Apr 30, 2014

A Line Of Strange Thinkers, The Man of No Direction

Let's start on a grey evening, driving into a new town from miles of highway. Every night: show, pack up, drive, unload. City through mirrored city. Slowly watching the past polished out into a reflection of television suburbia. Shelled out. Some cities hold well, the small ones better than the others.

When I was 15 at Boerne High School, small town dreaming of roads and places to go, I didn't think it would be this way. I wanted everyplace to be new and different. I wanted to see the quirks. The strangeness. But I see that all going. More and more are cities become the same.Exotic America survives in novels, photographs, songs, everything we keep in tucked away in our big community sock drawer. Maybe that's why I love coming back to the hill country, with all its character and love. Anyway, I'm not too messed up about it. The best parts are safe, hidden away in every town, deep inside the minds that people them. Never completely lost as long as there are thinkers hungry for living on the outside. Unhappy with what-is, and turning out the could-be. People ready to explore. Here I give a vignette about us, the line of strange thinkers.

This night, our band had a show in a small hold out town in Colorado. We'd just set up our amps and drums into a corner dive called The Firebird with a few hours before soundcheck, so I took off walking. Usually there's not a lot of time for sight-seeing in rock'n'roll, but we had time that day, and I needed it. My head was drowsy from lack of good sleep and thoughts of a warm night at home, people, food, real food cooked over a real fire... and a neck bent out of shape from crowding against a 15 passenger van window. Suddenly I feel a walk could be medicinal. I needed change to shake off the tiredness. The routine of motels and fast food.

The streets wet from a day I didn't know, tell me I'm stepping into this town's history - that's a great fact of travel. The outsider should be cautious, it does us well to know we don't belong. Observing from a distance. My headphones drowning out the slides of rolling tires, and the shuffle of people unloading at a bus stop.

"What are you listening to?" rings out. She's young. We were both young, but I was college young and she's high school. And those are oceans across. I pretended not to hear, but kept walking to her and she saw me through bright red swept bangs as she stood by a steel city bench. I like to keep my walks to myself, especially with my headphones in, but she seems sweet. Little sister sweet like she will follow you for blocks, trailing behind a step asking question on question, until you give some time. And anyway she stood right in front of me, so how could I ignore? She tapped her finger to her ear, and looked straight at me, "What are you listening to?" Again.

I lifted my phone to show her saying, 'I Got A Right.' Iggy was yelling half-way through - yeeeaaawww.
She took out her iPod, showed me '1970' and swore it was synchronicity. The girl had a laugh she couldn't control, and kept the history of Iggy Pop written verbatim in her head. Her blue eyes up the clouds like she's reading her lines of our conversation on the clouds. I couldn't have interrupted her if I wanted. She said, "You know... of course you know," as she described what she was listening to. "He sings with his whole body. Every part of him... it's more than performing. Every part of him believes." And she laughs again. "You know?"

And she's right. I know. She never asked who I am, or where I'm from, or names, because music was enough. Music connects. I knew she's a girl who listens, and she knew about me, all from a phone or an iPod. As we were talking, I remembered my beginnings. When I was her. The times I was eager to talk. The times I built my friendships on taste. When I looked for those who listened because only they understood. All the regular chat can be saved for a chit-chatting with estranged relations. This is real talk. Music's enough. Until it was time for me to head back to the bar. I waited for a break to smile and pull out my phone checking the time. Not that I wasn't having fun. It was just time. I've got my hands back in my jeans, my thumb hovering over the play button. "Gotta get ready for the show."

"Firebird? " she asked sliding on earbud. "Of course you're going too." Laughing again as she picked up her jacket.

I said "Let's walk," and step out of her way. Side by side like two siblings we walked back up the street quietly for a few steps before she flips her hair to say, "I'm writing about the show for my school paper. I love The H...'s - the other band not mine - so glad they finally came here." She said 'here' with all the frustration of being stuck in one place. And I saw in her pocket a well-worn notepad with ideas scribbled on it from past shows. Her dreams. Her words. Collected bits of Exotic America drifted in to her town with each band, and show. She's recorded them, made them her own.

I say something cornball like "hopefully it'll be something worth writing about," and left her in line outside of the club as I go in, with only a wave good-bye. I didn't see her again that night or after, though I looked for her face in the crowd. Never finding what she wrote, but I hope it was positive. Never telling her I was in the other band. But what a set we played. Jaime's bass drum rattling my leg on a tiny stage, nearly fell over twice. The monitors were so bad, I couldn't hear a note of my voice over the amps. The whole time, with the heat of the stage lights and the sweat on me, I thought of what she said. And Iggy Pop. Believing. And trying to sing like every bone in me had something to tell. Like I could make the words come alive. And give what I got out of music, to someone else. Someone who is really listening.

At the end of the night I was packing up and moving out. Having connected. Having given something to that night, and the city. Having received a memory. No longer tired of show after show, I felt good about cramming into the van again. Sometimes people can do that. Resuscitating a love. Taking me to the start. Feeling again in the lull of a long tour, a right to sing, a right to move, and more importantly the need.
The Man of No Direction
pacing summer streets
I think I saw him pass twice
across the mirrored bar-front

Waiter says he drifts in all the time
when he has enough for a drink
then out again

Who knows where?
 Some strange compositions 
he dreams of things beyond?
Growing beards of perseverance
Plastering eyes in purposeless anger
Giving a laugh at every pretty girl
Crossing streets careless in danger
he is gone
and he'll come back knowing
even more
I wonder, walk, drink
placing my own in his step
a swirl of directionless frustration

it's never the amount
money, accolades, creation
that becomes so infuriating
step after step, I tell myself

till I've turned alley
circling back the mirrored bar-front
where a man of no direction
waits for me