In which a not-so
big-headed Todd Park Mohr discusses the “bear” essentials.
BY TODD PARK MOHR
These days there is a lot of peer pressure on rock stars to
be green. I say this with a smile because big social issues are complex. Not
everyone agrees there is such a thing as global warming, and more often than
not the solutions that we encounter are not rational or even helpful when
considered from every angle. Everyone’s life is a contradiction of moral brinkmanship
in how we should save the world, which ultimately leaves one feeling deflated,
at odds with both the world and its problems.
In the music business we can use PR fast-talk to make
ourselves seem green. At the same time, they say nothing is more anti-Earth
than a good old-fashioned rock concert. Fans, crew and musicians drive
individually to get there; in some cases, a band may take several airplanes to
get to the gig. The P.A. slurps so much electricity, there are paper cups, beer
cans, human waste problems, the carbon dioxide from the pot fumes-so many brain
cells senselessly and needlessly killed. Every good deed seems to have its
necessary evil counterpunch, though at the end of the day we rock-stars want to
believe that we’re raising awareness.
I had my own personal green movement about 15 years ago. I
went Jeremiah Johnson-style and built
myself a 23-foot teepee on 107 acres that I purchased after the success of my
first big album, Sister Sweetly. I
was enthralled by the idea of being energy independent, and that I could live
off the land. Also, I had struggled with how being a successful musician fucked
up my social life so I wanted to work out my career pressures and personal
demons. And most importantly, I had songs to write. So I cut and shucked twenty-one
27-foot lodgepole pines and erected a glorious white teepee that I would live
in on and off for the next couple of years.
I learned that a flat surface is a good idea. Sleeping at an
angle has more than one downside, and my back is still crooked from cold nights
spent on rocky ground. I’d started a fire in the teepee for heat-as is the
traditional design, and the few moments that I had the teepee properly venting
an open fire were absolute paradise. Then the wind shifted and my tent became a
smoke hut-blecch! Soon I substituted
a propane heater and kept the blaze outdoors. Carbon-emitting to be sure, but
good fuel for the mind. To protect myself from spiders and other insect
interlopers, I set up a tent inside the teepee. Before long I had quite a
comfortable existence amidst the endless Colorado mountain wilderness.
In spite of this apparent independence, which I would later expand
on after building my solar-powered log house, I stilled burned fossil fuel in
my big SUV when I drove to the supermarket to buy steaks, or to my parents’
house to take a shower. I realized that I still relied on the worldly
conveniences in almost every conceivable way.
Those teepee days were so filled with pristine experiences
of living as a part of the earth, but I can’t help but think that as my estate
improved with walls and roofs that my quality of life declined. I was no longer
awakened by the bugling of elk and the howling of coyotes, or the pre-dawn
partying of teams of birds and squirrels. I no longer looked every night at the
bewildering starry sky while freezing my ass off to take a piss. I realized I
did nothing through those couple of years to aid the Earth, though I had lived
simply and near the soil. I had let the earth touch me in a way few people experience,
and I still look at things a little differently because of it.
One of the funniest chapters of my mountain-man life was
featured in Rolling Stone*. This is
what I call “The Bear Incident.”
My mother called me while I was on tour; she’d arrived at my
teepee to find my belongings dragged out and strewn over the hillside. She
quickly surmised that it was the work of a curious bear. When I came upon the
site, it was as she described-but I was unprepared for was the sheer carnage.
Absolutely everything had been punctured by the jaws of this large bear.
Aerosol cans, metal gasoline canisters, plastic coolers, toolboxes, chainsaws
and of course a seven-foot gash down the back of the canvas of the teepee. (*I
did not lose a musical work in progress to this bear, as Rolling Stone erroneously reported.)
Naturally, I brought this on myself through my own sheer
stupidity. I had left food in the tent.
Sleeping in the teepee was palpably tense after that. I
would kind of get off on the idea that there were much larger, much more
powerful beings roaming in the night than myself. I guess I smugly felt that I
would never see harm. Though I would have other close calls with dangerous
animals-elk and especially moose, I never had any trouble. These guys didn’t want
any part of me; they watched me from a safe distance. I would hear them more
often than not but rarely was I allowed to see them.
I now have a wife and children to care for, a minivan and a ranch
house in a Chicago suburb, where it’s hard to see even one star on a clear
night. I always carry those memories close to the surface though, as my
imagination sometimes drifts from the traffic and daily neurotic buzz of city
life, or the cacophony of life as a touring musician. My mind still lives in
Big Head Todd and the
Monsters’ latest album Rocksteady is out
now on the band’s own eponymous label. Visit the band at their official