We had a gig in Chicago this weekend, which happens to be the Cubs/White Sox crosstown series. A big deal. We did a jaunt up to Wrigleyville to play a live set WXRT from the Cubby Bear, across the street from the stadium.
I bought a mug. I had to. There’s this certain calculus that you go into when you’re in an area absolutely soaked in souvenirs. Regardless of your lack of interest, you find the least offensive piece of merchandise, and, because some obscurely mammalian comparison-shopping brain function can’t help it, you buy it.
Gig was good; a big ole street fair, a couple of thousand people (plus a secret warm-up the night before at Martyr’s). Kirby is off with Money Mark, so we had a new dude, Aaron Arntz, playing keyboards; he knocked it out of the park. His most recent gig was with Dweezil Zappa’s Zappa Plays Zappa show. Hence, he was shocked and exhilarated to play for an audience that included women.

A Map of the World Made from Grilled Meat.

A good friend had a show in Salamanca, Spain over the weekend, so I gave myself a birthday present of a ticket to go over there for five days and exploit her largesse. Ate jamon y queso, arroz con leche ice cream, walked the skinny, winding streets. I haven’t spent much time in Spain, other than an 18 hour stint; a brief gig opening for Rocket from the Crypt and a stroll around Barcelona, 12 years ago.
Salamanca is one of those places filled with Stylish Old Dudes. Some of them walk around with this look on their face that’s kind of a cross between The World Is Doomed and Where Are My Keys?
The Spanish teenage boys are pretty great, too; they have, in adorable Yurpeen fashion, adopted non-ironic 80s redux hairstyles–mullet-esque half-faux-hawks. And variations with dreadlocks or rattails in the back.
It’s amazing to be around these astonishing churches with bas-reliefs of saints crawling up them, and these cocky, indolent boys in their ersatz emo regalia loitering on the steps.
Also, the Spanish gene pool, in my opinion, has produced the most stellar examples of the kind of woman the French call jolie-laide–pretty/ugly. Ludicrously sexy women and girls with bizarre asymmetrical faces. I spent last night chowing down on a fantastically salty slab of lomo and staring at them as they passed us in the outdoor cafe.
I’ve always loved the Spanish language. I was kind of unofficially disallowed from studying it as a kid, when the options in junior high were Spanish and French–my dad is a scholar of French military history. I pursued a dream in the past couple of years, of learning a language; I chose German. I love German, and was blown away by the gorgeous intricacies of its grammar.
But I dunno. When I go to Berlin, I hear so much German on the streets, a bunch of words will just get dialed-in. Just having the TV on, I’ll hear words that I half-know in context, and they’ll just drop into place. Here in New York, there’s so much Spanish just in the atmosphere–I have something like 70 Spanish-language channels on my cable.
I want to read the Spanish poets: Borges, Octavio Paz, and Neruda.
I don’t want to admit that German has beat me–has me licked, in the chummy parlance of Bill Wilson. People don’t like the Germans, but I love ‘em. They’re weirdly emotional, endearingly uptight, mischevious about their arty darkness. I opened up Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain on the plane today–he is the dude of all dudes.
I’m hopefully gonna do some touring in Germany soon, so I don’t have to completely abandon it.
I’m hell-bent on spending time in Yurp in these next couple of years, touring. I can do it for dirt cheap, just me and a guitar, riding the trains–that super-styley extensive European train system. It’s not particularly sexy for music-biz people–I’m not gonna make a lot of money over there, and, after all, they aren’t doing their jobs solely for the betterment of my artistic horizons. But I’m adamant. Have to do it.
Maybe I can also do Australia, where I’ve never been, on the cheap.
My good friend’s show was part of a big festival in Salamanca; theater, dance, music, DJs, art installations. So inspiring that they’ll put big bucks behind that stuff in Europe. I spose you’ll have a lot of spare dough laying around if you’re not going around starting wars, huh?
Clips of my pal’s show kept appearing in the endless promotional video-loop that played on a big screen in the Plaza Mejor. I teased her that her clips kept showing up subtitled “Video-Danza,” “Teatro de Calle,” “Art Urbano,” and “Graffitis.” Sic.
When I arrived in Spain, I cadged a ride from a festival vehicle, ferrying some performers from Madrid to Salamanca. There was a band, one of whose members was this Italian guy with a big old dreadlock on the front of his head, curled up and held in place with rubber bands. It looked like a giant turd. As we sat around waiting for her other cast member to land, my friend and I saw this guy sitting in the cafe near us, and kept calling him Turd-Headed Man. Never in my life have I had the urge to photograph a guy surreptitiously and send it in to Vice magazine’s “Fashion Dos and Don’ts” column.
And so we were shocked to find him sitting in the van with us. We asked him what band he was in. Nickelback, he said. Har har har. We asked again and he said Metallica. Dick.
But suddenly, as we drove along, he said, “You look like the singer of Soul Coughing.” Yeah, that’s me, I said. He told me we should get back together. Though it’s ridiculously rude to tell somebody what to do with their lives within a half hour of meeting them, I’m generally polite, but since Turd-Headed Man was so thoroughly a tool, I felt good about saying, Suck my dick twice, and I’ll video it and put it up on YouTube.
One thing I adore this good friend of mine for is that she doesn’t like Soul Coughing, but loves the songs I’ve been writing for the past few years. She wrote me a note in the van: It figures that Turd-Headed Man would like Soul Coughing.
The guy sitting to my left was this French DJ looking fellow, and I kept trying to engage him in conversation, to ask what he was doing at the festivals, and he explained a little in broken English and what little French I could pick up. I thought I discerned the word ‘parabola’ but thought it was my ears tricking me.
Then, last night, as we walked back to the hotel, we saw that the Plaza Mejor was filled with gargantuan parabolas being lifted on cranes, as booming space-wind sounds were broadcast on the PA. We got dulce de leche ice cream cones and watched them lift and rotate and emanate spooky galactic noises.
I caught a lift back to the airport this morning on a bus filled with Brazilian performers, maybe 20 of them, who were flown out to put on some massive spectacle (again, the money here, what gives? Amazing). I didn’t have time for coffee before I got on the bus, so I was jonesing. I got through security, and there was a Starbucks. I did not want to go to Starbucks in Madrid. I really didn’t.
I went to Starbucks in Madrid.
What weirded me out was the staff. Spaniards are pretty friendly, but these guys were obviously given a thorough schooling in Starbucks-style niceness, which they aped in a weird way, warped by their Spanishness. “Tell me, what it your nombre?” asked the cashier barista lady, very Spanish-looking with severely plucked eyebrows. “Ah! Mike,” she said, “this is also Mike, he will make your iced latte with leche de soja.” She motioned to the guy manning the espresso machine, who shook my hand. “Hello, Mike! I am Mike! I will make your iced latte now!”
Being in Spain, I didn’t hear about Tim Russert’s passing until Chuck emailed me: “What are you gonna do w/out Tim Russert???????” Huh?! It was like 2 am in Spain, I was feeling satiated and romantic. I panickedly logged on to the NYTimes site, and there was his obit. I actually yelled out loud.
I’ve spent so many Sunday mornings watching Meet the Press, the guy is a hero of mine. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of this election year, getting to watch him relish the machinations of the primaries. He was a huge part of my weekly ritual.
I once did an internet poll that was meant for women, and at the end, they asked you to name the sexiest man alive. (1) other respondee has named ‘Tim Russert’ the sexiest man alive, it said after I typed it in.
I’m really bereft, I can’t believe how bummed out I am, how I’m actually in denial about this.
I subscribe to a weekly Meet the Press text message, which comes in every Friday afternoon, telling you who Sunday’s guests are. There was one about Tim, which began, MTP Loyal Fans: With incredible sadness we share the news of the passing of…
Loyal fans? Is that weird?