JUNE 6 - PIACENZA
Now we are right in the middle of ten consecutive shows in 10 different cities. At this point the little challenges begin to build up. The "tour cold", which is making everyone in the van cough and sneeze now … the back and neck trouble from sitting in the van seat on rough roads several hours a day …no laundry … the irregular food, and lack of green things or any fruit (We'd have scurvy like the sailors on Captain Cook's boat, if it went on much longer) … too much alcohol and not enough sleep or exercise. The tour becomes a vortex of getting up, putting sweaty clothes back on, getting in the van, stopping for coffee, getting to soundcheck, hanging around and eating whatever food is provided by the venue, waiting, waiting, waiting, and finally playing for an hour, then hanging around more in soaked clothes, and finally repacking the gear and going to the hotel. We have postcards we wrote 6 days ago and no time to find a mailbox to post them. Singing is becoming a challenge with hoarse sore throat and blocked sinuses. It is becoming a survival exercise.
We stop for coffee at a little cafe in the town. There's a girl making the coffees. She is quite friendly and has a cute way of speaking. She says "Cacao?" I look blank. I AM blank, with no idea what she means. She points to the chocolate shaker, repeats "CACAO ??". OK, maybe I do look old enough to be deaf. Well, actually it turns out that I AM half deaf. But now I get it. I nod. "Si. Cacao per favore!" She shakes chocolate powder on our cappucini. We sit outside in the sun with our coffee, keeping a watchful eye on the van full of equipment and guitars.
We get to Piacenza after a 6 hour drive from south of Rome. We are sitting backstage at a tiny little outdoor gig, with a bowl of potato chips. The makeshift stage is set up in a little tent in a weird rubbish cluttered vacant lot at the ass end of Piacenza.
Even the screenwriters documenting the endstage decline of Spinal Tap never envisioned anything like this. The dinner was dreadful ... some horrible wet cardboard-like pasta in little bow-tie shapes, with what seemed to be tomato sauce or possibly old ketchup, right out of the bottle, on a plastic plate with a bendy plastic fork. I think the promoters girlfriend probably cooked it. I am rather familiar with this type of fare, and it brings me back to the mid-90's. It's exactly what you get when you play shows at communist party squats.
We had to eat it in front of the stage while the awful support band blasted unrecognisable noise over a rapid polka beat at deafening decibel levels They call it "garage rock" here, and seem to think that the very unpleasantness of it has some sort of intrinsic merit. I feel very out of place among all this stuff. I wonder, since all the support bands have been like this in Italy, do they think MY music is "garage rock?" But why do they think so? I shudder to imagine!!
Art tries hard to get at the bar girl, who is wearing an "I "Heart" New York T-shirt, super short denim shorts, and long tall boots. He asks her if she'd like to spend time with him after the show. She points to this brutish looking guy built like a Coke machine with a crew cut and hideous tattoos and giant muddy work boots. Says: "He ees mine boyfreend".
After our set, there was a guy who had no prior knowledge of my work, who happened to wander in to the gig. Somehow, this random stranger was touched by it emotionally. He asked Anne how he could hear more, and take some of the experience home with him. He bought some merch, and sincerely thanked me. I felt a lot better after talking with him.
JUNE 7 - RONCA
When the van pulled up in the rain in front of the "Jack The Ripper" club, a flood of memories washed over me. This was where, 15 years ago, I performed an incision and drainage of a large absess on the thigh of our drummer Tony Horton, with a sharp pocket knife, under difficult conditions. It is where manager John Needham fell asleep on a bench while we were doing our sound check. It is where he later consumed so many margaritas that he was unable to drive the van the next day, having to ride in the back while I drove it to Pisa, and embarrassingly disgraced himself during the ride. By the time we arrived at that next show, at a huge anarchist squat called "Macchia Nera" ("Black Stain") he had recovered sufficiently to appreciate, if not enjoy, the girl-on-girl live act that followed our band on the stage.
The club manager remembered me, too, and brought out a large bowl of fresh cherries which grow all around the club. After sound check, we sat outside with the support band and ate pasta, strips of grilled pork, pork burgers, and chips. The support band is an all girl 3-piece called "Kill The Mayor". They look about 16 or 17, but they insist that they are 23. They were quite endearing, and while technically at an early stage of development, they more than make up for it in enthusiasm.
I ask about their band name.
Erica says: "We are saying zees name becuz ze mayor in aour town she ees a right-weeng." I look over at the club manager. He says: "Oh yes, eet ees true. Ze mayor is a terrible woman. She is on ze right. We ate zees. She as been mayor for many many years. Everyone in town ate 'er." I say: "In Ronca, do you elect the mayor by popular vote?" He says: "Of course! We are democracy! ". I ask: "If everyone hates the mayor then why does she get re-elected?" They look at me blankly then tuck back into the pork burgers, speaking rapidfire italian.
The kids there have a strange mix of fashion. The boys are hip-hop / skater punks with buzz haircuts, ball caps, giant baggy shorts with chains hanging ridiculously low, oversize Tshirts featuring skulls or obscenities, and skateboard shoes. The girls are mod-swinging 60's retro and generally look great.
Kill the Mayor plays. We play. The shows continue to get better all the time. The constant daily attempt to be even better than the night before gets you sharp. We are exploring new territory, changing things, learning more each night. It is a great place to be as a musician. I pack up my gear and see Steve and Art at the bar.
The girls in Kill The Mayor are quite enamored with the twins, and after our show they hang out chatting. They want to learn some english slang sayings. Steve suggests that one of them learn to say "I want to sit on your face". She is shocked. "But why? Eeet is a bad sing? Eef you say seat on face, heet mean you don't like ze person?" Steve says: "No, no. It's a GOOD thing. A VERY good thing! Just go say it to Art. Say: I - want - to - sit - on - your - face". She does. Art says: "Great! Lets go do it right now!" She finally gets it, and laughs. When the girls leave the guys, to go home to their boyfriends, she gives Art a sweet kiss on the cheek and says: "Eef I no have boyfriend, I would seat on your face."
JUNE 9 - TORINO
We got up around noon, got coffee, walked to the beach. The water looked really good but I did not have my board shorts handy. They were locked in the van, along with my running shoes, stuffed in between bottles of wine in a box, to keep the bottles from banging together with the g-forces in the back of the van.
We sat with more coffee at a little bar and watched the ships sailing out on the blue water. Some time later Art and Steve showed up and they did go in for a swim. We noticed that the locals were eating what looked like "Fisherman's Platters" ! Fried shrimp, calamari, sardines, little octopi. We had to get these Fishermans Platters, since our pal Suz would never forgive us if we didn't.
We drove up to Torino, which looks like an industrial Swiss or German town. It has the Fiat factory. They call it the "Detroit of Italy". That's a bit of a stretch, they still make cars in Torino for one thing. The club, "United", had some food and wine laid out for us. There was a plate of various salamis and hams, and what looked like white slices of turkey or chicken. I popped one of these in my mouth. Not what I expected. It was slimy and nauseating, like thick snot, and I involuntarily gagged. I spat it in a rubbish bin.
A little while later Diego pointed it out on the plate, said "You must try zees one. Ees "lardo", a specialty of ze region." Pure pig fat sliced to look like smoked turkey!
The opening band, Killer Klown, dresses silly in priests vestments and crosses, one dresses like a dead sailor, and one is a female keyboard player in mod 60's black and white frock, white boots, and playing an orange Vox Jaguar organ. They are a weird Italian version of a party band! They are crushingly loud. Weird up to a point, but they have nothing that compares to "Yoga Pants" by the Rainbow Vomit!
We eat pasta, thin beef slices and salad, and drink chianti, espresso, and grappa; in a room with vinyl albums plastered on the ceiling and all the usual "garage rock" motifs of flames, dice, devils, pin up girls …. except no hot rods this time.
The gig was packed, but we had trouble with the drums sliding around. The carpet would not hold. There was angst and the bass drum mic took some hits, to the consternation of the sound guy who came running up. The language barrier made things worse. The sound on stage was crap. I could hear only the bass, booming over everything. The soundcheck was good, but everything had changed. We struggled through a difficult show. There were deep fans there, ready to go crazy. It could have been a monster show, but technical gremlins prevented it. After we got back to the hotel at 4am I called my Dad, who was hospitalized this week with complications of his prostate cancer. The morning birds were beginning to sing outside the window when I finally got into bed. I stuck earplugs in.
At ten in the morning the housemaids banged on the door, complaining that we missed checkout time, and eventually opened the lock and barged in. Naked from the waist down, I got up to say "Buon Giorno! " She ran away.
JUNE 10 + 11
The next two entries are lost in the mists of time …. so we skip forward to the end of the Italian run of 10 shows in 10 cities in 10 days by unairconditioned van.
After the last night in Villadossola, we dropped Art and Steve at the train station. They are headed to Bergamo, to spend the night there and then go to London the next day. We hung on to Art's bass, whose case was by now falling apart and was being held together by packing tape, and Steve's drum pedal and stick bag. Diego drove us to La Pereree, in the mountains near Grenoble. It was an easy 5 hours in good weather, through incredible countryside, entering France via the Frejus tunnel. After eating roast pork with chestnuts, and drinking two cups of coffee, Diego got in the van, turned around, and drove back to Italy that night.
Anne and I spent the next week at her parents' home, gradually recovering from illness and injury, recharging energy levels, and relaxing by hiking in the mountains.
Art and Steve meanwhile went to a big Punk Festival in Portsmouth, England which was to be a 4 day long event. Some of their favourite bands were supposed to be on the bill, including the Vibrators, the Damned, and the Rezillos. After a brief start, the great majority of the poorly attended festival was cancelled, apparently because the bands realized that they were not going to be paid. This left the twins without much to do in the UK except to look around for girls, expensively.
JUNE 21 - PARIS - FETE DE LA MUSIQUE
We took the TGV to Paris, impossibly lugging 8 cumbersome pieces of baggage, including the very heavy Hiwatt amp head, up the steps and on to the train. I had bought a new box for the amp in Italy, and in Grenoble I got a hand cart to wheel it around. So we went out to look for a hand cart. We couldn't find the Mr. Bricolage which had closed down, and so we went to Entrepot de Bricolage, but that place was difficult and unfriendly, had only one type of cheap dodgy hand cart and no BBQ's. Castorama, on the other hand, turned out to be a great store, featuring a range of Webers and about six different hand carts. I got a good one with an 80 kg capacity. Castorama is sort of like a French version of Bunnings or Home Depot. Comme ca.
Up until now everything had gone easily in the back of the van, but that luxury was behind us. At Gare de Lyon we were lucky to get a taxi willing to haul all the stuff, and us, to Belleville. Art's bass rode in the front seat up by the driver.
The next day Art and Steve arrived in Paris. By chance, they immediately hooked up with an attractive lady tattooer named Olivia, who runs a shop in Gambetta called "E-XXX-otic". They were very happy to have met this nice lady who kindly offered to show them around Paris.
The next day, we did an interview and a couple of acoustic songs live to air at Radio Aligre FM. The Screaming Tribesmen were in town and they were on the show too. It was all friendly, everyone had a good time, and Chris Masuak and I did a couple of Radio Birdman tunes together at the end of the show. Afterwards, we went to eat at a restaurant. We had bavettes au sauce poivre vert, pommes de terre fried in butter and garlic, and confit du canard aux cepes. Some had cheesecake for dessert, but I just had a Noisette which is a double short black espresso with a single dollop of cream. The cream dollop is only the size of a hazelnut, which is why it is called a noisette.
Au Petit Garage is a small bar owned by an independently wealthy Greek man named George. Neither his French nor his English is particularly understandable. George is a big fan of Australian rock and roll music. He had the New Christs play at his bar last year. This time it's me. The one day of the year when all music and noise restrictions are lifted, is La Fete De La Musique which is held on the summer solstice. This is the only day of the year when George installs a stage and a sound system at the front of the bar, open to the street, and has bands play. On this day, everyone takes to the streets, there is a lot of ill defined noise coming from all directions. It is a cacaphony of noise bouncing off the hard urban surfaces, echoing off the paving stones, refracting and phasing off the corners of buildings. It is sonic chaos! Bands of all kinds are playing in the streets all over Paris. Walking 6 or 8 blocks from Eric's house to the venue, I saw rap, DJ's, death metal, russian folk music, salsa beat music with wild street dancing, and a weird bunch of about 30 women marching around in circles banging on all sorts of drums all at once. Every few meters it's something else and it all seems to blend in together in a great roar. People also set up BBQ pits all over the place and the streets are full of smoke and the intense aroma of charcoal and meat and cigarette smokers are out in the thousands.
We had dinner in a little cafe in the street but the waitress couldn't hear the orders because of the noise outside. Finally they closed up all the windows and doors. Anne's friend Jacques ate with us. He is a theoretical subatomic quantum particle physicist, who commutes between the giant CERN Hadron Supercollider and another similar facility in the USA. He's in charge of looking for the Higgs Boson. Having covered that topic to death last year, I had to ask about a time machine …. He didn't bat an eyelid, just smiled and said "C'est possible".
We ate a salad with chevre and lardon. This prompted a joke about "The Lard-Ons" but it fell kind of flat.
We were supposed to set up in the street but the cops came by following a complaint, and so the stage had to be inside, but facing the open air of the street. The drums had to be way back in. It had the effect of playing in a bathroom with one wall gone. The walls were hardsurfaced and mirrored. It was like a death chamber of noise.
There were 5 bands on the bill:
Dick Tracy Lords : middle aged punks
Road Kill Kattas : happy Greeks
Whudunit : silly party band with aggressive in your face unpleasant singer
Holy Curse : Featuring "Marseiiles Paul" with an American Flag "Wayne Kramer Signature" Stratocaster, Vinz with amazing fuzzed out thundering bass tones, Goulou from Orleans pounding on the drums, and incredible frontman, our good friend Eric. They did some of my favourites, like "Preacher Man" and they did Electrophonic Tonic. I was feeling pretty tired by then, but their energy and quality picked me right up. I joined them for their last two songs, "Future Now" and "Burned My Eye '78"
Then, we set up and played. The sound was difficult. It was very loud in that box, but very unclear. The monitors were inadequate to the task. I was standing right on the edge of the street, with a huge crowd in front of me. At times, there were 20 or 30 people on a flatbed truck off to my right, jumping up and down in time to the music, in unison …. it was one of the weirdest things I've ever seen from the stage. The owner George was getting his picture taken by Detroit native rock photographer Sue Rynski, and she was getting him to stand right by me. He is lurching around, stepping on my leads, getting between me and the mike, bumping into the guitar. Finally I lost it and threw him off the "stage". A few minutes later he is wandering back on the stage with a half dozen beers, spilling them, veering dangerously between me and Art. It was nuts! I The crowd reaction was great, they said it sounded good out the front. I was happy to have a good show to end the tour. Anne brought me a vodka and soda water while I was packing the gear.
I put the amplifier on the hand cart at 3am and wheeled it up the hill, crossed Avenue de Belleville where there was a crowd and police cars with lights flashing. Out of energy, we arrived at Eric's apartment on Rue Bisson and unfolded the couch bed. We sat and talked a bit, Eric, Anne and I. We had a couple of glasses of red wine. I was just so tired. Just tired. Not thinking about anything. At 5, the sky lightened and birds started singing. I fell asleep, but woke often, finally rising about 8.15 to pack and get ready to go to the airport. Every bone hurt. Throat was sore …. clothes were smoked out. It's an interesting life. It can be hard, but I already miss the twins, they are texting, and already want to play more.