Random Thoughts - posted on July 3, 2015 by

The Tick

imageMichael Cergizan and Rick Rizzo/ German rest stop 1990

The Tick

I’d had the itch on the back of my head for three days when I noticed that it wasn’t in the same spot anymore. If my ears were Los Angeles and New York respectively, I had been digging somewhere around Albuquerque at what I thought was a pimple. But now I noticed I was pawing mindlessly somewhere around Tulsa, smack in the middle of the underbrush of my scalp. I was concerned.

I had been itching since that rest stop amid the fields of yellow when I laid my head on the green grass gazing at the German sky.

Janet foraged through my hair for a few seconds then screamed. Considering the situation, a scream seemed a little much and my concern grew in degrees. What was going on back there, Invasion of the Body Snatchers?  Was there a portal?

“You’ve got a tick!” the accusation was delivered with disgust.

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We were on our first European tour after the release of Beet in 1989. It was exciting to be in Europe for the second time, and this time with a musical career ascending quickly, a tour manager and a $20 per diem.  Coming off a successful East Coast tour with the Meat Puppets and a great trip out west, we were as tight and powerful  as we’d ever been and looking to build on our success in Europe. The first show in London was enthusiastically received even though we played way too fast on the adrenaline express.

Our traveling party on the last ferry allowed out on the choppy Chanel consisted of:

Jan—Dutch tour manager/sound engineer/ Drum (the tobacco) roller, multilingualist

Michael—super road-eye, fellow Rainbo bartender, all-around moody sweetheart of a man, naked sleepwalker

Janet—the drummer, hall-of-fame thrift shopper

Rick—the guitarist/singer, another moody mope of a man-child

Doug—bass player, raconteur, fashion plate

Baird—lead guitarist, strong man, Chicago Bears fan

Amy—Baird’s newlywed wife, debutante

 

It took a while after that first trip that left us green in the gills to settle in, but after a few shows in the Netherlands, we were in love. I don’t know a single band that tours Holland that doesn’t say they want to move there. The audiences, the cities, the landscape, the fries… they had me at fries. Every show was great and memorable except maybe Amsterdam where we opened for The Sundays at Melk Weg and I discovered that coffee shops and remembering chord progressions aren’t a good mix for me.

By the time the German Border Patrol rifled through our van as we entered our third country, we were beginning to get a little road weary. Anybody who thinks that touring as a band is an exciting prospect is really dreaming. Don’t get me wrong, I love touring, but it is not romantic in any sense. Typical day on a European tour:

9:00 a.m. Get up after maybe 5 hours sleep. If you don’t get up by the time the breakfast is over you are out of luck. Doug slept through many a breakfast. Breakfast in Europe is included with the hotel. It ranges in quality, but at the very least there will be a soft boiled egg, fresh rolls, granola, yogurt, a variety of sliced meats and cheeses, and coffee.

10:00 a.m. Depart for the next gig. A good booking agent who cares about your sanity will have a sensible tour that has drives of less than 5 hours. Most booking agents don’t care about your sanity.

10:00 a.m. (ish) –5:00 p.m. (ish ) The Drive. The first half hour of the drive consists of recap about the weird things that happened the night before. Soon though comes the catch-up sleep. This is the true joy of touring. When you “wake up” from  this sleep you don’t realize you’ve been sleeping at all, but when you mention the dolphins and mermaids as you drove under the sea you realize you were dreaming—it must have been sleep. You also notice that you are 200 miles further down the road. Miss this sleep and you will go insane. When you wake up it is usually because it is time to stop for gas. Rest stops in Europe are hit or miss. Some are amazing. Most of the time though you just want to grab a drink and a Ritter Sport. No matter what, everybody in the band must get a snack at every stop. Don’t get left behind like David Pajo did on a Tortoise tour. If you take a longer lunch break, don’t leave a briefcase behind with $10,000 in it (we had a tour manager do this on a later tour—never Jan!) (it was still there a few hours later under the table where it was left)

As you pull within the city limits everybody gets super-hyper and talkative. The most laughs of the trip happen here. Spirits abound!

5:00 p.m. The Load-in. Size up the club and surroundings.—is  it on the outskirts of town or situated in the zentrum?  Make a sandwich with the sliced cheeses/ meats, dive into a bag of carbs, eat a Kinder egg, ignore the apples.

5:30 p.m. The soundcheck begins. Jan had the same routine every time before the band even started—his personal cd mix tape blasted through the p.a. followed by ten minutes of “two, two…two two.” We play a song or three to get monitors right. We were not picky so sound check finished pretty quickly after that. If it was good for Jan, we were done.

6:00 p.m.—11:00 p.m. The Wait. After dinner, which often was great (but who has an appetite after snacking all day?) it was time to wait for the show which sometimes started as late as midnight. This is the longest span of the day. Some drink beer and talk, I walked. I cannot sit in a dressing very long. I am a happy conversationalist when I am talking to one person, but struggle mightily when that number expands. At some point after scanning the wall graffiti (one of eleventh dream day’s hard and fast rules is to not draw graffiti in dressing rooms. I personally believe it is a curse.) The worst of philosophy is on these walls—bathroom stalls seem wise compared to dressing room walls. Every possible way to draw a penis has been explored. The only dressing room that ever held my attention was that first trip to Berlin at the Loft. Lenny Kravitz had played there on his way up and had penned at least a dozen self-aggrandizing wall-monopolizing scrawls. The great thing was the replies that followed written by other denizens of the dressing room. I think my early take on the no graffiti policy was that “eleventh dream day” would be followed with someone writing “sucks” after it. Side note on the Loft—the absolute best spread of food I’ve ever seen backstage! (which ended up on stage at our second visit with Yo La Tengo—a story documented elsewhere)

Anyway, I walked. I would take off from the club by myself in what looked like the most promising direction.  I would soak in wherever we were. Today I would be taking pictures, but back then it was just keep moving, observe, and think about my surroundings and force all thoughts about the show out of my head.

I only got lost once. In Rotterdam on our El Moodio tour I set off, but eventually got thrown by the lack of consistent street names and the endless curves. I usually use what I think is a pretty good sense of direction, and use of landmarks, no breadcrumbs—but the lack of a Jeffersonian grid is a challenge in many European cities that just seem to sprawl. I did happen to see some extra light in the sky though and I remembered there was a carnival near where I set out. I made it to the club just in time to go on stage.

Back at the club I try to drink just enough to relax, but not to where I’m going to blow it on stage. I seem to have a good sense of where that line is crossed.

11:00 p.m.  Showtime. Crack a joke. A fake band prayer circle or something. See the faces for the first time. The first chord is always magic. I get to do this! I get to play loud music on a stage! I am never nervous, and there is an inverse relationship to my nerves and size of the crowd. I close my eyes and let it rip. I close my eyes generally because when you actually see somebody and notice them it can make you forget a lyric. Then you’re sunk. If my eyes are open they are unfocused or looking at a fixed object.

The show is what the day is all about. It is the release of all tension. It is pure joy.

Post show: I don’t want anybody to utter a word. I want to stare into the night in the alley behind the club for at least 15 minutes. Then, I want to devour more food, more beer, and pack up the gear. In eleventh dream day, Doug and Janet are at their best post show, laughing, drinking, talking. I usually have to excuse myself and go to bed.

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Amy did not like the routine. Notice how I didn’t mention sight-seeing. We were in London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Rome, Zagreb, Vienna and did we have time to see the sights? No. When I was walking around before show time, it was not where the sights were. There were amazing, amazing things to see yes, but I appreciate the local flavor—I didn’t need the Colosseum or Big Ben. And if you wanted to see anything besides the insides of a smelly, dark club you had to explore.

[I did wake up really early the morning after the Berlin gig and walked through the Tiergarten to the Wall which was in the process of getting torn down. I chipped off a couple of pieces for myself)

But Amy was not the adventurous type.

The complaints started as whispers in Baird’s ear. Baird would relay the complaint to Jan, who would quickly grow to resent that someone had the gall to bring their girlfriend on the tour.

I managed to block out most of this, but we all noticed when Amy loudly voiced her shock that the waitress at the lunch stop restaurant served her on the wrong side.

Michael’s disdain for Amy slowly began to show as we endured her comments, and his displeasure with her became obvious. His mutterings didn’t need subtitles. “Fckng btch” under the breath doesn’t need the vowels. The feelings became mutual, and a simmering war had begun. It was very uncomfortable for all, and Baird’s uneasiness became evident. Michael asked to ride in the back with the gear where a rear end accident would have killed him. He preferred it that way.

We suggested to Baird in private that Amy might be happy if she had a more solid role in the daily routine. Selling t-shirts would help us all out (We had amazing shirts designed by Joe Sacco as well as one Catherine Irwin did for Beet that parodied the Physical Graffiti cover). At first Amy refused. It was beneath her. Out of sheer frustration and boredom she eventually took it over and I believe was much happier.

The night of the Munich show was Amy’s birthday. We were giddy. It might have been our best show to date as a band and we were sweaty and happy. We had gotten Amy a cake. We were having fun. In the pure joy of the moment Jan playfully nudged the birthday slice into Amy’s face. White frosting covered her button nose. It should have been the ice breaker. It should have been the moment where we all became comrades of shared experience. Why did Jan do it? I sincerely believe he did it in the spirit of the moment. If it was my birthday he would have done it to me. He may have been hazing her, but I think only with the best intentions. It was his way of saying that he welcomed her to the tour.

Amy did not take it that way. Jan was informed that he would pay for the dress.

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Janet grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels from the previous night’s dressing room stash, screwed off the cap and plugged it on top of my scalp where the tick was burrowed. Soaking it for twenty seconds or so, she removed the bottle to see the head of the tick now exposed. I’m not sure what the science is here, what made the tick emerge, but in the blink of an eye the zoo director’s daughter had the bugger with her fingernails and yanked it from my head. She held it up with a shout of victory for all to see its bloody bloat, then squished it between her fingers. No tick was hitching a ride on this tour.

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