“Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Once Aimee’s amazing set finished, we decided to leave. Old bullet head Marc Cohn could never upstage her performance. Before heading out, I stopped at the merch-booth. Since my mom is also an Aimee Mann fan and her birthday was coming up soon, I wanted to buy her a t-shirt. I looked at the options available, but they all featured the title of her latest album “@%&*! Smilers.” Since I couldn’t imagine my mom walking around small town Iowa in a shirt that basically said “Fuck Smilers”, I opted for “Bachelor No. 2”, the only album my mom doesn’t own.
Walking back toward the car, I pulled my phone out to see I missed four calls during the show. They were all from Jon Jon. I called my voice mail to see what his urgency was all about:
“Hey you mother fuckers. It’s Johnny. God damn it, why didn’t you faggots tell me you were going on a road trip. I’m off this week and taking my bike up to Montana. Call me back.”
This message was followed by three others, all Jon Jon expressing the same sentiment, although with his voice becoming more and more slurred with each. He obviously tipped back a few whiskeys while awaiting our call back. Jon Jon grew up in the same rural area of Nebraska as Paul. I met him eight summers ago when he joined Paul and Carl on their road trip to Des Moines. They met up with Tony and I at the Iowa State Fair where we watched Bob Dylan mumble through his hits. Since then, I’ve gotten to know Johnny more and more each year at South By Southwest (he has attended six of the seven years that we’ve gone).
Paul called him back and soon got a garbled earful about our inability to inform him of our trip. While Paul tried talking down the inebriated babble, I drove north towards Longmont. Our plan to hike Long’s Peak the next day now seemed up in the air – Jon and his girlfriend Tiffany were setting out on a motorcycle trip through Montana the next day and wanted to meet up with us in Boulder.
Once off the phone, Paul and I questioned whether or not we should change our plans. We definitely wanted to see Jon and Tiff, but we didn’t know if we should take his word: it was midnight, he was drunk, and he had to work the next morning at 4 a.m. Would he be up for setting off on their trip in his inevitable hung-over, exhausted state?
We decided we’d make our decision the next morning. We had more pressing issues at the moment: where should we stay for the night? Driving through suburbia at midnight, our options for camping were few and far between. I also didn’t feel like setting up camp by car headlight again. Our only options were sleeping in the car or getting a hotel room. The idea of sleeping in an air conditioned room with a bed sounded nice, so I told Paul to pull into the next motel he saw.
Once he found a Super 8, I went in to purchase a room. $110 dollars later, we were in our beds, fast asleep. Up to that point in the trip, we had spent zero dollars on lodging, but in one swipe of my credit card, our spending jumped up 110%. Fortunately, I was too tired to care.
Since John told us that he would have his cell phone on him at work and that we should call him early to figure out our plans, Paul called him that morning. Of course when we called, he didn’t answer. Irritated and uncertain whether we should go with our original plans of hiking, we went to a bagel shop to get breakfast. An hour later we still hadn’t heard from Jon, so we drove to Target to restock our trail mix supply. We decided Jon was bluffing and that we’d stick with our plan to hike. We chocked it up to John being lost in drunken reverie the night before.
Or at least we thought. Just as we pulled out of the Target parking lot, ready to conquer another mountain, the phone rang. It was Tiff. Jon didn’t bring his phone to work, but they were still planning on coming to see us. In a moments noticed, our plans changed for the third time in an hour. We decided to push our hiking trip back a day. To pass the time, Paul suggested we hang around Denver awaiting the arrival of the biker couple. Paul drove us to downtown Denver to visit Twist and Shout records. For years, he had raved about Twist and Shout, claiming that it’s the most spectacular record store he’s ever been to. Finally, I would be privy to its greatness.
Inside, the aisles of CDs and records seemed to sprawl for miles. Part of me was excited to scour the racks for hidden gems, but I also dreaded the afternoon ahead of me. Paul is the worst person in the world to go to a record store with. In a small record store he’ll spend at least an hour. Looking around this Mecca of music, I feared our day would be more strenuous than our eight hour hike up the Sphinx.
I took my time, examining almost every CD in the store, even perusing the vinyl. After killing an hour, I finally approached the counter to purchase a handful of CDs. I didn’t feel like exploring the store for Paul knowing he was probably lost somewhere between World Music and Prog Rock.
Earlier, we agreed to meet up at the book store next door. I think Paul foresaw the grueling afternoon ahead of me. I looked through all the music magazines, studied the Tolkien section, and even roamed through the children’s book area downstairs. I finally grabbed a book with tips for songwriting and found a table to sit at. Some of the tips were useful, but I couldn’t help but get annoyed by the attitude of the writer. The heart of the book seemed to be on making money off your songs. One chapter focused on connecting with Middle America, another talked about finding what genre or even specific artist you wanted to sell your song to, while another talked about how lyrics should be literal and straight forward. It all kind of irritated me. What about the songwriters who are writing for the love of music, not for the paycheck? What about the songwriters writing songs as a means of expressing themselves, and not as a device for connecting with truck drivers nationwide? Sure, I want my friends to enjoy my songs, but in the end, I do it for myself.
Despite my irritation with the book, I ended up reading 100 pages. In fear of adhering to the money-making psycho babble, I put it back on the shelf and found a clock to check the time. Paul’s record store romp had reached hour number three and I was running out of reading material. When I discovered a comfy love seat surrounded by book shelves, I plopped down and stared up into a nearby book case. To my surprise, I had sat myself down right next to the Jack Kerouac section.
I began looking through the large selection of Kerouac books, when I noticed the cover of “Dharma Bums”: photographs of mountain peaks reminiscent of the ones I saw in Montana. My old roommate Richard always told me I had to read this book, but I had no idea it dealt with Kerouac’s adventures in the wild. As I flipped through the pages, Paul walked up, ready to finally leave. I knew my chance run-in with Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums” was not a coincidence, so I bought a copy before leaving the store that served as my hostel that afternoon.
Driving back north to Boulder, Paul called Tiff to check on their progress. They were just about to leave from Lyman. They said they wanted to stay in a motel, which sounded like a good idea despite the price I knew that awaited us. At least this time it would be split between four people. As we continued up the interstate, I grabbed Paul’s paper sack of CDs and began looking through his 15 purchases: Free Design, Nadja, Gentlemen’s Pistols, Food Brain, Nachtmystium, Anne Briggs, Art Bear, Euphoria, Orange Goblin, Gilbert Gil, Twink, High Tide, Roy Harper, The Groundhogs, and Extra Life. Of the 15, I only recognized three of them. I like obscure music as much as the next music snob, but Paul’s expeditions into the unknown ceases to amaze me.
In Boulder we drove around for an hour, trying to find a motel. We stopped at a few, who of course didn’t have any open rooms, but they directed us to one on the edge of town where we got a room for $95 dollars. We only asked for one bed. I figured we’d slept on nature’s ground for a week, a motel room floor wouldn’t harm us (minus the dried cum and all). As if on cue, Jon and Tif called while we unpacked the car, and once they had directions, Jon’s rumbling motorcycle came rolling around the corner of the motel. We threw all their bags into the room and headed out for some food, brew, and good times with old friends.
Our first stop was Mountain Sun Brewery. We walked through the door and found ourselves surrounded by hemp wearing hippie folk. The walls were covered by Grateful Dead posters and tie-dye psychedelia. With so many skunky smelling tree huggers, we couldn’t find a table. Since the brewery also sold organic food and tofu based blah, we ended up standing near the bar, ordering up a few drinks. I ordered a Swan IPA and looked around in disgust at the hippie patrons. I don’t know why I hate hippies. I love nature, I’m extremely liberal, and I don’t mind an occasional veggie burger. I guess they just take things a little too far and try to rub it in your face: the 9/11 conspiracies, the shitty jam bands (Phish, DMB), and the mania for all things organic.
And now I had one more reason to hate hippies – my Swan IPA tasted like a dusty rag dipped in castor oil. The other’s drinks were better, so I couldn’t totally dismiss hippy beer. The Thunder Stout Paul ordered tasted especially great, with the coffee overtones and a little splash of fruity sweetness. We ended up getting another round but didn’t scratch the surface of what they had to offer. With 15 beers on tap, we would have spent the entire evening trying to taste them all. It didn’t help that Jon Jon ordered the same wheat beer both times (we of course scolded him for not having beer tasting etiquette by switching it up).
Next we walked up Boulder’s famed Pearl Street in search of B.J.’s Restaurant Brewhouse. The streets were also filled with hippies walking around barefoot. It seemed at every block we were greeted by a dreadlocked hippie playing guitar or an activist asking us to sign an anti-war petition.
We finally escaped hippy hell, finding solace in B.J.’s sterile atmosphere. The waitress led us to a table upstairs, away from almost everyone except a large group of couples dressed to the nines. We ordered up some beers and food, and began catching up on life. We found out that the railroad company Jon worked for had recently been bought out. Fortunately, he was one of the guys to be picked up by the new company. Since his new bosses wouldn’t be taking over for another week, he had seven free days to explore the mountains with his girl Tiff.
All of the beers were tasty, although nothing blew my top off like the savory food they brought out. At the time we didn’t realize BJ’s was a chain, but in recent years, three of their brewery restaurants have opened in San Antonio alone.
We were on our 5th beer of the night when Paul’s voice started to get louder. This is a sign he is drunk, as with most. With the table of fancy pants gone, we were alone upstairs, and he began telling us about an event that happened this past winter. The story entailed an angry girl who didn’t appreciate Paul’s use of the word “cunt”. She told him she’d put a cigarette out in his eye if he used the word again, so of course, he called her a “cunt”. Next thing he knew, the girl stuck the cigarette into his shoulder, burning a hole in his shirt and leaving a small brand on his skin.
As he told this part of the story, his voice got even louder. “The girl burnt a hole in my favorite shirt, so I just yelled ‘Owe, you cunt! This is my favorite shirt!” Right as he reached this part of the story our waitress walked up the stairs. A shocked look washed over her face as she tried to casually clear our table. All of us turned red, except Paul. He just went on with his story, continuing his use of the magic ‘C’ word as if the waitress were a ghost.
Embarrassed by the c-bomb attack, we left the poor girl a huge tip and made our way back out into hippie land.
We were all smiles, buzzing and giggling as we stumbled down the Boulder streets in search of Boulder’s Original Brewpub. I can’t believe how much fun I have when Jon Jon is around despite the fact I barely know the guy. It always kind of has a summer camp feel: you’re best friends for a week, knowing all along that the good times will be over soon.
At Boulder’s Brewpub, the rest of the crew began to slow down, letting their drinks stagnate on the bar while I continued drinking down my dark liquid. At that point, I could no longer decipher between a good beer and a bad beer, but from what I recall, they were all pretty tasty. After finishing my second brew, I realized the rest of the group was still working on their first. I could tell Jon’s day of hung-over work had caught up with him, barely keeping his eyes open as we watched homerun derby highlights (Justin Morneau is God). In fear I would watch all my comrades pass out on the bar, I began chugging down their warm beers one fist over another.
Eventually we stumbled out of the bar and somehow found the Element in a Boulder backstreet. On the way back to the motel, we considered buying more beer, but noticed it was almost two o’clock. Never fear, Paul brought whiskey! Back at the motel, the four of us began tossing back plastic glasses of whiskey waters, continuing our drunken stupidity into the early morning. Around three Jon Jon kept passing out. We of course took this as an opportunity to mess with him, but nothing seemed to wake poor Johnny.
With Jon passed out, the three of us took our party outside, sitting in front of the room sipping our whiskeys and chatting for another hour. At one point Tiff turned to me and said, “Oh, I never told you how much I love your CD!” It took me by surprise; I hadn’t thought about or heard mention of the album of music I had recorded for over a year. Most people got my CD in 2007, but Jon Jon didn’t get his until this spring. Looking out into the city lights of hippy town Boulder, I felt good knowing my music reached another person. I thought back on the book I read on songwriting and its obsession with making money in the business. I’m sure I could throw together some catchy tunes about my love for pick-up trucks and rodeos, and I might even get the Tobey Keiths and Kenny Chesneys of the world to buy my songs. But I’m pretty sure no paycheck can compare to the feeling you get when someone authentically connects to a song you wrote, not for the big paycheck, but for yourself.