I was fucking around on the internet the other day when this flyer popped up, and I was like, “oh, hey, hello, I was at that show”. This was when WZ had freshly arrived from NYC. In my memory of the gig, I’m the only person there, although that can’t be exactly true. I do remember what was going on at that time, the musical climate, and there would have been very little interest in these groups. Nobody from my band went, nor did anyone I’d met yet in Los Angeles.
Hole was the early version, the noisy, screamy stuff (you know, this), which I liked okay on record. I wasn’t a fan of their later, commercial sound at all, and I’ve certainly never been a fan of CL’s (I’ve had conversations with her exactly twice, and both times there was a voice inside my head, repeating “she’s crazy, get away from her”), but, I have to say that they sounded so good, it was, I don’t know, transportive? She was a very good performer, yelling her guts out to that empty club.
Vitus (who I was actually there to see) were in their wilderness years (this). Their association with Black Flag and SST would have been useless at this point, and there sure as shit wasn’t any such thing as a metal-hipster in those days. (Ha ha, I just had a little reverie about good-looking, well-heeled kids with ivy league degrees and Pentagram back-patches, doing their stoned thing in Williamsburg, or, shit, in 2015 it’d be Nashville) They had that weird singer they had for, whatever, one album. He was Swedish, I think? They sounded good, but it doesn’t matter how much rock energy you dish out if there’s no crowd to cycle it back to you. I’m thinking hard about this, and I believe I was actually alone, in front of the stage, audience of one, watching them.
Spoon. This was not the popular group from Austin, and darned if I can remember (Jesus, should I say that in a Mr.Magoo voice?) who they were, although I feel like I saw them more than once. Probably some of that alternative, noisy stuff. Absolutely un-google-able. Oh well.
Here in New Orleans, we think of Summer as something to be endured. It’s famously hot (really, it’s the tropics! I can see banana trees out of my window), and this was the second hottest Summer on record, so you can imagine what it was like. (You can’t? Turn your oven to 125° and stick your head inside) Everyone who can leave, leaves, and this time, I stuck it out.
There was that horror movie/celebrity convention at the beginning of August (while there were some fun things that happened there, I was working, and I wouldn’t call it a vacation), and a couple of little day trips (options are limited, living as I do in geographic isolation at the absolute bottom of the country, where the nearest medium-sized cities are 5-6-7 hours away), but for the most part, I stayed put. I had a lot to do, and I guess I was trying to
punish myself prove something to myself, which is that I really don’t want to live here any longer.
Especially with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, stories about this city – the gentrification, the incompetence, the corruption, and the crime are all over the news. Suffice to say that, for me, the draw, among a few other things, was that it was easy to live here, and you could pretty much do what you wanted and be left alone. The benefits (insanely cheap cost of living, no rules, being surrounded by art and music all the time) used to outweigh the drawbacks.
Now, they’re intent on turning the place into a demented version of Portland, albeit with lots of violent crime and broken social services. I like Portland, but if I wanted to live in Portland, I would, you know?
Anyway, to my point. There were some bright spots, this Summer. I wasn’t here very much, and I was on Instagram quite a bit. A lot has been made about the death of the blog, or how blogs are for old people, and .. no, I just haven’t been in the mood to write, and the web kind of takes the Summer off, doesn’t it? Instagram is a good medium for me. You don’t have to think much.
There’s a very nice church around the corner from where I live, which has a well-funded music program. I have recorded, from time to time, the church’s brilliant and eccentric musical director’s organ recitals, which might feature the pieces you’d expect, by Bach and Purcell, but might also include works by Hendrix, Aerosmith, and Deep Purple. The paint-and-gold-leaf design on the inside cover of the church’s harpsichord took 2 years to complete.
I worked on a film crew as a sound recorder, on a documentary about a New Orleans brass band (It’s part of this group of films, which were made to commemorate the Katrina anniversary, I’ll post the movie itself later, if it becomes available to watch). After a long and very hot shoot in a club in the 7th Ward, I was carrying gear back to the van, walking through tall grass on a neutral ground (in other places, you’d call this a ‘median’), when all of a sudden it felt like someone had poured acid on my foot. I have fire-ant scars now.
I call this one ‘The Bleeding Heart Of Kenny Hill’. Hill was an itinerant bricklayer who settled on a patch of land in Chauvin, LA (way down there in the wetlands, south of Houma, even) and, in the grand tradition of America’s loner eccentric builders (Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Edward Leedskalnin’s Coral Castle, Leonard Knight’s Salvation Mountain, Jim Bishop’s Bishop Castle, and the list goes on and on), created a colorful sculpture garden, full of statues of.. himself, in various states of religious torment. Here, he’s dragging a cross behind Jesus. There, he’s being comforted by angels. It’s awesome.
My friends are incredulous that I’m still working on the White Zombie vinyl box set, the idea of which was conceived about two years ago. I’ve spent the last year on it, wrangling audio (I mastered the whole thing) , digging through all of my boxes of WZ stuff for cool artifacts (like, above, this Make Them Die Slowly shirt, which Rob and Sean gave me the first day I met them, and which I wore on my first tour with the band, Summer 1989), writing down everything I can remember (this was from notes I made for the box, and so was this).
We’re on the final step, they tell me, which is editing various interviews (not just with me and Sean and Rob, but Ivan, Tom 5, and various other people who are part of the story) and pulling it all together into something everyone can agree on. I’ve got the test-pressings (5 discs, plus a possible sixth, everything sounds really good), and I’ve seen the mock-up of the hardcover book which will be included (beautiful, packed with high-quality photos). We’ve put a lot of ourselves into this thing, and I hope you get to hear and see it soon.
Here’s the “3D gold with blood splatter” vinyl variant of the soundtrack LP of Starry Eyes, which is a very cool 2014 horror film. The record actually looks like this, but if you hold it up to the light, it turns into something more like blood blobs on a clear microscope slide. When I started this site, I was deep into recording and engineering, and that isn’t the case at all anymore. I haven’t made a record with a band in a couple of years, and I’ve somehow become an audio engineer who prepares recordings for pressing on vinyl.
The label I do this for most often is Waxwork, issuer of horror-movie soundtracks and scores. Not only do I work on music from movies from the recent spate of fresh, inventive, and quite scary films, like Starry Eyes and Babadook, but on many of the classics I grew up with: C.H.U.D., Friday The 13th, Rosemary’s Baby, Creepshow. Often, the music from these motion pictures was originally released in a highly edited form, or not at all, and I get to go back to the original tapes and pull something new together. It’s pretty cool.
Des Allemands, LA. Drive-through daiquiri shop, with a blue gorilla in front. What can I tell you about this? Whenever I spot one of these old-time (late 50s-early 60s, America was covered with concrete dinosaurs, alligators, gorillas – enticing motorists to pull over, take photos, and buy stuff) roadside cement creatures, I turn around and check it out. It’s always fun.
The drive-through liquor store has a long and convoluted history in the deep south. Here’s the current loophole that allows you to purchase a big slushy cup of high-fructose corn sweetener, chemical dye, everclear or 4 different kinds of cheap rum to be consumed in your car : the lid of the cup has a straw in it, and the top of the straw has a torn-off part of the straw’s wrapper on it. Thus, the drink is ‘sealed’, and you’re, of course, committing a grave crime if you remove the wrapper.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I’d managed to finagle a schedule that was nearly all art and writing classes. First period was ‘graphic arts’, which was a vocational class where I got to use a printing press, silk-screen t-shirts, and develop photos in a darkroom. My friend Dread Scott (back then, a kid from my neighborhood, now a famous artist), was a photography student at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was able to check out fancy, professional large format cameras – which he shot punk shows with. I didn’t have a camera of my own, so Scott graciously lent me his negatives so that I could learn to print. I was recently going through boxes of teenage stuff and I came across two prints I made of Samhain, from their gig at Smart Bar, Chicago, December 2nd, 1984 (one of 2 times I saw the band).
Es el final del verano. Gracias a dios.
I was at a place I hadn’t been to in years, a place nobody goes anymore, except college students and people who just moved here from Portland, which, exactly. It was pretty empty, though, which made it nice. A genuine dive bar, which is the way it is because of decades of use, abuse, circumstance, is a thing you can’t manufacture or purchase. There were just a couple of young rockabillies from Chicago, who were pretty civil but who reminded me of that fucking .. WAY that people from Chicago are. I can’t really articulate it : angry, conservative, cynical, but somehow not like how people from other places are angry and conservative and cynical. Anyway, I was born there, on the shore of Lake Michigan, south of The Loop, during a blizzard, and I can say whatever I want about it. Oh, another word I thought of to try to describe people from Chicago is sardonic.
I was at this place to meet H., who I know from the early 80s punk scene, but who I never really knew very well. I’ve seen H. about once every ten years since then, in, well, bars. It’s a small world, in rock, and we’ve kept sort of on top of each other’s doings.
Me : ” Man, we fucking worshipped those guys! They were definitely the hippest people we knew “..
H. : ” Absolutely! And the level of humor, it was like they were all stand-up comedians “.
Me : ” Well, — was the ringleader. That guy was so sharp, he could just take you apart. Speaking of, what’s his deal? All he does nowadays is Instagram what he’s eating for lunch, nothing funny about it “.
H. : ” He smokes pot now “.
Me : ” Ooooohhhh “.
We both looked into our beers.
So it was, this one time, that I found myself in a desert in the southwest, with a crazy person, shooting guns. Well, this guy was possibly more of a show-off than crazy. He’d at least take the time to say helpful things like, ” don’t put your thumb there, it might get ripped off “. We were shooting at an abandoned car, and as metal objects go, cars are pretty soft, but at one point I hit something solid enough ( part of the engine, maybe ) for the bullet to bounce. It made the classic tweeeoowww ricochet sound that you hear in old westerns and cartoons. We looked at each other and laughed. The day could have ended very badly, but it didn’t. I doubt I’ll shoot a gun again unless I’m somewhere with range instructors and very strict rules.
But here’s what I was thinking about : I wasn’t wearing earmuffs ( I know, super-duper-stupid, again ), and after the shooting session, my hearing was diminished by, I don’t know, 40-50 %. Loud ringing in my ears, which lasted for a couple of days, and the feeling that they were stuffed with cotton. What I want to know is, are military veterans deaf? Gunshots are very, very loud, and the soldiers of today use hearing protection, but it doesn’t seem like they ever used to. CJ Ramone told me that he’d suffered significant hearing loss – not from, as you’d assume, playing bass with the Ramones ( have you ever stood in front of a blaring Marshall 100W full-stack – the old kind, from before there was such a thing as a master-volume circuit, which you had to turn up all the way to get the right kind of sound? It’ll actually make you sick if you’re not used to it ), but from being on a Marine machine gun squad. ” You can’t wear earplugs? “ I asked. ” No, you can’t, because you have to be able to hear orders “ he said.
Usually the gratuitous photos are from some distant era, so here’s a recent one. My hair’s longer now, about the length it was when it started to dread up, back in 1990. I guess I’ll let it grow. I’m not sure why. Because I can, I guess. I have a lot of hair.
I keep seeing people with these 1942-Luftwaffe-pilot-shaved-around-the-sides haircuts, and while I can imagine how comfortable that would be, in Summer, my main reaction is ” gosh, that’s so 2013 “. Which is what happens, I suppose, when you’ve seen a lot of come and a lot of go. I don’t have a haircut, so you can’t pin a time on me.
I like my beard. It causes people to relate to me as an adult male, instead of as a perpetual adolescent. Which is a big difference. Hippies assume I’m on their team, which bugs me ( did you not notice that I am not wearing sandals, or bright colors, or a t-shirt with a mushroom on it? – or that when you started with your no, really, the Grateful Dead actually do have some cool songs thing, I tuned you out ? ), until I think about my general viewpoint. I am, for the most part, on that team. Just please quit it with the Bob Marley shirts, and that dancing. Jesus.
I see these dudes with beards, 20-somethings, trying too hard – you know, expensive reissue boots, riding a vintage motorcycle, or a super tall bicycle, or rocking the little hat and the tweed vest while serving coffee – and the beards are, like, bursting off of their faces, like, I can’t see your mouth, dude, and there’s a bear attached to it. I do not want that, I think to myself, and cut inches off, trim my moustache, and then, well, that’s wimpy, I think to myself, and I let it grow again. Always in flux.
Shaking off the sickness now. It made its way from my head to my lungs and on out in 2-3 days, but I’m still tired. 6:30AM lobby call ( guy comes from the bus station on a moped to get you, you get on the back and balance your suitcase and backpack on your lap and try not to fall off as he speeds around corners through puddles – an experience that wakes you up real fast ) yesterday for a 7AM bus back to Phnom Penh, about a 6-hour ride.
I can’t really convey how crazy PP is – you step off the bus and you’re swept up in a stream of people and motos and tuk-tuk drivers trying to get your attention. Your day consists of saying ” ah TAY aw KOHN ” ( ” no thank you ” ) over and over, literally hundreds of times, to guys who want to drive you around. Sometimes they keep the pitch up after you say no, but they’re never dicks about it.
Every single step you take in this city, you have to look around you carefully first, as a motorbike is likely to appear exactly where you’re about to walk. Yes, on the sidewalks as well.
I got a cheap hotel a couple of blocks away from the bus station and I knew I could walk it, but that it would be tough, because of the crazy, broken pavement, and the crowds, and the wacky numbering schemes of the streets ( and the fact that you generally can’t walk on the sidewalks, because they’re full of parked motos and people sitting and eating on little plastic stools ). Plus, there was a huge fire somewhere and screaming cops and soldiers were trying to control traffic, and people were running this way and that, attempting to get a look.
After I checked in, I walked around the block. I think I told you that I met and hung out with a guy from a band here, Cambodian Space Project? In the shopping mall across the street from my hotel, they have their own store, where they sell records, posters, t-shirts and vintage junk guitars and stuff. Can you imagine an American band having their own cool little shop? Well, Dead Moon do, or did, I guess, but I can’t think of anyone else.
I ate, and I knew that I needed to get moving on organizing the next part of my trip, but I was bone-tired and I went to bed at around 4PM, woke up at 10PM, and said to myself, “ Motherfucker, no. Sleep. Full hibernation-mode, and no feeling guilty about it either “ – and slept until about 9 this morning. So I have some strength back now. It’s Sunday, but everything seems to always be open, so I’m going to go to some travel agencies and see what’s up.
Thursday, December 6, 2012 • on the 12-hour train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai – somewhere in the middle of it, but I’m trying not to look at the clock. There are some Swedish dudes across the aisle from me, watching South Park and Arrested Development on a laptop, alternately both plugged into an iPod, making guitar faces, and I wish I knew what they were listening to. They’re nice guys, but they stink. They smell like dirty balls.
There’s a German couple ( she’s much taller than he is, and that makes me uncomfortable, make of it what you will ) behind me with a kid who’s 3 or 4. He’s singing little songs to himself and he’s got a doll, a full-on babydoll – so I guess his parents are doing the non-gendered toy thing, which is cool.
There’s a Thai family in front of me who have a 2-year old ( I’m guessing – she can walk, but she’s still sucking on a pacifier ) who is playing a learning game on her Mom’s iPad ( she has two Moms : the iPad belongs to her butch, shaved-headed Mom, not her lipstick Mom – her lipstick Mom has a dolphin tattoo on her wrist, and I wonder, what is it with lesbians and dolphins? It is seemingly universal ) and she is deftly pinching and expanding and toggling through windows, and the game’s in English too. Watching her doing it is kind of mesmerizing.
We fly into Heathrow. Although the London Olympics are in full swing, the line moves quickly and we are processed efficiently by polite, cheerful professionals in a sleek, modern setting – the opposite of the typical American airport experience. S. takes off for Germany, and P. and L. and I get on a tour bus, a nice one with leather upholstery and an affable British driver. Did I win the lottery?, I think. I’m on tour and I don’t even have to work!
I tell my friends that I’m going to be spending a few days in Northern Ireland, living on a bus with some other dudes, no hotel rooms, and the reaction is either of polar opposites. People who are in bands/ crew/ staff, who enjoy touring, curse me for my charmed life. On the other hand, to those who don’t like touring or traveling ( which, by the way, are two different things : I’ve been to Australia, yes, but I wasn’t hiking in kangaroo country or, you know, enjoying myself, I was backstage, worrying about weird-sounding rented speaker cabinets and my chops ), this plan sounds, at the very least, distasteful.
We drive through the night and onto a ferry at dawn, and soon we’re parked in downtown Belfast, which is kind of similar to cities I’ve been to in northern England and Scotland. It’s grey and drizzly and we lock the bus and hit the street.
P: ” So, what do you guys want to d- ”
Me: ” Guinness. ”
P: ” But should we maybe eat someth- – ”
Me: ” GUINNESS. ”
L. agrees. Guinness.
If you’re into beer or have ever talked to somebody from Ireland about this particular subject, you’ll know that Guinness Stout does not travel well, and that, additionally, the stuff we get in the U.S. is pasteurized. That’s right, they BOIL it – and there’s a protocol to properly pulling a pint which must be followed to the letter, often not done so in America, absolutely done so here, under threat of, probably, lynching. I hoisted a few in Dublin when WZ played there in the 90s ( a gig apparently attended by just about everyone I’m meeting in Belfast, and one which I am roundly congratulated on — I do remember the show being totally out of control, in a good way ), and I’m excited to have another opportunity. I vow to drink as much Guinness as I can.
P. takes us to Kelly’s Cellars ( imagine an ancient Irish pub, and you’re probably pretty close to what this place actually looks like), and explains the situation. This tavern, he says, has been strongly linked to the Catholic, anti-British movement for over 200 years, and was a meeting place for the IRA in the 1970s. There are a couple of older hard men ( the current men’s hairstyle in Northern Ireland is none, as in, nearly every guy I see has a shaved head, which gives me the constant, subtle feeling that thuggery is imminent, and I guess that’s the idea ) at the bar who look like they could eat skinheads for lunch, but everybody’s ( we aren’t the only ones drinking in the morning ) friendly and in a good mood.
” Guys, hey, could you order? I don’t want anyone to hear me talk. ” whispers P. Why’s that?, we want to know, and he explains that although he’s from a Catholic ( Nationalist, assumedly ) family, the town he grew up in, about 20 minutes away, is a Protestant ( Unionist ) one, and if the people in here hear his accent, they will assume he’s Protestant and we’ll be lucky to get away with a mere beating. We wait patiently for, and finally receive, pints, and I’m drinking a Guinness in Ireland, and it tastes like, I don’t know – angels? Clouds? It is very, very good. I reflect on P.’s childhood, going to school with Protestant kids. Things must have been deeply shitty for him, although he is a jolly, wise-cracking guy and gives no indication of it. This place was a warzone not very long ago, but you’d never know it from talking to these friendly, frequently hilarious people.
( later ) We go to where P. is from, and if you have a picture in your head of what farmland in Ireland looks like ( bright green fields, moss-covered stone walls, ancient houses ), well, that’s exactly what’s going on here. It is so pretty that it doesn’t look real to me as much as it seems like something a movie director ordered up ( “ gimme an Irish countryside, and make sure it’s extra-charming “ ). The town, on the other hand, seems vaguely malevolent. Everybody I meet on this trip is Catholic, and I start thinking of Irish Catholics as ‘our team’ ( it’s stupid, but such is the fucked-up power of the political situation here that I can’t help it ), and there are British flags hanging from every window, and Loyalist murals ( we note one of Iron Maiden’s Eddie as The Trooper ), and, on our way to the chip shop ( P.’s been dreaming about this moment for months ), we pass an honest-to-god Loyalist drum-and-fife parade. It shouldn’t be anything more than a curiosity to me, but it’s kind of unsettling.
( still later ) Towards the end of the day, I’m still grappling with a nasty hangover, and P. has the bright idea of getting a local - I mean, he’s from this neighborhood, and he stops and chats with almost everyone who passes by – taxi driver to take us on a tour, which turns out to be one of the best ( definitely not ‘fun’, but definitely best ) things about this trip. Here’s the housing project with the bunker on the roof where British soldiers got choppered in, there are the big gates used to lock down the neighborhoods at night. Here’s the Peace Wall, which separates the Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods ( things are quiet now, but the houses that back up on it still have chicken wire screens to prevent people on the other side from throwing burning stuff over ), there’s a fence covered with the names and photographs of people killed during The Troubles. There are a lot of names, and we take a good, long look.
Manila, Philippines. You might think, if you’ve taken a taxi in New York City, that you’ve experienced a crazy hell-ride, but you don’t know what that really means unless you’ve been in a cab in one of the anarchic mega-cities of the future, like Manila.
The driver swerves wildly and repeatedly to avoid hitting people crossing the street, and my walk the day before ( a sweaty 5-mile trudge* up Taft Ave., across McArthur Bridge, up Rizal Ave., and right on Aurora to the entrance to the Chinese Cemetery ) showed me why pedestrians are all over the roads : what sidewalks there are, are completely packed with parked jeepneys, cars, trucks, and motorbikes, so that you’re forced to walk in the gutter. You get used to breathing dust and diesel fumes with vehicles whipping by six inches from you, or you don’t walk anywhere. There are few crosswalks, and the traffic never fucking stops, and if you want to cross the street, you’d better run.
He is young and slightly rakish ( ‘rakish’, here, meaning Oakleys and a bootleg Ed Hardy t-shirt ), but there’s a rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, and he’s very polite, like everyone here. Mass on Sundays and a baby at home, at least one, I betcha.
He puts on a CD as soon as I get in the car.
Me: Is this Linkin Park?
Him: Yes .. do you like this music?
Me: Um, sure. You? ( it seems rude to say anything negative, and I don’t know how to communicate something diplomatic like“ it’s not my cup of tea “ )
Him: Not really. I like Bad Religion!
Me: ( smiling ) Oh, you’re into punk?
( he pauses, not knowing what I mean )
Him: I also like Bon Jovi!
Me: Oh, so, you enjoy music that has loud electric guitars?
Him: Very much!
Me: Me too, I like guitars very much!
I spend the rest of the trip gripping the upholstery tightly and contemplating what our music sounds like, and means to, people from other cultures. I try to imagine what rock n’ roll would sound like to me if I hadn’t ever heard it before, and what I’d make of the distinctions between different styles. Not much, probably.
These aren’t taxis, they’re jeepneys ( learn about jeepneys here ), and although I was intrigued ( I’m not sure why shiny sheet-metal with hand-machined chrome parts isn’t standard elsewhere; these things have a sort of 1940s aircraft-aluminum look to them, and it’s wicked-cool ), I didn’t work up the nerve to ride in one.
* To put it in perspective for New Orleans people : imagine that it’s August in the Dirty Dirty., and you’re walking from the Uptown Whole Foods to Molly’s on Decatur, sucking on black fumes and nearly getting hit by a car every 30 seconds. I swear, if I wasn’t hardened to the weather in the Deep South, I would’ve wilted like a little flower. I managed to figure out how to take the Metro back, thank god.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 • I got up early and took a walk, which is clearly not something people do here, this city isn’t designed for it. It’s nice here, slightly chilly and very dry ( my hair changes with the weather, it’s straighter and less frizzy ) – less crowds on the strip than I remember, and more down-on-their-luck people ( most of them look like they never had any luck at all ) and aggressive panhandlers, roasted by the sun, drinking, shit-talking at your back for ignoring them, all the way ‘til you’re out of earshot.
Also, little old Chinese guys, who look like farmers or factory workers but who you know are millionaires. They are well catered-to : right when I got here I had a big bowl of congee with preserved duck egg, which was nice.
It seems generally less sleazy than before, and hardly anyone’s smoking, but also I haven’t been down to the original part of the strip, where Circus Circus is.
I like the artificial environments a lot, the ones with cobblestones and painted skies that change from day to night. I like padding down endless, silent hotel corridors. I like the insane, vomit-colored carpets and the sealed-off-from-the-sunlight weirdness of the gambling areas.
Here’s a letter I sent today.
Dear Mr. Bragg,
This is a note to thank you for sending me my wallet.
I was on an out-of-the-country trip for two weeks with some friends from New Orleans, and we got back on August 29th, which was exactly when Hurricane Isaac was hitting our town. We flew into Tampa, and on landing there were informed that all flights to New Orleans were canceled and that there was nothing anyone could do about it.
The guys I was with had wives or girlfriends in the city and were anxious to get back to make sure they were safe, so when I suggested that we should maybe sit tight in Florida for a day or two to see what would happen, they were all heavily resistant to the idea. We ended up renting a couple of cars and driving directly into the storm at the exact same time many people were evacuating.
I’m sure you remember how bad the weather got. By the time we hit Mississippi, it was pitch-black and the rain made it nearly impossible to see anything. We were in a big, heavy American car ( a Crown Victoria, so at least the ride was nice and smooth, at first, anyway ), but the fierce wind was making us sway all over the road. We stopped at the welcome center for about an hour and finally decided that since there were hardly any other cars on the road, we might stand a chance of making it if we were very careful and went slowly. I guess my wallet got mixed up with the trash we threw out before we left.
We made it home in the middle of the night. There was a curfew, and the only vehicles on the road were police cars and power company cherry-pickers, but we never got stopped – I guess because of the Crown Vic, everybody assumed we were cops. We couldn’t go into the city, where we live, so we stopped at one of the guys’ parents’ house in the suburbs. It was a crazy scene there, with blown-down trees in the street and roof shingles everywhere, and when we started unloading the car in the darkness ( nobody had power ), I realized my wallet was gone.
I went through Hurricane Katrina, and some lesser storms as well, and most people I know have too, so, to us, the next couple of days after Isaac were more inconvenient than dangerous or scary. There was some property damage, and a lot of people had no power for days, but I don’t know anyone who got hurt or lost their home or anything like that. Some restaurants were even open, so people did what they always do in New Orleans, which is eat, drink, and celebrate. In fact, since the only thing to do was hang out, I probably would have had fun during that time – but I was too busy being angry at myself for losing my wallet, and I had no way of getting any cash beyond the little I still had in my suitcase from the trip.
Anyway, thank you for your kindness in sending it back to me. You shined a new light on what has been an otherwise pretty crappy month.
Goodnight, Moscow. Tomorrow, we fly to Anapa, the Black Sea resort where the final show of the tour will take place.
” Moscow is capitol city, is not actually real Russia “, Andrey tells me. ” Tomorrow, you will see real Russia .” We board an Aeroflot jet ( I notice that the airline still uses their Soviet-era logo, with the hammer and sickle ) and fly into a regional airport, the kind of place where you get off the plane, walk across the tarmac, and you’re in the parking lot. There are no carts, and I find myself humping gear, which I kind of enjoy. There are certain things I unexpectedly miss about touring, and one of them is the spirit of camaraderie you get when you have a group of people and a pile of equipment which must be moved, and each person goes for the heaviest thing. Which is usually the drum hardware case. And a curse upon you, drummers, for that.
We pile into a couple of vans and take off, and this is, in fact, the Russia of my imagination : farmland as far as the eye can see, dust, fields full of melons and grapes, cracked pavement, the occasional battered Soviet bus stop ( Do you know about Soviet bus stops? Check it out ). This is the Real Russia, the country no foreign army could conquer. I have a reverie about doomed German soldiers on a troop train, grasping, as they pass through this endless place, the enormity of the country. I think about the Trans-Siberian Railway, which traverses nearly all of Russia. You can take a train from Moscow to Vladivostok, a journey of about six and a half days. The longest railroad in the world! I would do that. Why am I not doing that? Home is just some other place, with a door and a lock, where you keep your stuff.
The hotel is on the beach, and it’s a new building, but we are surrounded by cracked concrete structures in various states of repair. Rebar and sand. It’s windy, the sky is grey, and when Eugene gets out of the van and takes a look around, he says, ” Huh. Looks like Chernobyl. “
After check-in ( Which is chaotic, because the place is full-up with bands and festival-goers, and because the hotel has just opened, so a lot of things, like toilets, don’t work. There is no elevator, but there is a tour manager, so I don’t have to navigate this mess alone. I am grateful. ), we load up at the buffet in the basement ( good Russian food, stuffed peppers and kashi and cucumber and tomato salad, and I can tell from the freshness and lumpy, non-uniform nature of the fruits and vegetables that it’s all local ) and head outside to the bar. Night falls, and a Russian guy gets in the DJ booth and starts playing shitty remixes. There’s an immediate air of ” oh, HELL no “ among the band, and Pedro goes and gets his CDs and takes over, much to the relief of everyone present. A backyard reggae party ensues.
It’s exactly like backyard reggae parties I’ve been to in New Orleans, and I forget where I am. One of the groups playing the festival is The Skatalites, and a couple of them are sitting by me, and they are cool old people, hanging out, bobbing their heads slightly to the music. It dawns on me : I am listening to Jamaican music with some Jamaicans who helped invent it, in Russia, on the shore of the Black Sea. Everything is everything. Another round of Baltikas, спасибо.
I get up way too late the next day, and am surprised, like everybody else, that it’s nice out. The sea is light blue and warm as bathwater. Sergey, who is Russian, who is standing in the surf next to me, tells me about the many lovely beaches ranging down the coast from here.
GIG. You are probably familiar with Gogol Bordello, so I’m not going to talk about how entertaining the band is ( very ), or that every one of them can play their asses off. What I will say is that I find them to be genuinely interesting and different from all the other bands, and that, while watching them play, I become invested in the transaction between performer and spectator, and I start clapping and hollering, which is how it’s supposed to work. I have FUN. You know?
L→R : Oliver, Pedro, Michael, Thomas, Eugene, Sergey ( Yuri and Elizabeth are somewhere else ).
I’ve seen the band quite a few times, from the audience ( the first time was in New Orleans at TwiRoPa – one of those giant mega-clubs with multiple stages, built in old warehouses and factories, the sort of place I grew up going to .. which got badly damaged in Hurricane Katrina and was torn down in 2007 – and my reaction that night was, what the FUCK is this? This band is crazy! ), and then from the side of the stage. I make my way through the crowd ( what I mean is that I make my way through a crowd of a couple thousand well-to-do Russian kids in swimwear, who are dancing and waving big flags – of soccer teams, the Jolly Roger, and various South American countries – and the festival has a tropical theme, and we are on a beach, so I could just as easily be in The Bahamas or somewhere like that ) and climb up into the soundbooth.
This is my favorite way to watch the gig, from Frank’s perspective. Frank’s running the show up here, but he’s also, in a way, jamming with the band – mixing each song as its own thing, toggling through compressors, pushing different elements to the front of the mix and pulling them back in. Frank is rocking out as hard as anyone on stage. Sergey saws completely through his violin bow and throws the shredded thing into the crowd at the end of the encore. I ask Frank if this is something which happens often, and Frank says, no, but sometimes, when he is playing in his own country, Sergey gets excited.
The crowd files out. This is the last night of the tour, and I have a feeling that we’re going to be up much later than the hotel bar is going to want to stay open, so while the guys are packing up, I drift around backstage procuring all the wine and beer I can get my hands on.
Next : Belfast, Northern Ireland.
There’s garbage everywhere, and it’s very, very hot, so the city stinks to high heaven. All the destroyed trees laying around, those aren’t being collected either. On the other hand, D. is as happy as a clam, as a fat rat in a cheese factory, as a pig in sh.. he’s happy. D. was a chef at a high-profile New Orleans restaurant, but he quit recently to bake at home full-time. Local coffee shops buy everything he can turn out, and he makes more than enough to afford a comfortable bachelor lifestyle. He has plenty of time to hang out, read books, play pool.
D. spent the storm holed up in his house, by candle-light, winning poker money off the other chefs he lives with ( they are all crazy ) and occasionally venturing out to collect bunches of plantains knocked down by the wind. When they ripen, he’ll try making plantain-pineapple bread, or something. He makes it up as he goes along. That’s what we do, down here.
Holed up in the cool dark, playing with my travel journal. I neglected to write anything down about week 2 in Cuba, but I did manage to collect an entire run of pesos ( both systems of currency, the CUP or moneda nacional, and the CUC, commonly referred to as the cook. For more on this confusing system, see here. )
An idea I first encountered wile reading Paul Theroux, and which is a strong thread running through the travel books I’ve been devouring recently ( by Rolf Potts, Chris Guillebeau, and Edward Hasbrouck ) is that the best way to experience other places and cultures is to travel solo. I’ve always felt the opposite; I become more adventurous when I’m with other people, and more likely to disregard my own tiredness ( physical as well as existential ), and I think it’s just plain better to have someone to turn to and say, can you believe this shit?
I believe that the real reason these guys advocate a solitary approach is that they’re professional writers with deadlines, and if you’re with other people, it can be difficult to buckle down and get some work done. After all, if the gang comes by your room with plans of going to such-and-such museum or monument or bar, are you really going to hide out at the hotel and work instead?
Tagansky nuclear command bunker, Moscow : Oliver prepares to initiate the launch sequence which will begin WWIII. Considering that he’s a half-Trinidadian drummer from Los Angeles, the Russian army hat they put on him looks strangely appropriate.
I feel funny, waltzing in at the end of a long, grueling tour when it’s time for sightseeing and fancy hotels and partying, but I’ve toured as hard as anyone ( I’ve slept in vans in Summer, likewise in unheated squats in Winter, been searched by soldiers with assault rifles and dogs at border crossings [ often ], driven hundreds of miles to play to two people, you name it ), and I tell myself that this is a little reward.
Moscow itinerary :
* Hotel bar ( meet charming and perky tour guide )
* Kremlin, Cathedral Of The Archangel ( gigantic bells, Tsars are buried there, awesome )
* Subway tour
* Taras Bulba Korchma Ukrainian restaurant ( Boysenberry Kompot = crack in a glass )
* Tagansky bunker
* Red Square ( GUM Department Store )
* Cruise on Moscow River ( seen : among other things, the famous ugliest statue in Russia )
* Hotel bar ( fade )
A thing which people I know who travel a lot have been talking about : in other countries, if you’re an adult, they trust that you will act like an adult, and that if you do something dumb, you will accept responsibility instead of suing them. When we all crack beers in the van, the driver turns around and says, ” Is new carpet. Be careful, please. ” — and in the bunker, where there’s rebar sticking out of raw concrete and puddles and unlit corners, the tour guide says, ” Is dangerous. Be careful, please. ”
Moscow subway stations : CW from top left, Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Belorusskaya.
The entrance to the Bunker is in what looks like a nondescript Moscow apartment building : we climb down 18 flights of stairs and pass through immense blast doors. We walk through endless tunnels and every so often come to large vaulted rooms lined with massive interlocking steel plates. We’ve heard that there’s a nightclub down here and at one point see through some open doors what looks like a disco ( there is a definite smoking-drinking-partyparty vibe ), but our bunker guide, a young guy dressed like a soldier, seems unwilling to tell us about this. His tour spiel English is mangled to the point that we can barely understand him, and we decide that he has learned his lines phonetically.
In the command center, amidst piles of vintage gas masks, there is a multimedia presentation. Screens show images of 1950s schoolchildren, missile silos, fields of grain, Soviet fighter planes. The guide calls for two volunteers to man the missile launch console, and, in tandem, they press various large buttons. Andrey translates the voiceover for us, which is about the cold war arms buildup, nuclear capabilities, and Russia’s heroic confrontation with a dangerous, imperialist USA. The operators insert and turn keys, and the screen goes white : obliteration. Our guide’s version of the story : ” And, uh, nuclear war is declared. Etcetera. “, which gets a big laugh from the crowd.
We exit through a room filled with old military equipment and communications gear, and you can put on a Soviet army uniform and be photographed playing with this cool junk. There are even a couple of AK-47s, and when we examine their bolts and fire selectors, we realize that these are, in fact, fully functional automatic weapons.
Paul, Gogol’s tour manager.
Next : travel to the black sea.
Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow : Gogol Bordello and crew are a truly multinational force, holding passports from eight different countries.
Places Visited :
* Moscow, Russian Federation
* Anapa, Russian Federation ( shore of the Black Sea, Krasnodar region, sandwiched between Georgia and The Ukraine )
* Belfast, Republic Of Northern Ireland
End of trip : GB Intercontinental Airport, Houston : waiting for the third flight of the day, which will get me back to New Orleans, finally. I was looking at misty green Irish countryside and cows this morning, and I am experiencing culture shock after being away for only eight days. On deplaning in the USA after even a short trip, I tend to think of my fellow countrymen as You People, as in, ” what the fuck is with you people? “ — I know it sounds pretentious and ultra-snooty, but, you know what? Europeans would never wear flip-flops on an airplane, and men there tend to dress like men, not little kids in pajamas. If airports get any more casual, we’ll all be flying in diapers.
I haven’t heard any news for days, and I see on the boarding area TVs that there has been another mass shooting, this one perpetrated by a white-power fucktard ( I reserve the term skinhead for people who polish their boots fastidiously and have very good Jamaican music record collections, which they dance to while drinking lager : skinheads : a subculture of which I am rather fond ). They’re talking about the dumb bands the fucktard used to play in, and I assume that these bands are awful, because white-power bands always are. Not interesting-awful, like, say, The Shaggs, or fun-catchy-awful, like, for example, Jan Terri, but boring-awful, which is an inevitability when the band members have so little going for them that they’re proud of being white. ( BTW, All Skrewed Up doesn’t count : they weren’t Nazis yet. )
Arrival : Moscow : the day has been almost flawless, as a travel day can be when you’re heading away from the USA. It’s when you’re heading towards it that there are multiple delays and you have to go through security three times in a row and they take away the tiny screwdriver you use to tighten the tiny screws in your sunglasses. Andrey, the band’s young Russian fixer, meets me at the airport, and we take a cab to the hotel – which is quite swank ( Moscow is, famously, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I worry about this, but I’m getting a group rate, which isn’t too bad – we are, on the other hand, in the hotel bar every moment we aren’t sleeping or showering, and I make up the difference in $15 beers ) and has mural-size photographs of life in the old Soviet Union on every surface. The table in my room is decorated with marching soldiers.
Later : I head back to the airport with Andrey to meet the band and crew, and we take the subway, which I am excited about. Have you heard about Russian subway stations? No? Check it out. We enter the newly re-Stalinized Kurskaya station and take steeply angled escalators deep underground; Andrey tells me about his life. He’s from Perm ( the city where these airplanes are made, it tuns out ), and his day gig is translating helicopter technical manuals into English, although he is increasingly engaged in tour managing, festival promoting, and playing with his band, Pyatiy Korpus ( Пятый Корпус : The Fifth Corps ). This song’s called Svoboda, Comrady! ( Свобода, Комрады : It’s Freedom, Comrades! ).
The Fifth Corps : It’s Freedom, Comrades!
The Fifth Corps : It’s Freedom, Comrades!
Kurskaya station entrance, a second before Andrey warned me to not let any cops see me with a camera.
Domodedovo Airport, Moscow : Gogol Bordello have been on tour for 6 weeks, hopping around Europe by air during much of that time, and they’re tired, and everybody’s frazzled because the airline has lost all the in-ear monitors and Eugene’s guitars. In spite of all this, they appear to still like each other — in fact, I’d go as far as to say that they’re the most pleasant, friendly band I’ve ever met.
Next: in and around Moscow, travel to Anapa, Kubana Festival gig in Anapa.
Summertime, and things get heavy. Last night she was on the porch, and her old man ( I mean old - I guess they live on his disability check, because they don’t work, they never sleep, they never leave, and they never go inside the damn house — they just sit there on the porch all day, watching ) was smacking her. He’d been yelling all day, but now he was hitting her – not that the intensity matters one bit, it’s the act itself, but he was smacking her the way some people would swat a little kid who won’t follow instructions. Him red in the face, her cringing but not backing away. No, I didn’t do anything. She hates me, and has ever since I had to kick her out of the bar for stealing tips. I’m pretty sure she’s the one who kicked that dent in my car, too. Fuck it. Later, gunshots, down by the river. I heard someone say, ” should we call 911? “, and, although I wasn’t looking, I could sense a collective shrug.
Motörhead : Leaving Here
Motörhead : Leaving Here
But, goodbye to all that. This morning I’m flying to Russia, the last place I thought I’d go next, somewhere I haven’t been since I was 5 years old. I’m going to tag along with a band on tour for a little bit, and then I’m going some other places. Photos and thoughts if and when I have the time and the internet.
Psychic moments here and there. I hadn’t thought about the Cro-Mags very much for years, and the other day, Best Wishes, their second album, flashed into my head, and I took it out and listened to it, and I wrote a long article detailing my appreciation of this much-maligned record. The odd thing is that I was actually working on the piece while the events of Friday, July 6th were taking place. In light of these events, and of the many subsequent well-considered articles on Harley, the Cro-Mags, and what it all means, I’ve decided not to publish what I wrote. It just seems frivolous and an affront to the people involved.
* Compact discs, display of compact discs, worthlessness of compact discs, and the fact that my copy of 1989′s Best Wishes may be the oldest compact disc I own.
* Sound-checking of bass guitar by White Zombie roadie by playing the opening riff of the song The Only One. Sound-checking of guitar by me by playing the riffs from the songs Age Of Quarrel and Death Camps. Commentary on the general hot-shit nature of the guitar playing on the album. Thoughts about guitarists Parris Mitchell Mayhew and Doug Holland. Thoughts about Holland’s previous band, Kraut. Reminiscences about a discussion with the house engineer at Normandy Sound about the extremely volatile nature of the band’s dynamic, and also of hot-shit guitar playing by people who couldn’t stand to be in the same room with each other.
* Thoughts on production techniques of the period. Explanation of why I love the album anyway.
* Discussion of the band’s look in the photo on the back cover. Discussion of NYC street fashion of the period. A remembrance of Canal Jeans, a huge store where vintage clothing was sold in big lots for very little money.
* Discussion of my first meeting Harley in 1985, of being somewhat scared of him and his crew, and of Maximum Rock N’ Roll scene reports. Discussion of talking to Harley on the streets of NYC, and of his unexpected friendliness. Recollections of seeing Cro-Mags band members hanging around the heroin supermarket at 2nd and A. Thoughts on opening for a version of the Cro-Mags in Brooklyn.
I will tell you one thing, though. See how Harley, in the photo, has a pen in the sleeve-pocket of his bomber jacket? This one time, on the Lower East Side, we were talking, and, I don’t remember how we got onto the subject, but he advised me to carry a ballpoint pen with me, always. ” Nobody thinks of a pen as a weapon “, he said, ” but if you get in trouble, you can always stab someone in the neck with it. “
Another box of junk; more things to keep.
A snow globe, containing a couple of 1940s-looking children playing with a snowman. I pulled the little cap on the bottom and drained the liquid, which had turned brown, and with that, the “snow”, which had gone black as soot. The thing had started to melt, as if you’d held a match to it. South Louisiana destroys everything, eventually.
I’m at the corner store, where the people line up to play the lottery and abuse the shopkeepers. This man and woman, the owners, are totally inscrutable. I buy a Mexican Coke, and I thank the lady in Vietnamese, and she corrects my pronunciation. Cám ơn. What I said sounded to me like ” calm uhn “, and she says, ” no, no, it’s like this : calm UHN ”. ” Oh, right, of course “, I say. She asks me where I learned the word, and I tell her that I’ve been to Vietnam, and that I find the language – a system of alien diphthong mouth-shapes – entirely impossible. She agrees that it’s very difficult. By way of illustration, she writes something down on a paper bag. ” See? “, she says, ” the top word means church, and the bottom word means whore “.
I have a double platinum plaque, a reward for selling two million copies of a certain album; it contains two platinum-plated vinyl records, and two platinum cassettes. Before that, I got the single platinum, with a record and a cassette, and before that, a gold one, with a shiny gold disc and tape. I have gold and platinum awards from various other countries too. They just have the CD, which is not nearly as much fun. I’ve seen gold records from the 1970s which contain a gold-painted 8-track tape.
” Do you think “, I’ve been asked more than a few times, ” that when you get a gold record, it’s actually your record? “
I cracked open the frame, and put the album on the turntable. I needed to replace the needle anyway. Some sort of generic easy-listening jazz, it was, the kind you used to hear in taxi cabs. And it was defective, pressed off-center, so that it warbled.
WE MAKE RECORDS ANYWHERE. We do what we have to do. Through the generosity of a comrade, I am making a record in an old photography studio in New Orleans. I got the band to help me bring a bunch of stuff over there, and we strung a few cables and hung a couple of blankets, and now we’re in business. The vocal mic is in the back room, where they store the chemicals and paper they barely use anymore, where they cut mattes and frame prints. We’ll cut guitar overdubs back there too, but after-hours, because I can hear the attorneys on the next floor muttering between takes. We Do It Ourselves, and we’d rather you didn’t knew we were here.
It smells back there, a little, but I worked in a commercial photo studio not totally unlike this one when I was 19 years old ~
( A nightmare of a swing / graveyard-shift job. I was often the only person in the whole building, sweating, turning off the lights, slamming the transparency holder into the giant Hammerite-grey enlarger, switching on the vacuum pump, feeding the dupes I shot into the E-6 machine, all night long sometimes – I haven’t thought about this since then, but I’d heard that the building had been a draft induction center during the Vietnam war, and sometimes, in the pitch dark, wired on burnt coffee-sludge at 3AM, I would imagine the ghosts of the Chicago boys who didn’t come back looking over my shoulder, saying, man, you’ve got a terrible job. I was a nightmare kid, too, a not-good employee, and it’s a wonder to me now that I lasted sufficiently long at that place to save what seemed like enough money to move to NYC. ) ( it’s never enough )
~ so I don’t notice the odor of developer, much. I like it here, for the same reason that I live in a town as unlikely and inconvenient ( I was going to say ridiculous, but then I didn’t say that ) as New Orleans : I’m most comfortable when I’m surrounded by old things. There are stacks of Mardi Gras photographs from the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and product shots for newspaper ads of the grand old department stores of Canal Street. The guy who used to own the business lets us go to the top floor and look around, and there are thousands of negatives, antique plate-glass ones even, and vintage Sears catalogs, and record albums ( I say unto you, N•O•L•A people, Chris Owens! ), and typewriters, and cameras. I could live up there.
I once had the privilege of being allowed into the archives of the National World War II Museum, where they store uniforms, trench art, field gear. Everything there is made of wood and brass and bakelite, and I was like, so, can I make a cot in the corner? I won’t get in the way, I promise.
What was I saying? Recording. It’s peaceful. The woman who runs the place is sitting behind me, and she’s glowing in the light coming through a big window which was certainly made before the 1920s. She’s editing headshots and passport photos, and I’ve got headphones on as so to not disturb her, and I’m recording the singer of the band, who is in the back room, behind a closed door, screaming into my expensive microphone about murder, and witches, and digging graves.
I do my thing, which is, at this stage of the process, knowing how to set the compressor ( all buttons in! ), knowing when to step in and help, knowing when to let it roll. To the woman sitting in the pool of sunlight, I say that this is some strange job I have, huh – by which I mean assisting this howling guy with the meter and tone of his misanthropic poetry – and she agrees that it is.
I’m wrapping it up, at least for a while. I shut down The Graveyard, my cool little spot in Mid-City ( which is the reason I find myself recording in a photo studio ), and I’m looking at spending at least part of another Summer in New Orleans ( Looking down the barrel of. Everyone who can go, goes. It’s not the nicest time of year to be here, okay, it’s the worst, although the magnolia trees are in bloom this week and this is a striking, stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of thing ) because I have to finish all this music I’ve committed to. Some interesting projects, all different. Almost done. I should make a list of these things and note stages of completion. And then I should go.
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