20 Awkward Places to Wake Up: Bill Baird on touring

Bill Baird

Music Is My Business, Business is Weird is an ongoing series curated by musician Bill Baird that explores the funny nature of the music industry. With each edition, Baird offers insight through experience on the strange business of being a musician both on the major label level and the DIY circuit. In this edition he explores where touring musicians rest their weary heads.

You wake and stretch.

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The room is unfamiliar at first. Then there’s the stench. Ah yes, the stench. You realize you’re sleeping between two overflowing kitty litter boxes on a carpet that sprays a dust cloud every time you pat the ground. The bookshelves are overflowing, books cascading to the floor in a stale yellow heap. The golden fountain of knowledge that decays when left unattended during a decade’s long bender.

You collect your things and briefly consider bolting for the door, making an easy exit. Nope, bad karma. You write a nice note to your host (whose name you cannot recall), wash all the dishes in the sink, and then make for the door.

Your day begins this way when you’re on the road.

Or maybe you woke another way and you’re feeling confused. Fear not. I’ve compiled 20 of the strangest ways one might awaken on tour, followed by some dubious advice gleaned from personal experience:

1. You were sleeping behind a dumpster next to a fishing dock in rural Virginia and you woke to the sound of a police officer tripping over a pile of your discarded beer cans.

Whatever you do, do not adopt a “country” accent to appear like one of “his people.” It will just sound like ridicule.

2. You’re unpeeling your face from the backseat window and realize your van is being towed.

You can rush out to the tow truck driver and beg and plead and let your overflowing tears drip onto the pavement, but unless you’ve got cash in hand, he’s towing away the van.

3. You’re shivering on the bare ground of the Mojave Desert, watching the sunrise while waiting for the tequila to get flushed from your blood.

Hmm, sounds kind of nice actually. Is this actually a bad thing?

4. You’re avoiding the screaming weightlifter who has spiraled into a 7am coke binge / roid rage.

Just keep telling him how handsome / strong / smart / modest he is, and how his mother must be proud, over and over, until he breaks into tears. Then tell him to call his mother. Then quietly collect your belongings and get the fuck out of there.

5. You’re wandering the hotel halls, scavenging your breakfast from the leftovers off other people’s room service plates.

Don’t even bother touching the French Fries. Collect everything you can and put it into a napkin. Take it back to your room and microwave it. Voila.

6. You’re icing your knuckles after punching a coke machine.

Ice your knuckles with a cold beer.

7. After having stayed up for two days straight, you’ve just vomited up the Egg McMuffin and trucker speed you earlier ingested.

Go back into the McDonald’s and tell them their food made you sick. They will give you another one.

8. Somebody is pouring a bucket of water over your head.

Ask for some shampoo.

9. The music critics decided to make you their punching bag for the weekly news cycle and you awaken to a barrage of internet bile.

Make a silly video that expresses your feelings, post it on the internet, and watch as music critics put their gloves back on for round two.

10. Your tour manager just got in at 6am, dressed like Hunter S. Thompson, after a night of ketamine and Chuck Berry.

Gently remind this buffoon that what made Hunter S. Thompson so cool is he lived excessively, yes, but he also was a GREAT WRITER. Living the lifestyle without actually creating anything = extreme poser.

11. Your waste-veggie-oil tour wagon has sprung a leak and you’ve woken to the intermingling fumes of diesel fuel and rancid Chinese food frying oil.

Put out that match you’re holding. Put away your blowtorch. Flames are a big no no. Find a friend with a AAA membership, adopt their identity while the vehicle gets towed, then drop it at a horribly overpriced repair shop. Prepare yourself for the next one.

12. The mechanic called and told you he needed a second credit card.

All maxed-out already, eh? Get one of those Guitar Center credit cards. After their discount, it’s almost normal price.

13. You’re being kicked out of your drummer’s girlfriend’s mom’s basement after crashing there for a week.

My God man, have you no self-respect?

14. You have no self-respect.

Ah yes, I see. Maybe your drummer’s girlfriend’s mom will let you stay in the basement a few more days if you beg.

15. You’re being kicked out of your drummer’s girlfriend’s mom’s basement again. This time, she didn’t make you breakfast.

Hold back the tears. Try not to think of this as a failure but as a “learning experience.”

16. Your host and his not terribly attractive companion repeatedly insist that you and the entire band come upstairs to “come check out his amazing shower.”

No matter how dirty you are, don’t do it! But if that’s your thing, go ahead. Just one question though. What are you doing on tour? Shouldn’t you be at Burning Man or something?

17. The sprinklers on the lawn of the highway rest stop have turned on and are drenching you.

Didn’t put on the rain fly. Tsk tsk tsk. Try to find a hose and rinse off because that lawn water is pumped full of pesticides. Not good for the complexion.

18. The heat stopped working in your hotel room and you can see your own breath.

Turn on a hot shower, lay down in the tub, and go back to sleep. Dream of a warm jungle. Wake up later to an ice cold Minneapolis hotel room. Just make sure you’ve got a towel handy.

19. You’re lying on an Echo Park sidewalk wearing nothing but a Mexican serape and you slowly recall the night before, when you alienated every single person attending a “psychedelic sleep-over.”

Well, at least it was a funny experience, right?

20. Actually, you have tears in your eyes.

Call your mom.

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Whew. Yes, I’ve been there. Yes, I really have.

I  could tell you yards more yarns of tour life, but I don’t want to bore you. It’s incredibly difficult to talk about “the road” without tripping over dozens of clichés. You go on the road to get away from clichés and predictability. I did, anyways. Everyday a new bizarre situation from which to extricate yourself. Your senses are sharp and focused as you experience things for the first time. You’re taking it all in.

Tour can trap you though. What starts as a freewheeling adventure can evolve into a string of sanitized motel floors stacked with stinking musicians swapping dead stares, shuffling numbly from club to club, from city to city, chasing “success” like a banker on a treadmill chasing a dangling dollar bill. To truly “succeed,” though, give up those inherited notions of success. No longer will you be grist for that mill. The old music industry is dead. Success shouldn’t be measured in terms of attendance figures and record sales, but by the music itself, and the ability to sustain making that music over the course of your whole life. I want to be writing songs on my death bed. I want the sound of my respirator to be the click track in a new recording.

The key to this longevity seems to be failure. Yes, failure. Trust me, I’ve become an expert on the subject and also one of its biggest proponents. And the best way to fail? Go on the road with a new set of songs. Play to empty clubs, sing to the walls. Perform for the spirits. Or maybe just for the drink tickets.

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