My wife gave me two distinct, easy-to-follow rules before I shuffled out the door: "Don't cheat on me and don't die!" The cheating part would be a breeze. I'm what you'd call a slow burn. Women fall in love with me over time, not in lust over a few drinks. Quick "I! Must! Have! Him! Now!" blasts of drunken, sloppy, one-night-stand sex have never been a problem (or a blessing, depending on your perspective) for me, and I don't suspect they will be.
Cheating isn't a concern.
Not dying, on the other hand, might be tougher. After all, I'm hitting the road with my mid-list band, Fatal Flying Guilloteens, for six weeks, playing 40 shows all around our great nation (okay, on the coasts). Now certainly, you'd think that strumming a guitar night in and night out in a different city for a mediocre (when sober) band shouldn't earn you a trip to Fisher & Sons Funeral Home, but that's because you've never been on tour with us.
You've never driven the roads of Pennsylvania's tollway in the wee hours of the morning when it's densely populated with only the most hard-core truckers driving only the most hard-core rigs popping only the most hard-core speed. You've never broken a soundman's premium, custom-made Japanese import microphone while he watched in heartbroken rage behind the sound board clutching a lead pipe. The food alone that most clubs feed us is enough to stop a grown man's heart. Wife has plausible reason for concern.
No one is loosening our aching and torn muscles with shiatsu. We're mid-list.
Mid-list means we can tour the country for a month and a half and not lose our shirts. We won't make much (any) money, but we won't be spending our own, either. We have an agent who books our shows (she's paid a percentage) and a publicist who ensures we're mentioned in the newspapers (she's paid up front theoretically). We also happen to be on an independent label with reasonable distribution (two of them, in fact). This means, at the very least, that people working in the industry (club bookers, et al.), have heard of us if not outright heard us. It also means you can walk into, say, Tower Records in Philadelphia and see our CD in stock. No one is buying it, sure, but it is there nevertheless.
If you are below us on the music totem pole, you aren't getting paid. If you are above us, someone else is handling your money. As mid-listers we act as our own liaison between our band and the club. This entails getting paid ourselves after shows possibly while inebriated. If we're going to be late to a show, there's no one to phone it in but us.
And who are we? Fatal Flying Guilloteens. What do we sound like? Well, if you believe our press, we're a "spastic, epileptic-seizure-prone, bike-helmet-wearing offspring of the Mars Volta and Fugazi." Not seeing it? How about "slightly glam trash rock, with guitars that stab you in the ear and a rhythm section that kicks you once you're down for good measure." Sounds refreshing, right?
September 8, 2005: Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta is home to one of Fatal Flying Guilloteens' BFFs, Henry H. Owings, esteemed publisher of the drop-dead-hysterical Chunklet Magazine. Henry is bullish on our band. He also happens to have about 2,000 gigs of music on his computer begging to be downloaded into our collective iPods.
Which is what we did until it was time to head to the club, load in and get our beer tickets. Our honest-to-goodness RV is equipped with a fridge, a freezer, a microwave, two beds, a pullout sofa, four captain's chairs and two TVs. On day two we're still in awe of these creature comforts, swilling our free case of beer from the club while watching the first season of Lost on DVD. Touring is hard.
Our Lost party is interrupted by the show's promoter, who informs us that the opening bands are finished. Time to rock! The club is reasonably packed, and the crowd seems eager. We kill them with eight quick songs and retire quickly to the RV, where we've invited the audience to have a few with us. About five kids take us up on the offer. A young black man with a huge Afro and a British accent tells us that we're "raw as hell." His dreadlocked American girlfriend agrees. "It was spiritual," she says. There's only one plausible solution for her choice of words: She's stoned out of her freaking gourd. Shortly afterward, she pulls out a pipe and waves it at our suspicions.
Not all the news is good, however. Henry hops on the RV, tells us he just got an earful from a girl in one of the opening bands, God's America. She thinks we're assholes for not watching any of the opening acts. Henry did the job of kindly reminding her that we'd be playing with some 120 (not an exaggeration) bands on this tour and couldn't possibly see them all. "Besides," he told her, "your point is irrelevant."
Irrelevant or not, this gem of a message on our MySpace.com account appeared the next morning: "you guys should give less of a fuck about being rockstars. being offensive isn't that 'shocking' anymore. grow up. plus, it would be nice to watch the bands you are sharing shows with instead of hanging out in your stupid rv. the worst part is that you were good."
This, right along with, say, not making any money, is one of the biggest nuisances of being deadlocked in the mid-list. Other bands think you can help give them a boost. This band seems to forget that we're not Coldplay, even if I do look remarkably like Chris Martin (if he were fatter and uglier).
The Band (Part I)
On top of his model good looks, Mike Bonilla is a meticulous overpacker. Perhaps because of this, those who don't know any better might assume he's gay. I've known him for ten years. He's not.
I don't think.
He's gotten better about the overpacking, to be sure. Gone are the days of two separate bags for hair care products, eight pairs of shoes and the Plymouth of a suitcase he used to lug around. Now he packs everything in tiny bags. There's one each for his PS2, his PSP, his toiletries, his medicines for various ailments (Mike himself will tell you he's a hypochondriac), his digital camera and his six cartons of Marlboro Lights.
Mike is seldom seen without a cup of coffee the size of a grain silo. He needs it to wash down the steady stream of muffins, doughnuts, cinnamon buns, Abba-Zabba taffy, chili cheese Fritos and gas station biscotti that constitutes his diet. He wonders aloud why he has trouble shitting.
In band fights, Mike often finds himself in the role of wise sage and mediator. Of the five of us, he drinks the least and is the most stable, levelheaded and sane.
September 12: Washington, D.C. (a.k.a. The Humbler)
We've never played D.C. but have been told over the years that it is an incredibly bankrupt music town full of homers, music xenophobes afraid of anything not homegrown.
Either this is true, or, like Anytown, U.S.A., they just don't spill out of their homes to see music on a Monday. Perhaps it was the weekend street festival the show's promoter kept calling "the Mardi Gras of D.C." that prompted such a low turnout. "Everyone shot their wad this weekend," he told us. I walked with him to the ATM while he withdrew his own money to pay us our guarantee. Depressing all around. We call it "the humbler."
September 14-17: New York, New York
We'd heard from more than one credible source that famed New York City promoter Mojo was, indeed, batshit crazy. He was a veteran of Vietnam. Or Korea. Perhaps both. He'd spent time in Bellevue. He was seven foot-plus, 8,000 pounds and dangled rail-thin indie rock twerps upside down by their ankles for even thinking about crossing him because, oh yes, Mojo read minds, too.
For our four-day stay in NYC we'd booked three shows with him. Day one, Mojo was a no-show. A chubby, bespectacled white kid handed us an envelope at the end of the night, saying, "The door was short, but Mojo told me to tell you guys not to worry about it. He'll catch up with you sometime this weekend to settle the difference."
Settle? We shit our drawers.
It was our third day and fourth show in New York when we finally met the myth. Not quite seven foot, not quite 8,000 pounds, Mojo didn't seem the least bit unstable. In fact, he was an affable teddy bear, slapping us each on the back heartily, squeezing our shoulders when we made him laugh and offering us pulls off his ass pocket of Jameson.
Mojo was great! Turns out he was, once again, short the money he owed us. "Need it for something else," he told us.
He knew this worried us. He could see it in our faces. Don't worry, he'd pay us in full tomorrow at our final show together. Could he really book shows in the largest city in the world for 20 years if he made a habit of ripping off bands? "You've got my number, take down my address," he said to reassure us. To further put us at ease, he offered us his debit card and left. It had been expired eight years.
Saturday's show was at the Ribulaud, a warehouse in Williamsburg that's four stories tall and has 20 different rooms painted in bright colors accented by black lights and belly dancers on the roof. We were playing a rave.
Mojo showed up with some encouraging words: "They've been throwing parties here once a month for about a year, and I've never seen one with less than 700 people." The cover was $10. We might not be so bad after all. "Yeah, man. These parties are freaky! They go till eight in da mornin'!"
This was Mojo's way of telling us "You bitches gonna get paid but you gonna wait!"
And wait we did. Mojo "settled," made fun of us for ever worrying and offered more Jameson, which, this time, we accepted.
September 22: Detroit, Michigan (a.k.a. The Humbler, Part II)
On the way to Detroit it happened. Pop! What the hell was that? The RV started smoking. Great. Tour was over. Our trusty roadie, Jason Kerr, a.k.a. Le Grand Fromage, eased up the hood to reveal that we'd busted a water hose.
Some background here. Two weeks before setting sail, Jason had quit his comfortable lunchtime cooking gig and headed to tiny Granbury, Texas, just outside Dallas-Fort Worth to begin intensive training with his father to become an RV apprentice.
He'd learn to steer its 30-foot length less by looking at the road ahead than by keeping the lane lines in his side mirrors. He'd be driving 65 miles an hour, just inches from mad-dog truckers.
Inside, the RV presented Jason with its own challenges. Our four amps (one spare), drum kit, boxes of merchandise and various packed bags all bogging down the back bed area meant he would have to take turns gingerly so as to not topple the gear.
Being a roadie meant he'd also be required to do much of this while inebriated and shirtless.
His father left no stone unturned. In addition to teaching Jason to navigate the beast, he opened up its insides. Jason was taught the finer points of RV mechanics, the trouble spots, how to change a flat, to monitor her gauges closely and, generally, to make sure no situation became too sticky.
As in Quartzsite, Arizona, where Jason noticed we were dumping too much fuel. He sniffed out the problem: an old and cracked fuel filter hose. He'd purchased a hose and filter days earlier only to find, after crawling under the belly of the RV, that it was ill-fitting. We couldn't let the problem go. Gas was simply too expensive to spill for hundreds of miles. Jason used the wrong-sized hose, a pocket knife, a bubble gum wrapper and paper clips to MacGyver the fucker, casually commenting, "I hope we're not cruising down the interstate in a 30-foot Molotov cocktail." We didn't know it then, but aside from being a kick-ass roadie, Jason Kerr was also one helluva prophet.
But back to our present dilemma.
"No biggie," he assured us. It had busted right by the seal. He could cut it and have it reattached in about an hour. Only trouble was, we were pulled over in the midst of a brutal rainstorm on the shoulder of an overpass that could barely contain our RV's massive width. Jason could work on the hose, but only if he wanted to risk being upended by one of the crazy 18-wheeled trucks that weren't slowing down.
We had no choice. We had to push the RV backward down the overpass in the blinding rain to a wider part of the shoulder. Two words came to mind: 1) Fucking; and 2) Terrifying.
We did it, all happy the rain obscured the urine that also soaked our pants. Fromage got to wrenching on the hose, and we were up and running.
Got to the Painted Lady around midnight, missing This Moment in Black History's set and disappointed that we'd risked our lives to get to a show that was so poorly attended. "Oh, well," we thought. "It is pouring outside." Even if we'd believed our own bullshit, it still didn't make us feel any better.
September, 23: Chicago, Illinois
If bands had siblings, our brothers in arms would be Cleveland freak show artists TMIBH, whose bouncy, bass-heavy Devo-cum-WTF!? is a perfect match for whatever the hell it is we're trying to do. Like cat urine and Febreze, we're made for each other. (One guess as to which band is the cat urine.) Last summer saw us touring the West Coast together until their van choked to death slowly from a leaky exhaust. This go-around we've teamed up for three dates across the Midwest, tearing a new one in Clevo, grinning and bearing it in Satan's anus, Detroit, and capping it off in da land of da Bears, Chicago.
Before even stumbling down two flights of treacherous stairs with our gear at tonight's venue, Chicago's Subterranean, there is talk of someone crazy enough to host us all for the night, which is mind-boggling considering we're rolling 11 deep. Turns out a sweet Texas transplant named Lacey has a couch, lots of floor space and a deep-seated yearning to make horrible decisions. One of her good friends climbs aboard our RV and we're off. "Down North, up California, take a left here, you can park in the tiny lot behind the apartment building," she says before describing in agonizing detail the work she does for the United Way.
We squeeze the RV between two cars in a mud pit, hike up three flights of stairs and are instructed to make ourselves at home. I drink a few, hug TMIBH good-bye and head back to the sinking RV to text my wife.
The next morning I awake ready to take advantage of some shower action. Our lead singer, Shawn Adolph, joins me. We gather up our towels and sundries before heading up the three flights of stairs. It's barely 10 a.m., an ungodly hour on tour, but the sun has coaxed us out of our respective slumbers.
We knock on the door. No answer. We knock harder, to no avail. We dial Mike in hopes he'll answer to let us in. To our surprise, he's awake. He also happens to be up the street grabbing some coffee. "No one is in the apartment," he informs us. Really?
We sadly amble back down the stairs to get the whole picture. Turns out, after a good 12 hours of power drinking, TMIBH bassist Lawrence mistook Lacey's roommate's closet for the restroom, and emptied the contents of his beer-soaked and bloated bladder all over her shoes. Needless to say, this Ozzy impression didn't sit well with Lacey's live-in, and everyone in the apartment that did not pay rent was immediately kicked out on their asses. On the way out, Bim (drummer, TMIBH) pissed down the stairs for good measure.
Trojan Horses Got Nothing on Us
This might not be the smartest thing I've ever done, and I'm sure my bandmates will resent me for it, but I'd like to give America's hipsters some advice: Don't, under any circumstances, let us stay at your place.
Now, we're not bad guys. Really we're not. But get six of us (band plus roadie) into a tiny apartment, and you'll find out what it's like to be infested with human termites. We will drink all your beer. Wine? Yeah, that too. Do you mind if I have an apple? No? Now your refrigerator is going to be cleaned out. We will stop up your toilet or, worse, see to it that it overflows. We will use all your hot water, your clean towels, drink all your coffee and tie up your Internet. Sorry, didn't know we weren't supposed to let your cat out. After we leave, you might find your shower doesn't drain as efficiently as it once did. You guessed it: We each shot a load in your tub and, perhaps, in your bottle of conditioner as well. Some of us even twice (Shawn).
So, what kind of person lets a band of misfits like us stay at their house, anyway?
Some are clearly disturbed individuals. Like Paul, whom we met a couple of years back in Portland. Paul spent the night snorting fat rails of coke while cranking the new Ween album at bone-crushing volume, all the while screaming at the top of his tar-black lungs, "THIS SHIT IS FUCKING GENIUS, MAN!"
Some people who open their home to us don't open it to us at all, but to a gang of people hoping to "keep the party going!" In these instances, we're just bait.
Some girls who put us up are groupies. Not every female fan who opens her home to us is in it for sex. Quite the contrary. But when said female's fridge is coated with photos of her posing with other bands that have stayed with her and all conversations either begin or end with which bands she's, like, totally friends with and used to date, we tend to get a little suspicious about which one of us she has in her sights (Mike).
Sometimes it's not sexual at all. My wife believes there are certain girls (and guys) who have us over for "scene cred" or the ability to say, "Heard of them? Yeah, dude, they only stayed at my house in 2003!Jeez!"
The ideal host is one who's just a good ol' salt-of-the-earth music fan. He (note: this type of person is never female) thinks what we do as a band is interesting, understands that life on the road is hard, and may say, "If you guys need a place to stay, I'll cook for you." He does it because he enjoys and respects our contribution to music. We're much more respectful of these people's places, which is to say we've never jerked off into a bottle of their conditioner.
The Band (Part II)
Roy Mata is a master of the auditory arts. A bartender by trade, Roy talks to strangers for a living. This is an extremely valuable quality to have in a bandmate. There goes Roy, before we've even unloaded our gear, talking to the bartender on staff about regional shots ("That's called Smurf piss here? It's called Smurf cum in Houston. Do you mind giving me a taste?"), what they hope to "ring" tonight and various other odds and ends of keeping the drawer on the up and up. Bands sharing a bill with us give him free merchandise because he actually took the time to get to know them. We call it "bro timing," and when Roy is engaged in the activity of getting to know a stranger, he is then known as "Bro-time Roy."
John Adams shouldn't be in our band. In fact, for the first three years of its existence, he wasn't. When times called for a lineup change, he was the first drummer we thought of and the last one we thought might do it. He was simply too good. He had played with all the Dream Theater-listening techno wizards who read Hammer-On Monthly while working on extended solos in public at Guitar Center. He needed something new. We may still be a joke, but our drummer is better than yours.
One hundred and thirty pounds. In case you're wondering, that's the perfect weight for the lead singer of your band. It means he can climb walls, PA speakers and anything else put in front of him with tremendous ease. It means he can leap onto a wobbly bar table and not turn it over. It means he can be passed overhead through a crowd with the greatest of ease while singing. If you're lucky, he won't complain if he's accidentally dropped. When your singer is 130 pounds, there is no end to the combination of things he can do. And he will do them. Night in. Night out. It will blow your mind. Shawn Adolph weighs 130 pounds.
September 26: Denton, Texas
Have you seen us live? Did we suck? Chances are, if we did it was because we were drinking too much or you like the Dave Matthews Band. If it was the former, chances are this made Mike mad, because he is the only one among us who sets limits. In the past year or so, in an attempt to climb the ladder up the mid-list, we've had discussions about drinking. How much is too much? Do we have the right to tell someone else they shouldn't have another? What's the point of being in a band if you can't have fun? "I'm not looking to be anyone's mother, but "
And we've done all right. We've understood it's not worth our time to take six weeks out of our lives to get drunk and play poorly to a roomful of cynics 1,600 miles from home. But sometimes we slip up. It's no one's fault.
Like cigarettes in prison, beer is currency on tour. Not only is a case of beer in our contract with each club we play ("No light beer!" it stipulates firmly), but it can be used as a bargaining tool for broke bartenders who want merchandise they don't want to pay for. On a Fatal Flying Guilloteens tour, "I'll give you a six-pack for a shirt" is as common a sentiment as "Turn down!"
Well, not quite.
So it's no surprise that, with six hours and nothing to do in Denton, TX, we got loaded. And it's no surprise that we played poorly. Beyond poorly. Out of tune, out of sync. All in all terrible. And it was no surprise that Mike was enraged by this, confessing to me just after the audio carnage of our set ended, "Brian, I don't think I can finish the tour if we keep playing like we did tonight! I'm not interested in being in a band with Sid Vicious!"
Even half in the bag, I agreed. It was embarrassing. So after we hit the road for a much-needed three-day sabbatical in Houston, we tried to pay some more lip service to the subject. I say tried, because our back-and-forth name-calling culminated with my running the length of our 30-foot RV, grabbing Shawn by his severe haircut and pulling him over a neat, tidy row of our amplifiers, dragging his eye across the top of their harsh and weathered edges.
Shawn, as he should've been, was livid. We'd been best friends for 15 years, a fact he kept yelling over and over as he discovered his eye gushing blood. He would never think of laying a finger on me, and here I was pulling him by the hair, "LIKE [HE'S] A FUCKING CAVEWOMAN!"
I was immediately racked with guilt (I am Catholic, after all). What the hell did I do that for?
As our collective heads cooled, Shawn passed out holding a frozen pack of hot dogs to his face. We were dropped off one by one in silence. I think we all somehow came to an agreement about the future of our band's drinking. Business first, party to follow. Three more weeks of tour to go. Piece. Of. Cake.
September 30: Head West, Young Men (Second Leg of the Tour)
Today we meet at the RV at 4 p.m. for a quick jaunt up to Austin before heading west. Shawn's pack of hot dogs is waiting for us in one of the RV's beds, and he's developed quite the shiner. I'm a dick.
Talk is sparse at first, but on the way up we somehow remember we've known each other for years and it would take more than a few broken blood vessels to pull us apart. Besides, we're headed west, and for us, just as the rhyme implies, it's the best. Both of our labels are based on this side of the map, we've traveled here more frequently, and SoundScan numbers show that we sell more records in these parts.
Eating on the road is dicey. Usually our band will pay itself per diems so we don't have to go out of pocket for grub. They are often a whopping $5; $10 if we can see in our contract that a club has no intention of feeding us.
You come to learn, for instance, that Burger King 99-cent burgers are better than McDonald's; Carl's Jr. has the biggest fry for 99 cents; Wendy's has the most versatile dollar menu (side Caesar, nuggets); and never, ever, under any circumstances, eat at CiCi's.
Considering the outrageous price of gas and the fact that our mobile home got eight miles to the gallon, turns out per diems made no financial sense.
But paying your own way sucks. We needed a solution. We found one. It came to us, as if in a dream: chili-diems.
We, Fatal Flying Guilloteens, could get a $5-a-day stipend, but could use it to buy only chili. Wherever you could find chili you could spend your per diem on it, but only it.
This was cause for heated debate. Do chili dogs count? How about chili burgers? Can I spend my chili-diem on the new Frito chili burger from Dairy Queen? No, no and no. Chili. In a bowl. Take it or leave it.
More debate ensued. The chili-diem wasn't fair to Mike. He's vegetarian. Tough titty! Eighty percent of the country didn't cater to him; neither would the chili-diem! End of discussion.
The chili-diem had its drawbacks. After a week-plus of our eating nothing but chili, the RV started to reek like a sweat-drenched sulfur mine. We had a strict "No shitting on the RV" policy and, because of this, the chili-diem was forcing us off the road with alarming frequency, adding hours to each drive.
After day 11 of chili-diems, our eyes would water every time we had to step into the gaseous RV. After close to two weeks of chili-diems, most of us were ill. We put the idea to bed.
Funny thing, though. Many of us, even after the chili-diem was put on ice, found ourselves craving the stuff. Ordering it even when we had to pay for it ourselves. Some bands are addicted to heroin. We might be too if you could shoot it with cheese and onions.
Beginning of the End: Leaving Portland October 10 on Our Way to San Francisco
It was a gorgeous day, filled with the most majestic views through the wooded mountains of Oregon. As the sun went down, I headed to the beds in the back of the RV with a book. We were crossing the California state line.
Not soon after, we started smelling smoke. "These California fires aren't a joke," we thought to ourselves, ignoring that it smelled more of tire than of tree. It got worse. And worse.
Roy turned on an overhead light. We could barely see one another. "Holy shit!" he exclaimed. "That's us!"
Roadie Jason pulled to the side of the mountain. Flames rumbled from under the hood. Quickly, he grabbed an extinguisher, dived beneath the undercarriage of the RV and suffocated the flame.
Our transmission had blown. We were, in a word, fucking fucked.
Soon the California Highway Patrol arrived. Then a fire truck. They applauded our fast thinking. They called a heavy-duty tow truck and warned us not to wander onto the pitch-dark, undulating interstate. "If one of you got hit by a big rig, that'd be a lot of paperwork for us," they said, only half joking.
We were towed to an RV and transmission repair shop in Yreka (pronounced "why? reek-uh") where we would stay overnight and wait for the shop to open. We bought chili and beer from a grocery store and were forced to watch the terminally unfunny Jay Leno with the lousy reception we were getting in the mountains.
The next morning the shop took a long look at the transmission while we ate chili and played air hockey at a bowling alley across the street. Jason got the call. They were ready to give us the estimate.
Bob, head of repair, resembled Mark Twain and had a bushy push-broom mustache that would make Phil Garner envious. "Well, it turns out there's a highly technical term for what's wrong with your transmission," he said.
Up to this point we were hoping we'd only blown a hose and sprayed fluid on an overworked engine hot enough to ignite it.
"Your transmission is a POS. You know what that is?" We didn't. "It's a piece of shit."
Price tag: $1,600 for a new transmission, $1,200 labor. We nearly puked up our chili.
Jason got on the phone with his pops, who told him to ask Bob if he'd be interested in purchasing it.
He would. For $300.
How's that expression go? Oh, yes -- our nuts were in a vice. Jason accepted.
The night our transmission blew in the cold California mountains, we made a phone call to our booking agent, Michelle Cable. Michelle is based out of San Francisco, books mostly Japanese bands and is keen on getting them van rentals for cheap. If our worst fears were confirmed and our RV was dead, we'd need her help.
She dealt with a company in San Fran that could rent us a van for $100 a day. With the remaining guarantees on tour we could afford this, but we still needed a way to travel the 300 miles with our gear to the Bay Area to meet up with our tourmates for the next ten days, Japanese heavyweights (and Michelle Cable-booked) DMBQ.
Once Bob told us the bad news, we asked him about rentals available in the Yreka area. Turns out there was an Enterprise Rent-A-Car up the street. He told us we were the fourth band in the last month that'd had their tranny blow in the mountains and that Enterprise was doing a bang-up business renting vans to them.
We were in luck.
Sitting on the Enterprise lot was a 15-passenger van. Packed carefully, we could be on our way to San Francisco in time for our show.
We called Michelle to tell her the good news. It was expensive ($206 a day), but we could return the van in her town and pick up another at the agency she normally deals with for cheaper.
Not so fast.
Days earlier our band had had to make a tough decision. The West Coast was beating us silly with $3.15-a-gallon gas. We were losing our ass. We decided to cancel three shows. Bellingham, Vancouver and Seattle would get no Guillo-love this tour.
We informed Michelle after the decision was finalized in Portland. She was sad, but understood. We would be crazy to risk running out of money as far away from home as Canada. Better to lose three shows than the rest of the tour.
This makes our "good news" phone call all the more curious. We were told not to bother with the van. Michelle Cable, our booking agent, had fired us.
We were unreliable, she told us. We'd cancelled three dates and, as far as she was concerned, were unable to make the rest of the tour because our RV was toast. Considering we'd called her the night before and asked about van rental solutions, the odds she really believed this seemed unlikely.
It gets better. The band she replaced us with, ZZZ, was from Amsterdam. We're no conspiracy theorists, but such a thing would take more than a night. Clearly she'd planned this.
"Fuck you," we told her. "We'll see you at the San Francisco show."
She'd already called all the clubs to cancel.
"Fuck you, see you in SF."
We immediately started calling clubs to tell them we would not be canceling.
Michelle Cable had beaten us to the punch. If we were let back on the bill, she would be pulling DMBQ.
We wouldn't have enough money if we didn't play these shows.
We rented the van and hauled our gear to Sacramento, where we sold some of it at Guitar Center. We then bought Greyhound tickets and shipped our remaining amps and drums via Greyhound Package Express.
Have you ever ridden a Greyhound bus from Sacramento to Houston? The smell of feet and rest-stop fast food hovering in the buses made us pine for the days when we had to smell our own sulfur-soaked RV. The two-and-a-half-hour layovers, the meth heads asking if we'd be interested in buying "green weed." It is its own special brand of hell.
From Modesto to Los Angeles I sat next to a 17-year-old Mexican gangbanger who was headed to Mexico to visit her four-month-old baby's father, who'd been deported. Her mother had lupus; her brother-in-law had just killed himself after his child was born without skin. Her mother had to visit doctors in Mexico because the only ones they could afford were horrible. "We have Medi-Cal. It ain't no good," she explained. "Now, if we had Medicaid we could see a doctor in the States. Medicaid is the shit!"
As she spoke, it began to sink in: Tour was over.
The Bottom Line
I sometimes wonder if David Bowie's career didn't begin as a practical joke. Before he was an androgynous spider monkey from outer space, there must've been a time when he ground it out in a band that existed just outside the glare of a spotlight, right? The way I see it, one night, way back when, after he's passed out hard on booze and pills, someone -- most likely a drummer or a bass player -- decides it would be funny to paint his face up like a girl. Bowie wakes up, doesn't shower, brush his teeth or even look in a mirror. He takes the stage that night, looking like a freak.
The crowd goes bonkers.
Afterward, kids come up to Bowie, buy his records, request an autograph and ask where they can buy the same color eye shadow he's sporting.
Soon Bowie is playing to houses packed full of people eager to see the crazy man/woman from Pluto.
And there you go. That's tour. Even at this level. You can grow a bad mustache, wear disturbingly low-cut shorts, don underwear for a New York City bar, hook yourself up to a beer IV and not erase the dirty words your bandmates have written on your arms in Sharpie while you were passed out.
Tour can make you feel invincible. Bulletproof. You're on the road with your second family. They test your patience from time to time. You may even make each other bleed. But ultimately you're in it together, building on something in which each of you has an equal stake. You're a gang roaming the road to bring what you've created to 100 kids in a basement in Rapid City, South Dakota, who go apeshit when you begin beating the first chords of a song you all wrote that they recognize and love. And when a 16-year-old kid from Odessa informs you that your live set has "melted off [his] face," it feels pretty damn great.
Now, if only that great feeling were good toward the purchase of a new RV, we'd be getting somewhere.
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