Ampatch DisPatch 2
Alterna-mall Syndrome

David Lynch once said that anybody who thinks his films are weird should look at Cleveland. And his hometown is a pretty odd place; the citizens are globular waddlers, except for the car-fulls of shirtless teenage skinhead circle-jerkers who drive around in scrapheap Cadillacs looking like AWOL marines. The semi-derelict buildings stand eccentric and unconnected in lots, each stubbornly asserting its own style. There's a salvation army hospice, a vet's surgery, an Eastern European church.

The Grog Shop is in a 'nice' area, though. By 'nice' I mean that it has trees, an oriental goods store, an aromatherapy center, a vegetarian restaurant and a liberal bookstore. This seems to be a pattern. However grim the city may be, our venue will be in a little parade of alterna-stores. I call them alterna-malls. Alterna-malls are the physical embodiment of the utopianism of the 1960s, grouped, diluted and reconciled to consumerism. When you see it all together -- the oriental philosophy, the dietary fads, the indie rock -- you can't help being slightly disturbed by the built-in assumptions. If you like American Patchwork bands, are you also burning joss sticks, noshing on legumes, and getting your perspective from the Utne Reader?

Throughout this tour we've been wondering how our geeky, faggoty acts will play in Lawrence Kansas. But the alterna-mall syndrome ensures that when we finally get to Lawrence we'll find it a thoroughly liberal place with a big drive-in Borders offering french magazines and the latest Dennis Cooper novel. No doubt redneckery is out there somewhere -- in the Kansas truckstops, in Kansas City pool halls -- but our alterna-status ensures that we'll never encounter it. This is a slightly disappointing thought. We're preaching to the converted all the way.

RobotWorld and Pirate's Cove Mini-Golf

That doesn't mean we'll live in physical comfort, though. Because we're trying to make money for the bands, we're avoiding hotels and sleeping on floors wherever possible. After the Cleveland show we drive out to Oberlin College and crash on the floor of a big house inhabited by friends of The Gongs. Oberlin is an idyllic little town, but this house is a cess pit. The bannister splays broken away from the staircase, ants scuttle across us as we sleep, a drum kit clutters the lounge. Phiiliip sleeps sitting upright. A dalmatian noses around, growling at me. At least there's a washing machine we can use.

We pass time on the drive to Chicago by playing silly games. We try to imagine the album titles that would ruin a recording artist's career. Hence Fischerspooner's second album is, by imperial decree, Gone Fischin' and the new Madonna is called Credibility Attempt. John Supermad entertains us with accents. Do a 1940s film! Now do a gay 1940s film!

After playing the Bavarian beer hall known as Schubas (Cynthia Plaster Caster shows up, as do some impressive Chicago trendies, trying, it seems, a little bit harder than their New York counterparts) we spend the night in a fabulous apartment belonging to some tidy, design-conscious gay men, friends of Index magazine. We can't believe that this vast and immaculate railroad apartment costs only $1000 a month. We also can't believe it when our angelic hosts give us a cooked chicken lunch to take on the road the following morning.

Wisconsin is a patchwork of mirror lakes, forests and theme parks, and we can't resist a detour to a town boasting a wax museum, a celebrity chamber of horrors, the American UFO and Sci-Fi Museum, RobotWorld, and Pirate's Cove Mini-Golf. In the end, though, all we do is shop in a thrift store, buying a phriilly shirt for Phiiliip and a Chinese jacket for Shizu.

One Nation Under Patchwork

In Minneapolis we're playing in the side room at First Avenue, the club featured in 'Purple Rain'. This is one of my most dreaded places to play. Sound seeps from the big room to the small room and there's a sound engineer who plays the system too loud and can't seem to get both channels going at once. But we're comforted by the thought that we're doing better than Prince, who has cancelled a $100-a-ticket birthday bash out at Paisley Park because only forty people have booked. An epileptic fit of falsetto microphone humping during 'Born To Be Adored' is my birthday greeting to the spurned imp.

On the trip south to Kansas I'm reading Dali's biography, reliving the creation of 'Un Chien Andalou' and the Amanda Lear years. I punch the air in jubilation when news comes on the radio that the phrase 'one nation under God' in the oath of allegiance has been declared unconstitutional, only to be disgusted the following day by the senate's almost unanimous decision to overturn the founding fathers' wise separation of religion and state.

Lawrence, Kansas is a comfortable, leafy town haunted by the wails of unseen goods trains. The club has a log cabin feel, with a little artist's lodge loft up a ladder. Super Madrigal Brothers declare this concert their personal best; 'It was a brighter shade of orange,' Adam declares. At the invitation of some kind theatre majors from the University of Kansas we spend the night in a ramshackle Hardy Boys Mystery house, twitching like nine cocooned pupae in our blue, yellow and green bags, while big white fans roar.

Tomorrow we cross the prairies to the mountains of Colorado.

Part 1 of the AmPatch DisPatches is here.
Part 3 is here.
See more photos from the tour in the latest Daily Photo.

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