Category Archives: Tours

Touring Italy (pt. 6)

Touring Italy (pt. 6)
Stefano agreed to leave by 1:30am. He wasn’t ready until 2:30am. It was snowing in the mountains between Genova and Milano. 90 minute drive became 3 hours because of falling snow and rows of snow clearing trucks. No snow tires, white-knuckle experience. We get to Milan at 6:00am and I suggest we do not have to leave at 8am to honour a 6pm soundcheck. We are a very simple show, he is solo guitar and voice, I am more complicated but I don’t care. Better for your health to get a bit of sleep. Soundcheck is a short ordeal ostensibly done to check everything works. I try to do it in 3 seconds. Love how many sound people say to me “that’s it?”. Many artists take forever, some even perform their whole show. Ultimately the person doing sound is going to alter things and respond in the moment so for me there is no point going over songs in advance. The sound person only needs to test that your equipment works. If you have a long soundcheck it guarantees nothing in terms of what will happen at showtime, we’re always at the mercy of whether or not they are paying attention during the show or on Facebook.
Turns out Stephano thinks this is a major thing and he gets self-righteous about it and lectures me about how to be a musician. The discussion is over, he decided we leave at 8am (in 2 hours) and reminds me it is all my fault. We go to sleep. I get up at 8. He wouldn’t get out of bed until 10:30. I try to be cool, I’m saving more than a thousand dollars because of this man. We drive to the next place. He prefers going between 120 and 140k/hr without a seatbelt. “I hate these country, I hate these people” he says when people are blinking their bright beams at him or honking at him straddling two lanes, the middle and the passing. He’s upset that they think there is anything wrong with driving in two lanes simultaneously. He assures me this old Renault has air bags but there is no air bag on either side. I try to show him but he doesn’t like contrarian views. It’s getting more fun all the time to hang with Stefano and then he discovered I’m a Jew.
“Why is it you Jews are like the Scrooge? I’m just saying so because it is true. What is it about the money business that does this to the Jewish? “
He’s got me, right in the middle of the limbic system, I’m compelled to respond and try shining light on his thought process maybe I can confound his intellect in some useful way like maybe towards reality. I itemize ways in which we are doing finances fairly and compare that to the established imbalances of power taken as ordinary in the music business. Opening acts like him sometimes pay for this opportunity, plus don’t get paid any of the profit later, plus have to absorb all their expenses. None of that is happening here. I’m also paying for oil changes/ maintenance. Everything I say agitates him. He thinks I think he is racist. He’s right. He wants me to know he is not racist just telling it like it is. Realizing anything I say is unworkable I tell him I do not want to talk further about Jews. He is insulted and thinks my refusal to endure more of his view shows my true colours; one more Jew at fault for anti-semitism.
We arrive on time and park in front of the club, the one that wanted us there for 6pm, the soundcheck Stefano lectured me about, here we are on time – they’re closed. Stefano starts cursing and calls Paulo the club owner. There’s a grocery store across the street I buy tomatoes, carrots, pink ladies, zuchinni, garlic and ginger. Paulo arrives at 7 he’s a little surprised we came for soundcheck. We start to set up and I have a shock – my video cable is nowhere! (Touring Italy pt. 4) We doubled back this morning and got the screen but I didn’t grasp until now the cable from two days before was never put away. It’s not common like the universal video cables.
I brought two audio adapters
two video adaptors
two extra ¼ inch cables
two sets of Casio batteries
But I should have also brought two of these power supplies. I lose. I have come so far and now cannot show what makes my show different than a zillion other singer songwriters. I’m ashamed. I generally never have screw ups and now I have had two screw ups in two days….I show the owner the kind of cable and he thinks he may have one upstairs. It would blow my mind if he did. He returns with the exact type of interface for the projector but for European power. We plug it in and I wonder if it doesn’t work will I in fact fry my North American projector with this experiment? But I must.
It doesn’t work. He goes back to his closets to search for another meanwhile, with Stefano’s help we retrieve the club’s ceiling mounted video projector and it will work so at least I can present my work tonight. Paulo doesn’t want Stefano to start until 11:30, this means I do not start until 12:30. There was nobody at the club until 10:30. I can’t help but curse how unslept we are and Stefano’s inflexibility around soundcheck when we could have had some rest. It’s so predictable.
Small crowd of 20 people many are musician friends of Paolo, at who’s place we will sleep. I enjoy talking with the musicians especially a skinny guy named Dario who also plays accordion, we talk perhaps of future touring together. Paolo’s place is from the 4th century. It is tall, stone and shaped weirdly, cavernously and twisty like naturally the 4th century would be. It gives one pause beholding the discord of human activity in this ancient place, modern advertisements for Pepsi or the many broken bottles of alcohol on the street. Then again lovely public water taps and archways of beautiful stone, you wonder about the generations who lived and built these places.
Paolo’s place is large but unfortunately Stefano and I are to sleep on two single beds adjacent to each other. The smell of cigarette smoke and booze follows Stefano each night in each room we share. Paolo has wifi thank the gods and I call my partner Magali in Toronto and ask her if she can send me the projector cable FedEx. Now she is Saint Magali. Perugia will be the smartest destination for sending the video cable overseas because we will be there for a day and a half, better odds nonetheless I check electronic stores in case the same cable exists here. They’re all closed, it is Saturday, shrug. 

Touring Italy (pt. 5)

In 1999 I started making short films that I could accompany live. I’ve made about 30 but didn’t think of using words like “director” to describe myself until 2005 when Roberto Ariganello, the president of the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto (LIFT), said “We should make a retrospective of your films sometime”. I felt drunk by this unexpected compliment and soon was imagining my retrospective.
Unfortunately a year later Roberto accidentally died, a horrible shock to all who knew him. In weeks after that I was at a party and found myself talking to a filmmaker about his death. I wasn’t a fan of this particular filmmaker’s work but then she leaned in and told me “You know,” she sniffed ” he wanted to do a retrospective of my work”. What a guy. In a way credit for me being in Italy touring goes to him because he planted that bug to consider my visual work something saleable.
Later I learned there are grants to offset the costs of travel to see a retrospective or a premiere of one’s work – poof and that’s how I got to Italy. These promoters in Genova are screening a retrospective of my films and they supplied me with the paperwork The Canada Council needed.
We only had a small crowd but they loved the films even applauded during songs when I hadn’t yet reached the ending. What’s more beautiful than performing in a theatre instead of a bar. I invited the whole audience (and their families) to come along for the rest of the tour. The three promoters promised we would do more business in the future. Matteo, Anna and Allesandro who couldn’t speak English but he also has a band and they too are on the bill this evening. They’re concerned about feeding me, turns out Anna lived in London a year or two and she is a vegetarian (the only vegetarian I will meet in Italy). They take me to a trattoria which is authentic and lovely and they made sure there is a choice for me – pasta in mushroom sauce and it rocks and we’re having a great time. Occasionally the owners and various staff poke their heads out and point at me, they want to see what a man who doesn’t eat animals looks like.
We return from dinner to finish setting up the show and I realize I forgot my video screen at Stefano’s apartment. I’m amazed I’ve made two major mistakes in two shows. How could I miss the screen it’s integral. We’re ok tonight, it’s a theatre with a massive screen but I explain to Stephano we need to change our plan for tomorrow and add a 90 minute detour back to Milan before Salerno. He’s doesn’t want to change anything, says the postal system can send it to me for $40 but he doesn’t know with certainty just says maybe it might work that way. I’m sorry he’s upset but if I have to sleep less or drive more that’s the way it goes, not a high price to pay for the security of correctly presenting the show as planned and practiced. My screen can adapt in numerous ways, small, large, rear or front projection. Other places will have screens he says but I know from experience if they’re too small or permanently angled weirdly it means omitting half the show.
It’s like when people want me to play piano and reassure me it’s ok because they have a keyboard. But I play piano, I play inside the piano, I play with waves of harmonics, I play with controlling the dynamics of hammers hitting strings, I have technique(s) around this. A keyboard is an electric machine with a piano interface replaying recordings of pianos. For my pianistic purposes it’s not even close but to try and explain that to people is pointless and they think I’m a prima donna. Instead I tell them I’ll play guitar and sing.
Though my part went very well it wasn’t so good again for Stefano and he tells me later how the fault was the audience. Not sure right now who he despises more me or them.

Touring Italy (pt. 4)

The first show was at a club in Milan called Tournè and I forgot to put away the power supply for my video projector which is a unique cable, too may things to remember. I check my passport and wallet maybe 3 times an hour plus try to confirm all my cables, instruments, accessories and bag of clothes. I’m so disappointed I forgot the projector cable, freaks me out such a basic mistake on the very first show.
Stefano had a hard time, people didn’t stop talking during his set in fact they spoke even louder in order to hear themselves over him. He started to give them shit at one point but telling off an audience is sort of like being on the Titanic and cursing the water as you descend. Fuck you fucking water!
Before I started my set he took me aside and apologized for the crowd, he thought I was going to receive the same treatment. He didn’t know I have a secret weapon – movies. Actually movies and experience. The audience laughed/cried exactly in the spots I hope all audiences do. It was like the best of shows anywhere. Made friends afterward with a young musical couple, I asked the woman what kind of music she makes,
“Eat ease dark soul” she said.
When I landed I spent the first 3 days at his apartment, often when I enter his room, which is also where I sleep on a cot donated by the Marquis de Sade, I would find him in front of the computer admiring his publicity shots. He’s a chain smoker as is his girlfriend as is his room-mate Massemillian. I have been coughing a lot since getting here impossible to relax or fall sleep. The place hurts my chest. The car is an old Renault, messy with permanent smoke stench. I’m grateful I brought along oil of oregano and a herbal respiratory concoction because they give me temporary relief or maybe it’s simply a placebo I’ve grown accustomed to. That night after playing Tourné we return to his room to go to sleep and his girlfriend joins us. She is very pleasant for a chain smoker and a talented photographer who wears lipstick to bed and surprisingly is capable of sleeping through Stefano’s smoker hacks and his unique loud air-sucking-through-plugged-nose sounds at regular intervals except a couple times he checks his promo shots again.
Before laying down he told me tomorrow we must leave by 2pm for Genova. By 1pm the next day he says we should leave instead by 4 and at 4 he says 5:30. I remind myself this guy is saving me at least fifteen hundred dollars for not renting a car plus we are splitting costs 50/50, I’m chill. Finally we leave and I experience his driving. Turns out he is in an action adventure movie and by default so am I. My trembling and sweaty forehead are dead giveaways. He assures me I should not worry all Italians drive like this. He talks a lot on the telephone while driving too. I caution him I have been in car accidents and known people who have died and it’s very important he be sensitive to driving safely. He is unimpressed but thrilled that I brought a gps because he doesn’t use maps and has no idea how to get to where we are going. It’s obvious he is a textbook case of inexperienced guy needing to act as though he has done it all, a nightmare of immaturity, a child-man. Maybe one day he’ll buy a Trump for President bumper sticker.
But the upside is considerable. He has a car and speaks better English than most. He translated some of my lyrics with which I subtitle my films, the results are great, the audiences understand my songs, serious or humorous. He mulls over the differences in how people express ideas in Italian vs. English and takes pride in trying to get it accurate. I am grateful for that and I try to be encouraging when he shares his future plan to move to England with his girlfriend and become a rock star. Stefano sings slow guitar and harmonica songs with heavily accented English. It’s still a week before he will explain to me that Eddie Vedder is the greatest artist of all time. He tells me about an Australian woman who complained about people who couldn’t sing in English very well. He was deeply offended. Best not to share my intuition regarding him singing English in England and the possibilities of molto indifferencio.