Here’s part two of my gig-crazy summer trip this year. I left you off where we staggered away from Pulp’s gig at Wireless only two days into our trip.
The next day, after an afternoon at the Tate Britain, we headed off to see Lou Reed at the Hammersmith Apollo. I’m sure there are people out there who will tell us “I told you so.” Yes, Lou Reed is a notorious curmudgeon. Yes, he’s made some very unfavourable career moves. While it was special to see a legend I never thought I’d see in my life, he seemed as though he was just going through the motions, except they were primarily the geriatric motions of needing help out of his jacket. He didn’t play “Walk on the Wild Side,” but he did play “Smalltown.” I don’t think we were the only ones feeling a little deflated; most seemed to leave the theatre in a glassy-eyed daze.
I woke up the next morning to get ready for our day trip to Cardiff, and I knew my immune system had finally caught up with me. There had been a nagging feeling of near illness right before I left for my trip because I had just finished a two-month health-rundown marathon of work before leaving. I managed to stave infection off for three days. I spent the rest of my time in London sucking on Strepsils and taking painkillers.
We didn’t just listen and dance to music whilst in the UK – we purchased it in copious amounts as well. Between Spillers in Cardiff, Music Video Exchange (at both Notting Hill and Camden Town locations), and FOPP at Earl’s Court, we amassed enough vinyl and CDs to fund a return flight to the UK.
Our last evening in London before heading off to Amsterdam was spent in Vauxhall at a delightful curry restaurant to which you can bring your own beer. We met up with Miles, who is in the brilliant band Vanilla Swingers, Anne who is also in Vanilla Swingers and Morton Valence, her partner Mike, and Hacker, who is in Morton Valence. It was a truly fun night and a welcome bit of company, and I have shimmering memories of questions about prairie dogs, why Amsterdam is actually one of the most conservative cities in Europe, a story about Johny Brown from The Band of Holy Joy perhaps losing a shoe, Miles doing a pretty reputable imitation of Jarvis Cocker’s dance moves, and an aside about how Hacker was once in a band that had Pulp opening for them. At least I think this all happened – between the bronchial infection setting in and the massive bloody marys from earlier, it was getting hard to tell. We also owed Miles a particularly big thank you for sending some tips before we arrived in London, including places to eat, places to find music, and other points of interest, including Battersea Power Station, which he ended up taking us to see before drinks and supper.
Throughout Amsterdam, Berlin, and Vienna, my sore throat and fever had blossomed into full-blown consumption. I was pretty much certain that I had bronchitis, and by Amsterdam, Laura was pretty sure she had the same. We coughed, wheezed, and fever-dreamed our way through galleries, parks, museums, baroque palaces, walking tours, and cathedrals. An Irish boy threw up on our bathroom floor in the middle of the night in Amsterdam, and a fellow hosteller in Vienna asked me if I was coughing up blood because if I were, I should see a doctor. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had such terrible sleeps in which I felt like I was drowning in my own fetid air every night. Daytimes were marginally better, and I did discover the joy of Cafe Aroma Ices.
As we took off from Vienna airport, we braced ourselves for what we figured was going to be a more difficult leg of the trip…
Just like lungs sucking on air…
I feel as though there have been several points in my life that were surreal. I’ve done odd whirlwind day trips to other cities, sometimes back-to-back. I’ve had travel mishaps and miscalculations. I just usually don’t have all of these things happen to me at once. I take full responsibility for the ludicrous events that ensued because I was the one with severe Manics tunnel vision – a condition similar to mania in that it makes me believe I can do anything as long as the Manics are involved. The “if they jumped off a bridge…” scenario is probably in bad taste.
At any rate, I knew that the whole “quick” stopover in Finland was always a bit of a stretch for us. In order to accommodate the Manics, we flew all day from Vienna to Berlin to Helsinki, arriving in late afternoon the day before the Wanaja Festival. The thing about the Wanaja Festival, which I knew very little about, is that it’s held in a small vacation town, Hameenlinna, which is one hour north of Helsinki via train. The other thing about the Wanaja Festival is that details regarding set times were only revealed shortly before we left for Europe. The evening that we arrived in Helsinki I discovered that the train from Hameenlinna to Helsinki only runs until 11:30PM…and it doesn’t start running again until 5:00AM. The Manics, as headliners, were due onstage at 10:45PM. We had a flight back to London the morning after the festival at 7:50AM. Our flight home to Canada was the day after that. All of these facts gave us a bit of a panic attack. My heart races a bit thinking about the situation now.
After consultation with the info desk at the Helsinki train station, it became apparent that our only option was to take the only bus back at 3:00AM, pick up our backpacks at the hostel, and catch another bus to the airport, which meant yet another hour of travel. Feeling more than a little queasy about how we were going to accomplish this grand feat while still fiendishly ill, we decided against bringing our bags to the festival, and hoped to Äkräs it would all work out — not because Äkräs is the Finnish god of fertility, but because he is the protector of turnips. And my brain may as well have been a turnip.
The train ride to Hameenlinna went smoothly, but the very vague map I had in my head of the festival site, gleaned from Google maps and the festival website (which was entirely in Finnish) had become beyond hopeless as we stepped off the train platform. Our brains had already been fairly addled with that cognitive disorientation you experience when immersed in a language so alien to you that you start to think you might be hallucinating, and now we were faced with utter loss of direction in the scorching, sunny heat. Luckily, we found one person who spoke English at the train station info desk, and she kindly marked out our route on the town map she gave us. Of course, she told us our easiest route was to follow the edge of the lake until we hit a bridge, and then to cross the bridge and keep following the lakeshore until we came to the castle park (only Finnish I learned: “linna” means “castle” and “puisto” means “park”). The straightest route would have been to swim the entire width of the lake. But since it was already feeling like the worst joke of an Amazing Race, that wasn’t an option.
We tentatively made our way along the lake, marveling at how much Finland’s landscape reminded us of home, and at how much this specific town reminded us of a place like Kenora, a small vacation town in Ontario. As we crossed the bridge, Laura started muttering about how the pavement was soft and moving. I told her she was probably in the middle of a feverish episode. Then I felt the pavement actually buckle underfoot like a giant air pocket being squished out of a rug. Apparently, Laura wasn’t incapacitated by fever, and Finland must have been unseasonably hot that day. Needless to say, we crossed the bridge as quickly as possible.
Checking our map every thirty seconds, we managed to find our way up the other side of the lake, and came upon a few people. I’ve never been so happy to see a girl in leopard print and Nicky-Wire-white-framed-sunglasses. It became apparent that there were two other intrepid (insane) fans from Britain waiting for the park to open the gates. And if that wasn’t enough to allay our concerns, we suddenly heard the strains of “Some Kind of Nothingness” coming from beyond the gates. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear that song, especially since it gives me Strictly Come Dancing nightmares. We had a half-hour to sit in the shade and bask in the brief moment of accomplishment of finishing one more leg of the trip. Not long after, the Finnish Manics contingent showed up as if they had just wandered off the set of Times Square, mauve hair, Useless Generation tattoos, Motley Crue t-shirts, ripped jeans, shredded tights, and all. They were wonderful.
It then became a silent film farce as all twelve of us hardcore loonies felt the need to race each other on foot to the front of the stage being headlined by the Manics. The people manning the festival shopping stalls just stood their mouths agape as one by one we whipped by them, leaping over rocks and cables. I likely lost another thirty percent of my lung capacity at that point. We then all settled in on the ground right at the barrier and baked our faces off. Though there were food stalls nearby, they seemed dodgy – spring rolls in 40 degree heat or handfuls of sticky gummy worms. We opted to subsist on the free water even though we hadn’t eaten since noon.
We had periods of leg stretching as a parade of progressively surreal bands performed on this stage, including a mediocre hair metal band with a bare-chested singer in white jeans and waist-length tresses, a band composed only of members with Down Syndrome (they appeared hugely popular, which made Laura and I hope like hell that the enthusiasm was genuine), a relatively folky twee band with a lead singer who bore a significant resemblance to Snufkin from the Moomin books, and a band that almost blew our heads off with screaming Finnish. During one of the breaks, I tried to put my mind into some sort of ease by searching out someone who could tell me how to get to the bus station, now the crucial location on which our entire next three days hinged. I stumbled a little frantically through the crowds, not comprehending anyone around me, yet somehow still had the presence of mind to ask if the merch tent had any Manics t-shirts (they didn’t). Armed with a newly marked map of where the bus station was, I headed back to my post to wait for 10:45.
I then made an agreement with myself to stop panicking and dwelling on the upcoming trip from hell with logistics that defied all logic; it worked, and I put it all out of my mind from the time the Manics hit the stage. I unfurled the Canadian flag we had brought with us like some badge of survival, and hung on for dear life as we took off with “You Love Us.” It felt so satisfying to be crushed by such a loving crowd. The audience gave me the same feeling of starved fans that I had seeing the Manics in Toronto in 2009. “Motorcycle Emptiness” seemed all the more poignant after the last day spent in language isolation; I hung onto their every word like a life line back to my own brain. As expected, they performed the three singles released from Postcards From a Young Man, and Nicky Wire tried to recall whether the band had ever visited Finland when Richey was still with them (a mental exercise he seemed to be running with since the Send Away the Tigers tour). I was especially happy to hear “Slash ‘n Burn” and “Suicide is Painless” since I hadn’t witnessed them live before. It felt a bit odd to have the show end on “If You Tolerate This…” rather than “A Design for Life,” but at least we got the benefit of a false ending and the excitement over further songs. Somewhere along the way, Laura had been squeezed off the barrier and was smushed behind me. Being a festival performance, and thus at least five songs less than a regular gig, it felt like a compressed dose of adrenaline shot through my consumptive, weakened body. As the crowd peeled away and slowly dispersed into the perpetual summer twilight, it was lovely to see a couple of friends falling about each other, one wearing an exact replica of the sailor suit Richey used to wear. On our way out of the festival grounds and into the streets, the bedazzlement lingered in my brain and kept my anxiety over the necessary bus at bay for quite some time after.
I started to come down from the high as we sat on a bench at the deserted bus station, but for festival fans queuing up for horrific fast food from a takeaway stand. The weight of the three weeks of travel, the intense day which wouldn’t end until we had been up for over twenty-four hours, and the fourteen hours without food settled on us at this point, and we tried to stay awake and conscious for the next three hours of waiting in the half-light of a sun that never really set. In the meantime, the Finnish Manics fans had also shown up with a box of pizza and seemed to be waiting for the only bus back to Helsinki as well. At that moment, I really envied those girls who didn’t have to care if they got back to Helsinki by 5:00AM. And the fact they could eat a box of pizza at 2:30 in the morning after a whole day in blistering heat.
Eventually the bus showed up, after at least a couple of buses that were heading north instead, and then we had the pleasant discovery that many people had already pre-booked tickets for it. The previous day we had been told that we had to buy tickets on the bus. I was getting prepared either to cry or start kicking people if we didn’t get on when they managed to squeeze us on. We had to sit on the aisle floor of the fully-booked bus with the Finnish contingent of Manics fans and a few stray British fans who seemed to hate us (maybe because we didn’t end up with eyeliner smeared across our faces). The next two hours were a mix of sheer panic and drug-like drowsiness. It nearly killed me when we actually stopped at the airport before returning to Helsinki — though bringing our bags with us would have been horrendous, it would have allowed us to get off at this point rather than sit in further cramped tension. Finally, the bus dropped us at an unfamiliar location, not the expected train station, which had become our only major landmark; however, I think adrenaline may actually sharpen your orientation senses because I still managed to lead us in the right direction to the train station. Of course the usual tram to our hostel wasn’t running that early in the morning, so we ran on foot back to the hostel, where they didn’t let us in right away. Once the front desk realized that we weren’t actually mad homeless people ringing the outside bell, they let us up. We got our bags, ran back to the train station, hopped the next bus, and ended up at the airport with roughly half an hour to spare. As I sunk into my plane seat and choked down the tasteless sandwich provided, I had never felt so relieved in my life.
If there were such a thing as The Amazing Race for Manics fans, I think Laura and I would have won.
Timeslide place to hide nudge reality…
When we got back to Heathrow in some sick deja vu, we discovered that the two tube lines that took us to our hostel were closed that day for maintenance. This led to over an hour of bus riding and figuring out where exactly we were supposed to get off. With some sort of last superhuman wave of energy, we managed to make it to FOPP for some shopping, to the Tate Modern for some supper, and then on to the Royal Festival Hall at the South Bank Centre to see Big Audio Dynamite, aptly the last big bang of the trip. We hadn’t even been entirely sure we had tickets for this show since they mailed them late to my home in Canada, and through the intermittent Internet access via hostels, I had to arrange for replacement tickets to be held at the venue. Thankfully, our sporadic luck was holding up and the tickets were there. We ended up having a brilliant last night with a dance party cascading into the aisles. We even got to sing happy birthday to Don Letts’s wife.
Laura, whose immune system is always in much ruder shape than mine due to several chronic health concerns, ultimately had to stay in hospital for a few days after we returned home. I ended up with a massive course of antibiotics and a chest x-ray. I wasn’t sure what was more disorienting: my Finnish-addled brain on jetlag or coming back to work only about seven hours after my flight landed to attend a symposium discussing Deleuzian concepts.
I could ramble on about the non-musical highlights of the trip, including Tate Britain, Tate Modern, the British Museum, a lecture at a curiosity shop in Hackney, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Sanssouci Palace in Potsdam, the Dali gallery at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the Belvedere Gallery and the Secession in Vienna, but they could all use posts of their own. And perhaps one day they will find themselves in a blog.
Speaking of blogs, as I said in the previous post, I’ve started a new one with Laura, who has a passion for music and the ability to write about it in an erudite manner. It’s called From a High Horse. Please follow me there because hanging about here will likely only lead to feelings of abandonment.