The Spitboy Rule: Part II

Use link below to read The Spitboy Rule: Part I

Spitboy: European Tour 1993
Top: MCG Paula Hibb Rines, Pete The Roadie
Middle: Jon Hiltz, Nolde, Erich (merch and drivers)
Bottom: Karin Gembus and Adrienne Droogas                                                                                      

Boyfriends on tour in Europe did change the dynamic, but it never changed what we had on stage every night. People often commented on our live performances and the way we connected with one another and the audience. It probably helped that we all wrote lyrics. Adrienne always sang lead and if she were singing lead on a song that I wrote, I would sing with her. This sort of collaboration worked the same way with songs written by Karin, Paula, and later Dominique. Jon Hiltz said that we were the most positive, supportive band he ever met. His experience in his own band had apparently been somewhat fraught, but I could see how difficult it could be to get along on tour with some people, away from the comforts of home, the stress of the long drives, the fatigue, and the close quarters.  Though it came somewhat naturally for Spitboy to make an effort and not  take one another for granted and to accept certain quirks we hadn’t noticed at home — Paula was moody at times; Karin was very good at getting her own needs met, I was probably, at times, too stand offish and needy, and Adrienne loved to socialize so much that she had trouble getting to certain band duties like helping tear down equipment and selling merchandise. Accepting these quirks was the right the thing to do and never affected our live performances. On the other hand, if being in a band is like a marriage, and trust me it is, then playing live is the sex, which would make playing live easy, the pay off, the place where we might even be able to fake it. Plenty of dysfunctional people in dysfunctional relationships have sex are able to connect this this way in order to satisfy this one need, only this wasn’t the case with Spitboy. Spitboy never faked it. We genuinely liked one another, admired one another in many ways too.

Karin, our guitar player, was the subject of such admiration during and after our first show in France. It happened about mid-way through a sluggish, we’re-tired-after-touring-all-week-with-Citizen Fish-and-we-just-got-off-the-ferry set of songs, a guy started shouted something from the crowd, something like, “Enlevez vos blouses! Enlevez vos blouses,” meaning take off your shirts!  As soon as he said it, a woman standing at the front of the low stage began waving her hands wildly and yelling to us in English, wanting to tell us what he had said, but Karin being fluent in French since college had understood it herself. And instead of launching into the next song, she stepped up to her microphone and calmly, almost politely, cussed the guy out in his own language. For a second, the room went almost totally silent. Then it erupted into a loud volley of cheering and laughter, especially by the women in the crowd. No one had been expecting anything like that at all.

In part, it was this sort of admiration of one another and all that each was capable of that caused us to make the no-boyfriends-on-tour rule in the first place. I know I never wanted divided loyalties to interfere with or change any of it. But after the first US tour, we were never able to fully abide by the boyfriend rule, though it was there in the back our minds, reminding us to not pick at the quirks, to remain united, to make the most of each quick stop in a different city, and in the case of Europe, sometimes, a different country each day. Together we played to five hundred people in Rome, walked over the spooky, beautiful Charles Bridge in Prague, gazed up at the Gaudi Museum in Barcelona after dark, and ate pizza fresh out of a backyard brick oven overlooking an olive farm in Toscano, Italy. I never felt alone or divided on days like that, and I wasn’t.

The Spitboy Rule: Part I

Spitboy: US Tour 1992  Right before playing in a barn somewhere in Michigan, I think.
Spitboy: US Tour 1992
Right before playing in a barn somewhere in Michigan, I think.

Spitboy had a rule. No boyfriends on tour. It was a good rule, but it turns out there were ways around it.

We didn’t take anyone with us on our first tour, boyfriends or otherwise. That may have been a mistake, but we wanted to prove that we could do it all: write our own songs, play our own instruments, and drive the van, navigate the interstates with a map, unload our own equipment, and change our own tires (and in only a matter of minutes). Paula, our bass player, even fixed the van when it broke down. She spent hours and hours with her head in the engine in Missoula, Montana, oil on her face and up to the tattoo on her freckled shoulder. I sat in the van (the engines could only be accessed from inside the van) with her handing her tools for as long as I could stand it, not quite sure what she was so grumpy about, not realizing at first that she felt the way I did whenever we finished a set and young women would come to tell us how much we meant to them, and I was stuck tearing down my drums and getting them out of the way of the next band, while the others basked in the praise.

I think it was Paula’s dad who taught her to work on cars when she expressed an interest, and her know-how made it possible for us to get across the US and back without spending what money we made on shows and merchandise on van repairs more than twice. We did have to get the blue van repaired in Wyoming. For some reason, we always broke down in Wyoming; Wyoming was Spitboy’s Bermuda Triangle.

Touring all on our own with no roadies, without anyone who wasn’t in the band to help drive that first time around was hard, but it was important for us to know that we could. We were one of the only all female punk bands playing straight forward hardcore, no jangly chords, reverb, or feminine harmonies for us, just the driving sounds of chunky bar chords, thumping bass lines, rapid fire drum beats, and Adrienne’s warbly growl. And being women who spent a lot of time together even when we weren’t touring, our menstrual cycles had synced up. It got to where we’d each start our period within a day a day or so of the other. We got to a show in Minot North Dakota just before the first band was about to take the stage, which made the show’s promoter really nervous, but with three of us on our periods at the same time, we had to stop every twenty or thirty minutes at a different dirty roadside gas station bathroom on our already long drive from Chicago or wherever we were coming from. We apologized to the nervous promoter and told him the truth — three out of the four of us were on our period and we had to stop a lot. He didn’t need to hear anymore, “That’s okay,” he said, waving his hand in the air boyishly. He’d probably never heard that excuse from a band before. Having someone who else to worry about driving on these days might have made things easier. I know I wasn’t a steady or efficient driver while suffering from a bad case of cramps.

The long late night drives to a city too far to make it to without leaving right after the show the night before — those were the worse without a roadie. Having one more person to share driving shifts would have just been a smart and safe thing to do. Instead, one of us would drive, another would try to stay awake and navigate, while two of us slept in our sleeping bags on the futon on the loft built behind the middle row of seats for that purpose. I had the ability to wake up after four or so terrible hours of sleep, stumble into whatever gas station we had stopped  at,  buy a cup of the worst coffee in America and some water, take a no-doze, and get back in the van and drive. Once back on the interstate, I’d listen to whatever CD’s I wanted to, sing along quietly, and keep my eyes peeled for weird construction cones, potholes, wild animals, and cops. The driving part never bothered me much; it was the fatigue the next morning. Trying to get back to sleep after driving four or so hours straight and trying to get back to sleep once the sun was up and the rest of the band one-by-one with it.

The no-boyfriends-on-tour rule went out the van window on our European tour in 1993. We had no choice but to bring a lot of people, a whole entourage. First off, we had to hire drivers because none of us had driver’s licenses to drive over seas, and since Paula was now dating the best, most well-renown roadies in the punk scene, Pete the Roadie, we had to bring him too. And we brought Jon Hiltz,Born Against drummer, who Karin had always had a shine for, to help sell merchandise.  While logical to break no-boyfriends-on-tour rule for the European tour, the rule itself made even more sense. With Paula off with Pete, and Karin snogging with Jon in the dark on long drive, things felt a little less unified — men did change things — some had a person that was just her own and others didn’t. I didn’t. And Adrienne didn’t either.