Reprinted by permission from The Angel City Voice. Thanks to Lis Lewis and Bob Malone.

Crawl Across Texas

(Come Back In A Box)Tour

19 Days on the road with BOB MALONE

PART 1

"ABCDEFG. Plans. Pure delusions. How can you ever accomodate the imponderables, the variables, the voluptuous teeming of possibilities, the random assertions of chance, the inflexable dictates of fate?" - Jim Dodge

DAY ONE:

Stop the mail, pack the gear, pawn the plants off on the neighbors, empty the fridge, carefully pack the clothes that will be totally wrinkled by the time you make your first Motel 6, do the sad goodbye with the girlfriend. The road, as improbable and inconvenient and unpredictable as it is, beckons once again.

My friend, legendary malcontent and folksinger Terry Tutor, whom I'm splitting the bill with on this trip, shows up at about 5:00 pm. It takes us two hours to wedge all of our stuff into his '88 Toyota Tercel. This operation required the use of several complex mathematical equations, six pounds of blueprints, various scale diagrams and a doctorate in physics (or the presence of a drummer). Unfortunately, we had none of this going for us. In any case, we got the car packed and immediately hit my favorite local bar, Rebo's (that's sober spelled backwards) for an inaugural belt of whiskey. Then we hit the highway.

Right around the Arizona state line as we're marvelling at the beauty of the stars and the 75 mph speed limit signs we notice that we are about to become a couple of those poor bastards that you see from time to time on the side of the road with the hood up and Mt. Vesuvious erupting out of their engine.

I should point out here that we are not riding in just any '88 Toyota Tercel - we're riding in a MUSICIAN'S '88 Toyota Tercel - which means it's in about the same shape as a '71 Dodge Dart that hasn't had a tune-up or an oil change since mood rings were fashionable.

Anyway, there we were, five minutes later, sitting on a dark desert highway (uh oh, kill me now, I just inadvertantly quoted "Hotel fuckin' California") with a sinking feeling in our hearts in direct proportion to the rising steam from our engine. We let it cool, refilled the radiator and limped into Pheonix around four in the morning. It was there that we saw an Econo-Lodge advertising LOW LOW RATES! - CONT. BRKFST!! - VACANCY!! This looked like an E-ticket to us so we pulled in.

At the front desk we were greeted by a yellowed, strappy t-shirt and trifocal glasses wearin' 800-year-old Methusela who probably hadn't had a coherent thought since the Eisenhower administration.

"Hi! We need a room for the night. How mu-;"

"Ain't got no rooms," says he.

Translation: Ain't got no rooms for a couple of long-haired, pinko-commie, drug-takin, non-Jesus-fearin', possible humasexshul freaks like you.

"But the sign says vacan-;"

"AIN'T got no rooms!!"

Defeated, and too weary to fight, we headed on down to the local Motel-6 (where they leave the light on for you) and crash. Our first gig is in Dallas, TX, two days from now. I hope we make it. I fall asleep and have restless, surreal dreams about a giant temperature gauge needle hovering just below a giant red H.

 

DAY 2

We depart at the crack of noon after eating a well-rounded, nutritious meal at the local Burger King and gathering essential supplies for the 100-degree day ahead (water, ice, cooler, antifreeze, beer, ibuprofin). Upon hitting the proverbial dusty, the car immediately starts over-heating - it's not quite all the way there, but it's closing in fast. We drive a sedate 55 mph across the 110-degree desert with the heater on full blast, silently staring at the temperature gauge - this is our own personal hell.

As our version of luck would have it, right around Tuscon the radiator ceases to be a problem because we lose the transmission. Put a fork in the Tercel - it's done.

We wait an hour for the tow-truck (thank God for Triple A) and we are finally picked up by this very articulate, toothless man who wants to know: "Where the fuck do ya want me to take this fuckin' thing!?" He also informs us: "I don't know why I live in this fuckin' hot town - I want to go back home to fuckin' Rhode Island but they'll make me give up my fuckin' guns - I'm not givin' up my fuckin' guns! You boys like guns??!?"

Lacking both the two days and the $1,500 it would require to fix the car, Tutor whips out his VISA and rents a big, honkin' '96 Chevy Lumina. We throw our stuff in the back and blow Tuscon just as the sun is setting. On the outskirts of town we make a quick pitstop at this little Mexican restaurant for a couple of shots of Tequila. Sufficiently lubricated, we crank the AC and the stereo, set the cruise control for 85mph and prepare to eat some serious miles. When we pull into the Fort Hancock Motel (Reasonable rates! Taxidermy in every room!) in extremely West Texas eight hours later, the gig is approximately 700 miles away. I sleep a restless 3 hours - my friend sleeps not at all.

 

DAY 3

West Texas is dull. It is so dull that taking the time to write down something about it already does it way too much justice. We got the cruise control set on 100 and it feels like walking down the up escalator. I'm pretty sure we're not moving at all. I've been driving the whole trip and I can't take it any more. So with great trepidation I ask Tutor to take over the wheel (Tutor is the single worst driver to have ever been issued a license in the entire course of automotive history). Ten minutes later we're clocked doing 96 in a 70. Things are looking bleak as the Texas State Trooper asks Tutor to "step out of the car, son." We find out that a $200 fine is due on the spot. Of course, we don't have TWO dollars on us let alone two-hundred. After asking me to get out of the car and show my license, the officer goes back to his car and there's this long, unexplained pause. When the narcotics and K-9 units show up ten minutes later, we know why. The narcotics guy pulls us aside while the convinced-he's-soon-to-be-arresting-officer searches the car for all the copious amounts of drugs we don't have.

"Whatever drugs y'all got, you should tell me now before I get the dogs 'cause I'm willing to work with y'all if you cooperate," he says.

"We don't have any drugs, we're just late getting to our gig and we were -"

"Musicians!" he says. "Hell, son, I used to book country bands down in San Angelo - what kind of music y'all play?"

By this point, the car-searchin' guy has got to my cartons of CDs and tapes in the trunk. He looks at my CD, looks at my license and says with that I-might-be-tellin'-the-boys-down-at-the-bar-I-met-a-celebrity face: "Hey, that's you!" Shortly thereafter, after Tutor furiously sir's and y'all's the officers some more for good measure (he's from this state, he's qualified), we are told in a slightly embarrassed tone that there will be no speeding ticket and all six officers leave, each with a brand new copy of the latest Bob Malone cassette.

Four hours later, traveling at exactly the posted speed limit, we arrive in Dallas "Just in time to stand in line, freeway lookin' like a parking lot" to quote James Taylor. We make the gig with five minutes to spare before downbeat. The gig, played in front of six people, is relatively uneventful.

This gig, like the next four that will follow, is at a Borders Books & Music store. I've played a few of these and although they've all gone quite well, I still can't get used to the idea of playing under all those flourescent lights in a . . . bookstore. Where're the drunks? Where's the clueless, surly, money-grubbing clubowner?! Where's the goddamn BAR!!? It takes some getting used to.

Anyway, I get up there after driving ten hours straight with a throat infection and three hours sleep and proceed to do one of the worst sets I've ever done - ever. I've played better coming off a two-day bender. Luckily, I only have to do a half-hour. Tutor does his set after, we get the dough and hit the nearest drinking establishment.

 

DAY 4

I wake up feeling like complete shit. I need a doctor in a bad way. Tutor takes me to this health clinic where they inform me that I probably have strep-throat, give me a shot (in my ass, for Christ's sake), and take $100 of my money - all in twenty minutes. I drove three fuckin' days just to make that $100! I gotta change careers.

The gig tonight is at the Borders in Plano (a suburb of Dallas). It goes pretty well, the shot starts taking effect right around the third song and I end up having a good set. I still feel like I'm playing in a Junior High library, though.

Later that evening, when we get back to the house of the old high school chum of Tutor's that we're staying at, I go in to write my girlfriend a letter and crash while Tutor stays out on the curb to smoke a cigarette. Thus the seeds for Law Enforcement Encounter #2 are planted. Not five minutes after I leave, the cops cruise by and try to arrest Tutor for just sitting there (and being a long-haired, pinko-commie, Keith Richards lookin', earring-havin' freak in our nice, quiet god-fearin' community). The owner of the house comes out just in time to explain that, yes, he really DOES belong here. Jesus, I can't believe this place.

 

DAY 5

Today's gig is in the afternoon at the Fort Worth Borders. We find out we're double-booked with some high school play or puppet show or something ("If I told them once I told them a million times - Spinal Tap first, then the puppet show!") We have the contract and the brats get bumped to 4:00.

As we approach the music playing area I see they have a grand piano - I am very excited at this unexpected bonus and with great trepidation and much hopefulness I approach the instrument to see if it's in tune - it is! A miracle! Today will be good - I can feel it.

This turns out to be the best gig so far - I sell quite a few CDs and tapes (some even to the puppet show people) and I never even had to take that stinking digital piano out of the car.

We pack up, hit the nearest bar for lunch and a couple of shots of whiskey and then head out for Houston. We make Houston by midnight and crash for the night.

 

DAY 6

For the next three days we are staying at Tutor's parents' house on the outskirts of Houston. This brings with it the usual perks: free food, rooms, laundry - all the comforts of home. We have a blissfully uneventful first day in town - we are unbelievably excited by the complete lack of activity (or encounters with law enforcement representatives). Tonight's gig is the last Borders we will do for a while (thank god). I'm starting to feel a little out of my element - displaced - I need to perform in a little bit earthier environment, in short, a god-damn BAR!

The crowd is pretty good for a Monday (at a fer-chrissakes bookstore) and we set up. My set is going pretty well until the PA starts cutting in and out. It gets worse and worse until finally I stop mid-song - take a deep breath and go on a 10-minute comic diatribe (sans amplification) about all the misfortunes we've encountered on this jaunt. It is greeted with resounding laughter and applause and the good vibes seem to effect the PA - it makes it through the rest of the set relatively glitch free.

 

DAY 7

One week on the road. It feels like three. Tonight is the first club date of the trip - it'll be the first of two at this place. The club is called Fitzgerald's - the local rags tout it as a real mecca. What it really is is a real shit-hole. I don't mind - it won't be the first (or the last). Normally, they have music upstairs and downstairs (we're downstairs) but it's just us tonight.

There's a small crowd - even a couple of people from my very limited Texas mailing list. The gig is a lot of fun - it's great to be able to drink and cuss on stage again. I sell some tapes. Our total take for the night (we get a percentage of the bar) $8 bucks each.

 

DAY 8

Night two at Fitzgerald's. This turns out to be one of those pitcher-plant gigs where the first night is so slow you don't get a feel for the true nature of the place.

Upstairs tonight there is a full compliment of alterna-trash bands (they all sound like they're playing two songs at the same time.) Along with this, of course, is a full compliment of the kind of 25-and under morons that listen to this shit - I've never seen so many goatees and ill-fitting clothes in my life - it's like they're in uniform or something. They're such rebels.

As for my set - they took away the great sounding speakers I had last night (they needed them to make the quote-unquote 'band' upstairs even louder) and replaced them with two of the worst sounding speakers I've ever had the misfortune of playing through.

They also turned on the air-hockey game right next to the bandstand - the clatter of which no PA system could possibly compete with. Of course, there were a bunch of kids crowded around banging that plastic disc as if their lives depended on it. And of course, the band upstairs was excruciatingly loud, shaking the whole room.

Just like the night before, there was a (very) small group of people there to hear us play - I banged out a loud, extremely unmusical set (competing the best I could with the noise - they might as well have left the jukebox on). The crowd seemed to like what they could hear of me. I sold some stuff.

Tutor did his set, I got drunk. My second set was played before a group of gen-Xers who's reaction ranged from totally indifferent to openly hostile. I wrapped it up early, said 'Fuck you and goodnight' just to see if anyone was paying attention - no one was - picked up my pay - $20 tonight - and bugged out. I never felt so old in my whole life.

 

PART 2

 


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