Supposedly, it’s the journey, not the destination, that truly matters in life’s grand design. For the most part, I’ve found that to be true. I’ve seen many comrades contract the Elvis Virus, where you shake and hustle and holler and shift into fifth just to catch up to that Gatsbian green light, then shit twice and die when you see, feel, and taste what you thought you wanted. But, while in pursuit of my degree in rock and roll road scholarship in and after college, I never failed to find the sweetest nectar at the end of the road, not while the wheels were turning. The actual trips were plenty memorable, and I’m sure any visitor to this site will recognize the details: endless cheap beers and butts, drugs (hell, we’d crush up Vivarin and snort it), rock and roll blasting from the speakers, jokes, tall tales, and arguments. However, these treasures could never compare to what happened when we got where we were going, or, on occasion, when we got back. Here’s a short, fond history of two rockin’ road trips I have known.
Part 1: Pine Bluff, Arkansas, ’81–“The Law Won, but So What?”
The first road trip I ever took was a warm-up for a lip-synch contest two of the writers for this page and I had entered. We figured that a five-hour drunken dash through the night to a shit-kicking interface with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Paycheck in one of the worst hell-holes in the Arkansas landscape was perfect Method-acting preparation for a sure triumph at noon the next day (we were doing the Clash doing “I Fought the Law”).
The trip started inauspiciously, with Manthon emitting some of the foulest shrimp gas ever smelt by human nostrils before we even got out of Fayetteville, a blast that lingered for hours in Kenny’s Monte Carlo. However, spilt beer and clouds of smoke soon overwhelmed that stench, and before we knew it, we were shoulder to shoulder with other hellraisers we were too stupid to realize would have loved to kick our asses. We were also too stupid to realize Johnny Paycheck was worth our attention–don’t remember shit and wish I did–and stagehands had to help “The Killer” to and from the pianner. Dressed in a white leisure suit, he underwhelmed; we didn’t know he’d just gotten out of a hospital where one doctor pronounced him a certain corpse and another warned him to stay off the road for two years at least.
On the way back, I was an asshole and not only refused to drive–me had a headache–but couldn’t find decent music to keep the other two awake (the Heads’ Remain in Light??). Finally, Johnny Rotten scandalizing “Johnny B. Goode” powered us home, and at 3 in the morning, even a typical collegiate fool would have hit the sack. Not us. With some Schaefer’s still in the lil’ frig, we set about composing as many songs as we could think of combining the Bo Diddley “shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits” riff with oral sexcapades. None of us could play at the time, but Manthon bloodied his knuckles playing a tennis racket with a nickel, and Kenny and I just yelled! Sounds like dicking around, I know, but it felt like we were a room away from the Grail.
By the time we’d exhausted the rhyming possibilities for the line “sucking on a ding-dong” (yes, we’d listened to White Light/White Heat way too much), it was 11 o’clock, and the victory for which the Pine Bluff trip and its coda had prepared us was imminent. We crushed up a few more Vivarins, shotgunned a couple of Schaefer’s apiece, boarded the recently deflowered Monte Carlo, and gunned it for White Dog Records, where the showdown was to take place.
Drunk, sweaty, smelly, and glowering in that moon-walking sleepless zone, we scraped ourselves out of the car, knifed through the “crowd” with j.d. attitude, and got ready to rock. We were the Clash (what we thought they were, anyway), and the competition were the Beach Boys (???), AC/Delco (an AC/DC “tribute”????), and the Go-Gos (we dug the chicks, liked the music, but they had to pay). How could we lose?
We did, despite delivering as intense a performance as a lip synch can be while blasting an actual Applause-O-Meter off the scale. To the fucking Beach Boys. But, from that road-trip-born point onwards, we were brother rebels and born-to-losing winners, and–guess what?–here we fucking are in cyberspace almost twenty years later, still faking it with passion ’cause we can’t really “do it” for real, still getting our asses recreased by the likes of Addicted to Noise and Perfect Sound Forever on the internet “hit” parade, but still living it more fully than those pencil-necks can imagine. I know a couple of those claims sound contradictory, but they wouldn’t be rock and roll if they didn’t, and besides, it’s all about being able to re-invent yourself, even in your late thirties. And that can keep you from becoming a ‘borg.
Part 2: Shreveport, Louisiana–The Louisiana Joy Ride
If the Pine Bluff road-trip applied the cement that held us together as rock-lifers, Shreveport ’87 tested the strength of the bond, and, most importantly, left us with the confidence of faith. On that occasion, Manthon and I loaded down my rod with a case of beer and two boxes of tapes, and cut a swath from southern Missouri down through the Boston Mountains of northern and mid-Arkansas to Ruston, Louisiana, home to then-retail king Kenny. We found him glad to see us, but suffering from a pernicious case of the K-Mart blues.
Several hours, four boxes of Popeye’s Chicken, a couple of six packs, one bottle of whiskey, two fine ladies of KMart persuasion (fraternizing with fellow employees–for shame!), a shitload of loud rock and roll, a strange homoerotic Mekons video, a bizarre Harry Shearer impression of Laurie Anderson hawking tampons, and a bag of Zapps Cajun Craw Tators later, the blues were running for shelter, and I was wailing Sonny Boy Williamson riffs on Kenny’s harmonica though I’d never played before (and would never “play” again). I myself wondered later whether it was just inebriation playing tricks on my ears, but to this day, Manthon and Kenny swear I made Mick’s harp on “Stop Breaking Down” sound like John’s on “Love Me Do.” We didn’t actually ever hit the hay; we just passed out in action: Kenny awakened clutching the empty chip bag, orange Craw Tator dust encrusting his lips and the corners of his mouth; Mark in a chair with the guitar and the empty whiskey bottle in his lap; I on my stomach on the floor, head resting on a beer-soaked throw pillow, with the Hoehner still in my fist. The Girls of Retail had apparently fled, undoubtedly spooked by the rampaging spirit of road-ready rock and roll camaraderie, their soft charms no match for our version Dee Dee’s “1,2,3,4…,” David Jo’s “C’mon, boys,” and Rob Tyner’s “Kick out the jams, muthafuckahs!” all spit-sealed together. And this was only the wake-up for the second leg of our trip.
After a big fucking Coke, a cigarette, and a couple of aspirin apiece, we were heading to the home of The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, where we were hoping to see something little break wide open and big. Instead of the Elvis, Hank, or George Jones of yore, the musicians in question were the then-unknown (damn near now, too) Flat Duo Jets, BBQ Killers, and Killkenny Kats, on a postpunk package tour straight outta Athens, Georgia. They were playing a punk club downtown, and we were sure we were gonna see the future of rock and roll unfold before our bloodshot eyes.
We should have known some Rock and Roll Ghost had us hanging from its callused fingertips from the minute we walked into a Shreveport pizza joint to get some fuel: Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss” was blasting from the jukebox. Since this was a fucking Godfather’s, we were severely rattled, but figured somebody had accidentally played the b-side to “Just Like Starting Over,” and we settled down to order some pitchers and pizza … but the hits from that hectoring Hecate kept right on coming. None of us were card-carrying Yokophobes–the gifts she had bestowed upon the B-52s and XRay Spex (not to mention John) exalted her in our hearts and minds, actually. However, it quickly became apparent that we were the only diners in the restaurant and the employees on hand appeared intensely loyal to the Flock of 100 Haircuts, and, combined with the dislocation caused by lingering hangovers, liberal doses of hair of the dog, and being in a strange city, these realizations began to jangle our nerves: whose dimes set this wailing in motion? Or were we receiving warning transmissions from the Devils soul?
Show time. Smoky downtown club. Kenny and Mark still hoisting beer. I feel like a rhinoceros on Wild Kingdom, shot in the ass by Stan and one of his damned darts as Marlin Perkins cheers him on from the copter: Slow, slower, then face pressed against the bar top. The only things that keep me awake are the need to, as the South Park kids say, “drop some kids off at the pool,” and my two comrades’ derisive laughter. I rise. Trudge to the head. A line of 5 people. My turn comes. Confronting a sight that would have made G. G. Allin puke, I turn away in disgust, walk through the bar, past my comrades, past Killkenny Kats playing shit I could tell even in my pickled state I didn’t want to hear anyway, out the door, down the street … looking for any dark place to do my business.
Fully on auto-pilot, I shuffle into a multi-level parking garage. No nook or cranny looks dark enough for my foul deed. I am approaching Def Con 2. I come upon the open-air final level, walk to the edge, see the darkened building next door, a story below and about a yard-and-a-half across. It calls my name, gentle as Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia.
Standing on the next-door roof, the jump having sobered me miraculously, I realize to my dismay there will be no jumping back up. Getting my priorities straight, I divest myself of excess waste and walk to a ladder leading to the next story of the split-level building. Reaching the lower roof and walking to the back of the building, I can see that a jump of over 25 feet to the alley below is my only way back to the bar.
Not being Jackie Chan, I wheel in growing panic, and notice a door in the back of the top level, just to the right of the ladder I’d just descended. I race to it and turn the knob, without an ounce of real hope. A click, and the door opens. I step into a hallway. A whooping sound from within welcomes me. I am now fully sober. I dart outside. A whooping sound from without welcomes me back. I consider the options: 1) wait for the cops to come and get me down and explain to them that I’d just gotten on to the roof to take a shit, or 2) jump.
Back on the edge–which I should mention lacks anything serious from which to hang and drop–I hear Yoko’s voice again: “Jump, Magnum, jump!” (Maybe I wasn’t completely sober after all). I hurtle off into nothingness, and actually hit the alley in a roll. On my feet without any apparent injuries, I thank Elvis that I hadn’t insulted Yoko back at Godfather’s, and head out of the alley.
I hear the police sirens as I exit the alley. I see three cherry-tops screech around the corner… as I casually slip back into the bar.
Feeling like D. B. Fucking Cooper, I combed the bar looking for Mark and Kenny, the BBQ Killers blasting some skronky noise behind me. I found them in roughly the same condition I was in when I’d left them. Fuck! I had a story to end all stories to pour in their ears and they were comatose! I spent the next hour or so pogoing my adrenaline away to the Killers and Flat Duo Jets, drinking beer like it was ambrosia, and sweating it right back out. It wasn’t the rock and roll future, but it was more than good enough for the present.
Out in the cool air after the show, rejoined by my grog-sodden brothers, we sparred with the Killers’ punky bitch of a lead singer (really, the only talent of the evening that registered with me…don’t think she ever went anywhere, though) over the Replacements, who, she muttered, were “fucking sell-outs”(sacrilege in our church), and the aforementioned and since-departed G. G. Allin, who, according to her, was “better than Iggy” (very serious sacrilege–like matricide) because he shat on her on stage once. She was the sell-out in this case, I pointed out, because she was securely tucked away inside of plastic bag–that ghost-muse Yoko fucking Ono again!–at point of impact, and I informed her I did my shitting off bank rooftops, which stopped conversation for a second. It’s in moments like these when anybodies like us realize we can be somebodies in the rockaroll world. It’s wide open to any dim-witted smart-ass with something interesting to spew.
We covered the first half of our drive back to Ruston in satisfied, stunned silence, absorbing even more skronk from the stereo. That hunger can’t be stilled, can it? Suddenly, Kenny blurted, “Hey, Phil–where the fuck did you disappear to?”
“You’re not gonna believe this, but….”
Since the lessons learned from the Ruston/Shreveport journey, the three of us have always believed that anytime we (or any two of us) get together, some magic rock and roll strangeness is promised us, and that that belief–and especially the music, from whatever source (a car stereo, an incomprehensible harmonica, a tennis racket and a nickel, a haunted jukebox)–is all the power needed to coax deliverance. And we hope we can deliver some promises of our own here at The First Church.