10 Nov 2007

Sled-dog Afterbirth

Stuck in a house in the Calgary suburbs, thinking about hair reduction surgery. What do I need this mop for, anymore?

Claustrophobic. Isolated. No savior in my future. I’m a non-entity, out of the game. Witty conversation around me. What can I talk about, being bored and depressed? I have nothing to say, no personality. Shallow smile, acceptance of empty praise. I’ll go along for now. Spastic attempts at response. Trying to pretend nothing’s wrong. Dreamed of Dez last night, seems the only good in the world, now inaccessible, for good. Good times in the past when I lived in the present, living day to day with my girl. Gotta stop thinking about “my girl”, it’s toxic and sweet, like whisky. Abuse of nostalgia.

It’s the morning after the second show. I give Mike a simplistic and marginally articulate version of what I like about Keith Jarrett. Something to talk about. I even feign enthusiasm. I talk with Lyndon. Tell him what I like about his songs. I talk about where I’m coming from musically, my classical influence. Steal meth’s comment about me fusing Scriabin and late Liszt with Nirvana. Turns into another conversation of clich├ęs, “less is more”, the beauty of simplicity. I oblige by saying that I’ve become less interested in virtuosity. But they’re all such tired pronouncements. True, but tired. Should have used the opportunity to articulate some ad-hoc “more is more” philosophy. Decide that when I form my own band, it will be called More is More. More’s law, a band’s harmonic density will double in size every six months to infinity.

More driving. Stopping on the strip for gas and food and drinks and gas and drinks and food. We go through the entire Black Sabbath catalog. I’ve come to appreciate Sabbath as much as I appreciate anything. But max capacity is low. Sounds like something I could like some day, if I ever care about music again. I hear what I like about it, as an estranged fact. But the only passion I can muster is in writing of emptiness.

Noah defines emo as “suicidal punk rock”. Chortles at the genre for existing. It is funny, shouldn’t emo have self-immolated, according to its own ideals, or lack thereof? In stranger aeons, even death may die. I see nothing good in suicide, and nothing good in life. Mike and Sam crack me up with their banter, but after a spasm of involuntary laughter, I feel myself, and the useless space I take up, as an obstruction to pure function, a clog in the artery of the cosmos, I have nothing to offer. I may be sicker of music than anything else. Burned out on soul balm. I drink coffee every few hours, but feel sluggish. I drink beer in the bars, get hazy and headachy but never really buzzed.

Nothing works, but Sam relates. And Mike’s happy. Never sure what’s up with Noah. But he’s got a hottie waiting for him at home. I don’t worry about him. Mike and Sam got their steadies. I’m the one with no one to come home to. So I go back to worrying about me. I’m imagining a road trip, in lieu of the rest of the tour, during my time-off. Renting a car and driving down to the desert to see someone, an idea born of desperation. Crazy, but it’s the only thought that has excited me in these long long days. Would feel terrible abandoning the band, though I know they don’t need me. I’m texture, but I’m not vital. I don’t want to harsh anyone’s buzz, but fuck, everybody else gets their rocks off, why can’t I? I’m thinking I could do it, if I was willing to spend a lot of money, which I am – what else am I gonna do with it? Might as well splurge for the one thing that seems to interest me. If she would see me. That’s a mystery. These strange women, who knows what they think? And what good would it do to visit anyone in this state? Well, I’d be in a different state then, literally, plus I’d be on my own trip, not chained to someone else’s. Might be a disaster, but at least it would be mine.

Machine Head is playing on the Velvet Underground PA while I wait endlessly for the first of three bands to begin. Well played, well mixed, boring, and annoying. Everything sounds soul-less and good. I respect people, and feel distant from them. Getting sick of this straight explication. How about an hour of carbonation? Got three drink tickets and I’ve only used one. Running with scissors. My expectations have lowered to the point where I expect nothing from anyone, except the basic decency I’ve come to expect from the decent folks I’m touring with. But strangers? I’m not looking to them expectantly, for kindness and understanding. The thought of some kind woman taking me home seems worse than a fantasy – ugly, absurd, cognitive dissonance. I now understand what T meant by his “bag of shit”, feeling that interaction with humanity is just spreading disease. I know how hard it is for him, dragging around the stone. I should be grateful for any friendliness he manages.

Rotbottyrot is the local band, they’re fantastic but I say nothing. A punk four piece, tight, angular, angsty songs, chicks on drum and bass, hot girls, too hot for me to look at. A handsome scream-singer and an excellent guitarist, they sound a bit like At The Drive-In, look even younger, come off more adult. Makes me glad to be on the bill with a good band, there’s no joy in being the bright lights in a dim room, like at the distillery in Calgary.

“This next song’s for my buddy Lorne… Don’t worry, we’ll get through this shit.” Dude just got word there’s a warrant out for his arrest.

Show’s over. I avoid the twelve or so people who saw us play. Am not really interested in what they thought. I think Mike sold a CD, at least. Let’s get the fuck out of here. A parade of loading gear into the van, amps, amps, amps, disassembled drums, my heavy-ass keyboard and all my cords, and stand, amps, guitars, amps, merch, too many trips to count. But they’re playing The Mars Volta in the bar, for a minute I’m happy. I sing along to Cicatriz, awfully off Cedric’s falsetto – been neglecting my singing voice, and all vocal utilities, in fact. Noah warms my heart by commenting favorably on the song. Then I go back to loading gear. Seems an incredible amount of effort for that one hour of music.

I smoke a bowl with our rhythm section outside the club in Edmonton and gradually turn into a basket case, a silent four hour freakout. Those first few post-toke minutes are sweet. I needed this. Life is interesting again, I’m thinking about something other than how lame everything is. Un-self-consciously singing my new song. I suddenly realize how to simplify the chorus melody that sounded wrong. Now I’ve got it sounding perfect, and I didn’t need to think at all. Just came to me. Sam tells me it’s good medicine. I agree, smile, and float on waves of weirdness. Then I do another big hit, and my sanity slips. Was away from THC too long. Now it smacks me like a psychedelic, a mindgrinder, torturous self-examination. I’m an animal trapped in an abattoir, humbled brutally, no longer the rock musician I’m trying to be, but a pitiful bloodied byproduct of chaos. We drive to Lyndon’s friend’s place, where our crash pad is.

By the time we get there, I’m in paralysis. Can’t let on that I’m panicking, it would be a failure of apocalyptic proportions, the Scarlet P, pussyboy – no one must know how weak I really am. Every bit of stimuli is a fragment of a riddle inviting a thousand paranoid possibilities. Am I supposed to go in the house, or… don’t know what to do and every second of delay is increasing awkwardness. How much can I let on? I tell Mike I’m “braindead”, generic enough, hopefully. He’s had to deal with far worse fuck-ups, ends my indecision by reassuring me it’s the house. Lyndon leads me to an empty room I get all to myself. I fall onto the bed, finally, relief of sleep dep. But then the caffeine pills I took two hours ago catch up with me. I’m jittering. Dim room, toys on the floor, must belong to some little kid, lego and star wars posters. Some little kid who must be gone, but why? Where? Or is he? I feel a presence in the room, and my invasive perversity infecting the innocence of this space, am I really supposed to be here or is there some mistake? Desperation, I must get out or I’ll freak, but I mustn’t wake the sleeping bandmates, creaky creaky floor, freaky floor, weird sounds, is there someone in the room? I sit up in bed clutching stolen sheets, looking around, looking under the bed, looking under the bed again, gotta pee but where? Can’t wake anyone, I’ll fuck everything up, feeling the decay of my body in every nerve ending, a tight loop of tension, no relief, no comfort anywhere, can’t sleep, must grab something, some artifact of my life, I’ve got my music in my bag, could ride out the trip with my music but Mike’s sleeping in the van, can’t go there, but I must, but I can’t, gotta pee! Finally decide to venture outside, wake a floor-sleeper with creaks, looking for a bathroom, staring spaced-out down a dim nook, startle awake another floor sleeper I’d missed who startles me in turn with his spasm and gibber, I freak out again, creep toward the door, leave the house with cartoonishly exaggerated stealth, walk around this foreign suburban block five times in the frigid night air, find a shadow to piss in, think I’m being videotaped, piss anyway, creep back. I know, I’ll take a dramamine, maybe that will knock me out. Fish out the pill in my jacket pocket, drop it on the sidewalk, get down on my knees, can’t find it.

Think I must be tired enough to sleep now, creep back into my ill-gotten room, hear creepy noises, eyes darting around for interlopers, twitching, feeling seizure is immanent. Congested, sinus sting, muscles in knots, can’t breath right, can’t live in my body. Just want to do away with it, just want to die. But I can’t, I have a family and friends, people I’d hurt with my death, would be an apocalyptic failure, so the imperative of living, survival mechanism in the vice of emotional co-dependency, with people who I must think about when it gets down to the wire with my bag of rancid flesh hanging off like chemed-out cellulite, loved ones good for nothing except keeping me from suicide, the horrible truth. Time dilates ever more, can’t imagine an end to this night, go through my jacket pocket, find another dramamine, know that it will intensify my emotions, but would rather cry than scream. I chew it up. Bizarre chem taste, brings intolerable associations, can’t cope, must do something or I’ll scream, find the kid’s packet of lifesavers, fret about being a monstrous invader of an innocent room but decide that preventing a freakout is the greater good and eat the candy, and another, butterscotch flavor, and a true life saver, eradicates the dram taste.

Beautiful intricate visuals behind eyelids that I can’t enjoy because of the horror in my head, all sensation being high definition sting, a quadrillion pixels of pain, cerebral and psychosomatic. Still can’t sleep, utterly alone and lacking anything familiar, pick up the kid’s copy of watership down and try to read, re-start the first paragraph twenty times, never get more than two lines in, trying to read in this hyperaesthetic state exhausts me, I lie down, twitch a bit more, sweat, take off my sweater, twitch a bit more, then the drammy kicks in, thank fucking god for drammy, puts me in a twitchy semi-conscious state, I drift into dreams but THC keeps them close to the surface, mingling with the analytical cortex, Dez is in the fog somewhere but a severed Dez, on the other side, waving a grim-faced goodbye to me, contemptuous of my clinginess, and the dramamine is like an anvil, heavy and tragic, imparting the possibility of eventual sleep. I drift deeper, dream of Mike and his van, he is angry at me for giving up on the band, drammy’s sad sequel, somewhat peaceful at least. Yo.

Wake up to casual band chatter and acoustic guitar. Morning light. Overcast and cold. I survived. Nothing is all that sinister anymore, nor all that sad. Just lame. Mike is playing the interlude melody from “The End”, my favourite song to play, but hearing it sounding so integral on solo guitar makes my contribution feel superfluous, like I’m some cancerous growth. But we’re moving again. On the road to Banff. Gotta do one more show. But maybe I can come up with some excuse not to play. Can’t bear the thought of loading my gear again, just want to sleep. Can’t really sleep in the van, gave up the comfy front seat I’ve been monopolizing. Drink coffee instead, still slump in the back.

Drink some beers with Sam and Noah in Banff, almost have fun. Off color talk, as per usual, but something compels me to join. “I ate pussy for four years, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt… and gonorrhea”, I say. We laugh. Eat at Melissa’s, nearly swank. Noah’s broke, I buy him dinner, leave a big tip rather than break a 20, waitress gratitude amuses me, garish, but whatever. Fuck it, I’ll play the show, what else am I gonna do? Play pool, doubles with the band, sink two in one great shot, embarrassingly bad the rest of the time. Still can’t talk to any strangers, poker-faced. Talk music with Mike, amicable and articulate, feeling nothing. Up to four beers now but fuck it, I can play this stuff in my sleep. I might have to, unless I take more caffeine. Doesn’t wake me up, but keeps me from nodding off.

The Random Device, Lyndon’s band, play first. The folks from Salmo who we’re bringing with us on the tour. This wouldn’t be happening without Mike’s connections, mostly thanks to BC/DC and Circle the Wagons. Random is a two piece – a drummer, and bass player/vocalist with a bright and chorusy tone, guitar-like, meticulous in sound-check, patiently working out the kinks. He entwines his lines with Andy Kerr-like vocals, using his instrument as bass and contra-melody, plus he triggers samples, loops, and arpeggios on his little keyboard – busy guy. The drummer, Lorne, is kickass. People dance, the ones who aren’t scared away. These guys have an odd melancholic integrity to their music and performance, it feels fated and desolate, but angry and alive. Mike says it’s like Nomeansno meets The Cure. Good people, I should buy their CD.

Then us, the headliners, play our set. Finally, I get to do what I’m here for, play music. For a brief moment, the ennui fades and I can focus on something. It’s polished and predictable, although we throw in Fortress, because the crowd wants hardcore, not mellow, Mike decides. I remember my part. The song goes well, despite the shitty sound, and despite the bar owner yelling at Mike to turn his amps down. Pisses him off, we’re a loud band for fuck’s sake. Some spaced out chick in a megadeth cut off buys us all jagger bombs, puts them on a tray and carries them up to the stage, expectantly, while we’re in the middle of a song. Mike gives her a glare and goes into a scream singing verse. She wanders over to me. I’m standing precariously on the edge of the stage. I have an organ part I’m supposed to play in a second, but I forego the riff and take a swig from one of the shotglasses, in appreciation of her ill-timed gesture, then flash her a stupid smile.

We talk with an agent after the show who has kind words for all of us. Dude manages Bob Wiseman, and some other folks. He lets all of us crash at his condo, nice guy, middle-aged cancer survivor, weathered, gentle, and crusty all at once. I come to believe his claims. He feels authentic, there’s this NDE weight to his words, he smokes kootenay hash with us and retains the polite force of his personality.

The Rockies, beautiful scenery in the morning, snow, we find a diner and spend the rest of the band money on brunch. I’m still depressed and fretting about how I’m gonna tell Mike I’m quitting, like would I be the beginning of the end, would the others follow, would I fuck up everything by starting a landslide of negative energy? Maybe I should just stick it out for the rest of the tour, would be lame of me to abandon the band right now. But can I really make it for the rest?

Overall impression is desolate clubs and people, a contrived scene. But that’s what a low budget unknown band rock n roll tour is. Mike likes it, endures the hardship. Tells me he feels like a pirate, planting his flag, conquering. He believes in his band. I respect that. But how much am I willing to suffer for his vision? Back home. Check the Ravenhead myspace page. Mike added a short article welcoming me to the band. Okay, fuck it. Let’s play the west coast. 

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