Friday, July 16, 2010

Occupational Hazards

Coming off the road is a retread of the same agonizing steps. First: faced with the divine form of a private bed with clean sheets, I drop my gear and sleep for a solid 16 hours. Second: I'm awoken by caffeine withdrawal clawing holes into my brain. Third: as I contemplate my muscle aches & callused fingers over a cuppa joe, I wonder how in the hell I managed to survive going on tour again.

Any working musician who tells you that going on tour is straight-up fun is either lying or facing one motherfucker of a come-down when the drugs wear off. That's not to say touring's no fun at all; it's some of the most fun you can have, legal & otherwise. But touring takes its toll, as attested by the wrecked relationships, band breakups, chemical casualties, and creative burnout it can leave in its wake.

Mercifully, I've so far avoided the most abysmal pitfalls. None of my bandmates have been junkies; no relationships have been sacrificed on the Dionysian altar; any accident has been the kind from which everyone walked away; and I've never even stayed on the road for a single stretch long enough to forget why the hell I play music in the first place. The worst episode of my touring experience - i.e. no fun then, not funny now - was when, in the boondocks of Pennsyltucky, a drummer was suddenly acquainted with a previously-undiagnosed congenital heart condition. A frightening moment, but obviously he bore the brunt of the misfortune. All I had to do was kill two days' time while he was in hospital (though in Johnstown, PA that's a Quixotic mission at best).

But narcotic indulgence, sexual frivolity, or lengthy estrangements can have ill effects even outside the context of, say, the sawdust-floored bathroom of some mildewed punk bar in Winston-Salem. Perhaps the furtive sociality & itinerant lifestyle of the touring musician make such excesses more accessible than if I was working at an office supply store around the corner, but sex, drugs, and nervous breakdowns have more to do with being human than rock 'n' roll.

What's genuinely strange about touring is the quotidian reality of it: it begins & ends familiarly enough (with slumber) and features the same dull hurdles everyone faces in their day-to-day (e.g. inane small talk, the occasional meal, lots of waiting). But this routine is lived through the warp of a funhouse mirror. The waiting isn't for a train or a slow-moving supermarket line; it's for a large, balding, bearded man called "Jerry" or "Bo" to duct-tape frayed cables so you don't burn to death in an electrical fire. The meals bare only fleeting molecular resemblance to food, and the dining establishments are provincially weird beyond a Cohen brothers movie. The small talk consists of the same Q-&-A with a new set of strangers every day, coalescing into such a reflexive script that you begin to wonder whether or not you have anterograde amnesia. What little sleep is had is in a different place every night, usually under dubious circumstances. (You'd think with the infinite spectrum of stains' colour that no one would bother with white sheets anymore.) For want of some kip, the average touring musician becomes functionally narcoleptic, nodding off in odder places than the average Baltimore junkie.

Speaking of which, I don't mean to make the musician's existence sound like the nadir of human experience. It's still nowhere as dangerous as growing up in Lexington Terrace, or as stressful as being an ER resident. But it's an incredibly odd milieu for anyone to choose, given the relative comfort & credibility most musicians willingly sacrifice in the name of the most ephemeral of arts.

Of course, there's no accounting for how people get their kicks, even in such a semi-masochistic schizogonzoid idiom. I wouldn't do it if I didn't really enjoy it, and I appreciate the musical world's capacity for the ridiculous... as evidenced by the above pic (snapped backstage by Misato from Kacica) of GEAR & myself doing our best to look like world-class pricks.

Oh, and since I've made no prior efforts to substantiate that I'm actually in a band, here's the second half of our set from the gig in Osaka last night.

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