On September 9th, we played at Amherst College in Massachusetts. My grandmother attended Smith College in nearby Northampton and always enjoyed an excuse to visit her old stomping grounds, so she and my grandfather drove the hour and half from their home in Connecticut to meet me for dinner and “take in the show.” Having spent little time with them over my life, the dinner was mostly a quiet, awkward affair. My grandfather was always a very quiet, taciturn old Englishman, but tonight he dominated what little of the conversation there was by expressing true fear about the future of our country now that George Bush was president. Honestly, it was a side of him I’d never seen before. Our conversations in the past were usually brief small talk immediately followed by him claiming a migraine and begging off for a nap. So I was struck by his intensity and verbosity. As an aside, this would be the last real conversation I would have with him as within the next year or two he developed vascular dementia and gradually disappeared into that reality.
The show that night was our first with Thrones and Mecca Normal. I don’t remember much about it other than the fact that the sound booth was mysteriously located in a different room from the live room meaning Dave Doughman, our soundguy, had to run back and forth all night.
The next day we had off. We hung around Northampton, enjoying decent food, coffee, record stores (Newbury Comics!) and the comfort a nice college town can provide on tour. A friend of mine from Portland had recently moved to the area and he came and met us there. That night we went to see the movie Ghost World.
We stayed the night in a motel kind of in between Northampton and Amherst, I think. I remember it being a little outside of town, on the road to Boston, location of our next show. Because we had 7-8 people in our gang, we were splurging on 2 different hotel rooms, one for the smokers, and one for the wimpy non-smokers -myself and the 3 Daves.
The morning of September 11th, 2001 I was awoken to the sound of Dave Doughman pounding on our motel room door, yelling “Wake up! We’re under attack! Turn on the TV! We’re under attack!” Huh? What the fuck… I’m sleeping, you crazy motherfucker. “Seriously! We are under attack!” and then maybe something about someone flying a plane into the World Trade Center. Someone, maybe me, turned on the TV in time to see a tower fall in real time. I sat stunned and then grabbed the motel room phone and called home, thinking I’d wake my boyfriend up with the news. Apparently everyone everywhere already knew, even though it was only 7am on the west coast when the first building fell.
At 11 am the motel proprietors started banging on doors demanding everyone check out immediately. Check out? But where the fuck are we supposed to go? Don’t you know the world is ending? The brain does funny things in times of crisis and for some reason one of us remembers that a bar we played in Northampton about 7 years earlier had had a TV. So we head into town to find the Bay Arms and park ourselves in front of a TV for the day, just like the rest of the world. The news reaches us that the club in Boston, the Middle East, still wants to do the show. So we head into Boston. At some point I make contact with the promoter for our NYC Bowery Ballroom show, scheduled for the following day. He is justifiably flustered, but determined that the show will go on. It is a big CMJ show and we are playing with Clinic who have already arrived from England. By the end of the day, he calls me back to say that part of Manhattan has been closed off so the show has to be cancelled.
Boston, the Middle East. We load in, Justin argues with a cop, we set up to soundcheck. I have literally just lifted my foot to start checking the bass drum when the promoter comes downstairs to say sorry, but the owners have cancelled the show. They pay us and even feed us anyway. Good people there. So now what? Luckily our old and dear friend, and co-founder of Kill Rock Stars, Tinuviel now lives in Boston and opens her home to us for as long as we need. That evening, I manage to connect with a friend from Seattle who happens to be visiting his sister in Boston. We decide to meet up and go see a movie, Godard’s A Band of Outsiders. Not exactly the escapism we were looking for. Staring at the movie screen, all I could see was the sight of people jumping out of the burning buildings playing over and over again in front of my eyes.
That night, we all sat on Tinuviel’s porch and listened to the silent night skies, normally full of planes. Tonight, the only planes overhead are military jets.
The next day I think we went to a museum and some record stores. We bought several large bottles of water, the only real doomsday hoarding we attempted.
At some point during these 2 days, throughout all the phone calls home, we had to decide our next move. Our 2 biggest shows of the tour – the 2 shows that would essentially help pay for the rest of the tour – had been cancelled. Vern’s girlfriend and their infant daughter were planning to meet us in New York. Miraculously, their plane tickets had not arrived in time and they were unable to make the flight. So now the world is possibly ending and his mother and girlfriend are begging him to come home. But we were all the way on the east coast and had just dragged Mecca Normal and The Thrones all the way out here to tour the Eastern seaboard with us. They didn’t have enough money to make it home. Rumors of $5 a gallon gas were circulating (funny, that’s how much gas costs now). Checking in with other promoters, our other shows had not been cancelled. A lot of people were counting on us playing these shows. This wasn’t just about us. We would be screwing a lot of people over if we just cancelled the rest of our tour and went home. Besides, there were no flights. I struggled with this debate. I didn’t have kids yet so I knew there was no way I could know what it must have felt like for Vern and his family, but it just didn’t feel right to give up and go home. Eventually the decision was made to carry on.
2 things I remember about driving to our next show:
- Standing in line at a Starbuck’s and making jokes about Osama bin Laden somehow appearing in that very line, ala Quantum Leap, looking around and thinking “oh shit.”
- At one of the turnpike stops, there was one of those machines where you stick in a penny and pay a quarter and the machine squashes your penny and prints an image of the World Trade Center towers onto it. I got one. I hope I still have it.
Our next show was in Hoboken, NJ at Maxwell’s on Sept 13th. Maxwell’s is just around the corner from the river and a clear view of the smoldering Manhattan skyline. Most of us made our way down there at some point during the evening and just sat and watched the lights of emergency vehicles race up and down and back and forth. I have pictures somewhere.
About 100 people came to the show that night. I remember looking into everyone’s faces that I encountered. I remember sitting outside the club, talking to some guy for a long time. I don’t know if I ever got his name, but it was the kind of deep, meaningful conversation you have with a stranger who has just lived through a national tragedy. Make that an international tragedy. It seems everyone I talked to just happened to be awake early, outside and looking right at the towers when they were hit. It was like everyone was unconsciously drawn to the twin towers that morning.
The next few days of the tour were probably the most fun, oddly enough. People were coming out to shows. We played DC that Friday and every one of our friends came. For everyone there, it was their first time out of the house, away from the TV, since Tuesday. Our decision to carry on felt justified. We were helping to heal the nation.
But the further we got from NYC, the darker things got. Truly crass xenophobic signs hanging in the windows of passing cars and trucks. The number of American flags on display increased exponentially the more miles we put between ourselves and NYC. Fewer people were coming to shows. Promoters were shocked we hadn’t cancelled the tour and wondered what we were doing there. Ironically, we were getting better as a 5 piece band, finding our groove with one another musically, even as we were losing one of us spiritually.