AVT: 1h, 15 min (Tot: 9h, 15 min)
ADT: 100 km (760 km)
"You know what comes between fear and sex, don't you? Funf!"
- Kenny (a German numbers joke)
"I never get a tour quote."
Do you know what impresses me most about Sarah?
(I’m not writing this to suck up after blowing an arrangement of one of her new songs last night.)
I’ve written before about how much I respect Sarah’s work ethic and optimism and intrepid nature and that voice. I mean, we’re here right now through Sarah’s sheer force of will and labour and talent. She has put in the miles, and I’m very fortunate to reap the benefits.
But none of that is what impresses me most about her.
No, when I really stop and think about it, it’s her sobriety that most impresses me. She’s never been shy about sharing her history with substances. In fact, she’s made it part of her mission to share that story as a way of being accountable and serving others. That’s a very admirable thing.
The truth is it’s not easy to stay straight edge on the road. And I don’t mean there’s a huge coke party waiting for us every night. I’m talking about something as normal and simple as a glass of wine at dinner or a beer at a show. These are very routine things, and when you’re the band, people want to give them to you. When we arrive at venues, they offer us a drink. It’s part of the courtesy. Part of the welcome. People have now begun to bring us wine to sample after shows, too, because they know that the lads in the band enjoy it.
Sarah never touches any of it.
Not a sip of wine. Not a lick of beer.
That’s extraordinary, my friends, and I know it’s not easy, not so much because of the alcohol, but because of the social side of being on the road. It’s all around you all the time, and there’s much from which Sarah withdraws because of it. A person with less self-awareness and discipline would slip. She has done so much to work get to know herself, understand how slippery her slope is, recognize the dangers. She will not go there, despite how easy it would be, and that impresses me more than anything else about her.
Just in case you were wondering.
Now then, on to last night in the great town of Schermbeck, Germany. It was a night of reunions. First, we breakfasted at the hotel in Leverkusen, joined by Joost before he motorcycled back to The Netherlands. We loaded up the van for a short drive to our old friend Kenny’s place (aka Blind Baby Squid). If you’ve been following along for the past two years, you know that Kenny is a Canadian ex-pat living in Germany who is a drummer and books shows for people like Sarah. We’ve stayed with him, his wife Anja, and their son Patrick on each of our European adventures and we just love hanging out at his place.
Blind Baby Squid, man.
Blind Baby Squid.
As we were driving through the charming downtown area of Schermbeck, Sarah spied a familiar face out the van window. The face – lovely, beatific, wise beyond its years – belongs to fair Helena of Erle, who was our intermediary when we played in her town two years ago. Helena and her parents, Michael and Birgit, and her boyfriend Franco made the trip for the show and it was great to see them as always. They were kind enough once again to bring me a bottle of Schlossgeist, which is a very sweet liqueur that comes from their part of Germany. Later in the day, Tanja of Lippstadt arrived in her vintage, baby blue Mustang convertible, looking like an Italian movie star arriving at a film shoot. These reunions are a lot of fun.
Our show last night was at the town centre. It was one of the biggest stages I’ve ever played on. Certainly one of the deepest. We set up the gear and did a sound check in the afternoon before returning to Kenny’s place. Sarah went off for some visiting, Ken and Deni retired to quarters, and I sat outside to enjoy an absolutely perfect late summer German afternoon with our host. We talked about drumming and music and the old days when bands could make a living on the road, playing a week in each city. I love talking to road dogs like Kenny who have been through the wars. There’s a certain road grit on those guys that I notice with supreme admiration.
Later the big, bad rock and roll guys in the big, bad rock and roll band gathered in a room to do one of the most rock and roll things you can do on the road: iron our shirts. Now, I have some experience in this department, having been a cubicle jockey at one time in my life. I can steam your creases, baby, but Ken The Zen is a little less comfortable with the hot rod. We managed to get the job done together, and I have to say the band looked freakin’ terrific when we arrived to play the show.
There were more reunions at the gig. Again, I can’t name everyone for fear of missing someone, but I will give a shout-out to beautiful Angie from Austria, who brought us a compelling bottle of red to sample. It had probably the best name I’ve ever seen on a wine bottle: Big John Cuvee Reserve (and she hadn’t even blown any song arrangements!). This wine battle has become somewhat tribal. Angie’s offering was a gauntlet thrown down by the whole of Austria. Now we wait to see which other countries will take it up in opposition.
The show was cool. We had a big crowd waiting when Deni went up to open the show. He crushed it as always, and the people lined up later to buy his new CD. The Sarah band went up and I think for the most part played really well, at least until Drummer Boy junked part of a song. This can happen, you know, especially with a new song. We had to learn a bunch of stuff from Sarah’s new CD for this tour, and while I did my homework, sometimes in the moment you just go blank.
It happens, but it’s not okay.
Alas, little my stumble notwithstanding, the show was fun and we loved playing for that audience.
After the show we had a great time talking to friends new and old. I really have put some effort into learning a bit of German, so now people are coming at me with new phrases every night. It’s a challenge, but it’s fun to try to wrap my flat Canadian accent around some of those German sounds. I’m told that my pronunciation is pretty good, which makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside. Danke, everyone.
After the show … well, it was show time. As you may know, I am now the host and producer of the John Huff Podcast. Mostly it’s an interview show, but when I go on the road, I record what I call “roadisodes” with whoever feels like jumping on the microphone. Last night we bellied up to Kenny’s bar to try Angie’s wine and do a roadisode with Blind Baby Squid himself. I haven’t listened back to what we got on tape yet, but I know we had a cool conversation and laughed our heads off at times. I can’t promise I’ll release it. Not yet, anyway. Let me listen first. In any case, we love Kenny. His house is one of our favourite places in Europe and we always look forward to spending time with him and his family.
And now we’re on the road again, bound for the eastern part of Germany. As I’ve written before, it’s different in what used to be East Germany. Not better or worse. Just different. When I go there the history person in me perks up. Last time around we were at our hotel in some small east German town and I heard air raid sirens in the distance. For someone like me it was a trip through time, and a creepy one at that. But it’s beautiful there as it’s beautiful everywhere around here. We always have a great time.
For now, Sarah and I are practicing our Deutsch in the van and enjoying the sunshine. Deni and Ken are zoned out in the back seat and I have to say that we’re starting to catch the rhythm of the road.
As Steel Panther once sang, now the fun starts.
Bis spater, my friends.
* Thank you to Dani Smile for the live photo!