On the bus as we roll through a sunny winter’s day in France, on our way to Leuven, Belgium. Several minutes ago, as we disembarked from the ferry that took us from Dover to Calais, our longtime bus driver Jan-Sven advised us to look out the left side of the bus for the Syrian refugee camp that soon would come into view.
Double lines of fences, topped with spirals of barbed wire, created a walkway patrolled by police. On the other side were rows of tents and other portable, makeshift structures. Outside, men milled around and stood in small groups, hands in their pockets, passing time.
Further on, the camp degenerated into messy, tarp-covered, improvised structures, amidst piles of garbage. These were the remnants of what was initially provided as France scrambled to accommodate what ended up being thousands of people.
Construction was under way. The camp is being moved back from the road, as men had been attempting to leave the camp and jump onto passing trucks.
France can’t keep these people on the side of a highway forever. Eventually they will have to assimilate into the population. For a country that is struggling economically, it will be an incredible test. Who knows where these humans huddled together, their scenery and soundscape passing trucks and police radios, will eventually end up?
Germany is already having problems as its landscape rapidly changes with the influx of thousands of people. It is a new world all over again. But really, it is the same world it’s always been since humans set up shop. We have been globally displacing one another for thousands of years, as many have sought a better or different life by picking up and heading out for adventure, uncertainty and consequence.
In my own featherweight way, I have done this, or tried to do it, with my life. As I move a day at a time toward 55 years of age, for the better part of all my years, I have been on the move.
I have been on the loose for about three weeks now. It’s still January and I hope to be bouncing around the world until at least mid-December.
For me, almost everything out here has a degree of poignancy. The sun is setting on the small homes and farmhouses that fly by the windows; the front of the bus smells of freshly made coffee and manure that drifts in from an open vent. The laughter and conversation of the two bus drivers, speaking English with two different accents, mixes with the sound of trucks and cars. It is an endless postcard rolling by.
In a seamless transition, we are now in Belgium.
One of the many upsides of this mode of existence is that, if one is so inclined, on an almost daily basis there are record stores to be visited. With more than 600 shows behind us, road manager Ward and I have circled the world for nearly a decade and have darkened the doorways of many a shop. This time out has been no different.
So far, a small shop in Frankfurt that I have been going to for years yielded a great-condition copy of Kraftwerk’s Die Mensch-Maschine. Copenhagen’s excellent Sound Station, a mandatory stop, had an almost perfect copy of Albert Ayler’s jazz/soul/gospel/out-there New Grass album, complete with heavy, laminated stock cover. This will be my third copy. The first one, on CD, lived with me in my small apartment in NYC. One day I was at Iggy’s, and we were talking about music. He said that he loved New Grass, hadn’t heard in years and really missed it. I gave him my copy and eventually found another. Can’t wait to hear this one on LP!
A small shop in Bristol, England, had an A-label promo copy of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”/“Radiation” single on the ZE label. A great band from Bristol, Spectres, brought me some of their rarer vinyl that night as a gift. Days later in London, Dave Ruffy, the mighty drummer of The Ruts and Ruts DC, gave me an unplayed copy of the first pressing of their first single, as well as the Ruts DC’s “Weak Heart”/“Militant” single, promo only with info sheet. Score!
Without question, the best vinyl experience so far came out of Sutton, near the city of Dublin. Before the show, Ward and I spent hours visiting with Philomena Lynott, mother of Thin Lizzy’s late bass-playing leader, Phil. We were given full access to the man’s record collection. Standouts included Sabbath’s Paranoid on Vertigo with the swirl inner sleeve intact, plus great-condition copies of Houses of the Holy, Aladdin Sane and The Ramones’ Road to Ruin.
Philomena asked if we wanted to see Phil’s Thin Lizzy singles collection. Within a few minutes, I had them all on her couch, organizing them chronologically. I was hoping for test pressings and acetates and found none, but did check out all his earliest singles, like “Whiskey in the Jar.”
I offered that if I could get back to Philomena’s place later in the year, I would be happy to bring protective sleeves and archive boxes for some preservation work. She said that would be great. So I have that to look forward to, as well as another chance to spend time with one of the most interesting people I have ever met.
Philomena’s story is worth checking out. A single mother in late-1940s Great Britain with a child whose father was black, hers was not the easiest road. To hear her tell the story, sitting in her living room, was a true privilege.
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I know I am a lucky bastard with an irrevocably spoiled appetite. While it is not always the easiest day-to-day, I’ll take it. I am getting older, but this never gets old.