Phil drives to the airport to pick up Malcolm, who seems refreshed from two days at home with his wife. For the rest of us, the days off has been invigorating as well. In fact, next to playing, I’d say my favorite part of touring is the talks during the long drives on days off. I’d like to think it does everyone some good to ride a stretch without a show schedule, let the mind wander, and feel your place in the geography.
But okay, Fresta did wake today saying,” I don’t think I am respected here,” and he has more reasons than bogus laundry detergent to be missing the warm glow. During the long ride south we discussed ideas about what’s happening with Days Of The New and more than a few times Fresta’s name was left off the proverbial roster of “players in the game”. This was probably most overt when I spoke, but I wasn’t being mean or playing power trips. I spoke from the truth that, like it or not, Fresta’s role in the grand web has yet to come clear to anyone currently on tour. I (hope I) spoke with respect for everyone in the van who was trying to figure out how and where to dig in to this crazy operation and move things along. At this point in our journey, Fresta was 100% bro, but his position in the touring constellation had yet to identify itself.
( NOTE: at this point you should know that my imagination is pretty limited but I have a few choice metaphors to describe relationships. Webs. Constellations. Symbiotic parasites within the intestines. Some of my metaphors are so pretty they impede anyone from making a distinction for what might, by any lesser metaphor, be called a “shit deal”.)
But Fresta isn’t showing signs of a shitty deal – not yet anyway, and he really doesn’t seem the type. He’s a New Yorker for Chrisssake. But he is bumming. When we talk, I learn that Travis and Phil have, at different times and in ways I can only call “well-intentioned”, communicated to Fresta their frustrations over expectations that he would be selling merchandise on this run. Without t shirts or cds to sell, Fresta’s position on the field (another good metaphor!) remains nebulous, his ascension to the role of Meister of the Merchandise without bloom.
Of course no one knows the ridiculousness of this better than Fresta, who came out expecting to get Travis’ tour store in shape and make some money from commission to offset the weeks he took off from work. As Fresta and I talk, he tells me he feels taken advantage of. I’m pretty sure getting fired from washing the windshield at the truck stop burned, too, but he doesn’t mention it. There is only so much I can say to the man because his perspective on everything actually seems to be the most rational and logical. It’s just, well, out of place.
A surge of fear or false weightlessness is in my body when I realize this. I then tell Fresta the only useful thing I can think to say – “You and Travis need to talk.” “I’ll do it when the time is right,” he says. Almost on cue, Travis comes to the door.
“How are you doin” he asks Fresta.
“Fine,” says Fresta.
Travis leaves and Fresta continues watching Mystery Science Theater on his laptop.
What a great glow I have in Birmingham. It is truly a High Pro Glow. Rah tour, rah bonding with dudes, rah when I stand by and watch as a scheduled radio interview falls through our fingers due to our lack of competence. I’m pretty sure any one of us could have prevented it, (except Fresta) but no one in our group feels themselves in a position to assume responsibility for making it happen. Before we know the window of opportunity is past, Phil decides it is more important to get to sound check than deal with the confusion and he pulls the plug. I could see that he was making the wise call considering how much resistance he had to deal with, but as we drive to the venue I am mad for the first time on tour. So I am cautious about who I talk to and what I say. My level of aggravation is intensified watching Phil take 10 minutes to back the trailer up to the door of Zydeco. I quietly implode as he drives and navigates the vehicle on a tricky incline where there is no even ground to settle.
When the van is parked a guy walks up and says he’s here to help us load in. Then he asks me, “Is that Travis over there?” Without looking I say yes. He walks up to Phil.
“Hey, man. I saw you on Intervention – “
“Wait,” I say. “Not him.” I point to Travis sitting under a tree against the building.
The guy tells Travis that he was in rehab and fucking up when someone showed him Travis’ Intervention episode. Later he tells me “When I saw that I was like, “Man, if that dude can do it, I can.” He has been sober for a year and a half.
We are in a different world this time around.
Steve is the soundman at Zydeco and he is immediately a great collaborator with Travis, who, not having the interview to do, is able to take part in sound check. (There is always an upside!) It is divine intervention that we have Steve to work with on one of the days when we can take time for Travis to completely and properly check the guitars, which have been a significant source of the sound problems. The sound check is very long and productive. Travis gets behind the drums and demonstrates ideas for Flight Response that have been missing in my approach and we finally wrestle the song into shape. Everyone leaves sound check knowing a great show is ahead.
But it is a law of humanity and certainly of Days Of The New that many a beautiful event will end with someone taking a shit, and on the ride back to the hotel the van becomes a venue for mad frustrations to be voiced at the expense of sanity. Thank God Malcolm has had a break for a few days. He has stamina to remain the voice of reason. As for me, any remaining threads of resilience I have are shredded. When I arrive at the hotel, something has broken. Another level has been reached, but what to say of it? Suck ass shitball? Fuck wad doody puss dick? No metaphor feels right. I grit my teeth as all things in the tiny universe come down to me and God and no one else. (Such states of being are often denoted by my screaming, “Fuck everybody!”) Maybe if I wasn’t so disposed to the metaphors of being part of a group, I could channel my resilience in ways that would keep me from feeling so shitty about the moments when I finally breakdown and expel the bad ju ju that has been vexing me. But I usually just feel mad and ashamed and alone.
But especially I am uncontrollably pissed, which is often the state I'm in when I finally catch a new breath for things.
I leave my beard extentions in the room.
Travis apologizes in the van ride to the show.
During the set, Malcolm’s bass farts through the busted speaker in my drum monitor, making it sound like a bow played against a double bass.
From the first note played by Days Of The New in Birmingham Alabama, we have the best show of the tour.
After the set we meet with fans who give back the good energy. I meet Charlie who used to roadie for Yes back in the 70s. “You know, you know,” he said winking at me, “You know the drummer was that band.”
"I like you, Charlie," I say. Our show was so fucking good.
In the dressing room, two drunk dudes are drinking our Red Bulls. One says, “Man, when are you gonna bring the metal? Pull out an electric guitar? I hear it in your music.”
“If you hear it in the music then it’s there,” I say. Do we need to spell it out?
We say goodbye and thanks to Steve the awesome soundman and head back to the hotel to grab our things for the late night drive to Hilton Head. I hit the one hitter and leave my toiletry bag with my tooth guard and favorite soap in the room. I also leave the battery and battery charger for my headphones there, too. Fuck. It is the most stuff than I have ever lost on a tour.