It was over 100 degrees the day the air conditioning crapped out on our tour bus. Mid August, somewhere between West Virginia and North Carolina.
20 narcissistic, insecure writers trapped on a scorching hot bus. We drank to block out the oppressive heat. We were off the next day, so we showed no restraint. Not that we ever showed the slenderest thread of restraint.
We were on a rock tour. It was the 90’s. We were in our 20’s. Do the math.
In the mid-90’s, spoken word poetry was HOT. The in-your-face nature of it, attacking gender, racial and economic social inequity, was perfect for that time. Which is why Perry Farrell decided to add a Third Stage to Lollapalooza for spoken word.
Slam Poetry is spoken word on steroids. A brutal poetry competition where judges quantify your talent with numbers on cardboard signs.
The New York City slam venue was merciless. A take-no-prisoners gladiator arena. You were heckled the minute you stepped on stage. If you were going to be heard, you’d better be good.
Skinny little white girl with a Big, Fat Mouth, winning slam after slam after slam. Landing me a highly coveted spot on that sweat-drenched tour bus.
The 1994 lineup was stellar. Nirvana. Green Day. Beastie Boys. George Clinton & the Parliament Funk All-Stars. Cypress Hill. Tribe Called Quest.
In April, Kurt Cobain put a shotgun to his head, and Nirvana was replaced by The Smashing Pumpkins.
A massive let down.
Even worse – Courtney Love was on the tour, hooking up with Billy Corgan from the Pumpkins. Kurt’s body wasn’t even cold yet. I could understand a grieving widow craving physical solace, but that skanky clunge was fucking the guy who replaced her husband as the headliner.
I wasn’t the only one who disapproved. Those two would walk into the catering tent and people would actually start booing, and throwing shit. I saw Courtney Love pick banana out of her bleached blonde mane like nothing happened and just keep on talking.
That was the thing about Lollapalooza. Everyone ate together, was back stage together, whether you were a rock star, roadie, or poet.
Tequila at Twelve
We opened the Third Stage at the crack of noon, blasting War’s “Low Rider.” I got things going, dancing onstage in my signature daisy dukes/combat boots.
By 12:30, I was pouring bottom shelf tequila into the mouths of teenage babes from the jug I kept behind the sound booth. Underage, shmunderage. These kids had been tailgating all night and were rat-ass shnockered at 8 am.
We performed several sets of poetry a day. Our teen audience was enraptured by the spoken word scene. They stalked us between sets, asking for autographs. It was heady stuff, all this slavish devotion.
The downside was, we were being sponsored by MTV, and were expected to run moronic crowd participation skits, like “The Dating Game” and “Oprahpalooza”. As a mondo fuck-you to MTV, we decided to jack up the skits.
I ran the Dating Game.
I’d pick an extremely hot, extremely intoxicated Lolita to be the “Bachelorette” on stage, along with three guys. Halfway in, I’d yell, “Forget these losers! Pick ME!”
And then I’d start making out with her. I always had an eye to pick the ones who would just love it. We’d end up rolling around on the stage, grinding, tongue kissing and groping each other while the audience went completely bat shit crazy.
It became a standing room only, hot ticket item on Lolla ’94. Two weeks in, and the word on the tour was that there was live girl-on-girl porn on the Third Stage at 4:00.
Thank God there were no responsible adults around.
Rock Stars and Poets and Bears, Oh My
Many musicians are really poets at heart. Eventually, most of them came to the Third Stage to size us up. They liked what they heard, and as the tour wore on, we often collaborated. A horn player from P. Funk and I became close. He accompanied some of my poems.
The dark, rich sounds of his trumpet resonated and brought my poetry alive. As his music wove around my words, the audience could feel not only the story in my poetry, but the one of my growing relationship with this man. Those seductive, sunlit, late afternoon renditions of my spoken word, fueled with cheap tequila and extravagant passion, were the pinnacle of my performing career. Never to be rivaled again.
For many, for most, it was the summer of love.
Okay. It was a total fuck fest.
On tour, everyone’s single. You never knew which musician would wake up on our bus, crawling out of the coffin-like sleep bunks. I’ll never name names. I’m a star-fucker, not a name-dropper.
Touring was physically grueling. We only checked into hotels if we played a city more than one night. Otherwise, we packed up, and hit the road. No hotels meant no showers. Eating like crap. Nobody slept. We performed, partied, wrote, repeat.
I walked around talking into a hand-held tape recorder constantly. I have the entire experience on tape.
I can’t bear to listen to it.
To create some sort of order from this complete chaos, I followed a routine. We closed up the Third Stage at 6:00 pm. I had to haul ass if I wanted to get to Main Stage in time to worship at the altar of George Clinton and his P.Funk All Stars. Clinton was an icon who dominated my R&B project girl childhood.
Then, head to the Beasties trailer. They had a basketball court setup outside their trailer so they could play as their pre-show warm up, and my horn player played against them every night. The Beasties were dope white boys from New York, and I was fond of them, but I took a perverse pleasure in watching my horn player stomp their white asses across the court every single night.
After the game, dinner at the catering tent. Find a quiet corner – not always easy – so I could
Write. Write. Write.
Then, load up the bus and drive through the night, or check into a hotel. Stay up till dawn in whichever room, on whatever bus, was happening that night.
If we were in town for the night, then we tore it up. I was told we were completely off the hook in New Orleans. Police were involved.
I have absolutely no memory of it.
I came back to New York victorious.
Interview clips and MTV blips of our performances had been splattered across TV. Everyone returned to their hometowns in hot demand. We had crossed over, melded performance poetry with rock and roll. It was a pivotal time on the writing scene.
I had offers to do articles. Books. I had performances scheduled. My phone rang incessantly. Managers wanted me. Agents wanted me.
I had acquired a bad habit. Without the tour to keep me going, the camaraderie of the other poets, without the whole carnival of lights, sound and music…
and my new-found fame so overwhelming, I could not handle it…
Or knew I couldn’t sustain it?
I lost myself somewhere along the way.
I missed deadlines. Blew off interviews. Showed up late to performances. Or so fucking high on smack, I’d stumble through a shit show and think I was spectacular.
I pulled the phone out of the wall, for days at a time. Heroin makes you antisocial.
People stopped calling.
I faded into obscurity.
Most of the writers I knew from that tour are successful. They write books; are artists-in-residences. Many still tour and perform.
You post videos of them on your blogs. I stumble onto one of those, and I forget to breathe.
I’m happy for their success, but I get sick thinking about what I squandered.
I never discuss it. People who know me today don’t even know it ever happened.
Maybe it didn’t.
For the next two decades, I stopped writing. Lightning never strikes the same place twice. The universe gave me my opportunity, and I blew it.
But now, my life has shattered open. Words, like blood from a wound that never healed, are gushing out. I can’t rein them in.
Even though no one will read, I’ll write them anyway. Just for me.
It hurts to write. It scares the fuck out of me to hit “Publish.” I’m afraid nothing will come of it.
I’m terrified that something will come of it.
One of my favorite songs I ever saw performed live is “All Apologies,” Nirvana.
“All in all is all we are, all in all is all we are…”
There are worse things then blowing your career after being on a rock tour.
Like blowing your brains out before you even make it on that very same tour.
All Apologies – to myself.
I have to forgive myself.
I need to forgive myself.
Please, God. Let me forgive myself.
Did you ever blow the opportunity of a lifetime?
Talk to me. I’m listening.