It didn’t seem very punk rock to me to have roadies, to be waited on by people hired to help, so when we had to find people to help us on tour, I felt a little reluctant about it. My reluctance about hired help was magnified because I’m a woman, the oldest daughter of a single mother, expected to anticipate the needs of others, and not the other way around.
To be clear, no one that I knew in a punk band considered roadies just the hired help. Roadies were usually friends who knew a thing or two about guitars, amps, and drums and who didn’t mind helping the band lug shit around, and often for no more than the opportunity to travel. However, when Paula started dating Pete the Roadie, Spitboy had instant access to an actual professional roadie, a man who had dedicated his life to touring with bands and practically crafting the punk rock roadie code for punk rock roadies who admired and looked up to him, even trained with him. Pete, and roadies like him, were not unlike those in other service jobs who took serving others seriously. In fact, I thought of Pete the Roadie many years later when I read Barbara Eherenriech’s opinions about what it means to serve in her book Nickle and Dimed, though, unlike Ehrenreiech who worked as a waitress and hotel maid then goes back to her real life to write about it, being a roadie and serving others is Pete the Roadie’s real life.
Pete the Roadie seemed to believe that his primary job was to serve artists, to make it easier for them to make the music that he loved and to spread the ideas that he believed in. He did what he did without the glory of actually being in the band. Being a woman whose life had, in large part, been about serving others, helping my mom take care of my brother and sister, and in my job as a pre-school teacher where all I did was take care of small children who couldn’t take care of themselves (and their parents who needed reassurance that their children were happy while they were away at work), I admired this code, but when applied to me, it felt decadent. I didn’t feel comfortable being served. Still, none of that mattered to Pete. All that mattered to him was that my drums were set up properly or that nothing moved out of place when I played them.
When we played live, Pete would kneel at the side of the stage half way between the drum kit and the amps on the stage in his grungy jeans and work boots, a roadie tool attached to his belt for easy access. Ready to jump into action, he’d watch for me to nod in the direction of my high-hat if it was sliding out of place or the bass drum pedal, which often came loose by my furious pounding. When I nodded, Pete would come running to fix whatever was out place, his fingers always in danger of getting munched by some moving part on the drum hardware, a consequence that he’d gladly accept if it allowed me to finish out whatever song we had been playing uninterrupted.
During one show in Prague, our only show in the Czech Republic (a country that had split from Slovakia just earlier that year), my bass drum pedal went clean through the head of the bass drum of the set I was borrowing from one of the opening acts. In England, while touring with Citizen Fish, I had played Trotsky’s set, and Karin and Paula had used the Citizen Fish amps, as were unable to bring our large pieces of equipment over on the plane, just guitars, cymbals and my snare drum. Not having my own kit scared me at first. Would I be able to play someone else’s drum set, a different set each night? Touring definitely required a new kind of flexibility. Still, I hadn’t actually worried so much about breaking someone else’s kit. The head of the Prague drum set must have been worn already because I could feel it give way early in the set. I looked down at it a couple times, wondering if I could see a crack, and when I looked back up, Pete had stood from his keeling position, his eyes trained on me, waiting for a cue. By the end of the song, the pedal had gone straight through the head and there wasn’t another. Pete had watched the mallet slice through the head, and was at my side with a solution when I thought that we might not be able to even go on. As I signaled to the band what was going on, Pete moved my drum stool out of the way, disconnected the foot pedal from the bass drum, and set about unscrewing the head from the drum using the drum key normally attached to his other tools on his belt loop.
“Don’t worry, Drums,” he said, looking over his shoulder on his hands and knees in front of the kit, “I’ll have this sorted right quick.”
In addition to his dedication to the service, Pete also really loved the communal feel of being on the road, the friendships that developed, the habits, the fast-pace, and the inside jokes. Pete rarely called me by name. He’d usually call me drummer or drums, especially when I was on stage. He called Adrienne “singer,” and he called Paula “Mrs. Roadie,” as he still does today. Pete also took it upon himself to make sure we had drinks if we wanted them, and he memorized what we liked to drink and when. He knew I was homesick too, missing Jason, my Little Rock boyfriend, and so he’d sit with me while I drank my glass of Tetley once we finished playing, and he had the drums torn down, and the equipment sorted and put away.
The movie Wayne’s World had just come out, and we had all seen it, given that, like Spinal Tap, it parodied rock musicians who we both represented and were rebelling against at the same time. Somewhere early in the tour, Pete and I began making Wayne’s World jokes, trying to make the other laugh harder with each new joke. But nothing made me laugh harder than when Pete the Roadie, who’s not known for being the sexiest guy in town, his punk band t-shirts tucked into his road-dingy jeans, for quicker access to his roadie tools, arched his pelvis toward my high-hat and said, “Sha-wing, high hat.”
I felt like I should do something to help Pete fix the bass drum head, but there wasn’t much I could do but watch in awe as Pete, pit-crew-fast, pulled the rim off the drum, turned the head 180 degrees, put the rim back on, tightened all eight tension rods, and duct taped the hole that was now at the top of the drum instead of near the bottom where it would be hit by the mallet.
“Party on, bass drum,” he said, with a big smile once he finished.
This cracked me up extra hard given that I had just broken someone else’s bass drum head, and Pete’s duct tape job had given it more life, though much altered
I wanted to hug him but there was not time.
My mirth over the repaired drum head only lasted so long because after the show we learned that most people who attended the show had paid a week’s wages to get in. We were sitting in the tour organizer’s grey, utilitarian-looking, high-rise apartment. It was hard to hear. All I could think of was that I should have paid for the drumhead and Spitboy should have played for free. If we had known this in advance, we would have done the right thing, even though Prague had been a super long drive from East Berlin. Though the prostitutes all along the highway on our way there should have been some kind of clue that the recent reunification of East and West Germany, and the breaking apart of the former Czechoslovakia had not resulted in any kind of instant economic prosperity.
I thought about Prague and all its haunting beauty and gray scale block housing on the long drive back to East Berlin, back by the sex workers, probably the same women standing by the side of the road on the way there. I thought about the people who spent a week’s wages just to see us play and wondered if it had been worth it, and how naïve we had been going there. I hoped that the drumhead that Pete had doctored with duct tape would last.