Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thin White Rope - The Tales of Moscow and Moscow

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, June 29, 2008)

What follows may be disgusting to you. These stories are full of sickness and uncontrolled body fluids. So, if that kind of thing bothers you, you may want to wait until things settle down next week before diving in.

It's been nine days since I came down with food poisoning and while I am now eating, although not like I used to, I'm still suffering from some residual effects of whatever it was that I ate. Right now I'm at a point where I just want it out of my system so I can get back to normal, but from the way things are going, I have a few more days of racing to the bathroom and feeling nauseous to go. On the plus side, I have lost close to 15 pounds in those nine days. I'm not going to complain about that, but there has to be better ways to lose wait. Well, maybe not. All weight loss is a giant pain in the ass.

Anyways, this has put me in the frame of mind to talk about Thin White Rope's 1988/1989 tour. It was the first and only time, until this last week, that I had ever had food poisoning. That was the longest tour we ever did. We were out on the road for over eight months that year and it took its toll on us. We also managed to visit both Moscow's during that period, the one in Russia and the one in Idaho. And therein lays my tales.

We arrived in Soviet Russia late one evening and were driven to our hotel in Moscow to check in. Everyone was tired, but I was chomping at the bit to see some sights. No one else wanted anything to do with it, so I got our promoters to print out two signs for me to show to taxi drivers. One told them to take me to Red Square. The other told them the address to the hotel so I could return. A cab was called for me and I was on my way.

During the trip to Red Square, I kept seeing young people who would jump in front of the cab, only to jump out of the way at the last possible moment. It was scaring the hell out of me. Later, I was told it was a game that the bored youth in town played. Most of the time they made it. Sometimes they didn't. They didn't seem to really care either way. Nice.

After 20 minutes or so, the driver pulled over to the side of the road, got out and opened the door for me. There was nothing but dark buildings all around me. I asked where Red Square was. He just stared at me, got back into his cab and drove away, leaving me standing on the curb. I walked around a bit until I saw a man standing on a corner and went up to him and ask him if he spoke English. He just looked at me, said something in Russian that was obviously very rude and then spit on my shoes. With that, he turned and walked away.

I was beginning to have my doubts about Russia. I wandered around for a while longer and finding nothing when the man who spit on my shoes reappeared. I was initially worried, but he apologized to me in perfect English and told me that he shouldn't take his dislike with my country out on me. At the moment, I decided not to probe any deeper on that subject, which was probably very wise.

He asked me to follow him. He took me down a couple of blocks, through a short alley and then out to what was one of the most fantastic sights I had ever seen. Red Square, all lit up and in its glory was placed out in front of me. The man explained that cars weren't allowed within a several block radius of the Square. He thought someone should have explained that to me before I left the hotel. I agreed. With that, he apologized once again. I thanked him and he disappeared down the alley he had brought me through.

It was almost midnight, but the Square was hopping. It was just beginning to snow, it was December after all, and with all the brightly lit buildings, I found my breath stuck in my throat. To the right of me was the Kremlin and to the left was the famous department store, GUM. Directly across from me was Saint Basil's Cathedral, the most recognizable building in Moscow. It was all so beautiful I almost began to cry and I still consider that one of the most breathtaking moments of my life. I wandered over to Lenin's Tomb and got there just in time to see the Changing of the Guard at midnight. I was in awe. It was a placed I never thought I would find myself in my lifetime.

After that, I don't remember much more of that evening. I think I was in shock to some extent. I must have wandered around a bit more and then found a cab to take me back to the hotel because I remember waking up the next morning and telling everyone of my adventures the night before.

We were told we had the afternoon off, so we decided to go back to Red Square and perhaps tour what we could of the Kremlin. I do remember walking around the inside of the Kremlin with the band. I was also interested in Lenin's Tomb, but was told that reservations for that had to be made months in advance and even with the State sponsorship of our tour, we couldn't get in to see Lenin's body on such short notice. That was a major disappointment.

At some point John (Von Feldt) and I decided to go over to GUM to take in some shopping. That's was where I first saw the street food vendor. I love street food and seldom shy away from it despite all the warnings I always hear. I bought some sort of sandwich and thought it was delicious. I also bought some ice cream since the Russians seemed to be so crazy about it. Despite the freezing temperatures, everywhere we looked; Russians were eating ice cream, or walking with bags of ice cream balls, on their way home for the family to enjoy. I found it a bit icy and dull, but the Russians sure loved it.

Now it was time to make our way back to the hotel. We had a rehearsal that evening in the Hall where we were doing our show the next night. Afterwards, our Russian hosts were taking us out to the premier restaurant in town. I was really looking forward to it.

We met at the hotel and everyone, Thin White Rope, the two Italian bands on tour with us, and all the various promoters, piled into a bus for the trip to the rehearsal. It was about half way there that I first realized that that sandwich I had eaten earlier wasn't sitting too well with my stomach. My insides were making all sorts of strange noises and it felt like my intestines were being tied into knots. I asked when we were arriving and was told that it would just be minutes, so I relaxed into my seat and decided I could wait it out.

But it turned out that the bus driver had no idea where he was going. He got mildly lost on the way to the venue and when he finally found his way there, he didn't know where he was supposed to park the bus. He kept driving around the block slowly, with a puzzled look on his face. In the meantime, I was in agony. I was trying to hold on as best I could so once he parked the damned bus, I could rush off and find the nearest restroom. But the fates were against me.

As he circled the venue for what seemed to me like the 20th time, I suddenly stood up, screamed, "Let me off this thing!" and ran towards the front door. Unfortunately, the act of standing unclogged my system and before I knew it, I had released everything in my bowels along the aisle of the bus. The driver threw open the doors and I fell into the snow, vomiting out of both ends. I don't need to say that it was really one of the low points of my life.

Everyone sprang to action though. The Italians were grabbing handfuls of snow to pack along the bus aisle. A couple of them were trying to lift my head up, but I was having extremely violent contractions, so they just held me until that stopped after several long minutes. Everyone was in an uproar, of course. After my body was done forcing out all the poison in my system, I finally was able to relax a bit. I was totally mortified, but there wasn't much I could do about it any more.

Once I was able to talk, it was decided that the bands would all take their equipment and find the load in door. The bus driver would take me back to the hotel in his reeking bus, where I showered and washed my clothes in the bathtub, hanging them up to dry above a radiator. I had one more attack at the hotel, but started feeling better almost immediately after. I was embarrassed and depressed. I really didn't want to miss the night out at the restaurant that was planned. Seeing other cultures is important to me, and restaurants are one of the best places to observe culture in action. So I just laid in bed and felt sorry for myself.

About an hour later, there was a knock on the room door. I opened it to find the bus driver standing there with one of the hotel employees. The employee could speak English and he told me that the bus driver was wondering if I was going back to the venue. I had assumed he had left without me. Maybe my evening was going to be saved to some extent.

I was still a bit shaky on my feet, but was feeling much better, so I quickly got dressed and followed the bus driver down to the bus. He had hosed the thing out and it was as clean as a whistle. He got me back to the venue and everyone was rather surprised to see me. The Thin White Rope guys were amused as hell once they found out I was going to be okay. The band had a term called "mouseing". Basically, it was when you were going to fart and accidentally left a little something else in your underwear. When that happened, you had moused your pants. I had more than moused my pants. It was a rather large rat. Or maybe even a capybara (look it up). But over the years it's an on-tour record I've kept as the band's worst mouser.

After the rehearsal, I decided that I was feeling well enough to go out, but I probably wouldn't eat much and would try to take it easy. Yeah, sure. But that's a tale for another day. I'll say that I didn't get sick at the restaurant. I pretty much had the time of my life. Sometime soon, you'll get that story.

So that's the story of my first food sickness. It was traumatic, but it only lasted for a few hours as compared to the many days this new outbreak has taken. But there's another story to be told here.

During that same tour, we also visited the Moscow in Idaho. This is a rather small, college town located in the mountains to the north-west of the state. I don't really remember much of the town except it seemed very much like other college towns I've been to. And all I remember of the show is that it went well and we all had fun. We weren't staying at a hotel that night though. One of the promoters was providing his house for us to stay in, enabling us to save a couple hundred bucks, which was always appreciated.

The problem with that though was that it was never as easy as just staying with someone. There was always a party thrown for the band that was staying there. And as we suspected, it was a big party thrown for us that night. Now, I've said before that when I decided to be part of the party, I could get pretty wild. But I usually sat parties out because I was the one who had to drive and make sure the band got to their destination the next day. This was one of the parties I decided to sit out, so after a few drinks to unwind, I found a corner of the house that was relatively quiet and went to sleep.

Some hours later, someone woke me up. They told me I had to get up as they had something I had to see. I was dragged out to the living room. There were quite a few people there in a highly amused state. After a few minutes, I saw what had their amusement.

Our soundman was a young kid named Elliot Dicks. He was a genius soundman who went on to be in several Chicago area indie bands like Rome. He was also responsible for turning TWR onto lots of new music, including Roky Erickson. I believe this was the first tour he had ever been on though. This night, he had managed to drink and eat way more than his small, skinny body could cope with.

There was a large dog lapping around his head that had started howling and after a few minutes, I could see what was going on. Elliot was sick as hell. He would lift his head and vomit and the dog would immediately start lapping it up. As soon as the dog was finished, he would start howling again. This would cause Elliot to look up and vomit again and the dog would lap it up and start howling again. This vicious circle had been going on for quite some while much to the amusement of all except Elliot. Even the dog's tail was wagging furiously.

I just shook my head and went back to bed. This was typical of life on the road with a rock band. I do have to admit to be very amused when I saw the look on Elliot's face the next morning as people filled him in and he realized just how far gone he had been. Elliot was with us for several years after that and he was pretty careful never to let it get that far again. Lesson learned!

Okay. That's enough of that. I'm making myself sick just writing about this stuff. Next week I'll be back with something. It's still undecided, but it won't be about illness, I know that for sure. Maybe its time for me to rant politically once again. We'll see. Until then, I'll see you here, same time…same channels.

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