The meat of this document was produced in the period from August 31 to October 18, 1992. This was the period during which the Soul/R&B recording artists En Vogue were in production rehearsal and on tour in America, and I had the opportunity to tour as their Intellabeam operator. During this period, the Funky Divas and their entourage played in 25 cities.
This is not an extremely long or arduous touring schedule. However, as a member of the team who worked on lighting it, who also kept a running journal through the course of the tour, I found significant challenge.
To tour a rock & roll lights system is an extremely demanding endeavor. It has been suggested to me that much of what goes on during a lighting crew's typical day is not very different from the day to day routine of people in other working situations. To a certain degree this is true.
However, I find it to be true only as far as the complete context of the experience is discounted. It is true that some people work 18 hour days for long periods of time. It is true that many people work in conditions of extreme physical exertion. Some people spend their days working in conditions of moderate, or even extreme, danger. Many people find their work to be of considerable mental challenge, demanding precise intellectual focus. Many people find themselves under the grind of pressurized events which compel instant, accurate performance.
People who tour rock shows face every one of these situations, daily, from the moment they wake up, until they stub the day's last cigarette and rack out. In addition, they leave their homes and families for weeks or months without end. They are rarely in the same place for more than 72 hours or so. In the rapid fire action of events running over weeks, they commonly forget where they are, where they've been, or where they are going.
I submit that, in the fullest context of what rock show touring is all about, there are very few civilian jobs which compare to it. It is not simply a job. It requires dedication to a way of life. The phrase "to live on the road" will bring a penetrating glance from anyone who has ever done it. The first question implicit in the glance is, "How do you know?" Only someone who has done it can answer the question correctly; with a distinctly worn yet fortified and confident look around the eyes, and the tone...the ring, of the phrase as it falls from the lips of the speaker.
As we went to work in rehearsal in late August, I began to record impressions of the work at hand. I did so during stolen moments when the action had abated enough to switch WordPerfect from one document to another in my laptop computer. It wasn't until the words which comprise the first two articles in this journal were recorded, that it occured to me that I was equipped, better than ever before, to exploit the opportunity to document the adventure of a rock tour. I had carried small computers, and scribbled, in the past. However, by the grace of a $1000 loan from my father, I was suddenly able to manage documentation of virtually literary scale.
The idea did no more than occur to me, at first. I didn't take it too seriously. This is, mostly, because of the intensity of the rehearsal process. This, in turn, is why there are only two articles written during a rehearsal phase which lasted more than two weeks.
Then, as I rode a plane from Los Angeles to Charlotte, N.C. (the first show), I read what I had written, and realized that I had to do my best to carry the journal through the entire tour. I had no idea what "my best" might produce. However, I determined that I would find out.
This journal is recorded from a very personal perspective. I once read that a journal should not limit itself to the strict record of daily events: that's what a diary is for. A journal is a psychic stash; a place where one stores impressions, passing thoughts and feelings. It is a place for a writer to practice. Anyone who knows me understands that this sort of writing is not my ultimate goal.
I am reminded of a scene from "The World According To Garp". One of Garp's manuscripts is captured by his mother. She reads it and is outraged because he is writing about her life. She tells him to stop it immediately: after all, she might someday wish to write about it, and he should write about his own life.
I found Garp's response poignant: "But Mother...nothing's happened to me yet."
My situation differs from Garp's. Anybody who has toured for fifteen years could never say that nothing has happened to him. If he can say that, he's been faking it, and I don't know anybody who could fake it for 15 years...although I've seen a few who gave it a damned good try.
It was happening to me from August to October, 1992.
There are moments in this journal which are distinctly uncomfortable to me, as I read them. New Orleans and Oakland spring to mind. Both of these situations involve serious antagonism between partners, a fracture of the brotherhood of the road. I wrote them as I saw them: angry, perhaps, but never malicious. Even as I described the events, I knew that there would be no lingering personal implications: I am simply not constituted to hold a grudge. However, I must include them here. That's part of what a journal is. I would only say that the events did not, in the end, permanently discolor relationships. Hugs on the last day of the tour were just as heartfelt (to me) as the handshakes of the first day of rehearsal.
There are moments when events of the day led me to reflection on memories which are exciting to recall. These reflections stayed with me until the end of the day, when I could explore them at length. Oklahoma City is an example.
There are other moments when my understanding of certain events and personalities was deficient. For instance, my description of Kevin Donnigan (Detroit) is a roughly gathered impression, and not based on facts. I now know that he has extensive experience in tour security, and that the effervescence which I attributed to a "new guy" is simply his natural mode of attack on life.
The appellation of "the buttata-heads", applied to Scott Richards and Dave Lohr (Maryland Sound Industries), was a natural lights guys joke in the first days of rehearsal. It appeared as an outgrowth of a natural division between sound guys and lights guys. Each tends to regard the other as something strange; I've heard it seriously argued that every sound guy desires, secretly, to drive a light show, and every lights guy secretly desires to feel his hand on the throttle of a big P.A. There is a natural antipathy between the two which is, most often, good natured. Sometimes it is openly hostile. However, this was never the case on this tour: the Maryland Sound crew was a positive joy to work with. Fortunately, as the business of rock touring grows to maturity (people have only been doing this for a quarter of a century or so), genuine hostility is less frequent.
All of this has to do with the odd way in which we get to know each other, as compatriots. We live in very close quarters while touring: a bus bears striking resemblance to a submarine. Indeed, a ride from, say, New Haven to Las Vegas is often referred to as "sub duty". Thus, we see each other at our worst: shaggily confused, rolling off the bus without a shave in 3 days at some lost truckstop; grumpy and under- or over-napped, and strained from, actually, not knowing which way is up; staggering into a hotel lobby at some awful hour, burdened with everything of our personal world in two or, maybe, three bags.
On the other hand, it is an amazing thing to observe the transformation of that dazed wanderer into an action-hungry demon at 8:00 am (well, 11:00 am for backliners...): ready to surf the tide of tons of equipment landing on his head as deep as a forklift can pile it. Instantly, he knows exactly where he is. Then we get to know each other at our best; the quick, incisive eye, making lightning decisions (often sub-consciously) which might appear to the casual observer as random or unreasoned, but are really referenced to a sharply defined reality; a body beaten into shape by battle, not often comforted with rest, but flung into intense physical action on the turn of a moment; the sheer dedication of will-power turned to the purpose of forming truckloads of hard inanimate objects into points of magic in history.
It doesn't take more than a couple of days of this before words like "buttata-heads" aren't heard any more. They turn into "Dave" & "Scott".
This journal is not written for touring pros. I say this for several reasons. To begin with, generally, they are not very tolerant of considerations of "magic" in open discussion. I have never been able to fathom precisely why some support pros actively denigrate the magic of live performance. And, I am still not certain whether they are serious when they do. To find a person who simply can't wait for the show, or the tour, to be over, is quite common. Now, certainly, we all have days when life is not a very attractive prospect. Nothing is going right, and the thought springs to mind, "I love my work...it's too bad I hate my job." There are a couple of those days in this journal (Tampa and Dallas). However, when I see someone who carries this attitude around as a general approach to life, I ask myself, "Well, why in the hell doesn't he find something else to do? What attracted him to this in the first place?"
There are segments of this document which deal with such abtruse satisfactions, and a hardened pro might not care to indulge them. Personally, I have never lost the attraction of a superb live performance, and everything which goes into its production. And, in 15 years, I have almost never been let down, if I took the time to reflect on the hard work involved in succeeding in this business. I have found that, having once gotten to a big stage (no matter how) the people who live there normally have what it takes. The sheer fun generated around a project of authentic value permeates the entire tour, if one is tuned to it.
I should also point out that much of this journal is written in terms too general for a knowledgeable pro to enjoy. Much of this is a result of natural constraints: I was not a professional writer while I was out there. It was not my job. My job was so demanding that, in looking back, I am somewhat amazed that I was able to pile up 31,000 words which make any sort of sense. When I write about the battle of a monitor guy (Jacksonville) or backliner (Anaheim), I do so from a distant perspective: I don't really know what those guys do. I can't relate the whole scene in detail. I relate only what I am able to gather in passing glances, and it doesn't, I think, do justice to their efforts.
You see, while we know each other as closely as family in some respects, in others we know each other as distantly as a linebacker might know a place kicker;they work on the same team, but at vastly different times and places...often within arm's reach of each other.
Therefore, these are a lights guy's reflections. They are closely related to this particular tour, but the entire tour does not relate to them. For instance, I did not mention Brooke Payne a single time. Brooke was our Tour Manager and, from my perspective, he did an exemplary job. However, he did it in times and in places which weren't near to my eye everyday. When I think about it, the average daily amount of time that I actually spent looking into Brooke's eyes adds up to, literally, seconds. We moved on different sides of the planet, which moved across the country.
There was a lot more going on out there than this journal relates. It looks at the tour from a particular focus.
I did not write on days off (except in order to catch up), and there are two show days which are not entered here: Charlotte and Atlantic City. In Charlotte, I was far too involved in actual show-production (not rehearsal). Also, the determination to keep the journal had not yet, really, crystallized. Actually, the events recorded in the Jacksonville entry ocurred in Charlotte: it was the next day before I was able to write them. The fact of a day lost, as history, sealed my determination to write the rest of the tour. I was damned if I wouldn't record something of every show day, no matter how trivial (Washington, Dallas).
I guess I'm damned, because I didn't get Atlantic City. The fact is that, while I was struggling with a vague theme for the day, Scott wandered onto the bus and engaged me in a discussion of psychological aspects of people who live on the road. I decided to run that down as the day's entry, but quickly discovered that it was far too big to deal with as a single day's journal entry. Life caught up with me, and I didn't get Atlantic City.
It's cool: I have never gotten Atlantic City.
I will include a list of all the people who ran these roads, these days. It's the least I can do. I never wrote about the dancers, or the band, and very little about the Divas. In this regard, I'm a bit regretful, because they all worked their asses off in their own ways, and they were very good at what they did. All I can do now is plead reality: there are only so many hours in a given life.
I have included a glossary of terms used in this journal for those who don't know anything about what is going on here. Bits of it (as well as bits of the journal at large) can be rather technical. However, they are nothing which a truly inquiring mind can't understand or imagine, with a bit of effort. It's interesting to me: I have seen glossaries in other publications and wondered how some words get included, while others don't. Now I understand: the writer takes blind stabs at what the reader might or might not know, or want to know. If I missed a word or term which frustrates you endlessly, give me a call, and I'll be happy to explain myself.
This is my most serious project of writing to date. I must say that, in many respects, I don't know what I'm doing. Anybody who might pick at it could take satisfaction in the fact that I've not yet earned a dime with words. I may never earn a dime. However, I know that a dream is nothing without action. One must start someplace. So, now I start. This is simply another step on a road. We'll see where it goes.
Finally, I will point out that there are moments in this journal when the language (in the words of Frank Zappa) "is not suitable for children or Republicans". I have tried to minimize them out of consideration of larger values of journalism. However, when these considerations conflicted with importance of integrity, I chose the latter. There is a very special, rich, texture and flavor attached to moments on the road. Anybody who's ever been out there understands. Anybody who hasn't, might, if they relax a bit.
It is what it is. It is regrettable if some find it offensive, but there would be no point in my apologizing for it. And, I've found that a sense of humor can help to get a person over it. In general, I think that there is quite a bit of interest in this document. I would urge the reader to take care not to throw a really cute baby out with a couple of drops of bathwater.
December 5, 1992
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