Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Visit From The Thin White Rope Italians

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, October 28, 2007)

Way back in April, I told the tale of the first trip that Thin White Rope took to Italy. There are still a lot of tales I'll get around to telling about during our adventures in Italy. But something happened this month that got me to thinking about many of the friends we made there and how long it's been since I've talked to some of them.

When we first went over there, a company in Rome called A-Z Music booked the tour for us. A mousy little man named Paolo Badini, who didn't speak a word of English, ran this company. Fortunately, his right-hand man in the company, Mario Lo Presti, not only spoke English well, but also was half-American himself. (I believe his father was American and still lives in Cleveland.) That first tour, another guy also named Paolo, this one male-model handsome, drove us around. And that was it for the people we met at our booking agent's company that first tour.

On the second tour, we were introduced to Mario's brother, Tony, and his friend Claudio. They would play a major part in our Italian touring life during the period we were with A-Z Music. After the Russian tour, we regrettably had to fire A-Z. We replaced them with Paperclip Music out of Holland. This of course, didn't sit well with Paolo and Mario. They were very angry with us, but we just couldn't deal with the disorganization and general flakiness that we felt A-Z was presenting us with. A lot of that general disorganization is just something you have to learn to live with when dealing with Italians. In fact, one of the things I find enduring about Italy is that crazy disorganization. But at the time, A-Z was worse than most and although they were responsible for opening the doors of Europe for us, we weren't getting the business done we needed to and I made the decision to let them go.

We didn't see Paolo or Mario again after that. It's too bad because I truly liked the guys. I just couldn't work with them. But Tony and Claudio stayed friends and showed up at all our shows when we played Rome. As I said, Paolo was a rather mousey looking man. Mario had classic Italian looks. He was handsome with dark wavy hair and a winning smile. His brother, Tony, really didn't look anything like him. He was smaller and almost a bit rat-like in looks. (Claudio once described him in his limited English as looking like a "bigga mouse".) Despite that, there was still an attractiveness and appealing swagger to Tony. Claudio was classic. He looked like he could have been Robert DeNiro's brother. I thought he was drop-dead gorgeous and I would be lying if I didn't admit to having quite a crush on him.

I always had a great time with Tony and Claudio. The two of them came from Bologna, where they lived in squat housing with a whole crew of colorful characters. They had us over there once and it was a fun and pleasant time talking and eating great food while partaking in drink and some stronger chemicals. It was during that trip that we filmed a segment in an Italian movie. It was some teenage comedy romp that starred a couple of popular young actors at the time. The name of this film is long gone and if someone out there can remember it I would be eternally grateful. Our scene was during a rock concert and we mimed "Red Sun" to the recording. I pretended to play trumpet. I think Claudio also was pretending to play a horn as well as another friend from Bologna along for the ride.

On our first trip to Pisa, we were invited to a bar after the show where we were poured a thick, dark liquid that knocked us on our asses in minutes. I think it was some kind of beer, but I still have no idea what it was exactly. We were very drunk and decided that since we were in Pisa, we had to find the famous Leaning Tower and climb to the top of it. So we set out and Claudio, who was the only sober person in the party, followed along with us to make sure everything would be all right. After a long search, we finally found the Tower. The only problem was that it was about 3 AM and everything was long closed down. But that wasn't going to stop us and we immediately started trying to find a way to climb up the Tower from the outside. After about 15 minutes of futile attempts, the Italian police showed up. We all started screaming that we were Americans and started waving our passports around, like that made it okay to do what we were doing. Claudio walked over to the police and talked quietly with them for a few minutes. They all looked over at us and laughed, and then got in their cars and drove away. I have no idea what he said to them, but he obviously saved the sorry bunch of us a night sleeping in an Italian jail. (We went back to the Tower the next morning and climbed to the top of it legally, although we were suffering from extremely intense hangovers.)

There were many more adventures in Italy thanks to those two guys and I really missed having them along once we stopped using A-Z. Then Thin White Rope broke up and I figured I'd never see them again. So I was extremely surprised a few months after the break-up to hear from Tony. He and Claudio wanted to come to Los Angeles and were wondering if they could stay with Skip and I. Of course, we said yes and a few weeks later they arrived to stay for an indefinite time, which actually turned out to be quite a few weeks. We had a lot of fun during those weeks. I realized something that I hadn't figured out in all that time in Italy, that they were both gay, though not lovers, so there wasn't any discomfort on either of our parts in having them stay with us in our small apartment for so long. I'll always remember Claudio cooking up huge plates of amazing home-made pasta in his underwear. He would make the pasta in the morning and it would be hanging all over our apartment drying and waiting for dinner. The meals were amazing and it's the closest I'll ever come to having a cute houseboy take care of me. They horrified me when we went to Disneyland and they started rolling joints and smoking them on Tom Sawyer's Island. I was expecting Disney security to swoop down on us and lock us away in Disney jail, but maybe because of their brashness, nobody seemed to notice and they got away with it, as they seemed to always get away with everything. It was also on that trip to Disneyland that I introduced them to corndogs. Italians can be extremely picky about food, so I didn't know how they would react to a hotdog wrapped in cornmeal batter and deep fried, but Disney has some of the best in the world and I thought it would be the perfect place to introduced them to something so profoundly American. They thought they were getting a hot dog with a corn relish and were surprised by this huge brown tube on a stick. But they loved them and then wanted to eat them all the time after that.

Eventually we wanted our apartment back for ourselves and when I approached them to talk about it, they informed me that they had decided that they were going to stay in L.A. and had already found an apartment that they were going to share with some other Italians that they had met. They quickly found jobs at local Italian restaurants and moved into their new digs. Now, Tony had an American passport due to his father, but Claudio was here illegally, although he never seemed to have a problem finding a new job when the old one ended.

We hung out with them a lot during those first weeks, but then other things started happening and somewhere along the line, we lost touch with them. The last time I heard from Tony, he told me that Claudio had gone back to Italy and gotten in to some sort of scheme with his father that ended with both of them in prison. I was very sad about that. Then we didn't hear anything else. I figured that Tony must have moved back to Italy as well and occasionally wondered about them and what had happened to them.

Fast forward to this last month. It had been close to a decade since I had heard anything from any of them. Skip and I got home from some sort of event we were attending and there was a message on our phone. I was shocked to hear that it was Tony. He left a very hard to understand message, but I could make out that he was surprised that he could remember our phone number but he was glad he had. He also mentioned that his brother was coming to town with a band and that they all wanted to see me. I couldn't believe it.

The next day I called him back. Mario was coming to town for one day, but unfortunately, it was during our already planned stay at Disneyland for Gay Days. I was very upset about that. Tony also said that Claudio was in town and we made plans to talk the next week and get together.

The day after Gay Days, Tony called again. He was mistaken. Mario would be in town that Thursday and was hoping we could make it to the show. It turned out that the band he was playing with was the Orchestra Of Piazza Vittorio (http://www.myspace.com/orchestradipiazzavittorio). They were touring with a documentary movie that was made about the orchestra. They were going to be at the Egyptian Theatre as part of the "Cinema Italian Style" film festival and the movie would show first, followed by a performance of the Orchestra. Plus, the conductor of the orchestra was one Mario Tronco, who was the keyboard player in the band Avion Travel, who Thin White Rope toured the Soviet Union with.

Of course, we already had plans for that day as well. It was our friend Lisa's birthday party that night. But I figured we could go to the party and still make it to the Egyptian to meet up with all the Italians. We probably couldn't see the movie or the performance, but at least we would have time to talk.

So I was very happy when we arrived at the theatre and I was able to see most of the band performance. And they were very good, in a world music sort of way. The theatre was packed and the audience was enthusiastic, clapping and singing along with the band.

After it was all over I found Tony. He was easily recognizable, although he has gone bald over the last decade, which I found somewhat surprising. Mario pretty much looked the same, except a bit older and greyer. And then there was Claudio, who looked like he hadn't aged a minute since I last saw him. And his story was pretty amazing. Yes, he had gone to prison. But he had escaped and made his way out of Italy over the Alps before finding his way back to Los Angeles. He said all was well now, that he had received amnesty from the Italian government and could go back anytime he wanted to. But he preferred staying in L.A. and was now here legally. When I asked him what he was doing now he told me that some 75-year-old man had taken him in and he was taking care of him. I new better than to ask about that, but I was pretty amazed by the whole thing. I don't think there's anything about these guys that hasn't amazed me from the moment I met them. (I didn't even go into the story of the two of them trying to sneak Skip and I onto a train from Rome to Berlin and the chaos that ensued from that.)

Tony has stayed in Los Angeles and still works in the kitchen of a local Italian restaurant. Mario got estrange from Paolo and started his own company, Tour de Force, and now manages and tours with several Italian bands. He said that the orchestra is really keeping him busy lately with all the attention they're getting due to the movie. He's now married with a couple of kids and is thinking about retiring though. He hasn't been able to spend enough time with his family and it bothers him. And I saw the other Mario, from the orchestra, and briefly talked to him about touring the Soviet Union, Lina Wertmuller and what happened to the TWR guys.

All in all, it was a great couple of hours hanging out, talking and drinking prosecco with some old friends that I don't see enough of. Both Mario's had to leave as they had a flight out of LAX at 3 AM back to Rome and Tony, Claudio and I parted, promising to keep in touch better in the future. Whether we do our not remains to be seen, but I sure hope we do. Sometimes seeing old friends is an uncomfortable thing. There's usually a reason an old friend is an old friend and not a current one. But this was great and I hope we keep in touch. It brought back old memories that I enjoy thinking about. In the future, as I tell more stories about Thin White Rope, you'll be hearing more about these guys and some of the stuff we did. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoy remembering it.

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