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The life of a touring musician is hard. Sometimes, it is great. Other times, it is not. In the ’90s, it wasn’t uncommon for bands to chronicle their adventures on the road—the ups, the downs, and all the craziness in between. But you don’t see many tour diaries these days. It’s a lost art.
Coming off the heels of the release of their new record on Sister Polygon, post-Americana duo Hand Grenade Job headed out on tour. Beck Levy and Erin McCarley kicked off their tour at Black Cat on Feb. 23, featuring a harpist, violinist, and a chorus of acoustic guitarists accompanying the duo, who were escorted onstage by an entourage of young women distributing manifestos, flowers, and sage sticks to the audience. This took place in front of a brightly lit “UNGOVERNABLE” sign.
Hand Grenade Job is currently on tour throughout the great American South and Mid-Atlantic, and over the next six weeks, Levy will be chronicling her experiences on the road. This marks the first in a series of her tour diary. Keep reading for more adventures.
Feb. 26, 2017: Athens, Georgia, at Cookie Road with Deep State and Pansy
The fashion here is mustaches and tucked-in shirts. I’m observing the appearance and behavior of the young men at this house show. First bands are punk; short songs, short sets, only nod to the local legacy is treble. The guitarist/singer of Pansy is wearing the same eye makeup as me: neon pink with glitter. She’s younger than me and I’m pleased. Does this mean I’m intuitively on trend? I’m surprised to be excited to play, because I used to be so nervous. But beta blockers are magic and now that I love performing, I crave long sets and new audiences. Paula Martinez, a local artist, made us a neon sign that says “UNGOVERNABLE,” and though it’s about one foot-by-six feet, we brought it in the van (borrowed from our friends in Flasher). I can’t wait to light up the sign and talk about being ungovernable. I can’t wait to tell these folks about home.
These are the second and third bands I’ve seen since becoming concussed. The first was Pissed Jeans. It didn’t give me vertigo or anything. I was wearing two ear plugs that night. Tonight I’m wearing just one, and I’m less happy than I was then. Not feeling great. Just upped my Lamictal to 250 mg and I feel scooped like I’m EQed with no mids; numb. It’s OK.
In the middle of our set, after “The True Story of the Monster of the Potomac,” a guy in the audience yells out that he’s from Southeast D.C., quickly adding “It’s awful.” I ask where he went to high school, he says Chavez, and we launch into a public conversation about the changing landscape of Anacostia. When it seems like we’re losing the crowd, I recoup by asking if anyone present had a good experience in high school. A few people did and I ask them to leave.
After we play, the guy from Chavez comes to talk to me. His sister went to Ballou and was in ROTC, his brother narrowly avoided being in MS-13. He says HGJ reminds him of a time of day: right after the golden hour, when the clouds are crimson. I’m successfully wooed by this line, and consider making out with him until I recall he mentioned going to the Museum of the American Indian as a child, which places his age, generously, around 20. Nope! I’m lonely but I still have whatever is left of my pride. He and his friend enjoyed our Misfits cover (“Bullet,” with words adjusted to address certain current politicians).
After Raoul and Luis leave, a young lady comes up and prefaces her comment by declaring that she’s had a few beers. “But, you are really pretty,” she says shyly, “In a Tim Burton kind of way.” She asks if we are named Ungovernable, an understandable misreading of our sign—a risk I’d considered but decided was worth it.
I spent most of last year living on the behavioral health unit of a research hospital. Consequently, I don’t take my freedom for granted, and mostly I don’t care if anyone thinks I’m crazy. So on this first day of tour I am feeling a special kind of freedom. When we play I want to wild out. My social anxiety is better than it used to be, because I just walk away from situations I don’t want to be in, or else alienate people with my honesty.
I shouldn’t really be drinking on my medication but I usually do.
Though I bought a small used laptop for these travels, I’m typing this on my phone while the last band plays (so rude!). This method of writing is a habit I developed in the hospital, where nothing (including pen and paper) was private, and a computer wasn’t super accessible.
After this band plays, we will figure out sleeping. I’ll wash my face and drink some NyQuil. I’ll make a bed for myself on the floor. And I’d like to text someone sweet until I fall asleep, but I don’t think that will happen. Cue Veruca Salt‘s “Loneliness Is Worse”: “Don’t you wanna be/ Happy with me?”
Feb. 27, 2017: Montgomery, Ala. at a Motel: Day Off (Driving from Athens, Ga. to New Orleans, La.)
Our roadie is sweet and kind. She also talks nonstop about the CIA, with a pressured compulsivity. It puts me on edge. I’m interested in counter-intelligence and covert ops and black ops and hidden history. But for my mental health, that interest needs to be limited and contextualized, rather than peppering every topic. So far, apparently all the following people have CIA connections: Jennifer Lawrence, Gloria Steinem (knew that one), Glenn Greenwald (?), Hank Harrison, Jerry Garcia (OK, OK, MKUltra, I can see it), and Katy Perry’s parents. I take an avoidance nap.
Since this week is full of firsts for me, and I’m readjusting to the rigors of touring, I gave us plenty of days off. My bandmate Erin has been touring for two decades and is, understandably, weary of the rigors of touring, where the only thing you can count on is constant low-grade discomfort. Some shows are great, some are awful. Sometimes you sleep on a nice couch, sometimes you play in clubs with green rooms, and sometimes there are piles of dirty mattresses being used to sop up a foot of putrid standing water in the basement show. Unless your band gets lucky or perseveres for years, you stay on that circuit indefinitely. A person can tire of it. My first band, Turboslut, played in Athens, Ga. almost a decade ago, with Witches and American Cheeseburger at a former airplane hangar called The Hangar. The next show was in Baton Rouge and we did that drive in one day—it’s nine hours, which is three more than what I consider easy. I’m 30 now with a bad back and I value my mental health and quality of life and I want tour to be easier.
It’s Monday: My holy day. I am a devotee of The Bachelor (the entire franchise) and the season is almost over. We decide to stop and stay at a motel, my only demand being a television with ABC at 7 p.m. My demand is met. To my sorrow, it’s merely a one-hour episode as opposed to the usual two. Everyone goes to sleep at 9. I stay up ’till 3 a.m. looking at memes on my phone and listening to Erin snore.
Feb. 28, 2017: New Orleans, La. at Dan’s House, Mardi Gras Day Off
List of ways to die:
- A truck grazes the van, taking out only me.
- The hunter’s scalpel around my neck escapes its protective sheath and pierces between my ribs upwards to my heart, Elliott Smith-style.
- Botulism from a bloated can of beans.
- Electrocuted by faulty wiring while setting up my pedals at a venue with inconsistent electricity… somehow (got to work on this one).