somewhere in iraq
thursday, august 6, 2009
i woke up to the air conditioning unit pounding cold air in a cone into the room i shared with phil “animal” cimino, drummer of my solo band the time bandits. the louvers on the air conditioner, one of those window jobs, were yellowed with a thick coating of fine, talcum powder textured dust. you could smell the dust and feel it on your teeth and tongue.=2 0not just then but pretty much all of the time. for example, travis “t-vice” sluss, our soundguy, had pulled out his passport to show to the guy on duty the night before when we had checked into freedom rest (the R and R location near baghdad where we were playing that day in our first of two gigs) and a sprinkling of dust had fallen out of it onto the reception desk. travis made the pithy observation that his passport was full of dust. to which the soldier behind the desk had replied with equal or greater pith.
now i lay on my side in my clean yet dusty sheets looking at my dusty room and ran my tongue across my dusty teeth and tried to wr ap my head around being in iraq. being pretty much unable to do that, i just got up.
we had a gig at ten a.m. that morning. phil had made the comment that the last time he’d done a concert at ten in the morning was in elementary school. i think it was the same for all of us. still, in the military, ten a.m. is like mid afternoon in other subcultures. i grabbed the television white, les paul junior that gibson guitars had lent me and headed down to the pool which is where they had the stage.
our setup was fairly minimal because, as i’ve said elsewhere, we did a lot of the setup the night before. so with very little ado we were doing our second gig of the tour, our first in iraq. (our first gig in the middle east had been at a base in kuwait)
there was irony though because two days before, freedom rest was packed with soldiers on R&R but they’d all gone and when we got there, there were few soldiers left so apart from six or seven soldiers in deck chairs and some that watched us from the pool we basically did the gig for the unit that conducted our convoy. they were essentially on duty so they all had on full combat fatigues there by this pool which had belonged, in former times to this officers club of the iraqi armed forces. between that and the time being ten in the morning, the sight was somewhat unreal.
one amusing thing occu rred during the show. between two songs, a soldier from the pool climbed to the top of a diving platform that had to be thirty feet high. from the stage, in the morning glare we could see him quite clearly. he stood a little tentatively on the edge and looked down at the cool blue water of the pool. on the mic i said, “jump!” and phil played a drum roll. the guy looked back at the stage and the band was watching him and the audience was watching him and the rest of the soldiers in the pool were watching him up on high on the platform. he hesitated for another second or two and then with an admirable economy of grace he stepped off the platform and plummeted into the pool accompanied by a cymbal crash from phil that fit nicely with the splash he made.
silly but good for a laugh.
during the show i said, as you always do when you’re doing a show and you’re on the microphone, “thanks for being here.” then i looked around, up at the sky of iraq and perhaps beyond the walls of this oasis where we found ourselves in a reprieve from the combat outside and said, “and thanks for being here.” pretty much meaning iraq. i ended up saying that every night.
then a couple things people said to me before i left, i think rhetorically, occurred to me and i said into the microphone, “oh, and my girlfriend’s step-dad, dan, says, ‘thank you’ and three ladies at newark airport from little rock, arkansas say, ‘thank you’ as well and my ten year old daughter says, ‘you’re awesome… and thank you.’”
i ended up saying that every night too.
i don’t know but it seemed like they liked that because it brought it home that individual people in the states are thinking about them and care about them. i’d thought a lot before i got to iraq about what i was going to say on he mic and i still didn’t know when i got there and started doing gigs. i’ve never done a lot of planning about what i’m going to say on the mic. i’ve always been terrible about remembering to plug albums and upcoming shows. i’ve also found that when i try to explain how i wrote songs it’s been hit or miss. it seems like when i just open my mouth and say something random, that’s what goes over the best. i joke that i don’t really think about what i say. i just say stuff and if it goes over well i say more stuff like that later. it’s mostly instinct, i guess.
people seem to like that though.