On NIN (and, Being Home).

This blog was originally posted to The Dresden Dolls Diary.


It’s so very hard for me to imagine what I would be doing with my life right now if I weren’t sitting here at my kitchen table, bags packed and laundry in the dryer, waiting to go to the airport at 6 am.

i’ve spent the majority of my time in these past three weeks (the longest stretch of time off we’ve had – absolutely no dresden dolls shows – in almost a year) fighting an interesting fight inside my head. Fighting the urge to feel Constant Catholic Guilt about what i was Not Getting Done.

The first few days back were the inevitable freak-out and readjustment period. Then i was faced with the feeling that my time was up, i was no longer at liberty to freak out as there was too much work to be done, and this revealed
a deeper urge to freak out. i am not organized. i am not a grown up. i leave my clothes in a pile in the middle of the floor when i walk into my apartment, i leave pieces of paper scattered all around my life, every surface area in sight is covered, every turn i take begs a paper to be filed or an email to be sent or a project to be finished. my to-do pile covers my stove, my sink and every square inch of floorspace. it is inescapable. if i am home, i am doing. i find it almost impossible to do anything leisurely outside of bed. if i want to read a book or write in my journal, i can’t sit on the couch (and not just becaus eit in generally piled with Crap). i leave. i found myself leaving a lot. i had a short list of two important things that had to get accomplished. one was to start on the sheet music book for the songs form the first album (i sort of did, but didn’t get very far) and the other was to start arranging piano parts and re-writing lyrics for the new record. i basically ignored that one, but brian and i did have a few productive, albeit short, rehearsals. as is often the case, we ended up chatting, arguing or eating during the majority of the time we had set aside to rehearse…this is one many perils of being in a duo with your friend.

But despite my inner voices often simmering up and yelling at me that i am a lazy, unorganized piece of shit, i put forth a very solid effort to ignore them and think that i may have actually succeeded for the first time in my life. I attribute this almost solely to the fact that i have biked my sorry ass down to the power yoga studio every single morning. yoga is The Shit because it makes meditation easy for people like me who have very little success with sitting on a cushion in the kitchen. it is a disciplined chunk of intense exercise with a teacher constantly reminding you every minute to let go of the outside world and just pay attention, truly pay direct attention, to what you are doing. after about the first week of getting myself on this hardcore regimen i found myself often successfully ignoring the Constant Catholic Guilt voices, eating only when I was hungry and shutting my mouth more often than I was used to when i was about to say something hurtful or stupid. a miracle. speaking of shutting up, i will do that right now before i start to sound like a yoga evangelist. but my mat travels with me. when we were touring with NIN, i would break out the mat every morning and find some random place to do an hour of yoga to a CD i brought with me. most times we were at the venue beofre hte band showed up and the crew were very kind about the fact that we didn’t always get our own room due to the small venue sizes, so they let me use the NIN space. i’ll never forget the very peculiar feeling of doing yoga in trent reznor’s dressing rooms. it took me only a second to place why that peculiar feeling was so familiar….an old, old, familiarity….the way his clothes were all set out for him and his dresser all set up with all of his toiletries and his big bouncy exercise ball and special trent reznor power bars and aromatherapeutic candles and whatnot. then it hit me: it was the exact same feeling i used to get as a wee child when going into my parent’s bedroom when they weren’t home, and looking at the sundry (and possibly forbidden) items on their dressers. creepy.

speaking of NIN, i never really got to explain what that was like day to day. We were sleeping in our tour bus, whereas the NIN folks all travelled by tour bus but stayed in hotels. trent didn’t like sleeping in the bus (or so the lore went) and so the band always slept in a hotel in one city, drove through the day, and showed up at the next city for soundcheck. in cities where we had two back-to-back nights in the same venue, the dresden dolls and their crew would live in the venue parking lot like city lizards and hope to find a place to take a shit in the morning (no shit on the bus, only liquids….eeewwww). this caused occasional hilarious solutions. i will not get into it. anyway, for the most part our morning view was a chain-link fence and post-industrial wasteland and i think this added to the general tour malaise significantly. our bus driver for the american leg was a sweetheart ex-cop from philly named bill who always said “godDAMMIT” every time he made a wrong turn. the day for the NIN crew would start at around 9 am and the lights were the first to get set up. watching these guys work was fucking fascinating….sometimes the stress level on that stage during the day was so poisonous you didn’t even want to be near the building. then the sound would start to get set up and the PA tested with this HORRIBLE HORRIBLE soft rock music that the NIN sound guy always pumped through the speakers to EQ them. really, really terrible stuff, like, nightmarish. I always found this very poetic, as ten hours later these same speakers would be pumping loud loud loud hate hate hate, but for now it was Ooo Baby elevator music. lunch for the crew (and us, the starving urban lizards) was catered in the club and usually very delicious and healthy, unless we were in mexico in which case it was terrifying mystery meat. by around 4 or 5 the NIN-band would arrive and say their hellos and get to their soundcheck. by this time i would be back from any random excursion i may have taken into The Outside World, and would start to warm up my own voice for our soundcheck, in case we got one, which we did about half the time (though we’d rarely get more than 15 minutes). the whole NIN crew were very very kind and wonderful to us, they always tried to help us if we needed guidance and jason, the keyboard tech, even happily fixed my falling-apart black shoe after i had seen his skillful expertise at gluing and applying 7 drying clamps to a destroyed Trent Reznor Army Boot. The band was also very kind and we developed our own private jokes with each. Alessandro, the italian keyboard player, had three (THREE) mac tattoos. one of the mac logo on his wrist, one of the “sad computer” error icon on his forearm and another one i never saw. Jerome Dillon the drummer was tall and his angular hair made him spottable at a considerable distance. Every girl in our crew developed a crush on his at one point or another and he often came out during our set to play Karma Police with us, which always brought us Great Joy. Aaron North the guitar player was the youngest of the bunch and I always got confused, because NIN put out an album in 1989 and yet the guitar player was 4 years younger than me. this is where it is important to point out that this band was not A Band, but more a collection of hired back-up musicians. there was never any sense of NIN-camraderie. these guys were here to kick the shit out of the music every night and that was their job. there was no high-fiving and laughing and trent-reznor butt-pinching. the atmosphere was about at serious as it gets. and i always wonder if Trent Reznor wants a Band or prefers things this way, so that NIN remains Trent Reznor. Jerome, i think, was the only one who had been with him on the last tour in 1999. Jeordie White (aka twiggy ramirez) was almost aloof as T-Dog himself and rarely made conversation. the members of the band had apparently all gotten into a private joke of singing “Jeordie White” to the tune of every possible NIN song, and soon we followed suit to see what good ones we could come up with. The classic and original was to “Terrible Lie” (it went: “Jeordie White”….”Jerodie White” to the tune of “Terrible Lie”). We came up with a good “With Teeth” (“Ah-Jerodie White-ah”) and a good “Closer” version (“I wanna fuck you like a Jeordie White”). I also came up with an interesting song called “The Hands That Sneeze” that went along with a hand-dance and garnered some attention in our tour bus. Back to the personell, we get to The Man Himself, Mr. Trent. He kept himself at a considerable distance and almost never talked to his crew, that we saw. He was always very quiet, polite and almost never stuck around the minute the show was over. Jerome, Alessandro and Aaron were all likely to go to an afterparty, but Jerodie and Trent were like ghosts the minute they left stage. I think they left through the roof by helicopter, because we’d often see fans waiting outside the stage door for HOURS, asking “where’s Trent? where’s Trent?” and we had to admit that he was gone and must have used the Bat-exit. who knows. when we got to mexico the whole NIN-band donned fake moustaches, cheesy sunglasses and wrapped bandanas around their so that they could pose as “locals” and thus not get disturbed while sight-seeing. But albino mexicans, i hear, are very rare and their ruse didn’t really work.

There was a NIN vocabulary that slowly formed over the course of the tour. The NIN were such advanced technological creatures (and as internet-centric as we were) that they brought their own wireless to every venue, so we were never offline. If the venue also had wireless, we referred to it as “wireless”. if we had NIN-wireless, we referred to it as “Ninternet”. The kids who would wait outside the venue starting at 6 in the morning, wrapped in sleeping bags and pierced 6 ways to sunday, to insure a front-row Trent-Reznor-sweat-soaked experience were referred to as “Nincompoops” or the more affectionate “Nincompoopers”. Evening mealtime provided by the catering was “Ninner” and the overbearing nag champa that the NIN tour manager would burn in his office five sticks at a time was “Ninscense”. The entire world of the club and it’s grounds, rather, anything that did not include what we referred to as “The Outside World”, was “NinLand”. This was most often used when referring to the tour as a whole as in “We’ve been playing solo shows and have had a day off. I miss NinLand.” Missing NinLand was usually due to the fact that returning to smaller clubs on our “offday shows” usually meant coming to terms again with horrible sound, no catering, no Jerome Dillons to flirt with and no nice keyboard techs to fix our shoes. Alas. But in closing, I must say that having a Trent Reznor Life seems like a hard life. He was said to be often dissatisfied with the state of the crew and the shows and this usually left everyone in NinLand feeling anxious. As one of his techs said to us: “You don’t bring your B-game to Trent Reznor”. anyway, a good object lesson for the dresden dolls. We watched the band play almost every night and i was constantly astounded at Trent Reznor’s ability to scream so loud and play so hard night after night after night. We always got a great view of the side-stage antics, since we watched from the stage, and my favorite part was when Aaron would kick over Jerome’s drums during a song. Then the drum techs would scurry around like roaches on speed to get them set back up. Then Aaron would kick them over again. Etc. It was like a game. I made sure that almost every time Trent played “Hurt”, I could see from somewhere. Sometimes I went out into the audience and lose myself in the crowd. But I always caught that song. It’s a brilliant song. I cried most times I heard it. Cormac and I (speaking of Cormac, he opened up for my solo show a few weeks ago and was met with much applause: go see www.sleepshell.com) just covered a version on “Right where it belongs” from the new NIN album, and it ranks up there with “Hurt”. Lyrics not quite as good, but still gorgeous. (Sorry, Trent).

Long out of NinLand, i have become fully happy at home again and am sad to be leaving tomorrow for Japan. In my three weeks home I have been to the Cafe Pamplona three times (too many people complained and the spanish 88-year owner, Josephina, caved in and re-opened), read three excellent books, made a calendar of Where I Have Been For The Past Year Of My Life (because I couldn’t remember anymore and was starting to get scared), spent lots of Quality Time with various cherished and long-lost friends, and vacuumed my apartment. I prepared for and played a solo show which was wonderful….dusted out a bunch of old tunes and breathed a little life into them. Brian sang a sing for the first time alone on stage and broke everybody’s hearts (it was a cover of Neutral Milk Hotels’ “Oh Comely”….the best and saddest song ever written). We threw a rollerskaing party in Dorchester (known in these parts as The Hood…there was a metal detector at the door due to some shootings there last year) and about 200 people came and rollerskated their asses off. And at the rollerskating party (at which we played DJ…fun fun), we instituted shaving door prizes and gave one mohawk, cut one girl’s hair, and shaved one pair of man-legs and one set of pubic hair. We used new disposable razors on everybody and it was very good clean fun. Days on end have been spent watching footage for the DVD downstairs with Pope, Zea and Noah and making changes. I daresay it’s coming out pretty well and it should be hitting shelves before Xmas. Just very recently I watched my clothes tumble in the washing machine for ten minutes. I went to the basement, to see if the load was done, and there were ten minutes left, so i watched through the front-loading glass door. i never have time to watch. I didn’t really have time. I should have been packing. I should be packing right now. it was really beautiful, i had never noticed how artful the spin cycles are. When it got to the last few minutes it went into a fast spinning frenzy in one direction and then came to a dead stop. then a few moments – maybe 12 seconds – later, it gave the clothes a brief (maybe 3 second) toss to the right and then stopped again. then it gave them a brief toss to the left. then to the right again. this last set of little tosses seemed so loving. i am very emotional tonight. i am listening to the mother cat outside calling her kittens. she;s an alleycat but we’ve been feeding her out of a dish on the front stairs. she started with three kittens but a few days ago andrew found one of them dead in the garden. sad things happen all the time. i love my friend and drummer brian but he’s been very sad lately, so i try to be a good friend to him and not be too irritating like i can be. he is a deep motherfucker and i don’t envy the way he has been plumbing the existential depths lately. drives a person crazy.

our flight is in 8 hours. i know very little about japan, well, no more than the average american, so i expect my mind to be turned inside out and i will probably find some interesting things to relate. this is one particular trip that i assume will yield good photos. i currently have a backlog of about 1498 interesting digital photos waiting to be put into a tour journal on the net but i can never seem to find the time. i would rather read. but someday.

recommended reading:
“The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton. One of the most hilarious and honest pop-philosopher-essayists of our time. he also wrote “how proust can change your life” which is also a great read.

“The Anarchist and the Devil Do Cabaret” by Norman Nowrocki. Not insanely well-written, but very passionate, accurate and funny account of a montreal political cabaret/crust-punk band touring europe in a band while the singer searches for his long-lost polish uncle.

“Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse. On of my top 5 favorite books of all time, I am re-reading it for the third time right now. It was originally published in 1927 but makes more sense now than ever. For madmen only.


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