Boredom, Travelling and Rock N Roll
Amusing article by drummer Doug Falconer on touring.
Author: Doug Falconer, The Sunday Age.
Date: 26 February 1995.
Original URL: N/A.
Now it can all be revealed. Doug Falconer, dummer with one of Australis’a most popular and long-lived bands, the Hunters & Collectors, discloses the truth about life on the road with a rock band.
Hands up everyone who believes that rock’n roll is all sex, drugs, hotel room destruction, naked pool parties, tour bus immorality and good old-fashioned debauchery.
OK, you can all put your hands down now. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but for the vast majority of us the closest we get to debauchery is the annual record company Christmas party, and I’m sworn to secrecy about that. Now, before you all go into fits of pity and offer to swap jobs, forget it. I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t love it, but along with the (I didn’t say there weren’t any) fun bits goes a lot of hard work and tedium.
Being in a touring rock back is one of the civilised world’s last nomadic lifestyles. Many musicians have no real home. If you’re only there a few weeks a year, what’s the point? You don’t make enough money to buy a house for years – if ever – and who wants to pay rent for an empty room? Lob on your friends, family until the next tour.
The trick is to learn how to handle the dull and downright annoying parts. A good sense of humour helps, so does a thick skin. One of the habits we can’t seem to get rid of in Hunters & Collectors is a dangerously personal style of insult that borders on abuse at times. People who don’t know us well are sometimes shocked by it. Nevertheless, we’re still together and performing, so maybe it’s a good way to immunise ourselves against the vagaries of the lifestyle.
Quite a lot of our time is spend on the road, touring and performing to people both in Australia and overseas. You could say that a lot of this time is pretty exciting and full of new and wonderful experiences that constantly enrich our lives and offer continuous inspiration for music and lyrics, and you’d be right.
You’d also get arrested for unnecessary and verbose overstatement. A lot of the touring lifestyle is humdrum, repetitive and boring.
On tour, you live from a suitcase (a Samsonite, if you can beg, borrow, steal, barter or buy one). After a few days, everything in it gets that “gig perfume” of sweat, smoke and beer. Nothing is fresh, nothing pleasant to put on. One of the guys cuts out the middle man and takes all his clothes away dirty to begin with, the only trouble with that system being his room-mate has to put up with them all over the table, chairs and floor while they ‘air’.
When you check into a new hotel after a while on the road, the race is on to get the laundry powder, change and to the guest laundry first. Never use the hotel laundry service – that way lies madness and poverty, and who wants razor sharp creases in their jocks anyway? Laundromats are a last resort, especially in Europe. I once spent quite a few hours following a local’s directions to one in Hamburg, only to find it was a service wash, which cost me dearly in both Deutschies and pain, since they used super-hot water and all my clothes shrank badly.
They’re something else again, these tour buses. All through your early days in bands, while you’re travelling around in clapped-out station wagons, transit vans and in the case of America, old Chevies with U-Haul trailers on the back, you dream about these luxury hotels on wheels, and you can’t wait to get into one. It’s a symbol of making it in the bidness (that’s the music bidness, folks). Believe me, after two weeks you can’t wait to get anywhere else, NOW, whatever it takes. They make the band-room at the Prince of Wales look comfortable.
About 25 metres long, fourteen bunks stacked three high along both sides of a narrow corridor, lounge at the back with stereo, video, table, please, please, a window that opens. Up front, another lounge or a few aircraft-style seats (smokers banished here). Somewhere in the middle, a small galley-style kitchen and fridge (rush to get your beer in first). On the exit stairs, a tiny toilet, the kind that make aircraft toilets look like the Taj Mahal. Liquids only in here – “no shitting on the bus” (along with losing your laminated “access all areas” pass, the most heinous of tour sins).
It’s funny watching all the faces in the morning, bus hats on, desperately hanging on for the first put stop. And inadvertently passed solids slop around in the tank for days, gradually turning the bus into a travelling septic tank (and it’s bad enough already, what with fourteen adult persons living on it). The driver has to pump it out, so he hates you too.
Of course, he may just take the easy way out and drop it on the road – highly illegal, but occasionally necessary in the most dire of olfactory emergencies. So, if you see one of these buses on the road and want to take a sticky in case you see a rock star, do it alongside, never from behind.
Fourteen bunks on a bus – you work it out. Sleeping in a coffin would be more roomy. You can barely roll over, let alone sit up – getting in and out is graceless and time consuming, occasionally downright dangerous on some little backroad in Canada. And you’re in there with all the stuff you need for the next day or so – change of clothes, books, Walkman, teddy, bottle or two of red wine. Girl? Dream about it (except there isn’t room).
When you start out in a band, it goes without saying that you have no money. For a great many bands it stays that way. This leads to one of the big paradoxes of the music business. When you travel, occasionally the management make a mistake and you get to stay in a hotel.
Everyone else who stays in hotels has money, right? I mean, who stays in a hotel if they haven’t got any money? So, there you are, trapped in a hotel. You can’t go to the bar, order room-service, watch a video or call anyone up (hotel phones are always expensive, especially o/s). All you can do is channel surf the TV and wait for the limousine to pick you up. Yes, in America, they send limos – they’re cheaper than cabs. Hotel, limo, no money. It’s positively cruel.
If you’re going to be trapped in a hotel, make it in America. I get the feeling that a lot of travellers there are in the same boat, so the hotels are better for it – coffee machines, ice machines, laundries (am I obsessed with laundries?), cheap room service, 54 TV channels. America also has one of the great culinary institutions, the diner, and lots of them. Great for filling up quickly and without breaking the bank. Much of the food is edible, too, unlike their gaudy cousins, the fast food joints. Steer clear of them if you want to last the distance. You meet a vast array of people in diners too. Once we were pulled over by the highway patrol in New Mexico, after he’d debated whether or not to wake up the judge for us (they can’t give tickets to foreigners, thank God) he told us the way to his brother -in-law’s diner where we had “the best damn chilli in the whole US of A”
It is possible to live cheaply on tour, but only if you have CATERING. You very quickly learn the value of catering. Catering people are your best friends, bar none. Evil things happen to anyone getting on the wrong side of catering. Bad catering makes life hell. Good catering makes everyone happy and healthy. Happy, healthy and fat.
Herein lies another problem of touring – staying healthy. This lifestyle positively encourages illness and lack of fitness. Late nights, drinking, smoking (passive and active), lots of travel, bad food (unless you have great catering of course) don’t make it easy to stay well. There are a number of possible approaches to this problem. Some of the guys get really serious and run, and no, I don’t mean jog. I mean full on drop-you-ten-k-out-of-town-and-what-do-you-mean-you-beat-us-to-the-hoey? Personally I don’t feel the desire to run about as often as the desire to unload the Donald, and anyone will tell you that’s not a regular thing. The other extreme is to vigorously embrace the lifestyle to the point where it provides its own exercise. Wrecking yourself 24 hours a day is pretty hard work – try it sometime. Musicians are some of the hardiest crocks in the world, and it goes some way to explaining why many of them look 20 years older than they really are. Then again, they could just be healthy liars.
I just try to stop a few beers short of Fubar, get enough sleep (itinerary notwithstanding) and get a little sun and gently exercise (golf, anyone).
This is not easy in the Northern Hemisphere, although three of us played gold at one o’clock in the morning in a little Swedish town above the Arctic Circle once.
The sun doesn’t set all summer there, but they tell me it gets pretty cold sometimes. Now we’ve hit on the main reason for even touring in the first place. The record company will tell you it’s to promote the record. The management will tell you it’s to maintain a profile in a territory, you’ll tell your loved ones that it’s your job and you can’t get out of it, but actually, it’s because it’s a big bloody adventure and it appeals to all those childish parts of you that most grown-ups have forcibly removed in their late teens. Musicians are all big kids anyway. Why else would they need a TM?
Hunters & Collectors go back on the road with their “Live Demons” tour beginning Tuesday 7 March at Burwood College.
THE GLOSSARY OF ROADSPEAK
Gig – A performance by the CREW at which the band gets to support.
Crew – The ones behaving more like ROCK STARS
Rock Stars – Any musicians on any other tour
Headline band – the ones with the most MERCH
Support – the band who the headline band chose so that they don’t have to go on first
Changeover -(a) the time between the bands when the CREW perform (b)what there’s left after you pay your EXTRAS
Extras – The costs incurred at HOEYS that the management refuses to believe are tour-related such as room service, STD phone calls, massages, damages, etc, etc
Hoey – the hotel, also ACCOM, often omitted in foreign countries.
Road Face – The glaring expression one gets after a time on road, like five minutes.
Bus Hat – The rather comical appearance of ones hair after a night’s sleep on the tour bus.
Gig Brick – The rock stars nasal concretions that one gets after a few nights in pubs. Much better than Araldite.
Flam – A musical expression used to excuse a bad timing error.
Timing – (a) a music term for a quality, the act of which can make a good band great (my theory) sticking to it, and a band band awful.
(b) a quality, no amount of which can make one of Barry’s jokes funny, except to him.
Jazz Note – A musical term used to excuse a wrong note.
Tight – (a) a musical term used when the band is all playing the same song and (b) the tour manager.
T.M. – You Manager, a very highly paid wet nurse, whose job is to prevent the band having to worry about anything that might upset the machine like precision of a tour such as hotel check-in/out, soundcheck and playing times, where the bus is parked, (a surprisingly important one, that), blowing their nose etc…etc…etc.
Tap – A situation bearing an unhealthy similarity to the movie Spinal Tap (ie.most of the tour).
Code of the Road – A nebulous appeal to loyalty usually invoked in a pathetic attempt to ensure their unusually degenerate behaviour goes no further than the tour party.
W.M.R. – Wheels Must Roll – We must leave for the next town/soundcheck/show now.
Redeye – (a) the late flight out of town or (b) the normal appearance of a tour party.
Rider – The backstage food and drink supply that varies between Grange Hermitage and tap water depending on where you are and how much ‘pull’ you have.
Pull – The bands selling power in a given place. I think some of the bachelors on the crew also use this term in relation to young women, but I wouldn’t know about that.
Donald – The truck, a small piece of rhyming slang.
Apexing – what one does in the RAGY.
Ragy – (rargy) – the most popular form of band transport in Australia, the Toyota Tarago.
Fun Bus – The RAGY that goes looking for after show action.
Fubar – “fucked up beyond all recognition” – what people on the Fun Bus often get.
F.O.H. – “Front Of House”. An anachronistic theatrical term referring to the sound engineer and lighting directors position, usually in the middle of the crowd in order to provide maximum disruption to the normal running of the establishment.
Stage – The exclusive domain of the stage crew, (guitar, drum and keyboard TECHS and monitor operation), briefly and reluctantly surrendered to the live band at soundcheck and show times, if we ask nicely.
Tech – Someone who purports to know a particular area of the operation better than anyone else and is paid accordingly.
Bitch – (a) the poor girl working representing the bands interests at the door and (b) the majority of the conversation in the RAGY.
Day Off – If you don’t know the meaning of this, you’re in a band already One of these represents an opportunity for the management or record company to schedule an in store appearance, photo session, quick recording, lots of regional press or all of the above.
Thankyou to Stephen for typing up this article for us to enjoy.