Woke up before everyone else, despite being the last to fall asleep. I don’t know why I couldn’t just turn down; sometimes my sleep is like that. The “joke” is that “sowley doesn’t sleep” which isn’t the case per se. I just sleep nice and sound in maybe three beds across this country. In those beds, I sleep a full eight hours, easy. Sometimes ten. I’ve done twelve before but there’s a certain crossover after that length of time where my body just feels like shit for sleeping that long.
I was kind of a feral child; my parents separated when I was young. My mom took on the lions share of custody of Katie and I; at this time, she was also running an ER and going back to school to further her education. Her sister, Carolyn, lived with us; she had some sort of mental health issues and mom took her in after our dad moved out. Carolyn kept guard over Katie and I but also didn’t really have any experience with children, so Katie and I just sort of ran amok, all the while not really gaining any sort of education from either of our parents. I had to learn on my own. I honestly only learned how to properly shave my face maybe three years ago. Why I’m bringing this up is to discuss sleep. I never had a parent or guardian say “okay, this is a general healthy guide for sleeping,” It was always “it’s bed time” and then I’d be laying in a dark bedroom for hours, either wondering about death, or listening to tapes—bird calls, mostly. Sometimes that first Tribe Called Quest tape. Maybe a comedy record. But the bird tapes were crucial…sounds of North American Birds in their natural elements, interspersed with a calm, masculine voice introducing each bird. I didn’t really nap either as kid. I rarely nap now. In the whip, I nap all the time, but that’s often related to the womb-like nature of the whip as it rumbles down a highway (even now, I’m managing to close my eyes while typing.) It didn’t hit me that this might be a problem until a week after graduation. I spent the previous three years in close proximity to my college campus, often working very late hours on laying out newspaper sections, or writing album reviews for radio/adjusting the programming playlists for DJ’s. The latter was easy, but the former was incredibly time consuming; many cigarettes and coffee cups to keep it moving. Oh I was also working full time, while going to school full time. At no point did anyone pull me aside and ask “are you sleeping?” and somewhere I embraced it, making it a point of pride that I could do all this shit without much of a wink. Then, about a month after graduation, when my only responsibility was reduced to a full time job (and whatever dumb bullshit I was doing in my spare time—unknowingly playing in a Dead C cover band, trying to date gay girls, buying records, smoking dope etc) I found myself laying on a couch at three in the morning, while infomercials looped on a television asking “why can’t I fall asleep? OH RIGHT, you’ve been burning hours on school for like three years straight.” Then I’d be awake five hours later. So really, sleep has never been big on my list of things to do, with the exception of three, maybe four beds in North America. When I’m in those beds, there’s an embrace, a warmth, a comfort that’s unprecedented. It’s so safe. It’s so easy, to just sleep comfortably. Its really simple, if I’m not comfortable, then my sleep is brief. I’m rarely comfortable, but it’s also “sleep” so who cares? It’s not like a party, or a gig, or whatever where my comfort zone needs to be addressed in order for me to not freak out. It’s sleep—go lay on the ground and try to forget it all for a couple hours.
We’re all milling about in the lot, trying to figure out what to do. Cheyenne is learning how to skateboard, and Marissa is even taking a few shots at it. I’m sipping a hotel coffee, still in the green bicycle slacks and my Hector LaVoe “El Cantante” t-shirt. Breakfast is the topic, and our options are extremely limited. So limited that I’m about to walk into my first ever Waffle House. Four to a booth, and the cook keeps staring at us. I forgot we were in Mississippi. Anyway, the experience was awful. So many people warned me “don’t mess with waffle house” and I thought “It’s waffles, how bad could it be?” Now I know.
It’s an extremely short drive to Birmingham, maybe two hours? First time here, and I’m excited. I’ve met a lot of freaks from this area, but have never seen the land itself. It’s where Sun Ra is from, the “Magic City.” Well, not from; Sun Ra is from Saturn. He landed in Birmingham. Then Chicago, then everywhere. Philly. That house is still there. I’m 90% certain Marissa lives near John Coltrane’s house now; I hope I get to see it someday. I’m certain I’ll cry at it’s steps. First time I heard JC I cried. Never heard anything like that.
We get to the venue, and I immediately order a coffee from the cute coffee shop, and take some selfies in the photobooth. The layout of this place is a trip. The walls are lined with nintendo game consoles, kitchy ephemera centered on space travel, and portraits and records of/by Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount; the Arkestra must play here, right? Following a guide to our green room, I encounter Brian from Man Or Astro-Man. I haven’t seen him over a year, last time being the Electrical 20th anniversary party. I figured—given his history of booking in Alabama that this was one of his projects.
The green room is massive, and I immediately remember a video Alicia from the band Bully once sent me of this well decorated, sunny, flat somewhere in America and sure enough it’s this place. “Are you sleeping in the pods?” she texts? The pods will go to Kitten Forever, but we all have spaces to crash tonight. Bunk beds, long couches, multiple showers, a rooftop deck, racks of books, games, a sprawling dvd collection (no “Belly” though) an old school billiard table, and a hi-fi with a batch of records. I immediately put on John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” and get a game of cut-throat going between Jarrett and Mike. What a wild concept, a grip of musicians create a space where artists can be made to feel as close to at home as possible. To treat traveling musicians humanely instead of simply a point of profit. Records that will get played today and tonight: Jay-Z’s “The Black Album;” “Paul’s Boutique;” Husker Du—“New Day Rising;” Black Sabbath’s self titled album; several Sun Ra joints (of course.)
The set up tonight is on the floor, in the middle of the live room, under a big parachute that will be illuminated by various lights and effects. It’s a really beautiful and intimate set up. “We should have whales projected on there” Mike will remark later. I get the merch set up, and get my laundry going. What a relief, we were sneaking up on another two weeks without doing laundry and my unders were getting ripe; definitely want everything fresh and clean before we enter the cold front of the east coast. Today, we have no rain chasing us or sneaking in. It’s a clear and beautiful day Dinner break, and everyone either goes to a vegan food truck or a neighboring BBQ house. I chose the latter and it was delicious. Sweet tea fried chicken sandwich with pimento cheese and fresh tomatoes. Spectacular. Walking back in from the BBQ spot, there’s a projection of Minnie Riperton on the big screen. Bless. “Fuck this punk shit, I wanna listen to Minnie Riperton.” Though I do appreciate the flex in the punk-bootleg-tee world of embracing Sade, DJ Screw, Albert Ayler, et al. Radical black music will always be more in my lane than some twerp from Crystal Lake, IL who hates his parents.
KinZie kick the night off with some righteous rock, but I’m distracted by a couple technicalities that need to be worked out with the house, so I keep running back upstairs looking for the production manager. That’s when I see it—little Marissa Paternoster on Jarrett’s skateboard.
“I GET IT NOW! LOOK AT ME I’M A SKATEBOARDER!!” she says as she coasts back and forth from one end of the loft to the other. All these weeks of shaking her head and muttering under her breath how it’s not safe, and now…NOW she’s coasting across the room. It’s really cute and she’s giddy, and happy. It’s quite a beautiful scene.
I’m extremely excited for Kitten Forever’s set tonight; I feel confident that the room and the display will provide a certain kind of wild energy that will result in an inspiring set. I take my place along the side of room where I can concentrate. They really murder it tonight, but there’s something off; I don’t know if it’s the sound or being under the parachute, or what, but something feels light. Every set they play is a massive bombast, but tonight it sounds (SOUNDS, not how they played. They still play with utter abandon) like it’s pulled back. The crowd is timid too, which happens in some cities, but I was really wishing for more. People are about it though, handing them compliments and pounding out bread for them in exchange for goods.
Screaming Females set was a rocker. Heavy jams and stretchouts, proof in that pudding being “Halfway Down” where Mike slowed everything, well, halfway down and really gave each of them room to breathe. Truly inspired stuff. After the show, everyone takes turns skateboarding around the smooth floor of the live room before retiring upstairs.
I don’t know how to explain the Shame Parade, but it marched right through my brain as everyone was rounding up to watch “Green Room.” I made a particularly crass joke based around my need for privacy, it bombed tragically, and I ran my crossfaded ass (and it was exceptionally crossfaded between some fancy local brews, cheap tequila, and some tight ass grass) back to my room. That was the plan all along. I really don’t like horror/torture porn movies, so the plan off top was to not partake in “Green Room” but I didn’t expect to feel horrible, horrible embarrassment in advance. And that’s part of getting crossfaded sometimes. That’s part of partying too much, sometimes. The vulnerable serum of alcohol and the dreaded fear that can be embedded in some kinds of grass, and gurl….well, Shame Parade. I just hide. I make notes to remember to pick things up left around the flat so I don’t have to talk to/look at/engage with anyone at this point. I just want to fold my clothes, and listen to some dumb comedy and take a long hot shower. I pack up my clothes in a manner that would make for efficiency: shirts on one side, underwear/socks on the other, all the way to the base where the pants and button down shirtreside. It felt good to get it in some kind of order, so as not to completely disrupt/undo the order when a piece of clothing needs to be retrieved.
That’s when I looked at my pants to discover a horrifying realization: my earplug container has gone missing. “NOOOOOOOO” Now, ear plugs are easy to replace, but custom molds that take months to make, and upwards of three to four hundred dollars? No. Not that easy. They’ve been crucial for jaunts like these. They’re also clear, so if they fall anywhere, there’s a very good chance they’re not coming back. I start retracing my steps “okay, we played cornhole on the roof” go check the roof. I step out into the cold air in my underwear and tanktop, running a flashlight all over the deck. No dice. “Maybe they’re on the floor, where you made that stupid joke, you stupid fucking idiot. Well, you’re gonna have to look there tomorrow cuz you’re not going to look right now.”
You ever want to disappear completely? That’s where I am right now.
I take a shower…I brush it off. “It’s okay, you cant afford to replace those, so…this part of your life is over now. You can’t tour with anything else because your hearing will just go away quick. So you don’t go on tours anymore. It’s okay! You’re just finished is all.” Is this some curse from Sun Ra? “Discipline No 27?” Chaos elements of Scorpio season?
I hear the pitter pat of people getting ready for bed, and I figure “okay, maybe I can just look around in private and not talk to anyone. Maybe I’ll find them but probably not.”
I run into Marissa.
“I feel like a stupid idiot for some dumb joke I made, I want to die, and I lost my earplugs.”
“Oh! Nope. You didn’t!” and she grabs the capsule off the table “I figured those were yours.”
“Thanks for saving my life, again” and the Shame Parade bundles itself in a springy bunk bed, wrapped under all the blankets possible. Maybe I’ll sleep for a while.