A cautionary tale on the importance of backing up your life
Having just watched Nick Cave’s 20,000 Days On Earth for the third time, I’ve come to realize that I need to remember everything. It’s not possible for me to write everything down like he does, but I need to devise a system. Somehow.
I spent most of my twenties touring the world with various bands, first as a merchandiser and then as tour manager. It was fun, chaotic and unpredictable — all the things a twenty-something longs for. Now, having left that life behind to put down roots and other grown up things, I find myself struggling to reminisce due to fading memory.
I’m currently visiting Durham, North Carolina. I’m pretty sure I’ve been here before on tour, or near, but I can’t remember for sure. It’s a sad thing to not remember parts of the world you’ve seen. Most people don’t leave their country, state, or town even. I’ve been around this world a number of times, and can hardly remember any of it.
I lost my hard-drive of photos from 2001–2009, aka “the touring years”, so that doesn’t help matters. Perhaps those lost photos would spark memories. Perhaps it’s the universe telling me it’s a period best left forgotten.
I remember scraps from Japan — the first time I ever did Karaoke on tour with We Are Scientists and Editors. Everyone had “performed” and I progressively started to panic as it was evident I would have to partake because everyone else had. After increasingly wanting to die every moment that my turn drew closer, it turned out that I easily reverted back to the precocious 5 year old wanna-be performer, and took to it like a duck to water.
I remember a venue in Berlin that I passed through in 2002–2003 with Yeah Yeah Yeahs. It was a derelict, disused warehouse, surrounded by overgrowth up to my armpits. Rats scattered beneath my feet as I walked through the tall weeds. Inside the venue was a massive mural of a woman on the wall, naked and spread eagled with every crevice of her open vagina staring down at me, impossible not to fixate on. I remember going up to the catering table, reaching for a spoonful of some kind of pasta-salad thing, and as the spoon reached it, thousands of tiny flies dissipated en mass. Needless to say I went hungry that day.
And then there was the time with The Datsuns, that our bus driver got pulled over for being over the drunk-driving limit, just outside of Köln, Germany. During the previous night, I awoke to a knock on my hotel room door around 3am. It was the bus driver, looking very strange. He had weird, ill-fitting clothes on and told me he’d locked himself out of the bus. It was late, I was sleepy and didn’t think much of it. The next morning the driver didn’t answer his phone when he was due to pick us up. When I finally tracked him down, he told me that the bus battery was flat. It took an age to get AAA out to get us going.
As we waited, he and I chatted about him waking me up in the middle of the night. He confessed he had taken a piss outside the bus in his underwear, and somehow he had locked himself out. Confronted with the embarrassment of having to walk to our hotel, through the lobby and up to my room in just his underwear, he decided it would be better to break into the bay of the bus and steal clothes from one of the suitcases. It turned out the clothes he stole belonged to the smallest, skinniest guy in the band (and possibly the world), which explained why he looked so weird with flares up to his shins, a t-shirt bearing his mid-drift, so tight around his arms that his circulation must have been cut off.
We finally set off for Brussels which was a few hours away. I remember one of the crew sticking their head through the bus skylight whilst we skimmed our way through a low tunnel inch by inch. We held our breaths as we played video games in the back lounge, but made it through, barely. A short while after, we realized we were pulling over to the side of the road. The red and blue flashing lights followed that. As we watched from the upstairs window of the bus, we saw the bus driver being forced to walk in a straight line by police. I knew something terrible was about to happen. The police told me he was being arrested for drunk-driving and they carted him off to jail.
We sat on the side of the autobahn, whilst I frantically called every bus driver/company I could think of to come and pick us up. It was almost 100 degrees out and we were stuck on the bus that the police had shut off, without power or air conditioning. After tracking down a driver to rescue us, we ended up arriving at the venue six hours late, just in time for the show. We loaded the gear through the raucous crowd who cheered on our late arrival, straight to stage and the band played immediately without any kind of soundcheck.
Then there’s the time in Boston with another band I won’t name, parked outside the Avalon Theatre, opposite the back of the Red Sox stadium. I awoke to strange snorting sounds and a commotion of people running up and down the bunk corridor of the bus. I peaked my head out of my bunk curtains and saw the tour manager doing some kind of half-standing press up into a bunk. In my sleepy haze, it took a moment to realize he was pushing down on an unconscious crew member’s chest. He had overdosed in his sleep and was unresponsive.
An ambulance was called but as it was drug induced, the cops were called out as well. In a frantic panic, someone ingeniously threw the trashcan over the fence of the stadium, detroying all evidence of illicit drugs on the bus. When the cops arrived we were lined up on the sidewalk, mostly in pajamas or sweatpants, forced to watch our friend carried off on a stretcher. He’d been unresponsive to one of those Pulp Fiction-style adrenalin shots to the heart. I remember the cop gleefully telling us our friend was probably going to die.
With nothing else to do, a few of us wandered into town whilst we were exiled from the bus. All our money was on the bus, but between us we scrabbled together a couple of dollars, so shared a donut and a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts up the street. Upon our walk back toward the venue, we saw a motorcade surrounding the bus as it moved off down the street. It was as if in slow motion — there goes our home, our lives, our money, our passports. We ran back to the venue and were greeted with the news that the cops had impounded the bus to investigate further. We were warned that we could get thrown in jail, but the band’s lawyer would do everything to get us seen that night in a night court session. As the only female on the tour, I conjured up terrible images of me in a female only jail cell, unprotected, whilst the other eleven men were all together in the cell opposite. It did not look good.
As the night progressed we had the worst show ever; with every second that passed we wondered if the cops would burst into the venue and haul us in for questioning. That night the tour manager came to us about 3 in the morning saying they had returned the bus. The bus was a complete mess. It had been completely ransacked by the police — bunks thrown apart, dirty laundry all over the place, shit everywhere. But then we realized all the alcohol was gone, the chips were gone and the TV was on a different channel to where we’d left it. It was the morning after the Red Sox vs The Yankees game. We came to the conclusion that the Po-Po couldn’t be bothered to patrol the chaotic streets the night before, and instead used the bus as their own private sports bar for the night, watching the game and drinking our beer. And if you’re wondering, our friend survived, with partial hearing loss.
I remember this much at least. Of course, I remember more, but it would be a boring read as I couldn’t do it justice. Photos could do it more justice than I could with words, but alas, they’re at the bottom of a dumpster somewhere. I’d like to think that someone may have found that hard-drive; A collection of glimpses into a stranger’s life — an extraordinary life of bands, the road, shows and tomfoolery.
So here I am in North Carolina, creating new memories. I’ve taken a colossal two photos — one on film and one on iPhone, of the same thing. A note to self for memory and archive sake; I’m writing this in a cafe called Cocoa Cinnamon, drinking a Chai Latte. I imagine these are the minor details I wish I could remember from the past. Completely irrelevant details that mean nothing. After all, as Nick Cave once said, he was afraid of losing his memory “because memory is what we are…”
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These photos are not my photos, nor are they of the band’s featured in this article.
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Combs. You can find him here: www.medium.com/@b3njamin
These anecdotes from the road will be posted as part of a series. If you’d like to stay up to date with them, follow me on Medium.
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