For 33 days in the summer of 1987, Divine Weeks toured in a beat up old Ford Econoline van, sleeping on strangers’ floors, never sure they’d make enough gas money to get them to the next town. This deeply personal, coming of age, on the road memoir follows critically acclaimed 80s indie alt rock band Divine Weeks’ first tour. Liberated from alcoholic upbringings and rigid cultural constraints, all they have is their music and each other’s friendship. The road is filled with yuppies, brothels, riots, sleeping on floors, spiked drinks, DJs with no pants, and battles with racism. They set out on the road to discovery to drink in all they could and maybe sell a few records. They grew up instead. (summary from Goodreads)
33 Days: Touring in a Van. Sleeping on Floors. Chasing a Dream., is really several stories wrapped up into one book. It is a road trip story, a coming of age story, a story of friendships, loyalty, idealism, racism and a story of dysfunctional families.
At times these conflicting themes disrupted the flow but all were essential to the telling of 33 Days. Leave out one element and you miss the driving force of what made Divine Weeks hit the road in the first place and ultimately what made them fall apart.
Bill See (the author of 33 Days) was the lead singer for Divine Weeks, an indie band that was quite popular in the late 80's on the LA music scene. With the bravado that only comes from idealistic youth, the band (consisting of Bill, Raj, Dave, George and road manager Ian ) decide this is their moment and embark on a 33 day tour to break out and finally make it.
What "making it" means to each band member is interesting. George wants to make it big - he wants the whole thing - to be a rock god (or at least that's my interpretation) He's tired of playing small clubs for $20 a show. BTW - $20 a show?? YIKES. The other guys are in it for having that one moment that connects everyone in the band and the audience or to escape from troubled home lives.
Bill seems to be the most idealistic of the group. He wants the full DIY touring experience. "Eschew major labels. Put out your own records, book your own tours." He doesn't want to sell out and be one of those asshole bands that stops connecting with the fans. He is truly in it for the music. Bill believes the music - the band - can change lives. I think sometimes his belief leaves him a little oblivious to what the other members are feeling about the tour. Raj and George in particular have a hard time leaving family and loved ones behind and Bill wholeheartedly believes that if they just have one great show it will all come together and they will see.
The author name drops bands almost all the time as a soundtrack to his life. Being fairly new to music, I didn't always know the name of the bands and felt a little disconnected. Since I've started meeting writers that use soundtracks to write, I find it fascinating that people hear their lives in song. A song to mark a certain mood or event. I've never done that until recently. I had to look up most of the songs/bands but I found a few new groups to listen to.
The story shifts from Bill's home life, which is very dysfunctional, his relationship with his girlfriend Mary, which is very dysfunctional (see the common thread?) and the tour. The actual tour wasn't what I expected. I was ready for stories of wild sex (not much it seems, unless you're the sound guy), drugs (yup - plenty of that) and rock & roll, but this was really more about personal relationships between the band and how to go after your dream without selling out or losing another part of yourself. There are of course funny anecdotes about trying to get paid, sleeping in real hell holes etc. but the story that stuck with me the most was about Raj. Raj is Indian and is repeatedly the object of racism at different venues. People calling him "paki" or cornering him after talking to a white woman. What really breaks my heart is this was in the 80's and sadly not much has changed. In fact it's probably worse now after 9/11. He is torn between his culture, obligations to his family and the joy he feels only when on stage. After I read the book I went to the 33 Days website to look at pictures and listen to the music and Raj's face just emanates kindness and peace so it kills me to read what he went through. Thankfully the band was amazing as a group dealing with this crap and supporting Raj.
The book is recounted from passages in journals that the author kept during that period of time. The shifts between Bill's home life and the tour sometimes felt jarring but I got used to the style. I almost wish he wrote two books. One about his family and one about the tour. Both are riveting but sometimes take away from each other in this book. But like I said you need them both to explain Bill's motivations.
I also wished I had gone to the website to view the pictures and listen to the music before I read the book. When he was talking about singing certain notes to a song or performances to songs I didn't know I couldn't relate but after hearing the music I got it.
It is really hard not to get caught up in Bill's enthusiasm for music. He feels it to his very core and therefore makes you feel it too.
A must read if you were ever a roadie, groupie or musician. And as a fan of music I like the glimpse into seeing what makes a band tick. I also have a new appreciation for what opening acts and new bands go through. I will definitely give them more of a chance after reading this book.
Rating: 3 out of 4
Source: Provided by the author for review