25
Jun
10

Tour Diary from the Urinals 30th Anniversary Tour

Dear reader(s) (hey, there might be two of you)…while I’m finishing my new novel (not the book coming in OCT, but the one after that), I’ll be posting some older stuff here, as I’m pulling ten-twelve hour days now on the final revision of the book before it goes to my agent. When the book is done, I’ll be posting some newer stuff…including tour dates, reading information and all that. As you were.


URINAL TOUR DIARY: A WEEK ON THE ROAD WITH THE MOST PUNCTUAL AND POLITE BAND IN PUNK

Chapter the First: In which the Urinals embark on the East Coast leg of their 30th anniversary tour, and in which we come to discuss the name “Urinals” and show off our surgery scars.

At the airport…in line at LAX with our instruments, a suburban looking woman in her 50’s asks me and Kev, “are you in a band?”

“Yes,” Kev says.

“What band?” she says.

Kev pauses.  I pause.  After a long wait, he says, “The Urinals.”

She laughs nervously.

This happens often.  John (Talley Jones, founding member along with Kevin Barrett and Kjehl Johansen) has tried for years to be named something other than the Urinals (or, Urinals, as the article is sometimes dropped…more on this later at the WFMU interview).

When I joined the ashes of the 2nd generation Urinals (after Rod Barker quit following the band’s appearances at the Beijing Pop Festival a few years back), John wanted us to change the name and, after a labyrinthine and mind-staggeringly algebraic process of us finally agreeing on a name, we change it a week later to another name, and then came back to (the) Urinals a couple years later.  It didn’t seem to matter what we were called, we were always “Formerly Urinals” in a parenthetical, so Urinals we are and now Urinals we have stayed.

“That’s quite a name,” the woman says, stepping back a hair.  “What kind of music?”

Kev says “Punk” and I say “Garage” at nearly the same time[1].  We look at each other and nod, intimating, “yeah, what he said.”

John is behind us, not listening, during this exchange as we wait in line and kick our instruments and bags forward and the line snakes through the maze of tie-offs and police-line like tape.  The woman has stopped talking to us, leaving an awkward exit to the conversation.

Kevin says to me, “Why isn’t John in front?”

“Good question,” I say, and tell John to get to the front of the line.  He has, in classic Urinal fashion, booked the flight and downloaded our boarding passes.  He only gives me and Kevin our passes for the flight we are going to next (Nashville), not for both legs, as he knows us, knows us well, and knows one or both of us will misplace, lose, spindle and/or mutilate our boarding passes if given them too soon.  John is forever leaving breadcrumbs so Kevin and I can find our way home out of the forest.

We get through a series of security checks, during which Kevin and I get separated from John (he got to go in the large group in front of us, while a TSA guy tells me and Kevin to wait).  I, even though I have none on me, break out in a sweat that this TSA guy is going to send me to the drug sniffing dogs, but, no, everyone—not just me—is being held up.  Eventually, we all end up regrouped in the Southwest terminal that will take us to Nashville.

While having my morning coffee (my first, and much needed), we get to talking about John’s recent (last year) surgery after his heart attack, and I ask him to show me his scars, thinking he might have a gnarly, rib-spreading Frankenstein’s monster scar on his chest.  He, instead, while standing over me while I’m slumped in a chair, points both his index fingers emphatically to the sides of his crotch (that’s where they go in for an angioplasty) while thrusting said crotch forward and making a face that would make David Coverdale proud.  Several parents take several children farther away from us, while two of us sit in chairs and the third member of our party points to his crotch.  This doesn’t bode well, as John is by far the most social advanced of the Urinals, and if he’s going to offend strangers in airports, Kevin and I may end up in some prison somewhere.

John and I go look for a watch in the LAX airport terminal, as my old one has a Velcro band that has grown smelly from using it while I surf.  I decide I need a new, adult, non-smelly watch, and John says he can find us a watch store.  Kev watches the bags as we search, without a hit, for a watch for sale at the terminal.

The plane to Nashville is somewhat uneventful, save for me being repeatedly grabbed by a small child whose snotty, grimy hands convince me that I will be sick beyond belief soon into the tour.  Children are like little annoying Petri dished on planes.

We land in Nashville, make several jokes about whether or not Music City is ready for the Urinals, which leads to an extended riff of my dream (or at least dream of this idle moment) of starting a club in town called “The Grand Old Sloppry.”

Kevin and I point to our crotches as often as we can, after begging John, unsuccessfully this time, to show us his scars.  John and I go off into the Nashville airport in search of a new watch for me.  Kev watches out bags.  There are no watch stores.

This leg of the flight, it seems to be John’s turn to have his chair kicked, repeatedly, by an annoying child.

At Hartford, we are picked up by my father.  My dad is an ex narcotics agent, while I am an ex drug addict with a recent opiate relapse after 15 years sober and recovering alcoholic.  We don’t talk about this too much.  Actually, we don’t talk about it at all.

Chapter the Second: In which the ghosts of Marconi and Tesla spin in their graves, whilst we discuss whether or not my parents have wireless internet in their house.

In true punk rock fashion (we are nothing if not fashionable), we stay, in Connecticut, at my parent’s house.  They are super accommodating, have bought all sorts of local micro-brews for John and Kevin (who can drink), and lots of soda water for me.  My mother has cooked, after nicely asking for the band’s rather extensive and troublesome-to-some dietary restrictions (I am a vegetarian, which has angered and perplexed my father for years, and John is mostly vegan, which may as well be telling them he licks lichen off stones to live).  But, they roll, they adjust and they accommodate, and they are very nice doing it.

I have been worried my parents would be on totally good behavior and not show any of their folly-a-duex insanity that has shaped my mind over the years, but, thankfully, a moment comes early that proves, yes, they are insane.

I take my laptop out of the bag, hoping to check email and maybe do some work on student papers (again, counter to punk mythos, we all have jobs…if we are lucky, this tour will break even, or perhaps even let us be “Hundredaires”).  I keep a running checklist of the ways we are not cool: we have jobs, we are staying, at least in CT, with parents, we are borrowing said parents’ Subaru wagon for the tour…ROCK AND ROLL!

Holding my laptop, I ask, “Do you guys have wireless?”

“”Hmmmm,” my mother says.

“Yes,” my father says.

“I don’t think we do,” my mother says.

John and Kev look on, saying nothing.

“Well, we have wireless,” my father says.  “But it needs a thing to plug into.”

“A router?” I say, thinking, how cool, they’ve upgraded to wireless.

“A what?” my father says.

“You have a wireless router so I can get on line?”

My mother says, “You can get on line at my computer.”

I take a deep breath.  I silently go through the serenity prayer.  I try not to think of how good getting loaded would feel right now.  Veins throb deep desperate reminders that they would really like to be carrying opiates to my brain. I say, “I know I can do it from your computer—I’m asking if I can do it from mine.”

“Well, you’d need to hook it up,” my dad says.

John and Kev look uncomfortably around the room.

“So you don’t have wireless?” I say.

“No, I don’t think so,” my mother says.

My father snaps, “Well, we have wireless, it’s just not WIREless.”

I take another breath.  I hold up my laptop.  “If I turn this on.  In this room.  Without hooking it up to ANYTHING, will it get the internet?”

They both look at me as if I’m stupid.

“Of course not,” my father says.

Question answered, we settle in to a nice dinner, where we all agree that Obama had better win the upcoming election or we are all royally fucked.  Dinner is great, my folks like talking to John and Kev, and I slip away to the back bedroom to check the internet on my mother’s computer.

Sophomoric Interlude #1: In which we digress into a discussion of various sex acts.

A long-running topic of conversation in the Urinals is fetish sex, odd sex acts and general running jokes about sex.  I have no idea what the band’s sex talk was like before I joined, but I bring to the band, along with a beat-up Telecaster and a new vintage amp every other week, a history as an ex-sex columnist and general all around pervert.  However, these talks may have preceded me—I have no idea, BUT if, prior to my joining, the Urinals talked of theories of the cosmos and had running debates on Greenspan’s economic theories and not fetish sex, well, if there’s blame to be laid for this, let it rest on and with me.

But, whoever’s to blame, one of the running sexual themes the band talks about is a sex act known as “The Danny Thomas.”  This may be apocryphal, and apologies to the Danny Thomas Estate, if it is, but the story goes that he was into having hot women either shit on a plate on his chest, or his chest sans plate, while he jerked off.[2] This became known (again, as the story goes, a story that we MAY have made up, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t…it’s hard to tell after a while) among elite Hollywood Prostitutes and Escorts as “The Danny Thomas.”[3]

Talk of the Danny Thomas leads us to other sex acts that we give names to:

  • The Reverse Karl Rove (John’s name…no act as yet attributed to the name…feel free to add your own.)
  • The Wide Stance (for Larry Craig)
  • The Reverse Sudoku (after I briefly confused Bukake with Sudoku, which could be problematic if we ever play Japan)
  • The Mama Bird

This last one is mine, and, as far as I know, I came up with the name for it (though, if the internet has taught us NOTHING else, there are no new sex acts and EVERYTHING has a name).  [4]It involves a woman (or a man, I suppose…whatever the recipient chooses) chewing food and then spitting it into the recipient’s mouth while, of course, the recipient pleasures him/herself.  While this act has a REAL name, I’m sure, in the sex trade, I think calling it “The Mama Bird” is my own.

This leads to an ongoing discussion of us calling or emailing Dommes and Escorts (ok, it leads to me talking about it while the guys listen) and asking “How much for a Mama Bird?” without explaining the act and seeing what the people would say.  Would they just know what it was by the name?  Would they ask?  Would they, not wanting to appear unstudied in the craft of human sexuality, just name a price without knowing what they were agreeing to?[5]

Chapter the Third: In which we drive to Boston to pick up Danny Gromfin and play a show at the Middle East.

Boston, where I lived for 6 years back in the 80’s, is a town of a lot of my alcoholic and drug-fuel ghosts.  In short, I burned some bridges there a long time ago.  One of the bridges I thought I’d burned was with a woman I was in love with (though of course by my behavior, there was no way she could tell) in 1986.  After some friendly emails, we have plans for coffee (just coffee—we’re both happily married, she has a new kid, etc) the afternoon we arrive in town.  At 3:30 or so, while on the road to Boston with the guys, I get a call.

“Hey Rob,” J says.  “Are you in town yet?”

I tell her we’re on the Mass Pike, about an hour out of Boston.

“Oh,” she says.  “Then I can’t meet up with you today.”

I tell her our show is not until 11PM…that there’s still time.

“No,” she says.  “I haven’t told my husband about you.”

“It was twenty years ago,” I say.  “He doesn’t know you fucked people twenty years ago?”

The guys in the car start paying more attention.  The CD player is turned down.

“Did we ever actually have sex?” she says.  I think back.  I can’t recall actually fucking, but I remember going down on her in a closet-sized apartment somewhere in Boston.  “Well, not penetrative sex,” I say.[6] “But, well, you know.”

“I do know,” she says.  “And my husband doesn’t.  And he’s on his way home from work and I can’t tell him I’m going to meet you.”

“It’s just coffee,” I say.  Thinking, isn’t it?

“And he’d wonder who you are and why I’m leaving our son with him to have coffee with you and how we know each other, and I just can’t go into all that with him.”

“Ok,” I say.  Disappointed, but not wanting to make any chaos or wreckage in her life, of which previous chaos and wreckage she has already gracefully and generously forgiven much.

“What time do you get up tomorrow?” she says, telling me she has time in the morning after she drops her son off at day care.

“Whenever you want,” I say.

And we end up making a plan for after she drops her son off at day care, to get together for coffee.

I hang up.

John says, “So?  You’re meeting for coffee?  He smiles.  “Coffee her husband can’t know about?”

The guys rib me a while about this “coffee” date and what it means, and while I know that J and I are not going to sleep together, I have to admit to a secret joy at being a threat to her marriage by my mere existence in a town.  Though, of course, it owes more to his jealousy than any astounding sexual power of mine.  But, still.  It’s nice to be a threat now and again.

“I’D like some coffee on this tour,” Kev says in a lecherous voice that makes anything sound like a double entendre.

Sophomoric Interlude #2: In which we digress into a discussion of single, double and triple entendres.

The band has an ongoing theory that you can make any sentence sound sexual, provided it’s rendered in the proper lecherous tone.  Some examples:

  • I’d like to change her strings.
  • I’d like to ground her microphone.
  • I’d like to flush her radiator.

And so on.  This leads us to attempt several TRIPLE entendres, but we are, for the entire tour, unable to do so.

John or Kevin, I’m unclear who, does, however, come up with what he deems the classic single entendre:

“I would like to fuck you.”

Chapter the Third Resumed: In which we get lost, find Danny’s home and play a show.

Danny Gromfin is the head of our record label, Warning Label Records, and nothing bad will be said about him in this essay because he is a man of great humor, fun company and an all-around good Joe, in 40’s film parlance.  He also has a lovely family (Linea, Elizabeth & Paige), who were astoundingly accommodating to us (a recurring theme on this tour), and they were fabulous.  Elizabeth was losing baby teeth while we were there (the first in Beantown, the second on the road, sent via Blackberry to the proud pop), and I have now in my possession and soon to be framed, a rockin’ and totally charming piece of Paige’s original art.  Too cool.

Since I got us lost on the way to the house, we are late to get to the Middle East.  But late for the Urinals is early for other bands, and we are the only ones there except for the very cool sound guy Kevin.

In classic rock tradition, we get there and wait around an awful long time.  Since we are using a “backline” for this tour (i.e., other people’s amps and drum kits), there is no way to sound-check when we get there.  Not the biggest issue—we are a three piece and we are kind of loud and we have two vocals (me and John) that have to be as loud as John’s bass.  Pretty simple.

The Red Sox are making some astounding comeback against the Rays in game 5 on the TV as I walk next door and buy a pack of clove cigarettes, thinking:

  • They are not real cigarettes, which I quit over 10 years ago.
  • I will only smoke one or two a day on tour, as my wife has told me I can smoke OR get to fuck her.  A no-brainer.  There will be no smokes back home in Cali.
  • I rationalize it by thinking, well, it’s not heroin or oxycoten. Which, while bad thinking, still seems altogether clear and level-headed to the addict brain.

We nosh on great food from the Middle East, hang out for a while.  John orders a good beer, as is his taste (he has a couple the nights of shows…he’s a freak, to my mind, as if I have one beer, I keep having them until I pass out and/or end up in a drunk tank.  We are different people.  He can drink responsibly.  I can drink OR be responsible.).

The crowd is pretty good.  A near full room, and some great opening acts, including the super cool Hospital Rats and The Throwaways, who let us use their gear, and the River City Rebels.

The Hospital Rats go above and beyond on the gear front, as I break a string on the 2nd song.  No trouble—I’ve brought a backup.  I break the high E string on THAT one in its 2nd song.  Now we have more than half the set left, and I have five strings.  I don’t want to break the momentum or fuck up the other guys’ set, so I play most of the rest of the set with 5 strings.  All goes fine, except the solo on “Shut Yer Trap” sounds kinda crappy, but hey, what can you do?  Near the encore, The Hospital Rats’ guitar player super graciously tosses me his Tele, and I get to play “I’m a Bug”, “Strip Club” and “Ack, Ack, Ack, Ack” with all my (his) strings.  Much rejoicing.  John and Kev play great.  Danny sells some merch and records the show.  Everyone seems to have a good time.  The tour starts off well.

As an added bonus, just prior to the show, great photographer John Nikolai shoots a bunch of shots for a book he’s doing of portraits of punk/post-punk and so on bands.  It’s a ball getting to be subjects for him, and the portraits are pretty incredible.  Check out his fabulous work at: www.johnnikolai.com

We go to some all-night joint for food after the show.  A very drunk blonde college-aged woman tells me my glasses are “very hipster.”  I tell her I’ve had them since before they were hip, way back since Malcolm X was wearing them and she looks at me blankly.  “Thank you,” I say, still not knowing if “very hipster” was praise or a put down.

There is no bathroom at this restaurant, which seems to violate some crucial code, and the tables are astoundingly uncomfortable, with a counter at neck level that Kev and I keep bumping into.  But still, bad food and good company makes for a good night.

At Danny and Linea’s I’d asked if it was ok to have my backpack with Benadryl in it left in the kids’ playroom (where we’re storing our clothes).  I don’t have kids, and so I never know what they should be around or not.

Linea says, “It’s in your bag?”

I nod.

She says, “They wouldn’t go into your bag, but thanks for asking.”

Before I crash on the pull-out sofa that night, it strikes me that a year ago, during my opiate relapse, one of my most common acts was to secretly check every house I was in for pain pills in the medicine cabinet and steal as many of them as I thought I could get away with if they were there.  I’m glad not to be thinking or acting that way anymore, but it gives me a shudder of self-loathing that Danny and Linea’s children, at 5 and under 3, are more ethical than I was at 41.  Not good thoughts to be having as one slips into dream land, but there you go.

The next morning, old flame J and I go out for coffee and walk the neighborhoods where we went to college together.  Boston seems oddly familiar and totally strange at the same time—a product of the years, various physical changes and construction and destruction of the city’s architecture, and the fact that I spent most of my waking hours in the 80’s totally wasted and much of the decade seems like a fuzzy dream anyway.

She is still beautiful.  We have coffee, catch up, talk about her son and wonderful, albeit very jealous husband and my incredible and not-jealous wife Gayle.  We talk about the last 20 years of both of us playing in bands and living our lives.  It feels good to part ways on such uncomplicated good terms, and she drops me back at the Gromfin’s house, and we load up the car for the show in CT.  Actually, we take two cars, since Danny is taking his to CT to be left there when we all pile in to the Subaru for the NY and Baltimore legs of the trip.

Chapter the Fourth: In which we bring the rock to New Haven.

We drop Danny’s car at my folk’s house.  My mother tells us there’s a crock pot of vegetarian chili and a pot of rice that will be waiting for us.  The crock pot will be on low, she tells us.  The rice will be on the front porch.

“The porch?” John says

“It won’t fit in the fridge,” she says.

“Um.  Ok.”

On the way to the show at Café Nine, John asks me, “Do I put the rice BACK out on the porch when I’m done?”

“I have no idea,” I tell him.

Café Nine is the best show, attendance and energy-wise, of the tour (though our performances at WFMU and in Baltimore may have been tighter).

Paul, the owner and an old friend of mine, takes us out for killer Indian food, and then I hang with my buddy Chris, who’s come to see the show.  We smoke cigarettes and talk about opiate addiction while the 2nd band plays.

When we get to the stage, it’s good from the start.  The sound is great (thanks, Warren!).  No broken strings.  John and Kev sound great and the room is packed with people dancing and at times (surprisingly enough) singing along.  There is even slamming and pogo-ing to “I’m A Bug” and “Ack, Ack, Ack, Ack”.  The new material goes over really well.

The crowd calls for an encore, which we do (I think it was Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”, but it might have been the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me”).  They call for a second encore, which is wild and unexpected.  After which, my guitar gets caught in some hanging wires above the stage.  While my guitar is hanging, I’m soon to learn, dreadfully out of tune, John starts the riff to “Presence of Mind”.  I get my guitar down from the light fixture and attempt to play the song, but it’s about a half step out of tune and sounds…well, bad.  But the energy is good and I re-tune doing the bass/drum only section and we end it on tune and on beat.

After this, the crowd forms a chain and won’t let us off the stage.  They demand another song.  How odd.  We play a new one, “This Song is a Virus”, and they dance along with the same energy as to the ones they knew.  Very cool.  Thanks, New Haven!  And special thanks to Paul and Warren, the sound dude.

Afterwards, we hang and talk with fans in the parking lot, then trek the 45 minutes back to my folks’ house, where John takes the rice in from the porch and has some.  And I check the non-wireless and call Gayle.

Brief Interlude of trivial factoids from the road #1:

  • John shaves everyday on the road (Kev, Danny and I don’t, at all, it seems)…
  • John and I surprise each other by EACH knowing all the words to the Doors’ “Not to Touch the Earth” (though it’s doubtful that either of us knows all the words to the piece from which NTTTE is excerpted, “The Celebration of the Lizard”). [7]
  • Slutty, mundane, formerly hip things that are now mainstream but that I still find hot: tramp stamps, belly button piercings and torn stockings with garters (ok, the last is not that common, but I’m doing my part for mainstreaming them).
  • We have a rider (from our fabulous booker, Peter D—thanks again, Peter) for the tour that’s very extensive…it says we need clean towels, a case of good beer, a fifth of some premium whiskey, 100 watt Marshall guitar amp, huge bass amps, a killer PA, and so on.  We get a lot of beer on the road, but little else in the rider is provided, though we DO  get everything we need: amps, equipment and whatnot.  But at one point, Danny G says, “You guys have the most extensive rider that gets ignored.”
  • John, on the difference of touring with me in the band, rather than an unnamed ex-band member: “We don’t get updates on the guitar player’s bowel movements, anymore.”  I ask what this means, and, apparently, one git player he toured with (John has been in several touring bands in addition to the Urinals, so I have no idea if this was a Urinal member or not) who preceded me was obsessive about keeping the band astoundingly updated on whether or not he was “regular” on the road.
  • Northern New Jersey is the self-proclaimed “Embroidery Capital of the World Since 1872.”  There is no note on the Welcome to Northern NJ sign giving any hint of where the Embroidery Capital of the world was in 1871 and before.  Clearly, whatever area it is lives in constant shame of the large embroidery shadow cast by Northern New Jersey.

[1] This is always a problem with/for me.  “Punk” is the more accurate and the term I hold most dear, but it requires, seemingly, on my part, an accompanying dissertation on how “Punk” as it started and “Punk” as what it’s come to mean via post-hardcore, post-MTV culture and post-power punk bands like Sum 41 and the like, are very different things.  Punk, while starting as meaning ANYTHING has seemingly been reduced, as labels are wont to do, to being a very narrow SOMEthing.  While “Garage” seems somehow more democratic and less pre-defined to most people.  However, for purposes of both historical and current accuracy, Kev was right—we are a punk band.  Which is, as D. Boon said, “whatever we make it to be.”

[2] John recalls it as involving a glass-topped coffee table, but the basic concept is the same.

[3] For the record, so far as I know, none of the band, despite our name, counts this among our many varied and depraved sexual appetites.

[4] FYI: There is an LA Dominatrix I know who performs an act known as “The Helicopter” that involves two spinning bullwhips above her head that she wields with an astounding accuracy.

[5] No calls nor emails were made.  You will have to find out for yourself what a Mama Bird would cost you.  It will, of course, vary, given your local, the state of the economy, and whether or not the act exists.

[6] Technically, to the letter of the law, untrue.  A finger, perhaps two (the mind loses these essential details over time) were used in a penetrative manner.  But, to the spirit of the conversation and her question, no cocks or pussies were mingled.  True.

[7] “The Celebration of the Lizard” is the song in which Morrison proclaims that he (or the song’s narrator) is “…the Lizard King, I can do anything.”  And while this DOES rhyme, it makes little sense, as the Lizard King, were there such a creature, would logically, only rule over the Lizards.  There would still be MUCH that, as Lizard royalty, such a king could not do.  Read the New York Post on a subway, for but one minor example.

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