Congrats to Forest Whitaker on the Oscar, what a great artist! After years of brilliant work, it's finally paid off. Shows that SOMETHING good can come outta Texas. Nice one, Ghost Dog! Peace, -Todd
Why? Quite simple. I'm just not a fan of mass murder ...
Sittin' here in this old Irish pub. Authentic. Underground. The stone cellar is where I type to you, solemn old bricks and shadows ... and music! These folks got SOUL. My heart is filled with song. I feel like Van Morrison himself will walk around the corner any second, and hand me a frothy Guinness. The coffee kicks in, and now I'm feeling good. Looking for airplane tickets to come and visit YOU soon ... Peace, -Todd
That last one was long, so let's make this one short. Live, Love, and be Thyself! Peace, -Todd
(Or: The Possibility Of Bears)
This is a true story and an adventure, of sorts. Someone stole our car in Prague. Ouch! I went back a few weeks later, determined to find it (didn’t happen) and visit one of my favourite festivals, Rock For People. The last time we played there was with the legendary punk band New Model Army. Both bands were on fire, so much so that my bass player had to douse himself in beer, and never made it to the hotel. He slept in the bushes like a true rocker (but that’s a different story). Bet that's what Ozzy woulda done. Heh! I love reminiscing and soaking up new stories from the festival, and I went looking for new ones.
I took off on a Sunday, after a big concert with all kinds of bands who are trying to save the world. Hope it works. We drank alot with bands from around the globe in the name of world peace. After a late start, I hopped on the last train outta Berlin, in the direction of the Czech Republic. Off I went, direction East. I got myself a cheap-o “Wochenende Ticket,” famous amongst students and artists. It would get me to the Czech border. It was the slow train, and how. I didn’t know the train schedules, but I decided to risk it. Sometimes spontaneous things turn out to be the best. It was to be a long night, indeed. In America, Sunday night means, “Get down on your knees and pray, boy!” As I was about to find out, in the Czech Republic, Sunday night means, “There are no trains, boy!” I was the last one on the train when it stopped at the border. I was the last Mohawk-en. I’d driven over this border with our (ouch!) stolen car, and many other times on the train (usually in the daytime). The conductor said, “Everyone get off the train,” meaning me. I asked him if anything else was running. He cooly replied no. I had that song by Green Day in my head, “I Walk Alone.” They had just played in Berlin the night before. Then I asked the guy if he thought I could walk (because of the song) to Decin, just a few kilometers over the border. That’s a new one, he said. I’m seeking inspiration and adventure, I said. “Uh-huh,” he said, probably annoyed at the end of his shift. But then he broke out in a bohemian grin, and seeing that adventurous glint in my eye, he pointed to an old run-down stairwell that ran down to the river Elbe. “Go down there,” he said in a beautiful Dresden accent. “Follow the path between the river and the railroad tracks. Do not stray from the path (good advice), and you will reach Decin. Good luck.”
Thinking I only had a kilometer or two to walk, I headed off into the darkness. I figured it wouldn’t take that long, and then I could hit Mr. Novy’s infamous pub there. Hey, I KNOW people in Decin, I whistled to myself. Mr. Novy is a rock-climber and beer drinker of the highest order, with a white beard as long as Father Time. If you ever go there, try his famous "pink drinks," a kind of Czech schnapps that will knock your socks off. Mr. Novy invented it. I hit the pavement. It was made of two tank tracks, crumbling and left-over from the cold war era. “I’m walking on old Russian tank tracks,” I thought. The first leg of my journey was peaceful, even elegant. The only sound was the chipper song of crickets. Soon fireflies came out. Fireflies are mystical creatures, indeed. Specs of light flashing on and off in a sea of darkness. Blip, blip. That was the best part, as they lit up the mountains to the east. I could just make out the rocky hilltops o’er head, jutting against the night sky. Oh, majestic mountains! They were solemn and noble and, well, peaceful. Presently a forest spread out over the path, I was in the midst of rocks and trees on all sides. The gentle whisper of the Laba (Czech for Elbe) was nearby. Far, far away from the city now ... I thought of my musician friend Dandy Dan, teaching a jr. high band in Bakersfield. He would certainly say, “Far out!” I could hear small animals everywhere: tiny bugs buzzing in my ear, ancient groans from the forest reminding me of where I am. A bat flew by. Then another. Nobody takes this trail, at least not at night. A small problem presented itself - I was wearing wrestling shoes, made for being worn on a spongy mat (or a train) and not for this path, which was getting rockier by the minute. I could feel every stone beneath my feet. Those border patrol tanks had really torn it up. As it turned out, I was to be on that path for much longer than I’d anticipated. And it was getting darker ...
It was pretty wild, hiking steadfast into that forest. Town can't be far, I thought. Or can it? I felt my heart beat inside my chest, but told it to be fearless. For the first time it occurred to me that there was the possibility of bears out here. Mr. Novy told me once that if you ever meet a bear in the woods, don’t shinny up a tree, run downhill instead. Some bears can climb trees and some cannot, and if you meet one that can, you’re dead meat. (If he’s hungry.) Their legs are too short to run downhill after you. Keep moving forward. Always follow your instincts. All these perfect quotes came to mind, but there’s nothing like facing Mother Nature when you’re really out there in the wild. She is both beautiful and dangerous. We must have respect for her. We are mere visitors, masquerading as masters. After awhile, I came upon a battered sign, which appeared to be abandoned. It read, “Ceska Republika.” There was nobody there, and I crossed in silent fashion. “I’m already in Czech,” I thought. “Can’t be far now!”
Still, I was pretty out there, far from so-called Civilization. What will I learn? I thought. When will I get there? The fireflies seemed to be content to just sing their song of light. I had wonderful thoughts going through my head like, "GAWD BLESS MR. NOVY." Keep them feet a-movin'. Eventually I saw a car parked up ahead. A car parked in the middle of the night in the middle of the woods is a BAD sign. But I saw no-one. Not at first. And the night was as stoic as the mountains. Nothing but the sounds of the river. Then, suddenly outta the blue, there was a gunshot. POW! It broke the night silence like a sonic boom. Loud, I tell ya. Far away, but loud. A shotgun blast up in the mountains. Did someone just shoot a bear? I decided to pick up my pace. I mean, they’re not shooting at me, right? I’m not a bear, so I’ve nothing to fear. But the feet were getting a bit tired. Keep going, keep going, said the self. It’d been over an hour now, where’s Decin? Doubt started to creep in. Will I make it? When? But my rebellious self kicked in, said: Fuck doubt! Uncertainly is the devil on a dark night, I rumbled. Yeah, I’ll reach my destination, it’s just a matter of time. It behoves you to get your patoot in motion! I thought out loud. Then another wild thing happened. Suddenly, lickety-split and outta nowhere, this light came speeding up on me. It’s a cyclist going about a zillion km per hour, with a little coal-miner’s pen light on his helmet. He’s flyin’! Is he nuts? I thought. He’s gonna crash on this dark, tattered path, for sure! Is he running from someone or something? The mob? Cops? A bear? He went speeding by, almost hitting me. Man, he was fast! What was he up to? Maybe he was running drugs on that little border. But then again, maybe that’s what he thought about ME. Heh, heh. Something like, “What’s that guys doing up here WALKING in these medieval woods in the middle of the night?” I started to feel uneasy. There’s danger out here, I can smell it. My mind starts to wander, I can see the headlines, “American Rock Singer Found Dead In Czech Bear Pit.” Or “Artist Tries To Push Limits, Ends Up Going Nowhere. Stays Forever In Czech Mountains." Oh great, I thought. “If I die out here tonight, it will be the perfect ending to my loony life. Friends will say, ‘Oh, he was eccentric. He died in a Czech bear pit.’ Detractors will say, ‘He told tall tales, but never left the house. He had bad breath. He was a Republican.’ Fans will say, ‘He wrote a song called Noam Chomsky. He died chasing french hookers.’
But I’m not gonna die. Not tonight. I’m gonna make it to that festival. Intact, in fact. I do everything for the MUSIC! Keep walking, keep moving (towards a better something). The next weird thing I saw was a boat on the other side of the river. Red lights glowing in the Elbe. It looked like some kind of junket. Due to their old socialist past, I knew that there were a lot of Vietnamese merchants on this border, selling their wares. (Our books when we were kids called them, “evil.”) Someone started flashing a flashlight from that boat over there. Was it a signal? I could throw that guy a couple of euros and have him sail me down the river to Decin, outpost corner of Bohemia. Should I swim over there? Naw, my passport would get wet. And besides, I thought, he’s got a boat! He can float on over here, and sail my ass on down the river. Why is he sending me this Morris Code? It must be for someone else. He thinks I'm the messenger with the stuff. Naw. Keep moving. Don’t wanna be picked up by the fuzz in the wrong row boat! New headlines come to mind, “Body Washed Ashore Thought To Be American Singer / Cigarette Smuggler.” I had no way of knowing that I’d encounter so many mysterious things that night, on that dark trail. I got lost on a misty mountain hop, a bizarre journey of my own making. I’ve been inspired by Jack Keruoac’s travel stories, and read that he would tape pieces of paper together and run them through a typewriter, endlessly. That’s why the next day I wrote everything on a long scroll. It went on and on, just like my journey. I wanted to keep writing and writing without stopping. Jack's like a brother from another time. That night, back on the “trail,” there were no lights. I couldn’t see a doggone thing. The night had engulfed me. I was past the point of no return, and held on to that friend called Determination to keep me going. Then all of a sudden, crushing the silence, came a terrible sound, a shriek, louder than a freight train rushing by ...
What the fuck was THAT? Something moved through the brush with horrendous speed, and made a roar like a banshee. It was as big as a horse, which I thought it was at first, but a horse isn’t as fast, and doesn’t make that kind of noise. It was bone-chilling. A horse would gallop away, but this wild thing shot right across the path in front of me, and just SAT THERE. I could feel its eyes upon me. I heard its breath. What was this beast? A cougar? A wildschwein? A mountain lion? (There ARE hellcats up in those mountains.) This thing was watching, hovering. I knew it could rip me to pieces, but it didn’t. It was a warning. This was its home, its turf. It let out such a snarl I almost shit my pants. Some sort of Mean Creature of the vanishing East. Caretaker of the Wilderness. Pitch black. It became quite clear to me, for the first time, that I could actually die out there. The joking was over. There was no time for throwing rocks (like a rocker) or karate chops, this was a serious threat from a wild animal, in its sights. Which I still could not see. But this Thing was so close I could taste it. Half a minute seemed like a year. This was definitely the most dangerous part of the journey. This was the zenith. I closed me eyes, and sent out a Jedi-mind message, “I do not want to fight you, I will if I have to, but let me pass.” Maybe it got the message, but sometimes I think I have a guardian angel ... I continued.
I moved quicker down that path than before. I’ve heard of people being attacked by bears or cougars in “safe” areas, and I was pretty far out there. I had been very close to death, I could feel it. I started my own little chant, it went like this:
I’m not afraid of the Wild
I’m not afraid of dying
I’m not afraid of success
I’m not afraid of trying
Are you ready to cross frontiers?
CONQUER ALL FEARS!
This road is truly treacherous, I thought, and now considered the possibility of gypsies and thieves. What’s next? A barking dog ahead ... After that mountain lion howl, nothing could scare me now. Dog was getting closer, was it tied down? Would it bite off my leg? I had been walking for a few hours now, and was almost delirious. It seemed like the spirits were testing me, seeing if I had it in me. Now that dog was growling and barking, he was near. I decided to head back towards the train tracks, which had branched off. I saw a small house now, and I thought, “If its not abandoned, then they’re gonna come out here and see what’s going on. That could be good or bad.” Another funny thing crossed my mind: This dog wasn’t as big as that THING back there, but you can die from malaria from the world’s smallest bug. His woof was echoing across the canyon, it made you feel like you were surrounded on all sides. Maybe I was. I thought I heard a voice from inside the house. I scrambled down the hill, through the brush and mud and my escape was making the dog furious. Then just for a fleeting moment, I saw another human being. Oh, shit – gypsies.
We’ve all heard the stories, that gypsies are full of trickery and are dangerous. I didn’t want any further confirmation. They are shrouded in mystery, and are unlikely to share their secrets with an American rock singer. Get the fuck outta here! I’d only seen him for a second. What if he had a knife? A gun? What if, what if? No doubt they were squatting in that house, and this was their junkyard watchdog. I scurried and heard a sound behind me. It was Daddy Gypsy and the Kid. He sent the Kid to follow me, like some sort of rite of passage. He was on my trail. He followed me in the shadows for over half an hour. I was pulling away, but like a sheriff who wants to run you outta town, he stayed on my tail. With each impending danger, I stayed focused on the crooked path ahead. Said, “Stay low to the ground, wear him down, wear him down.” Got some mean blisters, feet are killing me. I finally lost him, as I saw the city lights. Felt like I HAD to make that journey, explore that place where Nature and Civilization meet. (Decin?) After I lost that shadow back there, I heaved a sigh of relief, and an amazing thing happened. I saw the oldest Iron train I’ve ever seen go rambling by, probably from the 40’s. It was covered in rust, and the paint was crumbling, but she was still running. Creeak. Had to think of my sax man West Side Ken, playing in an orchestra somewhere in Mexico (are you reading this, Ken?), our great adventures together, and our mutual love of trains. A magic moment was before me. When I reached the outskirts of Decin, the sun was coming up. It had been an all-night affair.
I saw some more gypsies huddled by a bridge, who looked at me like I was from outer space. Huff, puff and just keep going. I found the main station, and hopped on the train to Prague. I showed the Czech conductor (who we’ll call Uncle Skeptical) my german Wochenende ticket as a gag, and he let me slide. Free train ride to Prague! Guess I'd earned it. One more reason to love the Czechs, they’re so tolerant! When I arrived all dreary-eyed, the breakfast menu had some pretty funky english. I ordered the “Chicken Without Boners,” laughed and ate heartily. It was all pretty surreal.
Picked up two friends at the airport, they asked, “How was your trip?” “Long story,” I said. I probably smelled like bear-tinkle. We all had backstage passes to the festival. Later that night, I gave my music to Butch Vig, the sooper-producer from the Smashing Pumpkins, and Garbage, and ... Oh, nevermind ... I would love to make a CD with that guy! After being in the wilderness all night, I really felt like I'd made a long journey for the right purpose.
Yes, the long journey was really worth it. I have no regrets – I choose this life of adventure, rough ‘n’ tumble – it’s never boring! But here’s a tip for your next adventure: bring a flashlight ... or just catch some fireflies in a JAR.
Homeless woman askin' for a penny
gettin' yelled at by the guy eatin' a-plenty
in the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet
He says it's not his problem
Ya know, I know, he doesn't care
Attacking someone who cannot defend
themselves and this is nothing rare
He doesn't get it
unless the it is MORE
So surreal, like
Astronauts on the moon
How far will you go?
if you stay all afternoon
at the Buffet ...
It's all I can take
It's all I can take
It's all I can eat
This ain't no take-away
Sit here and weep
Guy called Eddie gettin' ready
to go out tonight with his steady
She wants to swing, he wants to rumble
They both know they'll get tanked, have sex and stumble
back to the All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet
It's never enough ...
Indulge until Kingdom Come
You're gonna explode when you get there
Don't believe in turning the other cheek
but an eye for an eye is nowhere ...
Where is it?
Let's find it ...