2nd July 2021
Part Eight. Berlin. October 1995
Daniel knew the days of Sawhead The Bear were numbered. Their manager had disappeared. The guitarist was having an affair with the bass player’s girlfriend. The drummer was simply on another planet. Daniel was the only one taking it seriously and was now being held back by their lack of ambition, enthusiasm and professionalism.
Daniel had gone to The Russians one Saturday afternoon, only to be told that there was no gig that night. Or, maybe there was, but no one knew, and it hadn’t been advertised.
“Didn’t you see Jake ?” Daniel asked Andrei.
“For sure, but he too drunk to talk. He keep say me what I do wrong, so I don’t listen. I play music very loud.”
“Shall we go now and ask ?”.
But there was no answer from either Andrei or Sascha.
“Fucking hell, I come all this fucking way and . . . where’s Boris ? Another fucker gone AWOL ?” Daniel knew better than to ask where Olga was.
“What the fuck’s wrong ?” Daniel asked, sick of the apathy. Sascha answered that they were tired of playing the same bar and the same songs. The night in the new squat bar was good, but . . .
“Fucking hell, all we gotta do is find new places, then. As for new songs, we have to fucking write them. I’ve got a bunch of new lyrics, but we never get around to fucking working on them. Let’s do one, now, come on, get your fucking bass on.”
“I don’t have any new music,” Andrei said.
“Fuck all that shit, I’ve got a bass line. I’ve got this whole new song worked out. Listen,” and Daniel opened a notebook and read aloud,
The rat in the corner is my only guest
‘Cause the mice have split and the cat gone quit
I guess you could say things ain’t at their best
But things’ll be OK, they’ll be all right
In the morning.
Oh, I can drink and pretend to be
Content with life and happy
Like any person in any bar
But don’t look too deep, don’t peer too far
Silence. Finally Sascha asked,
“Ahhh, Dan, Daniel . . . what is ‘peer’ ?”
Andrei laughed, then Boris came into the room, looking anywhere but at his bass player. Daniel told Andrei what to play, humming a bass line, a simple jazzy pattern. Then he suggested some ideas for Sascha.
“Hey, Boris, I thought, instead of playing along, strumming, just play lead, crank up the distortion and riff away in the gaps. Come on, let’s give it a go.”
After two or three slow, half-hearted attempts, the song was getting into shape, Boris liking the total freedom, and understood exactly what Daniel wanted.
Daniel was really impressed by his guitarist and just wondered why he couldn’t always be so inspired. Then Olga came home. Andrei called out and she popped her head in, quickly spoke in Russian and went back to the kitchen to clean her teeth. Daniel suddenly understood why Boris was so relaxed.
Then he suggested a band meeting, in the Czar Bar, as he was hoping that there would be girls there who had come to see him, and as he wasn’t playing, he could spent more time with them.
Not so many girls tonight, however Daniel was very happy to see Richard.
“Where the fuck is Laughing Boy ?” he asked. Richard couldn’t believe he didn’t know the story. He couldn’t believe Andrei or Boris hadn’t told him. Once he was updated, Daniel explained that maybe Boris and Andrei were having their own version of the Chris – Johan – Veronica triangle.
“Oh, fuck !”
“Yes,” agreed Daniel, “Oh, fuck.”
“That’s why I’m here, see what’s going down. Gauge the depth of shit that Chris has plunged into. Head first. He thinks Johan’s gonna kill him. He’s absolutely fucking certain Claude is going to kill him. I want to speak with Jake before it gets too busy.”
“Or you pass out again. Fucking lightweight.”
“Not tonight. Got work to do. And you ? You playing or what ?”
“Thought I was, ah, fuck it, long story. I tried calling your number, but the line’s dead.”
Richard passed over the number of Biberkopf.
“Yeah, that’s gone, didn’t want to keep paying for it, so got rid,” he explained, apologetically, the implication being that no one called him anyway. He also gave Daniel his address.
“No intercom, or funny business, just walk in, through to the Hof and up the stairs, Mister. You’ll get some old Krauts stare at you, but I’m sure you’re used to that.”
“Not yet. Those fuckers really gawk, don’t they ? Still have to stop myself from asking them, ‘What the fuck’s your problem ?’ Apart from being a German cunt, that is.”
Daniel them began losing interest in Richard as he saw a couple of girl fans and went over, putting an arm around each one.
Jake wandered over to Richard, between customers, asking when Chris was coming back.
“Johan’s not going to do anything. He’s pissed, he’s real pissed, but he won’t touch Chris. He’s not violent, never even seen him angry.”
“Yeah, Claude’s gonna fucking kill him !” then Jake let out a splutter of laughter that amused and confused Richard who was further confused when Jake had a suggestion,
“Hey, Rich, you wanna give me a hand here ?”
“Yeah, need someone I can trust. You know the prices, don’t you ? Then go gather glasses, wash a few . . .”
“Fuck, Jake, more washing up ?”
“Ah, not too fancy, just get the dregs out, wet them. Come on, get your arse behind the bar.”
Richard left as the sun was already up and doing it’s best to shed some hope and colour. He got a commitment from the band to play any new gig that Chris could organise. He got word directly from Johan (who had come in looking wrecked, but had done a very amusing double take seeing Richard pouring vodkas behind the bar) that Chris was in no physical danger. He got an unexpected wage from Jake. And he was sober. He had considered this work and approached it seriously. He had refused each and every vodka. He had, however, accepted every vodka-inspired kiss, though ‘every’ was actually just one. One more than usual.
On the way home, he went into a bakery and picked up different sorts of croissants and rolls and two take-out coffees. Whatever else was wrong with Berlin, rather with his life in Berlin, the smell of fresh croissants and take out coffee in polystyrene cups was one of life’s genuine pleasures. Walking home in the early morning in a straight line was not only a novelty but a further pleasure. It was October, another malicious Berlin winter was coming. But not today.
Chris woke up when Richard opened the door, despite efforts to be quiet.
The real shock for Chris was seeing Richard, after all night in the bar, hair straight, eyes focused, looking well, not spouting nonsense or laughing at everything.
They breakfasted together and Richard filled him in.
“So, it’s cool with Johan ?”
“No, not by a long chalk, Mush. He’s really torn up. But he’ll be all right. You’ll be OK.”
“So . . . do you think I can go back ?”
“I’d still give it a week or two. Now, the band. You’re gonna have to get them work, before hell breaks loose.”
“That bad ? What’s wrong now ?”
And Richard told him all the gossip along with a few conjectures of his own. Chris laughed, but he was using the funny anecdotes as a cover. He was relieved that Richard seemed to be staying sober.
At the earliest acceptable time, Chris called Arizona Al. He was hoping for some leads. Arizona was glad to repay him. He was taking part in another concert night in some back room club in a back street in the back of Mitte. He’d have to check, but was sure that Sawhead could get on the bill. They even had a bit of a name. A bit.
When Chris returned to the flat, he was surprised to see Daniel outside, looking up and down the street.
“I forgot the fucking number. Had it written down, but lost the paper. And that work number.”
When he entered the flat with Chris, Richard recognized, and smelt, that Daniel had on the same clothes as last night, and within five minutes, Daniel was telling them of his latest sexual conquest.
Chris was glad to change the subject and mentioned that there could be a new gig in Mitte next Saturday.
“Fucking Aces. We getting paid ?”
This lead Daniel to talk about his job. He had been missing work; first the odd day, then two days, now he regularly worked only three days a week. He was on his last warning. It was only due to a sympathetic foreman, also from London, that he was able to keep the job. Daniel didn’t really care, imagining that he could move in with the Russians, work in a bar and play more gigs, maybe three a week, and start getting money that way.
Chris looked at Daniel and nodded in a vague, non-committal way but felt Richard staring at him. He said that it was all possible, what Daniel had projected. But then Daniel said something else,
“Can’t expect someone of my talent to work that shit for much longer. I need time to work on my lyrics. Need energy for my girls. Know what I mean ? No, don’t suppose you two do.”
After Daniel had left, explaining how he needed a shower because his whole body stank of pussy, Richard and Chris looked at each other, wordless. When they did speak, after minutes or head-shaking and intakes of breathe, many references were made to Dr Frankenstein and his creation.
The gig was confirmed. Chris went over to the Russians, giving them all the details. This time they had use of a van to transport their equipment.
Daniel had also arranged his own transport, deciding that he should be driven to and from the concert. He had convinced a workmate, with a car, to drive him, boasting of the amount of women he always attracted.
The Russians would make their own way there, while Richard and Chris would be picked up on Karl-Liebknecht Straße, by the bus stop outside the Marienkirche.
The following Saturday, to get some air and kill some time, Richard and Chris walked to the open air crafts street market by the Bode Museum. They checked out the films being shown by the Zeughaus cinema, and wandered up Unter Den Linden. Chris was dreading Richard suggesting that they go for a drink, and was relieved when they walked past bar after bar without being dragged in.
Chris brought two cheap and quite awful coffees from an Imbiss and they made their way to the pick-up point.
Crossing the main road by subway, they heard a solo busker at the end of the tunnel, his voice and guitar echoing against the tiles and making them smile as they recognized the piece; ‘Swan Swan H’ by R.E.M. which was played well.
Chris, as he approached, began nodding his head, and Richard quietly joined in with the lyrics, getting louder as the busker smiled to encourage him. Chris then began lifting his arms and suddenly, twirling around, he did a waltz with an imaginary partner.
When he obstructed an elderly couple with his artistic expression, the Busker laughed and blew his words, but Richard only gained in confidence.
They gave him all their loose change and went to wait for their ride.
The good feeling soon dispersed when the car pulled over. Daniel was in the passenger seat, wearing sunglasses, and didn’t even look or speak to them as they climbed in the back seat. The driver introduced himself as Martin and asked for directions. Chris made a joke about not being exactly sure, and Daniel let out an expression of frustration and anger. Richard made a sign to Chris to let it go and they headed to Rosenthaler Platz.
Chris had a street map unfolded before him and was trying to follow the route. He found the street, but not the club. The whole area looked nondescript, residential. Then Richard spotted a familiar face,
“Look, there’s Bryan. Pull over and ask him.”
They called to him and as Daniel wound down his window, Bryan thrust his head in, making the driver recoil in terror. They got directions. It was the right street, but the entrance to the club was around the corner, through some doors. Of course. This was Berlin, why should anything be straightforward ?
Martin was still in shock,
“What the fuck was that for a thing ?”
“Does have rather a large bonce, doesn’t he ?” stated Richard.
“Did you see that head ?” asked Martin, “It filled the whole window.”
Chris was just giggling. He was sick of this bloody band, and was in the mood for dancing and drinking.
There followed the usual madness of dozens of musicians coming and going and demanding and asking and singing and showing off and smoking and drinking and sitting around and jumping about and hugging and greeting and kissing and joking and posing and posing and posing.
Arizona Al turned a corner, a keyboard over his back. Richard and Chris looked at each other and their hearts sank. Daniel went up to him, arms outstretched and kissed him on the cheek. Arizona took some time before he recognized him.
“Oh, yeah, right, Sawhead, right, yeah, I remember, wow, how you doing, man ?”
The night was actually well organised and well attended. The main band was an electronic trio from Norway, a band who had released some records and a couple of CDs that were displayed by the entrance.
Some local media moguls were there, journalists from newspapers nobody knew existed, people from local radio, and some professional musicians whom Arizona Al recognized by sight and was slightly in awe of, one being a Russian guitarist who had, allegedly, jammed with Keith Richards. He pointed him out to Chris, saying that Sawhead could really make some good contacts tonight.
Unfortunately, the tensions within the band came out onstage and it was to be their last ever gig.
They were put on early which Daniel complained about, even threatening to pull out completely. The organisers told him OK, leave, and he had to back down. Andrei and Boris simply couldn’t look at each other, and Richard was glad he came with Daniel, as that short journey was Mardi Gras compared to what the ride from Ostkreuz must have been.
Again, Daniel wanted to make an entrance and had instructed the band to start playing before he walked on, expecting to get his own applause. Boris and Andrei were past caring, but Sascha, supposed to count them in, just sat behind his kit, waiting for Daniel. Daniel gestured to him but Sascha seemed to think that he was waving, and kept waving back. Again, Daniel had to come on and wait for the band to start.
One of Daniel’s main concerns was the music. He was aiming for a Rock, Indie-Pop sound and encouraged Boris to use his effect pedals to fill out and make his guitar heavier. But Boris preferred a clear, pure sound. Usually. Tonight, he was being more . . . experimental.
And it began immediately. While Daniel was trying to introduce the first song, and speaking a lot more than was necessary, Boris began playing, his overdrive pedal switched to the max and it screamed out of every speaker and made the audience jump back, cover their ears, leave. Sascha found a point to join in and Andrei, clearly relishing a pissing contest with his rival, turned up his bass and began playing. He was aiming simply for volume, not for rhythm and it threw Sascha, who now began trying to follow his bass player. Daniel was completely lost and had no idea what song his band were playing. All his ideas about changing the name to Daniel Roth and Sawhead The Bear vanished, as he believed his backing band were deliberately trying to sabotage him.
Boris and Andrei were standing on opposite sides of the stage, looking away. Sascha was looking at everybody for some kind of indication or instruction. Daniel sang any lyrics he thought would fit, but couldn’t be heard, anyway.
Chris looked at Richard who looked at Arizona Al who looked at Bryan Moonface. People who didn’t know the band walked away, dismissing them as first timers at best, a joke band, at worse.
Daniel could see people leave en mass. Some girls he had winked at earlier, telling them how great his band were, just laughed at him as they turned to talk to other musicians.
Throwing down his mic, Daniel went up to Boris, to shake him, but was shrugged off. When he tried again, the look of absolute hate in Boris’ eyes made him step back. Daniel then went over to Andrei and began shouting. The bass player simply ignored him. But Daniel had to find a target, and when Sascha smiled at him like this was a great, rocking band, Daniel dived across the drum kit to strangle him.
There was a sound of a bass crashing to the floor, then deafening feedback. Daniel was lifted up, one-handed, by Andrei who looked him in the eye, wagged his finger ‘No!’ then half pushed, half threw him off the stage.
Daniel walked out. Sascha began shouting at Andrei, who packed up his bass. Boris kept on playing until the sound guys cut his amp.
Chris didn’t care. Daniel had left. The Russians were going their separate ways. But the bar was well stocked, the women were gorgeous and, as he said to Richard,
“Just when you think things can’t get any worse, we still have to listen to Arizona Al.”
In tandem, Richard and Chris delivered the by now obligatory,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar,” line.
They stayed until the Norwegian band came on, and after five minutes of electronic music that didn’t appeal to them at all, they left.
They walked home, deciding to break the monotony of the walk by going into one or two bars along the way. Richard only drank, only seemed to want to drink, beer, but these were conventional, local bars, no truck with vodka madness, leg-cocking canines and, “Shit on a stick.” Being away from the Czar Bar was having a positive effect. Chris just wished it had been a better evening. But he also realised, through all the fear and worry, he hadn’t once thought about Veronica.