Body Parts and I are back in California. They’ve been putting on consistently devastating performances every time I’ve seen them over the past week and a half, and even getting stranded in Eden, TX didn’t slow them down for long.
We’re not done yet, though. If you live in Oakland, San Francisco, or Las Vegas, we’re going to attack you at the following spacetime coordinates.
New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal At Night, Part 2
…My friends from the piss walk a few minutes earlier, the teenager and the twitchy golfer, showed up suddenly from around a corner. “What’s up?” the teen yelled, part greeting, part challenge. As they moved closer I could see in the brighter light that he was wearing prison sandals, and that he was bleeding from his armpit, and that underneath his shirt he was carrying a shiv.
"Yo, check this out," he said, raising his arm to show his gashed bicep and underarm, still bleeding and oozing green puss through a crude mesh of amateur stitches. "You think I need, like, should go to hospital?"
The smell was indescribable and I stifled a gag, but I was relieved. Despite his aggressive posture, his eyes betrayed him. His stance was a preemptive defense. He was scared, probably more than me. He looked even younger than I thought at first, too. The silence of his tall, twitchy partner now seemed dumb and pitiful, not threatening. The shiv seemed desperate and adolescent, more at home in a tree fort than in the hands of a fighter. These people weren’t going to hurt me.
"Yeah buddy, you should get that checked out. How did that happen?" I asked. He just shook his head for a few seconds and changed the subject. "So, like, you here all night too, like stuck and stuff like us huh? Waiting for the damn bus?" He showed me their tickets to prove his story. They were headed to Port Arthur, Texas on the 7 a.m. local, as stranded and clueless as I was.
"Yeah, I’m waiting just like you. But I’m waiting on the express."
"Well that guard in there, he hates us, bro. You a’ite — we thought you was tripping before but you a’ite. You let us know if you see him come looking, a’ite?"
It took some back and forth before I understood him completely. The guard inside had seen them earlier, didn’t like their looks, and ran them off of the station property into the night. That’s why they were hiding in the parking lot; not to ambush, but to stay as safe and as invisible as possible. The kid didn’t explain his arm gash or the grotesque stitch job or the tall silent guy’s unpredictable jerking, but I’m sure all that had something to do with why security gave them the boot. I felt bad for them. A few times I saw the guard prowling, and when I warned them they leaped into the bushes or hid behind the pillars like it was an old routine and smoked cigarettes in silence until I gave them the all clear.
Over the next few hours I was able to figure out some of their story. Miguel, the pudgy kid, had been in jail for four or five years, mostly juvenile detention, and was on his way home. The tall guy, LaShaun, was more mysterious, but he spoke with a soft, kind lisp, and from the few details I picked up from his slurred words it seemed he was recently released from a mental health clinic and twitching because he was out of meds. The pair met just a few minutes before they saw me returning from the piss grounds below the freeway, so they knew about as much about each other as I knew about them.
An hour or two later a weary man with tanned leathery skin and filthy board shorts shuffled up the walkway from the street. He reeked, and he spoke loudly with a thick California surfer drawl, and he barred his loose yellow teeth. His arms were a coarse network of faded, sagging tattoos and needle scars and melanomas. “Awwwww man, bro, this is f******cked up!!!!” he yelled to no one in particular as he threw down a small canvas pack with a busted zipper and slumped against the concrete wall.
Miguel, LaShaun and I sized him up. He seemed too tired to be dangerous but too high to be trustworthy. We didn’t have to ask him any questions to figure him out, though. He was a talker. Ten minutes after meeting him we knew what he went to jail for in the ’70s and what color underwear his high school girlfriend wore. He told us (too casually if you ask me) about his recently-dead son who followed his lead into heroin addiction and ODed. He whined about his wife and his parents and his string of pathetic nowhere jobs that he always lost after a few months. We tolerated him. But we lost it when he told us about why he was stuck outside of the station.
"So I was on the Amtrak, right, and man, let me tell you I was HIGH, I don’t even remember what I was ON, bro. And it was hot, right? So I, like, started taking off my jacket, but next thing I know I wake up in my underwear next to the conductor in a different seat away from everyone, and they told me I blacked out and was walking up and down the aisle butt-ass naked, man, on the train at night, man, what a trip! So when I came to I was like real embarrassed, so I was apologizing to the ladies, but then I realized I only had one shoe on, so I go looking for it, and I guess the conductor had had just about enough of my sh*t and they kicked me off here, so I’ve been walking around for like hours, bro, and I still can’t find my goddamn left sock…"
Steve was his name, and he was clearly still high. He claimed he was coming down from a coke binge but he didn’t look like he could afford a ticket home, let alone expensive drugs. He spoke in endless manic run-ons for twenty minutes at a time if you let him. Miguel smiled at me during one of his monologues and mouthed “Tweaker!” I agreed and nodded at him: meth addict, good bet.
The hours wore on, and Steve finally fell silent. Miguel and LaShaun and I tried to stay awake until the terminal opened. We traded stories about sadistic security guards. We ate raw oats and raisins from my backpack. We stood in silence while they smoked. But mostly we watched a parade of drugged human rot stumble down Loyola. These were not harmless drunks or friendly hobos or gang foot soldiers or jovial nihilists like our strung-out acquaintance Steve. These were possessed madmen shrieking absurd curses at the buzzing streetlights, and they eyed us like hungry animals. I was scared of them, and I knew it wasn’t naive fear because Miguel and LaShaun were scared too. But they’d seen worse. And they had a shiv. I was lucky to have them with me.
The staff finally opened the doors at 5:30 a.m. We all shook hands and wished each other good luck. I got on the express westbound bus, slept all the way, and made it to Tucson in time to meet up with Logan Greene and Devin Browne and Stephen Steinbrink and the David Liebe Hart Band, and I drank way too much caffeine before the concert. And in stark contrast to the awfulness of the previous night, I got to see the unsettlingly good Beanpod Race open the show.
Hey guys — I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about the last post, and to answer most of them in one fell swoop, YES, I AM ALIVE. I will post the rest of the story soon. But I haven’t had any time to finish it, because…
…I’M AT SXSW AND IT IS COMPLETELY INSANE LIKE USUAL GAHHHHHHHHRRGHGHGH. I played last night at Deco Lounge and it was a lot of minimalist shoeless LED-enabled echo messiness with help from P&N J, so you missed that already. But if you’d like to come and see me and get a verbal synopsis of the story’s conclusion (Why was the pudgy guy’s armpit bleeding? Did he stab you with the shiv? Why was the tall guy wearing golf clothes?) you can, starting tonight at 11:00 p.m. at the Hideout, a rad coffee shop/black box theater near 6th and Congress. That’s in, like, two hours, so hurry up and stop me from drinking too much caffeine and playing all jittery.
The fun continues tomorrow at Waterloo Cycles, a bike shop south of the river. I go on right after the always-demolishing Body Parts, right at 2:00 p.m., and I think I’m actually biking there thanks to a loaner Schwinn from my friend Jordan, so maybe we can bike gang to the river and jump in afterwards, or whatever people with bikes do for fun in Austin.
After that, I’ll be around all week and am planning some last-minute guerrilla sound raids at various locations. If you’d like to see the spectacle, follow me on Twitter — I’ll update you from there. This post will also be updated as time permits.
Last night, for example, I almost played at Owlhead Collective's shockingly semi-legal SXSWendy’s four-day parafestival, at which a bunch of really nice people from Tennessee use their giant public school bus to power a generator so noise/alt/electro/weird bands can play in a parking lot behind a Wendy’s and a gas station just east of I-35. But by the time I got there things were winding down: a homeless couple was wrestling next to a puddle of vomit and everyone was tired from dancing to a DJ/singer with a hallucinatory multicolor projection show underneath a rainbow parachute. So instead I got in a mild argument with a drunk UT senior finance major about whether Africa was a country or a continent. I’ll be playing there tonight around 10:30 p.m. or so. Come to 7th and Brushie and witness Western civilization at a zenith, friends.
Next time I’ll post the conclusion of the shiv story, I promise.
New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal At Night, Part 1
Anyone who has ever had to piss late at night in a big vacant city is familiar with the conundrum: you have to find somewhere secluded enough that the cops won’t see you, but public enough to avoid making yourself a target for bored hungry methed-out teenagers with knives, which New Orleans is crawling with.
I was a moron for putting myself in that position in the first place. Around midnight, right after a sweaty, limp show at a Marigny bar, my new pal Dave dropped me off at the combined Amtrak/Greyhound terminal. As I got out of his car, we heard a homeless guy rasping something about the doors being locked, but neither of us paid him much attention. He must mean locked for him, like they kicked him out or something — all major city bus stations are open twenty four hours a day, right? So I ignored him and closed the trunk and shook Dave’s hand. He pulled out of the drive and disappeared up onto the elevated freeway, and I walked to the front entrance.
When I pulled the door it was locked, just as the rasping man had tried to warn us. A small sign on the door said that the building would open up at 5 a.m., so I had a long time to wait, and my phone battery died just as I tried to call Dave, who would have been back there in a second if I could’ve reached him. (Please, right now, for your own good, write this on your forearm in neon purple marker: “HEED THE WORDS OF RASPING HOMELESS GUYS WHO TRY TO TELL YOU THE BUS STATION IS CLOSED.”)
This was a first for me. My whole tour business model relies on using transit stations and overnight buses as free lodging. Some stations in small towns close down at night, but even that’s rare. The station in Baton Rouge, a smaller Louisiana city an hour or two north, never closes. So I was shocked to learn that New Orleans, a city with a metro population of a million and change, a city with the highest murder rates in the U.S., would leave its overnight bus and train travelers stranded outside in a desolate pedestrian no-man’s land, no stores, no restaurants, no coffee shops, no bars, no mimes, no cops, no boisterous happy frat boy drunks, nothing but a locked building and empty streets overshadowed by a big expressway interchange. I was mad, and I felt dumb. But more importantly at the time, I had to piss.
I tried to beat down the urge with willpower, but there’s a limit. By about one a.m. I was considering all options, including walking over to the trash can, which had a convenient waist-high opening. I was about to pull down my zipper when I noticed a few cameras, so I grabbed my bags and walked aimlessly around the building for a few minutes hoping to find somewhere suitable.
I wound up pissing underneath the freeway, onto one of the dozens of cylindrical support columns. I was hidden from most of the closest street, and there was very little surface traffic at that hour, so I got away with it. Relieved, I quickly realized how exposed I was to attack from anyone else under the freeway, so I hurried back towards the station.
Half a block later, two guys materialized out of a hiding place in a nearby parking lot. One was a teenager, pudgy and short in an over-sized t-shirt and ripped jeans, dark eyes darting from side to side like a reptile’s. The other guy, older, tall and skeletal and sporting a scraggly goatee and freshly-washed golf attire, twitched and flailed his arms every few seconds. “YO,” the short one bellowed.
I nodded at them. “What’s up?” I said casually, not speeding up but not stopping or turning around either.
"You got a cigarette?"
"No, but I have a light if you need it."
"Nah, it’s a’ight," and with that the two of them retreated to the shadows.
I got back to the train/bus station entrance, a circular driveway with a well-lit overhang supported by several granite-plated columns. I sat with my stuff behind the column closest to the door, which put me in clear view of the custodian cleaning the wide linoleum floor at the entrance just on the other side of the glass. It also hid me from view of the street and minimized attention I’d get from rare passers-by. But I was still more exposed and isolated than I liked; other than the cameras, I saw no sign of security, and the custodian was often in another part of the building, so I was functionally alone.
My friends from the piss walk a few minutes earlier, the teenager and the twitchy golfer, showed up suddenly from around a corner. “What’s up?” the teen yelled, part greeting, part challenge. As they moved closer I could see in the brighter light that he was wearing prison sandals, and that he was bleeding from his armpit, and that underneath his shirt he was carrying a shiv…
Bar/None just sent me word that most of my really old albums are now up for download on iTunes/Spotify/anything else you can imagine from any country you can imagine. This includes some out-of-print stuff like my first record from 1998, an echo-drenched disaster that the D.C. City Paper wrote about a few months back. The vast majority of y’all reading this blog probably haven’t heard a lot of what’s been posted, so have fun clicking around. The first one to get an .OGG file of “I Will Always Hear” with Cyrillic tagging wins.
- Confronting mortality/staying up all night in a terrifying but kind of sterile nighttime zombieville of a downtown in my friends’ backpack factory making odd noises into a laptop and playing a marimba. And best of all,
- listening to tremendous but often sqiurm-inducing stories from Grandad, like the one he told tonight that started with a Tennessee railroad detective asking him “Hey Matheny, want to see a show?” and ended with the same character saying “That’s where you belong, you lowlife b*tch.” to a woman who lived in a shack with her three kids behind a railroad freight yard. You don’t need to know what happened in the middle; suffice it to say it involved Nashville cops and drunk middle-aged naked rednecks screwing in the rain.
In other words, it’s been a really great winter. But tour starts in New Orleans in a few days, and then I meet up with L.A.’s absurdly talented afflluo-beat new new new wave electro samba pop band Body Parts at SXSW, and then we play a lot of concerts together on our way home, and then I’m finally back in L.A. for the first time in months. And that makes me very happy. See y’all out there!
WED.03.07 | New Orleans, LA AllWays Lounge | Details