Saturday, June 28, 2014

San Francisco

Animals: Cormorants – probably Double-Crested but can’t confirm.

Quotes: “ You failed to lather me.”

“Two in the pooter, one in the shooter.”

SIARPC: Grampa Weekday

I woke up in Oakland.

I love the concept that the first line of a novel is the most important one and that some authors spend inordinate amounts of time honing that first line. I think, “I woke up in Oakland,” sets the appropriate tone. Gritty, probably a private detective type story. Maybe, if I’m feeling full of myself a Raymond Chandler-esque tale of black-outs, dissolution, shameful urges given release, murder of course, and the tantalizing yet futile possibility of redemption.

Regardless, I got the hell out quickly. I woke up before the band, masterfully manipulated public transportation to my own ends and was in San Francisco by 10:00 am. What will follow is going to be a description of a near perfect day for me in what could easily become my favorite city in the union. If you want to hear about the show skip to the end. It went well. There, now you don’t have to do anything. Geez.

I started walking in the vague direction of Fisherman’s Wharf, (never made it there and I think I’m happy about that) and walked through Jackson Square. I guess. I never saw a square as such but guess what happened? Awesomeness happened. I walked by a gallery that had an original printing aquatint of one of John James Audubon’s birds in the window. I looked up and it said it was a rare maps gallery. Maps are like butter in my world. Sexy, whole-milk, grain-fed, organic butter being slowly spread on a fresh New York everything bagel by Wynona Ryder, who for some reason is wearing one of my button down shirts buttoned not at all. And this place also specializes in Audubon? You do realize that only around 200 editions of the original prints were ever created and only 170 complete editions exist now? Of course you do. So I went in and ask the nice, important looking lady behind her computer, feeling like Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, about the Audubons. She went through the different editions they had prints from. I dropped a few casual remarks to indicate I was not a dilettante and then I told her there was no way in hell I could afford anything in the place but that JJA was a hero of mine. So she told me to look around. Before the birds though; oh the maps were glorious. Antique maps of SF and amazing astronomical maps that I would kill to look at every day in my bed-chamber. And fuck me gently with a chainsaw, but I have never gotten to see the Audubon birds so close. The detail down to every feather was stunning. Now I can tolerate the use of “like” in every single sentence, but I truly abhor the over use of the word “literally” that has swept the vernacular like kudzu covered zebra mussels. So when I say this place was literally breathtaking know that my heart was pounding like a 13 year old with x-ray specs at the Farrah Fawcett red bathing suit photo shoot.

After that, an hour chilling, drinking amazing coffee and eating a sandwich with slices of pear, avocado, radicchio, and other delicious shit all up in it. I sat at a window and watched SF walk by then meandered up to Coit Tower. I’ve never been but I loved the murals inside. Go WPA and go heroic paintings of the working class! And in case you’re feeling cheap, a sensation I’m intimately familiar with, it’s totally worth the 7 bucks to go up the tower. Oddly enough, every single person working there was off-the-boat Irish. I’m good with that, got to have a conversation about the Clancy brothers and secretly get a little tingle from their brogue. I must have spent a couple of hours up there hanging out, talking to loved ones on the telephone, enjoying the fact that almost everyone who walked by talked in another language, or at the very least with a heavy accent.

Eventually I wound my way back to the North Beach area. I went into a store called Aria where I bought a page from a French scientific treatise on birds from 1750 (if the guy was telling the truth – I don’t really care) and several “clinkers” for my kids. The semi-crazy proprietor said they were 300 year old carved spheres found in the bottom of canals in the Netherlands. Their usage ranged from bottle stoppers to children’s toys. He wasn’t sure why they all ended up in the canals. I love the feel of actual physical history in my hand. And boobs. But that’s neither here nor hair here.

And then finally to the City Lights Bookstore. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Kerouac/Ginsberg Howling at the Road school of literature, but I love the shit they stirred up. It pleases me that there was a time when well-considered words could have earth-shaking impact. Kind of like people rioting at the premiere of “The Rite of Spring.” How awesome is that? I bought a book and then travelled across the street to a bar called Specs, which has the reputation for being a local haunt amidst the intense touristy-ness of the neighborhood. If you’re reading this you should go there. A Wavy Gravy doppelganger greeted me as a brother. The place is filled with impossibly faded and dusty ephemera of the best kind. A stuffed mongoose fighting a cobra!* A Kinky Friedman flag, carved whale bone things, skulls, a presumably decommissioned torpedo. My favorite part, and a sop to those who miss all the poop-talk was the ceiling of the bathroom stall was glass circles set into the sidewalk above you. So yes, you get the illicit thrill of creating bodily shame while unsuspecting innocents walk above you. I loved the whole place because I got to watch people with secret connections and shared affection interact. Obviously booze and bars can be destructive entities but in places like this there is a shared community that I adore.

Then I had to bust ass because I was pushing my luck to get to the club in time for load-in.

We were playing the Elbo Room in the Mission District. It was kind of hipstery I guess, but the upstairs room where we played was super cool. Because dragons. Floor to ceiling gold dragons on either side of the stage; that’s pretty much all you need in any club. There was also a sweet King Tut sarcophagus head hanging in the corner over the stairs. Good stage, good sight lines, Ok sound. However, I was well tuckered from my day in the city so I just sat in the stinky green room through the first band. Tired or not I hate just sitting staring at mold multiplying so I got up to explore the neighborhood. And one freaking block away I see a marquee with the name Withered Hand in lights. I go up to the haughty ticket taker and ask when he goes on, and she says haughtily, (which is how I knew she was haughty) that he had just finished. So while I was sitting there with my thumb up my butt I could’ve have seen the guy who made my favorite album of the year so far. You see people? That’s why sitting down is for suckers. The one time I do it and this is what happens? Lesson learned.

This was a Tuesday and we’ve never played SF before, and even though we knew pre-sales were good it was astounding to see a packed house. People kept shouting, “Thanks for coming to San Francisco!” like we weren’t already thrilled to just be there. They danced and sang along, we talked a lot about Patrick Swayze. It was a great show.

* Rikki Tikki Tavi is my favorite thing Chuck Jones ever did. You know let’s have a moment of silence for Mr. Jones. Genius.

Tomorrow is San Jose’.

Travel Days 3 & 4

Animals: Great Egret

“No, that’s not a fountain, that’s a floral arrangement”  - Impatient grandfather to a toddler in the hotel lobby.

“Fun as hell on earth.”

SIARPC: Captain Beefart

I’m going to combine the next two travel days because there’s just not that much to tell. The idea was that we would give ourselves an extra day to meander down the coast, seeing as how much we enjoyed the experience last time. However, much in the way a goldfish will grow as large as its enclosure will allow, we have the ability to expand non-action like a balloon until it has filled up all the available time. In this view though the time still exists, it’s just hyper-compressed. This then might explain how all the emotions of those trapped in the bubble become intensified so that what was meant to be leisurely becomes fractious and, shall we say stressed. Still, the obvious elephant in this view is that we’re not really talking about non-action here,* we’re talking about dicking around. I don't know, I'm thinking maybe it’s more of a 1st Law of Motion thing.Anyway, this has all become needlessly convoluted and besides, trying to come up with scientific analogies is exhausting. The end result was we managed to see the same or slightly less than we had on the last tour when we only had one day. Also, this was the first time this tour where we wanted to kill each other.

Well, I’d wager Chuck and I didn’t want to kill anyone. We just sit in the back of the van like old men on a bench and let the young folk get all worked up about the state of the world. I made a conscious decision before this tour to not try and change the course of any rivers. I used to expend an enormous amount of energy trying to make sure we went to places I wanted. Ugh, fuck it. Everyone in the band likes pretty much the same kind of destinations. I figure we’ll end up someplace cool and I wont get all up in the 2nd Noble Truth’s grill.

So after a stop at Guitar Center to attempt to replace one of Joe’s drum cases, and an afternoon of harried driving we got to a beautiful stretch of rocky Pacific shoreline just in time for sunset. I grew up well inland and yet seeing, hearing, and in particular smelling the sea satisfies such a deep, dormant longing that I wonder how it got there. I like to think it’s proof that we came from the sea and somewhere in our DNA we’re just missing home.

Oh and it is so beautiful. The sand is dark and super fine. There are few if any shells but lots of driftwood. The rocks, at least where the tide was when we were there, were a short ways offshore and just huge and hulking with entire flocks of sea birds coming in to roost on them. The wind had created small dunes and I tried to run along the crest of one giggling like an idiot. At your back there tends to be tall hills or cliffs, and in this case vast stretches were covered with lovely yellow flowers. I came across a washed up seal, there long enough to receive rites from now absent children, who left behind an altar of the yellow flowers and a driftwood tomb, but still so fresh as to frustrate the Turkey Vulture that couldn’t do much more than stare at it and will it to rot.

We all gathered back at the van, and then sat on the ledge leading down to the beach and watched the sun set. It was while I was sitting there that I began to feel a little of the weight start to slip from my shoulders. It’s funny but you don’t even feel it accumulating. I don’t know if everyone does this or not, but one of the curses of adulthood is it’s easy to think the entire world is somehow dependent on your efforts. It’s an ego-centric view and maybe one of the benefits of a trip like this is it gives everyone a chance to breathe. I can go off and do something on my own and my kids are not abandoned, we just miss each other. My fiance’ has a life of her own. She’s good. My ex-wife’s aunt said something about this while we were having coffee, “You have to do your own thing because they (the kids) leave, and you’ll be left there. Believe me, we experienced it.”

Anyway, enough about that. We managed to survive a foggy 101 in pitch black to make it to Eureka.

Day Two:

Euraka was OK. There’s a place that makes the best English toffee I’ve ever had but that was about it for first impressions. Our goal for the day was to see the Redwoods and make it to San Francisco. We randomly picked a place to stop somewhere in the Avenue of the Giants and split off to wander. I swear if there is a place expressly designed to provide succor to the distressed, it is this place. I know I said it before, but the Redwood forest is a holy place. I did what I do, wander, fail to take pictures that provide any sense of scale, and sneak off and have seat in the soft mulch** with my back against a tree and just let the woods reassemble themselves around me. After enough wandering to think maybe the band was wondering where the hell I was I returned to the van to see Joe and John being formed into a search party to find Lisa, who in full Deerslayer mode had gotten lost. I decided not to worry since the area we were in was bordered by a road and was no more than a few acres wide. We were entertained in the meantime by a Stellar’s Jay who was sneaking in our van to steal our bounty of crumbs. Lisa was fine and we left somewhat like a teenaged couple who've done nothing but hold hands as they depart for summer break.

Before we got back on the 101 we stopped at an awesome town for gas and lunch. "Garberville, the town where ambition went to die", according to Chuck. It’s chock-full of the crunchiest granolas you’ve ever seen; for whom the grid is merely a ghost story whispered under the sheets with flashlights held under your chin. Everyone had a dog, and there were two guys who looked like Floyd and Goober sitting all day outside the Hemp store. If you go to Garberville eat at Calico’s. It was a remarkably yummy deli with local beers and comely employees.

I spent the rest of the day listening to the new Withered Hands record and writing. Seriously, too much time in the van together with too much crankiness. Time for a break.

Tomorrow is San Francisco.

* I spent about an hour researching non-action and wei wu wei. Very cool, but definitely not applicable here.
** See what I did there

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Animals: Great Egret

Quotes: “I’m gonna look at that pizza the way Peter Boyle looked at Madelyn Kahn.”

SIARPC: Burp Reynolds

Portland’s not much of a drive from Seattle so the band slept in and I got up to go have coffee with my ex-wife’s aunt and uncle, who I had not seen in 10 years, or more specifically since the divorce. They had always been my favorites. Kind of cool and more prone to smiling than some, they also always sent our kids the hippest gifts. Chuck and I had been talking about our respective divorces a day or so before when I told him about getting to see them, and we both agreed it’s among the most brutal things one can go through. In Chuck’s words, there is always a place that doesn’t quite heal. For me I still feel the loss of a family I loved, because when you take people into your heart as family that’s what they are. I was nervous but of course it was lovely and wonderful to catch up. It’ll probably be another ten years but that’s the nature of the thing.

When I got back everyone was getting around and after attempting to remove our shame from the house we got ridiculously yummy pizza at Razzis Pizza and left for Portland.

We were playing the Alhambra Theater, which was in a little hipster neighborhood* on the east side of the river. So no Powell’s Books this time. We were in the smaller of two theaters and there was a variety/burlesque show in the larger, which meant unexpectedly costumed people regularly popped in and out of our lives for the rest of the night. Ticket presales had been good and we ended up selling out for the second night in a row. People actually had to be turned away.

The theater was tiered so there was audience on the floor slightly below us and then another layer farther back at eye level. The show, although largely consisting of the same songs couldn’t have been more different than the previous night. We had burned some of our nervous mania away but also the audience was putting out so much love that the show immediately took on the air of being among friends. It was a night of many discursions and silly stories. What a pure pleasure to play this night.

I happened to walk up to the club earlier in the evening right as doors opened and there was a line up the sidewalk. That’s never happened before.

Afterwards I was getting hot dogs for the band, because that’s exactly what you want the van to smell like the next day, so I missed the apparently comical exchange between a guy with white Elvis socks pulled up to his knees berating Lisa because her Neil Young shirt was not a “real” Neil Young shirt. Chuck gave him what for but the man just walked away to make psychotic distinctions another day.

Tomorrow is a travel day:

*Is that redundant?

Seattle Part Two

Playing Seattle is a big deal for us. The West coast equivalent of NYC. We were playing the El Corazon, which used to be the Off Ramp back in the day. It’s mostly a metal club now and in a bit of a sketchy neighborhood, but once inside the club was not scuzzy at all. I liked it. As we loaded onto the stage I wondered how in the hell Pearl Jam ever fit on it. It was one of those slightly awkward triangular stages born out of a corner. Then when they told us to take our cases through this big sliding door we walked into the big room. Still not huge, maybe 250-300 people, but it was then that the videos and pictures I’d seen fell into place. John and I just stood on stage and felt kind of awed.

I got some delicious healing vegetarian Pho from a place called Pho Bac up the street, which I recommend. Just don’t engage the ramblers with their dogs under the bridge, ignore the crack vials and you’ll be all right.

There were two bands before us so Joe and I went up the street to a cool little bar lit only in red and playing “The Night of the Living Dead,” on the wall, to kill some time. I went back to the club by myself with the aim of heading up to the green room. The only path up there was through the darkened main stage room. I decided to have a quiet moment sitting on that storied stage. The day before my son had asked me how long until I came home and I had to tell him it would be awhile. I had really been struggling with missing them. I’ve only got a few years before my they leave to be on their own and even fewer before their friends and life take precedence, and I was choosing to give that away like it was nothing. So I lay my back down on the stage and asked the ghosts in the room what they thought.* Are the not inconsiderable gifts of rocknroll fair trade for giving up real time on the tail end of the best thing I’ve ever done? Which of course is raising my kids.

I felt the ghosts of a thousand shows and a thousand more audiences rise up like a physical thing and their answer was an inchoate scream of yes and no simultaneously. The audiences whose lives were saved by a band on a given night, and the people desperate for a home and the love and family they could only dream of. The bands who gave pretty much their whole lives and realized it was all for nothing, and the ones who found the one place they felt peace on that stage. And I just started crying. Not and Indian who sees someone littering tears, but air gulping sobs. After a few minutes when it became clear no answer was forthcoming I decided I would give everything I had in my being to the audience that night and just dearly hope that we could make them feel that thing that rock gives better than anything else. Defiance, joy, catharsis, love and lust, a temporary community of outsiders for whom an ink stamp is the secret handshake.

And we tried like hell. The show had sold out and the place was packed to the back. We played like a charge into battle. I’m not sure we were ever completely locked in together, but whether it was individual or collective I think we roared ok. It was so hot the sweat came off us in sheets. The next day my leather guitar strap was still wet. We sold more merch than we ever had and it was sweet talking to people afterwards.

We went back to the house exhausted and I went to sleep in another man’s kids bed.**

Tomorrow is Portland.

*Not the ghost of Kurt Cobain – that’d be stupid.

** When our friend told his kids that we would be staying at the house one of them said, “Please tell me Chuck’s not sleeping in my bed.”

Seattle Part One

Animals: Stellar’s Jay

“The antichrist’s apple tree” – from a screed handed to us by a woman who believed pretty much all technology – including having your picture taken – were tools of Satan.

“It’s like biting into a salamander.”

SIARPC: Don Wrinkles

We had to get up and get going because we were due to be at KEXP by 10:00 for a live broadcast performance. I’m sure I rhapsodized the last time about everything KEXP has done for us so I will keep it brief by saying they are one of the handful of entities that have helped us so much our little career is unimaginable without them.

I once applied for a job because I wanted to know what was behind the employee’s only door*. I need to know what’s around the corner. It’s a compulsion and drives most of the wandering that requires the band to text me and say it’s time to go. So I get a thrill seeing behind the scenes of arguably the best radio station in the country. When you walk through the load-in door the hallway splits to the left and right like you’re at home plate and are about as half as wide as a hotel hallways are. The walls are unsurprisingly covered with signed posters of bands broken up and unknown to me. Lots of interns in their twenties sit at computers wearing clothes I’d look like an idiot in. The room we play in is dorm room sized and if you’re curious you can see it on their youtube videos. It’s pretty damn exciting to be wearing headphones, with 3 crouching people holding video cameras, knowing that for better or worse what you play is being broadcast all over the country.

And as we were leaving King Buzzo from the Melvins was walking in for a solo segment he was going to record. I didn’t know enough about his band to introduce myself but Chuck and Lisa got their picture taken with him. He was very gracious and possessed truly magnificent hair.

Afterwards we went to the Portage Bay Café’. I don’t get the sense anyone wants to hear about meals but it was lovely. Oh, and I had sipping chocolate at a place around the corner. Yes, I just say yes to this. I split of from the band because who wouldn’t, got some Seattle coffee to see what the fuss is about, and walked to the Pier. Good touristy shit.

I got back to the van about a half an hour before everyone else so decided to hang in the park across the street from KEXP. Almost all the benches were taken by sleeping bums but one in particular was snoring in an epic, echoing fashion that was as impressive as it was worrying. I sat as far a way from him as possible. In a few minutes a toothless elderly woman with gray hair sticking up Don King style came cackling up the walk. Now I like to pretend I’m a good liberal man of the people, but unpredictable folk tend to make me flee. I put my sunglasses and hat back on and prepared to go as she was making a beeline for me, but she had such joy in her laughter and a healthy looking little dog trotting around her feet that I took a breath and tamped down my instinct and waited for her. She sat down and said, “What are you doing sleeping on benches snoring like that?” “What? That wasn’t me, that was a guy over there.” And by now she’s bent double laughing, “Did you hear that? He calling the cows home that one. Oh my oh my…. I ain’t been with a man in a long time but I sure as hell wouldn’t sleep next to that!” After a bit when we’d exhausted that topic she sighed and said, “I was just heading out to get my one beer for the day.” Me, “That sounds like a good idea, you should go right on and do that.” “Aww hell, I’m too broke.” Now I’m not new, I know a good play when I see one, but I told her I’d be happy to buy her a beer. As I reached into my pocket she said, “You’re going to fund that?” “Sure, why not?” “I ain’t asking for money.” “I know, I want you to have that beer.”

It was a sweet exchange but I think that’ll be it for talking to strangers for awhile.

* I got the job, fell in love with my future ex-wife, met a woman who upon returning from her honeymoon was diagnosed with brain cancer, worked with a gay co-worker for the first time, (I’m from a small town) and for a brief time had an adopted family full of love and drama that must mean I was in my twenties.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Animals: Nope



“That shit stain’s the size of a Kennedy half.”

SIARPC: Frosty Books

We were in no hurry to leave the comforts of our host’s bosom. We and the opening band were made hash browns, omelets, and pancakes that were freaking great. Home cooked is the shit. Now the first time we came to Wenatchee we played the Café Mela and there was an antique mall right next door that looked amazing, but was closed. Chuck, who never wants to do anything or go anywhere really wanted to check it out. For once he was right. This place had so much cool stuff it was like a museum. I got a 1938 book called, "Thalassa - A Theory of Genitality” by Sandor Ferenczi, MD for only 5 bucks. Here’s a small sample of the brilliance within.

"These observations have led me to suspect that in normal ejaculation a synergetic harmony of anal and urethral innervations is essential, their presence going unrecognized owing perhaps only to the fact that each innervation normally covers up or masks the other: whereas in ejaculatio praecox the urethral component, in ejaculatio retardata, the anal, is alone in evidence."

Ah, Fruedians are a fussy bunch.

Boom, then we were off. We stopped at a tiny, somewhat down in the mouth looking town called Cle Elum, where apparently some of Northern Exposure was filmed, (the vast majority being filmed one town north) to get gas and lunch, and where I got to pay $14 for a steak salad without the steak that was primarily iceberg lettuce. Sample conversation: ”Superchunk? I Hate Music? What’s that all about?” “Superchunk is the name of the band and I Hate Music is the name of the album.” “Huh. Weird way to sell it.”

The only bit of tourism we indulged in was a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls. It’s 285 feet tall and it flows into a stunning gorge with high walls and lots of obnoxiously lush northwestern forest. I was told these were the falls used in the opening sequence of Twin Peaks and since it seems like a silly thing to lie about will assume that they were. 

Before we drove to Tacoma we stopped by the house where we were going to stay for two nights. A wonderful friend of the band vacated his house so we could have a nice, free home away from home for our Greater Seattle shows. He had snacks and beer waiting for us. We all had our own space to crash. There was a beautiful back deck where we were surrounded by flowers and a cherry tree with ripe cherries on it. I cannot express just how important the simple act of closing a door onto my own world where none of those fuckers had any need to go.

With bittersweet sorrow we hopped right back into the van to head to Tacoma. Tacoma seems like a working town, with I’m guessing a more industrial past. There was construction everywhere and the art museum (sadly closed) was in the midst of a $15.5 million addition, so it seems some of the Seattle largess might be filtering south. Still, it was a fairly empty downtown we pulled up into. The Swiss, the club we were playing, was a big, kinda sporty place with a super high ceiling and wacky things like enormous metal anthropomorphic grasshoppers hanging from it. I immediately felt anxiety settle into my stomach.

The stage was big, the sound system excellent, the sound guy benign. Two things made it a difficult environment for me. One - there were a lot of backwards baseball hat wearing dudes, as evidenced by the Drakkar Noir - now with Rohypnol! mister in the bathroom, and two -  the bar music was ear-splittingly loud and exclusively of the genre Chuck termed “butt rock.” Now keep in mind we’re all as deaf as organ grinder monkeys and have what I would consider fairly wide-ranging tastes in music, but this was horrible and unrelenting. As always the thing that saved the night was the wonderful people who came to see us. There was one guy who had been trying to see Chuck play since the Ass Pony’s days and was over the moon to be there. It was our smallest crowd of the tour but one of the things that pleases me about the band nowadays is that in the past a small crowd in an ill-fitting venue sometimes defeated us, but we had fun playing and it felt good to make these people so happy.

We got the hell out of Dodge and went back to our lovely borrowed home.

Tomorrow is Seattle.


Animals: Marmot, Violet-Green Swallow, Bank Swallow


“That smells like the seat of my Rascal.”

SIARPC: Felch Lives

 I know it doesn’t matter but I feel like I’m getting so far behind I’m forgetting stuff. So I’m going to attempt to streamline the next few days and see if I can get it back to zero.

We started out the day in Spokane at the exact same hotel we stayed at last time*, right on the Spokane River. I think the Spokane is my favorite urban river. It manages to retain some sense of wildness even when surrounded by concrete. I jogged, looked at the birds and a pretty sweet waterfall, ate a tofu Reuben from a truck, and then we were on our way. We just busted it out straight to Wenatchee because, wait for it, we were running behind. (Excepting a quick stop to get cherries from a roadside orchard. Last tour we were a week too early but not this time boyee!) Wenatchee was to be our second ever house concert. And it was in the same house where we stayed last time we played the big W. I have to say that our hosts are so wonderful and generous that combined with the world’s greatest pug Kilby, we adore the whole place. We’re getting a little more familiar with the dynamic and intimacy of the house show so we didn’t hide out quite as much as we had at the last one. I have trouble shaking the anxiety that we’re going to somehow get the host family in trouble for being too loud. It’s just how I am. After we settled in I took off to walk in the foothills. Their neighborhood butts right up against a wildlife refuge and it’s starkly beautiful. The hills are tans and browns covered by dried grasses and sage bushes. When the wind blew just right, and it was always blowing, you could actually smell the sage, which once again put me in mind of a bad Western. It was so peaceful and I was all alone out there. Plus I found Rocky, my lucky stress rock for the trip. He’s speckled like an egg and I love him.

I think we played well. We played for about an hour and only changed our set slightly by dropping a few of the really noisy ones, but in general we gave our show. These concerts really are defined by their intimacy. It’s a different energy from a club show but it’s cool. I’d love to see Superchunk in one of these shows. That’d be amazing. John slept in a tent in the backyard and fell so soundly asleep he didn’t even hear when Joe went out to it and played scary music from the Scooby Doo Show outside his tent. Oh, and we did our laundry!!

Tomorrow is Tacoma.

*Fun Fact: By not playing a show in Spokane we only played to two fewer people this time.

Travel Day #2 - Baby Got Butte

Animals: Magpie

Quotes: If there were quotes I forgot to write them down. I’m sorry.

SIARPC:  Flap Wilson

Today’s destination dream was to be Spokane. However, before that we had a more immediate and awesome goal. We had been told we must go to the Bozeman Hot Springs to take the waters by another travelling Cincinnati Band, and we wanted to try it. Western Montana looks like the West. Which it is, I get that, but it’s got rocks jutting out of brownish plains where every property has a horse no matter how small. Not tumbleweed West but cowboy West.* Bozeman, it was remarked, looked like a town where Bruce Willis would drive in from his million-acre ranch to get his coffee. Kind of upscale but it looked like real people lived there too. We found the hot springs on the edge of town and I must say our expectations suffered a blow. It looked like the YMCA and when we got in the resemblance only solidified. It was a big indoor pool and there were summer camp kids running around joyfully oblivious of our desire to enter a meditative state and commune with mother earth’s very own mammary fluid so that we might be healed. Instead we said fuck this and left.

We decided to head towards Butte (Give a Butte – Don’t Pollute) and revisit the Mining Museum we enjoyed so much on the last tour. It seemed to have not quite thrived in the two years since we last parted. The gift shop was bare and they don't even try to get people to pay admission any more, just rather optimistically placed donation bins every 3 or 4 feet. That said, I still think it’s a pretty cool place. I found a building that had a bunch of the big machinery used to raise and lower stuff down the shaft, and various things used to grind, pummel, and pulverize mountains into submission. My grandfather and great-grandfather (who died in a mining accident) both worked in the mines of southern Ohio. Not safe, easy, or clean work by any stretch.

Lisa, exhibiting the kind of gee-whiz mastery of the internet the young just take for granted these days, found a different hot springs just outside Butte. It was still more pool-like than we anticipated but it was super chill and it had two outside pools, one pretty hot and one dreamily warm. John and I first went into the steam room, which was like Viking hot and purified our lungs by fire. Then I went outside, got a beer and slipped into the hot pool. Lisa’s research said that the water was low sulphur, contained lithium, and undisclosed mineral content. It definitely seemed more buoyant than normal, and it was flat out wonderful. The air was cool and a little rainy, the mountains were distant, and we floated for at least an hour. And there is something about it because I felt warm, fuzzy, and decidedly peaceful for hours.  

Peaceful enough to enthusiastically approve of going to the Broken Arrow Steakhouse for dinner, which featured real cowboys with hats and a general air of leathery taciturnity. They certainly showed no interest in discussing the vexing second act of my (fingers crossed!) off-broadway Wink Martindale revue.

And then in the glorious late evening sun a little shower gave us the biggest double rainbow we’d ever seen. The locals said it happens all the time and they don’t even look any more.

We left, drove to Spokane once again in the terrifying pitch-black darkness and rain, proving we can live not learn with the best of ‘em.

Tomorrow is Wenatchee.

*Fuck off – you describe it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Travel Day #1 - North Dakota

Animals: Mule Deer, Western Grebe


“That smells like an old toe band-aid.”

SIARPC: Juggaloaf

Our goal was to drive from Minneapolis to Billings Montana this day. It’s somewhere around a 12-13 hour drive so of course we checked out late and then spent an hour at Target. That’s one of those things you had better accept if you’re going to travel with 5 adults for whom you have no familial bond. Everyone has different travelling styles and you’re only as fast as your greatest dilly-dallier. I, like my father prefer to get the fuck on the road and get some miles behind me. I used to fuss and cajole and it made not a damn bit of difference.  Thus, after many fruitless years of gut-clenching frustration, acceptance was thrust upon me like blindness was thrust upon Galileo.

North Dakota is not a state I’ve ever been to and it does not seem to be a place too many people I know have ever visited. We were going to remedy that by traversing the whole thing from East to West. I was warned that the first two-thirds was achingly boring, but during the month of June at least, I found it to be lovely. Green and rolling terrain with that huge western sky that is so striking to us from the other side of the Mississippi. The last third began to change with the appearance of adolescent green mounds rising out of the flatlands. They didn’t seem to be part of a range or even foothills.  It was as if over the eons the wind had stripped away the land grain by grain leaving behind only the toughest bits. Very cool and surreal.

Around this time we came up on a car that had crap glued all over it. Every inch had hand drawn signs, lights, garland, and such delightful features as the 3 Monkeys of the Apocalypse, and a functioning 12-inch high working hourglass. She seemed to have an axe to grind. True, she hates Obama, and true she considers the government a form of tyranny, but mostly, mostly she thinks that anybody purporting that cigarettes are unhealthy and thus enacting laws to regulate them are liars, charlatans, tools of the government, and garden variety assholes. Beyond the glitz and glamour of her art car the vast majority of space was dedicated to extolling her somewhat minority opinion that in fact, cigarettes are just fine. Her nom de guerre is “Smokin’ Granny.” I still don’t know how she got all that stuff to stick to her car.

We spent the next few hours chasing the sun and as we crossed into the Mountain Time Zone it seemed as if night would never fall. Behind us was the most amazing lightning show pulsating from cloud to cloud. As we stopped for a pee break somewhere near the Montana border who the hell would drive up? Smokin’ Granny herself. We descended upon her taking pictures of her car and having a remarkably pleasant conversation. She said her car had been photographed in front of every state in the union excepting Alaska and Hawaii. She hails from southern Kentucky and was the most benign sort of anarchist one could ever hope to meet.

The last several hours were a nightmare. It was pitch black, it was really late at night, we had inexplicably not filled up on gas at the last stop so there was some stress on whether we would run out. We made it but in a rather ragged fashion.

Tomorrow is another travel day.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Animals: Umm… I don’t think I saw shit.

"I’m lousy at picking names. Just ask my daughter Fart Sock.” – Obviously this is from Chuck.

"Even my own pecker makes me sick sometimes. Who would want that?"

 Get yer pre-moistened flip-flops here!"

Cruising Chubby’s Gentlemen’s Club – Actual billboard.

Jeffrey Dahmer says tattoo’s taste better – Actual bumper sticker.

SIARPC: Turnips and Cootch

The drive to Minneapolis was rainy and Wisconsin passed in a cheeseless blur. About the time we were entering Minneapolis I got hit with heartburn bad enough to choke a horse. I thought I’d packed two bottles of off-brand Pepcid but managed neither. Tums wasn’t touching it so when we got to the hotel I paid $6 for a tiny bottle of Pepto, which I drank out of all night like a drunk sneaking sips in the church basement. A big windy lightning storm blew through foiling our plans for Indian food so we ended up eating at the Hotel. We spent most of the meal trying to figure out what was in John’s soup. It was supposed to be Beef and Barley but seemed to have clams in it. I wanted to die.

Now we were supposed to play at the legendary First Avenue where Prince filmed parts of “Purple Rain,” but they cancelled our show when something better came along. In a way they did us a favor because we’re not big enough to play that room. In another way it put Rene’ (our booker/touring manager) in a bind because this was a Saturday night and you can’t give up a weekend night on tour. She once again saved the day by finding us a spot to play at the Driftwood Char Bar.

Now I just want to say that everyone at the Char Bar was sweet and accommodating to us. I have no complaints. That said it was as if David Lynch had directed Fargo in there. Sometimes I respond strongly to buildings and as soon as I walked in I wanted to get out. I felt like hell and the thought of spending several hours before the show there freaked me out a little. My dear friend Paul had shown up and accompanied me in the rain to a wine bar  a half mile away where I got a grip on myself. Dark wood is ever so soothing. When I got back the band was a mess. Maybe a hot mess, I don’t know, I’ve never understood the distinction. Lisa was exhausted and cranky, Chuck refused to load-in in the rain, Joe had a free-floating anger thing going on, I was sick and crazy, and well John seemed fine. It was an oddly shaped stage so I had to play on the floor while the rest of the band was on stage. Not a big deal. Here’s where the lovely thing happened though. As soon as we started playing you could see everyone, one by one relax. As the show went on we began smiling, jokes started happening, and we ended up playing really well I think. The audience danced and sang along. It was the best part of the day. Still, only the second day of the tour and we were already three weeks worth of crazy. Goodness.

Anyway, back to the surreal thing. I can’t give any specific examples but even though everyone was sweet, every conversation was odd, like from another plane odd. Upon reflection it was as if we’d wandered into an enclave of recently cloned inter-dimensional star travelers who were still assimilating human culture. And I really hope I'm not being insulting here, because that is not my intent, I’m just trying to describe how it felt to me on that particular night. I talked to a guy from one of the opening bands and he said shrugging, and without prompting, “I’ve played there once a month for seven years. It’s a neighborhood bar. It is what it is.”

Tomorrow St. Paul:


Ok. I’m going to resurrect some of the features of the last west coast tour. Observed animals (possibly wishful thinking), quotes from the van, and a new one. I will be putting a star in a reasonably priced car*. We have a favorite game whereupon we change the name of primarily forgotten celebrities. I’ll do this until we run out.

Animals: Swan – Only one and no hummingbird.

Quotes: Lisa, “I was writing “number” on my phone an “numbat” came up in the autocorrect. That’s not a real word is it?”

A legitimate question in that Chuck has oft told the story of a fellow classmate in his natural resources class who when asked on a test what another word for leaf litter** was, answered “numbat,” and furthermore wrote that a skunk was called a scunch.  Ha! But as it turns out there is a numbat and it is a marsupial indigenous to Australia.

 Here are some numbat fun facts:
1.     Also known as the Banded Anteater or Walpurti.
2.     Unlike most marsupials they are active during the day, reflecting the behavior patterns of termites, (white ants) their primary food source.
3.     They consume on average 20,000 termites a day.
4.     The female does not have a pouch. The newborns cling to her teats and are protected by her long belly hair.
5.     In clinical studies there was no significant increase in fecundity when they were given standardized tests covering basic STEM subjects. In fact they showed a 17% increase in time spent in their burrow listening to Queen with the lights off.

SIARPC: Queasy Jefferson

We were playing a club called the Red Line Tap, which was located within Anna Karenina distance of the Red line, and yet according to my friends it was so far away that it could barely be described as actually being in Chicago. My friends, dear though they may be, will not likely make it long enough to form a band of hearty, hard-scrabble survivors in the coming apocalypse.

It was a gorgeous evening that required us to drive something like 10 miles along Lakeshore Drive. Way up there in beautiful sites this country has to offer has to be the Chicago skyline to your left, the lake to your right, the early evening spreading its honeyed light all over the seemingly young and energetic citizens jogging and frolicking about their world-class museums in what could only be considered a smug and frankly annoying manner.

I liked the club and neighborhood a lot. We pulled into an alley behind the club that smelled like lettuce and loaded-in through this odd semi-covered hallway that contained the detritus of all the businesses on that block. The reason I provide this detail is that out of one of the back doors would come the occasional young opera singer in training. They would pace nervously around the alley singing (operatically natch) things like, “I like to sing I like to sing I like to a lot!” up and down the chromatic scale. I was pleased of course as the closer real life can get to that of a musical the better I say.

We’ve really struggles to find a home in Chicago. (not a sweet home – you know how I feel about post-war blues) We haven’t played any club more than once and I don’t know if the Red Line will be it or not but we actually sold it out. I’m not saying anyone who wanted to see us couldn’t, but they told us that we were at capacity. You know, which is pretty cool. We played pretty well for an opening night. I’m really enjoying getting to play the new songs. I hope people are enjoying hearing them because it’s what we’re playing. It’s interesting, to me at least, in that it feels like there’s more room to move inside these songs than the ones we’ve done before. Not necessarily room to play more notes but a spaciousness that feels bigger somehow. We’re a different band than we were before I think. That’s a good thing.

Tomorrow is Minneapolis

*British Top Gear

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pre-Tour Jitters

A couple of years ago Chuck and I were interviewed on camera before a jaunt down to South by Southwest or some such. And by on camera I mean I have no idea if it ever broadcast or was just added into snuff films to maintain the aura of uneasiness. When the guy was asking us about leaving for a tour Chuck and I realized we share the conviction that this (or any of them really) is going to be the tour where we die. No real reason or specificity, just garden variety foreboding. The longer the trip the greater the foreboding. (foreskin and forelocks are the only other “fore” words I can think of right now. I just spent the last five miles changing the letters for amusement, i.e. War-skin Warlock, or More-skin Morelock. The first one being a hyper aggressive Dungeons and Dragons gang who roam the suburbs after dark casting spells, wearing cloaks, tipping over children’s wagons, and trading in the casual misogyny of the chronically virginal. The second being a cigar-chomping, former Vaudeville manager who now makes soft porn movies under the guise of Scared Straight style morality plays.)

I’ve spent the last several months becoming progressively more excited about the prospects of leaving on this tour. Everyone I talk to admits to some level of pre-trip anxiety no matter how relaxing the promised vacation might be. As we got down to the last two weeks my anxiety became obvious to all and caused me to take a lot of naps. Everyone in the band, except possibly the more stoic among us for whom their inner life remains but a tantalizing non-entity, were similarly freaking out. It’s not just fear of catastrophic disaster but the camping trip aspect of it. We need to have everything we might need, excepting supplies gleaned from gas stations, in the van. All of our equipment of course, including enough back-ups that hopefully we can avoid having a show come to a grinding halt because of some non-human failure. We need to get all the merch ordered, put together, organized into bins, and hopefully find the right balance between what we can fit in the van and afford to pay for, get posters sent, press releases e-mailed etc. Then, like everyone who has ever travelled ever, there’s the quest to predict all possible future needs and meet them with the essential travel-sized solution. Will my corns chafe? Will I suffer the ignomy of monkey butt? Will I be cold, hot, clammy, sweaty, windswept, or stifled? And what, oh what about the heartbreak of psorisis? Or in other words, how can I ameliorate the chance of any discomfort whatsoever while maintaining the visage of the seasoned traveler with naught but a windbreaker, a washcloth, and a toothbrush. We can fit one medium suitcase per person that will get tossed in back with the gear and then whatever you can fit around your assigned spot without encroaching on someone else’s spot.

Add in the leaving of one’s life for almost a month, making sure all bills are paid (and don’t even think how they’re going to get paid next month), kids have rides arranged to day camps or work, shifts are covered etc. and the anxiety is getting going good.  The final piece is of course the impending dread of leaving and missing loved ones. It might be nice to have a break from your every day life, but it’s hard nonetheless. I don’t want to speak for the rest of the band but there’s guilt too. Our families have to pick up the slack of all the responsibilities we are walking away from. I feel like an asshole leaving my kids with the pat platitude that I am teaching them how important it is to follow your dreams.  Or perchance that their dad is a selfish man-child who splits all the time to hang out in bars.

To sum up then: we were a mess making our aforementioned loved ones so crazy they were probably relieved when we finally left. We had one mantra, “Everything will be ok when we get in the van.” Because once you get in the van it’s done. You roll with what you’ve got and once again realize that you are not Peter Matthiessen heading into the Himalayas and can stop at a store to get whatever you’ve forgotten. It was weird. For the first few hours after we left for Chicago I just sat there not knowing what to do because my heart was racing and my body still felt like it was moving, but there was nothing to do but sit. (and yes I am aware I was in travelling van on a rotating earth in an elliptical orbit around the sun of a spinning galaxy in an ever expanding universe.) The entire day, and to a certain extent the next was all about dispassionately observing my heart and breathing slow down and acclimating to its new routine.

And if all this sounds like a big batch of negativity about something so desirable as playing in a rock band, then just roll with the idea that opposites do not necessarily negate each other. I can’t believe I get the chance to play music almost every night. I can’t wait to see this huge country again and meet all the sweet people who have taken our music into their lives. I love the adventure of it all. I love that I’m going to see the mountains and put my feet into the Pacific for the second time. Drinking wine in the same zip code where it was made, eating cherries in Washington and Mexican food pretty much all down the west coast. It's awesome, it really is. Anyway, we’re on our way to Chicago regardless!