Electric Balloon Tour: The problem of a spaceman
I’m so far behind on contemporaneous coverage of tour, I’m just going to say fuck it. The immediacy is gone, and anything I’d write now in an attempt to fully document the experience would fall short. I did get to eat two meals of barbecue in one day again, on the day we drove from Charlotte to Durham. Although as I’ve mentioned my number one favorite barbecue place ever was in Georgia, I am always happy to eat Carolina-style. North Carolina barbecue sauce is not sweet and gloopy, it is vinegary and peppery and complements the meat in a totally different way. Don’t get me wrong, I love standard barbecue sauce too, but “barbecue sauce” is a lot like “curry” or “mole” in that it describes a huge category of which most people only ever experience a few of the most popular examples. Did you know there are hundreds of kinds of mole besides mole poblano? I didn’t either until a friend from work told me. He also told me that everyone including nice restaurants and his grandma uses a premixed base out of a jar, and that the use of said base is totally not considered cheating among most people of Mexican extraction. This is heartening to me, as a lover of mole and general lazy person. Anyway, the place we ate in Durham, the Original Q Shack, offered both standard and Carolina-style sauces, as well as that really dangerously spicy stuff that is just peppers floating in clear liquid, and either that place or the place I went in Atlanta were the best of tour. It’s apples and oranges, because I got pulled pork at one and brisket at the other, but it’s close. Protip: if you have a choice between sliced and chopped brisket, always get it chopped. The meat they use for chopping is the more flavorful, fattier part. It is analogous to white meat vs. dark meat fried chicken. When you first start eating fried chicken you want a nice orderly breast piece without a lot of gross bones and cartilage, and then you get older and realize that the dark meat just tastes better and is moister and the mild grossness and dead-animal immediacy of the experience is part of the fun.
I was pleased to find out Blowfly totally played at Snug Harbor in Charlotte only a week before we did, and that the soundman had met him. I am basically the target audience for Blowfly, between my love of classic R&B and the fact that I am a huge perv with a back-of-the-middle-school-bus sense of humor. The soundman confirmed that Blowfly in real life is a pretty strange person who mostly deals with others through his more socially apt drummer, which was more or less my impression. If you haven’t seen the documentary about Blowfly (on Netflix!), you should, and if you are ever the DJ at a party and want to fuck with people, put on the Blowfly version of a classic song instead of the real one and see how long it takes everyone to figure it out. I was really excited when I tweeted about it and Blowfly tweeted back at me, until I realized that was probably the drummer too. No way does that dude run his own Twitter or care what it is probably. I had a lovely night in Durham with the band plus Krill, watching Youtube videos projected onto the wall of our friend’s house; the postmodern hearth. I must credit Jonah for this deeply bizarre find, which I can’t stop thinking about either in spite of or because of the horrific degree to which it offends my aesthetic sensibilities, and also for playing “Reelin’ In The Years” right before “The Boys Are Back In Town“, which if you can think of any more joyous and perfectly-executed harmonized guitar solos in the history of music we should hang out. In DC we got a lovely reception, as always, even though we hardly ever go there anymore. DC is our town. I spent most of the night catching up with an old friend who had fallen off the radar, and was pleased to see that we are both way cooler and more functional people now. Actually everyone from the past I ran into on tour appears to be well on top of things, which is heartening, although I guess if my friend were coming through town on tour and I were totally down and out I probably wouldn’t go see them to begin with. Julian and I had some nice late afternoon drinks at a Mexican restaurant in the obnoxious yuppie part of Baltimore, an oasis of the rare $5 beer-and-shot in which a much older woman hit on me. I was not down. I seriously considered buying but did not buy a Casio DG-1 from a nearby store called “Cool Stuff”. My decision was based on the fact that I didn’t really need a shitty digital guitar from the ’80s even though I really wanted it, and also that it would require some repairs which were probably beyond my ken, and finally that I did not want to support a business that dealt in anything as vague and aspirational and non-essential as Cool Stuff.
Just before we got back, in Philly, I became violently ill. It started to come on right before our set at the Golden Tea House, and I had no choice but to power through. I went up there looking even paler than usual, and probably projected all sorts of horrid vibes out into the audience, which I sincerely hope they did not take personally. As soon as we were done I ran to the bathroom and vomited the most wrenching and thorough vomit of my life. Normally you’re supposed to feel better after you throw up, but this time not so much. The rest of the night is a blur. Some friends of friends of friends put us up in a giant decrepit old concert space, definitely some manner of squat, no way has a building inspector seen it in the last ten years. I was grateful for the hospitality but highly disoriented by my surroundings, and worried about running into all manner of strange obstacles on my frequent trips to the bathroom. I couldn’t even keep down water. It wasn’t from drinking, I’d only opened a single beer and set it aside when I started to feel something wrong. My colleagues blame a shrimp roll from a deli, which was the only thing I ate but they didn’t eat. And that’s quite possibly true, it’s exactly the sort of thing I would be wary of early on in tour and just say fuck it to later.
But mostly, I think my body was crashing. Five weeks is the longest tour I’ve been on, and also the longest continuous time I’ve been away from New York City. Five weeks of sitting in a van and not sleeping and eating bad food and drinking more than usual and carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment every day. I was initially pleased when I got home to find I had not gained weight, but now I wonder if that isn’t just due to increased body mass being offset by muscle atrophy. I guess I’ll find out when I go back to the gym. I feel like I went to space and came back and now I’m the wrong age relative to everyone else because of physics or something. This feeling makes me confident in my suspicion that Harry Nilsson’s “Spaceman” has a lot more to do with the music industry than the space industry.
Our release show back at the Silent Barn was intense. Not in a bad way; I got to see the vast majority of the people I’d missed, and the show was a success, and I had the rare pleasure of seeing Railings. But it was a lot to take in, and I knew as soon as I stopped moving I would crash hard. Most of us went to Ganni’s afterwards, a popular post-gig Ava Luna destination because it’s near my house and that’s usually one of the last stops and they’re cheap and open late. It’s not the most amazing pizza I’ve ever had, but it is a real New York slice of solidly above-average quality, and the garlic knots are legit spectacular when they’re fresh. Sitting in Ganni’s, eating what looked like the last pizza and garlic knots to be produced that night, it hit me: I was home. I would now have to deal with all the things I had breezily put off dealing with in my absence. I would fall asleep in all my clothes. In the morning, I would go to work, and people would ask me how it was, people who are my colleagues and friends but who also have both feet planted quite firmly in the straight world. How do you respond? “It was great!”. It was.