PJ Harvey’s latest album LET ENGLAND SHAKE certainly predicted these recent riots of London and it was also one of my favourite releases of this year. With it, she gave early voice to what she felt was rather foreseeable for her country’s unsatisfied citizens. In every interview I’ve read following the fires (which coincidentally sent our own records up in flames during the destruction of the PIAS warehouse where many many independent releases were lost in the shake-up), she has modestly denied her psychic powers, positing instead that she “just reads the newspaper.” In one article she simply quipped, “I make it my business not to be an idiot; that’s all.” I am, indeed, a huge fan of hers. I like her brain and I like her heart. I like that she shares my intentions to discuss injustices. And her voice is uniquely potent with her unique passion. So when I am told belatedly that PJ Harvey herself was rumoured to have been at our overcrowded gig at London’s Hoxton Bar & Grill, I literally shake in my boots, feeling shaken to the core. The gossip hasn’t been confirmed but I feel honored by the possibility of having been in her midst. I wish I’d been able to shake her hand and thank her for shaking things up.
In London I was lucky enough to be aware of being surrounded by our dearest friend and formidable tour manager Mr JC Dyborn and Kalle, visiting from Sweden, and Karina, our cheery and dedicated promoter, and friends from Poland and Romania who made the show teem at the seams. London always treats us grandly even when our expectations of England are low. It isn’t that we don’t like playing in the UK but, as every industry representative and music racket cog will tell you: “It’s a hard nut to crack, a difficult market to break” because there is no shortage of competition in this particular music biz. So we are always worried and fretful that no one will show up for our little band from dirty boring North America and we are so luckily surprised by the charming and bright-eyed turn out. There are certain nights that make you feel like you’ve “made it” and London certainly represents one of those hurtles. We triumphantly power through our hour long set to indefatigable applause and shed our jet lag in the process. There just isn’t enough room for it on stage. I feel violent and mighty by the end of it. London, I know you are enduring rough times and I have empathy for your battles. All revolutions have their costs and I hope you get what you deserve. And to the fierce deity of rock, the divine PJ Harvey, whether you were actually in attendance or not, you were utterly with us in spirit. Let England shake indeed.
By the last day of the third North American segment of this non-stop world tour, I have started reading Zizek’s Living In The End Times, roughly a guide to dealing with the various stages of grief applied to our upcoming economic Armageddon. These are things I think about and discuss constantly with anyone willing to chatter about falling empires and overthrowing tyrants, about ecological crises and imbalances of justice – globally and specifically. In these first few pages, I am schooled on the differences between intolerance and inequality or exploitation in relation to the wearing of niqabs and burqas in France, the differences between nostalgia for communism and anti-Communist paranoia in Eastern Europe, the differences between the lessons learned from critical conservatives versus those learned from reactionaries and how the struggle for unconditional commitment to freedom is always an act of rebellion no matter the eventual outcome. Needless to say, it’s making me very energetic. I don’t tow the party line for any particular –isms, (my convictions likely run a little too hot and strong to be applied to any one ideology), but I must say it warmed my heart to enter the backstage of Neumos and see all of our band brethren, our label representatives, our earnest fans, the venue owners, the lighting technicians and security guards all gulping down the same cheap mixed drinks as a happy collective. I felt truly honoured to witness every strata of this event represented, swilling merrily and munching on snacks together. “This is it,” I think to myself. “No social divisions. Shared goods. Equal chances. Here we are.” Bring on the impending doom that will assuredly coincide with the end of global capitalism, because if we are all reduced to just being human, I love my neighbours very much. It is with a full heart that I can describe our show in Seattle as one of the most fulfilling events of my life. It felt right. I could occasionally hear Subpop’s Megan Jasper heckling us with comments about shit and pussies and I watched our friends in Thee Satisfaction dancing along with Ishmael from Diggable Planets, and Maria had her arms up in the air for half the set. Beth and Jesse hollered like it was the last hoorah (but it won’t be. We promise.) Greg and Lydia joined them front and centre. For the first time I could see Ben’s face shining up as if lit by a Christmas tree on Christmas morning – his attention on the pretty lights of course (not on all those dang gift wrapped capitalist goods below the boughs. ha ha.) And Isaac looked up at Dan like a proud older brother. And Stu worked up a sweat. And the LD poured her heart into her job, strobing the lights and making rainbows dance. And the sound hit us from all sides. And the security guard left his post and came inside to thrash along. And every person in attendance buzzed with the energy of every other person buzzing. So it will comes as no surprise that when Talk Demonic and Suuns joined us for the very last song of this very last show, it was my very favourite feeling on earth. Thank you all. And I mean that: ALL of you. Together, this world is made livable for me. As Ambdekar wrote about his India “There will be outcasts as long as there are castes” but not tonight…. Unless we are all outcasts, in which case, I’m very happy to have found my place. Thank you America. You made my dreams come true… even if your American Dreams don’t turn out the way you’d expected them, we can still have a pretty surreal and unbelievably beautiful Good Ol’ Time.
Right before we take stage, the hotel concierge from next door runs into the green room of Club Nine One Nine and squarely spins me from my backstage pacing and grabs my shoulders, out of breath from her jaunt over and divulges these words with a wink, “Your Dad just called from Brugge to wish you a good show!” She’s ready to flurry off back to her desk and dreary work when she notices my confused expression. “Your Dad, okay?” she repeats it as if I’m a tender thickhead. “He wants you to have fun.” My face looks in her face for answers, “My … Dad? “ I’m trying to string it together when she realizes why I’m stumbling. “Oh no. Wait. I’m sorry,” she sees Dan mid conversation in the north east corner and points at him. “His dad. His Dad. Dan’s Dad wants him to have a good show. Okay?” Dan’s Dad. Of course! Pops! “Okay!” I wink back at her. I love Dan’s Dad and if I hadn’t been angling my way through pre-show nerves I would have been able to make sense of the situation a little quicker but, as per usual, Dan’s Dad is always able to surprise me. Delight me. And make me feel sentimental. It is just this tidbit that turns our crazy day of BC ferry travel and border-crossing nightmares and Bonny & Clyde style banking into a true hometown show for Dan. Dan’s Dad’s best wishes introduce us to the most heart-warming and redeeming show of the tour. We walk into the packed room and it erupts into hollering and Dan looks like he’s won something. Like the life he’d started here making music in his bedroom during his most angst-ridden times has finally amounted to his dreams. “I used to get kicked outta this place,” he laughs. “And even though it’s a different generation of no-necked security guards out there, I was nervous about getting into my own show tonight.” The crowd is his already. “This time, well, they smiled at me.” He flashes his wristband like a VIP gold card holder. “This way, Sir.” And it goes off. We hurl ourselves into every song with the same passion of the crowd below us, hurling themselves into every song, knowing every lyric and jumping and fist-bumping along. They are loose. And we are ourselves. I can’t help feeling proud. I look at this man who allowed me to be his and who continues to make me his and I see all the goodness of a man grown up. A hometown boy made good. Made very good. The ghosts of his past act as angels tonight. Old friends are with us. And true friends are with us. Family too. Old teachers. And new friends. So many new faces. Sweating as if he has just been reborn, Dan searches the crowd for a face he hasn’t met yet. He doesn’t even know what face he is looking for. She has been described to us only as The Communist with red hair. He is looking for Dan’s Dad’s girlfriend. He cannot find her but he dedicates a song to her. I swoon. Dan’s heart is full. Just like his Dad’s. And, for the second time tonight, I am surprised by a true and tender act of kindness and good feeling. I am an utterly sentimental romantic and I love the right man. Hometown boy makes proud. Very proud.
Besides all this gooey nonsense, we also had a spectacularly cinematic day and, though perhaps it is not the movie I would have hoped to personally star in, it was pretty entertaining. Along with our raddest friend and most genius pal, Scott Coffey, who acted as driver for the day, we escaped the clutches of border control and successfully “laundered” money. Our small ferry skirted the choppy waters and harbor seals and we arrived in quaint Victoria feeling pretty victorious really. We were windswept and feeling famous. Perhaps our thriving attitudes rubbed the customs agent the wrong way or perhaps it was smalltown boredom but we spent the next few hours trying to explain ourselves in the company of two long-bearded men and one actually insane woman also being interrogated. And the hilarious part was that we were hiding something. I can’t explain exactly why we were acting as criminals because I wouldn’t want to put myself into trouble’s spotlight but let’s just say we were very lucky they were looking for drugs instead. One of us had been arrested in New York when he was eighteen for using fake tokens in the subway. One of us had prescription drugs that looked a lot like tabs of acid. One of us had actually had border troubles before. And all of us looked a little sheepish by the end of it. How your youth can haunt you. But after some Google-searching, the customs agents returned with big grins and wishes for a good show. Running painfully late, we shredded our suitcases in the middle of a bustling downtown sidewalk, merch money and settlement sheets and the funds of the last few months exploding everywhere in a whirlwind. I dashed into the closing Royal Bank of Canada, having kissed my Clyde with red lips, and shrieked, “I need help,” to the first financial hostess I saw. I did not wait for the next available teller. Every single person in the bank stopped their counting and turned to me in terror. Presuming the worst. I was looking a little disheveled admittedly so they tended to me quickly, wanting to usher me from sight. A few hours later, we were amongst friends sipping perseco and eating fish tacos on a sunny roof-top bar, our adrenalin tapped but our spirits high, laughing at the hilarity of our life. What madness.
I love this madcap firebrand of love and in this band I get to score a film that is both a thriller and a romantic-comedy. I am, of course, too lucky.
What bands listen to on tour is a good indication of whether I’ll like them or not.
Talk Demonic is listening to 90s hip hop while they barrel down the road and Ben from Suuns was so engrossed by Willow Smith’s “Whip my hair” video that it looked like he was learning something. The man will certainly need extensions to bust them moves but he looks willing. And our own personal confession is that we danced in the shade of a Chevron gas station for most of the duration of Beyonce’s new album though we had hours of driving ahead of us. I will likely like you if you aren’t afraid to say things like, “Pop music is really awesome” and you mean it. If, when we pass you on the highway en route to the next show, you don’t notice our horn honking because you are blasting bad radio hits, I know you are good people. I have this conviction. If your record collection is uncool, you are probably pretty awesome. So in Boise our collected mass of bandfolk is able to keep in high spirits despite strange conditions. When we arrive to Neurolux there is no sound technician, no promoter, no back stage…. Well there’s nothing at all despite a handful of afternoon drinkers with stained teeth and heart-shaped asses and ball caps and the ugly sort of tattoos I like best. Plus there’s a ping pong table directly in front of the stage. For the first hour of utter confusion we’re uncertain that the show will actually be able to be made to happen. But we grind our teeth and sweat it out and listen to bad radio hits - not of our own choosing but to our great delight. We wait while the wheels start to spin and slowly things take shape. Perhaps having low expectations in Idaho’s capital was a windfall because everything turned out surprisingly rad. People clustering to the front forced the club to move the ping pong table and the sound tech eventually showed up and even became happily more energetic as the night went on. Even though the bartender eyed me up and down as if I was a convict every single time I asked for a drink, I changed her tune with a ten dollar tip. Talk Demonic and Suuns played their “pop hits” as if there were three hundred thousand kids in attendance in an enormous stadium before them. And our unique blend of “taste-making” influenced by “bad music” made the night a wondrous success. I watched strangers link arms at the show. I watched heads bop then bob then thrash.
Despite the fact that the Butthole Surfers were playing a sold-out show down the road, I am certain we had the better turn out of folks. And hopefully the fans who bought our records will happily shelve them alongside their Rihanna and Rush cds, next to their Digital Underground and Flock of Seagulls vinyl. You don’t have to be cool to rule my world… you just have to admit to your guilty pleasures.
Sometimes you face death. Sometimes Death is wearing a skeleton mask and a leather jacket and careening through the night outside America’s Biggest Little City atop a tricked out motorcycle going so fast it might as well be spewing flames from the exhaust pipe and leaving a trail of fire in its wake. Sometimes Death rattles your car windows. With black-gloved fists. Sometimes Death threatens your life in an unmistakable burly yell that sends shivers rushing through you. Down your spine. Can your throat shiver? It does. Occasionally Death literally looks you in the face in this way and you cannot laugh. You cannot laugh at Death. Certainly not when you think Death is prolly packing a gun. You cannot laugh at Death when it is so menacing. But if you’re very lucky, Death will get back on his bike and ride off towards Reno to collect his sinners there without keeping you in his clutches.
And we’d been lucky all day.
We’d luckily found the only quiet beach at Lake Taho on Labour Day Weekend.
And we were lucky that all our friends wanted to join us in the sand of Sandy Harbor.
We’d been lucky that the lake was deep but warm.
We’d been lucky that the sun was full.
We’d been lucky that the gas station had sold us cheap white wine in miniature plastic bottles that went unnoticed by the parents of the surrounding water-winged tots.
We’d been lucky to climb out on the vast gold rocks jutting into the bay without slipping and cracking our skulls.
And as I began reading Anna Politkovskaya’s final dispatches in Is Journalism Worth Dying For?, I felt very lucky to neither be a war victim or a reporter of war victims. And though I stifled sobs as I read her tremendous tales, beach side and eating popcorn, I felt I was truly taking advantage of my good fortune. Which is what anyone with good fortune should do. Appreciate it. Fully.
We lucked into the last table at a tapas bar as the sun set.
We lucked into scallops being in season.
Foreshadowing our future scare, I even lucked into a meaningful conversation with Jesse and Beth about Death’s advantages and disadvantages in relation to our lost pets. And it wasn’t morbid. We volleyed faith and science and found some answers.
A few hours later, the seediness of Reno was hitting the streets round the same time we were and we lucked into joining it, rejoicing in the discovery of Martinis in a Can. (And we were lucky they didn’t make us vomit.)
We almost felt charmed enough to perform a dual wedding ceremony at a chapel that shared the charm of a pawn shop but we continued giggling through the neon strip instead.
In the City of Sparks, you are forced to make choices between El Dorado and The Sands and Circus Circus in order to push your luck.
Circus Circus cast its shady appeal in glaring florescent gawdiness and we felt lucky that their Margaritas were cheap and free-poured.
Talk Demonic joined us in high spirits, also feeling that they were under auspicious skies.
And we even had a little luck at Black Jack and the Penny slots. (Not much but we were up $14.50 by the end of the night and called it quits during the winning streak.)
No one bet all their merch monies on black even though we joked about it and felt tempted; so we also lucked into good humour but even better choices.
We lucked into the last open restaurant and we were lucky that they served burgers with avocado and siracha sauce.
And we felt rosy and blessed.
And then we were spared our lucky lives on the highway to our hotel.
So, thank you Death, my constant idol, for granting us this best day on your earth. I believe I owe you and one of these days, you will collect. And I will thank you then as well.
Life as it is rarely suits us. You keep wanting to substitute what you would like to believe for reality and either view it through rose-tinted spectacles or give it horns and a tail, depending on your personal inclinations. In Sacramento I might have had my blinders on during the day until my lofty convictions actually came true in the evening. But certainly I Love Teriyaki was not worth the declared adoration. It might have warmed the heart but only in the way that requires “Tums,” not sweet-nothings and valentines. However, we refused to believe our bellies ill because the sun was shining and we were certain that the world was smiling on us, despite being looked at warily by fellow diners for reasons that became apparent only much much later. I refused, even then, to believe that life was giving me the “stink eye.” And the Townhouse Lounge certainly didn’t smell right but not a one of us put up a fuss. We climbed the stairs and pretended everything was rainbows. And when the sound engineer arrived late and gruffly vented his frustrations with this venue’s particular system, we didn’t listen. We laughed instead. “Sounds golden,” we assured him during sound check. And our optimistic eardrums really meant it. Dan and I sharing equally an ear for notes of positivity and well-meaning on this particular afternoon. We were lending a sympathetic ear, if you will, despite the actual racket.
And when Jessica Collins arrived, bearing a gift for me, I thought she must be seeing through the same foggy lenses. As I started peeling things forth from their plastic bags, I blushed with shock. She had beautifully abridged a copy of “Phenomenal Woman” for me with her own penned words eliminating most of the pre-existing text, save the poignant words she spared. And certainly I cannot expect to live up to her expectations or pretend to understand how her expectations of me got so high in the first place, but, honey, please keep on drinking the Kool-Aid if it means you’ll continue to craft such tremendous things. (I can never thank you enough.) So when Talk Demonic took stage amidst a psychedelic light show that was psychedelically confusing, we didn’t have to look past the lasers and colours to really see their beauty: it was beaming at us. And they were, as always, utterly arresting. They are the type of band that stops your heart before making it pump faster. And when Suuns careened themselves into feedback-heavy fulsomeness, not one of them winced at the squeals. Instead they all acted as if it were a new form of echolocation, finding their way through sound to the very homes of every heart in the room. The crew that had eyed us up and down over at Teriyaki Hates Your Stomach milled into the room, already in full swing of themselves, and proved themselves devoted fans. (Ahhhh, that’s why you’d been looking at us, boys? I thought my mini-skirt had a hoison sauce flop.) And a fan in a shark hat came too. And Jessica stood right up front. And it really became an amazing time. No lie. Not even an exaggeration.
That’s what I love about life so much: If you’re wearing the wrong prescription, everything can look right despite the conditions. Put on a pair of colour-correcting spectacles and you might just see clearly what matters – and then the mirage becomes the reality. It’s the greatest thing about reality: it really is what you make it.
I’m pretty sure I manage to offend both the San Francisco and LA audiences by saying that I’m an East Coast girl but that I’m warming up to the West Coast. My intentions are good but I always flub everything from stage. What I meant was this: I will argue with New York about bagels and win. (St Viateur bagels make New York’s rendition seem like dense bread. Go fuck yourselves. It’s true. No competition) And I like the “harder edge” that is inherent in the souls that must shovel snow and brave blizzards and wear parkas to shield themselves from ice storms. And I like that Montreal has a reputation for having a bad attitude… and sexy girls. Or at least the cheapest in North America. I like that East Coasters gripe about the weather and politics and garbage removal and language laws and I like our hip hop too. Growing up, I imagined California as sweetness and sunshine, Hollywood blondes and yoga. Boutique coffee shops made me recoil in terror. (It isn’t an espresso if you have vanilla syrup in your establishment). But I have grown up a little more. My edge hasn’t softened. In fact, my eyes are keener and I can see the underbellies of these bubbly burgs a little more clearly now. You certainly have your goth side. And your punks. And The Smell. And problems with crack. And some of the world’s best living authors. (Hiya William T. Vollmann and Thank you City Lights) And you gave us Black Flag. And late night noodle stands and taco shops. And admittedly, Pomeranians and terriers are pretty cute if they don’t have personal stylists. And the fourteen year old skaters that run amok on every curb corner are lethally adorable. Thrash on boyz. And even though it pains me to write this: Top Chef Michael Voltaggio makes a mean sandwich. I mean who would have thought to dry chicken skin in a centerfuge then put it in the sun with salt before combining it with chicken liver mousse, lettuce and tomato. (I’m sorry, Schwartzs’ and Katz). And Melrose Place certainly looks like the American Dream but I know there are oodles of struggling artists down by the Echoplex. Plus, also, Marc Jacobs’ Daisy perfume does smell delightful. And San Franciso has always had its Tenderloin and revolutions. And absolutely no one at either of our shows did the “Hippie helicopter” dance. So forgive me my skepticism. I fucking love palm trees. And if I came across as harsh and trashy or unappreciative, I promise it was just the opposite. I’m just awkward at niceties. That’s the problem with the East Coast. You don’t get taught kindness. So here is mine: Thank you. And I mean that. These were two of the most eccentric and wonderful shows of the tour. You were cutthroat while buoyant. You were sweaty while sexy. And to boot our Hells Angels know your Hells Angels. And your hip hop is actually really good too. So fuck this: East Coast Vs West Coast bullshit. There are freaks and good people on both sides. And we utterly cherish all the ones that like us. I HEART LA and I HEART SF. From the bottom of my heart.
In the southern parts of these southern states, I am prone to declaring, “Ahh… my people…” every time I hear a proud Papi declaring his love for his newest bambino Jesus or every time I see a full-lipped senorita stuffing herself back into her mesh and sequin blouse in an open bathroom stall, brazen and beautiful, or every time I witness an entire family engrossed in heated debate under the hot sun, shaded by their cowboy hats and visors because I am happily part Hispanic. However it is also this shared heritage that occasionally lands me in their perils. We are pulled over by Border Patrol twice and at one stop a second look is taken to the back seat, where I am sleeping beneath my Urrea book about “Illegal entrants,” as if America were a beauty pageant for lucky and unlucky contestants.
Officer: “Where are ya’ll from then?”
Maria: “New York.”
Officer: “And where’s she from then?” His sunglasses are angled down from the bridge of his nose so he can take a better look at me.
Officer: “Pull over here Miss.”
Apparently I’m just a little too tanned to be from the other El Norte. Fuck my Cuban blood. After this secondary (but more consequential) search, we need to make up for our lost time which lands us in the pickle of a possible speeding ticket. But Officer Alvarez likes rock music and he has cousins up in Canada and he understands how hot and boring these highways can be and what assholes those Border Patrols are. “Speed on,” he says. “And good luck tonight guys.” The landscape changes from the surreal other planet panoramas (see Star Wars) and the sand dunes make way for palm trees. As we enter California and the heat relents a little, we no longer see the vistas perfect for neutron and hydrogen bomb testings. There are more boulders and helicopters and then, within San Diego’s city limits, there are beaches and ports and glimmering waters. I think I forgot what water looked like for a stretch there. But it is immediately gratifying.
Let me say it plainly: I love San Diego. I love the Casbah. I love the planes over head. I love the naval port and Pacific coast. I love your city’s skyline. I love the strange and narrow and hilly roads. You have strong men and good food and great music. And a lot of you are willing to cross the border from Mexico just to come to a show like ours. I feel like you’re hard working and generous and passionate. And I’m just speaking “in general.” But specifically, San Diego, you sold out our show. You became quick friends. As we mingled in the courtyard outside the venue, we learned a lot about you personally. Some of you had been at a show we’d played in Singapore (and now you run a food truck here!) Some of you we’d played with the last time we were in town (shout out Mr. Tube). Some of you were old friends (Jesse, Beth, Blaine, Hope) that had travelled from near and far for us. Some of you were very flirtatious. Some of you were hilariously drunk or high. Some of you hugged me even before “Hello.” (“Ahhh… my people…..”) And all of you were amazing. Like, fucking amazing.
Ahhhhhh…. my people….. All of you.
As we continue along El Camino Del Diablo, I read about the six miserable stages of dying of Hyperthermia. Dying of heat. It starts with Heat Stress. You know this stage from swollen fingers and minor rashes and sunburn. We’ve all had these headaches. Next is Heat Fatigue. Your crotch is wet. The thin parts of your skin begin to burn. Your eyelids and cheeks, your neck and the part of your hair where your scalp is most exposed. I’m feeling thankful for an unruly mane at this point. Your tongue starts to hurt. Your breathing feels more difficult. Your own mouth starts to taste bad to you. And then comes Heat Syncope. You have a fever. Despite the heat, your skin feels cold. You pale. Now your tongue would struggle to say the word “tongue.” Your heart is moving too fast for its own good. Dizziness descends, then whirls. Heat Cramps make you feel like you are having contractions. All of your muscles hurt you. Clumsiness takes control of your limbs and you start stumbling. Your throat won’t let you swallow. Your abdomen makes even the strongest men go into painful approximations of labour. Heat Exhaustion makes you vomit if you have enough fluid left in you to do so. You are cold. If you are lucky, here is when you would die of cardiac arrest. But if you continue living, your brain starts rotting. You experience tunnel vision and sounds no longer make sense. But you are still capable of dreaming of pools and salvation. Or maybe you begin thinking of your dead relatives, how you will greet them. This is when you decide to drink your own piss. Until even your own piss becomes poisonous to you. And finally Heat Stroke. Your blood no longer streams. It is too low to function. Your heart cannot pump hard enough. Your sweat is gone. You literally have an internal meltdown. Blood vessels burst your eyeballs. Your eyelids are gone. You cannot close your eyes to your fate. Your skin feels like sandpaper to you. Take off your clothes. Dig a hole. Drown yourself in the sand as the last of your muscles break down and rot and fall like chunks of meat into your other organs and clog your entire system. Your kidneys, bladder, heart shut down. Everything shuts down. And then your brain makes it final brilliant sparks and you die one of the worst imaginable deaths.
I often say things like “This heat is fucking killing me,” and out here it could literally be true. We blast the air conditioning as I look out at the deserts full of bones and solar panels and giant windmills that seem stuck still. No movement. I am struck by impossible sadness. I am reading about sad deaths. While I have the luxury to barrel down these roads with bottled water and sunglasses and private climate control. We detour into the chile capital of New Mexico and my spirits are resurrected from their dustbowl by cock-topped vans and “Sparky’s” bbq and Mexican Jumping Beans. We luck into a run in with the gents from Suuns. Handsome devils in high moods. They don’t know it but I’m thanking them for good-naturedly laughing at my best available jokes. After Irma’s café soft tacos and guacamole, the landscape changes, as if the sky can no longer handle the heat either. First it is swept in sandstorms. We are nervous of the Apocalypse as the entire horizon becomes impenetrable. We watch a sky-sized storm of wind and sand and thrashing dust move from left to right across the windshield and as we pass through its hurling eye, we all hold onto our seats. Smaller tornadoes follow, twisters in the distance, then thunderous storms full of lighting, then brief hard rain and harder wind. By the time we’ve reached Hotel Congress/Congress Club in Tucson, I feel pretty lucky that I don’t have to face these desert conditions on a daily basis. Its realities are harsh, though beautiful. Its no wonder that your skin literally gets thicker here; you’ve got to be tough just to brave the day. Like a sweet breath of warm fresh air, Talk Demonic are chatting in the lobby and they rise peppily from their seats to meet and greet us. Hi guys. It’s nice to finally meet you. The coffee here is delicious. Can’t wait for tonight. I have the capacity to return a “Me too” or “Awesome” to every comment but I hope they know I’ll come around. Not always graced with the skills of good speech, I’m always nervous about these first impression. I stutter. I always wish I could slip you a note that reads, “I think you’re pretty” instead. So if you happen to read this: “I think you’re really pretty.”
At this legendary hotel where Dillinger was caught in a fire which eventually led to his capture, Talk Demonic, Suuns and Handsome Furs perform a sort of modern vaudeville for the Tucsonian legions. It is an equal mix of song and dance and certainly our opening acts are sexy enough for the burlesque segment and strange enough stage banter amounts to our comedy routine. Dillinger, we’re sorry that you were betrayed by the Lady in Red but we promise the hoopla and boozery and sleaziness of your early 20th century lives on here.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
p.s. Mr Russian Lit prof, I need that list of recommended authors.
The green out here is grey. The sage and acacia and saguaros covered with a film of dust hundreds upon hundreds of years old, baking under the desert sun. And perhaps it is because I have begun reading Luis Alberto Urrea’s Devil’s Highway that I am seeing the earth more scorched. My eye starts squinting for bones amongst the cactus patches. Mauve and yellow cliffs might offer the only shade in the distance and I imagine more remains below them. A cat nap that turns into the long sleep in this damned heat. Everything is noxious and spiked, the plants and the nocturnal animals. A poisonous landscape that equally provides salvation and desolation for those that try to cross the border between Mexico and these Southern States. As I begin reading about the “biggest die-off, the largest death event in border history,” I am taken with the high, wide and lonesome afternoon. I am trying to see past the torture and rape and beatings and starvation that accompany the first chapter and I am given some easy scapegoats in the scenery. Signs for crystal shops and old chapels and pueblo houses and New Age Vortex healings for desert hippies and aliens, too, landed out here, didn’t they? There are answers for anyone in these parts. Amongst the meth and cacti and red dirt and animal skulls and peyote buttons and drying chiles, New Mexico offers itself as “The Land of Enchantment.” It is hard to deny the natural spirituality of our environs as we listen to Meat Puppets II in its drug-drenched excursions into the surreality of the American South West. During our rest stops we start to feel kinship with the indigenous tribe of the Zia people; our mouths offering a paltry drool with our bodies incapable of keeping up with hydration and our cloudy heat-addled brains begin to see clearly and find their answers absolute: The sun is everything. By the time we’ve reached Santa Fe, we are no longer atheists exactly. There must be meaning to all this beauty. We’re just not sure which gods and demons and desert angels and apparitions are the most just with their offerings but we’re certain we’re on a journey to finding out. We are aided by the soothing waters of the Santa Fe Inn and further guided by the margaritas at Maria’s. We become very certain very quickly that this agave liquor has some solutions. Back at the Inn, the sun has gone and the desert winds picked up where she has left us. There are no stars brighter. The chill sends us into a sauna and a hot tub and we talk into the night, inventing our own creation stories. Answered only by cicadas and the occasional bat passing. All the answers I’d ever need. I realize. Here and now.
In downtown Santa Fe, we are given insight into some of the areas regional problems with heroin as junkies shoot up in the bathroom stalls or find rest, curbside, in the shade of cars. We muse that the landscape must not differ much from the plains of Afghanistan really. There is no city I have seen more populated by art galleries and jewelry stores and craft markets. I immediately wish I could afford everything for everyone I love. My stepmom would love these big silver bracelets with their hand hammered bear claws and water symbols. My stepdad could surely find use for one of these copper guitar picks. My mom would love the symbolism of these stitched and restitched eyes of these immense dream catchers. My brother would tonk the heads of his kids with these fluorescent tomahawks. My sister has always looked her best in dazzling leather jackets and big belt buckles. My Dad would affably challenge the epic story-telling of the Navajo elder we talk with at length. We peruse the handmade wares of the native communities that have gathered in the city square and discuss their journeys here and the differences in their motifs from the ones we know from our East and West coast reserves in Canada. Santa Fe might bear the burden of spirit quests gone too far – surely booze and meth and heroin have led the best-intentioned astray from time to time – but it also fosters a community of unique minds. I feel inspired and taken, full of ideas and dreams.
At Sante Fe Sol, I feel obliged to do something meaningful with all the transcendent visions New Mexico has given me. The people who have gathered, for our show, out in the desert suburbs, are like us and unlike us – they have different answers but we are all on the same search. A fan schools Dan about peyote usage. She looks like we should trust her… In fact, respect her. Another fan is dressed to kill, and amongst her equally sexy sisters, she is here with the conviction that booty-shaking will solve the worlds riddles. After the show I redraw my own tattoo on her forearm because she too wants to be both greater and less than herself. (>