My Glamorous Life as a Scumbag Drummer
Or, the Mindfuck of Touring While Being in a Relationship
Black water in the middle of Puget Sound. An uneasy December night. 1:50 a.m. The port-side deck on the last ferry for Bainbridge was empty. I was standing by the railing watching the city grow small. My cymbal bag was next to me, tied to my right ankle, and there was a cinder block in it. I use the cinder block when I play—it goes in front of my kick drum. It's impossible to play when the kick drum is unstable. The rope tied to my ankle was new and triple-knotted on both ends. I'd go down in the Sound upright, maybe see fish eyes. Jeweled fish eyes. But the cold would sting. And the water pressure. Puget Sound is 900 feet deep in places.
I had become nothing. I was over. I was going over. I had come back from a six-week tour with 40 dollars to show for it. My Sex in the City–fed, man-eating girlfriend was done with me. According to her, I was a womanizing asshole who spent all his time in bars. I was scum and a failure. I was a waste. Exhausted from the touring and weeks of nonsleep, I believed her. My shame had risen to a level I couldn't take anymore.
All I'd thought about for days was coming home to her and the apartment we lived in. The Christmas lights in the little tile kitchen. Getting to sit at our breakfast nook with toast and jam. It wasn't much, but the little things in the back of my mind were what kept me going on that financial bust of a tour. But I didn't come home to a smiling face. I came home to a bunch of packed boxes. She was moving out. She couldn't "take it anymore." She accused me of cheating on her with her best friend. (I couldn't stand her best friend and hadn't seen or talked to her in months.) She needed to be with someone who "wanted more from life." She needed to be with someone who could be financially stable.
I stared at the water. The depth taunted. Would they find my body? How would they break the news to my parents? I picked up the cinder block and held it against my chest. A plane flew overhead, and I thought about what the pilot dreamed the night before. I thought about the spin of the earth. The time to jump came. Now, must jump. Must do it.
We met at a Re-bar fashion show. I fell in love from across the room. I snagged her business card off a table, e-mailed her, and we met for tea at the Panama Hotel Tea House. We had white tea. She had amber eyes. She didn't tell me she was seeing someone else until the end of our date. But I'd suspected. She said she was trying to get out of her current relationship, and my feelings for her made me oblivious to all that that meant. I was single as could be. There were worlds in her eyes. They were all I saw. She told me she wanted to see me again. Her boyfriend was out at sea running a fishing business. Nothing wrong with getting to know her, right?
We started seeing each other regularly. Her boyfriend would be back in six weeks, and she was going to break up with him so we could be together. I was totally in love with her, and she seemed to feel the same about me. We batted rocks with driftwood into Puget Sound. I met her mom. I wouldn't kiss her while she was in a relationship with someone else, although I guess you could say what we were doing was already, in a way, cheating.
She didn't end it with her boyfriend when he came back in town. She disappeared with him for 10 days. Then she told me she was going on a business trip to L.A. But that was only a half-truth. After the business trip, she went to Burning Man with him, which I found out from other people. She finally fessed up to it. Needless to say, I was devastated. She came back and after a few weeks started calling me. She said she didn't know what to do. I remember her telling me that she loved me and that her boyfriend was controlling. She said she was afraid of him, and I thought I could show her real love. One night, she called and said he was out of the picture—that she had broken up with him for good and wanted to be with me. I was happier than the sun.
Most musicians are impossible to deal with, and I'm probably no exception, but it seemed like our lives/careers/neuroses fit together perfectly. She loved the music and the shows. She loved coming to see me play. She ran a little fashion business, and I would wear her outfits. She helped and donated her time and services to the band's music video. We made such a good match. She even talked about wanting to come on tour with me and sell her clothing designs. We were each other's biggest fans. It all hummed along perfectly—until I would leave for tour. Before I'd go, she would become accusatory and mean. She was always apprehensive about it. I would tell her I loved her more than anything and I would be back in a matter of weeks. I called and texted her multiple times a day. The tours ended up being hell, and she would cry half the time we spoke, and there was nothing I could do or say to make her happy.
It would get to a point where she would stop taking my calls. And when we did talk, she would accuse me of being with some girl. I'd get defensive and we'd argue. It tortured us. I spent more energy worrying about her than playing music, which I should have taken as a sign that the relationship wasn't working. The pressure that touring puts on a relationship amplifies all the problems in the relationship—and every relationship has problems. But then I'd make it home and things would calm down.
How do other musicians do it—go on tour while being in a relationship? It wasn't just her who hated it. I hated it, too. I was full of jealousy because of all the other guys constantly calling her. I didn't know how to deal with it. I said mean things to her about them and cut down their sleazy, cologne- wearing, fashion-mogul ways. She had lots of men in her life. Leaving for tour with them swarming all around her was hard for me. She would start out supportive; she'd wish me luck. But three days in, everything would devolve. I would miss her call, not return it quickly enough—and the cycle of doubt would begin. She thought I was with some 19-year-old college girl, doing my Led-Zeppelin-on-tour-at-the-Edgewater imitation, when really I was stuck driving in Cleveland rush hour, two hours late to a club. I tried to show her I was faithful, but I don't think she believed me. I told her over and over that sloppy drunk girls at bars after shows aren't attractive, but she didn't hear me.
On her side of things, she was turning down invitation after invitation from other guys to go to Europe and Mexico for getaways. I felt like I had to compete with these guys the entire time I was with her. Her boyfriend before me kept at it, asking her out for Valentine's Day (for two years). I called them "the suitors"—guys who wanted to bang her, who always seemed to be on the scene. It riddled me with doubt.
And it was demoralizing to go on tours and not make money. To work that hard at something and come home empty-handed. But it was an investment—and like any other business, it takes money to make money. I also desperately needed her acceptance of what I was doing, which was never going to come. Touring was wrong. I was abandoning her, and my being away made her really sad. I tried and tried to show her I loved her, but it never worked. I could never prove it. I never had enough money to fly her to Mexico. I wasn't going to amount to anything. She would flip me off in front of her friends when we went out. Never once did I ask myself why I was with her. Never once did I realize it wasn't a good match. She was so beautiful, it intoxicated me, owned me, and caused me to make wrong decisions at every turn.
I was too busy trying to prove I wasn't a bad guy, too busy competing with the suitors she constantly dangled in front of me. What a mindfuck.
I was standing next to the railing on the Bainbridge ferry, and I couldn't move. Couldn't jump. Yet another thing I couldn't do. I stared at the water. I stood there holding the cinder block, and kept holding it until the boat pulled into the Bainbridge terminal. A voice over the loudspeaker blared, "All passengers must disembark the vessel." So I did. I untied the rope and walked off. I put the cinder block behind a Winslow Dumpster, sat down, and stared at the boat I was too afraid to jump off of. I stared at it until the sun rose. Then I reboarded, rode back to the city, and reentered my life as a broke drummer scumbag who couldn't do anything right.
I look back on that night and think: What the fuck was I doing? I can't believe I had become that low. I almost sank myself to the bottom of Puget Sound because of some stupid relationship? A relationship that was doomed from the moment it started? But this is what touring can do to a person's mind. Touring can wipe away common sense. Isolation in the van gives you tunnel vision. Those endless hours on the freeway heading home, my self-doubt and self-hatred grew and grew. I didn't want to be coming back broke. I didn't want to lose the girl I loved, or thought I loved.
Somehow though—even though I was too broke to impress her, too broke to make her happy—I had paid her share of the rent the month I was on tour. In fact, I'd been paying for half of her rent since we moved in together, and the security deposit. And somehow I was paying for her car insurance. And working for her business for free every weekend. Somehow she had such huge issues with my financial situation.
Meanwhile, dudes would call at midnight, two in the morning. She would never talk to them in front of me. I would ask why they were calling at 2:00 a.m., and she would say it was work-related. I asked if they knew she had a boyfriend, and she would say yes. Once, I picked one of the calls up and asked the guy. He didn't know about me. But the call was totally work-related, at 2:00 a.m., on a Friday night. She said I was abusive and controlling because I picked up her phone. If that was going on while I was in town, I could only imagine what it was like when I was gone. But I was the bad guy; I was the flirtatious asshole. My sense of self was zero. I thought, This can't be happening to me. I know I'm better than this. Please tell me I'm not really in a relationship like this.
It's part of a touring musician's job to flirt—to talk to people, to hustle, to sell CDs and merch. Do I want to have sex with every person I talk to at a show or sell a CD to? No. What I want to do is make money, make a living, and meet people who come out to hear music. Meeting nice people on the road when you're far away from home is golden. But I was losing my ability to do it. As soon as we finished a set and it was my turn to man the merch booth, I felt ashamed. I couldn't talk to anyone—that would be flirting. I wanted to hide in the greenroom.
We started going through each other's phones and computers. It was madness. I would ask her if she was talking to her ex-boyfriends and hanging out with them. She would say no. Her phone showed they had spoken five nights in a row. She'd pick up my phone and see a call from my brother, not recognize the number, and say I was cheating on her. She had forgotten my birthday, but we spent three counseling sessions on my leaving for a two-week tour. I wanted it all to stop, but it kept getting deeper.
It was embarrassing to look through her phone and e-mail. I never got the sense she felt bad looking through mine. I looked because I had to know. And sure enough, she was lying through her teeth. I found one of the suitors on her MySpace page and wrote him to see if he knew she had a boyfriend. He replied, "I didn't know she had a boyfriend, but I would have probably act [sic] the same as you. ;) Thanks for getting back to me. Ciao."
She would look through my phone to even the score, but there was nothing to see. After being with her for a year, I had no more female friends. She accused me of being sexual with every single one of them. I wasn't even allowed to hang out with my cousin. I sat there and took the lies and felt lower and lower because of it.
I did the guy thing and thought I could make it better. I could show her my love was real. Any money I had on tour, I spent on gifts for her. There were no other women—just me trying to pay down a student loan, play music, and make ends meet. For bands that aren't on a major label, touring is a grind. There's no glamour whatsoever. Few bands lead the Radiohead life. Touring for midlevel bands is like working on a fishing boat. A typical day finds you crammed in a van, rushing to get to the next city and venue. If you're not driving, you're sleeping or trying to. Food is from Taco Bell and truck stops. Once at the venue, you unload the gear and wait for a sound check. After sound check, there may be a couple hours for dinner. Then you come back, set up, play your set, wait until the last band is finished, load out, pack up, and get paid. Nights end with you crashed on someone's floor next to spilled bong water. Sleep is maybe four hours. You wake up and do it all again. Twenty nights in a row of this leads to a strung-out headspace. There's never privacy, there's no place for privacy, and the stress is gargantuan.
How could I have time to be intimate with someone while I was on the road? I barely had time to microwave truck-stop breakfast burritos.
I think a lot about the mindfuck of it, the jaws of contradiction, the paradox. She needed and wanted me to make more money from touring—if I was going to do this with my life, I did need to make more money from it. I got that. But in order for that to happen, there would need to be more people at the shows, which meant more girls, which was not okay, either. So I was screwed both ways. Come to think of it, she wasn't okay with me talking to guys at shows, either. One time, a guy I had known for 10 years came to a show and got really drunk. At the end of my set, he ran up and gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek to congratulate me. He was shitfaced. I was thankful he was there. I hadn't seen him in forever, and he paid $12 to see me play. She accused me of having a gay affair with him. He was straight.
I begged for us to get couples counseling. And after months of my begging, she relented. I wanted to establish trust and communication. I wanted to hear her feelings and work things out. But the counseling didn't help. She dominated the sessions, and the counselor just enabled her issues, never calling them out. I was "leaving" her when I toured, I wasn't "making enough money," and I was "interacting with girls at bars"—a huge fear of hers. I tried for two years to prove I wasn't a sinner, and never could. How do you prove that something that didn't happen didn't happen? That is the crazy thing about a relationship with a lot of built-in distance: You're not around each other. You just don't know. Your worst suspicions grow and grow, and you have no way of knowing what's real.
What the hell was I doing with this girl? How pathetic was I? I was too in love with her, or obsessed, or infatuated, to realize that deep down I would never trust her. I couldn't face it. My friends told me to end it. But I thought it was love; I could show her, show them. I wasn't going to abandon her. Meanwhile, she had talked so much shit on me around town, I'd pass people on the street who knew her and they would practically spit on me. After one of these encounters with a friend of hers, I e-mailed the friend asking what was up, and she replied:
I thought you were bad-news due to what she told me (horrific stuff!). I was just trying to support a friend at that time by believing her stories. Sorry.
I was that asshole drummer who treated his girlfriend so bad. I became extremely defensive and depressed. Toward the end, she had stopped acknowledging we were together at all, even though we lived together.
Then I started making money. We had toured through places a few times by then, people knew us, and we were getting some real money for the shows.
I was returning home from a 10-day run down the West Coast with money and gifts, feeling proud, when I got a call from a friend who had seen her with an ex-boyfriend. It crushed me back to nothing. I confronted her about it when I got home, and she said she hadn't seen him. She denied it. That was my greeting. Welcome home, have a lie. I said, "Let's look at your phone; I know you're lying." She said, "Let's look at your phone."
And then it happened. My lie. I handed her my phone, telling her I had nothing to hide, and there was a text on it from "Mich" that said, "I'm in boots and nothing else, get over here drummer boy."
It was from a girl who was the promoter's friend at a club in Vegas we had played. Everyone had exchanged numbers at an afterparty. "Mich" and I had exchanged stupid joking texts the day following the show. She was a single mother, really nice, and had paid to come see my band, which helped put a couple hundred dollars in my pocket. I never saw her or spoke to her or had anything to do with her again, but my girlfriend was on the offensive and I had a suspicious text on my phone. Never mind her lie. I froze, did the dumbest thing possible, and told her "Mich" was a guy in one of the bands we played with and we were joking around. She pressed the green button. I grabbed the phone out of her hand. Then I told her who "Mich" really was. She grabbed the phone back and threw it against the wall, smashing it into pieces. She screamed, "I knew it all along!" and ran out of the room.
We did the back-and-forth, off-and-on thing, until she eventually started dating a younger model down in L.A. Which is funny, because she had always told me that I was going to cheat on her with a 20-year-old model from L.A. She had gone to L.A. to clear her head, she said. She was dating this model guy but still telling me she loved me.
She came to two of my shows in Seattle and called me crying in the middle of the night telling me she missed me and really wanted to see me the next day. We met and talked about starting over, but when I found out about her L.A. model, I was pissed. I found out he was coming into town to stay with her. I sent her a text message or three telling her to fuck off. Then I had to go on a tour down the West Coast. She told Mr. Model about the ugly text messages I sent her, and he wrote me a threatening e-mail that said, in part:
Trent, you should immediately stop this insane and stupid behavior. I'm giving you a fair warning. You are creating a recipe for a very bad situation. I have very little patience for what you are doing... STOP THIS FUCKING SHIT NOW! I'm only going to say it once. The choice is yours from here on. Also, never talk to her again. EVER. You really don't want to get me involved. Trust me. Take this very very serious Trent. Continue writing and playing music and try to enjoy life. NEVER EVER CONTACT HER AGAIN; EMAIL, CALLS, TEXT, MESSENGER BIRDS. ERASE HER INFO. DON'T EVEN TELL HER ABOUT THIS MESSAGE. Its your choice. Don't get curious about me either. You don't want to see what happens. I never want to hear that she was contacted by you again man. JUST WALK AWAY AND LIVE IN PEACE.
Don't make me your enemy. I'm very serious. I cannot express how much I mean it.
P.S. my friends said you did well at the silver lake lounge the other night. keep up the good work. keep away from her. its a simple request. you'll be glad you did it.
she better not her about this message!!!!!!!!!
Thinking back on it, when she and I started dating, I'd basically written the same macho, chest-puffing letter to her ex (minus the threats of violence) telling him to stop contacting her and to leave us alone. I see now that it was a textbook cycle of emotional abuse and lies.
I didn't feel comfortable having my tour schedule in the public domain for her new boyfriend to see. He was obviously upset. Great, now I was going to have to start wearing a Kevlar vest. I was already freaked out enough as it was.
I texted her one last time telling her that lawyers had her new boyfriend's letter to me and that he should quit it with the threats. She replied that I deserved whatever he said. That's the last communication we had.
Over time, the hardest thing for me to accept was that this relationship never should have begun at all, that those three years were a waste, that I'm that big of an idiot. I'd like to say there are good times to remember, but they are hard to let in. She did have nice pets. Her Chihuahua was a pleasant animal. But the more I remember, the more I see how dumb I was. There are so many worse things going on in the world than a drummer's broken heart. I needed to get a grip. And I did. Finally.
I'm in another relationship now, and we're taking our time. We trust each other and have our own lives. We don't get bogged down in all the worry and contempt. Texting seems to be the best way for us to communicate when I'm on a tour. Texting is a way to stay in touch without trying to have an impossible phone conversation in a crowded van. We talk when we can. It's been cool to tour and be able to put all my energy into playing shows. Imagine that—touring and concentrating on the music. It is possible to be in a relationship and be on the road after all. We've been seeing each other for eight months.