No post yesterday, and only a short one today, as we’ve been practicing Tyranny for the show tomorrow (Sat. July 9, 2011). I unearthed some artifacts surrounding the making of the record, the process of which I’ll detail more next week. In the meantime, here are a few shiny baubles to delight the eye…
An early, dreamier demo of “Biomusicology”:

Recorded alone in a basement in Washington, DC on cassette 4-track, 1999.
This an attempt at a sequence that wasn’t used. As you can see, I initially wanted “Biomusicology” to be last on the record (with “You Could Die…” as a kind of denouement).

People sometimes refer to this era as my “early years,” which is always pretty funny to me. When I began playing solo and heading toward the making of this album, I was pushing 30 and had been at it since my teens. I went through the 90s wringer with Chisel, and (at the risk of being too emo) was moving into some sort of new level of self-realization, I guess. That is, after all the fun and the drama, and the feints and stabs of the previous decade of music making, I woke up alone one day, without a band, but with the unimpeachable knowledge that “this is who I am, and this is what I want to do, and this is what I DO” regardless of whether it was inside the system or outside, in fame or obscurity, on the back burner or right there in my hands – this is me, and this is us, and it is every bit as important as we think it is – it’s woven into our bones, an essential part of our complete breakfast, every day; and I guess that’s what “Biomusicology” was an attempt at expressing. And though it can be read as hopeful, there was more of a resignedness to it when I originally wrote it. In some ways, I felt like my life as a musician was already OVER, and it was a “the king is dead, long live the king” kind of thing. It wound up as a mission statement at the top of the record, but at first, I meant it to be a summing up of a life already lived. The whole album’s like an Irish wake to me, and what happened afterward surprised me more than anybody!
Here’s us in the Painted Desert during the first Tyranny tour, with Q and not U, back in the days when detours were easier to take (Dave Lerner on bass!):

Two set lists – one band, and one solo. The solo one (the one that starts with Secret Stars cover, “Release Form”) was from a show with Buffalo Tom, as I remember, at the Black Cat in DC. I had probably just written the Tyranny songs that show up, and I wonder what the hell I was thinking, doing “Stove by a Whale” solo:

And finally, for today, the original refrigerator note that became the cover of the 7″ that debuted “The Great Communicator”:

AAAAAAAAAND the photo of James and I in my old Chevy Nova that I somehow deemed appropriate for the back cover of said 7″…:

Off to practice!
Thanks for being here – I let you know how the show goes!

#TYRANNY 10 Addendum 5! THE WEATHER…

…and Other Diasters, Both Natural and Unnatural!!

Within our small guild of alchemical adepts (and when I say “our,” I’m including most of you), it’s become a bit of an urban legend that we bring ten plagues down upon the city every time we play an outdoor summer show, but it’s really just storms (and a blackout). No locust or Angel of Death. And it’s actually not just limited to New York City. AND it’s actually not true.

Well… that’s not entirely true either. If four out of ten shows have nearly met with disaster, what do you say about that history? That it’s “peppered” with incidents? That it’s a “checkered” history? Maybe just that we’ve been, more than a couple of times, unlucky.

The first year at South Street, and again in ’05 & ’06, were gorgeous – pink sky over Brooklyn Heights, light breeze coming in off the harbor, etc.

The same could be said of the Castle Clinton show in ’08.

The sun was blazing on Mc Carren Pool in 2007 (Dave’s last show with us!), but the humidity wasn’t all that bad, and it turned out to be a rather pleasant afternoon!

Both times at the Siren Festival at Coney Island have, admittedly, bordered on brutal in the heat/sun/humiditiy/pavement zone, but it seems like they were still within the realm of “worth it” (right?).

But there were definitely some snags over the years.

Now, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but we’d just gotten back from Japan, and I was psyched to still sport the small tea towel around the neck look that everyone in Tokyo seemed to be into that year (and that I can’t seem to find a linkable image of anywhere on the internet, oh well), but that I was never able to get any traction with back here (though now that I’m thinking about it, I think I should bring back)…
and update – the once and future Pharmacist, Drew O’Doherty, Friend to Shibuya, and Lord of the Karaoke “One on One,” has come through with a photo of me in a Tokyo towel-scraf, 2003-style:

…as we unloaded the van onto some palates and rolled the gear across those wooden slats toward the stage at Pier 17. What an amazing day! Mostly clear skies, a little bit hazy, but not too humid, low 80s – the proverbial “summer in the city” (in a good way), no? We set everything up on stage, milled around for a few minutes, then got up to sound check.
Then the power went out.

Just like having to use an amp for the vocals when the PA blows out or never shows up, this isn’t the most unheard of thing in the annals of troubles one sometimes has to shoot when getting everything ready for a show – a breaker somewhere on something big, a little fuse somewhere on something small, a faulty outlet or drop box or any number of other annoying but eminently fixable problems – not a big deal. But no one can figure this one out. And then we realize that no one has any cell phone service either. And then we realize that cars are stopping, people are spilling out of downtown buildings, and the Pizzeria Uno sign is not lit up.

A slightly uncomfortable silence descends on the pier as the first thought going through everyone’s mind, while helicopters start scrambling above, is, honestly, “Has something serious happened? (i.e., have we been attacked again?)” But nobody’s really saying that. We’re just kind of all going, “I, uh… I wonder what’s happening?” Times seemed to drag on in that tense and eerie space for a while, and the hush that surrounded us, even with the FDR gradually grinding to a complete halt and more and more people coming down to the seaport to breathe some fresh air and find out what happened, felt a little bit like Union Square on 9/13 (#NeverForget), but soon enough, the word finally filtered down that there was a blackout and not an attack, though some speculation was still buzzing about the blackout possibly being caused by an attack – 14th St., somewhere upstate, etc. Eventually, it filters down that, no, some sub-station somewhere else failed and the whole northeast is without power. Weirdly, but understandably, everybody breathes a little easier, and we can actually start enjoying the drinks we may or may not have cracked a while ago but were definitely sort of nervously clutching and not really drinking up until now, and dangle our legs off the edge of the stage and try to figure out what the hell we’re gonna do.

After discussing this all with the sound and festival people and just waiting around for the power to come back on until it’s getting close to 6 PM, this young guy in a Starbucks uniform comes up to the stage with an option that would’ve never entered my mind, but that I’m so glad entered his.

He says, “Hey, um… So, is the show not gonna happen?” To which we’re all like, “Well, at this point, I guess not, but if the power to comes back on in the next half-hour, we could still do it.” He says, “Yeah… O.k. Cool,” and starts to head back to his truck, but hesitates (and you can see the wheels turning in his head and him trying to decide whether he should suggest was he’s about to suggest or not), turns back, and says, “‘Cause the thing is, I’m working that Starbucks truck at the street over there, and I actually requested this gig today because I wanted to see you guys play, and I was just thinking… I have these two generators on the truck, to, you know, power the machines and coolers and whatnot, so, I mean, you couldn’t run off of them, could you?”

We all just sat there staring for a second, letting it sink in, and then one of the sound people finally said, “Welp, let’s check it out!” he ran down to the truck with Our Hero, who’s name I don’t even have, and determined that yes, in fact, we might just be able to do this. So he backed the truck up to the side of the stage, we broke the PA down to some of its smaller components, got power for the stage, and played a fucking set! People got out of their stopped cars on the FDR and watched and cheered, old ladies and business men who’d filed onto the pier earlier in the afternoon came up front and danced, and we played what may have been the only electrified music event in the city that day or night. Very few who had planned on coming to the show, other than the Starbucks guy, were there (obviously); most of the people who had just come down to see what was going on had no idea who we were, and probably only the VERY few who fit in both categories even remember that it happened, but it was pretty moving for us, and we remember.

Other times? Rain, rain, and more rain, and the loyal people who stuck it out to see us each time. There was the time I skated on the pier in the teeming rain with the kids from Long Island while a couple thousand others huddled in the mall and on UNO’s balcony,

the other time at the seaport when the wind threatened to rip the tarp off the roof of the stage and the lightning threatened to hurt someone real bad, real soon, and the time when the wall of droplets was just blowing sideways, due west, right onto the stage and gear and our faces at Pier 54.

And as I mentioned way up top, this doesn’t only happen in New York. At North by Northeast 2008, in Toronto, we played outdoors at Dundas Square in the most Biblical (to use an overused descriptor) storm I’ve ever played through. I wasn’t in the best place in my life back then, and they practically had to drag me off stage, ’cause I was ready to see that one through to the end, no matter how it ended. It was one of those movie moments like the priest’s golf game in Caddyshack, and I was just like, “YES!! ME against the elements!! Me IN the elements!! Me as PART OF THE ELEMENTS!! I defy you, Old Gods of thunder and lightning and rain!! If this is how you want me, then take me, ye craven nothings! I GO OUT WITH MY GUITAR SLUNG OVER MY SHOULDER AND MY VOICE SCREAMING INTO THE W..- what, what’s that? Oh yeah, that’s true. Um, ladies and gentlemen, I’m, personally ready to die, but this is just getting too dangerous for everyone here, including the crew and yourselves, and now that I’m snapped out of whatever dumb trance I was in, I’m realizing that I’d actually prefer to be able to get dry and have a drink tonight, myself, so… I think we’re gonna have to call it here. Get home safe, eh?”
And Coachella, the one time we played it in 2006? Coachella? I’m sure it wasn’t actually meant this way, but it’s a funnier story if I pretend I feel duped, so… When we first got asked to do it, I was looking at the slot they were offering us, and I was somewhat shocked at how good it seemed to be – it was on the 2nd Stage (Coachella is a main stage, a second stage, and a number of tents of various sizes), which is still a pretty big stage, and much bigger placement than I thought we’d be offered, at 3 PM, which, as I look over the schedule I’m thinking is a pretty good time – not really anybody else who’d potentially draw too many away from anyone potentially drawn, initially, to see us, so I’m just like, “This is effing great – this is gonna be truly fun!” Then we get on stage. I realize that the main stage is covered and the 2nd stage is NOT. Now, I think most of us will agree that there’s something different about the southern California sun – different, even than the sun in other places at nearby latitudes – it’s sharper, more cutting through your sunglasses and right to the back of your cornea, lasering into the center of your brain. This is part of why traffic sucks so bad out there (but only part of why). And right now, at 3 PM, on a westward facing stage in Indio, California, it’s like that sun is three inches from my face. My guitar strings got so hot during the set (and not from my wicked shredding) that it literally hurt my fingers to touch them, and THAT’S HOW YOU PLAY GUITAR. And I have to admit here, that, as we’re often the authors of our own demise, so, we were partially responsible for our specific travails of this day because we hadn’t really gotten our heads around the best way to approach these outdoor festival things on gigantic stages yet. I’d been playing music for twenty years by that point, but the number of stages like this we (or I) had played on was still only just approaching double digits, and one way to approach these festival situations, is to attempt to make yourself GROW to meet the massiveness of your surroundings, and one way to approach doing THAT, is to just come out swinging for the bleachers and never let up – go hard and make the gestures as grand as possible. A fools gambit on such a day, I was to learn.

I know there’s some video of this set floating around, and if you watch it, you’ll see us come out big – with “Sons of Cain,” if I remember correctly, and by, like, the fourth song (“Counting Down the Hours” maybe?), I have a towel on my head and I can barely stand up. After the set, Chris and I stripped almost all our clothes off and lay naked in the cool grass under the shade of a tent for about 45 minutes, defeated, not saying a word.
Later that evening: “Saaaaaaay… you know something? That wasn’t such a good slot, AFTER all!”

Other blackouts? There’ve been a few, believe it or not, but the most memorable was in Baltimore, in the heat-wave of 2006. We were playing the Otto Bar with the Jai Alai Savant and Georgie James (who became Title Tracks, and who’s new album is really really good). We’d played a decent amount of a set when the lights went out (all over Bal’mr) – and the Otto Bar is one of those rock clubs that’s essentially just a big black concrete box, so when the lights (and air conditioning) went out, it was pitch black and immediately steamy, getting steamier by the second. It was apparent pretty quickly that the situation wasn’t going to right itself immediately, so for safety’s sake, I just kept the show going a capella in the dark. What else could I do? People shouted out requests and I’d sing them, some covers, I remembered that John from Georgie James had an acoustic, so I quickly (and carefully) ran back to the dressing room to ask if I could borrow it, to which he graciously assented, and I ran back on stage to play some more. At that point, the staff had figured that they needed to get everyone out before the idea of keeping people safe inside turned on itself. Todd Lessor came on stage and whispered this to me while I was in the middle of playing something, so I just kept playing it and asked people to follow me outside as I walked off to exit stage left. In the dark, though, I didn’t see the edge of the stage and took one of those Tarot card Fool‘s steps off into oblivion, with oblivion being, in this case, a giant garbage can. I had the presence of mind (and cat-like reflexes!) to curl forward into my fall so that I went into the can butt-first, and, protecting the guitar cradled at my core, the momentum tipped the can forward, depositing me right back on my feet which I quickly shuffled to get me moving and outside the stage left door, with the crowd, hopefully, following. I’m proud to say I didn’t miss a note, and we had a sing-along in the street for a few minutes until that, too, started looking unsafe, at which point I asked people to follow me into the alley next to the club, and when I was confident that that was happening, I dipped right back inside, disappearing like the other Starbuck (?) (NO – the OTHER other Starbuck, uh duh) in the BSG finale.

I think we’re all about due for a decent weekend this time around, don’t you?

Up next – maybe THE MAKING OF THE ALBUM!?!!??

#TYRANNY 10 Addendum 4! “Solo Spring 2000″

I tweeted a picture of this partial tour itinerary from 2000 last night, on which I’d written what I was paid for each show (I realize the tweet says “2001,” but it was, in fact, 2000):

The more I looked at it, the more it cracked me up, like, as I pointed out last night, who pays someone $9.00? You couldn’t just make it an even 10? As I recall, that night, at Jay’s Upstairs, in Missoula, Mt., where I arrived to this marquee:

…ended with me joining The Holy Childhood (my brother Danny’s band, who I was on tour with) playing a drunken mess of a “TV Eye,” coincidentally, for twenty minutes, to the girl who was trying to study and the bartenders who were watching trailer park cat fights on the bar’s TVs. That memory made want to dig back into this particular itinerary a little bit deeper.

With my own stuff, I had been playing mostly solo for a few years at that time, while also doing stints playing guitar in The Spinanes, which often looked like this:

…but probably just as often looked like this:

And drums in The Make Up in Spain:

But as I said, I was mostly playing solo – myself, my guitar and amp, and usually my reel-to-reel 4 track, on which I had recorded some backing tracks to play along with. I don’t remember everything I did with the tapes, but there were early versions of “M¥ Vien iLin,” and “The Great Communicator,” as well as some re-workings of Sin Eaters songs, a cover of Hugh Masekela’s “Mace and Grenades,” and the final backing tracks for “Lost on the Way to Load-in,” which you can hear as they sounded live on the Persona Records 7″. For some of the tape machine songs I’d play guitar and for some I’d just karaoke, which lead Jane from Lungleg, who was in SF at the time and came to the relatively lucrative show at the Cocodrie listed in the itinerary above, to remark, in her Glaswegian accent, “Yerr a breeave breeave maan” (but lest you think me boastful, understand that it was said with something more like horrified pity in her eyes and tone than what the words alone might seem to convey). It’s weird to think of just how weird it was, only ten years ago, to get up at a rock show and play along with backing tapes. I guess it’d still be weird, but only because I used actual analog tapes with actual recorded music on them, but… whatever. This is what THAT sometimes looked like:

So, anyway, I was doing a US solo tour this spring. Myself alone out to Chicago, then meeting up with Sean-Na-Na and The Holy Childhood from there to Austin, and then finishing out through the west and back home with The Holy Childhood. I had recently recorded a single of Sean’s (split w/Mary Lou Lord) in my loft in Boston’s Chinatown, while Chris Wilson, since 2001 of The Pharmacists, was playing drums, and became better friends with them all. Chris went on to play with The Holy Childhood for a while, while Ben Webster got back on drums for Sean, and it was in these configurations that we all wound up back together and on tour.

It wasn’t the easiest trip I’ve ever done, but it was also incredibly affirming. Most nights we were all playing to less than twenty people. Some nights less than ten, and some nights, like, WAY less than ten (zero, or one girl trying to study, which is kind of worse than zero, because her continued presence spits it into your face – the fact that she’s not there to see you play and couldn’t care less whether you do or not now that you’re actually here, and is going to make you remember that your scheduled show at this dirty bar interrupted the time she’d hoped to spend there… studying – Oh yeah? Well here’s a 20 minute noisy piss-take on “TV Eye” for ya, and here’s hoping the burly bar tenders don’t physically throw us off the stage, or maybe, here’s hoping they do!). But we weren’t really expecting much to begin with, and we were making music and having an amazing time, and every night that there was more than zero or the one girl studying, someone, even if it was JUST one, would come up and say “thank you – that was awesome.” And that’s all we needed. At least, that’s all we needed to keep going. And all we really wanted to do was “keep going.”

There were nights on that trip when I’d watch The Holy Childhood just burn these empty places down and I’d know that whatever else was going on in America that night, THIS was the best place to be, and THIS band would destroy everything in its path, if only there were more people to see them! I know you probably know the feeling… And that strengthened my resolve, too. I got into fighter mode, and just put my nose to the grindstone and felt that, inspired by the amazingness I got to witness, practically in secret, night after night, to try and make it always be that way – whatever else is going on, we – all of us – are going to make this best show we can possibly make it, and I feel like we all did it. We played some really damned good shows together. THEY were SO good that I found myself thinking I should just quit playing and manage them or something.

The Holy Childhood, circa 2000

That’s my over-all takeaway from that trip, but just going down the list on that itinerary, there are so many nights that have their own stories. Just a few…

You’ll see the third show says “S15 NORMAN – NYC PIZZA $0.00,” but that it’s crossed out. I crossed it out because I didn’t play. Amelia, the kind young lady who was putting on the show that night, had booked us at a place called “NYC PIZZA,” which isn’t as funny as “NYPD PIZZA” in Austin, but is pretty close, when that’s where you come from (and I don’t mean I come from “NYC,” I mean I come from “NYC PIZZA”). We showed up a little before our scheduled load-in time, and Amelia was there to meet us, but the PA hadn’t shown up yet. We chatted with her and each other, and waited and waited, and a couple of people came around the scheduled door time, but the PA still hadn’t shown. She was frantically making calls from the pizza place’s pay-phone, but to no avail. She couldn’t get a hold of the guy who was supposed to have brought the PA. We’d set up and stuff already, because we figured if we could scrounge some mikes, at least, we could use an amp for vocals – nothing that hasn’t been done before or since – but mikes couldn’t be gotten either (I learned only much later to always carry my own, and even then, it was more about germs than preparedness). Eventually, though, this guy comes sashaying into the pizza place, all bouncy blonde hair and flip-flops, to pick up, like, 15 pizzas. So Amelia grabs him, and is like, “What the fuck, Chuck?” (I’m sure his name wasn’t Chuck, but it rhymes) “Where’s the PA? You were supposed to be here HOURS ago!” And he just chuckles his stoner chuckle and says, “Ohhhhhh – shit! Yeah – sorry – we decided to have a party, so we needed it at my place, cause Funk Trinkett’s gonna play.” (They, of course, weren’t called Funk Trinkett, but they probably might as well have been) He then turns to us – me, The Holy Childhood, and Sean-Na-Na, all sitting there dumbstruck – and says, “Hey – but you guys are welcome to come play the party, if you want!” I was almost 30 and furious, so I was just like, “Fuck you. Amelia, can I go back to your place and just crash?” Everybody else decided to go play the party. I tried to calm down and just read and sleep and write some letters, but it wasn’t working, so I went to the party anyway, and just drank and watched the rest of them play. And it’s probably better that I didn’t play – a solo guy doing what I do would’ve most likely gone over worse there than it had been going over in the clubs we were playing – but those guys did just fine! I think they passed a red plastic cup around and made gas money, while I just added some coin to my bitterness bank, so… One of the things I love about the artifacts from this show, though, is my day sheet. There’s a slot for “Hospitality” – the rider, drinks, food, buyouts, whatever it winds up being. Back then, I had no rider, of course – I’d just ask if there was a band discount on drinks when I got there; but sometimes there’d be something in that slot – Clunk Music Hall in Fayetteville, Arkansas had “Water, towels” listed, the Foxfire in Minneapolis had “Food and drinks,” and where nothing was offered, that slot would usually be left blank, but I love what it said here in Norman:

It was a PIZZA PLACE, for cryin’ out loud – give us a pizza! (and learn how to spell “probably”.)
I honestly don’t remember if we got one or not. (proabably?)

The bleakest show of that trip for me, though, was in Santa Barbara. I won’t go into it, but I’ll admit to having a little bit of a breakdown in the parking lot at this one. I probably should’ve looked at the “Hospitality” line first…

It’s so funny to me that they had to emphasize “NONE.” Like, “Do not even ask. The answer is no. We have nothing to give and wouldn’t if we did. You will find no succor here, um… sucker.”

Watching The Holy Childhood and David Dondero, who was also on the show, the next day in Las Vegas was as good as usual, but my set involved a short conversation I had with James, who was calling me from DC on my brand spankin’ new first cell phone (which, it being new and my first, I hadn’t learned to turn off while I was on stage yet, and since only two or three people had the number and the battery was usually dead, it rarely mattered). When it rang, I looked around, realized it was all just people I knew anyway, and answered it. It took me a minute to convince him that I was actually on stage in the middle of a show, but eventually we agreed that I’d call him back.


Danny took this from the balcony of the Globe. That’s the show happening, not the souncheck. Note absence of bartender.

The tour ended with us at the Mr. Roboto Project in Pittsburgh, waiting to see if anyone would show up. Only my sister and her friends, who’d come down from Oberlin, Oh. to see us came, and the promoters seemed to want to just call it off, rather than pay the electricity and all that (and that’s not a dis – I understand where they were coming from), so, much to my sister’s chagrin, we called it off and I drove straight back to NJ. Incidentally, she organized a triumphant gift for us by putting us both on a bill at Oberlin a month later, but that’s another story for another time…

BONUS: check out Sean-Na-Na at that party in Norman, Ok!

How could I have forgotten to mention the end of the stint with Sean-Na-Na in Austin!?!?? Somebody needed something at the Guitar Center just north of town, and we all went in together. Apparently, Sean had found out that Guitar Center has a policy that you can play anything in the store and they’re not allowed to stop you, so when we went in, he grabbed a billion dollar acoustic and started playing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” Myself, Danny, et al, grabbed guitars too, and we paraded around the store in a chorus of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” until someone did, in fact, tell us to stop. So we all moved on to the electronic drum room:

Incidentally, I almost managed to convince my brother to spend every cent he had PLUS some of their band fund on a lime-green translucent B.C. Rich “Bitch.”
ed. – Oh yeah. THAT’S how I forgot to mention it – who cares?
THIRD BONUS!! – lunch in Tucson…
I just remembered this parade of one, that Sara from The Holy Childhood and I turned into a parade of three when we stopped for lunch in Tucson:

Let the eagle soar!

#TYRANNY10 Addendum 3! “Burritos as Big as Your Head”

I was compiling a comprehensive list of shows I played back at the turn of the century, but among partial lists like this (from 2001, where I’m having a hard time finding everything before April):
14-M-Carborro NC-Go Rehersals
15-T-Richmond-Hole in the Wall
16-W-Charlottesville VA-Tokyo Rose
17-T-Philadelphia PA-The Rotunda
18-F-London- Call the Office
19-S-Toronto-El Mocambo
23-W-New Haven-Rudy’s
24-T-Boston-The Middle East
25-F-New York-Brownies

29-M- OFF

I am unable to find the dates that encompass this story, and that annoys me. I don’t usually have lapses like that. But it doesn’t really matter – I can say with certainty that this had to have happened sometime between spring 2002 and winter 2003, which I realize could put it *technically* in the Hearts of Oak era, but why define so stringently, maaaaan? Just go with the flow.
(and just go ahead and lobotomize yourself, and/or me, after you click on that link)
(hot poker through the eyeball’s cool, too, as long as it also goes all the way up through the frontal lobe)

So, we’d just played somewhere in Champaign, Il, and were directed afterward to “the best Mexican place in town” for some late night food. (I had a real hard time deciding what to write there – “late night eats?” “late night snack?” “late night munchies?” “Munchies” should probably never be said or written ever, really, but especially not after 25, so that’s out… I just went with “food.”) Now, I have to pause here yet again to just say that if a college kid – and I was one, myself, so I’m including myself when I was one in what I’m about to say – directs you to the “best” ANYTHING in his or her college town, definitely get a second and even third or fourth opinion. Now that we’re in the age of smartphones, use the web liberally to do your research or you will end up, for example, at “the best sandwich place in town” – the JimmyJohn’s in Whitewater, Wi.! (true story, and I’m still not entirely sure that guy wasn’t trolling us IRL…), or La Bamba Authentic Mexican Food in Champaign, Il., who’s motto is “Burritos as big as your HEAD,” and which in all fairness, was completely adequate and possibly even delicious. I only just found out, in searching around for images for this post, that it’s a midwestern chain, so some of you may be familiar with it.
The real disturbing thing about it is the mural they have on the wall. It’s a U of I football game, but all the players have these big, wet, drooping burritos for heads. Try as I might, I couldn’t find an internet image of this, either, but I did find their mascot, to give you an idea:

Anyway, while we were eating, someone stole the front license plate off our van. Just the front one.
Annoying, but no big deal, right? Right. Probably. But then I started to think about why someone would do that, and I started to envision hit-and-runs, bank robberies, dorm room walls! So I got up the next morning and filed a police report. Again – no big deal – the cop was nice, it was a smooth and fast process, and mercifully, mercifully, dear god there is mercy in this world, he gave me his card and wrote the original police report’s code number on it, “just in case we had any problems.”
No real problems as we carry on north and east, stopping in Detroit, and continuing on into Canada. No real problems as we continue through Ontario and Quebec. Real problem when we get to the border in Vermont.
The American border guard is relatively friendly, and partakes in the frequent police/border ritual of asking about the band name and coming up with a joke about it.
“What’s the name of the band? -I tell him- “PHARmacists? What kind of band name is THAT? Should I be looking for drugs in here? Ha ha!”
“Ha – no. Ha ha.”
But then he goes from friendly to “border guard-y” in the blink of an eye as he clutches our passports closer to his chest, put his sunglasses on, walks out in front of the van and loud-talks (a little less than a shout), “SIR – will you please drive your van into THAT hangar bay!”
Me, leaning out the window: “Uh…Which one?”
“SIR – will you please drive your van into THAT hangar bay!”
“The one right there,” (pointing) “or the next one?”
“SIR – will you please drive your van into THAT hangar bay!”
O.k. I see how this is going. I’ll pull into the close one.
“The one right here?”
“NO!! THAT one! THAT one! THAT one!”
“O.k. O.k. O.k.!!”
We pull into the correct “hangar bay,” and slowly, sinewy, a snaking line of other American border guards in sunglasses files out and gradually surrounds the van with all of us still inside. Some have rifles, some have pistols, they all have their hands on their guns. The automatic garage door opener is clicked in some control room deep below the Green Mountains, and the hangar bay door descends and shuts with a clang of metal on concrete, but bathed now in the florescent glow of the rows and rows of overhead lights…
no one
Mine are already off because you don’t want to come off like a dick when you approach a border guard unless you’re in southern Europe, where they seem to appreciate that.
So now a different guy starts barking at me to put my hands out of the window, open up the door from the outside with my other hand still showing, and step out of the vehicle. I do this without question or sass. Then the questions start coming
“Is this your vehicle?”
“I’m gonna ask you again – is this your vehicle?”
“This vehicle’s been reported stolen.”
“Ooooohhhhhhh – no no no no no no no no no – you don’t understand – you see, we were at this burrito place in Illinois and the front plate was stolen, so – I made a report! I have the guy’s card in the glove compartmen…”
“SIR!! Do NOT move! Stay where you are and keep your hands where I can see them!”
“Oh – yeah – no – I was just gonna get the thing out of the glove compartment to show you the – ” (#HowNotToTalkToCops)
We cleared it up. They took the card, called the office, punched in the code, garage door opener was pressed again, and we were on our way.
Until later that same day in Massachusetts.
“Oh shit. We’re being pulled over.”
In the sideviews, I can see a Mass State Patrolman on either side of the van, slowly, slowly, slowly walking up, eyes on mine through each sideview, hands on guns. The guy coming up on the driver’s side has his drawn.
“Drivuh – “ (I’m not gonna keep doing the Boston accent – use your imagination) “put yuh hahnds wuh I cun see thum!” (no more after that, anyway)
We go through the whole rig-a-morole – open the door, step out of the car, keep your eyes on me, etc.
When I step out, he’s got his gun drawn and raised on me and he asks me to walk with him to the back of the van.
“Is this your vehicle?”
“Yes. The front plate was stolen in Illinois. I filed a police report and I have the officer’s card with the relevant information on it in the glove compartment. This is the second time we’ve been stopped for this today. Something must have gone into the system wrong.” (#AlwaysLearning)
“Yeah, ’cause it’s coming back as stolen. Alright stay here with me, eyes on me. JimmyJohn – “ (I’m gonna pretend the other cop’s name was JimmyJohn) “open the glove bawx “ (I couldn’t resist that one – sorry, @JenKirkman) “and see if he’s telling the truth.”
We sort it out. And while it’s being sorted out, he starts talking to me.
“What’s all this gear? You guys just coming back from college or something?” (Which means it was spring! Must have been spring ’02!)
“Ugh. No. We’re in a band. We’re playing Boston tonight.”
“Oh yeah? What’s the name of the band?” -I tell him- “PHARmacists? What kind of a band name is that? Got any drugs I should be looking for? Heh heh.”
“No. I just thought it sounded good at the time.”
“Ha. Whatever! What’s the band sound like?”
“Uhhhh… It’s punk, loosely, like, not modern pop-punk at all, but definitely punk. I suppose it’s a little like The Clash meets, like, Thin Lizzy or something…”
I go on, he starts getting shifty-eyed, so I take the hint to shut up, and he lets us get on our way.
Tour ends at the Church in Philly, so the band, which at this point was myself and Chris, with Dave and Dorien, all split up after the show. Dave and Dorien drove their own cars, with other friends, down from Brooklyn and Jersey City, respectively, and Chris lived in Philly. I took the van and gear back up alone after the show. I get over the Betsy Ross Bridge, headed toward the Turnpike, and where the speed limit is 45, I was doing, probably, around… 59, when I see the lights come on behind me. As I start to pull over, I see more and more lights. I’m counting at LEAST 5 cop cars before I hear the bullhorned voice:
But this time, there was no walking to the back of the van to chat about the band or anything like that. This time, I was immediately set upon by about four officers with guns drawn to my face, while a fifth grabbed me, spun me around, pulled my arms behind me, cinched the plastic tie-cuffs on my wrists, and pushed me to the, and then up against the, back of the van, as a sixth cop held a pack of snarling barking dogs just out of reach and any number of others started swarming the van, searching both exterior and interior.
Best question ever, at this point, and one that for some reason it seems like Jersey cops, in particular, like to ask, “Do you know why we pulled you over?”
Now, keep in mind, I haven’t just been “pulled over” here – I’m immobilized, with my face mushing up against the back of the dirty van, guns at my head and dogs at my feet, but I manage to stifle out a “Um, yeah – I *think* so…” We go through the whole thing again – I tell them where to find my ID, I tell them where to find the Champaign detective’s card, they call it in, punch it in, ram it in – whatever they do – the one guy brings the dogs back to his car, the other guy takes the ties off, they tell me I have to get new license pates ASAP (#thanks), and they send me on my way.
Not FIVE MINUTES LATER, as I’m approaching the Turnpike entrance, I see the lights again. And this time, I’m just, like, so dejected – I just want to get home – I’m kicking myself for having tried to be a responsible citizen and made the dumb report in the first place, but this time, it’s just one car, and the guy just walks right up to my window and hands me my license, apologizing for forgetting to give it back to me. He starts to turn to go, but then pauses, and says
“Hey – I never asked you – what’s your band called?” -I tell him- “PHARmacists, huh? I guess we shoulda looked for drugs after all! Ha ha. No seriously, though. Where’d you play tonight?”
“In Philly.”
“Oh, where? I go to Philly all the time!”
I wilt a little and say, “In a church.”
He gives me a little bit of a funny look and says, “What’s the band sound like?
I wilt completely and offer up the only thing I have left that I think can get me out of here and home to my bed:
“Oh, cool! Well have a good night.”

(And I’m still not sure that original cop in Champaign wasn’t trolling me IRL.)

#TYRANNY10 Addendum 2! (It was def Quasi…)

…for at least part of that fall tour mentioned in the previous post, as the description of this video of Stove By a Whale from Houston confirms:

More to come…

#TYRANNY10 Addendum 1! TL/Rx v. Iggy Pop’s Road Crew

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the saga of TED LEO AND THE PHARMACISTS OPEN FOR IGGY POP AT TOAD’S PLACE, NEW HAVEN, CT., NOV. 8, 2001:
I honestly don’t remember how or why we were offered this show. I think it was because we had played Toad’s a couple of times recently and become friendly with the staff and booking people there, and they were kind enough to throw us a bone when they booked Iggy Pop. I also don’t remember if we were on tour or if it was a one-off. I think we’d spent October out with either Quasi or The Dismemberment Plan, or both, at different times in the tour, and my suspicion is that this was, like, a reward tacked on to the end of a very long trip (or, that’s how we were looking at it, anyway). Regardless, we obviously jumped at the chance to play the show. We were paid $150, which, given the fact that this was ten years ago and gas was still less than $2.00 a gallon in most places, didn’t seem that bad at all. In fact, at that point, anything over $100 was like “BONUS!” It was only two or three years earlier that I’d booked a tour for my brother’s band, The Van Pelt, and thought I was being a real hard-ass by asking for $100 a night for them. This was the era when the promise of $300 brought us BACK up to New Haven to play an 11 AM show that I knew nothing about because the guy asking us to play wouldn’t tell me anything about it (it turned out to be the “Wild Turkey Breakfast” – an annual party for Harvard kids before the annual Harvard v. Yale football game, which apparently still goes on but has become some sort of Republican thing?, was in New haven that year and featured, among other choice moments, a guy in chinos, blue blazer, white shirt, and red tie, passed out in his own vomit on the hood of a car in front of the bar when we pulled up AT 10 AM, their clique’s resident “wacky dude” with Johnny Knoxville hair and sunglasses, pogoing around every time the DJ played the Minutemen’s “Corona,” which was often and which I wasn’t too happy about, a guy bashing his head on Chris’ cymbals during almost all of our songs, and a slurring young fellow coming up to me in the middle of “Stove by a Whale” – that’s while we were in the middle of playing it – and asking me to give him my guitar – which, again, I WAS PLAYING AT THE TIME – so he could “jam” on it, which then turned into to him yelling at me to give him my guitar so he could jam on it, which then turned into to me pushing him away from the band with my head while I was still jamming on it, which then turned into to his friends pulling him away from my head before he started jamming on THAT while I was still jamming on my guitar… and 300 bucks). But that wasn’t really the point. We were just about breaking even on most of our trips in those days, and opportunities like this were more about just being able to do things we never would’ve thought we’d do. So we pull up in my very dented and now long dead green ’96 Dodge Ram to find a bus parked out front and cones blocking off the rest of the street. I recognized some of the Toad’s people we’d come to know, and they moved some cones and told us we could park right in front of the bus. I remember it being weirdly warm for that time of year. In fact, if I didn’t know the date of the show, I’d be remembering it as summer, but maybe it was just a warm November. Anyway, we watched Mr. Pop’s band soundcheck for a while (without him), then loaded in and checked, ourselves, went down to our dressing room (there are at least two at Toad’s), where there was water, snacks, some beer, said hi and had a couple of laughs with a few of Iggy’s band mates, and basically just settled in for what seemed like was going to be an awesome night. And for a while, it was!
The crowd filtered in. It was surprisingly heavy on the large biker dude contingent and light on the college, which was cool because, it meant we had a lot of fresh ears to play for – ears who came to see Iggy Pop, and would thus be considering what we were putting forward in light of expecting to see something from that continuum, which was in there, and I was starting to bristle at the fact that it never seemed to get recognized. My point is, this is part of what made the show appealing to us. So, there’s a good vibe in the room, everything’s rolling along swimmingly. Our stuff is all onstage, miked, checked, ready to go, and about five minutes before our scheduled set time, I get up there and start tuning my guitar, and this is when the night takes its first weird turn. Some guy who I hadn’t seen before this comes up to me from the side of the stage. He’s big. Like, extremely big. Imagine Gerard Depardieu’s head on Hulk Hogan’s body with an almost clichéd Cockney accent – that’s this guy. And he immediately starts in aggressively -
“Oi! OI!!”
(I look up from my tuner for a sec, but go back to tuning)
“Wheh the fahck is yoh bahnd, maite!?”
(still tuning) “What? They’re on their way. Why? Who are you?”
“Theah fahcking LAITE!”
(still tuning) “What? What are you talking about? We have five minutes. Who are you, again?”
“Ah’m yoh fahcking wuust noightmaire if they down’t get the fahck up heah ohn staige roight now, THAT’S who Oi ahm!”
Literally – he said that, while jabbing a muscle sausage finger at my face.
(I finally stop tuning and look up at him) “I’m sorry, who are you? And what the fuck are you talking about? Nobody’s late – we have five minutes, and they’ll be here – we’re ready to go!”
“Down’t you fohcking tohlk to me loik that, you li’uhl piss ahnt! Just get yoh focking bahnd up heah roight now!”
“Excuse me? I’m not going anywhere – I’m here, tuning up, and they’ll be here in a second. And WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU and why are YOU talking to ME like that?”
“Oi’m Iggy’s fohcking staige manajah, and if you down’t fohcking staht ohn toime, yoh gohnna get THIS!” (he makes a fist and flexes)
I kind of can’t believe this isn’t a joke or something, because nobody really talks and acts like that, so I actually scoff a little and start looking around, at which point, he jabs me in the shoulder with the same finger he was only pointing at me with before, lowers his voice to a menacing grumble and says
“Listen, yoo – Oi ahm noht fohcking wiff yoo – you get yoh bahnd maites up heah NOW and yoo get this show stah’id ohn toime!”
(and now I’m pissed) “Listen YOU – get the fuck out of my face, and let me finish tuning, the band will be here, and we WILL start on time!”
He flexes again, “Johst see that yoo doo!” And he walks off like the fucking Juggernaut.
I was half furious and half thinking that it was the most hilarious encounter I’d had since the guy at the Wild Turkey Breakfast who wanted to play my guitar while I was already playing it, but thirty seconds later, the band DID, in fact, show up, so I put as much of the encounter as I could aside and we did, in fact, start on time. And we proceeded to have a great show. We had a half-hour set, and were playing mostly a mix of stuff from the Treble in Trouble EP and Tyranny, and we played well, and it went over pretty well – biker dudes seemed stoked! So we ended as we usually do, and I’m drenched in sweat and winded, as I usually am, and I go back to my stuff and immediately start breaking it down and packing it up, as I always have. When some OTHER dude I hadn’t seen yet comes running up the same side of the stage as Hulk Cockneydieu, and starts screaming at me to move our van. Now this is another one of those conversations where I go, “What? Who are you? What do you want?” fifty-five times because I’m incredulous AND I don’t really understand what’s happening like the one above, so I’m not gonna recount the whole thing here, but suffice it to say, it ends like this
(still wrapping cords up) “I don’t get it – they told us we could park there!”
“What are you talking about? The bus is already THERE!”
“Whu…??? Oh, I see – O.k.! O.k.! Just give us ten minutes – we’re almost packed up and we’ll get loaded right out and move it!”
“Hhhhhhhh… Oh, Jesus Christ… O.k. – GUYS – I have to move the van NOW. Can one of you just get my stuff off the stage for me? It’s all packed up.”
“The guys” obviously do everything they can to help out and get the stage cleared while I jump in the van and go try to find some place to park. I find a spot about a half-mile away and jog back to the club, still drenched in sweat from the stage, getting weird looks from Yale cops and students out for a stroll on this warm November night.
The gear has been put in a side room until we can bring the van back at the end of the night and load out, which is fine and cool of the Toad’s people to do for us, so we all go down to the dressing room to just catch a breather, and gripe a little, and laugh a lot, and once we kick out the two tweakers who we find going through our bags and trying to steal some of our beer out after first making sure they haven’t taken anything, we close the door and do all of that.
After as little as two minutes of said breathing and griping and laughing, some other stress case who I hadn’t seen before barges in, claps his hands, starts shaking both his thumbs over his shoulders at the door behind him, and says, “Alright, let’s go – out!”
All of us just stare at him, like, “???”
“I said let’s go – out – Iggy’s coming down!”
(me) “Oh – ha – no, I’m sorry – this is our dressing room.”
“No it’s not – get out!”
“Uh… yes it is – we just played.”
Nobody moved. We all just sat where we were, dumbstruck – again, half furious, but half shocked at the utter hilarity of how ridiculous this had become – and luckily he just gave us one more “I want you out!” then turned and left, himself.
I got up and just closed and locked the door with us inside.
Eventually, once Iggy’s set was under way, we figured we were safe from ejection, so we began to venture out individually and in small groups to watch a little of the show, get a drink at the bar, go to the bathroom, etc., and it was on one of these sallies to the bathroom that the whole night ultimately got wrapped up in a perfect little bow that allows us all to look back on it and realize that it WAS an awesome night. James and I were standing side by side at urinals, peeing, obviously, when a biker dude who I can now say was the spitting image of the American Choppers dad, but who I know wasn’t him because, though he had the same type of gruff voice, his accent was deep southern (which was weird, this being New Haven, but whatever), sidles up to the urinal next to James, and he looks down (he was tall) at James, and he looks over and down at me, and he looks us both up and down (still peeing, or trying to, anyway), and James and I both kind of look at him and then each other, and he says, “Hey – y’all dudes wurr the dudes who opened up the shew, roight?” (the other kind of “roight”) And James says, “Yeah.” And he looks us both up and down again, pauses, and says, “I liked you dudes… PSYCHEDELIC!!”

Next up… probably THE WEATHER!