Several folks have expressed an interest in reading the Low Lows Tour diary, and as it is there’s the added challenge of picking through the vagaries of how WordPress organizes past posts.
in order to make it easier to enjoy the experience, I have organized the whole thing in chronological order here.
Wednesday, October 25th 2006
I am somewhat apprehensive about this trip I have coming up.
There were years where I left home for stretches of 60 to 90 days all the time. I am suddenly reminded that there’s a particular type of melancholy that descends upon me when I know that I am going to away for so long. Sure, yes, I am going on one hell of an adventure, but I am also leaving my lovely wife, my dogs and my nice little farmhouse behind.
Of course, I don’t expect anyone to understand that. If someone else I knew was going on this tour, I’d say “Button it. Quit complaining.”
Living in the now is hard work, though, and I just hope that nothing at my job explodes or that, y’know, any of the nightmare scenarios I can cook up in my head come to pass.
Also, what sort of idiot runs a marathon he is only marginally prepared for, them immediately jumps on an airplane for another continent? It’s a good thing there aren’t any dragons around, these days. I don’t know that I would be content to just play St. George…. I’d have to do it with lampshade on my head or something… for that extra frisson of “God, how did I get myself into this?” anxiety.
Friday, October 27th 2006
Hey, kids, if you’re traveling to another country to play music, and you’re gonna get paid for it, you’re gonna need an entry visa and a work permit. The label or tour promoter in that country will probably take care of that stuff for you, because they’re generally cool like that.
YES, however, if you’re going to send them your passport number so that these things can be issued to you, make sure you give them the RIGHT NUMBER. See, if you have an old passport and you have to get a new one, don’t assume that your new passport will have the same number as your old one… BECAUSE IT WON’T.
If you show up at the airline counter with mismatched passport and visa/permit numbers, YOU WILL NOT BE PERMITTED TO BOARD THE PLANE.
So, in short, if you’re going to release a record in Europe, see if the label Monotreme UK will do it for you, because Kim Harrison-Lavoie there is SHARP, and she’ll catch that shit while you’re still sitting at your desk at your day job. She might panic a little, and you might panic too, but once you call the British Government’s Panicked Passport and Visa line (900.990.8472 – $2.49 a minute, so talk fast!), you’ll discover that you just need to bring your old passport with you through customs.
Make sure you email Kim at the end of the phone call and tell her that it’s ALL GOOD.
See, a lesser label might have allowed you to leave that old passport right there in your desk drawer where you tossed it when you got your new one. But not Monotreme, no sir. Imagine for a moment what it would have been like to arrive at the check in counter for British Airways, after all of this- preparation, practices, money and time spent, only to be told to go home…. “Your papers are not in order…” OR worse, if the counter person at BA wasn’t super-sharp, flying all the way to Heathrow, de-planing, only to find yourself turned around at customs and told to go home. Thanks to Kim’s sharp eye, I am still on track to leave DC on Sunday night and arrive in London before the morning tea break.
call your singer/bandleader and leave minute by minute messages on his voice mail, starting with “OH NOOOOOOOEEESSS!!!!11!!1!!” message.) He’s sleeping it off while you’re at work, anyway. Bastard. He needs that little “HOLY SHIT, NO DRUMMER FOR THE UK TOUR” moment first thing in the morning. Then, your consecutive follow messages (which will eventually culminate in a “Never mind, it’s ALL GOOD” message) will gradually bring him back to earth.
(Hi, Parker. Sorry.)
Then, gentle readers, I had to go home and say goodbye to these faces:
It’s like breaking free from the earth’s gravitational pull, tearing myself away from those two sets of brown eyes. Once escape velocity was reached, We were headed for the airport….
Saturday, October 28th 2006
step one: confirm the problem before finding a solution
posted @ 10:15 pm [ ees funny… laugh! – A Day in the Life – It ain’t no fun (waiting around to be a millionaire) – the Low Lows – the glamourous life of a rock star ]
I knew that when I got to Europe, I was going to need cymbals. Backline companies over there have decided that cymbals are a bad bet, since they’re 1. the part of a drumset most likely to break, and 2. outrageously expensive in the UK. The cymbals I use for Music Hates You are massive, heaaaavy manhole cover-like cymbals. The Low Lows need brighter, lighter, more responsive cymbals that will make a sound when hit by with brushes.
I couldn’t afford to buy a whole other set of cymbals for just one tour, so I set about the process of borrowing cymbals. Funny thing, people weren’t all that keen on loaning me their bronze. Maybe it’s because they’ve seen my cymbal-smashing playing with Music Hates You…. BUT I assure you, The Low Lows are a whole different approach to playing drums.
Still, no offers.
Kim at Monotreme contacted me in the middle of all of this running around and asked if I might looking into buying a set of cymbals for the label while I am still in the States, since, as I mentioned, cymbals are outrageously expensive in the UK. That way, Monotreme will have cymbals for other bands to use when they come over from the US.
I checked Guitar Center’s prices and looked into some other options, but the best, by far, was the deal we could get from this guy:
Nick supplies backline kits to a lot of drummers in LA, and has a sterling reputation. He also has a private email list he sends out with a bunch of used gear on it which is for sale at very, very good prices. A friend forwarded it to me, I picked out what seemed like the PERFECT set of cymbals for The Low Lows, and then sent all of that info to Kim at Monotreme. She paid Nick and, since time was short, I had him ship everything to my folks’ house in DC.
The box arrived 24 hours later. I love this guy.
My plan was to fashion some sort of duct tape handle and carry the box of cymbals onto the plane, since I am allowed one laptop case and one carryon.
However, when I got in last night and saw the cymbal box that Nick sent, I realized that, with packing materials, it was way, way too big to carry on. I knew that the largest cymbal would be 20″ across, but packing materials and the box added several inches to its width. There was no way I was going to be able to carry it on. I didn’t even open the box to look at the cymbals, I was so tired and concerned… I fell asleep mulling over the issue.
Then, probably because of the cumulative fatigue of yesterday’s five hour flight delay and being exhausted by my general anxiety at flying, I slept deeply and much later than I meant to this morning. I woke up in a panic, realizing that I only had a few hours to go and grab a cymbal bag so I could carry the cymbals on.
I called the nearest music store that I could find in the Yellow Pages, and they said that they had a cymbal bag. We drove over there in the horrible DC traffic which was typically stop and go and crappy. Since we had several things to do today, like pick up our race packets for the marathon tomorrow, the time wasted in traffic was pretty stressful. I mean, the clock was ticking on all the shit that we had to do today…
So, we get to the music store… and… no cymbal bag. It was some a suburban band instrument store and they didn’t know that they didn’t have it until we got there. Typical sort of “Give an answer on the phone, then check to see if the answer was correct later” scenario.
So, they give us terrible TERRIBLE and vague directions to Guitar Center. It takes us an hour to get there in traffic. More stop and go, more crappy. We get there, and I spend precious dollars that I was going to spend in the UK (where EVERYTHING is expensive), and I grab a cymbal bag.
It was nice enough. Kind of cheap, but something that will work. Then we spend an hour hacking our way back across town to my folks’ place, where I open the box full of cymbals for the first time…. and… Nick, saint that he is, has shipped the cymbals with a really nice Zildjian cymbal bag. Honestly, the nicest one I have ever seen.
Is this whole trip going to be like this?
Monday, October 30th 2006
I have just woke up here in London, and we’re about to run out and practice some for tomorrow night’s show:
Here is an excerpt from a letter I just sent to my step father:
I did run the marathon, and fortunately, I did not die. I saw that guy lying by the road and wondered if he didn’t make it. (Wouldn’t you rather go doing something more fun that running a marathon?)
My legs feel like an orangutan with a hammer got after them, though.
I ran the fastest 20 miles of my life. Unfortunately, the race is a full 10 kilometers longer than that. Once I ran across the 14th St Bridge, the mechanics of my stride fell apart, and my achilles tendon started to really ache, so I ran/walked in (mostly walked). eponymous really set the world on fire and ran a faster marathon than I have ever run.
The plane ride was fortunately uneventful. I really like flying British Airways. They took good care of me. (Gordon L, I have your British Airways socks.) Their business and club class are the classiest going. Of course, I was back in Sardine class, so I didn’t get to enjoy the FULL British Airways experience, but I did get my free socks, eyeshades, hairbrush and all the tea I could drink.
Rode next to a very nice lady from Ghana who was very understanding that I had to get up and stretch my legs every now and then. She had three lovely daughters with her, aged five, seven and ten. They lived in the US, and mama felt like it was time that the girls saw Africa, because they had never been there.
Getting into Heathrow was a huge pain in the ass, though. I will get to that. We’re about to run off and go to practice for tomorrow night’s show.
Tuesday, October 31st 2006
begins with a 30 mile jog…
My legs aching like they’d been caught in a trash compacter, I wasn’t able to sleep on the flight across the ocean. Then, when we got to Heathrow, we sat on the tarmac within sight of the gate for 45 minutes. (that’s not an exaggeration)
When I finally got through the gate, I got to passport control, and the line stretched about a hundred yards back towards the gate. I stood behind the last guy in line, who I nosily surmised held a Ugandan passport. Some guy pushed up behind me to close that I had to turn sideways to stay in line. This guy started a 40 minute chess game with me, whereupon every time the line moved forward, he tried to position himself so that he could get by me. Yes, the line was interminably long, and didn’t seem to be moving at all, and yes, I understand that no one wants to wait one second longer than necessary, but he wasn’t going to shorten his wait at my expense. Maybe on any other day, at any other time, I would have just let it pass and let him have his 30 second advantage, but I was just Not In The Mood.
I had to step on the cuff of his baggy trousers to keep him from slipping past me when someone finally called “Next!” When he staggered and nearly spun completely around, I slipped past him to the desk. Asshole.
So, 45 minutes on the tarmac, an hour in line at passport control, I was now two hours late to meet the rest of the band and Kim from Monotreme, and I still hadn’t gone through baggage search. I chose the “Nothing to Declare” line and walked into a room where several people were having their luggage rummaged. I held my head up and walked through like I knew what I was doing, across the room and out the door on the other side. No one said a word to me.
Finally found Kim and then we walked a million miles through Heathrow until we got out the top and met the rest of the band. I won’t bore you with any more details.
We had about an hour van ride with “Keef,” our Man With Van here in the UK, to get to Kim’s house, and we were all exhausted. I had slept about five hours in 48.
We found spots on the floor of Kim’s living room and I opened a notebook and wrote myself a note because I knew I was going to wake up completely disoriented and not knowing where I was. The note said “Patrick, Don’t Panic. You’re in the UK with Daniel and Parker. All is well.”
Then, everything went black.
Tuesday, October 31st 2006
So, after sleeping for three and a half or four hours, we rose and found that Kim had made us some supper. We had a lovely meal and Keef showed up with the van. We motored over to a rehearsal hall underneath Clapham Junction Tube Station. There is a series of arched spaces underneath the old train bridge, and one of these is a damp-smelling rehearsal hall with a drum kit and a PA, an old piano, some amplifiers and an electric tea kettle that doesn’t work.
We had a really good rehearsal for four guys who hadn’t slept much in the last four or so days. The rental hall has good sound except for the rumbling of the train going over our heads and the hum through the amps of the electric power that runs the train.
I guess we played for about four hours. Afterwards, Kim showed up and we went back to her place, listened to music and had a snack. I managed to get the missus on iChat and we talked until it was three a.m. here in London. I miss her.
Finally, I passed out and had odd dreams that I was alone in the room and that all of the lights where on. I opened my eyes, the lights were off and everyone else was sleeping.
Today we slept until 10 am, had breakfast at the house and then caught a taxi to the rehearsal hall. We just finished rehearsing- it’s been four hours again. The songs sound excellent, particularly “Disappearer” and “Tigers.” “Disappearer” is so heavy and sad that Parker was joking that we should have a roadie who, instead of handing us fresh guitars or wiping the sweat off of our faces, runs out with a towel and dabs the tears away from our eyes…
We are opening for I Love You But I Have Chosen Darkness tonight. I don’t know anything about this band.
I am going to lie down on the (cold, hard) floor of the rehearsal space and nap for a bit. I will proof this and publish it later…
Show tonight, and a few observations about the English
posted @ 11:06 pm [ the Low Lows – the glamourous life of a rock star ]
By the way, the rehearsal space doesn’t have a bathroom. It’s literally just a garage with some carpet and some speakers and stuff. It has a great sound system, and as a room it sounds excellent, but there’s no place to pee. Coffee is the only thing keeping me upright these days and that only wants to ride around so long before it has to go.
Now, there are two Public Toilets down the street and around the corner at Clapham Junction Station. These mechanical public toilets cost 10p to use, but one of them is either broken or it’s permanently occupied, and the other won’t take my 10p coin. I had to slip behind them last night and pee in the bushes. Today, without the cover of darkness, I had to work something else out. There’s a pub even further up the road from the station, but it’s a long walk, we have work to do and by the way, MY LEGS HURT.
Last night, Parker and Daniel were drinking Stella Artois in big 16 oz. cans. There were a couple of empties in the space.
So I peed in one of these empty Stella cans. Not out in front of everyone, mind you. I stood behind the big curtain at the door. Then I went outside and poured the contents into the gutter. I only tell you this because someone happened to walk by while I was out there dumping it. I probably had a look of general distaste on my face, because this wasn’t a task I relished. So, this guy is walking by, sees the can in my hand, the look on my face and that I am pouring it out, so he says “Yah, that stuff is piss, innit?”
Oh, buddy. You don’t know how right you are….
The show tonight was fantastic. The promoter, the club owner, the guy who books the bands and Kim from the label, they were all thrilled with the Low Lows. We had great dynamics, good enthusiasm, and we played very well. All in all, a great show.
Also saw the mighty W.I.Z.- film and video director and a good friend. He enjoyed the Low Lows as well. We went and had a curry and he caught me up on the latest Cockney rhyming slang, all of which is too filthy to mention here.
W.I.Z. got a call while we were sitting in the Kilburn pub, which is where we were eating, and I had the opportunity to people-watch. I saw two guys who looked like old friends, and they were talking. One of them had a big nose. While I was watching, the other guy made some sort of crack about the nose, I think. He grabbed his own noise, then pointed at his buddy’s, then threw his head back and had a laugh.
Bignose wasn’t having any of it, and he made a facial expression I have only ever seen the British use, and it was perfect. With the slightest change of his expression, mostly just a slackening of the jaw muscles, a subtle roll of the eyes, and a slight pursing of the lips, Bignose managed to communicate all of the following:
“Yeah, I got a big nose. Go ahead, you can have some fun at my expense. But you should know how horribly, horribly this disappoints me. I mean, I knew you would say it eventually, but I had hopes that you wouldn’t sink to it. God, sometimes you’re boring.”
All of that was communicated with the mildest tilt of the head, a little downturn at the edges of the mouth, and a brief but beseeching glance around the room to see if anyone less BORING was hanging around looking for someone to talk to. I was stunned by the subtlety and conciseness of the gesture. Pure poise. Must be an English thing.
It’s half past three in the morning, and I am probably babbling from fatigue… but I won’t be falling asleep too soon, since I have discovered that they sell the Lindt super dark chocolate bars here for £1.00. These are the same chocolate bars that sell in the US for $4.00 each.
So, I have to wait for the sugar buzz to wear off.
After the show, I was hanging out after the show and was informed that there were two women there who had come to see the Low Lows, because they were FRIENDS OF JEREMY! (that’s the Low Lows’ regular drummer, for those of you just joining us.) I felt like such a turd… here is a woman and her friend who have traveled out on a weeknight (a worknight!) to see an old friend, only to find that some other guys has not only stole his tambourine, but he’s PLAYING IT behind JEREMY’S BAND. They managed to hide their disappointment well.
Jeremy, if you’re reading this, we tried to be entertaining and gracious hosts. Don’t hate me.
Wednesday, November 1st 2006
So far, the food has been fantastic, the people have been incredibly friendly, it’s been easy to get around (buses and trains have made taxis an unnecessary extravagance), and oddly, it hasn’t been cold at all. I don’t get it. I must have visited some other England the last time I was here.
Tonight I met up with The Mighty W.I.Z. and we went to see the Tom Stoppard play “Rock and Roll” at the Duke of York Theatre. I sat next to Jeremy Irons. He seems nice. No palsy or smell or anything, anyway.
I enjoyed the play just fine. It was very long, though it was pretty riveting. The house was at capacity, which was pretty extraordinary for a play that ran nearly three and a half hours.
If this is a typical night off with the Low Lows, I could tour with these guys more. It beats doing laundry in Cincinnati, which I have done with my only night off on the road before.
Wandered around SoHo and ate at Kettners, had coffee at the famous Bar Italia, an espresso bar which has been open in SoHo since 1929. It was one of the only all-night places in London in the 1950s, and therefore was sort of a famous hangout for freaks, beats and other creatures of the night.
I spent too much money tonight, but I had a wonderful time. I decided to go cheap and rode a big double decker bus back to Kim’s house. £1.50 for the bus beats a cab or the train, and it dropped me off about three minutes walk from where I wanted to be.
This is OK. I could do this a lot. If my wife and dogs were here, I don’t know if I would ever leave.
I love Parker’s lyrics. The song “Disappearer” is one of the most harrowingly dark and confessional songs I have ever played on. Yet I don’t think Parker takes his own self-pity seriously enough to be annoying about it. Last night, we were done with the gig and it was well after three a.m. but we were still riding high and in fine form. We went to the ASDA (which is the big warehouse grocery that’s open 24 hours here) and bought chocolate, coffee and sandwich fixings for me, diet Coke and whiskey for them, and crackers for Daniel, I think…
We were walking down one of those narrow UK streets, cars packed as densely as one can pack 3/4 ton packets of metal and glass, and Parker was walking down the middle of the street throwing £1 coins straight out in front of him, as hard as he could, then stopping and shushing us to see if they made a sound when they landed far off in the darkness. For some reason, they don’t. Not even a thud. I don’t know how this even came up, and why Parker had to test this theory, but there it is.
This experiment ended up costing Parker about $10, I think. Somehow, this wasn’t the issue. Of course, Parker had the heart of a lion at this point, what with several drinks past him and a really, really great show just behind us… Parker just had to know if £1 coins could be induced to go *clink*! somewhere off in the distance.
Thursday, November 2nd 2006
I think that the damn thing is torn/sprained/strained. All of the rest of my leg muscles are normalized, for the most part. Walking still really aggravates my left achilles tendon.
I can get around, though. Not gonna spend my time off in London sitting on the couch.
I got my first southern food craving about three minutes ago. Suddenly had a ferocious need for turnip greens…
Yesterday, Daniel figured out how to beat jet lag, mostly by accident. He slept for 24 hours. At hour 18, I was tempted to see if he could fog a mirror. He was just really worn out. The Low Lows US tour was apparently pretty hard on him. Now we’re sitting in the kitchen of Kim’s house listening to Etta James and plotting our travels of the evening. This must be a lot like the life of the famous London dole kids of the ’70s and early ’80s, eating cheaply, obsessing about music and living for the sun to go down so that we can get into London proper and see What’s Going On. If we had a couple of Vespas, we’d be living the dream.
Friday, November 3rd 2006
I am in the fine city of Barcelona. We have searched in vain for free wifi and I am in a pay as you go internet cafe using their machine. Had supper in the old Arabic section of B´clona- had koufte and rice, and it was excellent. Really excellent.
They make my wife´s favorite espresso drink here- they call it a cortado, and it´s about one euro, depending on where you find it.
There are little brassieries everywhere selling charred meat with bread, green beans and espresso drinks. My kind of meal. The hotel shares the odd distinction of being kind of dumpy AND expensive, but it´s been since I left Athens since I slept in an actual bed, so it´s gonna be alright.
I have been told by one local that I speak Spanish with a strong Mexican accent. I take this as a compliment. It may not be meant as such, but I am proud of it.
Our show is tomorrow at a huge late 19th Century building that has been converted into a night club. It´s called the Apolo.
That´s all I have time for right now. The tock is clicking on this thing.
Saturday, November 4th 2006
And the hotel management seem to have finally sorted out the wireless internet in this part of the building.
Barcelona is just so wonderful. I can’t wait to bring my wife back. I hope to have time to walk to the ocean today. I am sure it’s spectacular. There are palm trees everywhere. I hope to go to the Ramblas tomorrow and buy some dates.
The coffee here is just extraordinary, which is the only reason I am still able to type this after last night’s short nap before this morning’s flight.
Yesterday, W.I.Z. invited me out to see a movie on my last night in London before I left for B’lona and he went out on tour with his lovely and talented girlfriend. He was being kind of cagey about what film it was, but he can be like that. I grabbed the #87 bus from Clapham Commons (where we’ve been staying) and rode it to the Vauxhall Bridge, which is a little place where Londoners like to hang out in their cars and honk their horns at each other.
I finally got let out at Trafalgar Square, whereupon I promptly got lost in Soho whilst looking for the Groucho Club.
I did finally find it with the help of a very sweet homeless guy who noticed I was lost and said “Look, this ain’t the place to be squintin’ at street signs, bruvvah.” I am sure he was right, and he got a quid for his troubles.
So, W.I.Z. is sort of in a state when I drag in, kind of pacing and looking at the space on his arm where he often thinks about putting a watch. He and I run out the door and towards the theatre district south of Shaftesbury Avenue. We have to try and go around this massive throng of people who are bunched around some sort of ridiculous red carpet celebrity thing, with spiraling searchlights and a big fence and tabloid photographers and all that. “God, what a spectacle!” I shout to W.I.Z. as we’re breezing around the outside of this teeming throng. He gives me this sort of nod, a patient smile, then we turn a corner and SUDDENLY…. we’re headed down this fucking red carpet. He hands two tickets to a very nice policewoman, and suddenly we’re on the inside of the throng, and the fence and the spinning searchlights, and above our heads is this giant marquee that says “50th Anniversary London Film Festival: Babel, with Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Gael Garcia Bernal. LONDON PREMIER!”
W.I.Z. knows how insanely fond I am of the work of Guillermo Arriaga, the screenwriter who wrote Babel, but also 21 Grams. I love his fatalism, his meditations on the relationships between parents and children, his lack of fear about writing about loss and sadness… and here we were at the premier of his latest film.
The film was introduced by the Director, who is also one of my favorites, Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Gael, who is a friend of W.I.Z.’s. They were humble and funny, and told funny stories about each other, and talked about the work some. It was astonishing to watch their creation unfold after they left the stage. Babel is a spectacularly sad film, and it is told with Arriaga and Iñárritu’s unflinching lack of sentimentality. See it, see it, see it. BUT adjust your medications accordingly.
Afterwards, we adjourned back to the Groucho Club, where I met a big chunk of the production team with whom W.I.Z. has been doing some work. They are all very successful, stylish as hell, at the tops of their respective fields, and were yet unfailingly kind and indulgent of an American redneck drummer with what I call “fork issues.” (”And what do I use this one for?” “Why did that guy just take my knife away?”)
I forced myself to quit the table and catch the N87 bus back to Clapham Junction at 2am. We had to get up at 6:00am to catch our flight to Barcelona. I think I got two and a half hours of sleep.
As I was coming up the hill to Kim’s house, there was a drunken guy with a thick Scots accent and a $500 suit mumbling to himself, smoking and pissing on the wall of the pub across from Kim’s. I thought, “What an asshole! Someone needs to give that guy a talking to, perhaps knock him down and teach him a little lesson about staggering around drunk and pissing in neighborhoods where people live.”
Of course, I had more important things to do that to rough up some piss drunk Pict, so I bounced up the steps, lifted the mat, retrieved the key and then heard this drunk slurring “Oi!… yah shouldn’a oughtta… leave out….ssshhhh…. key… I could have ROBBED yoooo….oooo…..”
I turned around as I was closing the door and said “Funny thing, that. I could have robbed you, too.”
There was a long silence, and then he said “Aye…. I can’t argue with that…”
Sunday, November 5th 2006
There’s a café/bar right across the street from where we’re staying, and it’s sort of been our home base and meetup point. For those of you just joining us, The Low Lows are camped in Barcelona, living on dozens of the small Spanish espresso drink that is served in a shot glass and called “un cortado” (or in Ingles, a “shorty”). Today I had the local neighborhood’s sausage in a small French bread sandwich. (The girls who have been acting as our guides in Barcelona think the word “sandwich” is kind of stupid. They were very polite about it, but they said they failed the see what “sand” and “witches” had to do with anything.) These small meat sandwiches, or “bocadillos,” are the staple of lunches served in all of the little bar/cafés around here, and they are really excellent.
Another interesting thing is that tapas, that sort of bougie repast favored by people who have traveled in this part of the world, are as common as bowls of bar peanuts in the US. I had come to accept that tapas is the sort of thing that people with rich parents come back from their summer in Europe raving about while treating everyone who says “Did you say ‘topless’?” with a kind of indulgent contempt. I don’t know about you, but I have secretly always kind of hitched up my trousers and thought “Here we go again” whenever anyone in Athens started banging on about how “Well, yeah, when I was in [insert European country here] watching [insert global soccer competition here], we would all meet at this one bar and have these fabulous bowls of [almonds, olives, local cheese, whatever] and it was WUUUUUUNNNNDERFULLLLLL. You can’t get anything like that here.” Then, gradually, stuff “like that” started to be served “here,” and it was always so exorbitantly priced that only someone who could afford to go to [european country] to watch [global soccer game] could think of it as a reasonably priced snack.
THE FUNNY THING IS that over here, it’s the most working class thing you could imagine. You walk into the Bar Cuntis, there’s an old retired guy with three days of beard and a little white dog who you’d SWEAR was half piglet. He’s smoking a cigar that costs less than two euros and drinking the local beer, and he’s got a dish of tapas in front of him, merrily spitting olive seeds into the potted plants while watching Barcelona Futbol Club on the massive TV at one end of the bar. This is not your pretentious college roommate’s tapas fan. This is a guy on a government pension having a dish of something salty with his beer and enjoying the simple life. I am now going to imagine all of those tapas loving yuppies in stained white short-sleeved shirts leading around pudgy little pensioner dogs whenever they start moaning about the “amaaazing taahhhpas” they nibbled when they were “on the continent.”
Other than that, Barcelona has been a little of a mixed bag. We went to La Ramblas and found it to be unbearably touristy. I mean, totally unbearably. There were tons of shops that satisfied no need in our lives- clothes that we not only would never wear, but could never afford in a hundred years. Plus, lots of mimes. This is always a bad thing. (Unless you’re toting a shotgun, then it’s what the US Military calls a “target rich environment.”)
We did a rapid about-face, and headed for the ocean, then followed the shoreline down to the place where there is a huge, and I mean HUGE statue of Christopher Columbus. He’s pointing roughly west, and saying “go that way until you hit India, then stop.” Thanks, CC.
Wandering through the many neighborhoods of Barcelona has been interesting. I think that my first impression of the Old Arabic section of town gave me the idea that it was less commercialized than it is. The huge plaza outside the giant Cathedral de Barcelona is open and sunny, but there were… mimes. Ugh. We sat down at a cafe on the edge of the Plaza and watched people for a while. We had another round of cortados, but there was the tacit assumption that we were tourists, and this led to a definite taint of rudeness to our transactions with the staff. We decided that a second round of coffees wasn’t worth putting up with it.
Many of the alleys of Barcelona are narrow and tall- as many as eight or nine stories of apartments above alleys that are only slightly wider than a car width. During the Spanish Civil War, battles between the Republicans and the Fascists raged up and down these alleys. I stood in one yesterday and imagined not only trying to fight my way up the alley against someone who was determined to shoot me, but also what it would be like to fire a .303 Enfield or 7mm Mauser in a alley like that, all stone and concrete walls and cobblestone streets…. all I could think was SCARY and LOUD.
The cobblestones were famously torn up from the street and used to build the barricades when the CNT captured the Barcelona Telephone exchange. I wonder how many of those cobblestones were returned to their use as paving stones afterwards. How many of the stones I walked on today were once barricades?
Now, mostly they serve to convey people to and from high-priced shops selling tight pants for men who ride scooters to dance clubs. I find this a little depressing.
Tuesday, November 7th 2006
We woke up at 4:30 GMT to catch a cab to catch a bus to catch a plane to get back to London. This is where my spanish skills really came in handy, because I had to tell the cabdriver which bus we needed to catch, tell the busdriver which part of Girona we were going to and once in Girona, I had to make sure everyone got some coffee…
I really did like Barcelona, even if parts of it were really touristy. It seemed more like a beach town to me, and that’s ok. I still want to get back there with Lisa and have a look around with her. It might be fun to rent a car and wander spain for a while.
Once back in the UK, several things hit us rather jarringly- #1 was that we hadn’t had enough sleep. We had some difficulty falling asleep the night before we left B’lona because we weren’t sure if we were going to get a proper wakeup call, seeing as how the phone in the room didn’t work. Plus, y’know, in Spain there’s a certain kind of “Eh, se puede…” thinking that goes into the planning of almost every future event. We set alarms on our cell phone, our watches, our computers, etc. Then we laid awake worrying that we were going to somehow miss all of our connections. No rest for the weary.
#2- London may not be colder on the thermometer, but it’s damp here. It got under my coat like I would imagine the cold in a refrigerator gets down beneath the leaves of a head of cabbage… I was cold all the way down, and sadly,
#3- No more cortados. Daniel got the first cup of coffee in the UK, and it had that UK coffee smell. Mweh, pfui.
We went to the practice space of Keith, our driver, and worked out a couple of acoustic songs for our appearance on the BBC world service broadcast. Speaking of cold and damp… oy. The space was in the basement of some old, old building in Shoreditch. We had to walk past the moderately disinterested stares of the staff of some electronic music label. The only guy who took any interest at all was this guy named Charlie, who was a part-timer at the label working on cataloguing their past releases. He was very nice, pointed out the tea kettle and even hung around for a bit while we practiced. He is the first person I have ever met whose favorite Neil Young record is actually Trans. (We were speculating that in a couple of years, everyone is going to turn around and hail that as the inevitable marriage of Kraftwerk and Graham Parsons, and that it is in an overlooked masterpiece. “Ve knew ve vere right, jah….”)
From there, Keith took us to BBC World Headquarters. I have to confide to you that I am ridiculously sentimental about the BBC World Service radio broadcasts, because back when I was living at the cabin by myself, before blogging, before I lived in Chicago, etc, I was living alone in the woods, in a 1000 acre forest, with no one but the dog for company. I would come in from work in the evenings, make some coffee and turn on Public Radio, and at 7pm, there was Fergus Nicholl telling me what was happening in the world. I don’t mind telling you that were some dark and lonely evenings out there in the woods, when I was wondering why I had ever left Athens and if I was ever going to have saved enough money to move to Chicago and be close to Lisa. BBC World Service was a connection with the rest of the world.
So, here we were at Bush House (no relation to the failed US President(s)) and we were ushered into the studio, where Mark Coles, the exceptionally well-informed and generous guy from the BBC World Service’s program The Beat, interviewed Parker while we all watched from behind the glass.
Daniel, who also has an abiding interest in all things audio, and I were amazed, just stunned, at the sound quality of the speakers BBC had custom built for the control room in the Radio 6 studio. They sounded so nice we just melted into our shoes listening to them. As Mark the engineer pointed out, unfortunately no one is listening on speakers that nice. Yeah, it’s true.
At this point, The Low Lows and your humble narrator had been awake 45 of the previous 48 hours, and we were flying low (low). We were tandem napping- one of us was almost always nodded out for ten minutes, as we wandered our way back in Keef’s van to Kim’s flat. HOWEVER, suddenly, an obsessive need for fish and chips overtook us. Keef shouted “WAIT, THERE’S AN EXCELLENT PLACE CALLED SUPERFISH RIGHT UP HERE!” and a crazed hunt for hot grease, fried fish and potatoes overtook us.
I don’t know what we were thinking, but there we were, sitting in Superfish, exhausted and stuffing ourselves ridiculously full of fish and chips and laughing about Keef’s description of the film The Holy Mountain:
“So, of course, y’see, the second part of the film is a bunch of toads and a bunch of iguanas dressed as the Mayans and the Conquistadors, respectively, and they’re re-enacting the Spanish arrival at Pre-Columbian Mexico… what? No, they’re DRESSED as Mayans and Conquistadors… really… well, you have to see it… and then, all of the pyramids start to run with blood…. OH, and then everything explodes…”
We were goggle-eyed at his description. I think I need to see this film.
So, from there were returned to Kim’s lovely house, and I found myself horribly nauseated from the fish and chips. After consuming an ocean of coffee and tea yesterday just to keep moving forward, I think that a meal as heavy as f’n’c was a bad idea. I would have been slightly better off if I had swallowed a live bear cub. Gosh, just thinking about it now kind of makes me a little queasy.
I spent a few minutes coughing at the toilet thinking “Oh, god, please don’t me barf… oh… ooooh… please let me barf… ugh… ugh…”
I finally laid down and got some sleep. Remind me not to do that ever again. This morning I still feel a little odd, but Daniel insisted that I have some yoghurt and granola and I am starting to feel a little more normal.
Today, on to Oxford!
Wednesday, November 8th 2006
Dems take house, Senate may not be too far behind.
God, I miss bitching about the Democrats being too conservative with their mandate. Let’s see if Speaker Pelosi handles it any better than the Crew of ‘90.
In the meantime, I am sitting in Kim from Monotreme’s lovely kitchen yet again, enjoying coffee and the sounds of the London Streets coming in through the open patio door. Why is London milder than Athens, GA this year? Lisa is telling me in email after email about how cold and awful it is back home.
We played in Oxford last night. The club was truly a pub in the Olde School sense. The only concession to modernity that I was able to discern was the large flat TV over the fireplace (for watching “the footy”) and there were large deep couches- two of them. Everything else was stone walls and big wooden tables that looked to be 100 years old if they were a day. We played upstairs, but not before I sat down with a book, a decent sized mug of tea and watched the scores fly by “on telly.” Sundays, this pub (the “Port Mahon”) has some classically english repast that includes roast beef, mushy peas and “yorkies,” which I gather are not small black dogs.
Our gig was louder and faster than a normal Low Lows show. I think I am having an influence, for better or (god forbid) for worse, on the Low Lows. We sounded like Sonic Youth doing Porch Music last night. I hope I am not violating the Prime Directive here. The Oxford fans seemed to be very pleased, and took Low Lows stickers, Music Hates You buttons (I had to give some of those away) and handshakes away.
As we left the show, the fog had settled very thickly over the road between Oxford and London. Keef drove with what felt like total recklessness to me, until I stopped and wondered why I was so anxious about our speed. What was I worried we were going to hit if we did the speed limit in the fog…? Deer?
“Are there any deer in England, Keef?” I asked.
“Not in 100 years or so,” he said.
Oh. Well, then. ONWARD! FULL SPEED AHEAD! Let’s go home!
Parker got hit with a wave of nausea like he’d never had just as we were leaving Oxford. Maybe we’re passing something around, here. There was no effluvia, just a general seasick feeling like my wave of crippling nausea from the night before. I just asked him and he’s still feeling it. And the answer is “Yeah, kinda.” Not fun.
We listened to the Harmonizing Four as we rolled down the M40 and through the outskirts of London. Keef’s converted Royal Mail van, a Ford diesel, makes a satisfying roar.
How cool are we?
I am looking at prices for Air Berlin flights- since I have some days at the end of this that are completely free, and brother W.I.Z. is going to be there doing some writing. I may have to join him. Berlin Air is super cheap- 67 Euros from Barcelona to Berlin, 50 Euros from Berlin to London. I can do this…..
Thursday, November 9th 2006
The Luminaire is the Greatest Rock Club of ALL TIME
posted @ 7:33 am [ the Low Lows – the glamourous life of a rock star ]
Not least because of the cheap Thai food from the pub downstairs.
The Low Lows were back at the Luminaire in London last night. I have never been happier in my life to climb two flights of steps to the second story of a club. We played with Chicago band Catfish Haven and Swedish Americana band Amandine. (I love typing that- “Swedish Americana Band…”)
Just before I left the States, I was able to spend the weekend with my grandfather and we went fishing for catfish in Alabama. He caught two of the largest catfish I have ever seen. I caught one little old bass and, quite honestly, I’ve smoked bigger cigars than that little fish. Anyway, playing with a band with the word “catfish” in their name reminded me of that.
W.I.Z. turned up, even though he had thought he was going to be out of town with his girlfriend’s band. We had dinner together and then pretty much dashed upstairs for the last few minutes of Amandine’s set before throwing all of our gear onstage and setting to the task at hand.
Here’s where the magic of the Luminaire really shows itself, though. The sound at the Luminaire is probably better than any club where I have ever played. The onstage mix is heaven. It’s like Matt the soundman has wired the monitor mix right into my cerebral cortex. I hear everything flawlessly, and that always relaxes me as a player. Once we’re completely comfortable up there, we can get to doing what we do without nagging little distractions. This makes for great shows, and last night was no exception.
OK, so the fantastic Thai food and the flawless mix are two reasons why the Luminaire is the Greatest Rock Club of all time, and here’s the third:
The Luminaire opened its doors on 1 March 2005. We were sick of the way bands and gig-goers were treated by promoters and venues. We never understood why things had to be so confrontational, why sound engineers snapped at bands who requested the most basic things. We never understood why people who were supposed to love music treated those who made it and those who came to listen with disrespect. We still don’t understand it.
We hoped that if we met our bands with a smile and a handshake, helped them load in, showed them round, offered them clean towels, tea and coffee, fresh milk, beer and water, and somewhere comfortable to sit backstage, and gave them a calm, friendly sound engineer to work with, they’d really appreciate it.
We thought that, instead of acting aloof and moody when people arrived for a gig, we welcomed them and asked how they were and maybe had a bit of a conversation and a laugh, they’d remember that and tell their friends.
And we figured that if we employed people behind the bar who genuinely loved live music and who knew that, when an acoustic act was playing, they had to do their best to serve drinks quietly, it would be greatly appreciated by our customers.
In December 2006, just nine months after opening, Time Out magazine nominated The Luminaire in its Venue Of The Year category.
If there’s a musician among you who read that and didn’t get a little lump in his/her throat, then you haven’t toured enough.
After the show, there was Vicky from London, old friend and former houseguest of mine in Athens. W.I.Z. and she and I adjourned to the Bizarre Chip Shop™ across the street for something approximating coffee and a slice of something approximating apple pie. Really astonishingly lifelike imitations of the Real Thing, they were.
W.I.Z. had to get to Victoria Station to get the train back to Brighton, and Vicky had to get home to let out Jimi, her faithful and loving dog, so I returned to the club only to discover that I had been missing the party. I hate it when that happens.
After much milling about, most of it genial and drunken, I had to suffer two major disappointments: 1. the cool black Luminaire t-shirt with the skull and the word “LONDON” in huge letters across the bottom was only available in one size: “God, you’ve gotten fat,” and 2. the plan for Daniel and assorted of us to wander over to the Knotting Hill Arts Club with for hours of dancing and hanging out with The Swinging London Architects was just not going to be practical for me, since it would mean getting back to Kim’s at dawn, and we have to go to Brighton today, like right now. Like ten minutes ago. I believe that the size for that is called “God, you’ve gotten old.”
This whole sleep thing. I have become attached to it, to my detriment.
And so, we came back here and had the argument with Keef that all Yanks have to have with all Limeys… “Yes, we all own guns, so what?” That raged back and forth for an hour, and then we all went to bed, satisfied that we were right (even if we were wrong, Keef).
Saturday, November 11th 2006
The Low Lows played Brighton the night before last, and we got there early enough to go for a walk on the beach. Oddly, there is no sand there. This makes for a nice walk if you’re worried about getting sand in your shoes, but it’s tough going if you’re wearing cowboy boots.
Brighton is apparently headquarters for the UK’s crusty gutterpunk population. Some of my best friends are crusties, so I feel I can say this without fear of outrage or reprisal: You wouldn’t think crusties would settle so close to the water, lest someone bait them with a shiny piece of facial jewelry, lure them into the ocean and then forcibly bathe them. I would have thought the risk was just…. too great. Then again, the pebble beaches wouldn’t hold much of a bathtub ring, would they? How would anyone know it hasn’t happened already?
The club in Brighton was called The Hope. Lovely place, also a second floor club. The engineer was talented and a very nice guy. All in all, another very successful gig. The drive back to London was painless, though it was Daniel’s turn to have the queasies that we have been passing around. Poor guy, he seems to have suffered more than the rest of us.
Yesterday, the weather here in the UK finally lived up to its reputation- it pissed down rain most of the day. Just the sort of miserable cold drizzle that London is famous for. I took the train to Waterloo Station, caught the North Line to Camden Town, and got off the train on Mars, I think. I have never seen anything like Camden. First of all, though, when I did get off the train, the police were EVERYWHERE, randomly stopping people and asking to see their documentation. I heard them asking a guy who spoke only Russian or Polish “How long have you been in this country?” [translator speaks other language, guy answers] “What is your business here?”
I have to say, there’s an element of authoritarianism to life in London these days. I just have to put that out there. Random stop-and-harrass questionings are kind of a bad precedent for personal freedom. Couple this with the thousands and thousands of closed circuit television cameras in the UK, and there’s a disturbing anti-privacy trend at work here. Discuss.
I briefly thought about being the sort of person that cops hate- and stopping and asking them “HAS THIS MAN DONE ANYTHING THAT MAKES YOU THINK HE IS GUILTY OF A CRIME? IS HE FREE TO GO?” I would do it in a heartbeat in the US. I don’t think the police should be able to randomly stop people, but then, I grew up with a thing called the 4th Amendment. The British don’t really have one of those. PLUS, I wasn’t carrying any documentation of my own, except my US drivers license. I didn’t have my work permit or my passport with me, because I like to leave those somewhere safe when I am out wandering around.
I met David, old friend and musician who shared my earliest musical experiences- we grew up in Columbus, Georgia together. He’s been living in the UK for about ten years, and has, for the most part, really Had It With The English. An American black man in the UK working in the music business is going to run up against certain cultural and class barriers, and he’s ready to get the hell on to something else, I think. However, he was glad to show me Camden, which I must say… as I have said before this morning, I have never seen ANYTHING like it. Camden is a huge open market, with both permanent and temporary stalls. If I wasn’t broke and traveling with limited space, I might have bought a ton of silly stuff yesterday. Walking through Camden market is a feast for the senses. Music blasts from every direction, the smell of food, coffee, wine, incense and freshly sawn wood (there are even furniture shops) come wafting in, and there are people of every description in every direction- Chinese immigrants, punks, goths, West Indians, pervy looking old guys following the UK Suicide Girls around, people of every size, shape, odd hair color… It was truly mind-boggling.
David and I then rode over to SoHo and met frequent commenter here and friend Vicky, and we had dinner and some coffee. Vicky was an angel, and bought me the Banksy book that I was swooning over. I have seldom been happier about a gift, sincerely. Thanks, Vick. I read it all the way home on the bus and nearly missed my stop.
Then, suddenly, there was Daniel and… The Swinging London Architects!! Tori and Christiane took us on the Walking Tour of SoHo as we struggled to find a bar that wasn’t both too crowded to enjoy and/or playing the “Theme from Footloose!” at tooth-rattling volumes. We finally settled on an underground bar called Freud. (I was disappointed that there was no sign that said “Ask about our Mother’s Day specials!”) (Also, how could you have a bar called Freud that doesn’t allow cigar smoking? Hello?) The music there was loud, but not so loud that we couldn’t talk.
It was also packed, but people were largely stationary. We spent hours there talking and watching people. It was a nice time, actually. It was an excellent way to spend our last night in London before heading out on the rest of the tour.
On the way to catch the bus back here to Kim’s, I saw two people having drunken sex in a phone booth. SoHo on a Friday night: The aftermath isn’t pretty. Also, I felt sort of out of place, since I was the only one not eating a hot dog or arguing with a policeman. I ended up helping two drunken Frenchmen to find their bus out to Pimlico. Who knew that I would use my high school French classes to say “Look, if you’re gonna vomit, do it before you get on the bus….”
(Monsieur, si vous allez vomir, le font avant que vous montiez dans l’autobus.)
I got back to the flat, and Parker and I packed and talked and I tried to fix the internet connection here because it was down for some reason. I finally got it working and talked to Lisa until, gulp…. 5 am.
I need to get cracking. Keef will be here soon, and we have a long drive in front of us.
Sunday, November 12th 2006
I love this song- so funny that I listened to the whole thing before I clicked through to discover that it’s Coldplay. I like to pretend that I don’t like them, and then I’ll be at Kroger at 3am and “Clocks” (I think that’s what it’s called) will come on the muzak station, and, depending on my mood, I’ll either fall into a blue hole or think “I should be playing more music.” (or both)
To those of you who haven’t been able to reach me by email or IM or cell phone, I am just days between steady internet right now. I will write you as fast as I can!
And I miss you. This is fun and all, but it would be better if we were all on a big bus.
Sunday, November 12th 2006
Hull is about a four and a half hours’ drive from London. It’s not that far as the crow flies, but it takes FOREVER to get out of London. It took hours and hours to wind our way through traffic to get to a highway that would actually allow us to leave.
Once we were on “the motorway” I was struck again by how much rural England resembles rural Virginia. No wonder the English settled there. I pointed this out to the rest of the band, and Parker said “Wait until you see Spain. You’ll totally understand why the Spanish settled in Mexico.” After speaking extensively to the Swedish guys in Amandine, the whole Swedes/Minnesota things starts to make more sense, too…
Hull is a college town that recalls some of the worst of Athens on a game day, only colder, damper and in bad need of a coat of paint. Granted, we got there in the dark and went straight to the Adelphi club, which is not in the swankest part of town, so we perhaps didn’t see Hull at its best.
Keef, Daniel and I went out to get some air and a bite to eat, but didn’t get much of either. There was a cold drizzle falling, a stiff breeze and dining options in the unfortunate direction we traveled were almost exclusively student food take-out. Kebab, pizza, fish and chips, and due to the heinous exchange rate right now, even crap is expensive for Americans. There was a wave of kids coming towards us from the long, low slung student ghetto. The guys were, for the most part, dressed sanely, but the girls were startlingly underdressed for the freezing drizzle. Keef said that’s not so unusual up there.
When we got back to the club, Parker breathlessly informed us that we had missed The Best Band In The World. Fortunately, the Schoolgirls gave us each a CD and some buttons. Next time, I won’t miss them.
As were standing in the club before our set, I said to the boys, “Remember how a week ago I was saying that there haven’t been any clubs in the UK that are built like and feel like the clubs in Mississippi? I take it back.”
The Adelphi is a thoroughly unlovable building- it’s a cold cast concrete structure with peeling paint and everything in it is damp. It’s seen better days, for certain, but the people who work there are some of the friendliest, most competent and most personable I have ever met in a rock club. The audience was attentive and supportive and, best of all, they “got” the Low Lows. Onstage, it was genuinely hot and Hull is humid enough that halfway through the show, I turned to Parker and said “Brother, we are IN MISSISSIPPI….” We played like it, too- last night was a shambling, boisterous and slightly drunken rock and roll revel. If you were there, you might not have recognized some of the songs as you know them, but I bet you would have been tapping your foot.
Jim, the sound man was a real pro (again! What’s up with UK clubs and hiring competent engineers? Hello, US clubs, please take note!) and our show was pretty excellent, if not perfectly played.
Afterwards, there was a concerted effort to get the paying customers out the door, and the band packed up our gear, threw everything in boxes, making like we were headed for the van, which is what we thought we were supposed to do. As we were headed out, Paul, the promoter, laid a gentle hand on my shoulder and said “Hold there for a second, lad.” Once the last paying customer was out the door, the staff locked the door and adjourned, along with us and personnel from the other bands, to the room with the pool table (and the front six feet of a city bus??) where the most amazing curry (EVAR!) was served, along with a few lagers for the boys. We shot pool and talked until 2 in the morning. It was nice, people were friendly, the conversations spiraled into the night, and at some point I looked up and said to Parker, “Man, I gotta tell you…. I feel like I’m in my hometown.”
Hull may not be the poshest place on earth, but the fine folks at the Adelphi are making the best of it. It’s a good scene filled with good people. I can’t wait to take Music Hates You there.
The hotel to which we finally decamped was called the Admiral Wyndham. It is a bed and breakfast in a Victorian building. Again, like most things in Hull, it has had a day in the sun. Yesterday was not it. The rooms were small and sufficient for sleeping, which was really all I was there to do. We all gathered in Keef and I’s room for a post-show, post-hanging out bit of planning and debriefing. We decided that we actually really liked Hull, despite its general shabbiness. Students and constant dampness can be hard on a place. We’ll definitely be back.
This morning, I couldn’t summon any hot water to the second floor. I ended up using the kettle to make a pot of tea AND to heat some water for washing my face in the sink. Today’s drive was about five hours and I am starting to get kind of used to the UK travel stops. At first, everything was new and I was running around pointing at things and asking Keef “What’s this? What’s this?? My god, how do you eat that?” Now, I can tell a British Pie from a Yorkshire Pudding, I know how long to steep PG Tips to make a decent cuppa and I know that mince pies are ok but that they but could use more nuts.
We are in Exeter, a substantially more posh town that Hull. How do I know? Free wireless internet in the club is a good clue. We haven’t played yet- we are the last of four bands, and the second one is on now. Between sets, they play mclusky, which makes me very happy.
By the way, look who has been featured on All Songs Considered. The Low Lows’ video is also being played on UK MTV. (Did I mention that already?)
It’s exciting to be behind a band whose star is rising. This is fun.
Monday, November 13th 2006
I am snatching a VERY expensive moment of WiFi at the truckstop in Devon as we drive towards the ferry in Dover.
Our show last night wasn’t so great. There were a lot of kids there, and the other bands (three of them) were generic MySpace punk, two of which shared the same terrible drummer. When we got up to play, the kids gave us the “Eh, wot?” look, and began to drift towards the door. I think that when they heard “American band” they thought My Chemical Romance. They weren’t expecting a cross between My Bloody Valentine and My Morning Jacket.
We went to the hotel and Parker made me laugh hard and long about something I have been worried about for about ten years. Details=unimportant. We were up half the night laughing until our faces hurt.
If you have been reading, you know that my brother sent me this lovely postcard with a song that I now love, even if it is by Coldplay. I just heard a snatch of it over the PA here in the truck stop, immediately followed by a snatch of “Losing my Religion” by my neighbors.
Yes, even hot shit rock and roll drummer on world tours get homesick. Nice one, $deity. *sigh*
hope everyone is well. Can’t wait to see you, folks.
Tuesday, November 14th 2006
I am using the laptop to write from the back seat of Keef’s van. We are speeding towards the White Cliffs of Dover to catch the ferry to Calais. Astonishingly, we are early. The Low Lows are truly unlike any band I have every traveled with.
There is another band on Monotreme called Barzin. I don’t know much about them, but they are playing in Paris tomorrow night. We are meeting them in Paris, since we are going to be there for the video shoot and interview with Vincent Moon. They have asked to use my kit and snare. The kit I am okay with, since it’s Monotreme’s, and it would be just idiotic for me to say no. However, the snare is mine, and it’s from my old Slingerland kit. That kit is 50+ years old, and the snare is irreplaceable. I have been in this dilemma before- people ask to borrow equipment that is not only too expensive to ever be replaced, it’s impossible to replace. There just aren’t that many of these drums out there, and most of them are NOT for sale. I hope that the drummer from Barzin understands when he gets the word that I will share my kit and cymbals, but the kit stays locked in the van unless I am playing it. It’s not that I think he’s going to hit it so hard that it breaks, it’s that if it gets stolen from the stage or knocked over or if spills something on it, I want it to be my fault. That way I can just feel badly about it, but not hate someone I barely know for the rest of my life. I hope that when Kim calls back and says “Patrick says No” that she communicates to him that I am just worried that something untoward might happen and that I just don’t want to risk it. Maybe I am being stupid…. this sort of thing can expand into a bad reputation for a musician…
Tonight we will be crossing the English Channel by ferry into France. I have never used my French for anything more substantial than helping a drunk frenchman catch a bus or translating French hip hop lyrics. This should be fun. SHOULD be fun…
I honestly don’t have any expectation of France, so I have no idea what to expect. I can’t really go on what people have told me, because it’s all contradictory. “The French are rude, especially if you speak bad French to them” vs. “Just try to speak French and watch them open up, they’re so accommodating if you’re making an effort.” ???
Traveling to France has been a lifelong ambition for me, so I am trying not to set myself up for some sort of disappointment.
Driving through the English countryside today was gorgeous. The network of hedgerows and the square patches of green in between are only familiar to me as seen from the air. I have watched dozens of films, both documentary and dramatized, of American B-17s and B-29s going to and from Germany and when bomber crews bail out, that’s why is waiting through the door, 10,000 feet down. I did some research on the Battle of Britain this week as we prepared to cross the Channel. Thank god for the RAF, huh? “Never have so many owed so much to so few,” indeed. What if Britain had negotiated a peace-at-gunpoint with the Nazis? Where would the US have staged from in Europe? The effective end of the Battle of Britain came when the Nazis were forced to move their bombers to the Russian Front in May of 1941. Nazi warplanes had unsuccessfully tried to bomb the English into a negotiated surrender. The Blitz of London was an attempt to break the British will to resist the Nazi war machine. (Good luck with that, by the way. You’re never going to overwhelm a people who can (happily!) live on suet pudding and mushy peas. These are people not afraid to suffer. They do it every day at lunch.) The newly elected PM, Winston Churchill, as most of you know, wasn’t having any of that.
It’s easy to look at these things in hindsight and say “Well, y’know, that’s nice” while not really giving any profound thought to what MIGHT have happened.
At the time, there was a possibility that the Nazis were just going to keep bombing Britain until it all looked like Krakow did in 1944. Most of the large cities in Poland were uninhabitable and nearly razed by the end of the war. All of their inhabitants had either fled to the countryside or were living by hiding in ruined buildings and foraging for scraps of food amongst the ruins. For Churchill to say of the struggle to preserve Britain that future generations would look back upon the fight and say “This will be their finest hour” was remarkably courageous. Imagine how history would view the old Tory bastard if England had fallen…
just a thought.
Well, battery is getting low and we’re about to drive onto the ferry. More when I get to an internet connection.
Tuesday, November 14th 2006
Holy shit, I am in France.
I am stuck in traffic and posting from stolen wi-fi, though.
Two rules for driving in Paris:
1. If there is a space in front of you, move into it. Immediately and without looking side to side.
2. If there is no space in front of you, honk.
Here ends the lesson.
Wednesday, November 15th 2006
Crossing from Dover to Calais was cool. Ferry travel is the way to go. We pulled into the belly of the boat, parked, and then went above to a higher deck and lounged around this very upmarket looking salon-ish area. It was kind of like hanging out in an airport departure gate.
The trip across the English Channel at Dover to Calais is only about 20 miles, so the voyage is about and hour and ten minutes. I spent the lion’s share of that out on deck watching the black ocean surge by. There was a stiff breeze, so the seas were medium rough. There was definitely some rocking motion to the deck. Halfway across we were suddenly being tailed by a cloud of 10000 seagulls. They were dipping and diving in the lee of the ship and looked like a handful of white confetti tossed against the black sky. I mostly loathe seagulls, but this was quite a sight.
Once in Calais, we checked into the most unpleasant hotel I have ever seen. I suppose I should be grateful to be sleeping out of the weather, yes, and I didn’t have to come out of pocket for this place, so I shouldn’t complain… but you had to SEE this place. The rooms contained a double bed and then a sort of flyover bed, like a bunk bed but perpendicular to the double bed. It reminded me of a bridge over the interstate. The room itself had one hard and dilapidated chair with more screws missing than it still possessed, a tiny desk and a television that was screwed to the wall. Bathrooms were common areas down the hall- toilet in one closet, shower in the other. Everything was made of colored plastic or concrete and I could stand in the middle of the room and nearly touch both walls. I think that these places exist as halfway points for immigrants workers coming into or going out of France. I can’t imagine anyone staying there for anything other than the most rudimentary need to sleep SOMEWHERE as cheaply as possible. That said, we slept like logs because we were tired from all of the driving.
However, we did go out and have a meal before settling into our hard little beds. I had my first meal in France, Boeuf Bourgenione, served with fries, and it was SPECTACULAR. There is a large shopping center in Calais, I am sure that it exists to cater to folks crossing over from the UK to buy tobacco, whiskey and other goods that are heavily taxed in the UK. Just next to that was a surprisingly cozy little restaurant where we had a truly excellent French meal while watching the French sports channel and arguing about whether Muse or Kean are a worse band.
The next morning we rose as early as we could stand, and I staggered down to the shower closet, where I reluctantly took the hottest shower imaginable. There were two temperatures in this shower- scalding and off. I was very pink for the first few hours of the day.
Since this is my first trip to France, I spent all morning staring out the windows of the van and soaking it all in. Just outside of Calais, there are huge community gardens- I am guessing that if one has an apartment in a high rise and no place to grow a garden, then the family can rent one of these plots- there are small shacks that I would guess are full of tools, seeds, fertilizer and other necessities. There are also large tanks outside that may contain agricultural chemicals or just water for irrigation. Even this late in the year, the gardens were still going strong, full of cabbages and what looked like kale and other fall crops. I have never seen anything like that in an American city.
Just past Calais going into France, there is some open countryside. This is, if I understand correctly, considered by the French to be “redneck France,” so I was interested to see if I felt at home. An hour into our drive, a pale yellow old Citroen was parked at the end of a road near the highway. Walking out of the woods was a fine looking dog and three men who were all (safely) carrying shotguns and dressed in boots and wool hunting clothes. I assume rabbit season is open in Northern France, then. I suspect that the locals can think of some tasty things to do with a freshly killed rabbit or pheasant.
We stopped for coffee at a truck stop about an hour later and while I was standing there the fucking TGV (”Train de Grande Vitesse” or, directly translated, “The Train of Big Speed”) came rocketing past. The TGV must travel at over 120 mph. The sound it makes is earthshaking. What a way to travel!
The road to Paris from Calais parallels the TGV track for much of the way, and at least three times while we were doing 70 or 80 mph the TGV blasted past us like we were standing still. I need to take that train one day. It’s a beast.
Presently we arrived in Paris and promptly got stuck in traffic. I could see several things from the highway that are made famous by French hip hop. I saw Les Cités, the housing projects north of the Arrondissment. I do not know if I saw the famous “93″ (or “le neuf-trois”), home to many many many French hip hop artists. I also saw a dozen signs for “St. Denis,” the neighborhood immortalized in the NTM song of the same title.
Once we got off of the freeway, traffic stopped completely. That’s when I started using Mac Stumbler to troll for open wireless connections and was able to post yesterday. We had a five o’clock deadline to meet Vincent Moon, the increasingly famous (or notorious) video director who likes to put bands in strange and incongruous settings and film them playing acoustically or with minimal instrumentation. We found ourselves a few blocks from the club and not moving at all. Keith parked the van and we grabbed a couple of acoustic guitars, a snare drum, some brushes and a tambourine and started walking. (When I say “not moving,” I mean, seriously, stopped completely.) We eventually found the club, met Vincent and went looking for a place to set up. Vincent knows Paris like the back of his hand, and he’s a bit of an idiosyncratic (and very French) artist. We walked up and down alleys while he looked for the perfect location and explained to me how he likes to work. Parker and Daniel followed playing their guitars and singing. We were very much like wandering troubadours or something. Barzin, fellow Monotreme artist, was playing the part of Boby and running boom sound. (Thanks, B.) I would have found this behavior a little obnoxious in Athens, but this was Paris, and Paris is its own thing.
Vincent: I like to walk with the band until I find the perfect spot, then I like for them to start playing the instruments and I film the people’s reactions as they play. In cafés or in the library or something….
Me: That’s interesting. Do you ask permission, usually?
Vincent: What? Why? If I don’t have to? Of course not!
Me: Oh, yes, of course not. Silly me…
Vincent pauses and very thoughtfully considers a shop specializing in mildly erotic postcards from the 1920s and 30s….
Me: That’s a very nice camera… Was it expensive?
Vincent: I don’t know. I borrowed it. I don’t own my own camera.
Me: Oh, of course not….
Vincent is really one-of-a-kind and perfectly French in his approach to his art, I think. We turned a corner in this alley and there before us was the most completely Old French café you could possibly imagine. It was packed with older Parisians who were smoking and drinking and having after-work conversations. Vincent walked in and asked the staff if we could shoot a band from the United States playing a song. Everyone shrugged. Why not? It’s Paris.
Daniel and I set up at the table furthest to the rear- I put the snare drum on an old wooden ladderback chair and put the tambourine on the table top. Daniel stood with his guitar strapped on and Parker had this odd look on his face. I don’t think he was thrilled at the possibility of singing at the top of his lungs in a room full of complete strangers who just seconds before were having their evening repast and cocktails. Everyone but me ordered drinks and somehow a Scotch appeared in front of me. This was fortunate, because I don’t drink and Parker was clearly going to need more than one.
Vincent led Parker out, whilst shouting to Daniel and me “I am going to be following him with the camera and you will start playing when he gets to you. OK, it will be great. YES!”
Parker followed him out on shaky knees and five minutes later, he was back, playing guitar and singing the first verse of “Black Bees” at the top of his lungs. Vincent and Barzin were right behind…
Parker paused for a millisecond at the end of the verse to have a large swallow from one of the glasses on the table, and then we launched into the chorus together. The Parisians in the café watched with a mildly bemused disinterest. It was actually kind of magical, with Vincent swooping around with his camera, all of these worldly and cosmopolitan people watching and Parker singing with a flush in his cheeks and a gleam in his eye- half from the scotch and half from the audacity of what we were doing.
We finished the song, and Vincent wheeled around and marched out the door with the camera rolling. The Parisian Café-goers played their parts perfectly: They went right to being completely uninterested.
Next, Vincent suggested we walk into this very upscale restaurant and start playing. He said to us as we were walking there “This place, the building and the rooms, they are very beautiful, but the people… they are just terrible. They are very mean… So mean… We are not going to ask permission. We are just going to attack.”
“Um…” we said.
“It weel be grreat….” he said.
“Er….” we said.
We walked through the archway to the courtyard and there were large men in ill-fitting tuxedoes who were clearly hired to stand around and prevent EXACTLY the sort of thing we were thinking of doing.
Parker said “Vincent, you see that guy? I can tell he’s going to be the one to break my neck. Look at him.”
“No No, Parker, it will be perfect!”
Parker put his foot down, and we demurred. Interestingly, right across the street, there was another 200 year old arch, this one lit from below by lights recessed into the street. I took the snare drum out of the case, and placed it over one of the lights. The translucent white drumhead diffused the light into this really warm amber glow. Vincent got very excited, we all placed ourselves at good spots under the arches, and we played “Five Ways I Didn’t Die” while more indifferent Parisians walked by. I think that it looked really good.
Next, Vincent led us up the street and said “I ‘ave an idea. You are going to start playing “Dear Flies, Love Spider” and you are going to get on a bus. We will ride for a few stops while you play the song, then we will get off.”
“How much does the bus cost?” I said, digging for Euros in my pocket.
“We will not pay. We will ee-jock the bus.”
“‘EEE-Jock?’ You mean….. HIJACK the bus??”
“Yes. Perfect. It will be here any moment…”
I turned to Daniel and said “OK, what’s the worst that could happen? A couple of hours in jail in Paris? We’ll be fine.”
This didn’t seem to reassure him or Parker.
Parker began to creep away, as if perhaps if he wandered far enough away, he might miss the bus and that might keep him from having to do this. My sense of adventure was really cranked up, though. I called him over. I wasn’t letting him wander off.
We stood there, and I could see Parker’s pulse pounding in his neck. It’s a vulnerable job, singing in a band. Doubly so, doing it with an acoustic guitar, especially when you’re used to playing electric with a big fuck-off amplifier, TRIPLY so when you’re randomly wandering into people’s lives on the streets of Paris, never mind that we’re about to illegally board a bus, completely ignore the driver, place ourselves amidst the other passengers, and then… sing them a little song.
The bus came, we started playing. Vincent was filming. Barzin was recording… The doors opened, we all walked on- I was holding the snare drum and tambourine with one hand and playing them with a brush held in the other. Parker and Daniel were of course playing their acoustics, Vincent was filming, and none of us even looked at the driver as we boarded. I looked over my shoulder, smiled and shrugged at him as we walked down the center aisle and positioned ourselves in the center of the bus. He shrugged and started driving away. Our first hurdle was cleared.
The other passengers were kind of stunned, but they seemed to enjoy the music. We stopped at the first bus stop just in time for the first quiet passage of the song, then into the first chorus as we pulled away. No one had said a thing to us and everyone seemed quite content for us to bang away.
Vincent’s expression was positively lupine with joy when suddenly, he said “OH NO! The BATTERY!! The CAMERA BATTERY!! IT HAS DIED!!”
We stopped playing. Disaster. Vincent’s whole body sagged. It had been going so well. He was heartbroken. We were heartbroken. All that anxiety for nothing. The bus stopped, the doors opened and we got off. We walked back to the club in near-silence.
Once we were back at the club, Vincent went rummaging around in the borrowed camera bag and announced “Oh, look. I have another battery! Let’s film that song, I love that song… let’s just do it here. We can do it here in the club.”
“Oh, no…. ” said Parker. “Let’s go catch a fucking bus…. I ain’t going back to Georgia, telling people this story and then when they say ‘OK, let’s see the footage,’ telling them ‘Oh, the camera died. This dressing room could be anywhere. We could be in Pittsburgh. Fuck that. BRING ME A BUS.’”
Vincent was ambivalent. “I don’t know. Will it work twice? I don’t know…”
Parker wasn’t having it. He’d been through too much to stop now. He marched us back to the bus stop and nearly threw us on a bus.
This time, we got all the way through the song. There were two old French ladies who decided that they were going to sing some traditional French song because they didn’t like what we were doing. Parker noticed this and… SANG LOUDER.
Vincent was zooming around with his camera. I was rapping on my drum and tambourine- Parker and Daniel were nailing the harmonies, and then… the song was over… We all stood there gawking at one another. Vincent seemed even more astonished than we did. The bus doors opened and we tumbled into the street. There was much joy and celebration.
Vincent shouted “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT WORKED!”
Uh, we thought YOU had it under control, dude.
Friday, November 17th 2006
You may recall from my last entry a brief description of the Worst Hotel in the World™. I have some shocking news.
It’s a chain. And guess where we stayed when we stopped in Bilbao last night.
Yep. You betcha. It’s called the Hotel Formula One. I have no idea why, but I can speculate…
Formula One cars are stripped down to the bare essentials, mostly plastic, cramped, uncomfortable and only dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, however, not somewhere you’d want to spend more time than it takes to drive the Indy 500. Certainly not somewhere you’d want to lie down and sleep.
Ditto the hotel.
Same lavatory setup- separate closets down the hall from the room, but this one had an extra-special treat: No paper in any of the dumpers on the second floor. I’d rather not go into detail about how I discovered this. Really. I never want to think about it again.
Each room comes with one towel the perfect size for drying dishes, the same highway-ramp bed setup, and just enough room to open a suitcase and turn around.
Parker has taken ill and has a cough like someone banging two large PVC pipes together. Daniel is getting the same cold. The last two days have been spent entirely in the van and driving, except for the brief break to run around Paris and get filmed. This tour has been perfect so far- it’s been all fun, the right amount of time on and time off, but since we left the UK we have been driven like mules- we are all getting sick and very tired. I have been battling irritability and fatigue and trying to be a gentleman, but tonight when we got lost in Madrid I snapped at everyone. BUT we were SO LOST. God, it was agonizing. We drove around in circles for an hour and half in a town where the street signs are legible from four feet away, and the accent is almost impossible for me to understand. I finally worked out that we were supposed to turn left, not right where the directions told me to turn right… I mean, I understand- I get left and right mixed up in Spanish all the time, which is what I think happened to the guy who gave me the directions.
It poured rain on us all day after last night’s less-than-restful sleep in Hotel Formula Pain and we drove for seven hours in it. At one point coming down the moutnain from Burbos, Keith thought we were going to die. There were huge trucks everywhere, the rain was dumping on us and the wind was rocking the van from side to side. After that, we were stuck on the perimeter road around Madrid for an hour and a half, then we got into town and started driving around in circles, everyone sick, everyone tired, me being pissy because I was trying to read the map and the directions and oh, shit…. this was not the best day.
Then, we got to the club and Parker’s guitar amp caught on fire. No, really. Big could of smoke, fire, burning… We managed to put it out and fix the problem. Then the other amp burned a fuse and we had to search out a replacement fuse…. it’s been a shit day.
And, oh, yeah, five people showed up for the show.
Every tour has bad moments. We just happened to have all of ours in one day.
I am sitting in the dressing room, and this really nice guy named Alberto is here and he is telling Daniel how great our show was. It was good to finally play. That’s the ironclad law of touring, by the way- the quality of the band’s show is inversely proportionate to the number people in the club. (This ratio is compounded exponentially the further the band is from home.)
Now I just want to go the hotel here in Madrid (please god, let it be nice….) and get some sleep.
Friday, November 17th 2006
A little sleep can make a huge difference. We stayed at the Madrid Pop Hostel, which was a standard Hostel- four bunk beds and a rudimentary shower. After the Hotel Formula One, it seemed like paradise. Of course, we got there at 3 am and they had given our room to someone else, so they went and kicked them out. The internet wasn’t working and the room was cold, but it was better than Hotel Formula One, and it was out of the weather. I got some sleep, and dawn broke bright and dry in Madrid.
I was able to get on the internet for a minute this morning before someone noticed that we were stupidly late, so we hustled out the door to the van. We were able to stop and eat a sandwich and I got directions from the waiter on how to work the strange protocol of Madrid banks- I had to check all of my metal objects into a small locker once I was inside the first bank door. When I closed the locker, I walked away with a small key. I then stood in front of a bullet proof revolving door and pressed a button. After an annoyingly long interval, the door opened and let me into the limbo lock before another bulletproof door opened. I was then able to enter the bank, It took me about fifteen minutes to change the band’s stash of pounds into euros.
Daniel is sicker than Parker got, and Parker got pretty sick. He was too miserable to eat breakfast, and has been asleep in the van ever since. Keef’s van is making good time today- much better than yesterday. It’s a shame that we had the worst day of the tour in the prettiest city on the tour so far. Touring life is like that, though. No matter how gorgeous a city is, how important the show is or how excited you SHOULD be to be in a city, when you’re tired, hungry, your clothes stink and you’re sick and exhausted, who cares? There are essential elements of human happiness that make it very difficult to enjoy much of anything in their absence.
I’ll come back to Madrid and it will be better. It really is a gorgeous city and the people were incredibly friendly. Ask any Spaniard about the Spanish Civil War and a fountain of new information springs forth. The promoter of last night’s show walked me out to the boulevard and pointed in the directions of the various neighborhoods that were destroyed by German and Italian bombs when Madrid was holding off the fascist assault. Franco had predicted that Madrid would fall in three months. The Madrillenos held out for three years. “¡No Pasarån!”
Today is bright, clear and cool and Keef is making some time on the way to Alicante. Our discussion of the fascist bombing of Madrid turned to the same fascists bombing London three years later. We considered how London endured a year or more of steady bombing and refused to capitulate to the Nazis. Contrast to the hysteria into which America collapsed after 9/11. Discuss….
I hope that I didn’t give anyone the impression yesterday that the tour was going miserably. It just sucked yesterday, but we prevailed. We were in good enough spirits as we were leaving Madrid to appreciate how lucky we are to be here. One bad show does not a bad tour make.
Spain is gorgeous. Parker is right about the plains and piedmont of Spain looking like West Texas and the Fronterra Region of Mexico. There are vistas where we can see for miles. It’s mostly flat, with some gentle rolling hills. I think I understand why it was so hard for the Fascists to take Madrid. Flat, scrubby and open country is hard country to march an army across, especially when there were a few freelance American pilots hanging out just to give the fascists some hell.
There are loads of olive orchards by the road here. I can’t believe this rocky soil would support much of anything, but there they are. Olive farmers prune the branches of the trees back and the trunks get massively thick. The really old trees sort of remind me of fat men with lunatic combovers. The younger trees are really gorgeous and sturdy looking. They remind me that I need to get home and prune my grape vines and peach trees.
All of this open space inspired me to put on some Marty Robbins. I am listening to “El Paso.” My dad really loves this song. He loves any song that tells a sad story. Must be genetic…
The Low Lows are two loads of laundry, a hot meal, some open wi-fi and eight hours of sleep away from pure bliss.
Saturday, November 18th 2006
Oh, my…. all hail Benissa. This is my favorite town so far on the tour, and talk about a fountain of information on the Spanish Civil War. We staying in an old converted monastery which was also the official hospital of the International Brigades in Spain. Seriously. The whole town is very proud of it. You can imagine how excited I am about this.
This town is 500 years old. The people here are extremely proud of their history, in particular La Guerra Civil. This place is so amazing. I can’t wait to bring Lisa back here.
The Low Lows played at the local Cultural Arts Center. This building houses a bar and tapas restaurant, a theater that shows both Spanish and Catalan productions, and another half dozen or so rooms for hosting parties or live shows like the one we played tonight.
The promoters were a group called Cream Pop, and neither of them spoke much English at all. In fact, there was only one person fluent in English all night. The other band was called The Grave Yacht Club and they totally LOOKED like a bunch of southern boys and they played like the Flying Burrito Brothers. It was disconcerting when they started talking to us in broken English and heavily Catalan accented Spanish. (They were all maniacs, by the way. They drank like Spaniards and smoked like Turks- they were a rolling party.) We had such fun tonight.
Tonight all of the Low Lows are hanging out listening to George Jones and talking about our girlfriends and wives. I think we’re ready to go home….
Saturday, November 18th 2006
This morning I woke up to the sound of children playing in the courtyard outside the window of the monastery. The building looked completely different in daylight. It must be 400 years old. The whole town up at the end where we slept is very old, and the buildings are made of white stone or concrete. It’s so gorgeous.
I took a quick shower and made my way downstairs. The street was lined with ten foot orange trees, all of which were thick with ripe oranges. I would have picked a couple, except that stretched for half a mile in front of me was the Benissa Saturday Market- there were stalls full of Valencia oranges, local grapefruits and clementinas. It would have been rude to just reach up and pick someone else’s fruit. Also in the market were stalls full of clothes, cheeses, sweets, bags of coffee, loaves of bread, even some hardware and cooking utensils. It was amazing.
We sat down to have breakfast at a café right on the town square. We were joined by some of the nice people from the night before, one of whom was the guy who showed me to the Monastery last night. We talked as much as we could make ourselves understood about the International Brigades and the Hospital. They call them “las Brigadistas,” and they feel a tremendous kinship with the Americans who came to fight for Spain’s freedom and against fascism. It’s such an amazing experience to talk about something about which I feel so strongly with someone whose grandfather lived it. As we were waiting for coffee, the bells in the town square began to ring to announce midday. They were gorgeous and tremendously loud. As they were ringing in the noon hour, my new friend leaned in to me and practically had to shout “It’s like the bell de Philadelphia.”
I didn’t know what he meant at first. Then I realized- “You mean the Liberty Bell!”
And he nodded vigorously “Yes! Libertad! America! Like the Liberty Bell… and the Brigadistas!”
Oh, it’s nothing… I must have just gotten something in my eye…
Minutes later there was a tremendous BANG in the town square and all of the Americans jumped a foot. La Banda de Pere Bigot (which is actually a first and last name… there’s more about them here) was cranking up to walk through the streets and play music in celebration of the Feast of St Cecilia (I think). Marching bands in Spain announce their approach by throwing around these fireworks that are louder than a shotgun going off. Once everyone is thoroughly startled, they march around playing. It was kind of cool, except that there were three sleepy and slightly sick Americans and one Englishman who kept jumping a foot and a half every time one of those bastards set off another M80.
After our little breakfast, we went walking in the oldest part of the city and saw the old city wall. I love the look of Benissa. Looking up from the narrow brick streets, there are hundreds of tall, white buildings framing a deep blue sky. Parker took lots of pictures. I will post them as soon as I can.
Sunday, November 19th 2006
Tonight we are back in Barcelona. Originally we had a show here, but because of time constraints and travel issues for Parker, we handed it off to our friends in Barzin. I think we are going to try and get down to see their show, but we have to go uptown to pick up a load of amps and a Rhodes piano that The Low Lows left here before, so it might not be possible.
Last night in Cartagena was our last show in Spain, the last show of the tour and my last show with the Low Lows. Keef, Daniel and I are going to drive back to London at a human (read: not exhausting) pace, maybe go see the palace at Versailles tomorrow.
Cartagena is the consummate port town. It’s the gateway to much of the southern hemisphere for a good portion of Western Europe, so there are boats and piers and huge monuments to the shipping industry and sailors EVERYWHERE. I would have thought that a port town would have had a little bit wilder nightlife, but Stereo, the club where we played, was full of a handful of sleepily drunk guys in suits. They were real lumps, too. Not my favorite crowd for whom to play a show.
The drive today was through hundreds of miles of citrus orchards. It’s about to be time to pick all of the oranges. There were millions of them, and I got to craving oranges TERRIBLY after five hours of watching them roll by outside the window. There is some sort of labor issue with the citrus pickers here- I could see graffiti spray painted all around the town of Valencia, both pro-worker and anti-immigrant.
Tonight, we went out to eat at our Regular Spot here in Barcelona- a really nice Turkish Kebab shop. I have trouble believing that I have a “Regular Spot” in Barcelona. How insane is that? Daniel and I even have a favorite table.
I also have a bus that is “my bus” home from Soho in London. This has been the most remarkable experience.
I am on the roof of the Chinese Cat Hotel (Gat Xino in Catalan) enjoying someone else’s wireless network and looking at the mountains in the distance. I am in the middle of a forest of tv antennas, which are silhouetted against a purple sky. I can hear the odd “bah-dee-dah” of the Barcelona Ambulance Service sirens every now and then on far off streets, but other than that, it’s silent up here. It’s Sunday night, so the city is mostly asleep.
This is a nice last night in Spain. I love this country, and I have really enjoyed this tour, but I miss my friends and I miss my home. I most especially miss my wife and my dogs.
I still have a few days of travel left to get back to London. I will probably see some more amazing sights, even, but the work of this tour is over, and honestly, it’s the work that I love.
I will spend a few days in London, hopefully seeing Stonehenge and some of Vicky’s dad’s amazing old cars, but I can’t wait to get back to my lovely wife, my house, my dogs, Music Hates You and my job.
I am hoping to get Music Hates You over here some time in 2007. I think that they’ll enjoy getting their minds blown by Europe. I hope I can get a nice big chunk of leave time saved at work, so we can just do it and not have to worry about finagling my off time.
Right now, I just want to go to bed, get up and start driving back towards Blighty and Kim from Monotreme’s cozy little house, where I can pass a couple of days before I jet home to our little farmhouse and get to sleep in the same bed as my beautiful wife.
You’ve been a lovely audience. Thank you very much.
::Update:: It’s three am in Barcelona, and this is how I know- there are clock towers in every direction, and they are all striking at once. Amazing. Wish you were here.
Monday, November 20th 2006
Today was a classic touring day- we drove all day just to get home. We made it to Clermont-Ferrand in France. This is a Michelin town- they make a lot of the tires here. It wasn’t much to look at in the dark.
The high point of the day and the low point where just minutes apart- we drove across the highest bridge in the world. The thing was astonishingly tall. Even in the dark it was disconcerting to be up that high. We decided to drive down into the valley and have a meal in the town of Millau.
Keef and I had steak frites and Daniel had some sort of pasta thing. Afterwards, we went to drive to the foot of the massive bridge so we could look up. This whole trip, Keef has been saying what a pain in the ass the police can be in South France. Sure enough, we got pulled over on the way to the bridge. I found it extremely disconcerting to be barked at in a language I speak badly under the best of circumstances. I did my best to handle them like I have handled US cops in the past- give them what they ask for, volunteer pertinent information and keep them engaged, all the while making good eye contact. They were plainclothes National Police. The whole time, I had this impression that they weren’t real cops and that any second we were going to be shaken down for a bribe, but as we finally drove away Keef said that that’s just the way that the National Police in France present themselves- no visible badges, no guns, unmarked Renault. The only indication that I had that I wasn’t just dealing with some thug was that he had a maglight, a buddy who had the same maglight, a floppy patch that said “Police Nationale” in a wallet next to a photo ID that I could barely see in the dark, and he had shoes on that no Frenchman would ever wear unless he had to. French guys just don’t do clunky-black by choice.
The whole thing took about ten minutes, and I just kept talking to them in my nervous French and handing them documents and bags that they hadn’t asked for in order to keep them busy. I find that if I do these things with as angelic a look on my face as I can muster, all the while asking completely innocuous questions, the police often just get tired of taking things from me and answering insipid questions. Imagine spending an entire evening shaking down a guy who keeps looking you directly in the eye and saying “So, do you need my work permit as well? I have six copies- and the original is down at the bottom of this bag. Here- you can look through the bag… while I try to find that permit…. is this copy clear enough? Oh, look, here’s another…”
Actually, considering the state of my French when I am nervous, what I probably said was
“So, sir, do you need my tractor certificate? I have sex. Down at the bottom of this bag is a pack of small birds. Hear that? You can see all sorts of things down there in these bags. I will fly to St. Tropez in the meantime… How’s the weather? Oh, look, your mom called.”
They probably let us go because they didn’t have the facilities to deal with a crazy person. Especially a chatty one.
French cops. What a pain. As they drove away, Keef said “Right, next time, DON’T ‘bon soir!’ the police. They hate that.” Um. OK.
After that, we stood under the tallest bridge in the world, and all I could think was “God, what a pain in the ass. Fuckers.”
The rest of the drive was fairly uneventful. Days like this are when glam metal bands write those godawful songs about how much touring sucks. Sure, driving is the worst part of traveling, and touring is 75% driving, but don’t ferfuckssake write songs about it…. you just sound like a whiner.
Tomorrow, we are going to Versailles. Keef corrected me. Today was just the day to close some of the gap between us and London.
Today, we had a long discussion about an unnamed band who stole a six foot inflatable banana from a venue where they had played, then got into a world of trouble about it. The venue had been incredibly shitty to them, so they took their revenge by stealing their banana. Then, apparently, there was a whole shitstorm of the club calling the promoter and demanding that the banana be returned (What wouldn’t you give to have a recording of THAT call?) and the band has been forced to deny any knowledge ever since.
I am only telling you this because I think that the band should put the banana on the cover of their next record. The title?
“Banana non grata”
I crack me up.
Thursday, November 23rd 2006
Vicky took me to Stonehenge. That’s one big pile of rocks. They still haven’t fixed the damn thing either. No roof at all. See?
Sunday, November 26th 2006
and hanging with my dogs.
It’s good to be home. Yesterday’s flight was a breeze after flying over to the UK the same day I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. I even got a little sleep on the plane.
If you ever want to make a transatlantic flight go down nice and easy, grab a copy of the weekend Manchester Guardian. I didn’t have time to read the whole thing before wheels touched tarmac in Atlanta.
Customs was, as always, a pain in the ass and baffling at the same time. Walk through here, present your passport to this man, walk through there, get your luggage, walk through this checkpoint, present your passport again, walk past a bunch of bored and sleepy looking people who might want to search your luggage, but don’t really, then put your luggage back on a conveyor belt and walk through ANOTHER security checkpoint, removing shoes, glasses, belts, watches, wallet, cellphone, keys, and then proceed to baggage claim, to pick up your luggage a second time.
I am sure that if there was a better way to do this, someone would have suggested it by now, but lord GOD that’s annoying when I am tired.
Hurt my back a little bit hauling suitcases around, but other than that, I am not feeling any real effects of jetlag or all of the travel I have done. I could probably have slept all day today, but I am still on London time, mostly, so I was up at 7am.
My dogs are happy to see me, my wife doubly so. I have not seen the boys in Music Hates You yet, but that’s next on my list.
Thanks to Kim at Monotreme for an excellent tour. Thanks to Keef Duncan for driving us around. Thanks to the Hot Swinging Architects for making sure we had fun in London. Thanks to Vicky and David for being such excellent tour guides. Thanks to the Luminaire for being the best rock club on the east side of the Atlantic. Thanks to Parker and Daniel from the Low Lows for having me over, and Jeremy for graciously yielding his spot and teaching me all of the songs before I left.
Can’t wait to see you all again. We had such fun. Please stay in touch. I am going to go take a very hot bath and soak my old back.