I don't know about you, but usually the first thing I say in the morning is some inflection of the word "fuck."
I sobered up on a futon in the spare room of Mr. D's Chinatown apartment. Aaron Lemay was in the living room deconstructing "Rock and Roll High School." Mr. D always puts us up in Seattle, he worked on the Space Shuttle Challenger in the '80s, and now he spends his time perfecting fried chicken recipes and building LED wall art. After my fried chicken lunch, more sake and blueberry pie, we all walked to the van. Mr. D said, "here, you'll need this," and handed over a large Tupperware of even more fried chicken, like we were headed off to storm the beaches at Normandy. Instead, we got to Portland at 4:45, where I had a phone conversation with the producers of my winter composing job. It was drizzling, and as the night came, the neighborhood around Dante's rock club became like Blade Runner. A dark peace overtook me, and my nagging emptiness gave everything a noir edge. I was Sam Spade 2011.
After sound check, seven of us walked to a pinball stop called Ground Kontrol, then to the swingingest donut joint in the city of electric sheep, Voodoo. The venue was full upon our return, and who was waiting inside? None other than Ted, the sculptor who taught me about necessary flaws in African masks. He's a beekeeper now. We talked about fasting on vision quests. He was saying that Marathon 3 was a vision quest. Portland is a town where people from my past are always showing up at the concert. That's how I found out about my Korean second cousin. The Portland newspaper did a story that week, and he must have read it. My dad called and said "your cousin is coming to the show, he's a doctor." So this gentleman shows up, and he's Korean. I'll never forget it, I was eating pumpkin ravioli. He tells me about my great uncle who one day disappeared to the West Coast, there's some seediness to the story too, but the end result, was meeting this very nice gentleman who purchased a CD. That was in 2007 on the Between the Devil and Middle C tour. Zip back to the present, Ted is a beekeeper now.
Four hours later, we walked into a karaoke dive to grab an aperitif and some dudes started singing the Electric Six song "High Voltage." The band went outside to smoke. Ehren McGhehey from Jackass gave a heartfelt argument for the Mayan apocalypse of 2012. Then he brought inside a closed up lounge by the freeway for fried chicken and pronto pups. He is a very philosophic man, slightly Duchampian. Lemay and I got a sleaze motel in the hood at 4 in the morning. At check-in, a toothless woman spoke to me about col-colon-colonalli-colonialism. It was hyper-sleep, too short to dream. I'm sure the woman stayed up all night on meth and Civil War reenactments.
I woke up smiling, and I had Dick to thank for it. Mr. Dick Valentine and the Electric Six crew have brought only smiles into my life from the minute we met, and I needed to find some way to show my gratitude other than scratch off tickets. Maybe on one of these long West Coast drives, we'd pass a puppy mill and I could get everybody a nearly living, half priced Bichon Frise. Maybe I'd simply do them a favor and spare their lives. There was a week left to think about it.
Cops paced the parking lot at 10 a.m. They were in full uniform, but in unmarked cars. So indecisive. We got on I-5 south as discreetly as possible. It was a drive day, and were headed to Fort Bragg on the coast, to stay with a friend who is a master woodworker there. I was detained at the California border for the bag of fresh apples from SLC. Busted. They let me go, but they threw away my apples. The other guys were in their van behind us, they saw me pull the van over and talk to the guy, but didn't know what for. All they saw was me handing suspicious bag over the patrol officer. For a moment, I was a bad ass. Then I called Dick and said, "Apples." Real bad asses don't actually last through 10 years of touring. They siss out or get busted. Sooner or later you get pulled over and the cops search your vehicle. We've even had dogs put on us out there.
Value menu fast food dinner was slim without the apples, but the right choice before the Tilt-a-Whirl that is Highway 20 to the ocean. It's a drive worthy of a John Paul Sartre novel. I say that because what starts out as this fantastic Redwood adventure over twisting spaghetti shaped asphalt eventually ends in nausea. You're just spinning in caves of trees to the smell of burning brake pads. I learned later that the potheads call this nearly impenetrable woods "The Red Curtain." Somewhere in that mess of pines, "The Steely Van" had it's 150,000 birthday, and I celebrated by not kicking the door shut. Boom-bam.
Thursday morning, the ocean air was crisp as we once again stuffed our miscellany into the van. Northern California highways are almost scripted, as if the State department flew a scenic crew in from Hollywood. White crests broke just outside the passenger window on Highway 1 south to San Francisco. It's like a movie that never gets boring. Dogs dress up like school girls and walk around. An old lady mistakes her handbag for a coffee cake. Explosive wet crashes smack beside rustic seaside Inns on jagged cliffs. It's a scene from every murder mystery your mother's ever said she is reading (but actually she is sleeping). The drive was so beautiful I kept turning the radio to get a better view. Interpol mumbled quietly about having a threesome.
While refueling, I watched a man my own age drink a Coors tallboy alone in front of a general store. It made me grateful I had Aaron Lemay to share my adventure with. I mean, I don't have a problem going to a movie by myself or anything, but even Don Quixote had his buddy Sancho Panza along. Even Han Solo brought Chewbacca. Not to compare my great friend and drummer to Sancho Panza or Chewbacca, but there is a certain amount of windmill chasing involved in the rock and roll business. The coming weekend would be the one-year anniversary of Marathon 3. It was Aaron Lemay's word that pushed me to do Marathon 3. It was by far the best decision of my life and changed me forever. I'm told the very last thing I said before I fell asleep after the night of its completion was, "The thing about a mattress on the freeway is, once you drive away, it'll never be the same." I'll stand by that, even though I dont know what it means. Same with most things Tyra Banks says.
We got to San Francisco in time to pull Chuck Prophet from his recording session and have pea soup and chocolate chip cookies off 6th street. We talked about Spain and the '80s. There was a piece of Styrofoam on the sidewalk in the shape of a concrete brick. Chuck kicked it. I said, "Hey, that's a great lyric: I couldn't tell if you were made of concrete or Styrofoam till I kicked you on the curb," and wrote it down on a napkin in the van. We'd be writing together in the winter, so might as well get a head start. That night's venue was the Independent club in Nopa. I sat on a folding chair in the vacant lot behind it and called my parents. During the conversation I received a harassing text from an unknown number. Living in public can get you down. Gossip sucks. It's all lies. People talk smack because they have nothing interesting to say about their own miserable, boring lives. I hope those people die sad and alone. And soon.
Once I hit the stage, everything faded. No loneliness. No emptiness Performing is my second favorite thing to do in life. When I announced Marathon 2 in 2004, people stopped asking me "why" and started asking me "how." The answer has always been, "the point is that there is no point." But watching Dick Valentine singing that night, I was able to step aside and see that maybe the point is to sing, to perform. Maybe I actually performed Marathon 3 cause I love performing and singing. Maybe there's no big philosophic rant behind it. Maybe. All I really know is that there is a void inside of me, and that void disappears when I make music. So I make music as much as I can, and stay out of sporting goods stores.
Mallman and Chuck Prophet
We loaded out of the club at midnight and headed to Berkeley where we were crashing with Danny, a graduate student in chemical engineering. San Francisco is the American Amsterdam, so it always seems too soon to leave. They had to tie me up to the steering wheel. Danny has two nice couches in his living room, and Aaron gave me the big blue velvet one. Sleep was an asteroid headed towards earth, only it was still a billion miles away. While everyone else cashed in their chips, I stared at an empty crossword puzzle. Number 10 across said "enjoy a pleasant situation." The wet neon and crowded night streets of an hour earlier were still buzzing in my brain. The next day would be our big Hollywood show. I needed to rest my voice. A purple night light was pulsing in the corner. I pretended it was from space.
When I was a boy, I would lay out in the yard and send psychic messages to the aliens to come take me away. When I was a teenager, I started a rock band. Now that I had the rock band up and running, it was a good time to get back to the psychic messages. I fell asleep clutching at my phone, hoping she would call me. But the only ringing that night would be my ears.