Oars Became Wings" pt. IV
Q - Why did the chimp cross the road?
A - Cuz Watt said he should.
This leads me to an afterthought that goes like this.....
It was common for lotsa people to ask me what Watt's set was gonna be
like and, specifically, if he was doing any Firehose or Minutemen songs.
I couldn't answer this question because I really didn't know either
band's catalog (except for the early Minutemen stuff, but I had to listen
to that) and I didn't recognize any of the tunes as being from the earlier
days. So there. I hardly ever listen to records though most everyone
assumes that I must. I stopped buying records in the early 70s and in
1984 I quit trying to keep up with that flow of new bands that was growing
from a trickle into a flood. No, I can't tell you a whole lot about
most bands and musicians who have populated the "independent" music
world over the last 18-20 years. To this day, regardless of the style,
most music I experienced by seeing it live, so don't be quotin' song
titles or album titles and expect me to know what you're talkin' about.
Driving out of Philly was a snap but eventually the fatigue hit me as
I knew it would and I conked out at a rest stop just before reaching
DC. Luckily, I woke in enough time to get past the waking, grouchy metropolis
before the daunting rush hour. Even at 5:30 am the highways were raging
with the early leadfoots that made negotiating these roads difficult
and dangerous. Beyond this maelstrom, I was amazed at the long lines
of cars that continued heading in the direction I had just come from
and wasn't I glad that I wasn't going there! I took another much needed
nap at one of those mega-convenience/gas stops on highway 29 (near Culpeper,
I think) during the height of the rural rush hour that is less intense
in the traffic department but definitely very intense in the need for
gas/coffee/donuts. Waking up, a quick call to Molly got me painless
directions to her house. When I arrived she provided me with a nice,
comfy bed in a room with breezing windows and a ceiling fan. Aahhhhh,
this is the true meaning of wealth! When I awoke in the afternoon she
had gone to Richmond to pick up her boyfriend who was arriving by train
from NYC. This left me time to do some chimping in a quiet house until
an intense thunderstorm brewed up and made me get away from all computers.
Molly's guy Dan had just enough of a smartass personality to make me
like him. Yeah, I always look out for my gals; do whatever I can to
keep the radar on. Dan was a cool dudedefinitely not an asshole.
They arrived in the early evening and set to work in the kitchen making
dinner, some kind of bigass noodles whose name I won't even pretend
to spell correctly. Just take my word, they and the rest of the dinner
was great! When the time came we moseyed over to the Buddhist Biker
Bar where my gig was, a university hangout that I was assured would
be very busy this night. At first they suggested that I set up on the
roof of the building to which I declared... uh, no. Not really a bad
idea but I wanted to make closer contact with the audience than that.
The grounds were pretty muddy and wet from the rainfall earlier but
a small stage outdoors served me well after it was quickly mopped off
and, once I began playing, a steady stream of college-type kids came
in the gate and filled the place up completely. I mean COMPLETELY! And
that's when I realized that this would be a much different type of gig
than any I had done so far. This was a crowd that had just finished
finals and their school year was over thereby giving them a night of
getting drunk and trying to get laid. As I pushed my way to the bathroom
at one point, I ended up with an indelible memory of a slim, dark-haired
girl barely standing just inside the front door; she had one hand planted
on the wall, the other clamped to her forehead, I almost felt pulled
into the gravity of that overwhelming aura of one who is wrestling with
internal demons and trying valiantly to keep a liquid demon from coming
back out. Yep, it was that kind of scene and I was background music
to it. For that reason I felt that my second set was stronger since
I had no reason to play according to the parameters of the shows previously
and I began casually pulling things out of the attic of my brain. Having
decided to become one with everything, I was a few Sierra Nevadas into
it by that time, I felt damned relaxed with the situation and now I
was having fun playing and watching the drunken goings-on around me.
Not that I wasn't having fun before, but my first set was more self-conscious
being that I was relying on things that had worked for audiences that
were giving me their full attention. There is no shame to being background
music and quite often the calm of doing so is pretty damned rewarding.
The gig over, the bar owner and staff kept me afterward to do a car
bomb with them and then a few more beers and I was feeling no pain...
just lotsa hunger. A nearby 24-hour deli/sammich shop took care of me
very well and as I fell asleep back at the pad I realized that the next
day would be my only day off since the show in Houston. Yay! Of course,
it's on the days off that I try not to do anything other than rest.
Molly, an astrologist by trade, gave me a very enlightening reading
and then invited me to take a walk with her and Dan downtown, a good
idea on a bright, sunny day, and we managed to talk her roommate Maya
into joining us. There were lotsa outdoor cafes in the town square (was
this Main Street?), we had a big ol' pizza and then walked around since
Dan was looking for a gift for his brother's birthday. On the walk back
to the house we passed a small jewelry store which was owned/run by
someone named Hebbelthwaite. Hmmm. Years ago I knew a girl named Mary
Ellen with the same last name. Definitely not a common family name in
the US so I had no choice but to wonder if there were a connection.
The shop was closed so I had no way of asking anyone.
Further along our path there was a street that invoked ancient stories,
the kind that make you want to ask the ages. From the open front door
of a house came the uncertain strains of someone practicing on a fiddle
and it dawned on me that they were doing Irish fiddling. I recognized
the tune, a reel that I know I have played at some point in a session,
one that I could never tell you the name of. On the other side of the
street was an old graveyard with headstones dating back to the late
1700s, some that implied sad stories of very short and tragic lives.
In the midst of it all towered a magnificent old tree. The centurion?
A great scar down one side of the trunk was evidence of its own mortality,
it having been ravaged at some time in the past. This was not from a
blight, this type of destructive force spoke of a direct hit from a
bolt of lightning that tried to bring it down... but didn't. It was
bloodied but unbowed, still with the courage to stand, to bloom and
unbloom with the seasons; to protect, absorb and embody the stories
of life and death; to touch and be touched by the fiddlers playing the
ancient, nameless tunes yet again. As we continued on, I tried to relate
the tale of the Seamus O'Kelly classic "The Weaver's Grave" but realized
it was a story too musical to verbalize.
Back at the house an easy friday night was had by all. Molly and Dan
went to meet his relatives for dinner and when they got back they turned
in early. I had been very indecisive about when to leave for Athens,
it would be a longer drive than most jaunts. I figured I would let sleep
decide for me. I passed out on the couch about 11:00 pm and awoke to
the still and quiet of the early morning at 3:30 am. Good enough. I
felt utterly refreshed and by 4:00 am I was on the 250 bypass heading
toward highway 29. It was at this point that the only automotive worry
materialized. Not long out of Charlottesville, the oil pressure gauge
began to insist that a malfunction was in progress; it was saying that
I suddenly had excessive pressure. Hmmm. Evaluating the odds of a breakdown
I thought the sudden increase was indeed strange. A clog or a lack of
oil would result in a drop in pressure, not an increase. Could it be
that the gauge was the only thing amiss? I reasoned that the worst case
scenario would be no oil at allthe symptoms leading to engine
failure would be overheating and excessive valvetrain clatter. I kept
driving and waited for this to happen; there would be time to shut it
down without damage. It didn't happen. Whew! Nothing wrong with the
engine! Just a short in the gauge mechanism. Ahh yes, Irma, I love you!
I pulled into an early afternoon in Athens. There were pockets of animated
people in the main streets near the university and restaurants, graduation
having just happened, but for the most part the town was extremely quiet.
I grabbed a burger at The Grill and managed to find Sara at the beginning
of her shift at the Nowhere Bar. This allowed me to get to her house
to sleep and chill til I had to play later that night. I was playing
in the back of the Engine Room and was a little miffed that, other than
the posters that were up on the walls, there was no promotion of the
gig at allnothing in the Flagpole, not even in the show listings.
Oh well. The whole bar was relatively quiet, a few folks showed up but
it was still a good show. My opener was Marshall Mallotte, a guitarist
who admitted to being a big fan of the late John Fahey. This was an
influence I recognized instantly having gone through that formative
phase myself back in the late 60s. Marshall's set was very freeform
and based on a certain amount of that Fahey-styled improvisation which
put me in a mood to turn my set more inside out than I had in Charlottesville.
Yeah, that was a good thing and with a few pints of good ol' PBR...
ahh, it was a wonderful life! Afterwards, the bar kept me afterhours
to drink a bit more and then I loaded up my gear with the relief that
I had just finished the last gig. The tour was over.
Sara had never made it down to the show. I had her keys and, a little
before Marshall started playing, her friend came over to tell me that
she had had a mishap at the Nowhere. Mind you, I'm not one to make light
of misfortune or dangerous situations but it seems she had somehow started
a fire at the close of her shift. It was the proverbial cigarette that
wasn't quite out in the full trashcan. Her hands had gotten burned in
the processnothing serious, more a clumsy panic that belies the
humorous aspect of hating a job to the point where you'd torch the place.
Earlier in the day she was grousing over how dead it was in town and,
given the nature of bartending, peevishness about the job in general
tends to surface at times like this. I've been there too so I know.
Now, you know that neither YOU nor I would ever consider arson but when
it happens accidentally, even though you get hurt, there is an element
that leaves you no choice but to laugh over it. Eh? The next day she
was mostly embarassed at it; the damage to her hands was very light
but it would be an annoying, uncomfortable healing process.
The final leg of the journey ahead of me, I pulled out of Athens in
the early afternoon knowing I would pick up an extra hour upon crossing
the state line. I set a goal of reaching Jackson by 9:00 pm and stayed
true to the timeline. I had friends in the city but decided not to make
my stopover a social one and, once there, I rented the second motel
room of the journey which afforded me a solid night's sleep and a chance
to watch Teletubbies in the morning. It struck me that Mr. Falwell's
"Purple Tubby Phobia" is likely based in the recognition that these
characters are an accurate embodiment of modern clergy. Yes. Consider
that they pop out of their monastic holdings like mis-wired ground hogs
who, even if they see their own shadows, are content to put on a show
to the contrary; they dash about in aimless, giddy circles which invite
their faithful to join in to this rhumba line of fantastic shimmying
past invisible obstacles that pose an evil threat to those carrying
the bowls of sacred Tubby Custard; they bounce and rub their hands in
glee at the anticipation of communion with the holy Tubby Toast; the
Trinity has been expanded to a Quartet of which the fourth member, the
Purple One, is derided as the Evil One; yet, without this Evil One,
the Trinity itself would have no power to rise up against the dancing
windmills of common sense and the faithful would disperse like seedlings
sparkling along in the winds that carry them to the stomachs and receptors
of the meek and needy; and at the end of the holy day they pop back
into their monastic pleasure dome financed and upheld by the state which
yet denies this association but who cares? Where the catholics lead,
the christians will follow because tomorrow is another show and a new
busload of dancing boys will be drawn by the hand to the laps of those
in the purple room..... and after the sacraments there will be an agony
in the garden as the Purple One is crucified one more time.
But seriously folks... back on the road for one more day of driving.
My biggest regret is that I didn't have my eyes checked and my prescription
updated before starting this odyssey. My biggest complaint is the condition
of my fingernails and the tendency for them to split and crack and generally
cause me a lot of worry playing-wiseno doubt a diet/vitamin deficiency.
But I wasn't thinking about it at this point. If you look closely at
a good atlas, at a relief of the Louisiana/Mississippi border, a story
is implied that the river that divides the two states has changed its
course in some areas but the state jurisdictions were left alone. Ironically,
it's probably easier to change the course of a large waterway than to
get politicians to change the existing order of things that they do
have control over. Our rivers are our lifeblood. Before he died, Jacques
Cousteau urged the people of the Earth to treasure this resource dearly.
As Irma and I traversed the bridge that spanned the river we call the
Mississippi, I was suddenly overcome with an intense feeling of breathlessness.
More than just a weightlessness, it was as if my being was suddenly
beginning to dissolve into the evaporative air that rose above the great
flow, a feeling not unlike that which accompanies the first plunge into
a pool or a stream of water. And later, driving through Texas on highway
79, there was a new moon plying through the twilight sky and the towns
and lights kept falling behind me effortlessly.
Tom Robbins once wrote that water invented people for the purpose of
taking it from place to place. Sometimes the end of a tour is like a
long held in piss. You know it's gotta come out eventually but unless
you have a weak bladder, you can be amazed at how long you can hold
it in. Mind over matter. At the long end of the ordeal you just want
it to be over. After the last show there are no more load-in or soundcheck
deadlines, just the anticipation of what is hopefully a leisurely drive
to that place where you find your own bed and know that no one will
wake you unless they want to be shot. I prayed that I wouldn't have
to worry about parking Irma on my own property. A strange prayer but
one that is somehow necessary in these bogus times. My chimping is done,
its completion will greatly please the chimping gods: a quartet now
that beleives Hear no Evil! See no Evil! Speak no Evil! Type no Evil!
We shall have no false chimps before us! For thine is the tower and
the tunnel of Babble and Rabble, forever and ever... WHATever, Amen.
©2002, 2012 SPOT/No