I was looking for a paradigm shift and found one
Tonight as I tried to listen to SPBT give an interview to more Germans who had no questions, so polite, especially when the guys obviously don't understand English (read: the answers) very well, I meet the booking agent, Jerge(?) from these German shows. He was very nice and talked to me about (what else?) how our label wasn't taking care of us well enough over here. It was the same for SPBT; the labels don't care about us because we're not selling records, and we're not selling records because the labels don't care about us. I am not really in the mood to hear the same discussion for the 1000th time from a guy in Germany, but I listen politely. (I want to listen to the interview going on across the room; I keep hearing snippets of it: Mike: "well, yes.. we have a lot of different side projects... )
We need a new booking agent for Europe actually, and if this guy sees us and we play well, it seems like a good bet that he might offer to book us. So I listen to him tell me the frustrating stuff I already know. Then I grill him a bit to find out about his company. We're getting along really well, actually. (Mike: "oh.. geez. ok. What's Twist about? It's a story I wrote. It's hard to talk about your own lyrics. ok. It starts out like this: A two-headed angel falls down from the sky, into an abandoned subdivision. What's a subdivision? Oh.. let me explain..." )
Jerge now asks me very politely if Surrogat can play after us; if we wouldn't mind opening the show tonight. There's my kick in the head. "You wouldn't mind coming thousands of miles to play here in Dresden and have us all of the sudden make you play first, would you?" All of the sudden I am electrocharged, infuriated, white-blue energy running up and down my nervous system as I stammer, "I will have to ask the rest of the band."
I find the rest of the band and ask them if they'd mind going on first tonight, my eyes burning. Their response: "Why??". "Come ask this guy yourselves," I want to scream. Basically what we are told is that Surrogat is from nearby, and it would be better to have the "better" band play 2nd. "Ok, are they very well known here in this town?" I ask. "Yes," says Jerge. "Then they play here often? (because we don't; it's not just 'down the road' for us to get here.)" "No, they've only been here once," Says Jerge. Well, which is it? "It is just better for the audience to have it go that way," Jerge smiles and I want to hit him. He hasn't even seen us play. I am fuming now, and say "That is fine." We think that Patrick (guitarist from Surrogat) has something to do with this, although he is really sweet, he is outspoken and very driven, definitely a Type A personality. He used to be a tennis pro and gave it up for Rock, but sometimes it seems to me like he's still on court, competing with music. We certainly would not have come if we were to be first each night - that was the first thing I asked about when we were asked to go on this tour. We are all using Surrogat's equipment though. And neither us nor Surrogat are getting "paid" for the shows, (shit, we're getting fed each night and per diems each day and we ride on the bus!), but I've actually heard them complain about it. I want to reassure them that we're not getting paid either, but none of this is comfortable for me. This is not how we think about music.
By the time we go to soundcheck, I am livid. How can this booking agent just assume we should go on first, and how dare they ask us to, anyway? I confront Jean-Luis (tour manager) about this and he seems to think it's a bad idea for us to go 1st, possibly because he sees I am shaking with anger. I just want to go first. Just let us go first. He says, "why don't you soundcheck and think about it." I just want the ordeal to be over. I am terrible at band competition stuff; we just do NOT do it. I finally walk out of the room because there are 3 other able-bodied and minded men to make this decision for me. We end up going on second, and it was a great stage. I think we played pretty well - actually got an enthusiastic encore for once. The order of bands seemed fine; we definitely did not clear out the venue after Surrogat. A good kick in the head to remind me what the hell I'm supposed to be thinking about. I did a back somersault on the stage tonight and nearly broke my bass in half.
Sun Mar 24, Berlin, Germany
Patrick is mad at me, and I think probably Mai-Linh is, too. Only Tilo, the bass player from Surrogat still is friendly, and I think the other two may be angry at him as well. I don't blame them for being mad at me, I guess, if they're going to be that way, although they are talking to Howie and Jim, and it's really those guys' faults that Surrogat went on first yesterday. If it was up to me, we'd have been first. I suppose I could look at this their way and see that we are all using their equipment and they aren't getting paid, but they are only 2 years old and they are from this area. It'd not be easy for them to get international shows if it wasn't for this tour. And we were asked to be 2nd. And we've been doing this for too long; we've seen it all. We have paid our dues, I'd like to think. There should be some sort of seniority and respect around here somehow. We're too far away from home to play first. I could see it if Surrogat was a regular here, but if they've only played once, someone is just trying to screw with us. We would never, ever try to pull a stunt like this; we've played 1st many bills when we should have played 3rd. So what?
So Mike, Rick, and I sit down on the couch, drag-racing laptops today and totally geek out, programming and yelling at our respective machines. I'm glad only Patrick was in the room, in a heated German discussion with a friend about 'headliners' and 'spiele' because if Darren and Dale were in there, they would have had a field day with us 3 geeks sitting and sneering at each other's hardware and operating systems and swearing at our own compilers and interpreters, trying to program and eat ham pizza at the same time. I had decided today that I felt so inadequate in my geekness that I had to do some coding, and I wanted to make a random set-list generator because I'm sick of writing set-lists, and I don't have a compiler on the laptop, so I challenged myself to do it in Director! Mike's computer got a virus right before he left so he's missing something that will allow him to test his Netscape search-engine that he's working on. Meanwhile we are sure Patrick is sitting next to us, cursing our names in German because we're playing after his band. This is the club where we came off the stage last year and I threw a bottle at the wall - maybe at Howie. I can't remember. There is Poster Children graffitti all over the wall from last tour - we must have been ready to crack up at this club!
I like the little park where the bus is marooned - I wake up and am told that there is a fascinating mall a block away - but most importantly, there is a McDonalds even closer. The bus is on a patio surrounded by a sort of art complex - this is a neat area, and/but it looks a lot like America. In the mall, Dale, Jim and I bought brand new huge belt-buckles- Jim's says "Norse God" on it and Dale's says "Mason." I had to decide between a beautiful blue one that said "electrician" or a logging truck one; I opted for the truck because I'm not really an electrician.
Dale and Rick writing down connections between the movies we have on the bus.
We are going crazy because we've watched every movie on the bus now, including Junior, the movie where Arnold Schwarzenegger gets pregnant, ("It's so funny the way he talks," says Mario, with the same accent), and we want to get more movies, but we can't find English-speaking movies in Germany. The one day that we were going to get movies was yesterday in Berlin, and it was Sunday, so the awesome movie store that Patrick told us about was closed. So anyway, what I came back from the mall to find was a bunch of us sitting around the table in the dressing room trying to figure out a way to connect all the movies together. The rules were, if an actor, director, writer, or guy who did music was in two movies, they were connected. Some of the movies that seemed impossible to connect to the rest were K-9 and Ace Ventura. The most impressive connection took place by Howard Shore, who connected "Philadelphia" to "The Fly" and "After Hours" because he did the music! I suggested that movies that weren't connected to the rest should be destroyed.
Another club we recognize from last tour, and I'm almost positive we played here almost a year ago TO THE DATE. Recognizing the Munich club had me very happy, bouncing towards where I remembered the backstage area was, but this club has both me and Howie holding our heads, screaming, and I try to comically run out of the club. Howie keeps wailing that "It's like a deja vu that isn't going AWAY!!" I think we didn't have a great time at this club last time we were here. I don't remember vividly, but I do remember crying for some reason. I had a bad feeling about this show which carried over onto the stage - I am really terribly spoiled or something now because I am starting to really hate the smaller stages. I have no where to go, I end up knocking over every drum mic there is on the stage, and I feel like I'm trapped in a cage, and it hurts. We play a good show tonight but I cut the show short before the last song, we get a good German encore (which is like a tepid American one) and play our last song. Now I'm totally disoriented and feel terrible. There is no water or coke behind the stage, just a BOX of wine and some beers, and some fizzy water. The rest of the band is in a good mood, but I'm feeling terrible.
Then Steel Pole Bath Tub Goes On and On
Lets just say that Another Rock Moment Has Happened. They play an incredibly brilliant show again, and the audience obviously knows and loves their songs. I start to feel better as their show progresses, but by the end, this band goes out and does their encore which ends with about a 25-minute improvised "jam" in which they play a riff over and over again until they and their entire audience become unstuck in time. It was amazing. Our theory afterwards is that they were channeling from the comet, directly overhead. They all crawled back into the dressing room after this and we stood outside it, staring at them, afraid to go in, afraid they'd vaporize or melt away and we'd never see them again.
Thanks for emailing me about the comet, everyone. On our way out to the bus we saw a clear sky for the first time in weeks, glanced up near Polaris and the comet was directly overhead, long tail streaking across the sky. Beautiful. Goodbye Germany! Tonight I listen to the song "Friday" on SPBT's newest record without crying, for the first time. I fell asleep.
Hitting the Wall
I wake up(?) face pressed to my bunk window staring at a blurry image of the most beautiful burgundy-red brick wall I've ever seen. Brick red, criss-crossed grey lines, with a window reflecting the most intense, vivid deep blue sky, a color the sky should never be. I stare for hours it seems like, listening to other band members toss, turn, and breathe, trying to figure out why the sky is that blue color, and why this image of a brick wall a foot from my face can seem so complicated and beautiful to me, give up finally and just accept that my brain can malfunction like this and be thankful that it's making me happy and not sad. I want to walk around this city in my sleep, dazed and happy. We're finally out of Germany and the sun is shining bright white light straight down onto Gent, Belgium, dirty blonde concrete and stone buildings.
On our way from Gent to Poitiers, France, we realized we'd pass by Paris and spent about a half-hour trying to convince Mario to stop at the Eiffel Tower. There were some people on the bus who hadn't ever even seen it! Finally, around 5am, after getting lost for about a half-hour, driving up teeny one-way streets and nearly getting pulled over a couple of times by police, a very grumpy Mario parks the bus next to The Tower, runs out and pees, something he's had to do for a couple of hours, probably. We run out and frolic underneath the Eiffel Tower ("FOR 5 MINUTES!") again just like we did last year. What an amazing place - you'll never comprehend how big it is until you stand underneath it. And it's best in the middle of the night, when there is no one else around. It's a total Poster Children thing to visit monuments in the middle of the night.
Everyone is walking around in a happy daze, because we're in France, there's a lot of food, and there are not many days left of the tour. It gets pretty long after a while. In the dressing room there's a huge spread of food - a million different candies, a huge dog-food sized bag of incredible FRENCH bread, tons of cheese and even some vegetables, bottles of wine, candied popcorn, cookies, and CEREAL, but the milk comes in scary little plastic containers that I don't trust. Rick, Jim and I are sitting with Dale, Destroyer Of Clocks, trading electrocution stories. "Nooo! I don't want to see the big white light again!" - Dale.
The backstage area is very comfortable, with more than one room and a great shower with good graffitti, written by the Cows and Grotus and others... There's one thing I notice about touring - it's a lot nicer when there's a good backstage area to relax in. Some clubs are so dirty that you can't even sit down anywhere - it's hard to spend that time from 3pm to 12am just sort of standing around trying to protect the computer from getting eaten by rats.
It's So Beautiful
It's so beautiful here that I want to cry. I walked around this city trying to only pay attention to the colors of the flowers. I had a long pep-talk with myself today, alternately feeling complete bliss and complete sorrow, walked miles to the McDonald's, was served by another woman named Rosanne who couldn't understand my order (all I wanted was a hamburger!), on my way back, I convince myself that I am in Madison Wisconsin and that everyone on the tour bus is just a figment of my imagination. None of this is really happening. I notice that my vision gets so clear when I'm the saddest. It's funny, I'm writing this later, and remembering that I was really happy, but I know I was crying a lot of the time I was walking around there. Actually, I think it's pretty neat to get those two emotions mixed up.
Tiny Club, tiny backstage area. The show went on at around 6pm I think; Surrogat says it's the first show they've ever played during daylight! I guess they are learning a lot on this tour. Actually, there seemed to be some sort of scuffle between Patrick and Mai-Linh backstage; Mai-Linh is getting really sick of Patrick stealing all her toilettries.. There is a discussion on the differences between men and women that Rick actually gets involved in. I want to steer clear of all that. I want Mai-Linh to feel better, and I try to tell her to ignore and try to transcend any kind of bad feelings she gets from lazy boys, but there is another discussion about power plays and exactly why people take other people's toilettries.
Another incredible Steel Pole Bath Tub show that made me stand still for 5 minutes after they played, and then, since it was about 10pm, the club started "hopping." Tapes of music that seemed louder than all our bands were playing, and French people were sitting on the floor of the club having discussions. I sat with Dale and Darren on the stage, listening to and making fun of the music that was playing out of the speakers next to us and in general, feeling complete bliss, like white light was shining out of me. I marvelled at the fact that in 4 days I'd be sitting on my ass at home in Champaign, Illinois, thinking about going to WalMart, but today I was lying on a stage in Rennes, France, listening to the music of starlight. I felt so glamorous. After the club closed we all loaded onto the bus (I tried to sell tickets to view the comet, but no one seemed very interested; it was hard to see, anyway) and Patrick and Tilo cried, yelling that they didn't want to go back to Germany. Poor things!