Let me tell you. Today sucked.
Jacob and I woke up at a luxurious pace and went to work in our parents’ condo’s kitchen over a breakfast of champions. Momma toiled over the waffle iron, making rhythmic injections of peanut butter into the batter in her culinary modus operandi. I added cream to a bowl of eggs, sautéing an amalgamation of chopped onion, heirloom tomato, sharp cheddar cheese into the mix. We dripped a blend of coffee I had roasted back in Anderson with beans from Sumatra, Costa Rica, Panama. We listened to Gregory Alan Isakov and watched the sun try to shoulder its way through wintery clouds over the Johnson Bayou.
We were coming off a whole week of Christmas vacation spent at our folks’ pad in Panama City and left the breakfast table to go to our respective rooms to pack backpacks and banjos, stowing presents and pillows. (Forgive my alliterative foray—my father is a pastor and he uses it the way granddad used butter.) But we threw the whole mess in the van and hit the road.
En route to New Orleans, I leafed through Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and I’m past the 200-page mark, so it’s beginning to make a modicum of sense. I spun the new Caribou record and highly regretted the fact that I’d already written up my “Best of 2014” article before I heard it. Seriously, go listen to the new Caribou LP.
Now I’m a bad multi-tasker. My psychologically-inclined friends are quick to remind me that multi-tasking is a myth. In that case, I’m still just a bad fake-multitasker. Usually I hate talking on the phone because I miss the conversational cues of face-to-face conversation, and I generally end up just sitting on the couch talking to a hot little device pressed against the side of my head for an hour or whatever. But I’ve found that when I drive long stretches of interstate, I really dig talking on the phone. So today I caught up with my friend Erin for an hour and it was great to hear about her journeys. Then I had a little virtual meeting with one Jonathan Class, the producer we’ve recruited to cut our new record next month and we discussed rhythm sessions, vinyl pressing, creative vision, etc. I seriously can’t wait to get in the studio with Jacob, Michael, and that guy. He’s Richard Swiftian in that he becomes a new band member on every record he makes.
Off the phone, I watched the light the setting sun cast across golden reeds in the coastal Alabama dusk. We drove over bridges that seemed a hundred miles long, laughing at the GPS screen that showed one pink strip of road bifurcating a map of otherwise uninterrupted blue. Gas sold for under two dollars and a clerk waved me out the door without charging me for my cup of coffee.
Nearly six hours later, we arrived at the coffeeshop venue for the night and immediately realized that Jacob’s snare drum and stick bag weren’t in the car. Actually we realized they were in our parents’ garage back in Florida. We waited just long enough in the upstairs common room to confirm our suspicion that zero people would attend our strangely sequestered little performance. See, there’s usually a yoga class that meets up there and after our 7pm “show,” there was to be a meeting for a Narcotics Anonymous group. So I threw the guitar back in the car after a half hour of cussing our luck, knowing it’d be at least a month before we could laugh at ourselves for this. Maybe more.
As I type this modest entry from the passenger seat of the Quest, being carried by the Southern interstate back over our own steps, I can’t help but think about the mileage I’m putting on my new Christmas tires. But I’m a pretty serious person usually, and I know it’s good for my mental health to be able to laugh at this whole situation, even if it’s forced. I was about to vomit tonight I was so sick about our oversight, but you know what? I get to watch the sun set on the Gulf coast again tomorrow. I get to cook breakfast in a cast iron skillet and hug my parents again. A friend of mine used to chant, “Perspective is everything,” and while I’ll bet there’s probably a bit more to life, I can’t help but to admit that it is a good chunk. So I’m choosing to focus on Caribou and free coffee and some really cool bridges instead of mileage and time. I guess today didn’t suck all that badly after all.
Disappointment, anxiety, and vexation are all definitely a part of life as a part of a touring band, but a person forgets that this job can also take a brutal toll on your body.
I am positively wracked with sleep deprivation, for one. The New York jaunt got all of us with different strains of rhinovirus, Nicole bit down on a nerve in her tongue, I lost my voice like a pesky set of keys, and it never seems like there’s a chance to get caught up. After six days out to Manhattan, I spent four in the hometown working opening shifts at the coffeeshop (you know, because I want to be as cliche a musician as possible,) which means 5:30am wakeup calls as opposed to my regular noontime meanderings. And I’m in the back of my buddy’s Element writing this on a way to my second gig of the weekend where I’m still pounding DayQuil and recovering from my 4am bedtime last evening. But sweet Lord do I love it. Even my dear friends with the best desk jobs still have jobs with desks. And I am anti-desk to the core.
Two Wednesdays ago, Jacob, Michael, Michael’s wife Nicole, and I loaded up the ol’ Quest and battened down the hatches for a hefty drive out to Canton, OH, to play our first set of the mini-tour. We were all jazzed about packing Billie Corgan up to the gills (that’s our Van’s name, like the Smashing Pumpkins guy but a girl), and we may or may not have spun the new Taylor Swift record more than once on our way. Canton nearly crushed our spirits to a pulp. We’ve played three hour gigs before to pay the bills, but this was the most vehemently we had ever been ignored. My throat gave out on me by the third hour and the boys covered for me, but I didn’t feel much like talking the rest of the night anyway and I text-vented to a friend about quitting the dream after throwing a chunk of concrete at a dumpster and sullenly slumping down in the shotgun seat.
Thanksgiving was nice though. Jacob and I have some cousins out in western PA, and Brother Bear and I are used to small, immediate-family-type holidays, so it was fun and sort of cinematic to be around twenty-some distant cousins laughing and singing and slinging food all directions. But Friday was sort of blacker than usual. We had a show booked in Philly but the bar burned down. It was supposed to be moved to another spot but the talent buyer dropped contact with me. Then my college buddy Adam tried to set us up two different shows in Youngstown, but things just didn’t work out, so we begged the hospitality of cousin Scott for one more night. I bought a flannel shirt on sale and we all saw Interstellar, which meant that we three boys would have a good two hours of conversation on the next day van ride about fifth-dimensional beings and just how Jessica Chastain could be so doggoned intuitive.
Oh, and I watched the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer about twenty-five times.
Grove City to Brooklyn was a haul, but David Foster Wallace and the new Copeland record kept me company, and we parked our car without event, opting to take the piss-stained, much-photographed subway into Harlem and Manhattan for back-to-back shows. Somehow playing two hour-long shows is harder than a three-hour show. But Rockwood Music Hall was straight magic for our second year in a row. Old friends transplanted from Vero Beach warmed out hearts, and a green room with short tumblers of bourbon warmed our bellies. We slept in our dear friend Jared’s crammed Brooklyn apartment where a dog left souvenirs all over the floor and the heat never kicked on and we had to get up at 8:30 (woof) to drive 12 hours straight to Dayton.
Blind Bob’s is one of my favorite spots, and seeing our slew of Buckeye friends is always a treat. Both guys in the band all but begged me to cancel the gig because we were all strung out on our last legs, but I cracked the whip and they forgave me eventually and it ended up being a great show, even if Nicole did have to beg the salty door guy to give us our cut without waiting ’til the end. Seriously, we always try to stay to watch the other bands, but twelve hours to the gig and two hours home from there—we were done.
So that whole trip was a veritable roller-coaster of emotion, but you better believe I’ve never been so happy to stumble into my bed with a down comforter and a white noise machine and a bottle of cold medicine and NPR One.
Last night was The 86 Club in Cinci with just Jacob and me, and tonight I’m running solo out to LaSalle Tavern in South Bend to open for my friends in The Bikewalk. And we have one more week of downtime before our month-long Christmas run down to Florida, out to Texas, and back. All whilst trying to get final grades entered for the class I teach, coffee sold at the shop, and a new record written for January’s tracking. I’m tired, y’all.
But I love this work and I love every one of you that believes in us and comes to our shows and make us feel more loved than I often feel I at least deserve. But for every bad show, I’m digging in to my reserve of grit, and for every good one, I’m planting a metaphorical kiss on every one of your foreheads. We love you. Stick with us.