Saturday, December 12, 2009

MANARCHY in the UK, cont'd...


Boarding a Virgin Train, two hours later we landed in the northern town of Manchester. Virgin owns just about everything. They have their own planes, trains, communications networks, record labels, fast food joints, rocket ships, and stuff like that. One cannot walk but a few feet before stumbling into something owned by Virgin, and this seems especially true of England. So, yeah, okay, we rode a very fast train to Manchester owned by Virgin.

So we were a little late and oddly our host Phillip was waiting for us at the station. I've never met Phillip, and from his FaceBook picture (in makeup), I wouldn't have been able to pick him out of a line-up. But somehow he saw us getting off of the train and ushered us to The Studio where people were waiting to be photographed for Barred For Life.

Before talking more about Barred For Life and the Manchester participants just let me explain that I FUCKING LOVE MANCHESTER. Besides there being so many great bands from Manchester, like the Smiths and Stone Roses and Chapterhouse and, um, millions of other bands like that, there was just such a chill and open vibe going on there. Given that Audrey and I spent half of our time in downtown London dodging commentary and criticism by a consort of frat-boy-looking-douchebags, the open-mindedness of Manchester was both refreshing and chill-as-hell.

Phillip and his crew took us under their wing, gave up their beds and their food to share with us, and three days later it seemed like family to me.

The Studio is a rather interesting tattoo-joint-slash-punk-rock-shop just off of Pickadilly Square. It is just one of about 50 punk-rock-shops jammed into one huge punk-rock-building, and this is where Phillip organized our shoot, which ended up taking two or three days to document all of the people from Manchester with the bars tattooed on themselves.

Tattooist Claire became a fast friend, and on our last evening spent the entire night tattooing our fingernails, and herself, with the bars (among other things; Audrey got her boyfriend's name on hers and I got RISE ABUV on mine, duh). On all of my journies Claire was the first person to tattoo herself in front of my camera and I will be damned if I DIDN'T LOOSE ALL OF THOSE PHOTOS TO SOME RANDOM SAVING ERROR..! FUCK, FUCK, FUCK...

11 people came forward with the bars, or had the bars consturcted on them for this shoot and, and as I mentioned before it took us about three days to do the documentation (and I lost some of them too)...

Thrown in for good measure was a trip to see Jay Masckus (sp?), a few nights of awesome cooking, a trip around the city, drinks in the space shuttle, some well placed showers, a few bottles of wine, more dinner, and a lot of fucking rain. Oh, yeah, and a bunch of rather angry bus drivers that seemed intent on not letting us ride their busses or be helpful in any way at all. Oh, yeah, and there were some museums, some coffee shops that made their cappuccino with milk cooked so long that it was almost merrangue. Okay, so not everything was perfect, but it was not a bad scene at all. In the end it was exceptionally hard to leave that city, however necessary it was.

Then night before leaving the internet made it quite difficult to book our flight to Paris but somehow we managed to score some alright priced plane tickets to Paris. Due to some flight constraints we almost missed out on the opportunity to shoot a man from the south of France in Paris, but more on that later. Long story short, because of a number of unforseen difficulties some events did not work out as well as they could have. But somehow everything worked out and, not only did we get to Paris, but we had a total blast in Manchester.


I could have called this tour quits after the US and Canada, and this trip would have been a success. However, rummaging through Europe and finding no shortage of amazing people here with The Bars, and equally inspiring stories has made this an amazing success. Just as in the US, some places shit-the-bed and some have risen well above the standards.

One thing that i've noticed about our European shoots, and our European promoters, is that the ones that don't drop the ball are REALLY, REALLY, REALLY seriously amped, and they will work so hard to rally people to the shoots that it warms the heart to watch them in action.

Making phone calls on our behalf, helping us book our trains and flights, speaking to people in their native language, and going out of their way to make us feel welcomed, um, I don't want to come home. It is unfortunate that we will not be shooting in Germany (and most likely not in Spain either), but if I decided that I wanted "full coverage" of cities, towns, countries, and people with the bars I could easily spend the rest of my life (and definitely the rest of my savings) trying to make this a reality.

The fact of the matter is that when Black Flag was a band, and long before we Punk Rock Historians decided what parts of the DIY ethic to attibute to them, they were a relatively unknown band here in Europe. The only facts (if you want to call them that) that I know of BF's European tours is from "Get In The Van," and from that the tours didn't look like they went that well. For many early US punk bands making their way in Europe seemed to be a daunting task. Figuring out tour routes, working with promoters that didn't speak English, and dealing with punk cultures that were not really all that similar to that of the US. Just traveling as a solo traveler in Europe is a humbling experience. In America I can at least call somebody and instantly communicate, so if I need a place to stay or a person to organize a shoot or whatever, the communication barrier is only personal. Here however there is just this huge communcation and cultural barrier from easy flow of information and movement; though it is not impossible.

One thing that I have learned in my many travels is that being humble and appreciative is the best way to move. Making demands just doesn't work, and it just doesn't work for me personally. It is a cool way to live, always being thankful for the little things, and by being thankful and showing it in as many ways as you can just makes good sense. Anyway, I don't mean to be all sentimental here but I swear that so far our hosts here in Europe have been so incredibly helpful that I cannot explain it exactly. And for that, and for their efforts, Barred For Life is going to be an amazing product that represents a very, very broad swatch of people who are all struggling to be part of something bigger than themselves. And, honestly, The Bars are just totally representative of that. Sure, they are becoming a pretty cool HIPSTER tattoo, but it just doesnt' matter. It never has. Hipsters suck. They will always misrepresent everything. The rest of us know this, and it is the "we" that will be represented here. The HIPSTERS CAN SUCK IT, thank you very much.

Friday, December 11, 2009



Arrival. Prejudices. Hurdles.

I never wanted to see London. I am a crabby, cranky, pissy guy with some serious hang-ups on what I like and what I don’t like. So, for most of my traveling through Europe I determined any country that speaks the same language as me, thus making it easy for me to communicate and exchange information, as culturally inferior to those that spoke incredibly difficult languages (and many with crazy dialects).

Well, I’ve grown up a bit since those days and have overcome many of my hang-ups simply by understanding that the worlds’ cultures do not live-and-die in the world of Stewart. It just makes sense to try new things every once and a while, whether you determined them to be lame in a former lifetime or not. So, after a rather insane commune with the multitude of travel routes that got me from my home in York, PA, to Philadelphia, to Jersey City, NJ, to NYC, to Queens, NY, to JFK airport, I fell asleep on my carry on baggage at my gate and proceeded to worry a lot about what was to happen to me once my plane landed at Heathrow International Airport.

Language be damned, in a world dominated by mobile phones, and me without mine, I had to take a massive breather in the airport and sip across my first British cappuccino for nearly 2 hours while I made my plans to enter the city, meet up with my contact, Wayne, settle in at the POGO CAFÉ, and prepare myself to photograph Europeans tattooed with an obscure American Punk Rock band’s logo; a band that broke up 25 year ago; a tattoo whose wearer’s average age is around 24 years of age. Weird. Here, yes. And, in the US too.


My assistant, Audrey, flew into Manchester with a layover in Frankfort, Germany, and was slated to arrive in the UK about 4-hours after me, and then take a 2-hour train ride to London, where I would meet her and bring her back to the café. Only one problem stood in my way of making this a basically flawless operation: The Pogo Café was closed due to some unforeseen plumbing problems and, so, I had to wait outside for quite a while until I could communicate with Wayne so that he could get me into the café, drop my gear, and then run to pick up Audrey.

Understand that if I were simply traveling by myself through Europe I could get on with simply a backpack and a weeks worth of clothing. But since I am taking pictures for Barred For Life I found it necessary to travel with my bag, a FUCKING HUGE bag for my lights, plus my camera case. Once these three pieces of travel luggage find their way into/onto my arms all at once it become incredibly difficult to carry them comfortably and safely. In fact, if, while walking, somebody decided to try to rob me I would have to allow them to do so even if it took them 20-full-minutes because I would hate to have to reposition my bags, or try to run with them, or try to fight off an attacker with them on my arm. It would just suck, so I would let a robber rob me. It would just be easier that way.

Finally, after taking a series of underground trains and overground trains, and then finding my way to an ATM to pick up some cash, and then a seemingly long walk up a crowded avenue in the rain, um, I found POGO. I found it closed, locked, and the lights out. I found a closed, locked, and uninhabited POGO CAFÉ. FUCK ME.

Toting all of my bags back down the street I called Wayne on his mobile phone. Wayne works as a bicycle messenger so he was busy, busy, busy, but found some time to call a fellow co-op friend and get me under a roof and into warmth; and there were some comfy couches. Oh, and there was internet.

Dropping my bags, scooting down the street, buying more train tickets, training it to Euston Station (yup, the same on as in the “LONDON,” the song by the Smiths), I met up with Audrey and totted her back to POGO.

By the time we arrived back at the café a sizeable contingency of folks had showed up to await the plumbers and to prepare food just in the case that everything went well and they could open later that day.


POGO CAFÉ is a fucking rad place. All vegan, mostly organic, and most of the food is prepared on the premises. Most of the kids that work there are dedicated squatter-types with an anarchist-bent, and seem to love bikes and alternative culture. If you are ever in London you gotta go to this place. Prices are fucking totally good and the food is amazing, especially the cakes and cupcakes. Yeah, what a blast.

Wayne is one stand up motherfucker. Irish as the day is long. Barred For Life. Squatter. Amazing guy. He works all day as a messenger then comes home and cooks at POGO. Wayne was handed the torch to set up the shoot in London and managed to organize it in just a few weeks. In fact, most of my European helpers were able to do amazing things with very little time, and Wayne showed us the light rather quickly.

Giving us his room for two nights, hooking us up with free vegan food, and providing space on a crowded Saturday night for our shoot, this is the kind of person that is necessary to keep one’s spirits high while traveling in a foreign country. A consummate London-ophile, he knew where to go, how to get there, and what to do once there. It is good to know Wayne Glass. Fuck Yeah.


Okay, even with a common language I still had difficulty doing a lot of things. I had a “LONDON UNDERGROUND” guide that should have made traveling a snap, but it didn’t always, but that was fine. Not all cities are easy to navigate. Over the course of two evenings Audrey and I managed to find our way to some of the more popular tourist sites, get a bit lost, and then find our way to an overpriced eatery even though POGO had us on its dole. I have heard the “when in Rome” saying but never the “when in London” version. But we did what we had to and made it happen.

Of note, even though London is a rather culturally diverse spot on the planet, um, if you look weird on your own accord you might just get fucked with like we did. Both nights in town found Audrey and myself on the catching end of some downright fucked up commentary from rather normal looking douche-bags and their haggard, dolled-up for no good reason, lady-friends. It was pretty fucked up but rolling with the punches is all part of the program. In the end I have some interesting memories of toting around London, but way more amazing memories of toting around, and shooting around, Hackney, where the POGO is located.


Between the number of social networking sites that I use to track down barred individuals, I had compiled a list of about 20 folks in the London vicinity. I reached out to them early on, just before the trip over, and then again once I landed. Mind you, some of these people reached out to me first, and I was just returning the favor. Many had pleaded that I come to the UK, so I did. However, once the shoot was on only 5 dedicated individuals showed their faces and tattoo. But as I like to say now that I am some 70 days into my tour schedule, THIS BOOK IS ABOUT DEDICATED PEOPLE, NOT SLACKERS. So slackers found their way to the door simply by slacking. Dedicated people found their way to the shoot despite the desire to say, um, stay at home and drink beer. You know. I don’t have to tell you.

Plagued with light difficulties, I managed to burn out two voltage converters inside 20 minutes. Running out of POGO at the speed of sound, I followed a trail of electronic stores to a full service shop and bought a converter capable of charging a fucking hospital and not burn out, and it cost me as much. Inside just a few hours of shooting abroad I spent a chunk of my travel budget on a necessary evil, a power converter that I could use all over Europe (or at least I had hoped)

Following my “OJ Simpson in a Hertz Rental Car Commerical from the 80’s” style hunt, find, and return the shoot went without incident. While I would like to offer a huge FUCK YOU to those of you that made it sound as though you would swim through shit to make it to a shoot if I made the effort to get to London. Yeah, FUCK YOU.

But what seems so strange about this whole thing is that Black Flag, at least according to Get In The Van, was hated by the Brits. Maybe it was a generational thing. Henry could have just been exaggerating his understanding of how the Brits treated Punk Rockers back in the 80’s, but it seemed as though a lot of them now draw quite a bit of inspiration from that band; at least as much as most American kids do. And this was a revelation to me. While I generally regard Rollins’ testimony as way on the DRAMATIC side of things, my feeling is that all the spitting and bottles breaking and the dark, smelly squats were just par for the course for the early British scene, and not so much part of the American scene’s evolution. So, who the fuck knows…? All that I know is that I had a blast inside a city that I never really thought I would go to in my traveling life and I owe an awful lot of thanks to Wayne, Audrey, the POGO staff, and the 5 folks that made it out to the shoot to rap it up with us and allow us to place a name with the face.