Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Thin White Rope in Baltimore

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, August 12, 2007)

There are so many things I want to write about this week. There is my recent jury duty and I will get to that next week. There are the Democratic candidates and their recent forum on the gay oriented TV channel called Logo. I hope to get to that in two weeks time. But this week I promised you a Thin White Rope tour story after skipping out on one last month and I'll keep that promise. In the future though, I will probably get to Thin White Rope stories only once every other month or so. The reason for this is that I have so many music business stories to tell and I want to get to some of those other ones as well. Next month I hope to get to a story about Lydia Lunch and my short venture into performance art. We'll see… But this month is Thin White Rope and I decided to tell a story from one of our American tours for once.

My first tour with Thin White Rope was a great adventure for me. I had gone on that ill-fated tour of America with Choir Invisible that was called off halfway through. I had done some touring up and down California with the Three O'Clock. And I had done a short USA tour with Redd Kross that ended with the band and I being sworn enemies. But this tour with TWR, their second tour, in support of the "Moonhead" album, was the first proper tour I had ever been on. That's not to say that there weren't problems. There are always problems on tour. And we had some big ones on this tour, especially with a booking agent who seemed to have no idea what he was actually doing. We found ourselves booked into discos, dives and in one case, a heavy metal cover bar, and I'll get to those stories someday.

But this story takes place in Baltimore. We had been out for a little over a week when we pulled into the city for the band's first show there. We got to the club early and were waiting for the owner to show up and open the place so we could load in our equipment. We were almost always early to sound checks. It was always a case of "hurry up and wait", as I preferred to get places early rather than to get there late, so I would always tack on an hour or so extra travel time on our schedule just in case we hit traffic or we had car trouble or something. That did happen now and then, but we were usually early, and most of the time I had to listen to the band complain loudly about it. But we were excited to be in Baltimore as this was the city that John Waters had made famous in his movies and we were eager to check out if it actually was the freak scene he said it was. We were not disappointed.

While waiting, a whole slew of street people marched by, looking for money, alcohol or just someone to talk to. There were the identical twin bums. We only met one of them at first. He decided to hang around and talk and told us his brother was just getting out of jail and would be joining us soon. And a short time later he arrived and he looked exactly like the first one. There was also an Uncle Sam bum, a guy who walked around in a red, white a blue suit with a top hat, looking for handouts. And there were quite a few others that I don't remember now. But every one of them was interesting and bum unlike any other.

(During a Baltimore date at the same club a few years later, we ran into the same bums once again. The whole Baltimore freak-show feel was reinforced that second time when we were invited to a party out on the bay. When we arrived, we found a large group of people dressed like American Indians, whopping it up around bonfires. As the evening progressed, they all loaded into canoes and paddled out to attack people drifting by in their expensive yachts. We left before the police arrived. That was some party!)

I don't remember much of the actually first show there. I know we were supposed to headline and a band called Miracle Legion were opening and once we saw the club owner, he told us that Miracle Legion had told him that if they had to open, they wouldn't play. We didn't care one way or the other, but that led to a life-long resentment towards Miracle Legion lead singer, Mark Mulcahy, that was only reinforced by other crappy little things he pulled on us in later tours. But the club owner felt badly about the whole turn of events and decided to spring for a meal for us at a nice restaurant around the corner from the club, across from the bay where there were tourists in paddleboats floating amongst the Navy battleships.

Up until this time in the tour, I had not talked to the band about my sexual orientation. I decided to let them get to know me a bit before I dropped that particular bomb on a group of guys who I was afraid were "small town hicks". But this nice dinner was when I decided to come out to them and see how they reacted. No biggy, of course. It turned out that Lisa at Frontier Records had already let them know before the tour. They hadn't said anything because they wanted me to be comfortable enough to talk to them about it. So that little problem was solved with no drama. But another came up during dinner that brought out a side of me that the band hadn't seen yet, but would see many times during our many tours together.

There were only two tables being used at the restaurant we were at. One was our table with the five of us at it. The other was a young couple and their two very young children. Now, I love kids. I really do. But only if they're behaved and well disciplined. I hate screaming, out-of-control kids; especially in places you can't escape them, like good restaurants and movie theatres. I resent being expected to deal with someone else's kids when I've chosen not to have kids of my own for a reason. In this case, the couple was enjoying their dinner, but the two kids were screaming and racing all around the restaurant without any sign of restraint from their parents. A couple of times, the kids were actually running around our table and knocking into our chairs and I finally had had enough. So, right in the middle of a conversation with the band and without a word of what I was going to do, I just suddenly got up and walked over to the couple's table.

Now, I should say here that I rarely loose my temper in public. I'm always angry about something or other, but I usually keep a fairly calm and composed exterior unless I've really been pushed. The band had never seen me loose my temper before. They were about to.

"Are you enjoying your meal", I nicely asked the couple.

"Why, yes we are. It's wonderful", came the reply from the woman.

My response: "Well that's nice, because our meal has been ruined by your screaming little brats and if you don't settle them down, I may throw them in the bay."

Nothing much happened it first. The woman called her kids over and told them that they had to sit down because the mean man over there didn't want them to have any fun. I ignored that comment. But then a few minutes later, the whole family got up and the woman marched over to our table and said, "I hope you're satisfied. You ruined our meal. You are a very rude person". (Interestingly, the husband never said a word during the whole event.)

And all hell broke loose. I jumped out of my seat yelling, "I'm rude, you stupid cow. It's not my fault you decided to crap out those obnoxious little rugrats. If you don't want to raise them correctly, then stay home. It's your own fault. Don't make it my fault because you don't know how to be a good parent".

And the screaming continued back and forth. The band sat there and gaped. The husband of the woman tried to pull her out of the place while her kids cried. The restaurant manager just stood there unsure of what to do. After about five minutes, the guy got his wife out the door and everything immediately started to calm down. The restaurant manager came over to ask if everything was okay now and I reassured him it was. The band sat there speechless for a few minutes and then John said, "Shit man. That was intense", which was quite the understatement. I said, "I don't deal with bullshit very well" and they all started laughing.

Over the years, they would see that side of me rarely, but it did emerge every now and then, sometimes pointed directly at them. Some of those stories will show up in the future.

After the show, we went to a cheap motel that the club owner had suggested. It turned out to be quite the dump, but it was cheap and we had a suite with several rooms and free porn movies 24 hours a day. I wasn't the least bit interested in heterosexual porn, but the band was very happy and I sat and watched a Ron Jeremy film for a while. I didn't really understand why anyone would want to watch some fat, hairy guy like that have sex and I went to bed early while the band sat up to watch. (I now understand the appeal of Ron Jeremy. In fact, I even like the guy now. But all that's for a different blog.)

The next morning I woke the band up in time to have some breakfast. The good thing about touring the east coast is that most of the cities aren't far from each other and you have time to relax a bit and have a good meal and even take in some tourist's attractions while heading to the gig. Right across the street from the motel was a greasy spoon kind of place that looked like it would have a killer breakfast, so we walked over there to relax and enjoy. But Baltimore had one more freak to throw at us before we left the place.

While looking over the menu, we noticed something called Scrapple listed as an accompaniment to many of the items. We asked the waitress what scrapple was and she told us. It turns out to be an American version of the Scottish haggis. It's a pork mush, in which pork offal is mixed with cornmeal and buckwheat flour and formed into a loaf. It's then fried and served as a breakfast meat (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrapple). We were rather horrified (although I would probably like the stuff now days). While expressing our horror, a guy sitting a few booths away from us overheard us and started talking loudly about how much he loved scrapple. Now, this guy must have weighed in at closed to 500 pounds or more. He was huge! He was sitting at a table with three other normal sized guys and they were all laughing about what he was saying.

First he just started going on about how much he loved Scrapple. He went on and on about the different ways he would prepare it. But then he turned towards a more insane conversation. "You know what I like more than Scrapple, "He said. "Dog food. That's right, dog food. I slice it up and fry it and its great with eggs." After going on about dog food for a while, he started up about cat food. We were in hysterics. So was most of the restaurant.

Finally, the fat guy and his friends finished their meal and left the restaurant about ten minutes before we did. As we were leaving, a car passed us in the parking lot. It was the four guys. The fat guy was in the front passenger seat and the car was leaning so badly that the edge of the car was striking the pavement and throwing up sparks. That did it. It took us about half an hour to recover enough to pile into our own van and finally drive out of the city.

I've only been to Baltimore a few times after that. It has always been a crazy place and I've always enjoyed it tremendously. Someday I hope to go back to just visit it as a tourist. I'm sure there's a less crazy side to the city and I'd like to see that someday. But I'll always look back fondly at that craziness we experienced. John Water's didn't let us down.

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