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Suspect Parts Euro Tour Diary 2017

7 Nov

Suspect Parts, An Introduction

Apocalypse Pop…waiting for the Apocalypse to…drop.”

– Suspect Parts biography.

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Suspect Parts in Berlin

About 10 years ago my band Clorox Girls fell apart and I moved to Madrid after an 8 week Euro tour that involved 3 van breakdowns, blood, sweat, tears, and debt (Sex, drugs, and alcohol are a given. Exhaustion beyond belief a more accurate description. I’m working on a book called “Clorox Boy” about it. I’ve also been to therapy.)

Another American expat Chris Bell, from Seattle band The Briefs, was living in Berlin and he suggested that we start a side project and record a 7″ single. That winter we found ourselves rehearsing in sub-zero concrete Berlin. Smail from The Shocks recorded our debut single. Gangly and dapper Englishman , James “Sulli” Sullivan from Ripchord, was recruited on lead guitar. The stylish and punctual German Smail Shock agreed to play bass. Our Apocalypse Pop super-group was formed. We semi-promptly released 4 singles and toured Europe.

2 years ago, Smail dropped out of the group to focus on his analog recording studio. Andru Bourbon from Berlin punk band Radio Dead Ones was enlisted on bass.  We toured Germany, France, and Spain with L.A. punk band Maniac and recorded our debut album in the biting chill of another Berlin winter in Smail’s analog studio.

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Suspect Parts soundcheck, Gleis 22, Munster, Germany

October 2017 found the release of Suspect Parts debut album on independent labels Taken By Surprise Records (Germany) and Oops Baby Records (USA). I procured a $550 round-trip ticket from L.A. to Berlin and we hit the autobahn once again.

Stream or order Suspect Parts new self titled LP in North America here

Stream or order Suspect Parts new self-titled LP in Europe here

Leaving Los Angeles

Los Angeles is a constellation of plastic.”

– Norman Mailer

I found a new roommate to help me cover rent while away on tour and had a bunch of pre-tour chores including renting a U-Haul, hauling furniture to a storage space, doing laundry, packing and picking up merch. I criss-crossed Los Angeles, completed most of my list, and grabbed a Lyft to LAX.

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My cheap flight was on Air Lingus, an Irish airline that I hadn’t flown before. The merch suitcase was overweight by a few kilos and they wanted to charge me $100 to check my backup guitar. I stashed a few things in my guitar cases and told Air Dingus that I was going to the parking lot to put my backup guitar in the trunk of my car. I checked my free bag and clandestinely boarded the plane with 2 guitars and my carry-on suitcase.

Surprisingly, security at LAX overlooked the half-full bottle of Jimador tequila in my guitar case from a recent Maniac  show in Long Beach.  Jimador and Sprite went down a treat.

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During my layover in Dublin, I stopped by the Guinness gift-shop where the Irish kid working the bar informed me of oblivious American tourists ordering “Irish Car Bombs” not realizing the harrowing bloody history with the IRA (embarrassingly enough, in my early 20s I made this same mistake in London and a massive fellow who was in the army ripped my copy of Don Quixote in half while saying repeatedly, “I had mates killed by the IRA.”). Moral of the story, while abroad, if you want to drop a shot of Jameson topped with Kahlua or Irish cream into a Guinness,  call it a “Baby Guinness,” not an “Irish Car Bomb.”  Or just a Guinness will do.

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Days 1 & 2 Berlin, Germany

You are crazy, my child. You must go to Berlin.”

– Franz von Suppe

 

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Snacking on some carrots in the rehearsal room in Berlin. Photo by Daniel Distraction.

Sulli came in from London Heathrow and Andru and Chris grabbed us from Tegel in Berlin. Of course Andru Bourbon brought some beers and a bottle of pfeffy to greet us. What a gent.

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Pre-flight Sulli before British Airways lost his duffel bag

In Berlin, we spent most of our first 2 days rehearsing. We also found some familiar sights, excellent Turkish and Syrian falafel, classic Berlin graffiti, and some quintessential Kreuzberg rock n roll bars like the Franken, Wild At Heart, and Rock N Roll Herberge.  Daniel Distraction stopped by our rehearsal room and made a video of us practicing “Alright With Me.”

Andru our bassist is vegan, and always has excellent vegan spreads on-hand.  We had breakfast most days at his house, but splurged on the last day on a band favorite, the “Bon Scott Breakfast” at Rock N Roll Herberge which costs about 4 Euros.

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Story time with Falcon at Rock N Roll Herberge, Berlin

British Airways lost Sulli’s bag and so he had to borrow my clothes for a few days. Luckily, the bag was delivered to Cortex Records right before we left. I also had some severe tuning problems with my guitar and we stopped by our friend Martin’s flat for repairs.

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Martin repairs Justin’s guitar in Berlin

It was good to see our old friend Ricky as well as our new album for sale at Cortex Records.

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Suspect Parts new LP for sale at Cortex Records, Berlin

 

After 2 long days of rehearsal and a long night partying with old friends, both Sulli and I were on the verge of losing our voices, but we hit the autobahn, hoping for the best.

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Day 3: Dresden, Deutschland @ Chemiefabrik

There was a big number over the door of the building. The number was five. Before the Americans could go inside, their only English-speaking guard told them to memorize their simple address, in case they got lost in the big city. Their address was this: ‘Schlacthof-funf.’ Schlacthof means slaughterhouse. Funf was good old five.”

– Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five

Chemiefabrik-Dresden

Our first show was in Dresden at Chemiefabrik where we founded the Down With Dons Movement 2 years earlier. Our friends Red Dons were simultaneously on a European tour playing many of the same clubs, so we started a Blur-Oasis online rivalry which was a lot of fun.  The Down with Dons Magnum opus was our Citizen Kane, shot and directed by our Minister of War, Andrew Zappin. Check out #downwithdons if you want to witness the havoc we wreaked on our old friends during the wartime of fall 2015.

Chemiefabrik was exactly as we remembered it, a shack on the outskirts of the city, not unlike a militia compound. On the inside is a bar and a few Foosball tables as well as a ton of band graffiti and posters.  The sound-man called himself “Flash” and proceeded to mike everything. The tiny concrete room was LOUD.  We sound-checked, had our dinner which was a vegan pasta (Andru opted for the spicy pasta sauce option which I opted out as I was already suffering from diarrhea).

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British Airways lost Sulli’s bag and he had to borrow Justin’s clothes for the first few days. Here’s Justin and Sulli in Fat White Family t-shirts pre-schlaff.

The first band were called Tanning Bats from Berlin and had really interesting time-signatures and cool changes in their songs.  Usually opening bands in Germany are quite unimaginative, so Tanning Bats were a pleasant surprise.

Our set in Dresden went down really well and the crowd especially knew the familiar tunes towards the end of the set, “Run For Your Life,” “Change Your Mind,” “17 Television,” and “Flowers Of Evil.”

We played some Foosball, chatted to a few Frauleins, and slept in the band flat which was walking distance from the club. In Europe, many of the clubs have an apartment just for touring bands to spend the night in. If only the US and UK could follow Europe’s example.   The crowd seemed to really love our show and we sold a bunch of records and shirts which always helps out on the road.

The DJs were fantastic and played mostly Canadian hits including The Modernettes, Teenage Head, The Tranzmitors, and the non-Canadian standout was the Village People’s punk tune “Food Fight.”

At the band flat, I slept on the top bunk and in the middle of the night couldn’t find the bathroom, it was pitch black.  I managed to find the room where Tanning Bats were sleeping and was having a true middle-of-the-night-midlife crisis.  With luck, I finally found the bathroom and the crisis was mostly averted.

Day 4 Brno, Czech Republic @ Kabinet Muz

Opakování matka moudrosti.
Repetition is the mother of wisdom.

– Czech Proverb

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On a typical Suspect Parts morning, we hit a supermarket and/or a bakery to stock up Mobicool Maxi which is our cooler filled full of vegan and vegetarian supplies. Sulli and I opened up a kitchen in the back seat where we learned to excel in the art of sandwich making.

There was some serious traffic so we took a detour through magnificent Prague, one of Europe’s finest cities. Prague is located in what was formerly known as Bohemia, and the general feeling of the place is for lack of a better word… Bohemian.  They appreciate art, culture, music, fashion, and sex perhaps better than anyone else. The architecture is breathtaking, the women are beautiful, and the men sure know how to wear a scarf.   As Kafka said, “Prague never lets you go…this dear mother has claws.”

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Storybook Prague

On the Czech highway we noticed that the billboards every few feet had nothing but Czech flags.  Later we found that the Czech government banned roadside advertising. The Czech mafia was upset about this and in retaliation, installed Czech flags to replace them, as it is illegal to take down any Czech symbols (no doubt a reaction to the heavy hand of Soviet rule).

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Brno is the 2nd largest city in Czech after Prague, and we found our venue Kabinet Muz  to be a very civilized cafe/beer bar.  The local beer was creamy and delicious.  We sound-checked and checked out dinner backstage which was an interesting vegan goulash. It had something similar to falafel balls in it. Not bad at all.  The opening band was called Wasted Whatever, an early 80s style energetic punk band. They hung out in the dressing room smoking and drinking white wine out of plastic bottles with their friends. Nice kids.   Sulli and I shaved in the venue bathroom.  We have come up with a few pre-show routines to survive the grueling tour schedule.

Pre-Show Routine #1: “The Triangle”

The triangle consists of 3 things in this order:  food, coffee, alcohol.  To realize its full effect, the triangle must be completed in the correct order and ideally at least 2 hours before playing. If whiskey or cognac or schnapps is placed inside of coffee, this can reduce the triangle to 2 steps. Caffeine must be consumed at least 1 hour before playing, followed by beer or liquor. Beer will make you sleepy, so liquor is ideal.

Routine #2: “Triple S” (Shave, Shiesse, Schnapps)  Sulli and I found that to feel fully awake and look our best, we shave after eating as well as change our shirts and shoes.   This is followed by evacuating the bowels (which is harder than you might think in a crowded club that often has only 1 bathroom),  some vocal warm-ups, some stretching, some high kicks, and some schnapps.

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Pre-sound check back stretches

The men’s bathroom sink was right next to the urinals where folks kept coming in and it made it nearly impossible to shave, so Sulli and I shaved in the hallway next to the women’s bathroom which lead to some people laughing at us.  No big deal, our mission was accomplished and we successfully completed all of our pre-show rituals.

Martin the promoter filmed us through a triangle-shaped hole in the backstage curtain.

The Czech kids danced and only knocked over the microphones a couple of times. We drank some more delicious creamy beers at the club then went to the promoter Martin Slovak’s flat to sleep. I stayed up all night with Martin listening to 60s Czech ye ye which was fantastic, but not great when I discovered staying up til 8am made me nearly completely lose my voice.

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Justin and Chris loading the van in Brno before discovering Andru’s cell phone was stolen from the front seat. Photo by Martin Slovak

The best part about staying up all night was listening to Marta Kubisova. She was a Czech singer who was perceived as being anti-authoritarian and anti-imperialist and is still an inspiration in the Czech Republic. Her music is absolutely beautiful. Her song “Prayer for Marta” became a symbol of national resistance against the occupation of Warsaw Pact troops in ’68. During the Prague Spring, she recorded over 200 SP records and one LP which was immediately banned from stores. In 1970, the government falsely accused her of making pornographic photographs leading to a ban from performing in the country until 1989. (Disclaimer: I plagiarized much of this from Wikipedia)

Martin told us a story about the first time he went into Germany with his parents in the 1990s. He said that the Germans had made signs along the way that said “Czechs, don’t steal,” and “Czechs don’t stop here to clean your teeth.”

In the morning, I started drinking immediately to help the hangover. Martin joined me. Unfortunately, Andru’s cell phone was stolen from the driver’s side door which was unlocked when we were loading our gear out from the venue. Ox-strong Andru took it in stride and didn’t have a phone on the rest of the tour.

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Justin and Martin, the morning after the night before. Brno, Czech Republic

Day 5 Vienna, Austria @ Rhiz

Vienna is a handsome, lively city, and pleases me exceedingly.

-Frederic Chopin

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Austria was home to many famous folks including Sigmund Freud, Arnold Swartzenegger, Falco (“Rock Me Amadeus”) and some bad ones who we won’t mention.

Rhiz is a very civilized little cafe underneath a railroad bridge. Members of the opening band “Bad Weed,” were present and served us a civilized Viennese coffee before soundcheck.  When the train went by overhead, the sound in the club made this wacky little buzzing. The sound-man had worked there for 20 years or so, and wore one of the best sweaters I have ever seen. Wish I had a photo of the man and his sweater.

We were reminded of the derogatory term that the Germans call the Austrians, Schlucten Shiesse, which means “valley shitter.” Remember the Austrian Alps.

I have neglected to mention how cold Deutschland and Austria were. Being used to California weather, the central European October cold chilled me to my bones and made me feel like I had a constant cold or flu. Paired with the jet-lag and my new mandatory vegan diet, I felt like I was constantly being sat on by a large Germanic man.  Thankfully we had our pre-show routines to save us, as the show must go on.  In the bathrooms, a few African men were coming and going. They locked themselves into bathroom stalls presumably to organize some drugs that they were selling. I’m not trying to racially profile Austrian drug dealers, but this touring rock and roll musician knows a drug dealer when he sees one.

The shaving situation in the bathroom was again a tough one. A bespectacled middle-aged man in a brand new 500 Euro leather jacket commented, “Shaving, that isn’t very punkrock.”

On the contrary,  shaving in a cracked bathroom sink in the venue bathroom shortly before playing your set may in fact actually be “punk rock,” but that’s another argument for another time.

Arno, the drummer for opening band Bad Weed was formerly a promoter in a small town called Klagenfurt where Clorox Girls and The Feelers played in 2007. It was nice to see him again. Also bumped into Tom Jirsa and some other familiar faces.

Afterwards, there was a unmistakable tension in the club for the free DJ night when a few sketchy characters piled into the tiny smoke-filled bar. The tension was so intense it was almost physical, like you could reach out and touch it. It seemed like a fistfight was inevitable. A grade-school mating ritual unfolded where men wearing camouflage pants, hair gel, and cologne would dance uncomfortably close to a woman they were attracted to. If the woman danced with him, it was on, if she didn’t, most of the time the man didn’t seem to get the idea and kept coming back again and again to harass her. Most of the women seemed to go to the bar in groups, and so usually it was up to her female friends to shoo the humping greasy harasser away.

The other guys went to bed and I went to an 80s night with some folks and danced to songs like “Ghostbusters.” I danced with a school teacher who unironically had tickets to David Hasselhoff the following week.

At the 80s night I met some nice folks from Antwerp where we were soon headed to, and then stumbled through the freezing Alpine rain and finally jumped in a taxi when I couldn’t find our sleeping place.  Luckily, Andru woke up to the sound of the buzzer, and let me in at 4am as there wasn’t any wifi and I didn’t have any cell service. It would have been a bad night to sleep on the sidewalk in Vienna.

Day 6 Munich, Deutchland @ Kafe Kult

Of one thing there is no doubt: if Paris makes demands of the heart, then Munich makes demands of the stomach.

-Rachel Johnson

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Our Euro record label Taken By Surprise Records is located in Munich. Our drummer Chris has his screen printing shop Flatland  in the same building as Black Wave Records which is located near the Augustiner Brau Haus. We picked up some merchandise from the record store and screen-printing shop and headed over to the venue Kafe Kult, which is an old WWII military hospital. The caretaker’s name is Herbie, and he is a wild-eyed hippie who fishes Nazi memorabilia out of the river. His collection is pretty insane, if you ever stop by Kafe Kult it is well-worth it to take a look.

 

The Kafe Kult backstage is full of black-markered penis drawings and band-tags, as many of our friends’ touring bands have played here in the past.  Suspect Parts played one of our first shows in 2008 here.

 

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Andru warming up on bass in the Kafe Kult band room

Dinner was a vegan “almost burrito,” which actually wasn’t too bad. Europe has improved on the availability of spicy food these days. A particular bottle of spicy sauce at Kafe Kult almost killed Andru and I.

Kafe Kult’s bathroom is nearly impossible to shave in. The mirrors are covered with band stickers. We used my cell phone as a mirror. I held it for Sulli as he shaved, he did the same for me. Yes, yet another low pressure cold water shave for the ‘Parts. The bathrooms also have a permanent shiesse smell which proves that the place reeks of authenticity.

The openers were a grunge band from Vienna called Baits.  They were extremely friendly folks. They had to drive the 3 hours back to Vienna after the show and then go straight to work the next morning. The drummer even had to get on a bus to Zagreb, Croatia afterwards to play another show. That is dedication.  Baits sound reminded me of growing up in the 90s in Seattle.

One of the bartenders was a foxy girl with bangs named Veronica who plays in a noise-art kinda band called Friends Of Gas. She hadn’t heard of the Archie comics, and I told her about them. (Maybe it has something to do with my days living in Portland.  I’m a sucker for a dark-haired girl with bangs.)

At the beginning of our set my guitar amp stopped working which led us to scramble around, find a backup, and hastily commence our set. Sulli and I had almost completely lost our voices and were really pushing it as the vocal monitors were barely audible. We tried our best to play well, and sold a bunch of merchandise but my band mates told me afterwards that we played the worst set of the tour so far. Our Euro label boss Michl Krenner seemed to like the show (or he was lying to make us feel better). I gave him a kiss.

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Justin smooches Michl

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Suspect Parts with Taken By Surprise label boss Michl Krenner at Kafe Kult in Munich

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Andru’s art in the Kafe Kult guestbook in Munich

My crush, the bewitching beauty Veronica, left without saying goodbye much to my chagrin and we slept in the band room which was dirty, dusty, dark, and cold.  With all of the lights turned out, Herbie the caretaker’s handmade creations seemed to creep up the walls. A trip to the bathroom was like a barefoot walk in some filthy post-apocalyptic construction site. Luckily there was a space heater and it finally started to work as we drifted off to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn and contemplated what was going wrong with my life. A few hours later, I accidentally took one of the Kafe Kult volunteer’s sleeping bags which wasn’t the one that Michl loaned me. It apparently was a 200 Euro thermal sleeping bag for Alpine camping. Whoops. Luckily Chris lives in Munich and was able to bring it back after the tour.  The shower was grubby, located in a storage room full of Herbie’s ongoing projects and various broken appliances. It was covered in black muck. Andru was brave enough to take a shower, but Sulli and I opted out. The friendly volunteer who slept in the band room with us made us breakfast which we ate in sub-zero temperatures and we packed up the van and headed out to pick up Chris and his wife Laura at their place.

Touring is hard on the body.

Day 7 Cologne, Deutschland @ Sonic Ballroom

In Köln, a town of monks and bones, And pavement fang’d with murderous stones, And rags and hags, and hideous wenches, I counted two-and-seventy stenches, All well defined, and several stinks! Ye nymphs that reign o’er sewers and sinks, The River Rhine, it is well known, Doth wash your city of Cologne; But tell me, nymphs! what power divine Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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This was only the 4th date of tour and our 6th day in Europe but it felt like we had been on the road for ages.  Me and Sulli’s voices were nearly gone and I felt like I had a constant flu. This was the longest drive of tour – 6 hours (which is a relatively short distance compared to US Tours), and I took the opportunity to try and sleep in the back and get my voice back.  Our van kitchen was fully powered and Sulli had become a sandwich making gourmand. Our vegan spreads and veggies and cheeses were truly delectable.

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At most Deutschland gas stations, they have paid bathrooms with attendants – which usually ensures that they are cleaned on a regular basis.  I was out of change and tried to sneak into a bathroom by ducking and rolling through the child-sized free entrance and was promptly caught by the bathroom attendant. She was not impressed.

The last time we were in Cologne, we filmed a short episode of our web-series “Guten Morgen Deutschland” at the Dome as we had filmmaker and Minister Of War Andrew Zappin in tow.

Sonic Ballroom is another classic Deutschland venue.  Small, great little bar, band flat upstairs and it has it’s own kitchen and bathroom. Roman has been the promoter there for many years and a strong supporter of ours since 2008. It was his birthday and so he was off somewhere enjoying it. Happy Belated Birthday, Roman!

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Our favorite band names and DJ name from the tour: “Fuck It Head,” “DJ Tobias Sheisse,” and last but certainly not least, “Ape Shifter.”

Sonic Ballroom’s staff made us a nice vegan lasagna in the oven, soundcheck went smoothly, and we continued with our pre-show routines.  In Cologne the local beer is called Kolsch and this is ordered as opposed to Alt which is the rival beer from nearby rivals in Dusseldorf. Our kuhlshrank was filled with Kolsch.  The local cheap schnapps is called kettenfett which is like a black licorice shot. Not too bad. One of our biggest local supporters Frau Mony filmed a few of our songs.

Another local supporter, a 60 year old woman from Greece, knocked my microphone over a few times when she was dancing too hard. She apologized afterwards by kissing me on the neck and face. Suspect Parts’ German groupies are primarily women and men between the ages of 50 and 70.

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Sonic Ballroom Cologne, photo by Frau Mony.

The audience under 60 didn’t dance much but seemed to enjoy our tunes. We had some more kettenfett and Kolsch and went to bed in the bunks upstairs. The promoter told us that our first single “Seventeen Television” was a local dance floor hit. The DJs that night had a set that went on until about 5am. Their set included The Shocks “More Kicks”and Red Dons “Auslander”

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Sweaty Suspect Parts post-show at Sonic Ballroom in Cologne. Photo by Frau Mony.

Day 8 Antwerp, Belgium @ Venue 219

“It’s absurd to see an enchanted princess in every girl who walks by. What do you think you are, a troubadour?” 
― Roberto BolañoAntwerp

If you open the door of a bar in Brooklyn, you know exactly who is the mobster, who is the nice guy, who is the drunk, who’s the waitress, who’s the lonely heart. If you push open the door to a bar in Antwerp, people will talk five different languages. You don’t know who’s who. You don’t know if that guy is a banker or a mobster.”

– Thomas Bidegain

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We pulled into Antwerp and it felt a bit like France with its narrow streets and cafes. Antwerp is in the Flemish part of Belgium which historically has a rivalry dated back to medieval times with the French part of Belgium.  Flemish is similar to Dutch but they also have a rivalry with the Dutch. You can drive across the entire country of Belgium in about 3 hours but its a complicated place with an intricate history.

As the venue was closed and locked, we stopped into an extremely civilized local bar and tried the local beer.

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Sulli and Andru sample some Belgian beer. Justin’s personal favorite: De Koninck. Smooth and creamy with a consistency similar to Guinness.

The show was a Halloween party and most of the folks there seemed to be there for the dance party, not our band, which was fine. The local band were these kids who left their gear on stage for way too long and it annoyed all of us into playing a seriously blistering set.

The owner of the bar had a box full of Halloween supplies that he let us dip into. We did alright!

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Suspect Parts’ makeshift Halloween costumes in Antwerp.

That night was another 80s music dance party. The place was packed. The guys went to bed at a reasonable hour and I foolishly stayed out and went to another after-hours party. I was playing roulette with the devil as far as my singing voice went.

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Justin and Andru enjoy Halloween in Antwerp

Parking the van Halloween night in Antwerp proved to be extremely challenging and only Andru was up to the daunting task. We circled the city and finally found parking down by the river. Andru felt that the van might be at risk for a break-in so he slept in the van. It was freezing cold and only Ox-Strong Andru would take on this noble cause.

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Ox-strong Andru Bourbon

The next morning we only had a 1 hour drive to Kortrijk, so we had one of our only touristic days to walk around the city and see the sights. Our hosts Joris and Ann made us a lovely home-made breakfast in their flat and gave us an absolutely enjoyable walking tour with their dog, Clipper. Antwerp is exquisite. Here’s some of the highlights of our tourist day in photos:

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L to Right Joris, Andru, Sulli, Ann and Clipper enjoy a civilized coffee at a cafe in Antwerp

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Belgian fries with mayo of course!

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Andru enjoys a Jupiter on the 2nd best day of his life.

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Day 9 Kortrijk, Belgium @ The Pits

I’m half-Irish, half-Dutch, and I was born in Belgium. If I was a dog, I’d be in a hell of a mess!

– Audrey Hepburn

Chris and Andru finally trusted me enough to drive our rental Mercedes Sprinter Van and I successfully drove 1 hour through Belgium without incident. There was some backseat driving, but not too bad. The Pits is a legendary 20 year old garage punk venue that has hosted bands  like The Mummies, Supercharger, Dead Moon, The Spits, King Khan & BBQ, Black Lips, Alex White, Clorox Girls, Briefs, The Feelers, The Chemicals, and many more.

We were told that there was another show going on that night in Lille, France and that 11 of their regulars were headed to that show.  The Pit’s (sic) is tiny and can be filled to the absolute brim with about 40 people.  Tonight we had about 15 in the crowd so it was only about half-full. The staff was nice and dinner was tasty.  Again we had some issues with our pre-show shave as there was no bathroom mirror or even a sink to shave in.

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The Pits urinals and toilet across from the merch table. Note: no sink or soap to wash hands with. Who needs soap to enjoy primitive beer-soaked garage punk?

 

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The Pits DJ played some great stuff including The Kids from Antwerp.

The Pits staff told us that we could park the van overnight at the venue and then walk to the sleeping place. Our host was named Stoppe. He kinda looked like Andre The Giant. Stoppe was totally wasted and insisted that we drive to his flat. All of us had been drinking and since we were told that we could park at the venue, we all had enjoyed a few Belgian beers. As I was feeling sick, I didn’t really drink after the show and had been sober for a few hours.  I drove our van to Stoppe’s house and parallel parked half on the Belgian side walk.

Inside his flat, Stoppe had a fish and shrimp curry that he had made for a girlfriend of his.  I ate some despite Chris’ reasonable concern that I would get food poisoning from the shellfish that had been sitting out.  Stoppe’s friend had some home-grown weed and they brought out some fancy Belgian beer for us that was very tasty.  Stoppe put on a jazz record on 78 speed and proceeded to dance to it which brought most of us to tears laughing at his antics.  In between eating, drinking, and dancing, Stoppe cooked some samosas and brought out some more beer.

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Justin and Stoppe

My favorite record that he played was this Belgian female singer from the 60s which I wish I could remember.  The record he put on 78 speed was Ottone Pesante.

My all-time favorite tune is Lio’s “Le Banana Split.” Despite Lio hailing from the French side of Belgium, everyone should know this tune.

Stoppe told us that Facebook had blocked him from using his name “Stop Stop Stop” and he was trying to resolve it as it was his only way of communicating with many of his friends. Good luck, Stoppe!

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Our drawings for Stoppe’s guestbook

Day 10 Munster, Germany @ Gleis 22

In Germany, I’m a filmmaker. In the US, I’m a bum.”

– John Carpenter

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Promoter Markus Schmauck has been booking concerts in Munster for nearly 20 years. The opening band was called Conta. It was their 4th show. Their pre-show schnapps was also Berliner Luft which caused us to immediately bond with them.

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Sulli and Markus

There are also some scenes from our music video for “Run For Your Life” filmed at Gleis 22.

A local amp shop called Rare Guitars fixed my broken guitar amp which was fantastic. We had dinner, shiesse’d and schnapps’d and then had even more schnapps with Conta backstage.  It was their 4th show and they were real nervous.

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Conta at Gleis 22, Munster. Photo courtesy of diegoldenehor.de

 

Gleis 22 was pretty packed, Conta killed it and we killed it in turn.  We all went to a bar called Boheme something and enjoyed some kettenfett, jagermeister, and beers until they closed.  Markus is a local legend and for good reason. Munster should appreciate Markus bringing hundreds of touring bands to their student city over the years.

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We stayed in this flat that some local hippies lived in. One of them introduced himself to us and said that he was a digital nomad. I guess that we are analog nomads.  The handle on the bathroom door kept falling off and the shower was dirty but the water was hot.  Hot and dirty.

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Sulli at Gleis 22, Munster Photo courtesy of diegoldenehor.de

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Andru at Gleis 22, Munster Photo courtesy of diegoldenehor.de

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Sulli, Justin, and Chris at Gleis 22. Photo courtesy of diegoldenehor.de

Day 11 Hamburg, Germany @ Molotow

You’re not getting any sleep tonight.

– Graffiti seen on the Reeperbahn, Hamburg

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I’ve known local promoters Jens Keller and Michael for over 10 years. Their old promotion company Wildwax previously booked shows in the now defunct Beatclub. Jens and Michael in their younger years would take shots of hot candle wax and force the touring bands to do the same. Wildwax hosted loads of touring bands like The Spits, Black Lips, King Khan & BBQ, Jay Reatard, and more. The last couple of times I was in Hamburg I was sick and would sleep in Jens’ bunk bed (often he would not sleep). We may have shared the bed a few times. One particular night with Holy Ghost Revival, Jens convinced them to buy a pigeon to throw into my face while I was sleeping.   They bought the pigeon at the Fisherman’s Market at 7am or so, and John let the pigeon free. Jens was pissed off at John for years (and probably still is).  Another time Jens convinced me to try to give Colin from Clorox Girls a roman soldier, which is one of the worst things I have done to any band mate. Colin, I’m sorry.

In the morning in Munster I had some schinken (ham) with breakfast. I hadn’t eaten any meat on the whole tour as all of the venue-provided food was vegan and vegetarian.  The ham tasted very strong and didn’t agree with me at all.  My stomach was a wreck during the whole drive to Hamburg and I felt like I had food poisoning. If any of you have had food poisoning before, you know what it feels like – a flu with your head, body and stomach all in volcanic disorder.  Our van was subjected to a melee of bad smells coming out of my body during the drive to Hamburg.  I honestly didn’t know if I could play.  I slept in the back of the van with a scarf on and rode it out.

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Justin dying in the van

At Jens’ place in Hamburg we met his new son, Sixten. Jens made us a delicious chili. When serving a heaping serving of chili,  a plate suddenly shattered above his son’s head. Uncle Justin grabbed the baby and the rest of the ‘Parts cleaned up all of the spilled chili and broken plate.

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Sulli and Sixten in Hamburg

After the near disaster, we enjoyed Jens’ chili paired with a glass of Schwabish red wine.  I was feeling a little bit better from my run-in with the schinken earlier but still pretty rough, sweaty and sore all over.  I took a shower and shaved then we headed out to soundcheck at Molotow. We were playing with 2 bands that night, 1 that sounded like The Strokes and another one that had crazy mohawks, bondage and whatnot. It was their last show, they streamed a backdrop banner across the rear of the stage, and sound-checked for a very long time.

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39 Euro Sex on the Reeperbahn, Hamburg

The Molotow is a proper indie venue and has a downstairs, upstairs, and outside stages.  It’s located right on the Reeperbahn which is in the heart of Hamburg’s red-light district. If you haven’t been there it’s like Las Vegas but sleazier, shadier, with legal prostitution mixed with kebab shops, dance clubs, strip clubs, bars, restaurants, music venues, and some American chain restaurants like Burger King and Hooters.  The Beatles also kick-started their career here.  A description of the Beatles early days in Hamburg:

McCartney later said, “We lived backstage in the Bambi Kino, next to the toilets, and you could always smell them. The room had been an old storeroom, and there were just concrete walls and nothing else. No heat, no wallpaper, not a lick of paint; and two sets of bunk beds, with not very much covers—Union Jack flags—we were frozen.” Lennon remembered: “We were put in this pigsty. We were living in a toilet, like right next to the ladies’ toilet. We’d go to bed late and be woken up next day by the sound of the cinema show and old German fraus [women] pissing next door.” After having been awoken in this fashion, the group were then obliged to use cold water from the urinals for washing and shaving. They were paid £2.50 each a day, seven days a week, playing from 8:30-9:30, 10 until 11, 11:30-12:30, and finishing the evening playing from one until two o’clock in the morning. German customers found the group’s name comical, as “Beatles” sounded like “Peedles”, which meant a small boy’s penis. (From The Beatles in Hamburg )

Luckily Suspect Parts seemed to have it slightly better than the Beatles in their early days, and at Molotow, had our own private dressing room upstairs where we could sit quietly away from the cigarette smoke and eat some erdnuss flips (the best German snack).

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We were at least 2 hours early for the show, so I had time to take a 30 minute power nap in the dressing room.  Sulli went to the train station to pick his wife Chris up. Here’s Chris modeling a Suspect Parts shirt.

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The Strokes band sounded a lot like the Strokes. To paraphrase Pablo Picasso, “Bad art is imitation, great art is theft.”

The crazy mohawk band sounded better onstage than their soundcheck. I was really worried about my voice and my energy level but I managed to get up to “adult chimp strong.”  As I may have mentioned earlier, in the German language, the strongest animal is an ape. “Affenstark,” or “Ape-Strong” is the strongest that one can get in Germany as well as in Suspect Parts land.  On my worst times of day I was a newborn baby deer, one that could barely walk.  On the Munster to Hamburg drive I was a newborn salamander, a slimy creature that could be easily crushed.  Onstage in Hamburg, I made it to adult chimp strong, which is almost as strong as “Ape Strong” but not quite.  Andru Bourbon was steadily “Ox Strong” throughout the tour except one time when he apparently passed out behind our merch table.

merch death

At the end of our set in Hamburg I thought I would die, but ran to the merch table to sling some records, buttons, and shirts to folks.  We did pretty good.  Hamburg didn’t kill us. I had to go to bed early to attempt to get Ape Strong before our last show in Berlin, and we went back home where Jens’ wife Julika played us some of her favorite Plimsouls tunes.

Sulli’s wife Chris took this photo of us the next morning next to the river.

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Suspect Parts in Hamburg. Photo by Chris Almeida.

Day 12 Berlin, Germany @ Kastaniankeller

I still keep a suitcase in Berlin.”

– Marlene Deitrich

 

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Suspect Parts have played Berlin 6 or 7 times between 2008 and present, so it’s the closest we have to a hometown. We knew that we would have a lot of friends there but were literally gobsmacked by the amount of friends that came down to support us.

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L to R Jakob, Daniel, Andru, and Smail. Kastaniankeller, Berlin

Slime The Boogie and Gang Zero opened up the show and were both fantastic. There were these hilarious bearded guys in Harley Davidson jackets who kept chest bumping each other and “moshing.”  They were half amusing, half annoying.  It was packed in the place and a Suspect Part couldn’t go 3 steps without bumping into someone who wanted to say hello or offer food, drink, or drugs, so we had a hard time getting Ape Strong for this one.  We had to give it our all though. The monitors onstage literally had static coming out of them, but we sang our hearts out and tried our best to kick some ass and take some names.  One of the big bearded fellows was grabbing at my leg and hugging me during our first few songs. The beards finally got bored and left, which was great because it opened up the front row for about 10 girls to dance.  Finally, dancing in Deutchland!   Success! We blasted through our set and closed out with Chris singing “Do It Clean” by Echo and the Bunnymen. We had some “Animal House” -reminiscent call and response and brought down the house.  Thank you Berlin, our last show was easily our best show, and couldn’t have gone down better. Ich leibe dich Berlin.

Stream or order Suspect Parts new self titled LP in North America here

Stream or order Suspect Parts new self-titled LP in Europe here

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Sulli retires his Chuck Taylor’s in Berlin

Post Script, German Vocabulary

I’ve been to Deutschland a few times and always try and pick up some new insults and vocabulary words. Here’s the list from this trip:

Schwips – buzzed, Ich Habe einen schwips or Ich bin beschwipst (“I am buzzed”)

Motorat – Motorcycle

Kinderwagen – stroller

Ampel – Traffic Light

Ampel menschen – traffic light men

Hamsterer – a hoarder

Rucksichtslos – regardless

Festgennomen – Arrested

Keks – Cookies

Dar ist ein hund in einer tasche – there is a dog in a bag

Schlucten Shiesse – Valley Shitter (what the Germans call the Austrians)

Spaten – Idiot  (literally means shovel, but if you call a person this it means idiot)

Laberbacke – someone who talks too much

Best quotes of this tour go to Andru Bourbon:

Chris: “You have to step into the modern world, Bourbon.”

Andru: “Sometimes I do.”

Chris: “She has the right to cut you off, she’s driving a Porsche.”

Andru: “Do I have the right to kill her?”

You can stream or order Suspect Parts new self titled LP in North America here

You can stream or order Suspect Parts new self-titled LP in Europe here

Suspect Parts on Facebook

Suspect Parts on Instagram: @SuspectParts

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Suspect Parts in Antwerp

 

And some wonderful extras for those of you who stuck around this long:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Essay “White Light”

16 Dec

Hello All,

Just had a new essay, “White Light” published by Vol. 1 Brooklyn. Read on Vol. 1 Brooklyn site here

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White Light

by Justin Maurer

White light, white light goin’ messin’ up my mind
White light, and don’t you know its gonna make me go blind
White heat, aww white heat it tickle me down to my toes
White light, ooo have mercy white light have it goodness knows
-Velvet Underground, “White Light/White Heat”

Most people like ghost stories, but I don’t. They scare me. I don’t like to think about ghosts or demons because I know they are real. Sometimes even watching a TV program about them, I think that I’d better stop watching because a portal to hell could open and the demons that plagued me in the past could come back and harass me. I have been unable to write this story for 15 years, but now I think I am strong enough to write this and strong enough to keep them at bay.

When I was 18 years old I played in a punk rock band. We did stupid things like getting drunk and getting naked. As a frequently wild and unbridled lead singer, onstage I was the most naked of all. After we graduated high school we pooled our money and bought a van. We split our podunk small town and hit the open road. We drank vodka out of the bottle, slept on top of our van, and shook scorpions out of our shoes. By the end of our U.S. tour we felt invincible, and our live set involved quite a bit of provocation, nudity, and screeching guitar feedback from our guitarist Devon’s off-brand pawn shop guitar (aka “Framus”).

The last date of our tour was an all ages venue on the wealthy and uptight Eastside of Seattle, near Microsoft headquarters. Our chaotic set didn’t go down well with the team of big-necked security guards. There were a few adult chaperones in the audience. One particularly uneasy mother of a 14-year-old concert attendee called the cops on us. The 14-year-old girl’s mom pressed charges (indecent exposure) and I was summoned to court for a felony charge.

I didn’t take the court summons seriously and helped my mom, a school teacher, move to New York City where she had received a small scholarship towards her Master’s degree. We drove across the country, and I loved it every time “Ramblin’ Man” by the Allman Brothers Band came on the radio–about 3 or 4 times a day. My brother and I drove the U-Haul and my mom and sister drove in my mom’s Jeep. The Jeep would often swerve violently as my mother and sister vehemently argued in sign language, hands off the wheel, and my sister would pull the car over, throw the door open and kick the dirt. My brother and I laughed and were glad we weren’t in the other car.

I was having a hard time landing a job in New York and was handing out resumes across the city. Some guy at the 121st Street and Broadway subway station told me not to take the train downtown. He told me to go home and turn on the TV. The burning buildings were on every channel. The whole world was changing.

New York became a dead city. Everything stopped, including the U.S. Mail. One month later I received a warrant for my arrest that was forwarded from our address in Washington State. I had missed my court date for the naked thing. I got a job waiting tables at a restaurant on 110th Street and Broadway and the owners ripped me off. They paid me $80 cash for working full time for a week. They kept my tips and didn’t call me in for any other shifts.

I decided to head back to Seattle to face up to the felony charge. I went back to Bainbridge Island where I had gone to high school. All of my friends had gone to college or moved away. There were a few younger kids I was friends with including two twin sisters named Cora and Penny. I had dated Cora briefly in high school. Something clicked and I started dating Penny. She had wild hair, wild eyes and a wonderful laugh, the kind where she would throw back her head and roar. I found Penny to be quite a rambunctious creature and I liked her very much.

One day my friend Devon and I stopped by their house. They lived with their single mom who was an interior designer and always let us eat their food and hang out and play guitars. The twins would often choreograph dance moves to “Crimson and Clover.”

We knocked on the door, and Penny answered looking very surprised. She held her finger to her lips and beckoned for us to follow her inside. In their living room a man lay reclined on a couch. A woman sat above him. He spoke in voices. The voices coming out of his mouth were not his own. A gaggle of new age ladies with crystal necklaces and hippie dresses sat cross legged on the floor and hung onto every word. When Devon and I came into the room a strange voice spoke through his mouth.

“Do you have any questions for us?”

The new age women smiled and encouraged me to ask some questions. The voices went through every detail of my life. They described my personality, my trials, and my tribulations in disconcerting detail. Their answers to my questions were spot on, as if these spirits knew who I was and as if they knew the internal turmoil that I was going through.

After my questions, the woman counted back from 10 and with every number the man convulsed as if spirits were leaving his body. After the number 1, the man sat up and rubbed his eyes, speaking in his own voice.

“Ah, some newcomers! How y’all doin?”

He spoke simply like a man born in the country. He sounded nothing like the spirits that were using his body to channel their energy and spoke in stilted yet articulate voices.

After I came home from my experience with the channel, I started seeing apparitions. The black beasts swam above me like underwater sea creatures. These sinister eels writhed through midair with their tails. They had no faces. They would fly by my car, my bed, they would stop and stare directly into my soul, chilling me to my bones.

One day Penny and I were driving my red 1982 Chevy on a dark winter night. One of these demonic salamanders floated in front of my windshield and stared at us menacingly before continuing along its way.

“Did you see that,” I asked Penny.

“Oh yeah, we see them all the time.”

Living in the house where a new age cult was paying this man to channel these demons posing as angels, Penny and her sister Cora lived with these apparitions. To them, it was normal.

Soon they were everywhere. They scurried on the floor, they watched me as I showered, they hovered over my bed and I couldn’t sleep. I contemplated suicide to get away from them.

To keep them at bay I would sing and play Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins songs.

“GYPSY WOMAN TOLD MY MOTHER/BEFORE I WAS BORN/YOU GOT A BOY CHILD COMIN’/GONNA BE A SON OF A GUN…”

I would scream these songs and they wouldn’t bother me as I sang them. Otherwise, they were always there watching me, following me, torturing me.

I found out that the man posing as a channel for these demonic spirits had left town. It made me feel a little better.I stopped by the twins’ house to play some guitar and goof around. I sat on their couch playing their acoustic guitar and one of them said,

“Oh my God! Mom! Come here… Mom!”

Their mother came in the room and said, “Oh my God. Justin, sit up for a second.”

I stood up and one of the twins reached underneath the couch cushion where I was sitting. She handed me a folded up piece of notebook paper and asked me to read it.

“Request a date of your new channel: October 13th.

Request a time your new channel will appear: 2:30pm.

On this date and time your new channel will sit here. May white light be with you.”

It was discussed that I should travel to Ashland, Oregon where their old channel was living in a hotel room. They told me that if I was the new channel I could earn lots of money as there were plenty of people who wanted to ask these spirits questions. They told me that their mom had a religious group called White Light and they were working on a book that would lead the people of the world to a new truth and a lasting peace. Their old channel had left town and the book wasn’t finished and they needed me to learn how to channel the spirits so that they could finish their book.

This was a lot for me to hear. Around this time, the haunting from the apparitions rose to manic proportions. The little demon creatures would crawl all over me and I was being suffocated by them. One night I heard a boom like a thunder clap. I sat up in my bed and there was a blinding light coming from the bedroom door, it looked like a portal to heaven.

A deep commanding voice spoke, like the voice of God and he said, “Choose a door!”

To the left was a simple wooden door, the kind you would find on a log cabin in the forest. To the right was a bright sparkly door like one you would see on a game show.

“The door on the right is if you become a channel. The door on the left is if you decide not to. Choose wisely”

The bright lights left the room. I thought about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and remembered that the right choice was the simple wooden cup. The other choice meant instant painful death.

I drove to Ashland, Oregon with the twin sisters and their mom. We went up a flight of stairs and met the channel and his wife in their motel room. He told us that on the morning of 9/11 the spirits woke him up and told him that this country’s false economy would fall.

He went into his trance led by his wife who counted down from 10. When she got to 1, the stilted yet articulate voices of the demon spirits spoke through the man.

“Do you have any questions for us,” they said.

“Should I become the new channel,” I said.

“If you open that door, it shall never be closed again,” they said.

At that point I knew I didn’t want to be the channel.

We drove from Ashland, Oregon back up to Bainbridge Island, Washington. I told the twins and their mother that I wasn’t going to be the channel. I got a letter in the mail that asked if I wanted to move to San Francisco to play in a punk rock band. I wrote back yes.

My nudity trial took some strange turns, my pregnant public defender didn’t show up most of the time, and so the case was often delayed and extended. Then it was finally over. I was guilty of disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor charge. After community service hours were served and a fine paid, I moved from town to town: Oakland, Portland, Madrid, London, L.A. Every once in a while I wake from sleep and find myself staring into the shadows of my bedroom and I start to see a slithery creature writhing across the floor. So I look away.

IT’S A LONG WAY TO THE TOP…2 underdog rock n roll bands attempt to conquer Europe in 30 days

6 Oct
Freehand sketch by Sandra Vérine drawing LIVE at Montpellier Subsonic music festival, Montpellier, France

Freehand sketch by Sandra Vérine drawing LIVE at Montpellier Subsonic music festival, Montpellier, France

Hello Friends,

Two of my musical groups Suspect Parts and Maniac just careened across continental Europe for a month, playing about 30 shows in Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain. I did double duty and played 2 sets a night. Exhaustion and sensory overload only scratch the surface of how I’m feeling, but I’d like to share some memories before they fade away.

Photo by Chris Almeida, Suspect Parts live at Cassiopea, Berlin. L to R, Andru Burbonski, Chris Bell, Justin Maurer, James

Suspect Parts live at Cassiopea, Berlin. Photo by Chris Almeida

Being back in the US is a trip. After coming off tour, you feel a little bit of PTSD. You get used to living like a dog, sleeping on the floor, eating and drinking and pissing and shitting whenever and wherever you can.  You’re existing in a state of perpetual motion, your only goal to get to the next town and play a 45 minute set.  It involves driving, waiting around, carrying amps and drums and soundchecks and vegetarian dinners and drinking out of boredom and out of trying to get in balance with a steady stream of caffeine and booze because you know you won’t get any sleep.  And maybe you’ll sleep on a filthy cot or on a bare mattress in a mold filled punk squat filled with graffiti and sharpie’d penises crudely drawn by other drunk punk bands who stayed there before you.  You’re horny but you don’t jerk off in the shower out of respect for your band mate who is showering after you.  You don’t have a towel so you use a dirty t-shirt instead.  You sweat so much that your face begins to itch and your eyelids feel like scales on a reptile.  But for some reason it’s an addiction and when you’re not doing it your skin crawls and you feel restless and you begin to plan the next tour. You’ll probably lose money but it doesn’t matter because when you’re up there playing that 45 minute set and it really works and you’re playing together like a well oiled machine, everything is out the window because what you’re doing is pure bliss. And the people you meet will be your friends for life. And the places you visit will continue to rub off on you and you will become a different person and you forget what you are doing and then it is over.

So here I am, in godforsaken Los Angeles, two days back at work, skin beginning to crawl, ready to do it all over again.

Justin Maurer, Little Armenia, Los Angeles 09/29/15

Before tour MANIAC shot this promo vid in the Los Angeles River where many a chase scene was filmed, from Repo Man to Grease to Terminator.  The vid was shot by Ardavon Fatehi and edited by Andrew Zappin. It co-stars Lord Cezar Mora as the thief.

Revisiting our multimedia tour journal we had a lot of time sitting around, either in a van or in a pitch black dank German venue. We launched a friendly rivalry with our old friends Red Dons who were also on a European tour.  We dubbed it “The Down With Dons Movement.”

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Our lead guitarist in Maniac Andrew Zappin is a skilled filmmaker and photographer. “Captain” Zappin utilized the basic iMovie app on his iPhone to create a series of #downwithdons communiques as well as a travel webseries dubbed “Guten Morgen Deutschland” starring James “Sulli” Sullivan and yours truly.  Captain Zappin transformed into our “Minister of War” and began our series of attaques on The Dons.

SUSPECT PARTS & MANIAC EURO TOUR JOURNAL 2015

Pre-Tour Journal:

Justin: We got in a few days early to rehearse. We practiced on a street called Pfarstrasse and it was, well, a little Pfar from where we were staying. My first couple of meals were so flavorful, I mean I could TASTE the butter, eggs, cheese, bread, falafel, tomatoes, etc.  Coming from the land of Monsanto and excessive preservatives, whenever I go to Europe I immediately notice the food is more healthy with less chemicals. Berlin is great. Graffiti art everywhere, people riding their bikes, excellent falafel, young people walking around. The street vagabond dudes all wear camouflage pants, some of them shirtless, always drinking Sternberg beer.  Suspect Parts did a photo shoot with Christina, Sulli’s wife.

Suspect Parts in Berlin. (Photo by Chris Almeida)

Suspect Parts in Berlin.
(Photo by Chris Almeida)

We drank some Mexicaners at The Franken in Kreuzberg.  Classic stuff.   Suspects were staying at Mutti’s (Mother’s) band flat.  I don’t think there is an equivalent in the US.  You have a booker who books shows, has an apartment for touring bands to stay in, has a warehouse full of gear to rent bands, and just a well-organized, well thought out setup.  Unfortunately  someone from MANIAC hired another booking agent to do our tour but that’s another story!

28.08.15 GER-Berlin, Cassiopeia

Justin: The venue was next to this skate park and climbing wall.  Ice Cube was at the skate park in the back a few days beforehand for the NWA “Straight Outta Compton” movie.  It was very civilized behind the venue with a series of coffee shops and bars and people leisurely enjoying coffee and beer in the sunshine. The show went well, kicked em in the head.

Maniac in Berlin (Photo by Chris Almeida)

Maniac in Berlin
(Photo by Chris Almeida)

29.08.15 GER-Hamburg, Get Lost Festival (Suspect Parts during the day // Maniac at night)

Hamburg is a port town full of surly old fishermen types and well, the world-famous red light district, the Reeperbahn.  It’s in the district of St. Pauli who is the unofficial patron saint of Hamburg. The urban legend goes that Saint Pauli was a pirate who was captured by authorities.  He was to be beheaded. He made a deal with them saying if once his head was cut off he was able to run across a line, his men were to be freed. The legend goes that the headless man made it across the line and his pirates were set free.  He is the official mascot for the St. Pauli football team.

Some members of MANIAC were very excited to be near the red light district and began regaling other members in the van on past visits to the Reeperbahn. As members of MANIAC had heard these stories many times, they were mostly met with rolling of the eyes. When we rolled into town we saw our compatriots in RED DONS and we hugged and kissed them (and began to plant the seeds of the Down With Dons movement that would later prosper and flourish)

In Hamburg, the scene bosses are mostly Schwabish (that being, coming from the South Western part of Germany near Stuttgart). They are some of my favorite people in the world. They love good music, don’t give a fuck about anything and are real sweethearts.  It was good to see these people again.  Suspects played a day show in the back patio of this bar and there were people from around the world there.

The night-time show was nutso, in this two floor bar, jam packed full of people.  MANIAC played upstairs and downstairs was the mighty DEAN DIRG, German garage punk superstars.

They were fantastic, people stage diving, cigarette smoke everywhere, people doing speed in the dressing room while drinking out of a giant bottle of Jagermeister.  Real fun that was had by all. Apparently, whoever was running the MANIAC merch booth was asking every single person who came up to the merch table for drugs. Real Classy.

30.08.15 TBA

31.08.15 TBA

Because of our fantastic booking agent, we had 2 days off after Hamburg.  We decided to go back to Berlin and try and record a split 7″ at our friends’ studio on the outskirts of Berlin.  The recording was mostly a wash but we did get to go swimming in a lake that was an East German vacation hotspot.  There were naked old men, naked women, geese, children and more. Suspect Parts German bassist Andru told us about Freikörperkultur or FKK, the “Free Body Culture” movement which was the world’s first nudist movement which began in Germany in the late 1800s.Andru also taught us the word for Fat German, “Dicker Deutscher.”

Our East Berlin Lake Photo by Andrew Zappin

Our East Berlin Lake
Photo by Andrew Zappin

01.09.15 GER-Dresden, Chemiefabrik

It was raining in Dresden so we didn’t get a chance to see the beautiful historic part that they rebuilt after the bombing. We did get a chance however, to roam around Berlin in the morning, see loads of historic sites, the Spree River, bullet holes in the walls where there were serious gunfights during the war, Hitler’s bunker which has been turned into a Jewish Cultural Center, Brandenburg Gate, Soviet monuments and many more. We had a great tour given by Andru and Chris which concluded with a stop at the Ramones Museum.  The Ramones museum is fantastic and well worth a visit. As far as the Dresden show goes, not much to report.  We made the first “DOWN WITH DONS” video, that was fun.

Justin and Chris signing the wall at the Ramones Museum in Berlin

Justin and Chris signing the wall at the Ramones Museum in Berlin02.09.15

GER-Münster, Gleis 22

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Munster is a great college town near the Dutch border in Northwestern Germany. It was a long drive from Dresden to Munster, we had to cross pretty much all of Germany. Gleis 22 is a great venue, I have some fond memories from when Clorox Girls opened for Jay Reatard here in 2007.  The booker Markus has been promoting concerts in Munster for about 20 years. He’s one of the nicest most knowledgeable German independent promoters out there. The morning after the show he took us around and showed us the Dome (the local cathedral) above the Dome is a steel cage. There was an uprising against the local Bishop about 500 years ago. The Bishop ordered the men in charge of the uprising killed. Their prostrate bodies were placed in this cage hung high above the cathedral to dissuade any future rebellion. The cage trick worked.  We had a nice stroll in Munster, a great cup of coffee and a visit to Green Hell the local punk record store.

We also made the 2nd “Down WIth Dons” video, as always, directed by Minister of War Andrew Zappin.

Posse in front of Gleis 22, Munster, Germany (Photo by Justin Maurer)

Posse in front of Gleis 22, Munster, Germany
(Photo by Justin Maurer)

03.09.15 GER-Kassel, Goldgrube

This perhaps was the most interesting night yet.  The show was on a Thursday night but felt like a Monday night. Pretty uneventful. However we made not 1 but 3 Down With Dons videos after they took us to the “Best Bar in Kassel if not all of Germany.”  At the bar we were given an open bar tab.  After the first round of Mexicaners was poured, a local fell off of a barstool and shit himself.  Captain Zappin helped the man up and this man’s excrement got onto Zappin’s shoe.  The smell was so overwhelming that we couldn’t drink our drinks and had to leave to get some fresh air. We tried to get the bar staff to call the man an ambulance but they instead were arguing with us about us staying and not leaving.  We told them we’d like to go to our sleeping spot, but they wouldn’t give us the address.  They instead continued to argue with us about not leaving.  Finally we convinced one of them to come with us and show us the way to the place where we were staying. I observed, “If that was the best bar in Kassel, imagine the worst bar in Kassel!”

The sleeping place seemed like it was an art student’s apartment and had themed rooms.  James, Sulli and I were in the Jesus themed room. There was a crucifix across the ceiling.  Elmo or another Muppet character was crucified to another cross in the corner of the room. Creepy turn of the century German portraits of Christ were across the room.  An organ was in another corner and I composed the “Down With Dons” theme song.

There was also a hunting themed room where our Minister Of War Andrew Zappin starred in his first appearance in the Down WIth Dons Multimedia campaign:

04.09.15 GER-Düsseldorf, Tube

Well, in Cologne they drink Kolsch, in Dusseldorf they drink Alt. It’s a battle that has existed for centuries.  Not caring for this battle, the meat eaters among us ate some meat food instead.

Tale of two schnitzels. One is Weiner Art and one is Jager art. A Dusseldorf Alt stands proudly in its glass.

Tale of two schnitzels. One is Weiner Art and one is Jager art. A Dusseldorf Alt stands proudly in its glass.

In Dusseldorf we met Vom, drummer in Die Toten Hosen and The Boys.

Dance party at Vom's! (Photo by CB Mangler)

Dance party at Vom’s!
(Photo by CB Mangler)

A super nice guy, he invited a bunch of us back to his house.  Here’s a portrait of the man by Andrew Zappin.

Vom Ritchie of Die Toten Hosen and The Boys in his place with his moose

Vom Ritchie of Die Toten Hosen and The Boys in his place with his moose “Frank.” (Photo by Andrew Zappin)

Red Dons were in Finland and paid us these two tributes including this bizarre visit with Santa Claus

In Dusseldorf, our booking agent truly showed his prowess when in his hometown he could not convince the bar owner to pay up the previously agreed upon guarantee on paper. Luckily, we were headed to France and Spain which are out of the jurisdiction of he who will not be named’s territory. But first, 6 more German dates!

05.09.15 GER-Trier, Lucky’s Luke

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Trier is next to a river and in the middle of wine country. At the show there were people but none of them knew who we are. Suspect Parts sung “Kumbayah” as the closer.

Zache from Maniac went to a “jack shack” where he purchased a thong earlier in the day and wore this thong as the closer for Maniac.

The bar stayed open until at least 7 in the morning and gave us free drinks all night. It was a pretty packed dance party. They played real god awful music and so most of us left to go to bed upstairs in the band flat. Someone brought a psycho girl upstairs who called herself “Nadine The Unbreakable.” She said she was an anarchist and was trying to beat everyone up. She actually punched me in the face at least twice. Some others got it even worse.

06.09.15 – Day off

Our skilled booking agent again failed to fill a day for us, so luckily we were able to stay in Trier in the same band flat. The place was pretty disgusting but it was free and it made a perfect setting for our Magnum Opus of all Down With Dons Videos. This was Director Andrew Zappin’s Citizen Kane.

Also around this time some Down With Dons copycat videos started making their way around the globe, like this one, starring Kenton McDonald in Portland, Oregon

We also had a nice time strolling around the old part of Trier, really gorgeous architecture, a cathedral, Roman walls, ruins of bath houses and more. We began our travel show “Guten Morgen Deutschland” here in Trier, sponsored by Lowenbrau, “Das Bier Fur Trier!”

On the way out of Trier, we drove through the tiny country of Luxembourg, where we shot another episode of “Guten Morgen Deutschland”

07.09.15 GER-Aachen, AZ @ Some Irish Pub

Ooh, this was a brutal one.  Maybe the only good part was staying with our friend from the Komplications. He had Nazi knives and cool stuff at his place (Disclaimer, none of us are Nazis obviously). He let us raid his warehouse thrift shop in the morning. Super super super nice dude.

Here he is, singing in the Komplications. If you like The Screamers, you will dig Komplications. Keys, drums, vocals.

Also, we found a Red Dons fan outside the Irish Pub and shot the first “Up With Dons” video:

08.09.15 GER-Köln, Sonic Ballroom

Our old friend Roman is the booker at Sonic Ballroom.  Played here many times, a classic Deutsche venue.

We shot another episode of our travel show “Guten Morgen Deutschland” here at the world famous Dome in Cologne:

Thanks to Frau Mony for shooting these vids:

09.09.15 GER-Karlsruhe, Alte Hackerei

On our way to Karlsruhe we shot this episode of “Guten Morgen Deutschland”

Karlsruhe is Badish which is right next to Schwabisch turf in SouthWestern Deutschland.  One of the local specialties is spaetzle.  My Schwabisch friends who now reside in Hamburg are always arguing about who cooks the best spaetzle among them.  It’s good stuff.  The one we had was near the small red light district of Karlsruhe and was sorta like a glorified mac and cheese, not the deliciousness I remembered.  Anyhoo, when in Badish or Scwabisch turf, be sure to try the spaetzle. We got kinda unlucky in our spot.  The beer was good though.   

Alte Hackerei literally means “old hackery,” it used to be a slaughterhouse and now is a venue for punk and alternative music.  The bar and back area were very nice and the fooseball table quite good.  We played with Party Force from Oakland, California who were friendly fellas and we sampled the local schnapps at the bar.  Not a bad time in Badish Deutschland.


10.09.15 GER-Tübingen, Hegelstraße 7

Ah Tubingen, an interesting night.  We made friends with some Calgarians called Teledrome who were also playing.

They were an electro pop new wave kinda band which was really refreshing in the land of bad 90s punk.  We danced pretty hard for them and they in turn danced pretty hard for us.

It was Chris’ friend Brandon Madrid’s birthday and we dedicated our wild breakdown to him:

Afterwards there was a baby crawling on the floor of a punk squat, some bad pink speed going around, drummer of Teledrome talking like Jeff Spicolli and more


11.09.15 SUI-Luzern, Sedel

It was a beautiful drive to Luzern, Switzerland even though Andru Bourbon called it “Country Of Freaks” and “City of Freaks.”  Our other Andrew, Captain Zappin, Minister of War, had to piss pretty bad as we were stuck in traffic in the middle of Zurich City Center.  He finally pissed in a bottle. The first bottle piss of tour.

We were playing this venue next to these cow pastures, right on the foot of the Alps.  You could hear the cow bells jangling around the cows’ necks as we loaded in.  The backstage spread was excellent, unparalleled. Literally the best tasting cheese you could imagine.  The beer was great too. Beer made with glacial water from the Alps?  Fantastic. They had 3 cooks backstage cooking us a beautiful homecooked meal. The Swiss treated us pretty well and it won’t be forgotten.

12.09.15 FRA-Montpellier, Subsonic Open Air

Again some genius booking on our agent’s part, we had to wake up at 5am to make it to 5pm loadin in Montpellier. We hauled ass with Chris behind the wheel and he didn’t accept my offer of Swiss Cheese.  See him star in an Andrew Zappin film here (Music by La Femme)

After paying hundreds of Euros in tolls to the French, we made it to Montpellier. It was raining so they moved the Open Air Festival indoors.

We met the guys from Le Grys Grys and their girlfriends, all nice people

Some of our friends from Valencia were there and reminded us of Paella and Wau Y Los Arrghs!

Sylvie and her husband have been doing Subsonic for many years now.  They put together a great little shindig and everybody had a great time.  It was raining but Sulli, Bourbon and I along with the Valencians got an espresso and a pastis before playing.  Perfect.  That is some wake up juice.  It was Sulli’s birthday at midnight and folks sang “Happy Birthday” in English, French and Spanish. Good stuff. We stayed up very late with Isidro from Valencia and the Grys Grys guys. It was fun. Ardy our roadie, photographer, raconteur, international man of mystery, got into town and showed up at 6:30am. The sleeping place was closed and he slept on the sidewalk. Welcome to tour Ardy. Next stop, carajillo country.

Maniac in Montpellier @ Subsonic Festival. Photo by Sue Rynski

Maniac in Montpellier @ Subsonic Festival.
Photo by Sue Rynski

13.09.15 ESP-Barcelona, Freedonia

Crossing the border into Spain is a beautiful thing.  CATALUNYA rather. The beer is colder, the food tastes better, the people friendlier, the sun sunnier.  God damn we started having fun.  Barcelona was a small little venue with a cocktail bar in the front.  It was in Raval which is an immigrant neighborhood and can be one of the seediest ‘hoods in Barcelona, especially on weekend nights.  We were there on a weekday and it was relatively peaceful excepting someone trying to steal a diner’s jacket while eating in broad daylight on the terrace of an Indian restaurant.  After the show we went to a gay bar and had a fantastic time.  The Gin and Tonics were huge, cold, cheap and delicious.  Some of our party disappeared to do speed until 9 in the morning. The rest of our party slept.

14.09.15 ESP-Terrassa, Skorpions Bar

Speed takes its toll

Photo by Ardavon Fatehi

Had a nice walkabout all around Barcelona in the daytime, mostly the tourist stuff but it was a beautiful day.  This gent played some accordion for us.

Photo by Ardavon Fatehi

Photo by Ardavon Fatehi

The markets had some of the finest jamon as sampled by Captain Zappin and yours truly. Ardy found this great graffiti in Terassa

La Policia Esnifa Cocaina. Our very own man about town Ardavon Fatehi. Photo by Andrew Zappin

La Policia Esnifa Cocaina. Our very own man about town Ardavon Fatehi.
Photo by Andrew Zappin

Terassa is on the outskirts of Barcelona and this beautiful man put on our show.  For a Monday night it was a fantastic turnout. It seemed like the whole village showed up.  On the way back to Ori’s apartment he kept telling us he had this huge pitbull and that we had to be careful. He actually had some of us spooked.  When we got to his house we met the “pitbull” this shy little guy:

ORI

15.09.15 ESP-Bilbao, Satélite T

Next stop was the Basque Country.  Bilbao, home of Eskorbuto.

Unfortunately we weren’t playing in Donosti/San Sebastian, home of fine fine pintxos and a beautiful beach, but a beautiful time was had in Bilbao. They made us a fine dinner with wine.

Basque hospitality in Bilbao

Basque hospitality in Bilbao

Justin and Sulli cleaning up in Bilbao. Ardy in background wearing a sweet beret

Justin and Sulli cleaning up in Bilbao. Ardy in background wearing a sweet beret

16.09.15 ESP-Oviedo, Lata de Zinc

Next we were off to Asturias, home of Asturian leche and cidra.

Red Dons struck back by burning a fabricated Suspect Parts Setlist:

We stopped at the beach on the way where this epic Down With Dons video was shot

There was an insane staircase to load all of the gear into the basement where the stage was. They cooked us very good vegetarian food at the venue. Afterwards was a nutso local Catholic festival which in Spain means a lot of drinking and bars staying open as late as possible, some in this case 4am or 6am.  We drank some local cider and went to a lot of bars. Cobblestone streets, people wandering around.  A very social occasion, the festival of San Mateo. La Resaca was muy fuerte.

17.09.15 ESP-Alcala de Henares, Ego Live

Alcala de Henares is on the outskirts of Madrid. It is known as the birthplace of Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. It was a quiet night but Spain beat France in the Euro basketball championships so people were happy. Sulli and I had an excellent carajillo next door.  The promoter was a gentleman who paid us our guarantee even though he lost money on the show. Hotel was across the street and very comfortable.

18.09.15 ESP-Sevilla, Sala X

sala x

Sevilla was an amazing city, way down in Andalucía. It was impossible to park the van anywhere because the parking garages wouldn’t fit our German van. Narrow cobblestone streets, old people and children in public squares, bars and cafes everywhere. Beautiful city. No one at the show but we got our crazy guarantee of 500 Euros. The promoters of our show actually lived in Grenada but did no promotion in Sevilla.  Very strange scenario. But our friends at Holy Cuervo in Madrid were taking care of everything so we got a hotel and the guarantee.  Worth the trip to Sevilla just for the food and the sights and the smells. Wonderful to be in Andalucía.

Roadside bar in rural Spain (photo by Andrew Zappin)

Roadside bar in rural Spain (photo by Andrew Zappin)

19.09.15 ESP-Madrid, Wurlitzer Ballroom

Madrid, mi ciudad natal. Wonderful to see Gran Via again. Malasana. El Wurley. El Omni bar. Nacho took good care of us but again a parking nightmare. Chris had to head back to our hotel and put a chair in the road to save a parking space for our van. He sat in the chair and drank a bottle of wine and waited for the van and gear to return. Sulli , Chris and I were booked to do a DJ set at Weirdo Bar but Chris wasn’t able to make it . Andru had to drive the van so he couldn’t make it either. Ardy AKA DJ Madrid filled in as DJ while I loaded the gear in the van. DJ James Carman also jammed some hits. Captain Zappin and I stayed behind because he had to film a very special message for Red Dons. The Captain finally declared a temporary armistice. Peace between Suspects Maniac and Red Dons had finally been declared.

———————————————————-

MANIAC went back to Los Angeles from Madrid and Suspect Parts continued the righteous quest back to Berlin. I will keep these last few brief.


*SUSPECT PARTS ONLY*
20.09.15 ESP- Valencia, Magazine Club

One word. Paella. They made us one. With conejo and costillas. Chris and Sulli are vegetarian but they pushed the meat aside to eat the rice. That should tell you how good it was.

21.09.15 ESP- Sant Feliu, Atzavara Club

Back up to Catalunya it was a beautiful drive along the Mediterranean coast. We went to the beach twice.

First on our own

Suspects on the beach. Costa Brava, Catalunya

Suspects on the beach. Costa Brava, Catalunya

Then since an armistice was officially declared we met up with Red Dons on the beach in neutral turf, Catalunya.

Suspects and Red Dons meet on the beach in Catalunya. Peace is declared!

Suspects and Red Dons meet on the beach in Catalunya. Peace is declared!

They treated us very well at Atzavara Club. Red wine, bbq and a great community organized volunteer-run club. It was Chris’ birthday and everyone sang him happy birthday in Catalan. Good stuff!  He drank red wine and was a happy boy.


23.09.15 GER- Munich, Kiste

A long drive to Munich from Catalunya. We crossed France, Switzerland and Bavaria and finally made it to Munich at about 7am. We stayed with Chris and his wife Laura. Great bakeries in Munich. We visited Michl Krenner’s new record shop, Black Wave Records and made the necessary trip to the Augustiner Brauhaus. The show was in this weird techno bar, but went well and had a great time DJing with Michl afterwards. Viva Bayern!

Sophia, Michl, Herbie, Sulli, Justin in Munich

Sophia, Michl, Herbie, Sulli, Justin in Munich


24.09.15 GER- Berlin, Cortina Bob

Last Falafel, last Pfeffi, Last Jager, Last Espresso Machiatto, last Mexicaner. Thank you to our family in Berlin. You made it feel like home. Hell, it is home! We love you, XO Suspect Parts

Chris, drummer of Suspect Parts, kept a pretty detailed record of the most hilarious quotes on tour said in the van or out of the van.  When he was driving, I kept track.

Sulli's van rendition of Suspect/Maniac members (James Sullivan)

Sulli’s van rendition of Suspect/Maniac members (James Sullivan) L to R – Chris, Zappin, Justin, Andru, James, Zache, Sulli

The personality of the person saying the quote is key, I will introduce them with hometown and instrument:

SUSPECT PARTS ROSTER:

Justin Maurer (vocals, guitar, current city: Los Angeles)

James “Sulli” Sullivan (vocals, guitar current city: Manchester, UK)

Chris Bell Brief (vocals, drums current city, Munich, Germany)

Andru Bourbon (Bass, current city, Berlin, Germany)

MANIAC ROSTER:

Zache Davis (vocals, bass, current city: Los Angeles)

Andrew Zappin (lead guitar, current city: Los Angeles)

James Carman (drums, vocals, hometown: Carson, California)

Justin Maurer (guitar, vocals, current city: LA)

Van Life L to R Ardy, Zappin, Justin

Van Life
L to R Ardy, Zappin, Justin

Here are some of my favorites:

“You are really obsessed with your underwear” (Andru Bourbon to Chris Brief on his underwear air drying in the van after being hand washed)

“Give me a little bite of your sausage, James” (Justin to James on sharing his Spanish Sausage)

The crew in an official Down With Dons party meeting lead by our Minister of War

The crew in an official Down With Dons party meeting lead by our Minister of War. L to R – Zappin, Sulli, Zache, Andru

“I had a dream I was wearing shorts. When I woke up I had pants on and I was happy.” (Andrew Zappin on his van dream)

“Stupid Dream” (Andru Bourbon in response to Zappin’s dream)

“I like all food that comes out of a tube…really!” (Andru Bourbon on his vegan culinary preferences)

“I like to taste my olive,” (Chris Brief on Spanish olive tapas)

“Where do we keep getting all of these random fucking CDs from?” (Chris Brief)

“The dwarf gave them to me,” (Sulli clarifying the origin of the dozens of random CDs sliding around the van floor)

“2 dwarves in 1 place, that’s like lightning striking twice in the same place,” (Zappin on 2 dwarf attendees of a show, one of whom gifted us dozens of random punk CDs)

“No, there are plenty of dwarves all over Europe,” (Andru Bourbon)

The crew in Trier, Germany (Photo by Justin Maurer)

The crew in Trier, Germany (Photo by Justin Maurer) L to R James, Zache, Sulli, Zappin, Chris, Andru

“I haven’t touched my dong this entire trip” (Zappin, on masturbation)

“So what you’re saying is that you’d consider having an open relationship with Jane Fonda” (Justin to Sulli on Barbarella-era Jane Fonda)

Roadside bar in rural Spain (photo by Andrew Zappin)

Roadside bar in rural Spain (photo by Andrew Zappin)

“I shot my friend with a BB Gun once” (Chris Brief)

“Watch out for scorpions, don’t touch black widows…there were some serious wasps” (Chris Brief on growing up in New Mexico)

“I think the most dangerous thing where I grew up was feral dogs with rabies…or wild pigs” (Andru Bourbon on growing up in East Germany)

“When I was growing up we had a family of skunks living underneath the house” (Chris Brief on coming of age in New Mexico)

Zache Davis in conversation with Ardavon Fatehi, Maniac roadie and filmmaker:

Zache – Why, you have a girl there?

Ardy: I have girls everywhere

Zache: I used to be like you

Ardy: I’m nothing like you

“If I have any Hopi in me, it’s because someone in my family raped a Hopi Indian” (Chris Brief on his family’s claim that they have Hopi Indian blood in the family)

“I would slit all of your throats to wash her underwear” (Andrew Zappin, on an attractive female pedestrian in Sevilla, Spain)

“I don’t know who I am anymore…no, I do, I’m the Minister of War” (Andrew Zappin)

“I won’t be crying tonight but next week I might drop a tear…secretly” (Andru Bourbon, discussing emotion in an atypically German way, on the departure of Maniac in Madrid)

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Soundtrack to the tour was dominated by two standouts.  First off, the German 80s New Wave band TRIO (They are known primarily for their hit “Da Da Da” but the rest of their early catalog is criminally underrated.)  Our favorites included “Sunday Need Love, Monday Be Alone,” “Drei Mann Im Doppel Bed,” “Anna,” “Hearts Are Trump,” and more.

The 2nd Van Hit was a new French New Wave band called LA FEMME .  What excellent driving music.

Run With The Brown Buffalo

9 Feb

acosta14

“We are all cockroaches.”  I have this realization, and it hits home and tears stream down my face. I have to take refuge in the airplane bathroom.  There is turbulence and my tears drip down onto my jeans and my shoes and the airplane bathroom floor.  I sob for Oscar Zeta Acosta. I sob for all of the pain in the world.  I sob for my uncle and aunt who were just murdered by their own son with a pair of hammers. I sob for my Grandmother who died before Christmas. I sob for Eric Garner who was strangled to death by NYPD on Staten Island. I sob for myself.

Finally I clean myself up and wash my face in the impossibly tiny airplane sink.  I feel like a giant. I am six foot one and I hit my head on some white hard plastic in the bathroom.  I look at myself in the mirror. I look like I have been crying, or that I am really stoned or maybe just red-eyed from lack of sleep.

I head out into the world of the plane and order a whiskey and coke from a pair of haggard flight attendants. They are friendly and I open up to them, telling them the story about the murder of my uncle and aunt in rural Michigan.

**

I’m on a gargantuan metal bird, soaring 3000 feet in the air. It’s an American Airlines flight from JFK to LAX. I am reading about Buffalo Brown, the Chicano lawyer with a lust for life and a fire in his belly. He has a thirst for the truth and a revolutionary spirit. He is defending the vatos locos in East Los Angeles during the Chicano Power movement in the late 60s. Bobby Kennedy is killed, LA Times journalist Ruben Salazar is killed, Molotov cocktails are thrown, it is a war between the pigs and the people on Whittier Boulevard. They blow up a Safeway and they try to blow up a courthouse. As a civil rights attorney, Brown is representing dozens of Chicano defendants who he lovingly refers to as Cockroaches. They cannot be killed, there are millions, they are despised by Anglo society but they refuse to hide, they have come out into the streets and are marching against Vietnam, marching for justice for their murdered brethren, fists in the air and Buffalo Brown is their lawyer and compatriot. In between he enjoys drink and drugs and women, after all this is the 1960s, but he wakes with that fire and he fights the good fight for the cockroaches.

I am reading this book and a very kind man from Jamaica has given me some free booze because he is an employee of American Airlines and can drink for free on the flights.

acosta13

I drink a bottle of Merlot, not the tiny bottle, one of those medium sized ones. And then I upgraded to Jack Daniels and Diet Coke. I drink 3 or 4 plane cocktails and I am reading this book and I come to this realization.

In America we are all cockroaches.

My cockroach family tree:

My paternal great great grandfather, Jonas Maurer sailed from Bremen, Germany to Baltimore in 1906 and he was a cockroach. He went on to sweat and bleed in the factories of Youngstown, Ohio. Every 10 years he would change his nationality on the census: “Polish,” “Slav,” “Austrian.” He may have been illiterate, the borders in Eastern Europe may have been changing or maybe he didn’t know who he really was or where he was from.

My maternal great grandparents were Irish apple pickers in Yakima, Washington. They were migrant workers, they were cockroaches. My grandmother had to move to a different house every month because her father would drink and gamble all of his money away. He was a cockroach.

And so now here I am, a cockroach in America. I think of this. And the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, about the 1% controlling all of the wealth and the other 99% wage slaving to make these 1% even richer. I think about the Hands Up and the Black Lives Matter movement where black kids and all kids are saying enough to police shooting unarmed black men. I was in New York City and I saw the video of the cops choking that guy to death on Staten Island. He was selling cigarettes on a street corner to try and make money for his family. And they choked him to death.

I remembered the WTO protests in Seattle in the 90s. I remembered the cops billy clubbing teenage girls and grandmothers. I remembered the black woman who had her ear dangling in a bloody mess because she was hit by a rubber bullet. I remembered the tear gas and the danger and the broken windows and the cries of “WHO’S STREETS? OUR STREETS!”

And everything started to make sense to me while riding this great metal bird and tears welled up in my eyes.

So I had to lock myself in the airplane bathroom and tears were streaming down my face and onto my jeans and onto my shoes and onto the floor.

I was sobbing uncontrollably because I knew in my heart that I was a cockroach too and that I was related to all cockroaches everywhere. And I have to start changing around my life so that I can help other cockroaches because there are so many less fortunate than me, fighting over scraps, barely surviving. My talents are music and writing and so I need to hone these weapons, sharpen them, prepare for battle, prepare for war.

Acosta reading a chapter from "Revolt Of The Cockroach People" at the Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. These photos capture Zeta as he holds back tears reading his description of the autopsy of Robert Fernandez. The passage describes in grisly detail how the team of coroners peel back the corpse's face and scalp to reveal a sand-filled cranium and a small bag holding Fernandez' brain. Photo Credit:  Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Acosta reading a chapter from “Revolt Of The Cockroach People” at the Festival de Flor y Canto, held in 1973 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
These photos capture Zeta as he holds back tears reading his description of the autopsy of Robert Fernandez. The passage describes in grisly detail how the team of coroners peel back the corpse’s face and scalp to reveal a sand-filled cranium and a small bag holding Fernandez’ brain.
Photo Credit:
Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Before I can help any cockroaches I have to dig myself out of poverty and stop living paycheck to paycheck, stop living in debt. Poverty can be suffocating and I have to pull off this plastic shopping back tied onto my head. I have to get out of poverty. End that vicious cycle of debt in my life. Then I can help the cockroach.

**

So what are our weapons to fight back in the meantime? Words. Writing. Poetry. Literature. Comedy. And Music.

We can kick at them.

Writers’ words need to grow teeth and start biting ferociously. We have to start tearing at flesh.

Musicians chords need to cut through and their words need to have fire, the harmonies can be sweet but the intention must be all out war in defense of the cockroach.

We must make reality bleed. We must pop the bloated bubble and become savages. Drink the blood and march forward like a Viking army.

**

But back to Oscar Zeta Acosta. Acosta is best known as Hunter S. Thompson’s “Samoan” lawyer Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In reality, Thompson had traveled to Los Angeles to interview Acosta about the death of prominent Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar.  Acosta was an attorney taking on dozens of clients involved in the Chicano Power movement of East LA and he himself became fully involved.  On his suitcase was a sticker, “Chicano Pride,” and he carried a .357 magnum inside of that suitcase which accompanied him to many a court case. He not only had to protect himself against LAPD and the FBI who were tailing him around every corner, but there were threats within the movement as well.  In LA things proved too hot for Thompson and Acosta to have a quiet conversation so they decided to purchase loads of drugs and head to Las Vegas in search of the American Dream.  Thompson was offered a job by Sports Illustrated to cover a motorcycle race in the desert and they spent most of the $300 advance on purchasing drugs hastily gathered in 24 hours all over LA County.

Thompson’s tape recordings of 2 separate drug-fueled adventures to Vegas with Acosta became Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.  However, Acosta was a writer in his own right, and he pledged to write a book about his experience in the Chicano Power movement.  In 1973 this came to fruition as Revolt of the Cockroach People after his 1972 book, Autobiography Of A Brown Buffalo.

Acosta and a female fan at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, USC, Los Angeles.  Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008. Acknowledgement to La Bloga for their great piece on Acosta in 2008

Acosta and a female fan at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, USC, Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.
Acknowledgement to La Bloga for their great piece on Acosta in 2008

But let me go back in time for a second.

In a suburb north of Detroit Michigan my 2nd cousin murdered his parents with a pair of hammers.

I was heading to Boston where there was 3 feet of snow, but managed to reroute my trip to attend the funeral of my Great Uncle and Aunt.

After much eating and drinking and crying it was 11 degrees at 6 in the morning when my Uncle Charlie drove me to the airport.

I was overcome with grief and shock and started reading a book I brought along with me to take my mind off things.

The book was Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Revolt of the Cockroach People.

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas in 1971.  Thompson was supposed to be interviewing Acosta about the killing of LA Times journalist, Acosta's friend Ruben Salazar.  The scene in LA proved to be too chaotic so they purchased many drugs and left town for Las Vegas when Thompson was offered to cover a  March and April 1971 was when Thompson and Acosta made 2 separate trips to Vegas. Both of these trips made up the material for "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Acosta was upset to be referred to as "Samoan" so he demanded this photo be included on the back cover of the book as well as asking for writing credit as much of the book was based on tape recorded conversations the pair had. "The Gonzo Tapes" contains one of these interviews

Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas in 1971. Thompson was supposed to be interviewing Acosta about the killing of LA Times journalist, Acosta’s friend Ruben Salazar. The scene in LA proved to be too chaotic so they purchased many drugs and left town for Las Vegas when Thompson was offered to cover a race in Vegas for Sports Illustrated.
March and April 1971 was when Thompson and Acosta made 2 separate trips to Vegas. Both of these trips made up the material for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Acosta was upset to be referred to as “Samoan” so he demanded this photo be included on the back cover of the book as well as asking for writing credit as much of the book was based on tape recorded conversations the pair had. “The Gonzo Tapes” contains one of these interviews

I knew about Hunter S. Thompson’s “Samoan” attorney in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. What I didn’t know is that this lawyer was a real person. He was Zeta Acosta and he was there in the trenches of East LA, Whittier Boulevard, Boyle Heights, Tooner Flats during the Chicano Power movement of the late 60s.

When I began to turn the pages, Revenge of the Cockroach People was instantly irreverent and unabashedly un-PC. Like all great writing it kicked me in the gut, the book challenged me to continue turning the pages.

He championed the Vato Loco and described East LA and Downtown LA beautifully.

Here he writes from his Downtown LA hotel, walking distance from Skid Row:

“I’ve been in town six hours and now lie naked on my bed with the window of my sleazy downtown hotel room open to the sounds of the city. I have nothing to do until I see my sister in the morning. After checking into the Belmont at Third and Hill, I walked the streets until dark to shake the cramping bus ride from my bones. But already my bones have told me that I have come to the most detestable city on earth. They have carried me through the filthy air of a broken city filled with battered losers. Winos in tennies, skinny fags in tight pants and whores in purple skirts all ignore the world beyond the local bar, care about nothing except where the booze comes cheapest or the latest score on the radio. Where I am, the buildings are crumbling to pieces. The paint is cracked and falling to the streets covered with green and brown phlegm, with eyeless souls who scuttle between tall buildings hoping to find a bed, a bottle, a joint, a broad or even a loaf of bread. Streets filled with dark people, hunchbacked hobos, bums out of work, garbage of yesterday and tomorrow; with black men and women in bright garish clothes, brown men with mustaches to boost themselves up a notch, coffee-drinking people, wine-sipping sods who haven’t had more than five bucks at a time since the last war. And then back to the hotel…”

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Buffalo Brown travels to Delano, California to meet his hero Cesar Chavez who is weak and bed-ridden in the middle of a hunger strike. Bobby Kennedy is shot and killed. Brown takes LSD in the desert with his vato loco friends. The Charles Manson family murders take place. And the death of of journalist Ruben Salazar at the hand of LAPD. Brown runs for Sheriff of LA County and his only campaign promise is to dismantle the LA Sheriff department. He comes in second place. In contempt of court, various judges throw him in jail dozens of times.

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Here Zeta tells us about East LA:

“Tooner Flats, a neighborhood of shacks and clotheslines and dirty back yards. At every other corner, street lights hang high on telephone poles and cast dim yellow glows. Skinny dogs and wormy cats sniff garbage cans in the alleys. Tooner Flats is the are of gangs who spend their last dime on short dogs of T-Bird wine, where the average kid has eight years of school. Everybody there gets some kind of welfare.

You learn about life from the toughest guy in the neighborhood. You smoke your first joint in an alley at the age of ten; you take your first hit of carga before you get laid; and you learn how to make your mark on the wall before you learn how to write. Your friends know you to be a vato loco, a crazy guy, and they call you “ese,” or “vato,” or “man” …

There is no school for a vato loco. There is no job in sight. His only hope is for a quick score. Reds and Ripple mixed with a bennie, a white and a toke. And when your head is tight, you go town to the hangout and wait for the next score.

On the day he died, Robert had popped reds with wine and then conked out for a few hours. When he awoke he was ready for more. But first he went down to Cronie’s on Whittier Boulevard, the Chicano Sunset Strip. Every other door is a bar, a pawn shop or a liquor store. Hustlers roam freely across asphalt decorated with vomit and dogshit. If you score in East Los Angeles you score on The Boulevard. Broads, booze and dope. Cops on every corner make no difference. The fuzz, la placa, la chota, los marranos, la jura or just the plain old pig. The eternal enemies of the people. The East LA Sheriff’s Substation is only three blocks away on Third Street, right alongside the Pomona Freeway. From the blockhouse, deputies come out in teams of two, “To Serve And Protect!” Always with thirty-six-inch clubs, with walkie-talkies in hand; always with gray helmets, shotguns in the car and .357 Magnums in their holsters.

The vato loco has been fighting with the pig since the Anglos stole his land in the last century. He will continue to fight until he is exterminated.”

Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

Photo Credit: Michael V. Sedano.Copyright 1973, 2008.

In perhaps his most moving courthouse speech, a straight out of Hollywood speech, he recants the history of the American Chicano:

“It is 1509 AD…We are in Cuba…A captain from Castile wants gold…He wants land and he wants slaves. He also wants to go on a mission for his god and his king…He fills three boats with soldiers, fire powder and horses, which sail west until they land on the coast of what we now know as Mexico.

“The king, the supreme ruler in the land of the Hummingbird Wizard, hears of the arrival of white men in long boats. It is a prophecy come true. For over two hundred years, the prophets of Quetzalcoatl have predicted this event. The king, Montezuma, has taken upon himself all power in his empire. He is both political ruler and chief priest. In a word, he has assumed the status of a god. Not even his family can look him in the eye. He has become the principal deity of the people of Tenochtitlan in the valley of Mexico. The people are called, collectively, the aztecas.

The captain from Castile, Hernando Cortez, burns the boats and tells his men there is no turning back. They have come to this strange land to conquer or die for the glory of God. They attack village after village, taking captives and booty. They make alliances with the natives, promising them protection from Montezuma’s bloody rituals, from the human sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.

Anxious to rid themselves of the burden of Montezuma, these Indians, as they are called by the Catholic Cortez, join up with the Spaniards. They march toward the capital, thirty-thousand strong…Through diplomacy, political chicanery and modern techniques of warfare, the white men on horses and their army of slaves enter triumphantly into the most advanced city in the world, the world’s most beautiful city. In 1500 AD, Mexico City far surpasses anything that the Spaniards have seen on the European continent. There is an efficient government. It is a city with streets and canals and a sewage system, a city of gold and birds and leopards and barber shops. A land of flowers and parrots, mountains and blue beaches. They have priests and philosophers, soldiers and artists.

…And then (Cortez) ransacks the capital and sends the gold and glitter to his king in Spain. And they rape the women. If you want to join the new nation, all you have to do is give up your slave name and your slave tongue. If you want to become a Spaniard, be baptized and take a Christian name. An attack upon the Church is an assault upon the State. And vice versa. Church and State are one.

Ad for Acosta's Autobiography

Ad for Acosta’s Autobiography

Three hundred years later, in 1850 AD, more white men in covered wagons come to the land of the northern deserts, the land we now call the Southwest. It is the ancient land of Aztlan, the original homeland of the aztecas. New invaders. New conquerors. They, too come with fire power and the flag of a new nation…As Cortez had done before, through modern warfare, through politics and diplomacy, the new white barbarians invade the land and subdue it. They inform the people that they now have a new government and a new religion – Christianity. They sign a treaty called Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States pays a couple of million to an idiot in Mexico City for all Aztlan and for all the slaves living thereon. The treaty says that, if the people choose, they can remain as citizens of America or they can go south to Mexico.

“But we are not Mexicans,’ the people cry out. ‘We are Chicanos from Aztlan. We have never left our land. Our fathers never engaged in bloody sacrifices. We are farmers and hunters and we live with the buffalo.’

“But they are wrong. They are now citizens of America, whether they like it or not. And we’ll call them Mexican-Americans. But if they want to be Americans, they’ll have to give up their slave name.

…And when they entered they were told: There is No Room. Leave, or we’ll kill you. Or jail you. Insult you. Mace you. Kick and bite. Scream and holler. While the choir sings, ‘Oh come all ye faithful…Oh come ye, Oh come ye…to jail and court. Court and jail…Come. Come! Come!’

…And yet we are guilty of inciting to riot. We did want a riot. We sought it. And we did accomplish it!…A riot of the brain. A revolution of the spirit.”

And so I finished Revolt of The Cockroach People and it was one of the best books I read in years. It shoots from the hip and bleeds from the heart and it does not hide behind any thin veils of political correctness.  It is Gonzo literature from Dr. Gonzo himself. This book was written in defense of the vato loco and all cockroaches, straight from the lips and the pen of their very own defense lawyer.  From the trenches of civil rights the Brown Buffalo plowed forward. And if he didn’t achieve all of his objectives, he took a few bastards down with him.  Until the bastards got him back in the end.  Oscar Zeta Acosta mysteriously disappeared in 1974 while in Mexico and was never seen again.

When we learn to walk with the cockroach then we will learn to run with the buffalo.

Dedicated to the memory of Oscar Zeta Acosta.

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Spiders From Mars On The 110 (Yay L.A. Magazine)

19 Jan

Read on the Yay L.A. website here

“SPIDERS FROM MARS ON THE 110”

BY JUSTIN MAURER

17 DECEMBER 2014

I worked in the morning in Hollywood – a sign language interpreter for a deaf actress. She possessed a white hot energy that flowed over everyone like a river of molten lava.

I worked in the evening in Watts. I was a sign language interpreter for a caring mother who was beautiful and impossibly honest.

Nearly all of the other mothers were Spanish-speaking and had no interpreters.

I find the American educational system lacks logic.

Today an 80-year-old man was rightly punished for his racism.

Today a few people hate Los Angeles a little less.

I met my father and brought a six-pack of beer.

He had knee surgery and was staying with my Uncle in Redondo.

Luckily my Uncle was gone.

I owe him $750 and he’s still upset about it.

I watched the basketball game and drank most of the beers. My father had one. He said that he was on a lot of medication after his surgery.

He asked me a little about my and about my life and about my wife. I asked him a little about Rio de Janeiro where he’s been living.

His whole life is a secret.

We hugged goodbye and everything was Okay but everything wasn’t okay. I could feel the sadness of father and son.

There are some conversations we will never have.

There are some experiences we will never share.

Everything was okay but everything wasn’t okay but it was okay.

I stole a cigarette from my uncle’s wife who was sleeping and smoked a few puffs of it.

I saw a sign that pointed to the beach.

I saw a beat up pickup truck make a U-turn in the road.

Then I put out the cigarette and rolled down the windows all the way.

David Bowie was on the radio and they played 4 songs in a row.

For some reason they only play good music on the radio late at night.

And I cranked those 4 songs and the wind whipped through my hair and I could smell the sea and it was beautiful.

And I drove down a street called Torrance Blvd. and up a hill.

I saw a flame dancing above a smokestack at an Oil refinery. I thought if hell looks half this beautiful I want to go there.

The flame taunted the sky with its mad dance and I madly drove towards it.

I continued off course all of the way to the oil refinery and I saw the flame up close and personal.

It stank outside – the oily air. And it was a real moment. Me and the air and the flame and the oil refinery and David Bowie.

Then I got back on course, found the 110 freeway after passing dozens of taco stands.

Late-night taco stands feed the working man and the drinking man of LA.

Then there she was. The 110 Freeway. A drunk driver almost ran me off the road.

And I swerved past him.

They played the last song from Bowie’s Spiders From Mars.

And it was a good one.

Photo by Matt McGrath.

(Photo Credit: Matt Mcgrath)

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RIP GRAM 1935-2014

7 Jan

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My Gram, Shirlee Jean Winans, passed away a few days before Christmas at the age of 79. She was predeceased by her loving husband of 32 years, Captain Gilbert L. Winans, US Navy. I always saw Gram’s strong personality and looks as a mashup of Lucille Ball and Bette Davis.

Shirlee Winans, Bette Davis Lookalike

Bette Davis, a Shirlee Winans lookalike

She was very opinionated and animated, liked to pepper her vocabulary with swear words and colloquialisms, and saw herself as someone who stood up against injustice. She was politically active and donated to various nonprofit organizations as well as the campaigns of various Republicans including John McCain and George W. Bush. She absolutely loathed Bill and Hillary Clinton and disliked Barack Obama.

My Grandmother Shirlee had many animated facial expressions. Communicating with her was at times like watching an episode of “I Love Lucy

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To her kids she was known as “Mom,” to her grandkids “Gram,” and to everyone else, “Shirlee.”

Shirlee was born May 21, 1935 in Wapato, Washington, the oldest of eight children of Homer and Emily Barry. Her maternal side was O’Leary making both sides of her family strongly Irish.

Her Irish immigrant grandparents were migrant workers, apple pickers, who worked the fertile valley near Yakima, Washington. According to her, she had to move house every few months when her father would gamble and drink away his earnings.

A childhood memory of Shirlee’s was one where she would walk halfway to school and hide her shoes in the bushes, walking the rest of the way to school barefoot. She felt embarrassed because many of the children at her school were too poor to own shoes. She went to elementary school with a mixed group of people including children of immigrants and members of the Yakama Indian Tribe (who the nearby city of Yakima was named after). At an early age she learned tolerance, but this would change during WWII when the US rallied against the “Japs” and the “Krauts.” From her WWII memories and the propaganda she was innudated with, Shirlee would carry a lifelong suspicion towards Asians in general who she called “Orientals,” and after 9/11 she had a deep suspicion towards Arabs, often confusing local turbaned Sikhs who worked in Marysville area gas stations for Afghanis, thinking they were members of Al Qaeda.

As a teenager she played semi-pro women’s softball with the Yakima Apple Queens. After a disagreement with her father, she dropped out of high school and ran away from home at the tender age of 15 where she lived and worked in a hotel in Seattle’s Belltown.

A year or so later, Shirlee dyed her hair, lied about her age and joined the Navy in San Diego, California. This was where she met her 1st husband Richard Powell as he was in the US Marine Corps Stationed nearby.

When living on the military base of Fort Lejune, North Carolina in the 1950s she worked as a carhop, a waitress on rollerskates. When the proprietor of the restaurant told her not to serve black customers, she quit on the spot, throwing her apron on the ground and rollerskating away.

She was born “Shirley Barry” and changed the spelling of her name, Shirley to “Shirlee” to avoid confusion with Shirley Temple.

Shirlee had five children, including two who are Deaf, with her first husband, Richard A. Powell. She raised her family in Alexandria, VA which included two sons of her late second husband, Preston Millard. She was a very social person enabling her to be a successful real estate broker in Virginia and Maryland for many years.

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She was an animal lover and through the years owned dogs, cats, chickens, pigs, goats, donkeys and horses. She grew up on a farm so in her retirement she wanted to have a farm atmosphere much to the chagrin of her husband Gil who had to shovel the “horse shit” on a daily basis. Gil told me one of the reasons why he joined the Navy was because in Michigan he had an option of “…either shoveling horse shit and milking the cows or joining the military. So I joined the Navy…and now here I am, shoveling horse shit again.”

Shirlee and Gil had a fluctuating amount of dogs, mostly obese Lab mixes. Duke and Shannon came with her from Virginia when she moved to Marysville, Washington in 1988. After Duke and Shannon, she was convinced that animal names had to have a “y” or “ie” on the end of the name otherwise the animals wouldn’t know their own name. Lucy and Annie soon followed. Then Mokie and Daisy and Buddy and dozens of others through the years. She also had a couple of pot bellied pigs, Barney and Penny. The spot at the bottom of the hill where Gil would bury the deceased animals with his tractor is a veritable pet cemetery.

Shirlee mostly stayed home during her retirement where she would field various family dramas, but had plenty of peace and quiet with her dogs in between. She liked to talk to the television as if the news anchors could hear her. She was always around to listen to anyone’s worries and was quick to help out in any way she could.

When I was estranged from my father for about 10 years, she would help me out if I ever fell into financial trouble. Gil and Gram gave me my first car, a 1982 Chevy S-10 that Gil had salvaged and fixed up. When I moved to Oakland, California in 2002, I gave the truck back to them and they gifted it to my cousin Jonathan, giving me a little money to help me with my move.

Gil and Gram were always there for me and Gram had kind words of encouragement and support for all of her kids and grandkids. She could be difficult to deal with and impossible to argue with, but she was a kind soul and had love for her family and her animals. If you crossed her and became her enemy, she was ruthless and unrelenting. Luckily for us, we were related to her and she bestowed plenty of love on us.

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Later in life she suffered from dementia after the death of her husband Gil a few years ago. She would often forget that Gil had died and would ask where he was. She forgot names and faces and was often very frustrated, sometimes violent because of her dementia. She had a brief illness and was placed in the hospital. She died peacefully in her sleep in Everett, Washington on Sunday, December 21, 2014.

Gram had plenty of great quotes which I remember. Here are some of my favorites below.

Rest In Peace Gram, thank you for everything. Miss you and love you Gram.

RIP "Gram" Shirlee Winans, 1935-2014

RIP “Gram” Shirlee Winans, 1935-2014

My favorite quotes from my Grandmother, Shirlee “Gram” Winans:

“Back then the police would just drive you home if you were drunk off your ass” (referring to the few times Washington DC area cops would drive her home instead of arrest her for drunk driving).

“I remember Chubby Checker, he was chubby! He let me sit on his knee. I was drunk off my ass and danced on top of his piano.”

“The only ones who did drugs in my day were the Indians and the musicians.”

“I pay your salary!” (Said to a Marysville police officer who pulled her over for speeding. She blew cigarette smoke in his face and berated him so heavily that he gave up, ripping up the speeding ticket he was about to give her).

“Well, it’s better than a kick in the ass.” (That’s what she would say referring to any small victory, like winning $5 on a lotto ticket).

“Do you know why all The Afghanis own all of the gas stations in Marysville? Al Qaeda.” (When the nation was in post 9/11 hysteria, I was in the car with her, she was referring to a turbaned Sikh working at a Marysville, WA area gas station and mistakenly thought he was from Afghanistan)

“He’s an ornery old fart” (referring to her husband Gil as if he wasn’t there but he was in the kitchen with us and clearly overheard)

“That dumb sonofabitch” (referring to Bill Clinton while watching Fox News)

“Will you look at that dumb sonofabitch” (referring to Barack Obama while watching Fox News)

“I worked hard my whole goddamn life” (how she might end any heated discussion, exasperated, tired of the argument)

Her red bumper sticker: “Clinton” (the C shaped like the communist hammer and sickle)

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Gil’s bumper sticker: “I’m NRA and I vote.”

“That’s my little girl,” (referring to her beloved terrier, Sandy).

“How are you, sport? Help yourself to some food in the kitchen, love” (She called any of her 15 Grandkids “Sport” or “Love” as an affectionate nickname. She recalled her own Irish grandmother referring to her as “Love” when she was a child).

RIP “Gram” Shirlee Winans, 1935-2014.

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My interview with poet Raquel Gutierrez in Yay LA Magazine

27 Jun

AUTHOR RAQUEL GUTIERREZ ON “BREAKING UP WITH LOS ANGELES”

(Read on the Yay LA webpage here: http://www.yaylamag.com/raquel-gutierrez/)

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Sharif Dumani, musician, kind soul, best known for his fronting of L.A. 60′s pop band Exploding Flowers, recommended a chapbook of poetry to me, well everyone, via social media.

“My skull blown open twice over along with my heart. For anyone who has ever walked our streets, driven our freeways, lived, loved, lost, succeeded, and failed in this city of Angels, it will fully resonate. Raquel Gutierrez’ zine of poems and stories totally captures the heart and soul of this town, while breaking your heart and having you fall in love all at the same time. Do yourself a favor and get a copy of Breaking up with Los Angeles, if anything, for the beautiful and loving tribute to Wanda Coleman. Absolutely gorgeous work”

Needless to say, this hyping caught my attention and I ordered the chapbook online.  I got book in the mail and was not disappointed. Breaking Up With Los Angeles made me fall in love with L.A. all over again.

Raquel Gutierrez is a poet from L.A. who now resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. Breaking Up With Los Angeles is her first chapbook.

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Why do you write and when did you start writing?  Do you remember your first poem you ever wrote and what it was about?

I write because it just seems like the simplest way to create the world I perceive through my five senses. I was always a reader and felt like that was the best way to experience other worlds, worlds I didn’t know or belong to. I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I wrote plays in grade school and poems in high school. Wrote some music too. Studied journalism but not really writing. Not creative writing. I took one class at L.A. City College but dropped out. Didn’t really like the environment and didn’t feel like it helped me. It just bummed me out.

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Do you recall the first poem you ever wrote that you were proud of?

Oh hmm first poem. Yeah, I think it was a poem about a girl. It was called “Fire Woman.”

 

Where did you find the confidence to write poetry?

Well it wasn’t confidence exactly, I needed a place that had relaxed rules about content and form. Or at least conventions to push against.

 

And you found that place for you was poetry?

I actually always wanted to be more of a prose writer. Fiction, or longer form. I didn’t think of poetry as something I could really do. Breaking Up With Los Angeles was me taking a chance. It was really healing to do. To express grief that way.

 

What are some of your first memories of Los Angeles before you were conscious of it being “L.A.”?

Plazita Olvera. My folks would take us there at least once a month. Driving through downtown. Seeing city hall. I was baptized at Our Lady Queen of Angels. The freeways, they are comforting to me. Bandini Blvd. El Mercadito. The county hospital where I was born and had yearly check-ups that allowed me to miss school until I was eighteen. The fisherman’s outlet for fried shrimp. El Salvador café on San Julian in the alleys. The Frank Romero murals on the 101 Freeway depicting little kids.

 

Discovering yourself and discovering your sexuality, how did the boundaries of freeways and neighborhoods fall into your journey?  Did you feel more “free” in some neighborhoods as opposed to others?

Well in my early twenties there were “T-parties” for the under-21 set. T or “tea” is like, “What’s the tea?” It was a way of saying, “What’s Her Story?” Or like, “Is that guy gay?” They were backyard keggers for queer Latinos. The party lines were on these business card flyers and you’d call them every weekend to see where the party was at. You’d end up at places like South Gate or La Puente or Montebello. We’d drink, hold up the walls, listen to freestyle and Morrissey. My friend used to throw so much shade. I remember having to book it out once because some queen wanted to fight him

Were you openly “out” with your parents?  Were they understanding? Supportive?  I’m assuming your family was Catholic?

I came out to my folks at twenty-one. After my girlfriend broke up with me and I was a visible mess.

 

What was their reaction?

My parents were cool, very accepting. Saw I was in pain and wanted to help me feel better. They are great. My dad was basically “Ay mija, ya te vas a encontrar a otra.” Which means, “You’ll find someone else.” They are more concerned with my artistic pursuits. They wish I would just be like a realtor or work for the city.

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I grew up in the L.A. of the Eighties and early Nineties. It was rife with gang culture and the music of the time reflected that.  What was the soundtrack of your childhood?  What were the first five albums you bought or borrowed from older siblings or friends?

Beastie Boys “License to Ill,” Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, Fat Boys, Run DMC, “Tough As Leather.”

 

And what was the soundtrack to the T Parties?

Cover Girls, Masters At Work, Black Box, Depeche Mode. I remember Eazy-E was huge of course. Los Tigres, Ana Gabriel. We would listen to my folks’ music too, like Chico Che y La Crisis. In 8th grade I got into my big brother’s Devo, B52s and Oingo Boingo stash. They Might Be Giants.

 

Easy E, NWA, Dr Dre, Snoop and Ice Cube later on? What about MC Kid Frost?

Kid frost was popular with some classmates. I thought it was so dorky.

 

You weren’t a fan of his “This for La Raza” music video with the buff saxophone guy?

Ha. No

 

You grew up in Huntington Park?  What gang controlled that turf at the time, when you were a kid?

I grew up in Huntington Park till I was four. Then Bell Gardens. Then my folks moved back to HP when I went to grad school. The big gang when I was growing up was Chanslor St. They were in Bell and were the gang messing with the kids I knew. I remember a bullet hole in my window and my mom would stay up all night. There were shootings in the neighborhood I grew up in but it was just typical.

 

Did Chanslor St. have a lot of female members as well?

Oh gosh I think only in terms of girlfriends. Firme jainas.

 

Sometimes it seems like outsiders think of L.A. as either Beverly Hills or Compton, with nothing in between. What do you find is the most common misconception of L.A. and what is the stereotype that is most true about L.A.?

Well I love Compton and Watts. It’s just an extension of Huntington Park. And it’s all brown folks and immigrants now. The Misconception, that L.A. lacks culture.

 

Right, I think South L.A. is something like eighty-percent Latino now

The L.A. stereotype, traffic. Duh. Yes. But I like traffic, it’s a time to think about the day or week’s events. I’ll take L.A. traffic over Bay Area traffic any day of the week though

 

That bad?  Bay Bridge traffic or what?

Bay Bridge traffic is dystopic.

 

You currently live in the Bay Area.  Do you feel that once you left Los Angeles, you were ready to write about it?

I left L.A. ten years ago for NYC. Couldn’t write a damn lick to save my life. This time around leaving I was finally ready to inhabit certain uncomfortable truths about myself. And write from that place.

 

You went to NYU?

Yeah. I did a performance studies Master’s.

 

So you didn’t study writing or poetry at NYU?  Do you find writing classes or seminars claustrophobic?

I didn’t study writing. Maybe I should have but I was enamored with performance art at the time. I studied theory. Worked with José Muñoz. Who passed away suddenly a few months ago.

 

Ah, I saw the reference to Jose Munoz in your book and was wondering who he was.   Sorry to hear he passed away. “The potential for radical precariousness,” such a beautiful line in your book, can you elaborate?

Well that line is about how I feel like my generation there is a want or need for security in creating art. That we value safety over risk.

 

“Everyone in Los Angeles has a loose relationship between time and whiteness” What do you mean by that– and what is/was your relationship between time and whiteness?

In L.A. identity politics are not the topic of the day in the way it feels like they are or still are in the Bay. My relationship with both those things–hmm I guess a banal obsession. It’s present but not one where I am consumed by a toxic rage.

“Someone is talking to me about gentrification again.” A hot topic in the Bay Area? One that is not really discussed as much in L.A.? What do you mean by “Everyone in Los Angeles has a loose relationship between time and whiteness”?  Are you saying the Bay Area has a tighter (grasp?) on time and whiteness? What are you banally obsessed with?

When I talk about the Bay Area, I mean people of color in the Bay Area. Some of the folks who reside here have graduated from some really amazing liberal arts colleges where they had an intense time with race and privilege. People in the Bay Area come here to work it out. They try to create a world that’s only people, not just people who look like each other.  Here I think of myself as a “bad brown person.” I don’t have those traumas because I didn’t have the same intensely negative experience with white people.  I went to college at Cal State Northridge and my fellow students were working class white people and people who worked in the porn industry while going to school. I feel like an outsider in the people of color communities in the Bay Area. I’ve heard of events where white people aren’t allowed. It’s a particular type of person of color who had this kind of collegiate experience or generally negative experience with white people. But I didn’t have that and to me it doesn’t make sense. That’s just me. All that to say that I feel like my brown experience is maybe atypical of other more righteous narratives.

 

This line is from your poem “Ole Dad,” from your book:

“Nothing stronger than a Bohemia here, nothing stranger except for the passage of time each minute denoted with a drop of liquor as it dilutes the blood between us”

 

The other week I had a freelance job in Vernon.  I drove right by Ole Dad Liquor store and had just read your poem about it.  I agree with you when you say “Vernon is the middle of nowhere a woman or child ought to be”.  What is your history with Vernon? The line “the paycheck he earns becomes burdened with so much rabia” is so fucking well-put.  Rabia en ingles is something like “infuriating,” “fury,” “anger,”  but the Spanish word “rabia” has so much more to it besides fury or anger.  

It’s where I’d drive through to get to or get out of Huntington Park. Vernon is so dystopic. So brutal. It attacks all of the senses, especially smell. It’s hard to not be obsessed by the landscape. I fell in love with industrial aesthetic motifs because of Vernon. My parents both worked there. My dad at a printing press and a plastics factory. My mom was a costurera.

 

So a lot of chemicals and nasty things at the plastic factory?  What is a costurera?

Just imagining their day in and day out kind of guts me. Costerera is a seamstress.

 

They still working there now?

My dad eventually got into being a salesman and got his real estate license when he was almost fifty. My mom is now a certified nurse’s assistant.

 

Why is Wanda Coleman’s tongue “mightier than Fante, Gehry, Bukowski?”

Her tongue is mightier to me because she made it out of Watts without leaving Watts behind. She left it but took it with her. Her work is just searing. Sinister. Stunning. She writes about truly frightening things: poverty. Sex. Violence. Ache. I found inspiration. I mean the ache. The rage. The impotence. All makes for easy relatability if you’re in touch with those ugly feelings yourself.

 

Do you have one particular book or piece of Wanda Coleman’s you’d recommend as a must read for folks unfamiliar with her work?

Heavy Daughter Blues.

 

 “Naco Power” works in both Spanish and English.  Do you plan to do more bi-lingual poems?

I was in Mexico City last year and I was taken aback by how well my Spanish came back. D.F. is infinite. Also just conversing with people in my line of work in Spanish I have gotten a better claim over speaking it. Expressing myself. It’s become a whole new world when it comes to poems.

What is your current line of work?

I do arts community engagement, Connecting artists and community to make art together. I’m like the shock absorber.

 

Favorite Spanish-speaking poet?

Claribel. Alegria and Roque Dalton. I love Roque.

 

Books or poems you’d reccomend by Alegria and Dalton?

Taberna by Roque.

 

From your book, this is up there with Fante, Chandler, Nathanael West, a classic description of L.A.

“scatter me in the mouth of Los Angeles

her stomach the desert

her ass the sea

her shoulders the mountains

and her womb the east Los Angeles freeway interchange

for the 5 brought me all of California

while the 101 took me to where it was possible

impossible

 on the 10 during rush hour

and the 60 carried my broken teenage heart home”

 

The freeways in L.A. are like the veins that lead to the heart.  Only it’s hard to find the heart because there is no center.  Where is your heart in L.A.? 

El Mercadito to me is the heart. That’s where my parents met.

 

Boyle Heights is the heart?

It’s so mundane but so much happens there. And the altar to the Virgin of Guadalupe is peerless. I’d say Pacific Boulevard over Beverly Hills any day.

 

Why do people write poetry?

I have no idea why people write poetry except maybe to stave off madness.

 

Will you ever come back to L.A.?  Don’t you find the people in the Bay Area a bit too passive-aggressive and politically-correct (and sometimes lacking a sense of humor?).  I know I’m generalizing. I also lived up there for a spell, have good friends from up there and loved parts of it and didn’t love other parts of it.  People get a little too uptight and a little too PC.  Is this a breath of fresh air for you, a brief repose?   What is the deal with the Google bus?  Will it roll over San Francisco like an Israeli tank rolls over a Palestinian child throwing a rock?

Yes yes and yes to everything you said about the Bay. It’s uptight and not a friendly place. But love and work is here. If I had a cool job lined up I’d definitely come back and if my girlfriend got into med school then for sure. My social world is smaller in the Bay, which makes work easier to do. The Tech Industry is a point of Contention here for sure. Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation is my Bay Area survival spirit animal.

breaking-up-with-los-angeles-raquelgutierrez

 

The Bay Area is a strange place.  I do love visiting and have some dear friends there, but hate to see the counter culture (which what made SF special in the first place) sucked out and priced out. You can see racial tension building in Oakland now with a lot of folks moving out of SF because they can’t afford it anymore – they move to Oakland where the magic word “gentrification” is another point of contention as you said.

Exactly. I have gentrification fatigue

 

I think everyone does. Myself, being white, sometimes I feel that I’m “gentrifying” a place merely by existing

It does seem like the remaining counter culture in SF is dwindling. That’s a weird thing that comes from feeling guilty for being creative. Getting implicated in all of that gentrification labeling. But I can see the beauty where everyone else sees blight.

Favorite taco spot in L.A.? 

Favorite tacos? Duh Guisados. Lengua. But I also love the buche gorditas at El Mercadito.

 

What is buche? Snout?

Buche is stomach! Kind of gnarly, but tasty. Lengua is the bomb. I loved Lengua on wonder bread lunches when I was a kid

 

How is Raquel Gutierrez going to conquer the world, and what is your newest chapbook? How does it differ from breaking up with L.A., and where do people buy your books online?

Conquering the world to give it back to those who were robbed. Next chapbook: #WhiteBoo out in a few weeks. Deciding sequence and designing cover art right now.

 

Is there actually a hashtag in the title of the book? Say it ain’t so.

There is! It’s a place where people of color on Twitter let their guards down.

 

So someone of color who is dating a white person? White boo?

Yeah exactly. Really this chapbook is about racialized anxiety.

white-book-raquel-gutierrez

 

So where do people order Breaking up with Los Angeles and #Whiteboo?

Raquelgutierrez.net/chapbook for info. And soon an Etsy store.

 

Any advice for aspiring poets, aspiring writers… people who are earnest seekers of the truth?  What might they do to ease their minds and their souls a bit?

Just tell the truth no matter how complicated or unflattering it might be. There’s beauty there. And work together. Nothing we want more than a sense of belonging. Don’t be afraid to belong to each other.