DAY 7: GUILFORD ENGLAND

KING MIDAS IN REVERSE

 

Guilford Festival. Martin Elbourne in a cowboy hat. The Waterboys. Hobbits. Corn Circles. Bland British cooking. Boiled chicken, jacket potatoes and a field of suffering Teabags who are a good fifteen degrees out of their comfort zone.

Whoa, it's hotter than shit up in this piece. We end up three hours late. Stuck in Putney with a flat tire on the rental van. Stuck in Putney with the shot hip blues again.

After some static from security, we arrive to an open field with 20,000 people. Sunburned beauties making their rounds, 17 different kinds of Vegetarian Burgers, kids on leashes, dogs running free... The Stranglers are on an opposite stage. I'd kind of like to hike over there.

Kids on leashes while the Stranglers play. Who could resist?

A geezer on a motorcycle with his daughter in the sidecar says to Dan, "I'm a Green On Red fan and my daughter's a Chuck Prophet fan". It makes my day. There is a dog. We need dogs. Dogs need dogs.

We've come a long way to spit on a Hobbit.

But of course -- if you could spit on a Hobbit just any old where, who'd ever leave home, right?

Yeah, right.

The gig doesn't look dodgy on first glance to the naked eye, but on closer inspection, there are THE SIGNS. First clue? The bloke behind the monitor desk sports a lobster rash that can only be brought on by three days direct exposure to THE SUN. The dark side of the sun. It's THE SUN or THE RAIN. Never anything in-between at these festivals.

There are also empty crates of cider with cables tangled like spaghetti spilling out everywhere. It's a conspiracy of electricity.

Why are the monitor man's cut off's down around his ankles? He's got a lit joint hanging out of his mouth. Only it's not lit—it went out an hour ago somewhere in the middle of a an Irish folk act's set. Is there some genealogy to this shit I'm missing?

Remember, ultraviolet rays from the sun will damage the skin but can also create vision problems.

Fact is, they've got a good crew here but they are only so strong. After so many bands and more pints, they start to wilt. Wilt like a good old fashioned sex scandal, Christine Keeler, blowing us a kiss. They lose their power.

Yep, it's every man for himself. Some babies never learn.

Turns out there is some confusion and a Piano Keyboard we requested is not there for Chris in time for our set. An oversight.

The Waterboys go on after us, so we attempt to work the GOR charm to cadge a keyboard from Mike Scott and his middle class gypsies. It's a shoe-in as two of the Waterboys crew were once somehow employed directly or indirectly by GOR. We reach out for assistance but are given the thumbs down. Shit, they've got like three of them (pianos).

Didn't the same charm got us down into THE PIT in Greece? GOR ain't got the mustard to cut the custard today. Learn something everyday. Like never trust a man with two first names, and vitamin D and ecstasy don't mix. And something else, I forget...

Mike Scott, Mark David Chapman, Sarah Jane Olson.

With no piano the set goes a bit wobbly. It goes pear shaped as they're wont to say here. I'm staring down at Excalibur having to remind myself where to put my fingers, and Chris? God knows what's going through his head. But he's playing that organ twice as hard to make up for no piano. The set ventures out to the edge of the cliffs and studies the rocks below, and before we know it, IT'S OVER.

The crowd love it. LOVE IT.

It really wasn't that bad of a show. Danny was singing his tits off.

The sun goes down and my mood lifts. We stand off to the side and watch the Waterboy's overblown, melodramatic piano filled set. They're not bad. Pretty damn good, to be truthful. Inspiring even. So good we forget their precious bullshit from just an hour ago.

Self-sacrifice has it's values. Lost on many.

"There's always tomorrow". And there's also a good dog crap analogy out there somewhere.

I could use it right about now.

Nah. This is The Sea. THIS IS THIS. SEE THIS LINE, MOTHERFUCKER? THAT WAS THE RIVER! THIS IS THIS!

Day 6: Strade Blu Festival, Faenza Italy

Missionaries for the Wait and See Position

 

One of the best gigs on the tour. We run into a couple expatriates. The food was to die for. Roasted vegetables and more flan. Our hosts are all around five star hangs.

The gig is outdoors in an old square. The sound bouncing off the architecture is very forgiving. We're starting to play decent. Jack and Daren begin to lock in. We notice, though that Daren seems to have a lump high on the right side of his forehead. But we're cooking. Yes, we are.

Sort of.

Tonight we're at a great hotel with a super cool Buick Skylark like Cappuccino machine in the lobby. For some reason I take a picture of it. I'm slowly learning to use this new digital camera I bought. I'm too smart for those dumb ass owners manuals. I'll post the pictures on my website in the gallery.

Yeah, right.

I reach for Homicide (like a lot of criminals, I like True Crime) by David Simon —a paperback I've been munching on, but it occurs to me after shaking out by backpack and suitcase, it's probably back in the hotel in Vienna.

Hate when that happens.

I'm still buzzing from the gig. Bouncing off the walls to what's easily 15 channels of TV (if you count the Italian Home Shopping Network).

ANYWAY, 15 channels is like 13 more than there used to be in the UK. Did it ever occur to anyone that by running the color bar with the clock, Big Brother was sending a sinister message: "We're showing you this color bar, but we could be showing you reruns of The Bob Newhart Show or The Little Rascals. Tough tittie's lads, now go to bed, her majesty requires your presence bright and early in the salt mines."

But so much has changed, even the pubs in England stay open as late as they wish. Adults are being treated like grown-ups and given choices about when to go to bed at night.

It'll never work. What in God's name were they thinking?

Things change or they don't. The best hotels are not necessarily the swankiest. If you can lie in the bathtub and watch the TV at the same time then you know you're in a nice place. A good cable package is an added bonus. That goes without saying. This is one of those in the middle of nowhere places away from busy streets and shops. I venture a stroll. No particular place to go.

Time fades away, but things don't really change. My inner dialogue goes off, Gee, I don't ever remember "man-boobs" ever working their way into a conversation. That's new. I've heard the word man boob more times in the last three days than in my entire life. It's come up today like 18 times... gynomastis? No. "Man boobs." For a while, I tried to convince myself that I was still in Greece and "manboobs" was maybe a Mediterranean delicacy, Something like odd pasta -- like couscous. But they mean, yeah, gynomastis: man boobs.

Still, that fried pie sure was good. That was in Greece, right?

Green on Red? We're not bridled by convention like "product" for now. I'm happy to be out here. A good distraction. And I've got true affection for these guys, Jack, Danny, Chris and that drummer... what was his name?

Back in Chuck World, touring behind my last record, the label had adopted the dreaded "wait and see" position. No hard feelings, it happens. Which is like driving with the brakes on. Crawling along at a speed you can see your future. There's no mystery of chance working in your favor. Rock and roll is all about the Big Mystery. The Big What Happens Next? Anyway, that's my job, why complain?

Because it feels good?

Green On Red? What are we doing out here? Ya know, in Hip Hop, Old School's anything more than five years old. Not sure what that makes Green On Red. Maybe we're the school, the old firetrap they burned down to build the new school. Or the vacant gravel ditch lot where they built the first school. Someday they'll tear this school down and build a Wal-Mart where we can watch clips of the old school through window on a flat screen TV no less. Friend of mine sometimes talks, rather sadly, about a dacha -- a cabin, a country place—he owned between the Sheremetevyo Airport and Moscow, right where there's a giant, startling, looming sculpture to mark the point where the Russians stopped the Nazis on the Eastern front in that really big war. His ramschackle cabin is gone: and what's there now is an IKEA. Yep.

Even if you don't like TV, I'm sure there will be something on to watch.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, right.

Gotta crash. Tomorrow we might get to spit on a Hobbit.

STAY TUNED. GREEN ON RED DISSED MY MIKE SCOTT

Day 5:  VIENNA, AUSTRIA

"If you're so smart, how come you ain't rich?"

Early morning flights are brutal. You feel your body slowly eating you alive from the inside out. Gnawing away at you. Eyes stinging like you've been held down and subjected to Drano eye-drops.

I meander around the Duty Free store at the airport. Decide to pass on postcards depicting the Acropolis and the Aegean coast line. If I get homesick for Greece I'll visit my local Greek Restaurant—I can be sure these same images will be on display beneath a film of the other grease.

All attempts to board as civilized humans goes out the window. The Shanghais principle is in full effect. Shanghais principle? Yeah, no one seems to have any interest in forming a line. So an unformed blob of a crowd mobs around the boarding gateway. Sort of like dumber-than-lemmings lemmings. I'd stand back but I've got a guitar in an unprotected soft carry-on case and need to get in there and dog fight my way into one of the overhead compartments or risk having it thrown to the wolves, or worse, down into the JFK equivalent: the den of thieves below, the dark and hellish underworld of baggage handlers

All this for Dan's clay hip?

We board the flight and Danny makes a point of letting the stewardess know that he's carrying a fragile guitar. Yes, Dan makes his point.

"Careful Honey, he says, that's a HOLL-OW-BODY, I make my living with that thing..."

"That's your living?" she retorts, "You must live in Teepee..."

Good one. We arrive in Vienna and are shuttled to the legendary rock hotel whose name mercifully escapes me right now. With some time to kill before sound-check and fearing lying down and falling into a death-nap coma, I decide to take a stroll through a busy Vienna shopping district to test the theory that the Viennese are the type to reach out and grab you, confront your ass, if you jaywalk. In a "Hey Pal, we-don't-do-that-here" kind of way....

So far, the first couple of crosswalks, I lose my nerve, but I carry on the sociological Stanford prison experiment in the spirit of science. I'm a good and giving man; I can think of nothing short of slow dancing with Dick Cheney that I wouldn't do to further the just causes of science, art and core fucking values.

One observation: It's rather hot out. Spring is in the air. Really brings out the best in women's fashion.

Next thing I know the wind just kind of blows me into the other American Embassy. A certain Scottish chain restaurant with golden arches. It's like a Disco in here. Or maybe a rave; hell, I don't know the distinctions... Fast Food House.

Fine, nowhere else I'd rather be. Because I have an agenda. You see, they still deep fry the (4.5 grams of trans fat containing) apple pies in the Old World. You'll find that orange lava on the inside and the bubbling lunar surface on the outside. I got to have it. Just got to have it. Evidently, MacDonald's deleted this practice from the menu in the states 1,000 lawsuits ago. Long before their post Fast Food Nation attempts to escape their hard earned junk-food image, by becoming the largest buyer of green apples and walnuts in the world.

Greece is dead, long live the grease.

We play a club that we later agree is sleazy as opposed to gross. More on that to come. Sleazy is good. Gross is bad.

Whatever.

Chris's keyboards are turned up in my monitors tonight. Chris is a genius. A singularly funky inventive cat. My ears have grown in 18 years, and I'm beginning to break the code on those hieroglyphic shapes that flew over my head way back when. Always imaginative. I've got newfound appreciation for the dude.

It's a sloppy but inspired set. Too hot to be inside though.

STAY TUNED—TOMORROW WE GET MISSIONARY POSITIONED

Day 4 Greece: Now We Go to Jim Morrison’s Grave?

Exene Cervenka told us in the beginning, in our back-in-the-day days, that a grilled cheese sandwich and minestrone soup is always a safe bet. Food on tour. Cooked, peeled or boiled: This is the code of the road.

Tonight I break the rules.

We sit around the poolside at our hotel under a sky blue grass awning and I throw caution to the wind by ordering a Greek Salad. Not sure what they call a Greek Salad in Greece. But it was covered with a brick of Feta cheese you could roof your house with.

Dan braves a dip in the Sea. We fear for his hip in this foreign sea. You have to cross the road to get there. It's treacherous. Danny scrambles across barefoot.

Go get `em tiger!

Today is our first gig. On a bill with Franz Ferdinand etc (turns out that Franz Ferdinand is at least four, maybe five fellows). Our gig starts off on the wobbly side and proceeds to slide downhill from there. My guitar sounds like a spoon in a garbage disposal. My vocal monitor is hissing like a subliminal message for Oscar Meyer bacon. Confronted with a snowballing disaster, I do the first thing any guitar slinger worth his salt immediately does: I TURN UP.

Why, I don't know.

The effect is always like leaning into the punches. You end up against the ropes unable to lift your arms praying for the round to end. By turning up, you sincerely believe you can make things better, yet inevitably you end up making it a thousand times worse. Some babies never learn.

And when Jack's leather straps busts on his bass, the gimp meter is in the red. It's hard for me to not be distracted. I flag over someone from the side pit to come out and pull him back together. He waves them away like a wounded soldier waving away the enemy. Or a dying man's last words of "fuck you."

Then Jack's strap breaks for the second time. It's started to get hopeless. Jack heroically hangs in there as do all of us but we can't seem to start or end songs anywhere near the same time. It's a rough one. Hell of a way to start a tour.

Festivals are what they are. Big crowds. But not necessarily OUR crowd. There's the rub.

There's an old joke that goes: How do you get a guitar player to turn down? Put a chart in front of him.

The postmortem: Later Dan offers up an Air Force One analogy. Says he wants to feel like the president. He wants to feel protected. He wants love. He wants to take that love and shine it on the audience and feel the warmth reflected back into his face.

I promise to see what I can do.

"I want the band to be like Air Force One. Prophet, you're my wingman."

Bobby Knight couldn't inspire us out of the muck tonight. Not with a stack of I-hop pancakes and scholarships for all the orphans, not with free ice cream and world peace.

All the sports analogy are tossed around. Carsten offers up the most apropos: There's Always Tomorrow.

I treat myself to a pity meal. Followed by two fat slices of flan. Flan in a tray. Like brownies.

Genius. Genius.

Day 3, Greece: ROCKWAVE FESTIVAL, Athens

The Rules of The Road, Unfolding

1) Never overburden your bag.

2) Van must remain upright at all times.

3) Food is to be cooked, peeled or boiled only.

Flying out of Stuttgart with a day and some change, rehearsal under our belts, we arrive a day early in Athens to pop the cherry on this hit-and-run tour. It's a festival gig. Eight bands on one stage in a meadow atop a mountain overlooking God's own swimming pool, the Aegean Sea. Cool beans.

Lazing around the hotel pool, chewing the fat, our morbid curiosity gets the best of us and we decide to head up the hill to the festival grounds to catch tonight's headliner: Guns and Roses.

The radio car drive up the mountain road is dramatic.

With the aid of a little of that old Green On Red charm, we hustle our way onto the festival grounds and after tying on Day-Glo wristbands as instructed, we are escorted down into THE PIT with the shutterbugs and media types; spitting distance from Axl and Co.

Shit, he don't look so tough.

Somewhere in the middle of Guns and Roses set I swore I saw Axl Rose look at his watch. I mean, it wasn't like he fixed his stare on it. It was more of a sideman salute. A deft pull-up of the sleeve as if brushing his arm, in one swift motion, a slick kind of maneuver. I turn to Chris: "Did you see that?"

"I think Axl -- is that really a word?—just looked at his watch."

"Is he afraid he'll go over the allotted time?".

Chris enlightens me. Such do we expect of expatriate keyboard dudes. Chris says Merle Haggard has a rule barring any of his band from carrying wallets on stage, fearing the audience might think that the band is up there playing for the money.

Obviously, no sane person would play music for money, even overlooking the Aegean Sea. Chris says that Steve Wynn on the other hand—wallet very much secure in his front pants pocket—has his own rule: NO WATCHES ON STAGE.

This is not an advice competition, but I'm leaning Steve Wynn's way. Music: Keep your wallet and you can always buy another Timex if the hoodlum's and riffraff swipe it. How much time is enough playing to folks who want to listen? The Rules of the Road unfold.

Don't stand in the sun if you've got butter on your head. Good advice. Maybe worthy of being a Rule.

There was an explosion of light at a peak musical moment during the Guns and Rose set and I felt the heat from another sun on my face. Intense heat. Another sun.

Tommy Stinson (formerly of our old school mates The Replacements) is playing bass with GnR. In terms of pure professionalism—can't speak for Axl— Tommy has come a long way. First time I saw The Replacements was at SF's legendary Gay disco Monday night stalwart the, I Beam. Three songs into the set and a fight breaks out ON STAGE. At which point Tommy addresses the audience and asks if there are any bass players in the house. Then he hands off the bass to the first volunteer and heads to the bar to enjoy the retarded but entertainingly inspired disintegration of a gig. Tommy's learned.

But Axl's -- singing, I suppose. Odd.

Backstage the "Guns" road crew proudly show us the results of the When-Will-Axel-Go-On-Stage? betting pool. A spread sheet laid out like a racing form in three minute increments. Horses with names like: Watery Grave, Knickers In A Knot, Don't Call Me Late For Dinner, Izzy's Fax Machine, Donkey Dick Blues.

The Green on Red machine isn't exactly looking for the trifecta. But hey! We've got fluorescent wristbands and an ocean of pretty Greeks to look at while we stumble through.

Axl hasn't been able to finish a record for over a decade. It seems possible to me that Axl Rose is depressed. Not in a hand wrenching, paralylitic, incapacitated kind of way. More in a veering from ecstasy to agony in a matter of seconds kind of way. Indecisive and dysfunctional, unbalanced spiritually, musically, physically. This could merely be the influence of the Grecian Sea, this thought. These hominids discovered philosophy, am I right? Hey, I'm not Dr. Phil, but he seems lonelier than Martha Stewart, Axl does.

Tonight, though, I get a glimpse of the GnR power, I'd only ever heard about. I really couldn't name but like one GnR song before tonight, but they are killing tonight with the crowd singing along en masse.

STAY TUNED FOR TOMMORROW... NOW WE GOT TO JIM MORRISON'S GRAVE?

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