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Alive Before The Iceberg liner notes – 1998

By Ken Stringfellow, 1998

November 1993. I wake up in the bus and realize I’ve been aware that we’ve not been moving for a little while. My wife (then Kim Warnick of the ever-elegant Fastbacks) wakes up and we both have the same thought. Spain. It sounds as decadent as ’50’s Cuba, as exotic as Cairo and as dangerous as a burning gas station. We have come to a place that is so much more than the hard bread, little cups of deadly coffee and disaffected attitudes we have expierenced thus far on this, our first full tour of Europe. Spain has already indicated to us somehow that it’s OK to view her as a place for unbridling. We know this because within five minutes of getting up, we are on the beach in Barcelona, clutching beers purchased from a nearby McDonalds. It’s fall in Europe and we’re not freezing to death. This is good.

But where Spain showed her true colors, and gave us case to fall completely in love with her was when we played music there. That night in Barcelona, we opened for Teenage Fanclub – not to the art-school-damaged bohemians that stared at us, only their cigarette smoke moving, as we tried so hard to rock in Hamburg; not the brainwashed and cynical English kids who hadn’t seen us on the cover of the NME yet and therefore had no idea what role we should play in their lives; no – these kids are the Zeleste II were fucking MANIACS and I was certain they were going to smash a hole through the floor… well, they eventually did at another show but in any case it was obvious that the people of Spain took music a little deeper into their bloodstream than anywhere else we’d been… a few days later in Madrid, at Revolver, kids were throwing themselves around with fierce intensity, I leapt from the stage at the climax of our set, into a sea of welcoming, warm hearted people, one of whom stole my watch.

In ’94 we visited Europe twice more but somehow couldn’t manage to get booked in Spain. Our record was peaking in France, we could sell tickets in any corner of Belgium but we harbored a longing to return to this place, that was so much more rock&roll – it was as if those decades of dictorial repression had delayed the loosening of morals and the explosion of youth culture that the States etc expierenced in the 60’s, until about now, and a lot of lose time was being made up for… not in desperation at all but with complete joy and total authentic abandon.

August 1995. We had managed to make contact with one Rosana Sozio, who had been in pursuit of the Fastbacks for an appearance at a small festival in the desert north-and-slightly-east outside of Zaragoza, the land where Spaghetti westerns had been filmed… for some reason, the FBX were unable to attend this particular event and through some fast talking, some very immodest begging and perhaps forceful illustration of our need to reconnect with the energy we had felt two years before, we were granted the headlining slot for the first night of three night festival… I had also become the default bass player for White Flag, who would be headling the third and final night, of the Festival Pradejon. All three headlining bands flew out to Spain together (Arthur Lee & Love were the second night headliners). We drove for hours from Madrid, and embarked upon a long weekend of… well, I can’t say I remember exactly but it was magic. A few images come wading out of the shimmering summer haze… I mean I think our set was on its way to being pretty crappy but we were treated so well by the crowd that they got us to shine, get over the uncomfortable feeling of being guests in someone’s home, and gave us some frenzy to feed off of. In other words, we were having such a good time the show was worth coming all that way for despite forgotten lyrics, out of tune everything, and Joe Bass’ donning of some of the most atricious pants I or you have ever seen… and over the course of the weekend were enveloped by these wonderful arms, that poured wine into our mouths (and we fell in love with Cristina from the bar), wouldn’t let us stop dancing even though it was 6am (and we fell in love again with Maria who smiled and kept running away from us for some reason), and, while I was talking about music with new friends, stole my passport. Here we delved into a new facet of Spain’s glory – we saw how music was the staircase that helped the Spanish ascend into heights of revelry unmatched anywhere else we will ever know. Music was of deadly serious importance, an accompaniment to breathing and everything else. And then there was that revelry – one morning I woke up in a tent with two strangers, clutching an emptied bottle of cali matxcho; one morning I came to already swimming in a public pool, hanging out with a family of five whom I had no recollection of meeting; several hours after the White Flag show was finished I found myself trying to start conversations with the old women who were heading to the opening of the market at 8am, me wild-eyed and clutching two dwindling bottles of vino tinto.

I had gone native. We all had. We all had danced in the Sala Imagen for hours at a time. We all had contemplated the implications of tight leather pants, dark eyes, and, in certain cases, that deliciously vampiric Basque complexion – in other words, the campaign to relocate had begun. By the second day we were begging Rosana to have us back as soon as possible. She outran out expectations quite easily. By October we were stepping out of customs in Madrid and heading to Bilbao. We drove into the city, and then drove past the city, out to a seedy industrial waterfront that was absolutely the most desolate place we could imagine. We were ushered into a place to dry and rickety that it looked like an animated conversation could burn it down. The stage was, uh, constructed by laying a few sheets of plywood over the top of several oil drums. I think the PA had been ripped out of someone’s car. But the night rolled around and the magic we were praying for – well, we could have been drinking while doing all that praying because Spain never disappoints. People showed up, a keg was tapped, I’m not exactly sure how they charged money because the whole front of the building was open and the sole proprietor was concerned solely with providing gigantic cups of beer for free to us and his friends but I suppose we got paid and I suppose it didn’t matter because we decimated that place. Every corny rock ending was approved by enthusiastic yelling, and whatever extreme we went to, it was hungrily devoured without chewing and more and more and more and more was demanded of us. And we stayed up every night for the next two weeks, going to cool bars where cool DJs played the coolest 60’s, punk, glam and whatever other music was cool, in every town, until 6 in the morning usually, only sleeping by accident, Rosana and Pedro Garmon making sure we were well fed and fashionably late, making friends, falling in love, and despite the indulgences we played fucking great every single night. We felt it was the least we could do for being treated so well, and being in a place that was so stunningly beautiful… and yes, we were also addicted to the chaos – the methodology of Spain was so much more spontaneous and therefore more interestingly imbued with risk than that which would cause us to shake our heads and marvel.

The night after Bilbao we were at the El Sol in Madrid. The lack of sleep and poisoned cells in our brains were short circuited into frightening levels of prowess onstage. We really were fiercely kicking ass, and meaning it. Brian had been provided a drum kit, and even cymbals but for some reason nothing had been provided to hold the cymbals down so with every accent they vibrated themselves off the stands, and a tech would come out from either side of the stage and remount the cymbals before the next crash. As you can imagine, Brian was soon hitting accents on every other beat, just to fuck with the situation. In any case the show was packed, the audience was amazing, we were stars for a second and the whiskey was free. The tour was on its way to being, well, about the best time we ever had. We played some of the best shows we will ever play as musicians, made great friends, played on the shittiest equipment imaginable, and never wanted it to end. I punched a hole in the playwood stage in Alcala De Henares… started a small riot by kicking some drunk guy in the nuts when he tried to pick a fight with me in Valencia… in Pamplona the promoter tried to negotiate down our free and Rosana asked him, “What do you think, I’m selling bananas here?”… the tour’s last date was the Festival of Interplanet in Seville. We had hurtled across western Spain from Valladolid (where Jon had turned 26) in order to make the ‘very important’ soundcheck at noon. As you could possibly guess, we got up at 7:30 for nothing… we arrived to find a desolate field of dirt clods and a half-assembled PA. Our every step kicked up a small cloud of choking brown dust. There was nothing to do except try and find some coffee, or water or… eventually we soundchecked, the sound onstage reminded me of what it would be like to wear headphones in quad… totally disorientating and completely detrimental for playing music. OK, so now it was like maybe 3:30 and we were to play at midnight… there was little to do, nothing to eat, nowhere to sit down. We probably slept off Valladolid’s pleasures in the van, and at some point there was little to do but drink whiskey… the next thing I knew it was dark and a pagan vibe had engulfed the whole scene. A few thosand people had arrived, and trampled the dust off the dirt clods so it wasn’t really so bad out there… inside the VIP building the situation was dire… they had provided toilets but no water, so unmentionables were now stacked up in the bowl to a level higher than the toilet seat… we were in the furthest room possible from the stench, getting more drunk by the minute… someone videotaped an interview with Jon and I were Jon was so drunk he merely leers and shakes his bowed head as his answer to every question… if you went outside, you found people fucking, drinking, puking, pissing, and generally not being concerned with the dismal conditions. I mean these are Spanish rock fans we are talking about here, they not only weren’t put off by the conditions they ROSE TO THE FUCKING OCCASION and wanted more and more and more. I caught two girls somehow managing to piss backwards and hit our van with their streams… midnight came and went, it seems there were still a few bands to go. Finally, at approximately 5am, we took to the stage. We were shatteringly drunk but the momentousness of the occasion mysteriously drained the clouds from our thought processes and we were somehow ready. The crowd that had been lolling about in the dirt suddenly sobered up too. They all stood for the first time, indeed were capable of standing for the first time, since about 11:30… we came out of the gate terrifying, howling, the chords coming out of Jon’s and my amp’s sounded like the chains of the damned being dragged across the ribs of the ninth dragon of hell, and let me tell you – this is a good thing. All present onstage or off were reanimated, and the Spanish magic was driving yet again. I’ll be damned if we didn’t play right up to almost 7 o’clock. For the last song, we heaved every piece of equipment into the crowd… the stage was really high, like 12-15 feet or more, and I remember Brian being on a drum risor that came up to my stomach… his kick drum was hurled over my head into the crowd… it’s a wonder we didn’t kill anybody… mic’s, cymbal stands, all was heaved overboard and the kids loved it. As you can imagine we got the fuck out of there before we were presented with a bill, slept in our hotel room for 20 minutes, drove 6 and a half hours to the airport in Madrid, and bade our farewell to Spain… as we sagged into our coach class TWA seats, bruised, broke, probably diseased, still drunk, dirty, wondering if we’d made enemies or left crucial equipment or humans behind… we were already dreaming of our return.