Monday, December 10, 2007

SLEEPWALK

Returning to work tomorrow. The maelstrom begins again. I’m in the hole. I need to raise a couple of grand really quickly. The winter will be spent in joyless toil, working all the time and trying to catch my breath and keep my head. Patience will require focus. Sleep will be a commodity. The few days of rest I’ve had have been severely compromised by my preoccupations. I need focus. I need to tread more lightly. I need to conduct my affairs more cautiously. I need to forget about females for a while. I need to write like a madman…music and words. I have been commissioned to write a 10 minute accordion and string quartet piece and it is slated to be performed in February. I haven’t started it yet, but I tend to work fast and feverish when there is a deadline. Despite (or perhaps because of) my status as a card-carrying fuckup, I know how to work under pressure.
I received word a few days ago that the tour blog will be published. Joan d’Arc of Paranoia Magazine is putting out a coffee table book of Conspiracy, Supernatural and experimental literature. It will also feature some more straightforward fiction. My piece will be in it alongside writings by Paul Laffoley and Tracy Twyman, among others. My good friend Guy Benoit is going to help me clean up some of my lousy grammar. It’s pretty exciting, but I can’t help but feel a bit guilty. I have writer friends who have toiled for years and have been unable to find a home for their work. The tour journal is the first piece of prose I’ve ever written and it’s already found a home. I’m not used to things falling into my lap. I spent years writing music before I could generate any label interest. I guess I’m more accustomed to struggle.
The writing has been a great processing tool. I’m considering writing an autobiography. There’s a lot of material there. My entire existence has bordered on the absurd. I imagine that it will be entertaining, but I’m worried. I spent many years drunk, on drugs or so deeply preoccupied that I lost awareness of my surroundings, so I’m not sure how much I’ll remember. The traumatic moments certainly register, but the rest is foggy and dim. I’ll need to have some conversations with people to help piece it all together. I will probably have to go on the lam after it’s release. It’s bound to upset some people.
I played a show at my house tonight. I didn’t play particularly well. I’m exhausted and I have nothing left to give. I need some new tunes. I’ve got a couple brewing, but they need a lot of work. I’ve had a really hard time talking to people since I got back, so it was difficult to have so many people in the house. I probably should have waited a few weeks to play again. I’m out of that mode right now. I’m in repair mode. Things need to change.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

LAST EXIT

AIRPORT
I’m in the Athens Airport. In about half an hour I will fly to Brussels and tomorrow I will fly back to the states. It’s the end of the line. I hate this part. I wish I could be put into suspended animation and automatically awaken in my apartment with a joint in one hand and a coffee in the other, but we live in an imperfect world. I have 4 flights and they all have extensive layovers. I’m already completely pissed off and exhausted and I have only been waiting for a few hours. I think I’ve spent close to 50 euros on cabs and beverages. Airports are loathsome vacuous gas chambers of consumerism at it‘s worst. They always fleece the fuck out of you here. There’s too many people and they seem to have lost track of their manners. I’m starting to lose it. Perhaps I’ve had one too many 4 dollar cappuccinos, but I want to incinerate everyone here and I feel completely justified in my thinking. I just want everyone to stop cutting in front of me in line and bumping into me. It’s not all that much to ask, but I guess it’s still an unreasonable request. The most well mannered people turn into hyenas in this sort of environment. I can’t imagine what they’d be like if there was a fire or flood.
I had my own hotel room in Athens, so I was able to catch up on my jerking off and stumbling around in my underwear. It was a nice little taste of solitude, but it was cocktease at best. I slept until 3pm yesterday and then spent another hour in bed chain-smoking and watching Greek music videos. Then I stumbled blindly into the streets beneath the Acropolis trying to find a coffee and trying to get my phone card to work. I went to the convenience store and got a cheap strudel-type thing and a Snickers bar for lunch. Then I met up with Micah at his friend Elisa’s apartment. We rocked out to some Rembetica CDs and ate a delicious home-cooked meal and found our way to the venue.
We played at a place called Small Music Theatre. It was a fantastic show, definitely one of the best of the tour. The sound was impeccable, the audience was fully engaged and the owners were really cool. We got called back for several encores and I sold the rest of my merch. It was nice to go out on a high note. If the tour ended after my tepid performance in Skopje, I would have left in a much worse mood.
It’s strange to be going home, but I’m ready for this to be over. Touring is really a younger man’s game. I just don’t have the stamina or the tolerance for discomfort that I used to. I really love it and I really hate it. Ultimately, I am a settler, not a vagabond. I need quiet. I need creature comforts. I need routine. I am a creature of habit. But... I also need adventure. It’s a paradoxical mindset, and I’m not sure that I have been successful in striking a balance. One day I’ll get it, but I’ll probably drop dead as soon as do. That’s generally how my luck works. At least I’ll die content.

HOME
I’m home. I’ve been in transit for 3 days. I shared a hotel room with my parents last night and we drove back in the morning. Christmas music is everywhere and I’m not ready to hear it. Laura cleaned the apartment while I was gone and it smells like sage. It was nice to come home to a clean apartment. I’m listening to Flipper and feeling like Hell. I’m trying to deal with the fallout of a sticky situation that I got involved in in Europe. It gets worse by the day and it’s followed me home. I bought 3 packs of Drum and they’re stale and dried out and they taste like shit. The airline sent my luggage to St. Louis. I went to pick up my car from where it has sat for 5 weeks sinking into the grass and looking like a beached whale. The clicker that opens the doors didn’t work. I changed the tiny battery inside, but it still didn’t work. I called the dealer and they told me to call AAA. I don’t have AAA. I’m stranded. It’s cold. I’ve been sitting in my kitchen for hours, staring off into space. I haven’t even taken my coat off yet. Annapurna is coming over in a few minutes to listen to me complain. I’m going to eat a Big Mac. It’s a little American ritual that I go through periodically. I’m looking forward to it.
It’s good to be here, though. The coffee is brewing and the nihilistic vinyl is crackling away in my bedroom. I’m back in the USA and the hate has returned. I want to disappear. I want oblivion. I want to feel something else right now. The coffee is done. I will continue this blog. The subject will become everyday life. I can’t promise that it will be entertaining, but I’ll give it a whirl. Goodnight.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

BLACK COFFEE

I’m in a hostel in Macedonia. It’s 4am. I slept on the train all day so I’m wide awake. I’ve been online for a while and after I grew bored with my email, I made the mistake of doing a Google search to see if there were any new reviews of “The Blind Spot“. Whenever I do this I inevitably stumble across something that pisses me off. This time it was some dipshit irony-rocker’s music blog. He trashed a performance Sadlers and I did in Worcester last fall in a truly idiotic and uninformed manner. Some people just don't fucking get it. I wanted to send him a response, but I decided that it wasn’t worth it. The problem with the internet is that it has convinced every ignorant hipster jerk-off out there in cyber-land that he is Lester Bangs. Music criticism has reached it’s absolute nadir in the electronic age. The legit publications and websites aren’t really much better. It seems like every review I read these days consists of a couple of glib sentences that either paraphrase the band’s press release or dismiss the music outright with a few snarky and usually way off the mark comments. Ignorance is bliss in the world of rock journalism these days. So, to my friend out there in cyberspace, I say this: I hope you go blind jerking off to your Cat Power records and I hope you rot in Hell. Fuck you, pal.
The show in Belgrade was great. When we first got to the bar where we would be playing and we were informed that there was no PA, I assumed that we didn’t stand a chance. The drunken chatter would surely bury us again. I got really discouraged and sunk into terrible reveries. Much to my surprise, the audience was very respectful and enthusiastic. A couple of women began adding strange vocal harmonies from the crowd. It was especially interesting during “The Way of All Flesh” when they added a harmonic bent to the piece that I hadn’t previously thought of. It came off a bit like those Bulgarian vocal duo pieces. It was one of those rare and spontaneous moments that I need to document before my brain finishes disintegrating.
I stayed up all night at the hostel because we had a 6am train to Skopje. I was gloriously alone until this gang of kids who were in town for a “future leaders conference”, or some shit, arrived and started talking loud and blasting the same trashy dance hit over and over again. It’s a full 24 hours later and that fucking piece of shit song is still hammering away in my brain. Micah woke and stumbled in while that idiot dance party was still roaring at 5:30am and we packed up and left.
We found a cab and loaded up. I noticed that there was no way to open the doors from the inside of the cab. We had been warned that the cabbies might try to rip us off, so I was wary, but we got to the station without a hitch. The station was filled with crusty and vicious looking people. Everyone looked worn out, dirty and destroyed. I found a café, drank a coffee and walked out, forgetting to pay. One of the counter people chased me out and yelled at me. I paid him and he left me alone.
The train was old and decrepit and there was nowhere to sit. Micah and I crouched miserably in between cars wondering what to do. It was going to be an 8 hour train ride. We had to figure something out. Micah did some hunting around and he figured out that if we shelled out an extra 10 euro, we could get a sleeper car. We paid and I sank into oblivion. I woke with an hour left to go and surveyed the landscape out the window of the car. We were far from civilization. Tiny dilapidated shacks whizzed by. We took note of a small creek that was literally hot pink.
We arrived at the station in Skopje and I almost got knocked over by the barrage of people trying to get onto the train first so they could get a decent seat. A cab driver met us as we walked off the train and followed us out all the way out to the street, repeatedly offering us rides, cheap hotels, etc.. We made many attempts to get rid of him, but he was incredibly persistent. He didn‘t give up until we were practically yelling at him. No sooner was he gone before another cabby took his place, hounding us and not taking no for an answer.
Eventually our promoter picked us up and whisked us away from the vultures. He brought us to the hostel where we would be staying and introduced us to his friend Alexander, who would be helping us and showing us around. I’m not entirely sure that I describe Alexander effectively. He was short and stocky and had a an enormous head of frizzy hair and a thick beard. He incredibly wired and constantly in motion. I had a difficult time understanding his English, so I did a lot of smiling and nodding. He eagerly dealt with all of my Primadonna needs. He was just the man for the job.
After soundcheck, Alexander, Micah and I went to look for food. Alex argued with the waiters at a restaurant that was filled to capacity, but made no headway. We eventually found a small place with table full of men who were shouting in cackling like madmen. It was a surreal scene, but I’m not sure that I can effectively describe it. It was just the vibe. There was one woman there who functioned as both a waitress and a cook Alexander must have had a 20 minute conversation with her about what we were ordering. I have no idea what they possibly could have been talking about, because the food we got was fairly simple (I had a piece of chicken with a small pile of raw onions and Micah had a salad.) Throughout our rushed meal, the roaring laughter seemed to be rising in pitch to the point of pure insanity. We finished eating and literally had to sprint back to the club so that I could jump on stage and play. The gig was OK, but the audience seemed a bit reserved. They were polite, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t into it.
The next day Alexander brought be out to look for a pack of Drum, but there was none to be found at little kiosks in the city. We ended up having to go the market place to the black market cigarette dealers. It was a crazy scene: vendors hawking cellphones, furniture, CDs, instruments and everything else you could think of. Several different Turkish pop songs blared out of sets of huge speakers creating a Charles Ives kind of vibe. Cars were driving down the narrow paths between the booths. There was much honking and cursing. We found a a group of cigarette vendors and Alexander spoke with them. They didn’t have Drum, but they said that they could get me some loose tobacco. A rapid exchange in Macedonian took place and one of the cigarette vendors ran into the bowels of the market place. Alexander told me that he was getting my tobacco. The vendor returned with a shopping bag. It was a fucking kilo. It was the most tobacco I have ever seen at once. Micah and I burst out laughing. “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” I laughed. “YOU SMOKE THIS FOR 3 MONTHS!” Alexander shouted, beaming like a madman. Too bad it will be stale in a week, I thought.
We bid Alex farewell. The train to Thessaloníki was 3 hours late. We waited in the cold and dirty station in Skopje with a mob of irritated commuters. The tobacco from the market was among the worst that I have ever smoked. I took two drags and felt like I had smoked ten packs of unfiltered Galloise. I threw the whole mess in the garbage and rolled the dried up shake from the few spent packets of Drum that I had neglected to dispose of.
We met a girl from Sweden named Molly Summer on the platform. She had been traveling around for a few years busking and crashing on various strangers couches. She was funny and very sweet. While we were talking, two filthy beggar kids high on glue started asking us for money. One of them couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8. He worked me while his friend stuck his face in a bag full of rubber cement. I was rolling a cigarette while he made a series of gestures. I handed him the cigarette. I’ve just given a cigarette to an 7 year old child. What the hell am I doing? I thought, as he eyed it quizzically. He handed it back to me and continued gesturing, this time more urgently. I gave him some of my Macedonian money, but it only made him more persistent. By this point the other kid, who was a few years older, started in on me as well. The 7 year old dropped to his knees and started kissing my shoes. I was getting a bit nervous about these kids. They were hovering a bit too close to my wallet and passport. I gave them the rest of my Macedonian money, a huge stack of bills probably barely worth ten bucks total, to get rid of them. It didn‘t work. The more I gave them, the more they hung on me. I physically pushed them off to keep them out of my pockets, but they just kept coming, passing the glue back in forth and frantically gesturing for more money. Finally, an angry dude in a red leather jacket chased them away.
We got a room on the train with Molly, a journalist and a law student. The conversation veered towards politics at first, but after the first hour we had digressed to trying tell the filthiest jokes we could think of. It was one of the more entertaining train rides of the trip and the 4 hours went by fairly quickly.
We landed in Thessalonica at about 10pm. After dicking around for a half hour, we finally found our bus and met up with some of Micah’s punk rock buddies that he had met while touring with Out Cold.
Micah’s friends brought us to a show at the university. We caught one set. The band was a five piece who was fronted by a very fetching young lady in a miniskirt and black leather boots. I had to hand it her- she looked pretty glamorous in the midst of a sea of crusty-punks. The band was great. They had a late 70s/early 80’s LA punk kind of feel, reminiscent of X or the Gun Club. I dug it, but I ended up sitting in this weird hallway for most of the set. These sort of punk scenes always leave me feeling alienated. Despite my punk roots, I’m pretty far from that world at this point.
The next day we got the train to Athens. Last stop. The end is near.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

DEAD CITIES

I’m sitting in a small café in Mostar, It’s part of small complex of buildings along with a bar, a theater and a live music venue. Surrounding it all sides are buildings that were bombed into rubble during the 90s. It’s a little oasis in the midst of a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Mostar has been a hotbed of religious and ethnic tension for more than 500 years and it got hit really fucking hard during the war. It makes the Detroit Ruins look like the Hollywood Hills. I wandered through several blocks of it. Old stone buildings shattered by bombs and tank fire. Carcasses of crumbling Tito era apartment buildings sprouting like broken teeth from the sidewalk. Bullet holes in the cracked concrete. Abandoned storefronts full of trash and empty beer cans. Trees growing out of the broken windows. Whole neighborhoods left to rot. Terrible shit went down here a scant few years ago. Unfathomable atrocities. Death and torture. Intolerance followed through to terrifying ends. It’s everything you could possibly imagine and worse.
A few blocks later and I was back among the cobblestone streets and Muslim-run restaurants. Historic mosques and Cathedrals surrounded by vast mountains that stretch as far the eye can see. There so much beauty and so much destruction here. The rebirth of the city seems to be in gear. It’s pretty exciting to see. The Balkans seem to be slowly crawling back. So far all my fears of corrupt police and crumbling infrastructure have been for naught. The trains run on time and we haven‘t had to bribe any crooked officials. We were supposed to play at a venue down the street from here, but we got stuck in traffic in Dubrovnik and missed the only available bus. It was bummer because this was the most highly promoted of all the Balkan gigs. We continue to kick ourselves over this.
I’ve gotten a second wind and I’m really enjoying myself again, but I’m eager to get home and start writing some new music. This has been an incredible tour but my mind is on home now. There’s only a few days left. I stayed up all night last night so that I would be sure to sleep on the 12 hour bus ride to Belgrade, Serbia which we’ll be taking in a few short hours. Dragan, who booked the Balkan leg of the tour has asked me to be less ironic on the blog, so I’m going to try to be less of an asshole and keep this entry on the positive tip.
We played at a small pub in Split, Croatia 3 nights ago. It had a large terrace that was enclosed by palm trees and other plant life that I am too ignorant to identify. There were several cats, a dog and 3 large peacocks roaming about in the yard and terrace. The owners are from Sydney and the inside of the bar is decorated to the hilt with various paraphernalia from Australia. We ate an incredible home cooked meal that was prepared by our more than gracious host, Jaika. Jaika had several pictures of herself hanging out backstage with The Stranglers (she gained some punk-cred points for that). She and her roommate Helinka were most kind. They helped us deal with a huge problem that I can’t discuss at this time*. It was way above and beyond the call of duty, and we are incredibly lucky to have met them.
The show was a lot of fun. There was a small appreciative crowd and I got some great feedback. A crusty old rocker kept offering me cocaine, despite the fact that I explained my complicated history with hard drugs to him several times. I think he just kept forgetting …cocaine ain‘t so good for the memory. We left the next day and took a train to Dubrovnik.
In Dubrovnik, we played at a place called the Orlando. It’s the only rock club in town and it’s fairly new. It was the first really punk rock venue of the tour. Micah remarked that it was comforting to play on a sticky stage again. There were a lot of metalheads there and I felt right at home, arguing the merits of old vs. nu metal. We ended up spending two days there due to the fact that we missed the bus to Mostar. One of the guys who worked there was a great cook. He rolled the largest joints I have ever seen and prepared a couple delicious meals for us. He told us a great story about giving his friend Mandrake root as a joke. Mandrake root apparently grows wild in in Dubrovnik and is a very potent naturally occurring psychedelic. His friend ended up tripping for days and he stole and crashed the car of some government official while he was high. He ended up having to flee and stay out of the country for a while…good stuff. The people there are young and the excitement is palpable. It was a good energy for my tired brain to absorb.
We went into the old city to check out the castle and cathedrals. The place was swarming with American tourists. We were among our own, for better or worse. It was incredibly beautiful in the old city. Mountains on one side and the Adriatic sea on the other. We stumbled over the cobblestones with all the other American clowns gawking at the old cathedrals and watching for pickpockets. Micah and I sang in the chapels. I felt like a tourist and I suppose that I am a tourist. The bus is leaving...onward to Belgrade.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

TOTAL WAR

We left Zagreb two days ago. The train brought us over battle-scarred farmlands and shuddered to a halt at the creepy and desolate station at Knin. Knin was one of the key cities during the Balkan wars of the 90’s. Everyone there has felt the effects. There have been a lot of improvements, but the tension is still palpable. People we met in Zagreb told us that Knin would be strange. We shrugged it off at the time, but as soon as we got off the train, we felt it.
Yug, the owner of the A3 Club picked us up at the station. He was a friendly, energetic sort of guy. Yug brought us to the club and when we entered the club a group of teenage girls cheered. It was a good sign, but I couldn’t help but feel that we were going to disappoint them. The A3 looked a bit like an army tent from the outside, but it was large and warm inside. It was populated by a couple of groups of girls in their teens and twenties, a few musician-looking boys and a lot of guys in their 30s who looked like they could rip our heads off with very little effort. The girls were smiling and giggly and the guys were drunk, loud and surly. This could go either way, I thought.
We ate pizza with the soundman and his Canadian girlfriend. The soundman was a microtonal musician and we had a long conversation about Harry Partch. His girlfriend helped translate some of the more subtle conversation points. Then I wandered around trying to be invisible. I was nervous. It was a nice place, but the vibes were strange. I couldn’t make sense of it. Knin was a very small town, pop 11,000 or so, and everyone came to the A3 to hang out. I could feel eyes on me. We were the first American musicians to play at the club, and the room was conflicted.
I played first. During my usual opener, “St. James Infirmary”, there was a lot of talking. I tried to kick it into high gear, but the PA seemed to have lost some of the bass that it seemed to have had during soundcheck. The sound was tinny and there was a lot of feedback.. I tried to incorporate the screeching feedback into the song, but it was difficult. There was a shocking roar of applause at the end of the tune, but the loud talk continued into the set. As things went on, I started to realize that the girls and musician types were really into my stuff, but the thuggish older dudes in the back did not seem as enthused. I started noticing that there were a few derogatory sounding comments coming from the group of men in the back after each song. I finished up and packed everything quickly.
Micah fared slightly worse. Most of the girls had left by the time he played, save for a small group at the front, who hung on his every note and word. Micah played a fairly quiet set and the men got louder. I heard a few jeers in English that confirmed my suspicions. I watched his set sitting on the floor under a counter and people kept bumping into my legs. When any of the burlier types walked into me they looked down threateningly. My paranoia raged out of control. Things were starting look potentially ugly. Micah finished and the men in the back insisted that Micah drink with them, which he obliged. I stayed near the stage trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone. I watched a couple of pretty young girls dance wildly while Nirvana, The Pixies and other music from my long lost youth poured out of the speakers. It was oddly comforting to watch them. Nostalgia whirled through my brain and I got lost in it.
While I was milling about, a short beefy guy in blue (European) football jacket came up to me and bummed a cigarette. I offered him a Drum and he told me to roll it for him. He lit the cigarette and it began…“Your music…” he said, “is…how you say…very, very boring…very boring and very bad.” I told him that I appreciated his honesty and that he was not alone in his opinion, but that I did not care. I am firm in my convictions. My music is for me. Anyone wants to come along for the ride is more than welcome. “This is only my opinion, of course.” he said. “I know.” I said. I had hoped that this was the end of the conversation, but he would not let up. He went on a half hour long tirade about how bad my music was and how I wasn‘t fooling anyone. He also said that all American rock and roll bands were shit and that the only good rock bands came from Germany. I wanted to argue that the Americans invented rock n‘ roll, but I was clearly talking to a wall. I didn’t bother defending myself or my much maligned homeland. It was all too much and I was in no mood. I could laugh off a few comments, but he kept bludgeoning me and I started to feel pretty low. Maybe he was right. Maybe I am a fraud. But there are MUCH bigger frauds who are far more successful than I will ever be. At least I have some character and style. I eventually came to the conclusion that the guy was an idiot, but I still felt lousy. I can only take so much criticism, even if it’s coming from someone with whom I clearly do not share a worldview. After a while, he mercifully left and I went to look for Micah.
Micah was at the bar surrounded by the men from the back tables. He looked a bit uncomfortable, but he appeared to be having a good time. They called me over to join them and I did. They actually turned out to be pretty cool guys. A few of them were Serbs and a few were Croatian, and one was a Muslim, they appeared to be a pretty tight group. They good naturedly ribbed each other. “LOUSY SERBIAN BASTARD!” “FUCK YOU, CROATIAN DOG!” they shouted at each other, “THE ONE THING WE HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT WE HATE THE FUCKING MUSLIMS!”. The Muslim shouted something back and they all laughed uproariously. The Serb slapped the Croat in the back of the head while he was sipping his beer and the Croat slammed him into the wall. This pantomime was all for our benefit. They were fucking with us. I didn’t detect any real malice, though. They seemed to like us. They wanted to hang out despite their suspicions about us. We talked politics and the war for a while. Ten or fifteen years ago they would have been shooting at each other. Things were on the mend, but the tensions were not quite dead. The war had clearly fucked with these people. “You do not understand and you cannot understand what we have been through.” the Croatian guy said glaring intently into my eyes. He was right. We’ve barely had a taste and we couldn’t take it. 9/11 went down and the entire nation curled into fetal position and cried for mommy. It was two buildings and a few thousand dead, scarcely a scratch, compared to what went down in the Balkans. Imagine having half your country reduced to rubble over and over again for years. It really isn’t fathomable.
While all this was happening, Micah got cornered by the guy in the blue football jacket. He didn’t bother him about his music, but he talked some shitty pro-Bush politics and Micah couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Yug told me that we could leave to go to the apartment where were staying anytime we wanted. NOW seemed like a good idea to me. I was exhausted. I went to rescue Micah just as the guy was accusing him of being a hippie. “I am a hippie.” Micah told him and we left, feeling drained and feeling like pussies.
When I closed my eyes to go to sleep, a rush of images hit me in a spiraling tornado. It was like I was staring directly into the ancestral memory of all human history. The images were unfamiliar and they ran like rapid fire. I used to experience this sort of thing a lot when I was a child. Every time the lights went out, I hallucinated feverishly. This went on until I was 9 or 10 years old, then it was gone. It kicks in every so often when I’m sick. I’m not sure what triggered this round. Knin is a haunted city. I like to think that I was tuning into some ghostly radio transmission. Message received…can I get a translator?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

UNLEASHED IN THE EAST

So far, the Balkans have been a blast. I have emerged from my coma of intestinal death and I am feeling bulletproof. We played a in Zagreb, Croatia at a place called Club Spunk. It was small pub in a strip mall just below the new colossal and ultra-modern national library. The club ordered us spaghetti for dinner which I ate at a table in the middle of the bar. The takeout place did not provide us forks, so we had to use plastic spoons. The results were disastrous. I made several unsuccessful attempts to twirl the spaghetti around the spoon and the people at the surrounding tables erupted with laughter. I apparently already had an audience. This was the pre-show. Micah played first and his set was again drowned out by the din of the bar. To counteract the racket, the soundman turned his guitar channel up to the max. The result sounded something like Merzbow and Mississippi John Hurt. He finished with a cover of “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World”. A ballsy move, knowing the history. I was determined to rise above the din tonight. I talked loud and I played loud. I cracked a few jokes. I played a very short set. The handheld cassette recorder tunes seemed to really floor them. It worked. I had a great time.
I joined a young Tom Waits fanatic named Vanja after the set and we riffed about music and books for close to an hour. He wanted us to go out clubbing with him and his lady friends, but we had to get to the hostel we were staying at by 1 am or we would be locked out. I had no interest in being locked out of the hostel. I remember being in Marseille in 96’ with my ex-wife and we had gotten drunk and missed the curfew at our hotel. We ended up having to sleep in the doorway. We got harassed by drunken Algerians and broke coke addicts all night long. It sucked. Never again.
We found the hostel and slept. In the morning, there was no coffee at the hostel so I went to a bar down the street. There was a slatternly barmaid and four old men, all piss-drunk at 10 in the morning. Croatian gangsta-rap blared from the speakers. No one seemed to notice or care about the music or the dirty half-awake American who had invaded their ranks. Over the course of my four wake-up espressos, the music moved from rap to bombastic nationalistic pop to heavy metal. I was curious to see where it would go next, but it was time to go.
We got to the Zagreb train station and found a ticket line that would have given Stalin a hard-on. The line was packed to the gills with scowling, irritable commuters. I parked by an ashtray in the hallway while Micah braved the enormous serpentine queue. I sat and smoked while discreetly slathering deodorant under the cover of my pea-coat. (even I have standards). A bearded, longhaired homeless man in an odd red vest buzzed me a few times, carefully scoping our bags and equipment. My paranoia kicked into gear and I was certain that he was planning to rob us. I imagined that if he made a move I would have to react. He’d be moving pretty slow if he got my suitcase, but the other stuff was light enough to run with. I went over it several times in my mind and tried to think of the best strategy. I figured a hard elbow to the nose or throat would do the trick, but if he got too far away, the other bags would be left undefended. He probably had an accomplice who would collect the real prize, while he absconded with the decoy. I threw a limb over each bag and stared hard behind my cheap aviators and tried to look menacing. He ignored me and walked past fishing a dirty half eaten croissant out of the garbage. I started to think that I might have overestimated him.
Micah emerged from the ticket room looking spent and confused. He informed me that the only available seats left on our train to Knin were in first class. We though about taking a bus, but first class wasn’t that much more expensive, so we decided to ride in style. Micah went back into the mammoth line and I waited and watched the man in the red vest. Micah eventually returned with the tickets and we went to a restaurant in the station to order some lunch. It was a dingy smoke filled cavern and nothing on the menu looked particularly appetizing. I was about to order some eggs, but Micah got an intestinal intuition and strongly suggested that we eat elsewhere. I didn’t feel like moving, but I had to respect his instinct. I did not feel like spending another 36 hours throwing up, especially without a cushy apartment in which to recuperate. We walked for several blocks and found nothing but bars. We stopped at a newsstand to ask if there was a good restaurant around, but we were waved away by the irritated shopkeeper. I gave up and went back to the station leaving Micah to continue foraging. I tried to find food on the way back, but the hot dog stand with the bored teenage girl inside looked terrifyingly filthy. I ended up buying a prosciutto sandwich from the bakery inside the station and walked back to our designated meeting area: the benches by the ticket office. I took a seat next to a toothless old woman in a sea of dirty bags who was openly scrutinizing a particularly disgusting porno mag with great interest.
I took one bite of the slimy and borderline rancid sandwich and realized that I had made a huge mistake. I thought about throwing the sandwich in the garbage, but I paused to consider the old woman who might be hungry. Now she was studying a page full of disembodied cocks and gaping vaginas all shot with all the love and finesse of a DMV photographer. She had her face buried in it like she was reading a map. She was into the hard stuff and didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thought. I felt an odd combination of admiration and nausea as I made the decision to not break her trance. A few minutes later the man in the red vest returned and they began chatting in Croatian. She was the accomplice. I offered him the sandwich to make up for the violent thoughts I had had about him a half hour earlier. He grumbled something in Croatian that could have been “Thank you!” or “Blow it out your ass!” based on his tone, and snatched the sandwich from my hands.
Within a few minutes, The Accomplice and Red Vest were loudly arguing over the contents of a garbage bag and he stormed off cursing at the ceiling, leaving me as her only companion. The parade of stylish and attractive young girls walking by sneered at both of us with equal disgust. Me splayed out with my filthy hair and clothes and she wiping the rancid coffee from a bag she had just dug out of the garbage. I am clearly moving to the wrong end of the social ladder. I need to choose my friends wisely.
The first class seats were a swindle. We had no more legroom than anyone else and we had paid three times as much. Thankfully, there was a smoking car on this train. I read a good chunk of Colin Wilson’s “The Occult” on the ride and was inspired to try my hand at the powers of suggestion. I failed. The attractive blonde-haired girl with high cheekbones on the next car did not come over and talk to me. My concentration was a bit off, I guess. Next time, I’ll remember to burn the sage.
The train to Knin rolled deep into the former battlefields of the Domovinski Rat (Croatian War of Independence) of the early 90’s. Stone farmhouses blown to rubble by Serbian tanks still litter the barren landscape. It would be a terrible place to be under fire. It’s flat and empty: nowhere to hide. This whole region is steeped in War culture. People have been left deranged from it. Skinny androgynous avant-folk musicians from the West are a bit out of place here. The men are men. They are like pit bulls: shorn and muscular, friendly but with the potential to turn on you. More on that later…

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

THROW A SICKIE

I’ve been knocked out for a few days. Food Poisoning…great cascades of acidic vomit have been exploding from my nose and mouth, followed by incredibly painful dry-heaves. I’m holed up in Micah’s friend Jaka’s place in Ljubljana convalescing. I’ve been asleep for the better part of 36 hours, waking occasionally to send incoherent emails and to drink water which immediately comes back up again. I missed my gig last night. I couldn’t move. Feeling better today, though. I choked down some earl grey and watched bad Brit-coms on BBC (Jaka has cable TV). Our gig for tonight fell through, so I have one more night to chill out.
Avoid the ham sandwiches that they sell on the train, people. It’s all too good to be true….