Interrupting work on US reality TV show about house renovations, and work with his own group Queen Kwong – who release new album Get A Witness today (28 August) – Wes Borland will don the warpaint this weekend (28-30) and take to the stage with Limp Bizkit at the Reading & Leeds Festivals (and play with Queen Kwong too – double bubble, nice one Wes!). In a guest column he explains why he balances dressing-up as an alien chimp on stage with Fred Durst and playing big, nostalgic festival slots, with starting all over again on the toilet circuit in his other band.
I don’t know why musicians feel the need to draw male genitals on dressing room walls; but, it’s almost certain that if you were to tell me the number of said drawings in any room, I’d be able to give you a pretty accurate description of the decor. No matter who you are, no matter how good your band is, no matter what you sound like, if you’re a touring musician you are guaranteed to encounter a plentiful amount of penis drawings at the base of this holy mountain we call the music industry. This holy mountain that we all strive to scale.
It was nearly 20 years ago when I was at the zenith of my career, at the peak of this mountain. So, one could say that I’m on my way down the slopes these days, and I’m certainly taking my time. My band Limp Bizkit (a past-its-prime affair that maintains a healthy following fuelled mostly by nostalgia) still enjoys a minimal but healthy touring career. Not only do folks show up sometimes by the thousands to hear the old singles played, they surprisingly come with an amount of gusto comparable to the enthusiasm wielded by our younger selves.
I love travelling and because most of our surviving markets exist overseas, I get to spend my days off seeing beautiful places. I’ve stood beside Christ The Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, I’ve ridden the cable car up the Schilthorn in Switzerland (made famous in the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’), I’ve walked the Catacombs under Paris, I’ve been lost in the streets of Prague with drunken strangers, and I’ve stood on the black volcanic beaches of New Zealand. I travel more in one year than most average Joes and homebodies will in a lifetime and for this reason, more than any other, I have clung to the lifestyle. I’m lucky. Plus, for better or worse, it’s super easy.
These days, an artist can spend thousands of dollars and months locked away in a creative process only to be rewarded with a social media comment reading “cool” when the final product is released. I feel for the newcomers trying to make their mark on the world through their music. I’m lucky to be part of the 30 to 40+ crowd that was the last to reap the rewards of platinum records and MTV. But no matter what generation, the career of a rock musician is usually pretty short lived, depending on the artist’s popularity and/or that artist’s desire to remain dignified and make an attempt at aging gracefully. This is a problem that some of us are immune to (arguably, Keith Richards) but most of us, not so much. I just turned 40 this year, and that magic number, like some leviathan from the deep that sailors spin tales about in salty shipyard pubs, has surfaced and finally swallowed me whole.
Quite recently, I was washing a pair of socks in a backstage sink in Lyon, France. Laundry is sometimes a challenge when touring, and a hand soap dispenser is just the ticket for putting it off for another day. As I was squeezing out the socks I had a look at myself in my dressing room’s sticker-covered mirror (a lower on the holy mountain venue, but hardly any penis drawings). Grey hair sprouting from the sides of my head, crows feet around my eyes, and laugh lines that seem to get deeper every day. There I was, looking a little more my father and a little less like the guy who played guitar on our first album.
At these moments I must ask myself: What will I do when I finally hit the bottom of the mountain? What can I do? How long can I keep pushing this? Because I’m not sure what one can feel after the volume has been turned up so loud that one’s expectations (and what’s left of one’s hearing) are blown into outer space on a satellite full of caved in speakers. In many ways, I feel as if I’m hiding amongst the clothing racks in a department store after closing. Unsure of how to face the inevitable waning of my own relevance and the soft sledgehammer of self-awareness that has hit me square in the head. I’ve lived most of my life in a state of arrested development like the rest of the clowns around me. A bunch of tattooed Willy Wonkas, mostly too far gone up their own backsides to be aware of how embarrassing it all is. This is the reality that none of us are ready for. Our Sherpas have abandoned us.
The things that have always helped me keep my sanity are the projects I’m involved with on the side. Building these smaller bands has played a big part in stabilizing my ego and stoking my appreciation for comforts on the road when they can be had. I love van touring and playing bars. Always have. Loading up and hitting the road with no crew, no backstage, no laminates, no big entrances. Just walking on, setting up, and breathing out all the fire I’ve got. These simple pleasures remind me of why I hiked up this mountain in the first place. As I write this, I’m driving across the US in a Sprinter with my fiancé’s band Queen Kwong. I’ve been playing guitar with her since October of 2014 and there are four of us out here right now. Only four, that’s it. We go wherever we want, make our own schedule, and eat at Applebees when we feel like treating ourselves. It’s the yin to the yang of big, well-oiled machine touring and it’s as much of an adventure as the other is a laid back waiting-to-play lounge on wheels. And this excites me. It makes me feel re-energized and gives me a sense of purpose. I feel like I’m playing a part in creating something and that makes me feel good. Maybe I’m like my dad in this way. He’s a recently retired Presbyterian Minister. We moved from city to city while I was growing up, from church to church because he only stayed the pastor at a church until he felt he had contributed everything he could to it. He was always moving forward and it’s important that I do the same.
The thing is, moving forward is a lot harder than standing still. But maybe life shouldn’t continue to be an easy ride through a slow fade, playing the same festivals every summer. Maybe the reunion tour shouldn’t happen (again). There are those who go on to have successful second careers in their lives and, at this point, I’ve run up the odometer enough that I doubt I’ll miss it when it’s finally over. I’ve been too busy missing everything else. Family, and birthdays, and (real) vacations, and my home, and my cats, and my sanity. I’m eager for something more challenging and for the first time I’ve begun planning for life after the band. Maybe it’s time I went back to school. Who knows? It’s frightening, but life is happening elsewhere and becoming a dinosaur never felt so right.
P.S. If you’re reading this and in a band, don’t worry too much. This is just an opinion coming from “the-guy-with-the-black-eyes-from-Limp-Bizkit”. You can always draw a penis on a gas station bathroom wall, or perhaps on a canvas while painting from life at an art college. The choice will be yours at some point. Godspeed to you all. Wes Borland @wesborland