I’ve known Tim Kinsella almost twenty years. He used to work at the coffee shop I haunted. Then, many years later, he interviewed me when my first book came out. Then he commissioned me to paint a cover for one of his records. I wouldn’t say we’re close friends but over the years we’ve had many good talks and there’s a level of mutual respect between us. I’ve never been in a band or been on tour (aside from a short book tour a couple years back, which doesn’t really count), so I was excited to read Kinsella’s account of Make Believe’s Fall 2006 tour.
All Over and Over begins with a dedication and apology to his bandmates Bobby Burg, Nate Kinsella, and Sam Zurick, and to his (now) ex-wife, Amy Cargill. He acknowledges that they have their own, equally valid memories of the events he’s writing about. He also explains that, a decade on, the guy who wrote this diary is a sort of stranger to him as well.
From the time their van leaves Chicago, Kinsella doesn’t want to go. Newly married, having spent half his life crisscrossing the country with various bands for little payoff, he has resolved to retire. This decision hangs over much of the book because, while being sure he’s making the right choice he doesn’t know how to break it to his bandmates. In the meantime there’s music to be played.
Kinsella vividly describes what it’s like being stuck in a car with three of your best friends. Despite years of love and respect, little habits begin to fray one another’s nerves, little disagreements fester into real conflict, and after a while one begins to fantasize that the van is stolen or burned down so that everyone can just go home. Apocalyptic thinking is also applied to the wider world. Hurtling past repeated clusters malls, fast-food emporia, reading results from the ’06 midterm elections, Kinsella wonders how much longer this country and the rest of the world can keep going along its current trajectory.
The shows themselves are a mixed bag. Some are everything any musician would want—playing well to a full room of people who are there to listen—others are sparsely attended and make everyone in the band wonder why they bothered. Because he’s been to most of the venues before, each stop prompts memories and comparisons to previous years. Most of Kinsella’s reminiscences focus around bartenders, other musicians, and notable fans. The repeated treks across the country are like military campaigns, with fellow-travelers, comrades in arms, as well as confrontations with enemies.
One of the things which sets this account apart from many musician books is that Kinsella names so many names. Most are just first names or initials but it wouldn’t take a cryptographer to figure out who was who. He doesn’t do this for the sake of gossip or salaciousness; for him all these people form his world and it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge them by name. Still, as someone who’s gotten in trouble for writing about loved ones myself, I wondered while reading what the people he writes about think about this account. But it’s not as if Kinsella hurtles grenades at others without owning up to his own responsibility. In one of the most candid moments he ruminates, “So my problem is obviously me, not any space I may ever enter or leave.”
Some of the most beautiful moments of the book are just humble observations of the scenery going by outside the van’s windows or street scenes observed while killing time before or after showtime. Rather than being on stage, Kinsella’s most treasured moments seem to be quiet time alone writing and reading. By the time they pull into town after driving all day there’s usually no time to do anything but eat junk food, drink, and play their set. They spend a lot of time consulting a guide called Healthy Highways in order to avoid another meal the Taco Bells, Olive Gardens, McDonald’s, and their ilk, which are often the only option in the places they go.
In many ways All Over and Over is a capsule of its time. The appendix is a bunch of hand-drawn maps and there are many references throughout to the road atlas, a technology which has been almost completely supplanted by smartphones and nav systems. The specificity with which Kinsella describes his journey is the book’s great strength. A diary is private writing and I don’t know whether he knew while writing it that it would one day be shared with the public, but I for one am happy to’ve had the chance to ride along in the van with him and his friends for a little while.
All Over and Over: Tour Diaries 2006
by Tim Kinsella
featherproof books; 300 p.