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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A LITTLE TRIP TO EUROPE PART II


PART II: 
I Will Always Do

I do not want to tell a nonlinear tale, I have done that in the past.  It is the way my brain is rigged.  I will just let you know the events to follow are out of order.  This should not affect your enjoyment.  I will design them to seem as if they flow from one moment to the next, and not dizzily back and forth.

From the plane that landed in London Heathrow I ended up on a train to La Spezia, Italy.  It may have been only ten minutes, but more likely a few weeks.  My contact was Andrea from The Manges.  We had never met before and I do not speak a word of Italian.  I still to this day have to look up how to spell Ciao every time I use it in my writing.  In most cases when I leave I say instead, “Good bye, my friend.”  I know how to spell that.
Andrea picked me up at the train station.  He got out of his car and opened the door for me.  
“Hello, I’m Andrea.” 
“I’m John Jughead.”  I said those to words but I felt like I was lying.  I was just a guy with a large backpack who had his pants tucked into his socks and a head full of bed hair from sleeping on a train.  
“I know who you are.”  Andrea smiled and nodded his head, showing his respect.  In the car we spoke very little.  He knows more bits of different languages than he lets on.  Besides Mass, the bass player of The Manges, Andrea, the singer and guitarist, speaks the most english.  It was a surprise to me that English was not spoken as much in Italy.  You may say that statement is very American of me to think such a thing, but in most of the places I had been in Europe it seemed to be the case that English was everywhere.  A friend of mine in Belgium thought that one of the reasons for the proliferation of English in many countries, including Belgium, was because of the entertainment media and the use of subtitles.  They heard the English language on a daily basis on European television networks, and saw their own languages cross the bottom of the tv and movie screen.  It wasn’t just entertainment, it was a schooling of sorts.  In Belgium all tv and movies have subtitles in different languages.  (Many different languages are spoken in Belgium. It’s confusing.)  I watched a few programs while in Antwerp in a house built in the 1400’s filled with mannequins.  (That’s another story.)  Half the screen of the television was covered with multiple quickly moving layers of texts in many different languages. It was like watching a news channel that had constant warnings and flashes superimposed over stock market prices and averages lowering and rising.  I could barely concentrate on the program being watched. 
Italy, on the other hand, prides itself on dubbing all foreign media.  There is barely any subtitles.  Many of the actors that dub the voices of movie stars are just as famous and more loved in Italy than the stars themselves.  Andrea, who is very familiar with both dubbed and originals, says the Italian over-dubbed voices are usually more preferable.  Them Italians know how to speak!   This process of dubbing makes the imported media their own.  (I MUST impose on my own writing here to affirm that I am aware of the incredible influence Italian cinema has had on the world.  You must search them out, I don’t have the time here.)  Ferruccio Amendola, the man who overdubbed the voices of Sylvester Stalone, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Christopher Lloyd, and Robert De Niro, was so popular that when he died the funeral was telecast and fans from all over the country attended the ceremony.  
The stamp of America is both endearing and repellent.  Compared to Italy the US understanding of community, passion, and open conversation amongst our peers is shabby at best.  America’s brand of materialism invades the hearts of almost every economy in the world.  It is both fascinating and worthy of mockery to the Italians.   It is complex.  It fucks with their identity.  They criticize yet admit to their deep love for oddities such as Fonsi from Happy Days, Eddie Munster, B horor/Sci Fi Movies and the music of Screeching Weasel and The Ramones.  The Italians I met grew up with these influences.  They made them their own, assuming in many ways that they WERE their own.
In general bands that want to be known outside of their own country, to break the international market must sing most of their songs in English.  (I feel this has changed slightly since my trip over a decade ago.)  Whereas in many European countries English was taught as a second language many Italians learned to speak English by listening to British and American pop music.   The people I met, after seeing the Green Day and The Riverdales show formed bands and sang mostly in english.  (There are a few Italian punk bands that did sing mostly in Italian, I will list some of them at the bottom of this article. ) Along side these facts, to me, Italy remains one of the proudest of it’s own culture in Europe.  In large groups, in their punk venues, they may predominantly sing songs from The Ramones and other melodic bands from other parts of the world, but when they played for me Fabrizio De Andre, a nationally known Italian singer/songwriter, there was a significant difference in their attitude.  Fabrizio recorded a live concert a couple years before my trip.  The album was released in 1999.  He died a few months later of lung cancer.  This live performance was his last, and so it’s recording documented his life’s end.  
We were all crowded into a van.  Mass played me a song from the last concert, a grand, epic, sweeping Italian song.  The way my new friends sung together to the recording of this one man’s voice told a more full story of who they were. Even though I couldn’t understand the words I could feel a sorrowful joy overtaking the air in the vehicle.  This song seemed to have released from deep within them feelings about the continuous struggles with their government, a love of family, the sadness of passing, and an inspirational tone that only people raised in certain areas could emotionally comprehend.   A “you had to be there” to the extent of a whole culture.  All this became clear to me just from them singing a song together in a van.
Influences from other countries are welcomed into their culture with open arms but the influences quickly mutates into something... other.  The Manges are their own thing, unique and wholly Italian, infused with US kitsch, grit and rock and roll.  Perhaps this is why they are one of the few European punk bands to be embraced by the pop punk subculture of America.  They are 200 percent punk rock.  And as we all know, that amount of percentage is an impossibility, and that’s why they kick ass.
Before this ride in the car I knew very little about Andrea and The Manges.  Two years prior to my trip Ben played a 7 inch record for me in the living room of his spotless condo, his need for cleanliness was an exact replica of his mother’s.  We listened to this scratchy low budget recording of a song that I could have figured out how to play before the song had even ended, but the melody was so catchy, and the textures of the voices were oddly enchanting.  When the song ended Ben said, “I wanna cover this for our new record.”  And I said, “Yeah, sounds great.  Who is it?”
“The Manges.  They’re from Italy.”
At that time I didn’t even know Italy had much of a punk rock scene.  Ben had toured Italy in his Ramones-core band called Riverdales.  They opened for Green Day.  Many of the Italian punks I would meet on this trip were highly influenced by that show.  In fact quite a few of my Italian friends have admitted to discovering The Ramones through The Riverdales and Screeching Weasel, and not the other way around as most critics and music lovers would think.  That blew my mind.  I never thought it possible that someone could have heard Screeching Weasel before they had heard The Ramones.  
(Sidenote: Screeching Weasel before the formation of The Riverdales rarely if ever got compared to The Ramones.  Somehow after The Riverdales’ years, that comparison dominated all other comparisons.  I love The Ramones, right up there with other punk bands like The Circle Jerks, Husker Du, The Minute Men, The Descendents, and Adrenolin OD.  To have the band’s descriptions shrink to such a specific degree, discounting the other influences and broad lyrical content over the many years of our band’s history, pissed me off.  Thereafter the mention of The Ramones in the same breathe as Screeching Weasel would often make me cringe.)
The Manges’ song was called I Will Always Do.  The title is grammatically incorrect yet has a simple loveliness to it.  The Manges version has two distinct voices switching off lead vocals.  Ben chose to make our version with only one main vocal. His.  I thought that this was a mistake.  Not because of his voice, but because it seemed wrong to make this change.  I suggested having Heather from the Teen Idols sing one of the parts.  I thought, removed from lyrical content, that two voices helped to create a tension in the song.  It was one of the elements that made the original version stand out.  This is one of the reasons The Manges, I Will Always Do, is superior to ours. Though, ours is still quite good.
From the first day Ben and I listened to their songs, this small band from Italy became a shared pleasure for the two of us.  By this time in Screeching Weasel, circa 2000, Ben and I really didn’t share much of the same opinions about anything.  I often conceded to issues in order to avoid conflict.  We knew we both liked The Manges.  We were both happy to help them out in anyway, especially by putting their song on our forthcoming record, Teen Punks In Heat.  Little did I know that over the next year, once The Manges found out we were putting their song on our record, Andrea’s life would be made a tiny bit more complicated.  There is no mistaking that this was an important and exciting event to have happened to them, but it also had its awful side.  
The Manges were going to have rehearsal the evening I arrived.  Andrea asked if I’d like to go.  I was very excited to see them play.
“Yes, I would like that very much.”
We dropped my bags off at his place then we stopped by the post office.  I sat and waited outside at a cafe down the street.  I wasn’t good at confronting waitstaffs from foreign countries, I was afraid I’d just speak louder in english thinking this would make them understand what I wanted, like they were deaf.  Andrea said he would order for me then go to the post office.
“Would you like a coffee?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
Andrea looked at me as if he didn’t understand.
“You don’t drink coffee.”  Andrea is very cool.  He is short like me, burly in the shoulders and tough, yet slightly effeminate, just enough to make him attractive to all women.  He laughed when he finally understood what I meant.
“No coffee.  That’s ridiculous.  Would you like a coke?”
“Yes, I’ll take a coke.”
(Another thing, all soda is served warm in Europe.)  
Andrea set me up with a bottle of cola.  He ventured over to the post office with a single manila folder.
Although I was in a new location with all the signs on the streets in a different language and cars driving much faster than I had ever seen, La Spezia was a more modern working class city, and looked no different than a heavily concreted US city.  I waited quite a long time.  Andrea walked over to the table shaking his head in frustration.
“Sorry to made you wait.”
“What was that about?”
“More shit registering our song.”
“What song?”
“I Will Always Do.  Ben told us that we should register the song so that we wouldn’t get fucked.  
(This was wise advice for Ben to give yet I don’t think he knew what it would entail.  The process in the states for registering songs, publishing, is fairly tedious but at the end of the day it’s really just filling out a bunch of paperwork.  Now all of it can be done online pretty simply.  To relay Andrea’s experience I did not want to get the details of his plight wrong.  It’s been years since this happened.  I emailed Andrea recently and asked him to send his rendition of this encounter.  I think for the sake of making it sound less troublesome and monotonous he skipped the mentioning of many trips he had to take to retrieve and fill out copious amounts of paperwork from locations within and outside his city.  I don’t think he would want to give the impression that a “favor” we were doing for them would set in motion a time sucking process that would take place over a goodly amount of months.)
Andrea: “If you wanted to register to SIAE, the Italian writers and publishers corporation, you also had to take a music test.  For the "lyricist" exam, they locked me in a room alone with two assignments:
1) they gave me a song title and I had to write lyrics with it. Like, with any kind of music I had in my head. That was just to see if I knew how to rhyme and write sentences down without any evident mistakes in syllable count
2) They gave me lyrics of a song nobody ever heard of, and I had to change them completely but fit them in the same imaginary melody and structure.
Maybe they wanted me to prove I could write uninspired, heartless shit on demand? Anyway, I did it.  
Then I had to go to Rome at SIAE headquarters and take a "composer" exam.  A music teacher in his 70s, serious man in a suit and all, opened a notations book and asked me to play a melody on a piano.  I told him I couldn't play piano, so he gave me a guitar. I told him I couldn't read music notation, so he started to sing the notes for me while pointing at the staff. I wasn't skilled enough on guitar to play that melody anyway, so he gave up and asked me to sing the melody. I had no idea what I was doing, but I did it. 
It was bad.”
END OF PART II
*Punk Bands that sing in Italian (List supplied by Stefan Eno)
1. Fikissimi
2. Home Alone 
3. Ignoranti 
4. Sempre Freski


5. Derozer, 
6. Impossibili, 
7. Supereroi, 
8. Monelli
9. I Guerrieri, 
10. Bombardini
11. Gambe di Burro
12. The Chromosones



PART III will get us closer to Kylie Minogue.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for mentioning my band in your blog.
    We are honored.
    Andrea from Monelli.
    https://www.facebook.com/monellipunkrock

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  2. I always wondered how "I Will Always Do" ended up on Teen Punks in Heat. The Manges are an amazing band to me - not only because of their honest and authentic songwriting/performance, but also because they unabashedly strum their strings instead of insisting on an "all downstrokes" formula derived from someone else's interpretation of how to play pop-punk the "right" way. I also find it ironic that the Riverdales eventually had to forego this method (one they presumably insisted upon for live shows during the early years) due to what? Lack of Stamina? I digress..

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