A drunk abroad (Part 2-beasain and Tuscany)
What time is it?
I can’t sleep. When I was a child I had a sleeping disorder brought on by my new digital watch. This must have been 1979 or something. I guess. Because I had a thing where songs would loop in my head. And that song was ‘Banana republic’ by the Boomtown rats.
But anyway. I couldn’t sleep ‘cos I had a new watch with a Light and I had to check the time every 15 minutes. I would grow increasingly anxious because it was getting late-really late-and I still wasn’t asleep! Oh my God! My dad..I can hear him turning off the TV and collapsing up the stairs. It’s really, really late.
So I was taken to the doctor’s and she said; ‘don’t worry. Your body will get all the sleep it needs’. And the anxiety disappeared.
Now it’s 25 years later and I’m trying to snuggle down on Paul’s couch in kensal rise. I went to bed at 1am following my trip to London, a business meeting and a rehearsal. And I have to be up in 3 hours to meet Fiona in the taxi that will take us to meet Julian on Finchley Road, to meet the coach that will take us to Standstead that will take us to Spain. To meet Juanra, who will drive us to the town where our hotel and venue is. If I could forward wind to any point in this journey, which part would I skip?
Now..It’s what..30 hours later? I’ve still not slept and it’s getting on for 50 hours. I am sweating obscenely, it’s raining down my face like a salty waterfall. I am crashing on the Bad Coke I’ve been taking since the show finished..(I did the gig tired but sober).
If I can force myself to acknowledge my reflection in the Hotel bathroom mirror I have a chance. The face is red and there is a raging lump in my left (right)? Temple.
‘Is this normal’? I ask Julian.
‘Not in my experience’ he answers. His voice is far off, distant; he is Embroiled and churning in his own Cowboy hatted buzz.
I have visions of my chest exploding and us being unable to contact an ambulance. It seems like we are in the middle of nowhere-beyond the concept of Health services. Outside the birds are kicking up a racket and there is a Forest mountain thing getting grey in the 3rd sleepless dawn.
I bounce onto the bed and fumble with an oversized cigar.
I try to relish the idea of pushing the amount of time without sleeping. It’s nasty and perverse. Maybe I should go for a week.
Seven days later; I awake to the sound of church bells. Below my shuttered hotel window, workmen are singing gently. In Italian. I am in Livorno. And I’ve had a good sleep. By the time Hypnos took me, the wine had worn off and I can even remember my dreams. Dreams of my old guitarist crying and sleeping rough in imagined gardens beyond this hotel.
Through the partially shuttered window the sky is stupidly blue. It’s already too hot.
A boat does its horn thing in the nearby dock. I’m abroad alright.
What time is it?
At the soundcheck in Beasin Im sweating. I should take my leather jacket off but I’m too fat to get away with the t-shirt underneath-a lovely replica of ‘Andy Warhol’s Bad’ t-shirt from the late 70’s. So I sweat and stumble around the stage, terrified of what. I am in an ancient building with no roof. I recognize it’s beautiful but I am so anguished at nothing in particular that I can’t feel anything outside the clumsy lumpy prison of my body.
There is no anguish in Italy. None That I can find within myself.
Everything is right about this time and country. What do I recall?
(And as previously noted):
Waking to a BLUE sky. A slab of Classic Italian Marble blue. Not grey, cloudy, taunting with rain. But good old Holy Blue. The blue of religious paintings and childhood.
I throw back the shutters. It’s already warmer than the last English decade combined.
Salt air. A ship’s horn. So. I am near the docks. The waterfront. (Blues for Brando).
The sky is insane with Swallows. Mad schools of them. Crazy and joyful.
The sound of children playing nearby. Radios through warm morning air. Cats. Workmen singing low, for gawds sake.
The deep sleep has left me completely ravaged by mosquito bites, but still. And. I do mean ravaged.
Even my face. My beautiful face!
Oh..Even the flight here was splendid. A civilized hour. It getting dark Just as we approached the Italian coast. Me blitzed warmly on Jameson’s, Mario Lanza and Dean martin on the headphones as the coastal lights of fishing villages twinkled into view.
Villages I visisted in the old life-back in 1979 when my dad’s redundancy money meant we paupers travelled extensively while the neighbours suffered in butlins.
I got through the Spanish gig terrified and sober. My instinct is still not to look at the audience. It’s kind of like staring straight into a pussy during sex. I want to be there but I don’t want to see it as such, just feel it. But I stick with it. The old songs sound and feel good. They have aged better than I. Warm in my throat like good Dago red. I sing and it’s good like blood seeping from a tireless wound..
I sip from Jameson’s on stage but it passes to my brain and gut un-noticed by my sensibilities.. My forehead exposed and glistening the t-shirt pinching, the new boots scuffing. How I miss the comfort of a heavy fringe. I am at an age where I’m between Stations and faces and my hair is-if not completely going-altering savagely.
But, for once, it’s all worth it. Toward the end of the set I start to recognize Fiona and Julian. They enter my senses as colour rather then monochrome-the kind of dulled reality that controlled panic enforces on me in these situations. During ‘London loves you’ I begin to locate myself within their Violin and Piano. I play with the timing, phrase almost behind the beat. I have always loved the violin, mostly without realising it.
By the time we sail into ‘if July were a Kingdom’ I’m happy to be here. No longer startled by the terrain. Fiona is lacing gorgeous lines beyond her solo. The sampled loop is as warm and nostalgic as the Japan record I sampled it from. Julian has forgotten to play the right hand part, but it all sounds swaying and grand. And then it starts to rain.
Driving on a stupidly hot Sunday morning In Italy. God is in the air. I feel a pull already inside me to get back to the Catholic Church. The sea is to the left, industrial wasteland to my right. My beautiful hosts, Gianluca and Michaela are driving us to a street that will remind me of Los Angeles. ‘Love me my Love’ is seeping from the speakers and yet it’s too innocent and new today for dean Martin.
At the studio, I am part of a band again. The first time in a long time. The garage has the air of rehearsal spaces the world over and yet lacking the desperation. It’s like entering a teenage time again. The threat of neighbours complaining about drums, the comforts of home a stairway away. What were we doing paying all that dosh for commercial spaces all that time? And their grime and damp and sadness.
Giancarlo reminds me of a Crane bird and David Byrne and plays acoustic bass like an 18 year old Sly stone Devotee. He is to my left and I am drinking Chianti on a Sunday morning while Hollow Blue featuring Anthony Reynolds goes through a version of ‘Io Bevo’.
That means ‘I drink’. I wrote the lyrics in the hope that no one who comes to know me through music will ever again ask; ‘Why do you drink’? It’s all here in the song.
And. Again.I like singing..It’s never an ordeal for me..(maybe you)..
And so I sing about drinking while I drink, enjoying the surrounding dynamics of a band again..Silently ecstatic that I’m here and not there, that the weird journey into the mysterious acres of my life continues..
The focus of every trip returns to my Hotel room. Maybe because the compass in my chest is always pointing north toward solitude. In fact, maybe it’s not a compass. Perhaps it’s an anchor.
I am talking to A ‘fan’ who has travelled with a chum from Madrid to beasain to see the show. His name is Adolpho. The vast quantities of Coke I’ve just imbibed make me talk or maybe allow me to talk at 300 words a minute. Odd. Julian can’t understand a word I’m saying but Adolpho-who has so he tells me-but a basic grasp of English-can.
And no doubt I am talking either bollocks or not. Maybe that Hemingway quote is applicable. ‘Anthony was drunk now and talking a hell of a lot of sense’.
When Adolpho had drifted away, Julian and I talk of keyboards and the basic soul tempo that each man must carry with him. It’s a beautiful conversation to be sure and outside of our two-man party, comes the morning.
I change beds in livorno because near the one I’ve been sleeping in is a plug socket-just by the pillow and I’m sure it’s fucking with my noggin.
Porn appears on the TV after midnight. A lullaby. The first time I went to Italy I was told by my friend, whose dad was Italian that: ‘After midnight they have strippers on the telly’. And it’s true today, tonight.. What I remember about Italy before the 80’s is traffic and saltwater, jellyfish and Go-karts..
When Jack played Bologna in November 1996 I remember people, beautiful, true, warm people, no backstage and tactile, warm people.. And I’ll remember the latter again.
My trip to Florence by train (a sugary Icy drink, windows open, curtains flapping in the Red-earth Breeze)- is gorgeous, although soon hijacked by the killer headaches I get when starved of solitude and rest, of indulgence and quiet..
But my Hosts-G and M-are so perfectly balanced and sensitive in their role and own selves that even this headache has a kind of exotic sweet charm to it.
I gulp down painkillers and browse a bookshop. We eat in a thousand year old restaurant. Next to graves. Underground. Of course. To escape the mid day heat. We drink two bottles of white wine. When I ask for a cooler, the Waiter snaps at me; ‘just drink it, quick’! My ma would Love him.
We do drink it quick-quaffing in the basement air- and I cadge two cigarettes from the Owner and smoke happily among the bottles and faded photographs. (Richard Burton through Catherine Zeta Jones).
Then it is, in the words of Status Quo, ‘Margarita time’. I think again of my mother and we adorn an expensive bar in the Piazza. The cocktails are exquisite, among the best I’ve ever tasted and yes, I have drunk Margaritas all over this sad Blue world, innit.
I remember very little of the Journey back to the Bilbao airport. I had gone to bed, after taking a tamazapem kindly left for me by Fiona, at about 7am. I was Freshly wet from the shower, covered in soaking towels, my right heel red raw from the boots but my temperature down at least. (“I am on fire”! Julian’s Advice: “Uh,,ym..Take a cold shower’? And for once. The Cliché worked!!!”
The Valium melts sexily in my Mouth. Then that feeling, of poppy fields blossoming in the battleground of my Brain.., Oh..Oh..Ahh.. The downer kicks in. The vague sound of life outside the open window and of Julian in his bed, succumbing to his crash landing.
But on waking all I can recall is puking. It’s a kind of ritual I’ve undertaken in the last few years. I think I do it for Fiona and Julian’s benefit. Be fair. Fiona was vomiting all the way here. During the car journey and on the plane and everything.
In Florence, we are making the video for ‘Io Bevo’. The hotel seems almost grand but not quite. I am joyfully lost, ripped to the winds on Wine, tequila, fags, scotch and the ecstasy of being alive and here…..
I keep breaking into song; ‘Be My love’ by Mario Lanza. Like all happy drunks, I only know the first 3 lines and that’s all that’s needed. I’m so gone I’m only dimly aware that I’m being filmed…I lick at light bulbs, dance with a pretty girl and show the cameraman how to Box. Then I’m Sammy Davis Jnr, tap tapping across the newly waxed floor. Then I’m jumping like a dwarf hippo up and down on the grand bed. I am persuaded not to do this. More drinks! I meet two people I had apparently arranged to meet. Someone called Marco Vitchi who Dan Fante suggested and a lovely lookin’ human called Giovanna. I remember nothing of our conversation or of taking this picture. Except that Giovanna had just completed a documentary on John Fante and that tonight, I am Arturo Bandini in a Welsh man’s body. Lost in the beautiful and cinematic seamless linear logic of a good piss up.
A break. Gianluca and I take time out in the empty restaurant to watch the swallows swimming crazily through the catholic blue sky.
Then; more filming. Corridors. Cowboy hats. Goodbyes. Electric and static. Keyholes and good shoes.
I sleep on the train back, truly spent, hearing an old man play Titanic opera on a tiny transistor.
In an obscure part of Spain, The patient, saintly and professional Juanra and I are trying to buy me Sunglasses in an opticians. I am trying to explain to the lady that there’s no point in me paying for expensive ones because I always lose or break sunglasses after a few weeks. It’s 2pm. I’ve just tasted the Gack in the car. It’s Ok. I’m no longer tired in the accepted sense. I really want to talk and take my time. Over sunglasses and hats. Street children and donkeys.
I try to explain to the pretty optician: Over the years I have lost scarves, hats, coats, my grandfather’s watch and a shoe. And my looks.
The last night in Tuscany dusty fields-a low-slung Orange Sun-the end of something-and-I am barkeeper. Two pretty gals are done up in bras, fishnet sussies and mini skirts. A guy who seems to be old and ageless-Guido-as much a part of the farm we film on, as the earth around us.. Then there’s a beautiful dog. An emotional drummer. (Hello Alfredo). I fix drinks for everyone, depending on their mood and character.
We ride bicycles in the dark. Time is erratic. Crickets far off. I sense Mountains in the distance, in the dark. A man made reservoir. A Royal conference room. The feeling of lives, foreign and big, getting perfectly along without you. I wander with Marco. One of the ‘models’ strokes my face and tells me faux sadly that I shouldn’t drink so much for a baby.
Cigarettes. Crazy hats, abandoned rooms that farm hands probably fucked in in the 1960;s.
The video is videos. Some are..Drunk. Most are working. Gianluca looks right. He the part-a butterfly finally caught on a wheel, turning beautifully in what will be the video.
I am happy for him. All this energy, all these people, including me, are here to help realise his vision. It’s a beautiful moment in a gorgeous country and time is out the window.
Friends, Romans….Ti Ho Aspettato…I have waited for you. Now it’s your turn.
And I shall..Return.
God Bless you, Edoardo Vianello.