Wednesday, August 1, 2012

From Paradise To The Devil's Backyard

By Talon Bronson
Senior Reporter
LOS ANGELES - Hotel rooms, neatly placed Bibles marked with the Gideon’s stamp, and road after road after long pothole-riddled road, winding and ululating like great snakes laid out upon the face of the land.
These long roads treat some so kindly, and yet, they can strike angrily at the slightest turn, hissing at you with nothing but malice, and there is where we always seem to lay, right in the in between, with one foot dipping into God’s paradise, and the other dangling over the Devil’s backyard.
We’ve tasted the fruit of both, from the rotten avocado pit of Nevada, to the sweet cherry pie of California, and through both gardens we rode along, nothing but some tired road-worn passengers, watching the trees pass by.
Sitting in the van and watching the scenery change around you there is a constant feeling of falling. The color of the trees marks where you are. Or sometimes simply their presence at all is enough.
A Thief At Heart photo
Jacob Duffey playing in Boulder City, Nev.
In Nevada, they are sparse, brown skeletal beacons that peer out at your haggard and weary face, speaking of life and water. As you carry on towards California, though, the trees change.
In the night you no longer frighten yourself mistaking the hills for rolling rows of skeletons.
Now the water is plentiful, and fruit grows, and though the sun still charges at you from the sky, the land reflects its light back with grace.
As I write this, I am leaning back, comfortably out of the heat. I miss home, and I miss my family, and I miss my trusty acoustic guitar which I couldn’t bring with me.
But, I have managed to round up some iced tea and lemonade, and I’ve kicked my feet up on a guitar case. After two long weeks going from place to place, face to face, and one sort of crazy to another, to achieve some semblance of normalcy is a miracle upon itself.
I’m out of Nevada, and that’s a blessing, but I’m stuck in East LA, and that isn’t.
Two weeks. Two weeks of long arduous days rolling along in a van with my rock band, A Thief At Heart, and now I can breathe, and even now it is only for a moment. 
The point is that for the first time in a long while I’m relaxed, and I can collect my thoughts and take stock of this long curving road I’ve been barreling down.
I may not have my acoustic guitar, but I do have my harmonica stashed safely in my bag, and as I think, I give it a few blows.
It’s been a while since I’ve pulled my notebook out, and written, and right now I look back, and realize just how much there is. We’ve broken down, we’ve crossed a couple thousand miles, been shorted cash, and pulled into hotel after hotel later than the midnight hour and just a little earlier than the dawn.
The more I think, the more I realize there is just a tad too much to tell.
So, there is nothing else to do, and no bones about it as some would say. Here are some highlights.

Lake Tahoe
We pulled into Lake Tahoe on Monday, two days before we were set to play at the Sawtooth Café, and we would have been there even earlier had we not been stranded in Elko, Nevada an extra night to catch some time with a mechanic.
Tahoe was a welcome sight after the desert, the way it was butted up against a beautiful lake, with nothing but green all around and cool off-the-water air rolling over you. It felt like a small beach town.
I found out a little later that the main city of Tahoe is actually much more like Nevada: dry and filled with casinos. But we ended up in the south side of Tahoe, 25 miles from the casinos, and the high desert, and the touristy center.
Where we were was the land of hippies, tubing, and, in our case, rock ‘n roll.
A Thief At Heart photo
Kade Schagunn playing in Boulder City, Nev.
The show was not the greatest that night that we played, but the town made up for it. I ended up out on the docks late at night, running through packs of cigarettes, one night swigging whiskey with a group of seven on vacation from Ireland, the other laying under the stars with the homeless population of the town as they told me about the black tar heroin they had been able to score so easily in my hometown of Portland, and giggling as waves of pungent smoke floated above them.
Tahoe felt like a different world, a world where you disappeared into the lake, and the trees, and the slowly moving cars and sidewalks. It felt like a pause, and a rest.
But the show did come and go, and though we wanted to stay longer, you can’t make anything last forever, no matter how deep you try to sink your claws in, and hold on.
So on Thursday, the 12th of July, I took one last look at the lake. That lake itself is like the town, an illusion. Though Tahoe seems so small, there was never an uneventful night. Though the lake looks at the most four or five miles wide, it is really near 40.
Gazing out over those miles before we left, I remember heaving a sigh. I never felt as much at home the whole tour.

Sparks, Nevada
Dear Nevada, you and I must stop meeting this way. Me, crawling in in the dead of night, road tired, sweaty and cranky, you greeting me with a jonesing tweaker right at your gates.
I want to believe in your beauty, the dry desolation of it, the sheer power of the sun baking down upon me like an ant underneath a magnifying glass, all of it, I really want to.
A Thief At Heart photo
Kade Schagunn and Talon Bronson, right, playing in Sparks, Nev.
But, Sparks sits on the border of Reno, and in that place culture has been replaced by casinos and strip clubs, and that rolls over into Sparks with an ugly vengeance that riddles the roads with hooligans, junkies, and bankrupt gambling addicts trying to make their way back to the motherland, Vegas.
On that night’s show, we lost it, going crazy inside that little city in that little bikers’ bar that booked us. Ear-shattering loud is what I mean. Sometimes that is all there is to do when you have been stuck in the van all day and suddenly find yourself in a place even worse, more confining, more claustrophobic.
We also took the money and ran, so to say, and we were shorted $75, while I am on the subject, but not an arm was raised in protest by any of us, for after playing for what I could only guess was a crowd of murderous chinos, regulars at the bar, we figured let sleeping dogs lie. Better to have life and limb in the end.
We tailed it out of Sparks in a hurry, maybe a little lighter on cash, but a show was a show. We weren’t playing them to get rich. If that was the end goal, hell, I’d be a used car salesman, I suppose. On we go….

Boulder City, Nevada
As the main artistic force behind A Thief At Heart, I handle very little of the booking, or tour scheduling for the band, as it is usually up to me to provide the material.
That being the case, I find myself sometimes at a complete loss as to where that rickety van is carrying me, or even where I am.
The original idea had been to go through Death Valley, which would have made it all less confusing, but very easily much more dangerous. The van was having problems, and I certainly won’t lie: it was sketchy from the beginning.
A Thief At Heart photo
Talon Bronson playing in Boulder City
But the worse it got, the worse the heat of Death Valley sounded, especially breaking down in the middle of it. So a detour was taken on our way to Boulder City, and for five magical hours I felt the California breeze, saw the Californian women and the fruits of the West Coast everyone speaks so highly about.
I was drifting through peace, even though it was not my green, and not my land, but it was not the desert, and it was not flat monotony.
Soon, though, the roads changed, as I’ve said they do before, and the trees fell in the ground and were replaced by dust and sand and rock – with busy Friday afternoon traffic heading towards Las Vegas looking for kicks. The drive slowed the closer we got, 15 miles taking a hour, a hour in which the only thing you have to do is wish there were a God, just so you could thank him for air conditioning.
A Thief At Heart photo
 Kade Schagunn in the van, driving
 through Nevada
Like a snail, along we crawled. That night, for the first time, we were late. An hour late.
 And that almost leads up to me now, and my harmonica, and my sweet tea, and the half gallon of whiskey sitting on the table in front of me.
The shows in Boulder City went surprisingly well, with tips we somehow managed to pull in an extra hundred in cash, breaking us close to even on gas, and we even sold some CDs.
But, I won’t let the desert hold me, and even if they tried, I wouldn’t let the band either.
I was getting so tired I felt sick, and the more time I spent in Nevada, the more I missed home. The casinos didn’t help, or the kids there on vacation with their families.
I sat watching one night, enjoying the only luxury that Nevada offers (smoking inside) and wondered who would do that to a growing mind? Give ‘em an icy pop, and set ‘em next to a slot machine. Feed the kids trucker food and let them watch the spinning 7s on the screen. Mom and Dad multitask, get their kicks, and try to win back the house’s third mortgage, both at the same time.
It depressed me, made me want back home, back to culture, indie shows at the backspace, coffee at the courier, and trees and clouds.
But, I couldn’t have home yet. I’d have to settle for California.
So we fled, and here I am.
My sweet tea is almost gone, and my head aches from the heat. East LA. Ain’t nothing like it.
I’m holed up with an old friend, at the moment, drinking and relaxing while two pit-bull pups lounge under my feet, and chicken grills on the barbecue. It is deceptively calm, I’ll admit.
A block down the street sits our van, over two thousand dollars of music equipment sitting in the back, at the foot of the hills of East LA. And the burn is, it won’t turn on. It’s dead as a doornail.
But my sweet tea is just about finished, the chicken is just about cooked, and the sun sits above, calling for me to lean back, fill myself and forget about those problems for a few moments.
I suppose I can pick this up next time. 

A Thief At Heart is Talon Bronson, songwriter and singer; Kade Schagunn, lead guitarist; Jacob Duffey, bassist and Trevor Scott on drums. It is from Portland, Oregon.

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

Part Four:

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