February 6, 2015 | by Johnathan Coody

Oh, the glamour and indignity of low-rent show biz. Where to even start? Let me spin you a yarn of soul degrading, tour-related depravity. 

I think it might’ve been Ninja Gun’s first trip out west. Would’ve been about 2004. For those of the readership who are unfamiliar with the way of the road, prerequisite knowledge is required, that knowledge being that rockers new to the road must find their sea legs. By sea legs I mean their patterns. Tour is a rhythm of its own. My rhythm involved what I called “The Triad.” The Triad must be accounted for at all times. They’re the essentials. They include one Harry Potter pillow (stolen from Sean Bear Stevenson of Fake Problems and never returned as promised), one sweet-ass Swiss Army sleeping bag (my mom bought these for the whole band ‘cause they were so cheap at, like, Sam’s), and one Eastpak backpack. Anything more proved cumbersome. Anything less left me wanting and under no circumstance should I want.

Anyway, it was summer and as some of you may know, Texas is kind of a sun-baked wasteland barring a few oases of cultural relevance. We had played Walter’s in Houston the night before and were looking for lodging on our way through west Texas. Dazzled by our first encounters with barrel cacti, we had managed to piss off our tour manager, Peanut, so much that he left us in the desert taking pictures with disposable cameras of phallic vegetation and strange ferns. Luckily, a peace was reached within him and he returned to retrieve us and save us from certain boredom and thirst. It was almost nightfall on the lonely stretch of I-10 that passes through the imposing beige vastness of west Texas. Young sailors at sea, we were uninformed about the proper ways to spend the night when no stranger is available to provide a litter box for you to sleep in. Peanut, three years older and bursting with wisdom, spotted a KOA and decided that it was our best bet. Ignorant of the details, the fellows agreed and we proceeded to find a parking spot ON ASPHALT between the numerous RVs containing geriatric spies. Patrolling the grounds in golf carts on alert for any cultural aberration that might upset the order, these withered watchers let us know we were not the norm. Granted, we might’ve looked a little disheveled and may have emanated strange hues, but we were young men of the wiregrass region of South Georgia and their barely beating hearts were ours to be won.

This tribe of aged seekers soon learned to accept us when we explained our minstrelsy and mission. They recognized the valor of our noble pursuit and allowed us to use their public showering facilities centrally located in the park.  Being upstanding citizens of Valdosta, Ga. and the world at large, we did our best to curtail horseplay and subdue our natural urge to rage. After the consumption of many canned foodstuffs very generously provided by my sweet Aunt Bonnie, we started contemplating sleeping arrangements. Aunt Bonnie bought us these perfect little one man, self-erecting pup tents. They’re stored in a flat, circular bag and when you unzip it, it just pops up. Perfect after a long drive. No rods and steaks for Ninja Gun. We wanted to use them, but primitive camping wasn’t an option on account of the asphalt.  

The layout of a band’s van really tells you where their priorities lie and the level of monetary success they’ve achieved. For instance, if a band has reached a level of moderate success they may be pulling a trailer full of records, shirts, and other various creatively-designed “merch” rendering the cabin of their van spacious and enjoyable. Or you could be dirtbag rockers whose merch fits in a big blue Tupperware container that sometimes doesn’t make the show because somebody doesn’t want to dig it out from under Jeffrey’s many suitcases.  Jeffrey, a true king of leisure, traveled with not one, but two sleeping bags, a head pillow and what he called his “leg” pillow (Jeffrey for Fart Sponge), and numerous other comfort aids. I can’t fault him. I too enjoy comfort, but Jeffrey is a maximalist to my minimalist. What that man does to a Subway Melt is unspeakable. Anyways, Jeffrey’s another story for another time. Jeffrey is a thousand books and you’re not even close. Point I’m trying to make is we were long-term close-quarters and we were tired from travel. The art of communal van sleepage is a visceral experience wherein the artistic human battles others of their kind in pursuit of preferential seat positions.  

Maybe you’ve tried heat sleeping before. Sweaty slumber. It sucks. Being a man of relatively small proportions and slight rotundity, I have trouble breathing in the heat. Built like a bulldog. That night I took the hit and laid my sleeping bag on top of the amps and gear in the back of the van. Dirtbags take the back two rows of seats out of a 15 passenger van and that’s where your gear and merch goes. The eternal search for the comfortable position…it never showed.  All night I twisted and contorted myself into unsatisfying shapes.

Sleeping past sunrise in a van full of post-adolescent filth is not preferable. It’s not even doable unless you’re a gross raw dog. The heat, the fart, the bad breath, ugh. I awoke from partial sleep with an intense gastric distress. It seemed as though the many foodstuffs I had voraciously consumed the previous evening were now betraying me. 

Maneuvering in a closed van while people are sleeping is tough. I was as close to naked as was contextually appropriate and realized I’d be making that trip to the tribal restroom. The urgent task at hand is to find all articles of clothing necessary to get you to the relief zone and get them on without provoking the gut beast you awoke. Then in a disoriented panic you realize you’re not sure which way the bathroom is.  

There I was in full clench trot manically lurching toward relief. I realized that right beside the tribal bathroom was the tribal dining area where the Greyhairs gathered for breakfast. I really got close. I almost made it. Within 10 yards of the bathroom door my efforts of restraint failed and a scene ensued. The range of emotions I experienced at that moment may have been the most profound of my life till that point. Went from fear, physical pain, and panic, to embarrassed relief, to mortified self-loathing. I was looking pretty “eccentric” too. I have fine hair like a little baby duck. When I perspire as I’m oft to do, my baby duck hairs congeal into a few sprigs of erratically pointing hair spikes. Imagine the mutual horror. Oh the degradation, readers. Oh the indignities we suffer for the compulsion to create. I’ll tell you what though, I’ve seen this country through the window of a van. If that means shitting your britches at a KOA in Texas, so be it. 

Johnathan Coody is on twitter: @CooCooCoody