D.I.Y. or Die Trying
The Vistations show their patriotism
photo by Brian Long
On the Road with Elephant 6's THE VISITATIONSThe Switch
by Matt Bender
"We're going to pull a switch. You're going to give that girl to me and go back to dudeski's house or I'm going to fucking leave you in Wilmington." Lucas was drunk again, cannonball, and full of it if he thought I was going to give away my pick-up, a redhead with a bird tattoo who was sweet enough to buy a CD even though some inept sound engineer had just wrecked our show. This was day 6 of a 40-day tour.
My gig with the Visitations started when the former guitarist flaked out two weeks before a nationwide string of performances, meaning that I was sort of a switch as well. I had been a bartender in Athens, GA, where Lucas was working the door. One night, cleaning up, he told me that if I could learn at least ten of the songs off the new album within a week, then I could take said flaky guitarist's place and go on tour. I had just spent the past six months finishing school and watching my long-term girlfriend grow tired of me, which sucked because together we were sharing some of the only affordable housing in town and I knew that I was probably going to be the one who would have to move out - abandoning our cats and everything. With a dead-end job slinging drinks and nothing but steep rent to look forward to, I figured I'd be a fool not to take Lucas up on his offer.
For those not familiar, Elephant 6 is a music collective that started in Northern Louisiana and later relocated to Athens, GA, in the mid-'90's. The great thing about E6 is, that during the grunge/alternative craze of the 90's, all a band could hope for was to a) write some rockin' songs, b) pay a bunch of money to someone with a studio and cut a record of their rockin songs and, c) get their record picked up by SubPop or Vice records and get started on their music career. E6, instead cut all of their songs at home on tape and gave the music away to their friends - who gave the music away to their friends, to their friends, etc. - thereby creating a massive sound library while at the same time avoiding traditional avenues of promotion such as touring and kissing corporate ass in an attempt to get your record on the market.
Preliminary artists you might have heard of include The Gerbils, The Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control, Elf Power, and Neutral Milk Hotel - the latter of which's album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea can still be heard echoing through freshman dormitories across America and was definitely my first exposure to the E6 phenomenon. While the collective has splintered since its inception, their participation in what was at first an attempt to subvert the music industry turned out to be a key move in making E6 some serious hot shots of early American D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) and indie rock movement in America. I myself wooed many a lady during my formative years by chopping out NMH's "King of Carrot Flowers" on acoustic guitar, mimicking Jeff Mangum's ghostly wail and sounding like my pussy was about to explode. While this memory is somewhat embarrassing to look back on, the idea that I could have some small part playing for real in a happening much larger than my own musical ventures was alluring.
Terms and Terminology
Back in Wilmington, when my first bout with Lucas occurred, I was still pretty green as far as the knowledge of what is done on tour was concerned. For example, Lucas was upset because he had at first brushed my pick-up (girl w/ bird tattoo) off as a goober and was stuck going back to dudeski's house while I was stupid and hung up on worrying whether or not the guys would be able to find me and pick me up in the morning. These were foolish thoughts on both of our parts, but especially on L.'s because the girl was definitely not a goober.
GOOBERS are women who seem to be likely candidates for a hook-up, that is, they smile a lot, sway to the mood of the room and keep the conversation going. Granted, goobers don't advertise or wag their asses in the air, but considering that chasing tail is about the only exercise you can get on tour, it seems a pretty safe bet to get in good with a goober if she's not too bad looking. The trademark move of a goober, the one that wins them the title, is to either meet a friend and take off unexpectedly or to get lost looking for something and never return, stranding you mateless and late in the game. As mentioned, goobers aren't necessarily meaning to lead you on. It's more a matter that they just don't know what the hell they're looking at.
This is far better than PUMPKINS, women who will actively lead you on and maybe even give you a little sniff but will never take you home. A likely situation with a pumpkin is that she'll take up all of your time, cock-block other women who might seem interested and even suggest you head back to her place to the point where you give the nod to your bandmates and are, thereby, cut loose for the evening. A pumpkin will change her mind on her way out the door, give you a ride back to the host's house and not let you kiss her in the driveway. In fact, expect her to leave the engine running and send you off with some tight-lipped. I'll-find-you-on-Facebook dismissal. Be thankful for the ride home, however, as it is way more than you would get from chasing goobers all night.
The last ditch hook-up is a DUDESKI, a guy with an extra couch and a record collection he will insist on you listening to. He'll probably get stoned and talk your ear off upon getting back to his place either about a) indie rock, b) life on the road, or c) women.
A dudeski is also:
a) Not a frat boy, although may occasionally be seen wearing a fitted baseball cap,
b) Not a complete idiot, as they often have some unique/endearing personality trait – most commonly being the ability to play guitar or a formidable knowledge of pop music,
c) Not necessarily a bad conversationalist or bad person in general, but definitely lacking in some grand, unspeakable way. They are the dudes who throw their hands in the air when someone says, "everybody throw your hands in the air." They are the chum that leave bars first and get D.U.I.'s, allowing you to later slink by the busy cops, drunk and unscathed. A dudeski can be friendly, talkative, accommodating, and even intelligent, yet he will hold no opinion or personality of his own: as if he were born into the world without a mind and then, out of necessity, crafted one from the objects he found lying around. While this is as honest an approach as any to living and getting by in the world, it does demonstrate an irresponsible lack of critical thinking skills. Perhaps we all have moments like these.
Anyway, Lucas mistook a hot score for a goober, wasted a lot of time chasing a girl that turned out to be a pumpkin and was pissed off that he had to crash on dudeski's couch. This was how a lot of our arguments got started. Other terms that might come in handy:
TROLLER: a woman who comes to the show with the specific intention of taking a musician home with her. While much of the goober/pumpkin stuff I've been throwing around may sound a bit misogynistic, be assured that the majority of women we encountered knew exactly what they were looking for: a roll, a stand, a score. Even if I had been a local, they wouldn't have wanted to be my girlfriend. I'm a bad sell anyway, restless and $40,000 in debt.
Just think of a live performance as a sort of meat market: we present our physical bodies, personalities and creative efforts under bright lights for forty-five minutes as the audience (whom we can't see as a result of the aforementioned bright lights) takes note. We are from out of town and therefore unassociated with the local gossip circle, a key factor when one wants to avoid ugly rumors of "being a slut." Band boys are a good score too, because what happens on the road stays on the road and chances of recapitulation are, given the need to hit new venues in new areas every tour and the effectiveness of D.I.Y. promotional methods, slim to none.
BONER: an unaccommodating sound guy. Boners will get haughty at the simplest of sound requests. For example, "More beats in the monitors, please."
"I've been doing this for thirty years. I know how to work a sound board."
Boners are generally failed musicians.
FFL: fan for life. A true FFL will talk to you about songs you've forgotten how to play and, if you end up crashing on their couch, ask you to sign some limited release album you played on eight years ago that they tracked down on eBay and bought two copies of on vinyl. FFL's are great until you wake up in the middle of the night and they're watching you sleep. BAND FUND: the untouchable mass of money that will be split up after the tour is over and is sometimes dipped into for special "band" expenditures, this last time including: trips to the local titty bar in Ypsilanti, MI ($60), spray-on tanning oil so that we were bronze as Colossuses for a show in Manhattan ($40), and, of course, gay marriage in Massachusetts ($15). JAUNDICE: otherwise known as cock starvation. Even if you're not starving, something about being on rock tour makes the little guy real hungry.
NOZZLE: a new word for douchebag; invented upon hearing some douchebag call another douchebag a douchebag.
Leaning with Intent to Fall
One becomes painfully self-aware when moving daily from state to state, living out of a backpack, and digestion becomes a solid concern. The perfect J is a good sign, but pushing bog water for too many days in a row is cause for alarm. Much like the aforementioned jaundice, ingestion and excretion become prominent fixtures of overall health. 'Grabbing a turd,' or taking a quick shit in whatever squalid (gas station, heavy metal club) bathroom you can find, becomes a sort of treat and, much unlike the humdrum BM's of domestic living, it wasn't unusual for us all to pull off at a highway rest stop and have the whole band crapping in harmony for five beautiful minutes. Although I've tried to recall this natural awareness in my recent return to society, the sensation is more like the buggy reminder that you need to quit smoking someday or that the mushroom cloud of poo-goo that floats from the toilet after every flush might actually contaminate your beer and make you sick somehow, that is, the thought is too easily ignorable and arguably fey.
Extreme self-involvement is another coincidental factor of tour, and possibly a survival mechanism considering your sole soldieresque mission is to play the same ten songs from the new record every night, shamelessly self-promote your merchandise, secure a band bar tab and find a place to stay while at the same time chasing tail and muscling the promoter and other bands on the bill for a bigger chunk of the cut. News such as Theodore Bayly killing his wife and family the same night and in the same Ohio town where you played a house show strikes you like a fly on the eyelid, rolling off as you remember the loud-mouthed mulatto with the knockout tits who stood in the front row and who you had meant to talk to even though she left before the show was over. A tragic story concerning strangers seems comic and inconsequential.
Perhaps this accounts for all stories of egomaniacal rock stars, concerned only with the kill, bragging openly about their expertise concerning all sorts of taboo subjects. I conjured this attitude, as well, and after only a few shows: feeling that bars owed me for entertaining them, that friends and audience members were rude not to raise their eyebrows and say something like "Tour. Wow, that must be ---" in amazement. It is the same selfishness I remember conjuring when I was fifteen and running away from home for the first time, my backpack stuffed with sweaters and CD's, perched on my parent's windowsill and knowing that this was the moment that would forever define me as a Stayer or a Leaver.
If all this sounds fun, add in a steady diet of bad food and long drives. Add in exotic landscapes such as the American Midwest where the scenery is akin to counting sheep. Add in that torn-out feeling you get from two months of waking up in a different town, in a different bed every day with the realization that you could make a life for yourself in any small town, find love and probably stay relatively happy - that landscapes and accents are the only noticeable differences between locations.
While comparisons such as days like film frames in a wheeling Cinemechanica (Athens band) or seeing the world as if through a greasy window come to mind, the actual feeling is something much more personal. To add to my previous comment: you discover that either you could be happy living anywhere in America or that you have to leave the country ASAP because what you're looking for isn't here. That's sort of what it's like.
The Negative Effects of Undeserved Positive Reinforcement
The third time Lucas and I came to blows was in Lexington, KY. He booked the show, it sucked, and I ragged on him for it afterwards. Walking from the car to our host's house, I had my sleeping bag tied up under one arm and my everything else bag under the other. I think the conversation went something like, "Fuck you, Bender. You book the next show in Kentucky," and him swinging at me with his laptop computer. It was wet, cold, and I refused to drop my stuff, ending up in a sleeper hold with a mouth full of parking lot, cursing his name, spraying spittle and old teeth. For those of you who think it was Lucas and I who got gay married back in Massachusetts, you're wrong- I'd be better off marrying a grasshopper.
We actually ended up dropping L. off for good in Austin, TX, where, instead of exploding into rock n' roll sparkles or even saying goodbye, he boarded a plane and flew to his new home in Phoenix, AZ. I still get text messages once in awhile. It would be great to have some sort of conclusive ending, like this is the part of the story where Lucas dies, or, then we were discovered by a scout from Matador Records. However, like all great relationships, The Visitations tour tapered off to a small troupe of refugees drinking beer in strange cities and snaking our way down I-20 back to Athens, stopping at places like the Katrina-ravaged coast in Waveland and saying shit like, "Look at that," killing time and prolonging the inevitable return to pedestrian life. My share of the surplus split-three-ways band fund turned out to be $130. I payed my bank $120 in overdraft fees and spent the remaining money on as much Tex-Mex/carne guisado as I could eat. I returned safely, unpacked my instruments, got another bartending job. Whatever.
Some small kernels, hard learned:
Book your own tour in 3 easy steps:
- White rice and split red lentils take the same amount of time to cook and can be prepared over a camp stove. I recommend investing $2.49 on some bullion cubes,
- Listen to the bands you're sharing a bill with to avoid being stuck, back-lined behind some hardcore band in which the singer unironically dedicates every song to his "beautiful blonde fiancé with the deep blue eyes,"
- Have someone sober and businesslike around at all times. It helps if he/she is big, too, as you sometimes have to flex on the promoter in order to get paid,
- Spend lots of time on the record. Make it something you're proud of.
- Invite a touring band to play your next house party,
- Make friends, exchange information,
- Collect donations and give them to band. Expect the same treatment when you show up to play at their house. Repeat as necessary. Also, check out www.byofl.org, dodiyusa.org, and the HouseShowDatabase.
Read the complete Visitations show-to-show files @ www.unhealthydistractions.blogspot.com
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