Ampatch DisPatch 5
The Terror of Pleasure Zones
You're me. You're in Paris two weeks after the end of the AmPatch tour. It's the evening of your show with Toog, July 27th. You're in Barbes, an area you'd describe in french as 'fourmillant', lively as an anthill. But instead of ants there are Arabs and continental Africans, all dressed in robes as if they were in Addis Ababa. You feel as if you're still on the American tour -- Clara of The Gongs even shows up to confirm the impression -- but if this is just another American city, it's a bloody exotic one.
You're dressed by Madagascan designers Pelagique in satin white pants and an elegant V neck T shirt. You perform in front of an audience of Japanese, Parisians... and Nico's son Ari, who's there with his own unruly young son. He tells you before the show about his time in New York, living on Marcy Avenue, painting and decorating for a living. In his honour you start the show with Lovely Tree, the song inspired by his mother's 'Desertshore' album, an album inspired, in turn, by Ari.
But Paris is not part of AmPatch. Let's rewind. Where did we leave this? Ah yes, we were in LA. A city that seems to go on forever, especially when you're trying to escape it. You drive forty miles and it's still there. Then it isn't. Then there's just the desert shore, and big posters by the side of the highway with Donald Trump trumpeting his latest theme park, Waterworld. There are windfarms with more propellors, in less landscape, than you've ever seen.
You stop at Taco Bell and there are thirty minute queues, because this is the last 'fast' food before the great nothingness of the desert. You're driving. Everyone else is sleeping. There are rocks and joshua trees. Then, eventually, there's Arizona, and Tucson. People shout rude things out of their cars about your eye patch. You find a cute poster in the Congress Hotel depicting yourself as a dust storm, a tornado hitting the town right between the telegraph poles. There are flattering articles in the local press too (there have been in almost every city, rather surprising considering the fact that there's no press officer for this tour).
Few people come. But never mind, you're staying in the Congress Hotel, and it's an amazing 1940s art deco hotel straight out of a Raymond Chandler story. There are radiograms in each room, and when you turn yours on it's The Jack Benny Show from 1949. Puzzled and intrigued, you scan the dial and hear nothing modern (the hispanic music they play here is all flourishing trumpets and harmonised singing, pretty timeless) and for a moment consider that you may really be in 1949, or that the hotel radios are somehow relaying the radio shows of the past. Is it some sort of enchantment? Do they have a small transmitter in the hotel? You plan to ask before leaving the hotel, but you forget. Perhaps it's nicer not to know.
Ah, but you love this America, the America of Jack Benny, RKO womens' pictures, Orson Welles and the Mercury Players. Why couldn't it stay like that?
Rob Reich of The Gongs brings you up to date -- and has you in stitches -- when he plays all the levels of Super Mario on the old honky tonk piano in the lobby. He even reproduces the sound effects by banging on the keys.
New Orleans: Revelation of The Tour
The next day there is no show. You just have to drive and drive to get to Texas. You stop for photos at Bowie, Arizona. You cross New Mexico. Then, right next to the Mexican border, you stop in a town where there's nothing but agents for bail bonds. Is everyone here a criminal?
You find an unlikely Lebanese restaurant where the two cars can rendezvous. There's this incongruous Chinese waterfall picture in there that reproduces the sound of crickets. But it isn't crickets, it's birds. Small chinese birds.
In Austin you watch about a zillion bats suddenly leave their sleeping quarters under the bridge and swarm around at dusk. It's like a play; on the river banks an audience is ranged, and the moment the bats decide to leave their nooks -- about 30 minutes after sundown -- everyone takes flash photos and applauds.
You play a show at Emo's to about sixty people. The club is forgiven for the notorious dogshit episode of three years ago. You particularly like the barman, a plaid-bearded giant and a clear bohemian.
New Orleans! The revelation of the tour! You never imagined such a town existed in America. It's a pleasure town, a place where the people really have a credo beyond 'give me convenience or give me death'. Here it's 'Give me jazz and cheap drugs, give me fabulous french colonial architecture, give me horses and carts and antique shops, give me the spirit of carnival like they have it in Venice...' It's true that here Momus is something else, one of the carnival factions. So not many people come who know your work. But it's just a buzz and a delight to be guided round the streets of the French quarter (you're disappointed to find that they don't actually speak french here) by Phiiliip, who was here with his boyfriend this past new year. It's even a delight to meet the promoter, a svelte handsome Philippino, and to play the faux-ethnic musical instruments in the atelier above the venue. And it's a delight to swim in the hotel pool at 2am and not be told off for diving and splashing.
Cannes Sur Caribbean
Another pleasure zone you had little conception of before this tour is Florida. It reminds you of California with Cubans instead of Mexicans. The much-revolved Club Revolver show in Miami turns out to be the hottest dance party ever, with a crowd of beautiful mod ravers all ready to dance like lunatics. Later, your convoy trawls North Beach at 4am trying to find a hotel, and there are body-beautiful youths of all sexes blocking the pavements, and cabriolets jamming the boulevards. It's impressive, a real Cannes-sur-Caribbean.
The next day, by popular request, there's a trip to the beach. When you finally find a public bit (Florida is fuck-you capitalist, the rich have hogged every inch of seafront) you sip over-sugary drinks in a beach-shack bar and observe the sea, which is a shade of aquamarine you've only seen in tourist brochures. You're unable to swim and don't like exposure to sun, so you spend most of the time phoning your friend who's in a hospital in New York (visiting her will be your main concern for the next two weeks).
Orlando is an affluent Disneyfied town with a hoaxlike city centre chock with themeparkisms; old steam trains, fake pubs, folk museums. The show is close to the interesting Vietnamtown. Afterwards you make a convoy and drive to the gated community where Donna, big sister of one of the Super Madrigal Brothers, lives. Again, your too-bohemian lifestyle meets the balm of a big, rich suburban house overlooking an artificial lake, and is all the better for it. You do a long interview with Dr Nancy Stockdale, a historian focused on Middle Eastern affairs at the local university, for her magazine Deep.
Afterwards, in serious mood, you debate in the car the merits and demerits of gated communities, the death of the civis and the fall of public man.
Let's see... There's a show in Jacksonville where the promoter is just so nice. Then there's a show in Atlanta where the staff shout at artists and audience both to 'fuck off back home' at the end of the evening, and have the bad grace to call you a faggot and complain that you and your acts failed to tip the staff for your contractual beer. That's at a place called The Earl, and you'd be well advised to give it a wide berth when you're in Atlanta. The evening's only redeeming feature is the presence of Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, an unlikely Momus fan who tells you about the time when Malcolm McLaren almost made him the singer in the Sex Pistols.
Why Would Anyone Live Anywhere Else?
The last show is in North Carolina, in a nondescript pub called the Village Tavern somewhere out along a highway. And yet even here there are laudatory articles in the local press, and a crowd of slicky-coiffed hipsters who materialise from nowhere. Many of them have relocated to Williamsburg but happen to be back home for the holidays.
The following day you spend a couple of hours in Charleston, a wealthy and picturesque place full of expensive brand label shopping experiences. All the men seem to be dressed in braces and white suits, Tom Wolfe style. Again, you never knew the south had these reserves of Mediterranean elegance, these hidden Monacos.
Now it's pretty much over. You split into two parties. The red car drives fast back to New York (a ten hour haul, but Phiiliip is eager for sex and nightlife). The green car heads to Peter Gong's mother's house in Viriginia; suburban DC. There's a US flag hanging above the door. Mrs Blasser, recovering from eye surgery, wears wrap-around shades. She tells you it's good to live so close to the hub of the nation's political power. You find it fascinating to see, in the basement, the lathes and saws Peter uses to carve the Gongs' instruments. It's also curious to see his adolescent bedroom, devoid of any trace of youth or pop culture.
The next day it's just you and Shizu. You spend a couple of hours in Washington DC looking at the Hirschorn Collection (there's a Ron Mueck exhibition and a great show of 'street photography') and some of the Smithsonian Asian collections.
You return that evening to New York, and the apartment of Miho (of clothes designers United Bamboo). And although you've just seen the Rockies and the desert and all manner of other wonders, you can't help asking yourself why anyone would live anywhere other than New York City.
The following day there's an explosion and a raging oil fire at the ConEd power station right next to Miho's apartment in the East Village. You get a rush of September 11th paranoia, and realise that it's only in New York that this edgy, nervous feeling, this memento mori, still exists. Elsewhere it's just flags and hassle at the airport. Only here -- even if the East Village fire turns out just to be a blown transformer -- is everyone in a sort of permanent panic.
The city is an assault course. You love that nervous energy, so oddly unAmerican. And so each day you take the JMZ line, still disrupted by the fallen towers, to Brooklyn to visit your sick friend, whose only regret is that when she recovers she'll have to leave this city and return to Japan. You understand her feelings, even as you head to JFK for your flight to Paris.
Part 1 of the AmPatch DisPatches is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.
See more photos from the tour in the Daily Photo section.