Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thin White Rope in the Land of Christmas Trees

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, January 11, 2009)

Okay folks, we finally get to another Thin White Rope road story. I know I promised our adventures in Lithuania but I just spent this last week catching up on the Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Film. Those last three I needed to see were truly remarkable films. There was ‘The Baader-Meinhoff Complex” from Germany,“Waltz with Bashir” from Israel, and “Everlasting Moments” from Sweden. It was that last film that really amazed me and I feel that it may be my favorite movie of 2008 so far. It was also that film that drove me to change my mind on the road story I wanted to tell. There was a scene in the film where a young girl walks out onto the ice of a frozen lake and the ice cracks with menace. This brought to mind an event that happened during one of our several tours of Sweden and for this month, I think I’d rather tell those stories, leaving Lithuania for next time.

Scandinavia was a strange and distant place to me before our agent finally booked a tour there. We had played Copenhagen once before and I had caught a glimpse of the Swedish shore from there. That show in Copenhagen was extremely successful. We played a free show in a park and close to 10,000 people showed up, about twice as many as the promoters ever expected. So we were anxious to try our hand elsewhere in Scandinavia. When we were told we had dates in Sweden, it was pretty exciting.

(We ended up doing three tours of Sweden, I think, although I don’t remember what years they were in and where the shows fell in those tours. We also used Sweden to launch tours of Finland and Norway, since we had to drive through the country to get to both of them. We actually had to take a huge passenger ferry that was like a floating city to get to Finland, which we did twice, but those are stories for another time.)

Our first time in Sweden consisted of only three shows I think. It came after our second show in Copenhagen, our first club show there, at a strange place called Christiana, which is yet another story for a later time. The day after Christiana, we drove to the coast and boarded a ferry for the short trip across the ├śresund strait to Sweden. (Now days, there’s a bridge across that strait and the ferry is no longer needed.)The ferry docked in the port town of Malmo (where a good portion of “Everlasting Moments” takes place) and we made a very short drive north to the college town of Lund where we were to play our first show.

I don’t remember much about this show and how it went. But I do remember a few things that happened. On our way to Lund, we all started joking about Swedish names, referring to everyone, and each other, as Swen or Lars. When we arrived at the venue, which was on a beautiful college campus in town, they showed us to our dressing room, which actually was a locker room under the main hall. The first locker we looked at had a name stenciled on it: Swen Swensen. In our giddy and tour exhausted mood, this just struck us as hilarious and we spent quite a while rolling around in laughter.If the next one would have been Lars Larsen, which it wasn’t, it probably would have killed us. I also remember a great dinner provided by the venue that had a main course consisting of potatoes and eggs that we found unusually delicious(although it also started a new round of jokes about Swedish meatballs, which our hosts seemed to think was funny as well, or maybe they were just being polite).

After Lund, we drove way up north to Stockholm. Here we had a show at some shack just outside of the city. It turned out to be a hard-core punk rock place and somehow we had been booked into it. I remember the owner-promoter as being extremely nice and apologetic, and we were very worried that the punks were going to hate us and we’d never get out of Sweden alive. But we needn’t have worried. The show was not packed, but a good amount of people came out and everything went fine. (This show also played into what we called “The Pig Tour of Europe”, which is something else that will have to wait for another time.) We also had a show in a small town outside of Uppsala, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the name of it. It was at another punk club and that’s all I can remember about it.

The drive in and out of Stockholm was a beautiful one, especially at winter, where it looked like a land of Christmas trees. I was obsessed with seeing a wild moose during these drives, something I never saw during any of our trips, although the jokes about my moose obsession returned for each tour. I think it was Roger who said that one of the nights I was driving in the Swedish countryside; I would eventually see a moose as it ran in front of our van. The last thing I would see was a giant moose head crashing through our windshield. Playing out that situation in my mind seemed pretty funny and at least I would have seen a damned moose, which the locals claimed were all over the place.

I believe we also had a show in Oslo this first tour and it was on our way to this show that we ran into a speed trap on the main highway. The highway patrol would post signs saying that the speed limit was a certain speed and then almost immediately post another sign dropping that speed limit. Then they would just sit on the side of the road and pull over car after car to give a speeding ticket to. I talked about this once before in my stories about our infamous Italian driver, Pino, when he almost got arrested for arguing with the cops. But we quieted him down, paid the fine,and headed to Norway.

Norway was the first, and one of the only, countries to actually pull us over and search us and our van at the border. It was a bit scary, but we got out of that after a bit of time and headed to Oslo. Now the reason I’m talking about this in a series of stories about Sweden is because of the opening band. This was a band called Union Carbide Productions and I was very excited to be doing a show with them. They were from Sweden and the industrial town of Gothenburg. Lydia Lunch had told me all about them and I was dying to see what they were all about.

We arrived at the Oslo venue to find that Union Carbide had arrived earlier and were waiting for us so they could do a sound check. They weren’t provided a dressing room and had no food or drink provided by the club. So we invited them into our room and shared what food and drink we could, as we had plenty of it as according to our rider.

As it grew time for the show, the lead singer, Ebbot Lundberg, approached us dressed in a nice suit and tie and asked if he looked okay. We reassured him that he looked great and time was called for them to hit the stage. I went out on the floor to check them out. It was packed with Norwegians who were drinking rather heavily. Union Carbide hit the stage in a blast of noise and before the first song was half over, Ebbot had stripped off all his clothes and did the set completely naked. They were an amazing, energetic, Stooges-inspired rock band,but for whatever reason, the Norwegian crowd wasn’t buying it and heckled the band through their whole set. I was exhausted and extremely excited when they ended, but the crowd just filed back to the bar.

(This show was also notable because my friend, Fredrik Nilsen, of the BPeople, was living in Norway at the time and came down for the show. It was great to see him, of course, and I think he enjoyed the show quite a lot as well.)

Backstage, Ebbot asked if I thought they were okay and I told him I thought they were great, which he seemed pleased with. Thin White Rope went on shortly afterwards and the drunk crowd went wild. By the end of our set, the dance floor looked like it had been carpeted with drunken Norwegian bodies. People were laying everywhere. I was happy for that reception, but I’ve never understood why they hated Union Carbide so much.

Afterwards, as we were getting ready to leave, the Union Carbide guys came up to us to tell us that they had been stranded. It seemed that their soundman had met some guy and taken off with him and their van and they had no idea where he was or how they were going to get home. There wasn’t much we could do for them, so after an exchange of phone numbers and addresses, we headed off to our hotel.

The next tour, a year later, we had a date in Gothenburg and I gave both Ebbot and guitarist Bjorn Olsson a call and invited them to the show. Ebbot never showed,but Bjorn showed up and seemed depressed. He told me that the band had just split up and he didn’t know what to do. Our show that evening was crazy, with some excited fan leaping onto the mixing desk and collapsing it. Our soundman, Eliott, and I were rushing around trying to patch things together while keeping the show going. While it was a great and exciting show, I was glad when it was over. I was going to talk some more to Bjorn, but he had slipped out sometime during the show.

(I later found out that Union Carbide were typically an unstable group of people.They were constantly breaking up and getting back together and when they were together, craziness like that Oslo show was typical. They actually got back together for two more albums after our Gothenburg show and then split up for good. A year or so later, I heard from Bjorn, wondering of he could stay at my house during an upcoming visit to Los Angeles. I said sure and he showed up for what was to be a week’s stay. More than a month later, he was still visiting and just as I was going to mention to him that perhaps it was time for him to leave, he just disappeared. I heard he was in San Francisco, but never heard from him again until years later when he and Ebbot formed Soundtracks of Our Lives, and I think Bjorn is out of that equally amazing band now as well. Whatever. My time with them started an obsession with Swedish rock bands at the time and I started buying albums like mad. Now I can’t remember any of them.)

We had one more notable time in Sweden. During one of our tours, we had a down period of about 4 or 5 days. We couldn’t afford that much time off, so our Swedish booking agent, a guy named Gunter, I believe, invited us to stay at his house in Hultsfred, where he would shelter us from the winter and feed us. It actually turned out to be a nice time, although I wish we could have had a show there. (There was lots of talk of the band coming back for the Hultsfred Festival, one of Sweden’s biggest rock festivals,but it never happened.) We spent most of the days wandering around town and roaming the woods futilely looking for those elusive moose that everyone told us were everywhere.

One night, we were all pretty bored and drunk, so we decided to walk down by the lake. It was very cold and the lake was frozen with a thick coat of mist resting on the surface. It was beautiful under the moonlight and it wasn’t long in our drunken state that we decided we needed to walk out on the ice. So we started playing a game to see who could get the furthest out before chickening out. One, or sometimes several of us would walk out on the ice until we got scared and then would race back to the shore and the next person or group would see if they could go out further. It got to the point where we were going out far enough that we could hear the ice cracking under our feet and we would race back. It was exhilarating, exciting and, in retrospect, extremely foolish, but it wasn’t the first or last foolish thing that one or all of us would do on tour. When we finally got bored, and went back into the house, Gunter was horrified. We always seemed to get away with these things without injury though. It was this event that would inspire Guy to write the song, “On the Floe”, which showed up on the next album, “Sack Full of Silver”.

We ended up doing another show in Stockholm at a proper club that went really well and got us into the center of the city. I remember that show doing well and that I thought that Stockholm was on of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. And that’s about all I can remember about Sweden.

So, that’s it. I still have stories to tell from Norway, Finland and Denmark. Those will hopefully come later this year. I don’t know what I’ll be back with next week, but something will inspire me, I’m sure. Until then, thanks for reading and enjoy yourselves.

-ML

PS:By the way, as of this week, I’m now on Facebook. If you want to friend me there, and I would love for you to, visit my site: http://www.facebook.com/people/Ml-Compton/1173287479

1 comment:

  1. Good to see you here with a blogspot blog!

    Always good to hear TWR stories, or road stories in general! Keep it coming.

    ReplyDelete