Because Asterisk

  • October 14, 2021
  • /   Rob
  • /   Feed_Blog

Usually it's The Office.

The front lounge of the tour bus is a tight, shared space. A nexus. All things to all people. At the right time of day, you might catch one person plinking away at something work-related on a laptop, two in PJs with bunk-ruffled hair, sitting cross-legged on the sidelong bench eating cereal out of a paper bowl or hunched over the sink with a toothbrush in mouth, and two more stepping back in after a trip to check out a nearby museum. This is all valid in context. The front lounge belongs to everyone.

That's why The Office is almost always on the TV. In communal areas, any ambient media has to represent the median of human taste, and The Office provides the same level of "nobody's gonna be mad about this" energy as the middle-of-the-road pop playlists you hear in department stores. (If you think I mean that as an insult, please remember that our own music shows up on enough of those playlists that we've taken to calling ourselves "lobby rock" as a joke/not joke.)

Anyway. Today, we are not watching The Office. Today, August 29, 2021, we are over seven hundred miles away from home, and we are glued to our local weather.

New Orleans, like most metropolitan areas, has its fair share of recognizable TV weather anchors, like The Guy With The Hair, or The Guy I Was On A Kickball Team With One Summer, or the amazing Margaret Orr. We're flipping between all of them, plus some regional and national coverage, with the twitchy energy of a gambler sitting in a sports bar and watching all nine of the sure-thing bets he placed this morning go bust. I know we were just on WDSU, but maybe if we flip back now, Margaret will tell us that Hurricane Ida has had a sudden change of heart. It's turning back into the gulf.

It's going to squeeze its way down the Caribbean without getting too close to any populated areas. It'll pop out into the Atlantic and head south. Take the Drake Passage around the Americas and make landfall (as a mild tropical depression) in the Pacific Northwest, where they actually wouldn't mind some goddamned rain right about now. A fella can dream.

We don't huddle before every show. Typically, we reserve the pre-show huddle for the ones that mark some corner turned- first time at a bucket list venue, last show of a tour, New Year's Eve. Railbird is a cool-ass festival, but, under normal circumstances, we probably wouldn't have bothered. But this is a milestone, of sorts: our first show played at the precise moment a hurricane landed on our city. We embrace each other. We channel our collective energy, tuning our wavelengths and aligning our chakras and junk. Someone says something about giving it our all. Doing it for our city. I may have actually said "let's do it for the five-oh-four" at some point. One thing I've learned about myself this past year is that crises make me corny as hell.

It was hot. It was beautiful. We played our guts out and earned a few minutes of that great, glowing feeling that will always keep us coming back. After our set, I got a video call from my wife, safe with her family in Houston. She was holding our baby. I could feel the distance between us. After the call, I curled up in my bunk on the bus and stared at the wall, close to tears, marooned on a distant world.

*  *  *

I know the old saw is "any port in a storm," but still, I'm beginning to think five hundred square feet above a detached garage may not be the right amount of space for four adults and a baby. In my in-laws' defense, when they booked this Airbnb in Houston several months ago, they presumably chose it because it was around the corner from their son and his family, and not for its ability to accommodate three extra surprise hurricane evacuee guests, one of whom eats out of bottles and poops into diapers and still dabbles in a bit of night-screaming when the mood strikes him. That my wife and son and I are here at all is a testament to my in-laws' charity. When you add in the fact that they are sleeping on the fold-out couch in the living room so that we (mainly the baby) can be in the apartment's actual bedroom, well, basically I'm scum just for mentioning the size of the place. It is safe and dry and full of love, and the bathroom has two separate entrances so you don't have to walk through anybody's nap to get to it.

I write about this a lot, but I think it's so interesting how time expands and compresses and folds into itself. This strange month will become a candy-swirl of missed flights, phone tag with insurance companies, regular baby stuff, festering street garbage, and a couple of rock & roll shows to boot. In Houston, living on top of one another, my family all caught the same cold off my two-year-old nephew. In New Orleans, CVS let me schedule a COVID test at a location that was serving as a temporary National Guard outpost. The guy with the AR-15 who told me to leave didn't seem to think it was as funny as I did. In Los Angeles, we formed a bike gang and felt guilty about getting to enjoy a day away from the chaos while our partners were all stuck back in the very-real world. In all places, every airline sucks complete butt now. In Canada, we did the old "get every musician on the premises onstage at once" trick and warmed up a chilly New Brunswick evening. Back in New Orleans, we got a good surprise for a change when, The Rolling Stones asked us to open for them on about five days' notice.

At this point I should acknowledge the relentless efforts of all of our team- our tour manager, Samia, in particular- for acing what has essentially been a six-week-long scramble drill. That we started every one of our shows on time this past month is enough to make me believe in miracles.

*  *  *

A week after the hurricane hit, we pack the car in front of my brother-in-law's house in Houston and drive east under a soft, gray raindrum. My family and I are finally on our way home. The power at our house will probably be back on when we arrive. On the drive back from Houston, which had its own devastating hurricane a few years back, we pass through Lake Charles, which got flattened by a one-two punch of tropical storms a year ago. We see as many blue tarps and nailed-up plyboards as we do shingle roofs and intact windows. As we get further east, the devastation from last year's Big One smudges into the devastation from this year's Big One like brackish water at the mouth of the Delta.

Our simmering Gulf spits out so many Big Ones that we can't even keep pace anymore. We do what we can to clean up in the aftermath- and those efforts are commendable and necessary, to be sure- but that's never going to be enough when our overall attitude towards climate change is still, "welp, I guess Oregon's gonna be on fire this month." "Well, guess you shouldn't live below sea level." "Why don't you just sell your home and move?" So painfully short-sighted. It's great that we can all come together and raise money and help one another after the fact, but we're never going to be able to bail enough water out so long as we keep sailing headlong into the storm. We need a long-term solution. Where I live, I'd settle just for knowing there's going to be a "long-term."

Progress can feel like the myth of Sisyphus at times, but with more boulders. We must contend with our own greed, prejudice, stubbornness, stupidity, and so on. I think our heaviest stone might be something I'm not quite sure how to punch into a single word. Inertia? Stagnation? Apathy? It's this idea that seems to pervade all of the bad choices we make: that somehow things couldn't possibly be better. We couldn't possibly be smarter, more humane, better prepared. It's "well, that's just the way it is."

It's millions of people going hungry in the richest country in the world. It's the belief that candidates who campaign on demonstrably popular ideas have a problem with "electability." It's thinking there's no way to make sure everyone has access to medical treatment when so many of our peer nations take for granted that health care is both a human right and a nationalized utility. It's shrugging at mass shootings like they're part of the weather. It's saying "if I die, I die" when you're one of the most recognizable and least-vaccinated individuals in a state that at one time was literally paying people to get the jab. And now, it's homes and cities and history swept out to sea, or burned to ash. It's a millstone. We chained it to our own necks a long time ago, and we've spent the intervening decades wondering, keys in hand, why we can't ever seem to get off the ground. This is how it is, but it's not the way things always were, and it's not the way things have to be.

*  *  *

Hello, friends! Rob here.

Lost in all this Ida shuffle was the fact that my homeowner's insurance provider pulled out of my ZIP code back in August (I can't possibly imagine why), leaving us to find a new policy on a few months' notice. Have you ever tried cold-calling an insurance provider while your city's weather is making national headlines? I had to go through a lot of AmeriShields and GuardProtects and HomeNationals before I could find one that actually wanted my business. It's gotta be a sign of the apocalypse when an insurance company doesn't want money.

I did manage to chase down a decent rate, eventually. They just mailed us a big document outlining everything our policy does and does not cover. It has been sitting in my lap for the past two days while I struggle through it. I can't read the thing to save my life. I don't mean that like, "oh, it's kind of an unpleasant chore." I literally cannot read this thing. The words on the paper feel so disconnected from meaningful language to me that I made it all the way to page eleven (SECTION I - EXCLUSIONS, P. 5: "NUCLEAR DAMAGE") before realizing the pages were double-sided and I'd only been reading the odd numbers. It's twenty-one pages long.

We're having ourselves a bit of a Jazzfest here in New Orleans this week! Asterisk. Seems like just about everything comes with an asterisk these days. Still, it has been great to feel that extra bit of electricity in the air, as cool community events rise up to occupy the festival vacuum and clubs open their doors to vaccinated crowds. It's a weird thing for me to be excited about, because- again, asterisk- I am currently at a stage of dadhood where bopping around the city after dark, seeing everyone and doing everything and "it's all happening!"-ing a bunch of friendly acquaintances just seems inconceivable. The mere thought of it makes my body feel heavy. But my wife and I both had family in town last week, and The Revivalists were able to do our annual after-midnight Boyfriend spectacle (we missed it last year. ASTERISK.), which means I still got to come home WAY too late one night and feel generally exhausted and overstimulated. Just like the real thing.

I don't watch a lot of baseball, but with my dad in town last week, we had the playoffs on TV most evenings, and, here's my confidently ill-informed baseball take: if the guys in the announce booth are now reading ad copy for online sportsbooks between pitches during the MLB playoffs, then it's probably time to let Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame, right?  As long as he wasn't betting against himself- and there's no evidence of that- how is a baseball player gambling on baseball any less ethical than a corporate employee owning stock in the company they work for? Even if he bet on the Reds to win while he was associated with the team, isn't betting on oneself to win kind of the whole thing professional athletes do? The closest thing I could find to a compelling case for keeping him out is basically that we need to leave his head out on that pike as a warning to others, lest we jeopardize the integrity of a game where cheating is so commonplace that it has its own Wikipedia page. When the proper execution of a routine technique involves an attempt to dupe the umpire with showmanship, you can probably stop wringing your hands about "the sanctity of the game."

Anyway, here's a jam:

The inimitable Dr. Lonnie Smith passed away last month at the age of seventy-nine. He was one of the finest organists ever to step on a bandstand. He may not have been, in the strictest and most technical sense, a "real doctor," but, well, let's let him explain the title:

I'm a doctor of music. I’ve been playing long enough to operate on it, and I do have a degree, and I will operate on you. I'm a neurosurgeon. If you need something done to you, I can do it. But when I go up on that stand, the only thing I’m thinking of is music. I'm thinking to touch you with that music.
I love this performance, and it hardly showcases just how much Smith could do with an organ. It starts as absolute chaos, then jumps into the melody of the song at breakneck speed before eventually sinking into a greasy blues shuffle, only to back its way through the roadmap in a perfect palindrome.

Till next time.