Extracts from Daniel’s Notebooks.
#1 LONDON TO JFK.
You know it was always staying still that made me dizzy. And Sofie used to say “Oh I’d love to please my wanderlust but I also just really wanna stay in bed all day. I’m in constant conflict.” But Sofie was always too scared to do what she really wanted to do, so she just did nothing. She pretended she was a pessimist to mask the fact she was a dreamer terrified of not getting what she wanted. But I don’t wanna write about Sofie anymore.
This isn’t going to be a tour diary, just a collection of thoughts and observations sketched on the backs of American Diner receipts and whisky (or whiskey now?) stained napkins. It will be a handful of memories strung together like a constellation of dying stars, for that is all memories are – old light, and I want my sky-at-night-ful. I confess I am greedy, not for money or for food, but for adventures. Never once have my soles come close to wearing.
It always starts the same way. I like to people-watch. I am a people-watcher. I believe you can take anybody, absolutely anybody, and providing you watch them for long enough they will always do something unusual. I am fascinated by the peculiar quirks people reveal when they think that no one is looking. Absolutely everybody is at least a little bit strange! But planes aren’t that good for people-watching; backs of heads give nothing away and I couldn’t risk turning around to stare at people’s faces like Amelie in the cinema.
After giving a cursory glance and a mental tick to the commonly spotted flyers – a man with a bum-bag and a speedy boarder or two – I started watching a man, a few rows ahead of me, who was behaving strangely. He was about forty, with too-big eyes and poorly groomed facial hair designed to hide his jowl (which Tour Manager Matt calls “chin-ouflage”). This man was a walker, and what is more he seemed determined to flaunt that fact as he stretched his legs, and walked; as he went to the toilet, and walked; as he picked up something from the overhead luggage, and walked. Every time I looked up this man would be walking around the plane with exaggerated steps. Yes, he was a walker, absolutely and unequivocally.
Now it might not seem strange that a man should get restless on a long trip, but something in the way he always took his time over each and every step brought a level of showmanship to the seemingly mundane action of pacing around the cabin. It was clear he wanted us all to see him for this was The Pledge of his magic trick.
We arrived and the seat-belt lights clicked off, and just as the mad frenzy to collect luggage and rush off the plane began I noticed the man remained in his seat. This was The Turn of his magic trick. As the madding crowd pushed forward the man disappeared. He just sat there, quietly, with no desire to move.
The queue at Customs was as long and painstaking as it ever was. The man with a bum-bag and the speedy boarders (who had paid for the privilege of arriving at exactly the same time as the rest of us) joined the queue with a thousand others all waiting to be let in. We shuffled with our bags, checking and double-checking we had filled out all our forms correctly, all just waiting. And then came The Prestige of the magic trick. I spotted the man, being pushed in a wheelchair by airport officials, bypassing the queue entirely. He reappeared with a smile hidden behind his lips and was let straight in. It was so audacious, so wonderful, so full of surprise and disbelief, that I wanted to clap.
The immigration officer was perhaps the friendliest I have ever come across. When he checked my visa and saw that I was a musician he bellowed “ You’re living the dream my man, getting paid to do what you love” in a deep New York voice.
“Why don’t you quit and do what you love?” I asked.
“I love to sleep. Ain’t nobody gonna pay me for that!”
And that was it. I was back in America.
My eyes were sticky with the prickle of early insomnia, but street spirit always kicks in and widens the eyes just enough for you not to notice. We should’ve been sleeping but it’s impossible to sleep when there is so much to do. I know it’s deeply uncool to show your excitement, but if there’s ever a point when I arrive in New York and don’t feel excited I would be very sad indeed. I couldn’t play it cool; I could only run about with those wide, stinging eyes and once again slip into that half-mad groove of life.
It’s strange, but if you just keep walking with no idea where you’re going, your feet almost always seem to lead you to water. We ended up at the shore at a place called Brooklyn Crab – a crab shack with an outdoor area where we played Cornhole and Shuffleboard and drank cheap beer and thought about how that very morning we were waiting (always waiting!) in houses on the other side of the world.
On the walk back to the hotel we dragged our feet. We saw signs for Marcy ( … ) and ended up back in Williamsburg. I sat on a bench outside because I couldn’t bring myself to go in straight away … not just yet. There was a camper van parked on the opposite side of the street, its door open and its music loud. At least I’m on my own again, instead of, anywhere with you. The drawl is unmistakable and that happens to be my favourite track from Is This It. And I realise there is a foot resting through an open window. It looks like it is waving at me. It’s probably stretching. Or dancing? No, that foot is far too cool to dance. It is the foot of an angel-headed hipster. I could never be anywhere near that cool because I care far too much and I try far too hard. I just watch.
I first came to New York on a New Year’s Eve several years ago. I was struck down by a deep fascination from which I have never quite recovered.
Note: The following day the heatwave seems to send the whole world crazy. Everyone is so irascible! We went to find an ice-cream van and when we got there the owner was being arrested. He had attacked a woman with a baseball bat. Later we went swimming in McCarren Park where black girls laughed at us because we are so painfully white.
I counted the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike. YES! Actually no, there were far too many, you could never keep track. But I tried, so lifetime ambition achieved. I’ve lived out one of my favourite ever songs. And really there are so many songs to live out on this trip.
I wasn’t all that interested in the Liberty Bell, but the dirty streets around the venue (in Fish Town, I was told) were wonderful and sticky and cruel. As I stood outside the venue I watched a man in a pimped-up wheelchair go past, playing loud rap music from a boom box as he pushed himself through the oppressive heat. We ate Philly Cheese Steaks which were at least three or four times the size of a regular sandwich. They come on a “Hero” which seems an appropriately epic name.
As we played the show a sudden cloudburst cooled the city down. It must have been a big storm because it uprooted whole trees. And power lines (like the ones in my blood lines) are left scattered across the streets of Philadelphia.
#10 MANHATTAN (again).
I have always seen New York City as a ghost town. It might sound like a strange description but it’s impossible to not be haunted by the ghosts of all the people who have walked its streets before you. I spent the afternoon in Washington Square Park – prime people-watching real estate – and imagined Ginsberg eating an ice cream or Norman Mailer reading a newspaper on the edge of the fountain. For a while I watched a woman smoking a cigarette as she sat on a bench and listened to her friend tell a story. She held the cigarette in her right hand and after every drag she would extend it out over the side of the bench and tap away the ash. As she did this I noticed she would always brush down her lap with her left hand as though making sure none of the tobacco flakes had fallen on her dress. The cigarette never once came close to her dress, but she just kept doing the same thing … kept wiping away invisible ash as she listened to her friend’s story.
And then I watched a chess player who was waiting to be challenged to a game. He was an old Jewish Beatnik with thick glasses. As he waited he kept going through each individual piece to make sure it was positioned perfectly at the very centre of its square. I loved him for taking such pride in that. I would have liked to play with him but I’m not very good at starting conversations with people I don’t know. That morning, Anthony, an engineer at The Cutting Room studio, had told me about a busker that can sometimes be seen playing a grand piano in the middle of Washington Square Park. Apparently he keeps it in a lock-up nearby and will sometimes push it over the road and put on a concert. I was hoping I’d see him play. Maybe next time.
# 17 North Ridgewell
The spaces in between cities are like the spaces in between lines; it’s where you find the untold stories. An hour’s drive from the mountains of Pittsburgh we pulled up to a Motel 6 in North Ridgewell, a tiny town at the edge of Cleveland, Ohio. Motels in quiet towns ALWAYS have blinking lights. We could hear distant music and the sound of life on the other side of the tiny strip of diners, bars and gas stations. It was a place called Aces Grille where drunk women were dancing and drunk men were leering (a roughly 3:1 ratio in favour of the men). At one point everyone filled the dance floor, under the stars and moonlight, and all began line dancing to Iggy Azalea. There was absolutely no common thread running through the demographic, only a group of individuals coming together to drink, dance and possibly forget. A woman pulled up a seat, lit a cigarette and began talking at us. She looked a little like a haggard Leslie Knope in blue jeans and a baggy thrift store t-shirt.
“I’m not crazy” she said, but when “I’m not crazy” is a person’s opening gambit, they almost always are; the need for such an assertion can only be born from years of people telling you that you are, in fact, crazy. She spoke, uninterrupted, in a steady stream of consciousness that ebbed and flowed from subject to subject without prompt or logical structure. I will try and sketch the essence of the conversation.
“I moved here from Chicago because I wanted to be near the rock’n’roll Hall of Fame (apparently in Cleveland but she offered no further explanation). On my first night in North Ridgewell I hooked up with this guy who was completely wasted so I said I’d drive him home … I was gonna fuck him … but I was wasted too so I crashed his car into a tree and then he said he had cocaine on him so we had to run before the cops turned up! But I got a lot of friends, in music, and literature, and in Google through Copenhagen, but I keep changing my phones so people can’t hack me. I do a lot of hacking actually. I have four cell phones for different people I meet. I have to keep changing my number though. Here, put your numbers in.”
She handed us her phone and insisted we gave her our numbers.
“I think it comes from my military background. I was in the military, see? But now I mostly write articles. I’m kinda seen as the people’s champion for equal rights. I actually got a few laws changed in Ohio so lesbians love me even though I’m not actually gay. There is this one I met at this bar a few weeks ago and I thought she’s a cool girl-friend, you know? But she keeps breaking into my house and fucking with my floppy disks. Tonight, I get home from work, I’m actually very into playing the stock market right now, and this girl has broken in and fucked with my floppy disks! And she took my sunglasses too the crazy bitch.”
Her sunglasses were on her head.
“But anyway, I’ll be going now. Give me a call, ok? You can stay with me … I’ve a massive house … anytime you want to.”
I don’t think she was on drugs. I was looking at her eyes and there were no obvious clues. I was confused about a lot of things she said, but mainly why she was so attached to her floppy disks.
# 22 – The Road (and Chicago)
The drive from Maddison, through Wisconsin and into Minneapolis, is surprisingly green. It reminds me of driving through Bavaria and it even has those solitary houses set back in the middle of the countryside which you look at and think “Who the fuck lives in that house? And how?” The isolation from the rest of the world must be on a complete knife-edge between bliss and despair. I don’t think there is any room for middle-ground.
And we just keep going. It’s a constant battle that spreads out between past and future towns, with victory measured out in miles won and lost. In the last few days we have been through Gary, Chicago, Maddison, St. Paul, Minneapolis and back on the same route through Wisconsin and Illinois and down through Bloomington and Toledo and Springfield and into Missouri where we’ll spend the night in Downtown St. Louis. And tomorrow we’ll keep going through Tulsa and Oklahoma City and right down into Texas where the world outside the window is dusty and without horizon. And in between each and every milestone is a hundred other cities and gas stations and diners and motels. And it all looks impossible. And everything is in the extreme: extreme heat which turns the road into hot gasoline mirrors where you chase the reflection of the SUV in front, or an extreme storm that drags the van to the gutter-less roadside.
As we left Gillman we had breakfast in the eye of a hur-ri-cane.
Last night we played Schubas (which apparently means “death” in Greek). It was a wonderful venue and after soundcheck I ate a Catfish Po’boy and Apple Cobbler. And after the show a man bought us shots of Malort, a drink which only exists in Chicago. It sort of tasted like paint stripper with a hint of grapefruit … but I probably imagined the grapefruit. The in-house tech, Steve, said it was like liquified forest fire, and it’s so disgusting that it has somehow become a cool drink to order. And after that we went to a place called The Wiener’s Circle where the staff are so incredibly offensive to their customers that people go to see how they’ll be insulted. “What the fuck do you want sugar tits?” was a question aimed at a poor man waiting in line for a Char Dog.
# 24 – Somewhere on Route 66
The road just keeps going, straight ahead, splitting the fields and the night on either side. And warm air pours in through the window like breath against the nape of your neck. And bugs keep splatting against the windscreen. And the waitress in the diner is frozen in the 1950s with a blue rinse and a passport-less drawl. And as she pours me a coffee she giggles like a high-school sweetheart waiting for a date. And later I think about her as I read a message on the cracked wing-mirror:
“OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR TO BE.”
I am guilty of seeing everything in metaphors; I am guilty to the point I never truly see what is right in front of me. And everything behind me is always warped in reflection. But for once I am not looking backwards. Nostalgia is the worst thing for heartbreak, but adventure is a certain cure. I have no desire to look behind for whatever is there seems further away now. I am only looking out across the sprawl. And I’m listening to “This Time Tomorrow” on repeat.
# 26 – Austin
Sometimes it’s like being an air steward. I arrive in a strange, exciting city and smell the foreign air but always have to turn straight back around (or get moving onto the next destination). America is so large that the time for exploration is decidedly smaller than it is in Europe, so when the opportunity for a story arises you really have to make sure you let it be told.
This is my fourth trip to Austin, but the whole city is stickier and sleepier than it has even been during SXSW. The buskers and the street vendors and the mad crowds are missing from my memory of 6th street, but the excitement of the falling night can still be heard in distant echolalia. I always prefer a city by night, when it takes off its make-up and slips into its comfortable clothes. The working crowds disappear and the only ones left are the ones who are searching for the same thing: the star-gazers and the dreamers and the lovers falling behind the beat, their hands in one another’s back-pocket. From the top of Mohawk I look out across Red River and watch the drunks stagger down the dusty roads. And I see old friends and we drink cheap beer and it’s perfect.
Note: About two hours from Austin (towards El Paso) we return to Cooper’s Bar-B-Q at Exit 456 on IH-10. This is without a doubt the best barbeque that can possibly exist. As I arrive I am hit by the scent of the Smokers and begin watching an old man attending to the meat. When Buzz (yes, really!) hears our accents and we tell him we are driving another 10 hours that day he packs up free brisket sandwiches for the trip. I am always amazed by the kindness of people.
# 32 – El Paso
The drive across the desert becomes more and more beautiful through repetition; motifs of dust clouds and tumbleweeds and cacti flicker on a picture reel through the window. And I pass the time searching for the elusive perfect cactus (three arms, tiered in the comic book way). And I see Mexico on my left; a white crucifix standing proudly on a mountain looks down over a claustrophobic city.
Time moves. I am sitting at the outside bar at The Lowbrow Palace. I can hear the whispers of cicada and see birds of paradise and a midnight palm tree and a tiny Mexican girl sitting at the bar on one of those tall bar stools that are just like America. And I drink a Blue Moon (with orange) and keep looking at her wrists thinking that “diaphanous” is the perfect description for them. And the search for the perfect word is like the search for the perfect cactus, you know? And she looks sad and downtrodden and beautiful.
And I suddenly have one of those moments of clarity where I think “music has brought me here.” If you’re gonna try, go all the way, you know? I order another Blue Moon.
# 34 – Scottsdale, Arizona.
“Arizona curled up with California, and she tried to hide the whole thing from New Mexico.”
There were nine of us in the unlicensed taxi-cab that sped through the sleeping streets of an Arizona suburb. Me and R. were the outsiders to the group, laughing, but not singing along to the pop song on the radio. The driver’s speed was inextricably bound with their voices, and they were all screaming as loudly as they could. Through a crack in twisted bodies I could see out the open window and into the night; perfect houses and prosaic palm trees lined wide-American-smile-roads. And then suddenly the girl in the seat next to the driver switched off the radio and started howling “Stop! Slow down! There is a suicidal cat!”
I can’t remember any of their names and I’ve no desire to try. They were all just details. The inevitable afterglow of a memory, even in the moment. We met them at a dive bar where we played pool and fed the jukebox and soundtracked the night with Thunder Road. Our presence in the bar seemed to baffle the locals, but they all just kept buying us drinks. And then a group asked us if we wanted to go back to a typical Arizona house party and promised us red plastic cups and cheap sprits. We wanted to get lost so we blindly followed.
“Stop! Slow down! There is a suicidal cat!”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” the taxi driver screamed back. Everyone was screaming everything.
“Our neighbour’s cat wants to kill himself. You need to slow down!”
And sure enough as we arrived on the street there was a cat waiting at the side of the road. The taxi driver slowed down, but only fractionally, and just as the wheels were almost in line the cat darted out towards us and the driver had to slam on the brakes, causing all nine bodies to be flung forwards. It was almost a cat for nine lives.
“The crazy bastard wants to die so much I sometimes think I should get my gun” screamed the girl.
# 37 – The Vegas
We sat in a hot tub on the roof of The Ogden Hotel and we could see the flashing lights of The Strip sprawling out in front of us. It is not the shotgun wedding or the gambling but the Neon God that is the true symbol of Las Vegas; the lights are the ichor of the city’s bloodstream. In the middle of the desert on a cloudless day the sky should have been full of stars, but they had all been swallowed up by the artificial and the blinking.
If Vegas is the high church of the fucked-up then the poker tables are its altar. In the early hours of the morning - or so I guess because there are no clocks – I sat down at a slot machine to watch T. and R. join a relatively low stakes table. The man on their left was dressed in casual clothes with thick-rimmed glasses and Mardi Gras beads around his neck. He looked liked a Mexican Christmas Tree. To their right was an old Chinese woman who never said a word but shot out terrifying looks at anyone who flirted with flippancy. And at the far end of the table sat a woman with red-flushed cheeks who was mainly there for the fun and free drinks.
You can spend and waste both time and money but I’ve always known which way I would have it. And as I watched them happily lose their dollars in exchange for a good story a woman appeared at my elbow. As she spoke she punctuated her sentences with large sips of an olive-less martini. I also noticed that whenever I spoke she would take the straw from her glass, pop it in her mouth, and begin stirring the drink with her fingernail.
“I never gamble. I’m a magnet for bad luck. Just little things, you understand? Like, say I go to a restaurant and I think I really fancy migas, well you can be sure they’ll be out of migas, you know? But whatever I order THAT will be the thing they’re out of. It’s no use. I’m just bad luck. But it’s ok … the way I see it I’m just saving up my karma credit, you know? In five years I’m gonna play the lottery and my luck’s gonna be in buster.”
I wish I’d asked asked her what she was doing in the casino.
# 40 – Los Angeles
And R. said putting his foot to the floor of a Camaro is equal to or greater than the best blow job he’s ever had. I’m not sure what this says about his former lovers but driving a stupidly fast car down Sunset Boulevard sure is fun, fun, fun. And everyone here is so beautiful you can fall in love three or four times before you’ve finished your first coffee. It’s a painful city. And I had Huevos Rancheros and a Bloody Mary and I could see the Hollywood sign from breakfast.
Our booking agent Pete and his assistant Tony took us for lunch near their offices in Beverly Hills. It was a Jewish Deli called Factor’s Famous where baseball cards and boxing gloves lined the walls.
“Do you want sourdough or Bagel Chips with your soup?” the old waitress asked T.
“I don’t know. What are Bagel Chips?”
“You’ve never had them? Well then you try something new.”
I had hand-cut pastrami on rye with pickles and steak fries and French Dip. Apparently French Dip was created so the railroad workers – who had lost all their teeth – could eat their bread. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. I think there are three levels of “good” when describing food. The first is when food is good but you don’t mind sharing it. The second is when food is so good you refuse to share it. The third is when food is so incredibly good you insist on sharing it so people can also share your pleasure of it. The hand-cut pastrami sandwich at Factor’s Famous Deli was the third level of “good.”
# 49 – San Francisco
We had reset the metre in Philadelphia so as we approached San Francisco we could watch the final miles roll over to 6,700, coast to coast (and in between). We paid the final toll, and sitting in the front seat I saw the Golden Gate Bridge split the skyline. It was a postcard. And the mist rising up around San Francisco Bay covered the scene in an ethereal film as though the whole damn city was coming straight off the silver screen. And as we drove in I listened to Barry Manilow’s “Looks Like We Made It” with absolutely no trace of irony.
And the final night hung like the final star that completes the constellation, a perfect marriage of wide-eyed innocence and hedonism. And in the morning we awoke, lost, and had to get one of those famous trams up those famous hills and somehow find our way to Haight-Ashbury where the ghosts of the grateful dead try and sell you weed as you fall asleep in The Golden Gate Park. When I die I want to die with sunshine on my face. And I have that Sunday night feeling in the pit of my stomach and the thought of going back home, of staying still once more, twists my insides.
The 2nd (in the 2nd)
# 57 SANTA CRUZ
Just before the night falls you notice the California sky looks like a cocktail, with a clear demarcation between the different hues of purple and blue. And palm trees line the street outside The Catalyst as you sit at the side of the road and stare at the lights slowly flickering to life all across the skyline. A week ago you were sleeping all through the day and refusing to leave the house unless absolutely necessary; today you have tasted saltwater and something more than escapism in a cold drink. And from the Santa Cruz boardwalk you saw the sun-kissed and the un-kissed eating ice-cream. And you have been burnt.
The cocktail darkens and your gaze falls upon the strange streets. And from somewhere nearby you think you can hear the faint sound of Darlene Love, and you wish there was a breeze if only to bring you the melody. And as you look down the street you notice there are crowds of people loitering around the doorways and it seems very unlike the California you have seen before. A man approaches you. He has long hair and is tanned and handsome and stylish.
“Can you spare a buck for a slice?” he asks you.
You are so surprised when you realise he is a bum that you fumble your answer.
“A slice of what?” you ask, thinking of new slang.
“A slice of pizza of course” he says.
You realise you have left your wallet in the venue and shake your head apologetically. And then you tap your jean pocket as if to say it is empty, but you have the van keys in your pocket and it sounds like you are patting loose change. And a brief flicker of suspicion flashes across the face of the hipster-bum before disappearing behind a broad smile.
“It’s ok bro, I love you anyway.”
You have an hour to kill before you play so you invent a game to pass the time: the game is called “Bum or Hipster?” You walk down the street where the people are all just floating like specs of dust in a half-written afternoon. And you try and guess which they are before they ask – or don’t ask – for your money. You lose almost every single time. And you realise that all these people are happy failures: failed musicians, artists, actors, poets … and they all look so blissful! And you are reminded it is always better to fail at something you want to do than succeed at something you don’t. That is the key: to smile though your art is breaking.
On the way back to the venue you spot two lovers on the sidewalk, kissing as they queue for pizza. And you think that standing there, in that queue, with the warm air and the palm trees and the promise of sharing a pizza with someone you truly love, is an idea of heaven you can believe in.
# 66 HOLLYWOOD
The Sayers Club is hidden in plain sight by the stars on the sidewalk, a candlelit speakeasy where everyone walks in whispers and everyone is too beautiful and you are only damned. You sit at a table in the corner, looking out across the dance floor, and everyone is singing along to a pop song you don’t know. You are awkward and shy and you do not belong in this place. You have been given a complimentary bottle of five hundred dollar whisky but you do not know how this has happened. And the waitress looks like a part-time model or a failed actress. She is dressed in a corset and stockings, and you try so hard not to look at her but she is inevitable. And you know that she hates you and all of your friends, but she still strokes your arm for a tip, and you hate yourself for enjoying it so much. The ichor begins to flow through your bloodstream and time jumps forward.
It is 5 o’clock in the morning; you catch your reflection and see that you are wearing those hours. You are in an apartment in Beverly Hills but you have no recollection of how you got there. You vaguely remember seeing Tony asleep in the gutter, by the stars on the sidewalk, and you vaguely remember being in a car, but the ichor is starting to fade and so now the question is: why are you here? R. is sitting opposite you, half-asleep and laughing uncontrollably, but you cannot work out who or what he is laughing at. There are three blonde girls eating Mexican food but you are not hungry. You flick through a calendar called “Nice Jewish Boys” and you learn that October’s Ari entered some sort of competition but didn’t win. Again the question is: why are you here?
One of the girls is now dressed as a fairy and you are sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle watching her put on a magic show. What is happening? Who are these people? And she talks to you like a child and then she talks to you like a trick, but you do not want to be turned, you only want to see some magic. And you know you won’t ever find what you are really looking for at 5 o’clock in the morning in a strange apartment in Beverly Hills. And you try and catch bubbles between your fingers, but each and every time they burst at the last.
# 70 PALM SPRINGS
You are standing with M. in the parking lot of a cheap motel, inexplicably frozen beneath the blinking lights. You think you can hear somebody talking to you but it is late and the district is sleeping and the curtains and the doors are all closed to you. And you realise the voice is coming from the bushes – or maybe the trees? – and it belongs to the cicada, and you can’t see them even though you can hear them. And you think you would probably do whatever they asked of you.
“I want an In-N-Out Burger” says M.
“Can you drive?”
“Probably not” he slurs.
You cannot drive either, but T. is sleeping and before you know it you are in his room, getting him dressed and demanding he drives you to the nearest In-N-Out. As always T. in unfailingly kind and cheerily agrees to take you even though he is probably still in half a dream. And the closest one is just a drive-in and you eat quickly but you want to keep on going. You are thinking of somewhere else even though you have no idea where that somewhere else might be. And suddenly it seems essential to find people who are still awake.
Eventually you stop at an all-night diner and you are soon there with the nighthawks and the coffee refills and the warm cherry pie. And you sit in a booth and you keep glancing over at the waitress who duly takes her pot around the dozen or so other tables. And it is strangely timeless in the all-night diner. And “Only The Lonely” is playing and it seems almost trite because you see that everyone in there is sitting alone, staring down at their black coffee and their warm cherry pie. And the coffee is so strong it is reflective and you watch a man shiver at the sight before he begins to blow ripples across the surface.
Usually you feel homesick in your own home, but here, tonight, in the all-night diner, you feel strangely welcome even though nobody is speaking to you. And you think that if you stay here for long enough you will see the dawn before all those people behind the drawn curtains and the closed doors. But one by one you watch the nighthawks leave the diner. And the waitress has given up. And the only person left in the diner is the man who shivered at his own reflection. And he looks incredibly sad so you ask if he wants to join your table.
“No thanks. I want to be alone” he says.
# 88 HOME
Sobremesa was the first. A word that has no direct translation in English. It seemed like a secret. After that I began looking for more secrets; some of my favourites were the Inuit word Iktsuarpok for the feeling of anticipation you get when you are expecting someone to arrive at your house and you keep checking to see if they are there, Boketto, a Japanese word for gazing vacantly into the distance, and Luftmensch, a Yiddish word for an impractical dreamer with no business sense. Whilst you can translate what these words mean, you cannot translate them directly. I’ve filled a notebook with hundreds of these secrets, but the one that struck the biggest chord was the German word Fernweh. It means feeling homesick for a place you have never been…
Growing up, I guess I always felt a sense of Fernweh, even if I didn’t know the word for it. In some way, it was perhaps this feeling that made me start a band. It was a chance to see the world, fuelled by a desire that was something stronger than wanderlust. I was born with a suitcase, but it never felt like I was going, only ever that I was returning. But now, in a less figurative sense, I am returning. I had been away so long that England felt new again. It is always easier to romanticise foreign lands, but sometimes familiarity and comfort distort your perception of your own. I guess it’s like an Impressionist painting; stand too close and it looks like shit; take a step back and maybe it begins to make sense.
I don’t think I’ll have too much to write about touring the UK. The M1 is never gonna have the same excitement and adventure as driving down Route 66, but I will at least try to look at everything from a new perspective, that is from a correct distance. I’ve read tour diaries written by other musicians and they all bore me. You need to hear about my soundcheck like you need chlamydia. But I’m hoping that if I give it half a chance, I might find something, or someone, worth writing about. I’ve always had a monomaniacal desire to capture the world around me. It seems only fair that I try and capture home…
\ the houses shoot like crooked teeth from the bleeding gums of this Northern street \ there’s something innocent and hopeful in its smile. \ We’re English lowlife \
# 94 OXFORD
Et In Arcadia Ego. Actually I’m not, and it’s a relief. Whilst I used to love reading about Charles Ryder’s Oxford, I prefer it remain a place of my imagination. It was always too green, too idyllic, too pretty to be exciting. Perfection is dull. Flaws are beautiful. Intelligence is only sexy when grounded in common knowledge. And whilst I’m sure those gardens and postcard-perfect buildings still exist, I feel more at home on the stained side streets behind the venue. The music venues of most cities are usually in the dirtiest districts; it’s hard to tell if music attracts sex and squalor, but I believe the best creativity is born from disaccord, and certainly from necessity. You very rarely find it appears out of comfort, but either way, there is a definite correlation; where you find music you find excitement. Oxford is no exception.
After the show I’m sitting on a bench in a little thoroughfare at the side of the venue. It’s gated at the end and there is sort of tunnel that runs down, splitting the concrete. I’m people-watching, but I’ve not found anything interesting. The rain is dripping from the gutters and tiny pools of light enhalo the passers-by. Nobody looks, nobody talks. There is a sudden cloudburst and I hear the chaos as people try to find shelter. I watch as a girl looks in through the gate, and with trepidation as though unsure if she’s allowed to enter, steps under the cover of the tunnel. She is small with a brunette bob. She is wearing a blue and white breton t-shirt beneath her denim jacket and this makes me think I’d get on with her. She reminds me of Sunday. She shakes the water from her hair and kind of jumps when she spots me.
“Sorry. Can I just stay here until it stops?” she asks.
I just nod. It’s not my backstreet.
The girl sits down next to me on the bench. She has just watched us play. There is a little small talk, but I won’t repeat it. Small talk is boring. Let’s skip the small talk.
We continue talking after the cloudburst is over. She tells me she read my American tour diaries and liked the metaphor of moments as stars. I use this to segue into Brideshead Revisited (being in Oxford and all). There is that idea that Sebastian wants to bury a crock of gold by a tree, to remember every time he was happy. I’m usually introverted but occasionally, when I meet someone who I think might be interested in what I have to say, I become gregarious. I start talking…
“I wanna do that with stars. Link every happy memory to a star. That way when I’m old and ugly and miserable I’ll be able to look up at the night sky and remember all the times I was happy.”
“That’s a nice idea,” she says, but she looks unsure.
“Well, it’s just, they’re so far away that they won’t actually look like that anymore. The stars, I mean. It takes so long for the light to travel to the earth that they change by the time it gets here. Some of those stars might not even be there anymore. You could literally be looking up at nothing.”
This is a depressing thought, but I like it.
She gets up and goes to leave.
“Don’t write about me in your tour diary,” she says.
“I won’t,” I say.
\ I’ve moved through paper towns, palatial grounds and disused flats \ abandoned themes parks, old railway tracks \ all was new, but I saw no one like you… \
# 102 BRIDPORT
After an early show in Southampton we make our way to Bridport, an old market town in Dorset. It is cold and windy and the air smells of the sea. In the morning we will go to the beach, just ten minutes away, and the cliffside will seem strangely Gothic. Tonight we will just drink and watch and spend a moment away from everything we know. All is new. We are the strangers, the outsiders to the quiet town where everybody knows each other’s secrets; but they do not know mine and I do not know their secrets either. I like it here. The houses are so far apart it all feels very intimate.
\ time and again you let yourself sink behind a stiff upper lip and a stiffer-still drink \
We are staying with our TM’s family. They tell us, quite apologetically, that their local pub has been shut down for refurbishment, but there is a Speakeasy set up in an old barn if we want to go. We want to go. I’ve been to Blind Tigers in Berlin and Brooklyn and many places between the two. It is not the illicitness that excites me, but the atmosphere that belongs only to a Speakeasy. It is like the silence of a library, or the way time moves on a Sunday; it is undefinable and specific only to that world. We step inside the barn and walk in whispers, drawing glances simply because we have not drawn them before. I feel self-conscious and retreat into myself. I’m fine with one on one introductions, but when you meet people as a group, I prefer to listen rather than talk. I’m more interested in what other people have to say. It is not shyness or standoffishness, only being bored with myself. I briefly flicker across the irony of “Speakeasy” and wonder if there is an idea in that…
I drink an amber larger held in a wooden barrel. When the barrel is finished, that will be it. I like this. I like things that are ephemeral.
Strike up the band.
A group begins to play. I suppose it is more of a rousing drunken singalong then a band performing, but I like that more. All acoustic and unamplified. I have a strange idea of being in the war. I half expect them to start singing ‘We’ll Meet Again’ any minute. And I carry on listening to stories. And I remain quiet. But I’m happy, even if I’m not smiling. And later, a man with fantastically large eyebrows will make us a game pie and it will be just what we need at that specific point in time.
# 107 LONDON
I’ve lost too many friends to London. I hold a grudge. I’m expected to like it, and even worse, I probably would if I allowed myself to. My problem is that it’s all too predictable. I’m sure there is a story to be found, but tonight I don’t want to leave the backstage unless I absolutely have to. I pop out only to find a newsagents and it is too frenetic; the people are spilling and pouring all around me. It makes me dizzy. I concentrate on the sound of laughter and the buzz of the crowd’s echolalia and the glare of the cheap Christmas decorations. I briefly look out over Camden Lock and I think of the Turkish word Gumusservi. It means ‘moonlight shining on water.’ But there is no moonlight here. It has all been swallowed up by the blinking and the artificial. There is a flicker of neon, but I’m not in the mood for that. Tonight, I just wanna hide and read and ignore the world.