Most of us will never go on tour. We will never know what its actually like. Instead, we will have to imagine. There have been countless books about life on the road written from band, tour manager, bus drivers and roadie’s perspectives. They are filled with incredible stories of debauchery, lude behaviour and excess.
That is until now.
In late 2017 a relatively unknown French musician embarked on a one-man tour. From 17th October until 20th December he performed over 40 shows. That musician was Ryder the Eagle, and the tour was called ‘The Ride of Love Tour’. The tour was to celebrate the release of his debut EP of the same name.
I was lucky enough to make it to one of the gigs. I was the only person there to see him, everyone else was either on a midweek drunk or on a date. It was the kind of gig that lingers long in the memory, making your question what you have witnessed. Did he really climb on the bar and serenade the bar staff? Was he really so polite and appreciative after every song? Had he really started and ended his set as agreed, despite the customers being unnerved by his performance?
Ryder the Eagle is a rare talent. He bares himself, physically, emotionally and every night he puts his soul on the line. At the end of every song, he looked drained and elated. His songs were a stark journey through love’s murky backwaters, full of melancholy and longing, but with some killer melodies thrown in for good measure.
Unbeknownst to us, Ryder was documenting the tour, through photographs and jottings before bed. These images and stories have now been complied into a slim, but glorious, volume called ‘The Taste of Salt’.
Much like Ryder’s music, ‘The Taste of Salt’ is not what originally expected. It is, in fact, something much more interesting and beguiling. The opening image is a picture of the back of a van open, in a deserted carpark. You can see it is chocked full of musical equipment and bedding. It says more than it means to. The interior of the van is similar the songs Ryder plays. Each one is crammed full of catchy melodies, clever lyrics and searing solos, but the car park is sadly as empty as some of the shows he played. Life imitating art, or a well-composed photograph? On the next page are three images of a cityscape, brilliant sunset and a house surrounded by water. On the opposite page is a short poem that references the images, but isn’t necessarily about them. The poem is sparse and terse, but also tender and life-affirming.
This follows on throughout the book. Imagines and a short poem/song lyrics.
The centre point moment happens just before the halfway mark. It is a short story in which Ryder retailed his Halloween show in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It starts off with him setting the scene of the performance, a street outside a hostel. His support act, an Irish juggler, and how some wannabe gangsters could have ended the tour there. Through stark imagery and terrifying honesty Ryder paints a grimy picture, that shows his failings, as well as his virtues. At the end you feel like you’ve read a beautiful character study from de Maupassant, Updike or Kerouac.
‘The Taste of Salt’ is a brave and exhilarating book that shows the other side of touring. A side that shows the soul-crushing tedium or travelling from city to city, where it’s unknown if there will even be a crowd, let alone a positive one. It shows one man following his dreams and singing his songs because he has to. It says more about the disposable side of music in 2018 than it should do. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. “Get into the most depressing restaurant in town. Around midnight. And order a cheap tortilla sandwich. That tastes like heaven.” On the surface it paints a bleak picture, but the more you think about it, there is the purity there. It tells us to get our enjoyment wherever you can, and don’t question it. And this is the power of Ryder’s writing. He deals in details and only sees the bigger picture at the end.
The only downside with ‘The Taste of Salt’ is that it is far too short. The two short stories are the stand out moments, and another couple of them would really have shown us not only Ryder’s mentality on the tour but the curious people he came across. Hopefully, there will be a second volume of tour stories, but if not we’ll have to settle with the two that we have.