So that winter I was baptized a Black Lip. The coming year was as a purifying fire that we would be forced to pass through. Precarious pinnacles were mounted, heart-breaking disasters shrugged off and laughed at, monies borrowed and never repaid, curfews broken, expensive equipment stolen and subsequently destroyed, freedoms wrenched from the jaws of defeat and bondage. Our strength was in accepting situations that would cause much consternation and hand wringing in lesser men and turning them into a slapstick routine. In this way we made the consequences of our oversights, our follies and foibles, work for us. We pulled ourselves free from the vicious circle of cause and effect. We were fettered only to one another and to the fifteen minutes a night that we had to be on stage to totally go off.
After I got to Atlanta we began to rehearse a little in preparation for a handful of upcoming shows at home and in New York. I’d heard all the songs a hundred times and picked them up pretty easily. I had a guitar at the time but no amplifier. Cole, who lives by the edict “the show must go on”, gave me his good amp. He used his back up which was a speaker cabinet with a detached head shoddily wired into it. The head did not have the protective casing around it so all the circuits and wires were exposed. To remedy this Cole pulled some empty Busch beer cases out of the garbage and duct taped them around the outside of his “amplifier”. People wondered if we had a corporate beer sponsor. When our audiences where particularly zealous they would often shower us with beer causing Cole to have to replace his “amplifiers” cardboard casing. He used this jerry-rigged piece of shit to play shows throughout North America for close to a year.
My first show was for Julie’s birthday party at the Alphabet house in Atlanta. It is a blur. I know we tried and mostly failed to play any real songs. There was no separation between the party and the band. People swarmed all over us and there wasn’t any room to strum our instruments. Birthday cake was plastered to the ceiling and the sound of shattering glass was heard throughout the night. I had a splendid time, although the experience wasn’t exactly edifying for me as a musician. We played one more Atlanta show and then the guys said, ”Fuck it. We’re good enough, I guess,” and we took our spectacle on the road.
We were slated to play live on WFMU’s “Dave the Spazz” show and we were chomping at the bit to get to New York. However, the van from the previous tour had completely shit the bed. The motor had seized or blown up or something and the thing wasn’t moving. In the end, Atlanta’s great nurturer Kristin Klein offered her extremely dilapidated Chrysler Town & Country minivan if she and Jane could drive us up there and participate in the festivities. The van was a mess: four bald tires, cracked windshield, full of trash, hood tied down with twine and bungy cords. In short, it was just the type of circumstance that the Black Lips thrive under.
We set out on a clear winters day. I was behind the wheel and we were tailing the Carbonas who were also playing some of the shows. We had barely reached the Atlanta suburbs when the half secured hood of the minivan van began to tremble and wobble around like a night crawler. I called it to the attention of Joe Bradley and we decided to press on. All of the sudden the thing flew back and slammed against the cracked windshield. Everyone screamed in unison, just like in cartoons. I couldn’t see anything but bent metal as I tried to keep the wheel as straight as possible. Joe managed to chill everybody out and hung his head out of the passenger side window to guide me to the next exit.
We pulled into one of those quick lube places to see if the guys could put a band-aid on our little problem. The grease monkey presiding over the place ran some screws through the hood and into the frame of the van while making a clear denunciation of any liability if his handy work should come apart again. This was fine with us. We had shows to play and no time to waste.
The highways were covered with a sludgy gray, icy mixture throughout that night’s journey. Finally reaching Manhattan, we barreled through a snow bank while entering the Williamsburg Bridge on our way to Alberto’s pad in Queens. Kristin had the wheel and everyone was franticly screaming conflicting directions to her the whole way. Alberto and Sonia, true believers in our quest, soothed our nausea and anxiety when we arrived with food, coffee and grass.
The day was spent resting and digging Alberto’s stockpile of cool shit. We were set to play WFMU that night and there was a lot of discussion about how we might make our performance as ludicrous as possible. Some of those idiotic plans made it into the performance, greatly tempered by the effects of whiskey consumption.
We got to East Orange, NJ a little early and sat around in the Green Room at the radio station downing Evan Williams. We were all quite nervous, I think. Jane and Kristin were going to accompany us into the studio as a cheering section. At this point, the Black Lips weren’t the hot shit musicians that their fans are familiar with today. We relied on noise and chants and cheering whenever possible to pad out our lack of technical proficiency. The recording of that night’s performance is a testament to this.
So, at the cue from Mr. Spazz, we began roaring through our set. We tried our best to whip up frenzy in that studio. We butchered a few songs. When I listen to the recording there a couple that I’m not even sure what we were trying to play. Jared did a fine job of PR spokesman in between fits of caveman jibber-jabber. Dave the Spazz summed it up nicely at the close of our set, saying, “What a mess.”
The mess of that night had only begun. We called Alberto afterwards. He and Sonia had heard the whole thing and loved it (I said they were true believers). We set out to meet them at some bar in Manhattan, high on a cloud to the last man. In the Holland Tunnel we opened the doors on the van and grabbed traffic cones off the road. We screamed and chanted and laughed the whole way. Nothing could have punctured our drunken joy.
At the first bar we dropped into was a band playing on the floor in the back. We all collapsed into the place and set up by the bar. I don’t know why, but Jared quickly developed a strong aversion to that night’s entertainment. After a few minutes he walked right up to the band, shoved the guy out of the way, and started screaming into the mike. I guess he thought these guys were stealing his thunder or something. The management didn’t stand idly by for too long before some hunk of humanity in the customary black leather jacket came to remove our boy. But Jared wasn’t about to go so easily. He began throwing his best licks at the guy as he backed towards the door. The brawl spilled out into the street for a minute or two before Jared booked ass out of there. As drunk as Jared was he probably wasn’t that hard for this guy to handle. Though, I think he may have landed a punch or two.
Needless to say, we had to get the hell out of there and fast. Jared had taken off around the block so I went to find him. He was hiding out in the stairwell of one of those basement apartments, thinking about what he had done. I reported back to the crew and we reconnoitered and set off again.
The tone for the night was set. At the Mars Bar I put my fist through one of the panel windows thinking it was plexiglass and we would all have a good laugh. It was not plexiglass and, in addition to a minor beating from the bouncer, I received some deep gashes in my knuckles. My pals found my lying in a bloody snow pile on the sidewalk.
Now everybody was stressed out about whether or not I would be able to play guitar with my wounded mitt. We went to Alberto’s place and I was doctored up with a torn t-shirt and some duct tape. I got a serious lecture and was ordered to report to the hospital first thing in the morning. We had another show the next night and I had to get my act together.
Jared offered to accompany me to the emergency room the next day. We walked the few blocks over there only to discover a line at least two hours long. No way that was happening. We came up with a story to tell the grown-ups about how the wound had been open for too long and there was nothing they could do. One of us had heard about this kind of complication somewhere before and it sounded good enough. On the way home we dropped into a place and had a couple of beers.
So we played that nights show and everything was cool. My hand, heavily bandaged, was no problem. It was, up to that point, the most attended Black Lips show outside of Atlanta. Cole welcomed our new fans with a golden shower. I think they dug it.