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.
“Even though no one will read it. I’ll write it anyway. Just for me.”
This was so hard for me to write. And painful.
Thank you for being so wonderful and supportive, and reading it. Even though I wrote it for me. Cause now I wrote it for you, too.
Errr… you call this an “ugly” history with writing? Um, can I have some?
Because, I assure you, I don’t think anyone has ever paid attention to my writing in any sort of way that would even seem remotely famous or possibly famous or even “whiff of a hint” of famous like that.
The number of comments in your most recent blog post, err, more than I’ve ever had in my 10 years in blogging. Maybe I’m not remembering right. You’ll have to clue me in.
Did you read the WHOLE thing? The part where I was too high on dope to parlay this fabulous opportunity into anything, like everyone else did?
I am happy for them, I truly am.
It’s so ironic to see their videos on WordPress. To realize how famous they’ve become.
You are a blogging force to be reckoned with, and I am honored that you have even stopped by to visit.
Next time, they’ll be leftover pie.
I bake for the holidays.
Yeah, I did… I was thinking, “Well, yeah, it probably didn’t help that she got really drunk and stoned BEFORE the fame… usually, it’s done afterwards!”
I still think that although you “blew your chance”, you’ve still got some awesome and enviable memories. Hangin’ with a horn player from P Funk? I’d be falling all over myself, I would.
Baking is good. Cimmy is starting her baking today. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie– she wanted to do key lime and raspberry, too, but we don’t have all the ingredients. I’m taking care of the turkey and such (I’m the cook, she’s the baker– kinda like Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff’s “He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper”).
I like this:
The fact that you get how incredible P Funk is. I’m still in very occasional touch with my horn player.
The fact that you appreciate baking.
The fact that you can cook – go, you! Lucky Cimmy!
And that you know Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff – that’s just the icing on the turkey. Love me some 90’s rap and hip hop.
Oh, and the best – Joseph Campbell. Follow your bliss.
Can’t wait to read more of your blog.
I have a stack of missed opportunities. Not on that scale, but a few.
I also have a stack of bad choices I’ve made, also not on that scale.
But in the end, I get to get up everyday, and I get to dive back in and try and make the day what I want.
With your experience, if you hit it big now, you’ll be even more huge, because you’ve got the experience to go with it. And along with your writing, that ain’t nothing.
(Looking forward to bringing you my guitar to autograph when you’re on your book tour.)
Dude, I’ve seen the pics, and you have an EPIC guitar collection. I’m more than jealous.
I play, but I’m a dilettante at best. I own a crappy Guild. I barely pick it up. Once or twice a year. Maybe.
I don’t expect to hit it big. I’d like to do a decent job at raising my kid. At teaching my students. And have a decent time playing at life, along the way.
Thanks for reading.
How have I not seen this before? Wow. Just… you know, though, I’m one of those utterly annoying people who really does believe that things happen for a reason. Not always an enjoyable reason, or an easy one to accept, but to keep you moving forward to where you need to go. Life is long (we hope, most of us, anyway) and there’s no telling what comes next, but we had to get HERE so that THERE could be down the road.
Feel free to blast me. This sounds like a life experience that’d be hard as hell to come down from, with nothing left to hold onto. But I still love you as you are now…
Oh, my dear sister wife-
This was one of the reasons that crawling back onto WordPress has been so difficult.
And is it not ironic that writing STILL throws me such curve balls? But I have a little of you in me. I believe in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’ll keep blogging, because eventually, all will make sense.
I bet it’s even better than a pot of gold. I mean, metaphorically speaking, I bet it’s like a pot of happy, fuzzy bunnies or a pot of sexy kisses or a pot of the most amazing novels you never heard of but now get to read. You know?
How about happy fuzzy sexy kissy novels?
Very powerful, scary, and exciting all at the same time. I would cut off a finger to watch the Beastie Boys play basketball. Beats the Redbone story by a mile.
Thanks for reading.
Yep, that was the Beasties nightly warm up. They had a whole set up – it was written into their contract.
Unfortunately, the Beasties are minus one. Sad, but true. I’ll always think of them as those guys in their late 20’s, but they got older, just like the rest of us. And MCA is no more…
I know…hopefully they have some tracks in the vault they can release Tupac style.
You may have wasted some opportunities, but you know that you’ve been given new ones. And we can all live our lives through “If only…if only…if only…” and it’s terrifyingly hard to think that we are where we are rightnow, BECAUSE of reasons, and FOR a reason, and the tough thing sometimes is to see how to make the current situation make sense, and make good come out of it.
Which can be done. It just hurts to try sometimes.
All Apologies is one of the songs which speaks deepest to me. The other is ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ by THEM (covering Van Morrison)
Of course that song speaks deepest to you. To me as well.
I post it elsewhere; you’ve seen the video by now.
I just don’t know how many falls from grace we’re allowed.
Thank you for reading this and supporting me, and also – for wanting to get to know me.
I *love* the Unplugged version. Hard. Like, I get into a mood and I’ll mainline that song on a loop for HOURS.
As long as we’re alive, my lovely, we have as many chances as we want to take, to make it right again.
Always glad to read your words, Precious one, and I am LOVING getting to know you. The more I read of you, the more I understand. I’m afraid I am definitely one of these people who likes to get to know the person behind the blog.
I’m the same way. I wish there were more hours in a day.
I sometimes obsess over all the bloggers I don’t have time to know, while barely keeping up with the ones I do.
I don’t obsess. I draw lines and start over. I cherry pick the ones I want to read about most, and I leave the others in the wayside until they become centre-stage to me. There are seasons in all of life, and most definitely in blogging.
I make most effort where I feel connection, or there is conversation.
I ended up here by reading Samara’s latest, and I’m sorry, Lizzi, but I just have to correct you, darling. Couldn’t let this pass. THEM is a band featuring Van Morrison as the lead singer. It’s all over now, baby blue is a Bob Dylan song that THEM covered. Knowledge is power
I wasn’t gonna go there, but I’m glad you did. 🙂
I knew that. I just prefer the THEM version (knowledge don’t mean taste 😉 )
Believe it or not Courtney Love (Who I otherwise loathe) does a heartbreaking rendition of it’s all over now baby blue
REEEEALLY?!? I might have to look it up. I love, LOVE that song so much it’s ridiculous.
I just looked it up and could only find a single version. I am sure I have heard a live version of her doing it that was actually really good
Dangit. Yaknow, that was gonna be my first ever CL song…
You do realize that the van Morrison version is used in the film Basquiat
I do not. I came across it in Girl, Interrupted 😉
(there’s a film called ‘Basquiat’? (yes, you may despair now…))
Lizzi! Where do you think Helena derived her name from???
I assumed the phrase ‘going to hell in a hand-basket’…
Well, yes. That is what Helena is spoofing.
But I’m fairly certain (although I could be wrong) that her last name was taken from John-Michel Basquiat, a famous American artist who died of a heroin overdose in NYC when he was 27.
The film is about his life.
*makes ‘duh-face* Ummm it might well be.
If you need me I’ll be over here somewhere, playing crayons
Your first? I think I can find SOMETHING else she’s done that I like.
OOH! Okay! That misogynistic 60’s song called “He Hit Me And It Felt Like A Kiss?” She did a cover of that. Of course…
I’ll go look it up 🙂 Thanks xo
Don’t like her voice…
It’s not a very good voice. If she hadn’t married Kurt Cobain there’s a good chance nobody would have heard of her.
I like HIS voice. His song ‘All Apologies’ is one of my ‘go to’ pieces for when I’m falling apart. It’s amazing.
Yes, I know. I feel the same way. I’ve used a video of him performing it live on two of my blog posts.
That was probably the biggest letdown of this tour. Him not being on it, as he was slated to be.
Oh, and of course, what happened after…
Well yeah… *sigh* 😦
All Apologies, unplugged…that’s the video I go back to time and time and time again…
That magic that got you there in the first place….you still have that. You are magical and everything is a bout timing. You say you squandered but really you are you NOW and you have a so many roads to pick from. You have had some AMAZING experiences. While you were having all these experiences I work…work…work and when to school. Different paths…different places…different lives…both looking for contentment. You are beautiful.
Thank you, sweet Hasty.
I feel I have squandered so much, but what does it matter?
I’m here now. The past is gone.
I’m so glad you’re in my life. We understand one another.
A little too much, I think. ❤
All those experiences made you who you are right now. And from where I sit, you’re pretty fucking cool. Lots of people had chances and blew them. Fortunately, there are tons of chances all the time. Not necessarily the same ones, but chances nonetheless.
You’ve lived and you have stories. Some people Walter Mitty their way through their lives, paralyzed by all the choices there are and ultimately making none of them.
From where I sit, I made choices, but they were all bad ones.
I have stories. They’re great blog fodder. Not so great as a foundation for the life I know have.
This post is probably the hardest for me to deal with. Sometimes, I wish I’d never published it. 20 years later and I still have regrets. Ugh.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. What you don’t realize is that tons of people read your words with envy, then go back to their boring lives.
Seek a philosophical GPS. But otherwise, you have taken the scenic route on your way to happiness – that’s all.
I’ve decided the best use of a sordid and unproductive past was as blog fodder.
I never realized it would stir envy in people until I started getting anonymous hate mail. So I guess you’re right.
A philosophical GPS. That’s poetry. I have to have more coffee before I can fully process that.
I did a whole philosophy guideline post. I will look later. There are always haters. That’s another philosophy of mine – that 5% of people will hate you no matter what, and 5% will love you no matter what
And which 5% are you in, Edward?
Or are you in the safe 90%?
The 90% is a malleable bell curve that can be swayed one way or another.
You are the first person who has ever asked me that. I am in your 90%, much closer to positive.
I am often the first person to ask people all sorts of things. So that doesn’t surprise me.
I have no filter. I just ask away.
Then later, I have to look at what I even asked because it was a fleeting thought that I should have censored, and didn’t.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Your experiences are so…. wild! IMO your biggest problem was that this all happened when you were too young to know what was exactly happening. I agree with what others have said, You have the magic in you. This is/was your path. Perhaps if you didn’t take this path you wouldn’t have little Dude. What could possibly suck more than that? I have a feeling you will be a great mom, because you WANT to be. I think that is about 99% of the battle. I am enjoying every post I have read, and making an attempt to catch up… That alone says something about your writing. At least it does to me. I hope you see it.
Holy shit, every sentence I hung on. What an amazing fucking piece. You’ve still got that ability to captivate, maybe not on stage anymore but as you can surely tell from your newfound blog home people are sti hanging off of every word. Don’t ever stop being you and don’t ever stop writing because you’re amazing at both.
Thank you for reading this, Briton.
I don’t think I CAN stop writing anymore. It’s how I breathe. xoxo
Every day brings new opportunity. New choices. Everything we have, do, are was brought about by an intricate series of choices. Choose to keep writing. Do it for you, but know that we appreciate what you have to say and wait to hear more.
Thank you. I’m just happy I’m still here. There’s worse things than blowing your career after a tour. Like blowing your brains out before you even make it on that tour, like Kurt Cobain did.
Holy mother of fuck, that is one hell of a story.
I can’t remember a shitton of my stories either, though they are significantly less significant than yours.
No ones stories are any less significant than anyone else’s. Mine have a few rock stars in them, 20 years ago. No one gives a fuck today, haha
Holy shit, Batgirl… A lot of people would’ve reveled in having tail like that to remember…
I didn’t run into slam poetry until the early 2000’s at the Green Mill in Chicago, hosted by Marc Smith. Which is also the first place I read poetry live, but no stories like this. I was too far gone in my late 30’s working telecomm tech on midnights in DT Chicago for all that.
Glad you escaped alive, but with badass stories to tell.
Maybe this “blowing of an opportunity of a lifetime” was really the opportunity; you have been through the fire and back and now are writing about that. How boring when things go so smoothly, so predictably. Whether you are paid for writing or not, whether you have masses of followers clamoring for more of your writing or not, writing always serves a purpose. Always. I’ve always written for me. It’s how I process and make sense of my life and the world. Sometimes it touches other people, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s helpful to others, sometimes not. Keep writing. Always.
I can’t NOT write anymore. I’ll go crazier than I already am.
It’s how I breathe.
Thanks for reading.
Fascinating, Samara. You have so many adventures. I know you think of this of lost opportunity, but it is a story you’re sharing with all of us now. Your life isn’t over, not by a long shot. You have mad writing skills! Think now more than ever there are opportunities, just different ones.
I hope so Amy. I really hope so.
Nothing that we’ve done in the past is truly wasted, as it’s at least a small part of who we are today. Who you are today seems pretty amazing to me, I mean you’re raising a solid little dude and you get to hang out with those sisterwives of yours every so often, so there’s that. You’re also lucky. Having seen the ravishes of heroin almost every day at work, I know what it can do to a person’s life. You are still here for a reason, so write, write, write, girl! You do it real good.
There are so many reasons I find you wildly attractive… and then you throw another one out there. Brilliant!