On Jan. 15, with haphazard grace, The Mermen wandered off
on the beginning of a nine week slog across America. Guitarist Jim Thomas,
drummer Martyn Jones and bassist Allen Whitman, accompanied by soundman Roz
Jones (no relation to Martyn), guitar tech Mark Dickson and their roadie, known
only as Leslie, arranged themselves inside the white Ford Super Clubwagon 350
window van and, pulling the matching white trailer with the gear, drove all
night to San Diego. In late January and early February we published Whitman's
first report. Yesterday we presented "Part 3." Today, the journey
New Orleans, LA, Friday, Jan. 26. Howlin Wolf. Practically in a
coma, a sack of flesh occupying a bench seat, I arrive in New Orleans with the
band at Sam the painter's, where we're supposed to stay with him but he is the
archetypal painter...no shower, no hot water...the crew says let's go and Sam
is sorrry about it. I tell him it's no big deal, we'll see him later at the
club. We check in to a hotel on St. Charles, above the streetcars, and stay for
three days in which I eat way too much fried food. The club is great in every
respect. Backstage area w/bath...beer for us...dinner home-cooked...good stage,
good sound system...they like the music...me and one of the techs talk about
our secret love of art-rock. About 50 people show up in a blinding
thunderstorm. But Robert McFarline, a Spanish teacher, enthusiastically
compares us to Dick Dale (but in a complimentary way), so it's not a complete
waste of time. We eat gumbo and walk around the quarter.
Sat., Jan 27. Marley's. Sleep late. Another flat tire (same one) makes us wait
on the street with the trailer for two hours. Play in a suburb of New Orleans
just north of a 24 mile bridge across Lake Pontchartain. We open for the
venerable Dash Rip Rock. This turns out to be the worst gig of the tour so far.
The bar has the most comprehensive delivery system for daiquiris I have ever
seen. Shannon, the bartender, tells us that her eye looks the way it does
because she poked it with a kitchen knife when she was four. The crowd goes
mild. Nothing like playing a song and having no one react. We amuse ourselves.
Shlong haircuts are out in force. A patron buys a CD and tells Leslie he's
gotta get it now and put it in his car because he's gonna go get in a fight...
The Times Grill, run by Callen, Angela and John, serves us an perplexingly
New Orleans, LA, Sun., Jan 28. We have the day off. We do
laundry, I try to ignore the Superbowl, the crew gets a tour from the road
manager of Dash Rip Rock, who Leslie befriended, and get home at dawn. Drinkin'
and carryin' on!
Route #20, Mon., Jan. 29. 65 MPH. Rushing East in the
gathering darkness. Rain clouds graying the rapidly fading light. Alabama from
the back seat... Charmingly mannered women...gruff, distrustful men, greasy
food. The first batch of regional postcards get purchased, written and sent.
Roz munches bbq potato chips in the passenger seat, navigator to Mark's pilot.
We're only a couple of minutes late to a radio interview. The mood is
Jacksonville, AL, Mon., Jan 29. Brother's Bar. It's Mark's Bday
and we get him a watch and a Key Lime Pie from Winn Dixie mkts. It puts me in
the mind of Joni Mitchell's "Refuge Of The Roads" from the album Hejira.
It's raining and looks to continue for days. We do a radio interview but I'm
not in the mood. The show is for about 10 people, most from the radio station.
If it keeps up, I'm going to start getting used to it. I think we made 40
bucks. People keep asking us: "What are you doing here?" We can't answer. We
eat catfish at the diner nearby and I wonder when my digestive system will ever
forgive me. After we stop Roz plays sad music and I wonder where we are going
to sleep. Money running low. The mood is grim.
We have key lime pie and
Peet's coffee for breakfast. get kicked out of the econo-lodge by concerned
employees..."Are you staying another day?" In Oxford, AL? Yow! We stop at a
mall where the food was recommended by two maids at the econo-lodge. Shoulda
known. A walk through the cafeteria line confirms the suspicions raised by my
nose on entry...there's nothing here I can eat.
We drive on through the
rain and rough roads to Florida...
(To be continued...)