Month: April 2014

Almost Famous: Aren’t we all a little bit Groupie?

When reviewing my life and all the stupid things I did as a young woman, (yeah, that’s what I do in my spare time….) I realise there are a lot of things that are specific to the female experience. Things that most men would simply not have bothered wasting their time on. They do other stupid stuff admittedly (like dealing drugs, or drag-car racing) but one of the fads exclusive to us women is the groupie experience. What is it about men on stage, no matter how geeky or skinny or unattractive, that makes them irresistible to us women? Is it the lights, the makeup? The hair?

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And there we are, before we know it, age 13, screaming our virginal little tonsils out at Dave from Depeche Mode (in my case). Fast forward two years give or take and you’re sitting on a pile of cables and cinches in the back of a rusty van in transit between Chester and Liverpool with Dr.Phibes and the House of Wax Equations, with nothing but a packet of biscuits and a 2-litre bottle of cider between you and the call of fame.

But instead of being groupies, why aren’t hordes of women picking up the guitar and learning to rock it themselves if they are all so interested in the limelight and the glory? Why don’t we covet fame for ourselves? We have women like Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and Joan Jett and Patti Smith as role models thank god, but in general, why does it seem preferable to most women to be close to a famous man, rather than seeking the limelight ourselves? Speaking for myself, I would honestly rather hike once around the world wearing a onesie than stand on stage in front of an audience and perform anything. And the most musical bone in my body is definitely my funny bone, (interesting fact: in German the selfsame bone is called the “Musikantenknochen”, the musician’s bone)  but despite all that, I was always drawn to flats and squats that also contained lots of hairy men making music.

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Almost Famous: Like this but less well dressed.

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Yes, more like that….The Senseless Things

It was never a conscious choice, But in all my years sharing flats and squats I always lived with musical people. In Liverpool I had an enormous ancient wooden double bed (hate to think how many people were born and died in that thing!) that hosted many an impromptu sleepover. But I was a pretty crap groupie. What other young blonde long-legged thing can claim to having shared beds platonically with at least a dozen band members without actually shagging any of them? (Women, howl in derision all you like, it just didn’t come up.) I wasn’t even that keen on concerts either. I never quite understood how anyone could get THAT excited over a bridge. A Witnesss, the  La’s and the Boo Radleys, along with a bunch of other bands, had their practice room in our squat in Liverpool. Dr. Phibes lived there half the time.

To be honest, the muso guys were actually the best flat mates you could have wished for, because they were all really girly, always up for a good long chinwag about who said what and why. They were always appreciative of good home-cooked food, and tended to wander in at 4am with a rolie or joint at the ready.

In Berlin, after breaking up with the drummer of some medieval punk band (yes that’s a musical genre in Germany) with an unspeakable name (The Inchtabokatables, well you did ask),  I moved in with half of what was just becoming Rammstein. It was perfect because they were just as erratic and nocturnal as I was, but when we were all there, there was always sparkling wine for breakfast and no one hassled about money, disappeared food or washing up.

I remember one of the guitarists asking me to translate one of his lyrics (something about a black crow) into English. After I’d finished I said I thought it would be much more powerful if he left it in German….I like to think they took my advice, leading directly to their stellar fame, even though I suppose it reflects rather badly on me that I did such a shit job of my first-every translation.

So, after my vast experience as crappest groupie ever, all I have to show for it are a few pearls of wisdom to pass on:

1. Shared bathroom facilities in the kitchen are the greatest leveller of all (yes, the shower and only sink were in the kitchen).

2. The guys crooning about love up there on stage? They are usually singing love songs to themselves.

3. And if there is one thing they’re going to get passionate about? It ain’t you, babe, it’s the music.

4. If you act famous and rich, and have a modicum of talent, you may well end up famous and rich.

5. If you have sparkling wine for breakfast, the rest of the day usually turns out just grand.

6. If you really want to be a groupie, make sure you have a good book with you at all times because there is A LOT of downtime.

7. Anyone can play that bass line. Even your dog.

8. That sexy eyeliner they’re wearing? It belongs to their ex-girlfriend.

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Gimme back my eyeliner!

Let’s face it, most women of my generation have a story or two to tell about nights spent in a transit van, or in a backstage room, and every woman “almost” failed her ‘A’ levels because of some dickhead with a guitar. Which is kind of annoying. So I am hopeful that the next generation, in that respect at least, are “doing it for themselves”. Thank god the young women I know (my daughter included) concentrate on serious self-created fun, education and having good friends, and if they are crazy for a band, it’s because they really dig the music.

I recently bumped into the Rammstein keyboarder again, with his daughter, and he asked “Hey, still doing translations?” and I said “Yep, still translating. And you? Still making music?” Apparently, yes, he is. But the really good news?  So is his daughter.

 

Fun Statistics

Cups of tea made: 1324

Bowls of tuna salad shared: 42

Hours spent waiting in draughty corridors after gigs: 213

Nights spent in stinky backstage rooms with roadies: 11

Nights spent in vans in transit: 9

 

 

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Advanced German for Germans

Last month I decided it was finally time to improve my German writing skills. I figured after 20 years of living in the country it was kind of embarrassing to have to ask my teenage daughter to correct me every time I needed to write a proposal for work. I was also curious to see what it would be like to write in a different language and to see if what I consider to be humorous would also work in German. Whether or not Germans would laugh was another matter all together. Ironically, on my way down to the Volkshochschule (look it up suckers, I had to) I passed a trendy clothes store with a dummy in the window wearing a T-shirt that stated in no uncertain terms, “Life is too short for learning German.” I chose not to take this as a bad omen.

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I also tried to ignore the fact that literally every single person I passed (mainly groups of people who actually have a life on a Friday night and are going out to have fun) were speaking English. ALL OF THEM. Was I perhaps 20 years too late with my mission? Who would I be writing for? Would anyone in Berlin still be speaking German 10 years from now?  So off I walked, bravely into the world of German night classes and excel computer courses. The group of 12 consisted of Peter, with a personality disorder, (his words not mine) Oswald, a 75-year-old vicar, Chantal, a transsexual with a not so great wig but great taste in clothes, two Henriettes, 1 Gertrude who deserves her very own category and six other women of indeterminate age including me.

The course started off with the teacher coming in and feeling miffed because the table she coveted was taken (the delinquent offered to move, but it was TOO late for that, the mood had been ruined), tore open all the windows and then proceeded to bark at everyone who accidentally walked into the room looking for – how could it be otherwise – the excel computer course. Man, I was catapulted back to my school days faster than an atomic accelerator time machine.

Kicking off with some great writing tips she told us that early mornings were the best time for writing, even if it was just for half an hour, and when one woman interjected that she didn’t think she could find the time in the mornings, one of the “good girls” of the class said “Well, I just make the time.” An image flashed in my mind of three kids of pre-school age crying and peeing all over the kitchen floor whilst she sat with Buddha-like calm at the kitchen table taking her half an hour to write. Luckily the teacher then admitted that perhaps “Everyone has to find what works for them.” Phew, thank God for that then.

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Germans like things to be structured and categorised. Even rubbish.

I don’t know what I was expecting, I guess I was pretty open for anything, but she is really giving us our money’s worth. And there are two more days to go! I now know all the categories and sub-categories and sub-sub-categories of lyrical, narrative,  scenic and reflective types of writing. And it wouldn’t be Germany if there wasn’t a right old shindig about the definition of “autobiographical” writing, and about the legal repercussions of slandering one’s own mother.

That was very important because, turns out pretty much everyone in the room has issues with their parents. And not all of them because they were Nazis! Some because they were just plain old crappy parents. I can’t WAIT for tomorrow!

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