The short story is that we finally have an ass-kicking, road-worthy band, contrary to my as-recent-as-December belief that it might be completely impossible. It’s hard enough to find great musicians who have spare time for a new project, and want to work with your music, and who have the drive are sober enough to get up in the morning and practice, and who have compatible personalities day after day, and who will get in a van and hit the road, and who, once on the road, won’t choke each other over the choice of where to eat. (Most bands fail not because they suck but just because the members choke each other.) Throw in the requirement of physically capable of, freespirit foolish enough, and spiritually enthusiastic about a 5000-mile bicycle tour through Mexico carrying all instruments and sound equipment on your bike and the likelihood of gathering the tribe drops significantly, maybe even to zero. Or so I worried. As it turns out, and as Eco constantly maintained, the system isn’t linear, it’s magic.
As you may not know, this adventure we’re on was originally the outlandish idea of Isaac James, the first Ginger Ninjas drummer, spritual center, and lifetime honorary member. But for some reason I always had the feeling that he himself wouldn’t be in attendance. Sure enough, when it came time to hit the road, he had himself a beautiful little baby and went on paternity leave.
The two drummers ¨hired¨ on day one parted ways with the tour on day 8 or so, they insisting on LSD as their way to learn the songs, us insisting on practicing together. One later became an angel for us. That left a ¨band¨ of me and eco and jesse, the bass player of the previous couple months. That was on the California coast, and the music was the low part of things, jesse unhappy without a drummer, static energy among us all. But there were other musicians around, shake your peace and cello joe and the mystic spirit mazie with her fiddle and shoulder bag and wild tangle of hair, keeping the spirit of the adventure alive. Then Jesse and his girl split in LA and suddenly the Ginger Ninjas was Eco and Kipchoge. We had just a few days playing just the two of us and they really were magic and evolutionary. We got a peek at what our duo sound on stage could be. Eco advocated for keeping it that way, after so much recent bad luck with musicians and so much fighting just to be able to hear herself and so many egos to contend with. But my vision of traveling by bike with a whole band persisted. I had a lot of diversions in California that kept me often from being fully present with the tour, first in trying to get money for the film, then getting gigs, then finding a film maker, then negotiating with the film maker, then helping the filmmaker buy equipment, then some more showganizing, then trying to find a drummer (while we still had Jesse). I spent a lot of time on the cell phone and computer, looking foward to the freedom of throwing the phone in the Pacific when we crossed the border (no one told me the crossing wasn´t on the ocean). North of LA, on craigslist San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Portland, Sacramento, and Seattle I posted:
¨I’m on tour with my band for the next three months, through so cal and mexico. our whole band is riding bicycles. if that sounds like your idea of a good time, check out our myspace and drop a line with some samples.¨
I got a few responses, one being:
¨Hey There! I’m a drummer who is on the adventure called life and am really interested in what you guys/gals got going on here. I Just moved to san diego from Jacksonville, FL in search of a band and more importantly unique experiences. I ve been playing for 12 years now, Im 25, single, ready to travel, and play reggae rock jazz any style really. This is my myspace page: www.myspace.com/brocksmuzikpage Check it out and let me know what ya think! Peace & Thanks Brock
brock with his whole kit and clothes too He came to see us a couple nights later at a campfire gig in Laguna Beach and then we crammed all 10 of ourselves into the place he was couch surfing (a one room basement). He wanted to join but only had 400 bucks, so he decided to sell one of his drum kits. But then he decided to really join, and he sold his car, and bought a new Xtracycle. We found a hippie on craigslist who was coming from san francisco the next day driving a bus who needed gas money; he brought the custom nesting drum set that we had left in sf when the other drummers left the tour, and we had ourselves a new drummer. He´s been an incredible addition, a talented patient musician with lots of drive and hunger for adventure and a love of his newfound lifestyle. Cello Joe has been playing the low end for us, but is soon on his way home to farm with his sweetie in Santa Cruz mountains for the season. Eco has been getting more and more confident, and with every turn, more talent oozes out. I still wouldn´t call the band ¨tight¨, but the music is being enormously recieved at every barranca, from travelers and locals. A pilgrim in Talpa, wearing riding chaps and a stetson, said (in spanish) he thought he only liked norteño, but now the ginger ninjas have turned him on to rock.
We got occasional emails from Jessie and Sherilyn, always further south in Mexico, hinting from time to time that we might rejoin. But I knew it was not to be, in part because they planned to avoid Mexico City at all cost and we’ve been aiming right for its heart; but also because there was something missing in our chemistry as traveling companions.
In La Paz we ran into a fellow named Jaffe, on his own bicycle pilgramage to South America. And it turned out he was a bass player! I thought this quite a stroke of luck since it meant not having to train and/or convince a bass player to ride a bike. But it was not to be. After a ferry trip across the Sea of Cortez and a hitch south in a semi, I think he was a little overwhelmed by the group size and momentum after so much solo traveling. He got out in 2 a.m. Mazatlan as we continued south.
Then there was Caspar, a wonderful vagabond Swiss bassist who we jammed with at home and who was always hanging around, pondering coming with us before we left. We had sporadic contact with him via his girlfriend’s cell phone, always hinting that he might be up for it. Said girlfriend is a stellar trumpet player, bonus points for Caspar. But one thing that Eco and I continued to see eye to eye on was the importance of not convincing anyone to join us. If they didn’t have the fire inside for the voyage, it was bound not to work, probably sooner than later. Caspar eventually let on that he would be traveling in Mexico, maybe, and that maybe he’d see us and we left it at that.
Brock kept talking about his buddy Jared, who he played with in his old band, Aerial Tribe, claimed he was one of the best bass players in the country, but out of money and stuck, literally and figuratively, in Southern California. He had been inviting Jared to join us ever since he himself did, and I had my doubts that it would ever happen if it hadn’t yet. There comes a time when a band is sitting around talking about something and everyone gets excited about it and sets to making it happen. We got this kind of energy around calling Jared and giving him a good pitch, about breaking free of So Cal and the magic of our Mexican travels. Subtly different than convincing, as we sensed the fire and knew it just needed some fanning. Basking in the triumph of Sayulita, Brock did call and we all gave him a good piece of our mind and he said he would come. From then on, Brock talked about his date of arrival with certainty, though I continued to be skeptical that he would actually make it happen: no money, no bike, bills, car payments, So Cal swirlings, never before left the country.
So it was with great jubilee that I heard the bell ring at Chava’s mom’s house one 5 a.m. morning in Guadalajara. I knew it was Jared, and there he was, fresh with his bike (drummer Curtis’ old bike, craigslisted down from Santa Cruz) in a box and all his fresh clothes and new drybag and long, clean hair. It was the Sunday morning of our mid-day show at the Via Recreactiva, our ride with the Mayor, and our nightime show at Café La Selva. A big day, and Jared jumped right in, riding a bike for the first time in 10 years or so, the first time ever with a load. And he wanted to play, today! And he did. Many were minds were blown by his extreme technical excellence. In the coming weeks, many hearts were won by his extreme human sweetness and indefatigable enthusiasm for the life of a pleasant revolutionary.
Joey left for home a week ago, and now we are four, working the music and as happy as a band could be. (ok, I wrote this some time ago and didn’t send it. Joey left, but then came back!)