August 2006

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I’m driving around L.A. on a late August afternoon in the year of too many Lords 2006, in a 1993 Chevy Suburban, formerly an LAPD Bomb Squad vehicle complete with kickout rear doors. This was the I See Hawks In L.A. tour vehicle until $3.00 per gallon gas forced it into retirement. Twelve miles per gallon doesn’t cut it if you’re traveling out of state. Now we’re trying to sell this beast. But it’s hard to let go.On this particularly hot day I drive over Topanga Canyon into the Valley to pick up 1000 more CDs from Rainbo Records in Canoga Park. And this climb over the canyon, this cruise up De Soto towards the North Valley hills, feels very good. I understand the lure of the huge vehicle, the Hummer and His cousins. This is the Father, the Hand of God, wrapping me in comfort and isolation from all that is outside, a high perch overlooking most of my road rivals.

A big bulbous new pickup truck, its immaculate bed burdened with a TV script and a case of Red Bull, swerves threateningly to my right, but backs off. Sorry, bro, but I’m bigger. I am your serene master.This feels good. How can we sell our beloved Beast? Global warming and the end of the oil economy are unstoppable. Would it be so wrong to bring them on, speed things up a little bit by upping my personal gasoline consumption? Just around town.

California just passed what is called a bold measure to reduce greenhouse gases by 25% over the next 20 years. Har de har, har. In other words, in 20 years we’ll be back to pumping out CO2 levels of the 1980’s that have already led to the highest greenhouse gas concentrations in millions of years. Dinosaur era levels. In still other words, it’s too late, folks. Our best hope is to remain optimistic and resilient, and open to real lifestyle change (i.e. eliminating the automobile, gross consumption, global trade patterns, and most air travel, and embracing localism and backyard vegetable gardening) and constant improvisation, as mother nature delivers her payback.Yes, this is an elaborate justification for driving this Chevy Beast eastward on the 101, but again: it feels so good. Back off Hummer! I am Suburban!
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Morning in Swindon. Paul L rises, woken by the reliable cell phone alarm, realizes he’s in a dank room over a British pub, stumbles downstairs with his guitar and clothes bag, and the reliable taxi shows up, taking him to the Swindon train station. A very British train station, reliable and comfortable, with espressos, pastries, cheery baristas, and magazines in the early morning.

The train ride is a quiet caffeinated delight, through beautiful flat English farmland towards London, then a switch at Reading. Charm evaporates from the landscape, lots of modern suburbs as we pull into Gatwick airport on the outer ring of the London megalopolis. A train to the airport–this is a peak of civilization. From anywhere in England you can board a train, drink tea, read the paper, and arrive at the airport, a short walk to arrivals. Los Angeles missed out on this. Too bad.

Gatwick was in low key disarray, organized British disarray for the theater of multiple passenger checks brought on by the alleged UK airline terror plot. Paul L’s personal crackpot theory is that this latest wave of inconvenience will convince the public to agree to biometric ID and perhaps ID chip implants, linked to your personal record kept in a central databank and available only to the good people who want to keep you safe. Like Alberto Gonzales and Michael Chertoff. (Great Britain is way ahead of us in the march to totalitarianism. The CCTV cameras and their accompanying plaques are everywhere. Pumping gas into your car is a bit chilling for the old school civil libertarian. A sign at the petrol station informs you that the fuel will flow after the surveillance camera has scanned your license plate and cleared it with a central security database. And sure enough, after about 10 mysterious seconds, the petrol flows.)
But enough Orwellian breast beating. In fact totalitarianism may be necessary to control unprecedentedly dense urban populations in mega-cities. Don’t like it? Move to the country.
The lonely country.

Like Ireland. Loneliness can be found here. A tense plane flight to Cork, rent a car, reunion with the wife in touristy harbor village Kinsale, then a winding all day drive on narrow roads along the south Irish coast, past many small villages, ancient cemeteries, sheep on the stone wall-divided hillsides. A peaceful and beautiful land. In Bantry, on Bantry Bay, of course, a small town with a long history–like everywhere else on this small island with the epic story–Paul L and Victoria buy organic veggies, smoked fish and rice for their week’s stay. The next drive takes them along the south coast of the Beara Peninsula, one of many fingers of land jutting westward into the Atlantic. The more famous peninsulae are Kerry and Dingle to the north.

Beara is a bit neglected by the motoring tourists, and that’s a good thing. Sweet isolation on a tiny twisting road. Mist enshrouded gray slate ridges, ancient seabed, climb at wild angles to their unseen cloud covered summits. These would be called hills in the great geology of the American west, but their stature is immense, and foreboding. Wild mountain goats with ZZ Top length beards watch the passing cars, perched on rocks by the highway. We cut north nine miles across the backbone of Beara, west of the forbidding mountains, and arrive in Ardgroom village, 20 multicolor old buildings huddled back to back in lonely fields on a bay. We meet the laconic Mr. Shea, who owns the town gas station/grocery/bakery/internet cafe, and the farmhouse he’s renting us. He hops into his car, leads us up a gravel lane to the foot of a mountain. His family’s 200 year old stone house, renovated to modern convenience, is the only building for a mile around, and commands the plateau beneath the mountain, a vast commons of green where 52 local sheep owners, including our Mr. Shea, let their sheep graze, under the eye of a pink faced old shepherd who serenades the morning with commands to his sheep dog leading flock up the green slopes.

It’s nearing sunset, but the Irish summer day lasts forever. We dump our stuff in the house and walk downhill across fields to a stone circle we can see from the kitchen window. Our feet are wet from the boggy grass. The sun sets behind the mini-Stonehenge, its jagged tall stones forming a distinct circle in the farmer’s field. Pilgrims have left small offerings on a small table stone in the middle of the circle, many copper Euros and pence, a bracelet, shells. We leave a black mushroom found in a cowpie. It’s probably psychedelic, and Paul wants to eat it, but Victoria forbids him. On toxicological grounds.

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Ireland is a giant blackberry patch. We never found a lane or fence or stone wall not covered with thorned branches laden with fat ripe berries. We made blackberry jam, stored it in a Guiness pint glass in the fridge. We walked many miles on the Beara way, through abandoned stone Famine houses, small lakes, endless dramatic vistas. We took a rowboat onto a lake, preceeded by fearless upper crust British blond ten year olds, and figured out how to get out of a strong current that stopped us dead in the middle of the lake. Paul L got up his nerve in a pub and sat in with a trad Irish group on his new bodhran, seemed to get away with it.

bodhran.jpgThree times we found ourselves in breathtaking sunset moments, the second being a high mountain lake reflecting orange light under the black mountain slopes and cobalt to purple sky.

The third time was a transport to pre-Celtic times: a stone circle on a dramatic plateau overlooking a lake. To the left the fiery sunset cast the jagged circle into silhouette; to the right, an ancient oak and birch forest, somehow untouched by the harvest rape of Ireland’s forests in the 17th and 18th centuries, stretched along a steep hillside, its interior in twilight mist that surely sheltered fairies, sprites, and banshees.The narrow road at night is a forlorn link between the tiny villages. The car headlights disperse only for a second the lonely spirits of countless generations and tribes. They rush in behind us. This is a sad and haunted land.

In Eyeries village 5 miles away we drink Guinesses and Jamesons with a young Irish writer/adventurer, who covered the rave and concert scene for a Belfast paper and now works as a boat builder, working with his cousin on their own boat in the off hours, which they are going to sail around the world. A singer/guitarist sets up his PA and plows through a set of American country music standards, accompanied by cheesy mini-disc recordings. Locals stream in continuously, and suddenly the place is packed, and the dance floor is filled. We and a few other tourists leaven the pure Irish locals mix. We hit the dance floor for a waltz, realize there’s a long circle through the two rooms of the pub, get into the flow after a series of collisions with bemused locals. Next, four couples, including a tough old matron who glares at any misstep, take the cleared floor for a series of polkas and reels, and we’re treated to old fashioned Irish social dancing, a combination of rudimentary square dance type patterns with complex step dancing footwork, rather dazzling. Next, a beer chugging chunky lad with Down’s syndrome, wheelchair bound in a bright Cork Gaelic Football jersey (they just lost to Kerry) is wheeled around the floor by his aunt. The youth rocks out, swinging his arms gracefully in a self-styled dance, and his family swarms the floor, circling the wheelchair as the patrons clap and cheer.

On one of the last days Paul climbed the mountain-hill behind the farmhouse, drenching his feet within the first five minutes of the venture. This was a tricky climb, as grass and stones were soaked from the morning mist. Many encounters with sheep gazing the upper ridges, and the valley and bay below disappeared beneath the mountain mist. The summit was a long narrow rib covered in a thick red grass, and the mist hid the view of the mountains across the deep valley that surely lurked down the unseen slope.Lovely. Just lovely.

It’s the morning of the last day of the Hawks/Tony Gilkyson UK tour, or, broadening our parameters, the summer US/UK tour. Forty-three shows, 30 states, 10 counties, two and a half systems of government. It’s a lot for us to digest.

But we do, and also digest the cereal and fruit in our odd hotel? B&B? boarding house? not far from last night’s Musician club gig in no nonsense industrial Leicester. It’s a gloomy gray day, just the way half the band members like it. Tony, Kip, and Shawn are off to a radio interview/performance in Swindon, and Rob and the two Pauls are scheduled to do a voiceover session for a Nottingham family theme park. Much to our disbelief and skepticism. But sure enough, the theme park people call us on our cheapo UK cell phone, tell us to come over. We drive the rainy streets to a factory warehouse next to the Musician club, head up the concrete ramp, and sure enough, dynamic duo Dean and Dan, wife/husband team, greet us cheerily and escort us into the factory, past vivid molded plastic Wild West animated figures, life size, with hydraulic actuators jutting from their flannel shirts and cowboy hats. Robot builders paint, sculpt, polish guns and rifles.

How did we get this unlikely and impromptu gig? Apparently our a capella singing at sound check won the animators’ hearts. Now we’re drinking big cups of coffee and reading scripts, internalizing the motivation for a talking horse, a nervous bank teller, a cowboy getting a tooth pulled, a slick bandito.We also arrange two songs for barbershop quartet minus one harmonies, which we pull off to the delight of the producers. We then step into the sound booth one by one for our voiceover acting debuts, the aforementioned characters farmed out amongst Rob and Pauls. Great fun, mostly first takes, our faux/cartoon Western accents dazzling the blissfully uncritical Brits (actually, we did a pretty fine job, those hours watching old cartoons finally paying off). Dean and Dan pay us, take us out for Chinese food a rainy walk through industrial alleys, regale us with their daring tale of capitalization and entrepreneurialism (they do theme parks all over Europe and UK), and we’re on our way.

We missed the great Avebury Stone Circles south of Swindon, which Tony, Kip, and Shawn assure us were amazing, but after an arduous rainy traffic snarled trek to Swindon, we stumble into the Magic Roundabout, a massive traffic circle with its terror multiplied by five outer traffic rings surrounding the center roundabout. We closed our eyes and dove in, escaped onto the right exit and found The Beehive on charming Prospect Hill.The word Swindon conjures up the genius British comedy series “The Office,” and its lovingly psychotic portrayal of grim office politics. The actual Swindon town has a few gray business monoliths, but the Beehive is on a sloping ridge of back to back older houses, with a mid-19th century brick Baptist church across the street. Charming.

The Beehive is a classic pub, wood floor and ancient looking bar. (This is the norm in the British Isles. The Mecca of venerable drinking spots) We crowd our way into the rear of the narrow pub, set up our gear, play our last sets to a reserved crowd that becomes quite animated after the show, buying lots of CDs. British reserve. It’s real.

The guitar amp on hand is a solid state Marshall. This is perhaps the ultimate oxymoron.
The mystique of the tube guitar amp is not mystical at all. It’s like the mystique of flossing,
or seat belts. Solid state amps just don’t work. They don’t sustain, and they let you down in the heat of battle. Why? We leave that to the scientists to answer. But the guitar players on this tour have learned a harsh lesson–better to plug into the board than into a solid state amp.

But this harsh lesson is but a shiver in the warm and cozy evening. We bid farewell to the Beehive people, load up our vehicles. Hugs all around on the rainy street, end of tour. American Country Rock Heroes Tony, Kip, Shawn, Rob, and the Pauls are feeling very good about this adventure.Paul L stays behind to sleep in a gloomy room over the Beehive. He’s off to Ireland for a vacation with Victoria. Hawks, Kip, and Tony drive to Heathrow, where an airport Travelodge awaits their weary arrival. What airline security madness awaits them next morning?

We’re in the triple room inhabited by Shawn, Kip, and Paul Lacques. Tonight Kip will sleep in the middle bed and dream of cross country skiing all night. But right now Kip and I are sitting on the far bed by the wall, Shawn and Tony hang on the middle bed, PL and Rob Ellen sit on the far bed by the window. Joe West is hanging halfway out the window threatening to jump. PM stands by our makeshift bar. Rob Ellen is entertaining us with tales of the Christianization of Scotland. “How do you get a pagan to give up their traditional world view?” Paul Lacques asks. Good question.

“Skipping forward a few years to the 9th century,” Rob Ellen continues. We’re getting deep now. Paul Lacques is egging him on. The conversation on the religious transition of the British Isles is gaining momentum. But wait! Tony is leaving for bed, he’s got an early radio station thing. The conversation stumbles, then wanders. Gazing up at PM from my increasingly horizontal spot on the far bed, I recall the dream I had of him last night: the Marshall family had just moved into a large new flat. It was full of newly acquired treasures, still in various stages of unpacking. PM was particularly interested in showing us the new boats he’d just purchased. There were several of them. A large model sailboat. Some kind of jet ski. And a waterski boat made entirely out of a super light weight future fiber. PM showed us how light it was by easily lifting it above his head. At last, he lay down flat on the floor and started zooming around the apartment as if he were on a luge.

The night leads to a make shift film festival starring the blue quilt on the far bed. We each take a short digital movie with PL’s camera which examines the nature of the bedspread. The films are spectacular. In a sense, they challenge the very nature of cinema and turn it on its head. We’re artists in Europe, goddamnit. We’re going to do it all!Even though we have one more show in Swindon tomorrow night this room party has the feel of a closing ceremony celebration. Nearly everyone is here, the Hawks, Tony and Kip, even Rob Ellen. If only Rob Douglas were here the circle would be closed. Still, we party our asses off. Way to go, brothers.

WORCESTER TO LEICESTER

August 18, 2006

It’s raining. We’re on the M5, a gray and sterile motorway that lets you traverse Britain quickly, unless a lorry has overturned. Shawn is driving, Kip navigating, Tony perusing today’s Times (of London). Your humble blogger sits contentedly in the rear, fortified by a cappuccino which has been additionally fortified by a shot of Bulliet […]

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WORCESTER CATHEDRAL, DETAIL

August 18, 2006

We were wrong about the age of the Cathedral. It’s much older—begun in the 11th century and completed, like all cathedrals, including the unfinished Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona, over several centuries. It looks to be of enduring strength, like the pyramids. Each sandstone block bears the fine chisel marks of medieval stonecutters, and a look […]

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THE CATHEDRAL IN WORCESTER LOOKS LIKE A SPACESHIP

August 18, 2006

The clouds are closer to the ground in the England. White on top, gray on the bottom, the heavy low clouds of Worcester seem to be more a feature of the ground than the sky. We’re on the fifth floor of the Travel Lodge, our un-quaint but budget accommodations. But the view out the window […]

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BELLADRUM, LOCH NESS, GLASGOW

August 18, 2006

Ah, Belladrum, Belladrum. Thank you, Rob Ellen, for introducing us to a perfect day. A day worth this entire journey. We loaded up our gear with the kind assistance of the Glenrothes folks and headed northward on winding highways towards Inverness in the far north of Scotland. The skies were blue with billowing gray and […]

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THE ROAD TO SCOTLAND

August 15, 2006

Morning comes early for RW. He sneaks as quietly as he can out of the family room he’s sharing with PL at the Nottingham Travel Lodge. Down to the train station and onto a Virgin Rails train to Edinburgh where his family and in laws await. Good luck RW! See you Scotland! The band woke […]

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A NIGHT IN NOTTINGHAM

August 15, 2006

Robin Hood references abound. Our Travelodge is on Maid Marian Way. Statues of archers and merry men are everywhere. The Sheriff of Nottingham does not arrest us as we drive madly down the incomprehensible roads, trying to find the motel and the gig. We’ve violated many traffic laws, and circled endlessly through unmarked streets. We’ve […]

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