[Editor’s note: Independent Weekly arts/entertainment writer Dege Legg has just completed of a month-long music tour up the East Coast to Boston, west across the Upper Midwest and back down to Louisiana. His tour, in the guise of his latest musical persona, Brother Dege, was in support of his new record, Folk Songs of the American Longhair. This is the sixth installment of a "road journal" Dege kept during his tour.]
ROADLOG: PT. 6
St. Louis, Kansas City, Rain, Tornados, etc.
5.17.10 SOMEWHERE, OHIO
Monday was a no-gig day,
So I did van maintenance.
Oil change, etc.
Cleaned out the dirty crap.
Rearranged stuff in the van.
While getting the oil changed, the technician noticed the transmission
Was kinked over.
Add in another $200 for new transmission and motor mounts.
It’s always something.
If you’ve got $20 in your pocket,
The universe will figure out a way
To dig up in there and drain $18 of it out.
I sat at a diner across the street
From the repairs shop and did some writing
While the van was getting fixed.
Vibing the natives.
Parts of Ohio are pretty backwoods.
I mean that in a good way.
Ohio is right on top of Kentucky,
So it may as well be the south.
Numerous locals stop in for burger and fries
And talk local-yokel stuff with the lady
Who runs the place.
I eavesdrop on their conversations.
They talk the same stuff as any American city.
-The hotshot kid on the high school football team.
-Mrs. Myrna’s boy got caught doing “the meth.”
-The big clothing store that went out of business.
-Such and such got married and had a baby.
The rain drizzles outside
As the local traffic
Lazily swishes through the streets.
Rolled into St. Louis.
There was the arch.
Not as big as I thought it would be
For some reason, I thought it stretched
Over the river into East St. Louis.
Parked in front.
Nobody there yet.
Got on my bike
Which I packed with all the music equipment
And went for a ride.
Taking the bike was a good move.
When you don’t feel like driving the boat (van)
Six blocks up the road just to grab a bag of ice,
You can jump on the bike and see the scenery
And get some exercise in the process.
I pedal through the old streets of St. Louis.
St. Louis smells like old coffee beans and cardboard.
It’s got character, though.
I hit some thrift shops in south St. Louis.
Lot of weird stuff on the shelves.
While looking the stuff over I hit on a good idea.
When I played that three hour set in Cincinnati
The other night,
I ate up time by giving some T-shirts away.
Just threw them into the crowd,
During the “Give Away Free Stuff Section” of the set.
People seemed to like that.
So why not buy weird crap at the Goodwill in each town
And give it away to the crowd at the gig.
It’s kind of cool, because you’re giving away their stuff.
Giving it back to them, so to speak.
Their old stuff…that they didn’t want.
So I dug through the shelves
And bought the weirdest crap I could find.
- Two creepy women dolls that sit on these metal stands. They just stare into space and don’t do much else.
- a Baby Jesus snow globe.
- Talking stuffed rabbit who sings and dances when you squeeze his foot.
-A Conway Twitty album.
Rode back to club with all my stuff jammed in the backpack.
I lazed around in van a couple hours, reading and trying to stay cool.
Definitely back in the south.
For the first time since I was in Georgia a couple weeks ago,
It is HOT.
The other band showed up
They are called Like Trains and Taxis.
Good dudes from New Jersey.
Talked shop with them till the sound guy, Matt, showed up.
Club is called The Gramophone.
It’s nice. Set up like an old jazz club.
It’s in an old section of south St. Louis
That is lined with abandoned store fronts
That look like they could’ve been jazz clubs
In the 40s and 50s.
Miles Davis haunts.
We all load in our gear.
The locals are cool. Good vibes.
They did a Bro-Dege ticket giveaway on the radio
So we had a little crowd.
Not too bad for a Tuesday.
I set up my thrift store finds
At the foot of the stage like a nutty shrine.
Womens’ Dolls on each side of Conway Twitty LP
With the Baby Jesus snow globe at the foot of it all.
And some Xmas lights wrapped all around it.
I banged out my set pretty hard.
Killer PA and soundman at the Gramophone.
Here’s to Matt.
It was pretty rad set.
Each show is an opportunity to break
From the script of the songs and dive deeper
Into the unknown of the music.
Trying to discover new things
That brew on a subconscious level.
I got so far into the set that I forgot
To give the shrine away.
I was already getting attached to that shrine.
Setting it up at each show along the tour
Will give me something creative to do.
I’ll give it away later.
Having old Conway, facing the crowd,
At the bottom of the mic stand was a good gris-gris.
One I wasn’t ready to part with.
Each show gets better.
I explore each song a little deeper
And push it further out.
I’m starting to expand on the percussion section of the set
Where I break down a song
And slap on the Dobro like a drum.
It’s got a metallic clap that gets pretty abstract.
It’s fun to take the tradition of Delta blues
Into some weird places.
Like Trains and Taxis plays.
Kind of an indie, soul rock trio.
The crowd was pretty thin by the time they played.
It is rough playing to a near empty room.
But if you can handle it, you will triumph in the end.
If you can’t handle it and it bums you out too much,
Don’t get in the van. Period.
Stay home and burn CDs for your friends and family,
That is cool, too.
Bottom line: the Empty Room will make or break you.
The manner in which you rock an empty room
Is the thing that separates the men from the momma’s boys.
Like Trains & Taxis plays
And they do pretty good.
The bass player, Owen, is rocking.
It doesn’t always look like they’re having a great time.
But they do a good job of pushing through it.
Sometime’s being on a stage
Is more about
Presenting a contribed version of yourself or the idea of yourself to the world
Through the medium of music.
That is not always a good thing.
Whether or not this world or the crowd responds
To the presentation of your “self,”
Is the thing which triumphs and tragedies are made of.
I’ve played to a lot of empty rooms over the years.
In all of my bands.
I haven’t met an empty room that can beat me yet.
Bon Jovi may have “seen a million faces
And rocked them all.”
But I’ve dove into the infinite dark chasm
Of a lot of empty rooms,
And I’ve rocked every one of those bitches.
I sold $100 worth of CDs in St. Louis to get to the next town,
So I let Like Trains & Taxis have the money from the door,
So that they’d have a few bucks for the night.
I rolled out of there.
As I was leaving,
One of the guys in the crowd gave me money for gas after the show, unprompted.
Just said, “Here you go. Take it for the road.”
I tried to refuse it, but he insisted.
Nice people — they really surprise you sometimes.
Just like all the folks who kicked into the Pay Pal Van Fund
One week into the tour when the alternator went out
They are awesome.
People really surprise and inspire you sometimes.
Can’t thank them enough.
I cranked the van
And rolled to the next truck stop
So I could sleep peacefully
And think about the next mission.
SMOKING IN MISSOURI
Interesting fact: you can pretty much smoke
ANYWHERE in Missouri.
I walk into a Hardies fast food joint,
And everybody in there is puffing on a cigarette.
Even children. Ok, I’m joking. No children.
Mostly moms, dads, and truckers.
It’s pretty surreal.
Like traveling back to the 1950s
When anchormen smoked and delivered the news.
Nope, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
We’re in Missouri, baby.
KANSAS CITY, MO
Blue Springs, MO.
Outside of Kansas City.
Owner, Brad, is righteous and chill.
We meet and talk a bit.
I think he thinks I’m a musical missionary or something,
Because I pulled up in the Black Bayou Ministry van.
He mentions how the club is a “family environment”
Where they “watch the language.”
He’s telling people around us to have “blessed day.”
But the clientele is straight up suburban barfly types.
I mean, they’re cool,
But nobody appears overly religious
Or exceptionally pious.
He asks if I am a Baptist
And I realize he’s vibing me from the van.
So I explain the deal with the van.
Here it is…
Crazy looking band vans attract cops and highway patrolmen,
Looking to bust pot musicians on tour.
Believe it or not, I’ve never been much of a pothead.
By virtue of a decade plus of touring and such, I’ve learned that
Freaky looking band vans do you no favors.
It’s too much hassle.
So a buddy of mine in Lafayette – his name is Knurls –
His dad owns a vinyl graphics company.
He offered to make me a van sticker with SANTERIA (my other band)
I was like, “Hold off on that, dude.”
How about something a little on the safe, unthreatening, non-weirdo side.
We came up with Black Bayou Ministries…via Black Bayou Construkt.
We’re not being completely disingenuous.
This music thing…
It is a spiritual quest.
And I am on a journey into the light.
As unorthodox as it may seem.
THE LONG HAUL
I opt not to set up the Freaky Conway Twitty / Doll shrine
Because the locals seems a little on the normal side.
I don’t want to weird them out too much.
I’m contracted to play for four hours.
I negotiate to go for 2 – 3 hours,
Informing them that I have 10 hour drive to Dallas
Right after the show finishes,
Which is true.
It’s going to kill me, but I’m going to try to leave here
And try to make the Dallas gig tomorrow night.
They’re cool with that.
These long, extended sets.
I guess the booking agents figure I’m a variety act or something
And that I wank for hour and play a lot of covers.
There are no covers.
There is no Gordon Lightfoot.
There is no James Taylor.
There is just me and my stuff.
I strap in and launch.
It’s a long set. 9:30 to midnight.
Two hours plus.
But it’s a good one.
Most of the locals don’t get too close.
They stay at the pool tables about 100 ft away.
Milling about back there and clapping at random.
Kind of knocking their pool sticks around
When the songs end.
Remembering the exchange earlier with Brad the owner,
(who is an extremely good dude)
I ask “if it is alright to cuss over the mic.”
They all howl in unison.
Ok, just checking.
This tour is like my own Hamburg, Germany.
THE GIANT MUSHROOM
I pack up and roll into the night.
Looking to get a jump on the 10 hour drive
To the Dallas gig I have the following night.
It’s going to be an insane drive, I know.
There are tornado and flood warnings
Throughout the area of Missouri
That I am driving through.
And I am doing it at night.
Down a raggedy old state highway
Between Kansas City and the Oklahoma border.
Hell with it.
I roll out
And fight with the rain all night.
Till early in the morning.
Trucking through the blackness.
Nobody on the roads
Except me and a few semi-trucks.
When I look in the side-view mirrors
All I see is BLACK.
No one and nothing back there.
It’s like being in space.
The rain pours down in massive waves.
The wind whips the van around,
Shoving it from lane to lane.
I scream at the gods.
I speed up.
I slow down, breaking at ghosts.
Two hours in, my eyes start to play tricks on me.
I have trouble discerning between coming headlights
And street lights along the road, of which there are few.
The little bit of light that is there
Sometimes reflects off the road
And creates spectral mirages,
Causing you to hit the breaks at random
Because you think you’re about hit something.
After a few hours, I start seeing things…
Most notably…a giant mushroom on the side of the road.
It was about 50 ft. tall.
All lit up like a Christmas tree
On the side of the road, near some woods.
I can really see it.
I blink my eyes numerous times,
Trying to wash the vision from my brain,
But there it is - through the wind and rain.
A giant two-story, red and white mushroom.
I stare at it in awe.
Marveling at it.
Trying to confirm whether it is real or not.
It fades into the distance
And I stare into the rear-view, baffled.
Trying to see if it is still there,
Unsure of whether or not
I just saw a giant mushroom
Or was hallucinating.
CUT TO: ONE HOUR LATER
I am driving, fighting to keep the van on the road
Between the rain and the wind.
When I hit something in the road.
It wacks the front bumper like a block of solid concrete.
I almost crap my pants.
I hit the brakes,
Thinking that the van is permanently damaged
And this is the end of the tour.
It’s all over. This is it.
The roar of my adrenaline settles
And I realize I am still rolling
And that the van is ok.
Nothing really wrong.
The van keeps rolling.
Steering is fine.
Gauges are fine.
I don’t have any flat tires.
Hell with it.
I keep rolling.
Only now, I AM WIDE AWAKE.
Whatever it was I hit that
Sure as hell woke me up.
I am super alert and rushing on adrenaline.
I drive for another 2 hours,
Through all that rain, wind, storms, and madness.
Reports of tornados and hail on the radio.
I finally call it a night and pull into a truck stop,
Park the van, and crash out.
I check the front bumper for damage.
No dents or scratches whatsoever.
I wonder if I hallucinated that too?
I wonder if I didn’t hit anything
And my fatigued brain just imagined it?
I take a Wipe-It bath in the parking lot.
Swiping off the day’s grease.
Life is greasy, sometimes.
I fall to sleep in the back of the van,
Wondering if that giant mushroom was real.
I still don’t know.
OKIES AND BANJOS
I wake at the truck stop.
The morning after the wind, rain, and mushroom madness.
The sun is out.
It’s nice outside.
I’ve got another six hours to drive
To make the gig in Dallas.
I load in, crank it, and roll.
Miles on miles.
People in Oklahoma drive kind of slow.
I am definitely back in the south.
They drive slowly and somewhat badly.
They’re all driving junky looking Buicks sedans.
And they don’t play banjo.
That p*sses me off.
Not enough banjos in Oklahoma.
These old Okies need more banjos.
Not sure why.
But they do.
If I were rich,
I would be one of those crazy rich guys
Who in the aftermath of some natural disaster
Rather than cut a check to a disaster relief fund,
I’d buy a bunch of weird stuff and send it down there
To help out.
Say Oklahoma gets hit by a massive tornado,
The headline would read:
In the aftermath of the recent Tornado that hit Tulsa, Okla., billionaire venture capitalist and financier Dege Legg has purchased 10,000 banjos and delivered them all to the state capital in a fleet of junked out Buicks.