Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thin White Rope and the Dandy Italian

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, November 11, 2007)

I've often talked about a character by the name of Pino, who played a large part in one of Thin White Rope's tours. In fact, it was our first major European tour and Pino came along with us as our driver. I don't think we really liked the idea of him being along with us, but our Italian booking agent was worried about leaving us to our own devices when it came to driving in Europe. We had always had a driver in Italy and none of us had ever driven anywhere outside of the USA. So A-Z (the name of our booking agent) hired Pino and we didn't really have any say about it. (Well, we did have a say about it, but we didn't realize that until much later.)

To tell you the truth, we all sort of wanted a chance to drive on the European highways, especially the Autobahn in Germany, and we figured that Pino couldn't drive all the time and we would get a chance to try out to roadways somewhere down the line. The rest of the time we could just relax, nap, and not have to worry about it.

When we arrived in Rome to start that tour, we were introduced to the man. We didn't quite know what to make of him. He was a very dapper, dandy kind of fellow, dressed to the Ts in very expensive designer clothing. He spoke very little English, which was going to make it difficult to spend all that time with us, especially once I heard that he had actually been hired not only to be our driver, but to be our tour manager as well. Now, that was my job and I wasn't happy about not being informed about this turn of events in advance. But it was explained to me that I had never traveled in Europe and many of the club owners were not to be trusted. Pino had the experience, so they insisted that he do the job. I wasn't happy about it, but decided to let it go for the time. After all, I got to travel around Europe and I wouldn't have to do very much work. Little did I know that I was going to end up working harder than I had ever worked in my life.

Pino was very excited to be traveling with us, as he was a big fan of the band. He wasted no time in making sure we knew that he knew every song by heart. He was also happy because of our drummer, Joe. It turned out that Joe was the American name for Pino. Pino was short for Giuseppe, which was the Italian for Joseph. To make sure that Pino transitioned himself into the band dynamics okay, we headed out on the Italian part of the tour first; with our old tour guide, Tony, along with us as well. That all worked out okay. Pino was a bit of a geek and he was terrible overambitious, but he seemed like an okay guy, so, while we still would have preferred to go on our own, we accepted Pino and headed to our first dates out of Italy, which were to be in Germany.

As soon as we left Italy, we started realizing that there were a lot of things wrong. Pino's inability to speak English was a big problem, as we couldn't get him to understand anything we wanted. For example, several weeks into the tour we were in Norway. The van was parked on a snowy hill. We all got in and Pino released the brake. At that point, the band started sliding down the hill backwards. Guy said to Pino, "Hey, we're rolling", and Pino's reaction to that was to start singing "Rawhide". You know, "Rolling, rolling, rolling. Get those doggies rolling…" and so on. But when we all started screaming in unison, that got his attention and he was able to stop the van before we crashed into a tree at the bottom of the hill.

Plus, he was just so damned pigheaded about everything, insisting that he knew the best way to get places or the only way to handle problems that always arise on tour with transportation and equipment. It's true that we had never been in Europe before and in many cases, things are done differently there, but it's not rocket science to read a map or find a mechanic and he just seemed to think that we were idiots when it came to any of that. He was also quite belligerent at times and that was a bad thing when we were trying to cross the borders into other countries. At the time of this tour, there was no European Union and we had to carry papers with us that we had to have checked at every border to make sure we weren't smugglers. Most of these border checks were easy and peaceful, but there were those, such as Austria or France, that were always a pain in the ass, and I quickly learned that belligerence wasn't the way to solve a problem with an equally belligerent border guard.

The East German border guards we had to deal with to get into West Berlin were not the worst guards I ever had to deal with, but they weren't easy. And they weren't into belligerent Italians, but I finally smoothed things over with them and we were allowed into the city, where we met with our German booking agents, Christof and Camille. Some of us were staying at Christof's flat and others were to stay with Camille. I was staying with Christof and decided I wanted Pino to keep close by, so he was staying there as well.

It was at Christof's place that the first Pino disaster struck. We were sitting in his living room and we decided to smoke a joint. Christof's couch was located in front of a large window and even though we were several stories up, Pino got paranoid and decided to close the drapes so no one could see us. He grabbed one end of a drape and pulled. The whole thing came off the wall. Not only that, but the drapery rod fell end down onto Christof's shoulder creating a very painful hole in his skin there. As soon as all the yelling stopped and everyone calmed down, Pino apologized and we decided that we should probably make it a night and hit the sack.

Christof's bathroom was located in the hall. Several tenants shared it. Pino changed into these snappy silk pajamas and donned a stylish robe. He wanted to go out to the bathroom and brush his teeth. Christof had warned us that the lock on his front door was a problem and that we shouldn't touch it, but for some reason, Pino decided to lock the door on his way to the bathroom. Several minutes later we heard a knock on the front door. Christof tried to open it, but it was locked shut. We looked through the keyhole to see Pino standing there in his expensive nightwear, holding his toothbrush and telling us he couldn't get in the door with an idiotic smile on his face. He couldn't get the key to work to unlock the door.

Christof was furious. Not only did he have a sore shoulder, but also now we were locked in his apartment because an idiot who couldn't figure out how to work the lock held the only key outside. We tried all sorts of things. We tried to remove the door from the frame. It didn't work. We tried to talk Pino through unlocking the difficult lock. It didn't work. In fact, Pino just kept standing there outside, holding his toothbrush, smiling and saying, "I can't get in" over and over again until we would shout at him to shut up. But shouting at him only made it worse and he didn't really understand what we were shouting about.

We finally solved the problem when Christof climbed out of his window and onto a ledge outside. Then he slowly shimmied along the ledge until he came to his neighbor's apartment and started knocking on her window. It was fairly late and she was rather alarmed that someone was knocking on her window several floors above the ground. But Christof finally convinced her that he wasn't an insane serial killer and she let him in. He went out of her apartment, got the key from Pino, and unlocked the front door. No one talked to Pino for the rest of the night.

After the Berlin show, we went to Hamburg. There, we were to play a small club on the Reeperbahn. I don't know if any of you have ever been to the Reeperbahn, but it's a magical place. It's the Hamburg red light district. The club we were playing was at the end of a street called Herbertstrasse, which is one of the most notorious streets in the district. Here's a picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Herbertstrasse.jpg. Once you pass the barrier, it's like a Disneyland for the sexually starved. There are a number of windows there and behind each one is a woman for every type. There is the dominatrix, the grandma, the schoolgirl, and so one. At night, different colored lights backlight each woman and the effect, with shadowy men lurking in the corners, is rather surreal.

The Beatles made their mark at clubs on the Reeperbahn before making it big and while the club we were playing at wasn't one of the original clubs the Beatles played, it did have the stage the Beatles originally played on, which was kind of exciting in a weird way.

So, back to Pino. We arrived at the Reeperbahn not realizing that the street was closed off and that finding our way to the other side by car would be rather confusing. I decided to ask the club and told Pino to stay where he was with the band and the van while I ran through the barrier to the other side. I found the club easily and met the friendly owner, who explained to me how to get our van around to the load-in entrance. But as I was talking to him, suddenly Roger and Guy show up and told me that Pino decided not to wait and took it upon himself to find the way to the club. He ended up driving the wrong way down a one-way street where he collided with another car going to correct way. The police had been called and Pino had been taken to the police station with the wronged driver. The police were asking for someone in charge and that was looking like it was going to be me.

So I asked Guy to go get the van and drive it to the club via the owner's directions, while I went to see what I could do about Pino. Now, the Reeperbahn police station, called Davidwache, is a famous building on its own. It was where the Beatles were taken when they were arrested and deported after pulling a prank on a rival promoter. You can see a picture of it here: http://www.music.indiana.edu/som/courses/rock/hamburgsites.html. I arrived at the police station to chaos. There were German police officers yelling at an Italian driver. There was a German driver screaming at everyone. And Pino was standing there in full belligerence, refusing to back down to anyone. He turned to me as I walked in and said "I am innocent", thereby focusing all attention on me, and everyone immediately started yelling at me in their various languages. I have to admit, I almost ran at that point.

Joe had remained with Pino and I asked him what was going on. He told me that from what he could see, it was all Pino's fault, but that the driver that he had hit was probably even more belligerent than Pino and the police seemed to really hate the guy. I took a deep breath and found a cop who spoke a little English. But it was just a little, and it was really hard to understand what they were saying to me and to make them understand what I was saying to them. I know a very little bit of German and can usually understand simple words if spoken to slowly. I can't speak it back at all. I asked Joe to run and get the club owner, figuring that he knew the area and maybe he could help. Off Joe went.

It took Joe and the club owner quite awhile to finally show up. Somehow or other during that time, I convinced the police that it was all a horrible mistake. I think I played Pino up as mentally challenged and that the other driver must have had some fault in the accident. The fact that the driver Pino hit was being such an asshole helped my case. I'm still unsure of what happened, but the police told Pino and I to get out and go about our business. In the meantime, they remained with the other driver who was mad as hell that they were letting us go.

It was just at that time that the club owner arrived. He asked me why I wanted him and I told him that I thought I might need some help since I didn't speak German very well. He took one look around and told me that it looked like I handled everything pretty well. And we went back to the club, where we played a packed and extremely fun show that night. We played that club several times again after that, but without the added distraction of Pino.

I still have no idea what exactly happened at that police station and how I managed to get us out of that trouble. The lessons I learned that day though, went a long way towards helping me deal with future problems that arose during future tours in Europe. Somehow I always managed to pull us out of whatever problem presented itself, even if it did sometimes take a few days. I'm sure you'll be hearing about more of those problems in future editions of this blog.

The next day, we were leaving to go to Copenhagen, but Pino wanted to stop at a telephone booth on the way out of town and call A-Z with a progress report. As I had said earlier, he had been named head tour manager by the powers that be, so he had all our papers and all our money stashed in this folding purse he carried everywhere with him. He made his call, got back in the car, and off we went to catch the ferry over to Denmark. It was about an hour or so out of town when Pino suddenly realized that he didn't have his purse with him, which meant we didn't have our papers to cross the border, or any of our money to continue the tour. He didn't know what he had done with it, but I suspected that he had left it back at the phone both. We turned the van around and headed back into Hamburg. More than an hour or so later, we found the phone booth and to our surprise, the purse was still sitting there with all our papers and several thousand dollars in it. It had sat there, in the middle of town, for over two hours and no one had touched it. Hamburg was turning into the miracle city for me. And it wasn't the last time we had a miracle experience in Hamburg, but more about that at a later date.

At that point, I decided that I had had enough and took over, despite the protests from Pino. I made it understood to him that he had the choice of allowing me to handle the papers and money and he could go along to drive when we needed him, or we would just leave him at the side of the road and he could make his way back to Italy. He wisely chose the former.

That turned out to be a good thing as we had a show booked in London. In England, a band needed work permits to play a show and we didn't have them. We didn't know how we were going to get into the country with a van full of instruments and still convince the authorities that we weren't playing there. As we approached the ferry in Belgium that would take us to Dover, it was decided that we would take our luggage out of the van. We all would walk on and off the ferry as tourists and Pino would drive the van, telling the border guards that he was driving to meet a band that was flying in later in the day. It worked! The English guards were suspicious, but quickly lost patience with the belligerent Italian that they couldn't understand very well and just let him in. We all walked a mile or so down the road and met Pino there. We arrived in London and played the show without problem. (We opened for Spaceman 3. It was a great show.)

There were many other incidences with Pino. Some were funny. Most were aggravating. His belligerence almost got us all arrested in Sweden when we became victims of a speed trap on our way to Oslo and once again, I had to calm everyone down and get us out of that sticky situation. Pino always got yelled at after each incident, but he never seemed to learn his lesson.

That tour taught us that we could handle things ourselves from then on. Every tour after that I handled most of the driving and all the tour manager duties. (The only exception was the very last tour that I didn't go on, although I did show up for some of the shows. We hired a tour bus and a tour manager/sound guy for that tour.) I had very little problems with promoters and club owners, so I don't know why A-Z was so paranoid. We actually enjoyed the European tours, which is probably why we did two of them a year. I liked driving in Europe. It was much more civilized than in the States. (Although I did get in a little trouble in Germany for a passing law I didn't know about while managing the Young Fresh Fellows tour.) The clubs treated us well, giving us good places to sleep and great meals to eat on the most part. There were a lot of people at most shows and we actually made money in Europe, although most of it disappeared into the vacuum that was touring the USA.

We saw Pino again for a brief moment on our next tour while in Rome. He came out to see the band and tell us that he was sorry he wasn't touring with us this time. We breathed a sigh of relief. I later heard a tale that he had gotten a job working for Joan Baez on her Italian tour. She was playing a guitar and the string broke. Pino went to restring the guitar and somehow or other managed to entangle the microphone stand and the guitar together. The audience laughed and jeered while Joan stood there not knowing what to do. I never heard about Pino again after that.

I sometimes wonder about the guy and what happened to him. I wanted to kill him at the time, but in reality he was a really nice guy who just was in over his head. I can look back and laugh now about the things that happened, while still try to figure out some of them. I hope the guy found satisfaction and happiness in his life. If anyone out there is reading this and knows anything about the guy, please send it, or him, my way.

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