It has been over four months since my last entry. In that time I helped plan a private funeral and a public, music-filled memorial for Jason; I graduated with two master’s degrees from the IU School of Library and Information Science; I left Bloomington for Raleigh, NC; I started a new job as a professional, academic librarian; and I’ve gone to the beach several times. I went through (and am still going through) a serious Big Star obsession, because, somehow, despite him hating it, it is making me connect with my sadness about Jason more deeply. I am even sadder than I was the days, weeks, month after he died because the reality of it all has set in.
I can stop typing in italics for awhile, because the following several entries are going to be written from memory. After the previous, written-at-the-time entry, I stopped writing about tour. This was due partially to the fact that when I had alone time I chose to do work for the Organization of American Historians 2010 Annual Meeting. Working while on tour was kind of a relief. It kept me thinking about my life at home, allowed me to be productive and keep my home/work life alive, and it made me money, which allowed me to keep going on tour even if getting paid on tour wasn’t a guarantee. This was one of those tours.
Recently I looked at a lot of email correspondence I had with Jason during the course of our entire relationship, whether as friends or bandmates. In 2009 the emails get strange and strained. As I mentioned before I wasn’t too into the idea of being on a bus for this tour. One night I was on the porch of Boxcar Books with Pete Schreiner after a tour opening for the Avett Brothers and getting back from Primavera in Spain. I drop those names because it was early summer 2009, Jason hadn’t sabotaged *that* many shows due to excessive drinking so far that year (which was how we felt about it, not really understanding the reach of the ultimately fatal addiction that was underneath it) , and it felt like good things were happening. Anyway, Pete tells me that Jason told him that we were going to be on a bus for our upcoming European tour (which was happening after an upcoming American tour, coinciding with the release of Josephine). I said “isn’t that expensive?” and he replied he didn’t know, and, like Pete does when it comes to new adventures, expressed excitement about it. I guess I felt a little excited too, but eventually forgot about it and, frankly, assumed we would hear about it one way or another from either Jason, our tour manager, or our booking agent, if it was really happening.
I sort of forgot about it, and I definitely kept forgetting to ask Jason about it, until one day, in Salt Lake City, an email or maybe a mention by Jason let us all know that we were going to be on a bus for the August-September tour in Europe. I happened to be sharing a room with Mikey who was concerned about how different a tour it would be. We wondered if, suddenly, we were making huge guarantees; if the stories others had told of touring in a bus (having to park outside of cities, not being able to shower or shit on the bus, A/C breaking down, not sleeping, going crazy) were true; and, also, if this meant we - and, consequently, our new bass player, taking Pete’s (who was moving to drums since Mark was going to grad school) position and to whom we had promised some cash since he had to leave work for several fall weeks to do the tour (he probably wouldn’t have cared, as all of us had always toured in bands for no money, but it was the principle of the matter that worried us) — would get paid. So I wrote an email and asked “how much will this be?” I got an email back that said it would be “expensive.” I wrote back and said we had been “blindsided” by this decision - which was only half true, since we knew it was brewing, but the real problem was the lack of communication. So I posed all of my questions. And Jason was included on the reply back from the people to whom I asked. I could tell, immediately, that he was sad or angry with me. And, like he had done with others before when he did not want to admit some sort of wrongdoing, I could tell he thought I was, suddenly, only after money.
I heard from bandmates immediately that Jason was telling them that I was telling him that I was going to sue him. This was nothing new, either - when money became an issue Jason often got really, really paranoid, which is why many of us never really brought it up. He was very, very generous with us on tour, including us on merchandise sales for records we didn’t play on, splitting the money evenly so we could all make a living wage, etc., etc. But in a situation like this, when he was afraid of a conflict, he would often, and suddenly, start making stuff up. For past bandmates of Jason’s I had heard he said they were doing drugs, or misrepresenting the band, etc., etc., but what I had heard from those bandmates was that, usually, it had something to do with a hard(ish) question that he didn’t want to answer.
Anyway, the end of that tour was a bit strained between the two of us, but I tried not to let it get in the way. In fact, I tried to be as adult about it as possible. I asked management what the real cost was going to be and tried to make those numbers a reality for me and for our new bass player, so we knew what we were in for. Luckily, management, especially our European tour management, was very up front and positive, but their description of bus life was completely and utterly unappealing to me. I remember our tour manager, Jan, writing me an email that said “Touring on a bus is fun! It’s just different.” And this is what different means on a bus:
- You live in a confined space with many other smelly men who drink too much and sleep too little
- This confined space has no running water
- This confined space, which you’re in 8-12 hours a day, also does not have a toilet that accepts shit
- This confined space may or may not have working A/C at the end of summer
- This confined space features a bed that is just slightly shorter than you are, meaning you can never really stretch out (or open a window) when sleeping.
- Your room is moving almost constantly when you’re trying to sleep.
- When your room isn’t moving, your bus driver is sleeping, so you can’t make noise in your room
- Because of the lack of running water these smelly men who drink too much and sleep too little can’t do laundry
- You get to towns early in the morning but you’re too tired from being unable to sleep in your moving room to actually see anything in those towns.
- About half of your money that you could make goes to sleeping in this living hell, which costs about 40% more than what you would pay to sleep in a room with windows that might open in a bed that is probably not attached to another person’s. This room will not move and will also feature a bathroom with running water, meaning showers AND shitting as much as you want while you’re in the room. Often this room also is part of a bigger buulding that may even offer something in the morning called breakfast, and a town with people who slept roughly the same time you did and woke up roughly the same time, too.
I *hated* the idea that I was spending a ton of money to never stop. Jason never stopped, ever. He talked constantly, he was always moving, or pacing, and for years he couldn’t stop writing songs. The drinking slowed that down quite a bit. He had complained to me of writer’s block prior to Josephine, and it seemed to plague him again after Josephine (although I can’t be sure).
August 27. 2009
I woke up feeling extraordinarily tentative, health-wise. The night before had been hellish, sweating, feverish, diarrhea, Frasier, and more worry. But I knew I must have been a little better because I was definitely thirsty and sort of hungry. Sal slept peacefully and I slipped out of the room with my computer to go relax and do some work before we had to vacate our rooms and get ready to live on a vehicle built for public transportation. I saw Jason in the restaurant downstairs and cursed him under my breath because, especially in my weakened state, and especially with all of the feverish resentment floating around my heart, I didn’t want to start my morning being angry. Angry that he bitched about hotel food but never bothered going two blocks away to find something better; angry that he bitched about his broken guitar but hadn’t even attempted to get it fixed; angry about the bus; angry about his guitar tone and lack of preparation. I hid in one of the balcony areas and did work until I saw him leave. I watched him go outside and start pacing, smoking cigarettes. I was stuck. Finally, he left. I went downstairs and got some bread products and water and worked.
I was in and out of consciousness all day, really, but I do remember the following: I told Remko how big a Pavement fan I was, and he and I talked about my favorite band for an hour. He told me that they were talking about a reunion, which happened a year later. We packed our stuff and Jason hatched a plan to take the borrowed telecaster and somehow, in London, get a different guitar, and I made him promise to let me help him with tone; we took everything to the street and awaited the arrival of the bus. Jan, our tour manager, showed up a bit early and we all joyously greeted him. He gave me lots of knowing glances, since I was, at the time, the loudest opponent of this style of touring.
And there it was - the bus. It rolled down the narrow street and parked right in front of the studio. It was big, and black, and had the interior of an airplane from the 80s (blue polka dots). I went in and noticed it was hot. I also met our driver, whose name I cannot, for the life of me, remember right now, but he was an older, military-like German man, who would become a very positive figure for me over the next couple of weeks. Bernt. Yes, I think he was Bernt. Or Bernd. Never saw it spelled out.
The first thing we were told was that we couldn’t shit on the bus. The second? That the espresso maker was good. We picked our bunks and rode to the Paradiso where our show was that night. Jason seemed to be very, very excited, and kept saying that “we were paying more for this so I can write all the time.” The cynical part of me thought A) there’s no way he’ll be writing at all on this bus because B) he’ll just be drinking the whole time. Turned out I wasn’t wrong, but his excuses for his lack of work were quite dynamic.
We showed up at the Paradiso and there, standing outside of the bus, was J. Mascis. An auspicious way to begin the tour, I thought… “maybe this won’t be so bad.” Lou Barlow was sitting on a bench close to him. Dinosaur, Jr., as it happened, was playing the bigger venue, while we were in the smaller one. We happily loaded our gear past a very confused looking J. and went up for soundcheck. It was awful. It sounded terrible. I tried to help Jason work his sound kinks out but he was more interested in complaining about the monitors than in getting a good sound.
The backstage area was festooned with “cracker nuts” (my favorite European salty snack), cheese, bread, meat, and crackers, a fridge of beer and energy drinks, two bottles of red wine, and a bottle of whiskey. I didn’t see the whiskey because one of us got in there first (I can’t remember who) and promptly hid it. This was one of the most awful things about touring with Jason from 2005-2009 - hiding the whiskey bottle. Like a child, if he saw it, he could not help himself from drinking as much of it as possible as soon as possible. It never failed. So we had to hide it. I have no doubt he knew we were doing it. In fact, he so much as told me he was happy we did it. During his sober times - roughly half of the two and a half years after our last tour when we shuttled him in and out of rehabs, spent hours on the phone or Facebook chat either talking to him or listening to him - he would thank me for what we did to try and help. But it never felt good. It felt really, really bad. This was our adult friend and bandmate, but we couldn’t trust him to be around a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. I should mention that Jason prided himself on having good taste in whiskey, but it had already started going downhill by now. I thought I could at least trust him to get Maker’s Mark. Regardless, I don’t remember the mechanics of it, but one of us had told Jan - convinced him - that Jason’s erratic behavior on previous tours was due to his inability to hold his liquor or keep from drinking too much. Jan was surprised there was whiskey, too. So the tour of hiding liquor began.
I watched Jason mill around the room looking for it, knowing, I think, that he had slipped that request in past the eyes of those who knew he had a problem. Eventually he grabbed a bottle of wine and poured 3/4 of it into a giant red cup. Thus began the tour of me drinking whole bottles of wine at a time to keep him from doing it. I weighed probably 30% more than him, and, it turned out, I was much happier touring on a bus - and could actually “sleep” - if I was full of wine. I do not relish this time. I have really forgotten most of this tour because of how much I drank. Ironically, the drinking was there to prevent a friend from overdoing it. It was fucking awful (that part, at least).
I think the show ended up being ok. Listening to it now Jason just sounds totally worn out. He’s not in the worst voice I ever heard him, and certainly did better at this show than most on this tour. This was our first in this configuration which isn’t so bad, either. We pulled it off. And we played an encore. I was encouraged. I think we all wanted it to go better than we feared it might. I think it did. But it wasn’t easy and it made me a huge fucking baby. But I think I played pretty well that night. I think I played well that whole tour. Jason even ripped some good solos that night. Listening back now and I am filled with an incredible sadness that Jason, who was able to pull out a considerable amount of magic despite the circumstances surrounding shitty situations was not able to pull himself out of the one that ended up ending his life. Despite all of the sadness, anger, or resentment or exhaustion or whatever surrounding this tour, I loved being on stage with this band. And, honestly, being around them all the time, even when it wasn’t easy. It felt like we were doing something important. Like there had to be a next step. That it was inevitable that shit would work out. It’s not easy revisiting this stuff because I want tomorrow to be the next Magnolia Electric Co show, but there won’t ever be another one. I don’t regret the anger or resentment because they were totally valid. Jason was a pain in the ass and, despite how generous he was, was often very short-sighted despite, I think, really wanting the best for all of us.
The show ended. I got drunk. I watched Dinosaur, Jr. I ate a falafel. I worried about sleeping in a moving vehicle. We got on the bus. We were all wearing suits on this tour. We used the bus as the moving dressing room. We changed out of our suits. Pete smartly took a shower in the decent dressing room showers. We got in our places. Someone spilled a beer immediately. We laughed and reveled in a successful first show. Things seemed fairly light. They would get darker. It took me forever, but, finally, I sort of went to sleep.