Week One – The European tour begins in a club in Bristol called Thekla, which is actually a boat. We figure, if we suck too bad, we can just sail away.
We don’t suck, though I do feel a little crazy, trying to contain the rhythmic and melodic chaos that results from combining 50FootWave, the McCarricks and myself. I feel less crazy the next night in Leicester and by Nottingham on the third night, I am actually sailing away in a good way. That night there is a lunar eclipse which we watch on the street with strangers.
Martin is then chased by a pantomime horse in Birmingham (or so he says — all he has for proof is a cellphone picture of it just standing there — I told him it’d be more convincing if the picture were taken from the ground with a big pantomime hoof in the foreground and an angry horse head in the back).
At the club that night, for one reason or another, Billy ends up telling some club employee to shove a veggie burger up his ass. This does not go over well. Billy is very New York and English people are very English, for the most part. He’s asked to say he’s sorry and he does — but he isn’t and they can tell.
In Portsmouth we park the bus near the ocean and I wash my hair in an aquarium. In a sink in a ladies room at an aquarium. We see otters (awful cute but they smell really bad — I no longer want one for a pet) and sharks. Bodhi, in his enthusiasm, tries to swim with the sharks. We grab him and explain that he’s allowed to reach in and pet them but only from dry land. Butterflies terrify Bodhi.
In London, we see dear friends and play Koko, a beautiful hall in Camden. The show feels great. Koko is not too cold or too polite and we take that opportunity to lose ourselves in what we are doing. I’ve often thought that I play more for my fellow musicians than the audience and tonight that is absolutely true. The audience is so perfect, I know they can take care of themselves as listeners and let us musicians concentrate on playing the best show we possibly can.
Best signage: “ENGLISH LAND APES”
Week Two – After the show in Sheffield, I whip a roll at Martin. It hits him square in the face which makes everyone happy but Martin, who seems confused. “I’m sorry, sweetie,” I say, “Americans are always whipping shit at each other. Especially food.” This cheers him up a little, but I make a mental note not to pitch any more food at Martin. He’s been through a lot on this tour already, what with the horse thing and all.
Bernie and I still shudder at the memory of the showers in Manchester University (pitch dark, down a rickety spiral staircase…and rats) it seems better to stay dirty. The show is swell, though: hot and loud. Makes us miss 50Foot a little less.
Glasgow is one of my favorite cities. Today we take the two little boys to the Botanical Garden which has a greenhouse with a room devoted entirely to carnivorous plants. Some of them are huge and otherwordly — really freaky. Then we walk to a grocery store and try to blend (we don’t). At the club, I wash my hair in a sink.
Ice cold showers in the club in Dublin, but showers none the less. We are clean for the time being. And for the third time on this tour, we get leeks on the rider. “What are we supposed to do with these?” we ask each other again, holding them up. I consider whipping them at somebody (not Martin) then decide against it, as energy reserves are low.
I have contracted a gorgeous flu, the likes of which I have never before experienced. It seems to have attacked my lungs, trachea and bones. I try to keep this from the band so as to avoid becoming the tour pariah, but they catch me lying on the floor staring at an electrical outlet, something I don’t usually do. “Are you okay?” someone asks me.
“I don’t know,” I answer.
“What do you think you have?”
This is when things begin to go downhill.
Week Three – Amsterdam is springlike and full of happy, high people. I fail to absorb their festive attitude though, as I am trying so hard just to breathe. I still don’t know what the hell is wrong with me (pleurisy? pneumonia? plague?). I never get sick — I’ve been quite smug about this in the past.
At dinner in beautiful Ghent (our theory is we never made it to Ghent; the bus crashed on the way and we are in heaven), I cough like my eyeballs are gonna fall out onto my plate. The bartender tells me later that he had an ambulance on the phone, waiting to see if I collapsed. I escape to the dressing room where I can swill cough syrup and collapse in peace.
I then cough through Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Milan. The excessive energy that has haunted me through most of my adult life is a distant memory. I lie on the bus until show time, do the show and then I lie down again. Then I cough without breathing for a while, then I lie down. Now Kim has The Thing, as we refer to it. She is also lying down and coughing. We make a suicide pact.
Week Four – We are sitting in a restaurant in Basel, Switzerland, a place I’ve never even heard of, when my friends Jeff and Geoff walk through the door. They are painters from Providence — RISD friends whose floors I slept on when I was a homeless teenager. Jeff sits down next to me and just laughs. I am so deeply confused that I forget to cough for a minute. “What the hell?” is all I can think to say.
Apparently, Jeff and Geoff and some other friends of mine are painting a mural in Basel this month. They saw posters for the show and figured they’d just show up to, I don’t know, mess with my head. It works. They ask to be put on the guest list and then leave. I lean over and ask Billy if my friends were really just here, in Switzerland. “What friends?” he says.
That night, I start coughing in the middle of “Hook In Her Head” and can’t stop. Every night it is a serious battle, trying to sing without coughing, and tonight I lose it at the end of the show. I think because they were smoking some kind of fucked up clove cigarettes in the front row. We finish the song as an instrumental, then Billy takes me outside where I scare the children with choking, wheezing noises as I try to catch my breath.
In the dressing room, Jeff draws a “tattoo” on Bodhi, who treasures it for weeks. I am not allowed to wash his arm until every bit of it has faded.
Then we park the bus in an industrial part of Stuttgart for 2 days. It looks like war time out there: gray and bleak. It snows, the snow melts…we do nothing, as there is nothing to do. The band and bus driver get hotel rooms (it’s the bus driver’s birthday), but Billy and the kids and I elect to stay on the bus and watch the Simpsons for 2 whole days. We actually eat potatoes we found under a seat in the front lounge of the bus to complete the war time picture.
Rob’s pregnant wife, Amy, joins the tour and cheers us all up. As much as
I like Amy, though, I avoid her to keep her from catching The Thing.
Munich is a moneyed city and therefore beautiful. The rich own most of the beauty in this world, it seems, both natural and man-made, but we partake of the lovely Isar river front: Bodhi wades in while Wyatt makes designs out of rock piles. Billy and I talk in the sun. We feel lucky to be playing music all over the world after all these years, as physically difficult as it is.
In Berlin, we meet the lovely Didi, a kind of punk rock club chef who takes Bodhi under his wing and teaches him to cook for 12 people at a time. Bodhi wears an apron, stirs soup, sets the table — pretty much does nothing but cook and talk to Didi all day. He cries when we leave the club because he already misses Didi, so Billy runs back to take a picture of Didi with his cell phone.
Then Bodhi cries because he is “forgetting the sound of Didi’s voice”. This makes everyone in the Bus Family very sad. What a thing to identify. We all think of lost loved ones and take a minute to try and remember the sound of their voices.
In Aarhus we spend a day with Marie and Anders, friends we met through Howe Gelb. They take us to a playground with pet rabbits and goats! The kids just lose it with happiness. Danes love kids so much. Bodhi is chased out of the goat pen by a crazy baby goat. “That baby goat was crazy!” he says gleefully.
Week Five – Bergen, Norway is like Boulder-meets-Seattle. It’s really breathtaking. Bo tries cotton candy for the first time and Bernie tries whale. He describes it as “salt water reindeer”. The fisherman who gives it to him says, “It’s okay! A whale is a mammal!”. “So am I”, says Bernie, under his breath.
We do like the incredible black bread and smoked fish, brown cheese, herbs and vodka, though. I feel like this is soul food for blondes. I blend in Scandinavia (the only place on earth where I do, as far as I can tell) and wonder if this healthy place with clean air and great food will make me better.
That night, the crowd is so amazing that Bernie and Rob and I play a 50Foot set for the encore. We are immediately drenched in sweat. These songs are so fully engaging — now I know what’s going to make me better. The audience yells “More! More!” as we leave; I turn to Bernie and Rob and yell, “More! More!”.
Oslo and Stockholm are as lovely as always, but Gothenburg is a beautiful surprise. Smart, friendly and educated, the city reminds me of Hoboken, NJ (but really clean!). The club takes good care of us, looks out for the kids and invites me back. We look forward to going back, too, as the promoter is a dead ringer for our kids’ favorite babysitter and inspires a sort of “love stupor” in Bodhi and Wyatt which makes them easy to control.
Our friends in Reykjavik put us up in style. These are the first real beds any of us have seen in over a month. We take showers (with hot water!) and see our faces in mirrors again. Some of us have tiny fridges. Windows! Toilets! We are all high on this stuff.
There is a wooden bowl on the table in the little 3 bedroom apartment where my family lives for 3 days. We rush out to the store, buy a bag of apples (this costs about $15 in Iceland) and put them in the bowl. The four of us step back and look. “Beautiful,” we agree. “Like we live somewhere,” says Wyatt, heartbreakingly.
For 2 days we enjoy this beautiful city, walking through neighborhoods that remind us of New Zealand (of all things) and moss-covered cemeteries that remind us of nothing else. Then on the day we leave, our friend Thordis takes us to the famous Blue Lagoon, ice blue hot springs in black lava. Thordis has two wonderful children and is about 10 months pregnant with her third, but she spends the day with us anyway, floating around one of the craziest places I’ve ever been. We leave for the airport feeling fairly groovy. I am breathing again. I’m on my way home to America.
Life is good.