2004 Tour Diary: East Coast & Southern U.S.

John turns up with a previously-unknown entry from the 2004 Tour Diary.

Coming from the west coast I have to admit that I have a total fascination with the American South, and our national tours only really start to feel like an adventure when we start heading toward the Mason/Dixon line. The northeast is becoming so familiar to us from frequent touring that the exoticness is wearing off, yet when we turn to head south there’s still a thrill of heading into another country.

We take a little detour between New Jersey and Pennsylvania in order to cross the Delaware River over a little rickety bridge built near where Gen. Washington crossed during the Revolutionary War. The British had hired a bunch of German mercenaries (Hessians) to fight the Americans, and they were all holed up in Trenton, New Jersey preparing to assault Philadelphia. Washington decides to launch a sneak attack on Christmas, crosses the river and just creams the Hessians. It was a battle that truly turned the tide of the war and the humble little park that commemorates it was suitably shrouded in fog.

Playing Philadelphia, despite the fact that it typifies everything I love about American cites, is always an oxygen-less experience. The city is so full of Historical sites, and so wrapped up in the lore of the founding of America, that it’s a little like visiting Athens, Greece. It doesn’t take long for the abundance of history to become boring. I’ll drive two hundred miles out of the way to see a patch of grass where William Tecumseh Sherman farted in a glass, but in Philadelphia I almost can’t be bothered to cross the street to look in the windows of the building where they signed the Constitution.

It’s something about the city, I dunno, that makes it feel small and forgotten, even though it’s a major metropolitan area that is crammed with people and sprawls for miles. I haven’t worked it out. It has the bombed-out neighborhoods that make Detroit so exciting, it has the racial tension necessary for a dynamic culture, plenty of non-functioning public transit, in short everything to put it into the ranks of America’s great, crumbling metropolises, yet it scores high on the snooze-meter. Perhaps the city of Philadelphia, so close to New York, lives forever in its shadow despite 1776.

Next we head down into Virginia to play in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia which, despite being founded by Thomas Jefferson, now echoes with the sound of a thousand cricket bats whapping the asses of a thousand sophomore pledges. It’s nice to know that our future Assistant Under-Secretaries of State are still receiving an American education unsullied by the passage of time.

Central Virginia has one of those magnetic-field vortexes which cause me to completely lose my sense of direction. I’ve experienced this before in other places and I can’t explain it other than by resorting to made-up geologic terms, but there’s definitely a sub-ferroclastic, lithospheric anomalous splidge there. We drove up the hill to visit Jefferson’s home at Monticello, but the whole place was overrun with middle-class, middle-brow American families. The thing about Jefferson is that he can be adopted, or appropriated, by almost anyone. Maybe he’s an atheist, maybe he’s a Christian, maybe he’s a racist, maybe he’s just a slave-loving horndog, perhaps he was serious when he called for a revolution every twenty years, or maybe he was just, y’know, saying.

The result is that everyone can take a piece of Jefferson and claim to be his spiritual descendent. Clinton did, and so did the Montana Freemen who hated Clinton. It’s curious that the current Administration doesn’t invoke Jefferson at all, probably because they think he’s an Atheist, cross-breeding terrorist in their secret hearts. Those of them what can read. Anyway, the line was too long to get into Monticello and I couldn’t bear the thought of spending two hours overhearing various buttoned-down fathers lecturing their families about how Jefferson was the author of Magna Carta, or that he was a Seventh-Day Adventist, or that he invented the printing press.

Next we zip back up to D.C. to play at the awesome Black Cat. Travis Morrison of the Dismemberment Plan comes to the show and afterwards we compare our performance styles. Apparently, he likes people and I hate them, which affects our performance style. He was in New York the week before and had come up to me in a bar and said, “I love the song Blue Diamonds, and I use the lyrics in my daily life”, but at the time I had never been introduced to him so I thought he was an appreciative fan and I said, “Thanks kid, you’re the best, don’t be late for school, or something like that, and then Ira from Nada Surf says, “Wow, Travis Morrison,” after he leaves and I felt like I hadn’t shown proper indie-rock respect. So we get to talking in D.C. and it turns out he’s a stupendous personality, very awesome, and I’m digging him, but we aren’t talking for five minutes before I realize that somehow we’ve started having the D.C. rock conversation about how Fugazi is the greatest rock band ever.

Now I’ll be honest and say that I hate talking about Fugazi. I don’t hate Fugazi, just hate talking about them. I used to pretend that I was confusing Fugazi with Fishbone, and carry on my half of the conversation as if Fishbone was the topic, but no one ever got it or thought it was funny and after awhile I forgot how to even talk about Fishbone, so now I just sit patiently and nod while whoever it is explains to me that Fugazi invented rock. I figure that Fugazi must be a metaphor for something, that their integrity caused them to sabotage themselves in the name of principle, but I can think of plenty of examples of that trope even in my own family and I can’t get excited about it. I keep trying to turn the conversation to the Cult’s Love Removal Machine, or how good Triscuts are with cheese, or this damn cell-phone, until something works. After this interlude we resume talking about life and everything else and Travis Morrison becomes my new, totally straight, boyfriend of the day.

Then it’s on to the South proper, by which I mean North Carolina. The Carolinas are not only the South, they’re surrounded by the South, so unlike Virginia they couldn’t sneak over and become the North if they decided they were tired of being the South. Right away the atmosphere changes. I’m basing this mostly on the number of Christian bumper-stickers I see, but bumper-stickers are a pretty fair way of judging the character of a particular region, and immediately upon crossing into North Carolina we are assailed by tail-fender messages exclaiming that life is something precious and that our troops are important, and that various vehicles are favored by God, and even Calvin stops pissing on Chevys and starts kneeling before the cross.

Down through South Carolina and Georgia it’s more of the same, until it seems like every other driver feels the need to remind the drivers behind him that there are certain ideas that are simply not open to discussion and that there are certain truths which cannot be debated or questioned. This atmosphere puts me in a more and more disagreeable state of mind until I am muttering witty retorts at every exclamatory sign. So after a couple of days of this, it will cheer my Christian readers to report, I pick up a Bible in one of our motel rooms and start at the start, Genesis, and begin to read about how God created the world.

But it doesn’t take. God may have created the world in seven days, but he hired some pretty boring publicists.