Back in the mists of time as I would sit in my tiny London bedsit with the latest copy of Melody Maker I would always dream of going on the road…you know a real rock n’ roll road trip complete with middle of the night truck-stop excursions, strange vehicular adventures, cross country driving marathons, all access backstage-pass laminates, endless guitar solos on a huge stage, nightmarish storms, weird gigs, foreign borders to pass through and guiltless, yet exciting, dalliances with eager and attractive members of the opposite gender.
I’m delighted to report that over the years all of the above wishes have been granted to me but as they say be careful what you wish for. Of course in my perfect dream the world tour I was on was my own and the band I was hanging out with were my band and the groupies pounding the side of the bus were hoping to shag ME but as we know the fates have a weird way of messing with your dreams don’t they?
I can reveal that I’ve found myself perusing the late-night roadside shopping possibilities with Staind; I’ve had a strange vehicular adventure with Lene Lovich; I’ve driven wildly across the country pursuing Peter Himmelman; I’ve collected laminates for Oasis and Ozzy, Guns N’ Roses and The Corrs; I’ve soloed endlessly on stage with Billy Ray Cyrus’s band at soundcheck (oh the shame!), endured a twister (Billy Ray again), shot a gig in broad daylight at midnight with Toto north of the arctic circle, smuggled something through a border with Madness and even, on a dark and soggy night in Oklahoma, gone home with an eager young female – sadly she wasn’t attractive and it wasn’t very exciting but after selling T-shirts for six weeks on a tour with non-stop rain earning a measly $25 a night I was getting desperate and depressed – and that’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it!
Which brings me to my recent adventures with the very talented and enormously decent Jason Mraz. Before we go any further a brief disclaimer: though there were shopping opportunities in the truck stops and long drives through the night there was a noticeable lack of sex anywhere – not in my bunk anyhow. OK, I admit it, there were some guitar solos but none over 16 bars and while we’re talking plank spanking the one Jason plays on Absolutely Zero (a bullet straight into the top three of my fave songs of the year chart) is bloody gorgeous.
And so to the guilt.
I was hanging with Mraz to shoot a live DVD which we all hope will be available sometime in the New Year. The plan was to do one show with the mobile truck and the multi-camera thing and then yours truly would dispense with the luxuries and, armed only with a spare pair of sox, a mini DV cam, a box of tapes and a pile of release forms, I would become invisible and document what it’s like to be the hottest man on the charts with a Z in his name as he traversed the Midwest and beguiled thousands with his whimsical wordplay, magical melodies and extraordinary voice. In advance we discussed how I would wake him up on the day of the gig, shoot him in his P-Js and follow him through all the exciting stuff that rockstars get to do on the road, i.e. talk to journalists on cell phones, sign autographs, have their picture taken endlessly with sycophantic well-wishers (that’s you and me everybody), do stupid radio station idents (OK one of them was funny), answer numerous questions about chickens and psychics, soundcheck and try and remember the words to the
second verse of Sweet Child O’ Mine.
Throughout it all Jason was quite the gent, never held back, was always honest, very often funny and even lost his temper a few times. He was real. (I hope I’m not ruining for you all out there in Amazon.com land). He even made me really jealous a) because there were a lot of adoring babes who were obviously just besotted by him but more importantly because b) he’s a great musician and how dare he be THAT good a guitarist and songwriter after only 5 years. (Note to self: If I get my hands on a pair of pliers and Mraz is in the vicinity nobble a few fingers and then maybe I can catch up again…but what good would that do? – I’d only turn him into the new Django).
Anyway, imagine my despair when Bill, Jason’s manager, forwarded an extract of Jason’s web diary to me. JM confided he was locked in the bathroom away from the glare of the camera (that’ll be me) writing his diary : “I don’t need the room for any other reason than to sit and think, to meditate…on the other side of the door awaits thousands of ears and possibly millions of eyes.” He concludes, “I wish this bathroom could remain locked all night.”
And here’s the rub. This is what life on the road can be really like. While you’re locked in bedsit land it seems like such a dream – the riches and the babes, the guitar solos and the priceless magical laminates (real value – about a buck!) – but the guys on stage become isolated in their travelling world, nervous of those who attach themselves for a few days and always dreaming – despite the monstrous buzz of those two hours a night – of being in their own bed for a few nights and getting some different, clean clothes to wear. The road is surely a mystical place but there really is no There there. To really be on the road you must always be moving someplace else as if you’re searching for an end to a rainbow that remains constantly elusive. I’ve now been on so many tour buses that even their plush seats and tinted windows can’t disguise the feeling that it’s a kind of comfortable rolling prison with an annoyingly small moving toilet that protocol says you can’t take a dump in.
And so now I’m home and sleeping in my own bed editing Jason’s footage while he and the band and his crew still plough up and down the freeways plying their wares and doing what they love. I’ve felt guilty about disturbing Jason but I’m fighting that guilt because I think we’ve captured some of his magic for you to share and because I was doing my job. Perhaps if I’d done it better he might not have noticed me but it’s that observant and vulnerable quality about him that makes his music so intriguing. It’s now my dream that by the time the DVD is done Jason will be out of the bathroom and you and he both will think it was worth it.