Friday, January 25, 2008
Thursday, January 24, 2008
“A friend of mine told me her husband would get these porns where these chicks shit in spaghetti then ate it then puked in each other mouths.”
“That’s deep, bro.”
“Have you ever seen a snuff film?”
“Yeah, but snuff films…shitting in spaghetti and then eating it – you gotta live with that shit. Snuff films you die.”
“Well, you are right there”.
“You know what would be more appealing to nut cases? Pooping butt to butt.”
“There would have to be a narrator saying, ‘There is no exit here.’”
As we set up the stage, Phil says, “The radio DJ said last time Days Of The New came to town Travis dumped a gallon of milk on his head and pissed out a second story window before the show. Do you remember that?”
I tell Phil I do remember, which is true, but I cannot see it in my mind. I don’t remember Rockford, Illinois with an image of a venue or a freak out. Its not like Providence, Mercedes, Los Angeles, or Carbondale, whose memories come back with everything from the first song of the set to the smell of the back stage.
“What’s the weirdest thing that ever happened,” Malcolm asks. Before I open my mouth I know I’m going to disappoint. I start to tell them a story that is a strong emotional memory.
“Once before a show Travis took mustard put it on a piece of bread and smeared it down a dressing room mirror…”
My heart isn't in it. Malcolm and Phil give me blank looks and go back to setting up the stage.
A little later Travis returns with Steve the radio DJ who is still talking about the last time we came through.
“You guys were playing in De Kalb,” he starts.
“De Kalb! Holy shit,” I say. "I totally remember De Kalb!" As the memory surges back, I realize the milk and second-floor window piss were only supporting details.
I tell Steve the DJ, “I did not think we would make it through that one.”
“Really,’ Steve says, and proceeds to repeat his story for at least the third time that day. “I remember being up in the band room and Travis dumps milk on his head and pisses out a window and then the band up and leaves him and gets onstage without him. And I’m like, Travis, your band just left you. What is going on?
“Yeah well –“ I say, uncomfortable.
Steve continues: “So I walk down to the stage with Travis and the band is playing and he gets up there and I’m thinking, is this even gonna happen? And suddenly it was like a switch went off and you guys started rocking. It was amazing.”
“I know,” I say. “It became a kind of thrill-addiction for me – cliffhanging before the show, wondering if we were going to go down in a ball of fire and then turning around and playing some of the meanest music I’ve ever played.”
I want to talk, but my heart still isn't in it and, having no clear indication that Steve is interested or listening to me, I quit while I’m ahead. I would have enjoyed telling him that the perspective of Travis suffering, caged, and left backstage by his band didn’t say enough for the other people involved who were, like Travis, trying to negotiate a caged, maddening situation. I'd like to have sat, had some coffee, and explained the experiences with some relaxed perspective sharing. But there isn't time. Steve is a great DJ and DJs work best with soundbytes, antecdotes, and quick one liners.
Travis exhales smoke and tells Steve, “Ray’s been with me longer than anybody. I had to suck his cock just to get him to come back out with me.”
“Now he just does it for fun,” I say.
“Good comeback,” Travis says.
There is some picketing involved with the protesting, but more impressive is the group’s paparazzi tactics. Poking out of the tent are lenses from cameras. “WE WILL TAKE YOUR PICTURE AND SEND IT TO YOUR EMPLOYER” says a big wooden sign by the shack. When Malcolm and I see that there is a photo op for walking in the store, we check our hair and press our shirts and get ready for our close up.
For being along the side of an Indiana Highway, the porn store is as clean and neat as The Pleasure Chest in Manhattan. The attendant is very helpful with Malcolm’s request for certain titles and performers. Then Phil comes in and asks her where the Hustlers are and buys one.
“There she is,” Phil says proudly. In the centerfold of this month’s Hustler is the dear Tera, complete with a purple dong in her snizz and a message for every man looking to receive the love she transmits from the photo.
Malcolm becomes so comfortable with being filmed that on his way out he takes a piss behind the dumpster right under the security camera. Then we load into the van and drive out for one last photo op with the protesters. Only this time we take the pictures.
Every generation is represented by the protesters, making it easy for me to see that what for some is an idealogical battle is for others a safe place to be involved and purposeful. The protesters are of a Christian bent, but I don’t see how threatening a truck driver with unemployment can be considered charitable. What distresses me the most is the protesters’ use of shame as a primary force in their methods. This distresses me because generationally-bred shame is often what divides people from themselves in the first place, making it difficult for them to coexist with natural sexual impulses, and making things like pornography such an irresistible and unhealthy digression. Taking pictures of such people will not make things better – it only intensifies the divide within them. So if the main goal of these porno protesters is the health of their suffering community, they should really go the fuck home.
Porn isn’t perfect, it could use some improvement. I can’t really get into some of the material that gets passed around the van. There is this one with a girl and bananas and a monkey with a video camera that is pretty dope, but for me I like to see porn with better story lines and more for the imagination. Rather than curse the candle, I offer a submission:
RAY’s 10 Minute Porn
Fade in to wide shot of Indiana Countryside. Camera pans past the corn and soybean fields to a seven foot concrete wall surrounding the perimeter of the pastel colored porn store. Camera pans along the wall past wooden signs saying “Porn kills” “Smile, we’re taking your picture.” “Truckers, we will send your photo to your employer.” Camera settles on the image of a makeshift wooden shack built like a kids jungle gym and a tree stand for a deer hunter. Camera closes in on the door.
Cut to Interior of shack. REVER, JORDAN, and CURTIS are seated around a small table. Behind them a calendar with a picture of the Virgin Mary has dates crossed off for the two years they have been at their post. Curtis is loading data from a video camera into a laptop. Rever is crossing off another day on the calendar. Jordan is sipping coffee from a thermos.
JORDAN: Two years and they still haven’t got us a portopotty.
REVER: When we did a Strike at Ford a few years back the union pulled up a mobile latrene and had food catered. At least for the first week they did.
JORDAN: Here’s one.
Curtis has finished loading the laptop and hands the video camera to Jordan.
CURTIS: Make us proud Man Ray.
JORDAN: It’s a van – with a trailer. Must be four or five guys in it. Looks like a few of them have beards..
REVER: Be sure to get a picture of the license plate.
JORDAN: Holy - (Turns nervously towards Rever and Curtis) Fellas. Their liscence plate – (takes a quick picture) Look at it!
Jordan shows Curtis and Rever the photo on the camera’s display screen. Rever hasps and makes the sign of the cross, taking a step backwards. Curtis takes the camera from Jordan and stares at it closely, then looks up as if to the setting sun.
CURTIS: Still Saving Lives.
JORDAN: Now, I know Jesus when I see him and that there is Jesus fucking Christ on that license plate. I know it!
CURTIS: Still saving lives.
JORDAN: They got big ass beards.
REVER: Fellers – fuck the portopotty. They sent us the big guns this time. (Takes a look at the Virgin Mary calendar) Our forty days and forty nights are over!
CURTIS: What are they doing now?
JORDAN: I can’t see they went behind the wall.
(Sound of van doors opening and closing. From far away the sound of a sprite like voice)
VOICE: Yerrrin! Oh, Yerrin! I yearn for your yerrrin!
Voice is followed by sound of a hanging bell on the front door of the store. Curtis Rever and Jordan stare at each other.
REVER: They went inside.
CURTIS: Surely he will be turning over tables in the market.
JORDAN: And making his body flesh for us to eat.
Curtis and Rever stare at Jordan.
JORDAN: We must prepare ourselves, right? Do something.
REVER: Let’s genuflect.
CURTIS: Out loud or in silence.
JORDAN: Oh, in silence please.
CURTIS: So be it. SO BE IT!
Rever, Curtis, and Jordan kneel on the floor of the shack in silence. Minutes pass. A few passing cars go by. At one point, Curtis sneaks a self portrait of himself with the camera. There is a noise outside and the flap is pulled back on the entrance. CHASTITY walks in with a casserole.
Jordan, Rever, and Curtis look up at Chastity and the food.
CHASTITY: Well, don’t ya’ll just stare at it – eat it! Momma was worried ya’ll was hungry so she made me bring you some casserole.
JORDAN : Shut up, Chastity!
CHASTITY: You shut up. The fuck are you doin?
JORDAN: We’re genuflecting you dumb cunt.
CURTIS: Jordan, don’t talk to your sister that way! (turns to Chastity) Little one, your Lord and Savior has arrived. Now get down on your knees and shut up like the rest of us.
Jordan grabs his sister and pulls her down to the kneeling position.
REVER: He’s still saving lives.
JORDAN: They’re inside.
JORDAN: Jesus and his guys. They’re tearing the den of evil from it’s foundation.
REVER: Sanctifying our blessed nation and laying to waste the wicked infidels!
CURTIS: What happened to no talking? GENUFLECT!
CHASTITY: (Starts to cry) I didn’t bring enough casserole.
JORDAN: He can multiply it if he’s hungry.
CURTIS and REVER: Shhhhh!
The four kneel in silence. Two more cars pass. Then they hear the sound of the front door bell.
JORDAN: He has come.
CHASTITY: Oh, shit.
In the distance the same voice as before makes a cackling laugh. Then the sound of doors opening and closing on a van and the van starting up.
REVER: Here he comes.
Sound of van gets closer and then stops. All gasp. Door to van opens and there is the sound of approaching footsteps. They stop just before the entrance. All look down to see the feet of the one who approaches.
:JORDAN: His sandals are worn.
REVER: And his toenails are silver.
CHASTITY: Jesus, I’m sorry I didn’t know you were –
Suddenly an object is hurled into the shack and lands in front of them. It is a 14 inch dildo. As they stare, they hear the footsteps walk away. The door to the van closes, and the van rides off.
JORDAN: Sweet manna from heaven!
REVER: What is it?
CHASTITY: It’s a 14 inch silly swizz rocket double dong.
CURTIS: No doubt it was pulled from the dead carcass of the beast who did reside in the den of evil pornography.
CHASTITY: There’s a note on it.
JORDAN: What does it say?
REVER: No no no, don’t read it – if you look right into the word of God your heart will explode.
CHASTITY: It says, Enjoy.
REVER: It is a gift from the Lord Savior for our hard work. Should we share it with the rest of the group when they get here?
CURTIS:” No, no. This holy gift meant for us. It is here to engender us with joy so we can administer to the multitudes. Yur – IN. En – Joy. Like the oils used to rub down our mighty savior on the eve of his destruction, we must not let temperance guide us in this moment. We must celebrate. And enjoy. For he has come and bestowed joy upon us, we must open ourselves wide to receive that which he has administered. Children! Let us be children again to feel rapturous joy with every inch of our bodies!
CURTIS CHASTITY REVER and JORDAN have every kind of sex imaginable with the dildo, each other, and the casserole. When they are done, they are overjoyed. On her way out, CHASTITY looks at the Virgin Mary calendar, circles the date and takes the calendar with her.
Outside Travis jumps out of the van holding a tall cup from Starbucks. “Yo Ray Ray!”
Taylor is packing for his first trip out with us. All week during rehearsals he has jumped to any task that is within his grasp to do. I wonder how long it will be before his enthusiasm is tempered.
I pack my drum cases and luggage and go sit with Phil’s roommate Mike to watch a few minutes of “American Psycho”. Our entourage walks in and out of the room as it plays. Everyone knows the line “Sabrina, don’t just stare at it. Eat it.”
Tracey from Massachusetts and her dog Zeus are along for the first few days of the trip. Zeus is intoxicatingly happy running around sniffing Mike’s dog Duncan and playing with his tennis ball which had the air blown out of it long ago. Tracey has a trailer with Harley Davidson logos that she bought cheap. I give it a once over to see if we might rely on it in the event our trailer is blown apart in a wind tunnel.
Christian Bale has just dropped the chainsaw down the stairwell when Travis walks in.
“We’re a bus, yo.”
This means it’s time to go. But its still two and a half hours before we will cross the Ohio and drive North through Indiana. Wal Mart. Big Lots. Music Go Round. Mc Donalds and Jiffy Lube. While washing the windshield at the gas station I coin our newest phrase: Dookie Juice. It takes it’s rightful place among the ranks of Dewey, Dewger, and Warm Worm Pee.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
“There will be times when this is going to be this in front of you,” I said to Phil. Phil had been discussing getting over a painful breakup so I thought I'd to give him some of my extra crispy - the type of wise shittalk I used to drop on girls in High School. “Emotionally, mentally, there will be things that block the view. When you can’t get over them you need to get high enough to see past them.”
“Or turn them into frogs,” Phil says.
“Not that kind of high,” I said. A wave of nausea washed over me and I leaned harder against the wall of the Days Inn. “Ugh. I think I smoked too much.”
“It was that second cigarette,” Phil reminded me.” That’s what got you.” I was turning green. My mind wandered back to the mound.
“You’re totally right,” I finally say to Phil. “How great it would be to be able to transform our inner obstacles into living creatures. It would be closer to the truth to treat our problems with the respect of living organisms.” I said and looked at the mound. “Turn them into frogs.”
“And then eat them,” Phil said. “Make frog legs.”
“Ray’s gonna write, Travis slams the insence burner on the dashboard and yells at Taylor,” he laughs, adding “But what makes it good is the Baby Wipes.”
“Totally,” I say.
“It could have been about anything,” Travis says. “A coke, a soda, cigarettes…but it was over Baby Wipes.”
“That’s what makes it awesome,” I say.
“I’m sorry I forgot them,” Taylor says from the back seat.
“Those were good Baby Wipes," Malcolm said.
“I know," says Travis, still feeling the loss. "They had Aloe Vera and shit.”
Every person that has handled our rider on this run has commented on how little had been requested. Water. A few soft drinks. Perrier. Three avocados. And a box of Baby Wipes. When getting so little, there is the potential for the items to take on greater meaning. Last night Malcolm was bemused that they gave him San Pellegrino instead of his Perrier. “These don’t even have twist tops,” he moaned. “How am I supposed to open this?
“Fuckin bullshit, brah.”
But Malcolm was also quick to spot the jade green plastic box in shrink wrap. He knew immediately that whoever had handled the rider at Machine Shop knew their Baby Wipes.
"Has Travis seen these," he asked me, holing up the Wipes.
"I don't think he's been in here yet," I said.
"Well he's gonna love these," Malcolm said. And he was right.
“I really got excited about those Baby Wipes,” Travis reminisces. “I went on stage at the Machine Shop and played the set and the whole time I was thinking about those baby wipes.”
Travis left town for this week of shows and forgot his black jacket. This was a serious matter in the realm of comfort and security and much was considered about stage dress before the first show in Illinois. Luckily, Travis had his cool mulit-colored shirt to settle into. But two days ago Travis left the shirt in a motel in Michigan. All of this was met with frustrated resignation, making for a palatable build up of tension by the end of the week when Taylor, the nubie on tour, leaves a box of Aloe Baby Wipes at Machine Shop.
Travis’ freak out was, like the Baby Wipes themselves, safe, non-abrasive, and containing no alcohol that can irritate sensitive skins. The dashboard took a beating, Taylor was maybe a little unnerved, but no one was hurt, which is why less than 5 minutes later, Travis was writing the blog for me and everyone was laughing.
Alligator sushi after sound check. Malcolm watching cable in the band room. On MSNBC a child pornographer has been captured in Asia. On MTV a young man is interviewing two girls for a date while his buddy gives him direction from a remote location.
The sound at Monkey Business that night is hard to deal with. Its like we are playing in a furniture store showroom. Its never easy to come off of an amazing show and play as well the next night, but I know the real lack of greatness for our show in Hilton Head: I try for one last time to wear the beard. I knew better, but I had to give it a shot – just to be sure. Bad move.
After the show, Malcolm grabs his bass to sit in with the guy playing piano and singing in the lounge next door. I grab my snare and hi hat and follow. An overly enthusiastic rocker guy who seems to be a regular at this hang almost spoils “Superstition”, growling the few words to the song before Malcolm asks him to stop. Then Big Momma comes to the stage and lays out “Down Home Blues” and “Chain Of Fools.”
Travis is agitated after the night is over. On top of the issues on his mind, he is also agitated with being agitated. “I wish I had a manager who saw me for what I really am,” he says before exiting the van and heading to his hotel room.
Malcolm, Phil and I congregate in our room. A few minutes later my phone rings. “You have your computer on you,” Travis asks.
“Look up Aspergers.”
I do so.
“This is why I am how I am,” Travis says. “And it’s why this whole thing may not work.”
As we talk I move from the computer to pace the apartment, eventually walking out the door and up and down the sidewalk in front of the hotel office. When Phil heads up to bed, he takes the outside stairs and is able to see that over the roof of the office, Travis is also outside, also pacing.
“Those fools,” Phil says to himself.
Travis finally spots me and we end our talk face to face. Aspergers moves on to the dysfunctions of our situation. It is the first discussion I have with Travis where we address the real work before us, considering each other and Phil and Malcolm and Fresta as people who might be working together for a while and not just some guys willing to get in a van.
"When this started I had all kinds of ideas about Nathan and how Phil was meant to be here," Travis said, "But I have to let that stuff go. This is a business. And it has to be done right."
I don't see how one point excludes the other, but I can agree: this has to be done right. I tell Travis I'm not sure what I'm ready for exactly, but that I am here to make more of things and not less. If it means more responsibility I'm willing, I say.
Travis think about this. "I ask alot," he says finally.
"I know," I say. I feel anxiety that comes when I fear I am in too deep, but I don't step back. I don't step any closer either, not now, but I don't step back.
When I get back to the room I chat Malcolm up until he passes out on his bed. I have to admit to myself that I am tired, too. Part of me wants to sit still all day and write tomorrow, but I have decided that whatever happens when I wake is what I will do.
Monday, January 21, 2008
I feel a little bad that I played the beardage as real to some fans I spoke to, but in ways explainable and unexplainable, it was what I had to do.
To start, I thought of the excess beard as a celebration of our return to playing together. I felt like it would be part of the visual language of Days Of The New for the first shows we played together and I liked that it suggested age and wisdom. Plus wearing it made me feel like our old soundman and friend Gus.
As I nightly clipped the extensions onto my real beard I also appreciated that after our first show in January, Rick the Manager had suggested to Travis that the beard I was growing was evidence that I wasn’t a good fit for Travis anymore. I half expected this after the Tampa show when he said, “I know you have to grow the beard for a role, but why no long hair anymore?” (This is a guy who doesn’t think I’m playing good drums if my arms aren’t flailing like an octopus.)
The beard is also one of the things I brought on tour from great experiences I have had since Travis and I last worked. There is the tattoo on my ring finger from Traci’s and my wedding. The beard and OM shirt are from the two roles I’ve played in Adam’s plays. My gut is from Stromboli’s Pizza on 1st Ave and St. Marks, and my penis extentions are from the goodie bag I got at CMJ.
However the beard looked, it felt right – right up to the point before the show when I got so upset I had no choice but to bring only the bare essentials. After my meltdown, I could not dress up.
When I tell this to Travis he says, “You finally were in a place where you needed to be yourself. That was the difference. I mean, I’m sure you’re a good actor and all and those things probably work well for your characters, but at some point this is no longer about being character. It has to be you that you bring.”
With much gratitude, I place the extensions back in the Ziploc bag where they remain.
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.
Last week there was a disaster at Ground Zero. A demolition company had been hired to destroy the Deutsche bank Building at the World Trade Center and things went badly. Fire and death of two firefighters.
The demolition company had been hired by the city after many other demolition companies had been passed on because they did not have enough integrity or reputation to do the job. But now, as the tragegy is being investigated by - who else? The Department of Investigation - we are learning that NO ONE knows anything about the demolition company or the corporation that runs it. The apparent head of the company had to be located by searching city records (didn't anyone have his card?) and then said that his contract for the job prohibited him from talking to the media.
It is not uncommon for a corporation to be created in order for a smaller company in order to avoid liabilities associated with dangerous jobs like demolishing buildings at ground zero, BUT - did I already say this? - no one has ever heard of the company that was hired to do the "monumentous" job.
No doubt, the people on my street who continue to watch the fallout results of 9-11 with an eye on cover-up have just been handed a plump fish to fry.
...but so have readers of Ayn Rand.
...the Mystery Corporation's name is JOHN GALT.
And no one seems to know where he is.
So beginning with todays headlines, everyone in New York - from the workers with conscience to the homeless asking for your quarter - could ask, "Who is John Galt?". Just like page one of Atlas Shrugged, a book that describes the "machine" of man's society. A head trip to say the least. But to my mind, there are no accidents.
Atlas Shrugged is a book I never finished, so I'm gonna go back and read the second half and see what happens.
The manholes of downtown Birmingham have steam rising from them 24 hours a day. I sleep late on our day off. In the late afternoon, Phil, Fresta and I head into town for food. We almost settle for Chick Fil-A, which is, in my opinion, a shitty meal on a day off, but providence reigns and it is closed. The Roots are on the stereo in the van. We persevere and find good barbeque. Fresta has never had Fried Green Tomatoes. We find a record store and music store where I get sticks. Jack Dijonette (sp?) and a weird mallet stick. (Both by Vic Firth for any drum geeks.)
For those who don't know, wash day on the road is serious fucking business. While we are out Travis wakes and asks that we pick up detergent. "What kind should I get," Phil asks me. "Why don't you call the olfactory genius," I say. Phil calls Travis back - liquid detergent with fabric softener. I suggest we stop at a market downtown but Phil waits until our only option is the gas station by the hotel. Fresta emerges from the mart, snaps a photo of a bumper sticker on a black woman's car that says "Forget the thrills, Dope Kills!", and shows us a box of powdered soap called Trend. Uh, oh. As Phil already knows, this is not going to bode well. When his assumptions are proven right, Fresta feels like he was set up to do the wrong thing, and Travis and Phil head back out for the right stuff.
Later that night Travis and I take a walk. We walk down dead end roads behind the hotel and talk about being kids. The air in Birmingham is warm like an Oxycontin buzz. Behind the gas station a black man is relentlessly hitting his crack pipe. "Poor guy,"Travis says. "He'll never get high off that stuff. It's meth that has the real high." Travis tells me more about Meth addiction than I ever imagined we might discuss. His awareness of the need and the consiquence of his addiction is scary - it has a kind of self-awareness that one could, if not careful, use to justify the drug as much as steer clear of it. But Travis is careful. "Being sober means telling the truth," he says. "If I don't stay with what is true, I'll get high. And then it's all over." We walk down Arkadelphia road to a truck stop. When we walk in, an older black man sees us, and with an air of recognition says, "Old Testament brothers! Born in fear!" I get an AC adaptor for the van, waters, and a live Gram Parsons cd. Emmylou Harris is from Birmingham.
Travis and I walk back and take the van out into the city. It doesn't take long before we are gloriously lost. We listen to Midnight Marauders, although I think we'd be just as happy with silence. We drive though poor parts of Birmingham with the windows down singing,"Suka nigga - Nigga Nigga!" We talk about drugs, porn, God, and being children, all subjects intersecting at various points of essence. "My old dealer will be coming to one of the shows," Travis tells me. "Will I know," I ask. "I won't tell you until after its happened." I believe the heat and air of Birmingham in the middle of the night would make the mind of anyone who has used turn to drugs. But the only crystal scored on this night starts with a K and comes on a square bun. We call Phil so he can lead us back to the hotel with his GPS.
Stress often jars me awake between the hours of 4 and 5 a.m. luckily, this morning Traci is next to me and we have a great talk that calms me down. She says she is ready to be Queen. I tell her she is Queen. When I share this later with my Father he says, "You kids have to define your terms. Find out what she means by Queen." Thank you, wise man. Will do.
Somewhere south of Cincinnati, Travis, Phil and I have our first talk of the tour about how things are being run. The words expectations and boundaries resonate through the van. Travis prefers if we begin our suggestions with "What if…" He is resolved to play music with or without anyone and he has a lot to be protective of. We seem to respect everyone's personal place. Everyone is here for something, and as Phil says later, "I just don't want to be here under a false reality." That is true for me, too. There are numerous ideas I'd be eager to see happen if the time was right for us, but at this point I'm just as satisfied to learn what isn't possible. We need to know where each other is coming from. At times like this I cure any overthinking by borrowing Malcolm's outlook. "I'm just riding this out right now seeing what happens," he'll say. "If I become meaningful to things, that will become apparent later down the line." True dat.
We stop in Louisville. Phil's Mom and Bob take him to his house so he can pick up a p.a. for the road and visit with friends and girlfriends for a few minutes. Thre's a party going on and Phil barely gets to visit with his lady and doesn't have time to eat any Barbeque. Fresta, Travis and I drive to Travis' Mom's house where we unload the van and organize the space so it is a little more sanity-inspiring. I am understanding more than ever what it means to make conditions livable for each other on the road. In some cases, this means obsessing on details that may seem extreme: where does the cooler go? Who empties the trash bag? How many personal bags can we have in the van? What brand air freshener is used? Do we have good air circulation? Who gets to plug their laptop into the AC adaptor? The shit is crazy and necessary to work out. Like all good artists, we organize the van with all of our creative energies peaked. Whether we will follow through in the duties for the remainder of the tour is another matter.
Travis' Mom is as sweet as the last time I saw her. She tells me she's glad we're playing together again. "Me, too," I say.
"Oh. His music," she says rolling her eyes to the sky. "It just gets me. He hears so many things. I actually like it when Travis goes on the road because it's the only time I can listen to him. He won't let me play his records when he's around."
On the ride to Birmingham Travis is driving and I am shotgun. I am being discreet about my tokes on the one-hitter, which keep me awake for the late drives. After a 4-20 at the truck stop, I pitch in as Travis gets down to cleaning the windows of the van. Seated in the van, Phil laughs when I put the wrong end of the window wiper to the window. This inspires some amusing discussion about experiences washing the windshield of the van. Travis is not impressed with Fresta's technique and becomes maddened when Phil doesn't take his request to help seriously. By time we pull out, there is serious heat from Travis aimed in Phil's direction about things only two brothers would understand. Ten minutes later, Travis' voice is still raised when we get pulled over for doing 84 in a 70 zone. Even as the officer returns to his car with license and registration, the yelling continues. If it wasn't all so intense I'd be laughing my ass off. As we pull out, Phil acknowledges that the guy didn't say anything at all about the lack of plate on the trailer. Thank you, Jesus.
We listen to Slayer, Dead Can Dance, CCR, and Tool and have great talks about music. We dream of what Tree Colors could be and imagine the kind of shows we could put together. When we arrive in Birmingham, a black guy staying at the Days Inn sees Travis and says, "You're looking for the soda machine, aren't you?" (Tricky talk for cocaine.) Goddamn. We've pulled into crack central.
Soundcheck. Mudpackers have set up their kiddie tent in the rain. The stage and crew are different than last night. I give Fresta money to pitch in on the next box of Nicorette. Traci thinks the headliner should form a bluegrass band called Yonder Hinder. Before the show she and Marni and I find The Tavern downtown and have beers and a pickled egg. Gross.
When I return to the venue, the mood in the bandroom is gloomy. Travis is bumming pretty hard at the thought of facing the Hinder crowd again. Fact is, there could be – and usually are – hundreds of people cheering our set, but the eight or twelve hecklers by the stage will be all the voices Travis hears. Travis asks me to take off my new sunglasses before we go onstage. With a spirit of solidarity, I comply.
At one point someone yells "You suck."
Travis looks up from tuning his guitar and says simply. "I know." Then he starts the beginning of "The Downtown". "Ain't no one can kick my ass as good as I can," he says.
Although I think we play pretty well, it seems that for most of the set the negative energy gets the better of Travis – until the last song. Travis begins "Provider" and then stops. A few twists of his guitar strings and he starts strumming familiar chords we have not yet heard on this tour. We are closing with "The End."
The beginning seems a little shaky. After all, we haven't played the song in years and Malcolm has never played it, though you would not know it by how deftly he lays the shit out. The muse is eventually summoned, and Travis starts surging with electricity. "The children are insane," he sings directly into the faces of the crowd. Yes they are. After the words "Mother I want to fuck you all night long" echo through the gymnasium, the room explodes. As the murderous moment of the song dissipates, the lighting engineer in a stroke of genius turns off every light in the gymnasium. Thousands of kids scream in the dark as Travis intones "Kill…Kill…Kill..." It is a dangerous moment. We have conquered.
Fear not the dark cloud that rises yonder hinder.
Marni and Traci and I follow the van in Marni's car. Our first gas stop is in Suffern New York, where nestled back in the woods stands the studio once owned by the sax player in Spyro Gyra. This is where we mixed the first version of the Red album with Bill Klatt in 2000. At the gas station, the Middle Eastern guys are insane with late night delirium, screeching the tires of their cars and yelling to one another. When Travis tells the cashier it's his birthday, the guy fakes like he draws a gun on Travis. Then two Tibetan Monks in yellow robes enter the store, and walk down the aisle where the chips are, buy nothing, get in their mini van, and drive off.
Two hours later at a truck stop on Pennsylvania, Marni holds up a green license plate with a picture of Jesus on it. Below his joyous face it says, "Still Saving Lives".
"Why don't you put this on your trailer," Marni asks. Brilliant!
I buy the plate and a kick ass pair of sunglasses, stoned for the drive. Traci endures Marni and I talking the whole time about coke snorting friends, the band, and Travis. In the final hours of the drive, Travis takes over driving the van and in a patch of dense fog hits the side of a concrete highway divider going 75. The caravan continues and after a while I am not sure if it happened. 20 minutes later my cell rings.
"Did you see that?"
"Yeah. That was nuts."
As I stare at the trailer I wonder if its my eyes playing tricks or if the axle is bent. Then I fixate on the plate. Still Saving Lives. Yes, I guess so.
We are up and out early for the rainy drive to Sacred Heart University and our first of two shows with Hinder and Operator. I am psyched because my lovely Traci will be meeting us in Fairfield. When Travis wakes there is a message from Rick the ghost manager waiting on his phone:
"Happy Birthday, T. Want you to know that The Showdown are headed back to Tennessee and will not be on any more shows for the run."
The news is bittersweet. With all the bad routing of the first shows and the sense of neglect the band has felt where the management is concerned, it's kind of nice that Rick took an interest in trying to better our touring conditions. At the same time, no one was so upset about The Showdown that we needed them thrown off tour. But the bottom line is there's too much shit to think about to spend much time pondering the decision. The upside may be that a message has been sent to the booking agent that we'd rather not play shows with RAWK bands opening. (Unless it's Not Of This World).
In any case, The Showdown, and especially Rowdy, wherever you are, I bid thee well. Tell Ozzy I say hi.
The Hinder shows are part of a College tour show called Mudpackers.com. Mudpackers produce concert tours that play smaller colleges around the country. They set up a big tent and lights that turn Sacred Heart University's gymnasium into Chuck E. Cheese.
YAY! Traci arrives with Marni! Seeing my wife standing across the parking lot with her chocolate mint hat looking for me in the crowd makes my heart skip beats. I'm not the only one having a reunion. Malcolm's wife Aimee, his Mom and friend (Ed?) also drive up from New York City. Malcolm's Mom has brought him raw fish for dinner. It's like Malcolm is her baby penguin.
Tonight is the first show of the tour where we are playing a large concert-size stage and I enjoy getting to stretch my arms when I play. Travis wears a tie for his birthday show and we play a great set. He does not stress the Hinder fans that think nothing of us and make sure we know it. All through the set, he speaks his mind to the crowd, connecting lyrics he wrote 5 and 10 years ago to what he is feeling right now. Midway through I take my leave and stand stage side as Travis plays Dancing With The Wind to a gymnasium of three thousand people. Watching him stand alone in front of three thousand people, unflinchingly true to himself is balls-out inspiring. I become aware that I am witnessing Travis evolve into a focused, realized performing artist who has his energies in command. Such a moment in an artist's lifetime is something few people ever witness and tonight myself and three thousand kids have a ringside seat for the transformation.
After the set, I can't relax until I see Traci."Was it okay," I ask her. She has seen so much music being with me that I have to know. She says it was great. "I like seeing you back on a big stage." Sweet.
Marni has brought cake and sweets and presents for Travis. We sing Happy Birthday to Travis in a converted girls locker room on Sacred Heart University's campus. Traci asks Travis,"How does it feel to be 28?"
"I sat for a while with 27 to say goodbye to it," Travis says. "I didn't go out like Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. So now what?"
On this day our dear Jason Fresta seems to have reached a precipice. He is none-too pleased by how little he is being regarded (Phil would not let him stand onstage during our set), and with good reason. We haven't figured out how to disperse roles and delegate authority and Jason, who took unpaid weeks off from Mtv to join us on the road, has had the biggest challenge for integrating himself into the fold. With no merchandise for him to sell, there is some discussion as to his usefulness for the rest of the tour. It's a frustrating predicament and because he is very close to his home, he thinks about packing and leaving. Lord knows many people would.
But he does not. He decides to stick it out. (And this, dear Fresta, will make all the difference.)
The Roots – Game Theory
CCR – Willie and The poor Boys
Nick Drake – Pink Moon/Way To Blue
Tool – 10,000 Days
Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire
William S. Burroughs – Dead City Radio
Glenn Kotche – Mobile
Dead Can Dance – All
Black Label Society – some shit
Tribe Called Quest – Midnight Marauders
Days Of The New – Demos
Michael Jackson - Thriller
White Zombie - Super Sexy Swingin Sounds
Days Of The New played Alligator Lounge in October of 2001. At the time, we watched terrorist alerts all day on the bus and when we pulled into town, the F.B.I. searched our Penske Truck for explosives. The night ended with someone on the bus trying to hurl themselves through the bus windshield. The memory gives me a shot of anxiety and also a sense of relief. Things are so much calmer now.
At some point during the drive to Allentown, Malcolm wakes and takes off his ear buds. "Dude, have you watched The Showdown?"
"Just heard them though the wall in the band room," I say. I've meant to watch them every night and haven't made it yet.
"It's really weird, Malcolm says. "They play intense guitar rock but they really remind me of Warrant." Malcolm pauses. "And I don't know if that's a good thing."
From the looks of how well Showdown are getting on, I'd say whatever they are doing works. I mean, what the fuck do any of us know? I didn't listen to radio rock bands back when I first joined Days OF The New – I certainly don't know what's happening now. (I'll save navel-gazing about the state of rock for later.)
All I do know about The Showdown is that we haven't really hung with the guys yet. We are kind of keeping to ourselves (read: anti-social dweebs) and The Showdown seem to be pretty mellow dudes. My only exchange with one of the guitarists went like this:
Guitarist: "You want a Monster ™?"
Me: "No thanks, man."
Guitarist: "Let me know. This guy from the company came by the other night and gave us an endorsement. We have a case of them."
Guitarist: "You should talk to them. They might hook you up, too."
I vow to watch Showdown in Allentown tomorrow.
Its raining when we arrive in Allentown and everyone except Malcolm goes to the Mall. In the van Travis gets a call from a friend who wants to join us for a few days on the road. He asks if he can call her back so he can discuss with us. So soon in the tour we are still very cautious about messing with our van vibe. Being the wise master of group dynamics that I am, I suggest to Travis that if the young lady joins us, she must put it in the Dewey. This is a deft double-team of a comment that references a very inside band joke (too deep for My Space readers) while also easing the seriousness of the matter, which allows our decision making to end quickly, simply, and along a train of thought that we can all relate to. Travis nods and calls her back.
"You have to sleep with the band," he says.
"Okay," she says.
"I mean the whole band," Travis says.
There is a pause on the other end of the phone.
"Well how many are there?" she replies.
"There's me, Phil, Ray, Malcolm, and Jason Fresta," Travis answers.
"Okay,' she says.
"Really," says Travis.
"Is that so strange," she asks.
Later that night, Phil, Fresta and I head back out looking for food. A few bat hits and "Dark Side Of The Moon" on the stereo and we are lost in Allentown. But the night is golden and GPS is a great traveling companion. We find Jellybean's Southside Jam where we get dinner and film some of our "On The Road" documentary. Then Fresta and I do some balls-out Karaoke.
Wish You Were Here (me)
Blaze Of Glory (Fresta)
Meatball is the name of the guy at Jaxx rock club helping us to load our gear. He wears an Alice Cooper shirt from the greatest concert he ever saw. Later in the evening when the roadcases are back in the trailer and Phil and I are stoned, Meatball will demonstrate how he can jump from the stage to the railing of the balcony, executing a perfect sprite-like toe tap in mid air. It is breathtaking. The three Ukranian women working the bar at Jaxx moved to Virginia three months ago. "It's too conservative here," the bartender with the see-thru shirt says, smoking her cigarette. "We're going to Hollywood."
After our sound check Rowdy the tour manager/roadie for The Showdown asks if we'll move our gear back to make room for their amps. Rowdy gets shit done and seems to be the backbone of the hard working The Showdown who have played almost ever night for year and are on Ozzfest this summer. In St. Pete, Rowdy arrived before we did and left a carpet for me to put my drums on so I could slide them out of the way for his boys. They have no problem asking the headliner to move their shit, which deserves respect even if it's a little chafing.
Tonight I've added to my drum kit the Pioneer subwoofer from the van which I am playing like a cajon. My kit is getting harder to move, so I meet Rowdy's request halfway and strike a few pieces. (Strike is stage lingo for "remove") Rowdy asks Malcolm if his bass amp could be moved. Malcolm says, "No. Sorry bro."
Major Dan Eagan of the U.S. Coast Guard comes to the show and brings his step daughter and two friends. Dan used to handle the financial books for Days Of the New and is offering assistance as Travis gets business started up again. His 16 year old step daughter is hot and excited to braid my beard, which makes me uncomfortable, but I let her do it anyway. Anything for Dan's family.
Before the show, Travis suggests we try "Orch(estration) of the Medium" in the set. This is kind of a big deal. Firstly, the piece is a heavily thought-out, intricate instrumental opus straight out of Travis' genius brain. And second: we've never rehearsed it. Malcolm's never even heard it. The gauntlet has been thrown.
After such a great show in St. Petes, I don't expect to achieve such splendor, but the sound onstage is especially difficult for us. In the end, Orch of The Medium not part of the set.
After the set Malcolm walks out the door of the club and disappears. Travis and I talk in the parking lot for 45 minutes about the new sound the band must achieve. It's a breakthrough conversation during which Travis' arms flail with every point he makes, his Einstein hair wild in the wind. He looks like a mad composer. Or Dr. Frankenstein. Malcolm calls and tells us where to pick him up.
We pick Malcolm up on the side of the highway and head back to the hotel. Phil and I sit up talking about what the future might hold. Before we pass out, Phil says, "We ain't got shit to do tomorrow and we can do it at anytime."
In Allentown last week I got a call from Carolyn Cantor, director of Essential Self Defense. "I'm just calling," she said, dragging out the syllables of "calling" in a way that made me see her smiling as she spoke, "to congratulate you."
"Awesome," i said. "For what?"
Turns out that I along with Lucas and Adam have been given the nod by Drama Desk, the New York Theater Award Committee that concerns itself with Broadway and Off Broadway productions. We have been nominated for an Award for Best Music in a Play. It is much deserved if I do say so myself.
Brother Paul Sparks has also been nominated for best actor for his work in Essential Self Defense, and it is more than well deserved. It is fucking justice. Paul took a beating in some reviews for the artistic choices he made playing Yul, and it is nice to know that his genius was not lost on everyone. Paul is like the Susan Lucci of Drama Desk, astounding the committee year after year with his work and consistently getting nominated, but coming in second to other known stars like Liam Neeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the like. He takes it all in his stride, but because this year Traci and I will be sitting at the table next to him, I'm inclined to think something special may occur. At the very least he will have fun with his lady Annie, who was also nominated for Best Actress and is up against Meryl Streep. Crazy, right?
Dad says "Well, at the very least you can put it in your resume." True, Dad. I love getting awards, and I hope Essential Self Defense sweeps the categories we've been nominated for. (The brilliant David Korins also got a nod for his set design, as well as a nomination for another show he designed. Jeez.) But even though it's the cool thing to say "It's nice just to be nominated," that is the truth. Two weeks ago I was clearing my drums out of Playwrights Horizons. It was the morning after our last show and already the stage and room felt cold, empty, awaiting new life, but holding no reverberations of the energy we had worked to create night after night. The Drama Desk nomination lets me know that other people were watching and feeling what we were doing, and for one night, some of us will have the chance to celebrate together the great achievement that the play truly was.
Moments before taking off we are sitting in the van in the Econo Lodge parking lot. A guy in rattly black clothes, a black ball cap and long grey blond hair and no teeth rides up on a ten speed dirt bike. He knocks on Travis' window. Travis rolls it down.
"You need any rock seed," he asks.
"No thanks," Travis says.
"Don't hurt to ask," the man in black replies.
"Yes it does,' says Malcolm.
We have what should be a 14 hour drive from St. Pete to Springfield Virginia. But we stop so many times I am sure it will be closer to 20 hours.
Malcolm's transformation of the band is on. An hour south of the Florida boarder he is feeding us raw coconut with honey. He cuts it with a ridiculously dramatic looking knife his father gave him. Malcolm is Sylvester Stallone in First Blood. The other night he offered me raw honey to use as hair gel. The shit worked.
Travis has been on the phone most of the day. The producers of the A and E show Intervention are going to come out to a show and do a follow up.
Last night's show opened a door that has needed to be opened for a while. A little more confident in our abilities, we have our first philosophical musings of the tour.
"It's wild that I did 'The End' with The Doors before 9-11, isn't it?"
"I could see it that way," I say.
"Yeah. I guess I see it differently," Travis says, afraid that I may not agree with him. "I see musicians as prophets. I see Rick Rubin as a prophet. All the energy flows out of him, making things happen. But it's a silent story its not supposed to be told. It's supposed to be acted." Travis seems to process eighteen impulses in a matter of seconds. "I got a big mouth," he says finally.
This is one of those Travis exchanges that brims with hard wisdom, mixed and scrambled by many thoughts going on at once. In a nutshell, I agree with him. In my best moments I even aspire to the Rick Rubinesque nature he described.
"I don't think we are doing our job as artists if we are not writing the books for the next era," I say. Lofty as it sounds, we all agree, and that's good, because there is much more than paychecks and wish-fantasies of record deals happening here. Maybe we see the same, maybe we don't, but if anything is going to come together for us, it is going to require many people and many parts. As Travis said the other night onstage, "These instruments are alive."
Yes we are.
The ride from Port St. Lucie to St. Petersburg should only take 2 1/2 hours. We take the advice of a security guard at The Mojo Room and avoid the Interstate, instead driving directly across the state of Florida on Highway 70. It is beautiful and open. Travis naps in the back. The highway stretches through small towns that look a lot like Jeffersonville, Indiana.
25 miles into the ride, I hear a worried Jason Fresta in the seat behind me. "We've lost cell phone reception." Jason has never traveled outside of the New York/New England area. He is truly worried for our safety.
Somewhere west of Acadia we are pulled over. The officer asks us how long we have been traveling without a license plate on our trailer. We tell him we didn't know we needed one (a lie for all of us but only some of us have admitted it to ourselves.). In front of the kind policeman I act like this is really gonna suck, because we have many more states to travel through on our tour. "We're in a band," I say. I think I hear Fresta gasp.
Phil is driving but he's lost his wallet. The officer accepts my license and runs a check on the van. We all start looking for Phil's wallet, but to no avail. When the officer returns, he serves me a warning for faulty equipment and lets us go. "What's the name of your band again," he asks.
"Days Of the New", I say.
"What kind of music is it?"
I know Travis is in the back and listening. If he were answering, he'd say "Acoustic World Music", but being the vanilla diplomat I am, I say, "Rock, basically. Acoustic." Consider the audience.
"I'm into country music mostly ," the officer says, "but my girl likes the modern stuff."
"Check us out on line if you get a chance."
We pull away and Malcolm suggests again that things might have been smoother if we'd taken the Interstate. In my best granny voice, i politely disagree. "This was a blessing from an angel", I say. Not only did we get off with a warning, the officer clued us in to avoid more tickets by presenting the warning to anyone else who might pull us over and to tell them that our plate was missing. Thank you, Florida.
That evening our concert at State Theater is the show we have been waiting for. "All the shows have been great," Travis says afterwards," But this one was amazing." For the first time since getting back together last year, Days Of The New is casting spells. The room at State Theater becomes a chamber with no walls, and we take off. I walk into the crowd during Travis' solo Dancing With The Wind and watch him transform himself into all the characters of each of the movements of the song. Provider ends the night on a high. Kelly Mettling's presence before the show seems to have had a great affect. He brought Travis a birthday present. A book called "The Power Of Now."
Touch Peel and Stand
Shelf in The Room
Dancing With The Wind
Touch Of Anger
Perpeuate R. G.
I take a nice morning walk to the Donut Castle, get a coffee and plain cake donut and talk to Traci, which makes me feel better after a long rough night. Donut Castle sells Crème Rammed donuts, which reminds me of a few tour stories to tell my wife.
Phil, Malcolm, and Fresta pick me up to go to The Mojo Room for soundcheck.
"Florida is like Long Island but with better weather," says Malcolm.
Soundcheck seems really promising. The stage is big and everyone is nice. I learn that my second bass drum resonates at 80 hertz. Our runner Chris gets us Chicken Caeser salads. Malcolm's wife calls him from a wildlife preserve and lets him hear the sound of a legion of frogs over his cell phone.
The show is in some ways another step forward for us musically, but the stage sound ends up being so bad that we are robbed of feeling good by the end. Afterwards, I stay in the band room and play Tetris. Fresta walks in and hands me a photo that a fan has asked me to sign. it is a panoramic photo of the drum kit I used to tour with. From the way the drums are set up I can tell it was taken during an early Green album tour.
I follow Fresta out the back to meet the owner of the photo and am reunited with Steve, one of the most memorable people I ever met while touring. He has brought his son Connor to the show. Before I get around to asking Steve about another of the most memorable people I ever met, he tells me that his beloved Ginger succumbed to cancer three months ago. I don't know what to say. I feel so sad for Steve – even in my eight year old memory, I know he and Ginger were full of love for each other. They deeply enjoyed being together. Meeting their son Connor for the first time was powerful. I wished I could get in their red van that was parked nearby and go to the beach and talk, but time was tight. Another time.
Parts of me had been road buggered enough to forget that most of what we'd been worrying about was insignificant shit. Everything comes down to the moment and what we do with it. I don't know that I will ever stop needing to be reminded of this, but the memory of Ginger brought me back to reality. I am very happy to be back in touch with Steve and to meet Connor. Such things are, for me, the blessings of the road.
"Travis' songs help me," Steve says in a way so real I am humbled. He quotes Dirty Road. "Get up and open your eyes. Don't let yourself ever fall down."
I go back to the hotel and sleep for 11 hours. Malcolm drives around Port St. Lucie looking for a lost jacket which he finds in the passenger seat of the van. Travis stays up for most of the night in a meditative state that he later says puts him back in his pure and best state of mind.
Touch Peel and Stand
Shelf in The Room
Dancing With The Wind
Touch Of Anger
Perpeuate R. G.
The routing of this tour is so bad Travis and Malcolm are convinced our booking agent is out to punish us. Seven hours back north to Tallahassee! Lord have mercy! We are loading in gear 30 minutes before doors are supposed to open, but no one is stressed until the soundman tries to impress us by playing the radio spot for the show. Hearing all of the hits mashed behind the monster truck-announcer voice, Travis screams "I hate the fucking radio!". Amen, brother. We sound check and get out of the way of the openers who will barely have time to line check. (Sorry guys.)
Jason Fresta is in town to join us for the rest of the tour and help out. He and I walk to Moes where I have a really nasty burrito. Moe's sucks. When we return to the hotel room, there is much intense talking before we head to the club. Rick the manager from far away is called. Life on the road needs to stay healthier than this. Everyone resolves to get through this run of shows but there is no denying we are already stressed with the routing, lack of sleep, and close quarters.
Before the show at Floyd's Music Store, Malcolm, Travis and I each poop backstage and use towels because there is no toilet paper. Then we play. Whimsical is played for the first time on the tour. A friendly face from that horrible Florida tour from four years ago pops out of the crowd in mid set and literally stares Travis into messing up "Dirty Road". "Provider" gets some new juice. Travis is feeling the need to conduct Malcolm and I as we play which is a little distressing for everyone. We are still in search of the divine cohesion.
Phil says that the stage-side soundman reminds him of Nathan. "Sometimes I catch Nate's vibe in people," he says. After the show I meet a couple who brought their son(s?) to the show. The man is bearded with cherubic cheeks and warm eyes. "You look so much like our friend," he says. "I am your friend," I reply. His name is Nathan. The guys from Psychedelic Blues Train are at the show.
Afterwards, Fresta, Phil and I watch drunk college fools exiting the Daquari bar next door and causing fights in the parking lot. We don't leave town until 2:30. Our friend from way back tells Travis and I that the evil tour manager from our last tour returned to Florida to see her and was arrested for stealing an oxygen tank from an ambulance. Shortly before dawn the plan to stop at Fresta's parents house is aborted. It is the low point of the trip. I am relieved to check into the hotel at Port St. Lucie and sleep.
Touch Peel and Stand
Shelf In The Room
Dancing With The Wind
Touch Of Anger
Pertetuate Rigorous Ghost
I am tripped out when we pull up to The Culture Room. Travis and I played here four years ago on the very last tour we did together opening shows for Robbie Krieger. That tour was such a nightmare that I never thought I would ever return to the club. It was the place where the evil tour manager showed up with a bags of Harley Davidson clothes and asked us to wear the t-shirts onstage so we could keep the jackets. "Fuck no," Travis said, and the guy ignored the store's request to return the merchandise after the show. When I remind Travis of this he says," Oh, yeah. Get ready. We're goin back to ALL the old places."
At sound check, it gets tense between Travis and I. After years of getting the vibe so easy, Travis and I have been having a hard time communicating things and getting on the same page. It is equally hard for Malcolm who is getting to know us both for the first time and who has his own way of playing music. Travis and Malcolm have also done a handful of shows with Paul Culligan on drums and they are both anxious for us to fall into the vibe that they had built on the last tour. Ultimately, time and playing a few shows will bring us to the right place. But will it happen by tonight? I'm a little worried.
I turn on my mystical antennae for any signs to guide me. The soundman is from Louisville. Bingo! He tells me that Buster Brown (famous 80's Louisville band) used to have an inside joke about a kind of cow tipping they invented that involved sticking the fuzzy end of a mop up the ass of the cow. The soundman waits for me to laugh but I am stunned to silence. Is this the omen? Is this…mystical?
"Fuzzy end up," the soundman says again and laughs.
Before the show I decide to walk from the hotel down Route One to get my mind ready. As I walk out of my hotel room, Travis is walking out of his.
"I'm going to get coffee," I say.
"I'm going to get cigarettes," he says.
At this point, I know you could accuse me of enabling. I wouldn't argue, but with so much intensity around our first tour in four years, it had crossed my mind that this might not be the most optimal time for Travis to quit smoking. I am fine bumming Nocorette, but I'm not going to draw a hard line about smoking with a guy who is clearly going through a lot to get back out with the band. As it turns out, when it appears that there is no place nearby to get cigarettes, Travis heads back to finish getting ready. When the van picks me up on Route one 30 minutes later, Travis is chewing Nicorette.
"I need to say this to you guys which means I need to say this to myself," says Travis. "We need to find a way to better rehearse on the road." We discuss. I am excited for the show. My beard is tingling.
Before the set, Rowdy the tour manager/roadie for Showdown comes in the dressing room. He tells us that when he was in high school one of his best friends was so into Days Of the New that he put a band together to play Days Of The New songs for the talent show. "He even dressed like Days Of The New," Rowdy says. It runs through my mind that after so many years of not playing together, I am dressing up like I'm in Days Of The New, too. Oh, well. Gotta start somewhere.
Shortly after 10:30 we take the stage. Flight Response gets us off the ground and Touch of Anger, a new song, feels epic even with some mistakes. After it, Travis holds up his guitar and says to the crowd, "These instruments are alive."
When a fan yells "What are you drinking," Travis says, "Diet Coke. I've done enough drugs to kill an army."
The show is intense, thoughtful, and probably a little too careful. Still, Travis walks offstage and says "That's the greatest show I've ever played in my life." I think he's probably exaggerating to be kind and avoid saying some other things that he could say to us, but there is no lie in the fact that we all feel really good. Our first show is done. Afterwards, we reunite with some old friends, one of whom does not believe I am the same Ray that used to play with the band. "But Ray was such a good drummer," she says. Ah, well.
Phil and Malcolm find the ocean and go swimming before the night is over.
Touch, Peel, and Stand
Shelf In The Room
Touch of Anger
Dancing With The Wind
Perpetuate Rigorous Ghost
Malcolm doesn't smoke. He is overjoyed that Travis and Phil quit smoking about a month ago. As a result, I have gone from bumming cigarettes to bumming pieces of Nicorette, which feels pretty good. Malcolm eats raw food only. I wonder if his influence will have us eating raw steak and avocado and drinking raw milk with egg before the tour is over.
Malcolm is driving when we pass South Of the Border in South Carolina. An hour later he reports that the engine is overheating. There is a freak out as we pull off at the next exit. (Travis: "I knew something was gonna happen on this trip.") We had all been smelling the sick burned maple syrup smell for miles and had been collectively ignoring it hoping it would go away. There is a pin hole crack in our radiator hose.
What seems like a disaster ends up being a beautiful stop. We have happened upon the the I-95 Tire Repair Shop which is located in an abandoned Truck Stop that sits exactly on the Mid-Continental marker. Lou is the owner of the repair shop. He is originally from the Bronx. He also runs The "Big Tyme Riders" Motorcycle Club. His repair shop is attached to "Club Big Tyme Sports Bar" which is housed in the carcass of an old Texaco Food Mart and has signs on the door that say "Private Party".
Malcolm sits in the van and watches "Office Space" while Travis and I walk the expanse of the parking lot talking on our cell phones. Phil deals with Lou's mechanic who fixes the hose in no time and charges us a very reasonable price for his labor. After Phil pays him, the old man looks at Travis and I pacing with our cell phones and laughs.
"Look at these motherfuckers walkin a hole in the ground out there while I'm fixin the fuckin van. Motherfuckers coulda walked to Florida – what you got me fixin the mutherfuckin van for?"
Hose fixed, we pull out and drive to the other side of I-95 to the Wilco Auto Center to gas up. I search with no luck for a piece of fruit in the food mart. "Remeniscing" by Little River Band comes on the in-house stereo and I, Phil, and Malcolm break into a series of very focused and strategic B-Boy dance moves. Song over, we exit the Wilco Mart, buying nothing, hearing the laughter of the cashier ladies in our wake.
The sun has just set when we are back on the highway, making the rest of the trip to Fort Lauderdale. Travis and I sing to Coldplay as we ride South into the future. Tour is on.
Our first drive of tour is ridiculous. 24 hours from New York City to Fort Lauderdale. We don't leave Dumbo until 7. Before we depart, Travis and I get take out from Rice on Washington Street. The blonde woman who runs the place recognizes Travis and said she loved the first Days Of The New album. "Me and my boyfriend would be all [makes universal sign for smoking weed] and listen to that album over and over." The bathrooms at Rice have mirrors placed so humans of both sexes can see their genitalia and urine streams when they use the toilet. The food is awesome, too.
As the van gets on the BQE, Travis admits that he was paranoid that we were talking about him when he didn't help us load the drum cases. (We weren't). He emphasizes that to get through this tour we will have to be very "open minded" and talk a lot so we can understand each other - him especially - and get along on this trip. "Open minded" is a favorite phrase of his. It's a good one.
We watch "Limony Snicket's Series Of Unfortunate Events" on Travis' laptop. "The colors are amazing," Travis says. Children without parents have bad things happen to them and Jim Carey mugs. Afterwards I watch "The Departed." I love the line when Nicholson's character quotes John Lennon: "I'm not a musician an artist. Give me a (vacuum?) and I'll make something out of it." (Did I even get that partially right?) Around 3 a.m. we stop at an Econo Lodge south of Richmond Virginia.
The Blue Club wagon that rolls south through Virginia right now perhaps the longest and most reliable member of Days Of The New. Sometime around 1996, Travis' father bought the van (pulling favors from his used car dealer friends, I suspect) and piled Travis and the other three original members of Days Of The New into the van to tour with Kenny Wayne Shepard. Two years later the van was parked while the group left on busses to open for Metallica.
It has been ten years since that Metallica tour, ten years since the first Days Of The New album was released and went platinum. I started playing with Travis weeks after the original band split up. On my first tour with Days Of The New, we had two buses, a band of seven and crew of nine. Three years later on my last tour with Travis, the band was just two of us. We traveled south to Florida in the Club Wagon, using a borrowed license plate for the trailer and praying no one searched the van for drugs. The tour manager used Travis' fame to walk into a Harley Davidson store and rip off hundreds of dollars of clothing in exchange for the "promoting" that he promised the band would do at our shows. The infrared video made in the back of the van was smashed and thrown out the window in a state of paranoia. At our last gig on that tour, there was not enough cash to pay for gas to get home so I used my credit card to drive us home so I could be in Louisville in time to propose to my girlfriend.
Travis and I spoke little after that tour. He was sick and I was not a part of that world. Traci and I moved to New York where I've been working magic with friends, freaks and geniuses. As he moved from Louisville to Los Angeles to Utah, Travis never stopped composing and writing songs all while going to the depths of meth addiction and back out again. After a few struggles to get clean, (with one very public attempt on the A and E Intervention show) Travis overcame the drugs. In doing so, he managed a level of self-awareness that I feel foolish to even try to describe. He is still aggravatingly, beautifully insane, far beyond driven, and approaching his second year of sobriety. We will celebrate his twenty-eighth birthday on this run of shows.
Malcolm rides in the van with in-ear headphones pumping his iPod. He is the raw-food eating bassist who placed an ad in the Village Voice last Fall that said "will take quality over money". Malcolm has been finding his groove and getting to know everyone, being very respectful of the relationship quirks that are present even when we're not speaking them. And there's Phil, the everything man, who drives, tour manages, tunes guitars, and snores as loud as I do. Malcolm and Phil have both made more Days Of The New shows than I have this year, so any allusions of seniority I might entertain are futile and pointless. (The great Paul Culligan filled in for me for shows in March.)
We are men of differing backgrounds who gather to bake a birthday cake for God. Communication is paramount and defining our terms cannot be rushed. We travel in tight quarters with all the old buffers gone. No tour manager, no roadies. Travis hands us the money, we help Phil with the driving. I want to believe that what is forming now may be a kind of solid constellation of minds who each contribute to the gestalt of an emerging music machine, a vessel upon which a group might sail. But that's pretty fucking rosey talk. In reality, who knows. What I know is, Travis says this is the trip where we work stuff out, and I know any success is going to be a concerted effort, with no shortage of emotion as we revisit old venues where some unthinkable shit went down. We are relearning the songs that we played for 3 1/2 years straight, seeking a balance between what of the old is still resonant, and a new terrain upon which we can expand the universe.
The Club Wagon rolls with Indian dream catchers hanging from the felt ceiling. I look at them as fly paper and air purifiers. The chimes catch the lower tones of my tinnitus in ways harmonious and excruciating. But I cannot imagine asking that they be taken down. At the start of our first tour in 4 years, the dreams of the passengers are bloated and immense, and have precious few shared visions among them. The dream catchers are pulling double shifts.
I advance with quiet faith that the act of making music is the best way to find a compass. Like the dream catchers, I work overtime to get the job done. Until i get tired. I love to sleep on tour.
One week ago Sunday Essential Self Defense was staged for the last time at Playwrights Horizons. Jumping in a van and leaving on tour after closing has been a great way to avoid post-show depression. Under the very supportive roof of Tim and Billy's Theater, the team of Lucas, Heather, Paul, Chernus, Joel, Guy, Cheryl, Courtney, Annette, Carolyn, Adam, Ry, Carrie, Kate, Brandon, and myself gave all we had to tell Adam's story and move people. Every night when Lucas and I would start the Overture, my breath would be short. When Joel, HEaher, and Paul took the mic for their first Karaoke songs, it was never hard as an actor or a songwriter to play my response.
So many moments, some which only happened once or twice in the run - Cheryl climbing on the table to thrash...Lucas's guitar cord getting tangled with his Rat pedal so when he jumped off the band platform to rock his solo, his guitar had cranked itself up to face-melting volume.......Sadies banshee scream at the end of Run to Your Mountain...Issak shaking his ass to the Russian two step....Guy's voice booming out to MC the Roller Boogie... when Yul actually thinks about hitting Sadie before turning her request down...when Sadie spilled her drink on herself as Issak and Sorrel kiss... when Chuck would say "It was hilarious", or on special nights, drop the comb...when Klieg would storm the stage after a Karaoke song with his "YEEEEAAHHHH!!!"
I had moments of my own. Doing Klieg's Death Metal MAntra, staring Issak down after he tells Bob Beard how to play his drums, and my once scene in front of the drums with the great Guy Boyd.
I wrote earlier that the real critique that matters is the one we give ourselves. It did not come clear to me until the final two weeks how important the word Essential is to describe the realm in which I think we were doing our best work with Adam's play. Much like the driving aesthetic of Less the band, the play worked its strongest magic when the audience felt the story as much as they witnessed it. I have not heard Adam or anyone who worked on the play discuss what I think was the unique theatrical language that we brought to the play with the music, so maybe this is my own perspective that I leave with. For me, writing songs that more deeply showed us the characters and so strongly centered the music of the play was a an immensely satisfying artistic experience. Things I resolved in myself about my own direction as a writer, musician, and performing artist during Essential Self Defense were the greatest reward.
It was powerful to perform the play on the day Vonnegut died. (Sorrel describes book banning going on in town and mentions Slaughterhouse Five.) Another intense experience that I could have done without was the Virginia Tech MAssacre that happened the day after the play closed, and then the hostage story in Texas the next day. It is hard to admit that I think Yul's words about Corporate Warlocks is already passe: The culture of fear is running itself. It was the shootist who had the brains to send a picture of himself pointing a gun at us to the media. The kind of space Adam tried to open in the play to consider someone such as Yul is being closed tighter and tighter .
On a lighter note, while Traci and I would have loved my last night in town to be spent at home with Sophia, we were both stoked to be at Union Hall on Monday when Less The band opened for Ethan and Willie and King Kong. We ate beer cheese, danced to Kong with Emily, and stayed way late drinking with Scott Morfee and Chernus.
It was amazing to have all five Less guys on stage and hitting it in concert, but in the week leading up to the show, I wasn't sure it would happen. I had asked Ethan and Union Hall if we could play without being sure what the band was up to, but certain that if we could do it, the night would be sublime. Paul was filming a movie. Chernus really wanted to go to a gala that we were invited to, and Adam was going to be honored at it, so i could understand him not being too keen on missing it, although he never made any bones to me about the fact that playing with the band was way more important to him. Chern and Adam arrived for soundcheck. Kevin showed up ready to play for Paul, but at the last minute, Paul was able to leave the movie set where he was working a few blocks away. (Apologies to Kevin). In the past months Less the band has been seperated by the great work everyone has been up to. During our set the universe truly felt to have be a little more restored - just in time for me to leave on tour with Days Of The New.
For the next few weeks I will be blogging from the Days Of the New tour. I don't know if anyone reads this but if you do I hope you enjoy
That was the week that was, was it?
Wednesday night the cast is burning extra electricity for the opening of Essential Self Defense, the excited energy goosing certain moments of the performance. The audience applauds us the minute we take the stage, and cheers the karaoke singers before they sing a note. Dad and Millie are there. Traci. Rob and Jessica. Kev and Ali. Anthony Rapp, Lili Taylor, Sam Rockwell. Through Traci's eyes the moment of walking into West Bank Cafe and taking pictures for the (press?) was pretty sweet. My favorite part of the evening was Dad meeting everyone, including Paul's girlfriend Annie, whom Dad is particularly fond of from her year on Law and Order. At the bar, the bartender gives me two Makers on the house and says "Great show". I turn, two fisted and Carolyn and Tim are posing the question : what about a cast recording? Well...lets see if we can't talk about that sometime next week, K? Things are looking good.
The next day Mike and Amy are in town. They, me, Dad and Millie are at Mud coffee talking about what other shows they might see while in town. I spot a Times on an empty table and excuse myself to the bathroom to dig through the pages. Sitting on the pooper could not have been a more appropriate position from which to discover the Times' review of Essential Self Defense. A man by the name of Isherwood spent no amount of economy to TRASH the play, and in particular, Adam and Paul's performance. Artifice! Artifice! Artifice! he yelled from the tower, making sure that any plausible response he had to the play would be easily dismissed by his thorough and complete refusal to consider the mind of the piece. He hated it, pure and simple. It was not his idea of what a good play is, and it was easier for him to speak from the conventions of theater that the production is very purposely driving against than to consider what new ground the work is striving for.
For a few good moments of reading, you could look the review up online and then go to Lucas' My Space site (myspace/lpfunk) where his e-mail to Isherwood (and Isherwood's rebuttal) are posted in his blog section.
As for my response, later that night I would mourn for the greater group of us the fact that Isherwood's review killed any real chance of the play extending. But in those moments on the pooper I found my artistic sanity restored - what I had been so nervous about was someone saying we failed at what we were attempting. THAT would have stung, but ultimately, such criticism belongs to me and my collaborators. It has been our joy to take a risk on what for us has been new territory in staged art. We will, in time, have great wisdom from this experience that will carry us to the next endeavor. In the meantime, reading the words of a critic who invested no time in actually starting a dialogue about our work but simply wanted to shut it down is not gonna make me lose any sleep. It even made me a little proud that we'd affected him so. It made me consider the play as one of Yul's Easter Eggs (for those of you who have yet to see the show, sorry for the inside reference.) I did feel a little more protective of Adam and Paul - if either of them didn't already have a career, this review could have killed them, too. But they both showed up to Less practice the next day with no signs of bruising. Adam was a little upset at how Isherwood attacked his character, but he shrugged it off.
And then the kicker: the next night we had a transcendent performance of the play to a sold out house of under 30 year olds. Afterwards, Less, LP Funk, and Run Run Riot played in the lobby of the theater. There was beer, hot dogs, corn, and mac and cheese. The night ended shortly before 2 a.m. It was the way the whole live experience should feel. "You guys are saving theater," one person said to me, and I felt that he might be right. At least I knew that for me, while still so new to NYC theater, a struggle had been identified and I knew where I stood.