Remember those green leatherette books with the little lock and key? I still have mine from when I was eight. And somewhere out on the internet, there still exists the first online diary I wrote back in January 1999, twenty years ago this week. It was Warren Zevon’s birthday yesterday. Can’t believe he’s been gone for years. Touring is easier now than it was back then, what with iphones and food and coffee culture that isn’t limited to the very big cities. I’m shocked at the amount of fast food I used to eat. At how much Oprah I used to watch. At how new it all felt to me, both the solo touring and the writing.
This is from the first part of the trip.
DIARY OF A ROAD HOUSEWIFE, PART 1
What I’m driving: a red Ford Contour
What I’m listening to: Mott the Hoople, P.F. Sloan, Dan Hicks, Beth Orton, Dwight Yoakam, bad country radio, Replacements
What I’m eating: Cracker Barrel, McDonald’s, Warren’s deli tray when he’s onstage
What I’m reading: road atlas
What I’m wearing: the same damn thing every night – I miss all my shoes!
You must remember, the midwest has the worst coffee in the country (this greatly affects my demeanor on the road). To make matters worse, in the heart of dairyland they lighten their coffee with a substance referred to as “cream”. We all know it as 100% synthetic, never-been-anywhere-near-a-cow non-dairy creamer. I find this practice to be reprehensible, and make it a point of filling the largest possible container of coffee, asking for the milk, and when I’m directed to the “cream”, slamming the coffee down on the counter and walking out. I know, a real rebel would fling the coffee in someone’s face but my idea of trashing a hotel room is throwing all the dirty towels on the floor, so I do what I can…
I’ve noticed that once a person’s reached a certain age, the art of grooming is all that separates the desireables from the undesireables. Well-parted hair can make the difference between a welcoming “Hello, may I help you” and the look that says “I’m one step away from calling security”. Sport clothes also separate the haves from the have-nots. Try taking a walk in any mid-sized American city or suburb wearing your usual coat, pants and boots. I assure you, the guys hanging out by the bus shelter will welcome you as one of their own, while “respectable citizens” will scurry to their cars and lock the doors audibly as you pass by. Try the same stroll in full workout regalia, preferably with headphones (don’t worry about attaching them to anything) and you’ll get appreciative nods all around and even an occasional thumbs up.
I’m sad to report that they’re doing away with the heat lamps in hotel and motel bathrooms. Could someone please explain this to me? They used to help a weary traveller in several ways: Having a large, exposed bulb a few feet away actually does keep you warmer; the ticking of the timer is a comforting , white-noise sound that helps you “come down” from the effects of prolonged driving; and most importantly, after several hours/days/weeks on the road, you can turn to face yourself in the mirror without being too frightened of what you’re about to see.
The proliferation of Cracker Barrels on this nation’s highways and byways is leading to a shocking phenomenon: they are running out of “old-time” junk to hang on the walls! Check it out next time you stop off at one of these reliable but irritating restaurants. Where once every available square inch of wall space was covered with rusted, splintering oxen yokes and metal advertising signs for brands of soda pop no one ever heard of, it’s now reaching the point where they’ll use a white paper doily with a red ribbon attached to give that country store feel. There just aren’t enough ancient class photographs to go around anymore.Diary 1999
My trip began on January 19 when I flew from New York to Minnesota to hook up with Warren Zevon, who’d played Governor Ventura’s inauguration a few days before. That date was not part of my itinerary!
January 20 Minneapolis
Spent the day switching back and forth between the impeachment proceedings and the porn channel (I swear this stuff is better scrambled, where you’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on). Met Warren himself very briefly at the soundcheck – he looked tanned and healthy and kindly extended his hand to me in greeting. They were having some sort of guitar problem, tho, so he appeared a little worried. A late show, so the crowd was well on their way to being inebriated by the time I got on stage. It was fun to play for such a rowdy bunch. A very male audience, sort of the anti-Lilith? Even Jesse Governor Ventura was there.
January 21 Milwaukee
Nobody ever says what a cool-looking town this is. The show was at Shank Hall – named for the legendary venue where Spinal Tap rocked Milwaukee. Again, a lot of guys, a lot of beer. The Zevon crowd is interesting – it’s mainly near-middle-aged men who appear to be exhausted by the quest for sensitivity and really savor the opportunity to let out a few he-man yells in a “safe” environment – I love it!
January 22 Madison
One of my favorite towns, and in winter the hotels are damn cheap! Banged myself in the head with my guitar (at soundcheck no less) so I knew it would be a good show. Such a sweet audience (more gals this time) and two university professors nearly came to blows in the lobby over my last CD. Had a great martini in the Tornado Room w/fellow mod housewife Norma Coates.
January 23 Chicago
Tried to walk down to the lake in Madison but had to literally hold onto the sides of the buildings to keep from sliding down the hill – so this is why the hotel’s so cheap…Got lost on the way to soundcheck in Chicago – why is it that nobody can giver proper directions in this town? Tip: Never ask 2-3 guys in a sport utility vehicle for directions. Ditto cops and gas station attendants. That leaves…who? The Park West has the nicest staff of just about any club. Too bad my dressing room was also the only entrance to the supply cellar. The staff at the Park West and I are on very familiar terms now. My friends Kit & Ted made the drive up from St. Louis. Kit swears she saw the guy from Dawson’s Creek in the audience. I broke a string in a very bad place on what was going to be the last song. Couldn’t break it off and couldn’t keep playing. Recovered, barely, to play one more song minus the low E. No CD’s to sell but enjoyed hanging out afterwards. Got a stupid parking ticket, though, which I plan to fight – they don’t know who they’re dealing with (I’m 3 for 5 in getting NYC parking tickets dismissed or reduced!)
January 24 Pontiac, MI
Checked out of the hotel to find the name “Jerry Springer” on my receipt. “What’s this all about?” I inquired. I guess the grooming habits and general demeanor of me and my pals had us pegged as guests of the Springer show! Rushing to find a quick breakfast place with parking (yet another racket Chicago has going) we somehow ended up in the hell that is Ed Debevic’s. Upon entering this “fun” place, we immediately dispatched Ted to the Hooters across the street to see if they had any eggs (besides the obvious ones). He came back shaking his head so we ended up choking down dry turkey sandwiches and praying that we wouldn’t be forced to wear balloon crowns. At the table behind us a whimpering child cowered before her birthday cupcake as a group of waitresses bellowed “Happy Birthday” and then moved on to the next victim.
Halfway to Pontiac I remembered the time change and realized I was going to be an hour late. I got completely lost just outside of town and winded up heading in the wrong direction on the interstate, tears streaming down my face as I berated myself for being too cheap to get a cell phone. A kindly old gent in a Burger King put his arm around me, drew me a map and sent me back out into the night. When I pulled up at the club, there was a line of people around the block. Turns out Warren had done the same thing and was just finishing his soundcheck! I gave just about everything I had left on stage and drove to a motel outside of town to recover from the day, dreaming of butch waitresses in cat-eye glasses and the Silverdome.
January 25 and 26 Pontiac/Columbus
Woke up to a perfect anonymous snow-covered landscape outside the window of my perfectly anonymous motel on a snow-covered road in You-Could-Be-Anywhere, U.S.A. No show tonight or tomorrow. All I had to look forward to was finding the nearest mall and watching Oprah, which was fine with me. The local mall provided me with all the necessities: Mailboxes, Etc., T.J. Maxx and what must be a local establishment, the Gander Factory (which I at first mistook for the Gender Factory but then remembered I was in Michigan, not Manhattan). Isn’t it wonderful how even the lamest strip mall now contains a Borders or Barnes & Noble superstore? I dined at McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, consecutively, which I believe constitutes the triple-crown of fast-food eating if all items are consumed within one twelve-hour period.
Bored after a day of this, I decided to press on to Columbus, which seemed downright cosmopolitan in comparison. I took in a movie and looked forward to the next night’s show.
January 27 Columbus
My birthday. My 40th birthday. I felt pretty spry. Had lunch with the Koch sales rep, Gerald Moss, who’s always been a big help in figuring out where to go and what to avoid in Columbus. Went over to WCBE for a radio interview with Max Faulkner. We were chatting on the air when someone handed him a piece of paper that said (in black magic marker) “Warren is sick. Tonight’s show is cancelled.” And then in red marker, as an afterthought I guess “Amy does not know this.” I couldn’t conceal my disappointment. I couldn’t help but mention on the air that this was my birthday and I did not want to spend it alone in a motel room. The promoter called in and said she had organized a show for me at a smaller club, the Thirsty Ear. It was one of the weirdest, best nights of my life, with the club owner wheeling a cake onstage and 100 strangers singing happy birthday. I’d really wanted to spend my birthday playing a show and even with forces conspiring against me it happened. I downed two shots of Jack Daniels (it took me about 2 1/2 hours) and called it a day.
I looked high and low for a picture from a show back in 1999 – that’s another thing that’s changed, everything is more documented now. So I’m posting the cover image for new single The President Can’t Read debuting on The Big Takeover site next Fri Feb 1 and available right around then too. I thought if I waited long enough this song would be obsolete, as I wrote it a month after the inauguration. I’ll be playing two shows for the release, Fri Feb 1 at Spotty Dog in Hudson NY & Tues Feb 5 at Mercury Lounge NYC. You can buy tickets for the Mercury here. Thank you for reading this online diary of mine – twenty years old this week!