Sunday, August 24, 2008

Driving Solo Through North CA

THE GOLDEN STATE, Aug. 23 - I don't seem to remember, back when I lived in Rhode Island, ever having to drive an entire goddamn day within my own state just to reach a major city. But after a wildly successful tour, followed by my wife's departure from Seattle airport, I was confronted with the prospect of crossing the gas giant of western states all on my own. It was a long, boring drive. Here are all the highlights I can think of.

This adorable little mountain town, set in the crook of CA-97 and I-5, has long ago embraced the countercultural types that flock to its gift shops for I Heart Weed bumper stickers and t-shirts. The nearby towns of Fart, Munchies, and Arrgh should take note.

I went into this upscale Nomlaki tribe casino to use the john, and walked out a richer man, having won $1.25 off a $1 slot pull. Imagine if that'd been a $10,000 bill.

I only made it through disc five of Walter Borneman's POLK; THE MAN WHO TRANSFORMED THE PRESIDENCY AND AMERICA, which got me just into Polk's inauguration and was still many CDs away from the Mexican American war. President Polk was responsible for annexing (among other states) Washington, Oregon, and California; the very territory I had to traverse. If history had gone slightly differently - if, for example, James Birney hadn't pulled a Ralph Nader on Henry Clay in the 1844 election - a different and potentially more technologically advanced nation might today control this territory, meaning I could have roared home at 120 MPH on some sort of non-American autobahn superhighway.

Still, it's hard to bear our eleventh president a grudge. His biography is filled with delightful Disneyesque characters like Francis B. Fogg, Gideon J. Pillow, and Lean Jimmy Jones. There is a good deal of dueling in this book, and much Whig treachery. When 1840's politicians wanted to insult each other they would use words like "dastard" or "calumniator". I'd always assumed that I was somehow related to president Polk through my great, great, great grandfather, Trusten Polk, but some harrowing surgery for kidney stones (using brandy as both antiseptic and anesthesia) probably left young President Polk sterile, and he died without children.

The library sticker for this box set covers half of Polk's face. I have no idea what he looked like.

Like everyone else, I was greatly disappointed to read that Barack Obama did not pick Wesley Snipes as his running mate. But there's still time for John McCain to do the right thing. If he wants to cement his reputation as a maverick, while simultaneously placating the conservative wing of his party, only one name will do for the GOP VP spot; Dick Cheney. Not to state the obvious.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August 2008 Tour Highlights

THE ROAD, Aug. 20 – This five-city trip was the first tour I’d done in three and a half years, and my first tour performing without a band. Tara played music on the Chinese hammer dulcimer, and showed her short film, “Music Of China”. I will probably do more speaking tours in the future. It was a real treat not having to worry about hauling amps or cajoling soundmen or enduring that fluttery lower GI tract stage fright feeling. And it was refreshing to leave each venue neither drenched in my own sweat nor hoarse and ashamed. From now on, I’ll save that kind of behavior for jury duty.

Thanks to Erika Anderson, Needles & Pens, Sarah Utter, James Squeaky, and Spencer Moody for booking these shows.


After two successful shows in San Francisco and Oakland, we spent the morning driving around Berkeley. I tried, hard, to keep my mouth shut RE: The Hippie Problem. Then we went to a health food eatery with this sign out front:

Apparently the staff asks the question of the day to all of their patrons, although there were sufficient bad vibes coming from our table to excuse us from this part of the process. I found the opposite of this sign in San Francisco;

Stan or Stav either owns this truck or decided to spray paint on it. Either way, it makes a bold political statement where other vehicle doors are strangely silent.


In Klamath Falls, OR, we attended a sidewalk political rally for Democratic senatorial candidate Jeff Merkley. Before the rally could get underway, a sullen young man – a bona fide Klamath Falls punk rocker – parked himself at a table in front of the proceedings, buried his head in apparent despair, and treated us all to the crack of his ass. Merkley is a pro; you’d simply never have guessed that anything was amiss.

This was the first small town political rally I’d ever attended. Merkley addressed the modest crowd in much the same manner I found myself addressing my own slightly more modest crowds later in the trip, and he delivered on the politician mannerisms. He did the Clintonesque thumb point, and rolled his sleeves at mid-forearm, not elbow. His overly caffeinated Michael J Foxish personal assistant actually did clutch a clipboard and sport a canvas, shoulder-slung briefcase, oblivious to cultural stereotypes. Merkley said a lot of good stuff about renewable energy and ending the war. Occasionally, surprised citizens would pass on the sidewalk and give a funny sort of sideways-glancing smile, unsure if they were witnessing a sales demonstration or street performance.


I have rocky relations with this city. We ate an enjoyable lunch with Sam Ott and Joe Preston, and former Alarmist frontman James Squeaky hosted a first-class speaking and dulcimer concert in his living room. But all of this citywide good will had already been squandered earlier in the trip, by the SE Powell Blvd. Motel 6, where two different dudes elected to piss off the balcony directly above us. Another draw.


I’d convinced myself, on the drive north, that I’d gotten the day wrong and screwed up the show. Since I’ve been trying hard to not punch myself in the face whenever Tara’s in the car, I had to do a lot of serious thinking about the mistakes I’ve made and what possible extreme corrective remedies might help me get my shit together this late in the game. Consequently, I don’t remember much about my set, being high on serotonin or whatever chemicals the brains squirts into itself when one is told that they have not screwed up the show and that everything is fine.


In Olympia, we pulled up in front of the venue to find the words “poop butt” scrawled under my name on one of Sarah Utter’s flyers.

Come to think of it, this made me kind of sad and doesn’t really count as a highlight.

Later, we stayed at Sarah & Justin’s house in the woods. It was an obscenity of rural splendor. Here’s the view from their back deck.

Later, driving home, it dawned on me that I kind of preferred walking around in nature to slogging through a 1,100 mile corridor of interchangeable KFCs, Dennys, and Jiffy Lubes. Like Stan or Stav's truck says, F.U. to all of us.