Sunday, January 11, 2009

ATP Part Four: The Worst Possible Phone Call...

We get into Oslo early and the town is nipple-twistingly cold. Freezing…as in "this place is far too north for civilization" bone-numbing, hate-your-life frost. For some reason this made me feel like I should shave off my beard and just as I had that thought I noticed a classic, old-school, old-man type barber shop outside the van window, as if beckoning to me and my facial follicle folly. I put a pin on that location of my mental map of Oslo with hopes of trekking back there to get clean, but by the time we arrived at the hotel, we were beyond feasible walking distance. A cursory internet search of "Oslo barber" possibly even with "old-school" attached failed to turn up my white whale.

Instead, the fellas in the touring party hopped up the street to an army surplus store. All I can say is if ever given the chance to visit this kind of establishment, in Oslo, you really must. While their vintage regalia is jaw-droppingly expansive (Mick scored a pin from the 1936 Berlin Olympics) it's the inclusion of all types of broadswords, chain mail, full-body armor and other assorted Viking recreations that truly do take you into a mystic mind wonderland of elf slaying and wench-napping.

From there we skipped across the street to one of the most expansive post card shops I've ever seen. The mere size and scope of their stock was paralyzing so much so in that I did not buy a single thing. It was located in a collection of assorted antique/junk shops all sharing a similar plaza/courtyard. The band coterie split at this point as Pat and I got separated from Mick and Zack and went to find the Munch Museum on our own.

I was particularly tired that day and felt somewhat pressured into hitting the museum and the main thing pushing me to go was being able to cross Edward Munch's The Scream off the "Classic Paintings I've Viewed In Person" checklist. I mean, I was already in Oslo, it was (just barely) walking distance from the hotel…I'd be a fool not to.

So Pantano, armed with a city map, ably guided us to the Munch Museum. Back in 2004 it was the site of a brazen, broad daylight robbery where without much force two men stole The Scream and Madonna off the wall and seemingly pulled off one of the higher-profile art heists in recent memory. Both paintings were eventually recovered and after the museum was shuttered for ten months and a $6 million security update both works were put on display to the public again earlier this year.

As we enter the museum an older woman at the counter smiles and says to me "Let me guess…you're here for the Nobel Prize awards?" My laughter was uncontrollable. While I knew the Scarlett Johansson/Diana Ross hosted ceremony would be taking place in Oslo in mere days, it was the idea that, to her, my long-haired, scruffy-faced visage said to her "Nobel Prize."

"No," I responded, "actually the complete opposite…I'm here with a rock band." We made small talk about the club we were playing and having been to town twice before and the good-natured folks there seemed genuinely interested that some fools from an under-the-radar American rock band would choose to visit their museum.

Our trip through the collection was enjoyable. We caught up with Mick and Zack and were able to view a large selection of Munch's works spanning mainly the early portion of his career. The recreation of his scandalous Berlin showing was interesting in trying to discern what exactly was scandalous about it all…apparently his work appeared "unfinished" to the old guard and to display it was a travesty that ultimately worked in Munch's favor as the resultant press/closing of the exhibit enabled him to keep showing his work elsewhere in town.

As we exited the redone Berlin expo we were right back at the front desk/gift shop. With Zack standing there I tell him "I think we missed something…" to which he replied "It's not here."

Fucking hell. Nothing against Munch and his museum, but I really only came to see
The Scream and was under the impression, from what I'd read online, that it was on display there. I hereby declare this the first time I've been royally screwed by Wikipedia.

The kind women at the front desk go on to tell us The Scream is on display at the National Gallery and give us directions how to get there, oblivious to the fact that we've no energy for ANOTHER museum this day. They excitedly get us to sign their guestbook, complete with a picture of us printed from our website taped to the page.

As a sign of gratitude they give us one copy of a lux Taschen Munch book "to share." Hadn't they ever seen the Radioactive Man #1 episode of "The Simpsons"? This can only end in disaster, barring us taping the spine of the book to the tour van floor so that is always accessible during those mind-erasing long drives.

From there we traipse around a little neighborhood we're told has lots of interesting vintage shops and the like, but all I really remember is how fucking cold it was. Seriously, the shit was bananas…frozen bananas.

Back at the hotel with nary a minute to spare before lobby call. We're waiting for Zack and he's not around so we head to the club and load-in without him. Matt goes back to the hotel a little later and grabs Zack, we soundcheck and I sleep until it's time for us to play. Our show was decent, if vaguely unmemorable on this drummer's end.

On to Gothenburg where the venue-prepared food gave everyone in the band diarrhea. Again, 'twas cold beyond belief and while no opening band was quite a bonus, the crowd was dead and the encore we played was unnecessary. Talked with some locals who've made a handful of vacations to Detroit and promised to tell all their acquaintances (local club owners and bartenders) they say "hi."

Reading Vanity Fair while eating candlelit breakfast solo was the high-point of time spent in G-burg.

The snowy, morale-killing drive to Stockholm was only saved by the remote possibility that Pelle from the Hives would possibly be at the show. Luckily, not only did Pelle show up and chat with us, but the club was happily packed and the crowd went apeshit in a moshpit sort of way that made Zack's eyes light up. We played magnificent and it helped redeem us from the bummer in Gothenburg.

Stayed up all night in Stockholm basement hotel room cruising the internet. Went to free breakfast at 7am and ate so much bacon that I think I smelled like a pig pen. The hotel was stylishly modern in that Scandinavian way and it made me feel all the more important while shoving yogurt mixed with granola into my face.

I slept most of the six hour drive from Stockholm to Lund, leaving the van only once to buy some ice cream.

We arrived at the club and my phone buzzed with a call from the Shopinski's, the family that lives next door to my mom's house. I was confused, but let it go to voice mail, still groggy from the drive.

As I slowly began to process the information, I realized that for them to be calling me was peculiar and before I could call them back they were ringing me again.

There'd been a fire at my mom's house. Both her and my brother went to the hospital for smoke inhalation and were expected to be alright and they needed my permission, being of the family, to start the emergency boarding up of the house.

To describe the thoughts racing through one's head at this moment is pretty difficult. It really does feel surreal, like it's all happening in a bad dream and that you just can't wait to wake-up. Trying to imagine the house I grew up in, where ALL my shit still is, on fire, in need of boarding up, it's not really sad, it's just confusing, unexpected and being stuck in Sweden thousands of miles away just left me feeling utterly helpless.

I called my dad and he was on his way there. I called my sister and she didn't answer her phone. I sat and waited as my stomach turned knots on itself. My dad called once he arrived and somberly said "It'll be a long-time before someone's staying at 3424 (the street address)" and it just pierced my heart.

He handed the phone to my Uncle Steve who gave me a brief rundown of the damages (two front rooms, burned, badly…pretty much all of my books destroyed) and asked what of mine needed to be taken from the house for safe-keeping.

The first thing to come to mind was the "fire" boxes, two high-quality, wooden 45 carrying cases, one with all of my White Stripes 7"s and the other with all the most-expensive, least-replaceable singles in my collection.

They're called the "fire" boxes because I so often tell anyone who'd listen that, in case of a fire, grab those two boxes and we won't need to worry about paying for another house and only be partially kidding. The fire was so intense that my brother had to climb out a basement window (just like he used to in high school so he could sneak out and drink) and my mom had a carbon monoxide level of 20% in her lungs, so they could be forgiven for forgetting about the boxes.

After those boxes, I couldn't really muster anything that absolutely HAD to be saved. While there are thousands of LP's and other singles, it all seemed pretty unimportant at that point. They're just records. I remembered my fire-proof safe, filled with years of hand-written journals and one-of-a-kind White Stripes paper ephemera. It's heavy as fuck and partially obscured from view, so I didn't even think it'd be an issue…it could just sit in the house for a couple of days until I got home.

My uncle Steve then offered the possibility of some punks busting into the house after it's boarded up, looking to run off with some shit and just tearing the place up. And that's what really messed with my head. The fire, the damage, the loss…that was all easy to cope with. But the idea of people breaking into the singed house and going through my shit…the mere possibility of that violation made me want to vomit.

I would call back a little while later, after soundcheck, and subsequently tell him to take anything that was already in boxes, which includes a good chunk of 45's, more White Stripes goodies, all of my photos, massive amounts of post cards and other stuff that I'm probably forgetting.

I wouldn't eat anything the rest of the day. I talked to my sister, living in Chicago, and told her if she needed anything to get home (money, credit card, etc) to just let me know and I could take care of it. I talked to various aunts and uncles, all concerned and wanting to know if there was anything they could do to help. It's times like this where one really cherishes being part of a big family. Petty differences and squabbles are instantly put aside and instead they come together to get through the adversity.

I managed to get through the show that night, but clearly my mind was elsewhere. It was the same place we ended the Euro Stoltz tour of '06 and I remember an equally small and tepid crowd back then. After a perfunctory encore I went backstage and continued the litany of phone calls and text messages with family back in Detroit.

Zack let me take larger, non-top-bunk bed in the room that night, clearly sensitive to the fact that I'd had a rough day.


Lee said...

Oh man, I'm very sorry to hear that, Ben. I hope everything is ok.

Anonymous said...

hope everything is sorted now and there wasn't too much stuff lost/damaged.

I did wonder what was going on with the cass site but now you are able to blog so things must be in not such a bad way.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad your family is ok. It's torture to be so far away from someplace you need to be.

khill said...

Sorry to hear about this. Hope everything worked out as best as possible given the situation.

Kaber said...

Sorry to hear your news from Detroit. Really blows.

troyy said...


Anonymous said...

Really sad to read all that.
Hope that your mother and brother have fully recorvered [also from the shock]
Take care,

Anonymous said...

Shit. All my love to you and your family. I lost my grandfather just around then otherwise I´d been at the gig in Lund. See you next time you´re in malmö.
Puss och kram
/J (friend/family of RS)