But that's another story.)

Anyway, there we were: Hager and I casually strolling through all the secret nooks and crannies of Shoreline that the general public never sees, most of which I can't even print here. But Hager's novel is not just some silly "backstage" exposť. Instead, he takes all the elements that come together when putting on a show at places like Shoreline from the crew's perspective—the load-in at 6am when the trucks back down the ramp, the running of the light trusses, the house PA, the band equipment, the iron workers, the stage riggers, the gophers, the production staff, the circus of everybody crisscrossing each other's spaces—and grafts it onto the structure of the novel. Each chapter is the equivalent of an act in a play with titles like Staging, Loading, Building, Rehearsing, Burning, Closing and Striking.

The novel also illuminates the cross-pollination of many different facets of Silicon Valley culture in ways that only a longtime audio/video crew insider can do. For example: the ways in which grand scale high-tech corporate culture has gradually merged with big-time rock-concert operations throughout the last 20 years; or, just as there's a rhythm that flows through the entire behind-the-scenes concert-day operations, there's a similar rhythm that buckles in, out and through the spider web of intersections between venture capital culture, high-end audio proliferation, suburban South Bay geography, Zen, computer hardware, chaos theory, fractals, rock music, backstage passes, Bluetooth and the Rosicrucians—and how all this represents the real Silicon Valley, and that it could only have happened here in Northern California.

Got it? Good. The second and final leg of the Hager literary tour finishes next week.

Contact Gary Singh or send a letter to the editor about this story.