Into Southeast Tennessee, winding down the road with the Smokey Mountains up to the right and cool-running creeks running to the left. Lincoln Log cabins and the smoke and clouds hanging almost low enough to touch. I stood on top of a mountain with one foot in North Carolina, one in Tennessee, and the Appalachian Trail running through it all. Before I could fully take it in, a torrential downpour came down in true rainforest fashion. It was all blue, blue, blue. I followed the hundreds of Harley riders racing around the corners, down into the Cherokee Indian reservation with the casinos and countless tacky tourist shops with souvenirs and wooden statues of chiefs in the front. They provided a strange paradox to all of this beautiful nature.
I arrived in Asheville to visit a friend of mine I’d met in Portland and was greeted with cold beers, burgers, squash, salad, and Rice-Krispie treats. When it comes to food, they sure do it right down South. I requested more BBQ and everyone got giddy with excitement as I was taken the next day to probably the best Q I’ve ever had.
In an art/industrial part of Asheville near the French BroadRiver sits 12 Bones. You walk into the little place that’s only open for lunch and read the board with the different rubs: Blueberry Chipotle, Brown Sugar. Meat falling off the bone and melting in the mouth, corn jalapeño grits, potato salad, all served on a big aluminum dog pan. A huge glass of sweet tea, and, for desert, a deep-fried Twinkie. I suppose the true sign of any good meal is immobility, and for the next six hours I lied down in a park downtown like a beached whale, unable to move, listening to a violin player across the street playing for tips.
Asheville was a nice, quaint, hilly town up in the mountains that I only knew as the hometown of Thomas Wolfe. It reminded me a bit of Portland with the whole hippypunkart vibe and large number of breweries, but it seemed to have a sense of Southern charm also. You can hardly judge a place in such a short time and I won’t make any attempt to, but, either way, after spending most of the previous days in a solitary frame of mind, it was nice to be with good folks for a couple of days.
Two days later, I arrived back in Washington D.C. I was a bit tired from the trip, but relieved I’d made it in one piece without any major catastrophes. My friend Matt, guitarist from Crispus Attucks and owner of Smash Records and who I’d lived with years ago, was nice enough to split his basement with me until I figured what I was doing. I had to laugh how things sometimes have a way of coming full circle as we found ourselves in a similar living situation (sharing a room, large punk house with lots of roommates, listening to old bands) over a decade later. I hung out in his store in Adams Morgan and watched the young punks walk into the door, excitedly looking for records and CDs. It was then that a sense of nostalgia came over me. I was a little jealous and yet happy that my friend had his own business, one in which he was doing something he had a passion for.
I hung out with another old friend, guitarist, and bandmate from SCRM, Dave. He was now a big time DJ in the world of house and electronic music. He finds himself constantly on the road, playing clubs in Australia and Amsterdam and Canada and throughout the U.S. for thousands. We met in a hip bar from what I remembered to be a not-so-nice neighborhood. Times had changed like they do in every city and now, as I mingled with the young club scene, I was referred to as the old punker dude who knew and toured with Dave way back in the day. Yes, at the whopping age of thirty-three, I was a grizzly veteran. I had to laugh as I sat at the table, sipping a drink and watching everyone come up to him as if he was some sort of celebrity. He was very humble, though, knowing many of them from various shows. I couldn’t help but think that if anyone I knew was going to “make it big,” Dave was the one. Although I was unable to stand the monotony of the music, I enjoyed the scenery of beautiful younger women shaking all around with that good, get-down feeling, as they say.
New York was calling me and I knew it was the time to go. For the next two months I hopped around subletting small rooms and venturing around Brooklyn and Manhattan. I took the subway to Coney Island and to Harlem and to points in-between. I found myself walking hours on end through the streets of Manhattan, eyes fully exposed, often times lost, filled with a strong case of sensory overload with the carnival of New York parading around like it did every day.
Often discovering musicians playing in the subways and out on the streets, it was then that I started to really toy with the idea of playing music for tips. The money I’d spent months saving was dwindling and no jobs were coming in, so one day I took my guitar to Central Park. I sat down in a tunnel that looks out upon the Manhattan skyscrapers and plucked some tunes. I made it two hours before I realized that I was too lazy to stand and that the first thing I needed to do was go out and purchase a stool. That afternoon I came away with twenty-five bucks, a wealth of compliments on my playing, and some kids dancing. All in all, as first forays go, I considered it a success.