I took the replacement van back to SFO the next day to turn it in after unloading the gear and putting in the old van’s seats. They were a little unorganized at airport van rentals, but whatever. The people in the office there waiting to rent vans weren’t so into my telling the clerks that I was returning the replacement van from Ontario airport after suffering two rear blowouts! But I did tell them that the previous van was tan and this one was grey, with tan seats so they should change them out with the grey ones they had in their waiting room! Yes, they used van seats in their waiting room.
Then I made my way to the SFO rental car center (a huge clusterfuck) and rented another car from another company. Yet more driving. I headed out toward Fresno to hang out and begin a new recording project: my friend Steve Cammack from my band in high school, Bürnt Töast. Steve was the other guitar player in our band, and he’s been writing songs ever since, as one does, but has never really recorded things. So he has a huge backlog of tunes that he wants to have a nice recording of. We mostly worked on getting some acoustic tracks down and a few of the vocals, and the sort of overall shape of the project, which may take a while. (Especially as he lives there and I live here.) I think we got a decent start, though. It was weird being in the central valley without going up to Davis, where I (we) grew up, especially as my brother and my dad still live there, but here we were in a suburb of Fresno instead, in a hot, hot September. We barely left the house. Beer was essential.
I had to split on Wednesday evening in order to have a rehearsal on Thursday with none other than John Hanes learning Camper Van Beethoven songs for the show the following weekend in Bishop, CA at the Millpond festival. Victor has been playing and recording with John for many many years, I have played and recorded with him for most of my past decade’s records and shows also. It’s going to be interesting to play with him in CVB. The rehearsal went really well, John had done his homework. Camper is weirder music than regular old rock n roll, but John plays all kinds of things, and is an extremely creative and free drummer (I love improvising with him), so I had wondered if the exactitude of CVB songs would be a burden for him. But he learned them and learned to like them more, even. We got out of the rehearsal at 10pm or so, and finally ate something: the now-internationally-famous San Francisco Mission-Style burrito. From Can-cun, in fact. Delicious. That’s something you just don’t find in Stockholm.
Friday was my free day, but Victor had a show that evening at the Starry Plough in Berkeley that I intended to get to eventually. I also intended to see Ben Goldberg‘s “Unfold Ordinary Mind” (just buy this album) at a place in Oakland called Duende. I realized much too late, however, that I probably needed tickets in advance, so I called the place and they said that they sold out but would have some tickets at the door. What the fuck do I know? I was able to do a little shopping to bring things back to Sweden (like mirin, for example: being above 3.5% alcohol, it can’t be sold in grocery stores here, and it’s pretty unlikely that the Systembolaget, state run liquor stores, would carry Asian cooking wine.) Then later in the afternoon I began my journey across the bay. I took a rush hour BART ride to downtown Oakland, a place I hadn’t been for a long time. I used to work on 21st and Webster at Pandora, that seems like so long ago now. I got off at the 19th St station and walked over to Duende, on 19th between Broadway and Telegraph. Well, downtown is getting even more upscale these days, it seems. This place is very yuppie. I asked about tickets and they said that the ‘bodega” would have them when they opened at 8pm. I needed to eat something, but I was not going to stay there. Not because it looked like bad food, it did look like good tapas, but it was packed and loud and I don’t like that sort of restaurant. I texted Greg and Kacey to see what they were doing before Victor’s show (Greg was playing with Victor later) but they were already on their way to pizza. So I walked around and found some nice Vietnamese food down near the city government area. A nice little place called Ma Me, where I got to sit alone outside on the sidewalk tables.
Eventually I made my way back to the show and there was a line of other non-ticket holders. When they opened, they had a total of 19 or 20 tickets, and ran out right before I got to the entry. Well, shit. Walking downstairs, I saw that the band were about to eat, so I said hi to Ben and Ches Smith (drummer, played on my Edgy Not Antsy!) and Nels Cline (and Ellery Eskelin, but I don’t know him actually.) Told them I couldn’t get in and I sort of expected some help here, but got none. “Can’t you tell them you’re a famous musician?” …um. Other non-ticket holders were here, and I saw Thomas Scandura, drummer from the Molecules (who recently got back together and toured!) so I went with him and his friends over to Make Westing, which is a relatively new hip bar nearby. I had a nice Sazerac! Which got me quite buzzed, so when they were going to go elsewhere, I decided to go back to Duende to see if anyone was leaving. I ran into Suki O’Kane there, coming from a rehearsal. I’ve worked with Suki on many musical projects, not the least of which was a whole ton of music for Theatre of Yugen, so it was great to catch up with her. Her husband Michael Zelner was already inside recording the show! We waited for a while and I went outside and got high, came back in and the door people finally pitied us and let us in to sit on the floor for the last few songs.
Now, I say songs, and they were, which may seem odd for what is essentially a jazz ensemble. Ben plays contra-alto clarinet, and he holds down the bass lines. There is no other bass instrument. Ches on drums, Nels on guitar and then two tenor saxophones, Rob Sudduth and Ellery Eskelin. They had chord progressions (sometimes more implied, of course) and verse/chorus… well, not all the time. Some of songs got pretty noisy. It was a beautiful array of tones, almost made me cry. Between a couple songs Ben very slowly introduced the next tune by saying “this next tune……I was talking with Ellery…..about the state of the world…..” etc.. He described the old days when our ideas of terrorism were people who kidnapped heiresses so that the dads would buy groceries for poor people. The tune was called “I Miss the SLA”. ( I doubt he’s aware of CVB’s song “Tania“) Anyway, when it was over I had to get over to the Starry Plough.
I was in quite a head space, with the absinthe of the Sazerac, etc. As I stood on the BART platform I started thinking about how people only think of their own lives as reality and never consider that they are part of a continuum of people that are alive through time. If people considered their highest goal to make the world or universe better for those that followed, instead of simply trying to make the best of right now, which ends up trashing the future… Was I indeed doing that? Is making music doing good things for the future? I certainly want to think so, but the current reality is that “music” ends up being easily erasable magnetic bytes on a hard drive. In a hundred years, the formats may not even be viable even if the information is still there. We are idiots. Like the current art scene as represented by the kids coming from art schools in the past 20 years, they’re all into digital art. I bet in 50 years, nobody will even have access to its viewing or experience. We look back at art as tangible, this tells us of previous cultures. Posterity will find no culture from this period. When Sanna was in art school here in Stockholm, the teachers essentially looked down on her for wanting to sculpt. Idiocy. What is Swedish art from the early 21st century? Well, we don’t know, it was all transient. What the fuck are we going to do? My friends Cid Pearlman and David King are choreographers. I’ve made music for them for the past 2 decades. David and I have had a long going discussion of the value of art versus the economic value of it, it’s especially significant for dance, an essentially ephemeral art form. Economically, however, to quote David “In an era of declining production costs for almost every consumer good, the live arts in general, and dance in specific, because they are not susceptible to digital or mechanical reproduction, maintain fixed and comparatively inflated costs.” This means that the economy of ephemeral forms is as much borne by the makers and doers, of course, especially in labor-hours! Well, anyway. I made it to Ashby BART and walked to the Starry Plough. Victor and band were already playing, Victor, Greg, John Hanes, and Alison singing some, and a bass player I didn’t know on upright bass. Who was really good! I saw my friends from Big City Orchestra and sat with them and had a beer. Nice way to end a long evening.
Victor had to work a bit and get ready before we could leave the next day to drive to Bishop. We were scheduled to play the Millpond Festival on Sunday at 2pm, it was a long drive. Yet another long drive, I’d been driving a lot lately! Luckily Victor took the first shift. It rained pretty hard in the morning in SF, but passed by quickly, so we didn’t think it would delay us. We drove to Berkeley to pick up John Hanes and Greg (dropping his car at John’s) and finally left town at about 3:30pm. We drove straight across the valley to highway 108, which claimed to be open. Of course as we got to the base of the Sierras, we drove on and discovered it was closed. Fuck. Due to snow. On the first day of autumn. This is weird. So we had to go back to Highway 49 and drive all the way up to South Lake Tahoe. I took over driving at this point, it was about 10pm. So we drove over to Minden, NV, and down Highway 395 in the middle of the night. A very odd experience, in and of itself. The only other cars on the road were cops or those being pulled over. We were supposed to stay at some cabins that the festival had arranged for us nearby up in the mountains, we found the road at maybe 2am, and started driving, but of course immediately lost phone service and had no mapping ability. We drove up the hill a ways, it started snowing, the road was icy… We turned around to go back down and make sure we were in the right place. Ok, that was the right road, but it was 8 miles up it. So again, we drove up and got to the icy road part, kept going and eventually found the lodge and cabins. Or so we thought. We looked around all over but it didn’t look like anybody was there. Bobby supposedly was already there. We eventually found cabin #3, our cabin, but there were only 3 beds and no running water or heat… so about 3am we gave up and drove carefully back down the mountain and into Bishop. Well, I guess a lot of people were stuck due to the passes being closed by snow in September, so it was very hard to find a room. We did, eventually, and finally got to bed about 4am. We were supposed to do a workshop at the festival the following morning, but we slept and David did it by himself, which was fine. He played a few songs and told stories about them, which he had done at his solo shows the previous year, and it made a great show. We finally got up and went to Schat’s Bakkerij for breakfast/lunch and coffee. Made it to the Millpond park for the festival and the weather was beautiful! Hot and clear skies! The mountain ranges lovely behind us.
We played on the provided amps (I had one from Linda Ronstadt’s band, or so it was stenciled…) to a small crowd with several seaweed dancers on either side of the lawn area. We saw Bruce Licher of Independent Project Press (and Records, who had put out the very first Camper Van Beethoven album.) His press is around there and he had a booth at the festival. (Picked up a little royalty check, in fact!) After the show we all immediately packed up and drove away. Victor had to get back to work the following morning and he wasn’t gonna fuck around. I drove with Bobby in a rental car back to Los Angeles, back to a much better airport hotel this time. On the way we listened to Refused, which was really cool for me. They’re a legendary Swedish hardcore band (my wife saw them back in the 1990s) who broke up years ago (on tour in America, the opposite of CVB) but then suddenly had a resurgence of popularity a few years back and are back together now. Bobby was a huge fan and thought he’d never get to see them, then suddenly last year he got to work with a band that was playing with them. They’re intensely creative, especially for hardcore music. Their vocal style has transcended hardcore as well, for example, the singer from Meshuggah, one of Sweden’s foremost metal acts, sounds similar in his approach. We made it back to LA by about 9pm, my flight wasn’t actually until the following evening, so I slept late and went with Bobby and his (now-) wife (they got married the following week) to a local pub to watch football and eat pizza and drink beer. Not really my thing, but I didn’t have to be at the airport until 8pm or so. A night flight to London on Virgin Atlantic, which was interesting if only to see who the people are that fly from LAX to London. Unfortunately this time I had to switch from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 (which I hate) and it was no less painful this time: my duty free bottle of wine had had the receipt taken out by the guy that gave it to me at the plane in LAX, so they wouldn’t let it past security for Terminal 5. Fuck them. Terminal 5 is a mess of queues for everything, the whole of Heathrow is like an industrial park leading you into a shopping mall. Lots of missed flight or huge layovers, one or the other. So I waited around, ate dinner, eventually got on a plane back to Stockholm, which was delayed, got in at 1am to Arlanda and got a taxi home by 2am. Wiped.
Back in Stockholm, it was time to actually move. It had also turned to autumn here, a nice crisp cool in the air. Sanna had luckily (for me) done a LOT of work prior to my coming home, so we had new Ikea furniture in the apartment and a bunch of our stuff from her parent’s apartment and our storage room. Our place is very new, it’s a new building, everything is very modern and white and clean. I’m a little frightened of that. Plus, I have to say, I don’t like living in apartments. I know people do it their whole lives and love it, and here in Stockholm pretty much everybody lives in apartments, but I have always felt claustrophobic in them. I grew up in a house in Davis, CA, lived in houses in Santa Cruz, and a shared house in San Francisco, then spent a decade in SF and LA in apartments… I never felt confident about practicing violin, for example, or recording. That’s maybe why I’ve been doing all my recording out in Grecksnäs in the summers, nobody is around at all.
We had a house in Oakland for 10 years… I told that story on this blog before… it’s gone now. And all that stuff is now trying to be put into an apartment. All that stuff I mourn that is gone must be replaced: studio stuff that was 120v, stereo, television… furniture, bookshelves, bed…yard. I went to Ikea with Sanna once before I left on tour to look and choose things and I realized suddenly why Ikea exists. We went to the original store, built sort of like the Guggenheim, circles of displays, then the furniture on the inner area. But here, everybody lives in apartments. Apartments, for me, imply impermanence. So the furniture fits that exactly. You don’t use old solid wood furniture anywhere but in a house. Most of the Ikea stuff is essentially disposable (and unsellable, as we found with what we had of it in oakland, there is no resale value to it.) So this whole thing made me sad, and now coming back, I was unhappy to have to physically move tons of shit. But move it we did, with the help of being able to borrow Sanna’s dad’s car and our friend Hanna and her truck (she’s a contractor.) The we drilled holes to mount shelves and lights, searched for other things on Blocket (the equivalent of Craigslist, but it costs money. It sort of sucks, but everybody uses it instead of Craigslist, which exists here also, but… well… it’s conditioning I guess.) I found a studio desk, then found a used version for cheap. Found a TV. Bought a new receiver. There are so many things we need.
Setting up the apartment is insane, and we had a ton of things to do before we could actually sleep there. So we stayed at Sanna’s parents’ apartment until even after the end of the month… it became sort of a Stockholm Syndrome (ha ha) situation where we were maybe scared to leave. I had bought tickets for a show at the Södra Teater, a place I had played with Victor and Eugene Chadbourne back in February of 2000… coincidentally also the second time I met Sanna… and the first time we actually talked, we went out afterwards and had a drink. Well, actually neither of us drank at the time. But we wanted to hang out… Anyway, this show had Gösta Berlings Saga headlining, with My Brother the Wind and Switchblade. Switchblade were heavy and slow, keyboards, guitar and drums with a projected backdrop of nuclear tests and insects and things. My Brother The Wind were spacey, improvised rock, one 45 minute piece, with more colorful projected films of lava and palm trees and mandalas. GBS, however, kicked ass as soon as they hit the stage. They sound amazing, odd chord progressions making angular melodic line, incredible players all around (I especially love the guitarist, Einar Baldursson. On a Gretsch with a Fender Twin Reverb.) The bassist plays a Rickenbacker and also bass pedals, a great combo to my ears. Fantastic keyboards and drumming that could split diamonds. Plus they had an extra guy who played Mellotron on a few tunes. Sanna had the second ticket, but Marlowe ran around like a maniac for too long and Sanna conked out and never made it to the show.
In the same week, Built To Spill were finishing up four weeks of European touring by playing Stockholm and then Helsinki. We hadn’t seen them since we moved, so we made sure to get some grandparents babysitting and went out for a night on the town. It was great to see them, we got there at soundcheck and hung out with Doug and Brett and Jason for a while, talking about life and ex-patriotism and child rearing. Then Sanna and I actually got to go to a restaurant together without child and then back to the show. A friend of hers who is a doctor now joined us, she said she came with many other doctors who were impressed that she knew someone who knew the band! She loved the show, was somewhat aware of the band previously, but I bet was going home to dig out the music again. I watched her enjoy the show and wondered what it must be like to see Built To Spill play not knowing the songs… I mean, I know them inside out by now, I’ve been listening to the band for almost 2 decades. Weird. Does it sound like guitars? Songs? Their amazing orchestration of tone is very evident in the live context, the three guitars never interfere with one another. But would a new listener notice? So then I joined them for the encore, we played a “new” song that I apparently recorded with them years ago in Austin, TX (I didn’t really remember it) and then covers of “How Soon Is Now” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. Sadly, I think the Dagens Nyheter reviewer had left by then. Sad for me, that is, because I need some press in this town!
The we hung out for a while backstage, and talked about our jobs and families, which was the absolute most normal experience for me as that’s pretty much half my life, hanging out backstage, but it was great to know I’m not alone in having small children and touring and the issues with that. But was super funny when shy Swedish fans came backstage to talk and we were involved in breast feeding conversations… they backed off…we had to go and get them to say, sorry, we didn’t mean to ignore you! Also, being BTS, they were smoking pot backstage, which of course is as normal as eating. But not in Sweden. I had just read an article about Jimi Hendrix where Noel Reading was saying how even then, when touring in Sweden they were grouchy as there were no drugs. Sweden thinks of pot as a drug. Still! It’s classified as a narcotic. So the bartender came backstage to tell us not to smoke as they could lose their license, and then an “Ordningsvakt”, security guard guy who is authorized to use force apparently, came to get us to cut it out. He said it was dangerous and illegal and “even Justin Bieber’s crew got arrested when they were here” (implying, and you’re no Justin Bieber…) It’s incomprehensible to us Americans, especially us band guys, but whatever. Don’t want to end the tour being hauled off to jail! It was a fun ride back on the subway to the old apartment, and the next day we actually finally had enough things in the new apartment to live there, so we moved. The little one is taking it well, but it must have been a little shocking for her. She likes the environment in the apartment, it has a long hallway from living room to bedroom that she can run back and forth in. And now most of her toys and books are here. We’re only on the second floor, but I still am scared of her on the balcony.
OK, I have to go pick her up at preschool now. And then later head off to a rehearsal: I have two things coming up. One is that I’m playing with the Plastic Pals and Chris Cacavas this week, and the other is being part of a small Orkester playing music of Arnold Dreyblatt. And I need to try to get back into the language school so I can actually try to learn to speak more Swedish at my advanced age….