The Morning After SXSW
Woke up to the alarm with the TV still on. It was raining and I had twenty minutes before Leanne and Christine were coming to get me. I made a hotel room coffee and sprinted to the courtyard for a quick hot tub. It was awesome to sit there in the drizzle while the whole world slept. I had the place to myself although I did see a suspicious eye behind a moving curtain four floors up. Ran back inside, said good-bye to Miss Yvette and was waiting in the lobby when the girls pulled up. Our destination? Houston. A place called Super Happy Fun Land.
Houston was very humid and greener that I would have thought. Gardenias and hibiscus everywhere. Super Happy Fun Land was in the middle of nowhere. Kind of a hippie arts collective. A tiny girl with acne and dreadlocks told us to help ourselves to the vegan chili. There was another girl with a stutter who didn't blink once who was dressed like Raggedy Ann, complete with two red circles of blush on her cheeks. She said we could b-b-borrow her u-u-ukulele if we wanted to.
My friends from back home Mattie and Thomas who are in a band called Run Chico Run were coming to join us and play a set, for this was to be the meeting place for the start of The Next Leg. A couple of shows and then 1500 miles straight from San Antonio to Chicago with no gigs in between because we are ambitious geniuses!
While we were waiting to play, I took a walk with the guy behind the counter and acne girl to the gas station for cigarettes. On the way back we cut through a park and she said, "You know swings are a great place to have sex. You can use the chains to rock yourself back and forth and it's awesome." I thought about the proximity of the park to the venue and how many bands come through here and the vegan chili and shuddered. When we got back the boys had shown up so we all had a drink outside in the moist air while the first band of seven played.
Our set was pretty interesting. We were trying to fit three bands into one. Christine and Leanne played their sweet cello and piano duets and then I'd play some barn burner with Matt and Thomas pounding away on the drums and keyboards and then they'd take a turn while the ladies plinked away on the glockenspiel. Kind of disjointed I suppose but really fun. And there was only like eight people watching from dark theatre seats, and none of them had any money anyway so what the fuck? Afterwards acne girl wanted to trade "original artwork" for CDs and I bought a comic from the collective organizer about a super hero called "Minimal Effort Man" which is pretty funny. Then we stayed and watched Luke Doucet who rolled up in a rental car with his latest fiance and rocked the stage with his white Falcon and catchy tunes. "Oh you've gotta have a heart to have a broken one..."
We all made $30 and blew it on the last supper of salad at some cafe, and then you should have seen Leanne's face when I asked if we could come home with her! It had been a long week for everyone and I probably shouldn't have, but she had such a nice back yard and the spinach had just hit me. She quickly asked her friends from Houston that were dining with us if they had any room and a lovely couple (Sky and Calie) gave us an apartment for the night which was awesome.
I slept for twelve hours in a child's cot with Spiderman sheets realizing that if I just went to bed, I'd have wine and cigarettes for the next day. Think of the savings! Went to sleep with very bleak existential thoughts about how I am living beyond my means by merely existing.
Only a four hour drive, but we hung around Houston for a while in the morning. Arrived in darkness at a bomb shelter in the middle of nowhere. The place was called Rubber Gloves and it looked like hell from the outside. The back alley was covered with razor wire and there was shit everywhere. Gingerly we tried the front door and it opened to reveal a pretty fantastic bar. Indoor smoking, old video games, a jukebox, a whole other room with a big stage and it was all red and black.
About eighty other bands were sharing the bill. This is what happens after SXSW. All the zombies still have to get home so there are hundreds of dispossessed bands still trying to work the same trap line. It makes for some interesting bills. There was a band called The Nein from North Carolina-a combination of pop and math rock and Dada Swing from Rome, Italy who were hilarious. Punk rock but really funny. Like Muppets. Lady drummer and low voiced guy with spiky hair. One of their songs went (in awesome Dracula accent) "FIFTY EUROS AND A SHOWER!!" which I presumed was about touring.
It's kind of weird to be on tour and not playing. The Italians brought this black haired girl from Brooklyn with them. Turns out in real life she was in a band too. Tried to instabond with her but she spent most of the show on her cell phone talking to her mother.
Ended up staying in suburbia at someone from the other band's parents' house on couches in the den. Got the bum's rush fairly early, headed for the nearest Starbuck's, and thought about stealing for the first time in a while. We are down to eating the rider and promotional SXSW leftovers- granola bars and fortified water. The boys are drinking their way through a cube of Miller Lite. Looks like work.
The University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio
Looked on the itinerary and pointed the Chico van -white with black and blue stripes, answers to Dierdre- in the direction of San Antonio. It's funny to get to drive so many different vans. I had just come from Shaggy, who has a hair-trigger gas pedal (pump the gas twice hard before you start it!) and spongy brakes, crappy stereo and no heat, to Dierdre, who has a spongy gas pedal (don't touch the gas when you start it!) and hair-trigger brakes, awesome stereo and heat.
From our experiences of the last two days, playing Super Happy Fun Land and Rubber Gloves and all, I was certain that the University of the Incarnate Word would be another cheekily named arts collective. Imagine our surprise when we followed the instructions and pulled into the midst of a sprawl of brick buildings and realized that it was an actual Christian college!
Thomas and Mattie have played together for nine years and are best friends. They don't seem to bug each other at all. They are funny mellow zen masters. Most of their stories about touring begin and end like this: "Yeah, there was nobody there and then they tried to rip us off with the money." There is a certain bred-in-the-bone underachiever gene in people from Vancouver Island that drives Easterners crazy. Actually calling them Easterners drives them crazy too, but hey, everything is East to us and they're all crazy anyhow! But back to this situation, I think that Matt and Thomas just love the drums. They love listening to music with lots of drums. They love playing the drums. They love drums. "Anything with a back beat" Mattie would say when I was playing van DJ. They both play drums in the band, switching off to the keyboard and guitar. They both play the bass on this keyboard at the same time as playing the drums, which seems like a feat and a half of coordination to me, but having met their former bass player, it makes sense.
They are equally passionate about mustard.
They have pretty much invented their own language, which mostly centres around the word "chuck". You don't have to pee you have to "chuck a piss". And the goal seems to be to use the word "moist" as often as possible, except it's pronounced "mwast".
It was sunny in San Antonio so we went to a park under an off ramp, had a picnic before the show and then a disco nap in the van. Perfect.
The bands played under a little white tent outside in the courtyard. The show was scheduled to coincide with the end of a mandatory school-wide meeting. When we arrived I ran off in search of a toilet to 'chuck a piss' and treated a group of rebel students to a spectacular wipeout when I went to take a short-cut across the lawn without seeing the small dusk-coloured wire fence hidden in the flower bed. "Woah dude! Are y'all right?" they drawled as I landed face first on the lawn.
The boys loaded their stuff on the stage and rocked. Also on the bill were our old friends The Nein from the night before so we partied by their van for a while. When I was selling CDs I learnt that most people at this university are budding nuclear physicists. Although I did meet a future meteorologist. "I love living here and I love weather!" he said passionately. I suspected that he may have been bi-polar and was glad to be catching him on an upswing.
Ended up at a friend of the promoter's, frat boy rancher, with the other band and got stoned in the driveway. Slept with a little white cat named Weenie that nobody loved, vowing to one day make The Nein be my band just to freak them out!
The Long Drive. 1500 miles. San Antonio to Chicago.
Run Chico Run Van Snacks:
Take one purple cabbage leaf. Fill with sardines, hot peppers, refried beans and hot sauce. Roll up and hand to driver with one can of Miller Lite. Repeat until full or ingredients run out.
Shove one handful of mustard greens into half a pita pocket. Drizzle with raspberry vinaigrette and hot sauce. Hand to driver with one can of Miller Lite. Repeat until full or ingredients run out.
Realization halfway through day two: my tourmates are skinny and need to eat constantly. I do not.
Headed for Hot Springs, Arkansas thinking I had studied enough under the master (Trish) and could find us a nice hotel with some adjacent hot water. No such luck. Ended up at The King's Inn nowhere near anything groovy. Paid an East Indian man's eyes through a late night fear slot and he released a key. The boys had been thinking of sleeping in the van but since I had neither coat nor sleeping bag, I suggested the cheap hotel option. Thomas said, "You mean I had to drink all that Miller Lite to get drunk and now we don't even have to sleep together? Fuck you!" Hilarious.
Tried to find the hot springs the next morning but found that all the water from the mountain has been diverted into these downtown spas, which cost fifty dollars. Good old America. Land of the free? My ass. Went for a walk and the town looked like where a young Eminem grew up in the movie 8 Mile. Lots of pit bulls on chains, couples yelling through basement suite windows, and a Cadillac for sale on every lawn.
Drove all day. When wine o'clock hit, had a little freak out about the amount of cement in our lives and steered Deirdre to a park somewhere past St. Louis where apparently the first dinosaur bones in North America were found. Whatever, it was green. Or so I thought. Went to chuck a piss behind a bush only to discover that it was a bundle of barbed wire.
Our day ended at the Super 8 Motel in Lichtfield, Illinois with a bottle of scotch from the Super Walmart. The boys were eating sardines in bed so I figured it would be okay to smoke. They seemed to have no problem with this arrangement and South Park was on. Super.
Got up. Packed the van. Headed for Chicago. I could tell we were all excited to see people again. I mean, we had fun driving and all but three days without shows and only talking to each other can make a guy kind of antsy. Both our bands had shows that night. Mine was at The Hideout and J.T. and The Clouds had promised to be my band! The Chicos were playing at a punk rock warehouse across town. I think it was called something like The Filthy Nihilist.
We pulled up to The Hideout and my old friend Lawrence was working. Lawrence is in at least three bands and wears his trousers high. He poured us drinks and marveled at the level of disgusting that three days straight in the van had caused us to sink to. I realized that we should probably recalibrate our levels if we wanted to fit back into normal bar room society. No more did I want to hear about Thomas' desire to "clean the peanut butter out of his shag carpet" in place of the word "shower".
Jeremy, the "J.T." in J.T. and The Clouds, showed up first. He asked if I wanted to practice before the show. Since it was 35 minutes until showtime, I opted to get dressed instead. He told me he'd just broken up with his girlfriend that afternoon and ordered a scotch. I was about to tell him that he didn't have to break up with her on my account when I realized, for once, that the world doesn't revolve around me, and that he was just telling me about it lest he started acting funny later.
We were playing the early show in the front room. We rolled up the piano from the back and the rest of the band filed in and set up a small P.A. My friend Marie showed up with some total Chicago mobsters from her work. Thankfully they dug what we were doing. We had a fair sized crowd but it was so nice just to be playing again, the fact that people showed up was cherry atop gravy. Kelly Hogan came with Big Mike and her dog Auggie. I was amazed that none of my Chicago 'peeps' had ever seen The Clouds play, so it was part of my mission to introduce them to each other. It seems strange to me that a city could be so big that kindred spirits with the same area code could potentially elude each other. What a world!
At the end of the night, Marie took me home with her to her swinging new house. We had some wine and played drunken guitar until she poured me into the leopard guest room as she had to get up early the next morning to help underprivileged girls pick out prom dresses.
Mattie came to pick me up the next morning and Jeremy too! We found the twenty dollar breakfast place to blow some of our winnings since we had gone days without. Some friends of The Chicos, a band from Calgary called The Cape May who were in town recording at Steve Albini's studio, joined us.
After breakfast the plan, I thought, was to head to my brother's farm in Michigan, but there appeared to be some sudden grey area. Maybe the dudes wanted to stay in Chicago another night to hang out with their buddies.
Thomas, the more overtly assholish of the duo who must have noticed the way my smile faded at this development exclaimed, "You mean you're depending on us? I'm so swollen with power right now I'm gonna explode!" and laughed fiendishly. But after a brief visit to Electrical Audio, Albini's studio, which was wasted on me because I know the men back home are going to quiz me on what kind of gear he had and all I'll be able to tell them about is the extensive DVD collection and band bunk beds rather than what kind of pre-amps he had running for the sesh, we headed West down the old cement interstate and got to the farm at midnight.
My brother Chris and his wife Nancy had a baby a year ago named Petra, which I guess makes me an aunt. The star of the show was of course in bed tuckered out from her first birthday celebrations. I'm sure Chris and Nancy were tired too, but nonetheless they hauled out this crazy television baby monitor/extension cord set-up out to the back yard where they had a bonfire waiting for us noisy road weary rock'n'roll types and let us avail ourselves to their bourbon and wine supplies until the fire faded to embers and darkness high-fived the dawn.
We spent the next couple of days playing old pumpkin bocci, petting the neighbour's horses, trying to help with the chores, checking out anthills, meeting The Baby, and hanging out. There was some awesome comedy when a couple of calves got loose. We thought we were helping my brother catch them but he just leveled his gaze upon us city slickers and says, "So are ya watchin' or helpin'?"
"You're the farmer!" I said, all indignant like as he will always be my younger brother and has no business acting this cool.
"Well if you're not helping, it's just that I have a different way of doing things", he says, which was kind of chilling.
He raises dairy calves for bigger farms and I guess there are too many of them (700) to get sentimental about on a daily basis.
Eventually we corralled the offending escapee. "Well grab the tail!" he says. The tail in question was shit encrusted and the calf was kicking like crazy. "YOU grab the tail!" I say. And he does and puts the calf back in the pen shaking his head at our ineptitude.
The day we left, Nancy's sister came over with her kids-The Twins and The Boy and we hung out with them for a while. When we left they all ran down the country road beside the van waving like crazy and it was like a goddamn Disney movie. Felt like crying.
Felt like crying even more when we got lost on all the country roads and could find nowhere to chuck a piss but we finally found the main road and headed for Detroit where the boys were playing that night. Talk about your contrast. From the farm to Detroit. Well, Hammtramk actually, a Polish suburb. The Belmont Bar.
Well first we went for dinner across the street at a place called Clock's All Night Diner. When we walked in the door, these two big black ladies with matching hair processes who were smoking and eating french fries stopped what they were doing, took one look at my get-up (gingham dress, li'l blue sweater) and said, "Dang girl! Are you IN A PLAY?!" I said, "Are you guys on TV?!" and we all started laughing. And then the waitress came over and said, "So are you gothic or punk?"
"Well neither if I don't get my hands on some black hair dye soon!" said I.
When we were leaving, so many people were staring, I said, 'Good-bye everybody!" and the whole restaurant said good-bye back. I felt like I was in a musical. Crazy. I thought they would have seen it all in such a big city.
That night The Chicos had the best show of the tour. Laura the bar star bartender and her young bitch-in-training DJ Sparkle, between shots with the customers and suggestively dancing together, brought a tray of whisky on stage for our heroes who had several attacks of the giggles (cute!) while marveling at their waning coordination. Then they hugged (hot!) and the show ended with Mattie pounding away on the drums while Thomas danced his new dance in laps around the stage. (Wave your arms around like windmills while kicking as high as you can with each step while grimacing!) Such a good show!
The boys found us an awesome tour host for the night. Jeremy. Totally not weird, awesome, in a band, clean towels, funny, lives around the corner from the bar. He took us in and let me play all his records.
The next day I had to catch a plane and Thomas and Mattie had kindly said they'd drive me to the Detroit airport.
Mattie noticed that his jacket was missing at around the same time he noticed that Dierdre's tank was on E. We swung by the bar and miraculously the owner was inside cleaning up and had the jacket in his hand when he answered the door. Then miraculously there was a gas station just a few blocks away and we rolled up to the pump right when the engine cut out. Felt like the debt of a nine year losing streak was being paid off all at once. Or maybe it's a zen thing. A reward for remaining calm in the throes. Or maybe I was the only one with anything to lose in the situation. Who knows? Made the plane no problem. Wished them the best of luck on the rest of their trip and started missing my little buddies almost instantly, vowing to take a page out of their book of mellow and apply it to the next tour which was to start the second I got off the plane to climb aboard The Hootenanny Express.
More later. It's far too nice out to be in here.