Those Canadian dates went well, we had a good response and sold enough CD’s that even though it was only June, we should start booking a return September tour. Booking is long three-month minimum process. After a few days in Canada, we re-entered the United States at the Detroit Checkpoint. Border Guards either never look you in the eye or wear strange rainbow wrap-around sunglasses that make them look like the black dude from Star Trek. They don’t ask me about the spurs. Word must’ve not gotten around yet. Our debut album Pastoral was coming out in a few weeks. After we traveled around on this seventeen-day tour, I wanted to start work on the follow-up as soon as we got back home. But out of the twenty-five or so songs I was toying with, I couldn’t find a narrative thread between any of them. I had a notebook of songs but no indication on where to go with them or how to group them together.
The last time I was in Detroit was 2009 with my other band Red Collar. That year was a difficult year for me. I quit my relatively comfy job as a Clinic Manager at the UNC Department of Psychology to go on the road full time. Much like when you are home, life centers around, well, your home, when you tour, life centers around your van. It is home for a few days to a few months. We played The Lager House back then and from what I remember, it’s a venue either downtown or really close. I remember chatting up some fella in The Lager House’s parking lot. He told me that bands pay him to keep an eye on their van, that he knows this place, he knows what it’s been through, people know him around here, he’s been here and he’s good people. Bands pay him a dollar or two to make sure everything’s straight.
I thought he was out of his mind with this con. I either pay him to protect it or he breaks into it. I went into the bar and told the Bartender that there’s Some Guy outside that’s telling me some bullshit story about protecting our van and that maybe he should call someone and the Bartender says that it is no bullshit story, that Some Guy is Terry and he really does keep an eye out on the vans and that a dollar or two is a dollar or two well spent.
Well, there’s a first for everything. Never had to do anything like this before. Paying someone to keep a van in a well-lit parking space safe? They usually call that a parking garage. This is like a Rent-A-Lookout, a Jitney Security Guard. Seemed overly cautious but what did I know about Detroit? Honestly? Next to nothing. I didn’t go on the road to read the news. I was there to play shows and any minute on-line on the road is spent in the narrow-minded focused pursuit of just one more show for a few dollars more. I didn’t use that time to follow current events.
And now I’m passing through three years later in 2012 with JKutchma & The Five Fifths. As we are driving through the city our drummer Evan is informing us about those current events, stories of Detroit, what he’s heard. How the fire company is just letting abandoned houses burn instead of saving them. No budget. No more money. The City is trying to move people closer to the City Center because once you are past a certain line, The City may not be able to afford to save you. Buildings abandoned. Beautiful, gorgeous buildings. Shattered and shuttered. A pile of rubble. Two adolescents playing on the rubble. Smoke in the distance. An ignored fire of an ignored building below the early moon in a Detroit blue sky.
And more rubble.
I pulled out my notebook with my potential twenty-five songs written out and immediately checked off eight that I thought would work together, all seeming to have a common thread: people at the end of their rope.
Over the course of the next year, I had no idea of the upcoming twists and turns the production of not one but two albums would take.
But it all started with Detroit.