Tag Archives: Orange County

In a Van, Down by the River

14 Sep

When I went home for a Californian summer before moving to Australia I tried to explain the concept of living out of a van with my boyfriend to my friends and family. Most people looked at me with horror and asked, “But, how do you shower?!” or “What if you have to go to the bathroom?!”

Others quoted Chris Farley’s famous Saturday Night Live skit where he plays Matt Foley, the 35-year-old motivational speaker who tries to scare kids straight by telling them they could end up like him, “living in a van, down by the river.” I had to laugh to myself when within days of arriving in Australia, that was my exact living situation.

After a day in Brisbane, we started the trip in Minnie Water, NSW, where we discovered a gorgeous beach with clear water, surrounding headlands and not a person in site. We tanned naked and felt as though we’d washed ashore to our own private island. It was pure bliss. Fortunately, time was on our side because after we climbed the wooden steps to the top of the beach access for lunch, car after car drove up and our “private” beach wasn’t so private anymore.

The next morning we had a medical emergency and left our perfect camp spot to drive an hour to the nearest town and find a doctor. We ended up in a quaint little place called Grafton and after the emergency was sorted we decided to make use of our unexpected gas consumption and explore our new surroundings.

Once  it was dark we searched for a place to camp and found a park right on the banks of the Clarence River. We parked next to the public gazebo and made dinner in the picnic area with our portable gas stove. We had free power, free running water, a kitchen, and bathrooms within walking distance, so the fact that overnight camping wasn’t allowed wasn’t much of a deterrent. 

The next morning as we watched the sunrise over the river from the open “boot”, we knew we couldn’t leave. It was the local watering hole and a town favorite picnic spot. Over the course of the next three days locals parked all around us and launched their boats or set up their lawn chairs for lunch and beers while the kids splashed around in the water. Every few hours we had new guests join us under the gazebo for tea, breakfast or lunch. When we got to know some of them we’d tell them how we’d been camping there. They’d reply with, “Is that right? Good on ya!” and we’d tell them how we’d been taking our showers in the river.

On the second night, Matt and I fell asleep early since we’d been waking up for sunrise nearly every morning. We had the trunk of the car wide open, facing the river and just as I was dozing off a security guard woke me up to let me know if we didn’t leave now they were going to lock the gates and we wouldn’t be able to get out until they opened at 5a.m. In my haze I told him that was okay, we’re sleeping here and he just nodded and left.

This is what I love about Australia. The rural small towns, the slow pace, the natural beauty, the wildlife and the lack of crowds. Everyone seems to understand what we’re doing here. They’ve either done it before or wish they could. Most want to hear what we’ve done and where we’re going and they give us inside tips about the best beaches or places to find jobs, but a few look at us like we’re the dregs of society. I feel sorry for those people. I wonder if they’ve ever made love on a beach in broad daylight or if they’ve watched the sun rise over the ocean, with sand between their toes. I wonder if they really appreciate their daily hot showers, washer machines and microwaves or if it’s all become background.

This lifestyle isn’t for everyone and at times I’m shocked that I’m so okay with it being mine. I laugh when we do come across the people who think we’re a couple of strange hippies but, to me this is living and I feel more alive than I ever did in Orange County. Every day is a challenge because we don’t know where we’re going to sleep that night or when our next proper shower will be. But the freedom that comes with this lifestyle isn’t something you can put a price on and it’s not something I can fully explain. So though I spent several days “living in a van, down by the river” it wasn’t a low point in my life as it comically was for Chris Farley’s character.  It was a high one.

Black Lips @ The Galaxy

25 Nov

(Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 19th, 2011 for OC Music Magazine)

There wasn’t a moment during the Black Lips show at the Galaxy last Sunday when a fan didn’t jump onstage. They weaved in and out of the mics, kissed the lead singers, and danced, before diving into the crowd so hard their shoes went flying.

They threw their bras onstage, stole the mic and sang, and took off their shirts and swung them over their heads. Security guards looked the other way, but if someone hung around too long, they’d push them back into the crowd or escort them off stage by their arms and legs.

The high energy was so infectious that even singer/guitarist Cole Alexander stage-dived, bringing his guitar with him. It felt as though there were no rules, and the song “Bad Kids,” off the Good Bad Not Evil album, seemed to be the night’s anthem.

The Black Lips formed in Atlanta, Georgia back in 2000 and in eleven years they’ve put out six albums – each different from the last. These Southern boys, who describe their sound as “flower punk,” are far more punk than flower, though their recordings would have you believe otherwise. Their psychedelic, country, doo wop, and indie influences never seem to overpower their true punk nature, but you’d only know this if you saw them play live. They’re the kind of band that has to be experienced with all the senses – maybe that’s why over fifteen girls ran onstage to steal kisses during the show.

By the time it was over, everyone in the pit was drenched in sweat – their faces flushed, and grinning from ear to ear. It was the experience teen-aged punks have wet dreams about, but you had to be twenty-one to get in.

Inspired by the anarchist mood of the evening, I seized the opportunity to sneak backstage when I saw the door to its entrance swing open and the security guard walk away. Read on for the post-show interview with bassist/singer Jared Swilley:

A: So how do you feel about all these girls jumping on stage and trying to kiss you?

J: (He laughs) Well, tonight my girlfriend was on stage behind me but I always try to pull away from it anyway.

A: What’s your favorite part of performing?

J: Usually when the show’s over, that’s best part. It’s a good feeling. I didn’t have much schooling but its like if you take an exam and you know you aced it, and you’re done with it, it’s like there’s no more cramming or studying – you’re done.

A: What’s been your favorite place to perform so far?

J: In the world? Oh, that’s hard to say. There’s so many places – I guess New York is cool, and Tokyo. Big cities, they’re fun. Small towns are fun too. We’re not really in a small town right now though so…

A: Well it’s Orange County so it’s kind of like the greater LA area…

J: Yeah. It’s cool here. I like the youth of Orange County. They’re like real punk – I enjoy it.

A: I saw you guys perform at the El Rey on Valentine’s Day like four years ago and this show was completely different. It was much more of a punk scene. Everyone was jumping onstage and I feel like last time it was more…

J: Well the El Rey is kind of strict. But yeah, Orange County is fun.

A: How do you feel about people jumping on stage? Do you ever get worried, because they’re hitting your mic and…

J: I like it, the only thing I worry about it, sometimes, is I don’t have dental insurance so like the mic is right there but I’m really good at balancing it with my knee, so when I see someone running I catch it real quick. But you don’t want a mic in your mouth because then your teeth are out.

A: Yeah, and it ruins the whole show.

J: And it’s a lot of money.

A: What’s your least favorite part of touring?

J: I guess the no sleep part kind of sucks. Touring is really fun. The only bad parts of it are like what’s shitty about anybody’s day. Like oh, I’m tired, I have to wake up. So it’s not really shitty at all.

A: Does it ever get to the point where it feels like a job?

J: No, this is the most bullshit job. It’s the most awesome job.

(The lead singer of Bleached walks up)

J: I’m really glad you guys got to play tonight.

B: I know, it’s the best. I lost my voice.

J: I can’t believe I have my voice still. Losing your voice, that’s what sucks about touring.

A: What’s your remedy?

J: Well I learned it from a long line of old soul singers from Atlanta. Mighty Hannibal taught me this trick that he and James Brown and Sam Cooke used to do. It’s just white vinegar and cayenne pepper and you shake it up and gargle it before you sing. It’s not a cure-all but it’ll get you through. And boiled ginger, that works well. I just boil ginger all day and drink the water. It’s good.

A: You guys are from Georgia. How do you think that affected the development of your sound?

J: I grew up with a lot of gospel and like country music and my father is a preacher and I grew up in the church, like singing and so I guess just like traditional music. I actually live in California now. The other guys live in Atlanta. I’m a Californian.

A: What do you think? It’s very different, right?

J: It’s cool. It’s just a different vibe. I don’t know, Southerners are different from Californians. There’s no Southerners here – I haven’t met one yet. But it’s cool, endless summer, I dig it. Tacos…

(A guy comes up and asks if Jared would make his boyfriend’s dream true and take a picture with him.)

(“Of course,” Jared says, and makes sure he’s given me enough of his time before he leaves.)

J: Alex?…

A: Yes?

J: It was a pleasure meeting you.

He shakes my hand and walks away.

What a Southern gent…

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