Kissing E with the Hair Band

Travel Stories: When Mark Edward Hornish hit the road to see America, he hoped for adventure. But the last thing he expected was help from a Rock Group on Tour.

I smiled, nodded, held my breath while the car started. Thirty seconds later, I was drafting like a Tour de France cyclist through the American outback.

I realized soon enough that I’d never thought to ask them who they were. If they were rock stars, they seemed pretty old. And if in fact they were the rodeo, well, I never knew that rodeo guys had groupies. For the groupie car was still with us, and every time they passed me, I received alternating glares of consternation, rancor and jealousy.

I spent the next hour in nervous concentration, staring at the lead bus’s rear fender and the way-below-E gas gauge. Occasionally, I glanced up at the groupies. They waved at the darkened bus windows with glee and fear, and looked at me with hostility and fear. It was not exactly fun, but it was hope. I counteracted my worry as best I could with a Sonic Youth cassette.

It was a relief when, at last, we crested a hill and the flat gray valley of Gillette puttered into view. I had made it. Even if I stopped now, I’d probably be able to get a lift, though certainly not from the groupies, who were now applying mass quantities of makeup. Fine. If I had to, I could walk in.

We circled into a single-store truck stop, and I peeled off from my escort and coasted to a stop at the pumps behind the store. By the time I’d strolled back out to the center of the parking lot, the buses were disgorging mostly 30-ish raggedy looking types, but also a few 50-ish guys with spectacular manes of hair. It appeared as if a few members of the cast of “Cats” had landed in Wyoming.

I didn’t have to decide if I should talk to these guys. As soon as the drivers made eye contact with me, they laughed, waved me over, and shook my hand.

“Yo, New York! What the hell are you doin’ all the way out here?”

“Oh, I’m taking some time off, just spending the summer driving around, seeing the country.”

“Cool. Hey we’re from New York too! Most of the crew, at least.”

“So you are a band then? Who are you guys, anyway?”

“We’re Whitesnake.”

The implications were staggering. Whitesnake. Arguably the worst band of all time. Certainly, a band that flouted all that is wrong with rock ‘n’ roll. They stood for all that I railed against. Yet here I was, in backwater Wyoming, chumming it up with them. In fact, damned if they weren’t—and this still pains me to say—nice guys.

“Yo, we were all cracking up on the bus, towing some New Yorker through the wasteland!” said lion-maned rock star No. 1.

“Yeah, so where you headed, anyway?” said leonine rocker No. 2.

I informed them that my next major stop would probably be Seattle.

“Seattle?” The Whitesnakers looked at each other. “No way! That’s where we’re headed. We’re doing two nights at the Kingdome this weekend.”

“Yeah, you should come check it out.”

“Right, we’ll hook you up! Backstage pass. Party! You wanna?”

Now this was an offer I had to think about. Though I’d been playing in bands for a while, and rubbing elbows with musicians no longer held any glamour for me, the thought of all-access-arena-rock was a different matter. If nothing else, maybe I’d get in on some of that free love that apparently no longer existed anywhere other than in heavy metal videos.

I waffled. “Backstage, huh?”

“Fer sher, dude. Party!”

Backstage. Kingdome. Whitesnake. I inhaled deeply, sensing a moment of great importance.

“I, uh, you know what? Nah.”

I never did meet a Sioux Indian, either.

Running into more big-city musicians was not what I had planned for on my Great Excursion. But that, it turned out, is the point: that plans and travel frequently work best when they are mutually exclusive. I eventually gave up on any itinerary, and never made it back to New York. I wrote few songs, but started writing fiction instead.

Years later, I look back on my early travels with happiness, but I look back on my music career with mixed emotions. It was fun, but probably consumed way too much of my life. That night however, as I pulled out of the truck stop, fully gassed, and turned onto the blue highway towards Cody, I harbored no such disillusion.

I may never be famous. I may never cavort on stage, pouring my soul out to thousands of fans. I may never even get any of that free sex that metal bands were always bragging about. But in the world of underground music - think of all those unsigned bands laboring away at this very moment in some dingy basement bar—I’ve done my part.

Sooner or later, everyone gets backstage. But you may only get one chance in life to blow off a band like Whitesnake.



Mark Edward Hornish is a film editor based in Los Angeles. He has driven cross-country six times. He ditched the Hornet in 1994 at a barbecue stand outside Yuma, Arizona, where he'd met his future wife earlier in the morning.

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