10th May 2021
Part Six. Berlin. February 1995
Arizona Al had been at the club since late afternoon, setting up, sound checking, greeting acquaintances, sippin’ beer but mostly just hanging around and waiting.
The door to the club had been locked. Someone turned up, but didn’t have the key. He went to call a friend who should have the key. He returned after fifteen minutes, unable to reach him.
Other people came and went, all trying the door, surprised that it wouldn’t open under their special handle-turning techniques.
One fellow artist arrived, with acoustic guitar strapped to his back. He resembled the actor Willem Dafoe in ‘Platoon’, even wearing a white headband in the same manner of the actor in that film. He smiled, (he also had an impossibly wide mouth), tried the door and asked when it would be open.
“Yo ! Bryan ! Get yer arse over here,” Arizona called to a man who had just walked into the Hof from the street.
Bryan was medium height and stocky, and walked with real determination, as if he were always on a life or death mission.
Bryan looked at the door, wondering why no one had bothered to open it. He keep shaking it, until Willem Dafoe told him that he thought it was locked. Bryan had a very round face and hair that stuck out at all angles. His normal expression was one of complete shock at whatever was happening.
Bryan therefore appeared completely shocked at finding the door locked.
Two young men arrived, pushing a trolley loaded with beer crates, and there were sundry cries in German, but no key.
Then an American girl arrived, wearing a floral dress underneath a heavy army coat, and long red leather boots. She knew most of the people that were waiting outside as, by now, quite a crowd had built up. Willem Dafoe took out his guitar and strummed some chords, one or two men moved closer and moved their heads in rhythm. Another began singing, but it was a different song in a different key.
Finally Horst arrived, taking his time crossing the Hof, walking with a swagger, clearly stoned. He also tried the door, then stood back, smiling to himself, thinking.
“Ahhh.” He mumbled something in German, causing some curses, some laughter. Melissa, the American, translated. He had forgotten the key.
Within twenty minutes, the door was opened and the musicians and technicians and hangers-on and friends, and friends of friends and a few drunks, began pouring in.
A van backed into the Hof, people jumped out, shouting and laughing, and from the back doors, various amplifiers and boxes of cables were carried inside, Bryan seeming to be everywhere but doing nothing.
Arizona got his alloted time to soundcheck. Tonight he had decided to do what he called his ‘unplugged’ set, by which he meant just playing electric guitar and singing. Then he saw Jacques, Melissa’s French Canadian boyfriend, and called him over.
Jacques was a very pleasant chap, tall and cumbersome, with enormous feet that always found things to bump into and knock over, as if possessed by a will of their own, a pair of unruly dogs, forever going off chasing cats and rabbits.
They conferred and it was decided that Jacques would accompany him on one or two songs. They had done some stuff together before, Arizona singing, while Jacques intoned as counterpoint.
Arizona was shooed off stage as Willem Dafoe had to run through his list and the soundman had to change the levels for his acoustic guitar and adjust the mike stand, as Willem was barely five foot two on tiptoes.
People carried full beer crates in and empty ones out, Horst slumped at the bar, taking instructions from his staff. Melissa liaised between artists, walking around with pen and paper, trying to work out a schedule that meet with approval, a thankless task, as half the bands wanted to go on last, the other half preferring first.
Bryan appeared, and helped out Melissa with the indisputable assertion that they couldn’t all go on last, and after proclaiming this piece of sage wisdom, promptly found another problem to solve. Or create.
Typically, the gig was nowhere near ready by the advertised opening time, and several people had entered the bar, walking past the admission desk that no one was working. Some staff suggested they should all be thrown out, some said they should stay, but pay, some said they should stay, not pay, but not be allowed to buy drinks, some one else, quite possibly Bryan, suggested they should pay, and then be made to leave. In all events, nothing happened and because of this, most of them left, anyway.
Melissa, pleading, like an over-eager actress of the Method school, appealed to the room, that someone needs to be on the door. This led to discussions as to who’s turn it was, who wanted to do it and then, when a volunteer was found, no one knew where the cash box was. There wouldn’t be enough change for the bar and the door, as the entrance was an inconvenient three Marks, and everyone would be paying with five-Mark coins.
The obvious suggestion was to raise the entrance to five Marks, but this was vetoed. Bryan thought that anyone who had the exact change should get in free, but failed to see the flaw in his solution.
By now more people were coming in, as no one had closed the door.
It was at this point that Richard and Chris arrived, not noticing the desk or even knowing about the admission fee.
They saw Arizona Al in a crowd of people, and went up to him to say Hi, then left him to ‘get his shit together’, as Chris put it, and planted themselves at the bar, where they intended to stay all night.
The subject of Monika naturally dominated the conversation and Chris, despite the bravado and carefree attitude, was really scared that he had lost her. He opened up to Richard that there had been conversations about work and getting more settled in Berlin, maybe going on a language course and getting a proper respectable job.
“What’s the probability of any of the above happening ?” asked Richard.
Chris drank quietly, and Richard was reminded of the time in London just before he was set to leave for Berlin. He was about to ask him if he had any regrets about leaving the UK, when Bryan popped up behind the bar, starred at both of them in turn, then went off to join the crowd around Arizona.
“What in the name of fuck . . . ?” began Chris, more electroshocked than recalled back to life.
“Where did that goddamn thing come from ?”
“Fucking Cheshire Cat face, out of nowhere.”
“Oh, look, he’s a friend of Al’s,” said Richard, indicating the two of them in an embrace. There was quite a crowd in the centre and both of them noticed a number of very attractive girls. Willem Dafoe was dwarfed by an icy blonde in cocktail dress, who held a Sekt glass without ever drinking from it, and maintaining an aloof distance from everyone.
Melissa was running around stressed, as the running order was still in a state of flux. To end the impasse, and making it clear it was an immense favour he was doing, Willem deigned to open proceedings.
He walked on stage to the applause of the organisers and fellow artists, and complete indifference of everyone else. Until, that is, the icy blonde joined him. She took up position at the back of the stage, and, with a disparaging look at the mic stand, made a willing young man adjust it up to her height, and bring it the necessary inches closer to her mouth, rather than have to walk towards it.
She was pure class.
Willem Dafoe began playing. The first song was a slow ballad of no apparent melody. He would hit a chord, then sing, following it by a gentle up-down strum and lots of moaning. He hit another chord, thought about hitting another, but hung his hand in the air and turned his head to the side, before letting it fall across the strings. Meanwhile, the icy blonde was making some kind of droning background noise.
The ‘song’ finished some minutes later. The solitary voice of Melissa could be heard, saying,
Then the other performers clapped, some worried that the opening act had set too high a standard.
The second song had a different title, but was pretty much the same, from tunelessness to theatricality to Melissa’s not so convincing appraisal.
When the third number started, showing no indication of variance, Chris turned to Richard and, appropriating the famous line from the movie ‘Jaws’, said,
“We’re gonna need a bigger bar.” Then he raised his hand to get the barman’s attention, “Alcohol !”
A woman singer songwriter was next, listenable for a song or two, but she also outstayed her welcome. After she finished, a section of the crowd left, and this pattern was repeated for each subsequent act. Friends came to lend support, then, duty done, made a beeline for the door. Quickly.
“When the fuck’s that cunt on ?” asked Chris, his tolerance worn away by ineptitude.
“Look, there he is again. What the fuck is he doing ? I mean, really ! What the fuck is he doing ?”
Richard was referring to Bryan who was criss-crossing the room, appearing behind the mixing desk, the bar, the stage and all points in-between. Now he was standing in the centre of the room, was wasn’t very full, shouting to the mixing desk. The man behind the desk did nothing, the volume of the between-set music changed not an iota, but Bryan was happy, giving the thumbs-up sign.
“Oh, thank fuck, he’s going on,” said Chris, seeing Arizona getting up on stage and plugging in his guitar.
The house music cut abruptly, Arizona introduced himself and made some comments as the sound level rose and fell and fed-back. Bryan naturally appeared and shouted.
When the last of the feedback had faded, Arizona began and played a mid tempo number, jiving around as he played. Richard and Chris were both happily surprised as it was quite good. After the song, while people were still clapping, Arizona announced that it was a cover, of a little known American band from Phoenix. The next songs were his own but failed to elicit the same response, or, by the fourth number, any response, bar Richard and Chris at the bar.
Chris lent over,
“This is terrible. He’s dying up there.”
“I know. Now what the fuck’s happening ?”
Jacques plodded on-stage, unknown to Arizona, who had his back to him, and when he turned around to face the audience, was nearly knocked over. Chris covered his face with his hands and let out a moan, that everyone heard.
They performed two numbers. In the first, Jacques merely stood in the back, and made some backing vocals, repeating key lines of the lyrics. In the second, the two engaged in a kind of comedy routine for introduction, about what to do in Berlin, and Jacques suggesting they go to the Thursday Bar, a well known alternative music venue bar, also in south Prenzlauer Berg, but Arizona said that they couldn’t go there, causing Jacques to inquire why not and being told by Arizona that today was Saturday and therefore . . . not open.
“I’ve gotta do something. This is worse than I imagined.”
Richard had no idea what Chris was planning, and at that point, neither had Chris, but something had to be done, and a far, far better thing than what they were being subjected to now.
Jacques left the stage and there was an assumption that the set was over, so there was a ripple of applause, but that immediately died when Arizona began a new number. Richard felt Chris push past him and walk towards the stage, then vanish.
Arizona began playing, when suddenly, at the very back of the stage, Richard could see Chris, moving from left to right in profile, in measured, theatrical steps, pausing before each new stride.
Arizona was unaware.
Chris turned, froze, then began walking in the same mechanical manner towards the singer.
Arizona was sensing an increase in audience interest, so began dancing a bit as he played. As Chris copied his motions, in his own singular style, the crowd clapped and laughed, inspiring Arizona to cut loose and skip around. Everyone was at least looking at the stage, and mostly smiling, except Bryan who looked completely bewildered, not to say shocked.
That’s when Arizona noticed Chris, but, like a true professional, carried on playing. Chris then stood in front of Arizona and sank to his knees, making gestures towards Arizona’s guitar that in his naivety, Richard at first failed to comprehend. Then he thought back to watching Bowie with Mick Ronson on guitar, Jim Morrison with Robbie Krieger, and understood.
It had certainly livened up the performance, and people assumed it was all part of the act. Chris was more than happy to stand on stage with Arizona Al and take the applause.
Later, at a table, Arizona told of his initial thoughts on seeing Chris coming towards him,
“You know, what with the lights and shit, and my eyesight being bad, I couldn’t see who or what it was, then when you began pulling that faggot Ziggy Stardust shit, I thought, OK, motherfucker, you wanna play, I’ll play, suck on this, arsehole!”
There were several people around them, including Melissa and Jacques, Bryan and a couple of German girls who had stumbled in, attracted by the noise.
“Yeah, thinking of adding some Nirvana covers to my set, couldn’t do it before because everyone was doing it, but, you know, it’ll be a year since Kurt blew himself away, time’s ripe. But I don’t wanna play the obvious ones, you know, thought I’d go for some cuts of the last album, as that was the direction he was going in.”
“Good idea,” agreed Richard. “What songs ?”
“’Numb’, ‘Black-Shaped Box’. You know ?”
Neither Richard nor Chris had the heart (shaped box) to correct him.
Not that it mattered either way to the two girls. They sat down when Melissa and Jacques left and began speaking in English.
Richard thought that here were two girls and two guys without girlfriends, but the girls were quite blatant in their interest for the performers, the performers only, whose stage antics had obviously made quite an impression.
Feeling tired, and like a third-wheel, as usual, Richard decided to leave, telling Chris he’ll see him later, and congratulating Arizona on a great gig.
The girls suggested Jägermeister shots, a German digestif spirit. This was followed by more beers and more shots and before long, Arizona and Chris were enjoying the time honoured tradition of the rock ‘n’ roll groupie.
Arizona was the first to leave, with his new friend, while Chris was determined to drink more Jägermeister, furious that no one had told him before about this wonderful new drink.
After some more shots and beers, he too went back with his first fan.
They got a taxi on Invalidenstrasse and kissed all the way, the driver, working weekend nights in Berlin, quite used to it.
Chris followed the girl into her apartment building, up the stairs in the Vor Haus (front house) and went inside with her. She left him in her kitchen as she went to the bathroom and told him to help himself to a drink. He found some wine, but no corkscrew, and walked into the hall to ask her where one may be found. He passed a door, slightly ajar and did a double take and refocus as, through the gap, he could see a topless Arizona Al, sitting up in bed, smoking, and staring back at him.