Summer 2010 just shy of twenty-two and waterlogged and confused from finishing college and moving for a time to my stepdad's lake house on the lake of the Ozarks, which was the most in the middle of nowhere I had maybe ever been. My parents dropped me off at the station in Jefferson City and I took a train to St. Louis where I had a really long layover, wandered downtown in the brutal sunlight and stayed for two and a half hours at an air conditioned pizza buffet waiting for the next leg of my trip. Went to Chicago to meet my friend and I think we drank a lot of wine and I think we played a show or two, I don't remember well. What I do remember is sitting at the kitchen table with his girlfriend the morning before we left. She was fixing his pants. She was very territorial, and very concerned that he was going to sleep around while we were on tour. She kept saying, do you see what I'm doing, Ben? I'm SEWING up his CROTCH, do you understand? I laughed at first but after the third time she said it I realized she was serious.
We left Chicago and had completely wild and unprecedented encounters in every town we went to, and we were dripping wet whenever we arrived somewhere - the volvo didn't have any air conditioning, so every afternoon to stay cool we'd look for places to swim off the highway using my smart phone (my first). Then we’d drive soaked in the station wagon until we got to where we going.
In Memphis we loitered in the lobby of the Gibson guitar factory and played eight thousand dollar guitars all afternoon, nobody seemed to mind. We wrote a very beautiful song together - the most beautiful lyric in it was something like "cold cuts and nothing to say."
In Albuquerque we played that song standing together at a vibraphone in an adobe-walled living room.
In Lubbock we slept just beyond what I think was the world's largest wind farm and we saw their enormous red lights blinking in and out of phase as the sun set.
Little Rock is the one I'm thinking of now. We walked across this towering pedestrian walkway at midnight, it arched over the Arkansas River, and for whatever reason these swollen bugs were dying by the thousands, absolutely covering the walkway. Their carapaces crunched under my sockless shoes. Later we drove by the high school where the Little Rock 9 were at the center of desegregation politics back in the 50s, but driving by it at night in the 2010s it didn't make any sense to me, it just looked like another old building in the suburbs. I hadn't figured out yet how surreal and mundane history is, how extraordinary things happen in unextraordinary places and so rarely, how most places in the world are quiet and uneventful most of the time.
We were staying with a friend whose parents - or maybe friends of the parents - ran a sushi restaurant in a strip mall. I wanted to dress up a little, I wanted to avoid being my friend's scuzzy touring band friend, so I put on a button down shirt I bought in Missouri (at a thrift store called Pack Rats, an old five story school filled to the rafters with unsorted, second-hand shit). I thought the shirt made me look like a member of the Beach Boys - big blue vertical stripes and a collar. But my friend I was driving around with made fun of me, saying with real venom in his voice that I looked like the manager of a pizza restaurant. This was especially biting because months previous he had lightly tried to set me up with our Arkansas friend and I was really weird and shy about it. I felt off-kilter, like I was walking on rippling, wobbly asphalt across the parking lot and into drop ceiling sushi place.
I was 22 then and had no concept of where I'd live or what I'd do. I was very serious about playing music and had been playing shows and touring and making records for a while already, not exactly making money doing it. But within almost exactly one year of my friend telling me I looked like the manager of a pizza restaurant in the parking lot I did in fact become the manager of a movie theater in New York, a gig I held onto for seven years. Seven years! It did not require me to wear a special shirt, but we did have an oily concession stand and fountain drinks and I'm sure I got yelled at way more often working that job than I would have were I to have managed a pizza restaurant.
I wonder now if I spent more time being the manager of a movie theater than I did playing music in those seven years, or if I spent more time being an operations manager when I got a full time job after that. By a certain kind of accounting, it seems like my friend really saw right into my soul in that Little Rock strip mall: you are a manager, he said, and for his sake he asked me to hide this fact, change the shirt.
But ultimately what we do for money is not exactly who we are, and all the hours I spent surreptiously sending booking emails or listening back to recordings while on the clock at my various paying gigs probably count for more in determining my place in the world than the hours I got paid for. The fact that I would sneak behind the screen during movies and play the secret grand piano counts for more than the per hour rate I was being paid.
I'm thinking about that surreal, heat-bent summer a lot lately - that was the last time I didn't have a job, and I feel just as confused, unemployed, and hopeless now as I did when I was twenty two. What does a future possibly look like? A confusing parade of jobs and gigs that sound made up followed that summer - assistant to a comedy rapper who owned a painting dog, figure model for a painter, intern for a flute and electronics duo, telemarketer for the Metropolitan Opera, Noguchi Museum attendant, manager of a movie theater. I do not want to do these things again, I do not want to be a manager, self-consciously sucking in my gut and buttoning my shirt in the parking lot of a strip mall in Little Rock.
Good morning buddies ~
As you can probably guess from the above, I’m writing you from the deep depths of unemployment, a velvet ditch if there ever was one. I do not know what I will be doing six months from now. I don’t know what I’ll be doing a week from now, for that matter, but it’s probably pretty similar to what I’m doing now (computer sitting, emails, watching snow fall).
Related: I mentioned it last week but I’d love to record something for you, give you music lessons, or write your music promo copy.
Tomorrow (Friday) is Bandcamp Friday once again, which as you probably know by now is a rad day when that website waives its normal 10-15% cut of each sale, giving more money directly to the people who made the dang music. You should buy some music! Go nutty with it. I have a ton of stuff on Bandcamp, as does my collective/label Whatever’s Clever. I also like to cruise this website, where I have found a lot of favorites (like this sick techno label from Austin).
Okay, I hope you’re hanging tough.
What parking lot are you crossing? What bugs are crunching under your feet? Are you having completely wild and unprecedented encounters?