Behold the silver chariot at the traffic lights. Its windows are blacked-out, hinting at a secret world within. You wonder who is on board--is it Lady Gaga and her sci-fi wardrobe, or does this inscrutable vehicle harbour Kasabian drying their hair? Whoever is being transported, the tour bus will, for the duration of the current jaunt, be that artist's prison, after-hours bar and entertainment centre. Think "Big Brother" house on wheels. Should the wacky new drummer's quirks start to grate, the unfortunate bunked next to him will likely over-medicate and misbehave. It's handy, then, that the tour bus is also a bit like Vegas. What happens there tends to stay there--dalliances, indiscretions and all.
Was touring by road ever thus? Well, yes and no. Simple space limitations must surely have limited hedonistic endeavours aboard the clapped-out Ford Transits or station wagons that were once de rigueur for beat combos scooting from city to city. Indeed, to read about early tours by Free or Black Sabbath is to encounter musicians who slept draped over bass drums with a Marshall amp up their jacksy if they slept at all. And unlike today's tourers, they didn't have wireless Internet, Grand Theft Auto and Zoolander on DVD to help while away those long hours on the highway.
Motor-driven comfort for the touring musician is a relatively modern concept, then. It's also a growth industry. You want a bus with a fully equipped kitchen and state of the art TV lounge? Can do. A sumptuous master bedroom that segregates you, front-person and sole songwriter, from your lackeys? Certainly, madam--remind 'em who's boss. These days, even the most democratically kitted-out vehicles seem determined to make the inside of a tour bus look as little like the inside of a tour bus as possible. Check out this baby, replete with elaborately lit pole-dancing lounge. To hire it would almost be a pre-admission of the guilt you hoped to accrue later.
Still, no matter how exotically refurbished the vehicle, the hour-by-hour proximity of overly familiar bandmates tends to take its toll. When I interviewed Status Quo's affable rhythm guitarist Rick Parfitt aboard the band's tour bus in 2005, he said he liked to ride up front with the crew while his co-frontman Francis Rossi preferred isolation at the vehicle's rear. Parfitt also had a name for Rossi's quarters: "The sick room."
Once territories have been established, there are other matters of etiquette to observe. "There's no number 2's on the tour bus--that's rule number 1," my editor reminded me when commissioning this blog, the point being that, where your bus's toilet is concerned, ordure is a big ask. Rock stars don't respond well to orders, though, and cognisant of this, perhaps, Police Supt. Phil Cline implicated the Dave Matthews Band when a tour bus emptied its septic tank into the Chicago River back in 2004. Matthews and co. reportedly offered to send DNA samples to prove their innocence, but this in turn prompted one wag to posit that the jettisoned pollutant had actually been a slew of Matthews' CDs.
So long as there are bands, there will always be tours. And so long as there are tours, there will always be tour buses. At their most romantic, such carriages are like Trojan horses spiriting pop stars into our midst, but as a certain 2009 VH1 show reminded us, the tour bus is more often associated with seediness. A vehicle (ahem) for Poison frontman Bret Michaels, Rock Of Love Bus found various game women competing for Michaels' attentions. "Who will best adapt to life in a cramped, grungy tour bus with Bret and his roadie buddies?" wondered VH1. My money was on Rick Parfitt, but Penthouse model Taya Parker was victorious.
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