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An encounter with Nuno Bettencourt

Aaron S. Bayley

Saturday April 21, 2001

I woke up at 4:30 in the morning to make it to the airport in time for my flight, scheduled for 7:45 am. I was flying to Boston via Philadelphia, and returning to Toronto from Boston via Pittsburgh. My destination: Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester for a concert by Mourning Widows, the latest  brainchild of former Extreme guitarist and multi-talented artist Nuno Bettencourt .

As the plane descended into Philadelphia, I noticed there were baseball diamonds everywhere. After almost missing my flight switch, I landed in Boston at around 12:00 pm. I took a cab to South Station and bought a train ticket to Worcester. I walked around the station, which was very attractive. There were coffee shops and convenient stores, a Chinese restaurant and a McDonald's. I bought a newspaper and a tea after I had a stare down with a black dude in a Red Sox cap (I would later exaggerate the incident by stating, "I almost got my ass kicked at South Station!" to sympathetic ears). When the train came I got on and sat opposite an attractive blonde girl named Colleen. I confirmed with her that the train was headed to Worcester and she answered in a cute, New England accent, "Worcester?...yeah..."

A few stops down the line a young Hispanic man sat down beside me. He was going to his girlfriend's place to give her this little stuffed Easter bunny. He was rough around the edges and could barely speak English, and I helped him write a note to his girlfriend and gave him directions to get off at Framingham. During the train ride many college students and high school kids got on and off, and judging by their conversations, most of them were well educated. It was about 2:00 pm when the train arrived in Worcester and I took another cab to 89 Green St., which happened to be just around the block. The fare was $3.75 so I gave the driver a five dollar bill.

At 2:10 pm I stood outside the Lucky Dog Music Hall, which wasn't so much a music hall as it was a glorified pub. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and the Mourning Widows road crew were hauling equipment into the club. I asked where I could get a ticket for the show, and I was told to speak to the bartender. The bartender was a really cool guy, and after selling me a ticket he let me sit at the bar (which was not open yet), reading my newspaper and drinking Pepsi-Colas for free. He even gave me a couple of CDs on which he played drums.

As I sat at the bar watching a Pittsburgh Penguins-Washington Capitals playoff game, I recognized Donovan Bettencourt, Nuno's nephew and the band's bass player, walk into the bar. I asked, "Are you Donovan?" he said, "Yeah." I introduced myself and shook his hand. He was holding a cigarette. Then his cell phone rang and he said, "Excuse me," as he took the call. Drummer Jeff Consi arrived and I said hello to him as well.

At around 4:00 pm, I went across the street to a pizza joint and bought some onion rings, and a half hour later Nuno Bettencourt walked into the bar wearing a black t-shirt, black jacket, black pants and shoes, and carrying a black hockey bag over his shoulder. Joe Pessia, Nuno's guitar tech was on stage doing sound check for Nuno's Washburn N4 guitars. Then Nuno joined Donovan and Jeff on stage and they played "Sick Punk," a track from the band's latest release, Furnished Souls for Rent. I took a picture, but their manager told me that Nuno didn't want any pictures taken during sound check, although it would be fine during the show. After sound check, I approached Nuno, who was standing by the stage autographing a concert ticket for someone. "Nuno?" I said, as he whirled around and looked at me. He was devilishly handsome, with penetrating but pleasant, serene-looking eyes. I shook his hand and told him that I flew down from Toronto, Canada, to see the show. "By yourself? Wow..." He seemed interested when I told him about the "incident" at South Station. When I asked him, "Would you mind signing my ticket?" he answered sarcastically, "Yeah, but..." before signing it. Then his cell phone rang. "Excuse me..." When he got off the phone he began talking to his manager, at which point I tapped his shoulder and said, "Nice meeting you." He turned to face me, shook my hand, and said, "Stick around after the show, we'll have a beer or something."

I sat at the bar and chilled, eagerly anticipating the show that evening. At around 8:00 pm, an attractive blonde bartender arrived behind the bar, and after flirting with her and mocking American beer, she told me she'd have a cold Heineken waiting for me when I got back inside (everyone had to line up outside the club for about ten minutes to get their tickets and I.D.'s checked—standard procedure). Outside, I met a local girl who told me about the "Sick Punk" video shoot, and two guys who had driven down from Montreal, one of whom was seeing Nuno perform for the sixth time.

Back inside, I drank my Heineken and talked with the people I met outside. The bands that opened were a local band called The Flames and a band from San Francisco called The Grannys, whose members wore granny wigs and nightgowns. As the time came for Mourning Widows to perform, the lights went down and the small crowd began to get excited. It was your typical bar crowd: regular fanatics, hot girls with tattoos, the token wino. Mourning Widows, dressed in white dress shirts and fascist-chic black "MW" armbands, took the stage as a siren-like wail echoed through the bar. Then the band ripped into "Furnished Souls For Rent." They were tight and already locked in. As the song ended to thunderous applause, Nuno stepped back and tore into the opening riff for "No Regrets." He was on fire, his black nail-polished fingers assaulting the fretboard with speed and intensity. The guy can play like a motherfucker.

Next, they performed "Upside Downside," a song I never cared for until seeing it performed live, with everyone bouncing up and down to the heavy, see-saw riff. After that was "The Air You Breathe," "The Temp," and an acoustic song called "Iron Jaw," which Nuno had not yet memorized the lyrics for. He asked two fans at the front of the stage to hold up two sheets of paper for him to read from. One of them decided he would just wrap the paper around the large black pole in the middle of the small stage, prompting Nuno to respond, "Are you trying to remind me that there's a pole there? I'm having a hard enough time trying to forget about it." Then when the fan was not holding the lyrics up high enough: "Do you wanna hold it up a little higher? My dick's not singing, you know..." The band ended with "Fuck You," at the beginning of which Nuno invited the audience to give the band the finger. The encore was a cover of Prince’s "Sign O' The Times," and the new version of "All Automatic," during which Nuno invited everyone up on stage to help sing. I stayed on the floor and took some pictures, as did most of the audience whose flashes were going off from disposable cameras handed out for free before the show.

After the show, the staff started kicking people out. "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!" one of the bartenders said. "Nuno told me to stick around after the show," I replied, fully realizing how pathetic I sounded. The bartender looked at me and said, "Just go home, man."

I went outside and noticed that although the main door to the bar was now closed, the side door was open and the crew was loading equipment onto the truck. I loitered around the door and then walked back inside with a young couple who I later learned had flown in from Colorado. Scott Goldstein (the band's manager) asked me if the show was worth it, then he handed me a can of Sprite. Donovan came over and we congratulated him on a great performance. We talked to him and to Jeff, and as we discussed the physical attributes of Nelly Furtado (who I learned had gone out to dinner with Nuno the previous week), Nuno came over and nodded to me. I shook his hand and told him the show was great. Then I told him I had seen Yngwie Malmsteen perform two weeks ago. "Yeah? How was he?" Nuno asked. "It was alright but he was sloppy and just soloed without playing that many songs," I replied. The crew continued to load the truck with equipment. "Let's go outside and get out of these guys' way," Nuno said. The band was selling sealed remastered copies of Furnished Souls for $20, but Nuno handed me a copy for free. I asked him why the sound on the original CD sounds so muffled, and he said that they recorded it in Japan and were rushed for time; he wasn't happy with the finished product so he remastered it and made a new album cover.

We stood around outside and talked about music. Nuno said that he dug Limp Bizkit and Jane's Addiction. I asked if he had seen any movies lately, and he said he hadn't. I asked him if he had seen Blow and he said excitedly, "No! I wanna see that, maybe tomorrow ... I love Johnny Depp. You know why? 'Cause he's good-looking, and he can act. Not like Brad Pitt." I told Nuno that I was never a big fan of Extreme. "I don't blame you," he replied, and said that he hasn't listened to their first album since they were in the studio recording it.

One member of the entourage who Nuno described as "not related to me," and who "we just keep around for humour," seemed to like picking on me. He was Portuguese but sounded like Arnold Schwarzenegger when he spoke. "You so stupid!" he said to me. "You come all the way here to see this shithead?!" ( gesturing to Nuno). "We're coming to Canada next week. You so stupid!" "I thought Poison was playing tonight," I joked. "He thought Poison was playing tonight," Nuno echoed. Around this time, two girls in a car pulled up to the curb, and one of them asked directions to some nightclub. Nuno helped them out and walked back to us as the Portuguese Schwarzenegger flirted with the them. "Look at his profile," Nuno said of Schwarzenegger, "Doesn't he look like Freddie Mercury? Freddie Mercury didn't die, he's right there!" After once again describing (and embellishing) my incident at South Station, Freddie said, "You should've went up to him (the black guy in the Red Sox cap) and said, "Listen you fuckin' nigger..." "Hey," Nuno cut in, "don't say 'fuck.'"

Time flew as we stood around talking. Little by little, the crew and bartenders said there goodnights and left. Standing with me and Nuno was the couple from Colorado. The husband seemed to be a nice guy, but kept hitting Nuno with these intense questions like, "What do you think the public reaction would've been if Waiting For The Punchline came out before Three Sides to Every Story?'" He was very enthusiastic and seemed to have a need to impress Nuno with all the information he knew about him. I asked Nuno why he doesn't play his P4 Centurion guitar anymore, and he said, "I don't know ... I played it ... it had its time, you know?" "What, did you run out of blue nail polish?" I joked, referring to the fact that he used to wear baby blue nail polish that matched the colour of that guitar. "Yeah," he smiled.

At this point I felt I had overstayed my welcome, and I wandered over to the curb and looked onto the street. Worcester had become a ghost town, and as I debated whether I should hail a cab, Nuno looked over to me. "Hey," he said, "Come on man, hang out." He then took a step back of the circle as to invite me back in. I felt comfortable knowing that I had some company for at least a little while longer, before I made my way into the night.

The couple from Colorado was looking for an all-night diner they could go to, and Donovan gave them directions to a place within walking distance. Nuno asked me what I was going to do, and if I was "Okay with money and all that?" I mentioned that I was thinking about going back to Boston, although South Station was closed until the early morning. Donovan invited me to crash at his house and take the train in the morning, at which point Nuno joked, "Oh now everyone wants to help!" Nuno offered to drive me part of the way to the airport, as he was going just north of Boston, and I accepted. I thanked Donovan for his offer, and said goodnight to everyone. "Let's go to my car," Nuno said, then he stopped and turned to me. "You don't have a gun, do you?"


I stopped at a pickup truck parked across from the bar that I thought was Nuno's (but secretly hoped wasn't) as I watched Nuno walk behind it to a black, fully-loaded Ford Explorer. "I thought that was your car," I said. "No ..." he smiled. It was surreal that my favourite guitarist was giving me a lift to the airport (or close to the airport). I brought up the fan from Colorado. "That guy was asking some pretty intense questions, huh?" Nuno agreed, and we brought up the question he asked concerning Nuno's opinion on how he thought people would have reacted if the last Extreme record came out before the second-last one. "That's okay," he replied.  

On the drive, I told Nuno about my trip to Cuba in 2000. He said that he'd never been to Cuba. I told him he should go, forgetting that Americans are banned from traveling there. I talked about how most teenagers go looking for sunshine on beaches in countries where governments care more about the tourists than they do about their own people. For instance, many who go to Acapulco or Cancun in Mexico wouldn't even think of visiting the Mayan ruins. People who just stay holed up in resorts do not gain an understanding about what the country is like, nor do they appreciate the history or the people; the only locals that tourists encounter are the ones working at the resort. Nuno said that he'd never been to France, and that's one place he'd like to go. I asked him if he'd ever taken a vacation with his wife and young daughter, and he said that he hadn't, that he'd like to but he's always working. I thought that was weird. You would think that he had a 9-to-5 job and couldn't afford the luxuries that an upper-class lifestyle promotes. But I guess that's why he's such a phenomenal guitar player—he's a workaholic and perfectionist who doesn't go out a lot to watch movies and isn't really a big user of the Internet. When I asked him if he liked Tracii Guns, he said, "He's [from] L.A. Guns, right? You know, back in the early days, Extreme was working so hard on our music that we really didn't pay attention to what was going on outside of our scene."

I had heard many things about Nuno: that he was arrogant, that he was egotistical, that he was a prima donna. One thing I knew for sure was his penchant for sarcasm, so I tried not to burden him with questions about how to play certain songs on the guitar. (I did try to get him to reveal how to play the opening riff of "Paint the Town Red" by asking whether he was using a string-skipping technique, but all I got was: "Yeah, there's a bit of string-skipping"). I knew he was tired, but when he spoke he was very candid. "You seem like a pretty down-to-earth kind of guy," I said. He told me that he tries to be, but there are always people who take advantage of that, and then turn around and call him an asshole and say he's got a big head or something.

I had told Nuno earlier that it was difficult for me to listen to the song "I Wonder" on the Schizophonic record, because the lyrics echo the way I think about my parents. I mentioned that my mother had died of cancer, and the song made me very emotional. "How old was she?" He asked. "Forty-nine." "Wow. That's young." 

I asked Nuno if he liked Rage Against The Machine and he said that he thought they were the most important band out there. He told me that Tom Morello once put him on the guest list at a Rage concert, and that he thought it was cool that Tom was an Extreme fan. I also asked Nuno his opinion on Britney Spears and the Spice Girls. He said Britney was cute, and he liked the Spice Girls. He had bought their CD for his niece's birthday, but had liked it so much he kept it for himself. I asked him whether he thought Geri Halliwell ripped off the album title for her Schizophonic record. He said it was possible, because his record was available in England; she probably saw it and thought if she stole the title and cover (which is very similar) nobody would ever know. I asked what he thought of Marilyn Manson. He said that he liked some of his stuff, but other stuff he wasn’t too keen on. I got the impression that Nuno found Manson's anti-Christian imagery offensive. Maybe his Catholic upbringing had something to do with it.

I was curious to know if Nuno was influenced by the Foo Fighters, because I would always describe Mourning Widows as a funkier version of them with cool guitar solos. I mentioned the album The Colour And The Shape and how surprised I was that Dave Grohl (formerly of Nirvana) was such a good guitarist and vocalist. Nuno then said, as I suspected, that at one point the Foo Fighters' first record was in heavy rotation in his CD player. He told me a story about Kurt Cobain mentioning a bunch of bands he disliked, including Extreme. Then Dave Grohl said something like, "Yeah, because they suck!" "Okay", Nuno said, "that's cool, that's like something I would say. I laughed. But later on I learned that's how he really felt. That's cool, I don't care, I'll still listen to his records."

I told Nuno that when I started playing the guitar in 1991, Guns 'N' Roses' Use Your Illusion records had just been released and Slash was a huge influence on my playing. But I bought Slash’s second solo record, Ain't Life Grand, and was disappointed with the quality of the songs, so I returned it. I felt that Slash was sticking to the same old style and not evolving as a guitar player. Nuno seemed to understand what I was saying but defended Slash. "Yeah, Slash is a good guitar player. You have to watch out that you don't become a caricature of yourself (in the business)." He then spoke of a time back in the Extreme days when he did an interview with Spin magazine. They wined and dined him, then after dinner Nuno spoke candidly in what he understood to be off the record. He told the reporter that he hoped Guns 'N' Roses didn't get to the point where the fame got to their heads. He mentioned a time when they were backstage somewhere, and he saw the members of Guns with something like three bodyguards each, and he hoped to himself that his own band would stay grounded. The next thing he knew, the latest edition of Spin hit the stands, and on the top of the page is a picture of him with a caption reading: "Nuno says 'No No' to Guns 'N' Roses." It wasn't long before Nuno got a phone call from a pissed off Axl Rose, and Nuno had to smooth things over. (Incidentally, the journalist who had interviewed Nuno was the same guy who Axl had a beef with).

Nuno took a detour through the old colonial parts of town to show me where he grew up. We stopped behind a BMW at a traffic light and I mentioned that Bob Marley once bought one because he liked to think that "BMW" stood for "Bob Marley & the Wailers." We pulled into a gas station and Nuno asked me if I wanted anything. I told him I was fine. He bought himself a coffee and a Hostess cupcake. Soon we were about twenty minutes away from the airport, and since Nuno was headed home, which was north of Boston, he pulled into a convenient store and called me a cab. "Let's go see who's on the cover of Maxim," he said. Ironically, it was Eliza Dushku, who is a native of Boston. "There's your favourite couple," I joked, pointing to a Rolling Stone magazine cover of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson. "Yeah, he was backstage with us once and he was jumping all over the place."

My cab pulled up in front of the store and Nuno asked me once again if I was okay with money. I thanked him for everything and told him to come play a show in Toronto. "Yeah, maybe in five years," he said sarcastically. We then shook hands and said goodbye. "I'll see you on the Internet or something," he said, as he walked back to his vehicle.

Wait a minute. He doesn't use the Internet.


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