Friday, March 30, 2007

In which Birdmonster renews political dialogue with Canada, returns to their homeland, and gives hotel tips they should have taken themselves

Touring is simply specialized traveling and traveling is a mean educator. For example, despite many people's (including my own) distrust of large chains, motel chains are in fact a good thing. Sure, your typical Days Inn isn't the same as staying in a New Orleans bed & breakfast, waking up to Chicory and a beignet, but you've got the requisite amount of towels, at least one channel of HBO, and beds not infected with STDs or harboring amphibians. I forgot this lesson last night when I chose a motel named after a blind, overly religious poet instead of the imminently safer Red Roof Inn. Yes, if you're in the Syracuse area, I'd recommend avoiding the John Milton Inn. The price is right (forty dollars or so), but the fungal streak in the bathtub, the vague stench of creeping death, and the oh-my-God-I-hope-that-isn't-blood stain on the shower curtain tend to cancel out the feeling of fiscal intelligence.

Traveling also reminds you that any place on the planet is a whole lot better than its bureaucrats. See, from the moment we crossed the border into Canada, the populous was, well, not a bunch of power-tripping prick-bastards. In fact, they were all really accommodating. After our odyssey of frustration and near-extortion to enter Toronto, we ended up reaching our destination twenty minutes after we were to have begun playing, only to be bailed out by the Coast, a Toronto based band who let us use their amps and drums which allowed us to play much earlier than we ever could of pulled off by our lonesome. Everyone at the Horseshoe tavern ended up being lovely, dressed warmly, and, yes, said "eh?" after at least 75% of their sentences. I found it endearing. It's like the Southern "y'all" or Lady in Red: I can't explain why I like them, I just do.

The next day was far less stressful. We returned to our native land with a sigh of relief and a renewed sense of patriotism, not that ugly jingoistic kind, but that "our Border Patrol agents aren't sexless piglets from hell" kind of patriotism. Plus, I've been reading a 700 page history of America book this tour, so leaving Canada made me feel a little more knowledgeable about everything, although, truth be told, I don't know anything about Canada. I'm definitely "that guy." Prime Minister? Some sort of humanoid. Rules of Curling? Brooms are involved. Climate? Effing cold. That's the extent of my Canadian scholarship. Meanwhile, I'm learning about Boss Tweed and the Mexican-American Landgrab and all manner of historical happenings that were lost to years of doodling and spelling "BOOBLESS" on upside-down calculators. The point? As always: none.

Our glorious return to the U.S. was spent driving through upstate New York which is still covered in snow, although that snow is of the filthy-brown-road-side variety, but it's snow nonetheless and snow is pretty noteworthy when you live in California. There, we actually vacation towards snow. We find it picturesque and novel. I'm sure four months of thick jackets and soggy socks would kill that feeling, but, hey, that's why we live in Eurekaland.

Where was I? Ah, yes: Upstate New York. Last night, I had the pleasure of having my birthday at 12 midnight in Syracuse with Mason Proper and some rather talented local bands and another improbable win for the Golden State Warriors, who I'm aware nobody else really gives a damn about, but please: give me my small joy. I get to spend my proper b-day here in Boston (adios Utica) with Mason Proper again (who, by the way, get more lovable every night) and Ra Ra Riot for the first time (who, by the way, rock oh so hard with oh so much cello and violin and songs about Andre that remind me of what would an Arcade Fire song would sound like if Cat Stevens was singing it and I mean that to be a wondrous compliment). I expect to be rather blotto. That's what birthdays are for: taking years off your life. It's a strange irony but, I think, an important one. Until soon.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

In which Birdmonster begins with happy abandon then becomes the Whitney Houston to Canada's Bobby Brown

A week ago, I had a dream where Conan O'Brian was supervising a water slide and he was wearing a blue suit and a snazzy tie and I was at the front of the line and I caught him picking his nose and when he saw me laughing at him he ate his booger. Then, last night, I had that same dream again. I'm not really sure what to think about that, except, of course, that Conan has great comic timing, even in my brain while I'm sleeping. Just thought I'd share.

At any rate, today we're heading to Canada. We've got our paperwork in order, our passports in our pockets, and our politest voices on. Plus, we get to buy gas in Canada's, which is always fun, since everything's in liters and funny money and we can't convert either. In fact, right now, we're on the bridge to Canada, waiting to be frisked and badgered by their internet-savvy, bilingual, Border Patrol agents. Just don't tell them we're smuggling five pounds of contraband avocados and four underage manservants. I fear that could derail the entire expedition...

...So, yeah...I actually wrote the paragraph above while we were in line to cross the border. That was three hours ago, mind you. Now? Back in Detroit. Some days you're just on the wrong side of the giant celestial dildo.

I had plans of talking about the cozy little crowd in Covington, the benefit we played in Indianapolis, the ping-pong tinted dive we ended up at in Detroit, so I'll do that first. After all, all those nights, to varying degrees, were successes. In Covington, an old friend from WOXY came out, said inappropriate things, brought friends, clapped loudly. In Indianapolis, we helped raise money for a children's hospital, hung out with some amazingly dedicated and interesting people, signed and doodled all over a dilapidated acoustic guitar, and, far less enjoyably, ate Steak 'N' Shake at 3 in the morning. In fact, Indy is one of my favorite days thus far; it deserves far more love than this here third-of-a-paragraph, but my entire consciousness is consumed with fanatical hatred for all things Canadian. Even you Gordon Lightfoot. Even you. So to Indianapolis, Rock for Riley, and My Ol' Kentucky Blog: thanks again. You made us feel very, very welcome. And to Detroit: God bless you and your bars with ping pong. You know we have an addiction.

And, for the record, I was far too harsh up there about Canada. I have no problem with Canada. No, sir. I'm far too ignorant of our Northern neighbor to hate them in the way, for example, I loathe Rob Schneider. The problem is actually getting in to Canada. See, in reality, all we've done is renewed our hatred of all things Border Patrol. I feel very safe saying that. I actually feel liberated saying that. It's my new mantra.

Without further ado: A tale of bureaucratic infuriation of which even Franz Kafka would be jealous.

It begins at the first window at the US/Canadian border. As I mentioned, we were feeling quite proud of ourselves because we had the proper work permits and the proper identification. We were Preparedmonster and that, my friends, is a rare rare thing. Anyway, so we're at the window and the guy is staring at the opposite wall saying "bon jour" and we assume, since, well, he's talking to a wall in French, that he might not be talking to us, whereupon we said nothing, he assumed we were being rude, and he went all surly on us. Off to a good start. Then he launched into a series of questions, slathered in broken English: "Do you have firearms munition?" "What is purpose in Canada?" and, most importantly: "Are only these your equipment?" Remember that last one. It promises to ruin our day.

So, "No" we said. We have no firearms. We're here to play some music in Toronto. And yes, this is all our equipment. I mean, really: do you know who you're talking to? This is Preparedmonster. We're an unstoppable machine of taking-care-of-our-own-shit-ness. So what's next? Go over there to customs? Sure, no problem. See the above taunt. We cannot be contained.

Of course, turns out we can. We were met at customs by a guy whose name I never quite caught, though I wish I did, because I would be cursing him and any children unlucky enough to have been sired by a minor demon. In honor of the mechanic in Phoenix who tried to ruin our day and DeNiro's psychotic alter-ego in that horrendous Dakota Fanning movie, we'll name him the Charlie.

So the Charlie is looking through our car with the anal retentive vigor of Sherlock Holmes and he calls over Peter because he's certain he's spotted some sort of drug. No, says Peter. That's actually a crushed pretzel. But the Charlie is rather sure of himself so he grills us to make sure we're nice and sober and haven't spent the last three weeks snorting pretzels off the belly a hooker. We're sure of this, the Charlie. We promise. At this point, the Charlie proceeds to ferret through all our bags, overhead compartments, under the seats, inside water bottles, then decides he needs to look through all the gear in the back, you know, in case we hid some Rold Gold twists inside a floor tom. And then the Charlie notices our merchandise.

"Doesn't look like you declared this," remarks the Charlie.

"Well, no we didn't. We were never asked and last time we drove through to Montreal, we showed our merch to the customs agent," we replied.

"Doesn't look like you declared this," remarks the Charlie. "And that constitutes smuggling."

Canada 1, Preparedmonster, 0. The Charlie went on to explain, in his singularly infuriating, smug, power-tripping oink that since we didn't declare our merch at the window with the surly guy who never asked us about it, we were subject to a night in jail, a strip search, and copious fines which would total 25% of our shirts' and CDs' estimated value. This, of course: bad news. We were told all this while standing in front of our car with our pockets turned inside out, just so the Charlie could make sure our pockets weren't a breeding ground for illicit snack foods. He's a crafty one, that the Charlie.

So we were asked to go inside and wait in customs while the Charlie went behind the scenes to figure out just how egregious our fine could be. I passed the time reading about what sorts of agriculture you can and can't bring in to Canada. For example, you can bring a coconut only if it hasn't sprouted. You can also bring any kind of crab but the mitten crab, proving, of course, that the mitten crab is the baddest crab on planet earth. Take that Alaskan King Crab.

We wait and guess who shows up? It's the surly "bon jour" guy who never asked us about merch in the first place. He informs us in a very casual way that "Are only these your equipment?" means "Do you have any commercial goods you'd like to declare?" Apparently, Canadian English involves much reading between the lines. He leaves after we try to burn his eyes out with telepathy.

The Charlie returns, literally, forty five minutes later and informs us that the Canadian government has seized the entire supply of Birdmonster merchandise as smuggled goods and that we could retrieve it for the bargain basement price of 917 dollars. I'm not sure if that was Canadian dollars or American ones over the expletives I was screaming.

But see: Preparedmonster would not take this sitting down, even in vaguely comfortable government waiting room chairs. We laid out our case with the sort of forced calmness you might see in a new father after his two year old just clubbed him in the groin for the first time. Among our salient points: We were never asked about commercial goods. We're paying for a work permit, why would we sneak merch in a giant tupperware tub? We're legally below the poverty line. We hate your face. None of these did much to the demeanor of the Charlie. He was a rock. Unmovable. Unfazable. Without any internal organs, notably a brain or a heart. So we asked to speak to his supervisor. And, lo and behold, she turned out to be a human being.

She informed us that we could get our merch back without being extorted by a government agency but that we couldn't bring it into Canada. (In case you're keeping score, that's Canada 867, Preparedmonster, 1). At that point, we thanked her profusely and waited for the Charlie to add us to the Canadian government's "High Risk Traveler" list, which is a moot point since my desire to return is currently somewhere between my desire to watch Wild Hogs and my desire to get hit in the neck with a bat, then drove back to American soil so we could all kiss the soil like a bunch of pirates landing in Florida after three months of rum and scurvy.

But we don't miss shows. No we don't. So we shipped our merch to Connecticut and U-Turned back to Canada. This time, we declared nothing correctly, applied for a work permit, paid for it, overdrafted our bank account, and are currently en route to Toronto, where we hopefully will arrive with enough time to play a set. I just hope no one wants to buy a shirt.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In which Birdmonster falls in love with Minneapolis for the third time, Mason Proper for the first, and violates child labor laws

In which Birdmonster falls in love with Minneapolis for the third time, Mason Proper for the first, and violates child labor laws for the...uh...only time ever. We swear.

I have a hatred of buffets which can be best described as "irrational." I figure, if I'm going to a restaurant, I'd like my food cooked fresh, or, at the very least, not sitting in a vat of grease getting fondled by some filthy guy in overalls who just sneezed into his palm. And I know that when you're eating at truck stops that same guy could easily be in the kitchen, ashing his Pall Mall into your meatloaf, but, you know: out of sight, out of mind. I'm comfortable being lied to. Just make sure I can't see into the kitchen.

On the flip side, there's almost nothing better than eating at a greasy spoon with a chef and a buffet. (And yes, we're both aware I'm using the term "chef" rather liberally. Just bear with me). The fun part of this scenario is that you can scope out the buffet from a safe distance; it becomes comedic. Since you don't have to eat the mashed peas in runny sauce, you get to laugh at it. When you get right down to it, a truck stop buffet is at least ten times funnier than Rob Schneider---of course, so is getting eye cancer. But you get the idea.

So, if it's not obvious, I always feel a disconnect with anyone who would choose the pre-cooked, half-warm, yesterday's leftovers option. But the place we ate at yesterday, somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin, was other-wordly. Obese children in sweat pants and NRA Summer Camp T-shirt with massive grease stains on the belly eating giblets? They were there. A guy in head-to-toe camouflage with spiderweb neck tattoos? Two of 'em. Shambling geezer in a jean tuxedo who couldn't even be troubled with a plate and who, in a feat of slovenly originality, smashed two pieces of plastinated pizza together and created the pizza sandwich? You know it. You don't have to leave America to get culture shock.

That short trip to the restaurant equivalent of a Siberian gulag stands in sharp contrast to the days before in Minneapolis/St. Paul. In fact, there's not a single bad thing I can say about that city and, well, I can get a little snarky (see last three paragraphs). Everytime we end up there, I love it a little more. This trip involved a too-early stop over at MPR (the Current, to be precise), where we played a three song, rather mellow acoustic set for a DJ who we'd met originally at the once-defunct WOXY station in Cincinnatti. We loved the way they turned out and, as per usual, will share them when they become available via the internet, which, we hope, will be in the next couple days. We brought with us Steven, the son of the couple we were staying with, who acted as our guide and manager, and yeah, he's only eleven, but if he wasn't stuck in grammar school, we'd take him on tour to break legs, haggle contracts, and lay down the goon-hand. That night, we played a gorgeous club in Minneapolis called the Varsity which looked sort of like the opium den in Dorian Gray, except with disco balls, which, sadly, were unavailable in the early 1900s. Notably, the band Belles of Skin City played before us and rocked part if not all of my face off. Our best to them.

Minneapolis was also the front bookend of an eight shows in eight days sprint, unless you count radio stuff, which would actually make it more like ten in eight days. If you need me on day nine, I'll be in the back seat sucking on a pacifier. Anyway, we followed Minnesota with the aforementioned Wisconsonian buffet non-experience and, far more importantly, Chicago. I've spent more in the Windy City than any other place I've never actually lived in, owing to having a set of grandfolks there and an extended family that numbers in the tens of thousands. Many childhood afternoons of cheek-pinches from fifth great aunts were had. Many of those aunt's names were forgotten. Hopefully none of them know how to use the internet. If so, sorry...Lucille.

Chicago, as usual, was wonderful. It's one of those places where we look forward to going, where we're always surrounded by lovely people, and where we inevitably take advantage of the fact bars don't close till three a.m., sometimes five. I won't bore you with details or pointless name-dropping, but: wheeee!

We also met Mason Proper, who we'll be touring with for the next week-ish, and again: wheee! We've got the same friends, the same enemies. Plus, I should mention they rock really hard. Not hard rock, really, so get that mental image of Bon Jovi out of your head; they just bounce around and play really good music. I stood in the front row starry-eyed during their entire set and, almost indubitably, will be doing so again tonight.

Man. I'm full of good cheer today. I'm like that guy at a wedding who has three glasses of champagne too many and hugs everyone thirty times and professes love for people he's never even met before he ends up praying over a toilet bowl. Onwards, to Convington Kentucky. And a big happy birthday to Dave. All together now: "Happy Birthday, Dave." Until soon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

In which Birdmonster waxes uneloquently on music, film, and the best actor you never knew was one

I knew that after four days of egregious loudness, barhopping, and band overload, I'd probably forget a few dozen important happenings. After all, South By is overwhelming and Chic-Fil-A isn't necessarily brain-food. Sure, I got to make fun of Sisqo, but really, that's like shooting fish in a barrel, although I've never understood why anyone would want to shoot fish in the first place. So, without further ado, a few items from SXSW, Dallas, and Oklahoma in the form of a lazy list, since, not unlike Chic-Fil-A, the twelve-noon Oklahoma buffet isn't brain-food either. In fact: much more like getting chopped in the neck by Jet Li.

- Since our van got Arizona-ed, we've (occasionally) needed to start the van with two people, one turning the key while the other guy pulls blindly at a battery cable until the connection works the way it was meant to. Now, I'm as big a fan of the jerry-rig as the next guy---I'd trust a kidney surgeon with duct tape on his belt---but I was a bit worried about traveling nine thousand miles with my fingers crossed. Of course, we're in a back alley in Austin and the inevitable happened: the Donald, she wouldn't start. So we began pushing her to a street wide enough for a tow-truck, canceling our dinner plans, and spewing invective at an uncaring God. And then: salvation. This shaggy blonde guy from the band Birds of Avalon came over, and, with a Leatherman and a flashlight, had us up and running in forty seconds. Hugs were exchanged, plans were uncanceled, expletive-filled anti-prayers were rescinded. The moral? Pathetic whining to God above works wonders. Also: Birds of Avalon are awesome. Buy all their CDs.

- I know that most people would rather watch Citizen Cane than Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid and I have but one thing to say to all those people: you silly bastards. Even without Jon Voight's unimpeachably perfect Cuban accent, Anaconda 2 is a just more enjoyable proposition than watching Orson Wells brood for a couple hours. In other words: I simply prefer a bad movie to a good one. So it was with supreme pleasure that, while snuggling up on a couch after a couple Lone Stars and a night of bowling (also known as Heaven), that I came across Showdown. You know Billy Blanks, of Tae Bo fame? Yeah. He's got a starring role. Even better than that, his character's name is Billy. Even better than that, he's played a "Billy" in at least three other movies, perhaps proving he's incapable of responding to any name other than his own. Of course, I'd never make fun of Billy Blanks since he could break me by farting. Just know that Showdown is a very special film, sure to take it's rightful place near Gymkata, Torque, and that movie where Anna Nicole Smith (God rest her soul) kicks a bunch of terrorist ass, irregardless of the fact all the terrorists look like male porn actors and, in fact, almost certainly are.

- Kansas is goddamn windy. Pretty sure I just saw Glenda getting chased by some flying monkeys. Pretty sure that joke wasn't that funny.

- Oklahoma was goddamn windy as well. We played there last night to a crowd of...nearly a dozen. We did see the world famous Oklahoma College of Horseshoeing on our drive. I'm sending all my kids there. To the Ph.D. program, of course. A B.A. in Horseshoe-ery just doesn't go as far as it once did.

- We're heading to Minnesota tonight, home of Prince, Husker Du, and a whole bunch of other phenomenally respected artists I don't know half as much about as I should, although I have been Prince for three straight Halloweens. If I decide to grow an epic mustache, I'll be Bob Mould next year, just to even things out. Minneapolis is always one of our favorite places to tour, and, you know, I don't say that about everywhere we play (ahem, Cleveland). We're doing an early morning set on the Current, one of those rare FM stations I mentioned last post, a station who's playlist has never seen a Hoobastank, a station that plays Ice Cube right after Ryan Adams right before Nancy Sinatra, and, well, who plays Birdmonster. I'm imminently bribe-able, you know. Before we actually play, I'll provide a link for everyone. We're not sure what we're going to end up playing, but we'd love it if you joined us.

- That's it. Go rent Showdown and then send us some flowers.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

In which Birdmonster, not unlike Huckleberry Finn's Dad, rails against the gub'ment and exhaustedly talks of South By Southwest

Growing up in the early '90s, mainstream FM radio was reliably decent. You had your Smashing Pumpkins, your Nirvanas, your Jane's Addictions. The Nu Metal devolution was a half decade away and there were more than a dozen years before the dial would be largely dominated by American Idol runner ups, actor-fronted emo-core bands, and that song where the guy just sings "I'm so fly" fifty-eight times and you suddenly lose all faith in humanity. Oh yeah, and back then: Boyz II Men. Between those years when my attention was divided between Tool, that newfangled "Alternative" movement, and a strange adoration of that Lisa Loeb song and now, Congress passed something called the Telecommunications Act. At its crudest (and admittedly most biased) level, this law allowed single corporations to own thousands of radio stations, which, of course they ended up owning, which led to a couple faceless guys somewhere programming literally hundreds of stations at once. In simpler terms, you heard Creed blowing it professionally in every market because of the shady machinations of that aforementioned faceless guy. Scott Stapp was ecstatic; the rest of us pondered deafening ourselves with meat thermometers.

Now, of course, there were a few stations around the country who remained independent, or who at least were programmed independently, who didn't torture their audience, who took chances, who played music that was, you know, good. But if you weren't lucky enough to live within the requisite zip code, you were saddled with the Thong Song six times an hour. As Mom always said: life isn't fair; enjoy your Sisqo.

At around the same time, this pesky thing called the Internet was starting to speed up. Where once it took longer to load your email that send a cross-Atlantic postcard, suddenly music was downloadable, streamable. Metallica whined famously that Napster was removing the plug in their treasure bath but there was really no stopping it. Not only was music more accessible than it ever had been before, but it was now damn near free. You didn't have to wait for the radio or that snooty prick at the record store to gift you new music; everyone's collection was tradable, broadcastable, available.

Logically, Internet radio soon followed. Now that snooty guy at the record store could play his entire collection of obscure Iroquois Jazzcore B-sides and anyone, anywhere could hear it. You could search out new bands, new styles, new genres cheap if not free, could find stations you loved, get turned on to your local scene, all commercial-free, usually by a guy or gal sharing their music for the love of turning people on to something new. Of course, anything that utopian couldn't last for long.

And it didn't.

The US Copyright Royalty Board, in its infinite ignorance, passed a law that will essentially end free Internet radio. Basically, they've proposed that every Internet station pays fees which add up to something near 100% of their revenue. And since most of the folks we've met who have internet stations run them commercial-free, well, let's just get ready for the next wave of Sisqos and Creeds, this time, hopefully, combining to form a goulash of God-fearing, underwear-pontificating rap-rock. In other words: Uh oh.*

If this sounds as excremental to you as it does to me, well, take a second and sign this here petition, or, if you’d rather, send a strongly worded letter to your Congressman. Then come back and read the remainder of this here yammering. Go ahead. I've got some cocoa & a good book.


Welcome back, welcome back. Since we last spoke we've spent our days and nights surrounded by enough music to drive even the most dedicated music fan at least partially batty. Yes folks, Birdmonster was one of over a thousand bands to descend on Austin for South By Southwest, a five day festival of music and film (but not that much film, honestly) that mutates Austin into a cacophonous collection of hung over hipsters, record label types, and bemused locals. It's prime people watching territory, let me tell you. Big earrings, tight pants, and carefully tousled hair abounded. I saw Matt Pinfield, some actor I couldn't quite place, umpteen tourmates and bands I'd paid to see in my younger days, and a grizzly dude in a thong and a leather jacket that said "Born to be ridden."

We ended up playing three shows, one in the evening, two during the day, over the space of four days total, before fleeing this afternoon, sweaty, exhausted, and mostly deaf. We also did plenty of schmoozing, some of which was rather beneficial, some of which wasn't, and some of which involved getting free pants. In fact, last year I got free pants too. And if there's something wrong with free pants, I demand you tell me what that is. Sure, maybe your old pants get jealous, but they also get a breather now and again, and for a guy with about two pairs of pants who sees about one laundry machine a month, well, use your imagination.

In the end, though, it's a fairly hectic long long weekend. You're constantly loading in, loading out, borrowing gear, line checking, scurrying from one show to another, scamming free booze, having free schwag thrust at you by attractive college girls in half-shirts, waiting for decent food or settling for sub par burritos, and it's all to the tune of roughly thirty bands playing simultaneously, next door to each other, so that when you're out on the street, surrounded by all manner of humanity, there's a constant din of electric guitars, bass drums, and toneless yelping, all blending into a singular mash of sonic oddness. Imagine walking down the Vegas strip holding twelve boomboxes, all playing different songs of different genres, while slightly drunk and certainly hungry. It's a lot like that. But it's goddamn fun.

It's also incredibly exhausting. In fact, as I write this, we're barely three hours removed from Austin, two hours removed from a surprisingly delicious virginal trip to Chic-Fil-A, and one hour from Dallas, where we'll be sleeping this evening before heading out to Oklahoma City for the first time ever. In other words, tour begins anew after oh so long in all parts of urban Texas. In other words, life will return to normal. Or whatever it is I'm calling normal these days.

* In the interest of full disclosure, the aforementioned law also mandates that FM play 30% independent music to offset what will surely mean the end of free, computer-flavored radio. Color me skeptical. And while I'd gladly embrace the FM dial becoming more diverse, I'm not sure why this has to happen at the expense of others.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

In which Birdmonster hunkers down in the Lone Star State, solves various problems, and confesses various loves both new and old

Although success is a wonderful thing, calamity makes for better stories. I mean, nobody's reading King Lear if Lear's a loving Dad, doesn't get his egomaniacal lunatic on, and ends up inventing the sourdough roll. That's a simple fact of life. So it follows that an interminably long tale of amp shopping which ends in expensive but glorious success would probably bore the bejesus out of everyone. In other words, I'm skipping that part of trip. Just know that we've spent a large part of the last 48 hours in various Guitar Centers, getting called "bro" more frequently than our actual names, trying out all manner of cheaper, lamer amplifiers until finding one I fell instantly in love with, asked to marry me, and have subsequently decided to take on a 4 week honeymoon. I don't think she loves me yet, but, not unlike an IT guy who orders a Siberian bride, I'm pretty sure she'll come around.

Of course, even though a majority of my time has been spent haggling and unplugging cords, things have happened. We played Tucson, which was pretty much the polar opposite of Phoenix in that our van didn't need to be hospitalized and our show was fantastic (not to toot our own horn, but, well: "toot, toot"). We also met up with Division Day, who you know we adore, for the first of three shows, which, coincidentally will end this evening in San Antonio after yesterday's festival set in Dallas at 4:30 on a workday, a time slot which, needless to say, didn't exactly lend itself to a packed house. I think more people watched that Heather Graham sitcom they cancelled in a day. Still, playing music is playing music. You'll never hear me complaining about that.

I also had the distinct pleasure of watching the Golden State Warriors end the Dallas Mavericks' 17 game win streak in a taco shop surrounded by Mavs fans. For about five minutes, I was the one guy clapping incessantly after every Warriors basket until I remembered that Texans take their sports quite seriously and that a lot of them have firearms.

But, truly: we love Texas. I mentioned this the first time we came to this monstrous land mass and I stand by that. Sure, you drive in from the west on the I-20 and there's a sign that says "Welcome to Texas; Proud Home of President George W. Bush," and part of you thinks "So this is how it's gonna be, Texas?" but, quite soon afterwards you realize that California could just as easily have a sign on the I-10 that said "Welcome to California; Proud Home of President (and Bedtime for Bonzo thespian) Ronald Reagan," so really, it's a wash. Texas just has character. And tons of delicious ways to cook cows. We'll be here for a bit more than a week, what with the shows in Dallas and San Antone, plus four days worth of shmoozing and overwhelmingness at South By Southwest (beginning tomorrow, in fact), so it's a good thing we've heaps of adoration for this place. Texas is kind of like that wildly inappropriate uncle you love in spite of the fact he's hit on all your girlfriends, throws dinner rolls at your head while eating, and is constantly blotto. He's not perfect but, damn, he's fun.

So for now, I'm going to leave you to spend some quality time with said uncle, eat some enchiladas with red and green sauce, and remember not to root against the Spurs or disparage the Alamo, which should be pretty easy since I love Robert Horry and Davey Crockett. Until soon.

Friday, March 09, 2007

In which Birdmonster redefines a popular term

As to where the acronym "SNAFU" originated, there are competing accounts. The publication American Notes and Queries first noted the term in 1941 with the PG-rated, truncated definition: "situation normal." By 1944, with World War II in full swing and the U.S. Army mobilizing at historic levels, the term gained popularity and spread quickly, later to join the American vernacular sometime after the war. It's probably common knowledge, but, in case not, a definition: "situation normal all fucked up." The acronym allowed for military men to politely spew invective at bureaucrats, their commanding officers, and each other, without all that nasty cursing and insubordination, which leads to discipline, which leads to court marshalling, which leads to Jack Nicholson screaming "You can't handle the truth." Obviously, a useful word.

Of course, Birdmonster has it's own version. We just say "Arizona."

For the sake of argument, let's recount the episodes that have befallen us in John McCain-land, shall we? When travelling with the venerable Art Brut, we blew a hose on our radiator near Yuma and were detained by the Border Patrol and their canine-unit, whose olfactory powers are, well, phenomenal. Our next trip was the one I noted yesterday, where, while waiting at that same fateful checkpoint, the transmission on Patrick Stewart gave up the ghost. All manner of SNAFUs followed (auto-wrecking yards, hundreds of dollars spent on cabs, various transport options pissing coolant after a three mile test drive) and we eventually made it to the dealership where we bought our new van, whose unstoppable glory had been confirmed time and time again. Until, of course, last night. All together now: "Arizona."

Before continuing any further, I need to mention that the people in Arizona are lovely. When our radiator hose broke, it was fixed on the cheap by a gentleman who dropped everything else he was doing to save our tuchises. The old dude who sold us the Donald wasn't bent on ripping off four scrubby kids who showed up at his dealership in a taxi, smelling of failure and dejection. The fans here are always supportive and understanding and, even as I write this, we've been lucky enough to have a cozy home to use as our lair for the latest adventure in desert-flavored frustration. Like I said: good people. Like I also said: Arizona.

And you'll be hearing both of those sentences again, by the way.

So, we got to the club a bit early, relaxed, opened up some horrible wine that had been gathering vintage in the van since last month, and, eventually, loaded our gear into Modified Arts. Upon realizing we hadn't eaten yet, we decided to jump in the van, drive down the street at random, and stop at the eatery that looked least likely to give us dysentary. And this is where the unpleasantness starts. Not so coincidentally, it's where the van doesn't.

My automobile knowhow essentially ends after "gas on the right, brake's on the left," so, I was surprised as anyone that the simple suggestion of a jump start turned out to be all we needed. Pete & I picked up some sandwiches, drove in circles in an attempt to charge the battery, and returned, listening to "Astral Weeks," feeling vaguely optimistic.

Of course, this is what the next few hours brought along with them:

- Bass amp implodes on stage, devolves into 50 pound paperweight
- Van refuses to start again
- While looking at the engine, van hood slams Peter's arm
- The crushing of Peter's forearm fails to fix engine problem
- Further attempts at jumping van lead to much swearing and cackling, largely by yours truly
- Strange band inside nearly ODs on hallucinigens, throws blanket on crowd, and invites crowd to get naked under blanket
- Van gets towed
- Vague optimism replaced by feeling of impending storm of horseshit

But like I said: good people live in Phoenix. Everyone at the show was more than patient with the on-stage SNAFUs and were chatty and calming afterwards. Our van was towed to the house of a gentleman named Kevin, with whom we were internet friends, but had never met before, and, well, thank God he stays up late. Apparently, just the news we were coming in town caused his refrigerator to blow a fuse, but he treated us to Bud Lights from the sink anyway, and we listened to music, pet his chunky, wonderful cat, and slept like babies.

Here's the head-slappingly stupid part: Charlie, our tow-truck driver, after about ten minutes, diagnosed the problems under the hood, and said he'd have no problem fixing the Donald in the morning. A new starter, some new solenoid, maybe a new cable for our corroded battery and we'd be good as new. He said: "Call me up at 8 and I'll come by and fix it." We did. He'd be there by 1. No problem. In the meantime, Zach and Dave called the cab company, who sent some sort of lunatic with dual Confederate flag tattoos on either forearm (and who also went to bat for Olive Garden, so, really: take a nap), and picked up the starter, the solenoid, the new battery cables. Optimism, slowly, reared its naive, little noggin.

Needless to say, like some cable man from hell, the Charlie just didn't come. We called, he called, we called, he called, and suddenly, it's 3:30 and the van is still sitting in the street, although it's halfway down the street because we had to move it so some dude spraying roof foam didn't ruin our paint job. It rains, it pours.

Skip forward to now. It's 7:30, the Charlie dropped his friend, one of those mechanics that chain-smokes inside the hood and makes me feel like I should be cowering behind protective glass like one of those guys on Myth Busters, and that guy fixed the van, and we left, and now we're sitting in horrendous traffic but we'll make it to Tucson on time, exasperrated, frustrated, but we'll make it. Of course, Tucson's in Arizona, so we aren't out of the woods yet. Or out of the desert, as the case may be.

The moral? Say what you will about Tokyo, but Phoenix is the most expensive city on the planet.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

In which many parts of Birdmonster return home while all parts of Birdmonster leave home

Sometimes, it takes a while to realize we're on tour. Sometimes, I don't realize it until we're halfway through west Texas, getting stared down because I didn't tuck my t-shirt into my jeans. Sometimes, it feels a lot like those first few days of summer vacation, where you have to fight off the Pavlovian instincts of nine months of 7 a.m. Algebra and embrace the glorious newness of 3 months of 10 a.m. Judge Joe Brown, but part of your brain just isn't letting go. This time? Not so much. After a day during which we dined on cheeseburgers and pizza (tour staples, sadly), all the geriatric symptoms of tour have begun in earnest: my knees hurt, my ears are ringing, and I can't find my keys. In fact, tour hammers home that "you're only as old as you feel" point a little too firmly. I'm in my mid-twenties yet I feel as if I should be watching "Murder She Wrote" and lusting after Angela Lansbury. In other words, pass the creamed corn.

Right now, we're a dozen miles east of Alpine, California, a bustling metropolis of trailer homes, scrub grass, and about thirty Indian casinos of varying sizes. This particular drive in this particular van feels very poignant as, last time through, this was the drive that killed our last van, Patrick Stewart. Well, honestly, that's a lot like saying a nineteen year old dog with three bad legs was killed by a half-marathon in the Mojave, meaning: it was nine-tenths dead already. Point is, Phoenix is where we purchased the Donald, the new van which cost us the Rumpelstiltskin-esque price of financial solvency and a few first borns. So this drive is dedicated to you, your comb-over, and your irrationally inflated ego, the Donald. Welcome home.

Dave & I also got to go home last night; "home" meaning the place where we grew up and dorked out on Spiderman comics until leaving to get a college education I'm barely using. Plus, we played the Casbah, which is the club where all the cool bands played when I was 16 but I could never go to because they don't do all-ages there so I stayed home and, well, read Spiderman comics. Anyway: a great club that's always a little too loud and that always gives you a W.C. Fieldsian amount of drink tickets. We played with a couple fantastic LoCal natives, the Transfer & Roman Spring, saw some old friends, and slept in beds that didn't have lizards in them. Even got to try out some new songs, an event that always makes me part nervous, part giddy, and generally skittish. All in all, a pleasant beginning to our five weeks away from home.

Now? Well, we keep driving. Soon, we'll be in Arizona, the van-killing-est, Border Patrolin'-est, Steve Nashiest place on the planet. Personally, I'm excited for that weird brand of Arizona gas station where you can get everything from snakeskin wallets to ceramic buffalos to hats that say "My Ex-Wife's Car is a Broom." I can't wait to indulge my addiction to useless rubbish. Anyone want a bolo tie with a picture of Jesus riding a hippo? Actually, I think a better question is: anyone not want that? Good. I'll pick up a few thousand then.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Another March, another trip to Texas. Save some ribs and pro-life literature for me

It's that time again, isn't it? The old day-before-a-trip thing, when you realize you should've already gotten your hair cut, finished your laundry, and paid your taxes, but instead got drunk on champagne on a Sunday afternoon and spent several hours perusing an atlas on the couch. That should make this evening highly stressful. I'm thinking of packing at the laundromat while a gardener takes to my hairdo with a smallish lawn mower. Three birds, one stone, all that.

Our upcoming trip around the country is slated to last around five weeks, take us as far east as the Atlantic, through the "wait, a hotel room is 900 dollars tonight?" monster known as South By Southwest, Toronto (if they'll let us in), and ends up in Las Vegas, where I'll be gambling away the last of the money I will no longer be earning at the job I no longer have. Also: no Ohio. No offense, Ohio, but I'm very happy about that. Our previous stop-offs there can be remembered by white power gas station attendants, zero attendance shows at clubs previously peopled by white rappers with gag-worthy cornrows, and Chinese food that would embarrass the janitor at Panda Express so the prospect of gliding through the land of LeBron and Slayer unscathed is a pleasant one.

In fact, this tour is fairly light. Unlike prior trips, we aren't working six days a week or driving from Philidelphia to San Francisco in three days, or planning on getting lost in Utah and eating sausages made of cow heart, wheat mash, and cereal. As always, I'll try and update the blog-dealy as much as possible whilst we're away and will politely ask that anyone near any of the cities we're headed to comes out, says hello, and, of course, buys 18 shirts. For now, I'm a little stressed out, what with all the not-being-ready-ness, all the last-day-of-work-ness, and all the wait-we're-leaving-tomorrow?-ness of it all. Allow me to slump over in a corner, worry incessantly, and twitch noticeably for a moment. Don't mind me.

Tomorrow: San Diego. See you shortly.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The end of a long and tolerable relationship

You know that saying: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth? That's how I've treated my on-again, off-again, quasi-job, which involves, to my chagrin, a headset, Barbara Streisand tickets, and the need to leave one's dignity and grace in the elevator. Sure, I could easily complain about the place (no stimulation, incredibly monotonous, the vague smell of cheese in the ventilation), but they let me come and go as I please and that, at the very least, is a lauditory attribute. Without this place, I'd probably be outside your office with a broken banjo, overalls, and my best busking cup, singing songs like "Phillip the Bucket" and "That Cup Don't Fill Itself."

And, of course, it could always be worse. Elsewhere in my building, there's actually a company that sells cubicles. I talked with a fairly resigned young lady who worked there this morning and, well, I think there's something about selling cubicles while sitting in a cubicle that would make my brain explode.

Like I said: I've tried not to look this horse in the mouth. We're warned against doing this because, even if his teeth are yellowed, browned, or blackened and protude outwards: free horse. It's just that today, sitting here, taking advantage of the situation for two days of quick money before leaving Wednesday, I know deep down that it's probably it. The horse is dead. Times like these, I wish I was French. Then, at least, I'd have an interesting game plan for dinner.

My on-again, off-again, quasi-boss told me before we left for the desert that, sadly, he no longer had control of my fate here. The powers that be became the powers that no longer were and the new powers that be don't seem to look that kindly on someone who shows up when he pleases, makes his rent money, then vanishes for weeks at a time to spend his evenings in dingy pubs. Who could blame them, really? I'd fire me. Not without a sizable severence package, but I'd fire me.

So I'm treating today and tomorrow like they are the end. We're leaving for another national tour on Wednesday and until then (dates to the right), I'm going to squeeze a couple more nickels out of this place. When we get back, well, who knows? I've had about a thousand jobs and as long as I'm not selling cubicles from a cubicle, everything will be a-okay. Hell, once I carted killer whale semen across San Diego to ensure the health of the orca population at Sea World. You know that looks good on a resume.