If you talk to them long enough, my bandmates might tell you I’ve had issues about being a control freak. On tour, this has often manifested around issues such as audio technology (specifically our in-ear monitor system). It’s been a strain over the years, and in the last few months, things have begun to change.
I suppose a lot of it has to do with Doris’s diagnosis last fall. After the initial immediate threats to her health and safety appeared to subside, I started going through a personal transformation. It felt like Rip Van Winkle – like I’d woken up and found myself living a life I didn’t remember wanting to live. One issue that kept coming up was control.
Our tour last month on the west coast was wonderful in so many ways – being able to play and sing with Doris (after fearing we might never again), bonding with our musical soulmates, Coyote Grace. In many ways, it was my favorite tour ever, yet I spent half of it in what might be described as personal agony. Our in-ear monitor system (which allows us to hear ourselves clearly onstage) is contained in a wheeled, 100+ lb road case that takes two strong people to lift. We affectionately call the system “Pinky”. Pinky is a custom job – no one manufactures a system that does everything we need, so five years ago, I put it together myself with various components. I love that I was able to create something that hadn’t existed before, but the downside has been that I’m the only one who knows how it works. When something goes wrong, I’m the one who has to fix it.
Last month on tour, Pinky started falling apart. First there was a bad cable inside and we couldn’t hear the banjo. Then a splitter died. Then the hard drive we were using to record (and sell) some of the shows started going on the fritz. Then, poignantly, one of Pinky’s four wheels broke off as we were wheeling her to the van. Ty suggested that Pinky was mirroring my internal ambivalence about being solely in charge of it. She was right – the ambivalence was there. As the tour progressed I tried to let go. I did the bare minimum work to keep Pinky running so we could hear ourselves and record the remaining shows on the tour. And I would still find myself sprawled out on stage with a soldering gun, swearing at God, Pinky, and my bandmates.
At the end of the tour, both JJ and our sound tech Ary came and asked me to show them how Pinky works, so that the work doesn’t always fall on me. I’ve been in this band so long that it’s like a family – with love, but also with patterns of behavior that were once fine, but are now dysfunctional. When we first started using in-ear monitors in 2006, neither JJ nor Ary were with us. It felt fine for me to do that work then. But something in me has changed – particularly since Doris’s diagnosis – and life isn’t letting me be a control freak about it without extreme discomfort.
So now, as we’re beginning a tour here in Colorado, I’m trying to be present and believe that I can change how I am on tour. On the plane yesterday, Ty suggested that if I have too many stressful associations with the word “tour,” I could come up with a new name for it. She suggested “Herbert.”
So here I am, once again with my best friends, excited to get back on Herbert.