Post Mortem/on

May 6th, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour – Days 14-16
Philadelphia – Boston – NY

The tour felt like it ended before Philadelphia, with the end of hotel stays (for me) and the last four shows in familiar venues like a sort of coda to the trip. At the same time, driving past NY to go to Boston has this odd disconnectedness, like visiting places you used to live. From another angle, knowing we’d be returning the next day to play is a violation of Morton’s backtrack rule. He once read me out for walking a block uptown to catch a downtown train. It seemed a little OCD then, but now it does kind of remind me of the mildly deflating daily routine of setting up for sound check, knowing you’ll only have to strike the stage for the opening acts and set up again later.

Banned in Boston

Almost. The bouncer at Church almost booted me for not having ID on me. If it was remotely possible that I looked young enough to card, or even that I might be working for the ABC, I’d not have minded much, but I’d already been inside for four hours. He was a right asshole about it, which provided me ample fuel to give him back some of the same. And later Morton almost got arrested for getting testy with the desk clerk at their hotel. Must be something about Boston. Or maybe we’re just tired.

Good thing we didn’t get locked out and/or up, as Boston was probably the best set. And Friday’s In C was the best of those. Too bad the tour is over, the thing is pretty well oiled at this point. And the ideas start poppin’… WFMU Saturday, Paul decided to lead the set with Little Bunnies, which was not only never in the set for the tour, I’ve never even played it. Maybe on a six-week tour, we’d get tight enough to work right around these monkey wrenches. Probably not, but that’s part of the Styrenes quirky charm. It’s frustrating music at times, but you have to just take it for what it is.

Paul, Al, JD Morton they’re all nice guys, fun to play with despite the periodic weirdness. Jamie on the other hand—Jamie would be the first to tell you he is a crank, and it’s the rare moment that cuts the shot of neat battery acid that is a conversation with him. Even on topics he loves, like baseball, about which he knows more than anyone I’ve ever met, he speaks with an utterly derisive twang in his voice. To see a grouch like that beaming onstage at a fill I played, that’s what really makes the tour worth it.

O. Henry Goes Swimming

I thought the story ended nicely in that shitty pool in Columbus, but in Boston, the band got a huge jolt out of the fact that the Holiday Inn in Brookline had a sparkling, clean pool in an atrium at the end of the lobby, but that I couldn’t swim in it since I was staying at my mother’s house and wasn’t a registered guest. Not bad, kind of corny, but suitable to the conceit of the story line. O. Henry would have made it a bigger, nicer pool. This was still one of those 15 footers.

Landed in Burbank a few days after the tour. Picking up my rental car at the Burbank Empire Courtyard Marriot, a shaggy dude with tats shuffled past me on the way to the full sized outdoor pool. Hertz agent: “Godsmack. They’re staying here this week. They played Leno last night.”

Paul? When does the west coast leg of the tour start?

Brotherly Love

April 29th, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour – Day 12-13
Philadelphia

I promised myself I would keep my Xbox playing in the van as a private guilty pleasure, but I can’t help mentioning that after riding across OH, WV and PA driving a virtual Mustang I hotwired in a simulacrum known as Liberty City with the LCPD in hot pursuit, I jumped out of the virtual wreck by a motel on a corner under a bridge to try to get away on foot just as the tour van arrived at a hotel on a nearly identical corner under a bridge in Philly. For about an hour I struggled to suppress the urge to roll bums and extort protection money out of people.

Much needed day off, with a long drive and a very fine dinner at la Veranda, where addressing Paul as Paulie got us better service. After listening to the boys wax nostalgic over the past couple of days, with enough wine and linguine in me I started joking about the movie I would be pitching around Hollywood once I’m working out there. Who do you want to play you in the movie?
Al (instantly): “That’s easy. Dreyfus.”
Morton had retired early, but everyone agreed he should be Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I say John Goodman. I suggested Johnny Depp for myself just to enjoy the springtime thundershower of “FUCK YOU”s. No clear consensus on me or Paul, but after some reasonable suggestions (Keitel, Dafoe) we came around to Jamie, who with his dour matter-of-fact tone said “I’d like to have a crack at it myself, if you don’t mind.”

Later Paul called everyone to ask for an early AM band meeting, which I suggested we move to lunch, in the interest of taking maximum advantage of our one day off. What is there to discuss with 4 days to go anyway?
Jamie: “I know how it goes, Paul gets a nice dinner and some wine, and gets to relaxin’ and the ideas start poppin’

Lazy day around Philly, followed by a tight set at the M Room, to the smallest audience to date, despite the only mainstream press coverage. Onward.

Styrenes vs. Styrofoam

April 29th, 2010 by jdk

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Every town has a dozen motels in it, which each serves a “continental breakfast” on stacks of Styrofoam plates and bowls. My head hurts extrapolating the mountains of this shit rising up daily around the Earth.

Styrene is often manufactured and polymerized but is a naturally occurring organic compound, by the way. Wikipedia, anyone?

So Much for Ohio

April 27th, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour – Day 11
Columbus

Note to drummers everywhere, with special attention to Columbus, OH:

Get your gear off the goddamned stage, and save your unbolting, collapsing, wrapping, packing, beer-swigging, forehead-mopping, and set post-mortem discussion for the green room. Call me what you like, but I learned that shit when I was 20.

Oh those Monday night gigs. Sound check with CD accompaniment at the ironically named ‘Summit’ reminds me of that Rodney Dangerfield joke about sex with his wife taking too long and he says “what’s the matter, you can’t think of anyone else either?” The engineer’s mind was clearly elsewhere. In his defense he is a freelance live sound engineer, possibly the worst job in music. From Ken @ the Empty Bottle in Chicago:
Q-What is the difference between a sound engineer and a toilet?
A-The toilet only has to deal with one asshole at a time.

Still, we squeezed out a good set for another small but enthusiastic audience. One of the more enthusiastic members, dancing and rocking out brandishing her beer at punctuating beats in the songs, turned out to be the owner. She seemed to like us, though she shorted Paul 20% of the door money. Morton’s opinion: She wasn’t dancing to the music, she was thinking about the the money she was beating us out of.

O. Henry Goes Swimming
Starting to think Morton was off on this. I think this is not going to have a twist. More of a James Joyce epiphanic thing. Paul exits the Columbus Quality Suites check-in, swimming into the parking lot in pantomime. With great imagined fanfare we unpacked and I hit the pool. It is the perfect pool for a shaggy dog paddle. About 15 feet long and 10 feet wide, and 3-5 feet deep -why bother with a deep end, I wonder. The water is a bit cloudy and about 85 degrees and tastes more of plaster dust than chlorine. I put on goggles, but sort of wish I hadn’t, as I could just make out the forms of several cigarette butts swishing around at the bottom. The pool is small enough that my strokes cause whitecaps to slap back at me from the sides and opposite end. Swimming is barely possible, and I have a betting man’s chance at contracting polio, but it’s ideal for the story, and I did manage to elevate the pulse for a few minutes anyway.

Cleveland Sucks

April 26th, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour – Day 10
Cleveland, Ohio

A kid approached us in a rest stop on the Eastbound side of I-90 somewhere in Indiana to inquire if we might be heading east. I heard him clearly, but the deceptively obvious question made me say “Excuse me?” His dog pissed on its own foot while he repeated the question. I thought of making up a Masonic sounding counter-answer about traveling men or levels and squares. His ragged Burning Man get-up and chin tattoo suggested he’d probably take that game a lot further that I would, so I held off and lied instead. Felt a little unsporting to leave him there, but I just couldn’t see it working out well for anybody.

Otherwise an unremarkable but tiring drive- earliest call time of the trip, with 343 miles and a lost hour to the time change. It rained hard enough that I thought my headphones had some static noise problem.

Got a brief tour of Cleveland’s devastation in the van before sound check. I think there are more empty storefronts and boarded-up houses and buildings than Detroit, Baltimore, Newark, Trenton and Philly combined. Downtown business district is a ghost town at noon on Monday. When we got to Cleveland Sucks in the set, people mostly shrugged and nodded before gleefully joining in for the choruses. Bittersweet homecoming for the locals- small but rabid audience, including people from Detroit and Buffalo. Played the Beachland Ballroom, which looks like the bar in Trees Lounge. OH is the land of left-handed guitarists, Al noted, Cincatti and Cleveland openers both having lefties.

Alcazar Hotel, a great old 1920’s Spanish-themed place with a courtyard garden, ballroom, and a lobby with a tiled fountain, fireplace, and cool old kitsch. Mostly permanent residents, elderly Christian Scientists in retirement or treatment at the medical centers.

Sound bites of the day – driving around old neighborhoods:

It looks all different when you’re not on acid, doesn’t it?

Stop the van, stop! Let me out for a minute so I can go up there to Daniels’ Funeral Home, ring the night bell and run away.

Hey Paul, you getting off yet? I think we got burned.

O. Henry Goes Swimming
The Alcazar has no pool but a lovely tiled fountain in the lobby. This subplot seems to be off the rails.

The Ghost of Christmas Past

April 25th, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour Day 9
Cincinnati>Chicago

Hit the culinary nadir of the trip at Country Kitchen at a TA truck stop in Indiana. Note to self: Do not award this prize prematurely. Uno’s heat lamp pizzas the next day on the way to Cleveland make a strong showing. CK still holds the record though. Needed some pure crap to feel like we’re really on the road. Food has been actually pretty great, especially below Mason-Dixon

Borrowed an hour from the Central Time Zone for the second time this week, a loan which carries a heavy daily interest rate when the following day has an early start and a long eastward drive.

Empty Bottle show, decent sound, decent turnout, kickin set. Openers were John Bellows, started off with some rickety acoustic country blues noodling, much better with his acoustic through distortion with bass and drums, doing some kind of outsider art metal.
Daily Void- minimalist proggy punk, cool division of sonic territory. Two thin mid and high guitars, cawing crow and nails-on-chalkboard, each sounded terrifying and hideous alone but on top of throaty bass and floor-tom-propelled drumset, it was a pretty good layer cake.

Heavy nostalgia driving through Chicago, intensifying though various previously visited neighborhoods to the peak weirdness of arriving at the same Comfort Inn O’Hare that I stayed in with Ibrahima Camara’s band in December 1999.

O. Henry Goes Swimming
The Comfort Inn O’Hare has a hot tub in the exercise room. Kind of a tangent from the developing pool story, but there it is. Morton thinks now at the end of this there will be a pristine, beautiful outdoor pool but it’ll be like the one in Syriana.

Quotes of the Day

the good old days:

“It’s a long story. Basically it was his fault.”
“My fault? Yeah, that had nothing to do with the Lakewood cops being assholes. Whatever I did was nothing but they were onto the next Assholian thing”

“The time Davey and I were in jail, he was saying how much he liked it!”
“He said it was the best meal he’d had in weeks!”
“He was talking to me about the Jello!”

 

$4.33

April 25th, 2010 by jdk

Yesterday I was thinking up other 20th cent. music school chestnuts the Styrenes might hit besides In C, and thought of 433. Hardly worth mentioning except for this morning’s coffee break total.
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Styrenes v. India

April 24th, 2010 by jdk

It’s not so different really, at least at the hotel desks, where managers have all been Indian, giving me flashbacks with their accents and manner during check-in procedures as we chat about my trip last year. The only differences are the lack of haggling and registering with a passport, visa number and previous/next city plans.

Except DC and Baltimore, where the background cast of the Wire worked some of its many day jobs. And still, there was an Indian resonance there too, as the power went out throughout the entire hotel twice, and the kitchen ran out of breakfast except for instant oatmeal with lukewarm water.

 

Art Dommage

April 24th, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour – Day 8
Unremarkable drive from Nashville to Cincinnati, reading and playing Xbox in the van. It is weird to sit in a moving vehicle while driving a virtual car onscreen; yet oddly satisfying in rush hour traffic coming into Cincinnati.

Art Damage Lodge

A collective live-in performance space in an old Masonic Temple on Harrison Street on the Northside of Cincinnati. After a 3-story walk up load-in and set up in a large open auditorium which was the masons’ ritual room, one of the 10 guys named John who live there showed me ‘the pit’:
Under the eaves in the attic is a small closet is a hole in the floor fitted with a wooden man-hole cover over a dark, sealed pit, maybe ten feet deep and five or six feet square. The wood has a square cut in the middle plugged with a squat obelisk of granite. The stone has a ring in the top, and there’s a large wooden pulley hanging from the rafters overhead, presumably to lift the block during whatever Masonic ritual took place in the pit. The stone is engraved with the letters TKSHTWSS in a circle on one side. I’m still trying to figure out what paraphrase of “It puts the lotion on it’s skin” these might stand for.

This was an In C night, reasonably executed, rounded out by local guests including a great high school guitarist whose parents drove him down from Columbus. The opening band played an impressively terrible set, strip mining covers like Nilsson’s Jump Into the Fire and Joy Division She’s Lost Control, lopping off all the peaks and dumping them into the valleys, leaving a barely recognizable relief map of the song. It was a consistent procedure they performed throughout the set with a kind of virtuosity; even though the result truly sucked, I have to admit I kind of liked it from that angle.

O. Henry Goes Swimming
Act 2 opens with a bathetic slide back to the standard pre-season sight: Cincy Quality Inn has an empty pool with a tarp over it. May be the influence of the Masonic pit, but I feel like I should start looking under the tarps.

 

Nashville

April 23rd, 2010 by jdk

Styrenes Tour – Day 7

Six sets into the tour, one of my earplugs came to an ignominious end in the toilet of a dive bar in Nashville. The tiny 25 dB attenuating filter came loose as I took it out and hit the floor with a preposterous rebound you couldn’t duplicate in a million tries. Tick, tick, plop, off the floor, the rim and into the water. It taunted me by floating at the surface despite the flush, and for a moment I thought about fishing it out, but couldn’t quite get there. Better to take it as some kind of cosmic nod that I’m either not in Kansas anymore, or yet. I’m on a down and dirty tour with a down and dirty band, playing in a down and dirty dive which is likely the both worst and coolest venue of the trip.

Betty’s Grill was a blast. Not really, fortunately, but it was fun as hell, let’s say. We arrived with Blues Brothers-like trepidation at the roadhouse look of the hand-painted signs and poster by the door prohibiting handguns. The Bob’s-Country-Bunker edge was dulled a bit by the Lady Gaga pumping on the jukebox, but a gassy smell inside with a roomful of smokers started a short and lively debate on the subject of canceling the gig. We were assured that while it’s an aesthetic problem, it isn’t a gas leak, rather a sewer-gas problem. Besides the air quality, the amps and PA, and in fact all the electrical equipment at Betty’s, including all the neon beer signs were plugged into one 14-gauge household extension cord. We stayed, we played, and we lived to tell the tale, though it would have been a reasonable choice for going up in a ball of sloppy rock combustion. Good fun, with an excited and attentive audience.

Best burn of the tour to date: The booker put a friend up to announce the Styrenes’ merch table over the PA after the set: “Support some music that’s older than you.” (He did buy 3 records himself, Paul is quick to point out)

When I saw the opening band CYOD set up I realized that it was a side-project of the great producer Mark Nevers, with some other Nashville guys and William Tyler and Tony Crow (who uttered the meaningful sentence: “There’s that propane smell here again”). All great musicians, but I was sort of blown away by their high energy noise rock—I’ve only heard them all do pretty quiet stuff. This set was definitely the best pairing with us of the tour so far. I met William and Tony in NY a couple years ago, so it was cool to feel like we were playing with friends; likewise the booker/host, Chris Davis and his girlfriend Emily made us a real nice home cooked meal of stew and brown rice at their cottage in the-woods before the show.

O. Henry Goes Swimming
Nashville’s Quality Inn writes its own scene of the developing story. There was a Pool Closed sign on the gate, but I decided to see what it looked like on the deck, and found a full pool of inviting blue sparkling in the 80 degree 10 AM sun. Called the desk to ask, and the attendant passed me on to the manager after I asked in vain when it would be open, since we were checking out anyway. He told me graciously with his Indian accent that they were awaiting an inspection. If I were seen swimming in there, even once before this inspection, they could be barred from opening the pool for the entire season. The arcane red tape reminded me of India again. Seems like an act-ending plot point.