For the past nine years I have been playing in a band called Xiu Xiu. For seven of those years, it is how I've eked out a living. In all of music, the most boring and terrifying thing to whine about is how Apple destroyed the business and how musicians cannot make money selling records anymore. With the relatively high number of bi people who find refuge and meaning as working musicians, this is a double "fuck you" to us, professionally and personally. However dull this is, it is more or less true.
We used to tour for about three months a year, and then I would get a check for the last record we'd recorded. The check was usually for about what I would make in two and half months of touring. After a while this allowed me to move out of a punk-rock shanty and into a one-bedroom apartment that cost $750 a month. I could buy $11 Chianti, soap that smelled like lavender and be home nine months a year, working on writing songs and seeing my sister. Basically, by the grace of God, I began to live a normal, queer-o, working-class level of existence.
So back to our stale, long, "people stopped buying records" story -- meow moo meow, moo meow moo. Because of this, I now have to be on tour for about six and half months a year to keep living like a Western, adult human with a shred of dignity (i.e., not in total squalor in a house that has a basement that regularly floods with feces a foot and half deep... true story).
But when I say I have to tour for six-plus months a year, I do not mean to suggest that I also do not feel like I get to tour that much. The actual playing shows part of this is still remarkable, and we have been all over Europe, Asia and North America.
But aside from graciously developing a continental palate, another byproduct of royalties going away and therefore needing to tour so much more is that you are in a club every night where there are hundreds of drunk strangers, in a city every day where you do not fit, and far, far, far, far away from home for half your life. Most of the time this is exciting and fine, but on about every trip or so, something dangerous happens that would never occur if I were safe in the confines of my little nest.
Sometimes these situations are self-imposed, due to losing it from the grind of that much weird travel, and sometimes these situations would only and could only happen to a touring musician.
The very first time something rotten happened, we were at a small club in Houston. We were playing our little, mopey songs to about seven patrons when a guy jumped on the stage and punched our former keyboard player in the chest. She crashed to the ground, and the guy ran out the door. The bouncer only laughed. To our former keyboard player's massive credit, she got back up onto her chair and finished the show, a true badass. Now she writes greeting cards. I promise you no one at her current job punches her in the chest while she is at her desk.
In Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Seattle I have had bottles, ice cubes and quarters thrown at my face while playing, all by the same traveling boy/girl couple whom I had had sex with in Los Angeles the weekend before. In what other job would there be a situation in which this baffling gesture could take place?
In Austin, a guy threw lit cigarettes at me and yelled "faggot" over and over while I was trying to play. At another show there, while getting paid, one of the white people working in the office used the word "nigger" (and I don't mean "nigga") about three times while he was talking to me about the people at the show. Then one of the bartenders threatened to beat up one of my bandmates, claiming we had used too many drink tickets (which they gave us in the first place). Steers and queers!
In Iowa City, we were loading out our gear after the show, and these two frat dudes walked by and started calling one of my bandmates a "gook" (she is Asian) and our tour manager a "beaner" (she is Latina). My bandmate Angela takes no shit from anyone, so she started screaming at them. Fearing that she was going to get her ass kicked by two drunk frat boys, I grabbed a bottle to swing at them and started yelling, too, while the tour manager led Angela into the van. This worked for a second and the frat boys backed off, but then they and I realized that there were two of them and only one of me, so I, too, jumped in the van to get away. They started kicking the van doors. However, we were across the street from a police station, and some cops came out and tackled them as they tried to run away. They had to call their daddies to bail them out. Ha ha ha!
In Budapest, we were playing a show on a boat. After we played, there was this big, fake, heavy metal yuppie party featuring the exotic dancer champion of Europe. She happened to be Hungarian, so it was a big deal. We were hanging out at the bar with some friends who run the club and were asked if we wanted to see the dancer's show. By this point, we had already gotten naked and posed for photos on all the Harley motorcycles outside the club, so why not go see the champ?
A photographer who was on tour with us started taking photos of the champ while she was dancing in this huge prop champaign glass. After about a minute, these gigantic, coked-out guys in leather jackets with, according to my friend, incredibly soft hands, wrestled him to the ground and tried to smash his camera. Somehow he tossed it to me without them seeing, and I stuffed it in my pants to hide it. They got so angry that they couldn't find the camera that they started shaking him violently and screaming, "Kill you! Kill you!"
The promoters we had been drinking with rushed over to save him, and it looked like all of us were going to have a massive brawl, but they let my wayward photographer friend go, and we ran away. It turned out that the guys who grabbed my friend did not even work there but were just some fucking fans who did not want anyone taking photos of their exotic champion.
In St. Gallen, Switzerland, a group of people we were on tour with had an afternoon free, so we went into a sex shop to look around. This was one of the non-female-friendly ones: overly stocked, with unpainted pegboard displays, no music on and a gross staircase going up behind the counter, lined with exaggeratedly high high-heeled shoes.
As soon as we entered, the owner started shouting, "No! No!" at Nika (from Zola Jesus) for holding a coffee. Everyone had coffee, but she is about five feet tall and rail thin, with long, blonde hair. She is not a diminutive person in character, but if you just saw her and were the presupposing type, that is what you would assume. She shouted back, "OK! OK!" and put her cup outside. Odd? Yes, but we kept looking around. After about five minutes the owner turned on a live David Bowie bootleg video and slowly started making it louder and louder until it became incredibly booming throughout the store. Our Bowie-maniac tour manager Jakub walked over and asked the owner what show it was from. The owner turned around and cranked it even louder, which did not seem possible.
He was being so bizarre and rude that we decided that we had to keep looking around, of course. I found some zines of cross-dressing merged with infantilism porn. I am a big bi pervert, but I had never seen anything like this -- certainly one or the other, but never both at the same time. Nika and I love this part of life, so I called her over to show her. After about 30 seconds of looking at it, the owner ran past me to Nika and literally pushed her out of the way. He grabbed the zines and shouted, "Go, go, go!"
This was too much, so we all filed out, knocking a couple of dildos onto the floor for good measure for his having shoved our friend. I stood in the doorway and farted really loudly to say, "Goodbye!"
We were walking down the street talking about how strange it all was when out of nowhere, the owner ran past all of us and up to Nika. He sprayed a yellow aerosol can at her face! We were stunned, didn't move for one second and then realized what had been going on: this fucking guy had some kind of dark, violent power-fetish when it comes to small, blonde women and was getting off on this.
Jakub and I chased him down the street screaming bloody murder, trying to kick and spit on him. The guy ran into a falafel place and stood behind the owner, saying he was going to call the police and feinted spraying at us again. We said, "Go ahead, call the police, as he has just assaulted our friend."
In a rush of adrenalin, I was able to grab the spray can from the crazy porn shop guy's hand and saw that it was bug spray! He had sprayed bug spray in Nika's hair and face.
A crowd gathered, and I guess it looked to them like we were trying to beat this guy up for no reason. They started yelling at us. There was one dad there with his 6-year-old son, both with bowl cuts. I told him to get his kid out of there. He said, "Violence never solves anything." He was right, and it occurred to us that no matter what happened, if the cops the came, it was going to take like nine hours to deal with this bullshit, or we were going to jail. We had a show to get to that night. We left, screaming obscenities, and jotted down the name of the sex shop so that we could look it up and crank call him for the rest of his life.
However, the worst case of all was at our own hands. Reasonably, this isn't exactly right for publishing on HuffPost, but you can find an unedited version at xiuxiu.org. I will say it took us about two hours to clean up the room the next morning. I never do this kind of thing at home.
A hundred more affairs like this and worse have happened to us and are happening to a touring musician somewhere on Earth right this second. There are few fields where a bi person can be as supported for who they are as music. Really, I can't think of any aside from sex work. Circus ring leader, maybe? Music is good for you. Touring is bad for you. When the place where one can truly be oneself and lean on as the reason for living is so fraught with industrialized, greedy, pummeling and uncertain, nut-balled hazard, what should be the most awesome bi-life ever is, at a confusing rate, reduced to just sort of awesome.
Follow Jamie Stewart on Twitter: www.twitter.com/XiuXiuforLife