Johnnie’s Tour

First of all, my apologies. It turns out touring and blogging don’t mix in my world, but I’ll do my best to catch you up…

Billy and I left home on the first and drove to Rhode Island in a pleasantly screechy car full of kids and dogs and Madlibs and crumbs. Once there, we sucked up as much beach as we could, then flew to California (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) with the baby. We checked into our hotel, then raced out to Zuma beach in Malibu (we’re beach-centric).

Sand and salt wiped off with “borrowed” hotel towels, we then booked over to Swinghouse in Los Angeles to meet the band for three hours of rehearsal. Lisa Fletcher, photographer extraordinaire, the producer/engineer Mudrock and Tanya, the beautiful redheaded-radio-lady-from-New Zealand stopped by. Hangworthy people, all three.

And it was so nice to play again. Bernie and Rob and I looked at each other after the first song with that “oh yeah!” expression we always get when life goo has made us forget our addiction to 50FootWave.

Rob looked pale and tired, but ready to play his heart out, as usual. All the more so because this was Johnnie’s tour. Rob’s mother’s story began in Santa Cruz and ended in Seattle. Coincidentally, we began our tour in Santa Cruz and ended it in Seattle, the day before her memorial service there.

So, bright and pretty goddamn early the next morning, Bernie picked us up and crammed us into his Dalmation hair car (I always want to knit a Cruella de Ville sweater after riding in that car) and drove us to The Bus. Our tacky, beloved, and perpetually busted Bus. It smelled great: eau de bus.

It’s always hard to begin a tour and watch creature comforts fall away one by one, but it forces us to become enlightened travelers. And enlightened musicians. We learn exactly what we can live without, in other words. And most importantly, we develop the ability to say to our bitching bodies and brains, “So what?”.

For example:

You’re hungry? Eat music. Thirsty? Drink it. Tired? Play some music. Dirty? No problem. Hungover? Well, duh-uh. Lonely? Use it. Sick? Me, too. Poor? So what?

From that point on, you live to play. Which is all we’ve ever really asked for. And what great people we met everywhere we went…club people, other musicians and audience members were all lovely, generous and funny. Having Rob’s amazing wife, Amy, along and the extra special KEXP night in Seattle were icing on a pretty groovy cake.

Some high/low points:

– playing a new 50FootWave song for the first time in a long time — “Hot Pink, Distorted”. It seems to be a ‘signature’ song already. Making a song happen in front of actual humans for the first time is a heck of a test.

– split the headstock on my red SG, right down the middle. Ugh. It fell on the stage in San Francisco with an awful karrang! noise and came up busted. It hurt to look at it. Bernie offered to “MacGiver” it (Bernie is the “MacGiver-ing” king: a twist tie, some soap and a pencil and he can work miracles!) but then decided against it. Messing with guitars is not really in our nature.

– Bernie’s learning to drive The Bus. He took over totally in San Francisco, of all places, when Billy had stuff to do in town. Heavy traffic, parallel parking, meter stress: the works. Very impressive.

– pulled my own tooth at a truck stop. Hillbilly dentistry. I was fine, except for a little wooziness; there wasn’t even that much blood. Billy was upset ’cause he thought I used his bus tools to do it, but Rob said, “You’re, like, my hero now.” That made it worth it.

– owl attack (the “Owl Qaeda” attack, as it has come to be known). On the way back to L.A. from Seattle, some goofy or maybe blind owl exploded into the driver’s side of the bus’s windshield on I-5 just south of Sacramento at 1:30a.m. and smashed the whole thing. The windshield didn’t shatter, but it was blowing around and Billy said it was “like driving while looking through a funhouse mirror”.

– the absolute animal release of Rob Ahler’s (recorded, yay!) performance at the Croc in Seattle, the last night of the tour. The man is a perfect musical creature: part virtuoso, part beast.

I was with sleeping Bodhi and when Rob and Amy left the bus Saturday night and didn’t get to say goodbye to them or tell them I love them before Johnnie’s memorial service. Her death is a tragedy, but I know a greater tragedy would have been Rob and his mother never getting to know each other. They had a few special years together, years that changed both of them.

The morning after we left Seattle, I drew a picture of an empty house for Bodhi, then handed him the pen and let him fill in the windows. He drew three scribbles and a blob. I pointed to a scribble and asked him what it was.
“And this?”
“More water.”
“How about this one?”
“It’s water, Mama.”
“Oh.” I pointed to the blob, “What about this one?”
“That is a sad octopus.”
“Really. Why is the octopus sad?”
Bodhi sighed. “He’s supposed to be sad.” He squinted at me, like he wasn’t sure I was ready for this piece of information. “See, Mama?” he held the picture up to my face. “Tomorrow he can swim to happy.”


Posted in: words on September 14, 2005