Just an Old Buff Tom Story for Christmas
People have asked We Three Buffalos Tee for stories from the road. We have relatively few good ones worth telling. Certainly none of them are Zeppelin level. No arrests or major property damage. No bans from any hotel chains. So we usually come back to a small handful, and in particular, this one from Paris. It happened so long ago, probably 1990, and that fact in an of itself shows how few stories there are. In fact, I would not be surprised if I have not already told it in this space. How sad would THAT be?
I searched Dan and Camille Speca’s site, which documents almost all of the live shows we have played, This particular show seems to be missing. In fact, I do not see any shows in Paris in my quick scan, and even though it was not a hot spot for us, I know we have played at least two or three times there, once opening up for the Gun Club. Anyway, it is just as well, as this show should be expunged from the official record.
It started out just as our previous trip to Paris had. During that first european tour, in 1989, we had a day off or two and figured we would drive down to Paris just for the day, even though we had no shows in France that first year. But we had all our gear and records with us (we sold vinyl as merch’ – goes to show how far back this was). When we got to the border on the way in, we were stopped and taken aside by the French customs agents, who took one look at the rock band with a Dutch driver and a van registered in the Netherlands, with boxes full of rock records and t-shirts and decided we were worth a search. The first BT album, some of you may recall, had a series of symbols in a hand-drawn logo designed by yours truly, a semi-arbitrary assemblage of a peace sign , a heart, a yin/yang, a cross, and — naturally — a hypodermic needle, for no apparent reason except to invite problems.
The French agents did not need to see anything more to order us out of the van. They brought a dog in to sniff through everything. The van was completely emptied and each section was taken apart, ceiling and door panels removed, and all our bags brought inside the building. Tom’s duffel, filled at this point mostly with dirty laundry, was placed in front of us as we watched them search each item, with the dog sniffing all of it. And they strip-searched everyone but me. I was actually a little offended.
We were afraid enough of border crossings to know not to have anything on us and none of us had any sort of drug habits that would require taking such risks. So, after a few hours, they finally and reluctantly let us go on our merry way to enjoy the fair city of Paris as warmly welcomed tourists.
The next year, we came back to actually play a show. We were never very popular in France, but we had been booked at an ad hoc club in an old abandoned hospital campus that was being squatted. With our history at the border, we figured it would be best to get an early start. I believe that this time we were coming from Zurich, with its infamous Needle Park, home to hundreds of junkies. But that might have been the first visit, I forget. Needless to say, we were again held up for hours at the broder, with a similar bienvenue committee. Instead of being early, we had to speed into Paris so as to not arrive horrendously late. Of course, we were stopped by the police again on the highway, who seemed to have a sense of curiosity similar to their countrymen back at the border. “The French police wouldn’t give me no peace/They claimed I was a nasty person…”
By the time we pulled into the right location, having circled the serpentine back streets of Paris looking for this squatted club, we were quite tardy, a fact made clear by an otherwise pretty lady running toward the driver-side window of our van, screeching her head off at us in a Gallic tempest of unmitigated fury. Stephen, our tour manager was a young guy from New Zealand, but I think it was Jan, our long-time Dutch soundman who also acted as our tour manager at times, who was driving and received the brunt of this vitriol. The poor guy was often stressed and took the job quite seriously, and, unfortunately, he understood some French. He mostly took it, though he tried here and there, in the milliseconds the mademoiselle paused, to explain what happened. She was having none of it. She started in on us in hilarious broken english that made her sound like an enraged female Inspector Closeau. The day in France was not off to a good start.
We were finally allowed to drive through the gates, past huge security guards dressed in DEA black, cargo pants tucked into boots, each holding German shepherds on short leashes. Yes, this was the “rock club,” a walled campus that was like entering a prison.
We drove in and started to unload our gear, trying our best to ignore the ongoing stream of abuse from Fifi, who we soon deduced was the promoter. While Bob — who was our graphic designer and was out selling merch for us — unloaded the van, Jan, who did not see Bob, slid the van door shut on his head. Bob was woozy and eventually had to be taken to the hotel to rest. He may have gone to the doctor. I know he did eventually, I just don’t recall this detail. It turned out that he got a concussion of some degree which made him nauseous.
Soldiering on, we completed a soundcheck in one of the many euro venues that resemble an airplane hangar, with a tin barrel ceiling, clearly the optimal conditions for the sort of hi-fi sound that warms the heart an exacting Dutch sound engineer with frazzled nerves and guilt compounded by arriving late and slamming his friend’s head in a van door. But as you can tell, we were not so egregiously late as to miss a soundcheck; just enough to summon the blackest stuff from the bowels of a demonic French chick’s damned soul.
As we made our way out for a quick bite, the bassist from the opening band asked Chris if he could borrow Chris’ P-Bass. Chris, generous soul he is, sort of shrugged and said, sure, I guess so. When we got back in after dinner, the band was finishing up their set. I was first in the club. There was a rowdy audience watching and listening to the cacophonous racket, as the bassist repeatedly threw Chris’ P-Bass up in the air, the strap holding it to his body, and letting it slam and bounce against his upraised thigh. I turned around to grab Chris, “look at what this guy is doing. You’ll want to see this.”
Chris came in and stood, mouth agape. He confronted the kid backstage afterward. “What the fuck? Why did you do that?”
The kid was very blase — there’s a nice French word for you. “Hey c’mon,” he said. “Eet eese poonk rock, men.”
Chris replied something like, “where’s your bass? What happened to it, and why did you need mine?”
The guy just shrugged his shoulders. There was nothing wrong with his bass. He just wanted to use Chris’s and got overexuberant. Chris simply did not know how to respond. But he let the kid have it.
Finally, the moment we were all waiting for, the time that we get to play; it is all about the music, man; the hour or so that makes it all worthwhile. We started our set to a packed crowd in this little room. The kids had paid around the equivalent of $20, which back then, for a band our size, was a lot of dough. I was actually starting to feel good. The crowd was definitely boisterous. And as a song or two went by, I felt myself getting beer spilled/thrown at me. Cups seemed to be flying. And one hit my right at the top of my guitar and drenched my torso.
Sort of half laughing, in my slowest, clearest speech, to try to convey my message to the French crowd, I said something like, “OK, I know it is a rock club and you all paid a lot of money to come and have fun, I have to politely ask whoever it is throwing beer up here to please stop.” I heard a lot of yelling and jeering, people pointing fingers, and so on.
We started into the next song, “Mineral,” which starts slowly, qu
ietly, and with just me playing the guitar. The screaming continued and I saw a bustle in the crowd, just behind the first few rows of people, who started to look over their shoulders at those behind them fighting someone off, pushing around, trying to get out of the way, as this other insane-looking girl with a shaved head made her way forward, literally clawing her way up to the front. By the time it came for me to sing the first lines, she was in front of me yelling at me.
Mistake number one: I stopped playing and made eye contact with her, allowing her to engage me. She was still trying to gain ground and people were pushing her back. “What are you saying?” I asked. Mistake number two.
She yelled something to me in French or gibberish, or some combination of the two. Either way, I had no idea what she was saying. Mistake number three: I say, “hold on, hold on, what is she saying? Let her talk.”
She wrestled her way right in front of me and yelled, “I thought eet would be refreshing to you! I thought you wanted to be refreshed!” She had been the one throwing the beers at me.
“No, ha ha, no that’s fine,” I said. I don’t need….”
Splat! She spit right in my face before I could get my sentence out. Hawked a loogy right in my face.
Mistake number four comes next. Instead of walking away, which is something I am not too good at generally, and starting the music again, I instantly and instinctively spit right back in her cute little face. Well, before I could even straighten up, the skinhead chick was ON me, grabbing a hold of my guitar strings and my face, her nails slashing as she clawed up onto stage, kicking slapping, pulling my hair, my guitar clanging away. I looked to the side and saw Chris, again with mouth agape, but just standing there, along with Stephen, our guitar tech, stock still, the both of them. My face must have been in a panicked expression of, “a little help here?”
Finally, somehow, we were separated. Shaken, I left the stage and exited out the back door. In this setup, the dressing rooms were in another building up a flight of stairs. I was shaking and scratched up. We had only played maybe three songs. Fifi the promoter lady comes in, now all gooey sweet, begging us to go back on, telling us how the people loved the music and it was only one bad apple and so on. I told her to fuck off, that we had been badly treated this whole day, and that they have this heavy security presence and yet no one there to stop this one petite Tasmanian devil from nearly taking me out? She begged us, but my adrenaline was pumping and wanted to make her sweat, maybe a small riot from the outraged kids in the offing, so we refused to go back on for a while. She kept begging and we relented, telling her it was “for the kids, man!”
We were escorted back down the steps toward the entry to the stage. But we had to pass back through a courtyard between the two buildings. There, in a doorway, was the skinhead girl and two of the huge security guys and she was pummeling them while they tried to restrain her. They sort of seemed like they didn’t want to hurt her, but she was trying their patience.
We played our set, which was good for a few laughs. People in the front were apologizing for her, telling me she was clearly on bad drugs. We wrapped up an otherwise uneventful and fun set.
Afterward, we were up in the dressing room again. enjoying a few drinks with some folks. I was discussing the bizarro incident with a French guy.
“Oh yeah, man,” he said. “She was very high on something. She had been making problems all night.”
“She was insane,” I told him. “I mean, she really hurt me. And then we saw her outside going nuts on some big security guys.”
“Yes, yes!” he replied. “You know, they had to shock her,” illustrating some sort of movement with his hands.”
“Huh? They had to shock her? What do you mean?”
He kept up the prodding motion. “Yes, oui. They had to give her electreek shock.”
“What?! Like a cattle prod? A stun gun?” I asked (I don’t think the word “Taser” had yet entered the lexicon — english or french).
“Yes, yes, ‘stun gun!.’ Can you believe it, man?”
Here is the kind of place we played: huge SWAT team security guys patrolling a prison-like campus with German shepherds and stun guns, waiting for an opportunity to send high voltage into an out-of-control skinhead chick, and yet not being able to rise to the occasion when they were actually needed.
Merry Christmas kids!