Drummer Jochen Rueckert‘s latest CD as a leader, We Make the Rules, features saxophonist Mark Turner, guitarist Lage Lund and bassist Matt Penman, and is out now (buy it on Amazon). There’s nothing gimmicky about it—it’s a collection of modern post-bop themes, ably played by talented musicians at the top of their game. The album’s not streaming online, though you can hear live versions of two of its tracks, “Saul Goodman” and “Pretty From Afar,” on Soundcloud (they were recorded in Amsterdam in May 2013, with the same band heard on the record).
Intriguingly, Rueckert is also a writer and photographer, who has published three volumes of an ebook series, Read the Rueckert. An excerpt from Volume 3 follows.
Los Angeles, Pasadena, Auckland.
Yesterday, a half hour of meandering on Lake Erie in a kayak seemed like a great idea to distract yourself from the mountainous amount of flying lined up over the next three weeks, but today, you awake with sore arms limp like boiled linguine, almost unable to lift your flight case into the car. Considering there’s pretty much nothing going on at all in Cleveland, its airport is ridiculously large; you walk what feels like miles to your gate. Having only slept 5 hours, you are happy to have seat 1A on your first flight to O’Hare and pass out. From there, American Airlines chooses to fly the 4 hours to LAX patriotically in an outdated MD-81 from the golden 1980s, the grinding and whirring from the motor retracting the flaps, situated under your seat 19D, evoking more than a few raised eyebrows from fellow passengers after takeoff.
A taxi to your accommodation in Silverlake runs $80, but you have to direct the driver there with your phone’s mapping capabilities. In turn, the driver lets you finish your $21 Starbucks lunch despite his very well billed no food policy.
At the house the band has rented, your room has the already settled guitar and cello players’ stuff strewn all around, so it takes you a while to be able to get some privacy so you can try and fail to take a nap. You realise some detergent you packed in your checked cymbal case, to avoid having to take it out each time you go through security with it in your carry-on, has leaked, so you have to wash and dry each item in your case.
Frustrated and left with only 30 minutes till departure for soundcheck, you do some sit-ups and take a shower, from which you emerge to find the towels neatly stacked, not in the bathroom, but on the bed, for some unfathomable reason. From the safety of the little rug next to the tub you step onto the tiles, now extra slippery from spilled excess detergent from your involuntary cymbal case wash and tumble, impacting with your head on the toilet. Fortunately the wooden toilet seat is down and lessens the blow, but it is now cracked in half. Apart from a dull pain behind your ear, where you first hit, some sharp pain in your neck muscles, and being lightly grossed out to have rubbed your head and parts of your face along where you earlier sat with your bare ass, you seem to be fine, with no sign of concussion. Overcome with a feeling of serendipity, given the chance you could have very well been lying naked, comatose, in a puddle of your own blood, to be found by your unsuspecting band, you realise how you spent a decade fighting with various girlfriends over them wanting you to put the seat down, claiming it is the “natural state” of a toilet, you vehemently disagreeing; the seat with its softer material and little rubber feet quite possibly having saved your life just now.
Google-searching symptoms of concussion in the unconditioned taxi-air on the way to the venue does actually provoke several of these symptoms, like irritability, dizziness and light nausea, but so does just checking in for a flight for you as well. At the venue, the bandleader realises that flying in the day before with the 2 other band members, paying for accommodation, renting a van, renting drums and guitar amplifiers and personally picking them up from the rental place, all in all probably more than twice your fee for the concert tonight, was unnecessary, since the venue provides far superior equipment free of charge, but he didn’t think of asking.
You have dinner with two friends at a Vietnamese restaurant named “pho-bulous,” possibly because “pho real” was already taken, and because “pho-rnication” would have been too edgy.
While the opening act aimlessly strings together triads on an unaccompanied upright piano, trying to mask the music’s blandness with having various viking style props and gothic lightning around, you step into the courtyard between the theatre and the bar, to have a beer hidden in a coffee cup and a cigarette. A woman breaks loose from her group of friends and asks you if you haven’t heard the news that smoking is “out” these days, apparently a rhetorical question. Aware that it is bad for you and bystanders, you apologetically ask if you’re bothering her and start moving away. Also apologetic, she beckons you to stay and states that, though she thinks smoking is very unattractive, you are still “hot, I mean, like, hot; you are hot.” Things now unequivocally awkward, she goes into some faux-self-deprecating spiel about being “the asshole” for telling you to not smoke and her having smoked since age twelve but having been able to quit—it’s all of a sudden all about her—when she had children and then proceeds to show you pictures of them and then finally concludes that she thinks that she, now 46 years old, 2 kids and all, also is still very hot, tracing her body with both hands the way the ladies on a game show would present a main prize, or perhaps like somebody unveiling a statue with both hands. Flustered, unsure if this was the most desperate approach you’ve ever encountered or if this is just the way people are in Los Angeles, you just walk away without saying anything.
After the show, you excitedly walk your friends down the block, where you saw a shuttered “Buddha Bar” which you imagine having been to and having had a great time at, years ago, though it is still shuttered and turns out to be a medical marijuana dispensary. Your last chance for a full night’s sleep in a while, you hop into a cab at 1:30 AM, when you rise at 9 AM, parts of the band are just arriving back at the house, wasted, and pointedly without their rented van. Anxiety about your flight this night to New Zealand slowly peaking, you start supplementing the Valerian root pills you’ve been taking with small doses of Benzodiazepines you need to offset with espresso drinks to not feel too sleepy, so you embark on the mile walk to a famous espresso roaster on Santa Monica Boulevard, just to find a line wrapped around the block; you walk back with one of those 473 ML Red Bull cans, the only other option for caffeine in the vicinity.
At the outdoor venue in Pasadena later that afternoon, the search for stimulating drinks remains equally futile; virtually everything seems to be closed on a Sunday afternoon, the backstage catering also providing the exception to the rule that Mexican food in California is great. 2 minutes after the last note of the concert is played, you are speeding towards Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX in a cab you have arranged before the show. Anxiety now at an unforeseen high, Qantas denies you boarding until you prove you have a ticket out of New Zealand, a separate ticket with a different airline, information you have to obtain with frantic phone calls to the band leader of your next tour, already overseas. You pull up your reservation on your painfully slow smart phone internet connection; your hands so sweaty at this point it takes you ages to enter the PNR codes and your name on the minuscule on-screen keyboard. Approved with just a glimpse at the screen, you are issued your boarding pass for the 15 hour flight to Sydney and the 3 hour flight onward to Auckland like it’s no big deal; sometimes you wish the gate attendant would hand over the documents with apologies about the length of the travel and a genuine sigh.
The gate area resembles a refugee camp rather than a major international airport; pregnant women with their offspring are forced to set up camp on the floor next to the maybe 100 seats for the 500+ passengers about to board the Airbus 380. After an engine of a Qantas A380 imploded and disintegrated during normal cruise over the Indian Ocean last year, due to the faulty design of a major part, thorough tests after replacing all engines with a newer model have revealed hairline cracks along most of the fleet’s wings and spawned a massive lawsuit between the airline and the manufacturer.
Just before takeoff, you are sitting on top of 10,000 tons of fuel and are about to fly pretty much as far as this aircraft can go, 14.5 hours with nothing but ocean between here and there. With all that in mind, you try to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. Seated in 54A, an advance seat assignment Qantas charged you $20 for, by the seam of the front wing section, you get to take in the full 2 metres the wing tip rises, not visible when taxiing, but flexed over the rest of the wing when in flight. The sheer size of the aircraft gives the ride a definitively more ferry-like feel; turbulence can be felt sort of undulating throughout the fuselage, a big wobbly mess really; the wingspan so vast you feel like one end could be in totally different weather than the opposing one. Somehow, each engine being large enough to qualify as a Manhattan starter studio apartment is pacifying. Qantas’ seats are comfortable, legroom is above average, the entertainment system and food superior to most other airlines’, and the flight is mostly smooth until you reach Papua New Guinea and even there it’s not too bad, although you are almost hallucinating from sleep deprivation, anxiety, Lorazepam and fears about deep vein thrombosis at that point.
Connecting in Sydney is easier than expected and all of a sudden the 3 hours to New Zealand feel like two stops on the F train. To accommodate the additional concerts in Los Angeles and Pasadena, changing your original flight routing of JFK-LAX-SYD-AUC after the band leader had already purchased the ticket, to simply join the same flight out of LAX, incurred a change fee of $785, or 31 cents per mile more to not fly than to fly on a flight you have already paid for. With the one-way from Cleveland for $350, your 2500 mile trip to LA totals $1135; your original 190,00 mile ticket was $1600, a ratio of of 5.35 times more per mile.