Camper’s last show on this Southwest tour was in Dallas, and I got to drive Victor’s car back to SF. Victor’s Ford Escape was used on the tour as a second vehicle: the primary vehicle was David’s Chevy Suburban with a trailer full of gear. We don’t have a van currently. So I got to drive for 3 days by myself, about 1800 miles. Halfway across the USA.
I actually enjoy driving, especially by myself and especially when I don’t have specific deadlines. My goal was to make it to Las Vegas by the second night, and then SF the third. I drove out of DFW area at about 9am, after filling the car with gas and myself with Starbucks coffee and oatmeal. Out of the metroplex area, I headed to Amarillo on a two lane highway, and from there hit Interstate 40 which is the old Route 66. I usually drive pretty fast, but Texas scares me so I kept it at 80mph or so. I managed to get out of Texas as quickly as I could and head on through New Mexico.
I really like northern New Mexico and Arizona. If you have read this weblog diary recently, you will know that I lived in Tucson for a year in about 1975, but that wasn’t the beginning of the SouthWest obsession: my mom was really into it. I believe that before I was born she and my dad went camping around this area and bought various things (for example, I have a Navajo rug from then) and then when we were little, we went on long car camping trips every summer in the VW camper van, and at least twice camped all over northern Arizona and all over New Mexico, seeing Canyon De Chelly, White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns, Four Points, Ship Rock, A zillion mesa and rock formations, even going into Utah to see Zion and Arches. And, being the early 1970s, my mom bought a bunch of silver and turquoise jewelry, which she wore ever after. I think my brother has it all now, but to be frank I don’t know anyone who would want to wear such stuff now! Also, I got a tiny Kachina of Lightning, which I kept around for most of my life. I think it broke in the move to Sweden. So I like this area. I like deserts. And rocks.
So I drove and drove, remaining fairly satisfied from a cup of coffee and oatmeal, ate some popcorn and drank massive amounts of water (I grabbed about 10 bottles from backstage before we left) and only stopped to pee. Since I intended to drive about 12 hours this day, I tried a “5 hour energy” drink at about 4pm. I read recently that this company was started by a Buddhist monk (!?) and they wanted to call it “5 hour Focus” but somehow the FDA wouldn’t allow that.
The Ford Escape is a hybrid, it takes about 10 gallons of gas to drive about 300 miles, so after Amarillo I needed to fill the tank again in Albuquerque. And I decided to eat there. First off, 5 hour energy seems fairly focusing. So long as you stay in the car. When you get out, everything gets very jittery. Or I was hungry. After getting gas, where the clerks were tattooed boys and girls straight out of Jesse’s parties in “Breaking Bad”, I went across the street to Taco Cabana and got a nice burrito. From more meth heads. Or post meth heads, who knows. I see why they based the show there in Albuquerque, a city we had always referred to as “the Mile-High Fresno”.
While eating, however, the storm caught up with me, and it poured rain. I made it back to the car and out onto the highway, and like any good desert storm, it dissipated once I got a few miles west of town. Unfortunately for me, it caught up we me again as it got dark, around Gallup, so I decided to stop, about 9pm, far enough, and got a really cheap-ass motel on the west side of Gallup.
Up fairly early the next day, I continued west into Arizona, after eating a big breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Let’s see how this compares to the previous day’s oatmeal. (Results: oatmeal wins.) I stopped at some roadside trinket stores, but did end up avoiding the big signed ones in favor of the small signs who were actually Navajo. In fact, in Indian Store they played the subdued Native American drums, while in the cool little store, they rocked the tremolo guitar jams, so I bought some things for my daughter there, and a small Kachina of SunFace for my in-laws. Sun Face seems like an appropriate Kachina for the Swedish winter.
Onwards to the next gas stop, Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a beautiful place, despite being in Arizona, it’s up in the mountains. In fact, the whole of Northern NM and AZ is pretty high altitude, and I wasn’t bothered by this (usually don’t have a problem with heat or altitude) so I don’t know what my problem was down in West Texas, where I felt logy and bitchy. The mountains here gets over 7000’/2100m, and the flora obviously changes massively from the deserts on either side.
Back into the desert, I cut north at Kingman and headed to Las Vegas. This is another nice two lane highway, but fairly crowded by people going to or coming from Lake Mead (water sports enthusiasts) or Las Vegas. Upon entering Las Vegas, I was trying to figure out which way on the highway loop to go to get to the exact opposite side, when I saw the cops coming to stop traffic going west, so I went north on the east side of town. The cops blocked the highways for a cop funeral procession that was literally several miles long. Very surreal to see the entire length of oncoming traffic with flashing lights. I went around toward North LV and got off to pee and head into town, and being that far north of the strip (where I was staying), I went over to Cowtown Guitars to check it out. I ended up staying there for about an hour playing an old Electro-Harmonix POG pedal, which they were selling for $300 (I did not buy it.)
I drove to the Luxor, where I had secured a room on Hotels.com for $34. Now, I’m not a gambler, nor am I into Las Vegas as a tourist destination, but I knew that for the price of a night in Gallup NM, I would get much higher quality rooms and food. Plus there is the fascination factor. Las Vegas is horrific, in many ways. It’s the most absolutely fake city on the planet, in fact it could be on the moon or Mars just as easily, and I find that fascinating.
I have been haunted by the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where the astronaut is on the space station and steps into a phone booth and has a video phone call with his daughter, on her birthday. I feel like that whenever I video chat with my family while I’m on tour, and here I was on another planet, a planet where the outside temperatures could only be sustained by humans for a short time before entering the airlock and going indoors.
Many people seem to like Las Vegas for its history as a mob-or-Howard-Hughes based casino resort. There is definitely nothing real like that anymore. In Baudrillard’s books after “The Precession of Simulacra”, he really takes on America’s obsession with mitigated reality, such as Disneyland. I think Las Vegas may be the best example of simulacra in our culture. The creation of simulacra precedes like this: you have something real, a thing or an event, which is limited in its presence, so a makeshift version of it stands in for it. After time, in the culture or society, the emotional and semantic weight of the thing or event is transferred to the stand-in, and subsequently the stand-in takes all of the meaning and becomes its own thing. Common examples include ritualized sacrifice, which is replaced by some ritual that alludes to it, whereupon the ritual become more important than the thing it stood for, whereupon the thing it stood for is forgotten entirely. Jaques Attali believes that all music comes into human culture this way!
So in Las Vegas, they expand the city and kill off the desert animals’ environments, and then make statues of the lost animals to represent the city. But this comes to be because the culture has normalized this route into itself so intrinsically: they have already built the casinos to mimic some other thing which people will go to to experience that thing (Mandalay Bay, New York, The Luxor, Circus Circus, etc.) It’s similar to the jungle cruise ride in Disneyland, for example: we once played at the House of Blues in Disneyland in Anaheim and were given ride vouchers, and on this ride I saw a mishmash of statuary and environmental iconography from place on the planet that I had actually previously been to, such as Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Borobodur, etc. Here it was as an entirely mediated experience, remolded for you without the actual environment, danger or sensation inherent to the actual place.
This time, I stayed at the Luxor because it’s a pyramid. It’s hard to find pyramids to stay in! Plus Sanna and I had stayed there once before about 8 years ago, so that seemed good.
Camper Van Beethoven has played many times in Las Vegas, starting back in the mid 1980s (See David Lowery’s notes on this here…) The first time there, we were on acid. I figured that was appropriate. It may still be. Recently we played the House of Blues in the Mandalay Bay with Built to Spill (30 minutes! No longer than that!) and then at the Hard Rock Hotel and their Cafe. The Hard Rock really nails it with the Las Vegas sentiment, it’s like a mausoleum: this is where rock music came to die. They have holy relics on display in cases, the pants Mick Jagger wore in some concert in 1972, the shirt Jimi Hendrix wore in 1970. Some instruments famous musicians played at some point, etc. So, playing there, were we revenants or penitents?
Being in Las Vegas alone is much easier, I think. When you are with another person or people, you sort of feel obligated to have fun. Alone, I felt no such obligation and could just stare at people. Who are these people that come here? Nowadays there are whole families vacationing there, even in the heat of summer. Why? Why would they ever go here? Some families a reconciled that the adults simply want to get drunk in public (apparently you can carry drinks around wherever you go) some seem to be looking for some amusement park-style fun (there are roller coasters!) But it’s so incredibly fake! What on earth do the children take away from this experience?
I am a little anxious about gambling. I know that one chooses an amount of money to pay for entertainment, perhaps, and have done this in the past (Sanna and I actually won a couple hundred dollars at Roulette once) but for the most part I’d be more interested in just playing the longest odds available so that if I won it would be the greatest amount and I wouldn’t have to sit there playing cards or whatever. I never gambled this time. I did watch a guy play craps for a while, which was interesting, and I talked with an 87 year old man who explained how the game worked. Then he played and lost, and was unhappy, but I told him hell, he was 87, he’d already won!
I ate some so-so Italian food, I never found the good food I really wanted (previously I had eaten amazing Creole food with Victor and Alison at some place, and Sanna and I had had some great food at a French place… I think…) and then later found a new bar that was sort of a steam-punk place which actually had decent IPA, and I ate some oysters there. They had numerous single malts, but I haven’t really been into hard liquor much lately. My room in the Luxor was amazingly comfortable (they upgraded me to a suite for whatever reason, maybe cuz I had a zillion guitars to have the bell staff bring up to me) and definitely a good deal at $34.
The things I missed out on were apparently that in LV’s Chinatown are amazing restaurants, and the Neon Museum, which I would like to see. I am a little fascinated by the history, as represented in, for example, James Ellroy books, but I’m no mob history buff. I am more interested in googie architecture and the load of modernism that came with the post dustbowl exodus of Okies toward California. The LV neon is right up that alley. I love the confluence of modernism and jet-age into signs and architecture, it presents itself as a cultural irony to my eye. I wrote about this in a song long ago called “Strange New Fruit” about how the deviant artists create things that taste funny at first but as you get used to them, they become incorporated (ok, mediated, simulacra as well) into culture and you learn to like the flavor. Mondrian on cocktail napkins, Kandinsky in Ren and Stimpy….
The next morning, up and at ’em, got the guitars into the car and headed out. This was July 30th, my daughter’s 2nd birthday. But they are 9 hours ahead of me, so it’s tough to get them online! I drove to Baker and stopped for gas in the Mojave Desert and tried to find wi-fi, to no avail. Drove on to Barstow, finally got a Starbucks, and called from the space station. It was 107ºF/42ºC outside on Mars there. We had an ok connection, not great but enough to talk to them! It’s so weird.
Then onwards, toward Tehachapi. We hit Tonopah (AZ, not the real Tonopah, NV) on the way out, then Tucson, and on the way through New Mexico I went through Tucumcari, so I felt it only right to hit Tehachapi on the way to complete the “Willin’ ” trucker’s route. On to Bakersfield, to the 5, then straight up California to the 580, and just like coming back home (when I used to live there), through Oakland and over the Bay Bridge. Back in San Francisco before evening. Then I had to give Victor his car back!