Sometimes A Tree Is Just A Tree
Los Angeles, CA
“The day has finally come,” Scott says for the second time as we sit at the gate. 18B. Seems like we always fly out of the same gate at LAX. Guitar by his side and breakfast sandwich in his hand, he’s ready to go. Ready to leave to anywhere as long as it’s away from his 40 hour/week case building job. I feel the same. I tell myself the feeling is excitement and maybe it is.
I’ve tried not to create too many expectations in my head. I’m ecstatic that I’m getting to step outside of the hamster wheel that is touring in the states and see something new. In the back of my head I’m thinking maybe this will invigorate me, shake me awake with a reminder of what it was like to tour for the first time. Reawaken some eager, doe-eyed youth inside of me, taking everything in with optimistic virginity.
And I want to bottle that up. Here, in words. The younger years of myself and his ignorant first impressions of cities and venues and this whole country - drunk on not knowing - running and stumbling, but the whole time still running. I wish I had those years. I wish they were printed neatly on paper so I could read them and laugh and shake my head; without a doubt talking definitively on things I knew little about.
In a place so familiar. The physical location and the context. I’ve been here so many times for the same reason. So many rehearsals and tours starting here, so many memories. It’s strange to have known different versions of yourself in a city in which you never lived.
The sopping wet version - at midnight knocking at Patty’s door wearing a poncho bought from a homeless man, with an uncooked box of spaghetti under my arm from a gas station down the street.
The drinking beer in the street version - 20 years old playing SXSW for the first time. Drinking two days in a row used to make me sick, but I conditioned myself to fight that when I discovered beer was cheaper and easier to find than water at that particular festival.
For god's sake I’ve been on dates in this city.
We’re rehearsing at Dwight’s studio, "The Compound," a place with it’s own long list of memories.
There’s a warmth when we leave The Compound. A clingy, woody warmth that’s not easily forgotten, a feeling that will always live 10 years ago in my brain, with the boy drinking beer on 6th street. Tires pull at rocks to get us up the incline of dirt road. Trees sit still as we move by fast. Sometimes a tree is just a tree.
Dark nebulous black incoherent. All the things I feel when everyone is smiling and I’m not.
A microphone in one hand and a barbell of scrutiny between my eyes.
We passed neon signs to get to this bar. This bar is attached to a movie theater. There are karaoke rooms upstairs. Worn, redrum carpet leads upstairs to the furthest room at the end of the hall where I will make unforgivable sounds with my vocal cords. If these walls could talk. If these walls could talk they would testify against me and the shameful things I did to “All The Small Things.”
If only I could participate.
I don’t know what that part’s like, really. To fully be a part of it. Without thinking. I want to know what it’s like very badly.
Fives spend a lot of time observing and contemplating. Their belief is that from the safety of their minds they will eventually figure out how to do things—and one day rejoin the world.
I’m aways on the other side of the glass from my sincerity. I really do mean the things that I’m saying. Inside I’m screaming them. But they come out juvenile or cynical.
I’m bad in groups.
Scott and I sit and wait at a Mexican restaurant called Fresa’s. We order avocado margaritas and a basket of chips. We’re starved from the limited diet we’ve been living on these last few days while rehearsing - slowly rationing slices of rosemary sourdough and deli meat from HEB.
Besides being here because we’re starved, we’re also here to kill time. We finished rehearsing at 4pm and don’t have much else to do. It’s been like that every day this time around. Yesterday we ran through the set twice and called it. Today, Patty showed up two hours late because she had a hair appointment. We ran the set once and then started packing up.
It’s been nice, it’s been easy. More time for us to hang out and for me to overanalyze my responses to everything. Finding myself sheepish and defensive. I’m gonna be what I’m gonna be, I guess.
And what I’m gonna be is a Five. That’s what I am. We all took the Enneagram test earlier and everything I ever wanted to know about myself was laid out before me.
“Fives are alert, insightful, and curious. They are able to concentrate and focus on developing complex ideas and skills. Independent, innovative, and inventive, they can also become preoccupied with their thoughts and imaginary constructs. They become detached, yet high-strung and intense. They typically have problems with eccentricity, nihilism, and isolation.”
I shouldn’t have done that. It’ll be helpful in the long run I think.
Leaving for London
In the morning I check my phone. In the morning I go for a run to get out any excess energy I may have and so that I can sleep well on the plane. I stretch, knowing this may be the last time in a long time I get to run outside and give my body what it needs. It’s bitter cold on this Austin morning, the wind winding up with harsh, calculated blows. But I know this is nothing compared to the weather I’m about to experience in the UK.
Everyone seems ready. Unnervingly casual in a way, as if we just hang out like this every day - not like we’re leaving the country tomorrow to play arenas. Even our rehearsal schedule was atypically relaxed this time around.
Maybe the thought of international travel coupled with playing in front of tens of thousands of people is too much to grasp. It is for me. I don’t think I’ll fully comprehend it until I see it. The foreign-ness of it all; the sizes of the venues and the foreign country itself. For Dwight and Patty maybe it’s different. They know the drill. Maybe this has already become routine to them.
Or maybe it’s a shift in the attitude of this band altogether. I definitely see it in Dwight. He knows he has to take advantage of this last year with his son before he leaves for college. There are things more important than spending 12 hours a day in a room rehearsing. He knows there’s life beyond the studio walls, where there are people that love him when he’s not holding a guitar.
We get in around noon and wander to baggage claim like infant giants. Lost souls dressed in black.
It still doesn’t feel real. A man holds a sign that says Wind and the Wave. He leads us to a nice Mercedes Sprinter van with seats facing each other. I try to sit in the seat next to Patty and she says Dwight will want to sit there because it's facing front. I obey, made hollow and compliant by the long plane ride.
I take in colors and colors from the graphic novel in front of me and occasionally turn my head to look out the window. I make eye contact with drivers as they pass, sitting on the right but driving on the left, a mirror-image of what I know to be right. The world is an inverted upside down and coos and sings sweetly to my growing delirium.
I nap for maybe 30 minutes and I feel more rested than I did from the sleep I got on the plane.
We get to the hotel and now it’s a fight to stay awake. It’s around 2pm and we need to make it until at least 10pm so we can sleep through the night.
I’ve got my eyes open now. Paying attention to all of this as much as possible. Taking it all in and righting the wrongs (and lack of documentation) of a past life.
The issue at the root of this is not regret that I didn't write things down, it’s that I didn't live them fully. Didn't appreciate them as they were happening.
Fives spend much of their time "collecting" and developing ideas and skills they believe will make them feel confident and prepared. They want to retain everything that they have learned and “carry it around in their heads.” The problem is that while they are engrossed in this process, they are not interacting with others.
Dwight tells us a story about when his oldest son was very young he would say unusually insightful things.
“Sometimes a tree is just a tree.”
As adults, we go to great lengths to understand and change ourselves. We subscribe to religions of all kinds and look to modern day prophets and motivational speakers to unlock our true selves.
I’m not a nihilist by any means (not anymore anyway) but, maybe we are what we are. Maybe big dramatic leaps in character and hopes of restructuring personality traits don’t end up being very fruitful.
Sometimes I am just what I am.
What takes effort will always take effort. I have to realize this instead of being frustrated by the inability to rewrite my own code. I could write an essay about a tree - describing color and texture, exploring its age and genealogy, what could be done with the bark and lumber. But ultimately, it is.
Scott and I drop our bags, I take a shower. We bundle up and head out in a random direction, loosely guided by the tower of an old church peaking out over the roofs of apartment buildings.
We pass the church and all kinds of American fast food chains. I’m mildly surprised that it doesn’t feel as foreign as I thought it would.
Sheffield reminds me of Detroit. A drab, decaying industrial town. A wrinkled frown of a city, standing proud and mad in the discouraging gray wet.
We pass a Turkish restaurant and, thinking of Turkish food in Germany, I suggest we stop for a snack. It smells like fast food and instantly I think we’ve made a mistake. The next warning sign is I can’t understand a word this man is saying to me. This hasn’t felt like a foreign country until this exact moment.
something something something chicken, something something something chips
By the time I’m done ordering and picking out a random orange-colored soda to try, I’m hoping my five pounds is getting me something like chicken shawarma.
The guy waves me over and asks me a question I can’t understand. A man standing at the counter looks at me and says, “Just say yes.”
I do, and we get two gargantuan pieces of naan stuffed with immaculately seasoned red chicken. It’s the size of a pizza folded over and is stuffed with meat, pickled cucumber and cabbage. Big wedges of potato are served as the side. They’re crispy on the outside and perfectly mushy on the inside. It’s fucking delicious.
Everyone got a role in the play, but you didn’t because you were sick yesterday, and you stand there with your hands empty trying to figure out where you fit in.
It's weird being on a tour where Dwight and Patty have relationships with the Stereophonics crew and band from previous tours. Where an introduction and an inside joke pretend to fit in the same sentence.
It’s a lot of people with a lot of personalities. I’m just trying to be nice though. I don’t know what else to do.
Life on a larger scale
Watching Stereophonics on stage was like watching a movie. It was too much to take in all at once. A massive amount of people crammed in a massive venue. The kind where you have to turn your head to see the whole thing.
Take it all in. That’s what I’m trying to do. But when you’re standing side stage because that’s what everyone has told you to do, but you feel like your brain is starting to melt and the whole of you feels empty, it’s probably best to remove yourself from the situation.
I’m still overloaded from our time on stage. This is the first show of the tour and the most people I’ve ever played in front of to date (16,000). The adrenaline did a number on me. I was mentally exhausted by the time I got off stage, but didn’t give myself time to unwind after. I just stuffed my face full of spaghetti and meatballs and made Patty take pictures of me.
We hang out on the bus and get high and that doesn’t make me feel any less detached from the whole thing.
Detached from the practical world, a disembodied mind.. Become preoccupied with their visions and interpretations rather than reality.
Patty says, “I’m actually floating, aren’t I?”
I wake up bleary eyed in the darkness behind my curtain. Beyond that, in the blue-lit channel where the other bunks are, permanent string lights make the narrow hallway light up an icy blue - feeling somewhere between an empty nightclub and a neon igloo. This is the third time I’ve woken up; crew members moving feet to perform their daily duties.
I slept eight and a half hours and I could easily sleep five more. Dwight, Scott, and Patty are all still asleep and that would give me an excuse to close my eyes again, but my love for breakfast outweighs my love for sleep, and catering stops serving food in ten minutes. I crawl out of bed (more accurately roll out - my bottom bunk is virtually even with the floor), and hurriedly pull on pants and a hoodie.
This is one of my favorite parts of all this. Waking up and not knowing where I am. Stepping out of the bus into a deserted underground parking garage or street corner or parking lot and having to find my bearings in completely unfamiliar surroundings. I’m not sure what that is or why I love not knowing where I am. Opening the door in a square mile of the world your physical self has never been is like exiting the womb with the fresh eyes of a newborn. A pure newness - unmarred and still ripe to be soiled by my own expectations and experiences.
We’re a couple shows in now and I’m not sure if I love playing these giant venues. I love the idea of it. I love being able to say that I’m doing it, but I’m not sure I love the act itself.
As someone who’s only ever played in clubs and theaters, it’s so bizarre to not be able to see or hear the people you’re performing for. I get off stage and literally have no idea how we were received. One of the things that makes it so weird, besides the vast blackness and emptiness, is the completely upside down experience I have on stage compared to what the audience is having. It’s hard to explain, but when I watch Stereophonics play from the crowd I look at the stage and think “I didn’t just do that, did I?” The stage is illuminated and the mass of crowd is breathing and alive - an organism that I’m apart of. On stage it feels like a vacuum and a shapeless void. No tether to reality, just four people flailing under the assumption that an incomprehensible number of eyes are watching everything you do. But without any evidence of that.
20,000 people have their attention fixated on 4 people. Where in nature does that happen?
I don’t know what to expect here today in Bournemouth. I know that the venue is smaller than the previous three shows - a measly five thousand. From what someone in Birmingham told us, Bournemouth is a sleepy town where old people retire - likening it to Florida.
I laugh when I start to think - when am I going to be here again? Probably never. As a kid I guess it’s always assumed that you’ll see so much and there’s always time to go back. You get older and time becomes less infinite.
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I'm a touring drummer. I live in hotels and venues to be on stage for one hour a day. That hour is why I do this and the only part people see. This is a documentation of the other 23 hours.