Sean's Tour Diary - Part 4 of 6

The Long Winters official website
Sean Nelson
Publication date: 
June 30, 2003

Sean's Tour Diary
Part 4 June 8-12

Days Fifteen, Sixteen & Seventeen

Sunday-Tuesday, June 8-10
Bethel, NY. Governor's Bluff.
Three days off.
"Time passes slowly up here in the mountains. We sit beside rivers and walk beside fountains."
After seeing a very neutered They Might Be Giants Quarterly Report at Joe's Pub--a theater bar where the great TMBG rock band [John+John+(Danx3)] were forced to play at absurdly polite volumes--my sweetie and I are off for three days of bucolic bliss in the Catskills, not far from Woodstock. In fact it's closer to where the Woodstock festival was held than Woodstock proper is; and in any case not far from Saugerties (site of Dylan's purported motorcycle crash AND the legendary Big Pink house, which I have driven by the site of), but I didn't come here to split hairs. I came here to eat delicious food, drink excellent wine, watch movies, listen to records, pet the kitties, play croquet, and bask in the dappled sunlight with our good friends and gracious hosts, John and Robin. Ah, life. I accomplish nothing but muscle relaxation while we are away.
My only regret is that we didn't cut the trip one day short so that I could use the cheap tickets Mafia Meg got me for the Long Day's Journey Into Night revival. The prospect of standing room only for a four hour show (never mind that it's my favorite play, and one of the greatest pieces of twentieth century American writing, and strikes a deep familial chord in me, and features Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Vanessa Redgrave in the cast) is a little daunting. Especially when you're sipping mint juleps (not really) and watching the sunset while Sammy Davis, Jr. rocks the Copacabana on the turntable. What kind of theater fag am I, anyway?

Day Eighteen

Wednesday, June 11
New York, NY. Mercury Lounge.
W/ Frank Bango, two other bands (sorry).
"Everybody thinks they're cool on Ludlow Street"
We completely slay tonight. Among the best shows of the tour, easily. The Mercury is a total pleasure and the crowd was awesome. You will forgive me, however, for not recalling many details (I remember seeing a lot of former Seattleites in the house) because I'm too busy obsessing about the stroke of midnight, which brings with it the end of my twenties, and the dawn of the condition known simply as 30. I turn 30 at midnight, and I will keep turning 30 all day tomorrow. I'm still 29 now, but whoops, now I'm 30. My friends in their 30s all claim that it's great, but for now, let's just say that the greatness hasn't really kicked in. All I can see is the fact that it's a Wednesday night, and I'm playing a rock show 3,000 miles from home, only a few short blocks from my college dorm, with no job, precious few national resources at my disposal, and no clear idea of what the next phase of my life will look like. Happy birthday, motherfucker. Happy motherfucking birthday.
After the show, I stay at Matthew from Nada Surf's vacant apartment--one of the many perks of being down with the Caws, as it were--and poke around his bookshelf, as I am wont while in other people's vacant apartments. Books and CDs, always, even at parties. It's sad, really, but it affords me the luxury fantasy that certain works of art are screaming to be perceived at certain moments, by me specifically. I don't know if it's by chance or the work of some subconscious divining rod, but while leafing through Walker Percy's The Moviegoer (a longtime favorite from high school English class), I come across the following passage on pg. 199:

"Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now is the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on his earth and knowing less that I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies--my only talent--smelling merde from every quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists, and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fallout and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall--on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.
Nothing remains but desire, and desire comes howling down Elysian Fields like a mistral."

Howling down Elysian Fields like a mistral. Do I know what a mistral is? Reader, I do not. (I do now: it's "a dry, cold northerly wind that blows in squalls toward the Mediterranean coast of southern France.") Jesus. Thank you, Dr. Percy. The Nobel committee has been advised. (I don't suppose I need mention that the only way this passage could have been more poignant and perfect would be to have found it while in New Orleans. But this is not New Orleans. This is New York.)

Day Nineteen

Thursday, June 12
Brooklyn, NY. Southpaw.
W/ The Waxwings, The Love Scene.
"There was a time when we could dance until a quarter to ten. We never thought it would end then. We used to carry on dancing to the rock'n'roll. We never thought we'd get older. We never thought we'd grow cold."
Did I mention that I'm now 30? That's thirty years of age. My mother called. My aunt called. My father almost didn't call, but then did. Court called. Jeff called. Several people sent e-mails and text messages. That was very nice of them. Too bad I'm 30 now. In addition to turning 30, I am also going gray. I feel it's safe to predict that by my 35th birthday, should I last that long, my hair will be completely white, like a bundle of rice noodles, or my uncle Peter. It's not the idea of white hair that bothers me--in fact, the thought of rocking a Christopher Lloyd look is kind of appealing--it's the awkward in-between. It's not being gray, it's going gray. It's not being 30, it's turning 30. Well, guess what: it's being 30, too, and I am, so let's just not talk about it anymore, shall we?
I am late for our soundcheck because I have volunteered to schlep a case of CDs to Brooklyn from our publicist's office in Manhattan on the train(s). Also, I was just late. Everything seems in order eventually, and we load off so that The Love Scene can set up its nation-state of instruments. Behold the glory of all those electrified logs. And the sounds they issue would've made Aerosmith proud when they were still Aerosmith. (Nowadays, who knows what it would take to impress Aerosmith--a football stadium in space?) These guys are good. The Waxwings then set up and play an amazing soundcheck. They're not what I expected based on the couple of songs I'd heard; their sound is tough and rich and sweet, and their songs live comfortably in a Beatles-Faces mode. Killer. They also turn out to be really nice guys. Check.
Downstairs, on the lookout for a place to change my clothes (a dressing room, I believe they're called) I see a sign warning me to Beware of Dog. Ha ha, I think, crazy club decorators. Then I turn a corner and espy a massive Rottweiler, the breed of dog I'd always been taught to fear as baby-killing monsters who'd just as soon maul you as look at you. He's in a cage (which he fills) but I back off slowly, then bolt back upstairs, where Anna Barker assures me that I am being ridiculous and that the ferocious dog is a big pussycat sweetheart boozshee booboo. I'm totally paraphrasing, but I have a thing about people defending strange dogs as if biting someone's leg off is a character issue. My exception to that line of reasoning is that it's what every dog owner says before his dog bites your ankle off. Then, as you stand bleeding in their foyer, he justifies the incident by saying that Fluffy is just nervous around new people, especially tall, curly-haired ones wearing black t-shirts who are turning 30. I've heard it all my life, and though I love dogs dearly--good dogs--I find it's best to be terrified of strange huge ones locked in the basements of rock clubs in Brooklyn. If that makes me a chicken, then bock bock.
The punchline, of course, is that the dog turned out to be a big sloppy sweetie pie, after all, just like Anna said he was. For more on how the fear of dogs is a wholly justifiable rationale, I recommend Ian McEwan's short novel Black Dogs, in which a woman's entire life changes course after a chance attack by two vicious Rottweilers--who may or may not be Nazi canines--in the French low country. (Hmm. I'm obsessing about totally irrelevant micronothings. I must be on tour.)
Before the show, I am told that we must be out of the club by midnight, on account of a bachelorette party that has rented the space. I guess that explains all the little penis-shaped candies scattered around every horizontal surface in the room. For my part, I am treated to a couple of very nice birthday cards, a cupcake from a reputable bakery, and a lovingly compiled sheet of crineworthy pictures of me under the burden of an excruciating haircut. I believe Martin Amis said it best in Dead Babies, when a particularly bracing moment of reality intrudes on the decadent idyll of a three-day orgy: "Drugs now," says the addled host. "Much drugs." But there will be no drugs tonight. Unless you count alcohol, nicotine, and self-involvement.
A brief moment of anxiety in our set--the better to complement my anxious day--comes when I find we're about to play "Car Parts" and my tambourine isn't resting on the corner of my keyboard like usual, but back in the unlit storage area behind the stage. Now I'm not going to stand here and claim that the tambourine is an essential ingredient to that song's--or any song's--ultimate success with an audience. But by god it's what I do in the chorus, and without it I will feel naked (not as naked as I feel with it, but that's a subject for a different journal altogether) and like to question my musical identity as Art Garfunkel plus Tracy Partridge. No, it's better that I go and fetch it. But groping around the back room I find only drum stands and guitar cases, and the band is waiting. Fortunately, the Love Scene's singer comes to the rescue and loans me their big round silver banger, which, though I am grateful, I must confess is about five times heavier than my plastic crescent, and kind of hard to play. I manage, and the set rolls on into ragged glory. We pull out "Nora" for the first time and though we stumble a bit, we begin to find the song's heavy soul somewhere towards the final verse and chorus. "New Girl" goes over like a champion pole vaulter. As the set whips to a close, I have a small moment of clarity: People are dancing, our Seattle expat theater friends are here, alongside our NYC musician comrades and my nearest dearest. We're being paid to play our music in one of the greatest cities in the history of mankind, with other good and interesting bands, before an appreciative audience, and we are in the midst of a tour that is more fun and more productive than any prior excursion we've taken. And besides, we don't have to go home and be 30 for another 10 or 11 days.
After the show, a gaggle of friends trundles 10 blocks down the street to a Japanese restaurant (open till 4, I might add) and indulge in a celebratory mega meal. Surf and Turf? Don't mind if I do, but let's start with the steamed artichoke, and pour that vodka like you don't own it. Before I know it, it isn't my birthday anymore.