Thursday, December 24, 2009

VINI, V.D., VICI; I came, I saw, I canquored


When I left the US it was chilly. The series of railed connections, be they trains or subway cars, aged me just about a year until I reached JFK. If not for the layover at my friend Richard’s house I may have collapsed from exhaustion.

It was clearly early winter on the outside and there was no reason for me to believe that the rest of the tour would be any different. If you look at a map most of my destinations are roughly more than a bit north of Philadelphia lattitudinally speaking, so I just thought winter everywhere. Even Rome, lying roughly equivalent to Washington DC was still subject to cold weather. And we got what we bargained for.

Audrey left the tour after four really successful photo shoots in the city of Roma. And since that time I’ve been trekking alone all over Italy, and will be doing the same for the next two weeks until I return home. And since it has been almost two weeks since Aurdrey and I landed in Rome, I’ve seen just about every season this side of summer until today. Today I woke up to sunshine and basic warmth. While it may only be roughly 65 degrees outside, it sure beats trekking home from a tram breakdown in Milan durning a blizzard.

Watching the television upon my incredibly late arrival back to Tuscany, and to the home of friends that I met on my first trip to Italy back in the summer of Y2K, it was obvious that I witnessed something first hand that doesn’t happen very much in these parts. According to my friend Sandro, “the most organized of Italian cities (Milano) was stopped by confusion.” And I was there to see it. In fact, while there my host Mayo joked that I brought the snow with me from the north. Alas, Sandro’s family said the same thing about the cold here in Tuscany since he arrived here from Finland two days before (and boy was it cold here).

In many ways I simply lost sight of the real reasons behind the project because I was caught up in a whirlwind of traveling, and my eternal struggle to grasp the Italian language enough to communicate with all of my friends here instead of always making them speak English to me. But, somehow, catching a punk show in a small town outside of Milano slapped me back into reality. It was strange seeing an American band play along side a number of Italian Punk bands, and there be no significant differences besides the obvious one of the American band singing everything in English, and screaming “Grazie Italia,” over and over at the end of the show as though it was an olive branch extended over the Atlantic Ocean.

In fact, while shooting at this strange club in a secluded alley I noticed a lot of similarities between Punk Rock kids all over the place. Basically, they are all a lot alike. Not that being alike is a good or a bad thing, because it is just a thing. What is remarkable is that of all the things that America has exported, Classic Hardcore has probably been one of its greatest. Unfortunately, the shittier elements of Hip Hop culture made it over here too.

As an aside, I was standing on the platform of Livorno’s central station watching a cell phone commercial on the track-side television. A young tough looking an awful lot like Eminem was performing all of the most clichéd commercial hip-hop moves in an oversized white tee shirt and hat half-cocked to the side, while trying to convince me to go Vodaphone (I think, but I was too busy laughing to be convinced). It is so strange to see this kind of thing here. Ten years ago when I first came to Italy nothing like this was happening. Italy was Italy and America was America, and then Berlusconi took office (more about him some other day). In my estimation this media tycoon stood to gain everything by importing American Culture to Italy because we’ve soooooo effectively learned to control the spending habits of our adolescent population, as where Italy, up to that point, the spending habits of immature brats was relegated by parents. Now, not so much.


It appears that American Punk Rock band, those of years gone by, have really shaped the ideology of the European Punk scenes. We’ve met at least one person at every photo shoot that had seen Black Flag (which is a bit more than we’ve found in our American photo shoots), and the American bands still kinda dominate the record collections of the folks that I meet, so I guess that American Hardcore has done its job well in terms of making Punk Rock something that is socially real, and not just something that is in obscure documentary books at your local Punk Rock book seller.

In fact I would say that most of the people that I’ve met here in Europe in general have had a more profound understanding and interest in a more equitable Hardcore scene that doesn’t restrict one to just a certain aspect of it (straight edge, crust, old school, etc). They love it all, the whole damned thing. The fact that I’ve seen so many American band shirts makes the point that Europeans not only love these bands, but their scenes are heavily influenced by them. Good or Bad, I have no idea. All that I know is that it makes communication way easier if you have things in common, and that is good for me.


I spent the last four or five days in Milano. The last time that I was in Milano I was there only to see the public Velodrome. When I got there, and it was very close to the hostel where I was staying, I was amazing. The biggest velodrome that I’ve ever seen. Wooden track under a huge timbered roof. Amazing. If you know my love for cycling you will understand my near orgasmic love for this velodrome. However, I heard from my host, Mayo, that this velodrome, sadly, no longer functions and there is no plans to renovate it for future use. Sad.

Anyway, if one word could sum up my experience in Milano it would be EXTREME. It seemed that from the second I was met at the train in the cold rain by Mayo that everything was going crazy in Milano. With the holiday season on, his leaving to come to Los Angeles for the holiday, the cold rain that would soon become snow, and my insanely tenacious flu were just the basics. However, the ensuing blizzard was just the knock out punch. Luckily, BFL scored a bunch of Lifer’s, and from the perspective of the book it was a successful mission.

I was really only slated to be in Milano for two days but “things beyond my control” seemed to keep me there eternally. I could see in the eyes of my host that I was beginning to cut into his holiday plans a bit, but raging winter storms made travel nearly impossible. But for the first few days of the trip Milano was a winter wonderland.

Mayo is in a band called La Crisi (The Crisis), and we were linked up last Spring by a mutual friend, Amy Toxic, in Boston. Amy told me that Mayo and one or two of his bandmates had the bars tattooed on them and that I should try to photograph them in the US. Strangely, when this news came to me I hadn’t even begun to book the European dates, but as it became clear to me that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet La Crisi I reached out to Mayo and asked him if he would organize something in Milan for me, and I would come there…! He said yes, and so I compelled myself to make an effort to make Europe happen too; and look what happened.

My train arrived at Milano’s central station at 10pm. There was no heat on the train (and it was fucking freezing), so I could barely feel my feet upon stepping off out of the car. Snapping a few shots of the station at night, I walked to meet Mayo at the gate and we were off to his home. He assured me that his apartment was warm, and so upon arrival I couldn’t wait to get my shoes and socks off and sit by the radiator to warm up my feet.

Meeting his fiancé, Valeria (sp?), rapping a bit about what I was doing in Europe, and showing them some pix, it was suddenly 2am and time for bed. I slept like a log until like 6am when I woke up and realized that my cold was back; and this time it was pissed off. For the next three days the flu would hammer away at me and my hosts were more than happy to help me in any way that they could. They allowed me to sleep for hours, made me food and coffee, and gave me medicine. It was truly amazing how well they cared for this stranger in their house. And what started out as a three day trip turned in to a three day trip and two days of nightmarish weirdness connected to a sudden snow-storm-gone-blizzard.

Somehow, though, sitting here in my friends’ home in Tuscany, where the sun is shining and it is relatively warm, I really cannot believe that I just came through the winter wonderland. It was awesome. Got a lot done.


Okay, so I was sick as hell. Who hasn’t been, right..? So on the second day Mayo took me out to see the city. Like I said, I’d only ever been to Milano one time and that was to see the Municipal Velodrome, so this was candy. Mayo, like most of our European hosts, knows his city well. He’s lived in Milano most of his life, and so he has a particular love for it that is evident from his desire to spend time in the downtown section, and he knows a lot about its history (which I love). He showed me around the Brerra-district, and that is when we saw snow for the first time. Flurries, but snow nonetheless. I shot a bunch of photos, and off we went. Of my favorite things of the day was this creamy little pudding/drink called the “zabaione” and the Christmas Market. I mean, hell, there is a lot to love about Milan if you have the right host, but zabaione would be worth the trip even if you had a bad host.

Zabaione is not only difficult to pernounce, but it is so potent that it is hard to eat fast. Eggs and sugar beaten up until they are a sweet, warm liquid, then topped with a concoction of liquor, and then topped again with sweet, whipped cream, um, this little confection is man’s ruin in my book.

I am willing to bet that zabaione is available in more places than just Milano, but it probably goes under a different name everywhere. The closest that it came to anything that I’ve ever eaten is if you totally undercook crème bruelle to the point that it was drinkable, and it was infused with something like rum or some other sweet liquor. I cannot say enough about zabaione, and it is my person mission to learn to make this crazy drink/desert when I get home the the US. Otherwise, I am gonna try to track it down here in Tuscany, or on my next visit to Roma.

After a few hours of walking and eating and stuff like that we headed back home. Eventually we had to make it to the show, and the show was about ¾’s of an hour outside of Milano, and so off we went. We arrived home, ate a fast meal, and then took off for the shoot. We got lost a few times, and even though I don’t always understand Italian (especially if it is spoken fast) I do understand the universal truth of mates arguing in the car about which turn should have been taken. It was a funny scene. I kept my trap shut. Eventually we made it.

The show was at a local bar/cantina in an alley in a small town in what seemed to be an industrial zone, and we entered at the point when most of the bands were arriving. The show was, well, a show. Punk shows don’t differ too much from town-to-town in the world, so I set up shop and shot like 5 barred folks from Milano, including on guy that saw Black Flag back in 1983; so that was pretty cool. I am thankful for the opportunity. Food, drink, music, records to buy, and people to photograph. What more could I ask for?

The show was over, my head throbbing from my cold/fever and a full day of walking around Milano, I couldn’t wait to get home and go to sleep. So, we made that happen. Upon arriving home and preparing for bed I knew that I was seriously fucked. My head was close to exploding. Mayo and Valeria gave me some medicine to help me sleep, and I did so; however restlessly. By the next morning (Sunday) things started blurring. I don’t remember on what day I made my way into the city looking for a restaurant suggested by a friend back home, but on that day the skies were gray to the point of near-black.

An hour later the snow was coming down heavily. An hour later city traffic was going haywire. All that I know is that I was walking, taking pix, eating heavily, and trying not to let my flu keep me from exploring. I had a zabaione, I ate focaccia, I asked directions, I bought salami at the Christmas market, and was much the full-on tourist. I love it. Nobody watching, I did all of the tourist stuff that I could and didn’t care before it was time to board my tram.

An hour later, stuck in a massive traffic jam behind 6 other stuck trams, the folks in my evacuated and started walking home. The trams in Milano are not heated, and so sitting/standling/lying in one of these things is as cold as a refrigerator in the cold weather. Evacuating was the best thing to happen to me, and the walk home in nearly a foot of snow while watching the citizens of Milano stuck in their cars for however long was kinda funny. Funny, yes, but I knew that my flu would suffer from the walk, and upon arriving home I just went to sleep for a while. Luckily, I’d overeaten.


I was slated to leave the next morning and so when I woke up after my little walk I planned out my day. The weather outside was certainly frightful, and so I anticipated delays. No matter how much anticipation of delay, you really don’t know delay until you are in the situation.

My plan was to wake up at 6:30am, take the train to the subway, the subway to the central station, and be on my IC train by 8am. Great plan. Most of my plans worked well up to this point. However, when I woke up there was about 15 inches of snow on the ground. While city transit was moving, it was moving slowly. Everything was in delay, so when I got to the station there were thousands of holiday travelers milling about the station trying to get their tickets for trains that may or may not have been operating. That is when I started to worry.

Hastily buying my ticket I ran to the platform to find out that my train was not only on the board, but was so far in delay that an hour later it was cancelled. FUCK, my train was cancelled and I had to be back in Tuscany (where it wasn’t snowing) to meet up with my friends there without causing serious strife, which can be the case if dinner is interrupted or something like that.

Anyway, I stood in a one hour line just to be told that they would refund my ticket, and I could take another train to Tuscany (no guarantee that it was to be on time) and it would cost me an additional 50 or 60 dollars. So, to sit in a cold-as-fuck train that was not going to be on time, I was being asked to pay almost 100 dollars. Fuck it. I rebooked for the next available IC train at 4 and called Mayo. “Yo, Mayo, my train is cancelled and my next one doesn’t leave until 4pm. Can I come back and crash at your spot..?,” “Sure, I will meet you there in an hour..” I could tell that he was bumming, but he took me in and made me lunch.

A few hours later I was back at the station and my train was delayed by almost an hour, but it was actually on the platform. I crawled on board, cozied up in my seat, and waited for the train to pull out, which it did, but only after 4 more people crept into my cabin and started rocking out on their cell phones. I was surrounded by 3 young women and an older guy. The older guy was awesome. When his phone would ring he would step outside the cabin to talk, while the girls would giggle and yell on theirs; thus keeping me awake for periods of time where I really wanted to be sleeping. Better that with the fact that (1) there was no heat (and I was frozen for the entire trip), (2) the snow was rain once we reached Genova (so the train had to go very slowly), and (3) I almost missed my connection train due to lateness, which would have had me sleeping in the central station in Livorno (and there was an inch of rain water on the entire floor), so the gods must have been smiling on me to get me to Cecina, to the home of my friends, and under plenty of covers to keep me warm for my 12 hour hybernation.

Today marks the first day in three weeks where it is warm enough to leave the house without massive winter apparel and I am preparing to explore, but Christmas gifts, and find a zabaione (if applicable).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

From the makers of Le Tour de France, I present to you Lyon




France is probably about the size of the states of Pennsylvania and New York put together, but as for culture this place is just outrageous. Much like the kinds of cultural diversity that I’ve experienced in Italy, France is just as dotted with culturally unique spots that are intimately tied to geography, resources, and just how many invading armies crashed through its gates once the Roman Empire fell; leaving most of western Europe just a bit on the unprotected side of the equation.

I don’t know, call me culturally sympathetic but I think that France took a lot of grief in the past two thousand years, but the pay off is a pretty diverse country and a bunch of culturally interesting craziness that will definitely find me back sometime in the near future. Some things, such as the realities of modernity, do catch me off guard sometimes, and Lyon made the first move.

For example, if somebody asked me the first thing that came to my mind when hearing the word France I would think, um, wine, rich foods (with lots of meat), famous artists, Le Tour de France, and stuff like that. The last thing that I would think of would be, say, vegan straight edge kids, or even vegetarian straight edge kids, but we did manage to meet some in Lyon. So, needless to say I was caught a bit off guard. But fuck my perceptions because, after all, I am writing a book about an endearing part of Punk Rock culture and not a book about French popular culture. Anyway…

Both JB and Benoit told me of these big Hardcore scenes in both Lyon and in St. Etiennne (very close by Lyon), and both had some friends in Lyon with The Bars. Lyon was not on the schedule but it found its way there very fast. With Patrick on the phone in seconds, we had our first contact there and he was going to organize his people for a noon shoot the next day, which gave us precious little time to make arrangements by train. Somehow we managed, and by noon the next day we were at least on our way to the station in Paris, thus making it necessary for us to rebook the shoot for around 2pm, which was fine by most of the Lyon folks since most of them were drinking heavily the night before.

Our train to Lyon was fast as fuck, and it only stopped in Lyon, and in one of Lyons suburban stations (which is the one where we had to depart). Upon landing I couldn’t get any of the phones that I found to accept my coins, and so I decided to catch a cab. We were told that the tattoo shop was just a short hop from the train station but it turned out to be a 10 Euro short hop (roughly two miles), which I would have had to carry my massive bags across to get to our location. Upon exiting our taxi we were greeted by a tall, handsome, clad-in-all-black Jean-Luc, the shop owner and Audrey’s grandest obsession.

Jean-Luc told us that the others would be showing up shortly so we took the time under the clear blue sky to shoot Jean-Luc outdoors. We arranged a bunch of furniture on the first floor of the studio and took one big furry black chair outside, and about the second that we finally pushed it out the door the rains came. Not one to back down in the rain, we shot Jean on a black furry chair in the middle of a rather heavily traveled street in Lyon (which is about as artsie as it has gotten thus far).

In the next few hours we became quite friendly with our host, and after shooting about 6 people that day I became quite friendly with a bottle of single malt scotch. What I love most about single malt scotch is the way that it makes me feel so good at first and, then, how god-awful it makes my stomach feel afterwards. So, after shooting we walked back to the house of a friend of a friend named Lucien where I fell to drunken sleep, and where we would prepare to shoot our final French victim IN THE NUDE.

Yup, Lucien would become our first NUDE Barred For Lifer. Not even the guy in New Orleans that had the bars on his ass was ballsey enough to be documented naked, and so Lucien made it so. It wasn’t too difficult to talk him into getting naked, and word has it from a few of his friends that he is part of a crew of kids in Lyon that gets naked at shows and dances it up in the pit. Trust me, I like fun and all but I think that I would probably stay off to the side at a show where there were sweaty naked dudes running the pit. At some point I would have a hard time enjoying myself while getting splashed with ball-sweat. Anyway, Lucien not only got naked for the camera but he drove Audrey and I to the airport at like 3am so that we could wait for three or four more hours to be processed for our flight to Rome, which would be Audrey’s last stop on the tour.

So, a few hours later we are both half sleeping on our luggage waiting for our flight, and everything goes as planned, which is quite rare for me in Europe. Comfortably on our flight (after being totally condescended by the person checking us in), the sun begins to shine for the first time in a few days.


Friday, December 18, 2009



I’ve been on the road now for roughly two-and-one-half months, and in that time I have learned many things that I was not so apt to believe beforehand. One of the most important things that I learned was that nothing works out exactly how you would like for it to work out no matter how hard you try. It is possible to wish your life away hoping that everybody likes what you are doing but inevitably there are some people, and often this constitutes a massive majority, that just don’t seem to get it even though they should get it. However, it is not in my place to force feed onto others what they choose not to believe, and so I just keep on doing what I am doing and hoping that those that do get it really do get it, get it.(?)

It would be impossible for me to name everybody that so believes that certain aspects of the Punk Rock saga need to be documented because it just seems so logical not to let these aspects become subjects of revisionist histories (like that of the beats and proto hippies), and so no matter how much I like or dislike what others have written about the culture of which I chose to take part for so long, I am simply happy that they took the time to do so.

I could comment that Get In the Van is a bit on the uber-dramatic side, and that I know a few people that attended one of the Baltimore shows where the light that fell and hit Henry on the head was written in GITV as him being beaten up by skinheads (nice), but it presented information for a comparison of what some witnessed and what Henry revised as “truth.”

I could comment that in American Hardcore many aspects of the East Coast scene were deleted in order to make California look that much more powerful in shaping the future aspects of “American Hardcore.” But in failing to research the smaller scenes, Mr. Blush simply gave room for others to document it more fully (and that was pretty cool of him; now who wants to pick up the torch???).

Over the past few years a lot of books and a lot of documentaries have found their way to the shelves of my favorite book stores and my favorite movie rental houses, and I have tried to watch them all in a way that was, shall we say, most objective (meaning not allowing my scene affiliations to effect how I felt about the information being presented). The one thing that I found to be true in most instances is that (drum role) PUNK ROCK EXISTED. Not only did Punk Rock exist, it thrived. Not only did it thrive, there were people there who were so possessed by what it had to offer that they felt compelled to document it so that I could watch it. Not that they documented it specifically for me, but they documented it so that me and all of the other people that wanted to know how it existed for those other than ourselves could check it out.

I’ve watched movies about African Americans in the Punk Rock scene, women in the scene (specifically Riot Grrrls), about disparate scenes, about punks in England, Germany, Japan, and the like. I’ve seen interviews with people I’ve always wanted to see interviewed, and with people I didn’t even know existed (but had an opinion and wanted it to be voiced). As well I’d seen some friends interviewed, and I’d seen some of my former enemies interviewed (though I don’t really keep enemies alive any longer, so that is sort of a misnomer I guess).

Anyway, what I am saying is that I am quite happy that Barred For Life is following a similar track to a certain end. For those of you who don’t know the philosophy of my effort, it is that there exists this symbol that once belonged exclusively to the efforts of one very important hardcore band called Black Flag. The logo, called The Bars (a creation of Raymond Pettibone) have now transcended the band by a factor of almost 30 years, and while they still do wholly represent the band Black Flag, they more-or-less now represent a sort of Washington Monument of Punk Rock (specifically American Hardcore). Now, this logo, in basically an unaltered state (though I have found other examples to discount the word “unaltered”) been communicated through about three generations of Punk Rockers and is now been imbued with more positive attributes than the band surely ever intended. In fact, in some of the interviews I’ve conducted I’ve found that people use the bars to denote everything from “destroying everything” to “building a better future” and everything in between. And, as you might guess, I find this to be quite awesome. Even in death Black Flag is as misunderstood as a cultural phenomenon as it was in life.


So what does all of this have to do with PARIS…? Well, everything, really. Many of you that know me, or have recently met me, know that I quit my job, gave up my apartment, and have disconnected from all things stable to pursue a 4 month trip across the US, some of Canada, and a bunch of places in Europe, just to document this phenomenon. So, while I was working my mind-dulling job with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Recreation, and simultaneously booking the BFL tour, I stumbled on to a Face Book page called, oddly, PEOPLE WITH BLACK FLAG TATTOOS. It was there that I think that I found a man named Patrick Waterpeach from Paris, and he had stated that he had the bars in an unfinished mode. From the information that I gathered I had asked him to take the people that I had found from France and invite them over for dinner and host a shoot if he thought this was appropriate.

Patrick, like most of my European hosts, went to it with the fervor of a saint. He put up a FB page and handed out fliers at gigs, and did what he could only to find that there were just three (or possibly four) people in all of Paris with The Bars. He seemed saddened by the lack of enthusiasm of his compatriots, but I assured him of two things: (1) Maybe there were only two or three people in Paris with The Bars, and (2) It didn’t matter because I was planning to come to Paris if it was just Patrick with The Bars and nobody else. I am not sure but I think those statements made him feel better because when he picked up Audrey and me at the airport he was 100% FUCKING GO.

We arrived on a late flight into Paris, so to make things work properly, and so that we could shoot JB (in from Avignon in southern France) before he left early the next morning, Patrick arranged everything with military precision. He picked us up, dropped us at his home, left to pick up JB, and returned moments later and ready for action. Dinner on the table, we ate, drank some wine, and set up shop. Moments into setting up my lighting I soon realized that my Amero/European adaptor was not working (more electrical problems, ugh!!!). 2 minutes later Patrick arrives on the scene with a halogen work light and we were back in business. I shot JB and Patrick on Patrick’s leather couch (individually, obviously) and soon JB was being ushered back to his home with Audrey and myself in tow; through the streets of Paris at night. It was fucking amazing if I must say so. In under 24 hours we’d seen the birthplace of the Smiths, then the birthplace of the Beatles, then the birthplace of the authentic French Kiss, and Air (French Band). And then it was off to bed.

The next day Patrick took the day off of work to show us around Paris before going to the home of Benoit to shoot another set of Bars. Benoit lives in the Bastille-section of Paris, which is a very artsie place indeed. Benoit works on a magazine called Maelstrom and lives in a really cool flat with a really cool girlfriend and some really cool furniture. We showed up, ate some candy, drank some water, and shot Benoit in his leather chair near his record collection. With my lighting up and running we took another few shots of Patrick, which turned out to be slightly more flattering than those taken at his house, and then we exchanged information.

Benoit suggested that we drop off in Lyon to photograph some old bandmates with the Bars. He gave us phone numbers and locations, and off we went back to Patrick’s home. In a strange twist of fate, Patrick’s son was not going to be returning until the next day so Patrick invited us to stay another day in order that we see more of Paris and to properly organize our trip to Lyon, and then to Rome. So we accepted. The next day was spent sight seeing, eating, chilling, and organizing our trip, and then our last dinner with Patrick and his lovely girlfriend Carol.

Our train left at noon the next day and by some strange occurrence we managed to find yet another Barred individual that lived very close to the train station. Making the proper arrangements we found ourselves at the home of our last Parisian participant in time to photograph/interview him on the street, and then to the train station with enough time to easily make our train.

Having coffee in one of the most posh cafes I’ve ever been in, we bid our hosts a final farewell, and then boarded the train to Lyon (Obviously I will get more into Lyon next time). My heart sank because in Patrick I met yet another kindred spirit that I had to leave in order to finish my book. Knowing, however, that I will meet up with him again is an amazing feeling, but for now I just don’t even know how to settle down enough to build a lasting friendship. While I am focused on Barred For Life, the project and the end-product, I am afraid that I just cannot be anybody’s friend right now. It is a sad fact but I will have plenty of time to cultivate these friendships in a few months, once I am a bit more stabilized back in my country of origin.

So, to me it would not have mattered whether we only photographed Patrick, or Patrick and 100 other Parisians. What is important is that he did everything in his power to make the stay in Paris one of the most amazing of the trip, and I hope that I can do the same for him when he comes to stay in America (along with all of our hosts) sometime in the future.