"Travel is a trial but for trollops and trolls, the highway a bloody cummerbund about the belly of mother globe. During such drollish folly, dagger jabs and bastard stabs must we have at the ready."
-from Dirk Somerset's THE COCK OF TIME
Initially this was going to be about bad places to sleep, and it still kind of is, but it morphed into a summary of a tour that was the death knell for my road life for a long while. Although a complete failure in many ways, there were some bright spots along the way and I will begrudgingly admit that I'm glad it all happened, even though I'm still slightly enraged with the booking agent. We played to many empty rooms and the routing was illogical. Right before we left, I was offered two shows opening for Stephen Malkmus and one for The Breeders, all on the west coast. I told our booking agent about the offers and he bawked. They would have conflicted with and caused the cancellation of his already booked shows in the south and east, and he insisted that we went on the tour he had labored over. Those shows that we didn't end up doing would have been for packed theaters and saved thousands of miles of driving. I heard my gut but didn't obey it. The agent in question is now one of the most successful in the country. He obeyed his gut. I wasted a great opportunity, but also came away with an irreplaceable experience with an irreplaceable friend, Ben, and my longtime cohort, Jonathan.
One quick look at my music career and you'd think that I'm afraid of heights; observe... One barometer of how far you are or aren't on your quest to "make it" is where you sleep. There are a few different levels of sleep locations. At the top is the tour bus. It means you have a serious budget and are making enough money at shows to rent a bus and the driver that comes with it. After the show, you get into the bus after a little partying, and a driver drives you to the next town while you sleep in a bunk. You wake up and do it again, well rested and not sore from shlepping gear and not fried from staring at the road trying to keep everyone alive. Next is the hotel, then the motel, then the notel, ie: crashing at the house of the other band or some fans or your label rep. Included below are three of the worst sleeping situations of my limited touring career. They might have sounded romantic to a 21 year old me, but on the final Sunset Valley tour it was a definite omen that some evaluation was to be done.
Coloradon't Springs, CO The first stop of the east coast Ice Pond tour was a glamourous strip-mall gig. It was actually a pretty nice coffee shop that had beer, sandwiches, and a stage. It was all ages, and I mean ALL. That night the place was full of either people that could of been my kids or my parents, and no-one in-between. Even a baby was there. Hi, baby, were just going to bang on these super loud instruments while we drink and yell.. enjoy. We had no plan of where to stay, but a young lady that tour-bassist-Ben befriended said that we could crash at their place. We agreed to this, and were happy to save the hotel money. She and her friend led us back to her place, and we trooped in, trying not to ding the door trim with our clunky gear. She said, "Shhh… don't wake my dad up." Okay, this was kind of weird to begin with, but now the situation had left my comfort zone in the dust. Jonathan and I immediately volunteered to sleep in the back yard, thereby eliminating the awkwardness at least a little for us. Ben, the most charming of the three of us, set up shop in the living room with the girl and her friend. We could see them sitting on the couches and talking through the sliding glass doors. J and I found spots in the yard, which was surrounded by a six foot fence. It was very dark, but we could see that there were big pretty white flowers planted everywhere, and they were glowing in the starlight. We were so tired, and tried to get snuggly in our bags after such a long day, but it was awfully lumpy. It was like serving a hungry person mashed potatoes with raw bits in it. To distract us from the lumps was the howling wind and Ben's inability to whisper inside those sliding doors... Morning somehow arrived, and we sat up from our shallow graves and looked around. The beautiful flowers that were all over the yard? Those weren't flowers. It was trash. Fast food wrappers, diapers, newspaper, plastic bags, and other items commonly found in garbage cans. Either wind patterns and a nearby landfill caused this phenomenon, or the people who lived here were absolutely insane. Or maybe they were totally sane and the rest of society is insane for wasting all that time not littering. Either way, we had to get to Austin and had no time to waste, so we scooped up the still awake and chattering Ben, bid the lass's father farewell, and were on our way.
Somewhere in Florida, FL If this trip was a tired old string of Christmas lights then Texas was one of the few working bulbs. We had a blast in Austin, a great show at Emo's, and wandered the streets full of people. Sixth street was paved with paper plates from all the pizza slices people eat there at night. We hung out with some hilarious guys in Denton who we met at Rubber Gloves. Rudyards in Houston was fantastic. We played with the incredible Minders, who were friends of ours. I think the last time I played pool in a bar with guys was with Ben and Minders drummer Joel. Both are gone from this world now. That night will always be stuck in my head. The bar was smokey, and I went outside to get some fresh air, but the smog there was so bad that I just went back inside. We were obsessed with the Jon Wayne record "Texas Funeral", and they have a song called "Apple Schnapps". That bar served this mystical product, and we enjoyed the hell out of it. I don't drink now, so I guess I would have a dilemma if one of those guys suddenly appeared and offered me a shot of it. I would have to point out something interesting and pour it into a potted plant while they looked away. Nah, I'd probably make an exception.… After Texas we made our way to Florida where we played a couple of dates with Mike Watt. SV opened for Watt many times over the 90's, and every time I see him, he lists every instance to me by date and venue. I could never impress him with my knowledge of all fifty state capitols. The biggest smile I ever saw on Ben was at the Mike Watt show in Orlando. The guitarist taught me how he played "Chinese Firedrill". The most mind-blowing performance I saw on that trip was from supporting band Burning Brides... It was getting dark when we got to Florida, and we procrastinated getting a room for too long. How about here? No, let's go one more town. Here? One more. The next thing we knew we were just plain done. We pulled the minivan into a rest area, reclined the seats as much as we could, and slipped into the poisonous tentacles of morpheus. I woke up with the first morning light. My back felt like a new catcher's mitt, and my head felt like a petrified dinosaur dropping. As my eyes began to relay images to my brain, I could see Jonathan at the wheel, sleeping away. I looked over at Ben. He was shirtless. My neck was too sore to look away and look back for double takes, so I just did a bunch of them without moving my head. You gotta hand it to that guy, he just did his thing. I respect that. My fellow sardines began to wake a while later. Nobody really moved, we just sat in sore silence, staring at the fogged windshield. As the light increased, you could make out palm trees through the glass. Shirtless Ben broke the silence with his raspy voice: "We're in Nam!" That is one of the greatest moments of my life.
Mobile Sleep Capsule, USA After Florida, we continued up the east coast. Atlanta and D.C. were complete disasters. In Atlanta someone actually yelled "You suck!" which is something that you don't think really happens. When you hear it yelled at you, your heart doesn't just sink, it shoves it's way rudely through the crowd of other organs, leans it's back against the wall, crosses it's arms, and slides down the wall into a sulking ball. Years later, we found out that the guy who yelled it was an old classmate of Jonathan's who was trying to be funny and/or trying to turn social awkwardness into an olympic sport. In D.C. we played to the sound guy and an old classmate of mine. He had seen smoke from the Pentagon from his window at work just a few weeks earlier. We went to see the hole in the building and saw the photos and flags people had left. There was a checkered floor at that club, and when I closed my eyes to block out the sight of the empty room, I just saw more checkerboard pattern against my eyelids. I was so distracted by this black hole in the trip that I forgot Jonathan's birthday. If there had been some magic hole I could have jumped through and end up at home, I would have dived in head first. The hipster crowd was so rude to us in Chapel Hill, that toward the end of our set, Ben just threw his bass down and left. We all should have. Respect. Ben stayed in Philadelphia to visit his family and Eric flew out to resume bass duties. NYC and Boston were alright… In New York, we walked from the Mercury Lounge down to Ground Zero and saw the pile of debris and the grizzly parade of trucks hauling it away. It was pretty grim. In Boston we stayed with another school chum who was care-taking a crazy old castle of a house in the middle of an enormous cemetery. Eric flew home, and Jonathan and I drove back to Bozeman in one sitting. It was 36 hours that we did in shifts. I think we listened to the band Lambchop the whole way. During my sleep shifts, on two bucket seats that were pressed together, the sounds of Lambchop gave me wild Tim Burtonesque dreams that still haunt my regular dreams. There was a short in the reverse lights, and they flickered constantly, so we got pulled over a lot and asked about it.
I don't think there's a less effective way to promote a record than what we did. I have bitten the hook of the tour lure a few times since, but ultimately it hasn't been for me. I still think it'll happen again though… Like Admiral Adama says: "Sometimes you've gotta roll the hard six."
Check out Ben's band, The Touchers. He was one of the most prolific songwriters I ever knew.