Tuesday, April 12, 2011

In which I drive 750 miles to see Throwing Muses

Anyone who has known me for any length of time and has talked music with me knows that I'm a big big fan of Throwing Muses and everything that was born of them.  Kristin Hersh solo, 50 Foot Wave, Belly, Tanya Donelly solo.

I've seen the Muses a number of times, and this is about the most memorable of those experiences.  Saturday May 6, 2000  -- "The Gut Pageant".  This post is something I've been talking about for several weeks, and here it finally is.  Like most of these related posts, this isn't very much about the actual concert.  This is about the experience of getting there.  But just to make it interesting, here's somebody's video recording of "Counting Backwards" from that show:

After the release of their seventh record, Limbo In 1996, the Muses pretty much stopped touring.  Tanya had left the band a few albums ago, Kristin was busy with her solo career, and it looked like it was the end of the road for Throwing Muses.

At some point after the Muses split, I became friends with a guy named Kevin because of Throwing Muses.  Like me, he used to go to every show when they came through North Carolina.  Like me, he would be there early, would be at the front of the stage, and would linger around like a drooling sycophant after the show.  At some point in 1999, Kevin spotted me at a Mojave 3 show and had recognized me from all the Muses shows.  He sent a female friend of his to find out who I was, which made me think that the girl was into me.  Not quite.  As it turned out, Kevin and I lived about two miles away from each other and were into the exact same music, but we didn't know each other at all in Greensboro.   Over the next several years, we went to a lot of shows together, did a lot of stupid stuff together and it was like we were childhood friends.   I got to know his friend Neil, who like the two of us, was a big dork for the Muses.  The three of us didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but when it came to musical taste, we three were practically identical.

Kevin came to me with some earth-shattering news in the late winter of 2000.  The Muses were getting back together for one night only!  All the original members, all the people who were only in the band for one record.  Everybody.  One night in Cambridge Massachusetts.  May 6.  A Saturday.  We knew that we had to go, no matter what.  We bought five tickets (one for Neil's girlfriend and one for her friend, who incidentally was the one who was sent to investigate me) and planned our trip.  The girls flew up there and booked a really weird hotel room in Boston.  We boys were going to do it the right way: drive.

The show was early.   Something like 6pm on Saturday, which didn't seem like it would require any special planning, but it almost screwed us.

We had planned on leaving Greensboro at 9 in the morning, driving most of, if not all of the way to Boston, booking a hotel somewhere, and taking all of Saturday to be leisurely before going to the show.  Right out of the gates, though, there were problems.  Kevin had to loan some money to one of my neighbors (who I dated for about five weeks), but she wasn't where she was supposed to be when she was supposed to be.  Neil decided to take a half day instead of the whole day off.  We had to wait for him to meet us before we could get on the road, and it ended up being something like 3 pm before we left.

Still, though, there wasn't going to be a problem.  We would drive through the night until we couldn't drive any more.  We would be in NYC or somewhere close to that, we'd sleep for a few hours and our Saturday would still be as easy as pie.

Because we are idiots when the three of us get together, we decided to make the trip interesting by attempting to go the entire trip without saying a word to each other.  We took Kevin's car and he did most of the driving, so Neil and I could write notes to each other.  Kevin had to use some hand gestures or whatever to get his points across.  We did perfectly fine for the first hour because we were listening to music.  When our first cd ended, we made a group decision to listen to The Hot Rock by Sleater-Kinney.  Neil was doing a lot of pantomiming while Kevin and I nodded in agreement.  I'm not sure why I remember that detail.  That got us out of North Carolina, and soon enough we needed to stop for food.  If you're heading north on interstate 85, there aren't any chances to get food or gas between South Hill/Broadnax, Virginia (just north of the NC border and home to the legendary Red Barn) and Petersburg, an hour later.  Although it was a bit early for dinner, we decided to stop anyway, knowing that there wouldn't be another chance for a while.  We all had done an amazing job with our little game.  Nobody had said a word yet.  When we went into the Bojangles, Kevin and I each approached the counter and signaled with fingers that we wanted the #2 combo.  Neil ruined it by speaking aloud that he wanted the #2 combo.   We decided that since Neil broke the  silence, we may as well end the game.

We got back on the road, and we were still planning to go as far as New York before calling it a night.  Up 85 we went, up 95 we went.  Nothing particularly exciting happened in the car during this leg of the trip, but  a few hours later after we had gotten above DC, we were all getting ready for a break.  It was about 9 o'clock or a little after when we approached the exits for Baltimore.  We agreed to take a break there, find a place to grab a beer, stretch our legs a little, and get back on the road.   So we took one of the first downtown exits, which led directly to a parking garage.

Again, because we are idiots, we hatched a ridiculous plan before we got out of the car.  We decided that we would pretend to be English exchange students studying ornithology at NC State.  We would talk in fake British accents just to try to attract girls.  Even though none of us knows much about birds, we guessed correctly that nobody would question us about that if it came up.  After contemplating fake names like Nigel, Jeremy and Morris, we decided that our real names were just as good.  We elaborately decided that we didn't know each other in Britain but had become fast friends in America.  We were all from different towns, which we decided upon.  We were all supporters of different "football" teams, which we decided upon.  None of us knows anything about soccer, but we knew the names of some of the premier league teams, and we each picked one that wasn't Manchester United.  Kevin was for Arsenal, I was for Leeds and Neil was for West Ham.  There was a problem, though.  Kevin has a really good fake British accent.  I do not.  However, I have the vocabulary to make up for it.  Neil has a good fake accent, but not as good as Kevin's.

As we walked out of the garage, we were immediately in a sea of people in the streets.  They were all walking around with huge plastic cups of beer.  We had no idea what was going on for a couple of minutes, until one of us spotted a sign at one of the bars announcing that it was Cinco de Mayo.  It hadn't occurred to us.  At all.

Our plan to have "one beer" went by the wayside pretty quickly.  We had a few of the really ridiculously big beers, and we approached every woman we were attracted to.  It's not the style of any of us to do that, but we weren't Neil from Raleigh and Kevin and David from Greensboro.  We were Neil, Kevin and David from the UK.  The first time we came upon a group of girls, Kevin and I stuck to the script, but Neil got scared at the last second.  He told them that he was a geologist.  And in real life, he is a geologist.  Every girl we talked to said she was studying law at the University of Maryland.  Who knows how many of them actually were studying law and how many were playing a game with us, just as we were with them.

Eventually, we found a group of people who we ended up spending a few hours with.  A few girls and a few guys as well.  It was our dumb luck that the girls weren't really into us, but the dudes freaking loved us.  We went on and on about our "football" teams, and, in character, we started really bickering with each other.  Never mind that none of us could name a single player on the team that we allegedly supported.  We made stuff up, and it didn't matter.  These guys gobbled it up hook line and sinker.  While Kevin used his perfect fake accent, I used every opportunity to throw in some of the lingo.  It wasn't a soccer field.  It was "the pitch".  It wasn't raining heavily.  It was "a massive rain storm".  I found a way to talk about how I disliked aubergine (eggplant).  I told one of the guys that I "fancied" his little friend and couldn't remember her name.  I kept saying things like "Are you taking the piss, mate?" (are you kidding me?).  I wondered if they had "packets of crisps" (potato chips) behind the bar because I had only had a snack at "half six" (5:30) and was feeling peckish.   That kind of thing.  And it was working because as the night wore on, these kids loved us even more.  And one of the girls started taking a serious shine to Kevin.

At some point, we were tired of being in character and needed a break.  We told the girls that we'd been in the states long enough to have developed pretty good "fake American accents".  They asked us to show them off, and we talked in our real voices for a few minutes.  They said that they didn't buy our "fake American accents" because they were over-the-top.  Also, at some point, one of the girls challenged Neil.  It was fine that Kevin and I were ornithologists, but they didn't believe him.  Fortunately, as I said, he really is a geologist, so he was able to answer every question with more detail than she wanted.

As I said, one of the girls really took a shine to Kevin, and it was way beyond the point of continuing our road trip.  We were too drunk and too tired to drive anymore.  Despite a lot of objection, Kevin booked two hotel rooms at a swanky hotel.  One for himself and the girl.  One for me and Neil.  This is where our bickering went into top gear.  "Kevin, we're going to miss the fu'ing show"  "No, we're not going to miss the show".  And that went back and forth a bunch of times.  Anyway, Neil and I went to our room, where we were able to get out of character, but Kevin took the girl and had to stay in character.  All night long.

In the morning, Neil and I were ready to go and we went to get Kevin from his room.  We didn't even bother getting back into character when he answered the door.  "We need to leave now".  That was basically the end of that.  Later on in the trip, Kevin called the girl and confessed that none of us was English but that it was nice to meet her and all that.

The three of us were all hung over, we were all tired, we were all cranky.  This led to a near-brawl when we stopped to get breakfast on the road.  Cooler heads prevailed, and we can laugh about it now, but it wasn't much fun in the moment.

A few hours later, we realized that we were really pressed for time.  I don't remember if we had bothered to take showers in the morning, but we were all feeling pretty nasty.  I remember this because we had made some plan to stop somewhere to "freshen up" and brush our teeth and things like that.  We found out, though, that the gas stations (at least the ones we stopped at) didn't have public restrooms.  This kinda sucked, and it resulted in one of us using an empty gatorade bottle as a toilet while the car was in motion.  The piss bottle became a source of much comedy for the rest of the drive.  We got to Cambridge with about 45 minutes to spare.  We found a place to eat, and they had a public toilet, but no sink.   We couldn't brush our teeth and we couldn't wash our hands or faces.

And then I remembered the wet-naps.  It was a glorious revelation.  I had enough of them for the three of us to have two each.  We "washed" our hands and our faces.  We went back to the car and brushed our teeth without water.   I still can't remember why it was such a big deal, but like I said, I think we all went without showers and bathroom in the morning.

We rushed to the Middle East Club, found our way to the downstairs part and got in just a few minutes before the show started.  They had booked the show as a special engagement, and the opening act was a "secret special guest".  It turned out to be Bob Mould.  Kevin and Neil didn't care so much about that, but I was really excited.  I was a big fan of Sugar and the Bob Mould solo stuff.  Not so much Husker Du, to be honest.  He was great, but really, nobody was there to see Bob.

It was awesome to see the old band back together.  It had been almost ten years since Kristin and Tanya played publicly together, and it was like they had never been apart.  I didn't realize it at first, but Tanya was pregnant.  In fact, I remember commenting to Kevin, "Tanya doesn't look so great.  She's gotten chunky".  Then, she mentioned her pregnancy during the show, and it made much more sense.  As an aside, that baby's fetal heartbeat can be heart on the first track, "Life is But a Dream", on Tanya's second solo record -- beautysleep (2002).

The show was fantastic.  We were all in some part of heaven.  Since it was an early show, and we didn't know about the before and after festivities, we thought we'd try to go out in Cambridge or Boston.  Even though it wasn't even 10:00, none of the bars would let us in.  Really exclusive bars, I guess.  So we went to hang out with the girls at their hotel for a little bit, then we hit the road.

At some point, in that hotel, Neil made a hilarious joke about a fireman coming to the rescue of a burning elevator car, but it won't tell well in this format.

We boys got back on the road for a few hours, slept in one room of a cheap motel, then hit the road in the morning.  Nothing overly eventful on the drive home.  There were a lot of really offensive jokes of racist, sexist, ageist and religious nature.

We had to make an emergency stop on the shoulder of the Jersey Turnpike because one of us (me) thought he had sharted.  It was, for the record, a false alarm.

It was a really great trip.  Like the trip to see the Sundays, this was much more about the road trip than the concert.  That's not to take anything away from the concert itself.  It's just that the concert was only a few hours whereas the roadtrip was 28 hours round trip.  Lots of laughs.  Lots of tears.  Lots of foul odors.  And it's something that Kevin and I still talk about.

A couple of years later, there was another Gut Pageant, and Kevin went to that, but I couldn't go.  It was in San Francisco, and I didn't have the means to book airfare and take the necessary four days off.

Kristin is still super active.  She's got her solo stuff going full steam.  She's got 50 Foot Wave going full steam.  She's working on a new Muses record.  The first one in eight years.  It's just Kristin, Dave and Bernard these days, but that's been the core group ever since Tanya left anyway.   I would imagine that they'll tour, and I would imagine that I'll be going to see them.  I would count on it, in fact, if they come anywhere close by.


Bill Purdy said...

Some people flash their Geek cred on the back of a t-shirt, and others maybe slap a bumper sticker on their car. You, my friend, fly around on a 75-foot dirigible emblazoned with it.

Good story.

Rob said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE the story!

Kevin said...

Unbelievable retelling and a great read. You remember details like nobody I've ever seen, even some that didn't happen.

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