Fairfax, Virginia 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 from reception. I have a long anxious dream about my old top-floor flat in Glasgow – the hall ceiling is coming in and there are shadowy figures living in the roof. I go to the kitchen and find the remnants of a roast chicken dinner abandoned before I left for the tour. Encrusted pots and dishes are piled everywhere. When I use the bathroom I am suddenly at ground-level and looking through an open window at a small crowd gathered across the street shooting a film. They wave and I wave back from my seat on the toilet. A perfect metaphor for my shows.
In the morning we drive an hour and a half to a radio station in Towson, Maryland to perform three songs. And this the day after “Earth Day”. Last night Edward Norton was intoning somberly as images of extracted albatrosses’ intestines blocked with consumer detritus flashed across my T.V. I muse upon the fate of my plastic food boxes crushed into the little hotel-room bin. I tell myself I can’t worry about this when I’ve got a hall ceiling to fix.
The radio station is situated within the cloisters of a leafy college campus and my interview conducted by a softly spoken and intelligent DJ called Erik. We are just outside Baltimore and the two of us enthuse about The Wire, HBO’s brilliant cops-and-robbers show set in that benighted city. Charlie Brooker, The Guardian’s profane and acerbic television critic led me to this programme which is cinematic in quality and Shakespearean in scope. Erik says he could have given me a Wire tour of the local streets if we’d had more time. I’d have liked that. We grab lunch in a crab house. I order the crab burger which turns out to be a hamburger with some crab mayonnaise smeared on top. Perhaps their Veggie burger is some minced cow covered with a cabbage leaf. As we wait for our order Peter puts some money into a ten-pin bowling video game. I take him on and lose substantially. Where’s a fucking football when you need one? The route back leads us through some seriously wealthy neighbourhoods. Beautiful red tulips stretch along the central reservation. The street names are ripe with civil war references: Plantation Road, Rebel Run, General Lee Avenue. Slavery, the unspeakable blight of European colonialism, hangs in the turbid air.
The show is mostly successful, the small crowd loud and responsive from the start. A very old acquaintance whom I have not set eyes on in decades meekly enters the dressing room as I am packing up. He looks well and says sweet things about how I seem to have mellowed. He tells me of his work running a foundation dedicated to restoring an old plantation and about a film he’s making about the Underground Railroad. We catch up on the whereabouts of mutual friends before I pose for photographs and sign a few things here and there for the few who have hung back. There is an old 1970s music centre backstage and Peter puts Saturday Night Fever on the turntable and gets down. He flashes the wall light-switch on and off for effect. It sounds beautiful – warm and sibilant and I want to dance in the warm air of a garden somewhere back in time with pretty girls and friends laughing.