I was on Warped Tour the summer of 2010. I was the merch girl for one of the bands, and for those of you who live in some sort of weird alternate culture, or in a different country, Warped Tour is a giant touring music festival sponsored by Vans. It travels around the country and parts of Canada every summer, reaching out to a mostly teenage demographic. Lots of destruction, terrible music and terrible behavior. America in all its glory.
Being on Van’s Warped Tour was possibly the worst experience of my life, but somehow looking back, there is this oddly romanticized sentiment associated with the memories. What is it about being miserable that heightens the soul in a way that lets us have our own love story with all that we see? Touring is an entirely different lifestyle that absolutely brings out the worst in everyone. Specifics as to why, will be the topic of a later blog.
I was tragically sad for ninety percent of that summer while on the road. I won’t get into reasons why, because that is related to wounds that are still fresh, but I will share some of my observations… my romances with the world if you will, that I probably would not have noticed had I been blissfully blinded by good times and contentment.
Andrew W.K.’s bass player and his cigarettes. Obviously, there is no smoking on the tour busses. Of course, smoking drugs on the bus, snorting drugs and everything else you can do with drugs and alcohol is a-okay. I don’t smoke, but a lot of socializing took place at night during cigarette breaks in between the long rows of busses; that detached space polluted with generator exhaust, rivers of spilt beer and the eerie feeling that home has never been so close or so far away.
Andrew’s bass player, this tall, kind of goofy looking man with chops and a deep, soothing voice, would smoke his cigarettes all the way down to the filter. I’ve noticed that people who would not generally litter, always litter their cigarettes. It’s like this weird exception to the rule for some reason. But not him. Every cigarette, he would put it out on the bottom of his shoe, and then cup it in his hand until he went back on the bus to throw it away. Often, we would all talk for a good thirty minutes, and he’d have a second cigarette, but he never once littered a single one. He’d just stand there, hovering a good foot above me, holding the burnt out things in his hand, while everyone else had long since discarded their’s onto the already infected soil. The amount of damage Warped Tour does to the environment is obscene, and I could write an entire blog just about that, so littering a couple of cigarettes seemed almost harmless (even to me, the litter police) when looking at the big picture. While I can’t even remember his name, I’ll never forget that man standing there with those cigarettes in his dirty, calloused hands, doing what he could in a small way, to leave a place the way he found it.
Another unspoken romance I had that I probably would not have appreciated had I not been miserable, was this beautiful display of what real punk rock is. On one not so very special evening, I was pushing the dolly back to the bus which was carrying the usual, over two hundred pounds I’d say, of all the merch crap. Earlier that day I was hanging out in a big group and a couple of the guys present were band members of Alkaline Trio. The singer mentioned that he was losing his voice, and I remember this because I thought it was cool that he was still talking and carrying on. That might seem like an absurd thing to think, but it’s disgusting how often these lead singer’s are on “vocal rest.” Vocal rest means that you simply don’t speak or utter a sound. At all. It’s obnoxious. You call yourself a rock band but you baby your voice with hot tea and Slippery Elm Bark? Take a shot of Jameson and hit the stage!
The vocalist of the band I was working for, I swear to God, was on vocal rest eighty-five percent of the time, which meant I often had to be subjected to snaps and whistles in order for this person to get my attention. So to hear Trio’s singer mention that he was losing his voice, and to be laughing about it and kind of brushing it off, was something to take notice of. Getting back to later that night, as I was heading to the bus, I was passing Main Stage and Alkaline Trio was about to play. Being alone and miserable, I decided to stop and watch the show because I certainly had nothing else to do. I had seen their set plenty of times that summer, but Trio holds a special place in my heart and I was interested to see how he would handle his voice situation. They get up there and he immediately says to the crowd, “I’m losing my voice… I’ll do my best, but you guys are going to have to help me sing tonight.”
I kind of rolled my eyes, because I have seen this before with other bands, and I knew what that meant… he would just sing softly and then let the audience take over every two lines. The song begins, he starts to sing, and I think I fell in love with him in that moment a little bit. It was probably the most genuine thing I saw happen on stage that whole summer. His voice sounded like absolute shit, it was a cross between singing and yelling, it was scratchy and cracked, but so beautiful for all of the same reasons, and because it was real. He sang his heart out in a way I have never seen before or since, and somehow made Warped Tour fun again for a glistening minute, and I remember thinking, “that is so punk-rock and awesome.” He didn’t care, he was there to give the audience the best show that he could, and on that not so very special night, leaning against my cart of wrinkled merchandise, watching the sun set behind the stage and embracing my loneliness, he did give me one of the best shows I have ever seen, along with a feeling that I desperately needed a dose of: that everything was all right. God, music is the glue of our soul.
I have many more love stories and other tales to tell from that summer, so stay tuned, my friends.