Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A Few More Crumbs

A big round of applause to whoever arranged the illumination of Schloss Charlottenburg, considered by many to be Berlin's most beautiful building, and one of great historical value. I went by it the other night, late, and I have to say they've spared no expense in making it look tacky, like a sort of Bulgarian Disneyland creation. The colors -- inadequately conveyed there on the website -- are so artificial and candy-like that some expert must have put in days finding just the wrong mix. It's quite a feat, uglifying something so completely. I felt actually physically assaulted by it -- granted, it was late and I was tired, but sheesh -- and found myself wondering...what's wrong with white? It seems to work for the city's other monuments just fine.


A big sigh of relief on my part, but no doubt ulcers for others, to discover that this year's Love Parade, confidently trumpeted just a few months ago as absolutely, definitely gonna happen, has been cancelled.

For those of you who (understandably, because you live in the United States, where it was never covered even when a couple of million people showed up for it, because the musical powers that be don't like the music it celebrated) have never heard of the Love Parade, it is or was an institution here. The second weekend of July saw huge crowds of techno fans show up for a parade, first down the Kurfürstendamm, and then, later, on a wider route from Ernst Reuter Platz to the Brandenburg Gate, followed by a weekend of parties in which the cream (and, inevitably, much of the cottage cheese) of the world's DJs and techno performers were booked in a succession of temporary and permanent club spaces.

Some years ago, when I was at JazzRadio here, we had a float in the parade, and I got to discover exactly what the number 2.5 million looked like. I've never seen anything like it: seas of humanity as far as the eye could see. At the Grosser Stern, where the Siegessäule is (you know, the monument featured in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire), the sight was staggering. It took us about six hours to go the distance, and when we reached the end, I happily jumped off and ran to the subway station, with only two things on my mind: pee and get away from all other human beings.

The thing was, as it grew, it became increasingly dependent on the city of Berlin not just for the permits, but for funding as a cultural event. There were really complicated problems, too, like that of toilet facilities. I remember one year, some scientists did a study of what so much urine would do to the soil acidity in the Tiergarten, Berlin's lovely central park, and concluded that all the trees were doomed. (For a cultural index of what this news meant, consider that Germans feel about trees the way Britons feel about dogs). I'm sure people peed in the open, but the park's trees were still standing a couple of days ago.

But, as you may know, the city of Berlin is currently €40 billion in debt, and, much as these kids -- most of whom come from far outside the city, making them sort of German bridge-and-tunnel types -- may spend money, the balance sheet shows that they cost the city more than it makes in bed tax and other revenues. There was a time when it was an attractive proposition, but that time is long gone.

So the Love Parade didn't happen last year, and it won't again this year. It's faded as something politicians like to co-opt (and anyway, we have a gay mayor now, so he doesn't need to prove anything), and, to be honest, techno itself is fading. The last of the city's important techno clubs, the venerable Tresor, closed this year, victim of declining attendance, rising real estate prices, the owner's growing indifference, and the aging of the crowd who put it on the map 15 years ago.

Meanwhile, though, buoyed by the news that it would happen, a bunch of promoters went and rented spaces and, months and months ago (because these people are both expensive and in great demand) booked the performers for what they hoped would be their Big Love Parade Show. Now, there'll be a deficit of some hundreds of thousands of visitors, and it's a mark of their desperation that a friend and I, she in her 40s and me older, were handed a flyer for one (headlined by DJ Marusha, who's gotta be around 40 herself by now). Mostly, they avoid handing things like that to us old folks. Hell, one year, I went to a (superb) Love Parade party at the Kulturbrauerei, which cost a whopping DM 50 (€25) to get into, and the friends I went with had to yell at the guy at the door so he'd let me in. "He's too old," the guy said. Today they'd probably let me negotiate the price.

So I'm very curious how next weekend's going to pan out. Nightlife in this town is thin enough, but I smell a disaster brewing. Ain't no Love in the heart of this city!


Anyway, who wants to get packed into a room with a couple of thousand sweaty dancers when you could enjoy a nice day in the park? And call it art?

That's what PickNick is all about. They've left little flyers looped on plastic ties all over my neighborhood, and the basic deal is they'll rent you a blanket and whatever equipment you need (electric cooler, grill, wicker picnic basket with veddy nice British accessories) and supply you with food and drink. They'll even deliver this to four local parks if you order more than €8 worth of stuff.

Of course, you may have noticed, in true Berlin fashion, that the website barely works, that the English half of it isn't up yet, and that the "monthly menu" contains nothing and hasn't been changed since May. But who cares? According to the flyer, it's "a summer product and art project from anSTADT," which I believe is a design firm. And when you have nice design, who needs content?


Speaking of nice design, kudos to Apple for announcing that the first Apple Store on the European continent (there's already one in London) would open in Berlin late this year or early next. As a long-time member of the Faithful, I paid a visit to the one in Austin this March, and it will be interesting to see what the one here will look like. The bad news, though, is that it's going to be on the Ku'damm, which is so often an attractive address for people who've never been here, but is a pretty dull thoroughfare with few locals shopping on it and astronomical rents. Jeez, there's enough space for rent on Friedrichstr., and that's much closer to where people actually go. But if I'm still here, I'll make the trek over there anyhow.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Chet Helms, R.I.P.

I got word yesterday that Chet Helms, founder of the Family Dog, passed away early yesterday morning in San Francisco. He was 62, and had had a stroke, as well as complications from Hepatitis C.

I never actually knew Chet, since he'd gone low-profile by the time I moved to San Francisco in 1970, but I met him on my first trip to the city, early in 1967. I was living in New York at the time, and my girlfriend's father was mixed up with Phyllis Johnson and the Aspen Magazine crowd. When they asked him, thanks to his connection with Marshall McLuhan, to design an issue of "the magazine that comes in a box," he decided one of the things that had to be in it was a piece on hippies, so he got them to dispatch the famous photographer Steve Schapiro and me to go find out what was going on. I enthusiastically picked up my ticket, and was half-way out the door of the Crawdaddy! magazine offices when a door belonging to one of our mysterious neighbors opened. "Hey," said the guy, "you going somewhere?" Yeah, I told him, San Francisco. "Cool. Got a place to stay?" Uhhh, come to think of it, I didn't. "That's okay. When you get to the airport, take a cab to 1836 Pine. Write that down: 1836 Pine. I'll tell them you're coming, and when you get there, ask for Luria or Lynne."

Little did I know that I was being plopped down into the center of what was going on out there. (Having the okay of my neighbor, whose name was Travis Rivers, was another piece of luck). The house on Pine Street belonged to a group which called itself the Mystic Research Foundation/Northern California Psychedelic Cattleman's Association, in the person of Luria Castell and her friends, many of whom had joined with Chet Helms to form the Family Dog, one of the two reigning concert-promotion companies in the nascent San Francisco scene. They had split with Helms, though, over some particularly hippie-ish concern; I seem to remember it had something to do with selling out. From the fact that you've never heard of the Mystic Research Foundation until you read these words, you can see who won the battle.

But my assignment was to write a great piece on what was going on out there in San Francisco, and these people knew everyone. Fortunately, they were still friendly with Helms & Co., so I spent one night with my new-fangled Phillips casette tape recorder in the light booth at the Family Dog's venue, the Avalon Ballroom, recording Big Brother and the Holding Company. (The tape still exists, and is in the hands of an archivist who says he's going to see if it can be released. It's really that good.) The next day, I was walking down Haight Street with some of the folks from the house on Pine Street, and here came Janis Joplin down the street in a car. Recognizing some of the folks in our little crowd, she hung out the window and said "Hey!" and we walked over. She got out and talked with us, and I, all of 18 and shy as could be, told her I thought she'd been amazing the night before. "Aw, ain't you sweet," she said, and planted a huge kiss on my cheek. I was on Cloud 9.

Day after day, I got up and did my interviews. Sometimes I hung out with Steve, although he, wisely enough, preferred to work without an 18-year-old millstone distracting him. Things were a little different than they seemed in the meticulous Victorian interior of 1836 Pine: a lot of the Haight elders (well, a lot of 'em were over 30) were steeling themselves for an invasion of kids that summer, and were wondering if the new society they were trying to build would survive the onslaught.

But as someone vitally interested in music, I knew I had to interview Chet Helms. I don't remember anything about the interview, though, so maybe it didn't happen. What did happen was that he gave me a copy of each of the Family Dog posters to date -- February, 1967, at least those he had in stock -- and I've kept them until now, although I'm currently funding my move to France in part by regretfully selling them off. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but preoccupied, perhaps not very awed by the presence of a reporter from Aspen.

In 1977, I tried again. By then, I was living in San Francisco, and my old Rolling Stone compadre Jon Carroll was editing New West, a New York Magazine spinoff about California. I pitched a story on whether or not Texans really ran San Francisco, since a huge number of media-visible San Franciscans, from the queen of society to one of its most prominent ministers, was from Texas. Naturally, I wanted to find Helms, who at the time was running a massage business -- strictly legit, I hasten to add. But he was very unfriendly towards the idea of being interviewed for an article, although not unfriendly to me. I think he just felt he'd been burned so many times in the past that he'd rather not do it. I had a lot more experience under my belt at that point, and was quite unhappy that he felt that way. Of course, he made it into the article anyway. No way you can write about San Francisco's Texans without including Chet Helms. (And yeah, I know the trivia: he was actually born in California, but he grew up in Texas).

I lost touch with what Helms was doing, and I even missed his 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love event, probably because I was living here.

Looking back, I can say my sympathies were always with the Family Dog as opposed to Bill Graham's organization, although Graham, in the end, was the more realistic businessman, and, in his own way, as idealistic as the Family Dog people were, albeit with different ideals. Reading the statement Helms wrote on that 30th anniversary website, I am reminded again of the tremendous potential for improving the world which existed in those days and still does exist today, although many of the principles and ideals are deeply unfashionable. (And, to be sure, the original crowd got a lot of it wrong: don't even get me started about the hippies and the class system).

And as I look at that picture on that site of a much older Chet Helms than I remember, I find myself wondering if he felt he'd been a failure, or if he'd found a way to make peace with having achieved what he did achieve and take pride in that. That's the curse of idealists, you see: never being able to do as much of it, do it as perfectly, and do it as quickly as you'd like. Surely his years in business taught him to be happy with what you can do. But whatever he felt, I hope he's at peace now. The elders from that era are fading away, and one can only hope they've succeeded in passing their messages -- and the knowledge of their lives and achievements -- along. Someday, someone's going to want to know. Vitally.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Crumbs Of Summer

The Telekom wars continue, although I've found the program I want to use. The bad news is, Deutsche Telekom owns the wires going into the house, so you still have to give them €14.50 a month for the use of them. I can live with that, but not with the reported month's delay in switching over the service, which they are obliged by law to do immediately. This is typical of them: back when I was getting my first telephone number here, they pretended there was an 8-to-10-week delay in obtaining the number because there weren't enough to go around. Yeah, sure.


Summer is upon us, no doubt about that. If you can't tell by the temperature, you can tell by the broken glass -- beer bottles -- in the street.

I was just in Neukölln, a very heavily Turkish part of town, and there was a fruit stand on every street-corner. I can tell you just by walking past them that the apricots, peaches, and strawberries are ripe. What was odd, though, was the lack of vegetables. Germans just have no use for vegetables (except for the sacred asparagus, which is over), so while I'll have lots of access to fruit over the next weeks, I'll still have to search out vegetables.


One side-effect of summer is that people take off their clothes. I don't mean the famous FKK (Freikörperkultur), or public nudity, which you see in parks and beaches. (I heard an unverified story that the Munich City Council had to pass a law making it mandatory for sunbathers returning to work after a sunbathing lunch in the city's English Garden to put their clothes back on before getting on public transportation). They just wear less. This is mostly a disaster around here. There are acres of flesh exposed which should be left covered for esthetic reasons. The worst offenders are people with tattoos. My old pal Rollo Banks, one of America's leading tattoo artists, used to go ballistic over the quality of European tattooing. He had even set himself up in business in Hamburg with a buddy once, and was appalled at the work being done by European artists. The other thing that he was adamant about was keeping good tattoo work covered. Suntan and sunburn cause the edges of the work to blur, and that sort of thing is very difficult to repair. Not that I think any of the sunburned folks I see walking around with appalling tattoos that would send Rollo screaming particularly care. Hell, if they cared, they'd never have allowed those hideous designs on their flesh in the first place. As always, the worst offenders are men, but the bulky women with bizarre tattoos which are suddenly exposed in summertime -- and there are a lot of them -- make me wonder what race of mutants I'm living among here.


Another oddity of German summertime is movies. A guy I used to know in the film business said that only an idiot -- or an adamant Hollywood studio -- would dare open a new film in the summertime because people just don't go to the movies then around here. So yeah, we're getting Batman Begins and War of the Worlds, but they won't rake in the bucks the way the fall films will. People here get little enough time outdoors, and when the weather's like this, they grab the opportunity. I like to joke that Germans start hanging out outdoors as soon as the ice stops forming on the puddles on the sidewalk, and that's almost accurate. But now, the beer gardens are full, people eat outdoors on the sidewalk at restaurants (and the Berlin Police walk from restaurant to restaurant with clipboards of documents showing how much of the sidewalk each restaurant is allowed to claim and tape-measures, eager to fine someone who's a centimeter or so over the limit), and the parks are jammed during sunny days with people just zoning out in the sun. Like the strawberries, the sun is almost a seasonal drug that needs to be consumed in large quantities while it's available. And hey, just walking around, I've been doing my bit.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I have been offered liberation. Alice wants to rescue me.

Trouble is, I don't know if I'm going to take her up on it. See Alice is a telecom, one of dozens who are now competing for Germans' business. After what I just went through -- and have been through numerous times in the past year with an increasingly intolerant Deutsche Telekom -- I've vowed to switch telecom providers. And that's turning into a headache.

Oh, everyone wants my business. I used to have to dodge phone pitchsters all day -- including ones from Alice -- because they couldn't believe that a man my age, at home at 2pm, was actually working: I should be retired and getting my pension. So I wound up in the database, and, Germany's supposed iron-clad privacy laws notwithstanding -- the same ones that won't allow Telekom to send you an itemized phone bill (true!) -- I get hit about three times a week.

But how to thread through the competing and conflicting pitches and claims? There are some things I already know. Number one, Deutsche Telekom and I are through. They don't want my business. Number two, Arcor is out. A few years ago, a guy showed up at my front door and told me Arcor would do all kinds of things for free that Telekom was charging me for. I signed up for a trial run, only to discover the next day that each and every thing he had said to me was a lie, and that Arcor was going door-to-door targeting foreigners with poor German skills who, they realized, would have trouble with the fine print on the contracts if they bothered to read it. I sent them a registered letter, they backed off. I have since heard other stories of severe problems with them.

But that only eliminates two players. All I need is a telephone and DSL service. I don't want a cell phone or anything connected with it. I have a cell phone for travel only (or I think I do: Carl mailed it back to me from Japan, so I hope it doesn't get destroyed as a terrorist device), and the rest of the time my trusty answering machine takes messages. You'd think that was easy.

Yesterday I auditioned three players. I picked up a brochure from a storefront that's opened in the neighborhood for Versatel, and I see they offer me three programs, with three different download speeds. Since I don't do much MP3 downloading and no video downloading, how much do I need? And then there's the telephone tariffs. Yup: we pay for local calls here, and it's expensive. Another of the attractions of the new telecoms is cheaper calling. Versatel has a very complicated calling structure, and I haven't heard anything good or bad about them, their advertising blitz notwithstanding.

I looked at Alice's website yesterday, and their offers seem attractive enough -- especially the calling. Three drawbacks, though. One, I hear it takes a month to get hooked up, and I want to get hooked up yesterday. Two, I hear they're owned by Italian Telecom, and have you ever owned any technical product from Italy that, like, worked? And three, there's Alice "herself," the rather blowsy model who is everywhere around Berlin on multi-story ads tacked onto the sides of buildings, on subway posters, in-store displays, and magazine ads, all in really uncomfortable-looking poses. Check out the website, you'll see more of her than you want. I have no idea why this should make me feel negatively about the company, but there you are.

Then there's 1+1, who I'd never heard of, but whose website is unsexy, all business, and has a lot of nice-sounding offers I'm going to have to spend some time with over a hot dictionary. From what I can make out, they'd require me to get a new phone, at the very least, so I could do DSL telephony. Losing the one I have wouldn't exactly be a great tragedy. 1+1 The One?

One thing, though. A friend who's made the switch reports that these companies really do care if their customers are happy. That's gotta spell doom for Deutsche Telekom somewhere down the line...

Friday, June 17, 2005

Free Willie!

I don't know how many of you readers share my passion for the music of Austin songwriter Jon Dee Graham, but I find his songwriting so compelling, so passionate, and so adult that I try to go see him every chance I get, either by himself or with his stuperstar companions the Resentments. There's just something about his stage presence and quiet wit that is endlessly entertaining and thought-provoking. It was at a Resentments gig here about a year and a half ago that I finally decided to move to France, and at the one I saw in Austin this March, there was a hilarious bit where Jon Dee's son, Willie, came up to the stage to request that his dad do "Big Sweet Life," one of his best songs.

Willie's been a presence on Jon Dee's albums for as long as he's been solo. As I understand it, it was Willie who suggested that the first album be called Escape From Monster Island, which it is, although there's no song by that name or with that theme anywhere on the disc. Like many Austin father-musicians, Jon Dee also arranges touring schedules around his family's needs, and shows up at a lot of the Dads Who Rock shows.

So I was horrified to read yesterday, in an e-mail from my pal M, that Willie's got a problem. I'll turn the floor over to her:

Here's what I found about the benefit on June 24 at the Continental and Saxon; donation info is below:

Jon Dee Graham's son Willie has developed Legg Perthes, a rare childhood form of avascular necrosis of the hip. For reasons unknown, the head of the femur loses its blood circulation and dies. The Graham family lost insurance coverage when their insurance provider filed Chapter 11. Now Willie's condition is considered pre-existing by other companies, making him uninsurable. They may be looking at several years of treatment, physical therapy and surgery.

The music community is responding with a benefit on Friday, June 24 at The Continental Club. Doors open at 6pm and the show begins at 6:30pm with The Resentments, Matt The Electrician & Beaver Nelson, Walter Tragert, Troy Campbell, Kathy McCarty, Steve Poltz, Bob Schneider, Shawn Colvin, The New Hot Damn (Trish Murphy, Kacy Crowley, Renee Woodward, Honky, Ian McLagan & The Bump Band, James McMurtry, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Alejandro Escovedo & Charlie Sexton & Jon Dee Graham in that order.

The evening will be recorded by Oscar & Grammy-winning engineer/producer Chet Himes for a benefit CD to be released by Freedom Records.

A silent auction will also take place that evening from 6 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. in the space formerly occupied by Gomi at 1313 S. Congress, next door to The Continental Club and upstairs from Southside Tattoos.

There will be a companion benefit at the Saxon Pub on the same night, with Steve Poltz, The Skunks, Standing Waves, Stephen Bruton and more to be confirmed!

Can't make it to the show, but still want to help out? Contributions can be made payable to the Willie Graham Legg Perthes Fund and mailed to: The Willie Graham Legg Perthes Fund, c/o RajiWorld, 1810 Airole Way, Austin TX 78704.

A PayPal account has been set up now, so if you have PayPal you can make an online donation using the payment address of A clickable PayPal icon will soon be available at Jon Dee, and our website. Advance tickets will go on sale at The Continental Club and Waterloo Records on Wednesday, June 14. The tickets
will be $25 in advance and $30 at the door.


As of today, the PayPal address is going to change, but if you go to Jon Dee's website, which I linked to above, there's more up-to-date info available.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: one thing the Europeans recognize that Americans can't seem to get their brains around is that health care is a right, not a privilege. It's tragic that Willie Graham has to find this out at this particular moment in his life, but thanks to the PayPal address, we can all make a small contribution to help. I'm going to, not only to help out one of my favorite performers, but because stories like this PISS ME OFF.

Potato Soup

I spent about four hours at this office yesterday, catching up on all the stuff I hadn't been able to deal with at home because my phone was cut off (I got the next month's bill in the mail yesterday, which means I wasn't even a month overdue when they cut me off -- wonder if this is legal?), and some of the time was spent chatting with another of the journalists, a science reporter who'd just transcribed an interview with the author of a book on the physics of soccer.

Turned out we left at about the same time and were headed in the same direction, me to my house, and he to lunch. "I've found a very nice place that nobody knows about," he said. "It's in the Theaterhaus Berlin," which building houses rehearsal spaces, and where my friend the dancer has worked. "Most of the stuff around the office is just sandwiches and fast food." Oh, I said, but that's not all true. There's a really good Vietnamese place up another block... "Ah, but who wants to eat Vietnamese all the time?" he interrupted. "Here, you can get really good food every day for a good price. They always have potato soup!"

And here, I reflected later, is an immutable fact about Germans and German food: no one wants to eat foreign cuisines if they can help it (not that it's any different in France) and German cuisine does not recognize the seasons. Oh, it does to an extent: there's asparagus season (after which arbitrary date you can no longer buy asparagus anywhere), and strawberry season (currently on as, I believe, asparagus season is waning), and pumpkin season (in the fall). But day to day, Germans eat the same stuff. I remember being shocked in my first apartment one Sunday when it was in the mid-80s (F) outside and the whole building smelled of pork roast. And another sultry August, when I lived across from a supermarket, I saw them advertising this week's special: Eisbein, the fatty pig's trotter so emblematic of Berlin cooking.

Just last week the bakery at my supermarket introduced a new product, a large, doughnut-shaped loaf called the Sommerloch, which is pretty funny, considering. (Sommerloch is a German term for that part of the summer when nothing happens because everyone's on vacation: it means summer hole, so you see where the bread gets its name). To advertise it, they'd photographed a loaf sitting on a pretty checkered tablecloth on a picnic table, with some greenery to be seen in the surrounding and there, on the table with it, was a butter knife and a tub labelled Party Schmalz. That's right, folks: lard. Lard with crisp-fried onions, to be sure, but lard just the same.

It's easy enough to see how this cuisine has become so omnipresent here, given that about nine months out of the year, it's pretty cool, if not downright cold. There's something satisfying about a nice bowl of potato December. I don't much care for Eisbein (and yes, I've tried it), but one of those nice pork roasts like a Krustenbraten goes down well on a wet, wintry day. But for heaven's sakes, celebrate the summer when it's here! And by this, I don't mean the ubiquitous Grillparty, where someone fires up a tiny grill with some of the ultra-fast-burning charcoal they seem to sell here (after, of course, getting the permission of 100% of one's neighbors and positioning it so that no smoke will blow in the noses of anyone who's likely to call the cops on you based on the Food Odor Laws) and warms up some sausages which were probably all ready to eat cold. I'm thinking of a range of cold dishes, of seasonal vegetables, of lighter fare.

But they don't do that here. At least not in Berlin; I can't say what goes on elsewhere in this country, but the food here is unremittingly monochrome, seasoned only with too much salt and the odd dash of nutmeg. It's like we don't have seasons, just plod along day after day, each day the same. No wonder so many of the people in the street look defeated and unhappy. The seasons change, but their senses are only slightly aware of it. And this, I think, is one of the more interesting discoveries I've made about why I'm not happy here: people repress their senses. There is no sensuality to life here, no letting go. Cold, repressed Protestantism is the way things have been here for hundreds of years, interspersed with discipline and war. What a legacy! What a waste of human potential!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Summer Arrives...Maybe

Monday, I decided to give myself a treat and go across town to the Centro Italia, the big Italian-food wholesale market. I was out of pasta (they sell Voiello, Barilla's professional line, and it's absolutely the best), anchovies, and wanted some good olive oil, and so I budgeted €30 for a trip.

One other thing, I realized as the train sped around the Ring, was salsiccie, what Americans call "Italian sausage," but which is not quite the same thing. On Mondays, Centro Italia had told me, they get it from Italy. So I hit the meat counter first, and asked the guy if he had any. "In summer," he said, and then broke off. He gestured towards the outdoors. "In summer, which the calendar tells us is happening now, we get salsiccie on Wednesdays."

I knew what he meant. After a small heat wave, right about when I hit the road in France, we were in for more mid-50s (F) rainy weather. I began to despair: there's a side-effect of global climate change which affects the Gulf Stream, and those who think we're in for rough times, climatically speaking, note that if the Gulf Stream changes course as a result of this phenomenon, the mean temperature of Northern Europe will drop dramatically, severely affecting agriculture here. It was coming on to mid-June, and as yet there was no heat!

But then everything changed. It's turned very, very livable here, with sun, warm but not hot temperatures, and pretty much everybody feeling good.

I walked down Friedrichstr. yesterday, in fact, and saw two great things in the street. The first was a Jamaican kid who had a chessboard set up on the sidewalk. Posters surrounding him announced that his father in Jamaica had prostate cancer, and he wanted to go back to give him emotional support. "I need 800 [crossed out] 350 [crossed out] 200 Euros to pay for the plane ticket." The deal was, he played 3-minute chess. The rules were posted on another poster. He was hard at work with another player when I chanced upon him, and each banged the clock after making a move. A huge crowd had gathered around to watch, and in a dramatic swoop, the Jamaican guy slid his queen to his opponent's king, picked the king up, tossed it over his shoulder and caught it. The crowd erupted in applause, and he shook the other guy's hand. "Thanks a lot. You're better than anyone else I've played. Want another game?" The other guy, in his early 20s, from the looks of it, was rattled and begged off. People were tossing coins in the box he'd set up. I'm no chess fan, but this, I thought, was great street theater.

Then, barely two blocks later, I came upon two guys, a fiddle and a hand drum, playing haunting, weird music. They were both brown-skinned, but I couldn't quite figure out where they were from, based on either their faces or their music. The violin case had a couple of CDs in them, but they were labelled "World Music," which, duhh, yeah, I guess it was. There were Cajun strains, some odd voicings, and an oddly halting rhythm being tapped out on the drum. Something felt odd, and I realized I was standing in front of a small film crew who were taping them, so I walked on.

So things would be ideal if Telekom, in its wisdom, hadn't turned me off again for being a month and a day late with my payment. Sorry, guys, I was on the road, and returned to discover that a magazine I did some work for over a month ago still hadn't paid me. The magazine? Invest in Germany.

Like that would be a good idea.

So I'm posting from an office I'm able to use temporarily, and hoping I get on before the middle of next week. I can't use the office on weekends, either. Nor can I negotiate with Telekom. A friend just got turned off, and asked a German friend of hers to intercede. "She can't work unless her DSL is on," her friend told the Telekom person. "We don't care," was the reply.

Gotta love 'em. At least they're consistent.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Teacup Shot

I mentioned recently that Chuck Krall had taken the first pictures of the Wailers in America, and that his picture of Bob Marley with a teacup in his hand was pretty iconic. Chuck was good enough to send me a (defaced, but hey, there are pirates out there) copy of that photo, so I thought I'd post it. Any of you out there who want to get in touch with Chuck about a print can e-mail me, okay?

Tour Notes #4: Bourges And Beyond

June 1-4

From Strasbourg, we had a challenging drive to get to Bourges. One of the big problems with France is that it's so damn Paris-centric. Paris, for instance, is the center of the whole rail system, unlike in Germany, where there are regional hubs like Frankfurt, Berlin, Cologne, and Hannover. In France, to get from A to B, no matter where A and B are, you go through Paris if you're using the fast trains. This is particularly annoying to Strasbourgians, who manufacture the TGV trains just outside of town, but won't get a TGV line until 2007, making it hard to get anywhere from Strasbourg.

We got to see the factory early the next morning, in fact, because we were using Mappy, which seems at first glance, to be an extraordinary service: door-to-door driving (or walking!) directions throughout Europe. Most of the time, it functions well, but you'd be strongly advised to check anything it tells you to do against a map, as Carl found out in Montreuil, when, walking around where we were, he noticed that Mappy was sending us down one-way streets the wrong way. On the whole, it works well, but there are bugs, as we discovered.

Once we got turned around, we had a really uneventful time for several hours. I was exhausted: the tension from losing my passport and driving around Strasbourg, which is not made for driving in (not that that stops anyone), had wrecked me, and I let Carl take the first shift. Gradually, we grew closer to the Cote d'Or, where the road signs read like a trip through the higher-priced section of an upscale wine store: Nuits-St.-Georges, Chablis, Chateauneuf (although not de Pape, which is elsewhere). All the great names of red and white Burgundy. Past Beaune, we climbed into the hills, and castles and monasteries began to appear on the hilltops. This part was all done at freeway speed, and lunch at a freeway stop was memorably bad.

After lunch, though, Mappy had us get off the freeway, and at that point, things got really interesting as we threaded our way through mind-blowingly picturesque French countryside, the Mourvan, a district of Burgundy which informed the cooking at my favorite restaurant in Dijon, Coum' Chez Eux, which I see is now gone, dammit. Anyway, we turned off the freeway at Avallon, and quickly hit Vézelay, which might have been created by the French Tourist Board, having been a fairly important settlement back in the 1100s and seemingly untouched since then, except for the cars. Mappy insisted -- and I saw no alternative -- that we follow the Tonne River to Clamecy, and then get on a two-lane road all the way to Charité-sur-Loire and thence straight into Bourges.

Bourges itself is pretty colorful, dominated by a gigantic cathedral and with plenty of buildings from every epoch of its history. We were originally going to stay in a hotel by the railroad station with the appealing name Arcane Hotel, but our hosts looked at the advanced sales and put us in a very strange apartment which looked like a combination of a dormitory and a jail (albeit one with lace curtains depicting clowns), with metal bunk beds in all the rooms and huge locks on their doors. But it was better located than the Arcane, a five-minute walk from the gig at the School of Fine and Applied Art, which itself is a former convent. The promoters were nice folks, who had a sort of collective endeavor in a former factory on the outskirts of town which included an exhibition space, currently hosting a Michael Snow piece, a circus school, a print works, and who nows what else. Clearly idealists, they had forgotten to note that the date they'd booked Carl and the ladies for was right in the middle of exam week, thereby guaranteeing that despite free admission for the art students, nobody would come. (They also listed Min Xiao-Fen as being from Japan, which didn't please her much, needless to say). In fact, most of the audience seemed to be members of the collective, although they mostly enjoyed the show.

Still, there were two sets, with a solo from each person, followed by a performance of Lauburu, which I thought went very well. Afterwards we trooped out to the factory for dinner. I'd joked with Carl that there were two possibilities here: either there were a couple of gay boys out there sorry to miss the show but working their tails off on some fantastic local cuisine, or we were going to enjoy that old standby of jokes on the Well, Hearty Lesbian Sludge. I asked him if he'd ever seen The Young Ones, the legendary BBC comedy show, with Neil The Hippie constantly cooking lentils, but he'd never heard of it. I still managed to give him a good enough idea that the expression on his face when he walked into the communal dining room and saw a huge bowl of lentils there was worth photographing. Not that I did. The sincerity went into the cooking, which was nearly tasteless, but plentiful. I socked back some wine, and we all went to see the Michael Snow installation, which was fun, but we all pled exhaustion (not that it was too hard) and went back to the clown jail and crashed.

The next day, we split up. We had a day off, and the idea was to go back to Paris, but we'd been warned that there would probably be a 24-hour warning strike by the rail workers, so we decided to stay in cheap, pretty Bourges if we could score another day at the apartment and just hang out. Carl, though, had to drive to Aix-en-Provence, where there was sure to be good food (there was), and a conference of some sort where he was appearing on a panel. Thus, I had to show the ladies Bourges, see if we could score tickets for the next day, and chill some. We got to stay at the apartment, which was good, and after breakfast, I set out to orient the ladies, who mostly wanted to shop. Since the Cathedral was the obvious way to orient yourself, being on a hilltop with two main roads running from it, I took them there to demonstrate that, and we lucked out by hitting it at noon, when the justifiably-famous stained glass windows from the 12th Century were all algow in the brilliant summer sunshine. (It was also cool in there: Bourges was in the middle of a heat wave, which wasn't entirely a bad thing).

Once I had them sorted out, I wandered around the streets of the tourist district, and found the covered market, which wasn't open. We'd agreed to meet back at the apartment in mid-afternoon, but I got back early, having done some shopping of my own, which included an industrial-strength French dictionary, something I'd been looking for for years, and a wireless mouse to use with my laptop, because I just can't get the hang of the trackpad.

That evening, we dined outdoors, which was nice, at a restaurant where the waiter was absolutely intolerant of two Oriental females wanting soup (in the summer? I tried to explain, but...) and not being familiar with French cuisine. I'd have disliked him more if the food hadn't been good, but it was, and if he hadn't forgotten to charge me for the bottle of Sancerre I drank (except for the bit Yumiko drizzled on the black cherry sorbet I'd ordered for dessert: gal's a born improvisor, I tell ya). In fact, I think he pushed a bunch of wrong buttons on the computer, he was so eager to get rid of us. And this also reminded me that the memory of the food one eats can be altered by the circumstances: I think of this as a bad meal, because of all the tension this guy generated at our table, but if I remember just the amazing foie gras paté and rabbit dish I had, it's another matter entirely.

The next day we caught a train to Paris, where we hogged most of a compartment with our instruments and luggage, although a lanky Malian guy and a chubby Malian woman (who didn't know each other until sitting down) squeezed in. The guy was really friendly, wondering what we were all doing, and very happy to hear that he was among musicians. Outside the window, the heat wave dissipated into drizzle, though, and I have to say the countryside we passed through didn't look so hot, either. We reached the Gare d'Austerlitz after what had obviously been a hard shower, and waited 30 minutes for a cab to show up, weirdly enough. I'd have thought there'd be a huge line of them.

Back in Montreuil, back at the Instances Chavirés, it felt like old home week. The ladies were going to do solos and improvised duets, and there was also the duo of a French guy playing hurdy-gurdy and a Japanese guitarist. Fortunately, the ladies opted to open the show. I say fortuntely because the hurdy-gurdy guy was awful, and the Japanese guy wound up doing a solo set after their duet and played ear-searingly loud guitar. We finally got out of there at about midnight, and headed back to say our good-byes. Yumiko was off to the airport at 7am, I was off to the Gare du Nord at 9:30, and Xiao-Fen had a day off, which didn't please her much. I hope she found something to do.

Riding back to Berlin on the train, I realized that, with all the madness and frustration and boredom and heat and wet, it had been a fantastic week, and that I enjoyed being in France a lot more than I did Germany. People's body language is just different somehow, and as Germans began to get on the train, they were obvious from the second I saw them. There was a stiffness, and an air of tentativeness to their demeanor, although there was aggression there, too. I don't have any illusions about not cursing out the French after a few days' living there, but I think their faults may well be more in line with mine. At any rate, I'm trying like hell to get some work going now. I want to go back and stay.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Tour Notes #3: Strasbourg

May 31

Xiao-Fen and Yumiko were along on this trip because of Carl's piece Lauburu, which they were going to perform twice, in Strasbourg and Bourges. The piece goes like this: Carl has a series of events which he's composed, and put onto a guide CD. He transferred the material on the CD onto a pair of iPods, which the two women would wear. They would hear the material, and react to it with voice and/or instruments, individually or in duos, according to the score. Meanwhile, Carl transformed the material -- which the audience would never hear in its original form -- on his laptop.

Strasbourg was a full six-hour drive from Montreuil, broken only by a lunch-stop at a rest stop with an excellent salad bar/buffet, which turned out to be the third-best meal on the trip. Because of the time, and because the three hadn't rehearsed the piece yet, there was some anxiety about getting it right and doing the sound-check, so we drove straight to the Contemporary Art Museum, where we parked the huge beast of a Hyundai 7-seater.

What followed would have been a comedy of errors if time hadn't been so crucial: the iPods refused to start where they were supposed to. Everyone was on the verge of tearing their hair out: every time Carl counted down to the point where they were to start by pressing the buttons, each performer got different tracks. At some point, the soundman walked out: it was dinner-time for him, and nothing would interrupt that sacred moment, so Carl had to keep jumping up and running hither and yon in the room to hear what was happening. As for me, I gave my feedback, and finally things worked well enough so that they were able to run through the piece a couple of times. With only an hour to show-time, it was decided not to check into the hotel until after the concert and the dinner afterwards.

Carl was wiped, and went into the dressing room to crash. The ladies got made up. I wandered around and changed into better clothes, because I knew I'd be selling CDs after the show. I also checked the art museum's shop, because I'd forgotten to pack any t-shirts. Not that I need more t-shirts, but I was pretty stinky after the heat, and a fresh one seemed like a good idea. I am now able to report that the Strasbourg Contemporary Art Museum is the only museum in the Western world that does not sell t-shirts of any kind. Go figure.

Opening the show was a duo from Strasbourg called La P'tite Maison, who had spread two tables on stage with a bewildering variety of electronic equipment and toys and gadgets, which usually is a neat warning of a group without much to say, but plenty of junk to say it with. Nope. They held me rapt for their nearly hour-long set, starting by turning on an oscillating fan, with a mike at one side, so that the drone came and went. What they had in common with Carl's music was a sense of musicality: there were no tricks here at all, and what looked like gimmicks were for the most part seamlessly integrated into their explorations of calm, lush soundscapes. I sat rapt for their entire hour-long set. Take a bow, Jérome Pergolesi and Philippe Petitgenet!

I don't know if it was because the afternoon's maddening technical problems had made everyone hyper-aware, but the performance of Lauburu was stunning, crackling with energy as everyone attacked their parts with vigor. The audience, which nearly filled the 160-seat auditorium, loved it, and the applause afterwards was sincere and strong. I was probably the only person there, though, who detected a "Whew" from the three performers.

The museum's musical curator, Patrick Javault, hopped into the van with us and I drove a very meandering route through the medieval streets of Strasbourg to the restaurant where we were going to have our dinner. Unfortunately, once we got there, it had already closed. No matter, there was another. It, too, was closed. Finally, we hit an Alsatian restaurant (Strasbourg is in Alsace, of course, and this means the food is very close to German -- something I'd been hoping to avoid, since I was getting out of Germany for a week), Au Coin des Pucelles on the rue des Pucelles. Wags had kept knocking off the "I" from the restaurant's sign, so now they leave it off permanently. The meal was fine: I had a terrine with three cold salads, while others had choucroute (that's sauerkraut to me) and the part of a pig's foot they call Eisbein here in Berlin.

Finally, we made it to the hotel, the only one on the trip, as it turned out, the mis-named Comfort Inn. When I got to my microscopic room, I discovered my passport was missing. This, along with the charcuterie trying to digest in my stomach, made for a restless night. Just as I was settling off to sleep at last, my toilet kit fell off of the tiny shelf in the bathroom and the contents hit the floor with an alarming sound. Ah, well, it could have been worse: the stuff could have fallen in the toilet. And the passport showed up the next day, right where it should have been.


I'm alarmed to note that when I tried to download the pictures I took of this trip -- specifically some of the soundcheck -- my computer no longer recognizes that there are pictures in the camera. If I can fix this glitch, I'll come back and insert pictures in this post. I blame iPhoto.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Tour Notes #2: The Fringe

May 29-31

Montreuil is an eastern suburb of Paris, the city which does not grow. Years ago, they drew a circle, defined everything inside it as Paris, and everything outside as "banlieu," or suburb. This hasn't kept the suburbs from expanding, but Montreuil is close enough in that at one point I was walking down the street in a straight line and kept entering and leaving Paris.

It's also home to the Instants Chavirés, a small but wonderful performance space on a back street whose name translates as "overturned lawsuits," for which there must be a reason. And it was there I was headed after arrival, on time, at the Gare du Nord, or, rather, to its offices. Although the Instants weren't promoting Carl's concert on Monday night, they were providing the space for Satoko, the actual promoter, to present the show, and they were kind enough to offer us three small rooms, each with two beds, which are used to put up performers on the floor above the office.

I wasn't sure where to go as I stepped off the train at the Metro station Robespierre, but as I was walking down the platform to the exit, someone called my name. It was Carl and another guy, Charles, a musician who played the avant-garde circuit and had been sent to the airport to fetch him, winding up on the same train as me. Good thing, too, because I never would have found the place myself, even with the map they'd provided. Nor would I have had a clue how to arouse someone within.

Soon, we were in our rooms, and the next question was getting some dinner. Montreuil's Rue de Paris, which we were right off of, was a string of döner kebab and halal lamburger places, but I wanted French food, and was determined to introduce Carl, all of whose pieces are named after restaurants, to my favorite place in Paris, Chez Paul. The weather had broken, and it was raining intermittently, and Carl seemed sure I didn't know where I was going, but this place is like a beacon in my mind, and after making sure we were headed the right way down the rue de Charonne, we eventually got there.

Not reserving is not a good idea at Chez Paul, incidentally, even though they've added a huge downstairs room since I was there in January. It took about 15 minutes for a table to clear, and maybe I'm flattering myself, but I think the reason we were told to wait and others were turned away was because the lady behind the bar recognized me. Great duck wing rillettes, great rabbit terrine, and great pieces of beef with accompanying potatoes -- Parisian comfort food -- awaited us, along with a fine bottle of Bordeaux at a reasonable price. Man, I thought, I was going to have fun on this trip! I was, fortunately, blissfully unaware that it was the last but one edible meal I'd have the entire week.

The next day, we awoke at about the same time, scored croissants at the bakery across the street, and I made strong coffee. After it hit, we headed off to the Gare du Nord to pick up the rental car, since I'd been unable to arrange a more convenient pickup place. Thus began an extremely frustrating day: we arrived at Europcar only to discover that I'd forgotten my passport and Carl had forgotten his license. By this time it was time to head to Charles de Gaulle airport to pick up the first of Carl's accompanying musicians, Min Xiao-Fen, who plays the pipa, a Chinese lute. Fortunately, the train to CDG leaves from the Gare du Nord. Unfortunately, we got on the wrong one, because the signboard was busted. Off in the middle of nowhere at the end of the line -- and not even at the station, but out in a yard -- we were discovered by a train worker who told us how to get on a train back to the junction where we could get on the right train. Carl was very worried we'd be late, but it looked to me like there was plenty of time.

There was: Xiao-Fen's plane was three hours late. Carl handed me the cell phone and told me to wait at the airport, which was jammed with Americans undergoing the ultra-strict security check that American airlines, and no others, demand. I have never seen lines like that at an airport. I sat in the deserted smoking section and read every word in the Herald Tribune, then sauntered around the eating area looking for something edible. I'd actually had a wonderful meal at CDG once, but it must have been another terminal, so I went to the cafeteria and got the grease-and-salt plate, aka charcuterie, When I emerged and walked back to the arrivals board, Xiao-Fen's plane had miraculously picked up 30 minutes, and before long, we were headed towards the Metro, on our way to meet Carl at the Europcar place.

The one non-idiotic moment of the whole pre-concert period happened when I, a Westerner with an Asian woman, met a Westerner with an Asian woman and a baby, and they asked me if we were headed into Paris. I said yes, and they gave us two Paris Visit tickets, good for unlimited Metro travel. Ordinarily, these aren't considered a very good investment, but they'll take you to CDG -- which is a 7-Euro trip -- and to Montreuil, so I was very happy to have them. They'd nipped in for a look at the city between planes, and were flying out.

Then came the comedy of errors. I had the cell phone and was expecting to hear from Carl, but it remained silent. We got to Gare du Nord, and he wasn't at Europcar. We called the Instances, and they told us he was out to lunch at a kebab place. We told them we were at the Gare du Nord, and Xiao-Fen decided to have a sandwich. About 30 minutes later, I called Instances again, and they said they didn't know where he was. Well, where he was was at Europcar, waiting for us, but we didn't think to look there because Xiao-Fen was tired and wanted to go to the house. So we did, found no Carl, and, checking my watch, I saw I had to go get our second musician, Yumiko Tanaka. So I turned on my heel, got the Paris Visit ticket from Xiao-Fen, and went back, this time to CDG 1, which involves taking an unmarked shuttle bus from the Metro station. Yumiko's plane had already landed, but the passengers took forever getting into the terminal. By 6 or so we were in Montreuil, and I was already exhausted. Carl, though, was livid: where had I been? He'd waited three hours at Europcar and finally rented the thing himself! As it turned out, much later we found that there was some weird problem relating to calling the cell phone from a regular phone, but at this point, we didn't know that.

The Instances people had decided that it'd be a treat to have a real home-cooked meal, so we had polenta, some sort of eggplant thing, and hard-cooked pork chops. Also present was the opening act, a Greek guy living in Barcelona, who performed in a tent, for some reason. At least the wine was okay.

And Carl's solo concert went very well. He improvises, using samples and software he's written, but, unlike many laptop performer-composers, he's musical. Which is not to say catchy, hummable melodies, but there's an immersion in sound and a sense of structure -- which may be entirely illusory -- that's deeply engaging. At some times, the sounds are easier to take than at others, but he's been doing this, one way or another, for a couple of decades, and the experience shows. Yet, like most laptop performer-composers, he's most frequently heard in tiny rooms like the Instances, where there were about 30 people in the audience, and makes his money teaching at a technical university near Nagoya, in Japan.

The van was parked near the office. The next day, we'd drive to Strasbourg, all the way across France to the German border.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Tour Notes #1: Schulz

May 29

I don't know where he came from and I don't know where he went, which is fine with me.

As I predicted, there wasn't a single unreserved seat on the train from Berlin to Cologne, four hours' journey in a high-speed InterCityExpress train. I've done this before, and wound up hurting all over. The curves are taken at speed, and your body reacts by leaning into them, but if you don't have something to hold onto, you stagger and, often, fall. Also, the only place to stand is between cars, and that part isn't air conditioned.

Karen told me the thing to do was to head straight into the restaurant car, grab a seat, and order a juice. I should have listened to her; as it was, I went from one end of the train to the other looking for a seat and not finding one. The World Church Days was on in Cologne, there was a rumor the Pope was going to be there, and the football finals had just ended in Berlin, which drew another sort of crowd, so the train was packed with people you'd ordinarily cross the street to avoid.

I wound up in the bar, which was packed with football fans and their wives celebrating the discovery of Deutsche Bahn's Weekend Special: a coke, mineral water, or Warsteiner for €1.85. Naturally, theirs was Warsteiner. There must have been 40 people, all drinking, all chain-smoking, in that end of the car. The other end had tables, and they were completely full.

So the little guy with the battered bag stood out. He walked in, took a look around, and then leaned against the wall, his bag between his feet. I'd guess he was around my age, with hangdog eyes, thinning hair, and skin the color of clay. The expression on his face was clearly that of someone who'd been told he could never have another drink again. He'd obeyed, but he didn't like it. He took his jacket off and lit a cigarette.

The bar continued to fill up with people buying things to take back to their seats and people from the non-smoking section who'd gone in there to smoke. My eyes were stinging. The guy next to me put his cigarette out and draped his jacket over his bag, then squatted.

We came to a station, and nobody got off, but some people got on. Among them was an Indian couple who didn't appear to have reservations. The little guy saw them come into the restaurant end of the car and his eyes tightened. They had two big bags, and were dragging them along, this middle-aged couple with the air of bewilderment I see on a lot of Indians here: why on earth did we come to Germany, they seem to be saying. It was real tight getting into the bar, and as they squeezed through the corridor linking the bar to the restaurant, the Indian guy's shoe touched the jacket.

"Hey, nigger! That jacket's clean!" the little man barked with a ferocity I'd never have credited him with. I'm not sure the Indian guy even understood. At any rate, he didn't register a thing and moved on.

At Bielefeld, about half-way to Cologne, some people got off, and one table in the restaurant cleared out. The little guy made a beeline for it, and, after a moment's reflection, I did, too. A young woman was picking at a breakfast, and a skinny guy with too much cologne on was reading a newspaper, underlining bits of it, and making notes in the margins. I sat next to the woman, and the little guy sat next to the other guy, who occasionally took out a notepad on which he was writing a numbered list.

Man, it was good to sit down. I ordered a Pepsi (Coke has been usurped on Deutsche Bahn) and nursed it like crazy, since it was one of the little Weekend Special glasses. Not only was I sitting, but there was no smoke. I took out my precious New Yorker, which had cost me €10.50 despite a $4.95 Canada/Foreign cover price, and started to read. The little guy pulled out a cell phone and dialled. "Uwe? Schulz! I'm on the train. Hallo? Hallo?" He stared at it, then clicked it off and put it back in his pocket. Meanwhile, the list-maker and the young woman were conversing, she, it seemed to me, reluctantly. As we drew into a station, she made a move to leave, packing her stuff up. I hadn't heard any of their conversation, but he drew out a card and handed it to her. "Perhaps you will have need of my services," he said, and I could hear the "Uhhh, sure" tone in her voice as she thanked him. I scooted over into her place. Schulz took out the phone again. "Uwe? Schulz! I'm on the train. Hallo? Hallo?"

Another guy sat down. He, it developed, was a liturgical choreographer, which fascinated the list-maker, and, naturally, precipitated a torrent of conversation from the choreographer. I read the New Yorker.

It was getting greyer outside. I knew it'd have cooled off by the time I got to Paris, and that it'd probably be raining. There would be a reserved seat on the Thalys, the Dutch/Belgian/French train that would take me from Cologne to Paris Nord. There wouldn't be any liturgical choreographers, either.

And no Schulz. He finally managed to hang on to the connection with Uwe long enough to tell him the train was on time. Then he got up, adjusted his precious jacket, picked up his funky suitcase, and shuffled away.

I found myself entertaining a fantasy. The Indian was a doctor. At some time in the not-too-distant future, whatever condition had mandated Schulz's sobriety would act up and send him to the hospital. The doctor would save his life, which, after all, is his job. And Schulz would go on living, pissed that he would now have to endure a few more miserable years on this earth.

Good-bye, Schulz.

From The Misty Past

This gem appeared in the e-mail the other day, and I've been staring at it ever since. I don't actually remember listening to Marley play the guitar, because my major memory of this evening was of various Wailers and hangers-on getting me extremely stoned and then pulling a quick room switch to get rid of me. Marley always seemed to have a visceral dislike for me, but he also gave me one of the most amazing evenings of my life.

The picture dates from 1973, and besides me, on the bed in the cheap hotel the band was staying at on Lombard and Van Ness in San Francisco, we have Chuck Krall shooting a photo, and a gentleman in a tie, whom I can't identify. I met Chuck through Lenny Kaye, who at the time was merely a journalist, not the linchpin of the Patti Smith Band, because Lenny knew I was interested in reggae -- I'd been the first person to write about it in an American magazine, Creem, in 1971 -- but I knew very little about it. Chuck was a boyhood friend of Lenny's, a veteran of the dancefloor on American Bandstand who later told me there was rampant sex in the cloakroom there, and he'd spent a couple of years in the Peace Corps in Jamaica. He also had a rare booklet, a study of Rastafarianism which had been suppressed after publication, and laid out its tenets in rather neutral prose, which was unusual given the Jamaican government's feelings about the religion.

Chuck listened to the records I was getting in the mail from Trojan in London, and was able to decode a lot of the patois and odd references on them, although not always correctly: the biggest gaffe he made was in telling me that Rastas considered the British to be their oppressors (true enough), and I could hear them referring to England as "bobby-land" on the records (uhh, that'd be "Babylon," Chuck: I'm pretty sure he figured that out after a while). He also regaled me with stories of his time in Jamaica, and when I finally got to go there in 1975, his memories were indispensable in helping me figure out where I was and what I was doing.

Lenny lived in New York, but Chuck lived in San Francisco, which was convenient, and, since he was shooting rock photos, we became good friends, and I used him for stories I did for Creem and elsewhere. We hung out quite a bit at Winterland, which kindly allowed journalists backstage, and he must have a hell of a collection of negatives documenting that era.

Anyway, when the Wailers came to San Francisco on their first tour, we made sure we had access. The band was little-known and reggae itself was mostly a cult phenomenon based around people who'd seen The Harder They Come, which had premiered in San Francisco. After the debacle which followed this photo, Chuck went back the next day without me, and shot a picture which has been reproduced a lot of Marley standing on the balcony of the motel with a teacup in his hand. At the time his dreads were quite short, but it's recognizably him. As I remember, they played at a club in North Beach somewhere, and I wasn't impressed; I still maintain that the Jamaican records were slowed down some for their American release, and certainly the original Tuff Gong singles sound peppier to me. I also had a much larger aural database of reggae to draw from, thanks to Waxie Maxie and the folks at Trojan, and I frankly thought there were other performers who were just as interesting, if not more so, like the Maytals.

On that 1975 trip, I was there ostensibly to report on a Wailers reunion at the National Sports Stadium in Kingston that was part of an event which also included a tennis tournament, a screening of a Joe Frazier match, and this concert, which would feature the Wailers, Stevie Wonder, and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, who never showed up. During a rare moment of rapprochement, Rolling Stone assigned me the story, and the shady black organization which had organized it provided me with the ticket and accommodations in the Sheraton, although I later moved to the Pegasus, next door. The whole trip was filled with amazing moments, including being chased down an alley by a gunman and interviewing Big Youth pooslide at the Sheraton, much to the doorman's disdain. "There's a Mr. Buchanan here who says he's your guest," he'd said over the phone. "I don't think he is." Oh, I said, Augustus Manley Buchanan? Tell him to go to the pool; I'll be right there.

But the outstanding moment was sitting on the dirt floor of the slave quarters at 10 Hope Road, the ancestral Blackwell mansion Island Records head Chris Blackwell had given Marley, watching the entire band rehearse the show for the next night. Present as an audience were me, Malcolm, my photographer, and Mark Jacobson, who was writing the event up for New York magazine. Just the three of us. Marley gave us the runaround, of course, and I was frustrated: I was moonlighting for a brand-new magazine which was starting up in San Francisco called Mother Jones, and doing a story on reggae without a quote or two from the only artist in the genre anyone in America would recognize was going to be tough. As I had back in '73, though, I was comforted by Aston "Family Man" Barrett, the Wailers' bassist: "Bob, 'im sometimes like dat." Same thing he'd said back then, and still true.

The other notable quote from back then was one I still hold is the reason I never much liked the Wailers' records, along with the slowed tempos. At one point, Bunny Wailer saw me with my notebook, and, although he doesn't much like white folks, came over and asked if I was writing a story. I told him I was, and he said "Den tell dem dis: dem t'ree Wailers! T'ree! Is Bunny, Peter...and Bob. T'ree." But, as far as Island Records were concerned, there weren't.

Now Bob's dead, Peter's dead, 10 Hope Road is a weird sort of commune, the Marley estate is in confusion, and Bob's image is on the box of tissues I'm currently blowing my nose on as part of Zewa's "Legenden" campaign (the other images are Elvis and Marlene Dietrich). Chuck, however, has just turned 60, and the good news was splashed across the bottom of that picture he sent me: Chuck Krall Still Photographs. Good for him. And, I have to say, he still looks the same. Here he is with Lenny a few weeks ago: