“I guess my advice is, eat chili, only tour Europe, don’t drink and don’t talk to anyone.”
By Mike Shanley
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Touring can make you crazy, Frank Zappa opined in the film 200 Motels. And he was right. Those long hours and days away from home can be hazardous to one’s health. And it’s not restricted to the mega-rockers either. The Replacements once laid waste to a tour bus with cans of paint and a free-flying toilet. Mike Watt of the Minutemen used the pantlegs of his jumpsuit to combat a health issue during a tour. (Check out the book, Our Band Could Be Your Life for the scatological details).
Pittsburgh bands have their fair share of road stories too. We asked a handful of them about how they do it without wrecking their health. Here are a few answers.
BRAD YODER: Back in the day, I did a fair bit of driving too far on too little sleep, sleeping on random couches and also sleeping in my car. Some of the crazy long drives I did in my 20s or 30s don’t make sense [now] at 52. My body would just punish me too hard. I would always try to stay with friends, or “fan-friends,” whenever possible to save money and that usually worked out. One reason I try to show extra hospitality to musicians who crash at my house now, is that I know that being on the road is tough and can take a lot out of you. And frequently, it’s a labor of love, in terms of the money earned.
MARY BIELICH (Behind Enemy Lines, Mud City Manglers): Being vegan, I’m always stocking up on any sort of snack bars and nuts and anything I can get, assuming that the next place you go, you’re going to have nothing. Let’s say you’ve got five peanut butter Clif Bars? You might want to get ten. Stick them under the seats. Stick them in the visor. Stick them anywhere they fit. Be prepared to break down and stash that stuff. You never know when you’re going to need that bag of nuts. This is the unpopular opinion, but I’m going to say it: Do you really have to drink on the road? Most people do. I always refrain from drinking on the road because I made that mistake once: of being horribly hungover in Europe. We were going to a castle the next day, in Germany. It was miserable. So if you’re not going to watch your booze, know when your driving shift is coming up. Be mindful and don’t be the jerk that makes your one bandmate drive all the time. You’ll feel better and you’ll sound better. Here’s my advice for smokers: If you’re standing outside of the show and you’re talking to people and you’re getting a little bit anxious and excited because you’re talking to all these people, don’t smoke three cigarettes in a row. You might get nicotine poisoning. You’ll definitely get tunnel vision. You might pass out. One of the most important things as well: If and when you have the opportunity to take a shower, do not lose that opportunity because you don’t know when you’ll have it again. Your bandmates will thank you.
MICHAEL KASTELIC (The Cynics): Most important thing: put something over your face. People laughed at Michael Jackson because he wore the medical mask over his face. What I use is a regular cowboy bandana. Sometimes I get in trouble on airplanes. Here’s the thing: You have to keep your nose, mouth and throat humidified. There has to be moisture because that’s what kills the bacteria. Otherwise you’re going to get any kind of fucking bacteria or viruses in your throat. If your nose dries out, if your throat dries out, if your eyes dry out, that is where the viruses start. Keep your face covered. And it’s not just an affect, it’s a scientific fact. Be like Greta Garbo, just cover your face and say, “I want to be alone. I don’t want to breathe your goddam fucking viruses.” Also I take the multi-vitamins. It’s pretty much Propecia for the hair and multi-vitamins. But sometimes I’ll bring a springtime mix of Vitamin supplements, some D, some C. Also I’ve switched from Tums to Rolaids. Not that I really suffer that much from acid reflux. But I don’t think the Tums work that well. Take a roll of Rolaids. If you get dyspeptic, you can chew on it, you can suck it.
DAVE WHEELER (OutsideInside, Limousine Beach): On one U.S. tour, I subsisted on cold cans of Hormel chili (no beans). After the tour ended I discovered a rogue can that had rolled under a seat and decided to treat myself by heating it up and eating it with some cheese and onions. I’ll tell you what…it wasn’t much of an improvement. It’s a little easier in Europe because the hospitality is better. They almost always provide you with a meal made from actual food and they seem to care about things like dietary restrictions and whether or not eating a peanut will kill you. As a singer, I do have to at least make an effort to preserve my voice. The means less booze and avoiding conversations at the venue before and after the show. You know: you’re chatting away at the merch table while another band is raging in the background and you don’t realize you’re yelling the entire time. Next thing you know, you’re voice is gone with 23 shows to go. So I guess my advice is eat chili, only tour Europe, don’t drink and don’t to talk to anyone.
ELI KASAN (The Gotobeds): Beyond remembering your running shorts or to pack vegan food for when you’re stuck in Middle America and the only thing to eat is something that looks like America ran over it with its car, is remembering to check on each other’s mental health and remember that other people are dealing with real shit — shit that doesn’t go away when you’re on vacation, “touring.” I’ve been out enough that, inevitably, someone has had a death in the family, a pet that got sick or there’s an angry partner. It’s easy to get annoyed with your bandmates when you’re in close quarters for long stretches. But try to remember to be kind. Traveling under duress can be difficult, so the Number One thing I try to keep top of mind is to have empathy with, and for, your traveling companions.