Tour Brain

In the catacombs of Paris, wishing I was doing laundry.

In the catacombs of Paris, wishing I was doing laundry.

The best way to go on tour is to do some creative imagining ahead of time. Ponder and plan through every moment of the journey well before you set off. It gets harder when you’re on tour. A lot harder.

You see, Tour Brain is still a human brain, but greatly shrunken in size and in ability. It is also far more paranoid and far more emotional than a normal brain. Tour Brain needs 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night, but never gets more than five. Tour Brain asks to be fed food that is usually only given to toddlers to quiet tantrums (chocolates or chicken fingers, pieces of cheese small enough not to choke on). Tour Brain often bursts into tears of rage and disbelief when asked to make the smallest decisions. It is known to laugh manically for many long and uncomfortable minutes when asked to show its passport at the border of a foreign country. It will also repeatedly lose said passport, forgetting it is still in that same zippered pocket it was in five minutes ago and 10 minutes ago and 30 minutes ago, etc.

Darkness and silence are milk and honey to the tired soul of a touring musician.

And so, plan your tour as if planning it for a person with a serious head injury. Even the smallest tasks beyond getting to sound check and playing a show can reduce Tour Brain to utter befuddlement. It will lose hundreds of guitar picks, a multitude of cables and every cool t-shirt it has ever owned and yet it will hoard strange things: rotten dressing-room fruit; ripped plastic bags; motel soaps; candy bar wrappers written in foreign tongues that say things like, “Extra dick!”

Beyond the obvious exhaustion you get from the physical act of traveling to a new city every day for weeks (or, god forbid, months), touring also involves a deep psychic drain that is caused by the simple act of playing a show every night for any length of time. It’s completely unnatural to attempt such a peak experience again and again, over and over, without rest. Imagine that tingle of fear you get heading in to the first day of a new job, but mix it with the emotional upheaval of a surprise party, and the draining confessional of a grueling therapy session. Do that every night for a while and you will find yourself becoming a little nutty.

Add to this the groundhog-day horror of repeating the same day over and over again, but in a new place and with new people. Yes, you will begin to get a little funny and a little detached. You will know exactly what people are going to say to you before they say it and you will become more inappropriate with your answers each night these questions are repeated: Where are you coming from? Where are you going? How’s the tour going? Do you want a wake-up call?

Don’t bother contacting your non-touring friends at this point. They are sure to be unsympathetic when you tell them how tired you are in Paris or Sydney or Tokyo. They really won’t understand why you are going to do laundry instead of tour the Eiffel tower or go swim with dolphins. Besides, do you really think dolphins want to swim with you? Get over yourself, rock star!

Now, while you’re thinking clearly, before you leave for your next tour or your first, write up an itinerary that shows step-by-step where your tired self needs to go each day and how long it will take. Plan your route; get your GPS loaded with the right continent; rent your car; book your rooms and flights; bring clothes that fit and that can be washed in a sink and dried on a towel rack by morning. Plan to carry snacks and all medicines on your person. Prepare not for tour but for battle, except that the war is fictional and will be fought mainly inside your head.

Even so, beware of friendly fire! Those smiling people who don’t leave when the show is over are your enemy. They want to keep you up all night drinking and sniffing glue and such. They will finally let you sleep long after dawn by spreading a dirty towel in a hallway near a litter box. They will wake you up moments later and say things like, “Man, you guys have to get out of here before my kids wake up!”

Run away from those fans before it is too late. Run to the nearest and most anonymous hotel room you can find. Sit in the darkness and nurture your soul with silence. You are not on tour to party. You can do that when you get home and everyone else has to get up for work while you will remain in the same pajamas in the same darkened room for many days recovering from your experience and gradually building up the strength to unpack that suitcase.

Remember darkness and silence are milk and honey to the tired soul of a touring musician. One of the main psychic drains of touring is that you are never alone. You are with hundreds or thousands of people every night. Even between shows you are with your bandmates traveling. During these hours of travel there will be moments of psychotic paranoia when everyone in the van suspects all the others of the highest treason.

No one needs to watch you slowly smooth out a hundred crumbled dollar bills and then announce proudly that you have $78 to deposit.

Find some moments alone. Take a walk around the block from the club or along the highway next to your crappy motel. Your band mates will be happy to not see you for a little while even if they begin to panic at your disappearance and wonder if you are spying on them from behind some cloak of invisibility.

Don’t worry about them. They are going to suspect you of invisibility and treachery anyway. There is nothing like a long walk in the forgotten zones along the edges of a highway to feel rejuvenated. In your precious free moments (after soundcheck or before check-out time) try to find places to walk where few other humans have lingered: alley ways, frontage roads, abandoned dirt paths, dark corridors. Find places far from people and noise and revel in that silence and psychic emptiness.

Plan places and purses to hide your money when on tour. Make them places and purses that can be remembered and used by a person with advanced dementia who, nonetheless, must handle and preserve large wads of crumbled bills. You will be paid in cash a lot and you will have little time or energy to get to a bank. You will also need to check and recheck that your money has not been lost many times throughout a given day. This is a nervous tic that can not be assuaged any other way save by finding a bank in which to deposit your money. Have your money counted and organized before you step into a bank. No one needs to watch you slowly smooth out a hundred crumbled dollar bills and then announce proudly that you have $78 to deposit.

Put a do-not-disturb sign on your doorknob as soon as you check in to a hotel room. Not simply so you won’t be woken up at 8am by someone calling “Housekeeping!” but because you will always forget your room number by the time you return to your room after a show and you will need a clue to help you find your bed. You will also forget your room number if you venture out in the wee hours looking for a soda machine. Woe to the musician lost in endless halls, quietly trying her room key in a hundred locked doors, one after the next.

Note bene: In other countries the ground floor is ‘0’ not ‘1’.

Remember, you are getting organized ahead of time so that you can try to enjoy the tour as it happens. Few people have had the amazing experience of standing before hundreds of clapping people. Fewer still are able to speak of it. No great adventure is lived without a few scrapes and scabs. No alarms and no surprises are the realm of shopkeepers while you are a touring musician, the last of the great polar explorers, setting out to plant your flag far ahead in the swirling blizzard. Bring mittens, you fool!

 

Rennie Sparks

About Rennie Sparks

Rennie Sparks looks forward to the May, 2013 release of The Handsome Family’s new CD, Wilderness, as well as its companion book of essays and art, all concerning eels, wildebeest, octopi, woodpeckers and the like.

5 Comments

  1. Trevor on March 13, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    This is by far the best “tour advice” column I have ever read! Thank you Rennie for your insight… hilarious, brilliant, insight.

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