Thursday 28 November 2013

The heady world of rock and pop (part 64)

I hardly have time to get over one trip before it's time to set off on another. Less than a month ago I was in Decatur, Georgia, setting up the first solo show of my paintings. I drove down there in a hire car stacked with the paintings plus a couple of guitars and an amplifier because I was going to do a gig while I was there.
I always feel as though I'm on the lam when I'm driving off somewhere in a hire car full of stuff that hire cars never seem to be designed to carry. This isn't real life I'm thinking, and a distant adult voice echoes in my head – when are you going to stop messing around and get a real job?
It's a bit late now. I'm six months off sixty – fifty nine and a half years old. I often wonder how I've managed to get away with it so far but I gave up on worrying about doing anything about it half a lifetime ago. The deluded part of me makes these ridiculous intercontinental cross country journeys because it thinks there's still time – and it's only a matter of time – it thinks I'm going to make it, become a big somebody in the heady world of rock and pop.
The rational, non-deluded part of me knows this isn't going to happen. I'm just trundling along, out-living a lot of badly abused vehicles that were never meant to be driven so fast so overloaded, and for such long distances. I used to hurtle along surrounded by full ashtrays, beer bottles, cassettes and photo-copied maps. Now it's apple cores, plastic water bottles, toothpicks, CDs and GPS.
Thank fuck for the GPS. Before President Reagan proved he wasn't a complete waste of space by giving this great gift to the world you could easily add another hour onto a journey time just looking for the hotel or the venue. It takes the mystery away of course, the are we ever going to get there? We'll probably get there at the time it says on the screen unless we stop at another Starbucks and slosh down another inch or so of the sour black liquid that passes for espresso in those places.
So I drove down to Atlanta, or Decatur or wherever, stayed in a hotel on the way somewhere south of Washington DC. As I was negotiating the beltway around DC in post-rush hour darkness Amy called. I know I shouldn't have spoken to her while I was driving but there wasn't much traffic and we hadn't spoken since I left that morning. She was very excited – it seemed that Lou Reed played Take The Cash on his final radio show and said I was magnificent. I hardly know how to process that information. Lou Reed inhabits / inhabited another world, far away from the grubby, hire car trashing, sink or swim and under the wire world that I operate in. Or did he?
Early in the summer we went to see his wife Laurie Anderson give a talk, present some films and, along with Pauline Oliveros, perform a live soundtrack for a couple of films that were actually fairly forgettable in comparison to the music. The equipment broke down – a computer malfunction. Pauline Oliveros played a couple of solo pieces on an accordian hooked up to God knows what electronic trickery while Laurie Anderson scrabbled around on the floor unplugging and plugging things back in. I felt a kinship. Lou had people to deal with that sort of thing, his wife didn't, and perhaps given the choice neither would Lou. In Laurie's obituary for Lou in Rolling Stone she talks about how their first date was at a recording equipment trade fair – they met in microphones.
I don't know why I'm telling you stuff that you can read elsewhere except to try and illustrate a point which you've probably lost track of by now. I know I have, so here's a link: 

I could tell you all about my exhibition in Decatur but I haven't even mentioned the trip I made to Memphis the month before. Here's an account I started to write back in October one glum evening in a town out on the Illinois mud:

I'm sitting here trying to recount the steps that have lead me to room 106 at the Super 8 motel in Staunton, Illinois.
I arrived here in the dark having made a ridiculous detour around St Louis. I should have listened to the GPS but we'd had a falling out early today - she took me on a tour of interstate highways surrounding Springfield, Missouri.
I just want a fucking cup of coffee I screamed at her. A sign I'd never seen before came up on the screen – you shook your phone it accused me. It wanted to report me to Google, mount a full enquiry. It was lucky I didn't throw it out of the window.
The GPS woman was adamant - ignore the signs for Chicago and carry straight on. I was having none of it. She kept repeating the same phrase over and over: take the next exit and make a U turn. You've already fucked-up once today I yelled at her as I ploughed on into the darkest depths of Bumfuk, Illinois.
Turned out she was right.
Tomorrow I'm going to be nice to her all day.
I played in Springfield, Missouri the night before. Twenty seven devout disciples and soon-to-be converts turned out to see me. Taking into account that Springfield is miles from anywhere, right in the heart of the very dead centre of mid-western America I think I can count that as a bit of a success.

Staunton, Illinois doesn't look like a very nice place to live. It's muddy, cold, dark and unwelcoming. There's a new plastic gas station that can probably be seen from outer space, and there's a Hardee's Red Burrito. Apart from the hotel reception these are the only two places in the entire town of Staunton, Illinois that are still open at nine thirty in the evening.

I try to imagine that the place will look better in daylight
It doesn't.
I stay in the room until the last pick-up truck has left the parking lot outside my window. I figure that an absence of people that travel in pick-up trucks will make the breakfast room more pallatable. It doesn't – breakfast finished with the last of the pick-up people.
I imagine there's got to be somewhere I can get coffee on the this highway, somewhere that is McDonalds, Burger King, Popeye's... A Starbucks perhaps, or even Panera. But there isn't one.
After almost an hour I resign myself to Cracker Barrel. It'll be an adventure I tell myself.
It isn't.
Everyone is really homespun and pleased to see me, and very fucking nice. Large and lumpy - shiny polyester stretched across enormous expanses of backside. Big chins, white, teeth, plastic hair. This is a the mid west just as I'd imagined it!
I drive on, my teeth uncomfortably clenched in the aftermath of the sour strychnine liquid that passed for coffee at the Cracker Barrel. Won't make that mistake again, next time I'll stop at the side of the road and drink water out of the ditch.

Two days ago I was in Memphis for the weekend. Six days ago I was in Knoxville, Tennessee. A number of hours before that I was in Richmond, Virginia. I played in a place called Gallery 5. They said it would be packed because a lot of people were disappointed to have missed the show when Amy and I played there last February. They didn't show up so I suppose they're still disappointed. I played to a warm and welcoming crowd of almost thirty people.
Afterwards I stayed with Amy's cousin Ceci. We hung out in her kitchen with a friend of hers who knew more about obscure British underground bands of the sixties than I do, and about two thirty Ceci wondered how far it was to Knoxville. Can't be more than two, three, possibly four hours I said. We all agreed that that sounded about right, but just to be on the safe side somebody looked it up on Mapquest.
Seven hours and forty seven minutes not including delays bought about by roadworks.
I knew I had to get up so of course I couldn't sleep, spent four and a half hours supended in a semi coma and fell into a deep sleep just as the alarm went off. Standard procedure really.
The car was running on empty so I got the nice GPS / Google Maps lady to direct me to a gas station. There's only one gas station in Richmond, a BP station on the other end of town. I set off in hot pursuit, turning left and turning right until I got embroiled in some roadworks that the GPS lady didn't know about.
It occurred to me that a town the size of Richmond must have more than one gas station. Ceci had actually directed me to one just round the corner from her house but I didn't quite take in the information because I knew that the GPS lady would set me right. The bitch set me wrong, the bitch being the GPS lady, not Ceci who is without a doubt my favourite distant in-law.
Eventually I found a Citgo gas station almost in sight of the BP one. It was an unpleasant experience in a desperate neighbourhood but I noticed as I passed the projected BP station that I'd save a couple of cents a gallon. So fuck you Google Maps and fuck you BP. And fuck you too GPS lady - you just put nearly an hour on the travel time.
We hit the interstate and drove on in a tense silence.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon after a less than delightful culinary experience in rural Virginia it occurred to me that I was going to be late for the soundcheck. In fact, unless I got a move on I was probably going to be too late for the show. I stopped in a Starbucks and loaded up on coffee. The girl behind the counter loved my accent – said I reminded her of Michael Caine. She asked me what I was doing in the middle of Virginia, asked me how I liked it. I knew she was into films - it's alright, but it's a bit squeak piggy squeak if you know what I mean. She did. She fair swooned, said I'd made her day. I half expected her to run out to the car, flinging off her Starbucks apron and screaming take me with you...
She didn't, but her and the coffee cheered me up no end.
I drove onward at the speed of light being careful to observe the speed limits and watching out for highway patrol cars.

I arrived in at the Pilot Light in Knoxville just as the opening act were about to go on. The opening act was Tim & Susan Lee or The Tim Lee 3 minus 1, or possibly just The Tim Lee 2. Tim helped me load my gear in before they went on. The Pilot Light was great and I wish I could play there every Thursday. No soundcheck but a soundcheck was hardly neccesary – I told the soundman what I wanted, strummed a couple of chords, talked into the mic, and before I knew it I was halfway through the set. And the place was full and the people actually wanted to hear what I was doing.
It was a change from the last time Amy and I were in Knoxville – we played in a beer hall for students not long after Michael Jackson died. Two girls were dancing in front of the stage as we set up. They were obviously high on ecstasy, flowers painted on their faces, swooshing long scarves around, embracing anything that moved, that kind of thing. Do y'all play any Michael Jackson? one of them asked me. I told her I was terribly sorry but y'all didn't play any Michael Jackson. They stuck around anyway, swooshing their scarves, flailing their arms and occasionally going Wooo! in a gamely half-hearted manner. They lasted two and a half songs before one of them wandered off and the other fell in love with a pillar. By that time we could hardly hear what we were playing over the noise that a lot of beer drinking students in a place with a high ceiling makes.
Different this time though. No swooshing scarves or flowers painted on faces. Just a very nice crowd of all ages.
And then I drove across Tennessee to Memphis. Took me two days. I stopped in a town called Cookeville. I needed gas, and maybe a cup of coffee. And then I thought I might as well stop for dinner. It was only five o'clock, a little early and there was very little choice but I was dreading the culinary roadside delights that might be lurking west of Nashville. So I stumbled into the Olive Garden and ordered the earlybird special.
The waitress kept calling me Buddy. She noticed that I was looking tired and suggested that if I wasn't in a hurry I should stick around. She probably thought I was on holiday, some silly English retiree living the dream, working out a deluxe Kerouac fantasy. She put the idea in my head and in no time at all, in between the salad and the main course I'd got my phone out and Hotwired my way into a three star hotel on the outskirts of town.
They gave me a ground floor room with the usual fixings, double bed, reclining chair, fridge, microwave, coffee machine, flat screen TV, a huge air conditioning unit under the window... and next to the bed where you'd normally have a night table with a telephone and radio alarm clock, a big dehumidifier that was turned up full. I was somewhat disturbed by this so I called the front desk and asked for an explanation.
Because of their proximity to the swimming pool, the rooms on that side of the hotel tend to get a little er... moist.
The noise it made was deafening so I turned it off and hoped the room wouldn't get too swampy.
And the next day I drove to Memphis and played at Gonerfest. It was an almost eerie experience. The audience was in rapt attention. During the quiet bits I could hear aeroplanes flying overhead and the sound of distant traffic.
After a weekend in Memphis I drove through Arkansas to Missouri and Springfield. And you know the rest.

Amy and I are playing in Montclair, New Jersey on Saturday then I'm on my own - flying to London for a one-off reunion of The Len Bright Combo. And a few solo dates. I'll be gone for three weeks. I don't think Amy and I have ever been apart for that long since we shacked up together. I hope she doesn't enjoy life without me too much!

30 MONTCLAIR NJ The Art Garage 7:30 PM TICKETS (Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby)

05 THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO live session on The Marc Riley Show, 6 Music
06 THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO live at The Lexington, LONDON

08 WORCESTER, Marr’s Bar
12 GLASGOW, Woodend Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club tickets
13 EDINBURGH, The Citrus Club, 40-42 Grindlay Street
14 GATESHEAD, The Central
15 LEICESTER, The Musician
16 BRIGHTON, The Prince Albert

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