Sunday, December 12, 2010

A brief history of time in Amherst

It’s terrible to generalise a whole population, but Americans don’t seem to have a massive passion for live music. Even in the Amherst area, with 5 colleges and a huge young population, the number of patrons at shows is a little disappointing. Maybe it’s an Australian thing, where bands have to exert a huge effort making it to the island, but live music is held in a higher esteem.

Accordingly, it has taken this long for me to go see a band sans international students. Jessie - who happened to study in Wollongong at one stag - and her friend Paul and I made the trip to Northampton’s Pearl Street Clubroom. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists were playing with Bear Hands, a band who looked barely old enough to be in the venue.

Despite their years, they'd mastered their craft, switching between instruments and covering broken strings quite well. I was impressed enough to download their music, though not upset when their set finished. Up next was Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, who by roadying for themselves, care more for playing than the other rock and roll bull-corn.

Watching Ted Leo setting up and finally playing, it becomes obvious that he was put on this big, blue rock to play fast, catchy tunes. He is old in punk years and resembles an older Englishman I knew from my days in Edinburgh, but when the guitar is nestled in his hands, the years seem irrelevant.

The typical hipster dancing was taking place; all enthusiasm, no rhythm. The show was the loudest I have been to for a long time, but that can probably be blamed on his age. There was even a clichéd encore, but who cares, the show was fantastic. He deserved a bigger crowd, but the ones that made it were treated to something great, for me, it's nice that he is one of the best kept secrets in music.

Despite the plummeting temperature, there was no need to end the night there. John - or John St John as he is known in the land of beats, vinyl, turntables and disco biscuits - was playing a set at the North-East's premier lesbian hotspot, Divas. It was a shame to miss his set, but things in the deserted nightclub were getting interesting.

Not long after we entered the ambulance service followed, wheelchairing out a friend who had too much fun. Dicky Peach and Sam were dancing and spilling drinks everywhere while Michael's sweaty face lectured me on how good John St John was.

I was still full of percocets and not drinking, but given my cumbersome sugar tong splint had been replaced with a new, lightweight fibre glass cast I felt it was time to test my newly regained mobility on the dance floor. Now I could never dance, but the new cast was liberating and forced me to wave it all over the dance floor.

Dicky Peach could no longer dance nor walk, and when he failed at drinking his glass of water he was removed, much to his own disbelief. By the time he had exited there was more of his last four drinks spilt on the door than down his throat. The crowd was dropping like flies due to John's electrifying set. Before Max and I became acquainted with a group of lesbians sitting around together, we took bets on Sam being next to be removed.

The lesbians were treated to same colonial theatrics as Max and I fooled them into thinking we were gay. He made quips about 'going down under' and I called him 'my queen', and when they took our charades seriously, we fessed up. The main lesbian then divulged too much information about her personal life as I yawned away.

We may have lied to that group, but Max and I were right about Sam going next. We rejoined the dance floor as John was given a second set at the tail-end of the night. His sobriety was significantly challenged and the wrong cables were pulled at certain points but the dance floor was now full of people, some of which were slipping all over the place. John's battles continued, as some random beats played over other songs. His set ended with the power being pulled as 'We Don't Speak Americano' was about to get interesting.

Our exit was hasty, so much so that after a few blocks we realised we'd left the star dj behind. We waited in the cold, seeing all the puddles that had frozen over and were eventually joined by John. Meanwhile, Sam had called saying he was on some weird bus and had no idea where he was.

We eventually made it back to the centre of Northampton, and Sam was still confused about his whereabouts. Michael's arse-crack was impervious to the cold, as he sat on the steel outer of a trash can. After a 20 minute wait, one taxi showed up. Lee-Roy charmed the driver into letting us take extra people, but we still left more people in the cold. We directed the taxi through Amherst looking for Sam, but he was nowhere to be seen. We assumed he got back ok.

It was an early, frantic and cold start the next day as a group of us were heading on a ski trip to Quebec City. We waited in the cold for an hour before our late buses came by to pick us up. Steve was kind enough to save a seat for John and I and as soon as we were on we joined the masses in parading around in shirts ready to be sharpie'd in a variety of colours.

The bus  headed north, passing through parts of Amherst I didn't know existed. Given the amount of drinking on the bus it didn't take long for the debauchery to follow. Steve revealed his beer can branding on his arse and the first 'piss-stop' presented everyone who stayed on the bus a clear view of people watering the grass. There was no shame from either gender, and given the sparsity of trees, it didn't leave much to the imagination.

Beers were passed around the bus and I managed to ascertain a bonus one or two for having a broken wrist and accent. John had taken to drawing dicks all over people's shirts, unbeknownst to most of the wearers and the toilet at the back of the bus was rapidly filling up.
Dirty Northern Bastard

We were forced to make another stop as we were having some tyre difficulties. Another driver, who had his nickname 'Ace' emblazoned on his jacket, came to our rescue after 30 minutes of waiting to bad dub-step and drunken American girls who didn't shut up.

We were rapidly falling behind and when it felt like things were going smoothly our bus stopped and no one got out. Most people were too drunk to comprehend that the bus had stopped no reason and that we weren't allowed off, but word began filtering through that one of the other buses on the trip (there were 8) had flipped over. Eventually the people running the trip confirmed the rumours that had already spiralled around the bus.

It was an extremely poor piece of managing the incident. Not only we were told not to speak to anyone about the incident, they also provided us with little information. They barred people from telling their families that they were ok and tried to suppress the flow of news as best they could. What they failed to understand was that a bus full of 40 students flipping on a motorway isn't something you can keep quiet. There' things like traffic, emergency services and word of mouth that get these incidents out, and within a few hours the story was all over tv news. Worse yet, we didn't care if we had to turn back to Amherst, we just wanted to know if everyone was ok.

When we continued back on our way to Canada I found out that I knew some people on that bus, but word on their condition was varied. It was uncomfortable, and no amount of electronic music or Willow Smith was going to restore the previous party vibe. Eventually everyone was told to contact their families and tell them they were fine, leading them to reopen their bottles.
Ollie got us lost

Snow had fallen by the time we got to our next piss-stop in Vermont, offering a nice novelty to a required function. We had one more stop for dinner then headed towards the border. All the alcohol was placed under the bus, we were told not to mention anything about the crash to the border police and through some sense of inflated self importance, we told to anticipate the media.

They weren't there (surprise) but it did take well over an hour to go through US and Canadian border patrols and have the bus searched. We all made it through easily enough and the previously stored booze made a triumphant return. It was getting late and everyone wanted to play catch up before we made it to Quebec City. Evan was atrociously drunk and continually called John and I foreigners despite being in Canada. It's his way of showing love.

On the outskirts of the city we saw the snow falling. The skiers were chuffed, everyone else was drunk. When we finally made it to the hotel in the city centre it was around midnight. John and I met our roommates, two girls, one of which was extraordinarily drunk. We all dropped our gear off and as John and I got changed to get ready to go out, the really drunk girl just stripped down and didn't make it out for the rest of the night. It was too much, too soon.

John and I met everyone else and stormed a taxi someone else had called. They complained they called it 25 minutes earlier, Dave refuting their claims saying he called it 30 minutes earlier. It didn't matter in the end, everyone was heading to Chez Dagobert, a three storey night club located in a castle like building. The place had been talked up all trip, but from the top level I couldn't help but remark to Michael how much it reminded me of a scene from Trainspotting.

Above the dancefloor the overhead lights moved up and down on their mobile rafters. American grinding filled the floor as I again busted cast moves. Foam rained from the roof and when the ugly lights turned on, drunk American's chanted 'UMass' on and on. When we exited the club we were treated to a proper snow fall. The few of us not experienced in this type of weather were excited and instead of fighting for a taxi elected to spend the next hour walking home.

It was cold, wet, and all the harsh things about snow they don't advertise, but it was also a great deal of fun. I didn't care that I nearly slipped and busted my wrist again, I was too busy trying to catch snowflakes in my mouth.

At 4AM the hotel was full of drunk college students walking around the hallways. A few signed my cast but after being moved on I settled into bed. John and I immediately realised how deceptively small the beds were and also noted that we had shared a bed together more times than not over the last few days. I'm sure it's something that would make some girls very envious of me.

The next day John, Michael, Ollie, Dave, Josh and I braved the snow to see some of Quebec City. We got directions from a heavy metal fan, but Ollie still got us lost. Dave and Josh left the group following our poutine stop, and the remainder of us trudged through the snow on our way to the historic part of the city.

We stopped to throw snowballs and build a snowman, but very quickly we realised our feet and hands were paying a severe price for our fun. Our sojourns through the city took us past a number of monumental and old buildings, but it was a little hard to appreciate them in our cold states. A stop at a pub was designed to warm us up, and while I passed on the beer, my painkillers were still sending me to sleep at inappropriate times.
Snowman and MIchael's jocks.

The sun had disappeared following our short pub visit, and when we exited we exited we were greeted by the coldest weather I have ever encountered. We took refuge in a ice-hockey shop, then passed a public ice-skating rink before a taxi was able to take us back to the hotel.

I one-handedly ate ramen noodles for dinner before we all headed to the pub Ozone. The pitcher deals we were promised no longer existed, and the bathroom was unisex, forcing us gents to relieve ourselves in front of an audience of lady folk.

I departed ozone to head back to Chez Dagobert before all of the crowds. Remarkavbly, nothing about the place had changed from the night before. The crowds rolled in, and there was more filthy grinding than the night before. It's clearly a cultural thing, because I don't have the gumption to grab a girl and rub my crotch against her. It's sexual assault where I come from.

At the closing of the night we all battled for a taxi, and unlike the states the driver kicked our excess passengers. When it came to paying, I contributed my share and exited the taxi, only to realise immediately my wallet had slipped out of my pocket. Crap.

All I could do was ask the hotel to phone some taxi companies and hope that it showed up. Without it I had no way of getting cash, no idea, no health insurance and hours of painful bureaucracy to deal with. Ugh. Since my phone wasn't working I did my best to contact home via facebook (gross). My poor mum would have the lovely birthday surprise of realising that she would have to do most of the work to fix this mess...a week after her son broke his wrist.
large-scale flip cup

90 minutes after the taxi left, I had resigned myself to losing my wallet. I went back to reception before bed to see if there were any updates and right in front of the desk was the taxi driver. He gave me back my wallet, sans cash ($50 Canadian/US and $10 Australian!) and all the cards had been taken out and put into one section. He wouldn't hand over my drivers licence until I gave him $30 for the trip back to the hotel. Despite it being 4:30AM, he claimed he had come from the airport. I had to borrow the money, and for the sum of around $80 I got my wallet back. Phew.

Still, it could have been worse. A lad who sat in front of me on the bus had his wallet stolen from him in a mugging the night before. Better yet, his seat neighbour was found in a ditch and taken to hospital the night before. He only made the bus when he secretly escaped from hospital!

The bus trip back was a significantly quieter journey. Everyone was exhausted from the weekend. Even Evan had kept his mouth shut. Things were going smoothly until we got to US customs, and the issues I had from when I first arrived in the States presented itself again. I held up the bus for a few minutes as I had to pay for more paperwork to make me more legal over here. Eventually, and exhaustingly we made it back to Amherst, just in time for the final week of classes.

Not to be overshadowed by work and follow-up x-rays, a group of international students all got together for a mass dinner. The semester has absolutely flown by, and in a few days a number of the people will be leaving. It's reminiscent of my time in Scotland, where the group of people I shared it with defined the place for me. Since everyone has moved on, I can never return to that place, as without the same people there it no longer exists.

arse-holes on ice-skates

Still, we're not going to break-up quietly and after a dinner punctuated by scorpion bowls. It was a xmas miracle that everyone made it into Stackers with the myriad of fake ids on offer. We began the night by dropping coins in beers again, and young Alex in his enthusiasm at just being in a pub swallowed the coin (no word on its exit so far). The coins caused everything to get rowdy, and mass singalongs of Oasis and the like followed. Tears began to flow with the beer, and though it may not have hit at the time, it was the last chance we would get everyone together.

Between that, the holidays and significant dates around this time of year, it's hard to balance exactly how to feel. The days left with people are turning into hours, but beyond that I'll be spending the next 4 weeks with my backback visiting the cities of the East Coast. Until then, it's all good-byes, exams and long nights with great friends.

Jesse Malin - All The Way From Moscow
Jesse is playing an xmas show on Monday in Noho. I stared listening to him due to his Ryan Adams connection, but he is outstanding in his own right. Between this song and his cover of Fairytale of New York, he is absolutely owning my sonic-space.

We had the prettiest snow fall the other day. It was a lovely reminder to how far I've come, scenes like this seem so distant now.

1 comment:

  1. crazy crazy guy :) Let us know if you need a couch!