(or - you can do a lot in four days...
if you put your mind to it.)
by Michael Grace
Photos by Andrea Vaughn & her assistants. I took the one of the shadow & boom box.
Thursday June 16
My brother drives me to John F Kennedy Airport. My keyboard case is really heavy. I keep checking my back pocket in OCD fashion for my passport. I glance at my picture taken in 2000 and notice with some bemusement that I'm wearing the same shirt and have recently returned to the same 'outgrown skinhead' hairdo which I sported defiantly in the passport photo and indeed through out the grunge and muck of the 90s. Am I my own ghost? I eat a cliff bar and take an 'airborne' tablet in a bottle of water in an attempt to eradicate the last of what remains of the sniffles. Darren is sitting in the lobby. He is frequently early. I return a few phone calls I'd neglected during the week and wait for the rest of my band mates.
They arrive in a cab. The Brooklyn Contingent.
Our flight is on British Airways. If my uncle wasn't the black sheep of the family, I might have rang him, and he might have been able to get us upgraded to business since this is his place of employment. But he never rings my mum. Coach is certainly more analogous to being an indiepop artist anyways
They dim the cabin and try to get us to sleep. The meal is exceptionally hot. I watch a movie called 'Be Cool' with John Travolta and Uma Thurman. It's vaguely entertaining, in an 80s 'feel good' way. I defeat the sniffles half way across the Atlantic ocean. I refuse to watch a movie about Grace Adler getting married.
Friday June 17
We arrive in London at about eleven am. We all got about two hours of fractured sleep for the evening. Deal with it, rock n' roll.
Darren and Gilbert take a very expensive cab (what isn't in London) with the equipment to
the person who is putting us up (somewhere near the Elephant & Castle tube stop), and the
rest of us take two tubes and a bus there. It hasn't really settled upon us that we are in
London. We're preoccupied with making the right connections. I purchase and eat for the first time, a british candy called 'Turkish Delight,' which is what the White Witch beyond The Wardrobe used to seduce Edmund. It's basically a square of fruity gelatin covered in chocolate. I am extremely relieved on multiple levels to find that I don't care for it at all.
There is no air-conditioning
on British public transportation. I reflect upon the fact the list of London tube stops contain at least 10 useable band names --
Royal Oak/Holy Oak/Burnt Oak;
And at least four usable one for a Berkeley queerpunk band --
St. John's Wood;
I realize then, that I am in possession of an immaturity unsuitable for a man of my age and pretensions of dignity. I decide my London Tube stop band is called Moor Park.
We arrive at the flat of Kat(herine) who is kindly putting us up. She is a friend of Gilbert's friend or something. She is exceptionally nice, and an aspiring actress. We are really trying to keep costs down on this brief sojourn, so my fantasies of posh hotels and Toblerone are put on hold. We take turns on the two beds, and get a bit of rest. Kat puts out a nice spread of food for us in the kitchen. She is exceptionally kind. Her landlord comes in and complains about a broken knob from six months ago. He is like a character from The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy. I'm reading an advanced galley of Bret Easton Ellis's upcoming novel called 'Lunar Park'
it is upsetting me.
Tube to Hoxton Square and the club. Hoxton Square is a very odd place
and not at all reminiscent of Portobello Road, and the Rough Trade shop and iron bridges and flea markets, which were my best memories from my last (and first trip) to London under different circumstances. The square itself is packed with hundreds of people sitting in the grass drinking pints. But they are not the soulful spotty punks and pop kids I remembered from my last visit. They seem a little
as they say
posh. The cars around the square are too nice. Not enough scooters. To many posters advertising techno.
The club is a nice smallish room under a chic looking bar. Sound check is fine, once we find a voltage converter. They don't give us drink tickets.
We walk to a small, cute Japanese joint but there isn't an open table big enough for the six of us. So we go to a dreadful trendy noodle joint. I only like Chinese food when it's four dollars and chicken and garlic with broccoli over brown rice. Otherwise I'd rather not.
We take the stage around 10:30 and the club is about half full, about 70 people I'd say.
Not bad for our first trip to London. A mix of older indie fans who had managed to stick with us across the wasteland of the late 90s, some expatriate fans, and a bunch of shadowy sulky individuals. Tall, blond, Dickon of Fosca in a white suit certainly stood out. I hadn't scene him since the Benno Festival three plus years ago. He's a pop star.
I thought we played a pretty good set, sleep deprivation considered
and even played 'Go Kid Go' when it was requested, which said a lot. There were some pretty colored lights. One Swedish kid actually flew over. I wanted to hug him, but he looked like he might break. I chatted with a bunch of nice people, including Josh from the now defunct US pop band Holiday. And a really intelligent fellow with kind eyes, who told me I should be happy about the turnout in a neighborhood like this with fickle Londoners. He said he expected three people and an exuberant cat. I hoped the writer Alistair Fitchett had come to the show, and I hoped to say hi. I later found out he did come though did not say hi. Perhaps he was shy. Not unheard of in the indie world. You can read his thoughts on the show (and many other brilliant things) at www.tangents.co.uk - his june 18 blog....
The tube home, weighed down by equipment, was quite an adventure. It took Herculean strength to race onto the bus with our equipment before the driver left us in the dust. The bus was one hundred and eight degrees . I sweated, clutching my keyboard case to my chest while drunken Londoners of every persuasion considered whether it was worth the effort to kick my eyelinered ass (or die trying I reassured myself.) I heard someone play 'twinkle twinkle little star' on our melodica (that little' blow into it' keyboard) from the upper level of the double decker bus. Some people cheered this, and some people jeered this and thus our career was encapsulated in fourteen seconds on the left side of the street in London. Kat's roommate was playing it by the way.
I glanced out the window...the stars had obliged, they twinkled fiercely in the darkness.
We got our keyboards back to the flat in an abandoned shopping cart.
Saturday June 18
We got back to Kat's at 2am and dumped off our equipment. It was too heavy to bring with us on the dirt cheap (I'm talking $30 round trip) Ryan Air whom had a serious weight restriction per person. The festival was providing us keyboards instead. Our flight took off at six in the morning
so there would be no sleeping. Showers and frozen pizza and Ben Folds playing Elton John songs
then the National Express bus to the other London airport an hour outside the city.
The other London Airport was a madhouse, and we were hallucinating with fatigue. Tod and I drank smoothies from the 'Love Juice' kiosk. We all then ate sandwiches from Pret A Manger at like 7am. I had been asking for a cheese and pickle sandwhich all the previous day, but then when I finally had my chance to get one, I had chicken and avocado instead. Tod folded his arms and said I was acting like a 'typical man'.
The $30 airline was quite amusing. The chairs were bright yellow, which unwittingly suggested a crime or disaster scene. The safety instructions where printed on the back of each chair in the form of illustrations showing stick figures escaping from a serious of horrifying scenarios. The pilot's descent was video game like and Andrea and I's head's almost exploded.
We arrived in Gothenburg. Blessed Gothenburg. Spiritual Home Of My Favorite. The festival sent two vans for us. Two of our nearest dearest Swedish friends and Gilbert's Swedish girlfriend traveled with us. It was three hours across the green and pleasant land. The Breen Bear (petrol mascot) smiled at Andrea.
We arrived at The Hulsfred Festival, about two hours before we were to play. The scene was insane. 31,000 mud covered people there mostly to see hard rock. System of A Down, NIN, Slayer, The Hives. We were part of the indie-ish crew that included Le Tigre, Hidden Cameras, Brendon Benson etc
I had never seen Swedish Goths, Ravers, Death Metalists, and Average Beer Chugging Lads before. The circles we traveled in made Sweden seem like it was populated exclusively by Felt fans. Not the case. But even the girl's with pentacles on their foreheads were exceedingly attractive, with well coordinated accessories. It's just Sweden.
We dumped our bags in our small chalets, and headed to the semi enclosed 'theater' which was sort of the fourth stage at the festival, and held about 1,500 people. I was relieved that they had provided the right keyboards, and that Kurt could download my sounds onto it in like 30 seconds. Kurt is a genius.
We briefly sound checked and then drank some beers backstage. I ate a pear. There was no one in the theatre and we played in like 5 minutes.
I peeked around the curtain and saw security opening a chain. About a thousand people poured in, and my heart swelled. We were many hours from the big Swedish cities at a festival that cost around a hundred dollars and only featured a few indie bands. I was moved that there were this many people who cared, or were at least curious. The front couple hundred were yelling and applauding and I sheepishly took the stage until the dutch courage kicked in.
We played a really solid show, from the intro of 'Johnny Nightmare' through the shuffle of the 'Black Cassette,' to an encore of 'Working Class Jacket.' It felt good, adrenaline had pulled us through despite two straight nights of very little sleep. It was recorded for future broadcast by Swedish National radio, and we received a rough mix CDR.
After we played An and I did a few interviews in the press area, which was kind of fun. The woman from Finnish National Radio only asked us questions about childhood trauma's and what we want people to 'feel'. But she was totally zany about it. She made us do part of the Hidden Camera's interview for her which was ever so slightly embarrassing. But the main Camera bloke was quite sweet. She made me come up with a question so I asked "If you find a hidden camera, but the person who has hidden it doesn't know you've found it, what do you do?" He said that if it was the police you put a large wad of gum over it, if it's a friend, you put on a little show. We saw the 'little show' The Hidden Camera's put on after us, and it was really really good.
After that, the lot of us wondered through the vast festival grounds in the perpetual Swedish Summer twilight. Darren and I had kabob and garlic sauce over chips which was that unique combination of delicious and disgusting. Andrea ate a pizza slathered in Swedish white sauce which I am not equipped to describe. Friendly Swedish fans stopped us to say hello, or good show, or get us to scrawl a sharpied greeting on something. It was nice.
In the little backstage village area we hung out with Per and Victor "our crew", who had begun the standard post-show ritual of extreme intoxication. Hanna, our friend, and the excellent Swedish pop dj hung out too. The dj's played nothing but funk, and it was colder than we expected. But if you drank enough you barely felt it.
Eventually most of the gang went back to the Chalets, and amazingly enough I stayed with Per, Victor and Hanna for more carousing. My reputation within the band is for mild partying followed my a little time with a good book. Particularly considering this was the first bed we would have in three days. But I decided to stay out until the sun set, not remembering that in late June in Sweden...it never does.
So I drank beers and ciders with Victor and Per, boogied to The Style Council a little with Hanna, and chatted with Swedish Top 40 indie sensation Jens Leckman. Hanna insisted we be friends based on our "intellectual pop tradition." Jens rejected intellectualism and spoke about the african pop he was listening to. I did not volunteer that I had most recently been listening to copy of Springsteen's "Greetings From Astbury Park" which I got out of the cut-out cassette bin for three dollars.
As the evening turned to morning...I said some dreamy farewells and stumbled to my chalet which I only had a 12 percent chance of finding. By asking security folk every 24 feet I was able to make my way to the bunk beds where my band mates were already crashing. I had partied the hardest of anyone, and felt only slightly less gratified then I did upon writing 'Homeless Club Kids'.
Sunday June 19
Even though the electro rave party at the second stage went all night, sending bass vibrations through my exhausted body, I did manage to pass out around five. We all rose about 9:30 for a return van trip to Gothenburg.
We were all tired and disheveled, but relaxed because the two main shows were done...and we had managed to get from place to place in the narrow windows of time we had allotted ourselves. Zombie like kids drifted across the dust smiling and waving from time to time. The sun felt good. The vans were comfortable.
We stopped at a gas station and got food and beverages and Andrea got the Swedish peanut butter rings she loved and we made our way back to Gilbert's girlfriend Lina's flat to shower and change before a private, just announced 'fans only' party that night where we would be dj-ing and playing a couple songs.
We took the Gothenburg trolleys from Lina's to the club where the party would be. We played some very small keyboards and the dry ice pedal got stuck, flooding the stage with smoke. It was intimate and fun to play a bit for the Gothenburg faithful, at the venue where we made our violent passionate debut a few years before. Then Andrea spun some records and the rest of us danced, except Tod, who for medically unknown reasons became briefly paralyzed. I danced to 'in-between days' with neither shame nor irony.
Monday June 20
A day of rest, and iced coffees and shopping for souvenirs in Gothenburg. Tod got a pair of local hipster jeans called i think..."Sad Monday" or something. I got a small black leather notebook at my favorite Swedish paper chain. Andrea got enormous amounts of tea from a very friendly tea shop.
The best part of the trip for me, was actually the meal Victor and Lina's father cooked us back at Victor's house late that afternoon before we left for the airport back to London to get our equipment. While their dad played his beloved 'Mersey beat' from the 60s, we had swedish meatballs (vegetarian and regular), potatoes, ligonberries and sour creme, herring hash, vegetables and Coke Light. We ate it out in the warm sun on their small patio. We were so tired (and hungry) that we didn't do alot of talking. It was just one of those rare moments when you know for sure that there is nowhere in the world, you'd rather be...then right there....with the people around you. And you pay attention with your soul.
Then it was back to The Gothenburg Airport for a short trip to London. This one was less painful then the first 'Ryan Air' shuttle...and we got into London around 10pm for another National Express Bus back to Elephant & Castle. Tubes and buses and dangerous quest for cigarettes led us back to Kat's flat, where we all crashed where we could. I thought about JC washing his disciples feet, and decided to give Tod and Darren the beds and sleep on a small inflatable pillow on the floor.
Tuesday June 21
Rise and pack your bags, and then off to London on a double decker bus to take our benevolent hostess out to an Indian lunch. We saw all the sights from the front of the upper level, which was pretty good. Tod bought headphones at the virgin store, and I poked into the Pringle Sportswear shop. The indian food was really good, but a little of the melancholy of going home had set in. One is likely to go insane going from office serf to troubadour and back in a short period of time. It's a kind of metaphysical 'bends'. But it's ok...we are used to it. But if we ever do find even a hairline crack in whatever wall keeps us in the cult ghetto...I think we are just about ready to push at it with all our might. Mark my words.
Another long flight...watching The Ring Two (unspeakably bad...the ring around a soiled toilet) and a movie with Keanu Reeves vs. Satan which was kind of ok...believe it or not.
Back in NYC with a less than graceful landing, and the infamous Johnny Q there to drive the lads home with a dubious blood alcohol level. My brother came for me having consumed only a kit-kat.
Goodbye, goodnight...and humming softly to oneself....those things that one wants to remember. ♥ Michael Grace Jr.