Salaryman's Tour De France Part 2, Spring 1998
I survived another French Dinner
We were told that we were all going out to dinner tonight, and there were two choices of restaurants to go to; one expensive and good, and the other less expensive and less good. It seemed like a very important decision to make, so we let the French guys decide.
I don't know how many of you people reading this have ever been to a French Dinner, but if you have read my past tour stories, you'll know that a French Dinner is a very big deal. It is a huge festival, a celebration, and usually gets very surreal by the end of it, for a non-drinker, anyway. Maybe it's just the language barrier, but I think it's more engrained than that.
Tonight's dinner was just as amazing and surreal an experience as the others we have had and I probably won't be able to explain it. One of the themes was 'It Is Eric's (singer/guitarist and one of the three brothers in Les Thugs) Birthday today so he should get a free bottle of wine' ("we do this in every town and it almost always works"). We sang Happy Birthday to him (in French) about 6 times tonight. Later, the guy in charge of the restaurant came out and put a big foofy joker's hat on Francois, the tour manager's head, sitting two people away from Eric, while everyone screamed to put it on Eric's head. I am not sure if he just made the mistake and thought it was Francois' Birthday or if it was an even deeper joke. It just went on and on, with more and more drinking and merriment; the restaurant owner seemed to think it was funny to serve me things I didn't want, like more cheese and some wine, but then he brought out CHOCOLATE MOUSSE and everything was just wonderful! There was a whole other surreal theme to the dinner after that, with everyone passing around the joker hat and each person putting it on and making a sort of face and everyone groaning or clapping. Then my hat got passed around, the same game. And there was much singing.
Les Thugs break out into song pretty much for any reason; there are loading the van songs, soundchecking songs, songs for before you eat, they are always singing and happy. I tried to ask Francois if all French bands are like that, and I didn't really get a straight answer. I would like to think they are. But Les Thugs, we learned the other day, are a family - there is only 1 guy who is not a brother out of the 4 of them! Imagine that! I suppose that it's a bit the same with us too!
Even though I woke up today on a hilltop overlooking hills covered with dormant grape-vines and a beautiful little village, I was in a bad mood. Probably because it's freezing out and I hate the cold weather. This place would be a paradise if it wasn't so god damned cold out.
So normally I am careful not to use 'interesting' language around the French guys, but this morning, Francois (Thugs tour manager) came downstairs and asked if 'I have well sleeping tonight' and I just answered, "Yeah, Francois, I have well sleeping tonight. (snort) And I know, we leave at midnight." He gets midnight and noon mixed up sometimes and no one has corrected him yet because it's really funny. Anyway I think when I said it that way and laughed, he may have realized his English wasn't perfect. For someone who drills me on the French vowel sounds every single time I attempt to say a French word, he sure seemed a bit hurt. Europeans get so self-conscious when they say words wrong, and it's so funny because they should be so proud that they actually know so many more languages than us stupid americans. Anyway, then I made my mistake; Francois shaking his head in shame said, "I know, I know my English is very bad" and I said, "Oh Francois, you're wrong! Your English is very cute!"
Try explaining "Cute" to a hurt French guy who has never heard that word before. Curt did. "Little GIRLS are cute! She is saying you have the English of a little GIRL!!!" Curt cried. There was virtually no more English at the breakfast table after that.
heavy metal orgy
What the hell is up with Strasbourg? After being surrounded with beautiful scenery for days upon end, we get into our dressing rooms and there is a huge, 8-foot wide and probably 3-foot tall incredibly graphic cartoon scrawled mural of a heavy metal band having an orgy. At one end of it was a very deranged, misshapen (compared to the rest of the scribble) figure with a sign drawn next to it, "Marilyn Manson." This oddly shaped humaniod figure was holding two disembodied penis+testicles and had another band member's finger stuck in his butt. The drawing was two-colored, black marker with a bit of red marker coloring the "highlights."
I also noticed the Thugs dressing room had a double-dueling penis set on the wall near the bathroom, if you remember from our Superchunk tour, that is a prize that is not come across very often, and it's probably even rarer to find a double duel.
you need to know their language before you can use it against someone
There was a really drunk French guy at the show tonight telling us over and over that our music gives a message of violence and he thinks it should stop. He was really mean about it too; he was saying we were very commercial and we appealed to people who liked soccer. This is because there was a soccer game on the TV when we started the show. I got a picture of this guy and his friend. Gabba, who sells t-shirts for Thugs, and Francois were trying to pull us away from these guys because they were saying really bad things about us. It's terrible because in America generally I can really mess with people when I'm in the mood and I was definitely in the mood tonight, but it wouldn't have translated at all in French. You need to know the language before you can use it against someone.
Vulgar as this club was, we sold more merchandise today than on any other show on this tour so far. *Sigh*.
This is a really nice town. It was a long drive, too, and we got to do it by ourselves. I felt pretty great cuz we found the town and the venue all by ourselves, and stopped at a kind of crappy truck stop on the way for lunch. We had a crappy show but it was such a huge place (1000 capacity) that probably nobody noticed.
The best thing about today was the dressing room had an outside wall that was covered with windows overlooking a bunch of train tracks, but the window was covered with squares of clear plastic prisms, so there were huge rainbow streaks across the windows the whole day and night. That was COOL. Leave it to the French to find a way to make a view onto a grey train-track filled alley into a work of art. Also, we had some interviews, and those are always fun for us.
And I saw the most interesting thing I've seen in a while. I was marvelling at how all little skate kids look the same everywhere; watching a group of little punk rock skate kids talking near the t-shirt booth, baggy pants and shirts and chains, and goofy haircuts when all of the sudden two of them kissed each others' cheeks and called "au revoir" before parting ways.
Tonight we are told that we will see someone, a friend, in Rennes who we haven't seen for 14 years! I think I know who it will be already.
If playing for a month in France sounds like a prize, well, it IS. The countryside is beautiful, the people are beautiful, the food is incredible, and even the money that you look at each day is a work of art.
I will take this time to talk about the Thugs' road crew - the tour manager Francois is one of the best we've ever worked with, and he's not even OUR tour manager. He is taking care of us better than we've ever been taken care of before. Any question we have he answers or finds the answer for. Then there is Trobert, Thug's roadie (I don't know how to spell his name but you pronounce it "Tro-bare") each night he helps US set up all our equipment and spends a half-hour tuning in the TV set for me. At these bigger shows, he has been running monitors for us. He's there the whole soundcheck, and during the whole show. Tech (pronounced "Tesh") is the Thugs' soundguy and he's really great, and he helps Curt, our soundguy. Gabba, their t-shirt guy, has been helping me sell t-shirts. I have never run into people who have been more cheerful and helpful all the time in my life. I don't know if it's because they are just the most awesome people in the world, or if all French people are like this.
The Thugs are all even older than we are; they have been at this for a long time. They are a family (3 brothers on drums, bass and guitar, and another unrelated guitarist), touring together, and I've never seen any kind of angst between them. They are so nice to us. Their fans (We are playing 500-1000 seat theaters each night now!) absolutely adore them, they get 3 encores each night, and they don't get tired. Their songs get more and more furious and intense as the night goes on! I have been wishing to play as Poster Children just once with them, because I love their energy and I think they'd really respect ours, too, but they requested Salaryman and we are Salaryman right now. We are very, very fortunate to be able to tour with them.
Tonight's show actually went ok. I think I have learned to relax a little on stage and that's important. I realized that we've really only been doing this for a relatively short time; even though we've been playing 12 years with Poster Children, it's very, very different. It's like when you are used to doing a certain kind of exercise, like lifting weights, for a long time, and then you stop for a couple of months, and then you start again, trying to lift the same amount as you could when you had been very practiced. Your mind thinks you can do it, and knows how to operate your muscles correctly, but the muscles have disappeared and your body just isn't up to the task yet. You need to build your strength up again.
The trucks on the road each have 2 or 3 stickers on them, black and red, usually a 70, 80, and a 90, or sometimes as high as 110, and we are trying to figure out what they mean. We finally decide that the highest number is the speed limit for when the truck driver is driving on a bright, sunny day; perfect conditions, and the next, lower number is for when he's driving drunk, or at night. The lowest number is for when he's driving drunk AND stoned. Jim pipes in, "and some have a rainbow sticker with just a letter on it, and that's for when they are driving on acid." I thought that was pretty funny.
Our soundguy Curt has travelled with Man... Or Astroman?- an American band who dresses up in space suits and plays surf music- for a long time and tells us amazing tour stories about these guys. I would relate some, but I think they are probably on their website. Go there. We love the Man... Or Astroman? stories.
Tonight's stage is too tall; about 5 feet high, up to my chin, and the room looks like it holds around 800 people. It seemed like they were all there tonight, too. People were standing in a rows about halfway across the room from the stage, there was a huge empty area right in front of the stage, so right before we started I jumped off the stage and actually dragged people to the front of the stage. It was all so absurd! I actually put my arm around people's backs and walked them forward; guys with leather jackets, standing cool; anyone. I made two whole rows up people move about 30 feet forward. I can't believe I did that. We had a fantastic crowd response tonight, too. I don't know what happened! We got a "screaming" encore and we took it! The TV worked great. It was a lot of fun. I could get used to that.
I must be laughing a lot on stage again. A guy came up and grilled me on the usual questions last night, "Where are you from," "Champaign? like the drink champagne?" (the French people seem to love the fact that we are from 'Champaign, Illinois' ("then you were MEANT to be in France!" a fan cried once. After the usual grilling he said, "and why do you laugh so much?" so I answered "Because it is funny!"
I guess the real reason is that I cry a lot, too. But I try to laugh more.
I am trying to learn French. It's working ok, except the pronounciations. We are trapped for minutes and sometimes hours in rooms where people are yelling back and forth in French to each other, a great opportunity to learn this code. I will never be able to explain this to the French people here, but I think I could have a great French accent, except I feel silly making those sounds; they are the same sounds you make when you are trying to imitate French people. I feel like I am making fun of them if I use their accent. That may be the strangest thing holding me back from learning the language.
And on top of it, when they correct me, I always feel like I should correct their English, but imagine listening to a bunch of punk rocker guys running around, speaking various correct degrees of English, but all with gorgeous French accents. Would you really want to correct them? I wanted to tell them their French accent is so beautiful to the American ear, and each time I try they nod and say "yes I know" but I don't think they are understanding what I'm saying.
Francois has told me that he learned when he was a little boy that in order to speak English, you need to speak like your mouth is full of hot potatoes. French is spoken like you are kissing someone. (Rick says "That's a pickup line if ever I heard one.")
We had an incredible audience response tonight, although I really don't think the show went that well. We got two encores. I really wanted to grab the Thug's guitars tonight and play a Poster Children song for an encore, but I am glad we didn't. The owner of this club LOVES us, and says "This is your HOME here." We made him give us all t-shirts. It's a wonderful, small club, and it does feel like home, in a weird way. This is where we had our great Transmusicales Festival show.
Here are the Thugs after the show. I can't believe they posed this way! This should be their next album cover, I think.
I like to hang around the bottoms of the outside walls of castles.
Today we drove up an hour north to Le Mont St. Michel, a huge castle high on a rock surrounded by a beach. When the tide comes in it's like a mile difference, and the castle is surrounded by a huge moat. Everyone gave this place rave reviews, so we drove up there. You can see the castle from a pretty good distance; and it's supposedly the only thing around that can never be taken over by an invader because of the tide. (I'm really bad at this war kind of stuff, so if you really want to know about it look it up somewhere.) At any rate, when you first walk in the entrance, you walk up a winding hill for about 15 minutes past non-stop, door-to-door cheesy souvenir stores. It really made the place look bad to me. I bought a Mont St. Michel snow-dome. The prices for snow-domes and Mont St. Michel Baguettes are all different too, from store to store; the food prices are lowest in the middle of the walk but the souvenir prices are highest at the bottom of the mountain and lowest at the top. Once you make it past the stores though, you encounter a lot of steps and you can make your way to the top and listen to other Americans talking about each other. There is a nice garden at the top where you can help tourists take pictures of each other. A lot of the rooms of the castle look the same; Rick remarked that he had 'paid less to see more variety' in other castles.
For me, the drive up to the castle, to the top of France, was really spectacular. It is still very cold out here, around 40 degrees, but the grass is bright green, I want to call it "heart-achingly green." There are little stone farms everywhere, and in the middle of the farm-land, people dressed like they are in a Monty Python movie. The other great thing about Mont St. Michel for me was hanging around the base of the castle, walking around on the beach. You're supposed to watch out for quicksand! For some reason, I love to hang out around the bottoms of the outside walls of castles. I don't know why.
Iain Burgess, 12 years later!
Now, we drove 2 hours to get to Iain Burgess's house, who runs Black Box Studios where The Thugs recorded their last album. Iain Burgess recorded our FIRST Poster Children record, 12 years ago!! What a strange turn of events. The Thugs drove up to Iain's to record their side of our split single, and Doudou, the Thug's manager, told Iain it's a split single with an American band, Salaryman. Iain had no idea who we were. Then a while later, Doudou had mentioned that we were Poster Children, and boy was Iain suprised! "I RECORDED THEIR FIRST ALBUM!" he told Doudou.
All this supports the Rick's theory that there are only 50,000 people in the world, but it's really all made to look like there are more. Most of the houses you see everyday are empty. There are towns that have actual people walking around in them, and that is where those people work; their job is to walk around in the town and be seen. Rick has even noticed some repeat faces; like they're running out of people so they have to repeat some heads.
I remember Iain saying 12 years ago as we recorded FLower PLower, "I am going to buy an old farm house in the country-side of France and build a studio there." Well, in the next couple of years, we recorded with Steve Albini and up at Smart Studios, Butch Vig's place, and they went on to record famous bands like Nirvana and... well, Nirvana. While all that was going on, Iain moved to France and built this incredible studio in the middle of the countryside. He lives in the middle of a paradise, which he owns. I wondered if he misses the excitement and fame that Steve and Butch went through. I hope he doesn't miss it, because to me it really looks like he's won the happiness award.
Black Box Studios is in the northern middle section of France, built out of an old French farm. The band lives in what are renovated pig stys, and the studio is in the old horse stable. The whole place looks like something out of Architecture Digest, it's gorgeous. Outside, Iain has around 15 acres of farm land, he grows potatoes, onions, walnuts, cherries, any kind of thing you can imagine, and herbs. There is a huge bay leaf tree right outside the house. The place is incredible. He showed us the yard where bands can camp out near a stream in the summer. The grass is a brilliant color green even now, in the winterttime.
After the tour we saw the studio which has some old stuff from Chicago Recording Company, where Iain recorded Poster Children, Big Black and Naked Raygun, among other bands. After that, Iain made us this incredible dinner, and we sat and talked about old Chicago bands, catching him up to all the things he'd missed over the years. It was really great. I wish we could record there now.
And afterwards, we drove to Angers, to stay with The Thug's manager, Doudou, and at a friends' house. Everyone is so nice to us, always. We have a lot of wonderful friends.
You pronounce Angers like this: 'awn-JAY.' It's the Thugs hometown. We spent all day walking around this beautiful city- there are tons of college age kids walking around everywhere. There is a huge shopping area with clothes that are just a bit too expensive for me, and there is a castle and a really old part of town that we walked around in.
It's interesting because I was brought up in a place where when you have a vacation, you spend it shopping. I don't remember seeing a lot of monuments on vacations. The only way my parents would have climbed up the steps to this castle was if there was a tennis court at the other end. But Rick is from a museum-visiting family, so we were going to walk around the stores first and then go to the castle. I was afraid I'd find the castle really boring, but the truth is after we walked around a lot, I noticed that all the stores pretty much had the same stuff in them and it was all stuff I didn't need, and too expensive anyway. The castle was awesome; it was from the 13th century. It houses the Tapestry Of The Apocalypse, 550ft long by 16ft high, which Jim paid the money to see. Jim said it was great. He said he was going to buy a flock of sheep and an old farm house and settle down here in France and become a tapestry-weaver. We all noticed that around the grounds of the castle, there were deer living in the little space inside the enclosed wall, and you could watch them from high above.
We were teaching the French guys slang, although we don't really know a lot of slang words. So we were teaching them hip-hop words, and my contribution was something I remember Ian from Fugazi repeating over and over about a year ago when we saw him for a night, the word "WORD." I taught the French guys that it's something you say when you want to agree with someone. Someone says "Man, that was some great food" and you say, "Word." I had to pronounce it for them too. Unfortunately now Francois is using it as an adjective; "That was a very word thing that you did," and "That was a very word dinner." "That was very word of you." I'll correct him later. The other guys brought up another, "Wak," or "Whack," but we all disagreed as to what this actually meant; Jim believed that "Whack" is "Good" and I thought it meant "Bad." As in, "That's whack!" (that's bad.) I think we lost a lot of credibility with the French guys when we couldn't remember if an adjective meant "good" or "bad."pictures of the Thug's crew - and Francois
I have forgotten to mention a bunch of
things, especially stuff about our great new soundguy, Curt. The fun thing about
Curt is that he isn't; he talks a real lot. He has tons of stories about touring.
He has even started up a band with the Thug's t-shirt salesman, Gabba - they
have already written their first hit, called "One Hour Drive." It goes like
this: (sing in a basso voice in a sort of Ramone's flavor, with French accent:)
Gabba And The Yank's First Hit Song
One Hour Drive
We need some beer
Apparently Gabba And The Yank (that's Gabba and our very own Curt) were a band with a hit song, and they were together for a good 5 minutes before they broke up. It seems like the breakup was cause by an argument over songwriting credits; I think both writers wanted 100 percent credit for One-Hour Drive and the B-side which I believe was
We need more beer
The rest of the time since the breakup, they have spent reminscing about old times and talking about a possible reunion. I find this all immensely funny, especially since Gabba, tall, with wire-rim glasses and biker jacket, has such an incredibly dry sense of humor. And he keeps telling Curt to shut-up.