Coming Out The Night

Coming out the night.

Rolilng past early-rising liquid gold sun scapes. Rolling across rising morning mist scape. Dark branch trees silhouetted against dawn, grey blue, pink-tinged fringed sky.

Coming out the night,

Heading with forlorn hope down road trip highways,to tired small town and abandoned emptiness where a new an unattainable dream lies just over the horizon.

Heading Home (Looking for lunch)

Heading home after a walk in the woods, entering Bourges from the north east through the Edgelands – those places on the periphery of town – the final frontier of fast food restaurants, DIY stores and shopping malls, marking the limit of urban sprawl, that seems to sprawl ever further, every year, eating up the countryside. The Edgelands – vast warehouse shops with unlimited parking space. The downtown is dying as consummers opt for accessible, automobile friendly stores where there is more choice – that is actually no more than more of the same.

Bourges Skyline from the edge – The cathedral between the pylons.

Awaiting development.

Looking for lunch. Hey we’ve got traditional American cuisine out here in small town France.

Chez Ronald.

Buffalo Grill - a nation chain of French steakhouses and a firm lunchtime favourite for families because kids eat cheap.

Southfork Ranch? We’ve got an invite to munch from the Ewings

Bouncy Pink Giraffe for the kids.

These perihperal places are all so depressing. How about a delicious Pizza in town?

Buy ten and get one free.

Count to three for Pizza

Running Down A Dream

So this is a kind of rambling post about my clichéd American dream in the light of recent events

Running down a dream, that never would come to me …

I had this crazy, clichéd American dream – I was crossing the great wide open, in a huge, beat up old RV – I was cruising long roads into nowhere stopping off in battered old gas stations and sad motels – I was driving east to west looking for Bagdhad café, Kerouac, a Fistful of Dollars, Aliens and Vegas – I wanted to start at Rockaway Beach or Coney Island and drift through road movies – I’d be heading out across the plains with Born to Run blasting out the speakers in the RV.

I guess that has always been my American dream – I could hitch a ride to Rockaway Beach and travel on down to sit on the Dock of the Bay.

Running down a dream that never would come to be

It’s Monday morning – had a sleepless night, running work through my head – that’s always Sunday through Monday – half awake with this giant checklist churning in my brain like one of those old dot matrix printers spewing out endless reams of paper – must do, must do , must do … and what if it never gets done ?

Monday morning road trip, the rain thudding down on the windscreen, stuck in a long line of early morning traffic – crawling at dead slow stop snail’s pace, past the bakery, the supermarket, the café, the gas station – turn right at the lights and crawl on. Monday morning, half awake, half asleep – running down a dream ? I’m Running on empty.

Switch on the radio « Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door » – Guns and Roses version – Oh how I hate this song now – it’s been a staple of every band I’ve ever played in – « And now folks here’s a song about a dying sheriff … » – that’s how I announce it now – switch channels and there is news coming in about a mass shooting in Las Vegas – rain outside in the blurred half light of Monday morning and mass murder – feels like that big black cloud really is coming down. In France we are stiil reeling from the latest terrorist « attrocity » – two girls stabbed to death at the St Charles train station in the southern city of Marseilles – two students – both cousins aged 20 and 21 killed by a knife weilding madman who proferred God’s greatness and then hacked up two girls because they were girls – and now a 64 year old mad man who slaughters fans at a country music festival because … because they lke country music ? Because they wear Stetsons and cowboy boots ? Because he is mad ???

The profiler/psychiatrist /specialist professer guy on the radio is asked to speculate about a motive and the « profile » of the assassin. « Is he mad ? » asks the journalist of the expert. « We can’t say the killer is mad, for him, his actions are probably perfectly sane and logical. »

Running down a dream – news comes later in the week about the sad death of Tom Petty

« US Rocker Tom Petty … » announces the BBC – I never thought of him as a « Rocker » but as a poet – I suppose his words were the inspration of my clichéd American dream – I loved his road trip style, far flung, small town, dead town wanderings – listening to Tom Petty, I’d just want to esape to somewhere that was probably nowhere. He had a sideways, poetic, vison of the American dream, that seemed achievable « Even the losers, get lucky sometimes. »

Back in Vegas, the death toll gets bigger as the media rolls out non-stop coverage. I’ve got this kind of 9/11 feeling in the pit of my stomach as news comes in that terrorist group, Islamic State have claimed responsibility for the massacre – 64 year old former accountant/property developper/banker (the killer’s job changes with pretty much every news bulletin) – a white middle class senior with an unhealthy passion for guns, who would seemingly have undergone some fast-track, self-styled, internet radicalisation and then … It doesn’t fit.

I’m still in my American dream. My daughter mocks gently as she sees me consulting pages and pages of cowboy boots on Amazon. « OMG ! » laments the wife « You’re surely not going to …  not at your age. » Dreary, caustic disbelief . And why can’t I have a pair – I’m only just in my early fifties.

I suppose my American dream is still that fuelled by my American idols, from Lou Reed to Ray Bradbury, A Tom Petty, a Joey Ramone, some Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kurt Vonnegut with Patti Smith. I’d like New York Punk, a trip to Coney Island, Breakfast at Tiffanys – an RV ride to Aliens in Nevada and to top it all, a ride on the Chattanooga Choo Choo. – My wierd American dream scape littered with silver rocket ships, flying saucers, vast graveyards of planes left to « die » in the desert sun and rolling up to a battered old gas station on route 66 behind the wheel of my Chevvy Impala asking some « old timer » for some « gas » .

So, at the end of this clichéd and confused post, I guess that I am trying to says that I have, for years, been nursing a stilted and very personal vision of my American dream that procludes the Las Vegas Massacre. My dream is inspired by all my favourite muisical and literary clichés. For me the US is still this giant and impossible gritty western. It is Josey Whales peppered with Steppenwolf. I supoose this is like Americans who thin of the UK as all Bowler hats and afternoon tea ( oh dear). But I wanted in foremost and earnest fashion to sat that my heartfelt sympthies go out to all American readers after the Las Vegas massacre. My love to you all.

Road Movie Biker Wanderlust and Swedish Furniture

Unstructured ramblings on over 50’s wanderlust, Swedish furniture and sympathies for all you poor bastards with hybrid cars who accelerate at the speed of a dead snail. Enjoy

If life was a road movie at the moment, I’d be cruising sedately through those areas of commercial space known as “edge lands”, where the first ragged remnants of countryside, rubbish dumps, car washes and junkyards meet the last drab dregs of urban sprawl – rubbish dumps, car washes and junkyards

I’d be cruising along an endless highway, lined with supermarkets, DIY stores, car dealerships, fast food outlets and discount shops.

No 67 Chevrolet Impala convertible for me – I’d be driving a modest, white, four-door-family saloon ; possibly of Japanese manufacture with a hybrid petrol/electric motor.

On the radio, nothing as dangerous as Rock and Roll, but perhaps an adult « AOR » or «  easy listening » station with just a hint of Rod Stewart or Elton John wafting out the speakers

Nothing too dangerous in this road movie comfort zone and nothing magical, mysterious, subversive or even vaguely interesting about my destination – I’m probably just driving to a Swedish furniture store to pick up a beige sofa or a set of shelves. I’m not even going to get out the car and go in the shop to look, I’ve done a click and collect

I’m not looking for a Thelma and Louise Blues Brothers Fast and Furious Grand Theft Auto adventure – that’s all just a little too much. I think I’m like all those in-between late middle aged early retiree guys of my generation – I’ve got a kind of wanderlust but I don’t want to wander too far in case I miss my dinner and my favourite early evening TV shows.

It started on Sunday, when I nipped out to buy a newspaper. The lady at the counter handed me a « new » magazine for « young seniors » or « the active over-fifties » – the latter written in an exciting red typeface and screaming me at me from the front page.

No way am I a young senior
Yes I’m over fifty

Yes I am active BUT I have a mental age of nineteen and I am a singer in a rock and roll band (with three other guys who are all over fifty) and that actually sounds pretty sad. I shouldn’t be out gigging of a night, I should be home wearing a tracksuit and slumped in a sofa with a beer in one hand and a remote control in the other.

So, it was my Sunday morning newspaper buying mission and I declined that kind offer of a special offer on the new young/oldie magazine. As my eyes scanned the shlves in search or reading matter though, I was attracted by wo magazines that might just quench my wanderlust – a monthly review of camper vans (or recreational vehicles as our transatlantic readers refer to them) – second a motorbike magazine with a special supplement on « biker dads » – all those “adulescents” like me who wanted a motorbike and never had one – I’m flicking thought the pages and – I’d love a Suzuki Van Van – a 125cc dune bike, with thick tyres and youthful looks – and just oozing biker dad attitude. Safe but mildly subversive

I wanna buy a motorbike and have sedate easy rider Sundays in the country. I wanna cruise down the Swedish furniture store in my leather jacket and have saunter round before I do the click and collect. I just wanna hop on my bike and go places that aren’t so far that I can’t be back home in time for dinner.

Bikes though, dangerous things. What if I fall off or got too fast or … Camper vans far better. I love camper vans. I’m always amazed how van designers manage to cram a luxury bijoux residence into such a small space – all fold out Formica lifestyle. I need a van. I want to drive to the sea, park up by a long deserted sandy beach, brew up a strong cup of tea and then stare out across the ocean, wondering what lies beyond.

Bike, or van, or both. The wife can drive the van as I ride the bike, and when I get tired, I can strap the bike on the back of the van.

Here’s the dream, to use the above combination for a great Tour De France of all the places I’ve lived or visited since I ever started coming to France as a kid in the seventies. What wondrous wanderlust.

Dreaming is great, but instead of writing about great travel plans, I should start by getting on the web abd booking a summer holiday.

Too far From Home (playing what you hate) -or – For a Fistful of Euros.

Dear Blog ….

I still ain’t told the wife (but someone will, but please don’t) – Doctor’s analysis – (severe depression.) Best way off Tranx, is sport and writing, so, 2017, I will write myself out of depression and make music. 2017 will be a musical year – hence this first post. All those gigs that I am happy to be not doing – life on the dance band circuit. (Though I still have to get through New Year’s Eve with a smile when all I wanna do is stay home with a good book)

Here we go.

« ‘Tis cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey » – a strange English colloquialism that aptly resumes weather conditions on this day in my corner of deepest rural France. Current outside température : -6°c and a frost so thick on the ground that every step feels like walking on cornflakes. Any self respecting primates, brass or otherwise, are all at home, warming their testes in front of the fire. Of course, were there any monkeys out and about, the thick fog would probably make it impossible to see them. Yes, it’s a real « pea souper » out there. Oh dear , more obscure English colloquialisms – pea soup used originally to describe the great London smog of 1952 – a, noxious green and yellow smog so thick that poor pedestrians could barely see a few yards in front of them. The 1952 London smog was reckoned to have killed around 12000 people.

You have by now ascertained that my corner of France is fog bound – a fog so thick it feels like the world has been wrapped in cotton wool. Visibility on the road is down to around ten metres – unless you car is equipped with a full set of runway lights – as opposed to feeble fog lamps, drinig is nigh on impossible – only the most foolhardy motorist , or one with a life and death mission would venture out.

It is on this, the most unpleasant of days that my heart goes out thise musicians, who are loading up their cars and heading off to play for new year dinners and dances. Weare the 30th of December 2016 and New Year’s Eve is within temporal spitting distance and those musicians booked in for New Year’s Eve gigs ,are loading their gear into their vans and cars, ready to drive to those places where the punters are expecting a musical entertainment.

The New Year’s Eve gig – the biggest date in the year for many dance bands – yes, we still have dancebands in France – collectives of professional musicians who eke out a hand-to-mouth existance, giving music lessons or doing occasional session work and augment their meagre income by playing in several dance bands. The bands all have exotic names from another age ; Marcel and his Maestros, the Starlight Orchestra, The Swing Kings … this isn’t Radio City Music hall or the Hammersmith Palais, this is rural France – and on this, fogbound freezing day, the musicians will be hitting the road for far away gigs in down-at heel provincial discothèques, draughty village halls and community centre, or bars and restaurants. Anywhere offering decent money.

I phone my mate Michel – 68 years young, fifty years on the dance hall circuit and still playing – a great drummer, a great musician. Great musicians never die, they can’t afford to, they just got to keep on playing until they can play no more.

Michel is nursing something nasty – could be the start of flu. Aching joints, ge’s struggling to get the drum kit in the back of his car.

« I’ve got two gigs over the weekend – a new tear’s Eve down near Lyons and a New Year’s day Tea dance at Clermont Ferrand. »

Quick calculation – a 600 mile round trip over the New Year weekend. He can do it, he does it pretty much every weekend.

« The lengths you go to for a few lousy Euros » he sniffles before letting loose with a hacking cough like he mokes twenty a day. Michel’s never smoked though, he hardly drinks and his only drug problem at the moment is he can’t get any aspirin because the pharmacy is closed.

New Year’s Evev gig with the Swing Kings – mostly Glenn Miller with a spot of Rock and Roll shoved in to the musical mix. Standard dance gig, Michel will paly for six hours. Bed for the night – the band leader’s camper van or a rented caravan at a local trailer park. Next day, up to Clermont Ferrand – same band but different name – The Teatime Orchestra – popular French inter war dance classics, tin pan alley stuff.

« Why are you phoning ? » he finally asks, still wheezing and gruniting as he lift his drumkit into the car.

« Wish you happy new year you silly sod, and invite you and your better half round for dinner one night. »

« Not until February » he replies – booked chock-a-block with new year tea dances mostly round olfd folks homes.

Another mate on the musical radar is Larry – late fifties guitarist, I used to sing with him in a cover band, mostly seventies stuff – Deep Purple, Toto, Free – all the stuff I just won’t sing anymore because I’m sick of it.

When he’s not doing the danceband thing, Larry plays in a local Pink Floyd tribute band and fills in on his banjo with a local Breton folk group, mostly doing sea shanties.

Tonight, he’s off on the New Year weekend cicrcuit – a dinner dance near Bordeaux with Fabulous Fred and his Mambo Kings, then New Year’s Day tea dance up in La Rochelle with the same band.

Fabulous Fred and his Mambo Kings – a lot of sassa and tango and anything else that the punters want – it is a standard dance band set up – two guitaritsts, a bass player, a keyboard who doubles as accordion when required, drummer/percussionist (standard kit with a couple of congas thrown in for good measure) – a poncey singer (hairy chest in a in a frilly shirt) and two female backing vocalists – fabulous Fred’s wife and sister in law – both ladies famous for their pot plant like stage présence but not their vocal prowess) and never forget the horn section.

I am very scathing of local dance bands, mind you most of them are not local. The Sing Kings rope in musicians from the four corners of France. They rehearse on an internet video link once a month. As for the répertoire – a catalogue of over three hundred songs – all codified. They don’t even give each other tittles on stage ; « Play 1A or 1B or 3C »

So, I hang up on Larry as he laods his gear in to his aging Mercedes – no he’s not rich, he’s got a late 70s breakdown diesel Merc because it is cheap and comfortable and had enough boot space to take all his gear.

So, why am I telling you all this

Because 2017 will be the year that I stop the draughty village hall gig circuit. I’m not a Professional musician, but with my band we do the local « Saturday night, dead gig, benefit gig, don’t give a fuck » circuit, and I’m sick of doind Deep Purple covers in local Church halls, and I admire all those unsung, gifted musicians, forced to travel the length and breadth of provincial France for a fistful of Euros and playing music they hate. No family life, no wage slips, living hand-to-mouth, because they wanted to be professional musicians . This is the reality. A six hour gig on a New Year’s night s far from home. Waking up to no breakfast in a trailer park far from your loved ones on New Year’s day with still yet another gig to do.

For all jobbing musicians all over the world. forced to pay what you hate far from home-  I love you all.