It was a terrible sleep. Conked out sober at 2am, awake at 4. Reading, breathing, iPod, trying anything to empty my head and beat back the voices creeping in. Managed some light sleep between 8 and 10, but had a feeling it wasn’t going to be a good day. A swelling above my right eye.
The venue won’t even let us inside until load-in time, 2pm. It would be nice to have a shower and shave before loading in, but no. The bus has a very basic WC (rule number one is no number twos). The toilet itself is full. I’m brushing my teeth over a tiny sink while the bog is just about to spill over with piss.
Guitarist Keith from We Are Scientists arrives, and a few of us go for tea and coffee. The subject turned to his experience at Bataclan. (Or thankfully, lack of experience.) The lucky sonofabitch left the place around 15 minutes before the gunmen showed up. I asked him what prompted him to leave – he had to meet some friends. I didn’t say it because insensitive and cliché, but just imagine if he didn’t have those friends…
By the time we’re allowed in the venue, I’m tired, and I feel like it’s visible. That’s two nights of shitty sleep.
It’s turning into a long day. We’re piecing together the logistics of this shared headliner stuff. The two bands are playing a set each, then supergrouping, playing a variety of each other’s songs and maybe a few covers. There are lots of bugs to iron out. From load-in to the end of soundcheck, it was over five hours of sorting gear, setting it up, and paying attention. Sounds easy, but tiredness sticks its oar in.
There’s little downtime. Maybe an hour before I have to switch into show mode. The voices are starting to multiply. Some good sleep ought to sort those jerks out, but thinking about it just adds another voice.
Throughout the day, and during the three-hour show, my headache was right there, laughing in the face of multiple aspirins. When Ash were playing I nearly nodded off. In this state, things just drag on. Add an extra 15 minutes to any set and it feels like CIA torture.
Finally, the gig is over at midnight. It’ll take another hour and more to pack up and load the trailer. Me with my sore head, a band member asks ‘How was that for you?’
I said ‘I’ve had better days.’
Sure way to kill any conversation.
People don’t like to hear complaining. Stiff upper lip for the team. If the band had a good time, godammit, you better be having a great time. You don’t want to bring anyone down, do you?
In this business you’re expected to act.
I remember years ago one night on the bus, a camera came out. I think it was for a documentary. We went nuts. Banging music, singing and shouting, everyone having a debauched time. Pizza bobbing: you hang a slice of pizza from your trousers zip, and someone has to bite at the pizza. Hands tied. We’re soooo curaaazy. Anyway, as soon as that camera stopped, so did we all. The illusion of fun. The truth is, life on the road gets tiring, monotonous, and sometimes plain creepy:
Have you ever woken up in your bunk to the smell and sound of someone puking in their bunk?
Thing is, you feel compelled to keep that stuff quiet. What happens on tour stays on tour. You’re supposed to keep secrets. The shit people do on tour, away from loved ones… And so you begin to find out that you can’t actually talk about your job. Not the full story anyway. In some instances, you can lose it because of what you decide to share.
As a roadie close to the band, I’m in a privileged position. At least, that’s the company line. Everyone’s having a great time. Oh the stories I could tell…
‘So-and-so has a crippling alcohol addiction, and can’t even do his job.’
‘So-and-so…I heard he hits his missus.’
‘On a coke comedown, so-and-so is absofuckly insufferable.’
The only stuff you end up sharing publicly is the good times: food, free booze, and the ‘cool’ people. Truth is, there are some horrible people in this business. (Like any other I guess.) In my experience, it’s mostly the roadies.
When I got home from my very first Leonard Cohen stint, I nearly – nearly – wept. I found myself just letting it out to Elaine for about 30 minutes, non-stop. Some of the people on that tour were just…just…Fuck it’s hard to say. Our contracts had confidentiality clauses. They specifically forbade sharing intimate details about Leonard, but for some reason I felt like there was an unwritten rule blanketing the whole tour, band and crew. On the road sometimes it was like a Hollywood movie, where a bully reveals their nature so only the main character can see. When that happens, who are you supposed to tell? What are you supposed to tell them? Real men don’t squeal.
Just so we’re clear, Leonard didn’t need protecting. He was a genuine class act. It’s just such a pity there were a few people in that camp that gave the entire crew a terrible reputation in those early days. But…you’re not supposed to talk about it. Because what happens on your stays on tour.
Even though this is music, and the good times are supposed to roll, sometimes it feels like you’re working in a clandestine organisation, protecting people, thinking of the bigger picture, painting a rosy picture. If you start telling it like is, you’re complaining. So not only are you trying to put on a happy face for yourself, you feel compelled to put one on for the sake of something bigger than you. And that’s where the loneliness hits you. You have a choice: try beating them, or join ’em.
Having self-respect – being honest – staying true to yourself – means being the underdog. Everyone’s having a great time, why aren’t you?
‘How was that for you?’
Sigh. I don’t mean to bring you down mate. Had better days. I’m just sick of pretending. It’s making me sick.