SPANISH TOUR December 3-16, 2001:
Dec 3 Valencia
Let me begin with some terrible comparisons. Spain: Is it the Mexico of France? Or maybe Spain is the Florida of France, because in fact, Northern Africa is the true Mexico of France. But that's only assuming France is the USA of Europe...since England is basically Seattle, or better still, Alaska.
The light in Valencia reminds me of LA somewhat. I stood there, looking, then thought maybe like NYC or midwest, then decided on Los Angeles, if only because of the hazy autumn light. The most advanced technology I found in Spain was the espresso machine, not email, yet everyone had a mobile phone. Like everywhere, they were ringing all the time.
Let me back up: I flew over New York, looking down, the skyline is all screwed up without the twin towers, to say the least. Went back to sleep to avoid jet lag, tried to sit in the spacious crew seats, got run out of them with "You know they're for us!" No search by customs, but they asked if I was from Brazil.
Two rock boys, Bruno and Pedro, greet me at the airport. They're young, shorter than me, and "guapo." Bruno is gracious and confident, fairly macho for a young guy, but I can tell he's a mama's boy as well. Pedro is gentle and laughs, but is a wildman inside. He has two-tone hair and a Keith Richards thing going on.
We got into the Peugeot, music starts blasting on 11. Went for lunch, where I was introduced to jamon and bocadillos, little did I know I'd be having them every day. Learned that a fritatta is called a tortilla, and a tortilla francia is actually an omelet. The tortillas I know, the flat things made of corn or flour? Never saw one. Nor could I ever find a paper towel, but plenty of air dryers.
Dropped my stuff in my home for the week, the dorms at the University of Valencia. Found a dried up lizard on the window sill, brought him inside. Later, not far away, we sat in a restaurant in the public square, "took" a beer, waiting for Vicente, the Robert Redford/Johnny Bartlett of Spain.
Shortly after that, we went to the first rehearsal, oh man...more on that tomorrow.
FIESTA- Some friends get together on Monday nights at the Lounge, in the Barrio de Carmen, and speak English. Finally saw the physical copy of the "Knight" CVS CD, we played it in the bar, I think "Sight & Sound" has too much treble on it. "Don't Worry Now" sounded OK.
More rehearsals. My band is Pedro, Luis, and Asensio, but he's called Wally ("Where is Waldo," specifically), he's the Dave Rave/John Stuart of Valencia. We rehearse in a converted barn from the days of Don Quixote, with abandoned horse plows propped up in the corner next to the (Valencia) orange crates. Planks on a dirt floor, every night there's red dust covering my shoes and pants. I thought calling it "provincial" was more polite than "primitive."
220V going through my feet from the mic. Pedro plays a Les Paul with acoustic strings, for more sound, he explains. Wally's using Tama drums, and a broken cymbal, but assures me he's got a better kit for the gigs. Luis has Ibanez bass powered by Peavey.
FIESTA every night now. "Your Spanish is terrible but your Valencian accent is excellent." Went for paella in Palmar, out past the rice fields. One finger deep only, that's the best, I'm told. One with saffron, rabbit, and chicken; the other, mariscos with squid ink to make it black. Also, beer, sangria, mistal. Mix your liquors with gusto. Went to the Mediterranean Sea, I put my feet in and took a long look. I looked back, and Bruno was singing Beatle songs with Pedro and the girls. I walked back over this pillowy plant material I assumed was normal.
The oranges surround the city of Valencia. The place is growing (now 800,000?) and to accomodate this they're wiping out the closest orange groves. Soon it will all be suburbs like Tustin, CA, and they'll get their oranges from Algiers. They need Jack Nicholson!
FIESTA- They say the new Spanish government is shutting down the bars earlier, meaning they actually close. Some close even earlier. We scrambled from one bar to another, finally running dry not far from where we started. The last bar was said to be Mexican because it was low to the floor. Figure that one.
Pedro explains how to double park our car. You must leave the parking brake off, so your car can be pushed out of the way when someone (you've blocked in) is ready to get out, rather than honk and have the fiesta interrupted.
Moved from cafe con leche to cafe cortado, had more tapas, it just keeps coming long after I'm done. Also the terrible (hangover) peach whiskey, which I threw over my shoulder in toasts. Gave up on thinking I'd use the meal vouchers at the university, since I was either gone or asleep during meal hours. Besides, I don't eat unless I'm reminded to. Everything in Spain is cheap, especially when someone else pays for it (Sr Maicas). Best hospitality I've had on tour.
FIESTA- at la caverna, some Beatles reference I'm sure, but they had cave drawings of bulls (toro, everywhere) on the wall. Up late drinking 20 cl beers. Realized at 5 am that I was well into my birthday.
Dec 6 Elche
Practiced, broke down, packed up, (including the better DW drums) and drove to Elche. Went past a mountain is supposed to look just like an elephant, and it really did. Billboards in the shape of a black bull spotted. I'm told that the young people are forgetting about El Toro, so the government is putting them up everywhere. Went past Benidorm- home of aging brit rockers? It's where Richard Wright spent his last days after Pink Floyd.
First gig. The club is called Directo. OK, so it's a club called "Live." Sound man/club owner set up console on a sawhorse with little nails to keep the rack gear in place. Reminded me of the first Ordophon! He recorded the gig, I knew it because he played the tape of "Dream Away" immediately afterward. Sounded like the record...almost.
Before the show, we sat upstairs in the cafe, and groups of men kept either driving by looking at us, laughing, waving, or coming into the club in pairs. What's up with that? Dos Hombres? Men In Love? One gang of footballers mooned us while we had dinner.
Two fellows sat right in front during the show, one with a handlebar mustache. I made up a song for them, called "Dos Hombres," featuring a piece of "Black is Black" by Los Bravos. As it turned out these guys were straight and married, nice fellows from Murcia, drove all the way to Elche.
FIESTA that night, everything from soul music (I begged the rastaman DJ) to Flamenco (I did the dance and the clap). A song about jamon was played. Luis was long gone to the hotel, 18 km away, so we went to some abandoned apartment, no electricity, no water, stayed up until 8 am. Everyone was completely drunk except me, on shots of tequila, Jack Daniel's, peach whiskey. Mine were all thrown over my shoulder.
Dec 7 Valencia
Back to Valencia. Getting sick, today I'm officially being a tired grump. Club Malas looks like the private party room at the Manlius, NY Quality Inn. Formica, and maroon paint. Bar has brass pipes around it, and above. First club with a backstage area. Pedro works here.
Starting to have fun with the language barrier, screw it if they don't understand me. Play an OK gig, but I'm very tired. Some people seem to know some CVS songs, and people are buying the CDs at every show. Selling for 2000 pesetas, which is about ten bucks, but people look at me with sticker-price shock.
FIESTA- Bruno took me to a disco in the carmen barrio, and a 15-year old girl gave me a shot of (green) absinthe, but I threw it over my shoulder.
Dec 8 Castellón
Tonight's gig is in Castellon, a quick drive to the north. None of my friends showed up at my dorm room until it was time to leave for gig. I had nothing to do, just sat around room reading the Splitsville interview and drinking Cruzcampo in bed, cynically wondering how the fuck I'm going to find email or a telephone card to call the States, never saw one. Still fairly burned out from late nite activities, every night we eat at 11 pm (I think it's 8.30 pm) then at 1 am we're just hitting the bar, so I never get home until 5 am.
Every time I'm having a coffee in the campus cafe, the guy takes it away before I'm finished.
Castellon gig had no monitors, so I was annoyed and afraid. Vibey club (Ricoamor) by the sea. Tiny tiny. Club boss offered me some weed (or was it hash) when I walked in. The air conditioner was blasting me full of the flu, no matter where I tried to hide to get warm. Played an acoustic start, loosened up, it went great. Met Francesc Sole. Had more fun with the drunks and the language barrier. Translating the drunken murmurs from the sides. "He wants a ham & cheese," and "The guy said put 2 bucks on Passionate Laureate"
If I don't sleep I will die. So, I fell asleep on the way back to Valencia, and no FIESTA.
Dec 9 Granada
It's a long drive to Granada, six hours I'm told. Just me, Bruno and Pedro, and somehow we went to Cartagena. They're talking about how Spain invented the submarine (and everything else) and it occurs to me that we're still near the sea. I check the map, and then I knew we should have taken that right turn at Alicante. It's OK, just another hour, that's all.
More billboards of toro spotted. Club was like a tiled bathhouse inside. Granada impressive looking city with an urban market, narrow cobblestone streets, churches, fountains, castles. Old Old Old. Pedro is very excited about the south. Bruno is nursing a broken heart, and an absinthe liver. Good food before show, but I passed this time on the moros, the deep fried pig snout.
Good sound guy. Audience very quiet during gig (worrisome), but they bought many CDs afterward. My nose is stuffed like a pimiento.
FIESTA- After show with the student girls from Holland, Norway, Germany, and the very proud older Spanish teacher who surely (my guess) by now had much invested in this class. In the bar they played "Circles" which sounded curiously powerful on their system. Hash man #2 with teary eyes would not leave me alone. Got out. Pedro felt most qualified to drive, and did his best not to wreck the van while driving the wrong way down narrow morning streets.
Dec 10 Valencia
Drive back to Valencia from Granada very long, as we went the wrong way again. It's my day off, mostly spent in the white Mercedes van with the seats that are straight up and down.
Stopped for a bocadillo on the way, and as I looked at the jamon serrano, the work-in-progress shaved and carved upside down pig leg, with his hoof suspended, I wondered if all that cigarette smoke gets into the exposed meat like it has penetrated my coat this week. In this roadside restaurant, a 60s western has everyone riveted to the TV. Ernest Borgnine has been dubbed over in Spanish.
FIESTA- everyone crapped out except me, so I went for an early dinner and one quick drink, yet got home at 2 am
Last day in Valencia, been here a week on and off. Acoustic solo gig tonight in the auditorium fifty feet from my room. Tediously unwrapped and took apart 300 CDs, keeping only the discs and the printing to take home to the USA. Had an empowering moment going to the post office on my own. Congratulated myself in knowing that 13.700 pts was way too much to pay for express mail.
Today I hold my coffee as I drink it, insuring that no one takes it away before it's done. My attitude is improving. Hey! I never got one of those Valencia horchatas.
I walked around the dried bed of the river Turia, just a short walk away. They diverted the river 30 years ago after a big flood. It's now a park, but I keep imagining myself walking under 12 feet of water.
Sound check was OK other than a brain-erasing spike of feedback in my right ear that pretty much did it for me. I said "finito" and repaired to the cafe for beers.
I noticed that the length of applause here is approximately 7 seconds longer than what I'm used to in the USA. I switched back and forth between guitar and piano (I can't play piano for shit I assured the crowd) and had plenty of fun. The show went well, the audience very quiet, of course made me self-conscious in their silence...also because I can't communicate with them so well.
I said "Espana Va Bien" and everyone laughed, I must have been part of the joke. The new president answered some important press question with an empty answer; it's a commonly known joke, it seems. I suppose it was like if you were at some performing arts center, and the three little Chinese ritual dancers suddenly said in English, "George W. Bush is going to find these folks and whoop 'tearism.'" Either way, I got two encores and sold more CDs. Voice is returning.
After show dinner at the same place as last night, Sally Pimienta, and I saw some jamon come across the table. I got to pick the tapas. Perros No.
FIESTA- the caverna was dead, about 5 people in there. Played darts (now I know the meaning of Kursaal Flyers), went home, yet somehow still it was 4:30 am when I got to bed.
Dec 12 Madrid
Drive to Madrid. Say good-bye to Bruno, Vicente. Moved out of my dorm. Picked up Luis in Utiel, where they sell wine in the gas station, probably really good and made across the road. Luis drove, didn't get lost, but no map, so we're now doing the directions through the car window trick. Found the club, called Honky Tonk, but no techno sonido yet. We went around the corner to the hostel. I roomed with Luis since Pedro and Wally are two men in love.
Kicked back at the hotel for a few, then suddenly it was 9.30, and time for sound check. The others had gone off ahead of me for the load-in (yes!) And I made my way there. The bartenders were poring over an English lesson book. We discussed plural possessives in broken Spanish.
Madrid had the initial effect of arriving by car to NYC, the lights, the cars, the old people out doing things on their own. Pedro (the hippie) says the people of Madrid are dark spirited and are still of Franco mentality.
The club was kinda gross, 80s music on a loop, men in suits, TV sets everywhere. Union St.. SF meets the Paradise Lounge suburban crowd on a Saturday night. The show started at 1 am. Before that we had dinner in the attached restaurant. The waitress said nothing, but started bringing course upon course. Show was pretty terrible, with mistakes, forgotten endings, speeding up, all the usual stuff. Splitsville showed up and I was fairly mortified.
FIESTA- Everything shut down before we had a chance. Pedro and Wally watched some free porn in their room, apparently. There's a show on that features several men (one in a Mexican wrestling mask!) and one woman lethargically trading their way around the room. It's sort of a porn version of MTV's "The Real World."
Madrid day two. Got up, walked around. Cafe con leche, etc. Bought CDs. The King of Spain was getting out of his limo across the street, but I was going nuts in the "oferta" bin. Left, bought a circular scarf for 495 pts, which I'm supposed to need in muy frio Burgos.
Got juiced up on beer at lunch. Made the mistake of ordering paella in Madrid, the rice isn't as good. Took a taxi to the Radio Madrid show. Pre-recorded three songs (Don't Worry Now, The Ballad, Gemini) then did interview via translator in real-time to tape. Songs went well. Interview was interesting and fun. Hope I get a copy soon. Took subway (similar, in the good way, to london underground) back to hotel, had more beer and tapas. Sounds like a lot of drinking, but the beer is pretty tame, I swear.
Had a late siesta, woke up at 11 pm (does that count as siesta or just passing out?) And dressed for night #2 at Honky Tonk. More huge dinner courses, bottle of wine, nice place. The balding boss man (dead ringer for Gavin McLeod) in suit is holding court by the DJ booth as we walk in. Huey Lewis, Bon Jovi, endless 80s memories. The room is full.
I started alone, paddling my acoustic canoe through the amazon of their cocaine brain fiesta. Jesus fucking Christ, I love this kind of show. Typical Saturday night meat market, but it was Thursday night. Still, it was going comparatively well. The band came up and we played six songs, took a break. (Mindreader, Sun, Dream Away, As You Are, Circles, 451)
Sounded OK, better than last night. No fuckups and tempos were steady, must be the wine. After the break it was probably 2:30 am and we had yet another set to play. When we went back on, we did the rest of the band songs only: Like Me That Way, Feel, Ooh Mama, Gemini, All The Young Dudes. Sold some CDs, but soon the crowd was starting to surge to the disco beat.
FIESTA- The show ended so late there was hardly a chance for fiesta. Got the hell outta there, left the gear in the club, went with Scotty Sheldon to this bar that is the chatterbox of Madrid. He's all expatriated now, loves it, and speaks like a Spaniard. I kept him out late. Well drugged up clientele. The paranoiac doorman kept the double doors shut. Walked back to hotel at 6 am or something.
Dec 14 Burgos
Leaving Madrid, the smog was heavy. Driving to Burgos. Getting bored with not being able to speak clearly to anyone. They say Burgos is very cold, but I haven't felt it yet. We haven't gotten there yet, up into the mountains. Now, in the autogrill, the sun is warm. Our highway lunch stop is taking an hour and a half, and the drive itself is two hours. I found a CD in the truckstop: Mambo Christmas. Titles include "Frosty The 'Mambo' Snowman," And "Mambo In The Halls With Boughs Of Holly."
Got to Burgos, did the usual 30 minute drive around town looking for the club! Nice tourism, saw some towers not unlike those Gaudi things in Barcelona? It's not cold yet, only 0 degrees C, but dropping. The load-in took two minutes, set-up ten, but the sound check seemed to take a while. I lounged. The place looked like a ski lodge.
The club, La Quinta, is a big barn, so the sound was fairly crap while all was empty, although the gear looked good. Huge San Miguel beer sign behind the stage that makes the amps buzz. I took the Les Paul and we jammed on the blues for the happy hour crowd, as well as a swing number the guys sang in Spanish, whatever it was.
The night went on, good dinner. Pedro saw snow for the first time (kid needs to get out of Valencia more often!), so I hit him with his first snowball. Killed a bottle of wine, then had some sherry. I played the show with my eyes closed, mostly to avoid the bright amber lights, and to concentrate.
I sang well, but the show was just OK. The crowd was waiting for the disco dancing to start. Paul Collins had said the day before, "Oh, you're going to LOVE that place!" J&B scotch was doing a promotion (last week it was Beefeater) with posters, girls dressed in green and red. Best was the Rufus Wainwright lookalike on four foot high stilts. By the time we finished and got out of the club (we left our gear in the club again) it was nuts with disco fuckers, all smoking, I about lost my wee mind.
Ooh, then the cold came, as promised! It was SO cold now, it was snowing, and I wanted to get in bed. But it was time for FIESTA, so we were looking for one more bar. Our show started at 1 am, so it was probably 4 am now, and I'm walking around in the wind and snow with my guitar. It's -11 degrees C, and I'm bitching and whining, walking endless blocks. We get to a bar. The latin disco music returned like a bad case of the hiccups, so I bolted back out into the night. As I walked to the hotel, there were kids standing outside bars huddled together wearing only t-shirts.
Dec 15 Madrid
The anglophiles night. Arrived in Madrid again, Luis got out of the car asking for directions. O'Connor's pub was closed, but the Gaudi pub across the street had a good beer and cacaos.
Went to the hotel, said good-bye to the band, bye-bye Wally. Went CD shopping with our friend Puerto, back to the cutout bins. Bought nothing released after 1974. Did that way too long, had a hurried dinner, then rushed to the pub for my gig, all OK. Club guy Coleman good man. Bartenders were Irish or something.
Sound check, a fan there early with his wife, I autographed his CVS records, and he had them all. Show went well, voice back to normal, might be used to the cigarette smoke constantly filling the air. Paul Collins came, saw the back of his head and him talking while I sang his request. Did an encore. Sold a buttload of CDs and then finally had a moment to sit down.
FIESTA- Couldn't get a taxi, so we walked back to the hotel in the cold!
Packed bags for home. Can't exchange the coins in America, so I'm trying to spend all I can in the airport without breaking the paper money. It's all turning into Euros in a couple of weeks, so the idea of keeping the coins for the next trip is useless. So I had one last bocadillo, my final cafe con leche, "took" the last beer, like you'd take a pill, I guess. Here in the airport the Americans are playing games on their laptops, while the Europeans are in the bars talking and smoking, buzzing around the bar having drinks. My plane is leaving 3 hours later than scheduled. I'm doomed. Finally, I get on the plane, last (dawdling), so of course I am searched head to toe by seven Spanish policemen. I left them my remaining coins, 85 pesetas, to split among themselves. My plane missed its San Francisco connecting flight. Stayed in NYC for the night.
Dec 17 SF
Finally made it back to SF. Got to the studio, and the trusty doorman was there. Posted the envelopes I had meant to get in the mail box before I left town, and then had carried part way around the world and back. Found the mess I'd left on my way out two weeks ago, including the coffee I'd forgotten in my rush for the taxi.
It seemed important to get back here, but after a few hours of unpacking and tidying, I think it's time to go away again. Maybe I'll finish the new record first.
Huge thanks to Vicente, Alvaro, Pedro, Luis, Wally, Bruno, Puerto, and all those at the clubs who helped make it happen.
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