The Beach Dog

I'm jason evans groth and this was my time in magnolia electric co

Magnolia Electric Company Tour Diary - August 28, 2009 - Berlin

Update: This Saturday, March 15, 2014, Songs: Molina - A Memorial Electric Company plays Los Angeles, at the Church on York. We’re touched that people have responded so positively to something which, at least for me, is a very respectful and uplifting way to remember our brother Jason. At the moment this is our only West coast show.

Jason had an interesting relationship with L.A. There’s a pawn shop close to the Echo that he loved. Once, on a tour in 2006, he surprised me by buying me a white Stratocaster that the pawn shop master said was probably put together from spare parts at the factor across the border in Mexico. He loved that I loved David Gilmour, and thought it was quaint that I loved Stratocasters, too (even though I never played one before that day). Jason had a way of surprising you with thoughtful, generous gifts, and was keenly aware of his surroundings and how they related to his closest friends. I miss that about him.  Some photos from a 2005 show at the Echo, which did *not* feature the Strat, are here.


In the several months since my last entry (which, like this one will be, was culled from memory rather than pages of a journal - more on that as these continue), much has gone on in this Magnolia Electric Company world that is now without Jason Molina. On 11/11/13, the record with the title that became the name of the band - Magnolia Electric Company - was reissued, celebrating its tenth anniversary. Jason sang “you can live a long time in such a little while” - a stunning lyric when put into the context of how he just died - but also a fitting description of the way touring feels. It’s been almost a third of my life since this record came out the first time. It made me a true fan of Jason’s songwriting. And the parts created by the amazing players on the record generated a need for Jason that got me an invitation into the band (that is, a loud rock and roll record, including distortion!).

Those of us in the band with this same name understandably have lived in the shadow of that record for that third of our lives. None of us in the band that played those songs live played those songs on the record (except for Mike Brenner, the lap steel player, who was a regular touring member with all of us through 2005). Often it was easier to just nod along when people told me that they “loved my playing” on the record because sometimes, when explaining it, their eyes would glaze over and that giant veil of misunderstanding, often purposefully thrown over them by Molina himself, was made thicker. When I could tell someone would actually listen to me I would go on and on about the players on the record, all friends of ours by that point, and would direct those people to the bands those players were in (see: Arriver, Viza Noir, Palliard, Nad Navillus, etc., etc.). But there was always a strong hint of disappointment in their reactions when I would say it - as if we weren’t the real thing. While all of us are different players than those guys, those songs would have been necessarily different live even with those players, because it was hard for Jason to ever do the same thing twice.

The other big event was the Songs: Molina - A Memorial Electric Co tour that those of us who were in Magnolia Electric Co when it became Magnolia Electric Co (as opposed to Songs: Ohia) went on at the beginning of January. I know it’s confusing. Here is the chronology, again, of the band. The band that was known as Magnolia Electric Co came officially into existence on November 3, 2003, in Buffalo, NY. While the band members on stage on November 3, 2003 were the same as those on stage on October 20, 2003, in Pamplona, Spain when we were still Songs: Ohia, Jason had made a conscious decision for us to be renamed, for reasons that shift but which I think I have begun to understand. Those people on stage on November 3, 2003, were Jason Molina, Pete Schreiner on bass, Mike Brenner on lap steel, Mikey Kapinus on keyboards, Mark Rice on drums, and myself on guitar. We were joined by Jennie Benford on that tour who, I think, all of us hoped would become part of the big touring band, but she was often unable to continue going on the road with us after that - but that’s the core. And those folks (minus Jenny) were the same that hit the road on January 8 in Durham, NC to start four days that ended up in the same place where the Magnolia Electric Co record was made - Chicago, IL - on stage with all of the guys (and none of the women) who originally recorded the album. 

Admittedly I was nervous about the January Songs: Molina tour. I knew we were doing it for the right reasons. I knew we were doing it to as a respectful memorial, one which we had promised our Chicago counterparts we would all get together to do again, in Chicago, after our take on it in Bloomington, IN in May of 2013. I knew that all of us trading the singing of songs, and also inviting our good friend and former tour companion MC Taylor (of Hiss Golden Messenger and, formerly, of Court and Spark, the band with whom Magnolia shared the road back in the early 2000s) was a good idea that showed we were, in no way, trying to replace our fallen leader and singer. And I was nervous about how hard it might be, night after night, to play those songs that I was so used to seeing Jason play to my right night after night.

What I didn’t expect was how good it felt to play the songs, how the audiences seemed to get that what we were doing was, indeed, out of respect, and how people responded to it in a positive, almost thankful way. We were thankful that we could do it - it’s begun to feel like a proper goodbye, rather than a tearful, confused one, at least for us - and, I hope, for the people who came to experience it with us. Some told me as much - but the feeling was palpable, even without verbal confirmation. It was an honor, really, and it brought the positive spirit of my friend to life right next to me on stage every night again. And it made the power of the songs even greater to me. They live with or without us, and feeling them live through us was inspiring.

What hurt the most, maybe, and what many of us talked a lot about while we all traveled together again in the same van in which we had traveled on every tour (save that first one, in November of 2003), was the fact the relative ease and joy and celebration that came through those four nights was often nowhere to be found on more nights than I care to remember when Jason was on stage with us. Certainly the highs were high, but the lows were so low - and so sad, especially when we realized just how badly alcohol and Jason mixed - that despair and desperation outweighed the pleasure of making astounding music, written and conceived mostly by the person who was also at the root of making it so difficult. 

In 2009 Jason always seemed as if he was on the brink. As evidenced by stories you’ll hear of anyone who ever toured in his band at any point of his career, he could be a handful, but he was also hilarious, generous, efficient (at least when it came to getting the hell out of clubs he didn’t want to be in), awake early, talkative, clever - a smart-ass little brother and big brother rolled into one. Especially by the time we were on the bus, Jason was still all of these things, but if I may use the heavy-handed metaphor of Jason Molina as a beautifully detailed pencil drawing that depicted a complex individual carefully treading the line between absolute light and absolute dark, that pencil drawing had been smudged considerably and had been soaked in alcohol, and all of those delicate lines swirled around into a sometimes incomprehensible shadow of his former self. 

By August 28. 2009, when I awoke in a bus and was suddenly struck dumb by the fact that I had to walk through a narrow, moving hallway of other men who had just woken up to use the unlit “bathroom” with the trickling water and the shallow, plastic toilet to take care of the morning bio-necessities - and that I could really only accomplish half of what I really needed to do in that bathroom due to the “No shitting” rule necessitated by the size of the bus - the Jason Molina I had known even six weeks earlier was now miles and miles away, hidden behind a paling, tired, much-older-than-it-should-look-and-getting-more-and-more-bloated face. I asked our tour manager, Jan, when an appropriate, full-on bathroom situation would present itself. 

"Twenty minutes, when we get to the club."

It was no more than ten in the morning. I have complained endlessly about the tour on the bus, and I will continue to do so. Only one club out of all the clubs on this significantly long tour of Europe arranged day rooms for us. Why? Because the decision to use the bus had come late, and it came straight from the frontman himself (Jason M, that is). A day room, by the way, is a room that is not attached to wheels, often in a hotel, where the band can shower, relax, and rest, both outside of the bus and the club. As I said before, Jason was woefully unaware of what the bus tour meant, and as he and I sat in one of the bench seats near the front I said “I just have to to take a shit” he said “why don’t you do it on here?” and I looked at him with quiet disbelief and a “you got us into this mess and you didn’t even know what the mess was” furrow of the brow. I should note that Jason had also put our tour manager, driver, and booking agency into this mess, too, because (as I was told) there just wasn’t enough time to arrange such things since the decision was made late. And I believe it. I have never worked with more professional people - or people who loved Jason more. 

As a side note, since the last entry people have told me that I sound ungrateful about the bus experience. Don’t get me wrong - a well-planned bus tour is probably awesome. This was mostly well-planned, and certainly was as planned as it could be by our wonderful team I’m Europe (I’m looking at you, Jan and Bas). And those of us who had the capacity to understand the implications of it did, indeed, adapt (however painfully). But the sad irony was that the person who brought it upon us never understood what it meant, never adapted, and I am convinced that the seriously terrible health that he fell into shortly after was not *caused* by the bus, but was certainly exacerbated by it. I cannot explain - but will certainly try over the next entries - just how frightening Jason’s state became as the days went on.

Here’s how the bus worked. You walked in the front entrance (like any bus) and turned left to get to the quarters (like any bus). Immediately there was a common area with tables. Bunks ran down the right side and on the left there were a few, too, with a small kitchenette in the middle, the “bathroom” and the driver’s tomb (I never saw where Bernt slept during the day, I just knew I wasn’t allowed to be on the bus, and the entry to it looked so small it must have been coffin-like). At the back was a lounge area with a fridge, table, a half moon couch, and an entertainment center. I spent such a small amount of time back there it’s ridiculous. I can’t even picture it. But I certainly didn’t venture there on that first full day in the bus. I had the bunk that was second on the right on the bottom (I think? Maybe first?) below Pete. Poor Pete, dealing with a loud, snoring man below him, every night. 

I suppose it’s worth noting that I’m a big baby about this because I’m a terrible napper. I’m a great sleeper but naps zap the life out of me. I think one probably needs to be a good napper to deal with the bus. But, also, see above for the day room issue. The bus was *hot* during the day; if we couldn’t plug it in we had no A/C, and we all realized during day one that the A/C wasn’t working well anyway. 

My luggage and non-music stuff was above Pete’s bunk (and mine), and I pulled my clothes down and modestly changed into all new stuff behind the curtain of my bunk. I’m 5’11.5”, and I think the bunk was exactly (or felt exactly) 5’11” long… so trying to change your underwear in a bunk where you can’t actually stretch out doesn’t work all that well. I remember feeling like I was suddenly back in the junior high or high school locker room, and while there were no jocks to worry about kicking the shit out of me as there had been in those situations, the irony that I was paying so much more to be this uncomfortable versus a decent hotel in Amsterdam before driving to Berlin just made it worse. So stupid, I kept thinking, to mess with a formula with which we had been so successful so many times. I was also really tired, though, and dirty, and I really, really had to use the bathroom. 

The bus slowed… and stopped. I ventured to the front and looked around at the semi-bustling street. I could not wait to get out of this hot, moving man hole and into a disgusting green room at a decent club. Jan got out of the bus. He knocked on the doors of the club, a nice one called Lido. He knocked on more. No one was there. He came back. He told us no one was there. Fifteen minutes later, someone arrived. My heart leaped and we went inside.

Certainly not the grossest place in the world and, by rock club standards, a pretty shining example of a nice place - but showering in a closet where, no doubt, much debauchery had occurred and would occur on nights after we left, right next to a mop, wasn’t really a good way to make me feel better about it. If it was camping I’d have the outside to walk into; if it was a one star hotel I’d have a day on the highway to breathe out. Instead I would clean myself and then walk into a vinegar-smelling, alcohol soaked back room where a table of slowly heating-up meat and cheese was being set for us.

Just writing this makes me feel like the biggest baby in the world. “Whaaa, I got to tour, whaaa, I couldn’t take a shower.” Forgive me. It must be noted that it was the, as mentioned above, terrible irony of this being far more taxing and far less profitable that was eating at me. And, at the front of all of our minds was Jason’s state. Even by the second day of tour (and fourth day together overall) Jason had already broken a guitar and not gotten it fixed, had not stopped talking, and had already been at least half drunk the whole time. The first show was ok, but the *point* of touring is to play good shows; the fun (not supplied by playing) and the money come second. It’s already uncomfortable to wait, all day, to play music. I worried that, considering I already felt more sleep deprived than I ever did on a The Coke Dares tour where we slept on floors littered with cat shit, it would, at worst, get worse and, at best, become familiar enough to deal with. I took some deep breaths, I focused on the exciting idea that I, still, was able to go and play music in places like Germany, that I would have bus stories to tell, and that, at least, the coffee was good. 

It is decided that everyone else will go do some walking around, and I take this shining moment to be alone, in the club, away from everyone and with the shower. Instructions for getting in and out of the building are given and received, and I take my reprieve in the mop closet to clean myself up and, hopefully, start to feel more alive and into this whole deal. I start to feel a little bit better about it all, the whiny baby subsiding into urban adventurer rock musician on tour with my best friends in a new and exciting way. I take off all of my clothes and take a seat on the toilet, and just as I do it, the door to the bathroom/shower door opens and Mikey walks in. “Oh my God!” he screams, and slams the door. While this moment of one man unexpectedly seeing another, completely naked man, sitting on a toilet, is funny, both then and in retrospect, after the laughter subsided, after we realized the lock on the door didn’t work, after I looked at the bathroom again, the same old feeling came back - I will have little to no privacy, I will sleep on a truck, I will shower in dirt that is dirtier than the dirt of the woods because it is caked with harsh cleaners, club slurry, vomit, and the urine of drunken club-goers, and that I really need to figure out where to get some shower shoes. 

The moment ends, I block the door with said mop (wedge it, really), and take the shower. I also don’t have any soap, or shampoo, or anything, because, well, I didn’t ask if I needed it - and, when you stay in the tiny, quaint hotels of Europe, it’s usually there. I find an almost empty bottle of handsoap and do my best.

While all of this is going on, Jason Molina met up with the They Shoot Music folks for a session that I didn’t see until I was somewhat paralyzed with grief on the morning of March 17, 2013, a few hours after finding out Jason had died, and wondering what would happen when everyone else found out, too. Watching him stumble through this song - one of his favorites but, truly, one of my least favorites to play live (I love the recording of it we did for the Isn’t it Romantic compilation) - in a voice that shows both emotional and physical pain - is hard for me to do, especially now. As mentioned above, this was day two of tour, and he was already pretty haggard. Jason tended to be the one who slept the least and talked the most, so he often looked that way, but the harsh realty of all of the alcohol was rearing its head in a way that we hadn’t really seen until now. And it would just get worse over the next few weeks.

By the time I got out of the shower they had put the bottles of liquor - Jack Daniel’s and two bottles of red wine - near the slowly rotting, wet meat. I grabbed them and stashed them behind my luggage in the bus. I grabbed my laptop and headed to the cafe across the street and worked for the good of history for a good portion of the morning/afternoon. I had my first Bionade, several cappuccinos, and almost drank a bee that was in my water. I was back in the swing of things. I saw a bunch of musicians arrive at Lido and suddenly remembered that this was our first night touring with The Bitter Tears, a band from Chicago made up of great people, including Greg Norman, an engineer at Electrical Audio who had been behind the board along with Steve Albini for Nashville Moon, had mixed the Sun Session EP, and had worked with Jason on solo recordings. We joked about hot meat, cross-dressing, and how hard the trip had already been for them getting to Germany, It felt a bit better.

Soundcheck - yes. For the second night in a row I saw Jason pour about 75% of a bottle of red wine (there were two more out) into a giant beer cup. I decided that, rather than hiding it, I would hide it in plain sight - in my stomach. I’m a big guy, and I figured if I poured most of the wine in several cups that I took onstage with me, I could get away with not drinking it all, and Jason wouldn’t be able to get any more from the bottles. Operation “take one for the team” began. This is also when the tour started getting even worse for me. The truth is, this strategy worked. Jason seemed concerned about how much I was pouring (if not drinking), and so would stick with beer after I would successfully drain the bottles into cups. On this first night I didn’t drink all of the 1.5 bottles I poured, but almost; and that, along with little to no sleep, made after the show a little hazy. I can safely say that for all but one of the shows on this tour I was little more than one-glass-buzzed, and the show where that wasn’t true it acted as the medicine I needed to not fucking freak out. Or at least that’s what I told myself. 

The show was good. Good audience. The Bitter Tears were frightening and funny and catchy as all hell. And, like most good European shows, we were ushered off stage quickly so that the dance party could start. We loaded out and Bernt, the driver, gathered us all together and said the following: “I told you one thing, and that was NO SHITTING on the bus. Someone SHIT on the bus and I had to clean it out. NO MORE SHITTING ON THE BUS. Only if it’s an emergency.” Filled once again with joy and only partially curious about who forgot the rule, I got on the bus and it started moving toward Aarhus, a town I’d never been to in a country I hadn’t spent much time in, Denmark. There was some jovial talk in the back lounge, and I dozed for a bit in my bunk, drunkenly avoiding my bandmates and thinking about Bernt’s rule - “NO SHITTING on the bus.” Dozens of minutes passed and I decided I couldn’t sleep. I played some Punch Out on my iPod and, when it sounded like no one was up anymore, I got out of my bunk, pulled down the bottle of Jack (I *hate* Jack) and drank a lot of it, straight out of the bottle. It hit me like a hammer on top of all of the wine and it was all I could do to not fall into the bunk. 

Magnolia Electric Company Tour Diary - August 27, 2009 - Amsterdam

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.

Magnolia Electric Company Tour Diary - August 26, 2009 - Amsterdam

This third entry in the tour diary for what would be our second to last tour reads as if I was suddenly and abruptly prevented from writing more by some unstoppable force. From what I remember, it was. I typed all of this while dealing with an incredible bout of… flu? Food poisoning? Tour sickness?

To jump back a bit: I had only known Jason Molina casually until 2002. He had lived in Bloomington on and off since 1996 or 1997, and the first time we really talked was at Roadworthy Guitar and Amp, where he was working, I believe in 1998. He sold me a guitar - a 1981 Gibson Explorer - and we talked about how he had just recorded an album of love songs in Scotland with Arab Strap. All of this seemed crazy to me, as I liked Arab Strap a lot and (this is something I never admitted this to him) I had hated the two shows I had seen him play, both at Second Story in Bloomington. At both shows he was dealing with a crowd there to see louder rock bands, and, as he often would do, at both he lashed out at the crowds. It wasn’t until recently that I thought about how much it must have taken for him to do that over and over. I think he liked the challenge, or he liked yelling at people from stage. Despite this distaste for his live show I had really liked the singles I had heard.

By 2002 Jason had moved to and from a bunch of places, including Chicago, and had then wound up back in Bloomington. He started coming to see The Impossible Shapes, and The Coke Dares, and John Wilkes Booze, all bands I was in at the time. He would tell me about how he found our records in weird places, and how he paid too much for a couple of them. Often he would talk at me during shows that I was trying to watch. It didn’t occur to me until later that he might have been trying to coax me into his band. It was his love of The Coke Dares and his seeing Pete and I play in a Neil Young album cover band (I think it was Zuma he saw) that made him ask us, eventually, to join Songs: Ohia. 

In the spring of 2003, Songs: Ohia (which is what we were still called then) went on tour to Europe. It was my first time out of the country. Jason had asked Pete Schreiner, Mikey Kapinus, and myself to join the band in the fall of 2002. The three of us remained until the final tour in 2009. Jason wasn’t the best at remembering dates/times, etc., and he wasn’t always great at communicating. He asked us when we COULDN’T tour in 2003. At the time I was working for a history organization and had a conference to work. Despite giving him the dates, about a quarter of the tour was scheduled for those dates. So not only was it my first time touring overseas, it was also my first time booking plane tickets, flying alone to Europe, etc. The adventures on the plane along will constitute a future blog post, I’m sure. 

The point of all of this is that on those dates that I wasn’t there, tour sickness was abundant. I heard tell of Mikey, for example, at an In The Fishtank session (which I’ve never heard and don’t know if it’s been released and if you have it please get in touch) being so sick he would just lay on the floor while the other guys recorded (see: http://www.songsohiatabs.com/forum/phpbb3/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=289 for a fan looking for the same music). Touring’s not easy on a body, physically or mentally. Everyone gets sick on tour eventually. Oddly, this was the first time it had happened to me.

I just saw some of the footage from the practice sessions we did in Remko’s studio and I look utterly pissed off. I was super stressed out but I was also dealing with sickness. Luckily it was short lived. About as short as this blog post.

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I woke up too late for any of the museums I wanted to go to, so I decided to run along the canal instead. It was nice and, upon returning to the hotel room, I discovered a familiar pain in the bottom left quadrant of my stomach. Worst case scenario? A resurgence of a colon infection that I’d seen happen twice already this year. The best case? Gas. Turned out to be somewhere in between.

Practice was horrible. It was hot. Molina’s tone was intolerable and he was twice as loud as everyone. We played poorly. Molina was left paralyzed by his inability to function in times of emergency and we were all taking care of things as middlemen. I was running to the bathroom every thirty minutes. I couldn’t wait for my pain to go away and for it to be over.

We wrote a setlist, went through it, it was fine. We put our shit away because someone else would be using the space that night. It took awhile and filled me with rage because I was hot, sick, and tired. I wasn’t hungry, and that disturbed me. That means I’m sick, usually, and it was true. We went back to the hotel hoping that Mikey’s and my plans to go have a fancy dinner in Amsterdam were not thwarted. An hour later I was out of the game. Weird cramping, diarrhea, cold sweats – it was on. I watched the Simpson, I watched Seinfeld, I watched Frasier; I passed in and out of sleep; I was cold and I was hot; and, finally, I went to sleep.

Magnolia Electric Company Tour Diary - August 25, 2009 - Amsterdam

I had planned - as I always did - to keep an exhaustive diary of this leg of the European tour. We had brought Pete’s brother Ben on tour with us to capture the action in both still and moving images so, as this entry shows, I quickly began to defer to him. We still have a date, at some yet-to-be-determined future time, to look through the gigabytes of images and video he brought home with him.

I remember this day being particularly frustrating. While I write below that Jason went to the Anne Frank House with us I really don’t remember him being there. This was partially because of how frustrated I was with him. I don’t remember a lot of these rehearsal days but I do remember being extremely angry. I was also jetlagged which shouldn’t be underestimated.

Every tour felt like the push of a reset button. This one did in particular since we were breaking in a new band, but every time it was the same. I’ve since heard stories about previous versions of the Songs: Ohia bands never practicing for tours or shows. In fact, now that I think of it, we had tried hard to get Jason to fly to America to practice for this tour, rather than having five of us go to Europe early, pay for days of multiple hotel rooms, and rent a practice space. He hated flying, but I suspect he hated practicing more. That’s not fair - he liked to jam. But he didn’t like doing multiple takes of things, and I think practice felt unnecessary for him. He certainly wanted us to know what was going on and would get visibly frustrated when things didn’t work out on stage, but also did not feel like he ever wanted to invest the time to make sure those things didn’t happen. This was partially due to the fact that he lived in London and we lived in Bloomington, IN. But even when he lived in Bloomington, IN our practices were short and full of breaks and one-chord jams.

He was the kind of guy, often, who would get very frustrated if something didn’t work the way he thought it should the first time. He was lucky to have been as gifted as he was as a performer, granting him the ability to make first takes good takes. I think he would have quit music very early if hadn’t been so damn good at doing it right the first time. But this impatience explains why, to me at least,  he didn’t bother to get his beautiful Gibson fixed in Amsterdam. Seriously, he had every opportunity to make it happen, but was often unwilling - or maybe unable? - to make those things happen. When I would ask what I could do he would come up with every excuse to tell me why no one could fix it, and then later tell someone (which I would overhear) that this was a common thing that could be fixed quickly. 

I hated every second of the rehearsals for this tour. I just could not understand why Jason was being so difficult. Now I look back and think that he was probably sad - despite loving Sal - that Mark was out of the band. He was also sad - which he revealed to me a few days later - that I had written to the whole MECo organization to express my discontent about Jason organizing the bus without asking us. Probably a bad move on my part, considering that I had heard it might be possible, but, on second thought, no - I simply wanted some answers. Most of us had been in the band for seven years at this point, and not being told that a major shift in how we toured was coming down the pike until a month before we left felt a little like betrayal. Not to harp on this too much, but I remember being furious about it. Partially because we weren’t given the chance to fight the decision, but also because my feelings were hurt that despite us having been a band we were still treated as employees. It definitely didn’t always go down this way, but I felt like it had this time.

I kept thinking that things would work themselves out, especially the guitar situation. But it didn’t. I am heartened to see that we all ended up hanging out together in the city that night. I remember going to the coffeeshop and actually ordering coffee while witnessing various people at the coffeeshop using what looked like giant power tools filling balloons with smoke. I remember drinking beers with Jason at the coffeeshop or maybe at the bar next door. I remember him going out for a cheeseburger at some point and coming back frustrated that we weren’t running around the city. I halfway remember that it was DJ night at an Amsterdam coffeeshop and that it was as awful as you might imagine. I remember that we weren’t there as long as Jason complained we were, although I was also getting very sick at the time and I didn’t write it down so I could be wrong. I remember leaving soon after the cheeseburger and watching him get a falafel and wondering how he could eat so much. And I remember being relieved when, finally, we all went back to the hotel. Sal and I waited around for the coast to be clear and then went and debriefed about practice. He asked me questions about Molina’s behavior and I did my best to explain. 

That part was tough - the explaining. I know all of the bandmates, forever, had to at one point or another explain Jason’s behavior. Whether it was him yelling at a fan from stage, talking in a funny voice, cursing inappropriately, whatever, Jason’s behavior was often surprising for those that only knew him from his music. And that’s surprising in both a good and bad way. Good when his generosity and good nature was out, bad when he demanded to be the center of attention or felt he was being mistreated (I would point to specific shows but perhaps his reactions to people yelling “Lioness” at shows after he decided to “retire” it are best left to the memories of those of us who were on stage or those of you who may have been at those shows wondering why someone would be so mad about having a song requested).

I had been moved by my visit to the Anne Frank House that day, hence the politics. The word Nazi had been being thrown around by Republicans about Obama wanting a health care overhaul. The Anne Frank house was a very poignant tourist destination in the midst of that conservative nonsense. But I think I also mentioned it because I was holding my tongue about how pissed off I was at Molina. Having published a bunch of tour diaries before where I had successfully kept my mouth shut about his actions I think I was pre-saging not wanting to get fired from the band for badmouthing my band leader. Also, what would the point have been? To start an internet fight with my friend who had already been convinced that I was going to sue him or something because I was upset about the bus? No - Jason was difficult but coworkers are, too. The difference was that any of us close to him knew that he had particular quirks, and if you weren’t in the mood, those quirks were extraordinarily irksome. 

I don’t remember the drinking being out of hand these few days before the tour began, and I do remember thinking that even if the guitar sounded like shit, we were at least going to get some sober shows. The bus made that difficult, but I’ll get into that later. For now, back to August, 2009.

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Mikey and Jason and I met downstairs at 9:00 a.m. to go to the Anne Frank house. We had rehearsal at 3pm and wanted to get some tourism in, so we went for it. Off we went on the tram. There’s the Paradiso! There’s one of a hundred decent falafel places! It had begun to rain and we trudged through it, arriving at the Anne Frank House.

As a tourist destination, this has always been on the top of my list. I love the book. I love the play derived from the book. I studied a lot of human rights and social and civil rights history in undergrad. I work for a left-leaning human rights focused history organization. I remember seeing the play when I was younger and thinking that performing in such a way must be very meaningful, considering the weight of it all.

It was strange seeing it all in person. The most heartbreaking moment was looking closely at the still-glued-to-the-wall movie star pictures and comics she, herself, added to the room to make it more cheery. They are decaying under her layers of glue and, as a human who went through growing up too, I can imagine the anxiety and sadness of not being in control and doing whatever I want,  but taking small steps toward that end by decorating my room with whatever I want – however, I cannot imagine the horror of being a hunted human because of my heritage. And that’s the feeling you’re left with: How could such an atrocity have taken place? Right now there are Republicans calling Obama a Nazi for requesting health care for everyone, but when you see piles of bodies in holes while watching footage of concentration camps you wonder how the people who are preventing health care for all don’t see the irony in their name calling. The house reminded me that it’s important to be outraged by injustice. It would be nice if a diary like Anne Frank’s never has to be written again. But I digress.

I was sad leaving the house. The rain fell, we walked to one of those infuriating pancake houses, I sat in a chair full of water and then we realized there was one person making pancakes for a room of thirty and we left. The falafel on the way to the tram was awesome. So were the stroepwaffeln.

Back at the hotel I attempted to work while a very nice and chatty waitress talked to me incessantly. Practice was more of the same – Molina was too loud, his tone was terrible, and he refused to do anything about it. He also had not bothered to see about someone in this major city who might be able to fix his broken guitar. If It were my guitar I would take care of it immediately. And, fuck, Amsterdam? Our booking agent is there! We’re in Remko’s studio! Someone knows someone. He didn’t bother but, instead, decided to complain about it. Sal did an amazing job the second day. I was beginning to feel a bit better about things, except for Molina’s horrible guitar tone that he refused to fix.

We all met outside of the hotel and hopped a tram downtown. Some information led us to a place called Barney’s Lounge, where a device called the Volcano provided those interested with the cleanest possible route to full-on Amsterdam touristry. As the joke goes, Amsterdam coffee shops don’t really have great coffee. Somehow this place did, even if that wasn’t its reason for existence.

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We walked deeper into the city and the rest of the gentlemen got falafels. Mikey, Sal, Molina, and I headed back home. Sal and I convened in the bar across the street from the hotel and drank beer and shot the shit for a couple of hours before going to bed. It had been a full day. One more rehearsal day and then the real deal began. Yikes.

Magnolia Electric Company Tour Diary - August 24, 2009 - Amsterdam

Note: Jason Molina was my friend. I spent weeks - months, even - in vans, hotels rooms, restaurants, and gas stations with him, not to mention on stage, always by his side, always making him look smaller than he was because I am bigger than I should be, always watching him for cues. He was a bandmate. He was a songwriter I respected to the utmost. He was a goofball. He was often an ass. Just as often he was one of the most generous people I knew. He was both extremely confident and supremely insecure. He was one of the best guitar players I’ve ever met when he was on, and one of the worst I’ve ever heard when he wasn’t. Jason could be very difficult, and his alcoholism didn’t make that any easier. I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but it was clear to me starting as early as 2003 that he and the bottle had a complicated relationship. It wasn’t until 2009, and really later than that, that the truth about how bad that relationship had gotten really came to light. All of us who were in Magnolia Electric Co were in Songs: Ohia before Jason changed the name (which we found out about on Pitchfork). I think I can safely say that we experienced very high highs and extremely low lows due to Jason’s performance inconsistencies and his difficulty - or perhaps resistance - to communicating with us and others. From night to night we often didn’t know how the show was going to go until the show started. While a measure of this exists in every band I’ve been in, with Jason the extremes were pretty extreme, at least to those of us on stage who did it every night. Much of this was because of Jason’s drinking, some of it because of his stubbornness, and the rest the fact that music is unpredictable. But when the shows were good, they were great. It was all very nerve-racking, and the addition of alcohol made it even more so. I’m going to post these tour diaries, most of which have never been seen, because I miss Jason, and because these help me to deal with both the good and the bad of all of it. Most of it was good. I’ll cherish it forever. 

By 2009 the shows had become more consistent, and Jason had been able to keep the drinking - for the most part - to after the shows, although not entirely. Two shows in particular on our American tour in 2009 stand out as two of the most dreadful and embarrassing moments of my life. This first tour diary entry is from August of 2009, as we embarked on the European part of our Josephine tour. We had had a shift in the band - Mark Rice, our drummer, had gone to grad school. Pete Schreiner, who had played bass in Magnolia for years (but who had started out as the drummer when we were still Songs: Ohia back in 2003) moved to drums, and our friend Sal Saligoe had joined us on bass. Years of worrying that shows might be ruined had started to wear on us, and the shift in the band and the need for practice were weighing heavily on me and, I imagine, the rest of the band. Additionally, Jason had arranged this leg of our European tour to be done on a bus. He had not asked any of us if it was something we wanted. While it was a worthwhile experience, it was also expensive, and it was awful for me and, I think, Jason. I look back at it as a great turning point in Jason’s health, or at least a great revealer of problems we knew existed, but not, perhaps, how badly. I’ll expound on that later. 

For now, we join Magnolia on the way to Europe. It’s August 24, 2009.

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“Due to miscommunication, transportation has not been arranged for you from the airport to the hotel,” said the email we received an hour before we got on the plane to Europe. I had already needed some reassurance about this tour, because it was decided we should do it on a tour bus instead of in a van, as we have classically done. The email came from Jan, our incredible tour manager/sound man, and I knew that he wrote it with concern and that, genuinely, a mistake had been made. We were not just being blown off. We were given instructions about which cab company to take and about how much it would cost.

The plane rides were somewhat uneventful. Indianapolis to Newark featured a layover of 50 minutes and a gate that was literally at the other end of the airport. We had to take a bus to get to that terminal and then walk the entire length to get to the gate. They were, of course, boarding all passengers by the time we arrived. Luckily we had a nice flight staff from Indy to Newark and they were clear that if we had taken a train to the terminal we would have had to go through security again. We rode the bus with some women who presaged the Euro fashions we would see in about eight hours. Leggings. Heels. More leggings. Tights. Uncomfortably tight jeans, sometimes with boots.

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My seat on the plane from Newark to Amsterdam was situated as one part of a triangle of two crying babies. The forward part of the triangle also featured a little girl whose mother laughed as she used the handrails of the outermost seats, row after row, as inverted monkey bars. My glaring looks did nothing – she continued to laugh. I was happy that the Continental jet on which we were seated had the new style of international flight entertainment options: Forty-plus movies, interactive games, a large record collection. I decided early that Star Trek was going to be my first option. I would then take a painkiller, wash that down with Jack Daniel’s and ginger-ale, and sleep soundly through the rest of the flight. This would be after the meal, of course, so that my body would be ready to give in to glorious, pre jet-lag sleep. I *did* take two painkillers. I *did* drink two Jack Daniel’s and ginger ale (that shit is not palatable otherwise, Jack Daniel’s. I hate it. And most sour mash whisky, for that matter. I do, however, enjoy the Vintage Kentucky sour mash). I *did* eat. And, despite feeling extremely relaxed, and it being dark outside as we traversed time zones, I could *not*, for the life of me, sleep. After maybe an hour of struggling with the then fleeting idea of rest I gave in and started watching Harry Potter: The Order of the Phoenix. I didn’t make it through the whole thing before we landed.

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We de-planed and received our luggage without a hitch. We headed toward the cab company to which we had been recommended. They told us that we would have had to book a van at least a day earlier, and that we should just hop in a black cab out front. We found a minivan that would take us, somehow stuffed two guitars, a full-sized keyboard, six suitcases, and six personal bags into that. Then we paid twice as much as we were told we would and ended up at the beautiful Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam. I believe it was 8 a.m. when we arrived. That’s a pretty early check in time. Luckily, our rooms were ready, and we all paired off and headed towards them.

I was paired with Sal, our new bass player who took Pete’s position, as Pete has moved to drums with the departure of Mark to graduate school. Sal and I found our room on the second floor of the old building. I had read that it was a design hotel, that each of the 100+ rooms were designed individually. Apparently our design was “Insane Asylum” or “Zombie Hospital.”

It was cool, for sure – nice, comfortable beds, big windows that opened all the way, a view of the canal outside, but it also featured jagged, white, tiled walls, concrete floors covered only slightly by rugs under the beds, and, even though you could tell it was clean, it looked like someone had been in the room, in the past, either in a straitjacket or in hiding from the undead outside. The bathroom was huge and nice, with a good shower and hotel shampoo. Not to mention more windows, big ones. This helped with air circulation but I constantly forgot to mind my nudity while taking a shower, as the hotel rooms around the corner could see directly in – not to mention the apartments across the street and everyone below.

There was a critical decision to be made immediately upon arrival – would I fall into the trap of sleeping after only one hour of it in the past thirty or would I soldier through it all, get through rehearsal, and go to bed at a “normal” time to kick jetlag? The shower made the decision for me. I cleaned up and Mikey and I went on an Amsterdam adventure, sort of. Turned out to be two thirty-something American guys sweating a lot and walking aimlessly, mostly. But we did do some things.

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We hopped the tram outside of the hotel and headed down to the touristy area near the Paradiso. We wandered the streets looking for breakfast which is somewhat hard to find outside of hotels down there. I am so opposed to tourist traps that all of the pancake houses filled me with rage. We found a tiny little bakery/deli and had some pastries and coffee and decided to see if the Anne Frank house didn’t have a line around the block. It did. We walked into the old church next to it and admired the organs and listened to an organist practice. I was disappointed to find that there were no public toilets in the church, and snuck into a tourist trap bagel house and paid 20 euro cents to pee. If it had been three in the morning the canal would have done just fine. Mikey and I decided to go all out with our tourist trap day and rent a canal bike for an hour. It was hot and the sun baked us as we paddled our way through and around the canals. We docked behind the Paradiso and walked through a little art gallery district where we found a restaurant called Soup En Zo that was fucking great. I had a creamy fish soup with some pumpkin seed bread, Mikey had some sort of lamb soup, and we both had our first Bionades. We hopped back on the tram and headed back to the hotel to wait for Molina’s arrival and the first full on rehearsal with Sal.

The studio where rehearsals had been set, called IJLand, was across the street from the hotel, but not the front or back of the hotel, but rather the side. Everyone kept saying it was right behind the hotel, which was not the case – I sweated my way through strangely shaped office buildings looking for a number that didn’t exist and, presumably, being laughed at. Upon giving up, I noticed the studio in a place I wouldn’t have expected, and returned to the hotel to do some history work for a bit before meeting time. 

Molina arrived, brought to us by Jan, our tour manager for the last two years. He came to witness rehearsal so he could get an idea of what he was in for. Even at the first rehearsal he found out he was in for a lot. 

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The gear arrived and it was what we had requested, except for the drum kit which wasn’t vintage, as we had hoped. Pete worked some magic and got it sounding good. I got my reissued Fender Deluxe Reverb and, unlike the one I’m used to playing (a ’71, I think), it is definitely cleaner and louder – two qualities of which I am not that fond but, with some patience, can be used in one’s favor. Molina got the same amp. As we set up our gear in the studio Molina finally opened up his Les Paul case to tune up. Amidst tuning (using a strobe tuner that no one understands, so I’m not sure it can actually be called “tuning.” I would say it’s actually “guessing”) he discovered that British Airways had, essentially, broken the headstock off of the neck of the guitar. Not severed it, but cracked it, both vertically and horizontally, against the back.

This is the “classic Gibson break.” It could be easily repaired, too, but the first order of business was finding a new guitar. The studio helper had a Telecaster that he ran to get for us. In the meantime, Molina, who talks constantly about the “thousands of guitars” he has, decided to bring an acoustic with him instead of a backup electric. To his credit how could have known that BA would do such a thing to his guitar? Also, he had promo after promo thing to do and the acoustic would come in handy, right? Oh, and we were on a bus where, no doubt, he would have it out writing all the time. Right? The acoustic was fired up and we started practicing. Everything was fine. We worked out kinks, explained unintentionally difficult changes and rhythm shifts to Sal.

Did I mention that this studio is owned by Remko? Remko, who is Pavement’s sound man and has been since 1992? Remko who introduced more than one encore at all of the mid-late 90s Pavment shows I saw? Remko is my favorite band’s soundman? It was kind of a starstriking moment.

The Telecaster arrived. Molina, as he usually does, found everything wrong with it first. Then he started playing it and didn’t really try to get any kind of tone out of it. Then he discovered it was dirty inside and crackling. Again, all of these things could have been remedied with five minutes of work but he refused. The Tele sounded like shit, and no matter how much advice I’d give him about tone (I play a fucking Tele) he would not listen. He also refused to believe that any of the gear was worthwhile. Needless to say, that first day was a son of a bitch. Frustrated as shit we all decided it was time to break and have some beer and dinner.

Above the studio was a café with pretty good food. We all ate and drank together. We all tried to stay awake together. We all finished and happily went to our rooms. I made some phone calls from the amazing library and when I got back to the Zombie Hospital Sal was crashed out and snoring like crazy. It was soon to be my turn.