Ken Gutberlet

3/13/2003 - Euro-winter wrap-up- and how! (to stay warm)

As lots of you know, I've been safely back in the Western Hemisphere for a few (double-digit-worth) days. But, I oughta complete the tale of my latest excursion. Chronologically, I better re-visit St Mz first . . .

What a blast! The winter resort vibe encouraged everyone to have fun. I didn't shirk the offer. But, I had to live too. For example, figuring out the washer took about an hour with my Deutsche dictionary and foggy Francais. My clothes came out smelling not like smoke, so I guessed I figured it out properly. Proper change for the dryer was a different issue; but, I had plenty of chairs in the room on which to hang the washing. The second time thru I got change after buying a candy bar- mmmm . . . raspberry filled chocolate!- at the BP 'cross the street (regular petrol = CHF1.40 per liter = about $4 per gallon). After the third wash mission, I'd learned of the extra power switch on the wall, and that short-cuts sometimes ain't worth it. Another holiday interrupter but quality of life enhancer was the purchasing of produce. Yes, in Switz (as I recall from Germany also), you're supposed to weigh your produce and attach your own price sticker to it. Ahhhh, yes. In Denmark most of that pyramid rung is sold by the item so there's limited weighing- in produce shops they weigh it for ya. Tricky stuff. Speaking of edibles, the fabulous generic "Swiss Cheese" was not for sale- cheese-wise, there were more types than a college computer lab (am I dating myself? nowadays does everyone have their own in-room computer?) during term paper week- similarly, some were better than others. Another bit along the edible line . . . the Acla restaurant wait staff was the "M" squad: Melanie, Marcela, Mandy, Markus, Massamo, Mark; they were headed by Susie, so maybe they were just known as the "MS" (pronounced "emms"). This tale trail (or piste, as the Swiss slopes might be termed) is every bit as switchbacking as the up-the-hill walking paths of St Mz. Speaking of piste-ing . . .

My final ski day I rode my 3rd and last gondola to Piz Nair- the peak of the resort. 3000-some meters above the Atlantic mean tide, on a sunny day the Alp vistalook paused with a crazy-cool cliched "breath taking", peaks and snowy peaks against a touchable blue, and with the grim meteorology and limited visibility of my final ski afternoon, it was still awesome enough to endure the nose-numbing breeze and cheek-stinging ice/snow pellets. As the gondola arrived at the terminal at the top, there, lost in all that serenity, nestled deep in the blanket of neutral Switzerland, high in the nook-n-cranny Alps, way up near the tallest human-reachable elevation in Switz, the doors opened and a large German Shepherd met us, nose working as we clomped by, then touring the empty gondola- a bomb sniffer. The gondola and the Shepherd both brought me back to earth. I guess the World Alpine Ski Champs were considered enough of a high-profile event- "notable" US skiers were in town for one- to warrant thorough security.

By the time it was time to leave St Mz and the Stubli, I'd dug into a solid gigging groove. But, it was time to leave. Near the end of the engagement, a previous au-pere in Lancaster, PA and brief attender of Franklin & Marshall College asked if I minded playing the same songs every night. I offered back a "wellllll . . . ". I asked if she liked hearing the same songs every night and she said that it was great because this kind of acoustic thing isn't very common in Switz, and it's fun to sing along with the same songs. I didn't get into it with her, but while the gig was great practice, it wasn't really fulfilling for the soul. By the end, the only line that I sang every night that I really heard myself sing- and it made me laugh- was "that's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, I'm losing my religion." When "the crew" was in town, Lower made a comment about me and my "art" in the bar- I laughed that it wasn't art- Kev'Mo came back that it was a science- true, true. Initially, I knew regulars in the bar by the tunes they requested: "Leaving on a Jet Plane" chick; "Otherside" dudes and bounce-dancing chick- sometimes she was the only one visibly enjoying the tunes- fed off of her; "Sweet Home Alabama" chick; "Hound Dog" dude; "Runaway Train" chick; "End of the World (As We Know It)" chick and dude- asking for abuse when folks find I know that one!; "Yellow Submarine" dude; "Shakira" dude and chick; "Paradise City" dude (the last two tunes I learned specifically for 'em- one mellow time someone asked for "Mr Tambourine Man" and I wanted to know extra verses, so, during my break, I ran up to the hotel's internet terminal and printed them out- goofy electronica!). It's a standard trick- see someone come in the bar and recall a tune they requested- play it. Sing it at 'em. Let 'em know it's for them. Appreciation comes back (usually). Simple formula.

Along with the specific song requesters, others left an impression: shirt swapping dude and I traded shirts but he didn't want to wear my drenched t (it's not like I scored the World Cup winner or anything- he had a bud who ran an Irish pub and thought he'd like my McCaffrey's Irish Ale shirt- suuuuurrrrrrrre, why not); Swiss military in-da-house for the last couple weeks- they were there setting up the pistes for the ski champs- I learned that a requirement for enrolling in the Swiss army is the ability to drink until 3 am (or at least be in the bar), get carried out, and be on the slopes at 5 am, ready to ski and prep trails; groping drunk Italian men- one night, most every young woman that left the bar during the last hour got enthusiastically groped on the way out- I was culture shocked; knit-hat-wearing requester kept squeezing to the stage and just as I was finishing one song he'd be yelling for another- I soon learned his trick and spread out his requests, reducing his times squeezing towards me- a little conditioning; dancing chick that Piles thought learned to dance from Seinfeld's Elaine- I enjoyed watching; Martin from Vienna invited me to entertain at next year's Austrian bridge tourney- we'll see; dude and chick post-gig wanted to borrow my guitar to take to a party- uhhhhh . . . no; Howard and buds from England used to play and dug the 60's rock and bought me plenty of beer; the crowd that was crazily cheering when I climbed on stage and turned off the disco- Mitchy and Emu on the tables with the rest of 'em; Colombian smokers in the hall- on one of my breaks two dudes were enjoying a rolled one in the hall- a couple ladies joined them, one with a fat white fur coat- she offered me "Colombian, Colombian" as I walked by- cracked me up- people were burning the stuff in the toilets, Stubli, Acla restaurant, and on the train; camera crew- in the bar for about half an hour right in the middle of a Fridee nite- I jammed (I mean JAMMED!) "St Mz's greatest hits" but the crowd was distracted, folks hiding from the lights or showing their best three-second dance move and then camera shying, a military dude hiding his face- fought all night to get back the crowd with not much success; Paul from Chicago- I overheard him say his hometown and saw him in the bar later that nite and told Kev'Mo to ask him about Chicago- he was happy the stunt was pulled; Stefan told Kev'Mo that my enthusiasm would be hard to replace- very nice of him to say; missing jacket- Kev'Mo's jacket (and two others) was removed from the coat hooks- police were involved, they visited the suspect's sleeping quarters, and the jacket magically reappeared the next night, pockets still full; "Atlantic City" dude- requested and then went absolutely crazy singing along when I played the Springsteen song- tossing in lots of "HEP!"s- in this case, the song itself didn't matter to the crowd as much as the passion and groove- the dude and I fed off each other and the crowd was into it; Martina Hingis- she snuck in on my final night.

My final night (the Fridee before the World Ski Champs began) began with one of my fondest St Mz memories- the Schw Hotel dessert buffet. Oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Yowza. I showed Piles, Kev'Mo, and Johnson the way there, but sampled it with moderation (much like I lived my whole St Mz existence until my voice got on track) to avoid the overstuffed belches and sleepies. But, send me off with a bowl of the white and regular chocolate mousses and, well, I don't know what- I've never done it before. Sorry, distractions. Where were we. Oh, gigging. I wandered to the cellar to set up and some women in the hall recognized me and started pleading for "Surfing USA", "What's Up", and "Country Roads"; dude wants Chili Peppers. I go into Stubli and the alcove table to stage left starts singing "Hey Jude". Toss on some more coal, train's a-comin'! Yes, barreling down a 6% grade from the go. Busted my G string about 20 min in and played about five tunes without it- the crowd was there- didn't want to lose them- 'tween each tune I'd organize a little closer towards getting a fresh string. Wound on my final reserve G and finished the set. Some good-byes at 1st break. I'd just finished my 2nd set and a chick squoze in and I thought "that looks like that Swiss tennis player . . . uhh . . . what's her name . . . hmm . . . Lingus . . . oh yeah"- I discounted the idea since she apparently showed up by herself, but, I hopped off stage and a dude at stageside said "Martina Hingis walked in"- hmm, so, it was her- I guess he can pick her out kinda the way I could pick out Lefty Driesell better than most folks from Kansas- sadly, she got to the elbow, tried to navigate the non-moving mass for a bit, and turned and left- I never got the chance to thrill her with my most excellent "I don't know what it's called, but it says 'West Virginia'". The human mass looks fun from on stage, and, having survived some of the Mid-Atlantic's finer mosh pits, I had no troubles moving from stage to exit. But, to thrive in it, well, that might be another issue. More good-byes and busted my G with 20 min left in 3rd set. Then I lost my only good pick in the darkness for a few tunes- I tried a thin busted pick but couldn't catch the groove and took a quick break to scan the floor. Reunited and closed the set on the 5-string. Borrowed a G from Bryan Huddy at 3rd break- that busted 25 min into 4th set. Wow. I'm slaying 'em. Again, had to finish the set on the 5-string. It was during this set that a dude that I couldn't condition pestered me to a threshold. I tried, but he didn't come thru the pub enough for a thorough conditioning. Buddy, if ya spoke better English or I spoke Italian, we could sort this out. Or maybe if ya understood my numerous "yes" replies and the subsequent playings of "No Woman No Cry", ya'd realize that the song will be played. I'll credit him this- I didn't think the song would float in this crowd, but he kept requesting it- stopping me in the hall even- and folks were into it. But, this night, I think his mission was to make me hate the song. With most people, the more pain-in-the-assish they are with their request, the longer I wait to play it. Ok, so, that's kinda dickish in return, but it's one of the ways I pretend to keep control. I saw him and played his song in the 2nd set- tried to appease him before he requested it- which is the only time I got that chance. He was ready for another round in the 4th set- I complied. Then 20 min later, there he was waving and yelling at me while I was singing, tapping me on the arm, mostly just in my face, asking for "No Woman No Cry". He didn't want to hear "no", waving his one un-slung arm in protest. If he had any civility about him thru the month, I might've dropped another round of it, but he was plain pushy all month. He really tried to make me hate the song, but eventually the alcohol (my savior!) must've taken over his motivational center and he sat down. Besides, on the 5-string, the tune loses some of its delicacy. At my 4th break I begged another G from Bryan and that lasted the final 30 min set. I closed with "Heaven's Door" and the crowd was thinned and no encore was cheered for- cool enuff, early train to catch. A dude up front gave me a little 'tude because I wouldn't let him play a song. Sorry, no open mic. More good-byes after the gig and, according to the men in charge, I stamped my ticket for a return trip. Excellent.

As discussed earlier, the Kbh (Copenhagen) experience was way mellower. My Kbh February was partitioned like this: one week chillin after crazy St Mz gig; one and a half weeks battling sinusitis (of which about one week was spent in bed except for gigging- if the gig had any kinda pulse about it, I probably would've skipped some nites- I also got to call in my own antibio recommendation); one week hanging with the Buurrd; half a week wrapping ends loosened since January. Yeah, that was my outside of the gig schedule. The musicians' flat was mellow thru the month- maybe it was the wintry environs- it snowed every day for the first week-n-a-half with with no accumulation- only saw snow one day after that, but the damp chill breeze was biting; half-way thru Feb, Bryan and Julie Huddy went to Berlin and Jason from the Catskills arrived from Berlin.

The Barock gig was waaaayyyyyyyyyy mellow. Multiple nights of just me and the bartender. But, to limit the listening to the same disco mini-disc every night (I'd catch myself singing the tunes at random times thru the day- total brainwashing!), I'd play to the empty pub. Good practice for tunes new or forgotten; plus, if folks came by and saw/heard (how would they hear it? good question- we'll get to that) tunes, they might be more inclined to come on in. Once the bodies arrived, the program went back to the regularly scheduled dose of "Mrs Robinson" and crew (I played, over 23 nites, "Country Roads" 6 4/2 times- that's 6 times solo- all but once by request- and 4 times accompanying my jamming partner- jamming partner? good question- we'll get to that).

There are times when the Kbh gig seems under attack from the powers that be. Tom, the agent that books musicians into the pubs, has recently had squabbles with the "ptb". I witnessed some of that first hand this trip. The head goon rules dictatorly. For instance, the bartenders are not allowed to sit behind the bar- even when for hours in the afternoon the pub is empty and the shelves have been cleaned twice and the candles are all happily burning- they must stand (theoretically with no leaning, but, the goon alert gets sounded when he's in da building). Some of that gets applied to the musicians. I've never had a music-related run-in with head goon, but his legend gives him a "don't screw up around him or you'll be sacked" aura. For instance, if the speakers in the back aren't working (folks will unplug a speaker to eliminate some volume- why'd they come in to a bar with live music?), he'll give the musician the bidness- I guess a sound-check walk-thru of the pub should be a good starting point. While I was there, he insisted that the door to the outside be cracked so that people could hear the music (I got to that!). Hmm . . . nice in theory, but when the patrons in the pub leave because it's too COLD, maybe that strategy needs a re-visit. It's certainly not as if he has concerns for the warmth of his staff- waitresses stand outside to present an open-for-business look- they mostly get mocking cold weather comments; us goofs with the guitars, so we have to wear three layers and blow on our hands between songs- so what? as long as passerbys can hear the music. Door open or closed, lots of folk peeked thru windows to check the scene and saw an empty pub and wandered off. Enough specifically about the goon- back to the ptb.

The first duoing (I got to that too!) of Feb happened the first Thu when one of the inspectors (manager) got a call saying that the musician from one of the other pubs would be coming down to play also. Ok. Seems that that pub wanted to try an open mic on Thu nites and the troubador needed a place to play (since they were paying him anyway). Chris from Philly was the re-routed. Met him about ten mins before we had a blast jamming together- to a mostly empty pub, entertaining ourselves if no one else. The same event happened the following Thu. More good yuks. His gig at the other pub was a two-week stay and Jason from the Catskills followed him. When Jason showed at the other pub, they told him that they'd found a replacement for the rest of the month. Seems that Tom (the agent) had lost that gig due to the ptb knowing they could find better musicians. I found that out when I arrived at Barock the first Sat Jason was in town (2/15). I was in the throes of sinusitis, so I was happy to have someone share the energy of the night- but for the next two weeks? Thru four months in Kbh, I've been randomly assigned to duo with various partners- they all worked- some were more enjoyable than others, but they all worked. We didn't gel right away. Playing style was a major issue. Plus, our songlists rarely overlapped. He wasn't as free-forming as others I'd played with (I think due to a lack of playing with others), so initially it limited what I could play without things sounding lousy. I'm usually one for a group-agreeing on the next tune, but he'd aggressively charge into his next tune, so I began to jump in at any pause without consultation- weird battling for song selection. Funny about all this, at that time I was reading about the major Mid-Atlantic winter weather event, and in an article someone offered from the serenity prayer: "accept the things you cannot change." On Thu of that week (2/20), we were told to play an early show (1730- 2130) because the ptb wanted to audition some new musicians at Barock and Fisken (a pub I've gigged twice before). Well, no other musicians showed that night. The inspector told us that she would've paid us to play the rest of the night- if there were any folks in the pub. Instead, she said there was a miscommunication- we should do early shows on Fri and Sat. Fine. However you want it. The Fri happy hour crowd was fun, but, again, by around 2100 the pub was quiet. We ate dinner while the auditioner played- nice stuff, all original, great for sitting in a coffee house. We got a call on Sat afternoon that we should start at our original 2130 time that night. Seems they sacked the new guys (both pubs)- not the best rah rah drink yer beer and sing along tunes. There's one for Tom's crew!

After about a week, Jason and I had figured out enough of each others offerings that things had loosened up. Maybe the rallying against the invasion of new blood helped. It ended up being a good time- so much so that the last few nights we'd both take limited breaks (one broke while the other jammed). Our greatest hit was probably the tight-harmonied "Cotton Fields"- twice a night once we found that gem; but, the best show was "Shout", with Jason singing out on the floor while I drove my best Otis Day groove and shouted along. Yes, he liked being a showman- he had the voice and energy for it. But, the thin crowds didn't rationally allow for an all-out shout too many nights. He also played a little more George Michael than I wanted to hear- mostly when I was on break, but one night I played along on a Wham! tune- GULP! I had to check my ID to verify who I was and order a double whiskey to soothe the soul. On the last night, Jason made the head goon smile (that's rare I hear). Goon had dinner upstairs with some of the other ptb and came down as I went on my first break. Jason catered to the young crew in the boothed corner to stage right with some Red Hot Chili Peppers and they were bouncing around, screaming along. Seems the goon liked that. He and the crew left after a second song, hopefully satisfied that the musicians playing in his pubs can do the job. We closed February together with Neil Young's "Natural Beauty"- a tune I learned from Jason and that's gonna make me buy the "Harvest Moon" CD.

Back to the flat after 3:00, couple'a cookies and beers, finish up packing, off to the airport by 4:30- two hours post-gig. Woo hoo! Had to take off my boots at security check in Zurich before cleared for a to-the-US flight. Interesting silverware: Swiss Airlines offered all-metal silverware on all flights except plastic knives flying back to DC. The goofy yuks of "Blazing Saddles" and the knowing smirks of "Cool Hand Luke" escorted me home.

Catcha round da town!