“Man, I haven’t eaten mushrooms since 1998!” Cult Of Youth drummer Cory Flanigan excitedly yelled. Seconds later he was heaving his guts out in the parking lot as we melted outside of the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Arizona (where John Dillinger and his gang hid out before a fateful fire on the third floor inadvertently led to his capture in 1934). Today, the hotel is regarded as a loose mannered haven for rockers on the road, where the front desk hands out earplugs as a subtle warning to tired travelers who pass through it’s opulent lobby in search of a peaceful rest. Try hard to be cool much?
I had arrived with Cult Of Youth in Tucson earlier that afternoon for their show at The Flycatcher, a decent venue in what seemed to be an awfully quiet town. As the band began their sound check, I downed a quick beer and went for a walk to explore downtown and see what Tucson had to offer.
I had only gotten half a block away from the club when I bumped into two crustie hippies clad in the de facto nu-hippie clothing of tattered Jncos topped off with Pink Floyd and Greatful Dead shirts. After one of them had bummed a light off of me, they astutely remarked that I looked like I was from out of town, while telling me they had traveled from Northern California to attend a precious gem convention in Tucson where they hoped to buy some “gnarly” crystals.
“Hey, man, do you need drugs? We’ve got about a pound of mushrooms in our van and also some MDMA. We’ve been selling along the way to support ourselves,” one neo-hippy told me.
Foreseeing an otherwise dull evening in town, I did not hesitate to grab a couple bags of mushrooms from them. After we made our trade I sat back at the bar with the hippies as I waited for Cult Of Youth to play. The crustie crystal peddlers moaned of their disdain for Phish in the wake of the news that Phisherman Trey Anastasio would be replacing Jerry Garcia for some upcoming Dead shows in Chicago. “He’s a poser, man. You take one look at that guy and you know his heart is not truly in it. It’s a disgrace to all Deadheads!”
However, they still assured me they would be in attendance–namely for economic reasons. One of them told me they weren’t looking to be generic drug pushers at festivals forever though: “I’m trying to expand from selling drugs at fests, man. I think this year I’m expanding to socks. Last year I saw some guy kill it in sock sales alone. Maybe we’ll also hustle some toilet paper too.” Good idea, as everyone has to shit in the shitter-less parking lots a.k.a Shakedown Street. I wished them luck.
To my surprise, everyone in the band was all on board to trip our way through a night in Tucson. Impatient, I suggested that we all eat them before we loaded or gear out. “That way, we will easily load out fast and be out of here in no time,” I reasoned with everyone.
We gobbled the shrooms down and were on our way to the Hotel Congress when the drugs began pulsing throughout our bodies. I could feel my mouth involuntarily curling into a goofy grin as we approached the front desk.
“I’d like to book a room for the night,” guitarist Christian Kount told the concierge. “We just took a bunch of mushrooms so we should try and do this fast.” The concierge laughed–the was the cool hotel after all–and just asked him to write down the license plate number on the van. Christian scrawled down “Dirty white van outside” and we stumbled up the stairs in search of the room, while being entertained by the vibrant murals lining the hallway walls.
By the time bassist Jasper McGandy, Christian and I made it to the downstairs bar, we were wide-eyed and howling in our booth as everyone uncomfortably looked at us. Paige Flash, the group’s cello player excitedly grabbed us, “You guys need to check out the bathrooms, they’re crazy!!” The four of us hustled into the women’s bathroom, where Jasper and I were briefly horrified catching our reflection in a gold leaf framed mirror jutting out of the glaring steel walls.
“I gotta get the fuck out of here!” Jasper squealed before we ran out of the hotel to seek refuge on a strip of grass across the street from the hotel. I could feel the cool desert air soothing my sweat soaked hair and neck as we laid out to calm down a bit. These were the most potent mushrooms I had ever taken–and I’ve taken a lot. They kept propelling me back up onto my feet as I tried to rally everyone up for a long walk away from everyone. This proved fruitless and before I knew it we were wobbling back up the stairs into the room.
Christian, being the key holder, was the first to fall through the door into the pitch-black room, but our eyes all collectively caught the light of a lap top screen shining on a bed in the corner of the room. Although I was too visually intoxicated to make out the figure on the bed, it was Greh Holger of the group Hivemind who is touring with Cult Of Youth.
“Hey Greh is jerking off!” Jasper screamed as we all fell over laughing. However since we were so fucked up it didn’t occur to us to leave the room, and a couple of us actually plopped down on the bed. “Don’t you assholes fucking knock?” he screamed back.
By this time I was peaking as I slithered off the bed before crawling on the carpet and I laid in the corner of the room, where I became fixated on the ceiling lamp and whirling fan. Every face in my line of psychedelic sight floated around the ceiling like neon lined holograms, which was quite entertaining.
Unfortunately an argument broke out over the light being on which was loud enough to attract the hotel’s surly manager and his steak– faced security who began pounding on our door. As he surveyed the bodies sprawled out around the room, he angrily ordered anyone who was not supposed to be in the room to leave immediately and slammed the door shut. “We should have given him some of these ear plugs,” I remarked as Paige, Jasper and myself stumbled back out into the hallway, leaving Greh to go back to sleep as Christian rubbed his face against the screen in the bathroom window like a frail feline.
It was 2am, and we knew there was no way we would be welcome back into the hotel. We made our way to the stair case to the lobby and finally found Cory, whose eyes were fixed on The Flycatcher’s sound man as he rattled off the hotel’s storied history. This was of no interest to the rest of us so we retired to the van to drink a few more beers, while constantly being interrupted by hotel employees who kept sneaking over towards us in what we figured was a recon mission for their jack-ass manager.
Finally, we began to walk around downtown, which was enjoyable due to it’s many classic neon signs and totally deserted streets. I was blown away by how much the downtown district of Tucson looked like an abandoned movie set from the 1940s, almost cartoonish to the point that I felt like I was living in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
I spent a couple more hours walking around. Then I decided to sneak back into the hotel to sleep on the carpet in Christian’s room.
A few short hours later we were all back up, groggy-eyed and shredded. We met up for breakfast, where we all apologized to each other for inadvertently pissing each other off the night before.
One thing that I absolutely love about this band (besides the music) is that this has been the first tour I have ever been on where everyone hasn’t wanted to kill each other and generally gets along quite well–a change from bands I have been in where fistfights, brawls and even ex-bandmates threatening to call the cops to avoid a self-instigated ass-kicking was the norm. The fact that these guys will ingest just about anything, and excitedly hop back in the van with plans to do it all again the next day is a bonus. By lunchtime we said our goodbye to the Hotel Congress and began the 14 hour drive to Austin, Texas with a brief rest in desolate west Texas, where things would only get more interesting.