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.