I’m staring at a drawing of a penis. I don’t want to be lying in bed, staring at a drawing of a penis, but it’s on the underside of the bunk bed above me. It’s not a bad drawing as these things go, the artist has some ability, but it’s three in the morning in a band flat in Hamburg and all I want is to be anywhere but a band flat in Hamburg.
This place is covered with drawings of penises, and band stickers, and graffiti written in moments of desperation or celebration by the hundreds of bands who have stayed in this band apartment after a show in Hamburg. I keep trying to tell myself positive things like “at least it’s warm” and “the bathroom’s clean” but a room full of bunk beds in a band flat in Hamburg is by its very nature depressing. The only consolation is the knowledge that I will never stay in a band flat in Hamburg again.
I won’t say I never want to see a penis drawn in magic marker again because there’s no way to avoid those. Graffiti in a dressing room in Nijemegen said “Bands that can’t draw crowds draw dicks” and so as long as there are bands and dressing rooms and sharpies, there will be dick drawings.
It is part of the job, like it or not, to look at drawings of a penises.
* * *
Arriving in Mannheim – the GPS is out of commission as I’m late paying the phone bill back in the US. I need to speak to someone in a call center in India to turn my phone back on so I can access Mapquest in Germany to get to the gig to make money to pay into the account to pay the bill to get the phone turned back on so we can use the GPS to get to the next gig to – you get the idea.
We’re forced to find the venue the old-fashioned way, driving around the city with a very slight idea of where it might be from having played there once before (a little knowledge is worse than none at all, it leads to “I swear I recognize that cafe/hotel/shop over there…and this little square, if we just keep going a bit further I know there’s the waterfront and the street runs perpendicular to that?”) and then giving up and asking the locals. We ask a nice student-type girl and then an older guy and finally a waitress in an Italian cafe who comes out onto the sidewalk with me to point us in the right direction. Yes this is how it used to be, way back when, we used to talk to people! It was a fine way to meet the locals, it was real, it was really being somewhere, it was – exhausting. Must get my phone turned back on.
* * *
In Munich the club books us a charming hotel right in the city centre. It would be perfect if you were having a fun weekend in town but we only have time to drop our bags off before the show. Dragging rolling suitcases through a cobblestoned square packed with Christmas revelers all waving steins of beer and shouting good cheer at each other makes it feel like one of those Bruegel visions of hell.
The place has a beautiful curving staircase. God this is fabulous! Look at that ornate balustrade that circles around and around up to the ceiling, the patina of ancient steps arching around and around and – Lord, why did they give us the top floor room? I’m clutching the charming balustrade with a sweaty palm, heaving suitcase, laptop and the last two nights’ rider all the way to room 55, circling up so many times I feel dizzy.
What was that line from Sunset Boulevard – “I’m big, it’s the pictures that got small”? The dressing room walls in the Munich club are covered with posters from a not-long-ago bygone era: Libertines, Raveonettes, The Gossip, Jet (remember them?) . The posters look huge, I can’t think of the last time I saw posters this size for a club show. It’s the last night for this place that has been going almost twenty years – the lease is up and the landlord wants the space for something more lucrative. The area is full of expensive stores now, a sign in neon at the end of the block says it all, in English: “Thank You For Shopping”.
We have to rush to clear out after our set as the club is having one last blow-out dance party. I hope the people don’t mind that we didn’t play as long as usual, last night in Mannheim we got to stick in a few extra songs and it was fun and relaxed but there’s a line of people out in the cold so there’s pressure to finish up on time.
Back in our hotel, room 55 turns out to have been lovingly hand-painted by an artist with a thing for birds. There are birds on the wardrobe, birds on the mirror. The bed is nice with a fluffy duvet but the entire ceiling is covered with an insanely busy mural of toucans and parrots in bold lines and colors.
Bold birds vs. magic marker penises…bold birds, magic marker penises…I guess the birds win.