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:
“PROABABLY SOME PIZZA”
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.
W03 MILWAUKEE-GLOBE EAST $0.00:
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!