Tour Diary: Seattle (US / Day 12)

Ranking Cheese Doodle: Kroger Puffed Cheese Curls – Almost identical to the H-E-B store brand. I suspect collusion.

Texture: Excellent – Borderline tear your mouth up.

Flavor: Pretty damn good. These are an excellent value. Like a Robert Parker rated Beaujolais of 89 on sale for $12.99

Idiocy from the Van: Have you read the bio “Tom Jones’ Testicles by Emersom Bigguns?

We had a wonderful evening in Portland, a friend of Joe’s got us two very nice rooms at a hotel on the river, and we were going to play live on KEXP at 11:00 this very day. All was exceedingly well except that we were only going to be able to get four and a half hours sleep before we needed to leave for Seattle. Everyone was fine with it, no one was complaining. The honor of playing for the mighty KEXP trumps everything. Still, even with a little bit of, “This is going to hurt,” going on, everyone was in good spirits.

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John somehow managed to duct tape a bag to Olie’s hand, tomatoes were thrown from a balcony at John down on the veranda as he was smoking. Considering the exhaustion, the incredibly tight confines, what with six or seven people all touching cotton covered shoulders in the van for days on end, it’s amazing how much silliness and gasping for air laughing happens on a daily basis. Everybody has their days of crankiness, gloominess, or loonimess, but I think we’re getting better at knowing how to deal with it without necessarily infecting the whole van or causing a ruckus. Mostly it involves going for walks and just getting away from each other. I mean we’re not home yet. There could still be epic meltdowns, and/or blowouts, but I also think that having Olie along has been a major factor. He’s an expert at lightening the mood.

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This is the third time for the full band to be playing KEXP and the first time in their new studio. Our last session was even picked as one of the best public radio performances of whatever year that was. I also contend that almost every fan of the band can trace their knowledge of us back to either Robert Christgau or KEXP. Today would not ascend to those hallowed heights. Today inspiration would be on the loading dock waving a cigarette about airily whilst talking about Sam Peckinpah, while our old friend Sturdy Competence was running around the studio kissing us all squarely on the lips. We didn’t play badly I don’t think. It just took longer than we had to shake off the stunned baby seal** quality our tiredness infected us with. The new building and studio housing KEXP is beautiful. There’s a café’ attached with excellent coffee, they are right in the thick of a bunch of artistic organizations, and they have a 30 year lease. The only thing I miss is the little performance space. We were practically playing on top of each other, and we as a band always play better when we feel like everything is all mixed together into one sound. It’s the best. And it goes without saying that the folks at KEXP are the best as well. They are so sweet and so good at their jobs.

No tourism for us today. We went straight to the house our friend graciously lets us take over whenever we’re in Seattle, ate some Washington cherries, started laundry, and slunk off to our corners to take naps.

We were playing the El Corazon, which used to be the Off-Ramp back in the old days. Last time we played the small, connected room they now call the Funhouse. The space is rectangular with the stage along one of the long sides so it’s not particularly deep but the audience can spread out. The last time I was here I was overwhelmed with the ghosts in the place. Nirvana and most every Seattle band played there at some point. I remember thinking about all the costs associated with being in a band and living out your dreams. The addictions, deaths, broken marriages, poverty, and hearing loss all associated with this way of making art begs the question: What the hell am I doing out here? I can’t point to anything that doesn’t sound selfish. My family doesn’t get anything out of it, no money, vacations, monkey butlers, nothing. Just an absentee dad and husband. However, this time the ghosts were away. Maybe they’re like Santa Claus and dissipate into mean shades unless someone believes in rocknroll. Tonight though, it just felt like a regular club and we had a show to play.

We had dinner at a wonderful hole in the wall Thai noodle place called In the Bowl. The food was so freaking delicious. Oh, and even though it’s all vegetarian, no one seemed to mind. Afterwards everyone went back to the club and I went for a walk into the Capital Hill District. Broadway, the main street through the district, seems to be mostly a bar/restaurant entertainment area so there was a certain percentage of party people there. All told it was a nice, fairly affluent part of town. I came across a park with a super cool fountain that was like water cascading down a mountain and flowing down a cement riverbed until it got to a pond. I saw people playing bicycle polo, which looked difficult and smug. As I walked down the hill and over the Denny Bridge I was struck once again by how a highway and some elevation can create such disparate environments. Under the bridge there is a size-able group of homeless people and/or runaways, (they seemed young) lots of evidence of drug use, a shelter for at risk youth, and a general air of grittiness.

I had a nice talk with an old school chum of Lisa’s who now lives in the area, about something I sensed in regards to the homeless population. I said that it seemed as if people in Seattle, Portland, and even San Francisco had a more tolerant view of the homeless population compared to the Midwest. She agreed almost before I finished my sentence, “Oh yeah, in the Midwest they’re less than human – something to be hidden or gotten rid of, but out here it’s like they are people who have different needs or maybe even made a lifestyle choice.” She talked about how Seattle is going to start emulating the San Francisco model where they take empty housing and convert it into places where the homeless can store their stuff when they have job interviews or the like. She talked about the circuit of teenaged runaways that go from Tacoma to Seattle and Portland, riding the commuter trains. Seattle has even gone so far as to create places where people with campers and tents can stay for the night as long as they follow the rules. And I wonder – what accounts for the difference in attitude? From hostile in part of the country to tolerant in another, what has to happen for a culture to have basic respect for all humans? What kind of empathy has to be taught for people’s first instinct to be that maybe the people they meet are actually doing the best they can? Make a list in your head as to why someone is living on the street. Mental illness, abuse, addiction, lack of education, and yes, somewhere down there you might have to include the line, “Because it’s so fucking awesome!” Different strokes and all. Don’t get me wrong though; I don’t enjoy people asking me for money. I get nervous when erratic people approach me. I’m no saint. I do think however, a fair marker of a society is how they treat their most vulnerable. And there will always be vulnerable among us.

It was a lovely night in the El Corazon. The Purrs, a venerable rock band together now for something like 16 years, played awesome melodic rock. Chris Brokaw of course owned it, and I think we played pretty good too. Seattle is always our biggest night on a Western tour. It’s a big room and there were a couple a hundred people in there. Playing the old Off-Ramp, packing the place, feeling the love, eating cupcakes and having a top shelf tequila with the bar staff afterwards, generally enjoying the fantasy of this life for approximately 22 hours.

We went back to our loaned house and I happily listened to Otis Redding records on a beautiful turntable well into the night.

 

Tomorrow is Wennatchee.

*We’re a strict no artificial fibers kind of band.

**I’m actually working on a children’s book called “Baby Seal Goes To Baseball Camp.” It will be a cautionary tale about making sure one’s dreams have some basis in reality.