Dijon is a town unlike most others. There is a large wealthy community, mostly of people who have lived in Dijon for a long time. There is also the longstanding middle class - the workers, the retired workers. There are then also the youth - and most of the youth are rebellious, sometimes anarchists, always counter-culture. There are also the Abercromie Youth, for whom rebellion is not an acceptable alternative to living a wealthy lifestyle.
And anywhere in here things can get mixed up - an anarchist from a wealthy family. An elderly retired prostitute. The sloppy rich drunk. The shy kid who wants to be a hell-raiser.
Saman is 25 and from Corsica. Until recently he dated Gwen, and the two have a nine month old boy, Nemo. He looks like both of them, with Saman's coloring but Gwen smile. They keep separate living quarters, Gwen in a quite lovely house bordering a canal, with a garden, and a nursery. Saman has a room in Les Tanneries, a collective squat in a former hangar on the outskirt of town. Gwen is an Schoolteacher at an English School. Saman is doing jobs around Les Tanneries - organizing a collective garden, programming concerts, and he frequently makes buttons, patches, and silkscreens to sell as part of the independent music distribution company he and Gwen run together,.
I've met anarchists before. I know some very well, and certainly am familiar with some anarchist morals from my upbringing. In america, through touring mostly with Brook Pridemore, I found myself at houses that are either collectives or at least apartments of like-minded anarchists. Most of these people are young, college ages or recent graduates. Usually they are vegan, and most of the time they like punk music, or acoustic music that has punk sentiments. That's a horrible generalization, because, for the most part, my performances would go very well, additionally other artists who have a more modern sound, or a straighter folk sound, would also be warmly received.
In France, I've talked to a lot of people about the House Show movement. Everyone who knows it is a fan. People say it's just starting in France. I tell them in America it's become very popular. They are excited about it becoming bigger in France. "It's a better time than a bar." says one girl. Another comments, "People have a better experience listening to the music, and getting to make new friends, than at a venue or a bar." I point out the economic factor - that it's way cheaper to attend a house show than be out all night at the bar, hence audience is more likely to support a band by tips or buying CDs. To see a show at a bar, and have six drinks over the course of an evening, in New York this would cost about $40. To see a show at Brooklyn Tea Party, with a six-pack of good beer from the store, and to tip each band two dollars, You'd spend about $15. The money you save, which positively reinforces the benefit of a house show, may go toward paying your rent, or having a nice meal, or maybe buying a CD from one of the performers. Maybe you didn' t have the option to spend $40 in the first place, in which case, a house show was the only viable option for you. Of course, you can buy really cheap beer at the store, and tip every band fifty cents, in which case you might even be able to have a really fun night for about eight bucks.
And that "really fun night" depends on a couple things. First, the show. Promotion. A house show relies on word of mouth. Example - my roommate and I really like a band. We decide to host a house show. So we tell our friends, "we really like this band. They sound like (appropriate comparison), and they play at 10PM. And, we're playing to support them, starting at about 9PM. So, come over to our house. (Of course, we're musicians, but non-musicians only have to change one thing - finding a local artist to play as support. Even better to find two - one before the touring band, and one to play after. Preferably the local bands should be awesome and have lots of fans, that way, the touring band gets the most exposure playing in the middle. Everyone arrives late to a house show. If it's a loud band - you'll need a few microphones. If it's quiet, usually everyone will hear an acoustic artist with no amplification.
Second, the welcome. The host's job is simple - welcome people to your home. That includes the musicians, the fans, and the strangers. It means introducing this person to that person - creating the chance for new friendships to emerge. It means having enough toilet paper, or sending someone out to get more. What I've always found about house show audiences - the host is appreciated for offering the venue. Most people, if asked to help out (get toilet paper, clean up a spill, find this person...) will be glad to help. Some people are better at hosting than others, and roommates will find that each member of a hosting team has strengths and weaknesses. The best hosts work together, and very proactively make the welcome. "You're welcome" is a funny thing to say, when people thank you for a gig. I've found it has added meaning since I started doing house shows. What you will find is there's not a lot of assholes at a house show (well, active jerks might be a better way to put it.). A younger crowd tends to be rowdier. An older crowd tends to be more claustrophobic. But everyone, except those who are really drunk, or don't do well anywhere - will respect your house. After all, you're helping them out. So, knowing that they're on your side from the beginning, a great welcome makes it even more likely they'll have a good time.
Third thing that makes the night - Supporting the music. As host, introducing the band is helpful. Especially if everyone doesn't know them. It makes you visible, in case someone needs anything, and also connects everyone together..."Audience of my friends, these are my friends who make this music, and it's time you knew eachother..." Then we're all the same. Also, encouraging the audience to tip the band (in a hat or something that you will walk around with occasionally through the night.). And also encouraging audience to buy CDs. There is no better opportunity for a band to sell CDs than immediately after a gig. So, remind everyone, including forgetful artists, that CDs are for sale.
At the end of the show, you can count the money, and divide it in whatever way makes the most sense and seems the most fair. Usually, if there's a lot of money, it's OK to reimburse yourself for expenses - and usually that's just any food you made specifically for the party. Then, paying a touring band is most important - and it's OK to ask local bands to give their share to the touring band. Or, offering everyone the same, but making a suggestion...."There was $105 in the tip jar, and three bands, so each band gets $35. But maybe you can throw some of your money to the touring band?" This is usually met with an "of course!" kind of response from the local band and makes for a kinship between these artists.
You can also just put a bunch of people, food, and music in a room together and let it all figure itself out. I've seen this work wonderfully. But it's not my method....
Anyway, last night in Dijon I had to play at Au Vieux Leon - a traditional french bar where the front window has a bullet hole in it. The story goes that there were subversives drinking at this bar, and they also hang out at the collective. So the guy went to the collective, and shot someone in the leg. He went to the bar, and shot through the window. He then ran off and shot himself. Who knows why. Au Vieux Leon put some gaffers tape over the bullet hole. That was eight or nine years ago.
We arrived and were treated to a nice meal - a meal of pasta and sauce, as well as bread and meat for me. A bottle of red wine, too. Gwen and Saman are vegan. "For nutrition, or for politics?" I asked them. Gwen answered straight away - "Politics." Saman said, "Yeah, I haven't been too concerned about nutrition until Nemo. I'm one of those vegans who eats a lot of frites (french fries)." Turns out Saman and I have the same hate of fake foods - he doesn't want his Seitan to be called "Duck". It's not Duck. We bond over this.
After the meal I start to play - and people like the first three songs. Then, as more people crowd into the bar, more people start to talk, and I can't sing over them. I try to be funny, I try to play my loudest songs, but I'm killing myself trying to play for the six people who are actually listening. I'm getting frustrated. A drunk old man comes up, and holds my arm, tight. I thought I was going to pull away. Talks to me, can I play a blues, he wants to sing a song, etc etc...I've done this dance before.
"I'm taking a break, and we can discuss it at the break."
So I play one more song, then I stop. I'm over it. It's really loud. We've passed a hat, there's about twenty euros, and I'm not going to sell any CDs here. I go for a smoke. The guy who wants a blues stops me on the way out. He's screaming at me. I'm screaming back at him. We're both trying to understand each other. He's squeezing the shit out of my arm. I pull away. He gives me that, "oh, come on!" thing when he says, "Ahh", as in, "Ahh, Fuck It!" and walks away. I go for my smoke, and thank the people who were listening.
Gwen walks over, a bit tentative. I cut right to the chase. "It's really hard to play in there right now. I had to take a break and restrategize. I'll go back on in a few minutes."
"If you want, you don't have to."
"I feel like I should. Just a few more songs."
"There was a band here before, they are playing down the road. You can play there, tonight, too, after the band."
"Great. That might be fun." I am not convinced.
I go back in, play three songs (two of them are cover songs) and pack up. Saman made a plum tart and we eat some. Finish the bottle of red wine. Serenade a retired prostitute who looks a bit like post-chemo Mary Travers, who died early that day. She liked the song. I asked Saman if we could go, walk home, but stop at the other bar on the way.
Along the way, I got to ask Saman about his relationship, and being a father. Here's how it went.
"I want to ask you something, but I hope it's not too personal. You and Gwen, you have a baby, but you don't live together. What is this about?"
"Well, Gwen has her house, she bought it, and it's not my house. I need to have my own place. Gwen has wanted a baby for a long time, even tried to adopt one. When we started to know eachother, she asked if I wanted to have a baby, and I said maybe I would. But I didn't want too much of my life to change. I feel very connected to Les Tanneries. So I said I wanted to stay there."
Saman has a coughing fit as we're walking, his words get broken up by a need to clear his throat.
"It strange you are asking today, because, well, Gwen and I broke up last week. But, because of Nemo, nothing has really changed very much. In fact, it's the same. Which makes me think maybe have always been just really good friends. But I don't know what will happen."
"Being a dad must change a lot, though. Even small things."
"Yeah, it does change a lot, even if you don't want it to. I think Gwen wants it to change more for me, like sometimes I don't do enough for Nemo. I am trying to do a lot, though. I just can't change everything. I don't want to."
"The reason I'm asking about all of this, is, well, Rachel and I are talking about having kids, and maybe we'll get married, and I'm interested in how it works for other people."
"Well it would be really hard to have a baby and to tour. Hard for the baby."
"Yeah. But I think it's possible."
"But maybe not the best."
We arrive at the Deep Inside, a bar with a basement venue. We are standing outside, and there are some familiar faces from the other gig. Also, many new faces, including this one girl who is spouting off at her mouth. Her name is Phoebe. She is attractively slim, short and brunette, and has a charm-school british accent.
"He's not my boyfriend, he's my tool. He's my, what's the word? Fuck Buddy. He is my brother's best friend from childhood. I saw him last summer when I went home, and I said, I'm going to fuck him. And I did. I can try and get someone else tonight, someone nice, but if nothing happens, I will go home and fuck him. I used to watch him play football with my younger brother, in these little shorts. And now we are fuck buddies."
All the time Fuck Buddy is standing there, so embarrassed. He probably has never been called a Fuck Buddy before, or ever had one, or ever been in a public conversation about his status as a Fuck Buddy. Hell, he might have even thought that he was her boyfriend....
Another girl outside, Magdeline, is a relative newcomer to Les Tanneries. She doesn't have a home. "But I don't live at Les Tanneries. I don't want responsibility."
Saman says, "But you are staying there."
"I'm not staying through the winter. If I stay through the winter, it will be cold, and I will be sad, and I will kill myself. I don't live at Les Tanneries because I don't have a room there. If I had a room there, I would be living there. But I'm not staying."
Stephin is a 38 year old anarchist who doesn't like anything. Well, he likes good old Rock and Roll, good red wine, he loathes pop music and also loathes pretty much mainstream anything. To my shock, when Brook and Brian toured through last week, Stephin preferred Brian's music. Being the punk capital of France, I thought everyone would like Brook's show more.
Anyway, Stephin really likes my music. Last time in Dijon, at the garden, we ate pizza that Stephin made. He's a really nice guy. Outside Au Vieux Leon, he takes a sip of my wine, which I was praising. "It's not bad, it's not a BAD wine..."
We've stood outside The Deep Inside for about thirty minutes, while a band has been playing inside. Saman and I say, "let's go inside and see this band" and we walk in just in time to catch the last chord of the band.
We applaud. Oh well.
I go to the sound guy - talk over what we're doing. No problem, he says, you can play. I get a guitar cable from a perplexed guy from the band that just finished, as like, "who are you to play after us?" But he was totally cool, and I set my stuff up, saw my friend Chantal who had been at the garden show in spring, and went upstairs for a smoke. Everyone in Dijon smokes. Everyone, except Saman I think....
Arnaud, the sound guys, says, "Whenever you want, we will start." I go downstairs and there's four people there. I play "Jerusalem, City of Kings." I play "Stuck Outta Luck." I play "It All Comes Clean". Now there are twenty people. I play "Quiet House", "I'm Sorry", "Superman of Love", a new song called "Six or Seven" and then I play "Tape Recorder."
When I finished I said, "oh, I have CDs!" and sold five CDs and a button(which I didn't even think I had...). Sat for two more beers, and we got a ride home. I had a great night's sleep, vindicated after the second show, and woke up this morning to Saman in the kitchen. We made coffee, traded some CDs, and had lunch with Gwen and Nemo when they came home at lunch time. Gwen went to work, and Saman and Nemo and I went to the train. I've been on the train for 85 minutes - writing the whole time.
There's a woman next to me painting her nails, listening to Eminem loud on an iPod. Worst train behaviour ever, minus the shit-smelling guys in New York.
I'm hungry, I should have eaten right before I hit the train. These vegans don't really do protein....
I could use a shower too! Hopefully Hugo will meet me at the train station and we'll go get a bite somewhere. Then a shower, then a show. That would work for me.
I'm happy that last night didn't end badly. I was considering how I've had a great night each night of tour. Last night had the chance to end really badly, but it didn't. I got to redeem my mood with a solid set of party songs, for a room of fun listeners.
All Cows Eat Grass in France.