Night before last, carbon payback for daring this kind of air voyage: after a five hour drive and a five hour connecting flight, a two hour layover, and three immobile hours on the tarmac we’re informed something doesn’t work, and at 2 a.m. we’re off the plane, wandering aimless in an empty San Francisco airport, sleeping rough on the floors, curled in against the aircon cold of the place. Turns out a big airport takes about three hours off during the haunting time of the night, where the line marking night from dawn is smudged and gone. Then, as if a gate somewhere opens wide, and the steady stream of luggage-dragging moderns shuffles and strides, and the whole things groans up again to make the machine move on down the line. It’s a haunted vision only the workers here – the grab and go clerks, the shoe shiners, the people who clean those endless rubber escalator handrails – seem to see.
Going from the farm gate to Australia – an obscene, unhuman distance – will take us 24 hours of momentum, sitting still hurtling forward, somehow losing a day.
The other night, the Brisbane Old Museum, a true Victorian pile, full throttle empire business, beautiful, a million brick details in the edifice, a claustrophobe’s true agitation, the place aching under its old commonwealth clepto burden, dusty culture ghosts in the wings, under the staircase. The house sound fellas are kindness itself, in a Spinal Tap sort of way, the local organizers guess at what our jet lag might could use – homemade black forest cake made by a Chinese Aussie named Man and his mom at midnight, it turns out, just because we mentioned it at dinner, and mescal. A good guess. A challenging combination in the system. These people are the gold of the Grief/Mystery tours, the sanity of it all, the mercy.
We have jetlag calculus running through us. So it seems only right and proper somehow that we second guess much of the connective tissue that issues from one story or song to the next, the tissue that has grown during the last six months of touring and has held us in good stead, and do something that turns on a dime instead. This morning the thinking is clearly fitful and desperate sounding, but last night, after a round of curry and Coke in the green room, and us unhinged citizens of a time zone half a world away, it sounded adventurous and nervy and mutinous. A third of the way into things I lost my way, went into Fate too soon, upended the mojo of the set list, put Mr. Hoskins on his heels a bit, him scrambling amidst his foot pedals to adjust. Our confidence now a broken thermometer’s mercury puddled on the floor, we’re a bit adrift. Mr. Hoskins repays in kind: during the night’s rendering of Useful – a disarmingly bright sounding meditation on the mercenary mind – he stops in mid-riff and throws the moment to me, looking for an impromptu link up to the Israel/Gaza heartbreak. Which I do somehow manage.
Even in our disrepair we’re alert to the fact that as touring musicians we don’t, mustn’t, live in a bubble of our own making. Our best figuring is this: if we propose to take up peoples’ evenings – in other countries, no less – and if they part with their hard-earned silver, and we have nothing for the particulars of that night in that place, then the barn door at the back of the hall is yawning open, and the titular saints and the Ancients of Days of the place are likely to file out early in favour of more promising and faithful haunts. And that’d make us tourists. Which we aren’t. And so we pay attention, to the heartbreak of the middle east, to the twist and torment of a national referendum here on systemic aboriginal presence in governance that went ‘No’ in a big way, to the fires and the floods that are more and more weather’s commonplace. And that is our privilege: being recognizable, in a strange way, to the locals who agree to come, mindful of them, other than them.
Founder of Orphan Wisdom