In that weird liminal space—11 hours, 9000 meters above an ocean moving at nearly 1000kmh kilometres an hour in an intercontinental ballistic people carrier, after hours of waiting and moving through the non-spaces of airport terminals, now travelling back through the day to arrive not long after leaving, there seems to be nothing to think, nothing to consider except how to stay calm stuck in the same seat for half a day and the sheer implausibility of a 250 tonne airliner with three hundred people on board taking to the skies.
Back to the United States of America after so long. Back to Los Angeles (the home of the sadly missed A&M records and still, somehow, Del Amitri’s spiritual home in the US) to get on a bus for a month of shows that will take us across the continent: from Los Angeles into the desert to Phoenix, north to Berkeley and Seattle and on to Vancouver; over the mountains to Colorado and back north to Milwaukee; through the mid-west via Toronto to the east coast, to Vermont and New York City, North Carolina and Atlanta, and finally to western Pennsylvania and Ohio.
If Herb Alpert and Gerry Moss (and Al Cafaro, Brad and Barbara and Al and all those lovely people at A&M) gave us a spiritual US home in Los Angeles, Del Amitri’s heart was stolen on the road: in a car park in Louisville Kentucky, under a freeway in Jackson Mississippi, on Daytona Beach; at Shank Hall, the Double Door, the 9:30 Club, St. Andrews Hall (even at Rome 90 where it wasn't clear if there was actually anyone in the audience at the show). It was stolen by all the people who come to see us at concerts in Boulder, in New York City, in Dallas and in New Orleans, in Minneapolis and in Chicago (remembering of course dear Ross Greirson, gone but not forgotten) and the hundred other towns we made it to.
So much seems to have changed since we recorded Fatal Mistakes (never mind since we last toured in the US). From where I am sat for the next 11 hours it is hard not to gaze out into the sky and wonder about the world nine kilometres below, a world that seems to be crumbling in humanity’s collective hands.
Comprehending the complex aerodynamics that are keeping the 250 tonnes in the air at the moment starts to look like a puny challenge in the face of trying to make sense of the complacent inhumanity to fellow beings and the willful negligence of the planet that twenty first century homo sapiens seems capable of. Disaster capitalism prevails: nationalist wars, ethnic cleansing, disease, poverty, global warming continue to bring catastrophe to countless millions while the super rich bicker amongst themselves and thrive.
And when intelligent beings think and plan and sustain war it is almost impossible no to sink into cynicism about politics and progress towards a peaceful and equitable society.
On one level it feels complacent, or even complicit to be business-as-usual in the face of what is going down around us (not that anything actually is ‘business as usual’ for any of us at the moment—except perhaps for the Musks and Bezoss of the planet).
We have crossed an ocean. Nine kilometres below I can see a mind-blowingly enormous glacier. Temperatures at the south pole were 50 degrees above average last week. The plane I am flying in is a direct cause of that glacier melting. But would it make any difference if I stayed at home? Does the carbon footprint of men who spend billions to fly in to space for shits and giggles make a transatlantic flight to work for a month on the other side of the planet OK?
If, as the cliche goes, travel broadens the mind (Why does Jeff Bezos have such a tiny head then?) then touring focuses your efforts. If nothing else touring is grounding. So much effort from so many people goes into making a show 9000 miles from home even happen.
There is only one thing that you have to get right: that evening’s show. When it is right and we get to play and there are people there to listen to the music we make, something happens. Something that makes me glad to be alive. Glad to be alive in the most self-centred, solipsistic sense, sure, but also profoundly glad to be with people. People I know and people I don’t know and might never meet again, people who might hold different beliefs from me about almost everything in the world apart from what is going on in that room for a brief couple of hours. Collectively, the pessimism seems to ease (even if the music might be openly pessimistic—watching The Fall night on a brief Scottish tour was a visceral and life-affirming experience; the two classic Joy Division records are, because of and not in spite of their bleakness, like consoling old friends that I have conversed with for forty years). The cloud of disaster seems marginally more remote for a while.
I always felt reassured that devoting my labour to writing and playing music was at least a way to disengage with ‘the system’ and at best, by disengaging, a form of protest even if the music Del Amitri make is not, on the surface at least, protest music. Maybe it would be better if all music was overtly political but somehow for me that breaks the spell: ``You are either with us or against us''---cynicism is back in the room. There are times and places where there is no choice but to be militant, to call for action and to take action against what is unquestionably immoral and wrong. Those times and places seem more urgent and more frequent now that I have ever known.
And in the face of this we bring our little roadshow to travel across that implausibly great and implausibly flawed continent that is North America. Not because we can’t think of anything better to do in the face of the shit that is flying around us all, but to feel alive and to share that feeling. And because we love it.