December 1996 – January 1997
It’s not often you have the opportunity to do something that changes your life forever. Unfortunately for you, reading this article will not be one of those things. However, some of the events it documents were occasions that had such an effect on my life.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
SCOTT: guitar/vocal, also the author
MARK: bass, also Scott’s older brother
DIRK: guitar/vocal, also owner of Doghouse Records
Other important characters:
TOM: guy who sells merchandise for both bands, friend of Dirk’s from Toledo
LIZ: Andy’s wife
STEFFEN: the guy in Germany who booked the tour
BURKHARD: the guy who distributes Doghouse Records in Europe
Once upon a time, a band called Metroschifter was invited to play rock music for the children of Europe. I, as the founder of this group, was entrusted with the how-you-say “duty” of making sure the other band members were at leisure to take leave of their lives for the four-week duration of the journey.
I don’t know what you’ve heard about Metroschifter, but maybe you know that we don’t all live in the same neighborhood. In fact, the four of us are spread across three states and separated by about 4,000 kilometers of land. This makes recording, performing and practicing into rare events. Chad Castetter and I are both Louisvillians and we both play guitar. Pat McClimans, the bass player, makes his home in scenic Lafayette, Indiana; about halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago. Our drummer, Mario Rubalcaba, lives in sunny San Diego, California; that’s far.
First, I called Mario to see if he’d like a free vacation in Europe. Well, I wasn’t surprised that he couldn’t get away for that long. I don’t know what you’ve heard about Mario, but he’s a pretty busy guy. He’s a professional skate boarder and he works for a clothing company. He has had a little more time since his hometown-based band Clikitat Ikatowi broke up last summer. Nonetheless, he couldn’t do the tour. Since the Metroschifter formed in May 1994, the majority of shows we’ve played have been with substitute drummers. This has mostly just been due to the surface area that separates Mario from the rest of us. So if we were going to go to Europe, we needed to find a drummer. None of our favorite subs Kevin Coultas, Dave Mason, Kyle Crabtree could do it, either, so we had to locate someone new.
Next, I found that Chad was not interested in going. That was a downer, but not detrimental because the band can work fine without two guitars. It’s just not as loud, and there are a few songs we can’t do with only one guitar. But Pat and I were going to Europe no matter what.
We eventually located a drummer in Cincinnati. A mysterious man, Chris Reinstatler, who also goes by the name of Hard C. And to make a long story short because I’m getting bored, it ended up that Pat had a situation at home for which he had to be home for the holidays. As the tour was already booked, and I wanted to go to Europe, I decided to locate an alternate bass player. This was a big deal because even through all the member changes Metroschifter has endured, it has always been Pat and I since the very beginning. So I was a little how-you-say “freaked out” about doing it without Pat, or more so doing the tour at all with myself being the only actual band member in the band. But regardless, it was booked and I wanted to do it. Besides, how many European kids know what Pat looks like?
Any-how-ways, it came down to the wire, like a couple weeks before departure date, and after exhausting a long but fruitless list of potential bassists, the winning candidate was too obvious: my brother, Mark. He plays in a band called Cooler. I don’t know what you’ve heard about Cooler, but let’s just say it’s all the proof I needed to know that he already knew how to rock.
I had a couple practices with Hard C up in Cincinnati and they went pretty well. In typical Metroschifter fashion, about four days before we left for the tour, we had our first and only practice with all three members. (In 1994, our first tour was booked before we had ever practiced as a band). Any-how-ways, it rocked. Dude, we were like so heavy. It was decreed that we were certified to deliver the goods.
Show Number One
On Thursday, 12 December 1996, the brand-new, rarin’-tewgo, quote-unquote Metroschifter had its first how-you-say “show” in the veritable greenhouse of a city, Toledo, Ohio. This is where Doghouse America Records is located. That’s who put out our last few records. Dirk, the label chef, also is in the band called Omaha. Omaha is the band who would be going on the European trip with us, opening for our band because even though we only had one practice we were way better than them. Plus, the kids demand that the Schifter headlines. And you have to give the kids what they want, right? Am I right or am I right?
The Toledo show was held at Frankie’s USA, a venue well-known for its severe lack of atmosphere. A girl came up to me at this show and gave me a little picture and said, “I want you to have this because I like what you do.” The next day, in the light, I realized there was a boob in the picture. I’ve got it right here in my desk and I’ll show it to you when you’re older. Nonetheless, it was a nice gesture and I wish more people would give me stuff besides demos of their bands. But demos are nice too because I hate buying blank tapes. I don’t remember that girl’s name, but she and a bunch of her friends drove up to Toledo from Oxford, Ohio which is about 320 kilometers away. One of her friends was named Christi or Kristi or Christy or Kristy and had a really cool dress on. But she didn’t give me anything. Maybe she’ll read this and send me something. Oh well, all of those college kids seemed to enjoy the show. I never went to college.
The next day was Friday. This was our day off between the night we played in Toledo and the day we left for Europe from Detroit. We spent a lot of the day hanging out at Doghouse headquarters and doing work for Dirk without getting paid for it. We also ate muffins. Mmmmm. Later we went to Omaha’s practice space to get in a few licks and we put together two new songs I had written. We also took pictures of ourselves rocking using the self-timer on our camera. We had so much fun that we played until midnight when some guy came banging on the door and was really how-you-say “PO-ed.” He said that we were not supposed to play loud music after 9:00 and that if it ever happened again he would have us evicted from our practice space. We didn’t care, though, because it wasn’t our practice space. As soon as he left we made fun of him because we’re punk.
Next was the big day, or as I like to call it, Saturday. We got all loaded up… in the van, that is, and took off for the Detroit airport. Dirk’s mom drove. She was nuts. Every two seconds she bothered Dirk about something. “Dirk, did you pack your toothbrush?” “Dirk, what if you get caught in customs with all this merchandise?” “Dirk, are you going to call your grandmother?” “Dirk, why are you taking so much stuff?” “Dirk, are you going to sell all of this stuff?” It was one of the longest hours of my life.
When we got to the airport this guy Phil at the USAir counter took care of us. He was cool and let us take more bags than we were supposed to be allowed to. Fuck that guy. I hope he got fired. That’s so uncool. What if they have those rules so the plane doesn’t weigh too much? Then we would all die. Ouch, as they say, or something, and stuff, or whatever.
We were on lots of planes and switched flights and stuff during which we lost Omaha’s drummer, John Hubbell. He got rerouted and we found him about ten hours later in Frankfurt, Germany. Upon arriving in Germany, Hard C’s name was changed to Hört C, or “the Hört” for short. We got to sit in the airport (or Flughafen, as they say) for six hours waiting for the other guys from Omaha who were on other flights. What fun. We ate breakfast at der McDonald’s and they were playing “Way Down” by Elvis Presley on the radio. This is a special song for me and you never hear it anywhere. If you buy the new Metroschifter album you can find out why it’s special. Hint hint.
Almost immediately we hit the road. It was early Sunday morning in Germany and we had a show that night in a town called Karlsruhe. What a hoot. When we got there, the room we were supposed to play in was full of people taking a salsa dancing class. But we saw the schedule of events that had Material Shifter and Omacher on it, and we took that to mean that we were playing there later that night. Silly foreigners. The band that opened for us was called The Love Boat. This was our first experience with a European band that sang in English. We supposed it was similar to the fact that most great operas are in Italian, so too, most great rock is in English. They had a song that went, “I’m addicted to your sex power pack, baby,” and other gems from which I will spare you.
Food and Italy
Each night, the local promoter of each show either cooked or arranged to have dinner made for us, and they’d get breakfast for us in the morning. This was some of the best food I’ve ever had and both meals were included with our shows. These people worked harder on the food for the bands than American promoters work on their entire shows. They also usually let us stay at their house or in the club itself. People everywhere in Europe, even the kids in the audience, take music so much more seriously than people here do. In America, everybody just treats shows like they’re something else to do, rather than something special worth putting an effort into. I guess we’ve just got everything else here like cable tv, sunshine, 24-hour stores, non-smoking sections, and ice in our beverages, so who cares about music? Oh, and they hate the hot water in Europe. This night in Karlsruhe, we stayed with this really cool girl who had bright orange hair and lived in this huge, beautiful condo. She came to one of our other shows later in the tour which I thought was pretty cool. I later found out that she got that huge, beautiful condo asa result of both of her parents being killed in some crazy accident. That made me feel pretty awful for being thrilled by the place.
When we woke up, it was sunny, a strange phenomenon in Germany, especially in December. We got in the van and headed to Italy, as they say. We had a day off and we had to sleep in the freezing van and it really sucked, so I blocked it out of my mind. Tom Hussman (the guy who was in charge of selling merchandise) and Dirk started arguing like housewives about anything and everything. We spent our day off in Venice which was crazy cool but real cold like. Well, at least we thought it was cold, but we didn’t know “cold” yet. So we went sight-seeing in Venice and rode on boats and stuff. I don’t know what you’ve heard about Venice, but their streets are like water instead of like paved. So they have boats for cars. Yeah, I don’t get it either. I would have just built the city somewhere else.
We played a show in Cesena, Italy at a really dirty place called Confino’s Squat. We also slept there that night. I did a lot of the driving that day which was neat. It was really foggy, though, and it must be some kind of law in Italy that you have to have broken brake lights. The highway went straight through fair Verona where we lay our scene. Later, when Dirk was driving, he was going too fast for an exit and he drove into the grass. This event gave us plenty of ammo on him for a few days.
Then we went to Rome where the mass of historic stuff is overshadowed by the insane amount of traffic. All eight of us got nuts and rented scooters. Apparently this activity had been a big hit when the Chamberlain tour stopped in Rome, but it was kind of a disaster for us. Keeping eight people together in that traffic and all that was a pretty stupid proposition. It didn’t work. My brother took a spill and busted up his scooter and I ended up hugging a street sign at one point due the courtesy of other motorists. This part of the trip is where Andy Leitner, the bass player for Omaha, started being the guy who was always about a minute or so behind the rest of the group. While we were lost and looking at maps we happened to look up and see a poster for our show that had a picture of these three red-dog-lookin’ girls on it holding guns. We thought it was really funny and we all got a big hoot outta that. The real laugh came in the following weeks as we realized that it wasn’t just the poster for that show but for every show! Then at the end of the tour when we got the bill for 600 DM for the posters (about 400 bucks) from the booking company. You can bet we were busting a gut when we saw that one.
In Rome we played with a band called Washer who had some songs that went, “I am not your Christ. I am not your Christ. I am not your Christ. I am not your Christ.” And they also sang this hit that went “I am not leaving. I am not leaving. I am not leaving. I am not leaving. I am not leaving.” Let me tell you how great they were. There was this really, really fat crazy woman in the audience who was dirty dancing to all the bands. This night we whipped out a little known song of our repertoire called “Peanut Butter” (you may know it from the Disney Silly Food Songs CD). The kids were really how-you-say “perplexed” by this number. After the show some kids came up to me and were like, “Thank you so much for coming here to play.” I was like, “What?!” They’re thanking me? They didn’t understand why our band would want to play in Rome. I tried to explain to them what an unbelievable, wonderful experience it was to play in Rome for people who knew of our band or better yet, how awesome it was just to be in Rome but they didn’t get it. I guess when you’ve lived in Rome your whole life it’s just as impressive as the Falls Fountain is to Louisvillians. One of the kids I was talking to said he read my book (Slamdek A to Z, a book I wrote in case you hadn’t heard it plugged in Hard Times before). This floored me. I’ve always been amazed that anyone read my book, much less somebody on the other side of the earth! Plus, all these people were speaking English not the best English, but much better than anyone in America can speak a second language. I mean, how many books have you read printed in Italian about independent record labels over there? I’d guess none. I was also amazed at the turnout for our shows. Metroschifter headlined ever show except one and there were like 100 to 150 people at every show. And there were some shows with 300 and a couple shows with just a few. I was just amazed that so many people came to see us and stayed ’til the end.
Limena, Italy was the next show on Thursday the 19th. About 100 people packed into this very little, but very nice club called the Tube. The flyer for this show (in addition to the “rad” girls-with-guns poster) was a picture of a punk guy’s hand holding a can of Coca-Cola. Alright! By the way, the Coke in Europe tastes horrible. They hate the carbonation over there.
The promoter for our Limena show was this Italian guy who wore a cowboy hat that had pictures of playing cards all around it. He was pretty funny and was really into hardcore and stuff. The most memorable thing he said was, “When I was in San Diego, everyone I talked to said that the singer of the Antioch Arrow is a fucking piece of shit.” I personally love Antioch Arrow, and I don’t know anything about their singer, but it’s good to know that people on the other side of the planet think “the singer of the Antioch Arrow is a fucking piece of shit.” He’s really done well for himself. While we were playing our songs that night, the cowboy hat guy came up on stage and asked me if we were going to play “the second song on the seven inch with the picture of the girl on the cover.” In the future, if anyone has a question, please just raise your hand. Do not enter the stage under any circumstances. We played that song last just so the cowboy would have to sweat it out ’til the end. We saw some other people in Europe wearing cowboy hats, too. It’s pretty funny. You just want to walk up them and yell, “Guten Morgen, Tex!” in your finest Kentucky accent. I never had enough nerve. But, boy, do they love the cowboy hats. Gratze.
There were two guys at this show who stood right up front and sang every word to our songs and acted like it was the best night of their lives. It was awesome. They came up to me after the show and even though they knew all the words to Metroschifter songs, they could hardly speak any English. Just enough to say, “Great show.” It made me feel very different than I’ve ever felt before. I don’t know what to say about it. It still doesn’t seem real. After this show, there were kids at pretty much every subsequent show who knew the words to our songs. It was very surreal sometimes to be on stage rocking out and to have the kids singing, and then all of a sudden what was going on would hit me. It was unlike anything else.
Speaking of unlike-anything-else, our Friday show in Zürich, Switzerland got cancelled, but we decided to go to Zürich anyway. We checked into a nice youth hostel and took our first showers since Louisville (nine days ago). It was unlike anything else. Then we hit the town on foot to see the sights and opted to get some pizza. I don’t know what you’ve heard about Switzerland, but it’s expensive as shit. Pizza for eight people came to the equivalent of $130.00. A genuine bargain. And on top of that, Papa John’s would’ve blown that pizza away. The miniature bottles of flat Coke were $3.00 each. It was unlike anything else.
Saturday the 21st of December found us back in Germany, in a small town called Nürtigen. Here, I met another person who read my book. Very flattering again, but this guy was a little how-you-say “out there” and insisted that the Pink Aftershock and Spot tapes should be reissued. What I remember about this guy is, “I cannot believe Bob Weston of the Shellac recorded your album. The Shellac is fucking awesome.” He knew of every single thing ever recorded in Louisville or Chicago and swarmed to it all like flies on shit. Everything was “fucking awesome.” I didn’t think he was going to let me leave. Nürtigen isn’t far from Stuttgart, the hometown of Torsten Fratzke, a former exchange student who has made his home in Louisville on several occasions over the past few years. A Trinity graduate, like myself. It was exciting to see Herr Fratzke on his own turf. Unfortunately for him, this particular show was a 6-band bill consisting of all the undisputed finalists of the 1996 Worst Bands in Germany Tournament. One band was funk-metal. Another had a double-bass drum set. But the endless onslaught of hellacious noise gave Torsten and I plenty of time to catch up on old times. After all, it had been a whole three months since the last time he left Louisville. We talked about Ramsi’s Cafe, Guilt, ear X-tacy, and our mutual friend Julie Riggs, a Louisvillian who conversely lived in Germany on several occasions over the past few years. I visited her there a year ago. But that’s story we can save for when I feel like writing a second book. Any-how-ways, it was great to see Torsten again and to meet the friends he brought to the show with him. About 34 hours after the show started, it was time for the main event, the headlining act, America’s own Metroschifter. It was like 1:30 in the morning, but people stuck around and the show went fine. A real surprise since most stores in Germany close at like 5:00 in the afternoon, so 1:30 am is really pushin’ it. They love to close the stores over there. During the finale of our set, (when the crowd is screaming and the room is drenched in feedback) I exited the stage to shake hands with everyone in the audience and quickly thank them for coming to the show. I first did this at the Karlsruhe show and the kids seemed to really get a kick out of it, so I made it a tradition for shows I really enjoyed. (You don’t have to care about this, I’m just telling you what happened. Okay?)
At the Nürtigen show, we met up with Water Breaks Stone, a not-so-horrible German band we’d be playing the remaining 14 shows with. We were kind of wary of them at first, but we ended up loving them by the end of the tour. After all, they’re foreigners. Jeez. That night we stayed with these real creepy dirty punk rock guys. One of them had blonde, spiky hair as was the fashion in 1979; and he wore a noose around his neck because he is a victim of society’s oppression. The noose helps him demonstrate his individuality and his disregard for the government’s fascist rules. The other guy was kind of bigger and was like the dominant one or something. We were pretty sure these guys were how-you-say “more than friends,” if you know what I mean… and I think you do.
We didn’t hang around there too long. Not because we were scared of our hosts, but because we had to drive back to Frankfurt at 6 in the morning to pick up Andy from Omaha’s wife at the airport. (Yes, I just said, “We had to drive back to Frankfurt at 6 in the morning to pick up Andy from Omaha’s wife at the airport.”) So with three refreshing hours of sleep under our belts, we took off for Frankfurt. Exactly why Andy’s wife was coming to join us on tour for four days was (and still is) a bizarre and perplexing mystery to the seven people on the tour who were not Andy or his wife. Maybe they didn’t understand it, either. Nonetheless, two major points came into my mind that morning: 1. A list of better things to spend $700 on instead of riding around in a freezing Fiat van for four days with your husband and seven other guys, and 2. A list of better things to do three hours after going to sleep in Nürtigen, Germany.
When we arrived back at the old Frankfurt Flughaufen about a half hour late and located Andy Leitner’s wife (who incidentally is opposed to going by the name of Mrs. Leitner, for some reason, and still uses her maiden name, but to each their own) she greeted us with a tone that decidedly didn’t indicate her excitement to see us nor her appreciation that eight people skipped a night of sleep to facilitate her addition to the group. I think the first thing she said was, “Jesus, I have been waiting here…” There was no one named Jesus with us, so I couldn’t figure out who she was talking to. Andy listened to her, though, and everybody else said really funny things under their breath. I think the funniest was, “Thank you for picking me up at the airport.” We all got a big hoot outta that. She (or Liz, as they like to call her) seemed to settle down after a while and the rest of her stay with us was relatively uneventful in comparison to what her flashy entrance suggested.
We split from der Flughafen and headed toward that evening’s show in Saarbrücken, a nice little city with a name that’s spelled funny. The route to Saarbrücken took us right near the French border. Since it was early, we debated cancelling the show and spending the day in Paris. I was all for this idea because I went to Paris last year when I visited Julie, and Paris is everything everybody says it is. Dirk and Tom (local representatives of the US Olympic Arguing Team) had also been to Paris in November on the Chamberlain tour. In fact, Chamberlain made quite a name for themselves all over Europe by cancelling shows so they could hang out and go shopping. They ditched two shows to facilitate their Parisian vacation. So the point is Dirk and Tom had heard enough from pissed-off promoters about cancelled shows. So, instead, we skipped across the border to a small French city called Metz. (No relation to Milton as far as we could tell. That is, we saw no Guilt-Free Ice Cream and heard no senseless rambling daily radio monologues about El Metzo’s trip to the movies with his wife.) Metz (the city) was cool. We ate some much cheaper pizza, visited an awesome cathedral called the Lantern of God, and walked up and down streets and in and out of stores that were all decorated to the gills and packed with local shoppers. After all, it was three days before Christmas. It was pretty inspiring, but it was no Paris. That’s for damn sure. “Damn,” he said. We saw lots of girls wearing these crazy platform shoes that made them like 6 or 8 centimeters taller. They were everywhere in Europe. They love the platform shoes. In Metz we began to realize that it was starting to get pretty cold. But like I said before, we didn’t know “cold” yet.
We wheeled into Saarbrücken to a small club where we would harness our rock for the evening. We hoped for a massive crowd of people or some other reward for our decision to do the show instead of spending the day in Paris. As you may have guessed, this was the smallest show on the entire tour. Guess how many people were there. No, just guess. Eleven. But it wasn’t a total loss because of a few things: 1. There was a guy in the audience wearing a Metroschifter sweatshirt and he acted like he was having a really good time, 2. I think the other ten people in the audience had a really good time, too, 3. The food was absolutely delicious, and, 4. One of those ten was one of the more attractive people I’ve ever seen. There was this girl in the audience who was how-you-say “one of those people.” I mean, every guy in the building was like, “Oh my God, she’s so beautiful.” (Well, except Andy, cause his wife was there.)
After the show when we were loading out, everyone was just standing around talking. So I figured that I was in Europe on a rock tour with my band and because it was supposed to be an adventure and all that kind of stuff, I decided I would go up and talk to her and see if she would let me get my picture taken with her. I thought this would be pretty funny. If not for me, than for everybody else when she got offended and punched me for being a stupid American. So I waited until she was finished talking to someone else and I walked over to her and delivered my favorite pickup line, “Do you speak English?” Which, of course, is a stupid question because everybody in Europe speaks some English; but I didn’t know what else to say. Any-how-ways, I say, “Do you speak English?” And in response, she stands there for a second, looking confused and stupified, like she didn’t understand what I said, and then she blurts out, “Yeah, of course I do.” Oh my God, we both stood there and laughed our asses off. It was the funniest thing anyone had said since, “Thank you for picking me up at the airport.” I couldn’t believe I was so scared to walk up to her and then the first thing she says to me is some smart-ass answer to my innocent question. But she burned me, dawg. They love to make fun of the Americans over there.
The local Jugendzentrum (or youth center, as we say) was the site of our display on the 23rd in Espelkamp. As soon as we got there, one of the Water Breaks Stone guys came up to me and said, “The promoter worships you. You’re his hero.” I thought he was kidding… until I met the guy. The first thing he says to me is, “Are you playing any Sunspring songs tonight?” I really don’t understand how these people find out about this stuff. This guy read my book, too. Pretty crazy. What was even wierder was that he followed me around and asked me lots of questions about bands and Louisville and stuff and seemed totally interested in everything, but when we played he was sitting in the other room talking to the Water Breaks Stone guys. Oh well.
The Simpsons in German
While all the bands were playing, there was this dirty old guy in the audience with big sideburns and this rockabilly haircut who kept doing these rock’n’roll moves. He had to be completely wasted. The Hört videotaped him and it’s completely hilarious. Come over some time and I’ll show it to you. We stayed in really nice dorms at a music school that night. We drew names cause we were going to do Secret Santas in the van. It was starting to get pretty freakin’ cold. That’s all I have to say about that show.
Our Christmas Eve adventure begins with a trip to this big department store called Allkauf. We were going to buy gifts for our Secret Santas and we were going to use some of the tour fund to buy a new stereo for the van because the one in it didn’t work. Anyway we get inside the store and all of a sudden Dirk decides on behalf of the group that we’re not doing Secret Santas anymore and that we’re all pitching in from our personal money to buy the stereo. This is a big ordeal and everybody cries about it like whiny little bitches. I didn’t care really. I mean I didn’t want to buy a stereo for the van, cause I had a Sony Walkman and I could listen to music already, so why would I want to spend money so I’d have to listen to other people’s stupid music? Plus, Dirk and Tom like some of the worst shit you’ve ever heard. Like, they both actually brought Alice In Chains CD’s to listen to on the trip in their little personal CD players. I’m so glad I’m so much better than everybody else. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t. That’s all I have to say about that. We ended up pitching in on the stereo and not doing Secret Santas. What a bunch of geeks. The only good part of this was in the tv section of this store The Simpsons was on. I think seeing Homer speaking German was one of the funniest things ever.
That night took us into the former East Germany; to a town called Roßwein. I don’t know what you’ve heard about the East Germans, but let’s just say they’re single-handedly keeping the tobacco industry afloat. They love to smoke the cigarettes. They filled this place up with smoke like nobody’s business. The stage was like real tall and they had these huge lights that looked real bad-ass with all the smoke. There was a guy who hardly knew any English but insisted on talking to Tom about The Simpsons and Married With Children. He kept saying, “I give you money and you send me Duff beer.” Tom did his best to explain to the drunken fool that there’s no such thing as Duff beer. Not even in America where we have everything. But that guy didn’t get it.
The goods had been delivered to such a gratifying degree at the end of the set that I after shaking hands with the front row of people returned to the stage, still smoldering and rumbling with the horrendous noise of my unattended guitar, which was being assisted by the thunderous finale reverberation powers of Mark and the Hört. I kicked my guitar in blatant, public defiance of all that society preaches, and hurled my fragile body into the drum set, crashing the helpless rented hardware to the ground and my tender head into the wall. The cymbals, drums, and Hört fell in all directions, in a smashing display that undoubtedly demonstrated the Schifter’s desire to destroy the machine of corporate global power that keeps the working man down (or at least stirred Kurt Cobain’s ashes into a frenzy for one brief second). In the melee, my brand new Initial Records shirt was torn beyond recognition, and my credit cards fell out of my pocket. But I was feeling so punk that I left them there for a minute, cause like, I don’t care and stuff. The hungry audience, too, was whipped into a frenzy and it seemed that their showering of applause would never cease. We hastily reassembled the drum set in order to appease the lemmings with another manifestation of rock. I would venture to assume that this was the only time that any of them had seen a live concert performance of “Peanut Butter.” They ate it up (no pun intended). Then we sent them home for the holidays with Chad Castetter’s firey instrumental “Piddle Looper,” which some of the children recognized from our 1995 album Fort Saint Metroschifter. “Good night, Roßwein! Merry Christmas! We will see you again!”
After the show, a lot of the audience members hung out in a bar area that was in the front of the club. The Hört was out there with his Sony Handycam attempting to inconspicuously record color images of the more attractive females in the establishment. I would have guessed that he was feeling lonely on Christmas Eve, but he tried to tape girls pretty much every day. Like I said earlier, the food at all the shows was completely overboard. Every night there was a big spread that usually included lots of bottled water, soda, beer, chocolate, peanuts or peanut butter (because they know the Americans love the peanut butter), little cheese sandwiches (or Käse Brötchen, as they say), and several bunches of bananas. Each night we’d eat a few bananas, but most of them would just get left behind. I proposed to my buddy Hört that I should give the spare bananas to the lovely young ladies as Christmas gifts and that he should follow me with his Sony Handycam. This way he could get the perfect, close-up shots he desired, and we could have some fun on Christmas Eve since we were in Europe on tour with our rock band and it was supposed to be like an adventure or something. I briefly retired to the backstage area to procure the bunches of bananas, then met the Hört by the merchandise table. We began walking around the bar where people were talking and I began giving bananas to the easy-on-the-eyes dames wishing them a Merry Christmas as he followed. This all went pretty well and was actually pretty hilarious as the rest of our entourage watched… that is, it was pretty funny until we got to this one girl whose especially muscular boyfriend seemed especially unamused. We took the hint and retreated to the other side of the room to do our dirty work elsewhere, and to give that big German guy a little time to simmer down. I was sure we were going to get our asses kicked. Oh, I wish you could have been there.
Christmas Day we spent in Bremen, back on the west side of Germany again. Bremen is where that children’s story about the animal musicians or whatever is from and they have a statue of the animals there. There was a basketball goal inside the club and, as representatives of Kentucky, we challenged anyone in the audience to a game of 3-on-3. They all knew better and nobody volunteered. I did another drum set dive this night one that the Hört wasn’t expecting as he was sitting there with his eyes closed but he opened ’em in a hurry when I landed in his lap and he said, “Ooof!” This show was really fun and we had a lot of interaction with the audience. It was a nice way to spend Christmas. The guy from Espelkamp who thinks I’m his hero came to this show, too. He talked to me a lot and seemed too interested in everything I’ve ever done. But again, when we played, he sat in the other room and didn’t watch us. I don’t understand. We stayed upstairs at this club and there was a shower there. I got up really early and took a shower, hoping for some hot water. But I forgot… they hate the hot water over there. I found an audio cassette of The Simpsons in German it was like a radio-play thing upstarirs and the promoter let me have it. It’s too funny. Come over some time. I’ll play it for you.
Not much to say about the next day in Immenhausen except that it was in a gorgeous, relatively new building that was built especially for the purpose of housing live music. It was all scientifically designed with a rounded back wall and it had a great PA. All the bands sounded great, the kids were really clean and personable and there was much foosball afoot. We quickly learned on this tour that foosball is serious business to the Europeans, but they call it like “table hockey” or something like that which doesn’t make any sense. Most of the games we played against any locals were over in about five minutes with the Americans having scored once… at the most. Other than that, the Hört taped some girls, I dove into the drums, and the kids got bananas. The Immenhausen show becomes more important on the following night moments before our show in Münster.
Münster like the cheese?
Münster is home of Green Hell Records, the exclusive European distributor of Doghouse and Initial. We spent the day in Münster, walking around, freezing our asses off, eating falafel, and Mark and Andy did laundry. The show was in a club that was never anywhere near warm for the entire duration of the five or six hours we spent there. There was also no sound man, so Mark took care of mixing the runners-up for the Worst Band in Germany Contest. The worst of which was the last, Dawnbreed, a band with a “scary” name. The only thing scary about these guys was how much they sucked. They couldn’t decide if they were vampires or a ska band or Nine Inch Nails or some science fiction tribute. One thing they did have down to a science was the art of sucking. They had a song that went, “Psychomania. Psychomania. Psychomania. Psychomania. Psychomania. Psychomania. Psychomania.”Their singer tried extra hard to be creepy and their guitarist tried on several occasions to trick us into being the last of six bands. We didn’t fall for it. One time he actually came up to me and said, “Somebody told we you all are playing last now.” He even set up some of his friends to corroborate the story. But, ha ha ha, we went straight to the top, to Burkhard (who runs Green Hell) and he set the record straight. Burkhard had a few beers in him and just wanted to make us happy. So we played when we wanted to and Dawnbreed played last… boy, and when they did, it was painfully apparent why they didn’t want to. For being an allegedly popular band, they cleared-out the room in no time at all. I will say, though, that we saw some of them at one of our later shows and they were very nice and cordial. I just didn’t care for the band. But I don’t like music very much at all, really.
Anyway, going back to earlier in the evening, it’s just about time for Omaha to play when all of a sudden Dirk’s guitar isn’t anywhere to be found. Turns out, he left it in Immenhausen, but it didn’t turn up for a few days. He was sweatin’ that one out pretty hard. We eventually had to drive back to Immenhausen a few days later “on the way” to another show to pick it up. That’s why the Immenhausen show is more important later. I knew you couldn’t wait to find out why. You were sweatin’ that one out pretty hard.
We broke some piece of equipment pretty much every night because we’re the Schifter and ordinary rock gear just can’t take the kind of abuse our songs demand. This night I broke a string, which was not too bad. Other nights we broke drum heads, blew speakers, demolished the ends of cords. Anyway, I borrowed Ken from Omaha’s guitar while he was kind enough to put a new string on mine. The kids at this show were totally camera crazy. I mean, there were flashes going off every two seconds. Well, Ken’s guitar is real nice and fancy-lookin’, so I asked the kids to please not take any pictures while I was playing it, because “two months from now I don’t want to see a picture of me in some fanzine playing this fancy guitar.” We started playing the next song and everyone seemed to respect my request, until this one joker comes up on stage and takes a picture of me! After that, it was like the dam burst… I could hardly see anything because of all the flashes going off. It was like being in a dance club. They were all gettin’ a real hoot outta this one. I turned my back to the crowd in an attempt to thwart their efforts… but they started sticking their cameras out on the end of their arms to reach around and get a picture from the other side. They had me surrounded. It was hopeless. I gave ’em the banana at the end of the night anyway just to show I’m a good sport.
I don’t know what you’ve heard about Belgium, but they have a noise curfew and all noisy stuff has to be finished by 10:00 pm. The people at the club told us that sometimes the police come and stand outside at 5 ’til 10, waiting to come in and shut down the show. There was a guy at this show who found out about the show by reading it on Planet Louisville [an internet site I help maintain (www.iglou.com/planet/)which houses homepages for Metroschifter and dozens of other Louisville bands]. That was pretty cool. It was really fucking cold and I was starting to get sick and I was real congested, whcih made for some interesting vocal melodies. There was a guy in a Texas Is The Reason shirt who sang all the words. We slept in a youth hostel (that the promoter paid for) in Antwerp that was really cold. They hate the heat over there. It was getting to the point where we were cold 24 hours-a-day. Outside it was always about -10° to -15° C, and inside it was hardly ever over 10° C. We had a meeting at this show with all eight people from Omaha and Metroschifter. It was stupid and I don’t want to talk about it because it was one of the few things on the whole trip that wasn’t fun. 86 the meeting and being cold all the time, and it was a near-perfect trip.
I called Torsten again to see if he had talked to Cornelia [a new character in the story; Cornelia was Julie’s neighbor when Julie lived in Germany, and I met her when I visited Julie. Like Torsten, Cornelia has also lived in Louisville as an exchange student] who was on a family ski trip. He hadn’t, so I gave him directions to the last show of the tour which they both planned to attend so he could pass it along. That section of the story was way longer than it needed to be.
Here’s something I learned from experience in Kontich, Beligium: a good way to find out how many people speak English is to announce from the stage, “How many people are here tonight? Raise your hands.” One person raised his hand. Perfect.
On the way back to Germany, we drove through Holland. We didn’t realize where we were until we stopped to get gas and they gave us all this funny-lookin’ money as change. Our show that night was in Oldenburg. In my notebook where I wrote down all the shows we played, next to this one I just wrote, “Out of it.” Was I ever! I slept pretty much all day. The building where we played (and where we hung out nearly all day) was colder than a witch’s titty in a brass bra. I was getting sicker and I felt tired all the time, so I took some 12-Hour Contac. That stuff killed me. I went upstairs in the club after we ate and I was completely out of commission until we played our set. I came downstairs where the room had filled with people and the other two bands had played. I felt like a genuine drug-addict rock star. After sleeping all day, I walked in, walked on stage, played the songs, then went back upstairs and went back to sleep. It was very surreal.
Erfurt was the next town and I don’t remember that day at all. I wrote down that we got paid $340, but I don’t ever remember getting paid in dollars. I can neither confirm nor deny that I was even there. No further questions.
New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve in Potsdam, however, I remember all-too-well. This was the coldest I have ever been since the day I was ever born. Furthermore, this is the longest I have ever spent being the coldest I have ever been, and the most discomfort I’ve ever felt as a result of spending such a long time in the state of being the coldest I have ever been. We were all freezing, and I mean really, really fucking freezin’-ass cold for about 36 hours straight. Inside it was like -4° C (25° F). I played the show that night wearing a jacket, scarf, and hat… wishing it was possible to play guitar wearing mittens.
At midnight, everybody (consisting of 200 dirty-ass mohawk scum punks) went outside and commenced lighting explosive fireworks, and throwing them at each other. I’ve never seen anything like it. It went on for like a half hour. And not just firecrackers, they were totally shooting bottle rockets and Roman candles directly at each other. To each their own, I guess. After about ten minutes there was so much smoke, you couldn’t see two meters in fromt of your face. It was almost like being inside where everyone was smoking.
A drunk guy, who we affectionately called “Ozzy,” stood up front and banged his head the whole time we were playing. That is, until his head accidentally rendezvoused with the edge of the stage- then he just slept on the floor in a puddle of beer for a few songs. Ozzy soon came back with a vengeance, climbing onto the stage, banging his head, grabbing the microphone, and suggesting his own words for one of our instrumentals. I would have kept his words for the song, but I don’t think they were in English… or German… or any language known to mortals.
I’ve always thought the best way to get over being sick is to sleep in a cold, drafty, dirty, concrete room where your spit freezes to the spray-painted walls. So that’s what we did. We slept upstairs at that place. Surprisingly enough, it didn’t help my illness at all. When we “woke up” the next morning (in quotes because it’s impossible to “sleep” in such an environment) we loaded the equipment and got ready to go. We couldn’t have been more eager to get the hell out of there. Well, our van wouldn’t start. (Neither would Ozzy. He was still laying on the floor in the club.) We ended up calling ADAC for roadside assistance. ADAC is this thing they have in Germany that’s like Triple A, but instead of towing your car, they have an entire mechanic’s shop in their truck and they fix your car on the spot. We had these “friends” we stayed with in Roßwein who loved death metal… and Metroschifter. Anyway, they had come to this show and stayed the night as well. The one metal head dude who had given us a ride in Roßwein [when we listened to 175-decibel death metal in his Hyundai at 6 in the morning] had an ADAC card and he told them it was ours. They were just like any other working class stiff they didn’t care. They got paid the same no matter whose card it was. The promoter lived upstairs in the club, so while we were waiting for the ADAC truck to come, we went up to breakfast in his room. That asshole! He had this huge, carpeted spread up there with a big stereo, television, couches, carpet, cellular phone in his pocket, and all this other shit up there plenty of space while we had slept on the floor in a concrete room. Oh well, Andy clogged up his toilet. What goes around comes around. After a few hours of sitting around feeling shitty, ADAC came, fixed our van in 5 minutes, then we were like sooo out of there.
New Year’s Day we had off before our January 2nd show at Prague in the Czech Republic. Since everyone’s always shootin’ their mouth off about how “rad” Prague is, we headed in that direction to spend what was left of our holiday. We stopped at a McDonald’s on the way where I ordered in German: cheeseburger with no meat, large French fries, a Coke, and two ketchups (you have to pay for ketchup in Europe, and they come in little ice cream cone-lookin’ thimbles you can eat afterwards)… any-how-ways, the point is, I ordered in German and I was really proud of myself.
We got to Prague and checked into the Hotel Junior, where we would be staying for two warm, cozy days. Yes, the rooms were clean and warm, with hot water and showers. Prague had me won-over in the first ten minutes! Somebody told me there are 20,000 Americans living in Prague. I believe it. They have a daily newspaper in English, prostitution is legal, and everything is dirt cheap. At a gas station I bought a cup of hot chocolate and a pack of Kleenexes for about thirteen cents. Our hotel rooms were 11 bucks a night.
The show in Prague rocked so hard. It was in the basement of a dormitory in the former Olympic village. There were about 200 kids at this show, and more kids who knew the words than anywhere else. The whole front row was singing and they were all rocking out and going crazy. This Polish guy kept grabbing the microphone and singing between when he was taking pictures. We tried to get him to sing a song by himself but he didn’t seem to understand what we were asking him to do. During one of the songs I crowd-surfed while playing guitar It was so punk. The kids loved it. I loved it. Everyone was happy. We ran out of songs before they let us quit playing.
January 3rd, back in Germany, we traveled to Leipzig. A nice little place probably most famous for being the place where Napoleon was defeated. They have a huge monument there. This show was at a huge rock club where the food was among the best. Even after there was way too much to eat, they kept it coming. All of it was beyond delicious. They even had a little booth set up with a lady selling Käse Brötchen to the kids.
When it was time to sound-check, Steffen (guitarist of Water Breaks Stone) and I decided the rock club atmosphere mandated full stacks. I’ve never done this before and it was quite an experience. I felt like Angus. My voice was fading from being sick for a week and I got a bloody nose on stage from rocking so hard. I tell ya, the camera flashes start going off like bezonkers when there’s blood on the stage.
That night we stayed in a nice, warm apartment. And even though I slept right next to the radiator, I was possibly too sick to enjoy it. You could say that I was a ball of germs. I woke up like ten times during the night and couldn’t open my eyes because they were caked over with mucous. (That comment will probably help get me a date.) When the sun came up I could hardly focus on anything. I stayed in the van when everybody climbed to the top of the Napoleon monument. This was the only part of the tour when I was miserable and wanted to be home more than anything.
The Schweinfurt show was silly. The food wasn’t so good and the other bands were beyond unlistenable. Schweinfurt actually means “pig town.” I was sick. I was dizzy. I hardly had a voice. We didn’t get paid for playing. The only good part about this show was the kids. They were very supportive and wanted us to play more songs, even though I could hardly stand up. We graciously thanked them.
There was a guy next to the sound board who was “controlling” all the stage lights. He felt it was his obligation to flash all the lights on and off in no apparent synchronization to the music. It just made me dizzier and I couldn’t see my guitar. I asked him four times to “please stop flashing the lights.” Then I shot him.
After the show, we hit the road toward Frankfurt. The tour was winding down. One more show. Jan from Water Breaks Stone lives kind of between Darmstadt and Frankfurt near the last show so we spent the last two nights at his place. Everybody from Water Breaks Stone seemed very American. They all spoke very good English and had similar senses of humor to us. Jan’s apartment was very nice and there was no furniture since he just moved in. This gave us plenty of space to spread out.
Wrap It Up
This brings us to the last show. You can imagine the feeling. If it had been warmer and everybody on the tour wasn’t completely sick, I’m sure most of us would have wanted to continue on for another two weeks or so. But, under the conditions, this was a nice place to end.
Torsten showed up with his friend Dani, and they spent the night with us at Jan’s on their way to a vacation site. And Cornelia finally made it to the show with her friend Katrina, after they spent the entire day in trains, buses, and taxis. It was so great to see everyone again. During Water Breaks Stone’s set, Reza (the singer) got everyone in the building to cheer for Tom to come up on stage and sing a song with them. It was too funny. He busted out all the moves and had everyone buckled-over in tears. Omaha’s last set of the tour was somewhat less insane. The tensions in their their band were softened by the fact that it was the last show. We were all certain that it was Omaha’s last show ever, but apparently they’ve played again since they got home.
The fabulous Metroschifter’s show was capped by a finale that tested the legal limit of how many times a single song can end. I shook everybody’s hand, and while all the feedback was still ringing out, I took the opportunity to once and for all throw my best effort toward demolishing the cheesy rented drum set. If not for the spectacle, than for the sake of John and the Hört. I took the leap and sailed through the air, crashing into the gear and tackling the Hört. From the ground, I kicked the rest of the drums over, only to later find that one of the stands was hooked into my back pocket… well, this not only sent the rest of the drums to the ground, but took the whole back of the left side of my pants with it! (But I didn’t realize the free peep show everyone was getting yet.) I stood back up and grabbed my guitar still grinding and buzzing and began repeatedly stabbing the dead beast we formerly called “the drums.” It was unbearably fun and hideously loud. I’m sure the kids liked it, too, cause they kept cheering for the death of the monster. Maybe they were just cheering because they could see my long underwear butt hanging out of the back of my pants. As I was saying “good night” to the kids, I realized my underbritches were hanging out. Oops. Some kid yelled “More!” I laughed and said “On what?” We had rendered the equipment useless. He insisted, “Break more stuff!” So I bent my guitar pick in half and threw it to the stage. The kids went nuts. They were happy. I was happy. Everyone was so happy. “Auf wiedersehen, Deutschland! We will see you again!”