If you were to watch the Wizard of Oz in its entirety only backwards, that might properly demonstrate what the road is like. You start at home, then slowly lose contact with your friends following a black highway into a tornado. Along the way you bring witches back from the dead. Either story ends the same, backwards and forwards, you end up back at your dysfunctional inbred farmhouse. That's basically touring.
Tuesday afternoon brought plenty of Doctor John's Gris Gris across chicken fried back roads with the windows rolled. There was no straight freeway to take us into Little Rock. So the three bands wound our way into the Deep South. The drive was a theater of polarities. There were butterflies and gun stores, country shops and gentlemen's clubs. A man was loading a bow and arrow in his front yard. But what took all my energy was not to stop at the Daisy Queen for a sprinkle cone. We were on a tight schedule since we didn't wake up till noon. So naughty.
At Stickies Rock and Roll Chicken Shack, Dick told me a story about playing basketball with Franz Ferdinand. This was the same club where we once stayed with a 20-year-old drunken waiter from the bar down the street at his parents' house in the Bible Belt suburbs. We slept on the hardwood floor of the "Lego room," and in the morning ate pancakes as his grade school brother and sister read from the good book before school. Four years later my boots were on a table off stage when a drunken private contractor punched me in the leg. He said, "I don't give a shit who you are." Yes, I am one of the few who can now safely say he's been punched IN THE LEG! Out of professional courtesy to E6, I did not break a bottle on this man. I went outside and played iPhone chess next to the dumpster. Meanwhile, an equally drunken blonde told the dude that I was manager of Electric Six. John Nash said that the fellow handed him a business card with an apology. We were joking about it the next day.
People blame nightlife trouble on alcohol or loud music, but my experience is that golf shirts and baseball hats seem to aggravate the male ego into this neanderthal upset. Walk into any bar in America and yell "I'll kick your ass!" blindly into the room. Chances are the guy in tattoos and leather boots will just laugh at you and go back to texting. I'm telling you, beware of the baseball hat/golf shirt and light beer combo. Find your nearest dumpster and immediately play chess on your phone.
We loaded out or gear at 1 a.m. Our motel was your standard $45 horror movie. I was the least guilty man in a 100 foot radius, and it felt refreshing. A pimp leaning on a Civic in the parking lot was actually the security guard. I woke up in the morning, my bag of Sun Chips was empty. Those criminals! (Thankfully the diamonds were still in a plastic bag lodged deep in my "secret handbag.")
On the road to Norman, Oklahoma, I really had to get back on track with business stuff. I licensed some sound effects to Columbia pictures and was late on the contract. As well as the zombie project that would be pulling me through December and January. At the drug store I bought a bottle of antacids and a box of ear plugs. The cashier looked down at the items and hesitated, "How's your day going?" Walking back to the van I misread a "Kids eat free" sign at a place as "Eat free kids." Was a re-losing my mind? How does a person who already is crazy, go crazy? It was the beginning of having a crisis about having a crisis. Without a mini golf fix nearby, I got in the van and said "100 more miles west on I-40," then fell asleep listening to NIN. It was 93 degrees, we had no air conditioning. I slept like a french fry in black jeans. The 147-year-old desk clerk at the Days Inn suggested we eat at a nearby buffet chain called "Furrs," so naughty. We rolled to the venue. Opolis is an independent club run by a member of the Twilight Singers. We sold our band merchandise off of a medical gurney. I opened with "Do You Feel Like Breaking Up" and in five minutes was swinging my Mr. Serious M3 studded jacket over my head like a lasso. My crisis subsided. Afterward I made the rock devil horns with a young man for a photograph in front of a mural of a cat.
Thursday was a 12-hour-drive day to Denver. Are you getting the idea of this basic tour framework? Drive. Eat. Drive. Perform. Drive. Sleep. Aliens. Wake up naked in an alley. Drive. Wipe the blood of your shirt. Drive. Eat. When I was 14 years old and decided I wanted to be a rock singer, I didn't realize it would be mostly driving. The smallest percentage of any rock tour is actual performance, not unlike what I imagine watching an Al Roker sex tape to be like. Now, if there was a C in his last name (Al Rocker), well, that'd be a different tape all together. The landscape from Oklahoma to Colorado is a lot link driving across a green napkin with blots of chocolate frosting on it. We took I-135 to Salina then barreled onto I-70 cranking Johnny Cash live from Folsom Prison. On tour you will adventure through cities with astounding names like Mannassass or Truth or Consequences. You never forget the first time you pass the exit for Zzyzx Road in California. On this trip we passed by Toad Suck Park and Running Turkey Creek. In between billboards for bacon cheeseburgers and diesel fuel, my existential crisis was quickly re-ignited by one that read, "If you died today, where would you spend ETERNITY?" However it was quickly and totally snuffed out again by a sign that said "Pet the 36 inch Donkey." So naughty.
With six hours left in the drive, Aaron Lemay happened upon the idea that we should listen to some Randy Newman records. He has been my touring drummer for over four years now (Aaron, not Randy Newman). One of my favorite quotes of his was after my 15 minute dissertation while standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon. He said, "That's a really big fucking hole in the ground." We've amassed hundreds of road stories together from "The legend of Eugene LT" to "The night of Chachi's caved in roof," and who could forget the classic "Tijuana with the Black Scorpion" series. He's an amazing friend. But when Aaron asked, "Is Randy Newman dead?" I had to think for a second. "No?" I said "but he has a killer tune called 'I'm Dead' about being old in the music industry." It sparked a bleak notion in my brain. What if someday young drummers ask that about me? Are there teenagers asking that about me already? Then we listened to a Greg Brown song called "Shit Out of Luck" where he sings "the best years of my life are gone."
I started reflecting about driving home from New York City 10 years ago and playing Randy Newman's "Lonely at the Top" in the 7th St. entry. I was a scenester then, this was before hipsters. We'd bitch all the time about the scenesters "Oh, there's too many scenesters in here" or "Damn that vintage - so scenester, man." But we were only complaining about ourselves, just like the hipsters of today (and the Hulkamaniacs of the '80s). The loneliness had also begun its descent into my skull. And it was doubly ironic that we were listening to "Lonely at the Top," because that night we stayed at the house of my ex-girlfriend from those scenester days. Nowadays, she pats me on the shoulder and says "Hey, Mark, you're lonely? It's lonely at the top, pal." She's raised her standards since the old days. She works for the circus now. And I joke "Yeah, but is it lonely at the big top?"
At 11 p.m., the three of us walked to a nearby dive and drank whiskey. My head kept floating off the rest of my body like a Mylar balloon, I hope nobody saw it. I drifted up to the ceiling and caught the whole scenario from above. The best years of my life weren't gone, I was smack in the middle of amazing times. It was Denver on a Thursday, not Denver on doomsday. I had an answer to the billboard from I-70. If I were to die today, I'd spend the rest of eternity on a rock tour with Aaron Lemay and the Electric Six. And possibly the Swedish bikini team, a singing duck in a tuxedo, and an ice cream buffet that had the same nutritional value as a vegan salad bar.
I've been around the world
Had my pick of any girl
you'd think I'd be happy, but I'm not
Everybody knows my name
but it's just a crazy game
Oh, it's lonely at the top
- Randy Newman
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