Boredom on tour can be the undoing of many a band. Temptations are always abound in the world of rock 'n' roll and it's easy to be drawn to them like flies to a pile of shit. I've seen with my own eyes how it's eaten people up only to spit them out. Surprisingly, the Internet's done much to stave off these inevitable ends by turning backstages into Internet cafes, where mirrors and blow have been replaced by laptops in rows.
Our band started pre-Internet, pre-WiFi, and although I've gone on record more than once to smugly state I'm straight-edge, almost like a triathlete competing in an iron man competition, it hasn't been without temptation. One boredom-filled night, after a show during a long tour, two friends gave me a personal presentation on the benefits of taking speed that almost had my hands cupped ready to receive. They spoke of the increased energy, concentration and libido, but even when they nearly had me over to their dark side they couldn't help but disclose the negative effects when it wore off -- the depression, the anxiety, the unending slumber. It was just enough for me to balk last minute.
Besides, I've got other vices tailing me.
As a book hoarder and neat freak, my fantasies are probably different than most. I'm constantly replaying sequences in my head where I finally find time to read the stacks of books next to my bed in peace. Although I relish downtime, my schedule is too full and I'm too hyperactive to summon stillness at a moment's notice. Maybe it's because in the last few years I have fallen to an addiction -- I've become a coffee drinker.
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Most people use coffee to wake up in the morning but I've never needed much stimulus to arise. Every morning I jump out of bed like someone just screamed "fire" in a crowded theatre so I guess I've been naturally endowed with an extra shot of verve. When we first started touring, I remember watching JC, our bass player, treat coffee drinking not as routine, but ritual. It fascinated me, but I couldn't understand what the big deal was. Close friends would regale me with long-winded descriptions of its virtues, but my idea of coffee was loading up a tasteless black drink with sugar in order to do an overnight drive after a gig. This all turned when, on a day of boredom, I drank an extra large cup of coffee for kicks. Not being used to the liquid, my body reacted with shaky hands, accelerated heartbeat and a general urge to uber-multitask. In other words, I finally found out what all the fuss was about.
When I told my friends I'd caved they excitedly began schooling me on the world of java. I learned that instant coffee is the equivalent to toilet bowl licking. I learned to decrease my sugar intake and simply enjoy the flavour of the bean. I learned about augmented drinks like lattes, Americanos and espresso macchiatos. But most importantly, I learned that there is a hierarchy among franchised coffee marts.
When on the road and away from superb local Toronto coffee businesses like Lettieri and Bulldog, Starbucks can sometimes be that default acquaintance needed to simmer the burn while on tour. Tour enough and you'll find yourself in the middle of nowhere a lot of the time. It's not the best coffee, but Starbucks is the best consolation when you're in the middle of nowhere.
Still, drinking Starbucks coffee doesn't come without its share of conditions and compromises.
Starbucks' mandate to gentrify the world through coffee and snacks has now expanded into the world of music with their Hear Music label and general promotion of what I consider "soft music." I've never comprehended the accepted pairing of easy listening music with a drink that contains caffeine, the most common psychoactive drug in the world. My idea of music that partners well with coffee would be Jay Reatard, Turbonegro, Motorhead or Slayer, not Colbie Caillat, Bon Iver or Barbara Streisand. But what do I know? The effects of heavy coffee drinking usually send me sending out one word email replies or running-on-the-spot -- not meditating, scrapbooking or taking nature hikes.
On second thought, it's an ingenious marketing move when you think about it -- sell music that lulls one to sleep then slip a $5 coffee drink under their noses to wake them up.
All this gentle music probably isn't being directed at me anyway. Whether you know it or not, the Starbucks menu caters more to sweet teeth than to dark roast drinkers like myself. You want to talk about Supersizing Me? How about the 40 different Frappuccinos they have for sale? Everything from Peppermint Mocha Frappuccinos to Mocha Coconut Frappuccinos to Double Chocolately Chip Frappuccinos. When it gets cold you can switch to Salted Caramel Mocha and Pumpkin Spice Lattes, each with a shot of flavored syrup that can give any meal at a Waffle House a run for its money. These are drinks for adults who eat breakfast cereal for dinner and consider Flintstone vitamins healthy candy substitutes.
Sweet comfort drinks accompanied with a generous helping of whipped cream have quietly come to define Starbucks. The soft, sweet-tempered music sold adjacent only help to accentuate the fluff. Both hold the company's mandate -- to soothe and placate while the world outside burns to a cinder in a shitstorm.
Give me a dark roast and a middle finger any day.
There's still hope, though. Starbucks recently started selling Ramones CDs alongside its Lillith Fair-friendly roster. Some punk police have called out The Ramones and whistled this as punk rock's end, but I think it's Starbucks that may have realized some of us like it dark, hot, and fast.
Watch Danko Jones' "Sugar Chocolate"