i’m pretty certain of it, actually.
in 1994 i was playing practically full time. later that year i would re-enter the “normal” workforce, and continue my gig schedule as if nothing had happened. i think i was my busiest from 1994 to around 1998. those were the years leading up to my recording my first “real” album and i went through two managers in that time as well. this was around the time that i had turned my back on playing american pie and (arguably the most vomit-inducing song of all time) margueritaville on the bar circuit and started concentrating on writing my own material and making the transition from playing covers to being an artiste. history would prove me to be not up to the cause, but i had a lot of drive at the time, and i had written some songs that i felt were really good, and i didn’t foresee the obstacles that would ultimately present themselves.
i would definitely say that i subscribed to the Zevon “i’ll sleep when i’m dead” ethic.
for instance, i would take a friday off from work and play in new hope, pa on thursday, new york city on friday, the gibson tent at the newport folk festival on saturday, boston on sunday, and back home for work on monday.
this actually happened. i have pictures.
i took a friday off and left for elizabethtown ky for a gig that night, then louisville the next night, then home on sunday. that trip was the cinder block that broke the camels’ back, i think. it happened the first week of february, and i slept in my van both nights. the second night – leaving louisville – i thought i’d freeze in the back of the van. i had a great sleeping bag, thankfully, but when i woke up in the morning, with my face stickin’ outta the thing, it took more willpower than i’m normally able to summon to crawl outta there. the only motivating factor that put me over the edge was the promise of heat once i got the van running (and i had to scrape the inside of the windows as well as the outside before i could see well enough to drive…i arrived at home with $1.70 in my pocket – and i left home with more than i made at the gigs.
this farce was the culmination of what felt then like an endless stream of pointless gigs – driving to nyc on a tuesday night to play 5 songs at the living room in nyc for no money and turning around and driving home just in time to get a shower and go to work the next day. i did them in the interest of creating “buzz”, as my manager at the time called it…but i don’t think i had the tenacity for “buzz”. and besides, it’s hard to generate much excitement when there’s 5 people in the room, which was almost always the case. it just felt like nobody – NOBODY – gave a fuck about what i was doing. and that apathy was contagious, apparently, because i caught it.
and these were the forklift driving days, too, lest we forget – and i worked a pretty crazy schedule. we’d work 4 12 hour days and have 4 days off, which was cool, but i kept getting jerked from one side of the rotation to the other, which would create situations like this – i’d book as many gigs as i could for my days off, but then i’d get switched so that my schedule would end up flipflopped. for instance, i once played on a wed, thurs, fri, and sat night, and worked on thurs, fri, sat, and sun. from the time i got out of bed on wednesday morning until i went so sleep sun night/monday morning, i got roughly 14 to 16 hours sleep for the week.
i guess, in tom pettys’ words, “we did it for the stories we could tell…”
in retrospect, the experience of having done it (although i did make some coin in those days) was the only real tangible benefit. met some cool people, had some laughs, spent many hours of introspection time behind the wheel of the van on countless chunks of interstate (several times, i took my van in for inspection and was asked what the deal was with the odometer, because they thought there was some mistake with the number from the previous year). but that is pretty much the depth and breadth of the tangible advantages i reaped from my participation in that era of my life.
now tonight, i play the last of a three night stand with my buddy charlie degenhart, and am soon launching into the thickest helping of bookings in recent memory for the stone roaders. i’m looking forward to a lot of those dates, though – i’m really in a comfort zone with those guys that i’ve never had with most of the other musical situations i’ve been in (with the notable exception of the steel city band, circa 2000). so there’s no sense of dread when i think about the work on the schedule, but it’s definitely reminiscent of an earlier time, from a sheer activity sense. the air of dread that used to catch some of those gigs back in the day seems to be gone, for the most part…i think that sideman work definitely agrees with me.
blake and i are coming out of our respective summer funks, i think…we’re trying to schedule some time to get back to work on his record when the opportunity presents itself. i’m soon gonna have to go back and relearn some of those songs, it’s been so long since i’ve heard them. we have a bass player online now, though, and i think that once he’s comfortable in his own skin, it’ll only be a matter of time before we get a drummer into the fray, and then we can start gigging.
also…gotta, gotta, GOTTA get my website up and running.