Giving Up The Ghost

My father recently asked me how The Nadas were doing. “You don’t write about them so much anymore,” he said.

True enough. Six months ago, a friend emailed me, “If you blog one more time about The Nadas, I’m never visiting your site again.” She was kidding, I assume. But it’s true; six months ago the love affair was in full swing.

And why not? Here were a coupla guys living the life I’d always hoped to live. Here were a coupla guys who went for it: full-time rocknroll, complete with tour bus. Better yet, here were (here are) a coupla good, honest, sweet, hugely creative Midwestern boys. And best yet, they opened the homes, their hearts, their stage, their label, and — sweet! — their tour bus to me.

So as you know, I spent two weeks with ’em last year: a week in July, and again in December. They were very different experiences. July was exciting, beautiful, sun-soaked and awash in green. The road was new, and thrilling, and romantic. December was cold, monochromatic, and depressing. The road was long, and dark, and left me with a wicked hangover.

What had changed? Not The Nadas. Not the road. Me. I had, if only just a little bit.

I’ve dreampt of the cover of Rolling Stone since I was eight-years-old. I’ve been in bands since I was sixteen. I’ve been releasing records since I was nineteen. I’m thirty-four now. That’s a long time, a lot of dreams, and a lot of pavement beneath the tires.

By the time I met Jason at the Sundance Film Festival last winter, I was pretty close to throwing in the towel. Though I have what I consider to be numerous creative successes, I’ve never broken through. I appreciate every email from Berlin to Sydney and beyond. But the process was approaching diminishing returns. Until this year, I’ve spent most of my vacations on tour. I’ve spent every season writing, recording, and releasing a new CD, each one invested with all the hopes, dreams, and fantasies of all that had come before. But somehow, it has never been enough. Their were too few sales, too few people in the audience, too little press. I was a tiny tree falling in a huge, empty forest.

Jason seemed to feel similarly. They’d come awfully close to breaking through plenty of times, most recently with a profile in a major national magazine just days before September 11, 2001. But they hadn’t. And he was tired, and frustrated, but hopeful. Eventually, he invited me along for the ride, and injected a fair amount of hope back into me as well. At the end of the road, though — sick, exhausted, crestfallen — I couldn’t sustain it. I couldn’t spend any more vacations on the road. I needed a real vacation, one with a beach, and a beer, and a woman I love (hence Honduras in February, and Bonaire in July).

Fast forward to last week. My father says, “What’s up with The Nadas? You don’t write about them so much anymore.” So I IM Jason. Not like we never talk (I like to email them whenever one of their songs hits my iPod at an auspicious moment), but to catch up.

The Nadas are still at it, busy as ever. They spent the winter pushing “Listen Through The Static” to radio, with some success (#36 on XM Cross-Country, #32 on the Roots Music Report). They opened for Bon Jovi in Des Moines. Bassist Jon Locker (who produced “Heartland”) produced The Josh Davis Band’s excellent debut, “The White Whale” (best album cover ever). They added Bob Hillman to the Authentic Records roster. Drummer Justin Klein bought a motorcycle. Mike Butterworth shaved his blond locks, and continues to perform solo shows. And the band got a full summer of dates, including their usual tenure at the Iowa State Fair.

The bad news is, the bus died as the band headed home from its New Year’s gig. The engine finally gave up the ghost two-hundred miles east of Denver. (Somewhere in Kansas last summer, Jason told me that the bus had over a million miles on it, but that it was on it’s third engine. This particular engine had logged over 300,000 miles.) The band has returned to its Econoline van, but hopes to raise the $25k necessary to get Meat Loaf’s old bus (“That’s right, Meat Load, motherf*****”) back on the road (you can pitch in here).

As for me, well, I wasn’t sure I was gonna play any more shows. I’m grateful for every single person that makes it out when I do perform, but it’s a little heartbreaking to rehearse, sweat, and hype a show that is scarcely attended. But I’m back on the horse, at least for a minute. Tony, Ryan and I are performing at Alphabet Lounge next weekend (Saturday May 20th at 9:30). I’m looking forward to it. Audience size notwithstanding, I do love to make music with my friends.

So, Dad, The Nadas are well. And so am I. The road goes on forever. And whether we have a map or not, we’re gonna keep on keepin’ on.

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