Thursday, January 29, 2009

MFIC: A Closer Look at the Musical Taste of Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel Jr...

I'll forgive the guy for spelling Pasty Cline's name wrong, not including a thunderbolt in listing those guys who wrote "Dirty Deeds: Done Dirt Cheap" and adding an unnecessary "e" for Alicia Keys. Otherwise, I don't think Detroit has ever been in more-capable hands. Did he seriously just name drop Gang of Four and Black Flag? The last band on his list ain't too shabby either. Taken from his questionnaire posted at and I haven't felt so happy in quite some time.

"I like too (much) music to pick a favorite but if I was stuck on a desert island I'd want an Ipod loaded with a generous helping of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Johnny Cash (especially "At Folsom Prison"), Patsy Kline(sic), Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, the Who, ACDC, Peter Frampton (specifically "Frampton Comes Alive"), Foghat, The Clash, Gang of Four, Joy Division, New Order, Black Flag, Public Enemy ("Fear of a Black Planet" changed my life), Ice Cube, Run DMC, Tupac, DMX, Jay Z, Notorious B.I.G., Moby, The Chemical Brothers, DJ Shadow, The Crystal Method, Lil Jon and the East Side Boys, Alicia Keyes, Jill Scott, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and last but not least Detroit's own Dirtbombs."

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.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

ATP Part Three: "We Should've Ended at ATP..."

Rotterdam was fine. Played some Star Wars video pinball with Pat to pass the time. Didn't watch the first opening band, Beyond Lickin', and the second, Dead Letters was one of the more confused, offensive things I've seen of late.

Our set was ordinary and the crowd enjoyed it, but once backstage some uttered the slogan for the rest of our time in Europe, "We should've ended at ATP." It didn't seem like that big a deal when we'd booked the gigs, but now in the middle of it all it was clear. Why would you go to the equivalent of rock and roll summer camp for all kinds of fun and hang out time and then follow that with MORE shows? Ugh.

From Rotterdam to Hamburg, home of the Reeperbahn, where sex shops, prostitutes, gambling and all other naughty possibilities abound. We've reached a level of recognition at the Molotov club where our name is included in the list of "notable" bands that have played there and have their name painted above the front entrance. That's a good sign, right? It feels like we're family, coming home for the holidays.

With time to kill after load-in/soundcheck, I decide to sample the cornucopia of delights the neighborhood had to offer. It only takes a few minutes in a German sex shop for me to realize how milquetoast or vanilla I really am. I mean…this stuff would make Marilyn Manson say "Whoa, hey, why don't you tone it down there a little?"

With no desire for life-sized rubber fists or stud-encrusted ball-gags, I made my way to the outdoor holiday market, festively decorated with Christmas lights and the inviting smell of food being cooked over open fires all the complete opposite of what one would expect in this civic municipality of inequity. So I found myself surprised when I unknowingly walked into the "adult" section of the market only to stumble upon, I shit you not, a stall selling wooden vibrators.

At this point, I call "too far" and order all guilty sex toy manufacturers back to their respective "time-out" corners to sit and think about what their service to society is. Have we come so far that…these things need to be made out of wood? Is this the "greening" of the sex industry or the opposite of it? I hate a world where I am now saddled with the knowledge that such a peculiar object even exists. I want to quit life at this point.

Before we hit the stage we all got individual pizzas to eat after the show. As we sat there waiting for who-in-the-hell remembers what, I got the nerve to munch and minutes later found myself with no pizza left and being prodded to hit the stage. For some inexplicable reason, I find this hilarious.

Molotov was packed and I felt we kinda blew it. There were some tuning issues for a good portion of the set and I just didn't feel that "oomph" that usually permeates the friendly, constricting confines of Molotov. Mick attempted to bring ladies onstage to dance during "Theme" but it didn't work out too well and it just becomes excruciating seeing him struggle with that task.

Upon completion of the main set we were locked out of our own dressing room, left to stand there in the crowd, thumbs-up-our-butts, until we somehow managed to unlock the "Being John Malkovich"-sized door. We reluctantly came back for an encore and "Sherlock Holmes" suffered from Mick's mic shorting out, Zack stopping playing bass to bring HIS mic over to Mick, said mic engaging Mick's synth pedal all resulting in an all-encompassing feeling of embarrassment to wash over me and most likely my bandmates as well.

After a somewhat redeeming "I Can't Stop Thinking About It" complete with a floorshow from the stage-right drummer, we retreated (this time easily) backstage. The roar for more songs was insistent and in our minds uncalled for. Really? We deliver a steaming pile of shit and you still want more? Ok. We ended with "Granny's Little Chicken" and I played the entire song on the floor. From there, the crowd was either satisfied or fed up with our act and we sat backstage in peace.

Until this loud, brash, annoying voice keeps booming through complaining that we didn't play "Pretty Princess Day" to the point where the dude yelling it actually got backstage and I got within seconds of confronting him to say "Who in the FUCK are you?"

Turns out it was Jim Hassler, someone I did not know personally, but a Detroit rock veteran who did time in Cum Dumpster (Finally! a reason to mention them here) and was along for the Gories' entire implosive 1992 European tour as he was Peg's boyfriend at the time. He and Mick talked at length and I merely wished I had another pizza to eat.

Lodging that night was provided at the Molotov's "punk but tidy" apartment a few miles away. The shower was traditional Euro removable nozzle head. These are almost always lacking a hook or attachment to suspend from and instead find the bather trying to awkwardly complete a shower with use of only one hand.

This punk flat would prove to be no exception. But with my MacGyver-like skills, I manage to precariously wedge the nozzle behind some unidentified plastic box structure and I bathe with relative ease. I tell the rest of the band to thank me later.

With everyone tired and Mick's snoring at a fever pitch there was a moment where there were five of us (luggage included) squeezed into one room with six beds, all hoping to escape the EARNOSETHROAT resonance emanating from him. But being so entirely cramped in there, I got out and bunked with Mick, rightfully figuring I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway and more so needing an available power outlet to charge my phone and computer.

So I sat and typed and the with the bar downstairs still open and music blaring I couldn't help but listen along to what was being played. At one point a familiar, lilting melody came through the system and I was racking my brain trying to name the tune. I vaguely discerned the lyrics "and I'll always love you" and fed them through Google and iTunes with no help.

With no recourse, I got fully dressed and marched down to the bar and confronted the DJ. He pointed to a picture disc copy of Thurston Moore's Trees Outside the Academy and the track "Honest James" and I thanked him, told him he was playing good jams and marched back upstairs to go lay in bed and type as Mick snored next to me.

After Hamburg was a much-needed day off. We first made a short drive to the short ferry that took us to Denmark, which is kind of a short country. With approximately a half-hour to kill, we made way to the pseudo-anarchist/hippie/off-the-grid commune of Christiania, located smack dab in the middle of Copenhagen.

Started in the late 1960's and situated around abandoned army barracks, the space is most widely known for Pusher Street, an avenue in the middle of the place where an open drug market at one time flourished. Marijuana, mushrooms, hash (and probably more) were indiscreetly sold in stalls on Pusher Street, supposedly controlled by the Russian mob.

The Dirtbombs played the Loppen club in Christiania in 2002 and since that time there was marked increase in police presence and while every time I've heard anything about the place since then it's always been along the lines of "the Danish government finally shut 'em down." Seriously, I must've heard that at least a half-dozen times in as many years.

So I'm here to report that on the surface, Christiania is alive and well. The only visible difference is that there seems to be no more narcotics dealing on Pusher Street. That feels good to say and apparently the residents there feel the same way, as the drug trade detracted away from the original tenets and purpose behind the inception of the place.

We didn't get much done in our half-hour…there was an indoor holiday market where I contemplated for 5 minutes whether or not to buy a bootleg White Stripes DVD from the Icky Thump tour and ultimately decided against it.

From Copenhagen we'd take an overnight ferry to Oslo on a ship fully equipped with sleeping cabins, several restaurants, bars, dance clubs, a movie theater and a wide-range of other crap to offer. Once inside the state room with Pat (bunk beds!) I immediately konked out.

Pat would pop back in later and say that if I was hungry that he'd be eating at the fancy restaurant on board. I demurred and he came back soon after to say that because said establishment only took reservations that he would be eating in 45 minutes…the soonest available opening they had, while empty tables plentiful.

We ordered on note cards that we had to fill out ourselves. I'm sorry, but if I'm eating at a spensive place I certainly am hoping that I'm not required to write anything down or check a box even. My chicken Caesar salad was almost too filling and my steak (the cheapest one they had) was good enough. Matt had given each of us a stipend in Norwegian Kroner for the ferry and mine was completely eaten up by dinner, probably the equivalent of $50. No, I don't think it was worth it.

From dinner back to our quarters where I tried to stomach the over-indulgencies of the Daydream Nation entry in Continuum's 33 1/3rd series. As a die-hard Sonic Youth fan, I recommend all avoid this book at all costs. I'd sleep a little but would spend most of the night awake either staring at the underside of the bunk suspended over me, listening to the Duchess and the Duke on the iPod, reading the wretched SY book or tweaking the intricacies of my White Blood Cells book proposal for Continuum.

After shifting between those activities for hours I noticed my laptop power running low and grabbed for my power cord to plug in. I frantically searched through my man bag, the only place I ever keep the charger, and cannot find it. I get nervous and a little sweaty, if only because I pride myself on not losing shit on tour. With no more power on the PowerBook I just sit and stare for the next hour or so, trying to remember where in the hell I lost the damn thing.

When time to disembark the ship, Zack knocks on our door and hands me my charger saying "It fell out of your bag and I accidentally though it was mine." Granted, it only fell out of my bag in the van, but I still think I can pride myself on the lack of losing things skills. Hell, I'm continually amazed that I've still managed to maintain possession over that little rubber/plastic protective cover for the pointy computer end of my wall charger.