Romare Bearden, "Jammin' at the Savoy"
Romare Bearden, Jammin' at the Savoy
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

January 25, 2003:

Bags on the roof, tied with multiple redundant bungees and clothesline rope. Instruments and amps in a bay beneath the rear floor, elevated as a result into a sort of platform bed. Inside, sleeping bags, shoes, jackets, notebooks. The smell of orange peels and stale socks, despite your care to throw out the garbage religiously. Everyone shares the same sniffles.

Hangover from free beer at the club last night. Hungry.

Sexually tense. This isn't a bunch who lives the rock and roll lifestyle. They're loyal to their lovers at home, living in more or less permanent ambivalence about the pretty girls in the clubs. Major vices are beer, and vanity, and the tetchy destructiveness that comes from confinement.

Violin player bored and egotistical on the bed. Lies with chin ostentatiously in hand, implying temperamentalness and self-satisfaction in his posture. As if he were continually aware of himself in the mirror of our reactions. Lately has taken to "testing" people with unpredictable harassment. Just now he says, "Are you going to publish that?", as he watches you scribbling.

"Yes," you answer. "I'll call it, 'Highway to Heck: 100 Days of Good Behavior by America's Hottest College Radio Band.'"

The singer laughs. He's on his back, writing uphill into a notebook, a letter, or a diary. In an uncharacteristically affable mood, falling easily into boyish charm. "The sequel to his earlier classic," he pitches in, "'Heck's Angels: Adventures of a Geriatric Moped Gang.'" You laugh, the violin player doesn't.

The drummer is natty is his new earring. Rubs his eyes, watches trees fly by on the highwayside. His nervous mannerisms are somehow highlighted by his self-possessed, erect posture: the way he wrings his hands, or picks his fingernails compulsively. Often his eyes appear to be sore, as they do now, although you're not aware that he wears contacts.

Bass player in the passenger's seat. Eating bread, talking to the manager. In many ways the most inward, he sometimes surprises with meticulous, insightful observation of the intricate political relationships that swirl and warp from moment to moment. Far the most talented musician, in later years he blossoms into a brilliant songwriter with a powerfully individual vision.

New manager driving, amped with naive enthusiasm and blithely unaware of the tension. Sings loudly to your Bob Dylan tape, points-out interesting sights like volcanoes and nuclear reactors. Counters the violinist's affected ennui with affection for everything and everyone, for instance by loudly singing-out each lyric to Highway 61.

Moments of ephemeral camaraderie. But for you, the shine is thin. Heads are beginning to swell with success: a vanity and arrogance you find increasingly ugly. The music is changing, shifting toward the trendy psychedelic revival you detest with such passion. Yet more than anything else you're disquieted by the envy of your true love back home, who feels that with your presence in this van you've usurped her place in the world.

Cafe Voltaire, Milwaukee, WI, a Friday night show in the frigid final days of winter.

Opening band called "The Frogs": singer in gold lamé with 12-foot charcoal gray batwings he can cause to flap by hopping up and down. Their music is surfacy like Elton John pop, but the lyrics are Bauhaus: "You fucked-over Jesus," in a deep, accusing growl; "so fuck you."

Friends have unexpectedly flown in from California. Your true love, plus your mutual friend, unannounced the night before, at Prince's club the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis. Where to stay? You normally canvas couches or floors for everyone; this time the band springs for a motel. It's their first upscale digs, a Red Roof Inn near the freeway entrance; but in the end there's just the two of you, you and your one true love, sharing the bed amid a floor of snores.

You've filed page after notebook page of meditation about your feelings, the difficulties of your relationship, and especially her resentment of your place on these tours. She's not being rational, but, why should she be? Her heart and identity are at stake. In her view this was her world. She loves you, but, she feels you're an interloper.

Moonlight fades, leaving only the swish-swish of latenight trucks on the interstate. Nothing outside the bed has any reality for you. There's only her breath, her warmth, the silver-peach glint of her skin in the dark. You kiss her hair, her ears, her neck; and the two of you sleep entangled, at peace, till noon, and breakfast, and the frigid next-day drive to Chicago, for soundcheck at 6pm.

Trip ends. You quit, partly from disgust, partly from desire to get on with your own projects, partly to clear the way for her. Within a few weeks she runs the band's fan club, drives the tour van, and lives with the manager. She despises him, is hot for him, is deathly unhappy; and she believes him when he promises to assist her career, for instance by introducing her to people it'll be helpful to know.

The sound of strings is sending nothin' to my mind
just another mad mad day
on the road
My dreams is fading down the railway line
just another moonlight mile
on the road