Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Guess where I am. (This will be an exercise to allow for some mental calisthenics a la answering brainbusting crossword riddles such as "Florentine glassmaker Antonio" or "Shoe salesman, at times," a reference to Wednesday's Chicago Tribune puzzle. Use all of your best reasoning skills. Be the decipherer.) Okay, so guess where I am.
There, off to the right side of the bed are stacks of chicken soups. They're sounding preachy while those cracked cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon sound so understanding and nurturing. They know what to say and they're saying it. Flush with amber light, the walls are constricting and transparent, all at the same time. It's hard to walk through them, but should a touch of a wind kick up from the west, it'll blow a dusting of desert sand and foul, hot air right against your cheeks and the head board, ticking off and landing on the pillows below. There are an abnormal number of cacti and the clacking of hard boot soles is louder than a meaty thunderclap in the dead of night. The sunsets have disavowed nights and mornings in this place I call now. They remain torching the skies with deep fire orange and lemonade pink, letting the cool blue sit just above the hot stuff, but for eternity, just during the 45-minute changeover from the seeing hours to the feeling hours.
All this setting the stage business does get confusing when the issue of sun and moon arises. You can't have both and when the evening's more inspiring, who would want the former anyway? The perfect trade-off is during the intermission when things slow down and you hear more compliments about beauty and less grumbles about flaws than any other time of the day. We find our long shadows and we go walking. This is where we find ourselves right now. Forget about the interior described earlier - just a bookmarking for what we'll return to when what's going to be drunk is drunk and for what's going to be said to become gospel or troublesome, or both. I know it's late and I know damn well that this doesn't feel like Cambridge. It's summer, that's obvious enough. Our shoulders are the whitest things, besides our bottoms, on our bodies - the tanning is uneven because of carelessness, but it's not a fashion show. If it were, maybe it wouldn't sound so much like a rodeo in here.
Maybe it wouldn't sound at times like those Jack Daniels melodies and other times the way the sawdust and wood chippings sound when the bulls buck them back at the clowns in the barrels. That over there, it sounds antique. On closer inspection, we were wrong, but it sounds right. It sounds providential and grown of instances just like those postcard scenes where the hot air balloons seem to be hanging in the air and not moving an inch. Give up? I'm inside a Dead Trees song. You should have gotten that one.
The Daytrotter interview:
*I understand it may be painful, but please try and relive the last few days when you saw your van alive?*
Michael Ian Cummings: Let's start with the end. Forty-five miles from Davenport, Iowa, our van exploded. We were on our way to the Daytrotter studios in our 96-diesel Chevy van that we converted to run on straight vegetable oil. We were in the middle of our tour supporting Albert Hammond Jr. and the van had been acting up since L.A. Over the years, people made fun of that van a lot. They called it a variety of names. The worst, of course, suggested that the occupants of the van were child molesters. Which we are not! Sticks and stones, you know? .... But we loved that van. We were already late for Daytrotter, and after the breakdown we were towed the rest of the way. By the time we arrived, the news station, which shares a building with Daytrotter, was on air and we were informed we couldn't play loud. I guess all the elements really set the tone for a somber, stripped down, session. So we played some quiet ones to pay our respects to the Van Damage.
*What do you imagine it's doing right now?*
Todd Dahlhoff: I imagine after he was taken to "the farm" he was shot, and is now lying in a shallow grave.
MIC: It's in a better place. Actually, I know just what it's doing now. We gave it to Sean (Daytrotter) and it is "out to pasture" so to speak. Pushin' up the daisies.
*Put your van into historical perspective. What have those walls seen? Who of famous lineage has ridden inside it?*
TD: Those walls have seen a lot. Well, mostly us playing scrabble and sleeping. The most "famous" people to enter Van Damage have been Marc Phillpe Eskanazi from Albert's band and Tyler, fomerly of Mooney Suzuki.
MIC: If those walls could talk they could tell you. Too many have ridden the Van Damage to recall. Though I think the van was originally registered to a hit man. I can't go into detail about this but I have my reasons to believe. We did one time give a ride to a panda.... seriously. Not a real panda - that's a whole other story.
*Mind if I keep that Gratefull Dead disc you left inside? See below for startlingly different responses, readers*
TD: Yes, please mail that to:
41 Columbia St. Apt 1L
Cambridge, MA 02139
c/o Matt Borg
MIC: Figures...that's where it is. It's all you buddy. We already gave you a van. Anything else you want?
*How much do you know about blights?*
TD: A plant disease?
MIC: Funny you ask... a lot actually. I'm currently growing tomatoes and some of my plants are sick with an early blight called Septoria leaf spot blight. I hear it's pretty common though, so I don't feel too bad. I'm a first season gardener. Pick up a copy of Better Homes and Gardens to learn more.
*What is dead to you?*
MIC: This question is just silly. I feel like many things are just mostly dead. There is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Get it?
*You've been on a number of tours with Albert Hammond Jr. Could you order dinner for him? Would you know what he would demand on a tour rider?*
TD: Yes, Albert would order kobe steak, a california roll, and sea urchin. I beleive the only specific things on the rider are Peanut M&Ms and Jagermeister, both of which come from drummer Matt Romano.
MIC: I swear that guy lives off of sushi and corona. No joke.
*Where does the country flavor come from for you guys? Where's the Motown come from?*
TD: I'm not sure about the country, other than we listen to it. As far as Motown goes, Noah (our drummer) grew up playing blues in his father's band, and was later in a soul band. I grew up in St. Louis, playing R&B and Motown. Wait, where's the Motown in our music?
MIC: The country comes from the southern twangs of Buck Owens, and Hank Williams, and the Motown comes from your imagination.
*What's the last thing you regretted?*
MIC: Quoting "The Princess Bride" in an interview.