As the sun sets over a courthouse parking lot, one of the best and busiest session drummers in the industry stands motionless, a pair of shearing scissors in one hand, a plastic comb in the other, poised over the head of one of his biggest fans.
An overturned cardboard box serves as a provisional barber's chair. Josh Freese looks around, unsure.
"OK," he says. He's wearing black jeans, Circle Jerks slip-on Vans, and a T-shirt that reads "Don't Mess With Kansas Either." His blond hair is cut short. His teeth are remarkably white. "I feel like such a freak doing this. And you know it's bad if I feel like that."
Freese and fan are surrounded: Along with Freese's fiancée, Nicole Amdurer; a photographer; and Freese's personal videographer, a steady stream of people walk out of the courthouse, staring.
The photographer persuades the two to move in front of a parked, empty police car. "How 'bout we do it with the police car behind you?"
"How 'bout I lay on the hood of the police car?" Freese counters.
"No, seriously," the photographer says. "It's a good backdrop."
"And then at the end," the videographer adds, "we'll throw a brick at it!"
"Yeah!" Freese says. "Flaming bottle of vodka!"
Freese is still slightly tipsy from the previous pit stop at the nearby Pike Restaurant & Bar in Long Beach, California, where he alternated between sips of Fat Tire and Patrón with lime and Cointreau on the rocks (the signature drink of Devo's Jerry Casale — a no-bullshit margarita). Freese begins cutting. The fan perched on the edge of that grubby cardboard box is getting his money's worth. He paid $1,000 to have Freese cut his hair.
It's all a part of Freese's grand marketing ploy, a not-unprecedented but still quirky scheme to get people talking about his second solo album, titled Since 1972. But mostly, he paid to talk about Josh Freese.
Even if you've never heard of him, you've heard him. As a professional drummer and session musician, he's one of the best around. Freese is a permanent member of Devo, the Vandals, and A Perfect Circle. He served as drummer for Nine Inch Nails for three years and worked with Guns N' Roses from 1998 to 2001, even helping to write Chinese Democracy's title track. As a session musician, he has played on nearly 300 records, working with everyone from the Dwarves, Slash, Sting, and the Replacements to 3 Doors Down, Avril Lavigne, and Kelly Clarkson, effortlessly moving from hard-driving rhythms to the odd-time-signature quirkiness of Devo.
The 36-year-old announced in March a list of limited-edition, special add-on packages in conjunction with the release of his new album. The packages: $50 for a thank-you phone call; $250 for lunch at P.F. Chang's or the Cheesecake Factory; $500 to float in a sensory-deprivation tank followed by dinner at Sizzler ("Get your $8.99 steak and all-you-can-eat shrimp on!"). As the price increases, so does the absurdity: $2,500 for a drum lesson (or foot rub) and buffet at the Spearmint Rhino strip club; $5,000 and Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam will write you a letter about his favorite song from Since 1972; $20,000 gets you a game of miniature golf with Maynard James Keenan and Mark Mothersbaugh; $75,000 and you can take 'shrooms and cruise Hollywood in Danny Carey from Tool's Lamborghini.
What started out as a joke has exploded — fans are snapping up the packages and willing to travel to Los Angeles from as far as here in Florida to meet Freese. All 25 $250 lunches sold out in less than 48 hours; 300 phone calls have been made to people as far away as Australia and the U.K.; Freese has had dinner at the Sizzler five times, done the Spearmint Rhino thing twice, and given a tour of Disneyland once. The $20,000 package is long gone. Only the $10,000 and $75,000 packages remain untouched. Amdurer has even been temporarily recruited as Freese's assistant, helping to field emails, phone calls, and packages.
"It's really crazy," Freese says. "It's going into this realm of performance art and jackassery. I do have that kind of weird, kooky, kitschy part of my personality, and it's just the way I've always been. But even for me, I'm pinching myself — I can't believe I'm doing this.
"I'm driving back to the Cheesecake Factory for the 11th time this month, and I'm turning down other work because, yeah, I've got a guy flying down from Canada. People will call me for a session, but I can't show up because I've got to give someone a tour of the Queen Mary and a drum lesson, and then they gotta come over and pick stuff out of my closet."
Though Freese says he's only made a bit of money on top of what it cost to release Since 1972, the sheer amount of recognition is the real payoff. Within the past few months, Freese's name and story have appeared in news outlets across the country, from NPR to Wired, spreading the word way beyond the crazed NIN, A Perfect Circle, and Devo fans.