I can’t remember now what set me off, but I know this 1998 piece for the SF Bay Guardian was inspired by reading a particularly boring and pointless tour diary earlier that year. Steve Albini and Henry Rollins really wrote the only ones of any enduring interest to me, but both achieved it by seeming to be particularly horrible people.
Tour diaries are like Haiku: it’s a lot harder to write a good one than you think. Perhaps that’s because most rock tours are mind-numbingly routine: the food always sucks, the van keeps breaking down, promoters continually rip you off, you get laid occasionally and drunk all the time. Touring can be a lot of fun, but it’s not a particularly profound experience. Then again, maybe tour diaries are so feeble simply because most of the people writing them are rock musicians, and rock musicians are kind of stupid.
Once upon a time, only the legitimately famous (or notorious) got to publish tour diaries. Steve Albini wrote one of the best back in 1987, documenting Big Black’s final tour for FORCED EXPOSURE. It was hilarious, intense, and wonderfully libelous. Plus, while describing a truly awful visit to a Dutch prostitute, he tossed off a maxim I use to this day whenever I want to justify doing anything dumb: “worth it for the weirdness value.”
I wish Albini’s diary was the last one I ever read. Unfortunately, due to recent technological innovations, this once-rare bloom of musicians’ prose is now an uncontrollable weed, sprouting up everywhere on the internet. Some of these electronic diaries are posted to band home pages or discussion lists where, presumably, there’s an interested audience. But the web is also home to the unsigned, the hopelessly obscure and the Canadian. There are hundreds of groups you’ve barely or never heard of publishing tour diaries on the net.
That wouldn’t be so annoying, except that all these tour diaries sound exactly alike. After exhaustive research, the GUARDIAN has determined that every tour diary can be broken down into the following seven components: Tedious Descriptions of Bad Food; Random Moaning About the Crowd; Van Trouble; Post-Show HiJinx; Band Tension; Gratuitous Celebrity Encounters; and Philosophical Musings.
With that in mind, we present our Universal Tour Diary. The following excerpts have been culled from books, magazines and (mostly) the frightening, wonderful internet. If you can read this all the way through, you will never have to look at another tour diary again.
DAY 1: WE ATE
Curiously, about half the verbiage of any tour diary concerns food and (because the majority of bands are still made up of boys) the various gastro-intestinal events which follow said food’s consumption.
Aldo brings us to small trattoria and like everywhere else we’ve chowed in Italy, the chow is fucking great. I forgot to say about last night’s chow w/the black rice and pesto plus the righteous salad and pizza (there’s at least two main plates to an Italian dinner) but that was good too in Florence. Tonight in Biella I have a righteous whole trout and it is flying into my mouth w/multiple shovel-loads. – Mike Watt
A billboard outside the window told me that the next exit featured a Kentucky Fried Chicken with an all-you-can-eat option. ALL YOU CAN EAT KFC!!! What a scary concept, I thought and then for the next hour wished I had stopped. – Steve Wynn
During our daily pilgrimage to McDonald’s, ours are noticeably the only white faces in line. This is when Jym, in reference to his order of Chicken McNuggets, innocently but loudly proclaims, “I hope they keep the whites and the darks separated.” He meant white and dark chicken, of course, but we all turned to stare at him in abject horror. “What? I just don’t like to mix the darks and the whites, that’s all.” Fortunately, no one is offended. – Joel, Mr. T Experience
When you buy some food, portions are all the time bigger. Besides, this is the first time (in a country) that I see so much obese persons. If you don’t care of your food, you can become quickly like these persons. – Corpus Delecti, who are French, and struggling with the language
This shit is so fucking rude I only have a piece and a half and still blow farts all night that blast the blankey right off me. – Mike Watt
Logic and panic told me I was going to vomit and shit at the first show. The very thought running through my mind at that point in time caused me to get the shits. A new thought: If I were to get the shits just thinking about it then the probability of doing the duty on stage was very high. — Some Canadian in a band called the Soul Attorneys
I checked out a place where a woman had shot herself in the head a day earlier. I had my hands covered with brain tissue, slime, dirt and dead grass. I remember pulling the brains to my nose to see what they smelled like. It didn’t smell like much. I thought about tasting it. I did not. I should have. I still have some of that lady’s brains wrapped up in tinfoil. I should break some off and eat it. – Henry Rollins, Black Flag
DAY 2: TOLEDO SUCKS
You know how when you’re watching your favorite band, you sometimes imagine bumping into the lead singer accidentally one day and becoming best friends? After all, you like the band so much, it’s only natural they like you, too, right?
Fuck people. I want to kill them. — Rollins
Audience hatred reached a new plateau. – Steve Albini, Big Black
It is as if performer and audience are competing to be cooler than each other; each more decadent, more don’t-give-a-damn and drop-dead elegant than the other. Momus music is not necessarily the most comfortable soundtrack to self-righteous, temporary, trust-funded student escapism. – Momus, who talks about himself in the third person
Chased on the way out of Pizza Hut by a star-struck Arkansas teenager who ran up to me and asked “I’m sorry to bother you but aren’t you Sammy Hagar?” After much debate we decided that he was not being sarcastic and ironic as he seemed hardly capable of either. – Steve Wynn
Tonight is one of those nights where a guy in the opening band says, “Hey, you all are my favorite band and all my friends say we sound just like you,” and when they play they are really, really terrible. – Joel, MTX
Switzerland was the only place I ever had my ass bitten by someone in the audience. It really destroyed the mood. – Kim Gordon
Funniest thing about smashing up your stuff: some punk rock kid immediately said, “Hey, you don’t need your guitar case anymore, can I have it?” And somebody else made off w/the distortion box. The grateful public. – Albini
Here is my rationale: You get to go buy beer, get drunk and waste my time. I get to smack you with a pool ball and take your money and clothes. This is a good deal to me. – Rollins, again. I heartily recommend his book, GET IN THE VAN: there’s 200 pages of this stuff.
DAY 3: THE VAN BROKE DOWN
All vans break. After food, visits to mechanics take up most of the space in tour diaries. These entries are too dull to reproduce, however. As a consolation prize, here’s famous bassist Tony Levin’s strangely befuddled account of parking hassles.
I got my second parking ticket of the tour when I had to park at a meter which demanded to be fed hourly till 9pm. Do they expect me to leave the stage to feed the meter! Same happened in New Haven. – Tony Levin, B.L.U.E.
DAY 4: WE PARTIED
Yet another reason tour diaries never live up to even the most meager of expectations: bands these days just don’t break shit up like they used to.
We had just nodded off to sleep in the cushy confines of the Hyatt House on Sunset, or as our pals Led Zeppelin used to call it, the Riot House. It actually is more like the Quiet House these days. I was hungry so I walked down the block to a 7-11 and got an uninspired bagel and a quart of Nestle’s Quik. – Dag Juhlin, Poi Dog Pondering
I secured a “quiet room” for myself backstage. I immediately got to work setting it up to do meditation and the “Arati Puja” (a chanted recitation of adoration and worship) to my Guru, Adi Da Samraj. I lit candles and incense and set up His Murti (a photograph of My Teacher). By the time I got called to go to the main stage I felt very calm and yet full of an amazing energy. – Ed Kowalczyk, Live
Disneyland. The lines sucked because everyone was on vacation, but damn, it was fun. Pirates of the Caribbean wins the make-out award. Courtney and Peter got busted for standing up. – Dandy Warhols
We stayed at Thurston’s sister’s house and awoke to food flying around the room and babies crawling all over us. I know many people think we indulge in twisted sex and ingest massive amounts of drugs on tour, and of course we do. But I’ll always remember Susan, standing in the driveway with the kids and waving goodbye. – Kim Gordon
Afterward, we partied at Proud Frank’s. I knew this guy was proud because he had a full collection of Cheers on tape, with hand-drawn logos on the spines. – Chavez
The fly is still alive. I’m gonna stick it with pins and think of someone I don’t like. I’m going to torture the fly, pluck his little red eyes. Pull his legs off one by one. — Rollins
DAY 5: WE HAD A BIG FIGHT
Tonight, in a disagreement with Jym over the set list, I storm from the club in a hissy-fit, kicking over a garbage can during my dramatic exit. Peace is quickly restored, but I must now endure teasing about the incident for the remainder of my natural life. – Joel, MTX
I love Joe Baiza much but we are having problems. We must find a way to work this out. I become very mute. I will say things that won’t help the situation out right now, I know it. – Mike Watt
During “Louie, Louie,” the last song in the set – I did a whole thing about Kira since it was her last show with Black Flag. I did some raps about getting rid of cancer and what a rancid bitch she was. – Rollins
Good thing we’re breaking up or I’d start carrying a gun. – Steve Albini
DAY 6: WE MET SOMEONE FAMOUS
There’s nothing like the petty humiliations of a tour to make even the most egocentric musician feel like a nobody. This is why celebrities always hang out with one another. If they were spending time with you, they might stop thinking they’re special.
A reconstructed Courtney Love–chaperoned by Janet Bilig–arrived too late. They left in a hurry to rendezvous with the Lemonheads at the Viper Room. — Chavez
We entertained a very tall, special guest at the show in Chicago. The crowd began to chant what I thought was “lettuce! lettuce!” but they were actually shouting “Dennis, Dennis”. – Live
Allen Ginsberg, the poet guy came to see us. I don’t know what that guy’s trip was. He said I moved like a kabuki dancer, the way I “writhe and undulate,” whatever the hell that means. – Rollins
We drove by San Quentin prison where Charles Manson is kept. Coming over the hill we saw Charles Manson walking in the exercise area! (at least it looked like him) He looked very sad. We felt sorry for him. But then we remembered all the crimes he did and we felt that it was probably good that he was sad. – Railroad Jerk
I was then invited to sit with my Beloved Guru for about half of an hour. During this time we talked briefly about the tour and we joked about the Howard Stern movie soundtrack taking Live out of the number one slot on Billboard. I called Howard Stern the “king of New Jersey” and Adi Da called Live the “kings of Pennsylvania”. We laughed uproariously about this for a few minutes. – Live
Stayed in the pool forever, and saw MacKenzie Phillips talking on a cel phone. We were, of course, too scared to say hi. She was in town playing Rizzo in “Grease”. – Poi Dog Pondering
We stole two cases of beer from The Mission, and I pissed on their amps in the truck. — Albini
DAY 7: WE GREW REFLECTIVE
There’s a lot of time to think, on the road. But if everyone got smarter over time, my grandmother wouldn’t keep calling me Alice (her dog’s name) would she? Here’s a compendium of the lessons touring musicians have drawn from their experiences.
I would like to go hang out in the desert for a while. The desert knows about the alonity. Yes, the alonity. That’s my word. — Rollins
Jaded as I am, I can’t help but flip seeing a girl and guy of twelve or thirteen, tops, ramming Martel bottles up each other’s asses. They look to be in excellent health and seem to be honestly enjoying this. Makes all the conventional arguments against this kind of thing seem really silly. – Albini
I’ve never seen so many metalheads cruising the roads. They make perfect sense, though, when you look at the barren trees, the discount store, all this desolation and quietness – you want to crank up something really loud and ugly. I couldn’t help wondering what the girls did while the boys were off playing with Satan. – Kim Gordon, Sonic Youth
For the soul is a bigger and a longer prison than Connecticut. – Momus
Watt is not special, he’s just on bass. – Mike Watt, who also talks about himself in the third person
People actually weigh less if they are standing at the equator than they do if they are standing at the North or South Pole. It’s true! –Joel, MTX
Everyone looked so happy in Jacksonville. If you’re cool you call it Jax. We learned a lot on this tour. –Orbit
If they can go fly a kite, then I can dismember children and throw the amputated limbs on people’s front lawns. This is true. People would argue that this activity is against the law, therefore wrong. I cannot respect that. A law book is just a bunch of words that someone wrote down. I could write one of my own if I wanted to. It’s my word against theirs. – Rollins
Waffle House was quite good. — Chavez