Loose Strife

An MP3 blog

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

#20 - A meeting with a soulmate

M. Ward - "Let's Dance"

Yesterday was my final day in Berlin, and as usual when I travel, the final day is when you finally begin to feel comfortable in a place, like you could really stay awhile.

It’s not unlike relationships in that way.

I rode to Alexanderplatz (thinking of the Fassbinder epic) to buy a simple power adaptor---after a couple of hours, my fancy international converter gets hot enough to iron shirts with and shuts down---and some good German muesli to take home. As I’ve mentioned, this country really knows what to do with grain, from beer to bread to breakfast cereal.

Other foodstuff (to ape Jon Stewart)….not so much.

Although I must say: I had an excellent meal last night with the famous Michael Mark Wretch. He has been living in Berlin for about six or seven years now, having fled New York in the wake of a break-up with a beautiful, very intense, and---okay, this is a sexist cliché, but it’s true in this case---totally fucking crazy woman, Bobbita (ne: Bobbi) Birgisson, a music journalist-turned-publicist who used to do a punk/hip-hop ‘zine with Wretch called Def and Dumb that was totally hot and hilarious but somehow lost Wretch most of whatever money he had (which, being a trust-fund kid, is rumored to be a lot). By the end, you could find them having screaming, drink-flinging fights in the back of the Mercury Lounge or Irving Plaza, or find him haggling with the clerk at St. Mark’s Sounds over the price of some ‘80s post-punk import CDs he was trying to sell from his formerly vast collection.

This, of course, was before he realized how much more money he could make selling them online, on Ebay and Amazon. After which he pretty much stopped writing about music and became an online record seller full-time, often mailing off the free review copies he still received in the mail from record companies to whoever PayPal-ed his account in the same padded mailer (and with the same postage, if the stamp was uncancelled) that he received it in.

Wretch also did an early music blog called Berlin Is A Bitch (a nod to Linton Kwesi Johnson’s culture-kicking classic “Inglan Is A Bitch”) but he took it down after a couple of neo-Nazi art-punks recognized him and gave him a beat-down outside an Einsturzende Neubauten reunion show a few years back. It’s unfortunate; it was really good---smart and obnoxious and surprisingly sensitive and impassioned when the subject was music that really moved him, like Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society in their early-‘80s lineup (with smoking harmolodic kid guitarist/banjoist Vernon Reid, before he became a black metal god in Living Color)(that’s a black metal god, as opposed to a black metal god; I don’t know that Vernon ever worshipped Satan or anything). Being pretty much the first of its kind, was something of an inspiration for Loose Strife.

Which is why it was doubly disturbing to find him in such (sorry) a wretched state. After getting lost in an East Berlin housing project courtyard---and nearly set upon by a bulldog and two skinhead kids blasting old 50 Cent mixtapes on a boombox---trying to find his crib, I finally stumbled on his Soviet-style apartment block, rang his bell, walked down the dogshit-scented hallway, and came face-to-face with the man whose writing I’d revered for so many years.

His narrow halls were lined with stacks of CD cases of from the floor to near the ceiling, in various heights that made a sort of plastic skyline. In his bedroom/livingroom there was a laptop on a desk surrounded by more CD buildings, piles of padded mailers, and a bed covered with LPs lying flat. His kitchen was even more frightening. There was a burn mark about three feet up the wall behind the stove (“tried to make French fries,” he told me; “Germans make shitty French fries”), four open boxes of American breakfast cereal---Life, Raisin Bran, Captain Crunch, and Wheaties---on the dinette table, and across from the sink, which was filled with crusted dishes and all sorts of unspeakable filth, was a bookshelf packed with an excellent selection of international cookbooks and wine guides.

It looked, in fact, not unlike my apartment. It was ghost of Christmas future. I had to leave immediately.

Anyway, we went out for the aforementioned excellent meal at a non-descript Prenzlauer Berg bistro, which I wound up paying for, but didn’t care, because hell, it was the least I could do for a fellow culture warrior, especially one so evidentally injured in battle. It included two bottles of an excellent semi-dry Reisling (which sadly I was too drunk to note the name of), a plate of sumptuous white asparagus (from Berlitz, I was told, a town near Berlin reknowned for its asparagus, less so for it being the site where Jews were burned alive back in the 12th and 13th centuries, although I guess the history of ever inch of this country is bloodstained, not unlike like ours) and some excellent breaded veal (which I rarely eat in the U.S., but did here because I imagine the animals may be treated more humanely in Europe). (Again, this is the romantic in me; I’ve never been to a European abbatoir, but if I correctly recall the pro-vegetarian, anti-vivisection The Animals Film, which has a chilling soundtrack by seventies prog-rock guru and activist Robert Wyatt, they’re hardly resort spas.)

Anyway, drunk and stuffed, we rolled down to see M. Ward at a place called Tachles, an old department store-turned-anarchist-art-squat which, in addition to galleries and a bar, houses a small rock club. After our excessive meal I felt truly like an ugly SUV-driving American, and felt bad vibes emanating from the doorman, when I tried unsuccessfully to bluff my way in by claiming to be on the guest list (Wretch had no problem, of course). But once inside, beer in hand and Ward onstage, playing incredible Fahey-esque guitar figures and singing in his crazy, cracker-Americana Louie Armstrong slur, I felt utterly at home. And when he played his excellent cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” (the CD version posted above), and a fat, sloshed pair of Germans began waltzing between the tables and knocking over beers---including mine, into my lap---I understood that, despite the sneers of German punk anarchist proprieters, I was part of an international brother-and-sisterhood of music-worshippers, an intractable blood-clan of gentle hedonists, and that nothing could alter that---not language, not politics, not drunkenness, not sanity. I looked over at Wretch, who was chatting up a tall, fine-looking German girl with blonde fraulein pigtails, Ben Gibbard nerd-boy glasses, and impressive cupcake breasts wrapped in a too-small vintage A&W root beer t-shirt. And while he was clearly, painfully, out of his league, I rooted for him. After all, he is my kin.

Jesus Christ Almighty. He is my kin.


At 7:51 PM, October 01, 2005, Anonymous Carl Warnick said...

Please, please post a link to his [the soulmate's] blog.


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