Thursday, October 19, 2006

Food Fight: Rainer Maria Tour Diary 08-25-06

Dave is always pulling on his hair, inducing bedhead. He fronts first-of-four opening band Street to Nowhere. He was born to front a band, all dark-haired and extra sulky. He feels none of the mortification you or I might feel, trying to pull off a cover of "Chelsea Hotel" before an audience of mostly 14- to 18-year-old girls. He has unconscious aplomb. His demeanor is like a band T-shirt he fell asleep in, all soft and rumply. His bandmates say he sleeps in his outfits. You'd be peeling mine off me the next morning like a burn victim at the ER.

Dave and I had this totally unexpected food fight in Denver. It started because our singer Caithlin stayed at the club when the rest of us went for dinner. I neglected to call and ask what she wanted us to bring back for her, selecting instead what our waitress swore was "the best dish in the house." It also happened to be their most popular dish: penne with garlic and vegetables in a lovely vegan cream sauce, impossibly rich and oh-so-coy. Seriously--really, really good.

But a pox on me anyway. At the beginning of the set, Caithlin tossed out one of those sneaky stinging little asides one saves for a bandmate on stage, with onlookers all oblivious. Amidst a little guitar feedback, she made her opening remarks, then added wistfully: "I hate waiting for a phone call that never comes."

Non sequiturs have a kind of poetry. The entire club heard merely a singer's whimsical complaint--a reference, perhaps, to some inattentive lover far away--the kind of trifle that can seem very, very heavy at a rock concert. But I knew better. The canary was taunting me, right to my face, in front of the whole sold out audience. Apparently she'd have preferred grilled tempeh and steamed kale.

I winced, sniffled, died on the inside. I did my best Kevin Shields, spending most of the set staring at my Asics. Too tame for "Blue Suede Shoes," too lame for "My Adidas," such a shame. The crowd was eager and demonstrative, the sort that can turn a mid-sized city into the best show of tour.

There was just the one green room for all the bands, and after our set it was crawling with our own sweaty Rainers Maria, the perpetually buzzed Street to Nowhere, and all the Formatters who'd rolled out of the bus besotted with Gatorade and were now starting in on beer. And of course a couple of gracious, smiling, super sweet members of Anathallo were always embedded someplace nearby, soaking it all in, the Federal Air Marshals of tour.

Nate from the Format was chattering away amicably through a megaphone. Apparently pulls a Michael Stipe on one song, I don't know. It was a funny gag, I don't remember what he said. I think it was, "Erica, put your hands on your head! Step AWAAAAY from the Budweiser!" Something. Putting aside our rivalry for the moment, Caithlin palmed the megaphone and passed it to me behind her back. Perfect setup for a three-pointer. I remember what I said. It was, "Jetzt ist schluss mit dem affentheater!" In English, roughly: "That's the end of this theater of monkeys!" People love it when you holler anything German through a megaphone.

A digression. I was an exchange student in Germany for a year. That's what my second host father yelled when he kicked me out of the house, fists banging on the breakfast table, rattling the Besteck, spilling coffee on the Broetchen. You think "no more monkey business" makes any more sense? Go ahead and laugh, you ignorant sheltered monoglot.

In the end the joke is definitely on the krauts. "Hut" means "hat" in German, which, combined with that famous triangular logo, has plenty of Germans in the US psyched about dinner at "Pizza Hat." They think that's supposed to be a hat up there. Now, it may be that monkeys can sell snow shovels or play King Lear, but nobody can make a hat out of pizza. Nobody. Those things collapse and then they burn.

When the Format had started their third song, Caithlin looked at me and said, "Pax?" That means "Had enough?" in Greek. I nodded my tenuous consent to a cease-fire. She turned to someone else, gave me a high-five that was really a high-two.

Our secret argument had officially ended, but my crap mood was still building up steam. I don't know how the food fight started. I'm fairly certain I threw a food item at Dave unprovoked, definitely something grilled. He sized me up from under his long, shellaced bangs. He threw something back. There may have been a condiment involved.

My mom had bought me nice new white T-shirts from Wal-Mart and brought them to the Austin show, and I pulled mine off over my head so it wouldn't get ruined. Back home in Texas you learn early that if you're going to whoop, holler and behave like a jackass, it's best to go shirtless.

It was time to open up a party ball o' whup-ass on this kid. I wanted to throw this entire paper bowl of salsa at him, but it was too early in the game, so I put it over my head like a pizza hat instead, salsa running down my sideburns on either side past my ears. Then I tucked my chin into my chest and hit him in the middle like a linebacker. Though some would blame a third party, I believe it was Dave who then threw the tray of creamy yellow potato salad across the floor. For this, I apologize on his behalf to the entire custodial staff of the club, or at least to the person who cleans the rugs, should such a person exist, which they do not.

I grabbed the last catering tray (coleslaw! the coup de grace of any food fight), chased him out of the room and into the club, both of us deafened by the Format's encore. Halfway to the back, the coleslaw flipped over. I managed to keep hold of the empty tray for another second, but slipped on slaw and went straight down. A crowd quickly, to no one's surprise. Tried to stand and keep running, arms pinwheeling, legs treadmilling, and wound up face down in the same spot again.

Later, washing potato salad out of my jeans in the bathroom, I felt my mood lift. It always surprises me, the absurd situations in which we can find ourselves suddenly and truly happy. But it was neither impromptu laundry that did the trick, nor airborne foodstuffs. My advice to you: exercise. A little running in place is good for anybody.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Notes from Rainer Maria Tour 08-10-06

Each tour is different, every tour is the same. Every day has its rhythm--lulling, even comforting. Wake, pack, drive, eat, drive, load in, wait, sound check, dinner, wait, play, wait, load out, drive, stop, sleep. Repeat indefinitely (feels like infinitely). All this you can count on.

Two other things you can count on: near-complete lack of privacy and filthy bathrooms everywhere.

I'm forever having to change clothes in the van or standing in the parking lot (that's me! behind the van in my underwear, soaking with sweat after the show), or whispering over the phone to the girlfriend back home, on the highway in the van with bandmates and crew present, music cranked and the balance set hard left to cover my voice, face turned to the window, towel over my head:

Me, whispering: "Oh my God I just really really love you."

Her, confused: "What? Sorry--[ak ak ak ak]--breaking up."

Me, louder: "What? Sorry baby, the hills, I think I'm breaking up."

Her, in rising panic: "You want to break up? We're breaking up?!?"

Me, with finger in right ear, shouting now: "I SAID OH MY GOD--"

Her, devastated: "WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SHOUTING AT ME?!?" (a sharp wet inhalation of breath)

Three short beeps. Silence.
End of relationship.

Something's always broken, or missing. If a bathroom has toilet paper it won't have paper towels. Assuming the sink works, the hot water won't. Or it'll be scalding, with no cold to balance it out. Soap almost never, hepatitis sometimes. And apparently guys do ten times as many drugs in club restrooms as girls--what else could explain the punishing lack of stall doors on so many men's room toilets, sometimes with the toilet inexplicably situated in the middle of the room, sometimes directly facing the bathroom door, sometimes without a lock, sometimes with a clear view in from the stage--are you listening, The Living Room, Providence RI?!? Folks, your entertainment from the side stage this evening: Kyle Fischer, pants around his ankles.

Imagine: you're nervous, you're onstage in five, the woman who made your Taco Bell kept rubbing her cold sore with her latex-gloved finger (true story). Your bladder tenses, your colon FREAKS, you're at the club and thank God there's a stall but it doesn't lock and the toilet never even SAW a scrub brush before, couldn't point it out in a lineup even if it waved its arms. You're crouching, jacket thrown over the stall door to say "occupied!", one hand full of cocktail napkins from the bar, the other arm outstretched, holding the stall door shut with the toilet plunger. The drunk punks steal your money from your jacket but leave your wallet so you won't catch on til after the show. And then: no soap, no water. You ask the bartender if you can wash your hands in the bar sink. She hands you a bottle of bleach and picks up the soda gun to rinse your hands.

What's stupendous about this whole affair is that the 35-60 minutes or so we get to play music every night somehow balances all this out. Even the crap nights, like first tour nights where no one knows we're there because the bill is full of jam bands and we're listed as "Rainy Marina" on all the flyers. The door money consists of an old mason jar passed around, half-full (check my optimism!) of nickels and menthols. And nobody can figure out if they're supposed to put stuff in or take it out. At the end of the night we make $6.87 and what amounts to half a pack of Newports. We play to a dozen or so bombed hippies, the majority of whom are half-conscious at best. And somehow, I'm not sure how, I have the time of my life.

Because music--despite the mountain of books dissecting its innards with sharp instruments, despite all its schools bursting with applicants, despite the countless traditions across the world and all their virtuosos--, music is ineffable. Inexplicable. There's no reason this thing should work at all, let alone well. Sympathetically undulating waves of air pressure aren't supposed to make me cry. No. Oprah is specifically engineered to make me cry, and even that doesn't usually work.

Face it--all our daily endeavors, even weird obtuse things like coding html or designing topographical maps or being Al Gore, these things are there for only one or two of a coupla three reasons. Either you gotta eat, and it helps feed you. Or you gotta take care of the brood, and it shleters them. Or you gotta propel the species forward, and _everybody_ knows topography will get you laid. Most all our activities help accomplish those goals, by whatever circuitous routes we've devised to keep ourselves interested in the meantime.

Not so with music. Music can be so cold it makes the hair on your arms stand on end. It can heat you into a melty gross sweat. I know what you're thinking, and it can, in fact, result in the making of babies, or rehearsing for it, but not really as often as anybody wishes, especially not musicians. Believe me, I've tried. If in fact you're all mainstrEMO, your love of music will likely earn you a breakup at best. Or worse, some sort of emo handicraft (a zine, a drawing, a flyer on the importance of a regular breast cancer self-exam with a personal message scrawled on it, something like "you saved my life by ruining it") handed to you by an intentionally-awkward college student who ought to know better, and who runs away like a headless chicken, gushing.

No, sorry, music is there to shove you into the chasm of whatever depression you're teetering on the edge of, or to lift you up til your widdle wax wings melt, or to embarrass you and your pathetically fidgety milkshake, which brings the boys about as far into the yard as the curb. It will ensnare you, it will confound you, it will thrill you, it will hurt you, it might even kill you, if you love it enough. Certainly, whoever you are, it will subtract years from your life. But a year, ten even, is worth it just for forty-five minutes or so of music--I promise, I swear to you, please believe me. Come to the show.