Entry 4

The alarm rang an hour early because I forgot to change my clock to central time. It woke both Pete and me up (room-sharing is the rule in Burma for economic reasons), and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I guess it’s a forgivable error.

There was no gig today, but I had to get to Baltimore for tomorrow’s Alloy show at the Baltimore Film Festival. I decided to wear my moveon.org T-shirt—I wear it as much as possible. Now or never, basically. People came up to me twice today to comment on it.

We ate a bad breakfast buffet at the hotel (no time to search out something better). Clint came over to our table and pretended he was an ultra-polite waiter offering us coffee. The waitress saw this and was impressed. (Pete and I got a good laugh!)

At the Pittsburgh Airport
At the Pittsburgh Airport

We had a two-hour drive to Kansas City. The other guys talked for a while: I nodded off in the back seat. At the airport, the guys checked in their guitars. Jimmy dropped me off at the police station on his way to return the van. My green bag was waiting at the station, money and camera intact. I thanked the officers. Walked, amused, to the terminal.

    Flight #1: Kansas City to Pittsburgh.
    Pittsburgh: Say good-bye to Burma lads.
    Flight #2: Pittsburgh to Baltimore.

My book on this trip is The Alphabet Abecedarium, Some Notes on Letters, by Richard A. Firmage. Great for reading in short bursts. My last book was Dada: Art and Anti-Art, by Hans Richter. Extremely inspiring.

I met the Baltimore Film Festival person outside the baggage claim. We had a fun talk: He’s an actor about my age and understood the musician’s itinerant life.

Ken, Terry, and Mark
Ken, Terry, and Mark

He drove me to Mark Durant’s house, where we are staying. (Mark is a longtime friend of Ken’s.) Ken and Terry were already there; we hung out in the garden while we waited for Mark. When Mark showed up; we debated dinner locations, finally deciding on the Golden West Cafe—a quirky place with a varied menu.

The food was excellent. The beer, good enough. Mark left to see film. Ken left for long walk. Terry stayed a bit, then headed back to Mark’s house. I ordered a Copper City Gold (decided it would do) and started writing this Diary and finishing one of my frottage drawings titled “Apr.3, 2004: ICA, London.” The date is the day the drawing began (initiation defines the outcome) and location (which defines the material available).

A frottage drawing 
A frottage drawing 

I do a lot of this kind of drawing. I carry a pad of blank drawing paper, graphite sticks, and other drawing tools in my bag at all times. The technique (and name) “frottage” was discovered by the artist Max Ernst (who figures, as I mentioned yesterday, in one of our songs). Frottage means “rubbing”; you put the paper on a surface and rub with the graphite. My approach is to rub various surfaces available in the environment and then put them together as a collage. For “Apr.3, 2004: ICA London,” I began with the outside wall of the building, moved on to a pole nearby, then went inside and rubbed various guitar cases, a tabletop, etc. I use these elements to make a cohesive whole, and am constantly on the lookout for surfaces until the piece is done. When I finish one, I start another, so that at all times there is one “under construction” in my green bag.

Drawing like this—concentrating on something so small and specific—has a meditative effect on me. It removes me from the rest of my concerns while I’m working on it. But it is also oddly casual: I can be talking with friends while I’m drawing. I’ve been doing this for three years, and have been in a few art shows in the Boston area.

Lately I’m feeling the dislocation of constantly shifting locales and the crimp of vans and airplanes. But I am amused by it all. I decided to pass on seeing films tonight. (I needed to write this and catch up on sleep: Alloy has a 10:30 a.m. show tomorrow.)

While I was writing, the Quails (a rock band from San Francisco) came over to talk; they recognized me from Burma at the Fillmore a couple years back. They are playing tonight (in Baltimore) with Lungfish—a group Bob Weston (who replaced Martin Swope at the mixing board) turned Burma onto in the U.K. The gig is at the new Otto Bar: The Binary System (another of my current, though dormant, bands), played at the old Otto Bar—it was small and very charming with couches upstairs. So there are three reasons to go out tonight: two bands that I’m interested in hearing, and a new venue to see. Sleep? So much for that.

The new Otto Bar is much bigger than the old Otto Bar (Otto was the name of the manager’s cat) and really quite a good rock venue. Too small for Burma, unfortunately, but teeming with scenesters and musicheads.

The Quails were really, really good. They’re a three-piece band: a gal on guitar, a gal on drums, a guy on bass. All sing. Their sound is strong, complex, with interlocking rhythms and grooves. Gender-political in the best way. And they dress in white jumpsuits with daubs of paint. They would make a great opener for Mission of Burma. To get out of the way of the loudness near the stage, I sat at their merchandise table—I even sold something for them!

Next was Lungfish, and this band was something altogether different. Apparently they’ve been around since the punk era. (10 albums?) The riffs were simple and amazingly repetitive. And yet this repetition was not “boring.” It had the effect of dervish music: Each time the riff came around it sounded better than the time before it. And the singer was deep into his approach. Very shamanistic, for lack of a better description. When they hit their strongest songs, which were truly amazing, they had the effect of being something other than music.

One of the Quails drove me to Mark’s house and I conked out, considerably later than I’d planned. But it was worth it. I’m not really a fan of clubs, but when there is so much creativity in action, the cigarette smoke and mold smell mean nothing to me. Chthonic stuff, that.