Jared Diamond says the success of a given civilization is based on three things: "Guns, Germs, and Steel." What he means is, dont open your surf shop in Gary, Indiana, and dont dig for gold in your laundry hamper. If Diamond were to write a book on making it in the music industry, I highly doubt that performing '80s piano rock in a spiked jean jacket would be on the top of his list. Then again, Woody Allen said, "Whatever works." So, whatever rheotoric gets you through the night, I guess.
We left Berkeley just as the bums were getting to the liquor store. Hours later, while driving south on I-5, I terrifyingly watched a semi trailer split open on the opposite side of the freeway. Long, flat sheets of what appeared to be dry wall came sliding out the side into traffic. I woke Aaron Lemay, but by the time he looked out the window, we'd just gotten over the hill. It was scary. Our GPS has its own masochistic navigation method. We drove a completely ass-backwards way to the Key Club on Sunset Boulevard, but saved three minutes.
I could base a Ph.D. thesis on what happened in the next five hours. But, I am going to spare you the pain of having to experience it vicariously. The audience didn't notice a thing. Out of professional courtesy, I am simply going to say that certain bouncers need to recognize that negative aggression will only make you empty and angry. They should also fuck off. My only method of protest was to refuse payment, and leave immediately after my our set. I was livid as we turned silently up Commonwealth Canyon Road in Griffith Park. My very close friend for 20 years, Wilson Webb, was the still photographer on the upcoming Sean Penn movie Gangster Squad. He invited us onto the set, and while we were there we picked up a key to his temporary residence. It was Aaron Lemay's first time on a movie set, so we stayed a while at craft service before going back to Hollywood. It was a chilly night (for Californians), maybe 50 degrees. A crew member said, "You're drinking a slushee in a t-shirt, you really are from Minnesota." The expanse of Los Angeles twinkling below was so massive that even from far away, you couldn't fit the whole thing into one field of vision. A city loses its humanity at night and becomes just a net of skycrapers, streets, and cars. It's like trying to imagine people living in your Christmas tree. [sung] City at night. City at night. City at niiiiiiiight.
I dropped my drummer back at the apartment and drove aimlessly up Hollywood Boulevard. Tay Zonday texted me a thank you and good show. I wanted to see him, and hang out, but my head wasn't in the space to be around others. We were told later that Joey Santiago, of the Pixies, was also at the Hollywood show. We could have met him if that bouncer wouldn't have been such a dick. I was replaying what happened backstage, replaying the words, double- and triple-checking to see if I could have handled it any better. I walked into some random bar and talked with a woman from Argentina. She said I'd never be happy until I found true love. I told her I sing about it every night, and it seems to work out fine. She said her true love was her 5-year-old son. For a second, I believed her. Was a life without true love the cause of my bad mood? Then I remembered David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and that nothing is what it seems in the land of dreams. I asked her, "If your true love is your 5-year-old son, why are you hanging in this dive bar on Santa Monica Boulevard 1:30 in the morning?" Vampires. One second of trust is a second too much. I didnt even finish my drink, just walked to the van and turned on Joy Division as loud as it would go.
I called Dick from Hollywood Boulevard at noon. He said "I'm in front of the Chinese Theater, oh there's a Storm Trooper. Yes, meet me by the Storm Trooper." Here I was in this tourist hell that is essentially Times Square but with palm trees, waiting by a Storm Trooper for Dick. I was just about to call him back again, when I looked up to find that I was in front of the Kodak Theater, not Grauman's Chinese. I texted him instead: "Wrong storm trooper." After meeting with the writers of a zombie-themed web series we would be collaborating on this winter, Dick suggested we climb to the top of the Hollywood sign. The tourist threat level was yellow, and I'd never done this before, so I said "Fuck it. Yes, let's." My first official album release was called The Tourist. I wrote most of it in Seattle, before I'd done any touring at all. At the time, the word "tourist" to me meant "I dont fit in to this world, I feel like a tourist here." We hiked up the winding dirt slope to a fence behind the sign. I took our picture. He pointed down between the L and Y, at three giant words spelled out with white rocks. They read, "Tourists Go Away." There was, in fact, no comma after the word "Tourists," and the lack of this comma made the whole scene profound. In the end, all tourists go away. By the time my second record came out, I felt more sense of place in the world. I put on a pair of motorcycle boots, dyed my blonde hair black, the tourist went away, and by 2004 Mr. Serious was born. Overlooking Los Angeles, we tried to figure out where David Beckham lived. He yelled "Beckham!" and I yelled "Posh!"
Wilson Webb and I met my brother and his family for dinner in Highland Park. My nephew was stabbing a napkin repeatedly with a fork. I gave him a silent nod of approval. Then, off to a second meeting with the director of my comedy pilot, last year's "Sausage Hole." By the time we'd finished, I was so beat I canned Saturday night troublemaking in favor of a walk up Sunset and midnight bedtime. Aaron Lemay went to a punk house where people threw bags of flour and monopoly money until a fight broke out. I slept on my second blue velvet couch in a row. All the while David Lynch watching over from a far.
No church bells rang Sunday morning off Sunset and Gardner, only cash registers. Wilson Webb was juicing carrots to Joni Mitchell's "California." Aaron balked, "I'm going to kiss a sunset pig? What the fuck does that mean?" He made a good point, but it's why I love Joni Mitchell. There was a picture of Paris on the fridge, and a winged creature carved into the door. Maybe the blue velvet had sucked out my positivity in the night. While Lemay went to the shower, I said to Wilson, "I'm not lost or broken, but I've been fighting a sadness. I feel like I miss everybody, even though they are right in front of me." This is what starts to set in when I dont play music for a day. It's the only affirmation I have of my own existence. Wilson walked us to our car.
In two hours we were in Ocean Beach. A fan from Austin, TX had flown in to catch the show. We all met up at his sister, Miss E's, bungalow. She said, "My neighbor is in Cabo, everyone is going over to his house to eat ribs." I walked to a dog beach and took pictures of a homeless ghost. Across the universe, Marijuana Deathsquads were on an East Coast run. I texted Ryan Olson, "Here's the secret to a great live show: Kill. Re-animate. Repeat." Ours was at the Casbah Club, which is downtown, one block off shore by the airport. After load-in, I watched 747s fly over as I ate a sandwich on a brick half wall. A man told me he watched the webcast of Marathon 3 from Nova Scotia. One year earlier I was 54 hours in, beginning overnight three. That said, having a bunch of Marathoners in the crowd turned "Blood Flow" and "Newspaper Man" into a crazy dance party. The night disintegrated in a pool of gin and tonic. As the bar was emptying out, a woman she asked me to sign her CD to her 11-year-old daughter. It was an Electric Six CD, not mine, so I signed it "Rock on - Dick Valentine." We piled nine people and our gear into the van, it was like a clown car. By 4 a.m. I was singing Ziggy Stardust with a gang chorus back at the bungalow.
The next day, Aaron Lemay and I took turns sleeping and driving through the Arizona desert. I saw a Twitter about my annual New Years show not being at the Varsity Theater this year. I was tired of hanging upside down from the ceiling and walking on stilts. If a man doesn't change, the world changes and moves on without him.
The Tempe show was part of a tiny two-stage music festival. Unsubtle musical notes were painted on the walls. In the parking lot of the venue, my phone finally rang. It was a difficult but much-needed conversation. The night overtook my senses. Where was my music taking me? Had the past 10 years of rock and roll life turned me into a cold, screwed up monster? I had a turkey sandwich and chilled tequila in a plastic party cup. Across the room, sitting alone at a table, I was happy to see Mr. A came down from Phoenix. He has been a great fan for many years and I asked him if he'd any requests. He'd also told me, in an email, that he was undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. He requested "Knockout" and I dedicated the song to him. I closed the night with "Hounds of Love." Mr. A and I talked about chemo. His additude was inspiring. "There's no doubt in my mind that your going to lick this, Mr. A," I said. As I listened to my 30-year-old friend break down the trials of sharing a disease with senior citizens twice his age, I recongized that my own problems were slight in the grand scheme. It was much needed. The two of us went to the van and listened to demos from the new record. Mr. A liked "the song about the cop." As I watched him drive away, E6 was just beginning "Gay Bar Part 2." I realized that time is fleeting, as well as our bodies and our love ones. It felt like the right time to increase my frivolousness, so I jumped in the swimming pool of people and danced till the end.
Instead of staying in Tempe, we got a leap on the next night, and drove to Tucson. Tucson is a very fun city. We stayed in room 205 at the Flamingo Motel. That night, I slept soundly to the hum of the in room fridge. It was the first good sleep in a long time. Marathon 3 didn't make me richer or more famous, but it saturated my being with rock and roll. An entire year had passed. I was short a few friends, a few dollars, and more than a few brain cells. I wrote, "Seems like yesterday, seems like never." The next day would be the last show of the West Coast run, and I intended to make it a concert to remember.