Friday, May 25, 2007

Cannes You Dig It?

Approximately two weeks ago I got a phone call from Mick asking me what I had planned for May 22nd. Before I could even muster a response, he said "Your answer is nothing". He proceeded to tell me that some film set to be the hit at the Cannes Film Festival used a Dirtbombs song in it and that we were asked/invited to play the premier party, dependant on hotel room availability. A few days later I'm reciting my memorized passport number to Mick over the phone. And a few days later I find out that our flights alone cost $14,000. Our guarantee for the show was initially $7500 but after those costs it got knocked down to $5000.

Couldn't help but think the Dirtbombs were just flown over as some massive ego-stroke for an unexpected character. My initial feeling was that the whole thing is a modern performance art rendition of Great Expectations. Whoever I actually think the person who brought the band over actually has nothing to do with the plan and secretly Robert DeNiro's character has been supporting us the entire time (I know only the movie version of this story…apparently there's a book as well). Ko thought the whole charade would end in a Punk'd manner while Mick personally kept thinking he saw Alan Funt somewhere. Ain't it grand to be immediately suspicious about the wonderful fortune to befall us?

The flights were fine and painless and I slept well on both of them (Detroit to Paris and Paris to Nice). On the Nice flight I sat next to a dude who's tourette's-like pig snorts were both annoying and sad. I said nothing.

The bus waiting for us at the Nice airport was comical in its inappropriateness. This was a 30+ passenger bus complete with cargo holds underneath, a collapsing door that opened with a lever, rainbow striped upholstery, two television monitors and a front window the size of proper Amish quilt. All for the express purpose of getting the five Dirtbombs (Troy, Ko, Pat, Mick and myself) from the Nice airport to our hotel just outside of Cannes.

The buildings and scenery on the French Riviera are peculiar. It's all very reminiscent of certain LA neighborhoods like Eagle Rock. The houses perched upon rocky precipices, surrounded by exotic needle-y flora, so picturesque that it's hard to fathom that people (hell, REGULAR people) live in these abodes, driving their funny cars like Peugeots and Renaults in between the frequent trips to the beach and emergency baguette runs.

We stopped briefly at the venue site (the Cannes outdoor fish market stall) where we sized up the stage, lights and overall set-up that was soon to be torn down for so the market could take place the next morning, only to be re-set for us to play later that night. There were huge posters? Tapestries? Wall-coverings? All over the place with the names of the featured actors of Le Scaphandre et le Papillon emblazoned on them, as well as over-sized reformatted nautical maps with a splatch of red paint and the film's title curving downward like a flaccid penis when viewed from the side.

To the Pierre et Vacances. The rooms were much like those we stay at in Australia, ie meant for an extended stay with lots of comfort space. A foyer, a living/dining room with a small connected kitchenette, two separate balconies with self-locking sliding doors, one bedroom with two twin beds (Pat's) another with a queen size bed and balcony access (mine) as well as a shower/sink room and a toilet sink closet. There was a small TV awkwardly positioned flush against a wall next to a sofa sectional, leaving no logical viewing furniture. The television was not turned on once during our entire stay. And neither was I.

Staying at a place like this makes me want to go get groceries, to spread my crap all over the place and just settle in. But the brevity of our trip severely limited how familiar I could get with the place. In the same way, I don't get my usual day or two to re-familiarize myself with the language I was barely taught my middle two years of high school and one pitiful semester in college. With a warming period I can actually get by alright…in no way as fluent as Mick or Ko, but light years beyond Troy's quirk of trying to get people to understand him better by speaking English with a French accent. So on first try he will say "Do you have a cigarette?" and get absolutely no response, he will retry with "Zoo yoo ave a zigarette?" usually with some added hand-motions. This amuses the rest of the band to no end.

I crashed asleep on the queen size bed listening to Kelley Stoltz on the laptop. Pat woke me up later and we go exploring with Ko. Not too far, as the heart of Cannes is a good five miles away from our spot in Mandelieu and we were more interested in eating.

So back to the hotel restaurant. Pat starts off with a 23 Euro bottle of red wine, served chilled, just the way he doesn't like it. But he also explains he's never had bad wine in France and tonight would be no exception. I had the pizza with jambon et champignons while Ko got it margherita-style and straggling Mick (as rounded up by Ko) got the rabbit with mustard.

After lots of talking Troy shows up and we all decide to head into town together. Back to the room to change, I throw on my blue oxford shirt from grade school, my clean brown leather zipper boots and my grandfather's hand-me-down black polyester suit coat coupled with a pair of vintage Levi's 517's and a just-bought-yesterday-from-Kmart pair of grey toe/heel white Hanes sweatsocks.

And the rest of the band was all dolled up too. Ko in a fancy skirt, Troy in a suit and tie (first time I've ever seen that) Pat in suitcoat (I see that in my sleep) and Mick in some weird black button-down collared shirt with some shit embroidered down the back complete with art-damaged silk-screened t-shirt underneath and stylin' black leather shoes. I cannot recall a previous time in which we were all dressed up. So we hopped in a cab and made towards the scene.

The red carpet was for BBQ the new Gus Van Zant film about a rouge, hat-wearing Canadian garage rocker. We saw Mickey Rourke walk in haggard as hell, followed by the cast of the movie of which I knew no one (although Van Zant did look familiar, but not in a WickedCool inventor of satellite radio way). Played a somber-as-fuck Elliott Smith song over the PA while the cast was making their entrance and I could not fathom as to why. Even after discovering said song is featured in the movie, it is certainly not your typical "thump-thump-thump" red carpet techno crap.

The conversations b/n band members were particularly priceless at this juncture: (me) "I think that's Jamie Lee Curtis….nope," (Mick) "No, it's Gwenyth Paltrow" (Ko) "It's what's-her-name? From the 'Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' movie."

Ko got stopped on the street by some lady who began taking her photo and then started taking group portraits. It was interesting how quick band members (I think Ko and Troy) offered up the info about our (come on admit it, minimal at best) involvement in the Schnabel film. I felt awkward when she was taking the photos and thought Mick did too when he started to complain…only to realize he was complaining that someone was between him and the camera.

We just walked aimlessly as a band. It was nice. I stopped at an ATM, Pat got cigarettes, Ko, Mick and I bottles of water…just absorbing the atmosphere. Uphill on a windy, narrow street flush with restaurants on both sides of the avenue, all hustle and bustle and self-importance and flickering French accents.

We finally settled at a prime restaurant on a busy corner. Ko and I got fanciful ice cream dishes while Troy and Mick both had drinks that came with glo-sticks plopped within. Pat had some apertif? I truly cherish the times that it is the band and only the band spending time with each other. While I am certain to tire of each one's foibles more than I can keep count, it's as if once we're all together a perfect balance is struck. Remove one of us from the equation or add an outsider and it becomes a mess.

So after respite there we canoodled down the street, ran into some Americans Troy met earlier (apparently they even knew who the Dirtbombs were) and slowly, tiredly decided to head back to the hotel. We walked up the street, searching for something just out of reach (a good time, another bar, hope) along all the docked yachts. We resigned ourselves to hailing a cab and with no such luck end up at the cab stand. Mick, Ko and Pat took a cab and Troy and I were in another.

Cab ride cost 26 euro and I gave Troy 15 for it. I don't think he tipped the driver. Withdrew 100 Euro at the bank and by the end of the night was left with 50…fuck. Gave Pat 20 for covering me at dinner (he said he owes me 5) and 15 to cover me and some of Ko's ice cream (for she bought me the water). Shit. I gotta be more frugal. (Pat would give me 10 Euro early the next morning)

So back at the hotel I read for a bit and then went to the lobby to check email, composed a list of White Stripes rarities for their NME cover story and listened as some lady berated the man at the front desk for not having her room key.

Realized that the past four days I'd slept in four different time zones…Nashville, Detroit, somewhere over the Atlantic and now Cannes. Pretty impressive and probably the reason I didn't doze off that night until light had already begun to break.

Early morning pointless wake-up from housekeeping. Damn I hate that. Didn't see a sign to hang on the door and so I'm forced to deal with TWO French women in my room at the crack of whatever. As if the awakening wasn't enough, they actually began to start to talk to me and try to engage in a conversation. Was this their first fucking day? Are all other idiot guests who forget to put the sign on their door handle just happy as shit to see you? Apparently a "no" does not suffice at this rest establishment and instead (I shit you not) I had to sign my name on a piece of paper next to my room number (320) to, I'm assuming, provide written proof that I in fact did not want my room tidied. At this point, I really wish I had that piece of paper just to see how fucked my signature actually looks when I write it immediately after being woken up by some ignorant schlubs.

I didn't get out of bed until 4pm. And I awoke feeling sick…pale green phlegm spit into the sink and a runny nose I blew all over the shower. Troy gave me a packet of Airborne that I drank on our Detroit/Paris flight but as I already had a little sniffle going on I think it was too little too late. The sickness was nothing debilitating, just a minor annoyance that would be unnoticeable by the end of the day. Pat went out on the town and as I combed my hair in the water closet (the mirror in the shower room was rightfully fogged) I heard a knock at the door and expecting Pat, said "What's up cracker?" to which a nervous French dude looked at me confused. I said "No" and he walked away.

Picked up in hotel lobby around 5:30 and straight to the venue. It really was just a shelter like something at Detroit's Eastern Market. This day everyone was working frenzied, putting together tables fresh out of their Ikea boxes and other general activities of preparedness and such.

The drumsets provided came with snare drums. Mine was a metal Gretsch and I decided to use it over my personal wooden Gretsch. I'm really not a gear nerd…just give me something that can withstand the force with which I play and I'll be happy. Tones…fuck tones.

So soundcheck was painless…Pat and I got monitors on separate channels and everything sounded just right by the time we were done. Our lounge behind the stage (near the food prep area) was just a series of over-sized changing screens situated in a circle. Inside were some couches and tables. After brief relaxing, we headed down the street to eat.

First course was a lentil salad. Not bad, but I stayed away from the onions and tomatoes on it. Second was some pork (chop?) dish with polenta. Tasty. Thirds was like a caramel brulee or something. Mediocre. Hearty baguette for munching in-between. Pat tried to tell the waitress he was not hungry, but they didn't seem to understand. He really doesn't like to eat before a show as it messes him up somehow or another. I helped out with part of his pork because he was feeling guilty, but he actually ordered a cheese plate for dessert.

Walked around for a bit, realized nothing was open and that Cannes is a pretty fucked touriste town lacking a culture outside of restaurants. Back to our hut in the back and I zonked out.

Woke up and walked out to watch the red carpet for a hot minute. Sharon Stone was the only face I recognized and she was appropriately bombarded with press attention. Back in our hut, Pat brought Julian Schnable to chat.

What a laid back and cool guy. I was honestly impressed. I remember Jack White saying about Jim Jarmusch that he just "seemed like a guy who was in a band" and while that comment is so obtusely vague, I could immediately understand and comprehend how he meant it. Anyway, Schnabel (to me) just seemed like he was a guy in a band. He was pissed we didn't get to go to the screening. He said he'd arrange one for us in Detroit. He explained in detail how "Chains of Love" is used in the film. He said his initial idea for the song at that moment in the film was "the Stones' song that's the address…shit, the only instrumental song on '12x5'" to which I quickly piped up "2120 South Michigan Avenue" without geeking out and telling him that the German pressing has a longer version of the song.

He explained how some friend of his left "Ultraglide" lying around and that he put it in his CD player with no idea of what to expect. He hadn't heard any of our other records. He said it reminded him of Arthur Lee, the fuzz of Jimi Hendrix, and the voice of (with Mick's help) JJ Barnes.

Julian mentioned that he was friends with Lenny Kravitz and suggested (or maybe said that Lenny suggested?) we do a cover of "Chains of Love" with Lenny. We were all mostly polite in an awkward way before Pat brought up David Cross' proposed video treatment for "The Sharpest Claws" in which Mick apes a Kravitz video where shit like not having milk for cereal and other random "bad luck" crap happens, his idea that Lenny is guilty of ripping Mick off or some such shit. Julian replied, curtly, "Well, I don't know anything about that" and I think we all felt a little awkward

He said we were the first choice for performers after Mick asked if we were only there because Tom Waits said no. Julian was honestly sincerely cordial. He introduced his gorgeous wife. He repeated all of our names as if he was explicitly trying to remember them. He introduced his son, Vito, and some other guy who owns a castle in Germany. Mick also asked if he'd heard anything other than "Chains of Love" that we'd done, expecting that Julian would be surprised watching us perform live, not expecting such terrible, awful noises and racket to come from the studious and prestigious musos behind the operatic "Chains of Love". (sarcasm) It's times like these when Mick over-estimates his shock factor that really get to me. You write catchy songs dude, this isn't your noise project. If they heard "Chains" then they know what they're getting into.

More hurry up and wait. When I finally ventured out to the party room I thought I saw Sofia Coppola. As I got closer, I thought it was Kim Gordon. Later in the night I figured she was probably just a nobody. I did feel a little uncomfortable in my blue jeans and threadbare Black Cat fireworks t-shirt. Underdressed is always worse than overdressed. No one stared, pointed or anything like that. In fact, the complete opposite. When in the party room I felt like I was totally ignored and invisible. Which is really fine in the end.

The scene itself was tres impressive. One of the food serving station had a full-on swordfish head positioned on the table to appear as if the beast was piercing through and the rest of its body was hidden underneath. Add to that a huge faux tree branch suspended above the main bar. Immaculately lit with greens and purples, the day before the thing was open on the bottom and surrounded by wire mesh on the sides. The night of the show the branch was totally enclosed and filled with live butterflies. Now I know next to nothing about the production aspect of private parties, but I can imagine that having a live butterfly wrangler on the payroll is fairly expensive. And these weren't just your run-of-the-mill orange and black monarch butterflies weasling around…no, these things were an exotic blue and BIGGER than any other living butterfly I'd ever seen.

Schnabes (as I assume he would be fine with me calling him) got onstage to introduce us, said something about Gerard Depardieu, and we were off into "Chains". Like the bat mitzvah and wedding reception we played in '05 and '06 (respectively) it seemed the beginning of the Dirtbombs' set was the impetus for most people to leave the party or at least, you know, go for a walk.

I'm fine with such designations at this point, my body artificially manufacturing whatever chemical an active audience exudes and instead pretending that we're playing the greatest show ever. And our performance was not bad…minus Troy's bass head shorting out and being fixed immiediatly (I believe in "Ode to a Blackman") and him missing his entrance on the final chorus to "Kung Fu" and a moment or two where I felt out of sync with Pat and my early start on "Ode" (by a hair really) we were perfect.

One woman stood in front of the stage and danced as she watched us. Applause between songs was light but audible. The span of the entire thing was 40 minutes at most. "I Heard Her Call My Name" as a closer was fun, and only once we started playing it did I remember hearing that Lou Reed is the godfather of one of Schnabes' daughters.

Our set, in order, was:
Chains of Love
Start the Party
Get It While You Can
Ode to a Black Man
Motor City Baby
Cedar Point '76
Kung Fu
My Love For You
The Sharpest Claws
I Heard Her Call My Name

I was really tempted/planning on grabbing one of my tom mics during "Kung Fu" and whispering "do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do" or, if I felt ballsy "I've been working on a piece that speaks of sex and desperation…" Just vocalizing the "do-do…" backstage to Pat got me a laugh. But my conscience thought that if anyone were actually paying attention (a pretty big if) and actually caught the reference (a slightly more massive if) that it could actually get misconstrued. So I balked and instead just blew into the microphones before doing my best (pale) impression of a free jazz drummer.

Most amazing was the fact that Mick played the entire set without breaking a string. With him only bringing one guitar for the gig (and bringing it in a metal guitar case, which was then placed inside a cardboard box and then sent as checked luggage) we were pretty much anticipating sheer disaster. So that was a nice thing that actually went our way.

Back in our hut immediately after the performance Schnabes showed up in his pajamas (bad ass) with a tray of desserts for us. Class act. We sat and talked some more. I've nothing but good things to say about that man. He wanted the rest of our music and we promised to send it to him.

And from there I didn't do much else. Basically stayed in the back room while everyone else was cavorting in the crowd while DJ WOMC played the most obvious dance hits of the 70's that (of course) got everyone up and dancing.

A trip or two out into the party room proved to be boring and uneventful. I felt guilty being at such a soiree and not being totally wowed. Like I wish I could've replaced myself with someone who would've actually taken full advantage of the night and enjoyed themselves to no end. Me? I was content with our performance, glad to meet Schnabes and nothing more. Alright…I ate too many sugar-loaded desserts. Oh well. Hate to be blasé about it all, but that's how it felt.

Troy said Kate Hudson gave him a kiss and told him we were fantastic. I don't believe him for a second, especially since the guy we saw on the street he said was Sam Shepard looked absolutely nothing like any picture of the guy I could dig up. Like the fella who played Wild Bill Hickok on Deadwood, yes, but I'm still not sure what that guy's name is…maybe one of the Carradines?

After what felt like an appropriate amount of time at the shindig (yet while the party was still going) we climbed into the van (a much more feasible 11 passenger minivan with the last bench removed to make room for our gear) and made back to Pierre et Vacances.

I spent a chunk of time in the lobby on the Internet. Then to bed.

Woke up and decided not to shower. Packed all my shit and at 8:30am we climbed back into the comically oversized bus and made way to the Nice airport. As our bus driver dropped us off some band members exchanged hugs and goodbyes. Was I cold and removed in feeling that I didn't really have to say goodbye to her? Especially since I don't think I spoke word one to her during the two times she drove us? Or was I just somewhat emotionally vacant, forgetting that it's always nice to have someone to say goodbye to at the airport?

We checked in fine. Lines for the metal detectors were a tad long, but we weren't fazed. As I finally got to the X-ray conveyor belt and metal detector I was unceremoniously told that I was in the wrong line and that I must go to "five". Let me explain the situation this way…there were five different stations for these checks. With two lines starting on a stairway, it was terribly easy to just get into one of these lines without seeing the one 8x11 sign posted so that only people already in the correct "JFK/ATL" line could read it.

So I put my belt back on, stashed my laptop back into my briefcase, put my shoes back on (probably) reclaimed my passport and boarding pass and made my way back through the line over to what I luckily guessed was "five", stuck behind a flight crew in which every member impressively managed to set off the metal detector and warrant a wand wave-down.

I went through the laptop/shoe/belt rigamarole again and passed through the metal detector with the greatest of ease only to get a very non-sensual patdown. Dude at the end of the belt asked if he could check my bag and I say sure. He unzipped my suitcase and went straight for my kick pedal. "Oh no…zis eez naht good"

Now I'll be the first one to admit to the dangerous powers of a kick pedal…but only when under John Bonham or Patrick Keeler's foot and unleashing a wicked stuttered beat or better yet, "Scentless Apprentice". Otherwise, it's just a big hunk of metal no different or more dangereuse than this heavy PowerBook with which I write to you.

So I say "Fuck" and Frenchie Le Peu looks at me, offended, and says "Fahk me?" To which I have to clarify, "No…not fuck you" which has quickly become my new favorite phrase.

My initial fear that I would just have to leave the kick pedal for them frogs to take home and try to invent ways to kill people with was assuaged when I was told I could just check my suitcase. Luckily I had only previously checked one bag and was able to check another without any money having to change hands. So backwards through the security line for a second time all the way to the check in desk, with mere minutes to spare before they stopped check-in. Luckily there's no huge line of people at the desk, but it appeared that the baggage conveyor belt had ceased to operate, leaving a backlog of bags that still needed to be moved somehow or another.

A kind gentleman behind one of the counters directed me to an empty stall where he weighed my bag, tagged it, gave me my luggage claim check and sent me on my merry way. Somewhere in the middle of all that I realized I'd left my briefcase where the dude was going through my suitcase. I was lucky and prescient in figuring it was no big deal.

Back through the security line (third time's a charm) and at this point I just didn't give a fuck. Walked to the front of the line, took the metal part off my belt, through the teleporter-looking device that never takes me anywhere all while the X-ray jockey is trying to make me wait or some other bullshit. I reclaim my briefcase unharmed and go directly to passport control (a line that was long and sinuous earlier) with no wait and reconvene with Mick and tell him my entire ordeal as we still had 5-10 minutes before boarding.

I guess the entire thing was just a way to pass the time.


Jahna said...

Sounds like fun to me!

Did you get to play near where Beefheart played at Cannes?

Lee said...


Anthony said...

So Ben, when I saw you at Car City I almost asked you if Terror Twilight by Pavement was worth buying.

What's your verdict?

troy said...


Elizabeth said...

Wah wah.

Anonymous said...

so, now do you agree, Spain is much more 'down to earth' than France, esp. the Riviera?

How do you think they named that Buick anyway?

Christopher Chouinard said...

As a 37 year old aspiring to make it and pay the bills artist - good lord I'm glad people get the chance to live the lives you only see in the movies. Ben, you've got one of them ! I'm just happy as hell you can WRITE too ! Cuz it's one damn mesmorizing read ! Esspecially since my folks bought me a CANNES shirt when they went over 7 years ago..and I still wear it weekly !

Anonymous said...

euros rock!

i had a similar unbelievably underwhelming experience in Paris.
it was like entering the fucking twilight zone.the streets were crawling with lollipop women and men wearing skinny jeans and flip flops.did have a very yummy tuna steak though.
but in fairness there is nothing quite like watching middle aged orange european men in baby pinks shirts wiggle their wrinkled arses to a French rap.
and on that note i am off to lunch and to buy a baguette

FernandoDANTE said...

Wow...this was a really great read.

sarah said...

i ran into tom waits last week in a frozen yogurt shop in sebastopol. while in starstruck coma, i asked for an autograph, to which he said no (he's a 'no' guy apparently), and tip-toed backward out the door...