Fall Tour: Bill and Ted are kind of chumps if you really think about it
In Atlanta, we stay in a large house consisting of many apartments connected by a tarpaper roof. Our hosts have a large collection of bells, with which we improvise some droney faux-gamelan for a while. There is also a crystal of selenite, which can be used to bow a guitar. The guitar is covered with selenite dust, but the timbre is awesome, high and sharp and airy. Exactly what you’d imagine applying a crystal to a metal string would sound like. When we tire of playing odd instruments cross-legged on the floor and it is time for bed, I am the only one who opts to “go camping” on the roof. My hosts warn me that it will be too hot in the morning, but the weather is overcast and I sleep soundly, except for the cat. The cat is determined to get into my sleeping bag, and he is not trying to cuddle. He wants me out. We tussle for a bit, and eventually he yields to my superior strength and gives up. Man 1, beast 0. In the morning, our host has set out beans, cheese, and tortillas with which to make quesadillas. I put a cast iron skillet on top of the quesadilla for weight, and it is a great success. Our host has purchased special quesadilla cheese, which imparts an ideal texture to the melted final product.
At the last minute, we are offered a show in Nashville at a warehouse. Our friend Tyler of Meth Dad is involved in the organizing of the show, and it is good to see him. People at the show are friendly, and beer nearby is cheap. Old pals Zorch play an awesome set involving a fucked-up-to-barely-recognizable Beatles medley. There are six bands slated to play, they are basically doing us a favor by allowing us onto the already-full bill, so we and Celestial Shore both play short sets. I get some Mexican food that is best left undiscussed, and mess around with a video synthesizer projected onto the wall by the door. The whole space is pretty visually exciting. This is what the bathroom looks like. Photos don’t really do it justice. I feel as though I am taking the piss of a king.
We are in East Nashville, which is I am told is sort of the Bushwick of Nashville as far as I can tell. Although, real talk, most venues that would have us are probably situated in the Bushwick of wherever they are. Not a knock on any of those places, of course; we are always made to feel at home. We know what we’re doing, and I would not describe our appeal as “universal”. Loading out, we see a pack of wild dogs, of which I can’t get a good picture in the dark. We stay in a partially-renovated house with a truly stellar music collection. Our host puts on Aksak Maboul, which is so bizarre it is not immediately obvious that each track was actually recorded by the same people as the previous one. I am very much into it. One of the great pleasures of tour is having people play you music you’ve never heard before. Then you can go home and put it on at a party and be all like, “what, you don’t know this one?” like it’s not even a thing. Touring gives you a totally unfair leg up in the DJ game. Like Atlanta, this house also boasts vaguely hostile cats. Cats are never fully domesticated, and I say this as someone who grew up with one and loved it dearly. You train them to wait until you are dead to try and eat you, basically. Until then they are just biding their time, eating your food while they nurse private grudges and hatch secret plots. Becca once went on a whole tear about how there are two kinds of people, cat people and dog people, and dog people are givers while cat people are takers. I always thought that was backwards; since dogs are so emotionally forthcoming, doesn’t that make you the taker? Cats aren’t giving you jack shit. Incidentally, far more cat owners than dog owners have put us up on this tour. But actually, comparing cat and dog owners, I think giving versus taking is not the most useful axis to consider. I think it has a lot more to do with order versus chaos. Dog owners like to foster a relationship with predictable positive outcomes, but cat owners prefer to coexist with a little piece of the brutality of nature. They like living with something that doesn’t fully trust them, and which they cannot fully trust. Perhaps it makes the moments of conviviality and tenderness feel more earned. I’m not sure which I prefer, actually. My childhood cat was fully the bee’s knees and I have yet to meet his equal. My roommate’s dog is wonderful, except for her tendency to produce quantities of hair I have only previously seen on the floor of a barber shop. Pets for me are a moot point, anyway. I think my current lifestyle would be compatible with maybe successfully caring for a cactus.
In the morning, we eat some bougie breakfast at Sky Blue Café. Mine is delicious, but not enough food. This is a common deficiency of the sorts of places that offer vegan omelets and the option of a salad instead of homefries. I continue to harbor a craving for hot chicken. With some time to kill, we drop by Fanny’s House of Music, which is in an actual house. Sam buys a nice big Marshall cabinet. I play a tenor guitar and an assortment of beautiful vintage-y basses that are all a bit clanky for my taste. We also stop by a life-size replica of the Parthenon. It is equal parts majestic and chintzy, with the grandiosity of the edifice somewhat undermined by the shitty, pebble-y concrete used to build it. Cracks are mended with a different color of plaster. This sign provides a moment of zen.
I try it, but I don’t feel anything. I would love to know the story behind this sign; it is oddly philosophical for a public works project. I thought the original and pretty explicit purpose of grand public monuments was to make you feel powerless against the forces that created them. Like the slave in ancient Egypt whose job it was to clean the sand out from the fingernails and toenails and ass cracks of the high priests in the temple every day in exchange for a crust of bread would be walking to work in the blazing desert sun and think, damn, maybe this is the day, the day I finally just up and shiv one of these sanctimonious motherfuckers right in the femoral artery with the pointy little wooden awl I use for under the toenails; they’ll kill me for sure, but maybe it’s worth it, at least I’ll have shown them the terrible truth: that they are only men who can bleed and die just like me. His internal monologue gets louder and more insistent, and then out of the corner of his eye he glimpses the outline of the Great Pyramid, which remember back then would have been coated all over with white limestone and glistened and sparkled in the sun. He snaps out of his reverie immediately. Fuck it, he thinks; what’s the point? What action could I possibly take that would in any way affect the maker of such a thing, or even begin to bridge the measureless gulf separating me from him? Another day, another crust of bread. I’ll wager there was not a sign near the Great Pyramid back in the day telling visitors to try and push them to see how it made them feel about their own potential. I love the use of the word “probably”. That right there tells you a lot about the American character.
Once we’ve walked around a few times, had a stranger take a picture of us, and loitered in the gorgeously air-conditioned gift shop, we have exhausted the novelty. There is a museum inside, but it costs money. I finally prevail upon my traveling companions to make a stop for hot chicken, and it is all I hoped it would be. We go to Hattie B’s, on a recommendation from my godfather. The real famous one is Prince’s, but we are deterred by tales of two-hour wait times and decide to opt for the next best thing. It is still by far the tastiest fried chicken I have ever encountered. Better than Mad For Chicken, and if you know me you know those are strong words. The batter is perfect. It is so fucking crispy. I would eat a plate of just the crispy batter-skin. The meat is insanely tender and juicy, and infused with a nice spiciness from the cayenne in the breading. Deciding how spicy to order something is always a nuanced guessing game. It’s not enough to know what you want; you also have to infer what the restaurant thinks you consider spicy and adjust your order accordingly. I have been told that ordering real Nashville hot chicken spicy is a foolish move, and go with medium. Medium has obviously been dumbed-down for my consumption; I have psyched myself out. A minor misstep, but still a spectacular meal. Collard greens are spectacular, albeit highly salty, and mac and cheese is acceptable. Tastes good but lacking in texture. I love the slice of white bread to soak up all the peppery grease, and I use it to assemble a small sandwich of chicken skin. Fucking decadent. Flawless.
At the Stone Fox, we are pleasantly surprised to find R. Stevie Moore sitting in with local opener Action. We knew he would be attending, but not that he would take the stage. He has an odd tiny bass I’ve never seen before, and also plays this song, which happens to be Julian’s favorite. He cultivates an affable, unapologetic old-man-musician weirdness, and seems to enjoy our set. My godparents come for our set, and have graciously offered to vacate their small home for the evening so we can sleep. Bill is a friend of my dad’s from college, and some of my earliest memories are of the two of them in our living room trying to write songs. I regarded their efforts with kid-snark, like the little shit I was. He and Victoria met relatively late in life, and they have a really sweet, positive couple-vibe. Bill’s songwriting partner comes and takes a bunch of pictures. They both have flip phones and standalone digital cameras. Multiple parties at the previous show have advised me to get the veggie melt at the Stone Fox, so I go for it even though I love meat with the fervor of someone who grew up without it. I am not disappointed. Many grilled or toasted items served in restaurants stop several shades shy of how toasted I like my bread, but the Stone Fox goes full-bore. Pretty much every vegetable that benefits from roasting is in here, roasted perfectly, and the cheese has a lovely gooiness that holds it all together. Red cabbage and carrot slaw rounds it out with a nice tanginess. I would eat the whole thing again right now.
Back at the house, we make some tea and put in some laundry. Bill points out this painting, which is painted from a photograph of Victoria’s sixth birthday party.
This painting was painted by none other than Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, whose awesome Nixon I just heard for the first time a few nights back in South Carolina. Kurt used to trade paintings in lieu of money for things like rent sometimes, and apparently a lot of people from his extended social circle in Nashville have one. There are two cats, one of which bolts for the door every time it is opened and the other of which we never see because he’s shy. I sleep soundly on a futon. Victoria comes by in the morning to give me a copy of Cheese Chronicles. It’s a memoir by a small-town guy who starts a punk band, who I guess they know from Nashville. It’s a great read, and I am grateful, as I have neglected to bring books with me this time around.
We’re off to Indianapolis to play at Joyful Noise, after a quick stop in Bloomington to pick up some LPs from our distro, and eat an obscene amount of Korean food. It hits the spot. Joyful Noise is a record label as well as a venue, and they have a little store in the back. I sheepishly admit I don’t own a record player, and take some stickers for my bass cabinet instead. They are generous with the Hamm’s, which is one of my favorite cheap domestics. Afterwards, we are directed to a nearby house to crash. Our host is an aspiring standup comic, and after a little while it becomes clear that we have transitioned from conversation to him trying out bits on us. I actually don’t mind; he is hilarious. He presents Julian with an award. This is a thing he does for bands that crash at his house. It is great. Of course, we absentmindedly leave it there in the morning and feel like idiots. We fall asleep watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a classic in the genre of “stoner comedies in which no one actually smokes or discusses marijuana” (see also: Bio-Dome, Encino Man). They’re “slackers”. Riiight. I forgot how adorably conservative that movie is. The whole premise is that Bill and Ted have to go on an adventure through time in order to ace their history exam. If they do not, Ted’s dad will send him to military school, and they’ll never be able to have their band and become rock stars. At no point does Ted ever consider just running away from this authoritarian asshole and making a living pumping gas or selling weed or hustling or whatever good-looking young guys with no skills do for money when they have given up on all the authority figures in their lives. Unthinkable; they have to pass that test! The superego is strong in this one. Think of all the other things you could do with a time machine besides pass a history test. What a failure of imagination.
Next stop is Detroit to play at MOCAD. There is an art opening, which allows for more entertaining time-killing than is usually possible. I take the opportunity to go for a walk. We’re right near the Magic Stick, where we’ve played a few times before, but I haven’t seen much of the surrounding area. Desolate doesn’t begin to describe it.
In my half-hour-plus walk, I see maybe ten people. Empty lots and buildings that have gone to seed. And yet I find the whole experience oddly peaceful. How often do you get to walk around a big city with no one in it? I harbor an occasional fantasy of buying a house in Detroit. But I don’t have any money, and the abject poverty would probably get to me. Nice to visit. Good vibes. The sound at our show is pretty bad, as it is a large concrete space with no acoustic treatment of any kind. But it’s a good crowd, and we have a big stage, which allows me the rare luxury of actually moving around while playing. Afterwards we are supposed to go to a party with a bonfire, but we are met with such intensely negative vibes from one of the hosts that we decide to leave immediately. Our interaction is frankly bizarre. As far as I can tell, he is mad at Carlos for climbing on the roof of our van. Our van. So we’re a bit in our cups, feeling boisterous, maybe being a little loud, but we’re not the ones having a fucking party with a fire outside. We are far from the most disruptive thing on the block, and it’s not like there are any neighbors to complain. In fact, there’s a roof rack on the van, which for all he knew might have contained things we needed to take down. The level of hostility is so disproportionate to any potential offense we may have given that we are equal parts livid and creeped out. The primary disagreement is between this guy and Carlos, and I am trying to mediate, but I’m so furious myself that I’m probably not doing the best job. I eventually succeed at getting them to shake hands while staring daggers at one another. Our friend who invited us tries to patch it up, and the guy eventually apologizes to Becca, but is unwilling to face the rest of us. The consensus is that we are under no circumstances about to break bread with this motherfucker, bonfire or no. We are not a hostile or a warlike people, but our mellow has been summarily harshed-upon. We and Celestial Shore make camp at a Red Roof Inn; an extravagance, but a necessary and welcome one. We buy what turns out to be some disgustingly sweet cheap wine and watch some television prominently featuring the greasy mug of Guy Fieri. We all sleep in beds. It is glorious.
In the morning, we meet our would-be host for breakfast. I have a standard bacon, eggs, and salad, supplemented by a truly mind-blowing blueberry scone with lemon curd. Are Michigan blueberries a thing? They are prominently featured on the sign. Anyway, the scone and its blueberries are delicious. Our journey today is short, only as far as Kalamazoo, so we have some time to kill. We go to a thrift store, where I immediately realize I am out of money because I’ve paid out the per diems and used my own for breakfast. All I have is about eighty cents in change, which is miraculously enough to buy something I need. This is not a trendy thrift store staffed by impeccably-coiffed alternababes in oversized glasses hawking a painstakingly-curated assortment of forty dollar vintage shirts. It is a place where people experiencing deep economic distress go to clothe themselves as cheaply as possible. So I find a box of glasses and cases for 50 cents, and I’m in need of a case for my garish European sunglasses so they don’t snap in transit like every other pair of sunglasses I’ve owned. I could not have hoped for a better case than this one.
Not only is it sturdy and in good condition, it’s actually branded by the Henry Ford Health System in distinctive Ford blue. A stark reminder of Detroit’s past glory. Sure, the hospital is still there, but the Ford jobs are all gone, and the evidence of their absence is all around me in the thrift store and the empty lots surrounding the thrift store. I really hope I don’t lose it like every other eyeglass case I’ve owned. We end up skipping the Motown museum so we can explore Kalamazoo, where we’ve never been. We know we’ll be back. Kalamazoo sounds like a name Dr. Seuss came up with, but actually it comes from the Potawatomi language spoken by the Algonquins. 9 living people are native speakers; like many indigenously-named areas of the United States, the name is the only trace of their presence you can find. Great name, though. Kalamazoo.