We woke up in a splitter van in a supermarket car-park somewhere in Cleveland. I think it was Cleveland, it could have been any one of those mashed-potato central-east states in the USA. There were six of us in the van. The van was jammed full of us, merchandise boxes of clothes and stickers and Berzerker CDs, our smell, and our rubbish. The drummer was a particularly filthy specimen, as drummers are wont to be. He had taken to draping his sweat-drenched unwashed gig top over a seat he’d marked as ‘his’ in the van. The stench was incredible. It smelled like someone had murdered a pig and then left it in a hot sauna for a month. No-one really wanted his seat, not after he’d let his miasma soak into it.
I hadn’t really been sleeping much in the previous weeks. I had taken to sitting in the front passenger seat. Although we agreed pre-tour to move around all the time, you end up claiming seats as your own after a week or two. I think it comes from living in such close quarters. The borders of privacy get pushed back so far that you start claiming turf and ownership, no matter how small and petty the object of that may be. So the front seat by that point was ‘mine’. I had a good view of the USA as we drove straight past all the lovely bits straight to the ghettos where our gigs invariably were. I could talk to the driver – a huge Puerto-Rican called Tito – which wasn’t necessarily pleasant but was often interesting, and made for a nice change-up from the bitching coming from some of our session musicians. I could hear the stereo clearly, and bands such as At the Drive-In and Deftones were being forever linked up in my mind with travelling the US. I could be alone, or as alone as you can be in a splitter van of six people. But the downside of the front seat was that you couldn’t stretch out and it was almost impossible to fall asleep in it. Somehow that night, I had managed to actually get some sleep. Not much, but enough to keep me going for a another few days.
So we woke up. It was a bright sunny day. The car park was completely empty except for us and an enormous black bus parked only one hundred metres away. We all goggled at it. It was a sky-liner, a touring bus. We saw the words AC/DC on the side of it. Jesus Christ, it was the AC/DC tour-bus. We remembered seeing billboards advertising their show in Cleveland, same day as ours. Then we saw Angus Young’s name down the side, with the words ‘On Tour Now’ and the website address for the ‘Angus Army’. Fuck…the entire bus was just for Angus Young. The bus was so big it looked like it ejaculated splitter vans. To be a touring band and have your own sky-liner is pretty damn luxurious. For each member to have their own personalised sky-liner was beyond ridiculous. The difference between us and them couldn’t have been greater.
Yet when we thought about it, there were actually similarities between us. We were the first Australian heavy metal band since AC/DC to do a full tour of the USA. One or two others had popped over for a show or two, but no-one else had actually done a tour tour. To add to the similarities, we had a session guitarist called Mark Evans. Their 1975 album “High Voltage” was released the day before I was born. Shit, we were practically brothers!
The course of action was obvious. We grabbed a handful of t-shirts and hoodies, some CDs, some stickers and headed over to the bus. We had images in our heads of Angus skipping up and down the front of the stage doing his mental-drooling-schoolboy act wearing a Berzerker t-shirt. Our CDs were insanely heavy, our stickers were insanely strong. Seriously, the stickers were industrial strength. Luke and I had put them on road cases and they were impossible to remove. They were possibly the only things still holding my cases together. I had tried removing one from my guitar case once, and it had ripped a hole in the side.
We arrived at the bus and knocked on the door. After a minute, the door opened. The smell of clean fresh vehicle and leather seating flooded out and we were met at the stairwell by a short, fat, bleach-blonde American bus driver. We explained to him that we were an Australian metal band on tour in the US, come to this very bus to pay homage to our forbears, and that we had brought gifts of music and song and stickers and shit, and could he please do us the honour of passing these on to Angus? Furthermore, was Angus home and could we have a chat? We were all Australian after, and we could enjoy ourselves some antipodean repartee and a breakfast beer.
“Fuck off” said the bus driver, and closed the door in our faces.
It took a further minute or so for our enthusiasm to finally deflate. We hadn’t expected to get on that bus. What we had expected was for the bus driver to say a couple words explaining Angus’s unavailability, accept our stuff, and probably chuck it in a bin, or better yet leave it on a table for a few hours before chucking it in a bin. We knew the only way Angus Young would wear our shirt is if he woke up, realised the only clothing he had was his sweat-soaked tour shirt that was beginning to get that dead-pig-tour smell, somehow didn’t have another shirt to hand, and threw on the nearest clean clothing out of desperation. We knew that. But we also knew that if you play enough long shots, one of them might eventually come through. I was a small-town Aussie boy on a tour in the US with my Earache band, after all. Anything can happen.
We wandered around the outside of the bus and ended up at its hindquarters. There was a fetching photo of Angus looking demented on the back of it. We wondered if he was asleep up top. The back of a sky-liner is the obvious place to put the bedroom if you’re kitting it out for one person. We thought about banging on the back window but knew no good would come of it. Then we realised what we were holding.
The course of action was obvious.
I put a sticker down on the bumper bar and pressed it good and proper, no loose edges. That one sticker was going to take someone a lot of time to get off. I put another sticker on the back picture. Then another. And then the other guys grabbed some, and we stickered the shit out of the back of that beautiful custom sky-liner. Getting them off would require hours and hours of elbow grease or a professional service and would likely damage the surfaces they were on. Some might have called it vandalism. We saw it as the gift that kept giving.
Silly bus driver. He just created so much extra work for himself by lacking some basic manners. I’d come across this shit time after time after time in the music industry. You get flunkies who have bigger attitudes than the bands that they’re working for. Angus Young, by all accounts, is an absolutely lovely guy. Almost every band I’ve come across are decent dudes who are more often than not lovely and polite. But on occasion the drivers, roadies, tour managers, and support staff can be such dicks. It’s almost like they absorb any residual ego which would normally attach itself to an artist. And every time one of these guys acts like a shit to someone, they tarnish the reputation of who they work for. Given the choice, I prefer the pleasure of tarnishing my own reputation myself.
I remember being on the way to a European festival in a van with some of the guys from Mithras and Pain and one of the guitar techs for Opeth. We had all been picked up from the airport. The tech’s self-regard was so enormous, there was barely room for the rest of us in the van. I think it was one of the Mithras guys who later showed me a clip on YouTube. It was Opeth live onstage somewhere. They were mid-song, and Mikael’s guitar had cut out. In the middle of it was the very same guitar tech, running around trying to get it all working again. It took minutes and minutes for him to get it going, while the band tried to jam and banter and do anything to fill in the silence. It was excruciating.
We laughed and laughed and laughed.