El Paso 2:03pm
Today is a day off. I’m sitting at the desk in our hotel room while Alex, our tour manager, shaves and showers. We won’t be staying here tonight; we’re just using it as our “shower room” since we’ve leveled-up to a Prevost bus this time around. For the next six weeks, I’ll be spending every night in one of twelve human-sized cubbies.
The eight of us inhabiting the bus have each been waiting for our turn to get clean and slowly begun to develop a plan for what we’ll do to fill this day. We move as an amoeba; indecisive angles of membrane taking turns pulling at the edges with:
“we should go work out” … “we should go to the mall” … “where’s everyone else?”
Setting plans for three hours from now seems like a reasonable amount of time to get everyone on the same page.
El Paso is a transitory town – perpetually existing between two places. Between Austin and Phoenix. Between the United States and Mexico. The thin, penciled line of I-10 divides, unzipping the earth with asphalt. The highway lunges between the two countries like a bystander stepping in to break up a fight between two school kids face-to-face in a hallway brawl.
El Paso is not a place that I would ever stop except to take a momentary break, but I have to admit the scenery reminds me of the time I spent growing up in New Mexico and makes me oddly nostalgic.
Earlier, Scott and I went for a run, leaving the bus and hotel behind while the landscape reduced itself to two colors - dirt and concrete. Dry brown swallowed us; from the hotel, to the Walmart, to the back of a strip mall where we climbed a fence and jumped down the side of a wall to get back to the bus.
Everything rocks and sways and you feel it when you stand up. You feel it when it’s 9am and it’s dark in the narrow corridor where everyone sleeps and you’re the first one awake.
The outside is the first thing - just sitting and looking and enjoying the nothingness of the desert, paired with the lack of activity in the front lounge. We stop at a truck stop as I’m making my already-infamous microwave scrambled eggs. I open the door to the bus and there’s a man walking and looking at the ground, scanning for misplaced or discarded pieces of Styrofoam and cardboard. He looks at me with my paper bowl of eggs and I say, “mornin.”
I love the openness and the nothingness, the lack of color and lack of shape. The endless dirt and horizontal landscape is clean and lacks clutter - it’s minimal in design. If drawn, most of the page would be unused.
I turn the corner of the bus to go inside the truck stop, with no particular intention. There’s a man with one arm smoking a cigarette outside of his camper and I nod to him.
I’m greeted by the same vaguely local knick knacks and second rate electronic equipment seen in all truck stops. The same bin of shitty DVDs.
I get coffee for fun and also because our driver likes to combine heaps of Folgers and hot water before he starts driving at night that ends up being burnt by the time we wake up. Truck stop coffee tastes like a treat. I decide to pull from the nozzle labeled “intense,” not out of necessity, just curiosity.
Back on the bus, we drive. We drive through more of the same scenery, but nobody looks. Everybody takes turns talking, exchanging words in declarative statements or funny quips, followed by searching looks for approval or lazy answers of approval from over the tops of iPhone screens. Something about pedals. Something about some guy that played in some band. It ends as soon as it began and then starts again at the same rate. Sentences started as a method to pass the time, of little interest to anyone. Small talk that’s fine and friendly and necessary.
I sit with my coffee and listen and offer sympathetic smiles because I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the expected response is and I can’t think of anything funny. I blame myself at the time, but now I’m realizing that most of it really just isn’t that interesting. I’d rather sit here and write about how brown it is outside.
Los Angeles 1:51pm
Yesterday we were passing around bottles of tequila for Alex’s birthday.
Today we’re passing around bottles of Vitamin C and Echinacea pills because Dwight has the flu.
He’s been quarantined in the back lounge while the rest of us are sanitizing every surface of the bus and trying to sweat out any possibility of sickness inside hotel gyms.
The night outside the Casbah in San Diego was cold; cold for the four of us unaccustomed to the breeze coming off of the ocean. We’re all huddled in black, swaying, dancing at different tempos to keep warm. A man opens the back door to the venue to take my beer and tells me we can’t have beer outside. “Fine,” I’m warm enough from the shot we just took on the bus.
I’ve been coming to this venue since my early twenties – since the Air Dubai days. I’ve been here so many times since that I know the exact spot to find an Air Dubai sticker near the bar that was placed there probably seven years ago.
I’ve tried to push it out of my head, but there’s an element of magic missing on this tour that I can’t shake. Does that fade anytime you get to know something so well? Is it normal for the mystique and wonder to dissipate when you look at something under a microscope? It feels like coming to a mirage and finding my preserved oasis fade into familiarity.
This isn’t an emotion I enjoy conveying. I’d much rather write words of elation and gratitude, descriptions of childhood dreams coming true, but the reality of the situation is that those fade in and out for me, and at this particular moment, they’re out. It’s an interesting, callused place to be writing from, but here I am.
Park City 10:14am
I wake up with the same dry mouth and sore throat that I’ve had for the last three days. I look at my phone, become aware of my mouth stank from not brushing my teeth the night before, and strain my eyes half-blind to see what time it is in the blackness.
It’s later than I wanted to get up, it usually is. But that’s because I went to bed later than I wanted to. It’s always later than I want it to be. The fun part is, I don’t even remember what we did last night - like an embarrassingly contrived, dorm-room-anthem-type lyric in a Chainsmokers song.
I always need a minute to wake up. I imagine it doesn’t help that in the hours before going to bed lately I’ve been poisoning myself with alcohol. I should probably check that habit. And today was going to be that actually. Today we have off after five shows in a row. My plan was to sleep, relax, read, write, and work on music. My plan was to take a break from drinking. My plan was to take medicine and heal up and be ready for the next batch of shows.
By noon we’re pouring Jack Daniels and ginger ale in the back of the bus. These are my boys and I can’t say no. Just Alex, Scott, and I sipping whiskey from coffee cups and listening to Erykah Badu. We pour another, regrettably mixing in Jameson when the Jack Daniels ran out, and call an Uber to go to a snow tubing hill nearby. We talked about tubing yesterday and I’m halfway surprised that we’re actually doing it.
We have too many people to fit in the little Volkswagen that comes to pick us up, but we convince the guy to take us anyway and I hop in the trunk.
I’m looking at the sky, I’m looking at my phone. My head is cocked at an unnatural angle. I’m thinking I can’t get comfortable no matter where I put my head or my hands and then remember that I’m in the back of a fucking Jetta and I’m not supposed to be comfortable. Everyone takes turns reaching their phones over the back seat, thumbs depressing a virtual circle near the bottom of the screen, so they can capture this moment of pure hilarity for their Instagram stories.
We’re still carrying our coffee cups full of whiskey when our boots hit the snow. Haley, one of the opening acts on this tour, just went for it and is openly brandishing a bottle of Coors Light as children of all ages and their patient parents pass us by.
We’re over it after about an hour like we knew we would be and head back to the bus to submit to our own individual sun and snow induced comas. I wake up when it’s dark. I grab my suitcase from under the bus and head into the hotel with only the mildest intention to shower.
I sit in the sauna by myself while a few humans maybe fifteen years younger than myself wriggle their arms and legs in and out of the pool. A few times they cautiously meander past the translucent window to see me probably talking to myself and most definitely sweating obscenely. This is my life. I’ve finally become that weird guy sitting alone in the hotel sauna.
While struggling for air in the sweat lodge I’ve commandeered, I think about the pervasive benign feeling of this tour that has proven to be unshakeable and surprisingly debilitating. It’s not the music and it’s not the people. It’s the “been there, done that” familiarity that feels like treading water. I feel like a magician performing the same tricks every day, on and off stage; like a comedian having to repeatedly laugh at the jokes that have already left his mouth a few hundred times to sell them to a new crowd every night.
I do believe music is magic, without question. But magic requires imagination and mystery. It requires certain parts of the story to be left blank – left to be filled in at extravagant extremes by the audience. It requires a voluntary letting go of the obvious secret that everyone in the audience is in on – that it’s just a trick.
I’ve seen and performed the trick many times. At these moments of weariness, I envy the performers that fool-heartedly drink their own Kool-Aid and get trapped in the funhouse of smoke and mirrors they themselves have created. It’s a curated dream and (understandably) one that most people would never want to wake up from.
After sweating and showering I find myself in the breakfast area of a Holiday Inn Express. I just made myself a green tea and swallowed a Nyquil pill. It would have been two pills, but the packaging was pretty serious and by the time I finally ripped the seal open I had enough inertia built up to fling one of the pills over the side of the table. I looked for it on the ground with the flashlight on my phone while a sleepless business man looked at me funny. I pulled chairs away from tables, in hasty patterns, second-handedly adjusting the feng shui of the room. I think I would’ve found it had it not been for the kitschy, vaguely Celtic, design of the carpet that contained virtually every color of the rainbow as if by mandate. It looked like a gypsy’s wet dream.
At 4:30am I wake up thinking we must be close.
At 7:30am I’m up again and discover the bus is parked in a garage, light puncturing thin ovals in a metal door directly in front of us.
I come to discover that we’re outside of the city getting repairs, but I’m too awake and restless to wait around, so I Uber into the city (this blog post is starting to sound like an Uber ad).
The line at breakfast was long and I was content. It’s early and I’m out in a city that used to be my home. I’m also highly caffeinated and am anxious to keep fueling my high.
It’s nice out and I decide to walk a mile to the venue. My mind wanders and lands on memories sparked by landmarks I pass. My time here feels like a past life and I miss certain chunks of it. I owe a lot to Nashville for leading me to the things I want by introducing me to things I don’t want.
I beat the bus to the venue and decide to get more coffee. My phone is dead, so I pick up a book there; it’s some Chinese communist literature called On Practice that I normally wouldn’t have glanced twice at, but find some of it surprisingly relatable and pertinent to my current mind-state. One quote in particular stands out to me:
“If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself.”
I feel that way about my experiences, that I’m chiseling away at unknown things - time, air, pre-memories. I’m traveling the country being thrown into voids of what is yet to be experienced.
They don’t have words for some of these things. You wouldn’t be able to tell there’s a clearing in the field by standing on the outside of it. Perception (or lack thereof) is a nasty, misleading thing, but also the easiest road to maintaining enjoyment through illusion. Experience is a terrifying and revealing thing. It’s also painful, but honest; a mirror of faults.
I can use the pear analogy in relation to my career as a musician. I have tasted the pear many, many times and know it’s taste and texture well. What a funny thing it is that to truly know something, the mystery must leave. The fact that it was something unknown and unconquered is what made it so appealing. Your own make believe version littered your life path like a trail of breadcrumbs on your way to the witch’s house.
There is no longer a question of what the pear tastes like and you yourself have altered the thing that you were so drawn to in the first place. You damage it and impress yourself upon it to understand it and by doing so, it loses the glean it had from a distance – the thing that drew you to it in the first place.
I’ve become so fixated on casting a negative light on my recent experiences just because I know the routine so well. As if, once you've eaten one pear or ten, you convince yourself you’ve experienced all pears. Yes, it’s a raw familiarity, but it’s not negative. Just because this touring thing temporarily loses it’s magic, the glitter dulls, and the paint peels; that doesn’t negate the affection I feel for it.
Like when two people are married for a long time, I imagine each person’s love for the other morphs into many different versions. A normalized love isn’t bad, in fact, it may be the most intimate form. When lust evaporates, when the curtain is pulled back, and the mystery ceases to exist, but you still love a thing, with all of it’s faults, you’ve truly found the depths of that love. An intense intimacy with a person or thing in which the faults make it even more beautiful than originally perceived. At this current moment, I am exploring one dark, uncharted corner of the cave that is my relationship with music, with an understanding that there are surely hundreds more. The faults give it depth and the flaws give the beauty context; a platform with a podium to be presented on.
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.