SANTA CRUZ, June 3, 2013 — Touring Europe in a punk band ought never to be confused with visiting as a tourist. Playing an exhausting string of shows over a four to six week period is very different from grabbing a Eurail pass, drawing up an edifying itinerary and attending to it at a leisurely pace.
When someone returns home to the U.S. after a lengthy European tour they are usually bombarded by questions from friends and family about famous sights they saw or which historic edifices they visited. The touring musician, still shell shocked from a combined lack of sleep and proper hygiene will probably be unable to speak to much other than the clubs, squats or youth centers they played and their immediate neighborhoods.
If they were fortunate they may have been able to see something cool on an off day but chances are that they missed all the requisite postcard destinations. They will, however, be able to describe in great detail the decaying, graffiti-caked walls of clubs which have hosted all manner of events for decades, the surly but accommodating local crew who provided hospitality, such as it was, and often a vegetarian or vegan meal cooked at the venue.
They may have even learned the names of the inevitable dogs, which seem to roam freely at many of these places. They can tell of the stale odor of cigarettes layered into the walls themselves and the holes in the ground, which pass for toilets.
They will recall, with no small degree of shame, the cautious attitudes of the staff as they braced themselves for what they hoped would not be another self-absorbed American band bent on drinking to excess, destroying the backstage and making unwanted advances towards any nearby females. They have seen it all too often and have sadly become accustomed to it.
The term ‘ugly American’ no longer applies only to tourists.
Back home in the states, it is not uncommon for a touring band to find themselves at a different venue each time they return to a city. Clubs open and close, promoters move or lose interest and city governments work tirelessly to shut down any avenue of entertainment for young people who do not care to be funneled into the expected milieu of bars and organized sporting events.
The local scenes themselves are not without accountability, however. Needless violence, vandalism and the inherent fickleness of a turbulent music scene have all contributed to the transience and instability of the modern American touring landscape.
Europe, conversely, has somehow endured. A band crisscrossing the continent for a decade, provided they do not explode or plummet in popularity, will find themselves at the same venue in every city year after year. Part of it is the loyalty and sense of duty each scene appears to possess. Nobody wants to be the one who gets the place shut down and most folks have fond memories of spending their formative punk years attending shows at that club and they feel a responsibility to preserve it for the next group of social misfits who need a place to belong. It is almost an unconscious commitment.
Many of these clubs or youth centers also host other events such as independent films, plays, lectures, town hall meetings, poetry readings and music from every other genre one can imagine.
There exists also the curious phenomenon of how much alcohol Europeans can consume, unlike Americans, without becoming destructive idiots. At most of these establishments there is no clearly defined drinking age nor does there appear to be a need for one. Many folks partake in a few drinks during the shows and many others do not.
Acts of drunken vandalism or violence are extremely rare and dealt with quickly and efficiently. People tend to respect each other and the space. There is a tangible sense of community permeating the entire experience. It is something Americans could learn from but which few sadly do.
There are scores of these clubs and venues which receive some funding from their national governments. In the states, there would be cries of socialism or some other stigmatized phrase we Americans love to get lathered up about without really understanding. The fact that so many governments see the survival of these clubs as something of real social value is endemic of the greater role many European governments play in enriching the lives of their citizens and is, again, an opportunity for Americans to learn something.
Unfortunately the music is still too loud for most of us to hear.
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