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written and illustrated by White Hassle's Marcellus Hall


"Brussels Airport"

Dave Varenka, Joachim Kearns, and I board a plane in Newark, New Jersey enroute to Brussels. We place bets on what will be the inflight movie. I bet it will be a Jennifer Aniston vehicle. Dave puts his money on Steve Martin. And Joachim guesses Adam Sandler. It is “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Jan 25
We arrive on European soil bleary-eyed and ready for bed. It is 8:00 a.m. Stefan, our German driver and tour manager, meets us at the airport. We haven’t seen him since our last European tour in 2003 so it is a reunion of sorts. He looks the same, perhaps a little older looking. We haven’t changed.

Jan 26 – Utrecht, Netherlands (Ekko)
With our collars upturned, we stroll the lovely city of Utrecht. We visit the Utrecht Centraal Museum. Later fellow New Yorker, Reverend Vince Anderson, meets us at the venue. He will be our support act for the tour (see www.reverendvince.com). A reporter for the online music fanzine, www.kindamuzik.net, interviews us before the concert and asks me to comment on his assessment that our music is “light” and “not so serious.”

Jan 27 – Tilbourg, Netherlands (U13)
Jetlag is still with us. The weather is cold. Dutch bicyclists stream by on every corner, their little bells dinging for people to make way. We watch all 12 episodes of R. Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet” on Vince’s DVD player. We go over well at the show, but are still working out the kinks on “Vodka Talking.” The Dutch bands on the bill are younger and sound like late-eighties angst rock.

Jan 28 – Brussels, Belgium (La Botanique)
Our hotel resembles a cruise ship from the eighties. The venue is in the basement of a botanic garden conservatory. People here speak French, not Belgianese. Stefan’s girlfriend, Renate (rhymes in German with “piñata”), and her friend, Amina, join us from nearby Duesseldorf. I practice my rudimentary German on them. Renate orders kangaroo meat for dinner. We play well and meet Judith of Germany and her friends, Caroline and Julien, art students from France.

"Comixmus" by Marcellus Hall

Jan 29 –DAY OFF - Brussels, Belgium
We hike through a sub-freezing maze of streets to the city square and then find our way to a flea market. Joachim buys a crappy acoustic guitar for $18. We visit the much-hyped Belgian comics museum which is a complete disappointment. There is no original art by Herge, Belgium’s famous creator of Tintin. We drive one hour to Lille, France after paying 35¢ for ketchup at a kebab shop.

Jan 30 – Lille, France (L’Aeronef)
We wander the cold damp streets of Lille. The venue is attached to a mall. Beforehand we are served a sumptuous meal (salmon and asparagus) by a waitress who says “Excuse me, I have been a fan of Railroad Jerk when I was younger.” This is nice to hear. Playing before us is a ten-piece French band whose name I didn’t catch and whose members sing slow modern country-western songs in English. The mostly male audience eats it up.

Jan 31 – Limoges, France (Le Caf’teur)
Seven hours on the road to Limoges. We hit traffic, but Vince plays “About Schmidt” on his DVD player. We are greeted with handshakes from 4 or 5 stagehands at the venue which is a low-ceilinged cement room beneath a parking lot. Typically we find in the dressing room French bread, Brie, and red wine. Usually one of us will cut the cheese. Another will tear the bread and another will pour the wine. Audience members sing along with our lyrics tonight. Limoges has a beautiful beaux arts train station that we visit in the morning.

Feb 1 – Lyon, France (La Marquise)
Everywhere in Europe – on highway overpasses, on metal doorways, and on architectural landmarks – one sees the familiar, indecipherable, looping, narcissistic, empty-headed, hieroglyphic, graffiti style that originated in the Bronx in the 1970s. Of this, we, as Americans, can be proud. That such a modest innovation could spread to such universal appeal is a remarkable thing.

Lyon is an attractive city with two rivers and many old buildings, including a Roman amphitheater from around 43 BC. The venue is a small boat on the Rhone River. We rock the boat. The local newspaper translates White Hassle to “dispute blanche.” One Frenchman asks us the meaning of the word “hassle.” We use words like “problem” and “bother” as synonyms to explain and the guy says “Oh, like the U.S. government and George Bush!” We laugh politely and pretend that it is not rude to offer unsolicited criticism of another person’s government.

Feb 2 – Poitiers, France (La Comfort Moderne)
Five hours of mind-numbing driving through frozen French farmland brings us to Poitiers, a small town in the middle of nowhere. We try our best, but cannot win over the audience. Odds are the people are here to see the headliner, an electro-clash duo from Scotland called Motormark. Vince has a great show. Our hotel is a Comfort Hotel. Stefan says “Don’t take too seriously the word ‘comfort.’” And he is right.

Feb 3 – Grenoble, France (La Ciel)
It would be handy if we knew some of the French lingo, but for now we get by with “mercis” and “si vous plays.” We are forever on a mission to find internet access. If we’re not stuck in the van for hours, we’re waiting backstage in a cold dark dressing room on the outskirts of town or sitting down to a meal. Spare moments are too few and we are starved for news from our loved ones back home. But it dawns on me that it wasn’t long ago that the world had no internet. What did we do then? Surely we passed the time productively. It seems now that we are so busy scrambling for the smallest scrap of email that we rob ourselves of time in which to think and reflect on the deeper meanings of life. In the time it takes to locate the "@" character on a French keyboard, we could be out making a new European friend.

It’s 2006 - two hundred and thirty seven years after Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, a Frenchman, invented the first self-propelled car - and we are shivering in the back of our van. The heat only takes care of the front two seats. I have two pairs of socks on and my feet are freezing.

We stop at a Shell station and buy Lipton tea, Kellog’s cornflakes, Frito Lay potato chips, and a Coke. Ah, Europe.

On a whim I call information for the number to my first girlfriend ever who was a French exchange student in Minneapolis many years ago. I wonder if she’ll remember me and if the number I am given is for the right person. It is and she does! We agree to meet for the first time in 17 years tomorrow.

The show, which is held in a small auditorium with movie theater seats, is a success. A drunken Pole pleads with us to do a second encore, but Joachim is not feeling well. We meet Irena of Germany (rhymes in German with “Dana”) who gives us directions to a party. Dave and I go in search of the party. We find ourselves ringing random buzzers at the address we were given. An old woman who speaks only French allows us into her apartment (!) so we can call Irena. Irena arrives with her friend Lars and three bicycles. Dave and we each mount a bicycle and Irena and Lars lead us to a second party where international college students are drinking sangria.

"Strasbourg" by Marcellus Hall

Feb 4 – Strasbourg, France (La Laiterie)
Our friends Coco and Eva of Germany meet us at soundcheck. Also Sabine, my first girlfriend, arrives and she and I catch up over coffee. She now is married and has three children, plus two step-children. We marvel at the strangeness of life. We look older, but converse comfortably and I am happy to find out what she has been up to and to glimpse again the person I used to be.

Coco and Eva join the band after the show for a drink at the hotel.

Feb 5 – DAY OFF - Freiburg, Germany
Most of the afternoon is spent in vain searching for a laundromat. Dave catches a train to Zurich where he will meet his girlfriend, Jessica. We eat a German dinner of meat and potatoes, then watch the beginning of the superbowl before going to bed.

Feb 6 – Zurich, Switzerland (Zukunft)

Dave rejoins us with Jessica. Our hotel (a bed & breakfast) and the venue are situated in a red light district. It is tempting to blow our money on prostitutes, but we put it off for another time. At the concert, neighbors complain about the noise, so the soundman turns off our stage monitors. This is like throwing a stick into a bicyclist’s wheel spokes. A drunken audience member gives us the impression that we are playing well, but we know in our hearts and minds that we are not.

Feb 7 – Munich, Germany (Rote Sonne)

Snowflakes dampen the Munich streets as we roll into town. I buy a pair of wool socks and postcards. Andreas and Joerg of the junk folk duo Dos Hermanos open for us (and cover one of our songs, “The Beating of My Heart” from the National Chain album). The show is crowded and great.

Feb 8 – Bologna, Italy (L’Covo)

This morning at the hotel I draw a caricature of the waitress on the paper tablecloth only to find that the tablecloth isn’t paper after all. The road to Bologna takes us through the Austrian Alps. Bologna is a college town, but we see none of it because we’re stuck in traffic and must do a radio interview before the show. The club is situated in what seems a deserted suburban area. Giovanni Meli, the Italian booking agent, welcomes us with lukewarm pizza. The audience is lukewarm too. We sleep on the floor of an apartment belonging to a friend of the promoter.

Feb 9 – Milano, Italy (Cox 18)
Stefan’s girlfriend, Renate, flies from Duesseldorf to join us. With time to kill before soundcheck, I explore Milan on foot. It is a dirty city, but no more dirty than New York. The famous Duomo (Cathedral?) is wrapped in scaffolding for maintenance and looks as though Christo has gotten a hold of it. The venue, a squat, is a refreshing break from bourgeois comfort and cleanliness. The squatters live in harmony and are unfettered by the fascist, bourgeois dictates of good taste and interior design. Here one wall is painted purple. Another is painted orange. And another is a mural depicting a law enforcement officer with a skeleton’s face beating a peaceful congregation of innocent, but understandably disconcerted, people. We sit shivering in the basement dressing room until showtime.
The squatters are friendly and we play a decent show that is recorded on DVD by variously placed mini cameras on stage, including one on my microphone. The hotel provides table linen for use as towels.

Feb 10 – Belfort, France (La Poudriere)
Six hours of alpine travel brings us to the small town of Belfort. We meet our new labelmates, The Lords of Altamont, who hail from Los Angeles. Before the show I hike with Stefan and Renate up a steep hill that overlooks the town and on which stands a giant 18th century fort. A light snow falls as we cross the drawbridge and descend into the old town. After a good performance we drink Jack Daniels and toast the halfway point on our tour.

Feb 11 – DAY OFF – Nuernburg, Germany
For some reason we are booked at a 4-star hotel. Stefan and Renate locate a traditional German “cellar” restaurant where we devour a giant platter of animal flesh and pickled cabbage. We wash it down with beer and I make a few sketches.

"Dresden" by Marcellus Hall

Feb 12 – DAY OFF – Dresden, Germany
Vince introduces us to Anna and Uli and their friends and we all go out for Indian food (dots not feathers). Unlike in New York, cigarette smoke in European bars and restaurants is considered just as good as, if not better than, air. This is just a different way of looking at things. The customs and habits you encounter that you aren’t normally exposed to at home are what make traveling so exciting.

It comes to my attention that the range of snoring styles is vast. A snorer can create a deep subterranean rumbling sound that will penetrate even the most expensive earplugs. One night you may hear a steady percolating sound, not unlike a coffee pot. And the next night you might hear a sound not dissimilar to the sound of a pig with its throat cut, gasping for air in the last throes of death.

Feb 13 – Dresden, Germany (Starclub)
Typically when you have a day off on tour and you plan to see a city and visit its museum, the weather will be bad and the museum closed. Dresden is no exception. We putter around the cobblestoned “old city” which is in the process of being rebuilt after somehow getting ruined in 1945. the 17th century Frauenkirche (big church) is finished now and looks as it once did.

At the laundromat we meet a young woman and invite her to the show, but she is unable to come. We play well anyway.

Feb 14 – Ulm, Germany (Bahnhof NH)

The venue is part of a train station. Backstage there is a piano and we sing old church songs with Vince before the show. Coco of Stuttgart arrives and brings two lady friends. We play better than usual for no good reason. At first I think there is a strange echo on my voice. Then I realize it is an enthusiastic audience member singing along with me. Henrik of Kinderzimmer Produktions, a German rap group, says hello and comments that I am “getting better as a musician.”

Feb 15 – Hamburg, Germany (Logo)

After seven hours of rainsoaked driving, we arrive in Hamburg. We should have known something was up when we saw Reverend Vince’s name on the marquee and not ours. The crowd is there for him and he gives them his best. We cede victory to Vince and are left with the mop up slot.

AALBORG, DENMARKWatercolors of Aalburg (left) and Flensburg (right). Click to enlarge.





Feb 16 – Aalborg, Denmark (Studentenhuset)
Jessica catches a flight back to New York and we cross the German border to the kingdom of Denmark. Denmark is currently embroiled in a free press controversy involving some cartoons that have ignited fury in the Muslim world, but the Danes are tired of hearing about it. We play at a university student union where backstage there is a bottle of Jack Daniels and portraits of Queen Margrethe and Prince Henrik. Vince and I stay out late with Eva and Annette of Norway who explain to us that Danish girls are “stuck up sluts.”

Feb 17 – DAY OFF – Flensburg, Germany
Our Swedish show is cancelled so we have a day off. Denmark is covered in fresh snow. Stefan navigates the roads to the German port town of Flensburg. We settle in our hotel and explore the town. I make a watercolor painting.

Feb 18 – Luebeck, Germany (Treibsand)
The venue is another squat. The same aesthetic and fashion codes apply here as they did at the Milan squat. The dressing room is warm however. We are served an excellent meal of fish, salad, and potatoes. The show turns out to be among our best. Some Billy Idol clones perch sullenly at the foot of the stage, which causes us some initial concern, but before long the audience is dancing maniacally to our music.

Feb 19 – DAY OFF - Kiel, Germany
Vince plays Kiel; White Hassle has a day off. We are put up by Joerg, the promoter, at his parents’ house in the country. Joerg’s 75 year-old father raises rabbits and shows us his herd. Next to the hutches hang eight or ten corpses, skinned and cold.

I make a terrible watercolor painting that makes me feel like shit. My only consolation is to hope to make a better one next time. We watch Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Bob Dylan on Joerg’s big screen DVD player and Joerg makes pasta.

Feb 20 – DAY OFF – Duesseldorf, Germany

We eat a traditional German dinner with Stefan, his sister Susannah, her boyfriend Tommy, Amina, and Renate. Then we hang out and listen to a tape of Stefan’s and Tommy’s band and play fetch with the dog.

Feb 21 – Dijon, France (La Vapeur / festival)
The route to Dijon takes us through Lichtenstein which is a country I haven’t been to before. In Dijon it is nice to be back in France. There is a certain jene sais quois here. But, try as we might, we can’t (for the life of us) get the audience on our side. It seems we are attempting to put a camel through a needle’s eye. It is futile and we can find no explanation for it. Some days you have it and some days you don’t. We play well, but the people keep their arms folded and their teeth clenched. It doesn’t help that Kenny Brown and his band from Mississippi have just played hip-shaking, groovy, electric blues for an hour. No, tonight is not our night. Several Frenchmen give us effusive praise and apologize for the cool audience response, but we aren’t consoled.

Feb 22 – Clermont FD, France (La Coop de Mai / festival)

Another bad night. The show is part of a festival of alternative “blues” bands and our performance is met with stony silence (see www.lesnuitsdelalligator.com). What is it? Could it be the giant American flag and the “Support the Troops” banner that we unfurl at every gig? Perhaps it is a clash of sensibilities. We chalk this one up to inexperience on the part of the audience.

Feb 23 – Angers, France (Le Chabada / festival)

We befriend the Baptist Generals of Texas and the Legendary Tiger Man of Portugal with whom we are sharing bills for this series of festivals showcasing supposedly alternative bluesy rock. Most of us balk at this musical designation, but the food is good and we are getting paid. The audience appreciates our music, but it is not passionate in showing it. Three female medical students and one horticultural student ask for an autograph.

Feb 24 – Paris, France (La Maroquinerie / festival)

Paris is overcast, but not cold. Michel of Fargo Records buys us beer and we settle into our hotel. Joachim and I explore the neighboring streets. Langhorne Slim and his band from New York are sharing a bill with us along with Reverend Vince, Power Solo of Denmark, and Tiger Man. The Parisians are good looking and enthusiastic. We meet up with Kieu who will travel with us to our next two shows. The French promoter of the festival has somehow short shrifted Vince, neglecting to tell our booking agent that Vince won’t be included on all of the shows, and Vince is understandably unhappy about it. We play last, but well, to a tired crowd.

Feb 25 – Angouleme, France (La Nef / festival)
Angouleme is a handsome town on a hill with winding streets and classic sandstone buildings. We play on the outskirts to a polite audience. We eat dinner at a small restaurant where Kieu helps us translate the menu.

Feb 26 – Amiens, France (La Lune des Pirates / festival)
Cobblestoned streets, a canal, and a monstrous church… Amiens is a beautiful town. We perform at a venue on the canal to an appreciative crowd. Dinner is rabbit stew. Afterward we drink a toast with Stefan to a tour well done. The venue’s crew passes around a fancy cigarette and we sign autographs for a fan.

Feb 27 – Paris, France (Fargo Records Party)
In our minds the tour is finished and we are dreaming of the comforts of home. We still have a record label showcase party at which to perform, however, and we steel ourselves for the inevitable schmoozing it will require. David West of New York shows up and we talk of old times at the Fish. While the Parisian press is lauding Fargo’s “hot” new artists, we drink a final beer and slip away to our 2-star hotel near the cemetery where Marcel Proust is buried.

In the morning we bid a fond farewell to Kieu and load our bags into a van that will take us to the airport. Eight hours later we touch ground in Newark, New Jersey.

Marcellus Hall
March 2, 2006


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