My name is Ross Farrar. I live in Oakland, California. A large part of my life has been spent pursuing the solitary and performing arts. I sing (the body electric) in a band called Ceremony, and the following entries were written en route to Toronto, from Montreal. Also, a few were written in the actual city of Toronto. Words are what I’m focusing on most at this point in my life, and if I could change all these periods to commas I would. My father calls thinking “thinning,” so this is what I “thin” about.
9:50am – Rise, morning in Montreal. I dreamt of visiting a beachfront getaway, but areas of the island were scorched and burning, patches of trees on fire, paradise burning. I’ve had similar dreams in the past, paradisiacal zones, always near a large body of water, but no fire. Imagine that. It’s day 21 of our fifteenth US tour, and back in the states it’s July 4th. I’m reminded of Frederick Seidel’s poem “Downtown.” It begins quietly on the 4th, at some point in history, on the Hudson. The image brings me pleasure, but I don’t know exactly why. I see pastels, and America in a vibrant time. I see fireworks bursting above the river, and of course they represent America’s independence, freedom and all the clichés we’ve conjured while creating explosions, but there’s something else there too, something that pulls me down. I tried to articulate this feeling recently, but fell short. Fireworks hold a bit of sadness for me, maybe it’s the sudden gain and loss of beauty, the inevitable demise, how they rise and fall so quickly, or maybe it’s just the harrowing tone of the poem that resonates. Seidel concludes with, “We’re monsters I fear, what monsters we’re,” and I always tighten and shiver when I read that. The statement relates a fear and a belief simultaneously, which is strange, but seems to hold so much truth. I was reading Tomaž Šalamun’s “Words” yesterday and came to a passage that reminds me of something similar: “The sun strikes deep into the wells of the sky: / depends on how you look at it—for someone it is the hour / to be shot at dawn, for me the infinite gift.” The verses speak to the duality of mirth and misery, how they remain constant in our world. They converse at all times, and somehow we have found a way to navigate between them.
10:16am – It’s funny, my good friend from the Bay Area, Jesse Miller-Gordon, put me on to this exercise, and he too was en route to Toronto. He was also driving during a holiday, Valentine’s Day I think, or maybe Easter? Bloomsday is the only holiday worth celebrating. Actually, Halloween’s a good one too. I prefer autumn to spring, which is a sentiment shared by Radmila Lazić, and I love her for that. She was a radical poet, had quite a bit of angst in regards to humanity, and occupied feminist spaces. I would touch on what we’re listening to in the van, but it’s nothing good. We don’t get many great selections unless Andy is behind the wheel. Actually, time out. Anthony just put on Tony Molina, which is the band we’re touring with. They have tracks, all tracks, and I can’t say enough good things about them. Tony’s favorite bands are: Crowbar, The Allman Brothers, Santana. I don’t know anything about Crowbar, besides they have badass T-shirts. The Allman Brothers’ Eat a Peach is an incredible record, which was on repeat before I left for tour. I don’t know much about Santana besides he was a guitar prodigy at a very young age, and quickly grew into a master. He also lives in Marin, which is where my folks reside, and that he’s always around town. Actually, I saw him not too long ago at Marin Joe’s, a North Bay institution, where they had a corner both reserved for him, and he ate alone, and didn’t take off his hat, what my mother would refer to as “so rude.” Along with Santana, George Lucas pops up everywhere. I saw him six months ago eating barbecue pork with his wife and kids. Tony’s from the West Bay, Pacifica to be exact, which is just outside of San Francisco, a beautiful place situated on a foggy enclave. One funny thing about Pacifica is Taco Beach. They have a Taco Bell on their beach that faces the wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean, quite possibly the most scenic view fast food has. I can’t eat inside fast food restaurants because they give me anxiety. I usually have to go out, which is ideal at Taco Beach of course. Imagine that.
11:36am – I was thinking about starting this sucker last night at the stroke to truly make it ephemeral, but time escaped me. I took a spot of drugs directly after the show, which was by far the greatest Montreal show we’ve played, and walked across the street to our hotel, that had a happening bar attached to the bottom floor. Bars in Montreal close around 3am, so I chatted with the locals for a few hours, one of my favorite pastimes. I got into a conversation with these two Clevelanders about Jewish and Amish culture. One of the things we touched on about Jewish culture is how cute their babies are. There are neighborhoods in New York City where Jewish infants are constantly being walked around the block, and they’re wrapped in little white blankets, and their sleeping faces are the only things exposed to the elements – pretty cute. Thinking about it now: What a weird conversation. I also learned how the Amish believe only God can create perfection. When they make a barn or any structure with a roof, they rip a shingle or tear a piece of siding away as a sign of mortal imperfection, a bow to their creator, an homage to what lies above, beyond. I like that. Sometimes when I eat large, traditional meals I’ll leave a spot of food for the Gods, whoever they may be. We partook in an amazing feast last night, Spanish food, mostly tapas. JD and I shared four small plates. He sipped a local beer, and I had a small glass of Spanish red. My first dish was shrimp, which was served in a small clay pot, sautéed in olive oil, butter, garlic, and some lemon. I also went for grilled octopus with seared bell pepper and cherry tomatoes. JD got lightly fried goat cheese balls with caramelized onion, and drizzled honey, along with roasted chicken Basque style, also served with red pepper. We should have ordered something green, but nonetheless, it was amazing. The vegans and vegetarians had some interesting plates, but we won’t go into that. I know this is supposed to be more about real time, but yesterday was too good. It’s completely in my headspace right now. Ten minutes before we played, a crazy fan came up to me, and basically did the Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy.” He was punching himself in the face, jumping up and down, charging around. I’m pretty sure he was on some radiant drugs. He stood directly in front of me for the entire duration of the show, and then infiltrated the backstage room, kissed me on the lips, and pulled his pants down revealing his uncircumcised penis. Imagine that. After the penis came out I had to be like, “you gotta leave, man.” It was pretty out there. Also, I have to say that the second band, Perverted Justice, was awesome. They’re a five-piece, two ladies, and three men, each with different looks and personalities. It was super original. Their set feels like that movie Cool World from the nineties that mixed animation with fleshy actors, a film hybridizing the real and unreal. We’re listening to The Undertones “Teenage Kicks,” which I think is the only song John Peel ever played twice in a row on BBC radio, a very serious track.
1:03pm – I’ve been reading The Best American Essays 1987 on this trip, and came across a seriously strange piece of relation. In Robert Stone’s “A Higher Horror of the Whiteness: Cocaine’s Coloring of the American Psyche” he describes being in a small New England town. In this scenario, there are two young women sitting in a parked car next to Stone as he’s opening mail, and he notices them doing key bumps. He describes the parking lot near the shore as a nefarious refuge where kids hang out, which is strange because he also describes a small police department in the same lot. As I’m reading this, it hits me: I’ve been inside that police department. He’s portraying is New Haven, Connecticut. Ceremony played there in 2013. I was three hours into a light acid trip, and a few of us were wondering the streets before the show, and we stumbled into this area. I had to use the john in the police department and got stuck in the mirror for a second. Kind of freaked me out when reading this. The other three essays I’ve taken on are great. Daniel Mark Epstein wrote a wonderful piece on Houdini, where he brings about the case of the disappearing elephant, Houdini’s most peculiar secret. When a magician dies, there are certain things that can be exposed about his life and practice, and certain things that cannot. The case of the disappearing elephant could be broken down if anyone had a clue, but no one does. Imagine that. No one knows how this Hungarian American, raised in New York, made the second largest mammal on earth suddenly disappear. It’s a beautiful thing. John Barth has an essay on education, but it’s really about how he wedded a former beautiful young student who was an overachiever with a good sense of style. And, for all the Lolita fans out there, George Von Rezzori writes about his journey in the footsteps of Humbert Humbert. Taking the same path through Europe and America as the tragic protagonist and his “nymph” once did. All The Best American series are great, but this collection has proven exceptional.
3:46pm – I took a nap. No dreams at all. Anthony and Jared put on Sade, and I couldn’t hang on. I love her music so much. It’s good for any occasion: dinner, art-making, hanging, guest music, whatever. The drive from Montreal to Toronto isn’t very exciting. There isn’t much to look at. It feels like you’re driving on a treadmill, and the weather’s very flat, overcast and white. Before I forget, I must write something down here to remind myself. I’ve had this tiny piece of paper in my pocket all night and day that says, “Meridian Brothers: Canten Las Canciones Del Nuevo,” which is a song I heard in the restaurant last night, and proceeded to run across the floor to the nearest server for info. Tour is a time to learn about new music. I don’t surf the web, or download, or do really any kind of research. I solely rely on individual recommendations and the present moment. At least once a week, I hold down the home button on my cell and say, ‘Siri, what song is this?’ Last week it was Segun Bucknor’s “Abedo,” this really interesting Nigerian musician who mixes African drum rhythms with ska, rocksteady, and organ sounds. We were listening to a podcast recently and Poison Girls came on. Did a little research and learned they were the only band that ever toured with Crass. Strange days.
4:45pm – We just arrived at The Garrison, which is the venue we’re playing in Toronto. Seems like a cool space. We have to be out early because there’s an atypical dance party happening. Never heard of anything g like it. The DJ begins spinning music from the 1900s, and as the night progresses the music follows through decades, and by the time last call comes around, Drake will be in the speakers. What would you call that? “Revolver,” “A Radical Glimpse of Hits from the Past 115 Years,” “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” It could be anything.
5:05pm – Took a walk around the block. Very cool neighborhood. Walked past a tiny bar that was packed with older fellows, and in the corner window a jazz quartet was setting up. Walked in half steps past the front door, but everyone inside looked like they knew what they were doing, so I didn’t want to intrude. It’s been a wavy day. Strange winds blow around me, and my throat and tongue feel sore.
5:28pm – Just caught news of an old friend passing away. It’s hard to respond here. I haven’t had a chance to really internalize anything, so I suppose I’ll just steam. Sammy Winston (as he would like to be remembered) and I hadn’t been close for a long while. We had a falling out five years ago due to a physical dispute that never really got resolved. We’ve talked since then, shook hands, and been acquaintances, but before that, when I was living in San Francisco, the two of us were inseparable. We’d walk around at night getting into all kinds of different things, mostly small crimes, but there were definitely moments when things got rough. He used to have this knife he never cleaned blood from, and I mean blood from various run-ins with people. He was playing around once with our friend, Jason T and stuck him, and Jason got a staph infection from the blade, really terrible stuff. Once him and I got into a fistfight with a bunch of guys waiting in line for the urinal at a Giants game, and another at a pizza place in Lower Haight, where I broke my hand in the process. Sammy was one of those people who attracted the ill at ease, and of course he was ill himself, but we all loved him for that. He had the world’s flu, and much of his life was spent in a haze of manic self-doubt and loneliness. It saddens me because I don’t think he was ever at home. He loved San Francisco with all his heart, but wherever he was he felt unwelcome, isolated, and unloved. I received the news via text, which is how I’ve received 90 percent of my death news in the past ten years. To read about someone’s passing in a tiny blue box, on a small, handheld black things is the unfortunate business we face. I don’t know exactly what that means, but it seems off somehow. I think about what I was doing when he passed, and it bothers me to know I was probably squeezing limes into tequila sodas, or possibly watching girls of summer walk slowly by, but I guess it goes back to what was written earlier, there are constantly two different spectrums of human occurrence happening around us. As I’m enjoying myself, an old friend is burning alive in a house he only lived in temporarily. It is said that Sammy carried a few people out, but there was still someone inside, so he became the Ponyboy and the Dallas Winston, and died while trying to help his friends escape the fire. I have a theory that burning alive is a cathartic, near orgasmic experience. Of course it hurts for the first few seconds, excruciatingly even, but after that I think the body releases itself. The nerves are in such shock that the burning actually does become a different sensation, and you lift, and all the terrible feelings go away. It’s really crazy because he always wanted to be one of those characters in Hinton’s stories. He loved The Outsiders, had the rebel mentality, visions of becoming legendary, and he’ll be getting that sentiment from many people. I’m fucked up about this, and I don’t really know if I can write about anything else now. Much of what I feel is going to be about him, how strong of a figure he was, and how there was a time in my life where he changed me, as in: he formulated pieces of my opinions, actions, interests, etc. I assimilated a large part of my culture from Sammy. I go back to waking up this morning, the fire on the beach. I’m afraid I’m missing something, or that I won’t understand what’s happening with any of us. I’m going to Niagara Falls tomorrow to visit the Canadian side for the first time. The town is misty and damp, which I like very much, and I’ll be thinking about him there. We’re in the spirit world now. I love you all.