27th April, 2008
From the interstate New Jersey mostly appears to be an industrial scale service area for New York City – warehousing, processing plants, railroad yards and depots. We emerge from the Holland tunnel into the 21st century Disney-fied and strangely sedate Manhattan. No clamour anymore, no insane rush of adrenalin, no filth except the filthy rich. Successive mayors have expunged pretty much everything that made New York unique and now it’s safer and calmer and a great place for the wealthy to shop and school their kids. I miss the old version, the eighties bankrupt, crazy capital-of-the-known world version. I guess you’d find that buzz now in Rio or Shanghai. In the U.S. everything gets suburbanised eventually, even the vertical. But I’m an outsider scratching a square inch on the surface of a city containing four times the population of Switzerland and New York is still out there, in there, but…—More Tales
People ask me what I’ve been doing the last ten years since I toured here. It’s a difficult question to answer without sounding like an alcoholic recluse. I’ve been watching television: Ten series of Big Brother, fifty DVD box-sets, God knows how many Matches of the Day. I watch every football show broadcast. I have watched every hour of Wimbledon, all day and every day since 1998. I watch obscure film noirs and 1940s Westerns. World Cups, European Championships, Champions Leagues, World Series, Olympic Games, Pop Idol, Later With Jools, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Question Time, Extras, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage. I have watched documentaries about murder cases, wars and famines. Quiz shows, panel games, sit-coms and period dramas. Property shows, How-To-Dress-Like-A-Cunt shows and the news, the news; flitting between continents, sport , weather and global desolation. And I have been nursing week-long hangovers. Grinding, edgy, deranged…—More Tales
25th April, 2008
To Fairfax, Virginia
I’m sad to see the back of San Francisco because I know we’re headed for the sticks. I bid farewell to civilization as the gimmick-laden Virgin America Airbus lifts out of the mist. Five hours later we touch down in DC and head for the rental car lot. En route I notice that the streets are aircraft themed. There is Auto-Pilot Drive, Landing Gear Avenue and Cockpit Place. No Heroes of 9/11 Plaza, as yet. Our hotel is situated in not so much a satellite town as a soulless congregation of intersections and strip-malls. We take some ghastly food, trapped in toxic polystyrene, from a chain restaurant back to our rooms. It is warm down here and the night seems thicker, the dense woods studded between the cement black against the sky.
I watch an old Michael Redgrave movie and eat my shrimp salad with a plastic spoon spirited…—More Tales
23rd April, 2008
Day Off San Francisco
After an appearance at KFOG, the big “triple A” station here run by a loyal supporter, Dave Benson, I take a walk downtown to buy a new suitcase. There is a bewildering array in Macy’s and I do my neurotic mother act, pulling twenty different models from their tidy displays and roughing them up for signs of weakness. I eventually plump for something stupidly expensive that seems hardier than the malfunctioning cheap shit I brought with me. I notice it is made in Thailand. I step back into the daylight with my empty black tank to find myself surrounded by up-market designer outlets and multifarious street people, the juxtaposition a living cliche of Reaganite social inequality. I hike up the ten blocks to the hotel checking out the different signs the homeless guys hold. One rhymes, “I sleep on the street, I eat from the trash, I…—More Tales
22nd April, 2008
To San Francisco
We are quickly onto the freeway and into the small groupings of hills that break up the city, rashes of bright green shoots spreading amongst the brown scrub. In front of us is a filthy truck with the word suicide written above its rear driver-side wheel and an arrow pointing to where passing him might achieve this end. The Six Flags amusement park drifts by, a jumble of roller-coasters wrestling in a hollow. The desert weeds are blooming along the slopes and verges in wonderful yellows and florescent greens. Electricity pylons run along the ridges above us with their hands on their hips. The road curves smoothly round sandy outcrops and shrub lined arroyos. There is a faint echo of Scotland in the topography but it’s all so much wider. In America one can see the sense of CinemaScope; a peek through God’s letterbox.
Akiva introduces us to the…—More Tales
21st April, 2008
To Los Angeles
I am seated in a row with a young mother and baby on the aisle and a green Marine returning from leave beside me. They get talking and I earwig while pretending to read. He tells her Marines are the best of the best and never wear uniform when they travel on civilian transport. He shows her a picture of his sweetheart. “She’s been kind of shy with me,” he tells her, “But she’s opened up recently.” I wonder if he understands the subtext or the inference she might make of this. He is both charmingly naive and frighteningly simple. She asks him if he’s been to, “You know, Iraq?” He has not yet seen active duty. “But I’m going to Afghanistan in July.”
“Will you be nervous?” she asks. “No,” he says, ” I’m excited.”
Her baby starts to cry and we hit a little turbulence and the teenage…—More Tales
20th April, 2008
We pull over at The Ironworks Restaurant truck-stop off of I-94 and sit around the counter on vinyl swivel-seats. Fake veneer abounds and there is the small miracle of ashtrays at every place setting beside the mahogany brown upturned coffee mugs waiting to be filled and refilled. You can still see the old phone points built into the counter where truckers would phone home before the age of the cell-phone. I used to use these all the time – it was such a luxury talking to someone in the Scottish morning from your midnight booth as you waited for your eggs over-easy, usually half-cut on weak American beer.
Our waitress, well past retirement age and quick as a whippet, gets our mugs upended and takes our orders. Later she tells us how her husband, who worked for the Denny’s chain of greasy-spoons, used to get “ticked off” with air travel.…—More Tales
19th April, 2008
“Roads girdle the globe”
As the freeway reaches the Minnesota border, steel plate cloud draws over the lowering sun. Joni Mitchell’s lush re-arrangement of “Refuge of the Roads” stirs around the van. No leaves on the trees here, the big freeze having only recently crept away but it’s balmy tonight and grateful Minnesotans congregate around patio-heaters outside bars and restaurants. Such is the ferocity of their winters, every building has multiple sequences of doors and the small square windows of our hotel are hermetically sealed. We browse a surplus store opposite the gig; a hundred kinds of glove and Navy coats so thick they seem to stand erect unaided. Men are empty overcoats, Groucho said.
I was here, at the Fine Line Music Cafe in 1990 and it retains a sort of quaint 1980s smugness. A venue for the discerning professional. Exposed brick and tables and chairs and an ironic catch-phrase on…—More Tales
17th April, 2008
We pass rolling fields of yellowed stubble, kites suspended overhead eyeing the rat-runs. Road-kill raccoons litter the shoulder; I speculate that it’s mating season, that they’re throwing themselves across the freeway to reach potential mates whose ripe scents are wafting on the wind. You could get three coats and a good stew from the carnage.
Enormous road-side billboards invite us to Adult Superstores (1000 yards off Exit 56) and budget motels and family restaurants. There is not much view for them to obscure. A pair of hipster dudes zip by in a vintage Buick, wearing vintage shades and vintage T-shirts and vintage facial hair. Then a pick-up passes towing a trailer loaded with blasting material. That’s followed by a truck carrying medical waste. There’s a pile-up I’d like to see.
The lady in the truck-stop admires my shirt. I seem to be appealing to the older woman these days. Once they’d…—More Tales
15th April, 2008
Morning flight from the lump strewn landscape of Tennessee up to flat Michigan, the sausage factory’s walls adorned with huge ads for visitor tours of the JD distillery. They encourage responsible drinking, apparently. What that means I will never unravel. Akin to considerate joy-riding. We try to find a soul station around Detroit in our fuck-the-climate vehicle with no luck. I hear something about a hot-dog eating contest and take in some morsels of PBS news. A little Obama chat breaks out among us.
Ann Arbour is Michigan’s Madeleine Stowe to Detroit’s Mae West. All a little too tidy and brittle. We browse a second-hand book shop filled with pristine cellophane-wrapped volumes. Peter turns us on to Wuthering Heights and I stifle the urge to mention Kate Bush with her dope and her washing machine. I pick up a tastefully presented copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, more through duty…—More Tales
14th April, 2008
Down and outs shuffling around country town at dawn, no place to be poor but where is? A black woman whose hair is dyed green shouts across the canyon of the street for change. I greet her with a limp excuse and a counterfeit shrug. Dead bird on the road and that one on the thin tree outside my hotel room isn’t sleeping, it’s stuffed. Everybody calls us gentlemen, good thing we’re soft and forgiving. Are you playing music? No, I’m carrying these two guitars for a man who does floors. Ranch dressing, so reminiscent of the high plains – all those steers squirting out blue cheese and herbs. The public library stands solidly amongst a forest of hollow car-parks. The accents are heavy and sweet like warm treacle. You find yourself getting drowsy in their slick. Many are shuttered behind dark glass in black trucks. If they are shadows…—More Tales