First Song of the Month: Cluster and Dispatches from Tour

April 3, 2014


Here’s the deal, guys: somewhere around Birmingham my computer went down. I switched it on and there was this weird squiggly low-res pattern happening on there and then nothing, just a grey screen that popped up and wouldn’t go away. I tried “zapping the P-RAM,” which they tell you to do. I tried mashing the various combinations of keys they tell you to while you boot up – nothing worked. I took it to the Apple Store with the absolute most entitled and pushy customers on earth (at a mall called “The Summit,” in Birmingham, if you must know), where you can look into the eyes of the geniuses at the Genius Bar and see in real-time their souls getting shredded to ribbons while they smile weakly and show people how to send an email or plug their computer into a wall socket like it’s the most esoteric of earth’s mysteries while receiving nothing but abuse and hostility in return and I honestly had this fantasy about going and buying 15 of the most expensive things in the other stores of the mall and just walking in there and showering them on these kids in their blue shirts, just passing out diamond necklaces and handbags and flatscreens as a token of my respect and compassion, and I can’t remember how I started this sentence and I’m too lazy to look up, but basically the Geniuses told me my computer was fucked and I needed to mail it away somewhere, at which point my whole work-tour plan came crashing down. So what I’m trying to say is that, out of necessity, this “First Song of the Month” piece is SENT FROM MY MOBILE DEVICE. Which means it’s going to be shorter (maybe?) and less focused (definitely) than its sister pieces.

Also there might be typos as I am literally bouncing up and down right now, on bench #1, lefthand side, in a white Chevy Express Van. It’s raining and I’m on my way to our show in Cambridge, which I am even more excited than usual to play because my two-year-old nephew will be there at sound check and he is obsessed with my band, knows all the songs on The Silver Gymnasium (“Stay Young” is his favorite), has learned words from their use on the record (my sister-in-law told me he recently said “drug addicts”), and I suspect believes that all music in the world is something that I somehow deserve credit for. So we’re going to do a special set for him at soundcheck, assuming we’re not late. It’s raining steadily and usually the combination of raining and speeding and a trailer freaks me out, usually I just repeat the sentence “I don’t want to die in a van” over and over to myself (I seriously do not want to die in a van) but in this case I don’t care or don’t think I will. Also CAN is playing and “Paperhouse” just transitioned into “Mushroom” and Justin, who is driving, shouted “YES!” And I felt the same “YES!” in me like a split-second before he shouted it (it’s a great transition!) and had internally shouted it myself, so it was like the “YES!” shot out of my sternum and through the driver’s seat and out of Justin’s mouth or something. So that was cool.

And just now, just like that, we had a backup of cars, a sudden slamming on of brakes, a freaky shiver as we tried not to become part of a pile-up. Justin said, “Hey, how about that Cluster?” so we’re changing up CAN for the Cluster record Sowieso. I was going to be sneaky and just drop the date of the Cluster record in this piece like I knew it off the top of my head, but the truth is that my data plan has run out on my phone so I can’t find that Cluster date for you. Late 70s, okay? That’s the ballpark we’re in.

I started this piece not knowing what song I was going to write about but figuring I would write about Del Shannon, about his song “What Makes You Run,” appropriate for tour, but also about how almost all Del Shannon is appropriate for tour because first of all it’s great driving music and second of all he always talking about running – people in Del Shannon songs are always on the move, traveling, coming into town, disappearing into thin air like they never existed. And I was also going to write about how there are way more incredibly fantastic Del Shannon singles than any of us even realize, and so many of them have this wonderful gunky sound quality that immediately makes any make of vehicle in which you happen to be driving feel like it was constructed no later than 1967. But I think instead I’m going to write about the music Justin chose to put on right now, which was just a great call in terms of recontextualizing what had previously felt like “grey rainy dangerous bummer” drive when our soundman Rubes was playing some modern garagey stuff (nothing against it, just the wrong fit) and now feels like “grey rainy dangerous mystical slow-motion accept-your-fate-and-become-part-of-the-giant-silvery-machine-which-has-gotta-be-taking-us-somewhere-good” drive, which at this second I enjoy much more and which is a purpose for which I commonly prescribe Krautrock and related. This music always makes a lot more sense when you’re moving, when you feel like you’re part of some stream of matter that is going somewhere. See also: Tangerine Dream when you’re on a Brooklyn subway and just drank so much coffee that you feel like you’re literally made out of cocaine and you’re going to your workspace and you have a whole day to just work! Nothing else! That’s what hurts the most about being on tour, the not-being-able-to-work thing. I have somewhat solved it by conquering car sickness and devising special projects for tour for which I need nothing more than my laptop, which is why this laptop loss is a downer. And the other thing that’s a downer about tour is not getting to see the people in your life who you love. But that’s changing in mere hours when we give the nephew-concert (which will be this kid’s first experience of live music by the way). And then I’ll get drunk and my brother will drive me home and I’ll sleep in a bed made by people who are not paid to make it and I’ll wake up in the morning (my day off!) and I’ll get to hang out with my nephew more and eat breakfast off of a plate that isn’t made of styrofoam and then, from their computer, if I can remember my password, I’ll post this. And then I’ll relax, and then have to rent a car to drive up to Canada to meet back up with my band for Montreal.


A postscript – I did in fact never get to send this from my brother’s house but I did have a great time, and my nephew sang parts of “Stay Young” and “Down Down the Deep River” and “Pink Slips,” and then I drove into Canada in a rental car on got onstage in Montreal to learn that my voice was slipping away and it was gone by the end of the Montreal show and we decided to cancel Hamilton and I woke up in the morning and felt terrible about that and decided instead to do Okkervil Karaoke and had the fans get onstage and sing and that was a GREAT time! I’m driving back into the United States and, as long as I don’t get detained at the border, I’ll be posting this from the other side.


Mick Smiley and the Musical Time Machine
The Rock*A*Teens were the Best American Rock Band of the 90s
Exuma and When Friends Turn You On to New Music
Little Beaver and Why Partying is Important
Sparks and Semen and Transcendence
The Baptist Generals and Having a Song to Protect You
No One Can Ever Call George Jones Mr. Fool No More
Van Morrison Does Middle Age Right

Alice Swoboda and By the Way They Actually Can Take Away Your Dignity


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2 Responses to “First Song of the Month: Cluster and Dispatches from Tour”

  1. Shaun

    I nominate that soundcheck photo for your fourth golden opportunities release, it would be perfect.

  2. Patrick

    That’s awesome you didn’t cancel the show and you guys did a karaoke session for the fans. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone doing that. Great shot of the nephew as well, pretty riveting story about the Apple Store, I’ve never been in one, but I can imagine it’s pretentious and terrible.

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