I just got back from a seven-week tour with American Murder Song. The tour, “The Donner Party Reunion”, was themed after Saar Hendelman’s and my latest concept album where we invited folks to participate in a musical history lesson by way of a faux live-taping of an episode of a The Twilight Zone-like television series called “The Black Wagon” on America’s favorite pioneer cannibals, The Donner Party. Yep, we like to make things complicated for ourselves, and our audience. But none of it is as complicated as trying to summarize the experience of touring… which I shall now attempt.
I’ve been touring, in some form or another, for roughly ten years. The experience of living out of a van and hopscotching from city to city to share art with strangers is indeed a strange one. But to call the fans of Saar’s and my work strangers would not be entirely correct.
True, we do inspire a strange community, one that stands out from the masses in almost any town that we visit (and not merely because of their dark historical garb and bloody accessories), but many of the “strange” faces that we encounter on our annual touring adventures have become quite familiar.
There is of course “fresh blood” at our events, and sharing our tunes and tales with new eyes, ears and souls is always exciting, but there are also those in nightly attendance whom we’ve had the privilege of getting to see and know for almost a decade. This odd blending of familiar and strange is a staple of American Murder Song tour life.
Touring is an incongruous mix of looooong drives and groggy boredom with punctuated stabs of adrenaline, exhibitionism and intense social interaction. The intensity of the latter is often fueled by the necessary briefness of experiences on the road. We’re usually not in a city for more than an evening, and we’ve generally rented only a limited slot of a time at any given venue. As such, our exchanges with both new and known faces are often more rushed than we’d like. To compensate for the lack of time, almost all tour interactions are kicked into a sort of social overdrive. Handshakes and hugs on steroids.
Sometimes these heightened exchanges feel great. Sometimes they feel incomplete. And sometimes this overstimulation causes a sort of brain freeze that makes one forget a deep conversation that was had only moments earlier, or, conversely, spark an acute flashback of a minor encounter from years prior.
Returning to regular human communication, and life, following a tour is a difficult transition. It feels weird, for example, to lie in one’s own bed after weeks of napping in a tour van or sleeping in hotel rooms. You return to a home full of dust and absence. As such, cleaning is a main part of my homecoming ritual. Writing a homecoming blog has also become part of the tradition.
I usually come back from tour with an assortment of goods and gifts from the road, so cleaning and making room for these mementos is not only therapeutic, but also necessary. In fact, it doesn’t feel as if the tour is truly over until this tidying and storing process is complete.
It’s been exactly two weeks since our final stop of The Donner Party Reunion Tour, and I’ve only just begun the process of getting my apartment, and life, back in order. Saar and I have been very busy with the business of closing the tour, but I’ve also been avoiding post-tour reality… avoiding post-tour reality… avoiding post-tour reality…
My apartment has a lot of collectables in it: statuettes and comic books and artwork that I’ve either generated or gathered in the ten years that I’ve been living in it. As I began this year’s post-tour unpacking routine, it dawned on me that I started renting this apartment at roughly the same time that my life as a touring artist began. At that time, I acquired a large, metal filing cabinet that has become a home for the scores of fan-made gifts and artwork that I’ve been graced with over the years. In many ways, the contents of this filing cabinet are the most valued pieces in my collection.
The photos accompanying this blog were taken while I was unpacking my touring luggage, sorting through all of the rad gifts and artwork that I received on the road, and trying to decipher how to best summarize this year’s tour. Staring through the lens of my outmoded camera, it occurred to me that these fine fan gifts represent the most lingering—and perhaps most meaningful—aspect of touring: creativity, community and accomplishment. Yep, I’m damn proud of and inspired by these beautiful trophies.
There are too many gifts to feature in a single blog, just as there are too many souls to thank who were a part of making the tour possible, but I wanted to use this post to express my gratitude to everyone who has been a part of the journey. It’s been a helluva year with a helluva tour and a helluva lot of awesome people in it. Thank you, all!
The tour is over, but Saar’s and my work is far from finished with American Murder Song. We’ve got more stories to tell, more songs to write, more tours to plan, and we’ve got our sights set on making 2018 an even better year for the project. In the meantime, we’re closing out 2017 with a big ‘Murder For The Holidays’ Sale. Everything in our online store is 20% off or more, including items that were previous only available on tour: http://www.AmericanMurderSong.com/Sale.
Now go add a little Murder to your holiday shopping, and wish me luck with getting my apartment in order.