The Musical Artist Is Equal And Opposite To Every Environment You Can Imagine Him In

I spend the whole day in my hotel room. It’s minus four outside, with a light snow. I’d like to feel free to roam around the city but the risk of getting too cold, of coming back with some bug or a sore throat, it’s too great. 
I got to stay inside and practice and prepare. 
Today I don’t prepare that much. I play a little on the guitar, maybe an hour. The time flies by. I drink coffee. I check my messages, my emails.
I write to some venues in the UK that my wife has found trawling the net. I’m going over there in April and don’t have a single confirmed date yet with only eleven weeks to go.

This tour started a week ago in Paderborn at a little place called “Sputnik” cafe. It’s a nice place and small. Most of the places I play are small and some are tiny.
I figure when you are virtually unknown the amount of floor space you occupy at your gigs is out of proportion with the total space of the place.
When you are not known you play to small rooms but you still need the same amount of space to set up your guitars, your cables, your stands and harmonicas and stuff you need on stage.

For me it’s about two meters X two meters. Four square meters.
That’s all I personally need. If I have to bring in my own speakers and mixing desk then its still not much more than that because they sort of sit over the top of me.

Four square meters in a room that’s 20 square meters - I’m taking up 20 percent of the available space in the room.

If I’m playing to a 40 square room I’m taking up ten percent. Any room where I take up 10 percent or less of the available room space stands a chance of being a reasonable gig.

If I’m playing a house concert the same rule still applies but the amount of space I take up shrinks back to 2 square meters. I don’t need as much space ... no microphone required. No extra bits and pieces. It’s mainly just my physical dimensions, my ass on the chair, my feet on the floor... at a house concert my personal footprint is pretty small.

There is a strange mathematics about being a musician. The mathematics hangs behind and nestles underneath everything you do. The mathematics is the environment in which you operate.

Like the gas consumption on your vehicle. It’s got to be a conservative figure. It’s got to match the amount of money inside your wallet that you have set aside for ‘expenses’. The gas is an investment of sorts, but of itself it produces no new thing. It just allows you to get to places so you can present your thing, your products, your show, your experience.

Driving around from place to place, two and three and five and seven hours a day you begin very quickly to appreciate the laws of physics. The car grinds on, weighed down not so much by you and your gear, but by gravity. Gravity is always pushing down and the friction from the tyres on the road adds to the feeling of being ground down eventually into a pile of dust, which, were I to live long enough, I would actually witness.

So I got to get my career in music all done and dusted before I turn into dust. That is physics again. Time moves on and as it moves you got to push yourself along that metaphysical tunnel between gravity and friction, gravity and inertia.

Inertia is the great cop out.
Inertia is doing nothing.
Inertia is being a plant, a rock, a senseless thing. And I can’t be doing that.
People will not come to me as I stand there in some park next to a shady tree, my twin, and throw money at me or us.

Inertia is the enemy. It is not your friend. Inertia happens when two opposing forces of equal strength meet and some connecting point, some interface. All of one’s energy is spent opposing that other force. There is nothing left for other activities.
On planet inertia there is no R & R.

So in my little assortment of vaguely available cars I make my way from town to town, or rather from gig to gig. The car whines on and on, complaining the whole way about how great my personal energy wasteage is. It reminds me how selfish I am, to think I should even be able to try to make a career out of something I love to do, something I feel I was born to do, and something to which I have dedicated at least 20,000 hours of my time through disciplined practice, feverish research, a couple thousand gigs good, bad and ugly. The car complains at every hill, every acceleration and deacceleration, every gust of wind, every stop, every traffic jam. My sense of shame at my contribution to the destruction of my home planet continues on like a private conversation conducted between my head and the space that lies between all things.

I leave for my concerts early. Insane early. I leave many times at 4.00 in the morning. I do this because I want to drive smoothly. I don’t want to have to be bothered with negotiating other traffic too much. It just makes the car whine more and more. I feel it breaking down around me with every kilometer. Rising early ensures getting me well toward my next gig before the peakhour traffic starts up at 7.00am.
When it does start up I pull off the highway, park in a gas station car park, or a fast food restaurant car park, and I lean my driver’s seat back to about 45 degrees, cover myself with my sleeping blanket, and close my eyes for 40 minutes or multiples thereof. Usually I fall asleep within five or ten minutes. If it is 7.00am when I pull in I set my alarm for 9.00am. That gives me two hours of shut-eye. Enough to get me the rest of the way to my gig town.

I hate the traffic jams. I’m sure everyone does. But it still mystifies me when I come upon a traffic jam that I am one of the few people who decides to pull off on the next exit and take an alternate route. I need that freedom to be able to move. In a traffic jam there are certain things, certain basic necessities that you cannot take of. You cannot sleep if you are tired. You got to keep bumping along at 2km per hour. You cannot take a pee. You certainly cannot take a dump. You got to hold that stuff in. Personally I feel totally OK with stopping for 45 seconds to take a pee but the people I am sometimes with in the car do not accept it, like at all. It’s way over the embarrassment fence. They would rather die than have me exit the car and water the horse by a nearby bush.

I have to travel by car because I play two guitars, ukulele, multiple harmonicas, and always take my own stage monitor, microphone stand, microphones and guitar stands and all cables with me to all gigs. This shit does not on a train or bus fit. I also pack my own mixing desk just in case the one being used at the next gig was built in the 1940s. Which is sometimes the case. I played a gig two nights ago in a building where the PA system seemed to have been manufactured in the same century as the 500-year-old house. Maybe in the 1510s rudimentary PA systems were included as standard in all new houses.
I arrived late, only 20 minutes before show time, but still had time to go on at the agreed time. I plugged my guitar in, swapped out the dude’s mic for my own, and began soundchecking the ancient PA system. The four channel mixing desk was set up in the corner by the door but the speakers were set up to the far right hand side, down back. There were no speakers anywhere near my spot, and also not anywhere near where most of the people would later on sit, should they arrive at all.

I could hear from the distortion and scratchiness that both horns in both speakers were shot. I called out to the dude “Your speakers are kaputt. I’ll get mine out of the car.”

He shrugged a little vigorously, like an Italian chef, and said “My speakers are not Kaputt!”

Like as if his vehemence would convince me.

I said “Oh yes, they in fact are kaputt. But, like I say, it’s okay cos my speaker is in the car. I’ll just bring it in....”

He and his buddy who had moved from the side room to stand by him and show support looked at each other and said “But we don’t hear anything....”

To which I replied: “Yeah I realise you don’t hear anything, but that’s probably 100 percent of the problem. I can hear it and I can fix it immediately....”

But they were unmoved. I felt uncertain what to do. It was now a few minutes after the posted start time and although there was no one in the place except us three and two dogs, I was worried if I spent time bringing in and setting up my speaker the dudes would say to me, at the end of the show, “you won’t get all the money because you started late.....”

They seemed well capable of thinking like this. So I left my speaker in the car for the first set.

Every time I sang a little louder the speakers complained and scratched and distorted like an old AM radio stuck between stations.

I called out “Hear that? You must have heard that?”

He shook his head. Then he turned on his CD player and the compressed and processed music came out of his speakers clear as a bell and quiet as a church mouse. It was boxy-sounding like from a 1940s phonograph.... but he was even proud of it.

He looked at me like: “check that awesomeness out, you Australian jackass...”

I kept expecting Bing Cosby to walk in at any tick of the clock. Not a dead Bing Cosby and not even a mature Bing Cosby. I’m talking a dapper 28-year-old Bing.

So I play the first set and the speakers sound like they are gonna catch fire with every plosive that comes out of my mouth. I try to swallow my Ps and Ss and Ts and Fs. But they still get through and rattle the brittle, powdery ribcage of the two ancient speakers.

He tells me to “Keep it down.... the neighbours!!!!”

I think about stabbing him to death with one of his trophy swords hanging on the 500-year-old wall.

Then I come to a loud vocal part. I try holding it down but it don’t work and then I start adjusting everything to the damn speakers and before long I can’t sing any more at all.
I’m like “WTF?”

So this is how they do it. This is how they suffocate the life out of you, stamp out your creative fire. They force you through this sausage sound machine that don’t even work and you got to adjust otherwise the building and probably the whole town will catch fire and all 900 residents will die an agonizing death.

I go on and on. Holding back. Cutting off my plosive sounds. Adjusting my voice, nay, my very being, so I don’t kill anyone. I disappear, ladies and gentlemen, up my own asshole.

And this goes on for like 50 minutes. I play a couple AC/DC songs at the end because the distortion from the speakers is so bad it actually sounds okay-ish if you think of your acoustic guitar as a maximally distorted flying V.

I take a break. I stand up. I look around the room. I’m thinking to myself, I can let these people win, and destroy myself as an entertainer even while I save their entire town from exploding into fire from the antiquated speaker system.... or..... or.... I can go out to the car, grab my MF-ing huge speaker and my mixing console, set them up and let it rip. Thereby closing the joint down from complaints by the neighbours.

So that’s exactly what I did.


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