Monday, November 30, 2009


We're finally checked into a hotel after being either in the van or venues in Katowice, Vienna, Fribourg and Florence. In four days. I honestly don't know how we kept going after the drive from Vienna to Fribourg which was over ten hours but such is the power of rock. As soon as we get to the venue and hear the sound of Yo La Tengo soundchecking, a Pavlovian response kicks in and we start unfurling guitar cables, sharpening pics and rewriting the set list.

Poland was really interesting and I'm eager to go back there. I didn't think I'd be saying that - in fact I almost thought we were going to turn around and head back to Germany once we crossed into Poland because the road was so bad our heads were practically banging against the roof of the van from the jolts. They'd put up a lot of helpful signs that had a symbol for "bad road" - silly, because the spots where the road smoothed out were so rare, that's what they should have been announcing. But it's amazing how quick you can get used to anything - after the initial ten minutes of cursing and exclaiming and wondering if anyone would miss us if we didn't show up at the gig we were shouting at each other to converse as if we did this type of thing all the time.

By the time we got to Katowice, the road was more normal. It was all looking faintly exotic, an intriguing mix of austere Communist architecture and ornate Eastern European domes with that incomprehensible language on signs everywhere reminding me of a stroll down Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.

The hotel the festival put us up in was probably the only five star hotel I've ever stayed in. A thirties building redone very creatively with glass that kept the old parts intact. Deco rugs and furniture and a super-fancy restaurant which we ate in cause by now it was almost eleven at night and hey, who knows how much a zloty's worth anyway? The meal was amazing and served so impeccably which I really appreciated because we were looking shabby and road-worn and the young, very clean-cut waiters still poured the wine and grated the pepper like we were David Lynch, who was also apparently staying in the hotel.

Next morning I went in search of the pool. It wasn't easy, as I was half-awake and the signs were all in Polish. I wandered into a locker room and panicked when I saw a manly leather satchel on a bench. I fled what turned out to be the men's room and went through another door - the laundry room. When I finally got to the pool, it was like stepping into a perfume ad - there were all these tall muscular men in tiny bathing suits, splayed out in lounge chairs and walking pantherlike across the tiled floor. I was really desperate for a swim so I blocked out the male parade and got in the water, but I had to pass on using the sauna.

I have more to write but really need to sleep - tomorrow is the last show, in Paris. Last show. Funny, I already feel nostalgic for life on the road, even as I write this from some anonymous hotel on the autoroute.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Questions I Can Possibly Answer

Why was the Marks & Spencer parking lot completely, two-days-to-Christmas full on a Tuesday noon in mid-November?

Why do I dislike Amsterdam so much right now? Maybe because someone broke into our van during the show there, and took Eric's winter coat, his bag, a tiny red vintage purse with nothing in it. They probably took a few tea bags too, but I hadn't done a count beforehand so I'm not sure. Then as we tried to get the van out with its broken window obscured by a Melkweg plastic bag, a group of drunks found it hilarious when I tried to lift a bike out of the way, knocking over three other bikes in the process. Damn you and your healthiness!

Why does our van become a mobile recycling unit on tour? The next person to break in will find dozens of water bottles, various old copies of the Guardian, cardboard boxes and even Eric's mother's last months' recycling.

Why do I love Eric even more after spending two days with his mother?

Why won't the British border control accept that I DO NOT want to live in the UK and stop interrogating me every time we go there? This time they even took us out of the car and into a special room for "high risk" visitors. But it was more Monty Python than the Prisoner. Pointless!

Why is Germany one of the best places to play in the world? Great venues, good food, open-minded and interested audiences. Respect for artists? It doesn't hurt to play with Yo La Tengo - they begin their show with at least ten minutes of guitar mayhem and the people are with them every step of the way. A club manager wouldn't think of coming onstage to tell them to turn down, a la the loathesome Rams Head in the US.

Why am I sitting here typing when I could be availing myself of the plentiful breakfast buffet? No limp "Continental" breakfast in Germany - just a table heaving with muesli, fruit, various yogurts, fresh butter, ham, cheese, the most beautiful bread in the world...

What will it be like in Berlin tonight?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"I Got A Rock"

The first few shows with Yo La Tengo are over. What a great band they are, and popular all over. Does it sound sappy to say it couldn't happen to nicer people? I don't for a second believe these things (popularity, excellence) just happen - there is a consistency and work ethic and aesthetic at work. Attention to detail and genuine decency. How encouraging to see real passion, imagination and integrity rewarded with an audience.

And then there's me and Eric. We've both lived, in different ways, pretty chaotic but productive lives, and we keep working. It means a lot to us to be included on this tour.

Sometimes things go wrong - my pedal board went haywire in Amsterdam, kept muting the acoustic guitar. I won't go as far as to say it's the story of my life. I don't think I'm cursed or doomed. It didn't ruin the show. Let's just say it made it, challenging. People really didn't seem to mind - they told me afterwards as they were buying our records. I was still kicking myself.

But then we got up to do "You Tore Me Down" with Georgia, James and Ira. And Ira's pedal board was acting up. He couldn't get his guitar in tune. We're standing there in front of this huge crowd, and it's like we're in someone's living room, a low-budget "Peanuts, The Musical". And we're all Charlie Brown.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Das Leben Es Und Cabaret

So we played our first show with Yo La Tengo last night, in Bielefeld. I thought we went over well! It was great playing on a big stage with proper lights, sound, monitor man, everything. People seemed to like it.

Still sweating, I rushed over to where we'd set up our merchandise next to the bar, hoping to sell some stuff. A guy came up to me right away.

"Zwei rotwein, und ein tasse der tee," he said cheerily.

Wow, a compliment. I wished I could understand. He saw the incomprehension in my eyes and launched in again, speaking louder. "Zwie rotwein, und ein tasse der tee!"

Shaking my head, I smiled. "I'm sorry, I don't speak German?" In other words, please tell me how wonderful you thought we were, so I can understand.

"I'd like two red wines please, and a cup of tea."

Monday, November 9, 2009


We're packed and ready. And not a moment too soon - the heating stopped working yesterday. Suddenly, the prospect of a night in the ambulance or even, God forbid, a Formula One (think Motel 6, but without the luxury), seems cozy and inviting.

And tomorrow, we see our pals in Bielefeld. And play for the people. Didn't find anything new to wear, but I think I've still got a new pair of false eyelashes lying around somewhere...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


The road out front is mud. We are almost prisoners now. My computer is still being worked on. The weather is foul.

Why did I take my computer in? Self-sabotage is my middle name. Here I have been working almost a year on a first draft of a book. We finally got a printer a few days ago, after months without one, so I could start printing this thing out and see what I've got. The computer was crawling, and so I decided now, of all times, to get it looked at! When all I've wanted was to feel like I've accomplished my goal of having something done by the time we leave on tour. I'm not worried that the work will be lost - just questioning my lousy timing. It's been four days now and I'm stuck. Every time I ask if it'll be ready today, the computer guy says "Maybe. Or tomorrow."

I'd been wanting to see "Julie & Julia" since it came out back when I was in the US. Maybe I would have enjoyed it more, seeing it there. Watching it in France - I was sort of ashamed. I sank lower and lower into my cinema seat, sure that my American vibes would be detected by the other audience members and they'd stuff me and hang me in effigy outside the theatre as some kind of warning. As the movie dragged on and on, I could understand why it has such a limited release in this country. I don't know why I expected anything better from Nora Ephron. Her hackdom as a director continues to mystify me, because I always thought she was a fine writer. Why that should translate into an ability to not take the low road, to go for the cute, coy and cliched every time, I don't know, but I like to expect the best from people. When they used "Psycho Killer" over the lobster scene, I wanted to throw up.

It's a shame because I swear there was something interesting underneath all the cute concept, about wanting to make your mark, do something with your self. I spend probably too much time thinking about that, these days. Then joke about cows.

Afterwards I had a lousy time at the eyeglass place - my fault for choosing the chain whose spokesperson is Johnny Hallyday! His dessicated visage is everywhere right now. His final tour continues and this week he plays Limoges. It may be the most exciting thing that's ever happened to the place. Gil Rose et Les Hydropathes, who were here recording, cracked me up because they say Johnny must never, never die. They pray that he is immortal, because should he not be, when he dies France will be in interminable mourning and those who don't care will have to hide away somewhere until the public grief subsides. Which may take a while.

I'd finally decided to reorder the glasses I lost back in Chicago this summer. The Optic 2000 employees stared at me like I was nuts - look, there are all these other frames here! Why would you get the same pair twice? I tried explaining that I'd chosen those frames, over all the others, so why go through the work, the agony, of looking again?

But things move on quickly in the eyeglass world, and they're likely no longer available...except in beige. Again, stuck.

Wait, one positive thing - the test pressing was fine, the 45's are being stamped out at this very moment! Now if we can only figure out how to get someone to brave the mud and deliver the package to us.