Sunday, August 26, 2012

End Of The Rock 'N Roll Road - For Now

A Thief At Heart / youthjournalism.org
A Thief At Heart singer Talon Bronson performs at Pier View Pub in Oceanside, Calif.

By Talon Bronson
Senior Reporter
PORTLAND, Oregon, U.S.A – Everything comes to an end, and there are no exceptions.
Even the sprawling madness of the Nevada landscape, with its dry spattering of trees and lonesome stranded trailer parks, at some point halts. As far out as it seems to stretch, at some point the land becomes green, the tide turns, and Nevada is no more.
You and I are the same, as far as our lives seem to stretch, at some point we've just reached too far, and whether it is with a snap or a weak limp, we end.
It was the same for the first A Thief At Heart tour. As long as it seemed to go on, as far out as the horizon that bore the promise of home seemed to be, with a weak limp, it was all over. We were home.
I lay in bed, drained, and stared at the ceiling. I slept. I paced the house, and thought back over it all, about Nevada, Tahoe, LA and San Francisco. I looked at the pictures and tried to recall it all.
I asked myself whether I had just had the best three weeks of my life, or the worst, and I still don't have an answer, but it is all done and nothing else really matters anyway.
Whether the last month has been a blessing, or a curse, now it is just a matter of time till it is nothing more than a memory.
I am happy to be home, for different reasons, but there is no denying I am happy. I missed my friends, my acoustic guitar, and the trees. I missed my family. I'm happy to have my world back.
And, I'm happy we made it back at all.
Three days before our return to the Northwest we were in LA, rolling through a city made of dreams, or so they tell you on TV. A club called the Amplyfi had booked us, a little door down a back alley, with magazine covers and records hanging from the walls inside.
We had gotten to LA early, so we set up shop at Huntington Beach, playing the roles of out of town bums, beach inspectors and amateur wave riders. The water was warm, and the sun rose high, and the city craned up, touching the smog-riddled sky. I let the sand bake my skin, and the water cleanse it, and when I was hungry I ate tacos, because if there is one redemptive quality to the excessive nature of southern LA, it would be the taco.
LA has the best tacos.
I prowled that sprawling city and tried my best to check every crevice and crack. Not out of love for the place, but curiosity, for so many people of caliber over the ages have seen it as a beacon of America, the headlights in some fashion, the home of the American dream. Yet after a day of wandering that strange land, I wondered how it could be a suitable home for anything. LA is sparse in a fashion that I can't quite explain, an emptiness despite its size and breadth that it is almost unbelievable.
 While the city stretches high, and lays out wide, its girth is akin to the bloated stomach of the figurehead of America. It is a city of ghosts: ghosts of the idealists, and the artists, and the rock stars. While once the land overflowed with contributors to the culture of America, now LA clings to what remains – a shell of the past dreams.
Lost angels truly do reside there, and they look just like you and me.
Finally, after a couple days of slow exploration, and many devoured taco shells layered in greasy beef, we hit the day of the show, which greeted us with muggy heat and taco flatulence. We loaded our stuff out of our hotel, and crawled into the boiling belly of the Astro van, heading north towards the center of the beast, the fire’s lair, or if you prefer, LA.
“When do we play?”
“Second to last.”
A Thief At Heart / youthjournalism.org

Talon Bronson performs in San Francisco
“Do you allow backlining?”
“No.”
“Ok ...  any tips for playing this place?”
“Don't suck.”
“... What if we do?”
“Don't play.”
It was a rush throwing our gear on stage, after what felt like an eternity of lazily crawling around the city and soaking in the beaches. There we were again, same old song and dance, yet every time it felt like something new. It’s a lie that musicians make money off of music – musicians make money off of riding along in an old beaten down and broken van with three other smelly guys. The music, that’s just the reward.
A Thief At Heart / youthjournalism.org

Talon Bronson performing at AmplyFi in Los Angeles, Calif.
The lights dimmed, and the show started; there were two bands before us. I intended to watch them both, but the first band started and I decided to take my leave. I should have guessed when they stepped onto the stage in all black, their bleached blond hair falling over their eyes like pop music's answer to Nazi death metal. I should have guessed when I saw their black leather shoes. But, I decided to give them a chance.
Their chance lasted a song, and then I split out the back door.
“You hear them?”
“Just awful.”
So I sat with the rest of the fellows in the alley behind AmplyFi. The sun settled down behind the skyscrapers, and the air cooled, though by no means could you consider it cold. Twenty feet away, Astroburger pumped out crappy, over-fat meals to crappy, over-fat people, and Los Angeles traffic buzzed all around us, the sound of the automobiles regularly interrupted by the scream of a cut off driver filled with road rage.
I sat back against the van, lit a cigarette, and waited.
Bad Water took the stage before us. They set up quick and fast, and as the last awful band exited, I moved up to the front of the stage to hear them.
There really should be no such thing as an official battle of the bands, since almost every show is, to some extent, a battle. Every wannabe rock ‘n roll star hits the stage wanting their band to sell the most CDs, pull the floor out from under the last band's feet, and steal the light of the show.
To win – even though, in music, just like film and sculpture and painting, there is no such thing as a winner – is only a third party’s subjective judgment. But no matter how much you know it is not a competition, you can’t help but ache to win, to steal the show.
 And Bad Water pulled the show right out from under our feet.
I stood next to the stage, as the music began, with Andy Brasco bobbing his head beside me, his finger tapping out a complex tattoo upon the front and center monitor.
“We are Bad Water!”
The music washed over me, and I was lost.
The trip began with a stuttering note that echoed out over my head from the beaten up man on stage, with the beaten up telecaster. I fell into a well, toppling head over heels into the black water beneath as the sound hit me, and the rhythm began as I submerged into the depths, bass rippling through my bones, and a siren’s voice penetrating my skull.
A Thief At Heart /youthjournalism.org
A Thief At Heart bassist Jacob Duffey performs
in Oceanside, Calif.
Further and further, down I went, as the guitarist’s hands convulsed, and the stage shook with agony under the feet of the four men that rolled along with the sound.
All too soon, it was over, and I was crawling out of that black well, surfacing and gasping, aching and shivering, and afraid.
“... We can't follow that.” Duffey's eyes were wide as quarters.
“Next up, A Thief At Heart!”
“Just play,” I growled, as our drummer waited for me to count us in on the first song. It didn't matter. The night had already been won.

*****
“Tacos!”
We rolled up on a taco shop close to midnight. I ordered mine with extra avocado, and extra sour cream, and extra cheese.
“Bad Water killed,” I said.
“Bad water killed us,” Duffey corrected.
We were waiting for an old friend of mine from long ago, almost forgotten, who was giving us a place to stay for the night. We devoured the tacos quickly and migrated the van to a new parking area down the street, outside of 7-11.
My friend Justin arrived on his moped at 12:30 a.m., wobbling. I recognized him immediately, though it had been years, and I gave him a bear hug. We’d both hid out at my parents place years ago, smoking out in the middle of the woods. Justin had been the one that smuggled me and my brother booze on a chilly Saturday night, when the Bronson boys had nothing for company but the wind and the fresh mountain air. He had been an aid to our delinquency. It had been too long.
“Follow me?” he asked, after introductions.
“Well, we don’t know where we are going!”
“Fair enough.”
We left our new found drug friends with a wave, and were once again rolling along through LA, markedly later than we had been before.
Justin zigged and zagged, taking off faster than our van could handle. We gunned that thing, pushing it to an ache to keep up with him. Los Angeles rolled around us in the dark, and slowly we made it through Beverly Hills.
“This can’t be right,” said Trevor Scott, our drummer, from the driver’s seat. “Weren’t we supposed to be heading to East LA?”
A few minutes later, Justin pulled over to the side of the road. We pulled over behind him, waiting to see what the problem might be. We waited and waited, then finally Justin took off again into the darkness – but this time going the opposite direction.
“Is he lost?”
“Can’t be. He lives here.”
But LA is big enough that it can happen. You can live there for years, but you’ll never really know the entirety of that city. And so, we followed Justin, and he turned around again and again, leading us up and down, east and west. The van trooped on, but it sounded ominously like a dying machine. Just when I thought that perhaps this would be the night, the night that the blue Astro valiantly gave its life for our efforts in rock ‘n roll, we finally came to the end of our long and winding road, bumpily to a complete stop outside a beaten down little house in the depths of East LA.
Justin hopped of his moped and wandered over to our van with a grin.
“Sorry about that,” he said sheepishly.
“Don't know where you live?”
“Yeah … I’ve been drinking.”
Same Justin I remembered.
These were our last few days on the road. We were low on cash, and for the most part, low on spirit. I felt like I had been pulled along by a rope, looped to a horse’s saddle, and with every city, the rope became ever more frayed. Now it was growing dangerously close to being nothing more than a thread.
I woke up late the morning after we had pulled into Justin’s. We’d had some catching up to do, and that we did, over a 12-pack of Heineken until five in the morning. The sun was already high, and baking down, when I arose, and my forehead took mere seconds to accumulate a full brow of sweat.
I stumbled outside, cup of coffee in hand, nursing a decent. Trevor waited outside, and grimaced at me as I approached.
“Van is dead,” he said.
I groaned.
So, there we were, the second to last day of the tour, itching to be home, out of the sun, and away from LA, and the van died in the very pit of the city.
Those last two days are a blur. We spent the rest of our money getting the van running, and even then, it wasn’t running well. Justin helped us push it to the mechanic a few blocks away, and we sweated like pigs, hauling the van through swerving and screaming LA traffic. Back at Justin’s, a barbecue was made, and we took a little time to relax, though even then my mind was racing. I counted the remainder of our money – basically nothing.
I counted the number of miles ahead of us: almost 2,000.
“Are we going to make it?” I wondered aloud, over barbecued chicken wings. For lack of a good answer, no one replied.
When the van was finally up and running that night, we were well fed and well watered, but frantic. Justin gave us some BBQ for the road, and we parted.
“Just another day,” said Kade, wearily patting the dashboard of the van. It whined as we took off down the road. “Just one more day, old blue.”
Of course, we did make it, though only barely. The last two shows of the trip paid just enough to get us home. Oceanside had us in front of a sold-out audience, and San Francisco helped us just scrape past our mark. So, here I am, back at the beginning.
You know, it was worth it, though not for the reasons I thought it might be. When we headed out, I dreamed of hitting the rock ‘n roll road and never coming back. Now, I know what I truly love – not my assumptions of what I love.
A Thief At Heart / youthjournalism.org

Kade Schagunn, lead guitarist, Talon Bronson, songwriter and singer and Jacob Duffey, bassist for A Thief At Heart outside AmplyFi in Los Angeles. 
I love rock ‘n roll, and I love the Northwest. I love the long road, and the long nights, and the stiff hotel room beds, but only for a little while. The dream, the fantasy of the rock ‘n roll life is wonderful, but so is reality.
I missed my French press, my favorite albums, and my books. I missed walking down Broadway with my friends, and talking about whatever the wind throws our way. And while I loved that van, and the way it jostled, I missed my armchair and the way it rocked. And I missed my untaxed Oregonian cigarettes.
I think I am a little crazier now, but in a way that I can work with. The sky seems different now that I am back, but that may just be because I grew accustomed to the smoggy sky after the short period in southern California. I dreamed of being back amongst the trees and the green, and now that I am, it is even more than I remembered. I miss hearing the static come raging out from guitar amp every night, as I would plug in and zone out, but I am happy to have my acoustic back. 
No more being on the run, and it’s odd. It almost feels like a certain something is missing. The road became a piece of me, I suppose, and love it or hate it, I know someday I’ll be back again.
So, with a little trepidation, rock on.

Don't miss any of Talon Bronson's Rock 'n Roll Road series. Click on the links below to read any of the first three parts:





Part Three:





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