As a ‘treat’ for Blog of Wax turning 1 year old, I have decided to write a post that will take a year to read. Below is a tale from the Glocal Scene team’s journey to Albuquerque, NM. I hope you enjoy. Long live Ball of Wax.
Touring can be disorienting. Anyone who has been on the road for a while knows the questions “Where are we?,” “What is the date again?,” and “Who am I?” all too well. Ray Rude, the drummer of serial giggers The Builders and the Butchers, once referred to touring as like living inside a long tube. The tube only stops to let you out to play for a few hours until the tube get hungry and needs to eat up more road (as the tube occupants while away the hours in a smelly van). Rob, Nick, and I had been driving in our tube for three weeks before we headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico (having already taken in California and Mexico on our worldwide tour to meet local bands (documented here)). The arduous drive up from old Mexico was not helped by the three of us being in a Pontiac Sunfire with three months’ worth of clothes, DV tapes and electric adapters cramping our already cramped cabin.
It is well known that idle hands can exacerbate Tour Fever, yet there are few things you can do in a car for entertainment. The library in the Pontiac consisted of a couple of maps of North America, a few Lonely Planet guides, mystic magician Derren Brown’s Tricks of the Mind (a self-help guide to improve your memory and to better influence people) and a small book featuring the quotes of the Chinese philosopher Confucius. Most of the reading time was spent seeking spiritual enlightenment or learning how to manipulate the rest of the car into stopping at McDonald’s rather than Burger King.
“Artful speech and an ingratiating demeanor rarely accompany virtue” [Confucius]
The trip to Mexico had been a success (despite our distinct lack of Spanish); our confidence in finding excellent music and opinions was growing with every interview, with a Saturday night out in Albuquerque hopefully holding more hidden gems. The big bag of money, however, was getting lighter quicker than budgeted, so a Saturday night out in Albuquerque would have to end sleeping in the car in a parking lot somewhere.
“A man’s faults all conform to his type of mind. Observe his faults and you may know his virtues.” [Confucius]
Albuquerque sits on the flatlands set in the middle of a huge mountain range. Driving in off the highway “The Duke City” can be seen to sprawl for miles, the main drag of Albuquerque lighting up like a runway to guide you to the action. Even though it was a dark and damp January evening, Albuquerque’s main drag, our beacon of hope in which we had driven so many miles to take part of, seemed to be eerily quiet for a big Saturday night. Rob parked the car in an overnight garage, which was to be our home for the night, and quickly set about polishing off the vodka that Nick and I had started tucking into on the drive. With a slight glint in our eyes we set off to the nearest bar to ask where we could find Burt’s Tiki Lounge, which, according to Lonely Planet, had gigs five nights a week. We bounded to the nearest pub and ordered a few gin and tonics to get us up and out. However, the bar was nearly empty. The waitress was calm and collected. Our mood for action and music and people and fun started to drain.
“Well boys, I don’t know what to tell you,” she explained, “there is no music on in Albuquerque tonight.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think there would be here,” I asked, pointing excitedly to the surroundings, “but elsewhere, maybe at Burt’s Tiki Lounge . . . where is that?”
“Well, this isn’t New York City or Paris you know, Sunday nights are a bit slow,” she replied.
Rob was the only one not drunk enough to take the news in.
“But it is Saturday,” Nick and I replied in unison.
“You guys are funny. Another round of Gin and Tonics?”
With that, we were dumbstruck. We had lost a day, somehow, driving in the car. We were well and truly lost in our bizarre trip so much that time did not apply. Tour Fever had arrived in full living technicolor.
“Well, we may as well get blind drunk, as it is going to be mighty uncomfortable in that car tonight sober,” Nick announced, nailing his beverage.
“The man of honour thinks of his character, the inferior man of his position. The man of honour desires justice, the inferior man favour.” [Confucius]
The morning dew settled on our faces as the sun broke over the ranges that wrap around Albuquerque. Although we were greeted to a sight of such stunning beauty that is New Mexico in snow, we were dying from the booze and shaking from the cold set in our bones. It was now Monday and the car park was beginning to fill up with commuters starting their day. One point of note that came out of our Sunday night was the main arts and entertainment magazine in Albuquerque, The Alibi, was a short drive away from our car park, and opposite a buffet restaurant. Nick, the most non-hungover, drove us to the magazine’s head office, where we were able to set up an interview later that day with the music editor, Laura Marrich.
At the dark end of a pool bar on a Monday afternoon (gin and tonics were on special offer), we set up our tripod and set about asking Laura, a journalist, editor, and musician with local band The Gracchi (pronounced Grak-eye), what Albuquerque had to offer (and ultimately what we had missed seeing as the two nights of the week without music were Sundays and Mondays).
Glocal Scene: “What is Albuquerque like?”
Laura Marrich: “It is cool! As you’ve noticed it is really an interesting incubator for culture because it is so isolated. In terms of touring, Albuquerque is kind of out of the way – New Mexico gets cut out because it is 400 miles to major cities in Arizona, 400 miles to Denver, 400 miles to Columbus City and south of here there is fricking nothing. That is, unless you go 600-800 miles to the cities in Texas.”
GS: “This sounds like a bad thing . . .”
LM: “Well, it is a plus and a minus. It is a minus because you miss out on a lot of the big names and good bands. On the other end of the spectrum there are a lot of interesting people who end up here for whatever reason.”
GS: “I’d bet . . .”
LM: “Because of that we have a unique culture not just artistically but our values, too. Plus it is sunny all the time, which I think affects people. Everyone is passionate here about something or other, but you might hear that everywhere you go.”
GS: “Have you lived anywhere else, other than here?”
LM: “Yeah, LA and Detroit. The thing about the LA music scene is that it is so big. It is such an international scene. It is not a melting pot, but more of a patchwork quilt of cultures. You can choose your adventure, really. But there is so much going on that if you don’t have an in or somebody to latch onto or a neighborhood for your base, you will miss out and think ‘this place sucks’.”
GS: “And what about Detroit?”
LM: “That is an interesting place because the city itself is kinda like a ghost town. It was the birthplace of the automobile, but now it is dead. You have headquarters that are empty and the city has evacuated to the suburbs, creating a vacuum. There is no civic heart of the city anymore. The interesting part of that is that Detroit has become a culture of suburbanism, whereby the kids have gone out of their minds with boredom so they turn to music. When I lived there, kids were really proactive with music – ‘why not combine rap and metal and reggae.’ Boredom will do that.”
GS: “Any bands from the area you would recommend for us to go see then?”
LM: “Well, if you can stick around for tomorrow night my friend is playing at Burt’s Tiki Lounge in a band called Lousy Robot. I interviewed the main guy, Jim, last week for the paper. He has the most bizarre way of going about things. His process for making music is the most non-intuitive for me that it drives me insane. He starts by thinking of the name of the album, then he comes up with 20-30 song titles, then he dumps half, then he writes lyrics for half, then he gets out his guitar and does the bare bones for the melody. It is so backwards.”
GS: “It must sound bad . . .”
LM: “NO! It sounds really cohesive and different. It is a little weird. It is good pop.”
Lousy Robot released their 3rd album last year, titled Hail The Conquering Fool. We never did see them live when we were in New Mexico in 2007, and I don’t quite know whether Jim’s method of writing songs remains the same. See if you can guess for yourself:
After our initial setback of not being able to see any live music in New Mexico, we were honored to have such a well-spoken ambassador for the town of Albuquerque in Laura Marrich. Rumor has it she still resides in the fair city and is Editor-in-Chief for The Alibi and winning awards and taking names in the process. For up to the minute info on all that is happening in the interesting and diverse city of Albuquerque, check out The Alibi‘s online content (including the local music forum Rock Squawk).
The mid-afternoon drinking meant we were all in need of a rest before our long journey to Denver. A slice of pizza and a film at the local cinema had been thought to be sufficient fuel to drive 400 miles in the dead of night, but ultimately meant that we had to pull over for a nap (as the driver started hallucinating with tiredness some 270 miles shy of our target).
“Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.” [Confucius]
Still in New Mexico, we hunkered down in a car park just off the highway and piled on all the clothes we had with us. We awoke the next morning to find ourselves high in the mountains, 2 feet of snow around the car and frost coating the inside of our car like an icy tomb. I wrestled out of my sleeping bag and through the snow to find a place to urinate and to have a quick mental chat with myself, only to spot a heated visitor’s center and toilet facility 10 meters from our frozen vehicle. In hushed tones we vowed never to sleep outside again if there was snow on the ground and perfectly warm shelter nearby.
“Knowledge and investigation help promote wonder, they do not destroy it. Whatever our tastes, we can generally appreciate such things as music, art or wine better when we understand a bit about them. We read up on our favorite singers or artists because we feel we can appreciate their work better when we know how they think and what they bring to their work. In a similar way, the psychological tricks behind many seemingly paranormal events are truly more fascinating than the explanation of other-worldiness precisely because they are of this world, and say something about how rich and complex and mysterious we are as human beings to be convinced by such trickery, indeed to want to perpetuate it in the first place.” [Derren Brown, Tricks of the Mind]