Saturday, March 7, 2009
Today is day four in Germany, and we’re on our way out of Dresden. Clips and vents in the rented van are starting to break, fruit is rotting on the floor and an oppressive drizzle has blocked out the sun for a week. But here we are, plugging away for our last five European shows. My impression is that Titus Andronicus is tired after a few long days here, yet morale remains high. This is probably because we loaded the Lou Bega album onto my computer, and now we’re going to Leipzig on a mambo and a prayer. Track eight, "Beauty on the TV Screen." is an excellent song. Patrick just mused, “It’s hard to imagine that in six days we’ll be playing with the Wrens at the Bowery Ballroom.”
An aside: I have spent the last few dreary days listening to Volume 8 of Mississippi Records’ tape compilations. Some time ago MR took it upon themselves to release a 12” of recordings by a guy called Washington Phillips, a mysterious Delta gospel singer from the earlier half of last century who accompanied himself an unknown instrument, perhaps something called a dolceola, but more likely an instrument he invented himself that resembles an autoharp in both sound and function. The music is amazing, and Washington Phillips has become important to all of us here at TA. Most songs on the MR tape, “Wrong Time to be Right,” share that ghostly Washington Phillips vibe. It’s all sparse, bizarre treats, some of which are more familiar than others. (Side B has what sounds like the original version of “Sloop John B,” made famous by the Beach Boys, which I knew was a traditional song but had never heard.) My understanding is that these are available only at the part-owner of MR’s record store in Portland, OR, but our friend Joe—the guy who put out our first 7” on Shake Appeal Records—has been making these lovely tapes available in digital form on the Internet. It may be worth checking out, if you like that stuff.
(WASHINGTON PHILLIPS--WHAT ARE THEY DOING IN HEAVEN TODAY)
Berlin, three days ago now, was a big blast. We were there early enough to go out I went to a “pay what you want” restaurant where you serve yourself wine. The waitress knew our type, Americans, and went from blasé about the not-speaking-German thing to deeply impassioned about the pay arrangement when she warned in English, curling her lip and gesticulating for emphasis, “When finish you must pay with...respect. With respect.” We really didn’t belong there—the restaurant was unmarked, and my friend had only heard of the place through Twitter. We found it by the address, and not until after a lengthy search. This kind of thing seems like it’s a dime-a-dozen there, deliberate holes-in-the-wall where you are expected to know the rules, however bizarre they may be.
The next day we spent two hours trying to find a radio studio that was supposedly thirty minutes away, in the west called Motor FM. The entrance was a hidden recess behind a whitewashed city block. There was a radio spot on Motor FM 100.6 with a tall German called Max. A very nice guy, but what remained unclear when all was said and done was whether he liked the band. He spot translated our answers to his questions so dexterously that we could scarcely tell when he had lapsed back into English.
This is what Max looks like.
The show was at the Bang Bang Club. We were relaxing downstairs, which was set aside as our green room, where the only lights were red and spun around a disco globe. It must have been a sight to see, we slobs napping, eating bread, trying to write e-mails in such an atmosphere more becoming of a wild party. As has been the trend with most of continental Europe, we were been treated like absolute kings. (Perhaps the legacy of monarchy is not so far behind them.) We never hesitate to enjoy this. Green rooms, which are a rare luxury for us Stateside, are not only always provided but are also filled with platters of fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, beside a full fridge of drinks. We played with a band from New Zealand who had relocated to Berlin because, as one of them said, “Why not?” and the whole thing went off without a hitch. Wham, bam, thank you ma'am.
Hamburg is a proper sleazy city. It boasts Europe’s largest Red Light District, which we did not have time to see. I purchased a postcard that is a picture of a naked woman framed in cityscapes. (Will this make it past our postal censors?) Next to it was another postcard, a picture of a penis with sunglasses and a cigarette—the phallus itself was a Gonzo’s nose sort of thing, and between it and the hanging testicles was a lit cigarette, which seemed equal parts funny and dangerous. It also did not look unlike the Camel Joe of my childhood. Next to the club, Molotow, I purchased a hat for one euro that says “WESTERN LIFE” at a cowboy clothes store, which Ian and Eric have been passing back and forth. The particularly bizarre souvenirs here seem like, fifteen years ago, they fell off a Chinese truck traveling to America via Germany—case in point are the peculiar bastardizations of American highway culture, the faux-metal cell-phone holders emblazoned, in the red sans-serif of a typographical future that never was, with words like “RACING” and “FASTER.” Dixie is appropriated onto license plate covers and mudflaps here as often as that ubiquitous silhouette of the reclining sexy woman. The Route 66 road sign is never missing from both these road stops, and from cities like Hamburg, where you are never more than a kilometer away from the Route 66 American B&G. Often these bizarre approximations of America feel even farther from home than a more “normal” foreign land feels.
The club felt more German. It was a cold, dark basement room with a deeply frazzled soundman, fanny-pack clad, who did not so much like our band. But we were happy. We were well cared for. Free pizza! It was another one of these places where all of our favorite bands all played at some time or another, and so now I wonder how long this coherent circuit has been around for. Have American bands been following this same exact route since the dawn of rock?
We made a friend called Mena, who brought her 3/4 scale western-themed Gretsch guitar, red with cartoons of cowboys and lassos, to the Molotow “artist’s loft.” The promoter gave us an indecipherable map, borderline hieroglyphic, that had been constructed in Word or Paint and instructed us to walk through HEILENGEISTFELD, or as Mena translated it, “The Park of the Holy Ghost.” But none of the natives could understand the map’s message, and so we found ourselves following Mena through Heilengeistfeld, a terrifying carnival site, past ghastly trailers with busted bulbs that read “FIRE BALL,” “WHIRL-WHIRL” and other oddities and to the door of the loft. Patrick wouldn’t stop yelling, half-jokingly, “Holy shit, this lady has no clue where we’re going, and, “this would be the perfect spot to murder five Americans.” Once there, I opened loft door with a—what?—skeleton key, a relic of the pre-Internet era. There was beer and a singalong there, but, feeling ill, I went right to sleep. It was all too weird. There were eleven beds, a shower and a full business office there. Everybody had fun, for it was all so odd.