words & photos: Amanda Siberling
I’m in a car in Detroit and I don’t know where I’m going – just somewhere in Southwest Detroit near the El Club, but that isn’t specific enough. I have about thirty pounds of camera gear and a duffel with the absolute least amount of clothes I need to get through the week. I don’t know where I’m sleeping tonight. I don’t know where I’m going.
It’s my first time on tour, and for these first few hours in Detroit before Leggy and Alice Bag arrive, I am completely alone.
I’m going on tour to make a documentary, but it’s about more than that. I want to know what it’s like to dedicate yourself so intensely to music that you’ll live in a van without any idea where your next meal, shower, or bed will be. I don’t know what to expect, and in the weeks leading up to tour, not knowing what to expect was exciting. It isn’t anymore.
The highway looks the same in every state. It’s bleak and there are too many billboards with too many statistics about ways that people die, and then the next billboard tells me how I can get my degree online. The Detroit highway only looks like Detroit when I see a massive tire sculpture – something about automobiles and how they work. But I really remember I’m in Detroit when I see the sign “Canada Bridge – 1 Mile Away.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this person I met one time – not a musician – and I don’t even remember his name, but he came up to me at some punk show in Philly and told me his whole “story.” He had been living in his car for weeks, just driving and driving with nowhere to go, and he was just trying to see the world or something. He told me about how he tried going to Canada but got arrested at the border because he had a gram of pot in his glove box. Totally his fault, but imagine getting arrested in Canada? He showed me the inside of his car where he had been living – there was a black banana in the passenger seat and Big Mac wrappers on the floor. I never saw him again and I’m wondering where he is now.
I’ve told people that weird story of that person I met whose name I don’t remember, but I want more stories like that of my own, except without getting arrested in Canada. It’s naïve and masochistic, but I’m twenty, and I think my body can handle it, maybe. I’m telling myself that before I know it, tour will be over. I’ll do this tour thing for a week, and if I love it, great, and if I hate it, I’ll never do it again. I can handle it.
While scoping out the city in the airport, I found a coffee shop near the El Club on Google Maps street view, but I didn’t think twice about how the street view pictures were from 2013. The coffee shop doesn’t exist anymore. But by some stroke of luck, the door to the El Club was open, and someone from the venue led me into the green room.
I don’t think that El Club employee will ever know how overwhelmingly relieved I was when he welcomed me in – I found somewhere to go. They tell me to make myself at home, and as soon as the door closes, I have my glamour moment – I put on makeup in the circular wall mirror, and I find a straightener and straighten my hair, which I haven’t done since middle school. Seven different types of soda – from diet grape Faygo to 7UP – line the counter, and there’s even a shower in the bathroom, and I wish it was later on the tour so I would feel gross and want to use it.
But once the initial excitement wore off, the loneliness came back.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to tour as a solo artist, traveling alone from city to city. After spending a few hours alone in the green room, I decide to take my camera and take some photos of the area outside of the venue.
“I was wondering if you were taking a picture of that cool building too,” I hear from behind me. I turn around to find a person wearing an Against Me! shirt, their hair split down the middle in two opposing tones of bleach blonde and light brown. Their name is Tren.
“I drove up here from Cleveland with my boyfriend,” they tell me. As soon as Tren and I strike up a conversation, a shirtless, bone-thin man rides by us on a bicycle with CDs lodged in the tire spokes. He asks for a few dollars to buy a beer, and when Tren’s boyfriend gives him some change, he performs a totally wild dance for us.
“I love it in the D!” he shouts, throwing his hands up to the sky. “Detroit is the best city in the world!”
I think that’s what musicians mean when they say that you meet the best, strangest people on tour. The bike dude was pretty confusing, but Tren became my temporary BFF for the night, and I even got to interview them for my documentary – they spoke to me about how punk communities have supported them as a gender non-conforming, queer punk. After getting out of my sanctuary in the green room and meeting Tren, I no longer feel scared and lonely – I feel content.
It’s hard not to write in clichés when being on the road is the most cliché thing ever – I mean, Jack Kerouac? – but later, when Leggy, Alice Bag, and her band finally arrive in the green room, bursting with energy, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be.
Veronique – Leggy’s singer and guitarist – is playing guitar on a few songs in Alice Bag’s set, and we all get to watch her practice with the band. Alice sings along while putting on makeup and settling into the green room, effortlessly cool. I’m not sure if I’ll stop being starstruck by her by the end of the week – probably not.
The Detroit punk group Devious Ones opens the show, their singer suavely dancing across the stage like a big band jazz performer. Leggy follows their set, and although they’re nervous since they haven’t played a show in a month, they kill it – not a surprise.
“Chris, you didn’t even try,” Alice Bag’s guitarist Fiona jokes to Chris, Leggy’s drummer. He’s completely drenched in sweat.
When Alice Bag performs, the following that she has created since the 1970s with The Bags is obvious. Her fans don’t just love her; they feel comfortable with her. They all greet her before and after the show like an old friend, and she introduces them to the other members of her band as well. Everyone gets along.
At the end of the night, the manager of the club brings us four pizzas – El Club claims that they have the best pizza in Southwest Detroit, and I can’t call myself an expert on the Southwest Detroit pizza scene, but I’ll let them have their title. I’m not even sure what I ate – something with goat cheese and sausage and maybe artichokes – but it was an incredible end to an emotionally tumultuous day.
Except that when you’re on tour, the night doesn’t end when you load out your instruments.
Amado, a member of Devious Ones, is kind enough to let us stay at his house, but driving through Detroit at 2 AM on a dark, rainy night isn’t super easy.
“This looks like it’s a grandma’s home. It can’t be it,” Kerstin says as we pull up to a home with antique-looking furnishings and lace panels covering its windows. It’s pretty, but it’s not punk. We park the car and walk down the street in the rain trying to figure out which house is the right one. Chris accidentally drops an unopened can of PBR on the street and it explodes, beer gushing out from a puncture in the center of the can.
“You can’t waste it!” Veronique urges him – he shotguns the rest.
“This is what you should be documenting, “ Veronique tells me, her hot pink hair drenched in rain water. “Trying to figure out which house you’re staying at and making sure no beer goes to waste – this is what tour’s like.”
Vero calls Amado, and he finds us on a neighborhood street corner in the rain. He takes us into his home, which definitely doesn’t look like a grandma lives there. I drink coffee out of a mug decorated Robert Smith’s head (“THE CURE to mornings,” it says), and I take a shower in a bathroom decorated with Ramones paraphernalia (apparently Amado’s son is named Ramone – that’s punk). Kerstin sleeps in a bed that looks like a carnival tent, Veronique and Chris sleep on a red sectional couch, and in typical punk fashion, Amado leads me into his “record room.” I sleep on a futon among hundreds of LPs.
It’s Tuesday now, and I’m in a car with Leggy somewhere in near Dayton, Ohio. It’s raining again. I know where I’m going.