Ethan, Whynot and I began performing “Little Sister” on a tour of the UK’s infamous ‘toilet circuit’ of clubs in 2001. It always felt so good live, you knew it was coming, you couldn’t wait for the first drum hits to bring in the lead guitar riff and start the whole thing bouncing along. This was long before we took it to the studio in Woodstock, made it strain under the weight of a hundred useless overdubs and the possibility of becoming a duet with Michelle Branch. Long before my A&R guy declared it ‘flawed’ and long before Tchad Blake finally applied his laser-like focus to clear away most of the sonic bullshit that had been choking it to death.
Yes, this was back when it was just a fun dumb song, poppy to the point of utter ridiculousness, a guilty pleasure inserted into the middle of the set to alleviate the pressure of ‘proving it’ to another new audience in another new city in another new part of the universe.
Manchester, Coventry, Middlesborough, Glasgow, Aberdeen… In spite of its multi-syllabic ports of call, there was an unacknowledged sense of finality to that tour. The three of us spent the majority of it awash in lager and the dwindling optimism of pirates evading capture on a distant shore, happy to be there but knowing that, as sales of Mine and Yours were beginning to slow down, the possibility of a return visit under similar circumstances was looking more and more unlikely. Without the benefit of RCA’s enthusiasm and tour support dollars, it would be next to impossible to facilitate a follow-up trip. Ahoy, Matey: I do believe we are damned and doomed.
Every couple of years or so, a soft drink company resurrects the ‘road trip’ advertisement, a long-form spot featuring a group of just-graduated teenagers making a mystical run into the American frontier, apparently sure of nothing but their friendships and the comforting allure of high-fructose corn syrup. Ethan, Whynot and I were all well into our twenties by the time we hit the UK, but I would like to think that someone, someone possessing the cinematographic magic required to transform the MI into Route 66, might have been able to shift a couple of cases of Red Stripe on the strength of our predicament.
Major transitions in life always look so appealing in retrospect. From the vantage point of omniscience, we can see the full arc of the story, the lead-ups, the let-downs, the rallying points and the ultimate triumphs over debilitating obstacles. The reckoning presents itself, tied up neatly in a red ribbon. We sigh, hit the mute button on the remote and look off into the distance, wondering when and why life became a bit more predictable, conveniently forgetting what it was actually like to be barreling headlong into the dark and seemingly endless void of possibilities that required navigation before our current state of contentment could be realized.
My favorite moment in the ‘road trip’ ad is when one kid, his eyes glazed with sugar, a dark sparkly beverage in hand, smiles at the others and cranks up the volume on the car stereo. The camera cuts to a wide angle, showing their crappy car shooting down the Interstate into a beautiful twilight as the music crescendos to an ear-splitting level:
“Heeeeeeeeyyyyyy, little sister…”