It’s a Monday spent in the van in Nebraska with Scotty. It’s thoughtless here, in the same way the scenery is empty. I repeat the same words to one imaginary conversation in my head, just like the never-changing treadmill of fields. One straight line of horizontal boredom.
I’m learning to let these times be what they are; to appreciate the mere fact that I am here and that I am able to witness the calm angst of being surrounded by visual silence.
There were job interviews for a fried chicken restaurant being conducted in our hotel this morning. I could be there. Instead I’m plunking out letters on a keyboard in a moving metal tube on my own accord.
I don’t feel trapped. I don’t feel anxious. My food is paid for. I know I’ll eat today and be ok.
One more day here, a part of the world; an opportunity for me to paint my life into the landscape I see it to be.
Scotty and I are driving the van from Minneapolis, through Denver, to LA. We flew back from San Diego yesterday without the rest of the group. Dwight got some news about his dad in the hospital and decided to cancel our next week of shows so he could be with family.
You have to be able to push pause on this lifestyle when something important comes up. You can’t touch music. Music won’t keep you warm. You can’t crash with music when you’re broke and there’s nowhere else to stay. Family is real and can’t be neglected when they need you. Music can wait.
At home, a mile high
Saturday night I missed my friend’s wedding because I was playing a show. Monday night I was finding the end of the eastern Colorado plains and focusing my eyes on the growing skyline of downtown Denver.
An hour before I was set to arrive, texts were sent out announcing my return and plans were made. I summoned the homies and got picked up from a hotel in Westminster.
We drank boxed wine in a basement apartment and talked shit. We talked about everything that I normally talk to myself about. It’s different running in conversational circles when you’re with people and there’s alcohol.
We drank out of enormous stemmed glasses filled to the top and talked about girls new and old. We stayed up late and then later. My brother wanted to leave, but we convinced him to stay. Being around people who have witnessed years of my life was a necessary departure from the small talk and rehearsed smiles of being on tour.
It was after 4am when I declared the couch I was sitting on to be as good of a place as any to be my bed for the night.
11:56am – Edgewater, Denver
Cracked plastic awnings and broken glass ridden alleyways. Cold, long views of the mountains and the miles of empty dead fields in between. The imminent death of the yellow foliage around me is apparent with the cold breeze kissing my cheeks; hidden in plain view behind the brilliance of the sun. The winter sun. A phenomenon unique to Colorado; holding an impervious optimism over the head of every shivering soul.
Denver has a unique grittiness, a city with little architecture old enough to be considered historic, the dilapidations of brown buildings from the 1970’s set the aged standard.
This is my city, you know. I’ll take it with all its faults. I’ll take the freezing temperatures, with the mocking sun set in clear skies looking down, because I know every alley like the back of my hand. I can tell a story about every street corner. I watched myself live and thrive and grow here. A city that taught me to be me. The winters molded me – wearing oversized jackets to stay warm in the studio and blowing sinuous clouds of smoke and hot breath outside in freezing temperatures.
This morning I called all my friends to see how many I could get together to play at a garage studio we all used to frequent. I got eight of them to show up and it was as great as it ever was. What a feeling to know that you have people you can call with less than 12 hours notice who will show up just because you asked. People who want to get together and play, no questions asked. And that feeling once we start playing is irreplaceable. That feeling alone is almost worth moving back to this city that I love so much. Just beers and instruments and no expectations for how good or how bad anything is. It’s almost better when it’s bad. It’s more fun that way.
That’s substance. Playing and listening back to what we did and being drunk and high and loving every second of it; always wanting to pull out my phone to document every moment, but not willing to take my eyes off the reality in front of me.
We get high on creation. The act of making something and having absolutely no thoughts of what might come of it.
It makes everything ok. It answers every question I ever have about purpose. It settles my soul.
After the studio we hit the late night spot, a 24-hour Mediterranean restaurant near the University of Denver campus called Jerusalem. We split a plate of hummus, chicken, and pita and exhaustedly stumbled through the same conversations we always have. One drunken night closer to having it all figured out.
I paid because I felt rich having the $100 bill in my pocket for the next three days’ per diems.
In the car on the way home (back to my temporary, leather couch resting spot) we continued talking, leaving sentences unfinished; feeling it would be just as futile to stop talking altogether as it would to let vocal chords vibrate freely. After all, I am only in Denver for five days.
None of these breaths are wasted. We’re grasping, explaining, attempting to know. Attempting to understand things we never will because, the older I get, the more I realize a lot of life just doesn’t make sense. Life is only meant to be acted upon in the way you see fit. Sometimes the universe will say no, stomping out your efforts, and then sometimes all of your friends haul their instruments to a studio until 2am just because you wanted them to.
Things Have Changed
A week off while on tour always makes me feel off balance, like I’m the puzzle piece that doesn’t seem to fit anywhere, so it gets jammed into a space it only vaguely belongs. This week happened to work out perfectly though. Since our Denver show was canceled, I was able to see my German relatives while they were visiting for a couple days.
I picked up my uncle, aunt, and cousin from the Denver International Airport in the early afternoon and immediately set course for a dispensary. I always forget how much of a novelty that is when visiting Colorado.
We navigated our way through suburbia – up winding asphalt in ant-farm subdivisions, interrupting the focused actions of several reflections of my younger self playing in the street. They were gracious enough to pause their game and let us through. I remember that feeling – this is their street. Everything of consequence happens on the tar-black estuary threading slanted driveways.
There is always a bittersweet feeling when I come home. The smells, the pictures on the walls, and the general familiarity overload, all add up to nostalgia mixed with an acute awareness of how far removed I am from that moment in the past where I referred to this place as “home.”
I could tell my uncle felt it too. He never lived here, but his brother did. The last time he was here, my dad was still alive.
I spent considerable time that day visiting different parts of the house with my uncle and brother, telling stories and asking questions about my dad. We looked at some things he had painted in the basement. We looked at childhood photos and posters of Bavarian cities in the room that used to be my dad’s office (or Büro) until three years ago.
Most days I can find ways to put these memories aside and continue life, but that night it was too obvious something, someone, was missing. I can only be grateful that it was communal. I was with a tribe of people that loved my dad and continue to experience pain because of his absence. We all felt it and all we could do was talk and drink and laugh. Those things are alright. And we had something to celebrate – it was my aunt’s birthday. Complete with glowing, colored candles on top of an apple pie (the most American thing we could think of), beer, and a home-cooked meal, we took advantage of the time we had together.
I couldn’t help but acknowledge the irony of the situation – that I was able to spend time with my family in Denver only because Dwight had to stay in California to be with his dad in the hospital. Maybe that was the universe’s way of telling us we needed to be with family that week.
2:38pm - Santa Ana, CA
After three days in Denver, Scotty and I began the remainder of the drive to Southern California.
We got the band back together in Santa Ana. We unloaded the trailer with welcome familiarity. Missing a couple shows on tour feels like getting pulled out of school for a few days – on one hand you’re stoked that you got to skip class and have a break, but you have that guilty feeling in the back of your mind that you abandoned your friends and they had to carry on without you.
When we got on stage it was pure catharsis. After an unexpectedly derailed week, playing songs in front of people, as a team, gave a little order to the chaos and uncertainty. The usual short bursts of conversation with the audience between Dwight and Patty extended into impromptu stand-up comedy bits that had the whole crowd laughing.
This whole week was a reevaluation of purpose and perspective. The tour ecosystem is a small, impermanent bubble; an intense, but temporary identity, lived in vivid, malignant bursts. A day feels like a week and this week without my tour family felt like a month.
Balance isn’t a topic that comes up very often. Emotions, actions, and sensory intake are usually experienced at extreme highs or extreme lows. There’s either so much happening that you can’t risk stopping to think of what balance might be, or absolutely nothing happening, at which point your mind tricks you into thinking that laying in bed, watching TV, and eating delivery pizza is the best thing for you. Watching one inanimate object talk at you seems like the polar opposite of spilling your emotional guts out to a thousand people every night.
But that’s wrong. In truth, balance means eating dinner with your family. Balance means being around people who know next to nothing about your career and know everything about your convictions. Balance means trading stage lights in front of thousands of people for fluorescent lights in a hospital to fight alongside the man that made you.
Music happens because of life, not the other way around.
Art is a diluted version of life, like playing a game of telephone, experiences are ingested by an individual and interpreted into a concentrated, bite-size piece of existence. Being on tour is a mobile version of that – I witness pockets of life in every city on a daily basis, and so much of it, that it’s easy to forget that it’s not my life that I’m seeing; I’m poking my head in the door to the lives of people in Houston or Boston or San Francisco or wherever I may be.
Life, and the balance it brings, exists independent of tour, independent of music, and independent of art. Music is the vessel of life; the frivolously ornamental, but inarguably necessary sprinkles on top of my ice cream sundae of being.
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.