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Sunday, April 12, 2020


Most musicians describe touring as 2 hours of performing, 22 hours of waiting. Many band members compare playing in a band to having a second marriage or family. Given this comparison, touring musicians should adapt well to quarantine and social distancing in the year 2020.  Years from now we may be describing our time at home to friends at social gatherings, but will all members of one house recall quarantine the same? There is no better musical example of time spent together than on tour in a van. Here are just three examples of bands that had some “van years” and were forever changed.


The band with the ultimate reputation for hard tours in close quarters is unquestionably Black Flag. Lead singer Henry Rollins chronicled his time in the band with the release of “Get In The Van: On The Road With Black Flag.” The book is known for tales of hard core punk rock exploits balanced with long hours of travelling in close quarters. Endless hours of time spent in the back of a Ryder van listening to lead guitarist Gregg Ginn practice scales could drive anyone insane.

Black Flag would also tour with “labelmates.” Many record labels would send their bands out on tour together, using the same equipment to save money. Using the same equipment usually meant using the same transportation. Rollins chronicles a tour with the Minutemen, a power trio who happened to include bass legend Mike Watt. Rollins talked about wanting to punch Watt for talking too much and taking control of the tape deck.

Of course, reading Rollins’ tour diaries only gives you one side of the story. Watt has talked in interviews about how much Rollins was teased on tour. Rollins was the fourth singer for the band, and one does not simply walk into an established band without a fair share of harassment and hazing.

Years later, Rollins was interviewed for "The Watt From Pedro Show" podcast, they discuss how the van years forged their work ethic. (Skip to the two minute mark.)


Some band members get on each other’s nerves over significant others, some over their political views, the Ramones had both. Johnny and Joey Ramone were unhappily boxed into a small van for just over 20 years. The Ramones were never a “separate buses” moneymaking machine that one would assume. Joey and Johnny were the last original members left and had very little communication after the band said their farewell. Years later, Johnny didn’t want to make the drive to Joey’s funeral. "End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones" chronicles the bands history, the trailer below says it all.


The Police are an interesting case in terms of getting more than one side of the story. Any fan of The Police can read a memoir from each member of the band. (Rather than bookmarking, I’ll just provide some links below if you are looking to read up yourself. Each book is interesting and entertaining.) Guitarist Andrew Summers got into photography (also shown in the documentary “Can’t Stand Losing You”) while drummer Stewart Copeland bought a Super 8 camera (this footage went into the documentary “Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out).

Sting categorized their ‘van years’ as playing every “fleapit club” they could book in North America. They hauled their own equipment and played to large and barely existing crowds over thousands of miles with hardly any sleep.  In the film footage mentioned earlier, Sting’s plans on leaving the group seem evident.

An interesting case is Andy Summers on this tour. Summers was 36 years old touring with two band mates ten years younger, pushing a Ford Econoline van to gigs for nobody. In the documentary “Can’t Stand Losing You” Summers attests to the zig-zagging tour schedule and the physical demands on the body.

Stewart Copeland told of these days as the three musicians in the van with his childhood best friend at the wheel.  No roadies were involved. As one may expect, Copeland gets pretty sick of lugging his drumkit in and out of every club on the continent.


Sometimes traveling with others takes it’s toll in different ways. Chuck Berry had enough trouble with his band's antics on the road.  Eventually, when booked into a city, the promoter had to find the backing band. Usually the opening band for Chuck Berry became the backup band for Chuck Berry.  On one occasion, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band backed Berry. This also kept Berry from having to pay a backing band from his performance fee.

Chances are, you may remember the time of social distancing differently than those you are living with. This could be the van years of your relationship. Hours of killing time with no show to perform. Are you the Greg Ginn practicing hours on end with someone else forced to listen? Do they have good headphones? Can you be drowned out?

Hopefully everyone will come out of this inspired and ready to “get the band back together!”

Jonathan Nolan wrote this in between practice sessions of endless scales.


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