After a long hiatus we pick up with our traveler as he abandons his traveling circus and heads off on his own beaten path.
After Jackson Hole the He’s My Brother She’s My Sister van took off on a grueling 16 hour drive from WY to AZ which I wisely opted out of.
Playing Arizona would have been amazing, for some reason the dust seems to gather good ears for my tunes and I have received a hand full of sweet requests from the citizens of that hot state. Alas, my brain alerted me that driving is a delicate art, and the ass can only take so much, so I carved a detour and pulled a changing of the guard.
Up to this point my passenger seat had been filled with a tall girl, and now I was dropping her off at the secret bunker/airport and making room for the long limbs of Ben Sklar.
“You know what my favorite memory of you is Ben?”
“It was at a party at your house.”
Ben was a resident of The Speedway House, a building that must have been built by a drunk cult on some sort of drunk vortex that certainly still draws children from far and wide into its boozy arms.
I told him about the time that we were at a raging party in this palace of underage drinking and he was obviously having a night where he was wishing he did not live inside of 1982 college movie. Some horrid guy was flapping his jaw non stop, being a total prick, and not leaving Ben alone. Suddenly in one majestic move he lifted the kid off his feet, slammed him on the floor, dragged him to the front porch and literally tossed him outside.
I remember being blown away.
Somewhere deep in your brain you often think about doing this to people.
Just tossing them outside.
“yeah….I remember that,” he admitted rather sheepishly. “He was talking about my high school sweetheart that I had just broken up with after four years.”
Ben seems to me a perfect observer, and a great companion for this path.
He rides the fine line between stubborn college athlete and introspective photo dork which has somehow collided and created a fearless body with a great eye for situation.
He came across a fair amount of acclaim during hurricane Katrina by driving his jeep into the storm and holing up with a group of EMTs. He ended up snapping some amazing photos which ended up in Time magazine and other national platforms due to his access to the gruesome waters.
As he plainly describes it.
“I could have died. It was stupid.”
Ben is a man of honest questions and straight forward statements.
A person who drives his car into a flood on purpose and only realizes later that death is standing all around him.
A cartoonishly perfect freelance photographer.
A month before we ran into each other at a bar and had a conversation that went like this.
“Im going on tour”
“I should come. Snap photos”
“Yeah you should”
“Rad, I will”
And now poof:
Ben and I are sitting in the back of Bodie Johnson’s sweet Denver abode where I had been invited that night to play to a crowded living room filled his friends and compatriots. In straying from the herd I had accidentally dove back into the comfortable realm of art spaces and house shows. The first belonged to the aforementioned Bodie Johnson, a manager who works for the highly respectable firm “Red Light Management” and who’s sweetness I can not overstate.
This guy is candy cane pie.
He cleared a space in his living room and filled his home with jovial Coloradans, all who seemingly mountain bike, wine, dine, and persue every rocky mountain cliche that I can fathom.
Let me be clear, this is not a bad thing. Unlike the citizens of Boulder - land of free nothing - the Denver folks seem to genuinely fit in their North Face coffins the same way that Austinites will be buried clutching a breakfast taco. Bodie basically bent over backwards to make me feel comfortable.
He dropped a pony keg, prepared his spare bedroom, ordered pizza and made me feel like I was at a 5th grade sleepover in heaven.
And now, after the show is over, and the Coloradans have all ridden their mountain bikes home, Ben and I sit in a quaint back yard and tell terrifying high school drunk stories to a girl named Peggy. She is a great audience and shares her depressing tales of working for a museum where she displays and sells Indian Jewelery and relics.
Peggy explains to us the tragic concept of dead pawn, which refers to an item that was pawned for cash but has never been redeemed, a common practice in the Southwest, and often referring to American Indian jewelry.
Traditionally, Native American families would keep their ancestral wealth in jewelery and other heirlooms and often these priceless and culturally relevant pieces would get pawned to ensure monitary survival.
So when collectors go looking for priceless grub, the term dead pawn often means they’ve found the real deal.
It means the treasure hunter has found something that was never particularly intended to be lost.
As she is talking I begin to remember that three of us are all strangers.
I have known Ben for years but we have shared minor interactions.
And now the awareness sweeps over me that the fate of this fellow and I are somehow woven together.
This tour has really begun to beat the dead horse.
The lesson of strangers is being taught to me day in and day out.
The facts say that life is a fever dream pending.
On the outskirts of your daily life all the characters that you once deemed merely footnotes are waiting to play a key role in the future that you will soon be overtaken by.
This leg of the journey is the first bit of backtracking Ive done in weeks.
I have climbed these mountains, I find my own footsteps and scat.
Hopefully Ben will keep me sealed in my own shoes, out of the water, and stave the potentially detrimental flood of memories tied to this region of the United States.
The mountains of the Southwest seem to be a place that I have died a few times before, and now in a fancy back yard with a professional photographer and a white girl who sells dead people treasure I am opening a new chapter of this book.
One in which I return to the lost hills and retrieve my own dead pawn on this long sonic path.
Chapter 3: The High Desert.