In this weeks blog, I’m going to introduce you to a much beloved figure in the touring life of rusty. His name is Brian “Big Bird” Daigle and he was really our first tour bus driver/buddy/confidante. We hooked up with him for the first time in 1995 just before we started a nine month run opening for Collective Soul in the U.S. and Canada. Big Bird had driven everybody from Aerosmith to George Clinton to Russian figure skaters during the previous two decades. He also owned his own 1970’s vintage Golden Eagle tour bus that he usually rented to others while he drove, but on our tour he happened to be driving it himself…and he was very protective of his baby. I discovered this five minutes after meeting him while adhering a rusty sticker to it. He also owned a piece of land in New Hampshire where he farmed llamas. “Lamah famah” as he used to say.
Bird had an interesting background. He was French Canadian on his mother’s side I believe, his family, like Jack Kerouac’s before him, driven to the mill towns of Massachusetts and New Hampshire looking for work. He was well over six feet tall, with long brown hair and a thick New Hampshire accent which I can’t do justice to on the printed page. ( but I’ll try ) He was also a fairly extreme 70’s style civil libertarian and he really didn’t like cops. Once, when we got pulled over somewhere and the cop was making all nice to him about who he was driving around in his tour bus Bird responded with “never mind who I’m driving around, they’re big fuckin’ stahhs, it’s none of your fuckin’ business…are you gonna write me a ticket or what…I’m on a schedule here” His general attitude towards life seemed to us to exemplify the slogan on the New Hampshire license plate “Live Free Or Die”.
Although it took a little bit in the beginning, we quickly became fast friends with Bird, and he in turned loved us because we were always willing to do something fun/stupid at any hour of the day or night. He was a super active dude who liked to party/ski/rollerblade/bowl…just do something man! I guess this particular story fits pretty firmly into the “party” category however, as it occurred during a day off before a show at the Mississippi Nights club in St Louis, Missouri. We were somewhere in the middle of that same Collective Soul tour, and had a day off in a city before a show, which didn’t happen a lot. Also my girlfriend Georgie just happened to be visiting me on tour and had spent the previous night navigating her way on foot through East St Louis to a Bad Brains show, not really knowing what a rough and tumble neighbourhood that was. We usually lived ON the bus and our crew normally had the hotel rooms but for this show we were all staying in a pretty nice hotel directly across from the club.
Now I’m going to insert this disclaimer right here. This story is kind of told second hand because for a part of it, I wasn’t there and didn’t actually see what happened. But, the story got re-hashed and re-told so many times after it was done that there was a relative consensus on what actually happened that night. And what happened first was, drinking, rather early in the day at the hotel bar/restaurant. There are actual pictures of the day in question, Ill try and get them up here, but I think the day drinking team was Ken, Big Bird, Paul Tozer our sound man and Tim Husom our everything else man. I wasn’t taking part since Georgie was visiting from Toronto and I was trying not to be my regular booze loving touring self. As far a Mitch and Jim and where they were, I just can’t remember. But suffice to say, day drinking had begun for both participants in the debacle and those not directly involved.
Since everybody had the night off, we had all been invited to go see the Pennywise/Joydrop show at at the same club we were going to be playing the following night…the oh so glamorous sounding Mississippi Nights! If I’m not mistaken we also still in the grip of the massive heatwave that had hit the Midwest that summer. Six hundred people alone had died in the Chicago area, making the sun overtake the gun as the homicide leader in all the towns we were touring through. Now, again, I’m not actually sure who all ended up at the Pennywise show but I do know that both Big Bird and our singer Ken were both there, well lubricated and enjoying their busman’s holiday. At some point during this pseudo-hardcore punk show, as you would probably expect, some of the punters took to stage diving…normally a pretty routine occurrence at what’s known as the “rock’n’roll concert” . But for some reason, the security detail at Mississippi nights, who were either new or contracted out or just plain scared and stupid, decided that things were so out of hand that they would have to use the last resort of the peabrained, the “let’s call the cops” idea.
Now, as anyone who’s watched the news over the last few years know, the police forces in an around St Louis area aren’t widely known for their compassion and gentleness (Ferguson, Missouri anyone?) In fact, prior to our little mini riot, there had been a famous rock’n’roll brouhaha in St Louis that developed when Axl Rose went all wiggy on a guy taking pictures during their show, and a full blown riot developed when he refused to keep playing. So you kind of get the idea that something that seems like nothing can suddenly turn into a great big deal once the coppers of old St. Lou decide to get involved. Now, there wasn’t any racial aspect to our particular incident, it was more about a certain sub-sect of society and how the cops deal with them…you know those faggy alternative punk types. This is many years before the appearance of the police befuddling hipsters, who nowadays confuse and disorient the authorities with their Hitler hair, beards and foolish footwear. But I digress.
So the concert is rolling along with the bouncers nowhere in sight and the stage divers having at it, when the cops arrive at the venue and bust through the front doors. And I guess one of the first people they take notice of is our fabulous singer Ken MacNeil, who is apparently sitting/slumping upon some sort of pillar/post structure while taking in the show. The cops then proceed to bark some instruction at him, either get off that or, get out of here, or some other such friendly request. Now Ken is an awful lot like Big Bird when it comes to personal philosophy and notions about the police, so his riposte back to them is a tersely worded “Fuck You” This response, of course, sets in motion the chain of events to follow. According to Big Bird, the cops then proceeded to knock Ken off his perch, grab him by the dreadlocks and drag him out of the club onto the sidewalk out front. All the while Big Bird is trailing behind Ken and the cops yelling “Don’t fuckin hoyt him…he’s a big fuckin’ stahh… "
Once they make it outside the club somehow Ken makes it to his feet and manages to punch the cop who had him by the dreads. He then takes off running and goes directly across the street towards the hotel we’re all staying in, but doesn’t stop running and smashes right into the wall of the building. He then kind of passes out behind a shrubbery, in a garden bed right beside the hotel. In the meantime, the cops have mistaken Big Bird for the guy that threw the punch and are now proceeding to wrestle him into the cop car…which is no easy task considering his size and general dislike of police. They finally manage to get him locked in there so they can turn their attention to the burgeoning riot they now have on their hands, caused by their arrival at the show. Kids are now streaming out of the venue onto the street and yelling at the cops, and things are looking like they might get out of hand.
Just a few minutes before I had re-entered the story, after going out onto the balcony of my room and seeing Big Bird get loaded into the cop car. I yelled at Georgie to come out and we watched the next bit from the second story of the hotel. After Big Bird had gotten locked in the cop car he was so angry that the first thing he did was to stomp on one of the cops hats that had been left in the back seat. I recall looking at him from across the street and wondering what he was doing as I could see his knees going up and down like he was having a little tantrum. After he destroyed the hat he discovered he could snake his very long legs over the top of the seat ( I guess there was no divider in this particular car) and reach the horn on the steering wheel with his feet. My memory is foggy as usual here, but I remember more of a horn sound than a siren, do cop cars have them both? Anyway, Big Bird just started reefing on that horn and all the scattered kids (this must have been an all ages show) started cheering and rallying behind the Bird. They stopped running and kind of stood back up to the cops a bit. One fifteen year old girl yelled something like “ 100 punks points for you man” and the cops immediately pounced on her like thugs and chucked her in the paddy wagon.
The kids were no match for the riot squad as more cars arrived on the scene but Big Bird's incessant honking was keeping them militant so the cops decided they better shutdown the ringleader to kill the movement. Four cops surrounded the car and they all whipped out their pepper spray canisters (hey it was ’95, they didn’t shoot everyone back then) They kind of waved the things around in the air and yelled shit like “Stop that or we’re gonna pepper spray you” and “Quit it you moron.” Well Big Bird wasn’t going to do any stopping or quitting so after a final warning they whipped open all four doors and emptied those canisters on poor old Bird. You couldn’t even see him in the back of the car anymore the cloud was so thick. Then they slammed the doors shut on him and turned their attention elsewhere. At this point Georgie and I figured we couldn’t just stay on the balcony anymore and had to get closer, so we went down to where the driveway of the hotel emptied out on to the roadway where the riot was.
By this point the cops were sticking a lot more kids in the paddy wagon (including one poor kid who went to ask the cops about someone they’d arrested who happened to be her ride home…and they just arrested her too even though she was only thirteen years old) A few of us were gathered on the driveway of the hotel trying to get info but also trying to avoid arrest. They took Big Bird away and we knew we would have to wake up our road manager Paul Tozer so he could go and bail him out of jail…luckily we were in town for another full day so he’d have plenty of time to deal with the authorities. At some point Ken re-appeared and we were all like “Where were you Kenny” and he just pointed to the bush next to the hotel and said “Right there…I guess I knocked myself out” and then proceeded to tell us what happened inside the club and after.
Finally. someone went and woke up Paul, our road manager/sound man. He was a all squirly haired in disbelief at what had managed to occur since he left everyone at the hotel bar. But off he went to the lockup to try and procure Big Birds release and praying that the charges weren’t too harsh. From what I recall of the aftermath, Bird was either not charged or managed to beat the ones he was charged with quite easily…probably cuz the cops had the wrong guy. I also remember the next day, Ken and I went over and had a chat with the management of the club. We made some noises about not wanting to play on account of the bad experience some of us had had in the environs of the old Mississippi Nights but ultimately, once Collective Soul reaffirmed that they were gonna play, we kind of stumbled into line and did our contractually obligated bit.
Well that’s about it. I’m sure Big Bird will make another appearance here on the blog as a lot of crazy stuff happened during our time on his tour bus. He’s still out there workin’ the road today, although these days, we mostly keep in touch through Facebook. Good luck Brian! Overdrive!
A Slightly Blurry Bird.
Tim on the hotel balcony.
Where Georgie and I watched Big Bird get peppered!