Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This Too Shall Pass

An inner monologue with myself.

“Your flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle has been cancelled”. We were supposed to be playing in Paris tomorrow night. And then Lille on Friday. And then Aalst on Saturday. But a week ago the world turned upside down.

This time last week we took the very tough decision to cancel our trip. We spoke about it with Zoli, our booker, he’d brought it to our attention as the “Elephant in the room”. Until then, we’d been planning ahead as usual. Practicing the set, arranging merch and the van situation with the Bleakness guys in France. Just kind of hoping this virus thing would stay away. Stay in some part of the world, that, as awful as it is, didn’t affect us over here. That was only a week ago. Since then Italy, France and Spain have implemented a nationwide lock-down. Other European nations will surely take the same drastic measures in due time. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. I don’t know. Time has taken on a completely different perspective. Everything's happening so very fast.

Two weeks ago we were on a skiing holiday in Norway. The virus was already all over the news, but it was mainly contained to Hubei in China. And there were a few cases in Italy, which was slightly worrying. But at the hotel, on the cotton white slopes that gleamed in the sun, it was easy to push it back to the nether regions of your consciousness. Then came the news of a boat in Japan being quarantined with thousands of tourists on it, and then over a thousand in a hotel in Tenerife. I imagined waking up in the comfort of my Radisson Blu hotel bed and finding a note on the floor, pushed under the door, “STAY IN YOUR ROOM”.

The scary meter was ever-so-slowly starting to creep up a notch or two. But it still hadn’t come to Sweden, or Scandinavia for that matter. Containing this thing would still be possible. But imagine being fucking quarantined in another country, unable to get home. That started playing on my mind. There were no drastic measures being taken by France yet, or the UK. Two places we had booked in over the next couple of weeks. It’s just a fucking cold, a flu. How many people die of the flu every year? The things they’re talking about are going to destroy the global economy. Has the world gone mad? When Jen hinted at us cancelling our trip to the UK I reacted angrily. It was my dad’s 70th birthday! There were only a few cases in the UK, a few cases in a country of over 60 million. Don’t be ridiculous. If there is one person on this earth I knew wouldn’t be worrying about this shit, it was my dad. Not that he would be silly about it, he would act accordingly, but he’s never one to panic. He’s never let me see it, anyway. Which is the number one job of a parent, right?

We made it to the party. It was fine. It was a really nice do. A lot of my dad’s old friends were there, people I hadn’t seen for a long while, but people I was very close to. Or had been when we were kids. There wasn’t that much talk of Corona, although it was by then dominating every news channel. We were watching in the morning, and the evening, but I was trying not to let it bother us. I didn’t want Polly to have to deal with this, I didn’t want to have the news on all the time when she was around. She’s seven years old. She has the right not to to have to worry about this shit. The party was really nice, though. As were the few days at my sister’s, and the couple of days at Kev’s in London before that. I was happy we went. Although we had been sat across from some woman on the train who was coughing into her hand the whole time. And the flight home was packed. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t playing on my mind.

That was only a few days ago. Sweden has closed the borders now. As have the rest of the EU. And the USA. And Canada. The aviation industry is at a standstill. That tough choice we made last week about cancelling the gigs this weekend seems abstract now. It was all cancelled anyway.

This is the most dramatic thing our generation has been through. You could say this is our World War. Except there are no bombs dropping on our heads, we’re not hiding in metro stations with the terrifying sirens wailing overhead. We’re being told to stay and work from home, if possible. Of course, it’s a bizarre situation, life at a standstill, of sorts. But it also shows you what a privileged generation or two we’ve been. We in the western world that is. There are parts of the world where this is the reality of life, all the time. You know that war in Syria that’s been going on for ten years, the one that none of us can longer bear to engage in, look at on the news, because we’ve reached a saturation point with it? The lives of those people have been put on hold for over ten years. No job? Lock-down? Queing for food at the grocery store? This has been their reality for over ten years. Plus bombs. At best, we might have to put up with this for the next few months. And we might even get sick, we might lose loved ones, which would be awful, the thought of my dad being isolated at home kills me, but it will get better. When the Syrian war does finally come to an end, the chances are they’ll still have Assad dictating their lives. Or some other equally heinous asshole. As will many other people around the world. There are conflicts everywhere, but they only ever enter our lives in fleeting moments on the broadcast news, or in the newspaper whilst we drink our morning coffee. Our lives will return to normal a lot sooner than those in Syria, or Palestine, or those living through one of the fifteen wars currently waging in Africa. In fact, they have no “normal” to return to. Living in constant worry over making it through the day is their normal. Our normal doesn’t even exist in the same dimension as theirs.

That doesn’t mean to say that this virus is not causing me anxiety. Of course it is. And the hell that healthcare workers are going through right now in the countries worst affected I can’t even imagine. But my personal anxiety is over how much this will change the world we live in. The economy, not the virus, as for everyone else I know, is the biggest personal worry. But again, we have to remember, this will get better. We’ll recover. This too shall pass. My friends like Kev, who work in the service industry, or Tove, who work in the film and entertainment industry, are in real trouble if this lock-down goes on for too long. But governments all over the world will have to work out a way of helping millions of people like them. In a strange kind of way, the one thing that reassures me, as far as the economy goes, is that we’re all in the same boat. All over the fucking world. The world will have to get back to normal. No government on the planet fails to understand that a lock-down is unsustainable in the long run. The only winner here, is of course, the planet herself. It does make you wonder if Mother Nature has simply had enough. Or if Malthus and his theory of positive checks had a point.

What causes me anxiety more than anything, though, is the feeling that “It’s happening”. As I said, our generation and the one before us, in our part of the world, the privileged part of the world, has never gone through a societal crisis of this magnitude. Almost every other generation before us has done. Plague, famine and war have been the norm for as long as humans have existed on earth, yet it only takes a generation or two to confine them to history books and con yourself into thinking that it will never happen to us. It’s easy to cast it off as something that happened before. Fuck, even my dad’s older siblings were children of the Second World War. We really are, or were, the first generation to have thought we were saved from something so dramatic that it affects the entire planet. I have anxiety that Polly is only seven years old and it’s already happening to her. It feels so unfair. But then I remember that it’s our job to hide that anxiety from her and protect her from this. I think about what my dad always says, something that still comforts me. “In a -insert amount of time-, we’ll look back at this and think about how long ago it seems”. In less grave matters he would say that we’d look back and laugh. But I think about Polly, and about ourselves, and think about how we’ll be watching a documentary about the Coronavirus in ten years time, and it will once again be in the abstract realm of our consciousness. It will all have seemed like a weird dream. Unless, of course, we extinguished ourselves fighting over shit roll. 

This too shall pass. Life will go back to normal. This is not the first pandemic the world has seen, and it won’t be the most deadly. Far from it. This is the third of its kind my mother in law has lived through. We’ll adjust and we’ll survive. I’ve already spoken to friends in Spain and Italy, and they are all on board with the lock-down. It’s a bummer, but they're doing okay. Their biggest concern is for the old and infirm. As should it be. It seems to me though that they almost feel like, once the decision is made for you and enforced, it’s easier to deal with. Then you’re in the stage of it being “just the way it is”. When it’s beyond your control I think it’s easier to deal with. You just have to get in with things. If the lock-down comes to Stockholm then we’ll deal with it by watching Netflix and reading books, playing Mario Kart and thinking of every way possible to keep Polly entertained. We will have to put a daily limit on YouTube, though. There is only a certain amount of Tic Tac Toy I can tolerate before throwing myself off the balcony. And I’ll have to start some sort of exercise program. I’ve been social distancing for only a few days and already I’m consuming far too much sugar. The thing is, in two weeks I start my new job. And then I won’t be isolated anywhere. Social workers will still be going to work. I imagine how strange it will feel, biking through a deserted Södermalm on my way to work, and then walking through the doors and into the world of heroin addiction. What a strange reality that will be.

That is still two weeks away, though, and much will happen before then. It will probably get a lot worse until it gets better. They seem to think Sweden will be hitting some kind of peak around about the time I’m due to start my new job. What a happy way to start. But after the peak, it will get better. Restaurants, pubs, cinemas, airports will open again. Maybe the holidays I’ve booked for the summer will still be put to use. And we’ll start playing shows again. We already agreed to play the festival in Aalst on whatever date it is rebooked for. I look forward to walking out on that stage, whenever that will be, and feeling the joy that we finally made it there.

Until then, I’m gonna write a bunch of tunes, read a load of books, and try and be the best parent I can be to Polly. I’m hoping that when she’s older she’ll barely remember this. I’m also hoping that we, the adults in the room, learn lessons from this and maybe give Polly and everyone else her age a future worth living. It’s a nice thought, at least.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sthlm -> GBG

Within seconds of exiting the Universitet tube station my feet were sodden. Properly fucking squelching through the grey brown slush as the sleet came down like icy needles. I had not prepared for this. It was the first day of winter and it had taken me by surprise. I had a lot of work on at uni, being in the middle of writing a bachelor's thesis, and I’d planned to go straight to the gig when I was done for the day. Trainers were a truly piss poor choice of footwear. My socks would agree. Thing is, I can’t play in winter boots, can I? Clamping around on stage like BigFoot. The situation would need to be remedied.

My thesis partner Freddie was in the same boat. The two of us walked over to campus cursing ourselves and the weather. Mainly the weather. We needed to use the computer hall today since we were in the middle of analysing the statistical part of our work and neither of us could be fucked with paying for the necessary software when the campus computers provided them for free. Problem was the main hall was closed today, it had been taken over by the Nobel Student’s Ball committee for their upcoming soirée, so we had to find somewhere else to work. We also needed a radiator to hang our socks on. The whole Nobel shabang got me thinking about how I would soon be finished at university and how over the last three years I’ve never once embraced any kind of “student life.” I’ve simply come and gone to the place like you would any job. When I was younger and most of my mates left Corby for uni, I used to tell myself that I hated students and could never have stuck being around them all day long. Even then, I knew deep down that that was just bitterness talking. The reality is that I felt left behind. Although I doubt I would ever have fully adapted to the student culture. I’ve spent long periods over the last three years feeling like an outsider at university. Not just because of my age and life situation, but also because I come from a working class background in England. Bourdeau was definitely onto something with his theories on social and cultural capital… Anyway, standing there in wet socks, looking at the sign on the door of the computer hall “CLOSED IN PREPARATION FOR THE NOBEL STUDENT’S BALL” I scoffed inwardly, “Fucking toff bastards!”

Freddie and I ended up finding another computer room over in the main campus building, a room I’d never paid any notice to over the three years I’d been here. It was kind of hidden away on one of the upper floors. I don’t think any of the other students knew about the place either, since there were only three people occupying seats, dotted about the room, and they were all old men. Fucking weird, the lot of them. One was breathing heavily at his monitor, grumbling to himself as he tried to make purchases through various Black Friday offers online but was seemingly failing at every turn. One of the others was looking at something dubious with his milk bottle glasses pressed up against the screen, and the third one looked like he was here just to keep warm. Apart from Black Friday’s grunts, it was totally silent, and Freddie and I sat next to each other communicating by Messenger. “What the fuck is this? A Lynch film?” There was in any case a radiator here, and although it wasn’t turned on, we still hung our sodden socks on it. Black Friday was making it impossible to concentrate on the multiple regression analysis we were supposed to be tackling, though, and after a while we sorrowfully drew our wet socks back on and left.

When I left university three hours later they were still wet. I had to jump off the tube halfway to the gig to buy a new pair. I was by now going fucking mad with the wet feet, so changed socks right there on the platform at Skanstull station, drawing, I imagine, similarly strange looks from passers by as we’d thrown in the direction of the three old stooges earlier on.

We’ve had a relatively busy time of it since we released the album in June. We’ve been out once a month since then, at least. Twenty-odd shows over the space of half a year ranks as “busy” these days. Overall the shows have been good, anyway. These two in Sweden are the last for the year, and the first since the short European tour we did a month ago. It feels kind of weird, as always, playing Stockholm. I have no idea how the show will be tonight, there is a lot of other stuff going on in town. Mayhem are playing Fryshuset, Boris are playing right next door at Slaktkyrkan, and Baroness are supporting Volbeat just across the road at the huge Tele2 Arena. John had texted us a couple of days ago and asked if we’d wanted to play with Baroness last night, at the same venue we’re playing tonight, Hus 7. But two shows in a row at the same venue felt like a bit much. Would have been more fun if Baroness could’ve jumped on our show tonight. Would have been fun playing with Baroness in a small venue again, though. One of the funniest Victims stories for me is the fact that Baroness supported Victims at some roller rink on their first tour of the US back in 2004 or something. Victims played as a three piece with Little Andy playing guitar and no bass, since Jon was in hospital after breaking his leg the night before. Baroness and Victims have embarked on rather different journeys since then…

Johan and Jon were going to head over to the arena to watch them play tonight, since they were on early. Johan had some business there with one of the sound engineers and through that had blagged him and Jon AAA passes, meaning they could watch the show from the comfort of the sound desk. Unfortunately for Jon, we’d left our van in front of the entrance to the club and Johan had the only key. Ronny asked me if we could move it, and the upshot was that Jon had to come running back with the key, since Johan was in the middle of some work thing. Jon was proper gutted when he was denied entry back into the crew door of the arena when he returned. Felt sorry for him. He really wanted to see his beloved Baroness play an arena. He was sat in the backstage room with a face like a bag of wasps, not really wanting to talk. He only interrupted the silence to inquire if there was any dinner left. When he returned with a plate of cold punk stew his mood hadn’t lightened any. Sensing it wasn't the time to make any kind of crack, I got up and left before the smirk on my face gave me away.

It’s a strange place, Hus 7. It’s literally Slaughterhouse Number 7, right in the middle of the old meatpacking district. The off-white tiled walls and grey concrete floors give the place a very cold feeling, as does the minus degrees seeping in from outside through the heavy plastic strips hanging over the holes in the walls either side of the stage. It's a bit off-putting when punters are walking in and out mid-gig to go to the bog, or whatever. That and the fact I have a hard time shifting images in my head of cows being put to their death and the blood flowing away through the drain in the floor. 

I’ve never met the Blessings guys before, and I’d never heard the band either. Andy had been raving about them, though. Their guitarist, Johan, recognised me. He was a good friend of my old buddy, Marco, who played drums in Logh, Cult of Luna and a bunch of other bands. He was one of the first really good friends I made after arriving here. He moved to Malmö a long time ago, though, and I haven’t seen him in ages. Johan wanted to take a pic of me to send to Marco. It was nice to meet him, real nice guy. It wasn’t the first time I’d had my picture taken to send to an old friend in Malmö tonight, strangely enough. Emma, the production manager of the venue, is best friends with an old work friend of mine, Amira, someone else I haven’t met in ages. Bit of a strange theme going on tonight.

Blessings are absolutely great. Really impressed by them. And whereas the place was pretty much empty five minutes before they started, not that strange given that this place isn’t exactly somewhere you hang out at at this freezing time of year, it felt like the majority of the hundred or so who had bought tickets for tonight had arrived. Loved every second of Blessings set, really liked the drive they had going on in all of their songs. It was nice to have a mixed line-up at the show tonight, with Horndal in the middle, blasting out their Entombed styled, social-issued concept metal. Pontus and Henrik’s parents were in the crowd too, and they got a big shout out, much to the crowd’s pleasing. Took me back to our show in Vienna a month before when my dad had received the same welcome. Made me smile.

Hometown shows are always weird, though. I’ve said this many times, I know. It’s strange though, playing mainly to friends and acquaintances. Tonight it was extra weird, given that four of my work colleagues were here, of which one was my boss. It must have been a right eye-opener for them. I had a hard time shifting them out of my thoughts for most of the gig, which seemed to manifest in a tense forearm, making it hard for me to relax during the show. Nerves, in other words. They would never have seen this side of me before, I’m always Mr. Calm and Humble at work. It loosened up a little as the show rolled on, although it never completely left. Luc and Vik were stood right in front of me the whole gig, which helped. Although I could tell Luc was wishing that this show was somewhere smaller and more punk, Vik was seemingly not arsed. For all the piss taking he gives me over Victims, calling us The Foos all the time, or lyx crust, every time we play he’s always there, in front of me, pulling at my legs and shouting along to the songs. Tonight was no different. Love him. At the end of the gig I notice John Baroness and a couple of the Wolfbrigade guys are stood side stage. Afterwards Micke Bull tells me that Wolfbrigade had been invited by the Volbeat guys to their show and given AAA passes to any show on their World tour. I didn't understand any of it. Haven't got a clue what Volbeat is. All I've heard from Andy is that they're huge and that they are papp.

I’d been looking forward all day to a nice, social beer after the show, but by the time we were done the place began emptying out. Again, not surprising. There are cosier places to hang out. I was a bit gutted though. The only people that were left were three of my work mates. They were pissed up and chuffed with the gig and had decided to get tattooed at the all night place here at the venue. That sure escalated quickly. First tat for Alex, which I couldn’t help wondering whether he’d regret it in the morning. Klara, my boss, had a few already, although she was apparently so drunk she was getting on the tattooist’s tits. Fucking wild. They really went all in on the punk experience.

So apart from that lot, who were busy doing that thing, most other people left. Even Jen, who had been on an after work with some colleagues since five pm, had fucked off home in a Joe Baxi, pretty boats herself. I ended up just drinking the one and driving Johan’s work van back to our place. Johan had driven home to Nyköping with Pia. We’d pick him up on the way to Gothenburg tomorrow.

It was just after one am when I got home. I cracked open a tin I had in the fridge, put on my cosy slippers, and watched an episode of QI.

Jon was taking the train to GBG, since there was only room for three in Johan’s work van, and since only Johan and I have a license, and Andy is too long to squeeze into Horndal’s car, it was Jon who elected himself to make his own way to the gig. I understood that he didn’t want to squeeze into a car for five hours with a bunch of guys he didn’t really know. That would have been more of a job for me I guess, but my license to drive was required in our van.

Given the shitty, shitty weather yesterday, and the predicted icy roads on route today, we left a little earlier than usual, but it was still a pleasant enough start to the day. Left around ten thirty. The drive turned out to be no bother at all, though, in actual fact it was really pleasant. It was one of those blue sky winter days, crispy air and glorious sunshine. The five hours flew by. The Horndal guys were already at the venue and packed in when we arrived, and within an hour we were soundchecked and ready. There wasn’t a whole lot left for us to do. The room we were playing in at Musikens Hus was pretty fucking big, and the stage was really high and wide. It sounded great, for sure, but when I heard that there was a much smaller venue in the basement, I couldn’t help but wish we were playing there instead. There was no way we were filling this room tonight. The old rocker doing sound, a chirpy chap, insisted there would be no way we could play the small room with the gear we were playing through. “It wouldn’t be fun for anyone, the noise would be too much.” We’d have to agree to disagree on that one.

We noshed into some grub from the small restaurant they had here, and then after speaking with the promoter, Jonk, for a while, we should play later on after the Mayhem show at Pustervik was over apparently, since a lot of that crowd would come here afterwards apparently, we went to meet our friend Samsa and go for a nice hipster beer somewhere. What was with fucking Mayhem following us this weekend?

Samsa already had some beer in his parka jacket, he’d come from some home party of this guy who runs a brewery, and said we were welcome to head back there if we wanted. Free beer and all. I had the feeling that was what he’d wanted to do, but he was more than happy to take us somewhere for a quiet beer. It was just what was required. Gothenburg has certainly got this beer game sorted. So many good places to eat and drink here, lots of great veggie places too. Samsa is certainly chuffed with his lot in life.

We sit around talking about the old days, what else do us old timers ever do really?, and laughing about a certain classic Swedish hardcore band and their new album. We get to talking about Samsa’s days with Satanic Surfers, since we’d just played with his old band in the Czech Republic this summer. Happy Andy came up in the convo, of course. Samsa was saying how Andy was always late and how this one time they were flying off somewhere and for Andy’s sake, set a cautiously early time for the train out to the airport. When he didn’t arrive, they finally had no choice but to get on a train and head off without him. As they were sitting there waiting for the train to leave, they saw him running towards them. Just as the train doors were closing he thrust the neck-end of his bass case between the doors and pried them open. Totally chuffed with himself he was laughing, “Told you I’d make it on time!”

After the one, drawn out, but delicious 4,2% ale, we took a walk back to the venue. Even after the one I had the beginning of that warm, fuzzy ears thing going on that I normally get if I approach anywhere near Tipsy Town. It was cold out now. The warm ears didn’t do anything to help.

When we get back to the venue Jon is sat in the grandiose little foyer of the venue where we have the merch table. He’s sat hanging out with Charlie Cimex, with the usual overawed, star struck coupon he normally has on when hanging out with a legend. He shows us some white Victims t-shirt that some giffer had made himself. It had a pencil drawing of a horse, with a red pentagram and also written in red, Malin Baryard, which is the name of a famous horse rider. He told Jon that he always thought our song Scars was about her and that he’d mistakenly thought the line, “Scars in my eyes”, was “Malin Baryard”. Hence the horse on the t-shirt.

Dennis Doom was milling around with Charlie too, both of them looking pretty pissed up, although Dennis was certainly the worse for wear. I received the usual sloppy kiss on the hand and an “Alright mate” from him before he stoated off. That’s about the usual content of our conversations when we meet. We’d already missed the local punk band when we were out drinking, but I managed to catch the second half of Horndal’s set. It’s a weird set up. The sound is massive, they play great, but the room is about a third full, and up on that big stage, with two metalheads gripping on to it’s cusp as they bang their heads, it just feels odd. I’m not exactly bursting with enthusiasm before our set, and getting on for midnight, I don’t envision that many of the Mayhem crowd arriving. That said, Johan from Blessings turns up and he’d just come from there. Shame they weren’t playing tonight. Jonk had insisted on the other band.

Despite the empty pockets or air dotted about the crowd, it always helps a little when it sounds huge on stage. It at least makes the “playing” part of the gig more enjoyable. I feel like I’m going a little through the motions in my head by the end though, as much as I put every ounce of energy I can muster into playing. I would never allow anything else.

Afterwards we hang out by the merch for a while before finishing the evening off having a quick beer with Charlie up in the dressing room above the stage. He’s sat there telling dad jokes and taking the piss out of Jonk, who after about thirty minutes of harassing him, finally convinces him to join him at a bar for one last beer. The rest of us wait for a cab to the hotel.

And the wait goes on.

It’s fucking freezing by now, the streets surrounding the venue are completely dead, and I want to go to bed. We’d called for some Uber-type deal called BOLT, which was ordered through Jonk’s account on his phone. Jonk has now fucked off with Charlie and we’re waiting with our nuggs shivering. For every car that passes that isn’t ours I get more pissed off. Horndal left ages ago, and we’d planned to have a quick beer in the hotel bar, but that time has now surely passed, I imagine.

When the car finally arrives, the old boy driving is so chirpy, that it’s hard to stay pissed off. The rage returns as soon as we walk into the deserted reception area of the hotel and are faced with a confused looking lad, “Victims? No, I don’t have any booking with that name? Jonk? Musikens Hus? Concert? No. Sorry. No.” How many fucking times have I heard this spiel at this time of the morning at after-gig hotels?! After a lot of fucking about, he arrives at the conclusion that he gave out eight room keys to a group of four who arrived earlier. So the upshot is this: For the two bands, we had one family room with four beds and two twin rooms. Eight beds each. Turns out Horndal were given all the keys and they’ve now spread themselves out over the three rooms. About twenty minutes later a tired, sheepish looking Eken arrives with our keys.

Finally in bed, about four hours after finishing the show. Originally we were supposed to have a hotel five minutes walk from the venue, but there was a balls up with that of course, so now we’re way out on Hisingen. No fucking matter. It’s nice to finally be in bed. I’m sharing with Jon, and when I’m getting ready to nod off I notice him rolling up a huge joint. I can’t imagine for a minute that he thinks he’s going to smoke that fucking thing in here, but then he has stripped down to his tight orange longjohns that pose as his pyjamas. When he’s done rolling, he tells me he’s off downstairs. I laugh to myself, imagining him walking through reception in bright orange longjohn’s and then standing outside in a bush puffing away on his spliff. That image tucks me off to sleep quite nicely. Snug as a bug in a rug.