Ken Gutberlet

4/25/2002 - Oslo calling, again

Hope all's good back west! Here in Norge (that's how the locals spell it) things are quite the good time. I guess we'll get down to business . . .

The gigging's been alright- that's alright like alright, not like alright. Only once in three-plus weeks did I not play at all due to nobody in the pub. Quite a few nites I've only played one set and called it- Suns, Tues, Weds. Last Thurs the place was so mobbed that the staff wanted me to chill after one set so they could open the doors and let the pub breathe (some rule about closing the doors when the music's live- the Euro pop on the jukebox- we'll talk about the jukebox!- ain't all that quiet either). Then last Fri nite it was mobbed again and after I shooed the crowd off MY mini-stage, I spent all my extended breaks- that was a little frustrating since we were all having a good time but the staff wanted to open the doors for a bit- clearing glasses for the staff. This place gets crazy-busier each Fri nite. The folks start to come out and get a little happy on Wed, Thu's been active, and Fris are packed. Sat nites are a little lower-key- maybe the folk like a reformed Sat nite out. Pros (and supposed cons): mellow nites let me play what I want; rowdier nites result in sing- and dance-alongs and some fill in the tip jar. Also, partying folks like to buy the troubador beer. Two Fris ago, six beers were bought for me. Hello belly. My favorite beer was from a lady who asked for some "Born In the USA" era Springsteen. So I played "Dancing in the Dark". As I started the 2nd verse, she came up with a beer and gestured for me to take a drink. Ok. Takk (that's Norsk for gracias, danke, merci). She then told me I should have the whole thing- she'd pour it for me. Ok. Tusen takk (that's Norsk for muchas gracias, danke sehr, merci beaucuop). Peristalsis took over as she poured and I kept the groove going- an odd spot in the song for an instrumental break, but no one really cared.

Requests. That's been an interesting blend. Most requested song? I think it's a 3-way tie: "Cottonfields", "House of the Rising Sun", and "Hotel California" (I've only played it three times so far- two were requests from the same dude on different nites). Most requested band? "Do you play any U2?" Best return for a request (aside from the beer chug)? Tie: dude right in front of the stage out-screaming me during David Alan Coe's "Greatest Country and Western Song", and dude at the table a few meters away trying to out-scream me during CCR's "Lodi". Wackiest request that I played? "Glory Glory Man United" (a football . . . Er . . . Soccer . . . Hooligan sing-alonger the the tune of "Glory Glory Halleluiah")- the requester shouted along with me. Wackiest request I didn't play? The Smurf Song- I la-ed some of that la la la nonsense but she didn't accept- she said she'd bring the words for me the next time- still waiting . . . Most "don't challenge me with that" (non-) request? Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet"- from the woman who works hard and plays hard. Dandy. When I spoke with her first she wasn't frunk- she'd only had four pints. An hour later she wasn't drunk- she'd only had three pints. She and her party later walked out on their check- if she wasn't drunk, well, . . . Anyway, she said she wanted to hear the song but told me I shouldn't try it because it was too complicated. "Shouldn't" and I don't get along. I played the song. She enjoyed it. I later negged her "Hotel Cally" request.

I haven't gotten the balls enough to tell the "Hotel Cally" requesters that I don't play the song for less that 100 kr (as of this typing, 8.53 Nkr per US dollar). I also, to preserve US-Norge relations, haven't answered anybody with these replies to their questions/statements:
Conversation at my second break of the night: "Can I come up and sing Britney Spears with you?"
"No, sorry, I don't play any Britney." She then starts to sing some Britney for me. Nice. "So what do you play?" Reply: Uhh . . . Haven't you been in the pub the last two hours?
Conversation: "Could you play "Hello" by Lionel Richie?" "No, sorry I don't know that one." "You don't know that song?" and he starts to sing it. "I know the song, I just can't play it." "You should try it." R: You should try sitting down.
Q: Can I play your guitar? R: Look, I didn't ask if I could sleep with your wife.
Q: Can I sing a song? R: Karaoke bar's up the street.
Then there was the dude who didn't like my version of "Heartbreak Hotel"- he let me know. Lambast him? Nah. The version wasn't that great- I was trying to play him a tune he might like. He demonstrated how I needed to sing to get the crowd into it. Thanks. His mission in life is to become the media/entertainment god of the 21st century. His girlfriend is a professional dancer (not that kind) and will be meeting Michael "how much for the little boy?" Jackson (while we're here, can I just say that "Cardinals Unveil Defrocking Plan" as a headline titling the Catholic church's latest pedophile plan is a poor choice of words) and, how he's getting to the states he's not sure, but once he does, he'll tell Mikey his plan of philanthropy and he'll help him with some cash and . . . Sorry, it was a slow night and he seemed pretty miserable.

I did actually let one dude sing along with me- he told me he was in a Norsk band and he liked to sing Beatles harmonies. Why I said yes when he asked- I'm not sure. He came up and screamed in my ear during the first Bealtes tune of the night- oh, so you had the beef and onions for dinner- tasty- trying to work his way to the mic. Good enough. He then came up two tunes later and sang along with the next song, sat stageside waiting for his next chance, and found it soon enough.
Alright, thanks, take a break, and he did. Much later, I invited him back to sing "Imagine" and "Hey Jude" with me- still, I don't know why. A gal had witnessed this and she decided that she wanted to sing along too. So, she comes hopping up to sing along with "Wish You Were Here". I strategically defended the mic's position and she plastered her face against mine to try to get closer. I sweated all over her. I guess it wasn't too bad since she tried the same trick with "Country Roads". Again I battled for position. She was back the following week and tried singing along. I used my feet to fend her off for a while, but she was persistent and I had to stop "Imagine" in the middle to ask her not to sing. She obliged, standing on the stage, kinda dancing along for a few tunes. "Karaoke bar's up the street."

"Rorbua"( to check out the pub's site) is actually the name of a boat shed found in the Lofoten Islands- a Norsk archipeligo up by the Arctic Circle. So, the folks tell me that it's a Northern Norge vibe to the joint. Also, I fibbed in my previous email- I can't say the word.
People ask me in which pub I'm playing and they all laugh when they figure out what I'm trying to say. Toughest Norsk word? Who knows . . . but the two rolling r's up front make it a toughie for Amurkin talkers like me. The jukebox. Rorbua has this mp3 jukebox with over 10,000 songs on it (a high dominance of Euro pop). It scrolls along the artist and title of each song it plays (well, it was the Byrds, not Dylan, who sang "Mr Tambourine Man", and Groover Washington Jr, well, it wasn't all that groovin) and I'm always curious to see what's next (of course, it tells ya that too, how much time's left for the track, . . .). It's cool to be hanging in Oslo and on pops Dylan's "Hurricane". I browsed and found Zappa's "Joe's Garage", the Alarm's "68 Guns" (my 80's roots are showing), Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile". Great late nite listening. Spilling coke all over my stuff wasn't as sticky as I thought (Euro recipe?). I think the bad vibe of having a coke on stage caused the spill. I've taken to sitting down for all performances- initially it was just for the mellows, but I think a bar stool is more "with the people" than standing. Only one person successfully yelled thru my mic at a break (the on/off switch isn't too hard to find). Later that nite, someone swiped the tip jar (I think it was empty- I hadn't been playing too much that evening). Trump card. It was a bit after midnite a couple Sat morns ago and I had run thru all my best sing alongers, but I needed to take a break for a few mins and get the folks back on my side for the last 20 mins or so. There it was, hiding behind the three of clubs- the Ace of Spades. I dropped it on the table and we all sang "American Pie". My only time to play it so far- not yet requested. But, it's cool to know ya got something in yer hand to froth the folks into a lather.

Alrite, enough bidness, let's get on to some living! The flat residing Irish bands (well, Irish tune-playing bands) have been a mixed bag. The first week it was just John. The 2nd weekend were three dudes based in Copenhagen (one Dane, one Scot, one Irishman). They played a less sing-alongy set of tunes and we- well, Seamus the Irishman mostly- had good gabbing about politics, music, life. Yirdy (the Scot) enjoyed having a whiskey before bed to smooth out things- he left me 375 ml of whiskey and an Elephant Beer. Takk. Sonnich (he's the Dane- did ya figure that out?) didn't have much to say. So, another low-key crew. Ahh, what's life without change?
The next band was scheduled for a Wed-Sat gig. They showed on that Tues. The synchronization might not be exact, but as I was shaking Kevin's hand in introduction, his other hand was pouring me a vodka drink- "You will join us for a drink?" "Oh, alright." These three lads were from Dundalk on the Emerald Isle. They were here for a party weekend away. I don't think they went home disappointed (except for the lady action for 2/3). Last Thurs I came home to a drunken Irish fiddle player dancing naked on a table to some Euro pop. Hello. Quite a few of us ended up sporting trash bags (bin liners as them Irish say)- with clothes on. Fun chaps (although there was another naked fiddlist sighting on the weekend) and great players- flautist Kevin, gitterist David, naked fiddlist Edin- but my liver was glad to see them go- oh yeah, if you're ever in Oslo, avoid the Jagermeister- 300 kr for 4 shots. This weekend's performer (Daithi Rua) and accompaniers are much more professional in their attitude- Irishman Daithi is now based in Belgium.

Real living:
I've found my way to a great Mondee nite songwriters' open mic. Some great music- when ya say "great music", give it some feel. It's funny that most of the chatter is Norsk but most of the songs are English- one dude told me he's inspired by mostly English writers- there he goes. Some cool poetry too. I've got my hands on one dude's (Svein's) collection. It goes on in Queen's Pub- what the locals call a "brown pub" (a Norsk expression)- a dark pub where grumpy old guys hang out at the bar- the back room is where the music goes on.

Busking. Hah! What fun! I've been out on the street a few times with my dobro. It's great practice, and if someone wants to toss a coin my way, tusen takk! I've collected some alright coin, sold a CD to Tor- an artist who heard me at the songwriters' open mic- and became a part of everybody's Oslo experience as much as the wanderers by became part of mine (street performers are listed as an attraction in the Norway guide!). During the week, groups of young teen boys come by and check it out and drop in some coin. On the weekend, the tourists like to contribute and lots of little folk like to watch this random dude on the street playing this sideways guitar- their parents usually give em a coin to toss into the case. Aside from one time when I played the song intentionally as a $ gatherer (the 2nd play of the day), every time I've played my "international hit" "Mermaid", someone's tossed some coin my way- it also got me my 1st Oslo busking tip.
Interesting randomness to be sure.

Boat People (that's my term for 'em). They're folks that live on sailboats here in town. They make the Rorbua their living room in the winter. Nice folk- I've left a couple boats in a state.
But, two weekends ago, the Aker Brygge (the wharf area where I gig) tie up fees went up 600% for the summer. So, they all sailed for one of the islands in the fjord. The ferry to the island only runs during these warmer months and the restaurant that becomes their living room opens the same time. So, no post-gig boat hangings anymore. Again, my liver thanks the dockmaster.

I've taken to doing my laundry in the sink since the pub's washer's been broken for a week plus (it's rumored to be fixed now- I'll see today) and noone can point me to a laundro within a 20 min walk. Socks . . . socks I could clean as I brush my teeth. But jeans . . . they're a tough rinse . . . I haven't started bubbling when I sweat, so I'm thinking I rinsed well enough.

There was a 10 K race thru Oslo on Sundee. I saw the runners warming up and I started to feel like a pony sniffing the starting gate at Churchill Downs on a fresh May Saturdee afternoon. If I had half a knee, I'd show these sun -n- ice cream worshippers how to RUN! (oh yeah- the fleet-footed American in Oslo beer sponge) Here's the conclusion of the "if . . . then . . . BUT"
theme: BUT, alas, I doubt I could combine to get a whole knee, and the ability to walk for the rest of the trip is pretty important. So, I resigned myself to sun -n- ice cream. Ahh . . . shorts weather. Mmm . . . double-dip chocolate. Another positive was that while hanging around the finish line, I wasn't the one most in need of a shower. Also, it saved my joints for a super cool bike ride. For the price of about three beers, you can work off the caloric equivalent with a three hour cycle rental. Once you find the place (the "info" house adjacent to the rental place didn't know it was there- interesting tram ride thru Oslo in search of their wrongly-directed destination- we got boarded by the ticket patrol- it was cops sieging a train with the only way out into the prison bus- the other doors were blocked by more cops- quite a choreographed event- no take-aways on our tram tho), it's about an hour and 20 mins or so up the hill to Oslo's ski jump tower. Frank and Steve were two Belfasters I'd encountered a couple nites before at the Dubliner- they invited me along for the ride. Luck handed us the freshest day of the month on Tues (up until Wed- YOWZA!). Up we slowly pedalled (can you say "lethargy makes weak"?). We scaled the tower and the wind was singing, shimmying the glass-walled launching pad for the ____ (insert adjective) ski jumpers. But the view was incredible- the rain the day before washed out the sky's haze. But, the real reward of the trip, as any biker knows, was the half-hour all downhill ride back to the rental shop. Fun stuff.

It took me a few days after I arrived to catch up on some sleep, have my gitters catch up with me, and to start appreciating Oslo. It happened after my 2nd gig. I walked out of the pub and across the water the yellow lights cut crisp-lined v's thru the fog, illuminating the spires of the old castle/fortress with its stone walls and its perch on the cliff some 30 meters above the harbor.
One last (seemingly- by the riders' interests) ferry lands and prepares to load for its journey southward thru the cove. Leaving the next night, the sky is clear for the first time and a faint chorus of gulls somewhere down the fjord is the only sound- the pile driver across the cove rests for the night. The hills encasing the upper fjord twinkle like LEDs on a train garden- but no train passing thru- just the blinking of buoys and the steady shine of the lighthouses on the islands. A couple lights on in the sailboats say I'm not awake alone. Then comes the howling of drunks up the street- but it's not obtrusive, it's tempered by the way distance mellows a din.