Seymour Rants: The Scream
Another great entry in the Mark Seymour rants series – this one from the Scream Hotel. entertaining tale from Mark Seymour about John Archer and driving in Northern America.
Author: Mark Seymour.
Date: Put online 17 May 2004.
Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/rants/rants.htm
10 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, 1991
We’d just played the last date on the Midnight Oil run that had kept us on the road for three months. We’d flown there no-stop from Vancouver to play at the “Festival of the Midnight Sun” to a bunch of huge Nordic skinheads who’d slammed to ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me”. The sun hadn’t gone down for three days. They hadn’t slept in all that time. We hadn’t either. I was waiting in the lobby for the bus to pull up outside. And now we were heading home, at last. The concierge beckoned me. He was holding up a telephone.
“A call from Australia for you Mr. Seymour.”
My heart leapt. I thought for an instant it was my girlfriend. The poor darling was chewing at the bit.
It wasn’t her.
“Look…AHEM! There’s been a request from the record company….AHEM…”
“Yes?” I said.
“AHEM…they want you to play one more show.”
“AHEM…. Los Angeles.”
“Look…. AHEM…I know it’s a drag…AHEM…”
“Yes. That’s true.”
“Sophia (Atlantic Records) seems to think it’s a really important gig. You’ll get to play to some heavy weights. She’s organized for someone from Rolling Stone magazine to be there.”
He was on a roll now. The coughing stopped. He’d managed to get to the good news and I was still on the line. ‘Rolling Stone’. BINGO! My ego nerve was instantly tweaked. He was dangling the carrot. I started to nibble.
“Sophia has re-directed your flights. When you get to the airport you’re booked on a flight through Stockholm to Newark, and then onto L.A.”
“Right. So I’ll have to tell everyone.”
I did. It wasn’t pleasant. I wasn’t sure whom they hated more. Management or me.
Sixteen hours later we filed through a steel door at the bottom of a long narrow staircase, straight form the airport. The gig was in a basement under a bank on Hollywood Boulevard. Heavy ‘alternative’ music came blasting from speakers placed just inside the door. The song featured a female vocalist who sounded like she was being tortured.
The door opened onto an open space shrouded in artificial smoke that seemed to be coming from the ceiling. There was so much of it you couldn’t see the walls. It was like walking through a London Fog. That was probably the intention.
This was a club for Californians who didn’t want to be in California. What an interesting idea.
There were huge circular pillars spaced throughout that were painted in gaudy dayglo pseudo-Egyptian symbols. They had to be a metre thick. They were there to hold the bank up but people were using them to conceal illicit activity. As we wandered around trying to get our bearings, the patrons would slide discreetly around the other side, glancing furtively over their shoulders.
It felt like we were crashing someone’s drug party.
We stumbled forward in a loose herd, dumping our baggage as we went. People loomed out of the smoke. They’re faces were glazed and euphoric, with eyes half closed. I’d seen that look before. It was smack heaven down there but with a difference. There must have been hundreds of them, wafting through the dark, almost universally whacked out. Fucked up California Zombies. I wondered vaguely where the Rolling Stone journalist was.
Rob Miles came bursting out of nowhere. He’d caught an earlier flight. He’d almost hit me when I told him about the change of plan. He was wearing a blue bonds singlet and his face and arms were smeared with something indescribable. He looked like a plumber on overtime. His head wobbled manically.
“This place is FUCKED!”
He was apoplectic. He started screaming at us. The girl singing the song was screaming too. Miles screamed even louder. He had a lot on his plate.
“What the fuck are we DOING THIS FOR? We’ve flown all the way from the friggin’ Arctic Circle to do…to play in this…. PUS HOLE! And now I’m supposed to make it work. They don’t know what they’re doing. The woman in charge…. (He blustered momentarily. A small piece of phlegm sprayed out of his mouth.) …ISN’T! She’s completely fucked up on something. The sound guy hasn’t even arrived and we’re supposed to be playing in less than an hour! What idiot thought this was supposed to be a good idea?”
Clearly Rob was tired and emotional. He looked meaningfully over us all, as though he might spot the idiot in question. We hung our heads in shame. Nobody spoke and then Smithy yelled,
“Where’s the band room?”
Miles looked at him. His mouth opened and shut a few times, involuntarily. How could anyone even dare to contemplate something as frivolous as a mere band room when HE was contemplating absolute disaster? He shrugged dramatically. At times I’ve thought that Miles had a nose for Shakespeare. He’d missed his calling.
“Go look for yourselves.”
He stormed off. We still didn’t know where the stage was. There was too much smoke. Miles had walked confidently in a particular direction. He seemed to be used to the surroundings. He looked like he’d moved in. We, therefore, moved herd like in the opposite direction. We were right. The stage loomed out of the mist. It was about a foot high and covered in filthy grey carpet and gaffer tape. It stunk of men and beer.
Stage left was a green door. I made an educated guess. It opened on to another large room with tables and chairs. There was a sink in the corner and a red plastic bucket underneath it.
In the middle of the room stood a male human being. His hair was long and lank. It hung over his eyes in dirty strands. His face was pock marked and pale. He was wearing a pink cardigan with little yellow reindeers and skin tight black Levi’s. His legs were excruciatingly thin. Was he the Rolling Stone journalist?
We all moved around the room nervously, trying to pretend he wasn’t there. Various band members sat in chairs and began to rummage through luggage. The guy went over to where Jack was sitting. Jack is the friendliest man in the world. He exudes friendliness from every pore. The guy must have picked up on that. He wasn’t as stupid as he looked…maybe. He stood next to Jack, waiting silently. Jack was sitting opposite me. He looked up at the guy and said, “Hi.”
The guy didn’t answer straight away. He stared down at Jack, scratching at a sore on his face. I thought he was going to ask for money. Instead he said,
“Do you know Nick Cave?”
Jack glanced at me, then up at the guy.
“Can’t say that I do.”
“Oh…. I thought you guys were from Australia.”
“We are”, I said, “but we don’t know Nick Cave.”
Of course! He was the Rolling Stone Journalist! That would explain his interest in Nick Cave…and not us.
He gazed languidly around the room, still scratching at the sore on his face, then left the room.
Jack opened a book. Nobody spoke for a good half hour. The music continued to pound the walls. I went over to the sink and poured myself a cup of water. There was one cup. It had lipstick on the rim. I cleaned it off.
When I turned round again every other band member had a book open too. Here’s the list:
Jack Howard: “Wuthering Heights.” For the sixth time. One night when I was sharing a room with him in Calgary, I heard him moaning in his sleep:
“I am Heathcliffe!”
John Archer: “Moby Dick” in Braille with his eyes closed, in a day…. for the challenge.
Michael Waters: “Red Dragon”. No reason. He didn’t need one. Who cares?
Barry Palmer: “How to win Friends and Influence People”…. out of guilt.
Jeremy Smith: “Logic Audio for Dummies,” for his post- band career move, which has paid off handsomely.
Doug Falconer: “Dune” because it was really good, “now fuck off”.
I didn’t have a book. I was writing one, in my dreams.
Rob Miles came back.
“Alright Doug. We’re ready for you.”
Then he turned and walked out. Doug got up and ambled out too. Five minutes later the girl stopped screaming and Doug started hitting the snare. This was even louder than the girl, if that was technically possible. Apparently it was.
This continued without interruption for about five minutes. Rob Miles yelled through the P.A,
“OK…SHUT UP. KICK DRUM.”
“BOOM BOOM BOOM”,
This for another five minutes.
“BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.”
The girl was screaming again. Some fool had turned the disco back on. There was the squalling sound of a needle being dragged across vinyl, then silence.
Doug started hitting the hi hat, then cymbals, then silence.
The door opened and Doug came in.
“Your turn John.”
John opened his eyes.
“Your turn to play.”
Off he went.
One after another we took our turn. There wasn’t time to play a song but we thought as long as we individually walked out there and checked our instruments, the full majesty of our show would not be wasted on the riff raff who were still out there hanging around from whatever gig had gone on before. We convinced ourselves that they would eventually leave to be replaced by a real audience, who’d heard of us by now and were waiting outside.
It was a really dumb idea. It was already one in the morning. There wasn’t anyone coming. Our audience was going to be a roomful of junkies. We all knew it, but somehow we clung to this last vestige of hope. Something miraculous might happen. The Rolling Stone journo would rock up and be blown away by our originality. We’d get the gig review we deserved and within weeks everything would change. From that one solitary article, a ‘vibe’ would build. Los Angeles cool people would read the article and whip done to Tower Records to pick up a copy of “When the River Runs Dry.” KROQ would add it on “B” rotation and Atlantic Records would beg us to come back. I carried this vision in my heart as I stepped onto the stage. I have no idea what was going on in anyone else’s mind. No one was talking.
The gig was sheer drudgery. “Get it done,” they were saying with their body language. Everyone was stooping, the audience, the band. The crew. We played. I’d never seen an audience like them. They were catatonic, statuesque even. They stood like Greek marble gazing towards us. When I looked into their eyes, as I have a tendency to do whilst up there, I quickly realized that they weren’t actively looking at anything in particular. They seemed to be staring through us, even over us. And they weren’t moving either. They were, in fact, utterly still.
I never found a bar in the place, not for the entire time I was there and no one seemed to be moving towards one for the entire length of our show. As I said, they were motionless. Maybe there wasn’t any alcohol in the building. We never received a rider. Maybe in a club like that such common social lubricants simply aren’t required. All substance abuse occurs in the dark, behind pillars, in doorways, around corners, back up in the hills at home in Dad’s ten bedroom condominium, wherever there is no risk of more than one person witnessing the furtive act (whatever it was) at any given time.
Yes, the audience did not appear to be into it. But then again, who am I to say? I’ve stood amongst junkies many times back home and watched them stand motionless in front of the most gutless rock music imaginable all night, only to witness them erupt with enthusiasm at the end. Yes, I have stood there and wondered,
“Did I miss something? Where’s the energy? Or am I simply too daggy to perceive the inner vibe?”
These and several other thoughts whirled through my mind as we proceeded through the show until my eyes began to return to one particular guy who seemed to be sort of enjoying the gig. Subtly he stood out. His head was slightly tilted and he bore a kind of wistful smirk on his face. His head was engaged in a strange form of motion, a kind of backwards-intermittent jerk. Yes, I was capable of convincing myself that this was in fact indicative of someone who was into what they were hearing. Sure, it looked a little on the weird side, but hey, this was L.A. These people were quite possibly onto a level of cool that was going right over our collective heads. Maybe they were cottoning on to something about us that we didn’t even know!
“Roll with it,” I thought. “It could be the beginning of something beautiful.”
And then I began to think we were playing pretty well. Hell! We WERE playing well. As a matter of fact, we were fucking cool I thought, in my tiny mind. We are COOL and that guy is the ROLLING STONE JOURNALIST!
I looked at John Archer. He was rapt with concentration. His eyes were closed. “Fuck he’s brilliant,” I thought. Right at that moment he could easily have been reciting ‘Moby Dick’ in his head. The ultimate multi-tasker. God knows, he was capable of it. His hands were doing the RIGHT THING. The bass was thunderous, and IN TIME. I liked that. Falconer had his chin on his chest. His entire upper body was swaying back and forth as he beat the shit out of the snare. Falconer actually looked scary. Yes, that too was good. Palmer was leering at me. His tongue was dangling out of his mouth, as it always was when he was thinking hard. He was KEITH! And the brass were all down the front on their mikes blasting sonorously. They were in tune and bloody loud. I could barely hear myself. All was as it should be. And the guy down the front was SMILING…at Jeremy Smith.
YES! HE WAS the Rolling Stone journalist!
We finished. I wished them good night. We left the stage. We stumbled
back into the band room.
Smithy opened up.
“DID YOU SEE THAT GUY?” He sounded upset and anxious.
“What guy?” I said.
“The one down the front. He was standing down the front, in front of me. He had that really weird look on his face.”
“Yeah”, I said. “What about him? He looked like he was into it.”
Everybody was standing around, listening for the crowd reaction, which is what we always did when we first came off. No one wanted to start changing or packing up unless they knew the gig was actually over.
“Well, what about him?”
“He kept staring up at me all night. And then I noticed there was this girl sitting on the stage right at my feet. And then I saw that her head was moving forwards and backwards right about where his dick was. And then I realized that she was SUCKING HIM OFF!”
We all stood there staring at each other. Shocked! Aghast! It was an ABSOLUTE DISGRACE! And incredibly, there appeared to be rising applause emanating from outside the band room. My god. They wanted us back. Impossible. What if the guy was still out there getting his dick sucked? Even worse, what if they were fucking on the floor like by now, like drug-crazed animals, while all the other zombies were ignoring them? What if the guy with the dick was THE ROLLING STONE JOURNALIST?
John Archer spoke first. He was feeling “Moby Dick” with his eyes closed.
“It’s amazing what you see when you haven’t got a bucket of cold water,” he said.
And then he opened his eyes. I’ll never forget that moment as long as I live. Our eyes met across the room. Simultaneously we turned to gaze upon the red bucket in the corner. It was a moment of blinding clarity. Archer moved fast. The bucket was being used to catch the water as it passed through the plughole. There was no plumbing. He turned on the cold tap and let it blast into the bucket. It filled in seconds. He grabbed the handle and yelled,
“SOMEBODY OPEN THE DOOR!”
Falconer was nearest. He swung the door open and Archer charged out onto the stage. We all scrambled for a look. Archer swung the bucket with both hands in a glorious arc that swamped the guy and everybody who was standing near him. Girls screamed. People scrambled backwards, sliding to the floor in a tangled heap of leather, denim and interesting hair. It was an appalling spectacle. Archer turned and ran back towards us. He leapt into the room and Falconer slammed the door home then leaned hard against it.
“Give us a hand,” he said.
Several of us sat down on the floor with our backs against the door. Archer quietly resumed his seat, picked up Moby Dick and closed his eyes.
Naturally we expected retribution. Nothing happened. Gradually the noise subsided, until nothing could be heard through the wall but the sound of the crew packing up. We sat there for a good half hour.
We left the building and flew home the next day.
Two days later I was sitting in a cafe in Barkly Street eating a
hamburger. The phone rang.
“Maaarrrk… AHEM, it’s Michael….”
“So how did it go?
“How did it go?”
“AHEM. Yes. You know, that last gig. What was it called…AHEM. The ‘Scream’?”
“Yeah. Oh, okay. We were all pretty stuffed. Hard to say really. Why? Has there been a review?”
“No. AHEM. And to be honest I was a little surprised. Sophia is really disappointed.”
“Oh… Well apparently, AHEM, the journalist who was supposed to be reviewing you guys is a close friend of hers. She’s saying he got a bucket of water thrown on him. AHEM. He’s really upset.”
“What? A bucket of water? How strange.”
“Yeah, by one of our crew…. All over him and his girlfriend.”
“Yeah. How did that happen?”
“I’ve got no idea.”