Was that really me, just over a week ago, sitting on an office chair in a parking lot outside the Jahrhunderthalle concert hall in the outskirts of Frankfurt, beating a tattoo on my acoustic guitar while Eric stumbled through the lyrics of “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” to an audience of two?
Did we really take a rental car on the ferry from Dover to Dunkerque, drive into Belgium and then over to Frankfurt? And then back again? Ending in a flight to Newark and another rental car back home?
Did I sweat and struggle through that first night last Thursday in what seemed like a decent hotel but was ungodly hot, with only a metal fan that roared like an airplane engine for relief? I think I wanted to leave in the night, because in addition to the heat I was worrying how would we live up to our part of the festival, which was to decorate a car and offer things for sale to the public, who’d be passing by on their way to the music festival? Eric had proposed setting up a cassette player and letting people choose a song for us to record for them. I imagined being scorned, doing a lousy job. Or worse, being completely ignored.
After that first sleepless night I arrived in the hotel breakfast room at an impossible hour, manic and dishevelled, expecting to be alone with my muesli but instead finding a room of polished professional types well into their mornings, reading newspapers, chatting and chowing down on smoked meats and cheeses. “What drugs are you people taking to make it through the night so successfully in this inferno?” I wanted to scream. I eyed the vodka bottle nestled in ice on top of the fruit juice section (is this an average part of the German breakfast?) but thought better of it.
Then I remember walking a few miles through Frankfurt trying to find a roll of packing tape. We saw a lot of banks and H&M and Zara and Claire’s; then some more banks, H&M and Zara and another Claire’s; until finally, back in the red light district near the train station and our hotel, we found a cheap variety shop. They didn’t take cards so the Afghan clerk offered to accompany us to a bank machine to get euros. As I stood chatting with him down in the train station while Eric went into a pharmacy to get change, I could see the Ripleyesque plot unfolding where we ended up getting on a train with someone else’s briefcase and would have to kill somebody, but once he had his money the man simply thanked us and rode the escalator back up to the street.
We’d brought the rest of our supplies with us: cardboard, paints and brushes, a box of cassettes and a cheap tape player we would try later (unsuccessfully) to return to Argos in England. Covering our rental car with paint wasn’t an option, so we were going to paint a lot of signs offering our song service, portraits drawn while u wait, even life coaching.
It hardly seemed possible, but by the end of the first day the car was a budget emporium on wheels. We were like the last little strip mall on the way out of town. Next to us were a German guy from Palermo who was selling limoncello out of a hand-built cart; an Antwerp city bus full of misfit poets; sweet-faced Beatman from Switzerland with a record shop on wheels; Silky and Bob from Hamburg who played accordian and drums and guitar between them, with Americana paintings covering their car. There was the tiny Caravan Gallery, a yellow trailer full of photographs; Digger and Pencil playing in a battered Volvo.
People wandered over, wondering what we were up to. They chose songs from a menu, and we played whatever they asked for whether we knew it or not. Swingin Doors, Leaving On A Jet Plane, Good Times (the Eric Burdon one, not Chic – though had someone requested that we would’ve given it a shot).
At the end of the second day, one of the Belgian poets requested A Day In The Life from Sgt. Pepper. He might’ve been messing with us, but the next morning before taking the train back out to the festival, we learned it. With a group of ten gathered around, Eric and I approximated the record. It was a triumph. I don’t think we could ever do it again.
Later that day we played a set on one of the stages, where we actually knew what we were doing. It rained at the end, a downpour, and as we hauled soggy equipment off the stage –
Sorry to interrupt as I try to land this post but we finally, just this moment, after months of stopping and starting and finishing an album and going out to play gigs and work jobs and put up sheetrock – we finally launched our Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of a new record.