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Hand Grenade Job was on tour in the great American south and northeast over the past two months. Over the course of the tour, HGJ’s Beck Levy chronicled her experiences on the road. After the first leg of the tour concluded, Beck came home for a short break before heading back on the road. Read parts one, two, and three here, here, and here. Stay tuned for more adventures.
March 6, 2017: Takoma Park, Md. Arriving home.
In order to afford these two months of on-and-off touring, I found a subletter for my room in Mt. Pleasant. When Erin and I were initially planning these tours, I asked if I could crash with her and her family in Petworth between trips. I’d also had vague notions about visiting friends in nearby cities during the interstitial times. But as my home base I’d designated the apartment in Takoma Park where my father and step-mother live.
That is where Erin dropped me off around noon, my world a blur of nausea and pain, slightly deadened by Tramadol’s fog of dull confusion. Tramadol is a synthetic opiate, the strongest medication I’m prescribed for breakthrough pain. It only sort of works: it makes the pain a little more distant, but in return it makes me muddled and sleepy. You couldn’t call it relief.
You know the expression “when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”? Our country’s tool of choice is criminalization, and it wields police and prisons against every social problem: poverty, illness, pain, homelessness, desperation. But criminalization just generates more of these problems, rather than serving as a remedy. So the more it hits, the more these problems spring up, like in whack-a-mole.
That’s why I have been prescribed Tramadol instead of say, Percocet or Vicodin. It’s supposedly less habit-forming, it doesn’t get you high. God forbid I feel good. Punitive medication.
Dragging this fog behind me, I go upstairs and sleep all day and through the night.
March 7, 2017: Washington, D.C. Lecturing at George Washington University.
Today I’m a performer again. Lecturing at a Philosophy of Race and Gender class at GWU, on my friend Megan’s invitation. Using slides of my artwork as a jumping off point, I talk about the way capitalism is killing us. I have notes reminding me of topics I want to cover—they read “precarity, ethnic cleansing, destruction of families by borders,” like the most depressing grocery list of all time. I facilitate a conversation about International Women’s Day, and the strikes planned. Because the students are such great fun to talk with, I disclose my current occupation (musician) and my previous occupations (art object at the Hirshhorn, test subject for ketamine research). One of the students recognizes me from “Woman in E.” None of them will fess up to doing Ketamine recreationally.
March 8, 2017: Takoma Park, Md. Gender Strike.
How do you strike when you’re a musician? There’s nothing I’m supposed to be doing today. I don’t feel so well. I make a collage on Instagram. I lay down and think about Oakland. My friend E. Conner made a gorgeous flyer for strike events there today. I miss certain things about living out there, like the thriving radical community. The Women’s Strike is being observed in D.C., but in the Bay it’s a Gender Strike. I would like to go on strike from everything about being a person.
March 9, 2017: Takoma Park, Md. Erin’s Big News.
Erin tells me she can’t go on tour. Circumstances in her life have abruptly changed, and with them, her priorities. She says I’m welcome to go without her.
Tour is in three days.
My head is spinning. It feels like I’m watching a movie, a dark comedy where everything that can go wrong goes wrong. The world is full of little trapdoors. This past year I keep finding them and falling through, to alternate realities where things are slightly harder, a funhouse mirror world. The absurdity makes me want to laugh and laugh, little releases to relieve the pressure that’s building up into one long scream that might never stop.
I go to physical therapy then go to Erin’s house, where I pick up all of my gear and all of our merch.
It doesn’t occur to me to cancel the tour altogether, or if it does I barely entertain the thought. I’ve booked the dates thanks to the help and support of old friends; people I met when I was in Turboslut and The Gift, people I booked shows for when I still did that, or people those acquaintances referred me to; vouched for me with. This tier of touring operates on an economy somewhere between favors, gifts, and friendship. People hooked me up with shows despite the fact that I don’t book shows myself anymore, despite the fact that I haven’t gone on tour for five years, despite the fact that March is one of the busiest times of year for touring. And none of these are house shows. People fit me into their congested calendars, clubs stuck me onto their websites. In a couple cases, I’ve already sent out stage plots.
According to my recollection, in the last decade-plus of being a performing musician, I have only backed out of five shows, for the following reasons (in chronological order):
- Added to the bill without our knowledge or consent (shoutout to the Velvet Lounge, apologies to AIDS WOLF)
- Severe illness (Richmond, Va.)
- Severe ice storm (Atlanta, Ga.)
- Band broke up before the gig (Washington, D.C.)
- Found out show promoter had sexually assaulted a local woman (Washington, D.C.)
I literally cannot imagine not going on this tour.
Top Five Things I am Worried About Going on Tour All by Myself:
- Falling asleep driving.
- Getting sexually assaulted someplace I’m staying at alone.
- Having all my gear get stolen because I can’t keep my eyes on it at all times.
- Not being a compelling solo act.
- Burning out from doing everything by myself and having a meltdown.
I send this list to a few people. Katie Alice Greer says “Okay, number 4 is not real. The other things are legitimate concerns!” I reach out to solo artist friends. Marissa Paternoster sends me carefully considered suggestions for each list item. Michael Cantor tells me I can carry a whole set by myself. Aimée Argote describes the mixed bag of the solitary path.
Ambrose Nzams says, quoting Erik Sutch, “Hey, someone’s gotta suffer for great art!”
March 10, 2017: Takoma Park, Md. Strategizing Day.
All my feelings go into a box and shoot into orbit, where the pressure of space makes them even smaller. I make a list of all the problems and questions and worries, and I stay up all night solving them. My heart is vibrating and downshifting so my blood has turned to diesel; a thicker viscosity. Something inside me—probably that 120g that departs postmortem—has nudged a brick onto the clutch.
4:33 a.m.: DM’ed Mary Brulator asking her to join HGJ for the tour. She can’t. She’s still in Thailand being a Muay Thai badass.
5:10 a.m.: Sponsorships I wish I had:
- Carhartt WIP
- Bulleit Bourbon
- Dr. Bronner’s
- Dr. Bragg’s
- NuGo Protein Bars
- All the manufacturers of all the medications I take
- NYX Cosmetics
- Death By Audio, Gretsch
- Massage Envy
- Red Roof Inn
5:32 a.m.: Note to self: explolre [sic] getting rental cat ? [sic]
6:07 a.m.: Rules for be alone:
- No drinking.
- Only maintenance drugs.
- Limit sugar.
- Eat meals.
- Drink water competitively.
- Copious drive allowances.
- Rest stop naps.
- Rental Cat? [sic].
12:45 p.m.: My car:
- Shifting crunchy.
- Slow to start.
6:28 p.m.: Fuck… how am I going to loop vocals AND guitar? Gotta choose one? Get splitter? Why does the TC Helicon eat signal? Needs own power source?
March 11, 2017: Takoma Park, Md. Challenge Accepted.
7:14 a.m.: Informed Erin that I’m definitely still going on the tour.
10:25 a.m.: Dad: “It’s 3/11! We have to listen to 311.” Very serious look comes across his face; his tone is urgent. “I LOVE 311. You know what I like? ‘Come Original.’ What a great sentiment! Come original you got to come original!”
12 p.m.: I set up all my gear like it’s a real gig. My dad and stepmom pull up two chairs and sit in front of me. I run through the whole set with only a few hiccups. It leaves me feeling surprised and confident.
My lifelong best friend, the painter Sarah O’Donoghue takes me out to lunch. My stepmom offers to do my laundry. Since Erin bailed on the tour, I have been the recipient of so much sympathy, support, kindness, and generosity. My good fortune continues when, later that evening, Ambrose, Erik, and Paula come over. They sit on the bed and we talk and laugh while I assemble cassette tapes and strategize on my wardrobe. They fold the HGJ shirts and roll them into neat tubes, then wrap them with masking tape and sharpie the size onto the tape. This is the best system for packing merch shirts; all other systems are inferior. Step to me if you disagree.
To be continued…