Carmello makes a cupping motion on his chest as if to suggest that if he was a woman he’d be cradling his left breast. With his right hand he outlines the shape of a guitar, he repeats his mantra “Women, musica, art”. Carmello plays electric guitar, piano and he paints. He serves pasta, he acts in movies, he wears socks with his sandals, I learn these things within 10 minutes of sitting down to eat at the tables outside on the street. He purses his lips and swivels his Italian hips, he grins and pushes his hand back through his thick, grey hair,
“Women, musica, art”
He has found out we play music and wants us to know that he follows the ‘passions’ as we do. I am hardly an artist. I’m from the minutemen school of guitar playing, I carry it like a broom, I hack chords like a butcher works a cutting bench, at best I twist the same three and half chords so sometimes it sounds like four, at worst I’m an accidental guitarist. I was destined to sit behind the slitting machine at the mainguard plastics factory in Hornby yet here I am being called an artist by an elderly Sicilian at 10pm on a Parisian backstreet. How did I get here? Where did this wonderful life come from? Is there a better looking, better playing, dashing don also ran in Hornby right now cursing my name because somehow he should be here and I should be there?
Who makes these wormholes? And where did my boots step to trip me into one? I am not sure, I am tired and I am hungry and Carmello is cupping an imaginary boob.
Carmello’s English is not so good “Woman, musica, art” guitar curves etc. His boss Gigi comes out, he combed his hair back in 1957 and it hasn’t moved since. He wears long shorts and bump toed basketball boots you don’t notice behind the apron, but it’s a pretty dope look for a 78 year old. Luigi (or Gigi to his friends and we are now of course friends) walked into France from Venice in 1946, a ten year old looking for work in the haze of a post war Europe. By the time he was 30 he had this restaurant we where are now sitting. Named after the lucky Italian hunchback ‘Gobo’ (as something of a lucky hunchback myself, I speak his name with reverence). He has three other cafes now but this is home. We are here to eat two days of plane travel out of our systems and drink a bottle of wine to say “We are here and we are happy”. I gotta admit I’m not super happy, as I’ve mentioned here before, my mum Dawn is struggling with her health and it’s sucked most of the enjoyment out of the year these past few weeks, but I am here and I will do my best, I am with the band, they are my family, they are kind to me, we will drink and I will drink to them.
Before we even get a start on the food for real ‘Gigi’ finds out from Carmello that we are musicians, from the back comes the guitar and a busted fiddle. We must play. So we do, we find some Louie Armstrong, we find some Tampa Red we sing some of our own stories. Gigi brings out two more bottles and the street is humming, the few remaining diners inside come out to the street with us, the young handsome drunks from the bar with no name across the road, (who usually ignore Luigi and the histories of the opera singers, writers and hopers that he carries between the tables) stumble across the road and sway and kiss and take photos on their phones. We are freaks, but instagram worthy obviously.
We play till the food gets cold, then we eat and tell our stories across the free bottles Carmello keeps bringing. Luigi shares his glories and his sadness’
Paris is a myth now he reckons, its not opera, Django and Harlem exiles anymore. It’s one Q burger chain and then another and starbucks with tables outside, it’s early closing and hassles by the police for late night street singing. He tells me it is not the same, the old facades on the buildings look down and they cease to sing. It is a postcard, gone digital. I’ve been here a short time and it still seems pretty to me but I get his buzz. We talk some more, we learn a little, we share what we have, we argue about socialisim, we hug, we rage against the next day but eventually admit that is closer than it is far away and bid farewell and adieu and au revoir and other things the other doesn’t understand. I wave and hit the streets, it is midnight and I am in Paris and I must walk so I do singing hornby and singing Shirley, whistling down Charnwood Cres. Calling the names of my lost brothers Jason, Chris, Ballard, Brendan like if I do it enough they will be here to and we will steal bikes and pick fights and nick air jordans from the rich kids, shoplift and spray paint Slayer and N.W.A. on the walls of France and we will scream and we will know that we are alive and have always been and always will be and of course the world will know our name.
Yet of course the world won’t and they and me are to old for all that high school shit. They’ve got kids, they’ve got troubles and joys and if they read this they need to know I am thinking of them and hoping for them whenever they need it. They are where they are and I am here in this old new world, but I’m glad I carry them in my heart. I decide it is an accident of history that I am here and thus like all accidents it must be accepted and dealt with. So I deal with it and I keep walking. I am on tour and I must go and play and I must walk like I’ve walked in Riverton and Taranaki and Perth and Eugene and every other place this guitar has dropped me off. I am grateful. So grateful. Confused yes, but grateful.
The next night we drive to Germany, we play in Nuremburg, the show has a built in audience as it is a festival, they are kind, they laugh at my bullshit, dance to our furies and hug in the sad bits, we sell 69 cd’s, drink the rider whiskey, feel blessed, confused yes but blessed. We share beer watching Billy Bragg headline the shit out of the festival. We drive across France to find the ferry that will take us to Ireland where we will play 13 shows. Ireland even! The mother land! Then we will cross again and we will become part of towns and cities dotted across old roads and older trails. We have no strategy, we go where we can, we go because that is what we do and always have done. There is no grand plan, we just go and go and go. That is the mission.
I sit here watching the sun go down on the channel and I realize that if we were a better band then you would know about this tour because I would have sent you an email as part of our mailing list, I would be updating our twitter feed, I would be instagramming pictures of our roadside bratwurst, I would have released a small promotional youtube segment and then be directing you to our travel blog, there would be a press release, there would be everything a better band does. Sadly we are not a better band, only the band we are. We walk, we drive, we play, we hope, we bear witness to the real world as we are in it and we gather up stories mix ‘em with our own and we push repeat then we push on and on and on.
And I tell you this now, from a ferry on the other side of the world. From the back side of my sad, troubled, wild excited, tired, and joy wired brain.
The sun goes down and it comes up and we are on tour, in Europe even.
Just because we don’t have a twitter or any of that other shit going on doesn’t mean we don’t take this tour business seriously, if you come see us we will fucking roar as hard as we can and we will do it for any and all comers. We will do this in Ireland, and Germany and Switzerland and more and when we come home we will do it there. We will leave everything on the stage or the floor or the table top or wherever it is we are playing and then we will figure out how to gather it up and do it again the next night. That’s the mission, we are up for it and again we are grateful for it.
If your passing or know someone who is, the shows are up over at www.forteastern.com.
We’ll see you when the road rises in your direction. We are glad as hell that we get to say this.