Goodbye to Peter J. Butler of Taurus Productions
“16 years ago, Pete taught me the proper way to coil a cable,” was how I started my memorial to Pete, whose service was today. Unfortunately, that was also the way I ended it, as the words caught in my throat and I had to sit down. I think most people thought I was just making a joke and moved on. Those who sat near me I’m sure could see the tears well up in my eyes.
I wasn’t close to Pete, and I wouldn’t even really say we were friends. More often than not, I was overheard poking fun at his fastidious nature, or the fact that at least one “F***ing Nightmare” was to be heard uttered from his mouth on almost every gig, usually about something insignificant. Pete was a 60’s era sound guy working in a corporate AV world, and the two never really meshed.
Pete was a talker, as many at his memorial pointed out. There would be days that you could hear him coming down the office row, telling the exact same story to each person. By the time he’d get to me, I’d already heard the story 5 times, but… “Hey, got a minute?” It was never just a minute. More like 10. I always tried to listen anyway, though sometimes I must confess to suddenly getting a phone call right before he came to my door.
So why would a memorial service for an incredible neatnik, vendor/sublettor, who complained on most gigs and talked (arguably) too much, make me choke up? Because 15 years ago (I was off a year in my abbreviated eulogy), he taught me the proper way to coil a cable. And here’s the rest of the story I couldn’t manage to tell:
Though he often complained about things on site, Pete was actually a really nice guy. I remember thinking so in 1995 when I was working at Gopher Stage Lighting in Minneapolis. I was 22, fresh out of college with a degree in technical theatre, and was happy to at least have a job that was remotely close to my major. Pete would come in every couple of weeks or so with an equipment rental. He’d hang around with us flunkies in the back, shoot the shit, smile, tell a story, crack a joke, and be on his way.
After only about a year or so, things really began to come off the rails for me at Gopher. I had been suspended for two weeks for doing what I thought was the right thing, but was against policy. I was increasingly at odds with the manager, and was vocal about it. After being asked if I thought I could basically keep quiet and be a yes man, I said no. I was asked to leave. I took one number from the rolodex.
I called Pete, not knowing if he even really knew who I was, and asked him for a job. I just knew that he did sound and lights for “corporate parties”, and that sounded interesting. I’ll never know if he needed the help or if he just felt sorry for me. Within two weeks I was working on a gig, humping uplights and pushing crates and speakers from truck docks to hotel ballrooms.
And thus my introduction into the world of corporate event technology…
Pete paid well- A much higher hourly wage than what I was getting at Gopher, but with an unfortunate inconsistency. The gigs were only maybe once a week, so I was really only making maybe $200-400 month. Pete seemed to like me and my work so they were getting more frequent. He was a neat-freak, though. If you didn’t wrap a cable exactly right, you heard about it for weeks. There was always a reason for it though, I have to say. Always. If you didn’t wrap the cord around the light fixture counter-clock wise three times… bad things would happen. Two times was too loose, and the cord would slip loose and get caught on other things like cart wheels. Four times was too tight, and exerted too much strain on the cord, eventually causing the strain relief to break and the cord to fray. Counter clockwise because Pete was left handed.
And if you always wrap mic cables, power cables, and extension cords exactly the same way every time, they’ll never get all kinky and tangled and weird, as such cables are want to do. Pete, above all else, taught me that taking an extra minute and a half to do things right will save you a seemingly near-infinite amount of time later being aggravated by tangled cords, stray duct tape, etc.
There are certain times in your life when you are at a crossroads, but it isn’t really you that decides which direction to take. Without either of us knowing it, Pete made that decision for me.
After less than a year of working for Pete, I was finally allowed to do a gig on my own, and an out of town show at that. 3m was doing a corporate retreat in Wisconsin, and Pete had another, larger show in town. He drove up with me, helped me get set up, then left me in charge for the night and to tear down and drive the truck back in the morning. That night, after the gig, I went out to a crappy dive bar with some of the guys from the show- not 3m folk, mind you, but the guys that were putting on the interactive games that the retreat-goers were playing. These guys turned out to be from a company called “metroConnections”. That night, I was asked to interview for a full time position with them at their “Destination Management Company” that provided décor for corporate events. Two days later I interviewed. Three days after that I received a letter offering me a job. And though Pete had been giving me more gigs, I had a mountain of credit card bills and would still barely make 10k that year. With no benefits. I took the job.
The last almost 15 years have whirlwinded, and are a separate story unto themselves. I settled down, cut my hair, bought a house, got married, and have two beautiful daughters, and I still work for metroConnections.
Pete worked for metro a LOT. He was our primary provider of décor lighting and event sound for many, many years. When we moved in to a larger warehouse, we brought Pete in to sublet space to help pay for it. So even though I haven’t worked for Pete for almost 15 years, I’ve seen him almost every week, at least once a week, for almost all of those years – and occasionally feigning a phone call on those occasions.
And of course, as all of these stories go, I didn’t ever get the chance to really say, “Thank you.” I’m sure I did at the time, all those years ago, but I couldn’t have known then what I know now- which is that if it wasn’t for Pete, I have no idea where I’d be right now. He quite literally answered the call, when I needed it the most. And for that, I will always be grateful.
That, and knowing the proper way to coil a cable.