755. Heavy Fuel

The venue was a large outdoor place. Have I explained the term “shed and festival” yet? If you do a lot of “shed and festival dates” it means a lot of summer outdoor venues, and the ones like this and Red Rocks, Great Woods, and Lakewood in Georgia are the best, but there’s a seedy end of things, too. You hear sometimes about bands past their prime eking it out on the shed and festival circuit, i.e. playing the local amusement parks, the multi-band bills with bigger names or better draws, that sort of thing. The thing about a place that only does shows for a couple of months out of the year is a lot of them are somewhat–shall we say–rustic in their facilities.

I’m not even talking about the plumbing or lack thereof but that the backstage areas are sometimes literally shed-like. This place was pretty nice, but there are some where you know they get away with stuff being substandard because they know you’re only there for a matter of hours so you’re not going to make a big fuss about it and if they’re the only large venue in an area they know they’ll have acts coming through trying to pack their tour schedules as efficiently as possible.

I’ll tell you about some crappy places later. The thing to know about this one was that soundcheck was at the absolute hottest point in the day–almost 90 degrees–and also the peak of the humidity. Anyone want to take a guess which men in the band were sensible and wore shorts, versus the rest of us who were in jeans? Only one: Martin. Drummers can get away with wearing shorts at any time. The rest of us only if you’re the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Angus Young.

The guys seemed genuinely happy to see Cray, which was good because that seemed to take Cray’s stress level down a lot.

So, surprisingly, did the lounge act. We got together on the stage–which was under the roof, thank god–and Martin (in brightly colored surf shorts no less) stood up on the riser and said, “I was gonna do something today but in honor of our special guest, I think Cray should do it.”

Cray gave me a look–a “you set me up, didn’t you” look–but I merely shrugged and explained: “Every day before soundcheck someone in the band sings a song or does some other thing. Doesn’t have to be long.”

“Or serious,” Martin added.

Cray looked like he’d swallowed a cockroach for a second. Maybe telling him it didn’t have to be serious wasn’t much of a help when my impression was he didn’t have much of a sense of humor. “Any other rules?”

“Nope. It can literally be anything.”

He looked at Remo, gauging whether we really meant it, but Remo just gestured to the center stage mic.

Cray shrugged. “Okay. You asked for it.” He stepped up to the mic, strummed a few times and said “Is this thing on?” then launched into a minor key pick-and-strum thing with a western feel.

“Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine, cahhhh-feeeennnn,” he sang, causing me to crack up because of my well-established dependence on the stuff at that point, and everyone else because they recognized the song he was parodying.

This was at the point in my life before I had heard Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” I got schooled on it later when I confessed this, though Remo swore I’d heard it at his house back in the day. Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash I remembered. Dolly Parton, not so much.

Anyway, the actual song is a kind of heartbreaking plea from the singer to the “other woman” (named Jolene) begging her “please don’t take my man.” Cray’s version on the other hand was a love song to the chemical I had a feeling I would be song-virused with many times in my life when I was in need of it.

It was a bona fide hit with the entire band and crew and Cray was on top of the world. He even smiled. Then we got down to working on what to do in the encore when he was going to join us onstage. It was helpful that he had played with Nomad before and knew what was what. We worked up two songs, one with a long country-ish jam that was going to be a hit with the local crowd. Or so I hoped.

After soundcheck came some more media for Remo and Cray and I made ourselves scarce. We found an unoccupied, underfurnished green room, and sat down with two guitars but neither of us actually was motivated to play anything right at that point. It was too hot and the outbuilding we were in had rather weak climate control.

“I’d say let’s go somewhere and grab a drink but we’re kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Cray said. “As long as we don’t get dragged into ‘meet the press’ I’m good, though.”

“He loves dragging me into those things,” I said. “You too?”

“I think he actually hates talking to reporters,” Cray said, mopping his forehead with a bandanna. “It’s easier on him and harder on whoever if he doesn’t do it alone.”

“Huh.” I’d never gotten the impression that Remo was particularly reluctant to talk to the media. He was good at it: likable, poised, occasionally funny, and came across genuine. Whereas when I talked to reporters other than Jonathan, I felt like half of what I said was stupid and the other half went over everyone’s heads.

A sudden wave of mild nausea bubbled up through me and I put my hands on my head.

“You all right?”

“Oof. Still feeling last night, I guess.” I concentrated on breathing slowly and the moment passed.

We sat without talking for a while then, while our opener did their soundcheck.

“You know who’s on the side stage?” Cray asked.

“No, what side stage?”

“There’s a small stage,” Cray said in typical Cray fashion, not really explaining anything.

“Uh huh.” To be fair, maybe no other explanation was needed.

A little while later we did play some and Jam and Martin came in and listened. Jam was also in surf shorts. I can tell you right now that if Cray or I (or Remo) had put on surf shorts we would have looked one hundred percent ridiculous. On them they looked fine.

I had another wave of nausea. “Oog.”

Jam nodded knowingly. “You know what stops nausea dead.”

“No, what?”

He brought his pinched fingers to his lips. Right. “Worth a try.”

So I smoked a little weed, which as usual made me quiet as the proverbial church mouse (where the fuck does that expression come from? Are the mice in churches quieter than regular mice or something?). Worked wonders on whatever was going on with my stomach. I was a bit more lightheaded than usual but I chalked that up to the heat.

So I was pleasantly stoned when I found Clarice and asked her to tell me if weed made my pitch go off or if it was only booze. And we sang a bit together and did exercises and warmups with Fran.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Clarice said. “Your pitch is fine and your clarity is actually better than usual because you’re relaxing your chest and neck.”

“Right. Which is one thing I’m supposed to be working on. But is it from weed or because I’m actually getting better at it?”

“How ’bout tomorrow we try it with no drugs and compare.”

“I think you’re more relaxed because Remo is more relaxed,” Fran said, fanning herself with a folded magazine. “I swear.”

“Could be. But yeah, let’s try that tomorrow. Memphis tomorrow?”

They both nodded. Memphis and then a day off. We just had a day off but somehow I felt like I was already ready for one.

Or a nap. Maybe that was what was wrong with me. We hadn’t slept much, after all.

I got into a bunk in the bus where it was dark and quiet and quite cold and let sleep drag me straight down.

(Skipped ahead a little in 1991 for this one. Been a while since we heard from Dire Straits, eh? -d)


  • s says:

    Cray definitely seems to be loosening up a little.

    Jam is correct.

    August. 90 degrees. Humid. Welcome to my world. Air so damn thick you can barely breathe it and you break a sweat just walking outside.

    • daron says:

      Which thing is Jam correct about? Surf shorts or nausea?

      • s says:

        Option B, though if he can rock the surfer shorts, more power to him. We’re in 1991, right now, right? I’d figured out by then what our stupid government still won’t admit: there are many good uses of marijuana. Best antiemetic on the planet, helped my migraines, cramps, general teenage moodiness. I have a DEA license to protect now, so I get to use ibuprofen and kill my liver and kidneys instead. Lol

        • daron says:

          Here in MA we supposedly have medical marijuana already–referendum passed a couple of years ago–but currently still no dispensaries in the cities because both Boston and Cambridge have had repeated freakouts over zoning and NIMBYism so they won’t hand out the actual licenses to open a shop. These would be pretty much like a medical office, not a head shop with hookahs, but people are stupid. Right now they’re blocking one from going into a building THAT ALREADY HAS A NEEDLE EXCHANGE IN IT so really WTF people. The interesting loophole in the law though says that as long as there are no dispensaries, it’s OK to grow your own for personal consumption. So tons of people are growing it in their basements and on their porches with grow lamps. The police are all bummed out because grow lamps used to be one of the things they’d drive around looking for with infrared (illegally, apparently) and then get warrants to bust people based on that. Now they can’t anymore.

          Meanwhile in November a referendum is coming up on legalizing RECREATIONAL marijuana use. If it passes then all this handwringing about where to site a medical dispensary will be blown right out the window. Can’t wait to see what happens. I don’t smoke weed (usually) but I know plenty of people who do and their lives would be immeasurably better if they weren’t instantly branded criminals for it…

          • Bill Heath says:

            What’s crazy is that it’s the cannabinol, far more than the THC, that has medical benefits. The high comes from THC. Here in Tennessee it’s legal to buy cannabinol oil made from hemp (very low concentration, no purity standards), but illegal to buy the stuff with purity standards and a real benefit.

            The primary way that marijuana works as a gateway drug is that it is sold by the same people who sell other stuff. Legalize it, and the number of future cokeheads and methheads goes down.

          • s says:

            Well, I’m in Kentucky. Guess what grows like a fucking weed (lol) around here? Yet our stupid legislators can’t figure out that if they’d legalize it, they’d get all kinds of tax revenue from it. Maybe they wouldn’t have to keep cutting the school budgets and the health care subsidies and all the other stuff they keep crying about not having money for.

            It’s so popular around here that the cops don’t even look twice at you unless you have a bunch of it. I’ve known more than one person who got busted with less than a quarter and the cops just took it and didn’t even write them up. Bet I know where that ended up…

            Also, what Bill said.

            • sanders says:

              Um. The cop part is only true in certain areas in and around Louisville, and only if you’re of a certain skin tone. A white lady with an ounce of weed in Prospect is treated like she has a sealed bottle of wine in her car, but a black man gets strip-searched on the side of the road and arrested for suspicion of dealing and maintaining a common nuisance.

              • s says:

                LMPD is a whole other beast from small-town city cops. We’re not Mayberry, and crime is definitely getting worse since people decided this was an easy target for drug dealers and thieves (we didn’t even use our deadbolts until this century and heroin was a drug rock stars used, not local high school kids), but everyone knows every cop in town and every cop still shows up whenever someone is pulled over because it’s something to do. I concede that it is still a primarily white town, though, and your statement may be just as true here as it is in Louisville.

            • daron says:

              LOL. Aside: why does this drug have so many nicknames?

              • s says:

                They have to keep changing the name because so many people smoke it that everyone knows what they’re talking about?

          • sanders says:

            I love the image of people growing on their porch like ferns and spider plants.

            You would think these other states would look at Washington and Colorado and see how this can work both in terms of the buildings and in state revenue increases. Honestly, you’d think the federal government would, too. Washington laws, from what I just experienced last month, has the shops set up with similar rules to bars or liquor stores. You show ID, you have to be 21, you can’t consume on the premises or in public spaces, and there’s a sort of open container law about it. With the latter it means if you buy an edible, you can’t open it in public space.

            Becc and I hit three shops, and every single one was brightly lit, organized almost like a cross between a jewelry store and mini-mart (and sometimes with bonus art displays like the place with dark wood floors and huge cases of artisanal blown glass pipes), and generally populated by people across a spectrum of backgrounds in terms of customers. There was always a kind of intense level of security in operation. The shops were just integrated into the vast number of strip malls in the east side suburbs of Seattle, often between a teriyaki place and, like, an accountant’s office. Some of them even offered frequent shopper punch cards for discounts. The only sign it wasn’t on a similar level to the chocolatier shops I visited in Berkeley, CA was the smell. There’s just no getting away from the distinctive smell of pot.

            I think there is still a lot to grumble about in the advent of recreational shops, but neighborhood impact isn’t one of them. At least not anymore than one could complain about a wine shop going into a retail space.

            • daron says:

              The weather’s cold enough in Mass. that most people I know who grow it have it in the basement with grow lamps. There are maybe two months a year where it’s the right kind of weather for growing stuff on porches…

  • Bill Heath says:

    Our band’s first gig was a rural festival, July 1969.

    Band Leader: “Dressing room?”

    Organizer: “Barn.”

  • TJinCville says:

    90? More like 95 these days. And we’re only in Virginia.

    Some of the smaller sheds were kind of cool back when. There was a dump in Lenox for a few years, another one in Wallingford or Meriden CT.

    And now everything is Live Nation…. Sad.

    • daron says:

      It’s crazy how LIveNation has become this monopoly. Even the dinkiest little dive venues in the city here are LiveNation controlled. On the other hand they’ve got state of the art sound now. Still. And Ticketmaster, or as we usually called them, TicketBastard. Have you collected your class action settlement tix?

  • Amanda says:

    I’m all caught up, after…I don’t even know how long I left it. Now I have a book hangover. And I can finally sleep.

    Really love where this has gone, and look forward to continuing the journey.

    • ctan says:

      Wow, you read a lot in a short period of time! (I tell people sometimes if they haven’t gotten “in shape” for true binge reading from fanfic then they should pace themselves…!) 🙂

  • Kyla says:

    This is the last chapter that showed up in my rss feed. Since others are working, I think the problem’s on your end? Good luck!

    • Cecilia Tan says:

      Yeah, so far no luck diagnosing it. Feedburner quit connecting entirely and so we dumped it, but the regular unchanged RSS seems to time out for most readers and we don’t know why.

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