Friday, July 04, 2008

Ground Rule Double

I'm lost in Europe. I came to on a flight to Paris this morning realizing that I hadn't eaten or slept nearly as much as my body has been begging me to. I think on leaving home, on a bright, sunny day in SF that I was forecasting the worst, and just generally lowering my expectations for these few weeks. If nothing else I've gotten to fire into a brand new passport, RFID chip and all (my last passport expired later this year, but was in such bad shape that, when scanned, identified me as a citizen of the Republic of Ghana). Exciting times. I had read a bunch of things online about how to easily disable that damn chip. They make passport wallets that block the signal, and all sorts of other neat gadgets that more often than not center around tin foil and paranoia. The easiest method seems to be, gleaned through extensive scientific research, to give the passport a good, solid whack with a hammer and then just hope for the best.

A wing, and possibly a prayer.

I've been spoiled (maybe spoiled isn't the right word) by being able to bed down on a bus for a few weeks at a time, spread myself out, and not have to confront the ever-worsening state of air travel these days. I can't actually imagine the process being any more inhumane. Were it not for sleeping pills and Boards of Canada I would be chained to a radiator in Heathrow right now, Peter Buck style.

So, 10 or so hours to Amsterdam, and then another 2 to Oslo. I psyched myself up for the few days in Norway and downloaded some Mayhem, Immortal, Burzum and 1349 records. It has its comedic elements, but for the most part black metal is the balls. If you get tuned into it (and tuned into the good stuff) it's a trip. My pal Erin lent me a book a few years back on the mishief that those crazy black mettalers get up to in the midst of their never ending winters up here, burning churches and lopping off the heads of cattle and such, it was a good read, but I couldn't quite picture it, in fact I didn't really even recognize Norway in the summer. Folks up there like a good snow storm, and when it all melts away you are left with a bunch of H&Ms and pale faces. There is something dark and brooding in the Norwegian woods though, regardless of the season.

Along these same lines (Black Metal keeps cropping up in my life these days) I spotted Peter Beste's book of Photography last week at a bookstore in SF. It really captures all of the pomp and theatrics of the Scandinavian metal scene as well as the land and environment that breeds it. It's pretty pricey, but the photography is really great. It got me all fired up to be in Norway again and to hang out with this dude.

Instead I was greeted by these two douche duffel bags at the airport. They were pounding Tuborg at the bar and sneering at all the girls that walked by. Harsh realities. You go looking for fake blood and face paint and end up with an Ikea and Norsk-mullets.

After I made it to the hotel even the prospects of a mini Euro bed sounded pretty ok to me. I slept like a baby full of gin until about 4 AM.

It was at that point that I realized that the sky remained like this for most of the night.

I got up early the next day and went for a walk around town. I was surprised to see the vikings reading John Fante. It made my day, actually.

And then I found my way to the best metal record shop in all of Norway, Neseblod, which is ground zero-ish for most of that scene.

After all, what are we really here for?

I put a hurting on a strawberry rhubarb pie from the mission pie shop right before I left California. I guess I was building up a bit of food-related fortitude for the next 3 weeks. It's starting to pay off since I've been living off of sandwiches that some kind soul keeps hanging from the door handle of my hotel room. I sure miss that pie though.

The first show was in Arvika, and we left in the afternoon to drive the three or so hours across the Swedish border to the festival site. It was all green and lush. Mostly because it rained almost non-stop during the drive.

The festival was on day 3, maybe 4 and the site was approaching a swamp-like calibre of mud. Slayer headlined the first day, Interpol the second and we were batting cleanup.

It was a show.

I'm thankful that there are only a few festivals on this tour, and no more in Scandinavia. They can be a bit trying. Check the Swedish refrigeration.

The band just before us was some sort of ill-advised attempt at Swedish hip-hop. I was talking to the local lighting guy who had been on the site for a week getting rained on and aurally abused by some shockingly bad bands. When I asked him where this particular band was from he told me Vasteras and I replied 'cool.' He shot me a cold glare and said 'no, very not cool.' Agreed. This is what Swedish hip hop looks like. It's not a natural union, and is a bit like watching a horse trying to ride a unicycle. The crowd couldn't have found the down beat if their lives collectively depended on it.

Now what follows is a pretty unique experience to most, though not to anyone who has done a tour with a rock band in Europe in the summer (or winter, or really any time at all). It's a pretty fitting anecdote for the first real day of a European tour. So, half of us pile into a van for our predetermined 3-hour ride back to Oslo from Arvika. The driver (a different driver from the one who brought us there in the afternoon) informs us that we will need to wait until everyone is ready to leave the site (meaning waiting until the truck is packed) because there is a single GPS unit between the 2 vans and she has never been to Oslo before. This should have been a red flag straight away, but everyone was pretty excited to have been done with the show and really into being in a new place for a change. So, we wait until both vans are loaded and then roll out onto the highway which, even to our untrained eyes is clearly a different road that we arrived from. We notice the little arrow stating 'Arvika: 29 km' passing in the opposite direction (the direction opposite to, say, logic). We follow the van that is following the GPS which eventually leads us (after about a solid hour of driving down a dark highway) to a single lane dirt road in the middle of Sweden in the middle of the night. All of this is only escalated by the fact that no one has really slept or eaten properly in days and the jet lag is making everyone either giddy or punchy or an unlikely combination of the two. When we pull onto the second, and smaller of the two dirt roads Jake, our merch guy, who managed to doze off for a bit, wakes up and mumbles to the packed van 'there had better be like 3 kegs at this party,' and then promptly falls back to sleep. The rest of us just grow steadily angrier. Through the use of a Blackberry we manage to find our location on the map (far, far away from where we, or anyone really, would want to be) and realize that we are miles from a paved road and, in fact are just circumnavigating an extremely large, dark lake. Stellar. After some wrangling we navigate ourselves back to a main road (and manage to restrain Mark from tossing the GPS into said lake), and head in the most likely direction (i.e. towards Norway). We had been driving for a little over 2 hours on dark, back-country roads on the wildest of goose chases, burning precious, $12/gallon Swedish gasoline when we pass a little sign on the side of the road that reads 'Arvika: 29 km,' and we realize that we have driven in a very large, painful circle. Through some minor miracle we made it back to Oslo, and back to the hotel at around 4:30 AM, just in the nick of time for our 8:15 AM lobby call for a flight to Paris the next day.

I woke up after 3 hours of nervous sleep both looking and feeling like someone had been poking me in the eye for the entire duration of my nap.  Tell me about it. Shopping at the stress store.

And it was all another harrowing day spent mostly in the airport. Europe: 1, Lucas : nil.