PART ONE: HAVE A PINT WITH JUGHEAD
This is Part I of what will probably be many many parts. I do not even get to the subjects brought up in the “Reminder.” In this first part I try to get much of the contemplating out of the way so that once I get into the actual adventures in Europe, especially Italy, I can approach them in a more playful storytelling style. This backstory and extensive introduction to the inner workings of my brain are important components to better understand where I was coming from but more importantly for the reader to better understand the love I have for the people I had met during this particular journey.
[Also I want to get a good chunk of the philosophizing out of the way because Andrea from the Manges told me that these blog posts have been an easier style of mine for Italians, who have English as a second or even third language, to read. So Andrea, bare with this first part, I promise it will get easier.]
Reminder: I have been watching a british sitcom called The Green Wing. I have yet to decide whether or not I will continue watching it. I admire the over the top commitment to the oddness of the characters. At times the humor makes me smile, which for sitcom watching is more than often an unattainable goal. While watching theater or friend’s bands playing live, my face is one big grin. I pride myself on being attentive at live performances. Yet for the at home pre-recorded viewing I am not so easily swayed. This in no way means that I am too good for netflix or youtube. I watch them every day. I just don’t feel the need to laugh out loud. I’ll cry. I am a sucker for romantic comedies and friendship adventures. When I used to have cable, and I watched everything on my large old school cathode ray infused television tube, a sure sign that the romance had had an affect on me was the uncontrollable urge to take off my shoe and whip it at the screen. I don’t do this anymore. Now I only watch things on my computer. I still have the guttural instinct to cast forward my footware, but I don’t follow through because of the inevitable consequences. The velocity at which the shoe must be thrust would cause the laptop to fly off the living room table. At which point it would instantly smash to pieces. Lobbing the shoe softly at the computer or pitching it elsewhere in the room, or even throwing something harmless like a handful of popcorn or a cotton swab isn’t an option.
To chortle properly I need to be in the company of an infectious laugher. The former friend known as Matt Nelson, now lacking the breathe to emote in any fashion, was a boisterous chuckler. The lack of that type of inspiration, specifically his genuine outbursts, is greatly missed in my life. This may be why I was surprised the other night while alone from deep within my lungs bursting up through the esophagus and causing my jowls to open wide was a sole guffaw. It was like an unexpected burp or sneeze that surfaces so quickly there is not enough time to cover the mouth. The moment on The Green Wing which caused this rare reaction was orchestrated by the character Sue White, played by the unsettlingly sexy Michelle Gomez. The scene was not funny enough to make anyone laugh so sharply they had to cough. Though that’s exactly what I did. The character made a sexual innuendo by singing the lyrics to a pop culture music video. These types of jokes have always boggled my mind. I don’t know enough about pop culture to get the references. Also, I don’t understand why such a concept works. Why, besides a performer’s impeccable comic timing, is it funny to hear someone sing a certain popular song or mention a particular famous person’s name? It makes no sense to me. I do not condemn its use. This category of humor deserves my respect because I cannot deny the phenomena exists, and yet I could never intuitively choose which pop culture references would inspire large groups of consumers to laugh.
Then why did I laugh? It wasn’t just the recognition of the song and the singer. It reminded me of an embarrassing memory that somehow over time has lost it’s edge. I feel I can share it now because for some reason it no longer causes discomfort. It just makes me laugh. The song Michelle Gomez sang, which caused the memory to resurface, was Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head. The reason it makes me laugh is embedded in the following story.
In October of 2000 Screeching Weasel played two sold out shows at The House Of Blues. While at the second show I struck a conversation with a member of the office staff. I had asked how they thought the shows were going. They said that they were going great, that we were making them some money but that it was also an honor to have us play there. I’m sure they say that to many of the bands. One thing about The House Of Blues is that they go out of their way to make a band feel special. (Or at least they did for Screeching Weasel) There was some truth in his statement about it being an honor because he didn’t try to end the conversation in order to get work done. He continued the conversation and asked if the band had planned on playing more shows. And I just couldn’t hold back from laughing. I’m afraid that getting this band to tour is much more difficult than you would think or hope it to be. Then I took a gander at the large audience before my eyes. I turned back to him and asked, “What would it take get a contract to play at ALL of the House Of Blues.”
“It would take for me to say, yes.”
“Is that example of a yes actually a yes?”
“Yes, of course it is!”
We talked details. I told him that Ben would never again be up for cramming into a tour van for days on end. He had pretty much said as much to me many times before, whenever I would bring up touring. Right there, standing on the sidelines of our second sold out show, this House of Blues promoter and I created a sketch for a potential game plan.
Over a period of 6 to 8 weeks he could fly us out for the weekends to perform two shows at each House Of Blues’ venues: Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas... I can’t remember what other ones were around in 2000 but there was at least four others. All we had to do was bring our guitars. They would supply the equipment and accommodations. It seemed perfect. On the sales of concert shirts alone we could pay our rents for a whole year. For those two Chicago shows we made over $16,000 in t-shirts. The actual show pay was much less since we required the venue to charge the smallest amount they could for individual tickets to the show.
I had all that cash in my backpack when I walked to the Bank the next morning. I poured all the money on the counter and handed the clerk my deposit slip. They called over the security guard, branch manager, and a few other official looking people. The branch manager asked for my ID. After handing it to him I told him I was in a pretty well known band and that I was just depositing our merch money. He asked what band. I said (knowing he would have never heard of us) “Screeching Weasel.” He just looked at me blankly and said, “You’ll have to fill out some forms in order to deposit this much money.” I really wondered if he thought this would scare me away. But without hesitating I said, “Yeah, of course.”
That day after depositing the cash I talked to Ben about the expansive House Of Blues Idea. He had no interest whatsoever. And that was that. During the following months it began to sink in that my most favorite part of participating in a band was rapidly fading away. As I said in another post, friends had often used my name to get into clubs, to meet other established performers, to impress ladies, and to get free shit. I, on the other hand, had never even considered doing such a thing. For the most part I felt lucky that I got to experience the world in a way that for the majority of people was only a pipe dream. Recording in a studio and performing on stage easily counter-balanced the grueling mundane work I had to do as tour manager, accountant, and taxman for the band’s individuals and corporations. In the wake of imagining I may never tour again, that I may never have the opportunity to associate with the fans again, that my major creative contribution to the band was being demoted, this present path I was on had begun to turn into an endless funeral dirge.
I took a good chunk of the money I made from the two House Of Blues’ shows and bought a three month ticket to Europe (a place Screeching Weasel had never played.) I announced on a few message boards that John Jughead was traveling around Europe and would like to meet the fans that never got the opportunity to see the band. It felt like cheating somehow as if I would have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I didn’t really think about this for too long. It was a passing thought that seems more apparent in retrospect. Since I was never the front man, it allowed my personae to more closely resemble my actual self. (Although my personality still boggles quite a few minds.) I was to be one of the only tangible connections these fans would have to the band. There was some pressure, most of which I imposed upon myself, to represent the entirety of the band’s lore. Yet my instinct was to be more the voyeur and less the center of attention. I could not speak to the soul of the tunes, or of the love of the Ramones. I understood these portions of the band, but my association with punk was more about leading a contrary existence and to scrape away mediocrity from every day life. I love punk music but I don’t love it enough to be defined by it. So I have always been conflicted with my role within the scene. (I don’t like using the word “scene” here but I couldn’t find a better one.)
I had many responses to my enquiry. I built my whole itinerary around fans’ locations throughout Germany, England, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy. Also before leaving, my zine article about The Lillingtons, a punk band I had toured with a couple times, had just begun to grow into a novel. I emailed many of the European punks that had gotten back to me and added a comment about how I was working on a novel about Screeching Weasel and would love to find a few scenic places to stay for a few days at each location to write. My plan was to meet with these fans individually, in a public place, and if I did not get a crazy vibe, I would buy them a drink, hang out, and if all went well they would ask me or I would ask them if it was OK to return with them back to their home town to stay for a couple days, to hang out somewhere cheap and focus on companionship and writing. I traveled for three months and barely paid for a thing. It was amazing. Thanks to the kindness, not of strangers, but of the fans of our music.
For the longest time, while talking to fans I couldn’t help but be hyper-sensitive to the point of the interactions. I do acknowledge the enjoyment in gratuitous conversation and of course I loved the attention. It is great to be admired. But I can’t deny that something close to my core demands genuine connections, and I have little tolerance for small talk. I want always to experience spontaneous sparks that make two people say to each other, “I like you. I’m not completely sure why, but I really just like you.” This may be why I’m not a good schmoozer. If I’m not engaged in what is being talked about I have difficulty feigning interest for very long. For me it is not rude to walk away from a conversation, it is rude to pretend to be attentive. I am prone to romancing the idea of friendship, and I crave for all the connections I make to each have their own unique meanings.
How does one distinguish between a fan’s enamored nervous behavior from actual human contact? In order to avoid superficiality I became obsessed with immediate immersion into the workings of their lives. I would bombard them with questions about their culture and day to day lives so that I didn’t have to feel privileged, special, different. This made it difficult to give them what they needed. My inquisition rendered them too embarrassed to enquire about the very element of my personae which brought us together. This too is a product of seeing in retrospect, like actual friendships, it takes time. And often even time won’t make the difference. The fans always have questions, even when the fans become friends the questions still linger if not answered. They often cloud the potential “friendships.” Over time I have learned to balance my pursuit for friendship with the needs of a fan. I have learned that by opening myself up to questions about “the band” I intrinsically gain a deeper access to the inner-workings of people I have helped to inspire. Often I can feel when the relationship moves from fandom into mutual respect and a deeper friendship. This is a good feeling.
End of Part I
in Part II:
What the fuck does Kylie Minogue have to do with Sicily?
Why did Screeching Weasel covering a Manges’ song make Andrea’s life temporarily unbearable?
and I may get to the day in Milan when I impulsively spent a thousand dollars on a camera for Massimo Zannoni