Trying to remember Medicine Boy’s second European Tour
I do not have a particularly good memory.
(If any of my family or close friends are reading this, they are chuckling at the extent of this euphemism).
This bothered me when I was a little girl because it got me into trouble.
It was inconvenient for myself, my mother and my teachers.
A practical problem.
As I got older I became less afraid of misplacing my things and more concerned about losing my memories.
All the precious, peculiar and particular stories that made me who I am.
I have tried to keep a diary but made the mistake of re-reading my 13 year old musings.
It was overflowing with poor renditions of Sweet Valley sadness and has left me seriously doubtful of trusting a pen with my memories.
Tom Waits has very accurately explained that “[t]he world is a hellish place, and bad writing is destroying the quality of our suffering.”
I have had better luck with photos.
My family, my friends and I took lots of photos growing up. I am very glad to have them and enjoy going through them but still find them a little untrustworthy.
They are stuck in a very particular moment and the details surrounding those moments are so easily re-imagined with time.
I think of them more as cue cards to stories.
Photos cannot capture thoughts or sound or scent.
They are rarely present in your more intimate moments.
I need something that relies less on my conscious mind.
And I found that in music.
My most fierce companion.
The thing that has scored, shaped and solidified my experience.
Music doesn’t only allow you to come up with facts and images but stirs up an emotional state.
If you play Bee Gees Holiday to me right now I will disappear.
I’ll be at the Wild Coast.
I’ll be taking the narrow path down to Dead Man’s Bay to taunt the sea with my sister while my dad and brother fish off the rock nearby.
I will feel my six-year-old heart beat with excitement as the waves respond to us.
I will smell the SPF50 sunblock my mom smothered on me.
I am happy. It is visceral. All consuming.
Luckily this process of documentation was happening all the time without my knowing.
The only sad part to this tale is that some of my most important memories are forever locked inside of Boney M and The Backstreet Boys.
However, now that I’m aware of this method (and hopefully have slightly more developed taste), I am a little more careful about who keeps my stories safe.
Andre has introduced me to a huge amount of new music.
Some of which is now so a part of my consciousness that I cannot imagine what it was like to be without it.
But of all of the new artists that have found their way into my home/car/head/heart, Nick Cave might be the most important.
Last year our first Medicine Boy European tour plans began when we booked tickets to see Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds in Barcelona.
It was a semi-impulsive decision that would force us into doing something we’d wanted to do for a long time.
Push the Sky Away was one of the albums that we both listened to obsessively those three months we were away.
It holds some of our most sacred moments.
Towards the end of that first tour we found out about the death of Nick’s fifteen-year-old son.
We were shattered by the news in a way that I have not experienced before.
It was confusing to hold so intimately the tragedy of a stranger.
The announcement of his new album was overwhelming.
We craved new music from him and the band but couldn’t imagine how difficult the process of creating must have been for them.
It feels strange to want so much from someone who has had something so precious taken away.
We listened to Skeleton Tree for the first time on our way to Trento in Italy, a couple of days after arriving in Europe for the second time.
Neither of us said anything after it had finished.
Words would have been clumsy and useless.
They would have lead us out of that difficult world too abruptly.
(Like shaking a child awake from a dream).
The next day I told Andre that I felt deeply unsettled by the album and if I didn’t listen to it again soon, that first time might be my last.
We waited until we had been on the road for a couple of hours, this time on our way to Berlin, and Andre played the album again – and again and again and again.
(Like how you a hold a child’s hand, leading them gently back to the water’s edge after they’ve been frightened by a wave).
The album wrapped itself around us.
The surreal, bare and painfully human songs became more and more like home.
Every listen allowed a different part to come alive, soften, pierce.
We spoke a lot about the album. The songs, the sounds, the words.
How tender and tired and terrifying it felt.
How young and nurturing it felt.
How instinctive and uncomfortable it felt.
How important it was.
And we also just listened.
Listened and let the previous night’s music and conversation and sleep settle over us.
We drove 10 000kms over two months visiting Italy, Holland, France, Germany and the UK.
We played just under 30 shows.
It is inspiring to constantly be seeing new places and meeting new people but it can also be quite tiring.
Those hours in the car in-between different cities became quite precious.
Some moments to ourselves to simply rest in each other’s presence and be in the company of our favourite artists and albums.
None more listened to than Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree.
Last week we did a DJ set at Yours Truly where we got to try out some of the new records we bought while on tour.
It was the first time I’d listened to anything from Skeleton Tree since coming home and my heart wanted to jump right out of my chest with all that the sound brought with it.
I guess it’s a lot to expect from one album. To keep all those stories.
And I suppose different things will appear with each listen.
I will remember our first night in Milan when we finally got to taste Italian pizza.
(The thought of which had kept us going through a very tedious visa battle).
Some clichés are meant to be indulged.
The restaurant was playing a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club song and we figured it was a good omen.
I will remember continuously bashing my left hand against the side of the car door, determined to find the gear stick.
I will remember Andre very gently (but firmly and repeatedly) suggesting that I should drive a little more to the left.
I’m still not entirely sure how that car survived our time together without a single scar.
(The man to whom I returned the car seemed equally surprised).
I will remember driving through impossibly narrow roads to the top of a hill in Montecarotto all the while trying to imagine where in this small village they would possibly want our noise. When we eventually arrived Elena and Alessandro and their huge hound welcomed us into a beautiful old palace that they’ve turned into a restaurant and music venue. They run everything themselves, from the bar, to the cooking and the cleaning, to the sound.
Once they were done with our sound check they showed us to where we’d be sleeping and went to prepare the evening’s food.
I will recall looking down from the window of the room we were staying to the courtyard where we would be playing that evening and feeling stupidly happy. Some places were harder to leave than others.
I will dream about seeing Sound Sweet Sound for the first time and how good it felt to get lost.
Their dark, driving performance drew us in so fully, so physically, that our thoughts stood no chance.
It was all guts, hearts and instinct on a boat in Paris.
I will summon up the joy we felt performing in Gerardmer. The lighting engineer (an estate agent with a passion for the stage) and the sound engineer (Pascal, a friend from our last tour) had put an incredible amount of effort into making everything look and feel as it should and for that hour on stage we were transformed and could have been anywhere in the world.
I will cherish the love we felt from the audience in Toulouse.
I will try and retain how new the The Strange In Me felt at The Shacklewell Arms in London.
I’ll imagine the dust flying off my mallets and how it looked like smoke in the lights.
I will remember the gold glitter backdrop at The Moth Club and how awful my amp sounded that night. My heart sank when half through the set I realised it wasn’t the amp’s fault at all and my octave switch was on.
I will forever wonder why my family always seem to be at these kind of shows.
(I will desperately try to remember to not do that again).
I will never forget Anton Newcombe playing The Rolling Stones just before our set in Berlin, and putting on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds immediately after.
I will remember dancing to Michael Rother in the sweaty UFO Sound Studios.
I will relive One More Toll Taker, Jesus for the Jugular and Mathieu and Marie’s wild and familiar version of White Light White Heat.
I will recall the man at a hostel in France explaining how “there are no rules here” and secretly wishing that there’d been just a few rules….
In the cab home that night the driver became very excited when we told him we were musicians. He showed us a YouTube clip of his band playing at one of his friend’s weddings. I was glad to be swapping stories but secretly wished that his eyes could have been more on the road and less on the phone.
I will happily regret Russian Cocaine (a tablespoon of ground filter coffee and sugar followed by a shot of vodka) and Phil Collins in Karton.
I will try to shut out how mean the alarm sounded the next morning and how long the drive felt that day.
I’ll reflect on forgetting the words to Electric Sugar during the show that night. When you’ve sung something so many times your mind forgets and your body takes over. But when your body has only slept for a couple of hours it doesn’t work quite as well.
I made sure to get to bed early that night.
I will remember booking a tattoo appointment at around midnight after our show in Worms. Alex was very understanding when I arrived the next morning for my appointment and sheepishly suggested that we re-schedule. He told me about his tour with Rammstein and we took a picture with him and his French bulldog, Murphy.
I will hold dear the Sunday that Andre, Simon, Charlotte, Gerdus, Anja and I sat watching Jonathan (The Hollow Body) busking in Mauerpark.
I will fall in love with my friends and their adventurous spirits all over again.
I will remember dancing the Paso Doble with Simon in the streets of Toulouse while the three of us hunted down the last remaining falafel.
I will laugh at myself trying to ride a bike in Utrecht thinking that everyone made it look much easier than it felt.
I will linger on the memory of drinking coffee out of bowls and having sweet bread and cigarettes for breakfast.
I will keep forever the first sight of Switzerland and how the magnificent body of still water took my breath away.
I will be glad for the day we broke our promise to buy fewer records.
I will try and answer some of the questions that Sarah Vorster asked me in Clermont-Ferrand.
I will draw on Half of a Yellow Sun and White Teeth.
I will reminisce about the dinner-time debates at the Van Zyl’s.
The sunset in Tours.
Hannah’s sweet voice next to the Rhine.
The beautiful-far-too-expensive guitars that Andre wept over.
The endless black laundry.
I will understand that road rage is a worldwide phenomenon (though particularly rife in Paris).
I will know the kindness of strangers.
I will be thankful for our bravery.
Grateful for the support.
I will come to know just how valuable it all is.
Memory is messy and music celebrates it as such.
Instead of simply recalling what we did, I will experience how it felt.
And how it continues to feel.
And those feelings are not always pleasant. Some are uncomfortable, unsure and exhausted.
Of course a lot of them are wonderful and easier to reflect upon.
But all are full and complicated.
And now live and breathe within the melodies of Skeleton Tree.
I know the music will stir different things in Andre and myself in years to come, but there is something very special about that shared listening.
(Like a communal treasure box buried at the bottom of the garden).
When I hear those songs it will bring me back to him and the people that we were.
To try and document our tour truthfully would drive me mad and lead to lies.
Instead, I would like to share the soundtrack, a few pictures Simon took on an old film camera and the scattering of words above.
“Because memory is what we are… I think that for a very long time I’ve been building up a kind of world, through narrative songwriting, that’s very clear in my mind. It is a sort of world that has created precious, original memories that define our lives… those moments when the gears of the heart really change. And in some ways that’s what the process of songwriting is for me, the retelling of these memories and the mythologising of these stories.” – Nick Cave, 20 000 Days on Earth
Written by Lucy Kruger.