FIRST REPORT OF 2002
March 1 2002
My mind is very different in some respects from when I wrote last, but it's also a lot the same. In fact I feel like I just woke up from a little rest and we're going back on tour again.
Then people come up to me and say "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN FOR THE PAST TWO YEARS?" It's really the largest break we've had from touring since we've started.
Where HAVE we been? Rick and I went to Tibet last year around this time. We drove overland from Kathmandu to Lhasa. There are tour reports that I will put up for that. We didn't play music there though. Then Howie quit and we had to look for another drummer, and we found our prize, Baby Matt.
Jim bought some leather pants.
Rick worked for a while as a graphic designer for a computer software company and then got downsized.
That's pretty much all that happened, except I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do and spent a year learning how to be a Tae Kwon Do Instructor. I've been doing that and Kung-fu and studying and practicing Buddhism over the past year. And going to Graduate School - I'm in a very new program at University of Illinois here in Champaign. The program is called "Narrative Media" and the two professors who run it are Dream Professors. They are so incredible, I am learning so much from them.
But that's another life. Now we're on TOUR again! Ok, for the weekends, anyway.
The reason we decided to play just weekends is that it's more fun to play for you people when you are out on a weekend. Basically you are looser and happier during Friday and Saturday nights, and it's not only because you can get drunker those nights. Or is it? At any rate, more people can come out on the weekends. Too bad our whole lives can't be lived during the weekends, right?
So on Thursday night, I asked my Tae Kwon Do class, "How many of you think it's going to snow tomorrow?" The radios have been predicting the worst snow of the season for Friday and Saturday, coincidentally the two days we've chosen to start our tour this year. In fact this happened two years ago too, I remember. We have a rule that we don't tour in Jan and Feb, just for this reason.
Anyway, everyone except one kid, Jinwoo, the Head Instructor's son, raised their hand to say they thought it would snow. I said, "Ok, everyone except Jinwoo down for 20 pushups now. ON YOUR KNUCKLES!" I did pushups with them. Afterwards we all stood up and I said, "Ok, now HOW many people think it's going to snow tomorrow?" and everyone laughed. That was nice.
But man, it snowed like hell. But we have left so early that we had no trouble at all, all throughout the 7 hour trip into Iowa, then pulled up a block away from the Reverb club when the blizzard hit, and a white car ran into our white van, first accident of our entire career. Nobody was hurt except the front TIE-ROD of the van. It was pretty scary to watch Rick turn the wheel and see only one of the front tires turning with it. The van looked bowlegged and sickly as it limped through the snow towards the curb. The policemen laughed with the kid who ran into us, down the street, but never gave us a ticket. The kid tried to pass us on the left as we were turning, right in the middle of the intersection.
Rick is lucky he didn't get a ticket because he already got a speeding ticket this year on his way to the Grand Prix in Indianapolis.
So here's what happened next. We have to drive to Lincoln tomorrow! We are freaking out. It's about 5 degrees outside, freezing and blizzarding. The policemen were polite as kittens. Rick is ultra-polite to any type of policemen, and that probably helps. The policemen call a towing company. I call the promoter, who makes his way down the street to our accident scene. I realize we've never met him before. We have all sprung into action; Rick is talking to the policemen, I am calling what our promoter has suggested, a 24-hour Amoco station 20 minutes south of here in Waterloo, Iowa. He says he's had them fix his car, they seem pretty good. I didn't know what we were in store for when I called these guys.
"Hello, I am calling from a van with a broken Tie-Rod. This van needs to go to Lincoln, Nebraska tomorrow morning. Can you help me?"
"Yes, we can. We are open 24-hours. What type of van do you have? We are pretty sure we can fix it overnight. Who is towing you? Just tell them our name, they will know who and where we are."
I told the tow-truck guy and he nodded. "No problem." Then I asked him if he could tow the van to the club and drop it there for us for a little while as we unloaded it. "Yes."
Basically this is what happened next. The tow-truck driver drove us to the club, let us unload the van, then drove me and Rick 20 minutes south to Jim Lind's Amoco Station in Waterloo, Iowa. Baby Matt, our new drummer, checked us into the motel across the street. Rick and I sat in the Waterloo Amoco station for about 15 minutes, eating free popcorn, while the mechanics checked out the van. Then they came out, "We will have this ready for you tomorrow morning.Then we will take it somewhere to get it aligned properly. Then we will come pick you up from your motel and drive you back here to pick up the van. Now we will drive you to your show." The man who told us these things looked like he was wearing a Superman Uniform to me.
Meanwhile when we got back to the club, Cody, the promoter from the Reverb, was telling us that he has two vans and would make sure that we could make it to Lincoln Nebraska tomorrow, no matter what. Later on House of Large Sizes was at the club, telling us the same thing, they'd drive us to Lincoln if necessary.
I cannot believe the kindness that was bestowed upon us this weekend. Is it because of 9/11? Is it the blizzard? Or is it Iowa? Or is it us? What if this was the Real World and people everywhere were this nice to each other?
Jim Lind apparently used to be a Republican State Representative for Iowa. Go figure. Now he runs at 5-star gas station that has restored my faith in humanity. Go figure again.
GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS?
I have heard people talk about bands who they feel are just "Going Through The Motions" on the stage. I thought about that for a little while. Here I am very old right now, older than I'd ever dreamed I'd be, standing on a stage with a guitar. (Seriously, it never occurred to me that the world would still be here when I was this old.) And playing just doesn't feel weird at all. I am never, ever, ever going to grow up. It is way past the point of ridiculousness now. And I know others like me. They are all still in bands. Anyone you see that is in their late 30s and is still on a stage - don't even bother questioning it. I am holding this bass like I am holding the fork that feeds me food. I will need to eat until the day after I die.
Maybe I won't move around as much on the stage. But fuck, I don't have to. The music still makes me want to scream, cry, tear my hair out, laugh, sleep, stay awake forever, drive, yell, dance, close my eyes, dream. Cry. Love. In the middle of playing "Space Gun," I closed my eyes and thought about all the new people I've met over the past two years. I shut my eyes and I screamed for you all. I love to play that song. There are new things I know now, new things I can put in the music. Maybe you can't see it, maybe it means something different to you now, but it's mine, it's been mine since 1992 and it's always going to be mine to hand to you in some way. You can accept it if you want. I don't deal with that part of the transaction. My part is only to give.
A guy yelled "Freebird" while we were on the stage. This prompted me to ask "How many people here have never seen us play?" It is very rude to yell "Freebird" when a band plays; at least in the olden days, it meant you thought the band sucked. I have no idea what it really means. I guess it means, "I want attention." So I gave the guy some attention.
There were a lot of people there who haven't seen us play. That was cool.
Barb and Dave from House of Large Sizes were at the show! They are from Cedar Falls. It's really cool because we get to see them and then we see Mercy Rule tomorrow in Lincoln, Nebraska. It's the visiting-the-midwest-girl-bass-player-bands tour. The girl bass players who don't live on the coast, so you don't know who we are, but we rock more than any of those coastal girl bass players, damn it.
Dave and Barb looked great, young, and ready to tour again. They are working on a new album, for release in August. Yeah!
INTRODUCING BABY MATT
Baby Matt sits in the van, reads "E-myth", and answers phone calls like he's in an office in the van. He manages bands and also plays in another, 'Team Rock-It." He used to work for BMG in Germany. Now, he wants to stop at Office Max to pick up a laser-printer toner cartridge on the way back to Illinois. He is such a dream drummer for our band. I am waiting for the catch. I walked into the club tonight after taking a rest at the motel and the t-shirts were already set up. I did a double-take just like in a cartoon! And I'm just calling Matt "Baby-Matt" because he has started calling himself that. Otherwise I wouldn't do it.
He's a great drummer, has a great personality, and has cute puppy-dog eyes, a short hair-cut, and smells nice, like cologne. He's going to be a lady-magnet in our band. I think he speaks fluent German and Italian, and he likes to eat the way the rest of us like to eat. He's very efficient too.
Think about how weird it must be, to join a band that has been playing together for this long. Plus the fact that we're kinda all related. Although Matt has known about us for at least the past 8 years since he tried out 8 years ago - and we wouldn't let him in the band because he was still in Highschool. But still. I hope he find us as delightful as we find ourselves. I find Jim and Rick to be very delightful people.
I just want everyone to be happy. Always.
We turned over a new leaf and ate at Arbys, of all things. It was great! They have these sandwiches - they are really expensive but pretty good. The Horsey Sauce is good too, although I am always leery of eating things that are white and creamy in a restaurant.
Saturday March 2nd 2002
We wake up at the crack of noon and begin driving. Actually, Rick woke up this morning and the Jim Lind Amoco people came and picked him up and drove him to the van. I am so glad that Rick takes control of these sort of things. I just want to sleep in the morning. I know Rick does too, so I'm very grateful about this stuff.
Anyway we left the scary Black Hawk Motel around noon into a winter wonderland of blizzard, woke up the inhabitants of the Reverb who live IN the bar - they have rooms off to the side next to it, imagine THAT - and loaded our equipment. I informed Baby Matt that we NEVER leave equipment overnight in a club just because then we'd have to load in and out 3 times in one day instead of only twice. That's a big thing, especially since there are about 30 very steep stairs leading up and down to this club. I'm glad that the club later on tonight is on the first floor.
We drive. I do my homework in the car. I have this typography homework where I have to read something about the history of language evolution which I should be enthralled with but is so convoluted that I can't make heads or tails out of it. It's terrible and impossible for me to understand.
There are periods of white-out on the road. Rick sleeps, Baby Matt answers his business phone and reads, and I stare at the snow and road and watch Jim drive.
I'm watching the road
I'm listening to Velvet Underground
Jim is driving, I'm in the passenger seat.
The sun is blaring straight in our eyes.
Jim has dark sunglasses on and is smiling.
It's about 5 degrees outside after the blizzard and snow is blowing all over the highway but the storm is ended.
I can see wheat blowing in the wind. The ground is coated with a dusting of snow. I can see dried plants blowing. It's the golden hour. Everything has a gold sheen to it. We are 2 hours from Omaha. Everything I see makes me want to cry with joy.
I am in a van with 3 people whom I love. I am going to visit a bunch of people whom I love. I am in a world filled with people whom I love. I wish everyone was this lucky, but I also hope that I don't have some sort of chemical imbalance and am unhealthily happy.
Mercy Rule stands in front of us and listens to us play. I look at them from time to time, from the stage, and wish that they were up here so I could be watching them move. But I'm happy to play for them now. The rest of the bands were very good tonight too. A very thick haze of smoke hangs over the stage as we play to 184 people who came out in the freezing cold. We're still on new legs with Baby Matt, who is playing a couple of songs way too fast for me, including 6x6. My hand is locking up during a lot of the songs, and the new songs are hard to play too. But Matt is right on most of the time and we would rather be playing too fast than too slow, for sure!
The audiences love Matt. He's full of energy and power, and has incredible rhythm. I am still astounded and in awe of drummers, I don't know how they can play like that, their entire bodies create the music. For me, it's just my hands and maybe my mind; the rest of me just follows along. I respect and worship drummers and wish I was one.
Today in one of the songs, I shut my eyes and was totally in complete concentration. I thought after a while that I should probably open my eyes, but I had to mentally hit myself in the back of the head to do it. I thought about all these things I've been learning in school lately. I am taking a class called "Zen Aesthetics and Japanese Tea Ceremony" which is the most brilliant class I've ever taken in my life. The professor who teaches it is so Yoda-like. His whole thing is to teach us to ask ourselves questions about who we are, where we are in life right now. He tells us everything is changing all the time. He gives us homework assignments like "Write a Country Music Song Title" - instead of allowing us to write a (bad) beginner's haiku. The homework assigments he gives us are designed so that we absolutely cannot fail. This makes him a brilliant professor. He's this big old white guy named Doyle, with wisps of white hair, otherwise bald and wears this yellow and red knitted scarf and I feel like I want to drop everything I own and follow this guy around like he's some sort of messiah, and I'm not the only one at the school who probably feels this way either.
Whatever he's been teaching me has made my brain bigger though. I don't feel smarter, I just feel like there's a bigger space in my head. It's really nice because it means my dreams can be bigger.
The front desk man at the Budget Inn Motel on "O" street tonight asks me if I'm working. I say "no," confused. 5 minutes later when I get up to the motel room with the guys I realize what he has asked and I am mortified. Baby Matt is my knight in shining armor who goes down to ask the guy what the hell he meant by that and we apparently now have a $6 discount because we're "affiliated with some sort of working group." Rick is sure that the desk man just asked if I was a whore and now is freaked out about it so is giving us a discount. Geez. Do I look like a whore? How can this be? Maybe we should stop staying at the motels that the promoters suggest, the ones that are in the center of town. I never had this problem back when we were staying at the motel 6s.
Omaha to Champaign with Mark Salzman
In the middle of nowhere, Iowa, I turn on the radio and get a crystal clear NPR station with a guy talking about cello playing, martial arts, and the chinese language and I nearly run the van off the road. There is an interview with Mark Salzman on the radio and I AM LISTENING TO IT HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF SNOW, IOWA! I've never actually heard Mark Salzman's voice before. Now I listen to it tell me about how he can enjoy his own cello playing now because he thinks of the mistakes as cracks in those antique chinese potteries, where each crack is a moment in space to be contemplated and enjoyed. Mark says that others wouldn't enjoy his cello playing because of the cracks, but he can enjoy it and that's what counts. I am smiling. What a wonderful thing to hear! He also talks about how you don't have to be spontaneous to be an artist.
I'm rapt with attention to the radio for an hour straight, still driving through Iowa. There's a story about how the producer of Mark's movie, "Iron and Silk" would fight with him about what the main character, Mark, would be saying. Iron and Silk is a movie about Mark's travels to China in the 1980s to teach English there. He learns Kung-fu from famous master, Pan. It's funny because the story is autobiographical, so this producer is saying, "I think Mark would say this right now," and Mark is going, "Well, I think Mark would say this." The producer, who is a woman incidentally (I hate to sound sexist), desperately wanted a romance involved in Mark's life, so she tried to make his character say romantic things that he'd never say. Anyway, from what he says on the radio, he flat out refused to say these nutty things, and then came home months later to watch the movie and found that she had had his ENTIRE VOICE DUBBED AND REPLACED by another actor's voice, so he would be saying these things he'd refused to say!! Can you believe it?!
One more paragraph about Mark Salzman, he just wrote a book called "Lying Awake" which is incredible, about this nun who finds out she's got temporal lobe epilepsy, which makes you extra pious in certain situations. So she has to question whether or not the relationship she feels with God is 'real' or a chemical imbalance in her brain. It's a brilliant book and a really quick read. Go to the library now. It felt weird for me to be reading a book about a nun, but I trusted Mark and it all came out ok.
There was a lot more I wanted to say about this interview but I can't remember it now. Mark seems to be an example of someone who is one of those "humble" artists, who wants you to know that you can do this too. I guess he's like us in that respect. There are other bands and other artists and writers who want to remain mysterious and they want you to think that they have some sort of gift and are untouchable in some way. We believe anyone can create art. That's what can make your life so beautiful.
Rick gave an interview in an online zine called Mental Contagion that I am going to reprint some of here:
Q: Why does music exist at all? What would a world without music or creativity be like?
Rick: I think music is the sloppy older sibling of language; it's just another way of communicating. It's more primitive than speech and therefore can more efficiently zap you in the "monkey brain" but it's not the best way to describe the structure of the atom. A world without music or creativity wouldn't be human, I guess. We'd be a bunch of squirrels gathering nuts. Maybe the origins of music have something to do with being aware of your mortality, once a species comprehends death, they've got to create distractions to keep their minds off the inevitable, gathering nuts isn't enough...I find it interesting that one of the first things oppressive governments do to increase their hold over their citizens/victims is to ban or restrict the arts. I think it's proof that music/art does have power over people and resonates on a deeper level.
I think I'll leave it at that for now.