Chicago – Day 17

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Grippos Cheese Nibs – I’ve been saving these until the end of the tour because they’re my favorite and I wanted to experience the depth and breadth of what this country has to offer before I threw them in the mix. Grippos is a regional Cincinnati company most famous for their Barbeque Potato Chips (crisps) which are arguably the best as well. You’ll be undoubtedly disinterested to know that they are easily the best!

Texture: Not rough, but not as dense as a Cheeto. They actually have some give when you bite into them.

Flavor: Plenty of orange cheese powder that tastes like what you get on cheese popcorn. Not overly cheddar-y but not tasting of fakeness either.

 Idiocy from the Van: “Summer Sausage signed my yearbook!”


We had to get some sleep. The recent drives had been all day affairs with shows at the end of most of them, and we were exhausted. Not leaving KC until noon meant probably not getting a soundcheck in Chicago, but you have to weigh the cost benefits. Thus, somewhat grimly, we got on our way. The drive looked increasingly like home; bigger trees, fields of corn, enormous white windmills, etc. The only notable thing was we were approaching Chicago in a way we hadn’t before and traffic wasn’t too bad. I personally became almost suicidally bored writing that sentence so I apologize for any of you having to read it. This picture was the highlight of the drive. I spotted it near the dumpsters at a Starbucks. I’ve entitled it, “Ernest Hemmingway’s Baby Shoes – Fuck You.”


It’s taken a long time to get anywhere in Chicago for us. We’ve been told Chicago is a town you have to earn, and whether that’s really true for all, it certainly has been for us. We started to notice things were changing when we sold out the Red Line Tap, a small room in the very northernmost part of the city. They were lovely to us up there but it felt like it was time to try a bigger venue. The Empty Bottle is a legendary club* and we were excited to play there but of course anxious as to whether enough people would show up. From the moment we arrived you could tell these were people who knew how to do their job. Everything was anticipated, pertinent information given before we asked, everyone just on it and super professional. The first band were called Calliope and nailed the Black Angels vibe. It’s not Chuck’s thing but you have to respect a lead singer willing to rock the denim shirt unbuttoned to his navel. The second band were North By North and they were really good too. The bands we’ve played with this tour have been consistently top notch, which asshole I may be, is umm… great.

Instead of a pre-show tipple most, no actually all of us, went next door to get coffee. I was mentally feeling fine and dandy like sour candy, but physically felt filled with lead. By the time the second band finished though, the club was packed. It was such a relief. The joy, energy, and enthusiasm the crowd gave to us was like a wave, and the whole show felt triumphant. It’s a funny thing when the feedback loop between the crowd and the band grows with each song. It can’t be forced but it’s magic when it happens.


We played a three song encore (I think) and the audience kept clapping for more. It was surreal. I’m not sure we’ve ever had a reaction like that. We were completely spent though and just sat in the green room feeling like assholes. After leaving the stage with “Ceremony” still ringing, it was like what could we possibly do that wouldn’t be a let down? So we sat in our little room quietly begging the sound guy to turn on the house music so we could go from feeling guilty to processing this amazing experience.

We got to our hotel at about 3:00 am and were greeted by this devil doll.


The rooms were super cool and we had a view of the Sears Tower, which would’ve been amazing if I had been awake for more than 30 minutes of our stay there.

Tomorrow is Louisville – the last show of this leg of the tour.


*Go to the and search for An Oral History of the Empty Bottle. It’ll give you some idea.


Kansas City – Day 16

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Moon Cheese – Cheddar – An audience member brought a bag of these to our Denver show. You can find them at Starbucks but they are not puffed cheese doodles. No, they are nuggets of dehydrated cheese. That’s it.

Texture: They’re pretty crunchy and a little greasy so all good there. It’s the flavor that’s troubling.

Flavor: There is the taste of cheese rolling around, albeit that nub of the cheese that escaped the plastic wrap and was exposed to the air. No, it’s another hard to pin down flavor that defines the experience. I described it as earthy or musty, but Chuck used the word barnyard. He described it as tasting like the 4H barn, sort of a dirty straw flavor.

Idiocy from the Van: “Do the drapes match the curtains?” and/or “Does the couch match the davenport?”


Today was guaranteed to be a long day. The upside to staying at a hotel 40 minutes west of downtown Denver was we got to have a taste* of the Rockies as we followed a whitewater stream down to beginning of the end of things worth looking at out the window. People who travel this way mostly complain about Kansas, but eastern Colorado can break your spirit before you even get there. There are moments when you get an unbroken vista of golden grasses spreading out to the horizon, and you find yourself humming “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the strangers around you, chest proudly raised, face facing the sun, wind rippling the hair in your ears. But mostly it’s a grind. To make things more awful Chuck and Lisa had succumbed to the stomach bug or road gut, whatever it was, and were hating life.


Since there is no way to make the drive interesting I will relay a few stories that were told to me later or didn’t fit at the time.

“A baguette is a small piece of bread.”  – Panera employee to Olie 

In Portland the sound guy was named Count something or other. Honestly, as soon as you hear the word Count being used as a name your brain freezes as you try to process if he really just said that was his name. When he introduced himself to Lisa he said, “Hi! I’m your sound guy Count.” Lisa heard, “Hi! I’m your sound guy. Count!” She responded, “1, 2, 3, 4.”

At another time Lisa and John were being talked at by a man who insisted on telling them his life story. The gist was that he had recently informed his wife that he thought he might want a divorce. Apparently she responded something along the lines of, “Yeah, that sounds good.” He had gone from being sad and concerned to being pissed that she apparently wanted one too. John and Lisa said the guy had been talking to them unbroken for at least five minutes by this time. Lisa, attempting to be kind said, “Well maybe this means someday you can be friends again,” He looked right at her and said, “To be honest I have no interest in anything you have to say.” John and Lisa just broke out laughing, turned and walked away.

In Boise, as I was trying to coax the crowd a little closer by comparing them to wild raccoons, the conversation eventually led to someone in the audience yelling that there was going to be a drum circle at someone’s farm after the show and that we could come. Chuck responded, “I’d rather someone shoot me in the head than go to one of those.” He looked thoughtful for a second and followed up with, “I don’t care if they use a BB gun and it takes two hours, it’ll still be better than a drum circle.” The audience member later assured us he had been joking. Chuck did not.


Tales from selling merch:

“What’s your smallest size?”

“Well small is our smallest size.”


Anonymous quote: “I used to play poker with a schizophrenic in the psych ward. He… they cheated so bad.”



And then when we got to Kansas City a weird thing happened. I was in a good mood. I have no idea where it came from but it was a good night for it. There was an Ethiopian place across the street and some lentil samosas and plantains revived me. The venue, Davey’s Uptown Rambler’s Club, was exactly the kind of place where I would hang out if I lived here. It was run by a cheerful old guy and equally cheerful not so old woman. He ran the bar by himself and she did everything else. I wondered later if it was because I was subconsciously happy to be back in the Midwest, or if the building was just a peaceful place.


Also contributing to the goodness was getting a chance to play with our old friends Schwervon. They are a duo, Nan on drums and Matt on guitar. They are the kind of nice that doesn’t make you want to punch them in the face for exposing your own failings, but rather the kind that makes you want to be nice too. Their songs are smart, interesting, and thoroughly enjoyable. The first act of the night was a trio called the Cave Girls and their music again made me happy. I watched their whole set, which is rare because I’m usually too squirrely before playing (or after playing) (or ever) to sit still. I was trying to figure out how to describe their music and was leaning towards ‘70’s American punk with that 1950’s influence that was present then, but Chuck said it was more like the 1960’s Girls in the Garage compilation. It was a lovely show. We’ve a ways to go before we pack the house in KC but it felt like a good start.

Tomorrow is Chicago.


*damp wool and pemmican


Denver – Day 15

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Flavor Mill Buffalo Blue Cheese Flavored Cheese CurlsExcellent with a caveat – You might remember Flavor Mill, the suspected off-brand of some mysterious major corporate doodle manufacturer. The caveat is that when you open the bag it smells like someone barfed. I like them though. They make me pleasantly uneasy. Like climbing the rope in gym class.

Texture: Perfect.

Flavor: Lots of finger sticking orange powder that tastes of a distant echo of a memory of blue cheese.

 Idiocy from the Van: I bet Stevie Nicks leaves a snail trail of glitter. (Uttered by Lisa so don’t get all in a huff.)


It’s a 12-13 hour drive from Boise. Oh, did you know that it’s pronounced Boysee not Boyzee? I didn’t. I feel they should change it. Think about it. Which would you rather watch: Boyce in the Hood or Boyz in the Hood? Duh. Anyway, another oddity with our time in Boise was that we ended up paying more for one room than we had for multiple rooms the whole tour. Turns out there was a soccer tournament in town and there were next to no rooms. John slept in the van and the other six of us crammed in one room old school style. That’s the thing about nostalgia – it only exists of you never actually go back to the good old days.

We had hoped to stay at Moab and see some arches, but once again the practicalities of ensuring a timely arrival at the show meant we decided to take the fastest route. We set the goal of Rawlins, Wyoming as our destination because that meant we’d have a little under four hours to get to Denver the next day. Lisa had done a little research on Rawlins and discovered the story of Big Nose George.

George “Big Nose” Parrott was a wild west outlaw – robbing trains, killing lawmen, having a gang that is pursued by posses, etc. He made the classic blunder whereupon you get drunk and brag loudly about having killed people. Thus, and inevitably he was captured. He used a pocket knife and a sandstone to file down his shackles in an escape attempt from the Rawlins Penitentiary. With his keen wits and steely eyes he quickly formed a plan that involved bashing his jailer on the head with the shackles and then getting caught by the jailers wife. The townspeople, incensed by his lawlessness formed a lawless mob and broke into the jail. Having sprung “Big Beak” Parrott they promptly strung him from the nearest pole. Now this where the story gets interesting. The local medical professional wanted to examine his brain for clues to his criminal mind, so they cut off the top of his skull and gave the lid to a 15-year old medical assistant who would eventually use it as an ash tray. They then removed several swatches of his skin (including a nipple he wrote salaciously) and sent them to a tannery in Denver to be turned into a medical bag and a pair of shoes. The medical examiner then wore the shoes to his inauguration when he was elected governor of Wyoming. The rest of Parrott’s body was stuck in a whiskey barrel, filled with salt and buried in the back yard.

One of the frustrations with this tour is that with no days off and the enormous distances between shows there has been almost no time for exploration. Obviously it was worth waking up early to look about Rawlins. It was about a mile walk into town, passing a virtual (actual?) time-line of shuttered motels from decades past. The Carbon County Museum with the skin shoes wasn’t open until 10 so I walked to the Frontier Prison figuring it would be a reconstructed log cabin with some bars for windows. Oh no, it was way better than that. It was the actual Wyoming State Penitentiary that had been in use until the early 1980’s. Ignore the nightmare that is our current racism for profit correctional approach and just enjoy with me the time when incarceration was fun and fraught with adventure! I didn’t have time for the tour but went through the museum. The first part of the museum was dedicated to the innumerable escape attempts. One of the inmates created such a sophisticated skeleton key it could open almost half the cells. There were shelves full of all the shanks that had been confiscated. Perversely there were hanks of hanging ropes displayed with the photos of the terminal end behind them. It was fascinating.


Then on to the Carbon County Museum. It was a more sophisticated affair with activities for children, carpet under foot, frontier doilies in recreated rooms with mannequins knitting in rocking chairs. But even with all the attempts to educate and inform they know why people are there. The kindly, prototypical elderly lady volunteer welcomed me and then asked pointedly, “Is there something specific you’re here to see?” “The shoes.” “They’re right over there – don’t take any pictures dear.” The shoes were tiny and just weird. What the hell were they thinking? Also displayed was his earless death mask, his proud nose only somewhat diminished in death. I pretended to look at everything else, occasionally emitting a murmured “fascinating” or “well swap my spit and cook me for dinner – I did not know that.” Then I left and walked back to the hotel.


I was looking forward to seeing the big, pointy, green and snowy Rockies but our route seemed to skirt them and we entered Denver with a whimper. We were playing in the bar end of a much bigger venue called the Summit. The sound man, who spoke with the soft rounded tones of a death-bed priest packed into the body of a pre-steroidal Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson made us sound great to the crowd, although the sound on stage was like having an ice pick jabbed into my ear. I should’ve communicated more and we probably could have made it better, but I was starting to feel poorly and we Midwesterners really do find it unseemly to make a fuss. We all had dinner at a Spanish tapas restaurant which was quite a lot of fun and then I tried walking around downtown Denver. I was feeling achy and my stomach was bad, so I gave up and slept in the van until show time. The total number of people who had come to see us our last two visits to Denver could fit in R. Kelly’s closet, so we were delighted by an actual audience this time around. I wasn’t able to muster much audience interaction or jumping around, but we played pretty well. The audience was super sweet and there were even a few folks who had been at both of our previous shows.

Through a small Priceline miscalculation we were staying 40 minutes in the wrong direction at an Indian casino. If it’s not supposed to be called an Indian casino then I apologize. I think the Cleveland Indians should change their logo so I figure I’m coming out at least even in the cultural sensitivity department. Olie was quite excited to see a casino in action and feeling poorly or not, I was delighted to accompany him. The experience started off promisingly as accompanying us in the elevator was a goblet of wine carrying gambler with a dead eye that pointed northwest. We dropped our bags off in the room but as soon as we approached the action, a security professional approached us and asked for Olie’s ID. When he saw it was British he said “Follow me” with a depth of seriousness usually reserved for U.N. subcommittees on the illegal trade of Faberge’ eggs. We followed him to his security podium and watched as he ran the ID through what I dearly hope was Interpol. He then actually held the ID up to Olie’s face before allowing us to enter. We walked the outer ring of the casino, organized like the playing pieces in Trivial Pursuit with a wigwam motif floating above it. The top level was filled almost exclusively with those video monitors that pass for slot machines. After a bit Olie waved his hand expansively and said, “Is it all the same shit?” “Pretty much.” He shook his head and we continued down to the lower level.

I don’t have the personality for gambling. I’m not sure I can even imagine the concept of disposable income. Additionally, I really don’t need my worldview that we’re all fucked reinforced by a machine programmed to ensure I will lose. I did once go to an Atlantic City casino long enough ago that they still had mechanical slot machines with the arm you pulled and the feeling of physical mechanisms clattering around. It was kind of fun, and the sound of the coins hitting the metal tray oddly satisfying. Down on the bottom floor we found the café and decided on an expensive late night snack. While waiting for his food Olie was approached by two skeevy, well drunk dudes who had a crumpled piece of paper with a secret code on it. They said, with an urgent lack of personal space, that if we took that code up to the counter it would automatically get us amazing deals. I really didn’t like them and suspect they have pestilence on their pee pees. Then when I went to get some water I overheard a man with one leg having an argument with his bipedal friend that went something like this: “You’re gonna lose.” “Just let me try.” You’re gonna lose.” “C’mon man, just let me try.” “You’re gonna to lose.” “No, no, no, you don’t know that. Please. I want to try.” “You’re going to lose.” I never heard who won, the wheedling loser or the implacable pragmatist. At about this point Olie looked around and said, “It’s kind of sad isn’t it?” We walked around a few minutes more, Ollie said, “Fuck it” and we went to get some sleep.


Tomorrow is Kansas City.


Wenatchee/Boise – Days 13 & 14

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Jalapeno Poppers Puffed Corn SnackGood if you like this sort of thing. I have to admit I’m beginning to regret this whole doodle census. As I open another bag it’s with a rather grim sense of duty. Like sex with your second cousin, which seemed so great when you were sixteen, but now 30 years later just seems desultory. Anyway, this doodle is fine, mostly about the burn, which made my stomach hurt.

Texture: Actually pretty good. Dense but not stale.

Flavor: Who cares? After the first one your mouth is on fire.

 Idiocy from the Van: Why thank you Marriott, for your complimentary pork cylinders soaked in brine.


I’m tired of being two days behind. Today is the day I will triumphantly half-ass two days of the tour so I can fulfill my imaginary deadlines. (didn’t happen) We woke up late and lazy and rolled out at the last minute possible to maintain the illusion of being on time to the house show. It was Sunday, Father’s Day, IMG_3075

heading away from big cities – what could go wrong? Accidents, shut-down highway, the usual. We had planned to stop at the Twin Peaks waterfall but now we were an hour behind schedule so we just had to make a beeline for Wenatchee. Oh, and driving north through Washington State is beautiful, so green, with babbling (say babbling five times*) brooks and cascading cataracts just willy-nilly all over the place.

This would be our third time playing Wenatchee and the second at Scott and Jenny’s house. The only reason we come up here is because of these dear people. And it’s a treat. Wenatchee is founded near the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers. It’s in a valley and surrounded by rolling, yellow grassy hills. Usually I go for a walk in the hills as it’s a lovely meditative place. Tonight we just had time to set-up, eat dinner, watch the Cavs win the NBA Finals, and then play. Scott has a low stage in one end of the living room and had hired in a sound system and guy to run it. The stage was small but still bigger than say Manchester. Chris Brokaw changed his set to emphasize his more singer-songwriter side and it was a lovely, moving set. We’ve gotten a lot better at modulating our set to smaller rooms. We added some other songs like, “Little Paper Birds, and Gene, I Dream,” which we don’t play too often. And being able to hear everything so clearly while playing quietly led to some different versions of our songs that hopefully made the evening seem unique to the 40-50 people there. Unfortunately the dark clouds of intestinal distress that had been stacking up on the horizon all evening threatened to open up. It was a long night. At one point when laying horizontally really wasn’t working, I wrapped myself in a blanket and slept in a wicker chair on the patio.

We had to get on the road early if we wanted to make Boise on time so we bid adieu to the world’s greatest pug, Kildy– the World’s Greatest Pug!


I don’t know if it’s because I was in rather course fettle, but the drive to Boise was not the most interesting. Washington and Idaho are renowned for their natural beauty but this route studiously avoided all of it. By taking this route you are saying that you love and accept the entirety of Washington and Idaho even on days when they’re feeling bloated and wearing Old Navy extra large sweatshirts. Of course I’m being silly. There were some stunning vistas and canyons** along the Columbia River at the start and some cool Close Encounters rock formations at the end. It was just the middle bit.

We’d been hearing that Boise was a cool city for several days and damned if it wasn’t. It’s a pretty small town and it was a Monday night, but there were people out and about. Right next to the club was a vinyl records, Archie McPhee, rock t-shirt, café kind of place. The club, called the Neurobar, was badass. 1950’s round-edged triangular tables, red lit long bar, a huge flickering crown on stage, and all the cool kids smoking cigarettes at tables out front. We had dinner at a place called Even Stevens and walked around a little. If I were to live in the southwestern corner of Idaho and craved an urban setting Boise would be top on my list.


I asked the sound guy, who was a nervous sort but awesome at his job, about the scene and he said it was OK but he was worried about it. He said all the people in the veteran bands had hit the stage of life where they moved out to the suburbs, had kids, and only played one or two shows a year. Not too long ago there had been a thriving DIY all-ages scene but the city had pretty much shut it down. Put all together and there was no one or nowhere to help bring the young bands along and teach them how act. He said it’s always obvious when a local band was on the bill because they were so slow getting on and off stage and unable to adjust for the size of the room or tenor of the bill. He said he had come from Minneapolis where you had to have your shit together. It sounds a little like sour grapes on paper, but the sense I got was that he really wanted Boise bands to do well and not seem provincial.

We were playing with a lovely, quirky pop band from Baltimore called Outer Spaces, and it was our last show with Chris Brokaw. In case you didn’t look up Chris when I suggested it earlier,*** he is a quietly brilliant musician. He’s as likely to be the drummer as he is the guitar player in a band, and is a wonderful songwriter and singer as well. He was the first person to cover one of our songs and it meant the world to us. He was delightful company in our packed van and possessing of a deep reservoir of hilarious stories from a life lived on the road.

And one of the big changes on this tour has been taking bigger charge of the line-ups and working with bands we love. Not only is it awesome to hear American Werewolf Academy, Chris, Schwervon, and the Fervor on this leg but it feels like we’re able to give the audience a whole evening that we know will be enjoyable. On a nightly basis people sweetly say to us how dismayed they are that there aren’t lots more people at the show and that we should be huge. It is a very kind inclination, but things really are building nicely for us in many ways. One of them is this ability to travel with these awesome bands. The other is a nice uptick in the quality of the venues, stages, sound engineers etc. We’ve had consistent good sound and played some very cool venues, and that makes a big difference. We’re doing all right I think.

This being our first time in Boise, a Monday night, and perhaps a disinclination to see old people play unfashionable music, we had our smallest crowd since Tulsa. As is often the case with nights like these, it was a little more interactive and sillier than some shows. Of course playing to a packed house is ideal, but I love these shows for two reasons. Typically with a small town and a small crowd the people who come to see you are fervent fans who are thrilled that you came to their town. It’s impossible to not feel proud when you hear what your music means to people. And that leads me to the next reason. The song that typically gets the best response night after night is “Teenage Wasteland.” And the thought that we could potentially be that voice for someone feeling isolated and alone in their own personal hinterland, the chance that we could do for someone what rocknroll did for us at different times of our lives, provide a sense of possibility, identity, catharsis, community, acceptance feels important. You don’t need to know if that happens on a given night because we’ve all had our conversion experiences. We know it’s real thing.

So thank you Boise. It was lovely.


Tomorrow is a drive day.


*Yes you are.

** Or were they gorges? When does a gorge become a canyon?

***Honestly, I don’t know why I even bother.


Seattle – Day 12

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Kroger Puffed Cheese Curls – Almost identical to the H-E-B store brand. I suspect collusion.

Texture: Excellent – Borderline tear your mouth up.

Flavor: Pretty damn good. These are an excellent value. Like a Robert Parker rated Beaujolais of 89 on sale for $12.99

Idiocy from the Van: Have you read the bio “Tom Jones’ Testicles by Emersom Bigguns?


We had a wonderful evening in Portland, a friend of Joe’s got us two very nice rooms at a hotel on the river, and we were going to play live on KEXP at 11:00 this very day. All was exceedingly well except that we were only going to be able to get four and a half hours sleep before we needed to leave for Seattle. Everyone was fine with it, no one was complaining. The honor of playing for the mighty KEXP trumps everything. Still, even with a little bit of, “This is going to hurt,” going on, everyone was in good spirits.


John somehow managed to duct tape a bag to Olie’s hand, tomatoes were thrown from a balcony at John down on the veranda as he was smoking. Considering the exhaustion, the incredibly tight confines, what with six or seven people all touching cotton covered shoulders in the van for days on end, it’s amazing how much silliness and gasping for air laughing happens on a daily basis. Everybody has their days of crankiness, gloominess, or loonimess, but I think we’re getting better at knowing how to deal with it without necessarily infecting the whole van or causing a ruckus. Mostly it involves going for walks and just getting away from each other. I mean we’re not home yet. There could still be epic meltdowns, and/or blowouts, but I also think that having Olie along has been a major factor. He’s an expert at lightening the mood.


This is the third time for the full band to be playing KEXP and the first time in their new studio. Our last session was even picked as one of the best public radio performances of whatever year that was. I also contend that almost every fan of the band can trace their knowledge of us back to either Robert Christgau or KEXP. Today would not ascend to those hallowed heights. Today inspiration would be on the loading dock waving a cigarette about airily whilst talking about Sam Peckinpah, while our old friend Sturdy Competence was running around the studio kissing us all squarely on the lips. We didn’t play badly I don’t think. It just took longer than we had to shake off the stunned baby seal** quality our tiredness infected us with. The new building and studio housing KEXP is beautiful. There’s a café’ attached with excellent coffee, they are right in the thick of a bunch of artistic organizations, and they have a 30 year lease. The only thing I miss is the little performance space. We were practically playing on top of each other, and we as a band always play better when we feel like everything is all mixed together into one sound. It’s the best. And it goes without saying that the folks at KEXP are the best as well. They are so sweet and so good at their jobs.

No tourism for us today. We went straight to the house our friend graciously lets us take over whenever we’re in Seattle, ate some Washington cherries, started laundry, and slunk off to our corners to take naps.

We were playing the El Corazon, which used to be the Off-Ramp back in the old days. Last time we played the small, connected room they now call the Funhouse. The space is rectangular with the stage along one of the long sides so it’s not particularly deep but the audience can spread out. The last time I was here I was overwhelmed with the ghosts in the place. Nirvana and most every Seattle band played there at some point. I remember thinking about all the costs associated with being in a band and living out your dreams. The addictions, deaths, broken marriages, poverty, and hearing loss all associated with this way of making art begs the question: What the hell am I doing out here? I can’t point to anything that doesn’t sound selfish. My family doesn’t get anything out of it, no money, vacations, monkey butlers, nothing. Just an absentee dad and husband. However, this time the ghosts were away. Maybe they’re like Santa Claus and dissipate into mean shades unless someone believes in rocknroll. Tonight though, it just felt like a regular club and we had a show to play.

We had dinner at a wonderful hole in the wall Thai noodle place called In the Bowl. The food was so freaking delicious. Oh, and even though it’s all vegetarian, no one seemed to mind. Afterwards everyone went back to the club and I went for a walk into the Capital Hill District. Broadway, the main street through the district, seems to be mostly a bar/restaurant entertainment area so there was a certain percentage of party people there. All told it was a nice, fairly affluent part of town. I came across a park with a super cool fountain that was like water cascading down a mountain and flowing down a cement riverbed until it got to a pond. I saw people playing bicycle polo, which looked difficult and smug. As I walked down the hill and over the Denny Bridge I was struck once again by how a highway and some elevation can create such disparate environments. Under the bridge there is a size-able group of homeless people and/or runaways, (they seemed young) lots of evidence of drug use, a shelter for at risk youth, and a general air of grittiness.

I had a nice talk with an old school chum of Lisa’s who now lives in the area, about something I sensed in regards to the homeless population. I said that it seemed as if people in Seattle, Portland, and even San Francisco had a more tolerant view of the homeless population compared to the Midwest. She agreed almost before I finished my sentence, “Oh yeah, in the Midwest they’re less than human – something to be hidden or gotten rid of, but out here it’s like they are people who have different needs or maybe even made a lifestyle choice.” She talked about how Seattle is going to start emulating the San Francisco model where they take empty housing and convert it into places where the homeless can store their stuff when they have job interviews or the like. She talked about the circuit of teenaged runaways that go from Tacoma to Seattle and Portland, riding the commuter trains. Seattle has even gone so far as to create places where people with campers and tents can stay for the night as long as they follow the rules. And I wonder – what accounts for the difference in attitude? From hostile in part of the country to tolerant in another, what has to happen for a culture to have basic respect for all humans? What kind of empathy has to be taught for people’s first instinct to be that maybe the people they meet are actually doing the best they can? Make a list in your head as to why someone is living on the street. Mental illness, abuse, addiction, lack of education, and yes, somewhere down there you might have to include the line, “Because it’s so fucking awesome!” Different strokes and all. Don’t get me wrong though; I don’t enjoy people asking me for money. I get nervous when erratic people approach me. I’m no saint. I do think however, a fair marker of a society is how they treat their most vulnerable. And there will always be vulnerable among us.

It was a lovely night in the El Corazon. The Purrs, a venerable rock band together now for something like 16 years, played awesome melodic rock. Chris Brokaw of course owned it, and I think we played pretty good too. Seattle is always our biggest night on a Western tour. It’s a big room and there were a couple a hundred people in there. Playing the old Off-Ramp, packing the place, feeling the love, eating cupcakes and having a top shelf tequila with the bar staff afterwards, generally enjoying the fantasy of this life for approximately 22 hours.

We went back to our loaned house and I happily listened to Otis Redding records on a beautiful turntable well into the night.


Tomorrow is Wennatchee.

*We’re a strict no artificial fibers kind of band.

**I’m actually working on a children’s book called “Baby Seal Goes To Baseball Camp.” It will be a cautionary tale about making sure one’s dreams have some basis in reality.


Driving and Portland – Days 10 & 11

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Smallwood’s Harvest Spicy Cheese Nuggets – Excellent for a spicy varietal. People have begun to bring me doodles. This is an excellent development. These are more like a bag of curds in puff form but legit.

Texture: Kind of chewy, like stale Pirate’s Booty.

Flavor: Spicy and salty. The best of the spicy ones.

Idiocy from the Van: Chile Kim Carne (courtesy of Chris Brokaw)


I’m way behind with the blog now. It’s been a couple of days of curvy roads and very little sleep. The morning after our very late check-in at the fancy hotel with the kitty litter smelling lobby, I walked across a field to the old looking “round barn” for which the hotel was named. It wasn’t actually round but some sort of –agon. (I didn’t count the sides.) I came upon a plaque that told me the barn had been built by a Japanese Samurai who then became a prominent viticulturist in the Napa Valley. I gave the band this info in the van but no one gave a shit. It’s like they’re dead inside.

We wanted to take the 101 because part of the fun of this tour is showing Olie the country. It’s such a gorgeous drive, but by doing so it meant another very long day in the van. We needed to get near Eugene in order to make getting to Portland reasonable. I tried to write but by dint of following the geographical contours of our beloved continent I couldn’t keep the keyboard under my fingers, and it was a semi-car sick kind of drive anyway. We stopped at a Safeway, loaded up on groceries, (our attempt to eat fresh and healthy bowed but not yet broken) and made the Avenue of the Giants by mid-afternoon. I’ve said it before but it holds true for me, an hour in the Redwoods is equivalent to a year of Sundays at church. The light filtering through branches so high they don’t even begin where most trees end gives a glow to the preternatural hush. I found a fallen Redwood circled by six of the really old trees. I laid down and stared up and felt like I was surrounded by sentinels watching over and mourning their loss. This being nature and not the ‘Shire or some shit, the death of the tree I was laying on probably created enough light so that the trees surrounding it could finally thrive. Like that dick in “The Giving Tree.” Olie was blown away by the forest. It was lovely to see his reaction and to feel like we’d given him a little gift.


We stopped at Eureka because that’s what we do; we stop. “He who travels fastest travels alone” being practically pornographic in its illicit feelings of unobtainable fantasy. On the other hand, expediency with seven people in one automotive is the equivalent of having your mother walk in on you holding a Sport’s Illustrated Swimsuit issue (the one with Elle McPherson) after having just moved home because you flunked out of college. (sad trombone sound) I walked down to the waterfront and found a classic rock cover band on break and the local rock dj giving away prizes to the winner who could correctly answer questions like, “9% of homeowners don’t do this… (the dishes?) No. I won’t dish out any prizes for that answer ha ha. “ (clean the bathroom?) Close enough! So do you clean the bathroom? No? It’s pretty bad when the toilet flushes itself ha ha. I’ve got one more question. Hmmm… let’s pick a good one. Ok, 9% of drivers wish they could do this. (run over your unfunny ass, then back the car over your broken body while blasting “More Than a Feeling” on the radio?) Ooh ouch!! ha ha (Not wear a seatbelt?) You missed that one whole cloth ha ha. (run over your parents before they conceived your bloviated friendless existence?) You must know my ex-wife ha ha. (pee through the eye of a needle into a Capri Sun bag without spilling a drop?) Oh urine trouble for that one ha ha. No the answer is drive naked drive naked. And now back to some great rocknroll.”*


We stopped and communed with the ocean around sunset, and as the sky tipped into blackness the drive took on an air of low-grade terror. Hairpin turns and steep clines (of both the in and de variety) in pitch-blackness sucks. We waited in a short line blinded by emergency vehicle’s flashing lights as they dealt with a car off the road and on its side. We rolled into a hotel of which I have no memory around 2:30 in the morning.

We had an early soundcheck in Portland but with only a two-hour drive and a late check out procured we tried to get some sleep. At 8:30 a.m. a housekeeper came into the room and in the immortal words of Shakespeare said, “Housekeeping.” How is this still a thing? With all the information technology available, networks that stagger the imagination, the only way to ascertain whether a hotel room has been vacated is to make like a Jehovah’s Witness and** knock? I’m not impugning the cleaning staff. That’s a hard job and it’s my understanding they have some serious time constraints put on them. Plus, bad things happen. I know, and I’m sorry. I tried to clean-up. No, I feel the hospitality industry as a whole is under-motivated to improve this one glaring antithesis to the word hospitality. You have one job. Provide a safe and clean place to sleep. Then in an insouciantly perverse twist you design a system that takes away the very thing the customer paid for. It’s like buying a hamburger and then having someone walk around and removing the meat from the bun halfway through the meal. But wait! You say there is a magic card you can place on the door that will guarantee you a peaceful uninterrupted sleep? Sure, but what if you forget, or it falls off, or you walk down the hallway removing all the do not disturb signs from every door in a futile act of rebellion against the impotence you feel in an increasingly cold and isolated world?

We were playing the Star Theater, which had played once before. It’s a beautiful place to play and everyone was very nice there. The last time we played we sat with our equipment on the patio for several hours waiting for a comedy*** show to end. Then we set up in front of the headlining band on the approximately 8 inches of stage lip left us. This time we had the whole stage and it was as luxuriant as softened butter.

After soundcheck Chuck and I went out to do some banking and he remarked that everyone seemed high. And acknowledging this could be a preconceived notion, the rather large indigent population had a different air about them. It was a softer sadness that made me think heroin was still very much a part of the region. Of course there were a lot of teens on the streets with duffel bags and dogs, but more about that later.

I walked all over the downtown and it seemed like a regular, relatively affluent business building fancy storefront kind of place. The hipsters must enclave elsewhere. I spent hours in Powell’s Books, my second favorite bookstore, (The Strand still gets the nod) and bought several books by/about Alexander Von Humboldt, who I’ve decided to become obsessed with.

The show was a blast. Count, the sound engineer, had the stage sound dialed in, and the audience demanded an extra encore.


*Those were all real questions and mostly real answers. Guess which!!

**Look up 141 Things Jehovah’s Witness followers cannot do.

*** In the broadest sense of that word.


San Francisco – Day 9

Ranking Cheese Doodle: No Doodles. I had really hung my hopes on artisanal doodles from the hub of the farm to doodle to table movement. The Spanish have long perfected the culinary science of puffing food with their vangaurdia movement, but as in so many things, we lag behind.

Idiocy from the Van: Well I’m off to birth King Kong’s finger.


We had no trouble getting out of L.A. and proceeded north, reading all the handmade signs put forth in battle for the hearts, minds and urinary tracts of the people in the Californian Water Wars. I never visited California before the drought so I can’t compare. For the most part, if it’s green it’s irrigated. I have to not give in to the thought, but I have the same reaction whenever I travel. Seeing the massive drain on natural resources all us people create, seeing our negative impact on the world around us, I get panicky. Not so much an Indian standing on a heap big garbage heap shedding a tear, but more an Edvard Munch keening cry, like a mosquito whining in your ear while trying to memorize the second verse of It’s the End of the World As We know It, “There’s no way this is sustainable! What are we doing! We’re going to die!” The fact that Long John Silvers exists is enough to make one question all of man’s great works, but when I see a special on wild caught Cod or something, do the math* of how many shops they have in this country alone, it’s staggering. On this day we drove by a massive cow yard place. The smell of course was like Satan’s belch on taco Tuesday, the innumerable animals standing only in mud and shit, mind-boggling. And this is nothing in size compared to some I’ve seen in the Midwest. I have no suggestions. I’m not knowledgeable in realities of feeding billions of people. I just worry.

The last time we came west I had an entire day to spend at my leisure in San Francisco and I fell head over heals in love. Thus, I make no claim to objectivity. We pulled up to the Elbo Room in the Mission District, the same place we played last time, around 6:30. This is a great club, lounge-y and perfectly seedy downstairs and an old school, almost elegant performance space upstairs. Golden dragons on either side of the stage should paint the appropriate picture.


While waiting for soundcheck I started walking with eagerness of the England version of myself, got the best cup of coffee this tour so far, and marveled at the incredible murals and awesome mix of people. After check I had an amazing vegan Mexican meal at Gracias Madres. Unfortunately I was beginning to feel the effects of a bout of road stomach coming on. I was eating by myself at the bar and they had us packed in pretty much shoulder to shoulder. As what I hoped was air pressure in my lower half began to bubble like aging refried beans on medium heat, I desperately wished that I wasn’t pinned in by two comely lasses. It may an antiquated notion but I would much rather offer an olfactory amuse bouche to a man’s dinner than a woman’s. Still, we all managed to escape unmolested after a frankly heroic and dexterous clenching of specific unmentionable muscles. And then I walked up Mission Street, which was a little less hipster/boutique driven and more head shop gritty than Valencia. There were certainly more encampments of what I’m sensing is a significant indigent population.

After sitting bent double on the floor in the green room for an hour hoping I wouldn’t need a bucket, we went onstage to a pretty packed house. The lights were set-up so that we couldn’t see many faces, but everyone seemed to have a good time. The sound onstage was perfect and such that I could hear and respond to everyone else. It makes all the difference in the world and Olie remarked afterwards that it was the best we had played yet. Two of the best musicians in Cincinnati, and absolutely wonderful friends for decades, Melissa and Dana surprised us by showing up at the gig. It was a wonderful evening.

We had decided, or rather had the decision thrust upon us, that it was far too expensive to stay near the city. We found a good deal on Priceline for a hotel in Santa Rosa. As usual we paid the extra money to ensure there were two beds in each room. We arrive at 2:30 a.m. and damned if the hotel chose to ignore what they said was a non-binding request. The over-night front desk woman couldn’t have been more helpful but the hotel was sold out. It took a good 40 minutes to get sorted out, with us paying them more money for their room of last resort, which had a pull out couch. At 3:30 in the fucking morning we all finally collapsed into bed.

Tomorrow is yet another drive day.


*I don’t really do the math. Math is hard.


Los Angeles – Day 8

Ranking Cheese Doodle: No Doodles. So what am I to do? Try a random snack from the Hispanic section that’s what. Specifically Tiritas con Chile. Imagine a strawberry licorice rope covered in paprika, citric acid, and cayenne in decreasing order of flavor. Chuck was the first to try and started making a nyuh nyuh sounds like a stooge and then spit it out. I went next and it wasn’t that bad. Much like the stages of grief it started out bitter, moved to sour, then to hot, and finished up sickly sweet. You regret having eaten it and vow never to do so again. I haven’t translated but I think the bag might describe them as divorce sticks.


Idiocy from the Van: To the tune of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”

“Let’s go lay some pipe, Squat, grunt, and then we wipe.”

This will likely be an ongoing piece of work.


With six hours left to drive until we reached L.A. my gibbet was starting to flibber. Three days solid in the van with no real breaks was starting to wear through the thin veneer that separates us from the illusion of fitting in to a non teeth-gritting, skin-twitching, spittle-spraying, rage-filled society and not. The unvarying terrain didn’t help by settling into an unbroken desert indistinguishable from Mars if one were to put on actual rose-colored glasses.

We arrived at the Silver Lake Lounge slightly early. We had played here before and knew the drill. I’d direct you to the Yelp reviews if you want to get a fuller sense of the experience. The sound guy was nice, the monitors underpowered, the stage set up so that Joe was in a cave in the back of the stage, separated from us more than just emotionally this time. There was no green room so we did a lot of standing around the parking lot waiting for the broth to ripen to the point where soundcheck could happen. Then some pretty good Indian food, and then some more standing around the parking lot. The last time here I had desperately hiked the stretch of Sunset the club is on, looking for Los Angeles, but only found a heterogeneous* mix of shops and restaurants. No matter, by the time we got back from dinner our pal Chris Brokaw had started. Chris has been in a shit-ton of cool bands as well as plying the solo trade for years. We have been playing shows with Chris going back to our first tour. It had been awhile though and we were thrilled to see him. And here’s where it gets exciting. He’s traveling with us for the next five shows as well. In case you’re doing the math and have use of only one hand for some reason, that brings the grand total of people in the van to seven. If we could just somehow cram Pauley Shore in here we would be funnier than the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.**

When we had pulled up there had already been people waiting. We had a crowd bigger than we’d had in Tulsa just for our soundcheck. Some nights take on an energy of their own. The place was packed by the time we took the stage. We’re playing a good portion of the new record this time out, but whenever we played the older songs they sang along so loud they drowned out Lisa on my side of the stage. For a town that does not have a reputation for being warm and fuzzy it was a very sweet and giving crowd we were blessed with this night.

Another bit of sweetness added to the evening was that our dear friend Brooklyn Steve was in attendance. We met him at one of our early shows in NYC where he regaled us with stories of going to see punk shows in the ‘70’s, like the Clash at the Palladium, and a delightful evening shouting out “Peanuts” over and over again at that first Police show. They kept shouting it even after the band played the song until Sting was properly annoyed. Steve would come to every show and we were always delighted to catch up. And when he moved to California a few years back we missed him and his spirit at our shows. I tend to say it ad nauseum but the human need for community and connection is so profound it comes in right after food, shelter, and safety in the heirarchy of needs. Being in a band for a long time these little adopted families occasionally come into existence. This is ultimately what I get from playing music live. Sometimes the connection is just the five of us, but the best nights are when we and the audience become our own little world of misfits. Rocknroll at its best can encapsulate joy, frustration, anger, sex, and solidarity better than any art form. Well, for me at least.

On the way to the hotel we gave Olie a driving tour of Hollywood and Vine, the Chinese Theater, all the landmarks we could manage after a long day. His observation, “It looks a little dodgy” as we drove up Hollywood seemed apt.

Tomorrow is San Francisco.


*The pretension alert went off. Sorry.

**Again my apologies. A colostomy is funnier than the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.


Driving – Days 6 & 7

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Hill Country Fare Cheese Puffs: Middling

Bought at the same H-E-B store as the Store Brand Intense Cheese Flavored ones, but seemed like the doodle created for their poor cheese flavored snack customers. You know the bag: more clear plastic, duller colors, primitive graphics. I didn’t much like them but everyone else thought they were fine. Obviously this exercise has refined my palette far beyond their plebian tastes.

Texture: Excellent – Well it was.

Flavor: Tasted chemically to me. Much like an over-oaked chardonnay there were strong notes of butter. Rancid oily movie theater butter.

Idiocy from the Van: “Oooh, I adagio’d in my pants a little.”

This is going to be a short, perhaps even cursory posting because we will have spent these two days driving. The entire journey we’re taking is from Austin to Los Angeles. We will still have approximately six hours to drive on day eight just to get into town. In the past we have taken Highway 10 straight across the desert. It’s the quickest route but brutal in its unvarying scenery and desert heat. This time we decided to head northwest out of Austin, eventually hooking up with I-40. I don’t know the difference duration between the two routes, but this way was far more pleasant on the eyes and in availability of services. There was no permanent, border-style roadblock with machine gun armed guards and dogs. We just drove. There weren’t any real highlights, except perhaps for craft hour when we created lifelike sculptures out of red Baby Bell cheese wax. Our goal was Albequerque and it took us 13 hours to get there. The terrain was far more green than the 10 and mostly what we decided to call rolling prairie


The next day we had a choice. Either another 13 hour day and make it to the outskirts of L.A., or break it up by stopping around Phoenix. We chose the latter, and out of the corner of our eyes, the way one sees a nebula through a telescope, we checked to see if we could afford the amazing, awesomely refurbished 1950’s era hotel, the Valley Ho. We stayed there last tour when John treated the band to a little luxury. It was only $50 more than others around the area, probably because it was a Monday night, and even though frugality is our new watchword (our previous watchword was regret) (Our safety word* by the way is, as it always has been, “Oh for the love of God just stop it. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you?”) we went for it. The second days drive was gorgeous. Lots of high desert rock formations, a stop by the petrified forest, a lovely lush area in northern Arizona where the cactuses (cacti is also correct but rather pretentious don’t you think?) were in bloom.**


I’m not going to go into rhapsodic detail about the Valley Ho because I did all that in the last tour blog,*** but we had a blast. We had fancy drinks, swam in the round saltwater pool under the moonlight, John beat Olie in a foot race across the pool, we joined hands and practiced our synchronized water dancing, the couple attempting to have a romantic interlude, tenderly drifting up to each other and kissing, finally gave up and went to the hot tub.**** After actually hearing people talking earnestly about their golf game at the bar, I went and laid on a lounge, presumably of the chaise variety, by a blue lit fountain and stared at the stars. What a lovely evening.

Tomorrow is L.A.


  • Phrase really

** Indulge me please. At this point I was originally just going to write “I’ll see you when the cactus blooms again.” because “When the Roses Bloom Again” kept going through my head. I wanted to listen to the Johnny Cash version, which is devastating, and I came across a song called “When the Bloom Is On the Sage” by the Sons of the Pioneers. I love the Pioneers. I think “Cool Water” is one of the great American songs of all time. Anyway, in the details part on YouTube it says that the song was recorded right up the street from where I’m writing this on Vine Street and Hollywood. That tickled me to no end.

*** It’s all archived on the web site I think.

**** Where they contracted Chlamydia. Or at least that’s what he told her. I never really trusted him.


Austin – Day 5

Ranking Cheese Doodle: H-E-B Intense Cheese Flavored Puffs* – Excellent   H-E-B is chain of supermarkets and these were their store brand. And finally a good damn doodle.

Texture: Good – Rougher than a Cheeto, but not enough to abuse your delicate mouth-branes.

Flavor: More salt than cheese but we destroyed this bag. I had to pour bottled water over my fingers to get the orange off. You know what I’m saying’?

Idiocy from the Van: Square Bob Sponge Cake and his best friend Pee-C-Pee-Oh


The drive from Dallas to Austin is fairly short but we dicked around enough to make it seem as endless as a normal day. We went straight to Torchy’s, which is a small chain but is so good. Migas and fried avocado tacos with a side of street corn for me thank you very much.



We went to the club but they weren’t going to be ready for us until 9:00. As Olie was quite keen to see a bit of Austin we went downtown. It was just so hot and parking was its usual nightmare, but when we finally cowboy walked our way to 6th street we heard an Athena level skull splitting racket and whiffed the sharp smell of exhaust. We turned the corner and just like that, a biker rally for Olie! Can’t get more American than that. 6th street was lined on both sides with every kind of chopped crotch hog you could imagine.


The street was blocked off and there were two rows of orange cones down the middle of the street allowing the bikers to promenade in small groups in front of their two-wheeled peers. Mostly this involved revving their engines to create the maximum noise and smell. It was neat to get to see all those people and all those bikes, and I love the sense of community exhibited, but it wore thin pretty quickly for a non-aficionado like myself. So we went inside a fancy hotel and had wee chocolate cakes and éclairs.

Then back up to the Spider Ballroom. The Spider is divided into two sides, the ballroom, which is a standard rectangle with a stage, and the café, which is a series of mostly open to the air spaces with a hodge-podge of weird junk scattered around. I liked it.

My delicate and shame-filled northern sensibilities began to understand the desire to wear as little clothing as possible in this heat. As usual there were hours to kill. It’s too boring to just hang in the club, and you can’t just sit and drink outside with all the sweltering people because of the slippery slope to shitty shows and alcoholism. So I cajoled Olie into walking to the Buffalo Exchange vintage clothing store and Antone’s Record store. Both were fine, I didn’t spend any money, and an hour had passed quite nicely. I took a left out of Antone’s and walked up the sidewalk in order to find a quiet place to call my already-trothed. With my head down I came to the end of the building and found myself surrounded by approximately 100 naked people on bicycles. I froze, turned around like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers, and walked back the way I came as if that was what I had intended all along. Almost immediately the group left the staging area and whooping and hollering rode en masse right passed me on the street. There were as many wangs as tangs, as many guts as gunts, and a relatively wide age range, although they were oddly almost completely homogenous in skin color. Not that it matters a whit, but I have no problem with anything promoting body acceptance; although I was concerned about the bicycle seats. I find them uncomfortable enough to start with without them actually touching my prostate. And how did we get to the point in western culture where something as functional and beautiful as the human breast has become so sexualized that a mother can’t breast feed or young women have to learn how to ignore ogling before they’re out of high school? I’m as guilty of it as the next, but it really is time to cut that shit out.

Residual Kid opened up the show back at the ballroom. They were a trio of youngsters playing pop-punk and they have a good-sized following of their own. I can easily envision them blowing by us in their solid gold bus while we spin our wheels in the ditches of apathy. AWA played even better than the night before. As for us, it was lovely to see such a nice crowd, seeing as we played to five people our last visit to Austin. It was fun. We played a few songs we hadn’t played in awhile, and said goodbye to the small group who had followed us from Tulsa to Dallas and then Austin.

We had had sweaty goodbye with AWA and that was that.


Tomorrow is a drive day.


*Spanish lesson for the day. Botana de Maiz = Cheese Flavored Snack. At least according to the bag. My rudimentary Spanish would indicate that it says snack of corn though. So maybe Hispanic customers are drawn to corn and gringos want cheese?