This journal covers the launching of a tour, the Rush "Moving Pictures" tour of 1981, from rehearsals through to the view of a very real world, a day-to-day existence for thirty regular people, who just happen to set up and deliver a rock show for a living! (It may not be a "real job", but it's certainly a real world.)
There is no doubt that it is a strange life; we work, and then drive away through the night, while the rest of the world sleeps; we look out the window at a different place every day, rootless and unprotected by normality. Certainly there is a special state of mind, as I can't even imagine the "on the road" feeling, when I'm comfortable nestled at home. The reverse is also true, as I write this from a hotel room, I am hard-pressed to remember what I feel like at home. (maybe I'll just run home and check!)
Monday, February 9. Toronto. Wait a minute! Are you sure we had a holiday? Oh. Anyway, It's back to work. For the past couple of weeks the anticipation has been building; practicing, planning, answering the phone, interviews, preparing the program, answering the phone, packing, decisions, the phone, et cetera.
Here at the rehearsal studio, we will get sore fingers and stiff muscles, polishing up both the new and old songs, and putting together a well-paced set. To be fair to ourselves, the audience, and our crew, it's desirable to keep the show to around two hours, but the eight albums of material to choose from, we must be ruthless!
The crew work like elves all around us; hammering, drilling, painting, and soldering our gear into shape. Some of it is maintenance, some is modification, and some are attempted miracles! Our road manager, Howard, has set up a portable office nearby, and is on the phone to all of America: promoters, hotels, drivers, sound company, lighting company, other crew members, rigging company, the President - "What do you mean I can't have a nuclear light show?" Et cetera.
As Geddy put is so well: "The first day we sound like nothing, the second day we sound like someone imitating us; the third day we start to sound like a band". Well, almost.
Watching Geddy juggling his bass, synthesizers, pedals, and also the vocals; and Alex co-ordinating his settings, echoes, effects, synthesizers, and guitar changes, I am inwardly grateful once again that my instrument requires only to be hit by a stick!
By the end of the week we are working our way through the two hour show in less than four hours. (!) The next step is "Wings Stadium", in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where we have hired the hall for four days prior to our first show there. We will be doing extensive sound checks, and full production rehearsals.
Tuesday, February 17. Kalamazoo. 3:00 A.M. The bus has stopped moving, and as usual, I sense arrival and wake up. Having slept since we crossed the border, I am disoriented at first. Peering out the window of my bunk into a foggy oblivion, I can only see the familiar green neon of the "Holiday Inn" sign. Sigh!
Sleepily, I struggle into coat and shoes, and stumble off of the bus, and into the lobby. We meet up with some of the crew who had's been at rehearsals, and it's like a family re-union. We collect our keys and rooming lists; and then it's open house, doors and suitcases flung open wide, and everyone is wandering the halls, visiting from room to identical room. Many of the guys have been working over at the hall all night, and are just getting back. Everyone looks beat, but glad to be back on the road. Amen!
(later that same day) Awake again, and reaching for the phone with the reflex of long habit. Order breakfast, shower, and wait for the rattle of glassware that will announce the arrival of the soggy eggs, damp toast, and coffee - miraculously weak for its bitterness! Et cetera. No surprises.
These reflections are vaporized by the ringing telephone. I generally answer the phone with a certain trepidation,, but thankfully it's Rhonda from the office, who is always nice to talk with, even when she bears unwelcome requests; (last-minute interviews, persistent photographers, messages from people on other planets, et cetera). We can usually deal with five minutes of business in as little as twenty minutes!
"Wings Stadium" is conveniently next-door to our hotel, a typical medium-sized hockey arena, with typical medium-sized hockey arena acoustics. This is perfectly suitable for our purposes, as most of our shows will be in such places. It is interesting that during this century the old vaudeville type of theatres, to the modem "War Memorial-Civic-Convention-Stadium-Centre-Arena". I guess it is the democratic preference, but you wouldn't think it would be so difficult to build on that sounded good too! But in common with our audiences: "We pays our money, and we takes our choice."
Kevin, our personal-ah,-shreve (?),assistant everything, valet, factotum, secretary, aide-de-camp, butler, et al), gives the "crew knock" at the door, and informs me that my drum riser is in the process of revision by a welder(!), and they won't care to discuss some interviews. I cleverly distract him by changing the subject.
Through the everlasting fog outside my window, the illuminated "Wings Stadium" sign informs me that a local FM station "brings" Rush and Max Webster on February 20 at 8:00 p.m.. Now, really! What this really means is that in return for the "prestige" of "presenting" a concert, the station has exchanged certain promotional favors! (Now don't get all cynical already, the tour's just beginning!)
It's 4:30, I can sit around no longer, I'm going to walk over to the hall. The mist is still thick to the ground, a line of slowly melting snowbanks smoulder eerily, the steam pouring off like smoke. The roar of the nearby interstate is muffled and distant. It's a fine, dramatic day.
Inside the building, which we have played at many times, I find my way to the familiar dressing room, have my stage-pass photo taken, then walk out into the dark cavern of the arena. The house lights are off so that the stage lights can be focused. At stage left I meet up with the guys from the sound crew, who I hadn't run into last night, and I perceptively notice that my drums are still scattered about the stage like wounded soldiers. I can only be in the way here so l went out into the audience area, to check out our new sound and lighting set-ups.
We set out to streamline our stage somewhat this tour, and it looks terrific. Everything is very uncluttered and symmetrical, and the sound system has been re-distributed above and beside the stage. Howard's new lights look great; three round multi-lamp fixtures, one above each of us on stage, arid a different, cleaner arrangements on the front and rear of the stage. All told, something like 400 sweltering sun-lamps for me to sweat under every night! About this I have mixed feelings, but it will certainly look amazing.
I learn from our stage manager, Michael, that between "flying" (hanging from the roof) part of the P.A., the projection screen, as well as the lights, we now use a total of 22 rigging points. I guess that's good!
Our co-producers, "Broon", is out with us for a while to work with engineer Jon on the refinement of our live sound. They supervise a harrassed looking Joe, the chief sound technician. With soldering gun in hand and furrowed brow, he probes the bowels of the mixing board, mind awhirl with millivolts, dBs, op-amps, and circuits. His counterpart on the lighting crew, the cigarette-chewing Nick Kotos, is similarly doing battle in the "Pit of Doom", the heart of the lighting system, at stage right. His is a private Inferno; banks of dimmers, mountainous coils of serpentine cables, colored gels, and clouds of smoke perpetually rising from machines and Marlboros.
The great social event of the touring day is Crew Meal. This is catered at six, after sound check and before the doors are opened. so most people are "off-duty" for a while. The building is usually quiet, the food is usually good, and we are always ravenous, so it makes an enjoyable interlude in the day.
Larry has my drums back together, Liam has Alex's amps and effects working, Skip has Geddy's amps and basses ready, Tony has tuned the guitars and synthesizers, Greg has the monitors set: everyone has done everything, now it's our turn.
We start to work our way through the set, but there are many stops; to adjust this, tune that, and fix the other. The night passes slowly, finally finishing about 2:00 A.M., and I am exhausted.
It is nice to put on my coat, and just walk out into the quiet night. The fog is still a soft shroud over everything, and a bright nebula surrounds the streetlights and the "Wings Stadium" sign.
I am struck by the contrast to what often accompanies my walking out of a stage door after work. As ever, the smell of diesel smoke hangs in the air, but it's so peaceful! I am tired, alone. and left so. It feels nice.
Wednesday, February 18. Kalamazoo. O Father, I have sinned! It seems I have overslept the magical hour of 11:30, and can no longer be served anything resembling breakfast. Sigh.
The lifeless, nasal voice on the phone is "only following orders". and can not be tempted to stretch the rules even so far as a grilled cheese sandwich. "Then we'd have to do it for everybody", she wittily rejoins, and I am successfully put in my place. No surprises.
Despite a momentarily humorous vision of 200 guests simultaneously demanding their contraband grilled cheeses, I vent my frustration at "rules" in the customary way, by smashing the offending receiver into the guilty phone. In independent tests conducted all over the western world, this reporter has found the modern telephone to be virtually indestructible.
The television is the usual afternoon wasteland; only the networks here, and they each offer simultaneous game shows. followed by simultaneous soap operas. Click! This is freedom of choice? At least most cities have active PBS stations, which can sometimes offer interesting diversion on a dull afternoon. Sometimes when I'm doing something else, it's nice to leave the picture on with no sound, just to make the room seem a little bigger!
I turn to answering a pile of neglected mail, and to putting my notebook in order for a new tour's crop of images. One of the good points of an itinerant lifestyle, is the magnitude of input, constantly changing and forming Parallels, providing new points of view and observations. But of course, it is also one of the bad points, sometimes the input is too overwhelming, and some peace and quiet would be much nicer! It just goes to prove; even when you have everything, it's never the right amount.
Meanwhile, back at the hall, we start of off with the new songs, which begin to sound and feel good. After dinner, we run through (walk through?) the whole show once again, still pausing often to correct difficulties, adjust monitors, or just for a break!
Things are definitely coming together. Sometimes I feel that brief flash of exultation as the music flows out effortlessly, the three of us playing perfectly; as one. The flash is soon gone, however as a difficult change, or a tricky part demands my earnest concentration.
On the way back through the still shrouded parking lot, Alex and Geddy paused to enact a scene from an imaginary Ingmar Bergman film. Under the visionary direction of G. Lee, Alex plays the stoic, heroic "Bjorn".
LONG SHOT, WIDE ANGLE. It is night. Fog. The streetlights are phantoms, ghostly mirages in the thick whiteness of the air. Wisps of steam rise smokily from the bizarre shapes of melting snowbanks. Bjorn stands alone. The lightest of Nordic breezes ruffles the hair at his noble brow. His chin is raised in defiance of unspeakable sorrow he looks heroic, and yet tragic. Leaning into the breeze, yet somehow beaten down by it. Bjorn stands. Alone. FADE TO GREY
"Surely a moving, sensitive portrayal of a very human, very' symbolic metaphor, evoking a certain abstract-ARRRGGGHH!!!" Thank you, good night.
Friday, February 20. Kalamazoo. A satisfying pile of answered mail has been growing on my desk, much of it in ultra-elegant "Holiday Inn Kalamazoo" envelopes. I can never get any mail answered at home, or when we're in the studio, but some afternoons on the road are perfect for it. I also kind that it's the only way I can comfortably communicate with a fan, and it feels good to send off a letter knowing it will bring happiness to the recipient.
I have a long conversation with Ray, our friend and manager, who is in high spirits indeed. The album is doing very well, and the tour is selling out all over. The novelty and meaning of chart numbers, sales figures, ticket sales, and gilded awards has worn away for me, but to a creative businessman like Ray they are the measure of his art. What they do all add up to, is a sense of people appreciating one's work, which I'm sure no-one ever disdained! Well, except maybe embezzlers and assassins. Okay, spies and professional - alright, alright! No more sweeping generalities, I promise!
Two of our truck drivers, Mac and Number 9, have just planted 9's rig right in front of my window, changing my view from white fog, to White Kenworth and trailer. I lean out the window to profane their ancestors, as they disappear into Whitey's room next door. Via the window!
Kevin is here for the luggage, as we will be driving straight on to Dubuque after the show. I'm feeling a rare twinge of nervousness, and will be glad when this first one is behind us.
It's 3:30, and we're not scheduled to go over until 4:00, but I'm just pacing aimlessly around, so I think I'll wander over now. Maybe the guys from Max Webster have arrived...
At 7:00 the doors are opened, and a complete change comes over the building. Music plays on the P.S.; the air is charged with the energy and anticipation of some five or six thousand people. It's more than a crowd, more than a concert; it's a ritual and a celebration. The electricity in the atmosphere is almost tangible.
Max Webster open the show, going on at 8. It's my first hearing of this new line-up, and I am impressed; they played superbly and very powerfully. The audience response is also strong, and they are brought back for an encore. Perhaps they have finally arrived at the right balance of personnel and material to capture the ears of America.
It has long been an inscrutable mystery to us why Max haven't caught on down here, as we are fans as well as friends, but this is a promising new beginning. Chicago will be the real test for them, as for any opening band. They can be a very unforgiving audience.
Around 9:00, I slip unnoticed between the cases back of the stage, and up under the "tent" which covers my drums before the show. It's nice to get settled in a bit early, and avoid the panic of running on when the house lights go down.
The lights are down, the intro tape starts, and there is an incredible roar from the audience. Larry and Dave pull the cloth back, as Alex and Geddy come running on, plugging in their guitars as they move over to center stage, standing in front of me to count in the beginning of "2112". We share a "here goes!" look, 2-3-4- and we're away!
The pace of this set is furious; it's a good thing I'm in good shape this year! We're about five songs into it, and I'm soaking, before I even have a second to grab a quick gulp of "Canada Dry", let alone wiping my dripping face and hands with a towel. I can feel that we are playing well, and the audience roars it's warm approval. Alex has a colorful new wardrobe in the best of bad taste, and is dancing magnificently.
Perception becomes snail-like when I'm playing; peeking out for a moment when the going is smooth, then instantly retreating back inside to concentrate in difficult areas. Images are fragmentary and diverse; a face, the roof, a weird hat, stage right crew, Geddy's tapping foot, someone singing along, Alex dancing, et cetera. These are all punctuated by the oblivious, inner space of drums, cymbals, hands, feet, tempo; and is this drumstick going to break in the middle of this roll? (They always do.)
Back in the dressing room there's a beautiful array of seafood; oysters, crabmeat, and smoked salmon. It looks delicious, but I never develop an appetite until an hour or two after the show, when there will only be sandwiches and peanuts on the bus. More fool me!
There is nothing so fine as champagne after a show, and tonight we really have something to celebrate. The first show is behind us, and it went very well. Broon says it sounded great, like we had been out for a week. I feel utterly drained, too tired to get excited, but satisfied.
A few minutes spent signing autographs, and I am on the bus. This is one of my favorite parts of a working day. It's like coming home, the day's work done. Sit back, relax, maybe put some music on. Sometimes company drops over from the crew bus, or one of the drivers will stop by. I don't know how bands that fly everywhere can stand it.
When everybody else is aboard, we set off for Dubuque, Iowa, a distance of about 300 miles; or six hours.
It takes a long time to wind down after a show. Going to sleep immediately would be both difficult and very boring, so there is always some diversion on the bus. There are movies on video, video games, music, conversation, and-uh-; did I say movies already?
I rode up front with our driver, Whitey, for awhile, talking about sailing, and watching the fog-shrouded highway pass under us. By around 3:00 I am tired enough to sleep, and make my way back down the bus to my bunk.
We arrive at 8:00, and I find myself standing at the T.V. in my hotel room, writing in this notebook, while I wait for the luggage. Strange person.
The view outside is so incredibly typical, that it bears recounting: parking lot, small plaza, secondary highway, large plaza, Chevrolet dealership, billboards, car wash, motel, and a church spire rising in the distance. The number of times in six years on the road that I have looked out the window at this view is truly frightening! This could be anywhere from New Jersey to California. Only the license plates and the vegetation change.
Never mind this, I'm going back to sleep!
Saturday, February 21, Dubuque, Iowa. I awake at 1:30, dreading to pick up the phone, and the daily challenge of breakfast. To my pleasant surprise, with only a minor skirmish, I am able to have an omelette. This could turn out to be a nice day!
Last night Alex and I were talking about sailing around the world which has become one of my "Great Fantasies". (Perhaps I could write to Ricardo Montalban?). What a dream it would be, it is surely one of the few great adventures left on earth. Just imagine it; I'll get a big sailboat, plenty of provisions, take about two years, and I'll-. Oh, sure. I'll put it on the list with Concorde pilot, Formula 1 driver, Wimbleton champion, respected author, astronaut, noted architect, fireman - et cetera. Sigh.
It's 3:45, and I'm all packed and ready to go, but it's unusual not to hear from Kevin by now. I feel a sinking sensation, as I suspect the cruel truth. If we passed through a time zone last night, it just could be only 2:45. No!
I know that it's true, even as I hope it isn't. What to do?
This is the type of situation where a book can be a savior. Waiting time is not at all the same as free time, and there are limited ways of filling it. Especially when the suitcases are all packed!
Reading is perhaps even more flexible than thinking in some cases, such as in the middle of a roomful of people, to whom you do not wish to speak. An open book has the power of a crucifix against vampires. (Unfortunately, it seems to have no effect on werewolves, who are without shame, and would interrupt anything!)
Amid the backstage circus of hangers-on, record and radio "personalities," favor-seekers, and people just looking for someone to talk about themselves to; I need a barrier and an escape, and books do provide them.
Just spoke to Geddy on the phone. Yes folks there is a time change. Sigh. Pick up the book...
Alex has been out flying with the promoter's assistant, so we don't see him until sound check. He's trying to build up the hours on his newly-acquired pilot's license.
It's another arena; all structural steel and concrete blocks. Everybody looks tired today, it's hard to get back into the timetable of the road; you have to move the peak of your day to about midnight. On our bus, I was the only virtuous bore to get any sleep, the others were playing video games until our arrival at 8:00. Hard core road life.
The longest day of all is that of the lighting crew. Along with the stage manager and rigger, they are the first to arrive at 8 or 9 in the morning, and don't get away until 2 or 3 in the morning. Hence their boastful T-shirts: "First to come, last to pull out!" Like I said, hard core.
Despite the dismal acoustics, Max sound really good from the side of the stage. This certainly is the hottest version of the band; excellent new bass player, and Steve's slide guitar work is really tasty. "Stixy" is leaning more forward in his drumming, more authority and aggression are the cause and/or effect Great stuff!
Our own show goes much more smoothly tonight, and I enjoy myself tremendously. Unfortunately, Alex suffered string trouble, breaking three in the course of the show, and Geddy also has a few spots of trouble, but generally it's a good one. The audience is enthusiastic and enjoyable; excepting a few firecracker morons.
I particularly can't help noticing two young guys, obviously aspiring musicians, who respond with such joy and satisfaction to each change we play, that it's inspiriting. This is in direct contrast to the "phantom guitar" type of exhibitionist, as they seldom pay any attention to what we're doing!
After the show, I have an interview with a journalist from Japan. The conversation is conducted back and forth through an interpreter, which is a novel experience for me. The questions are thoughtful and well-researched, and I have a fine time shooting off my mouth. Often after a show, the combination of relaxation, and the mental high following extreme concentration, allows the thoughts to flow in a lucid and articulate manner. The interview goes well, although it takes much longer than usual as everything is said twice!
Back on the bus, we're driving to Davenport tonight, a relatively short drive. The video "golf" game is the latest rage, and Howard, Kevin, Geddy and Broon are engrossed in that.
Alex and I listen to some music, and drift in and out of conversation. Sitting back, tired and relaxed, I recognize that at this moment I am truly content. Life is actually good! These moments are rare for any of us, and I savor it.
Sunday, February 22. Davenport, Iowa. It has rained steadily all afternoon. Through the leaded glass window of room 228, in "Jumer's Castle Lodge", (an unlikely Midwestern version of Bavarian Gothic!), is the bleak, colourless flatness of suburban Bettendorf, one of the Quad (Quint? Qued?) Cities. The work might be dreary.
I'm fortunate to be reading a hilarious book: "A Confederacy of Dunces", by John Kennedy Toole. It reminded me of Mervyn Peake or John Barth in its dark, erudite silliness. The perfect book for such a day. It soon has me laughing out loud.
As we board the bus to drive to the hall, Whitey tells me that Iowa has the highest percentage of millionaires in America. Who'd have thought it? Driving through Davenport, however, we do notice a lot of new, up-market cars, and a grander than usual display of huge, old Victorian monstrosities lines the residential streets.
A silver-haired lady drives by in a big brown Buick, sporting brilliantly colored, knitted Afghan seat covers! Her license plates proclaim her as "BETTE F". The ones on the car in front of us advise one to "B KOOL". Who can argue with that?
The hall is bad; in fact it's one of the absolute worst: a college gymnasium. The usual abysmal acoustics, of course. No seats for the audience, no room for our projections, bumbling stage and security people recruited from "Delta House", the most institutional of dressing rooms, and ask any student about the quality of college food! All this offers welcome to the weary traveller.
The dressing room! Walled around by the obligatory concrete blocks, painted in "Penitentiary beige"; one wall filled with shower stalls in "Hospital green", the other with metal lockers in a particularly offensive gash of "High school orange". The megawatt fluorescent lights glare greenishly down, on to sickly faces and purple lips. The hardest of metal chairs, finished in "Library brown", were manufactured without the least regard for human anatomy.
As it happens, I'm the only one in here, which speaks well for my good sense! I can't imagine where else anyone could go, but they've found somewhere. Maybe everybody went home, and left me here as a joke?
Anyway, I'm left alone to read, which is perhaps just as well: this book has me chuckling to myself frequently. Sure sign of something.
As Max's set finishes, the room is once again full of people and activity. Gathering towels and drinks for the stage, the crew file in and out in their final preparations for the show. Change into stage clothes, tape my shoelaces, give my watch to Kevin, and toss drumsticks around until the "five minute" call is given by Michael, when Ian takes me by "secret ways" up to the stage.
It goes fairly well tonight, with only very few interruptions of electronic and human error. Broon gives an enthusiastic report on the way we are sounding and playing, and he's a tough nut to please. (or is that crack?)
He was also interviewed today by the Japanese people, who have asked if I will speak with them briefly again. Expecting just some final questions, I consented, only to discover that they want some "Celebrity messages", the "Hello, I'm Neil Peart from the rock group Rush, and you're listening to the Rik Rox show, on..." Oh dear.
It is impossible to deliver these "hype lines" with any sincerity or conviction, and we stopped doing them years ago (perhaps after the first one).
Somehow, through the translator, with much Oriental consultation among themselves, they half-heartedly get a couple of general questions on tape. I sense they are disappointed, and do not understand my feelings, but I cannot bridge this gap.
As I am putting my coat on to go, the ever-persistant photographer, undaunted by previous failures to capture me in his lens, asks for just one picture - "with your coat on!" What!!
It's a five hour drive tonight, to La Crosse, Wisconsin, and a day off. Yaaayyy!!! A day off on the road is a wonderful thing, the possibilities are immense! Maybe go swimming, play baseball, hockey, go to a movie, sleep all day, read a book, watch television, phone home, get falling-down drunk, et cetera.
I enjoy any of the above, while Alex has perfected the "vampire" day off; curtains closed, lights off, heat up full, watching T.V. in bed. Geddy will often be found leading the "Cinema Club" out to a show. We hope to rent some ice time in La Crosse, and play one of our funny flailing hockey games.
Monday, February, 23. La Crosse, Wisconsin. We arrive around 4:30, and once again it's wake up, tumble off the bus and into the hotel, where I'm almost asleep again, sprawled fully clothed and shod on the bed, when Kevin arrives with the luggage.
We're staying at the "Radisson", definitely in the better class of hotels, along with the "Hyatt", "Four Seasons", and "Western International" groups. It's especially nice to spend a day off in a good hotel. I've asked Kevin to arrange for a typewriter here, so I can start hammering these notes into order and legibility.
Apparently the river out there is the Mississippi. That's what it says in this leaflet, anyway. Maybe it's a different one!
It is nice, though. The banks are groomed into a sort of park, and are covered with a pretty blanket of snow. It's one of those winter days formed entirely of metal; the water is lead, the sky magnesium, and the trees on the far shore are bare skeletons of wrought iron. Nice.
Kevin manages to track down a typewriter later in the day, but unfortunately the loathsome thing has it for me. This electrical obscenity is so contrary, and so full of a diabolical hatred for me, that it's scarcely credible.
Not only that, but this journal business is getting out of hand. I've been hunched at this distempered machine all day and into the night, flailing out almost eight boring pages. With shaking hands, and aching fingertips, I made a brief escape to Alex's room for dinner, but I was soon driven back to this- this- electrical sodomite!
Other people are out at movies, lying around, having fun, visiting each other, phoning home, falling-down-drunk, et cetera. It has occurred to me more than once during the keeping of this journal, that people who keep journals have less to write about!
I finally give typing a rest (!) about 3:00, and turn with pleasure to "A Confederacy of Dunces". This book is hilarious. I forced myself to stay awake until 4:30 to finish it, but it was worth it. Excellent, crazy book!
Tuesday, February 24. La Crosse. The hall is directly connected to the hotel, very thoughtfully, so the show is just an elevator ride away. It's a nice, modern building, with a stratospheric ceiling, and; wonder of wonders, it's warm inside!
The dressing rooms are clean, comfortable, and new; a labyrinth of inter-connected areas suitable for lounging, tuning, repairing, sleeping, reading, eating, and- et cetera.
Tonight it's my turn for equipment trouble; bass drum pedal, snare head, tom-tom head, cymbal stands, and warped sticks all joining in an inanimate consipiracy against me. This is very frustrating, and the constant distractions are very upsetting to the concentration.
At such a sensitive time, my usual self-control is of no avail, and one can only frown fiercely, and curse them every one! Bllaaaaahh!!
Alex is particularly entertaining tonight, and a wordless exchange soon has me smiling again. Sometimes one can rise above a night, although rarely, I find.
An interesting telepathy has grown among the three of us over the years. Between Geddy and myself, it's more of a musical thing; we'll suddenly play some new little accent together, without ever having spoken of it, while Alex can have me weak with laughter over a mutually understood private joke.
Broon took our portable video camera out to the mixing board tonight, and taped the show, which we looked at on the way to Chicago. Since we have never seen out own show, it's interesting in a "home-movie" kind of way, to see the projections and lighting effects that go on around us every night.
It's another five hour drive tonight, so I think I'll - get - some - zzzzzzzz.
Wednesday, February 25. Chicago, Illinois. What?!!? Another day off? There must be some mistake. I mean, like we just had one!
Ah-, but tomorrow we begin a marathon of five consecutive nights (groan), for which this "extra" day off is meant to compensate. Sure.
We'll be playing here for four of those nights, at the International Amphitheatre, to some 40,000 people in all. Chicago has long been a special city to us; it was one of the first areas to really support us, and it remains one of the biggest, both in numbers and enthusiasm.
And the city! I have grown to love some cities on the west coast; like Seattle, Portland and Vancouver; and in the south Atlanta, New Orleans, and San Antonio; but with more experience and maturity, it is the fast pace and raw energy of cities like New York and Chicago that really inspires me.
I think of Chicago as a scaled-down New York. It has all the power and majesty in its best buildings, all the starkness and squalor in its worst. It has the culture and the energy in its streets, but seems a little less intimidating to the outsider.
We're staying at the "Ambassador East", a venerable, dignified old hotel. I first learned of it while reading John Steinbecks's "Travels With Charley", as he stayed here during his journey around America, in 1962 I think it was. Many things have no doubt changed since then, although the plumbing in my room is not one of them. It protests its age often and loudly.
I received an afternoon call from Geddy to join the "Cinema Club", as they were about to attend a matinee of "Tess". As this is one of my favourite books by Thomas Hardy, I immediately leaped out of bed, into a cab, and over to the Water Tower Place, to join them. Alas! even the matinee is already sold out.
We did, however, take the opportunity to walk back to the hotel, through these fascinating streets. The lights, the people, the buildings, the cars, the shops; the sounds and smells of the city are intoxicating.
Last year we had the good fortune to visit an apartment on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building. What a spectacular, breath-taking place, with a view stretching 50 miles or more. From way up in the sky, we looked down on a galaxy of city lights, lines and patterns stretching away forever. Wow!
Back in our world, some of the guys are going out to a hockey game tonight; while another eleven of us, myself included, comandeer three cabs, and go out to a Japanese restaurant. This is one of everybody's favourite things.
Breathes there a soul so steadfast; to savour the delights of sashimi, tempura, and teriyaki - and not get drunk on Sake? I only know of one, there may be more.
We call him "Vings", he is Alex's flight instructor, our occasional pilot, the friendliest of friends, and truly a "nice Jewish boy". A mother would be proud, as he drinks only Coca-Cola in the middle of this sushi madness, keeping pace with the hilarity by his own natural gusto and "joie de Vivre".
Back at the hotel, after the storm, he and I sit far into the night, discussing all things great and small. It was here in Chicago last year, that he made his first visit, and since then he has become very close to us all. A fine friend, and a great talker.
Good night, already!
Thursday, February 26. Chicago. The International Amphitheatre: "Home of the International Livestock Exposition", announces a sign on the end wall. Although the sign is by no means small, it is easily swallowed in the dim immensity of the place.
As you might expect by the impressive title, it is a big old barn of a place, although it has been unsuccessfully camouflaged by countless layers of paint, in an attempt to disguise its ancient, and basically disreputable nature.
As in most large cities, we will be using limousines here. This is not so much for the glamour, but that they hold lots of people, and it is difficult for our buses to negotiate the narrow streets and heavy traffic. I'm not sure if it's because of the limos, or because it's a big show, but I often feel a tension on the way to the hall in one, which I never feel on the bus.
The day is frantic with people wanting things - pictures, autographs, decisions, plans, answers, time, opinions, attention-, a break, please!
A rear-projection film arrives today, which we have arranged to accompany part of "Red Barchetta". It looks great, like a giant computer game. It's all done with computer animation, and with the road racing away above the stage, one is drawn right into it! It's especially satisfying for Geddy, as it was one of his "special-projects", but we're all very excited about it, and can't wait to see it in the show.
Somehow the show is a bit of a downer for me, for reasons that are difficult to identify. It doesn't really affect the performance, I played fairly well, but something; my bio-rhythm, bad karma, vitamin imbalance, et cetera, made it a difficult, uphill struggle all the way. This kind of night comes along once in a while, all one can do is fight it out.
Afterwards, I feel drained, and somehow sad. Once again, this is hard to define: the French probably have a word for it, I guess it's because I've just done the thing I love to do, and I didn't enjoy it.
I rode back to the hotel with some of the crew, whose high-spirited bantering cheered me up a little, then I called home, which cheered me up a lot. I can't imagine living like this, without that warm nucleus of home always at the back of my mind. The continuity of a growing relationship, (and a growing family), is immeasurably important to the peace of mind of a professional "displaced person".
John Gill, a writer from the English "Sounds" paper, drops by my room, and we begin a conversational interview that lasts into the pre-dawn hours. He has been a good friend and supporter of ours for some years now, and has written some of my favourite articles and reviews. He also loves to talk about things of no consequence just as I do!
Having solved most of the world's difficulties, and successfully catalogued the vagaries of human nature, we called it quits and parted, just as the dreadful, pale grey color began to illuminate the room.
Friday, February 27. Chicago. And it's another busy day. I have phone interviews with newspapers in Calgary and Indianapolis, both of which go well. We have found this to be the best way of doing interviews, as one can choose the day and time in advance, and initiate the phone call yourself, rather than waiting on someone else.
Newspaper interviews tend to be more satisfying, as even a disinterested journalist can usually muster a few interesting questions. Radio interviews, like radio programming, grow more and more restricted, and usually consist of (between commercials); "Where are you playing next?"; "How did your group get together?", and "What's your name again?"
Over at the Amphitheatre, the only reminder of last night is a banner hanging from the upper balcony, bearing the chorus from Max's "Battlescar": BUST THE BUSTERS, SCREW THE FEEDERS, MAKE THE HEALERS, FEEL THE WAY I FEEL. Great.
Geddy has a copy of John Gill's review of the album, which I have been anxious to see. (It is rare indeed to be anxious to see any review, even good ones.) As usual, it's a literate, incisive declaration of support. He catches things that we only hope a discerning listener might notice; even the "haunted child" at the beginning of "Witch Hunt". Thank you, thank you!
The three of us, with towels and drinks, stand huddled together in the darkness, before the encore. The only light is from the audience; the mystic ritual of matches and lighters held aloft. We catch our breath, wipe away the sweat, and prepare ourselves for the final stretch: "La Villa Strangiato".
"Good one tonight!", remarked Geddy his breathless voice almost lost in the clamouring crowd.
I nodded agreement silently, as I realized that yes, it had been a good one! I had been so wrapped up in it, in a kind of smooth tunnel of concentration, that I hadn't yet paused to make that observation!
"Strangiato" goes just as well. Although we have been playing this song for about three years now, it not only remains very challenging, but continues to improve every year.
We bid our farewell to the audience, and set off for the dressing room at our usual rapid pace, oblivious to our surroundings; wet, worn, and wrung out, but pleased.
Once or twice in the course of every tour, there is a night of blessed excess; a night of raging joy, and volcanic decadence. It will begin as a party, but soon erupts into a full-scale celebration of high spirits, and pressure release.
Tonight is our second annual blow-out at the Italian Village; last year was so much fun we wanted to repeat it. And we did. Everyone is there: ourselves, our crew, Max and their crew, some of the wives, all of the drivers, personal friends, friends from our office and the record company, and our hosts: the promoter and his people.
So we have about fifty people; eating, drinking, laughing, and talking. The level rises, and the pace accelerates; the room becomes a living thing. It vibrates, and boils, and roars and bubbles in a whirling storm of images.
It gathers force; the air is kinetic, charged with an electric joy and a magnetic camaraderie. There is no world outside this room, only THE PARTY! The party lives!
The wonderful accordion player, (a tale of his own!), comes bouncing out, to tumultuous applause, and the room erupts to yet a higher peak of sound and fury. He dances and capers madly about the whole room, playing and singing familiar standards, pausing only to wipe the sweat from behind his steaming glasses.
His face is aglow with happiness, as the crowd enthusiastically accompanies every song; singing, clapping, dancing, and just plain yelling! Alex provides a brilliant display of interpretive dance; "The-Napkin-Drunk-Dance", and the announcement of Dave Berman's birthday brings a fresh explosion into the room. All around, there is ceaseless laughter, and the constant roar of shouted conversations. People are at the tables, on the tables, and under the tables!
It was a wonderfulparty!
Saturday, February 28. Chicago. The day begins with a phone call to the "Detroit Free Press", then I turn to my notebook. I've got to try and find some words to describe last night. This is no easy thing. Last night! Oy!
Over at the Amphitheatre, we move into Day Three of the Marathon. There are definitely a lot of drawn faces and tired eyes today (my own included!). We all share the self-inflicted malady for which there is no pity-, and no cure! The flesh may be weak, but spirits are still high, and the party is the main topic of conversation.
Miraculously, the "BUST THE BUSTERS" banner still hangs proudly over stage left. A radio station has been running a banner contest each night, so there have been many come and go, but only this one remains. Again!
Three consecutive shows usually finds us at our peak, and tonight is no exception. By now the show has begun to feel very natural, and precise, flowing smoothly from song to song.
Ironically, I usually become more self-critical at this point. When everything is generally very good, the small flaws and errors tend to take on undue importance.
This then causes the Great and Terrible Sin of overconcentration; that which causes Geddy to forget words he has sung for years, Alex to forget a solo he has played 200 times, and myself to commit the simplest and silliest of errors.
I can feel this starting to happen tonight, as I stumble on a few small parts that have been giving me trouble. Nothing that a listener could detect, usually even the other guys in the band wouldn't know; just a small mental hesitation, or the poor execution of a favourite pattern, just enough to mar an otherwise good performance, in my mind.
Broon comes in after the show, and is very enthusiastic. In fact, he says it was "hot!" I've said before that you can't fool Broon, but I don't know about this. He says there were a few little problems, but that the show felt great! Hmmm.
Maybe it wasn't so bad?
I'm too tired.
Sunday, March 1. Chicago. Brrrinngg! Brrrinngg! Brrrinngg! Brrinngg! Brrrinngg! Brrrinngg! Brrinngg! Brrrinngg! Brrrinngg! Brrri-click--
Me: (croaking whisper) "hello"
Him: (nervous yell) "DIS NEEL PERT?"
Me: (suspicious croak) "who is this?"
Him: (confident bellow) "S'RICK! AH THROO' A MAG'ZEEN ON DA STAGE, 'JA GEDDIT?"
Now, as it happens, I remember Larry gave me a magazine that had been thrown on the stage. It was called "The Twilight Zone," and contained information about Rod Serling, screenplays, and modern fiction in a similar vein. It was interesting, and since the donor's name was scrawled on the (torn) cover, I had intended to write and thank the person.
Me: (sigh) "Yes,...yes, I, uh, got it, thank you, it's, uh, it's really nice. Very interesting..., uh, thanks a lot."
Him: (accusing shout) "HEY, YOU SLEEPIN'!"
Me: (trying) "Well, yes..., I was...but never mind. Thanks a lot..., really. Uh, good-bye now... Thanks again."
Him: (uncertain shout) "UH, YEAH... RIGHT, BYE."
(Go back to sleep, go back to sleep, don't wake up anymore, you'll feel terrible, go - back - to - sleep...)
Later in the day, we have a meeting with Ray, in which we discuss so many crucial things, that we never even get to talk about them all, let alone decide! It's so hard to talk seriously about events one or two years in the future!
We map out a general plan taking us into 1983; when to tour, when to record and (most important) when to have time off. Ray has been trying to re-negotiate our recording contract, but we remain undecided whether to endure the dissatisfaction of our present relationship; or risk greater dissatisfaction in the upheaval of seeking another. (Sound familiar?)
In many ways, today really should be a day off. It was originally scheduled to be one, but when three shows here sold out so quickly, they naturally wanted us to do four, and we were faced with an awkward decision. Do we waive our usual three-consecutive-days maximum, stretching ourselves to five (including an immovable Milwaukee show), or not play for some of our potential audience here. Well, we made our decision, knowing that it would only hurt ourselves, and not the shows.
I feel stiff outside, and empty inside. My fingers feel fat and swollen, and the muscles in my arms are stretching the skin. Mentally I feel very introverted, insulated against the world by a barrier of self-protection. I have often noticed that I am never aware of being in a "bad mood", until I come into contact with others, and my impatience and sourness has a chance to reflect off of them.
This is not a day to have to face the world, and especially not a world of strangers, but one really can't call up and apologize to 10,000 people- "I can't make it today, uh, something came up, I, uh, swear- it did, I..."
Kevin came over to tell me that a particularly obnoxious group of people outside have succeeded in angering not only the hotel staff, and Kevin himself, but even the usually good-natured Alex, with their offensive lack of manners and demand of "HEY, GIMME YER AUTOGRAPH", "C'MERE TAKE A PITCHER WID MY GIRLFRIEND", "SIGNS DIS TO RALPH, WILL YA". Sigh. We don't usually try to avoid our fans, but he suggests that I might prefer to slip under the street and out through the "Ambassador West". Under the circumstances, and my state of mind, I accept. I don't think I can deal with that today.
I can only reason that this type of person; like careless drivers and the people who throw firecrackers and bottles around at concerts; represents a small minority of the kind that manages to offend everyone in their world.
I have never turned down even a rude request for an autograph, and I make the time to answer the interesting fan letters that come into my hands, but I can feel no more remorse for dodging these people, than for throwing away an illiterate, senseless letter. A guy can only do so much! I'd rather do it for nice people!
The dressing room here boasts a washer and dryer, which is very convenient indeed, and they have been rotating constantly for the whole four days. Such an opportunity is not to be missed and no-one is missing it!
In the main room of the dressing room area, there is a "Space Invaders" game, and an electronic pinball game, thus the air is continually punctuated by whirrs, buzzes, booms, clicks, electronic warbles, and high-pitched cries of "Nuke the Games!".
I sit in one of the ante-rooms, buried in a book or my notebook, keeping as much as I can to myself. I hate to expose or inflict a black mood like this.
On stage, a certain amount of "automatic pilot" starts to seep in to my mental processes. I'm sure this must happen to everybody in any job. Once I have reached a point of good physical tone, and my brain is focused into the rhythm and patterns of concentration, I find myself sometimes drifting away for a few seconds, while my body and part of my mind continues to work.
Like Geddy has said, when you "come back" sometimes you have to wonder: "What have I been playing? What words did I sing?" It is always right, though; I guess that, like a plane, things must be well under control before the "automatic pilot" can be activated. Let us hope so!
As always, we give it everything we have left; and as always, there is still enough. Like I said, the show won't suffer; we will. Afterwards, the dressing room is very still and quiet. The crew must load out tonight; after three nights of being free after the show, everyone is busy.
Eventually, we gather our things, say good-bye for another year to the people who work there, and drive off through the deserted parking lot, cans and broken glass glittering in the lights.
There was a rumour the Milwaukee had been picked up and carried away by outer space aliens - but I guess it isn't true, so tomorrow it's onto the bus again, and off to the Arena there. And then finallya day off.
And tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. And Milwaukee, and St. Louis, and Louisville. And Detroit, and Toronto, and Montreal.