*thanks a bunch to Jill for typing this up!
 

Dear Magnet: Sleater-Kinney

 

All Hands on the Fjords and Festivals of Northern Europe

 

MAGNET sneaks a peek at a few pages from guitarists Carrie Brownsteinís diary as Sleater-Kinney makes a six-day trek across Europe with festival tourmates the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  Flying chickens and Swedish hipsters aside, Brownstein Ďfesses up to the reality that is life on the road: Itís tough.

 

Copenhagen, Denmark, August 7

 

We arrive after 15 hours of travel.  To avoid taking a nap, we venture out into the streets.  Like all strangers to a city, we find the nearest stream of people and fall in line.  We pass shops with familiar names despite the fact weíre miles from home.  We grow dizzy from the swinging of shopping bags in the periphery.  A street musician plays a Lionel Richie tune on the vibes.  A hundred people sit and watch, possibly more than would come to our own show here.

            We choose to eat dinner at Tivoli, an amusement park near our hotel.  Itís not unlike Disneyland.  After dinner, we venture onto the rides.  The first takes us along a watery path.  Itís a Scandinavian ďPirates of the Caribbean,Ē where the rogues are elfish and blonde, hugging instead of warring.  Then itís a rollercoaster.  Janet (Weiss, drums) sits out.  I go, despite the fact I hate the feeling of falling.  We fall, then fall again.  The night ends with a game wherein you have to get a rubber chicken into a spinning pot by means of catapult.  We place our chickens on one platform and strike down with a mallet on the other.  Rubber chickens are flying every which way.  I feel like Fozzie Bear.  Only the fist day of tour and Iím already Muppet-like.  My last chicken makes it in by a leg, and I win a keychain with a puffy purple snake on it.

 

Emmaboda, Sweden, August 8

 

We arrive in Emmaboda in the afternoon and are picked up at the train station by a man named Magnus.  He drives us to the outskirts of town to the festival site, where we discover thereís no dressing room, no trailer, no tent.  Swedes, mostly between the ages of 14 and 20, traverse the grounds wearing stripes and polka dots, asymmetrical skirts, ironic mullets, mustaches and trucker hats.  Possibly, thereís an underground tunnel to Williamsburg I donít know about.  Nearly every cluster of friends is carrying its own boombox.  Mostly the girls, as if it were a musical purse or an audio billboard broadcasting their tastes.

            Despite the fact many of the Swedes here seem to be making every effort to uglify themselves, I feel swarthy in their proximityóand short.  I tell Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs about how weird it is to see everyone with mullets and mustaches.  A second later, I remember what her boyfriend (Angus Andrew of Liars) looks like and regret Iíve said anything.  Then YYYs guitarist Nick Zinner walks up in a trucker cap.  ďI thought Europe would be the only place I could still wear one of these,Ē he jokes.

            We knew this show would be frustrating, and it is.  We are jetlagged and playing at a campsite.  The stage is covered in plaid carpet.  I feel like weíre playing atop a stretched-out flannel from the grunge era.  Itís hard to move around.  The map Iíve rented breaks.  The crowd is forgiving, though, and it carries us through.  Afterward, I go out and meet people, mostly inebriated teens.  One creative concertgoer has ripped off the top half of his beer can, folded down the sharp edges and is now using it as a wine glass.  I compliment him on his dedication to recycling. 

 

Oslo, Norway, August 9

 

Touring is all about moving, about momentum, despite the fact your body wants to stay still.  Stillness is the enemy of the tour.  It allows time for wanting, and thereís no wanting on tour, because thereís very little you can have.  Or rather, what youíre allowed to want is whatís right in front of you: sounds and sights and tastes and smellsóa good meal, a great show, a firm bed.  But you canít want something back at home, or back in the last city you were in, because itís either not there or itís already gone.  A camera that was left in a mess of sheets, a book that you forgot in a cafť.  What you have is right in front of you.

            We play the Oya Festival.  The stage overlooks the river and the city.  Bright and clean.  Weíre plagued by technical problems again.  I lose my composure, and a water bottle goes flying.  I donít feel punk rock.  I feel like a big baby.  I think about all the water and beer thatís been thrown over the years, the guitars that have been smashed, the blood that has been drawn and spilled. All the temper tantrums.  All the babies playing rock Ďní roll.

 

Oslo, August 10

 

This is our only real day off.  We go with some friends to an island on the Oslo fjord.  Weíre in search of a place to swim.  We see a sign for a nude beach represented by a stick figure, which somehow manages to look more naked than the average stick figure, and head that way.  We reach the top of the hill and are able to look down at potential swimming spots.  Groups of nudists glare up at us as we peer down expectantly.  We continue along the ledge until we see an empty rock.  Despite our search for the nude beach, we actually have no plans to strip down beyond our suits.  We lay our bags and towels against the steep rocks and venture in one by one.  It is difficult to describe the effect that being in nature has on the body when on tour.  Crawling out on the rough rocks, feet bloodied from the shells and barnacles, the shock of the water as it becomes deep, the saltiness on the tongue and then, at last, the floating.  This is the bliss of nothingness, the bliss of nowhere. 

 

Brighton, England, August 12

 

I sit on the beach and read.  The sea and sky are the same color: a dull gray.  I want to disappear into it, but instead I bury my feet into the sand, so that I have only ankles.  I pretend my feet have escaped, walked into the ocean, marched home without me.  The show here goes well.  The crowd knows the words and sings along.  Itís much better to play our own show than a festival.  Nearly a week in and itís the first rewarding show of the tour.  Iím inside the music again, not looking at it from the outside.  We sit at the merch table, talk to people, sign records, shoes and books.  Iíve come to accept that this band is much more likely to autograph someoneís Ph.D. dissertation than someoneís ass.  Itís just as exciting, but you use a different pen. 

 

London, August 13

 

After Brighton, I have high hopes for these next tow shoes.  I feel like I remember how to play.  Not just the physical memory of where to put my fingers and what to sing; thatís automatic at this point.  Itís more that I remember the feeling of playing.

            Next up is the after party.  At some nearby club, there are to be DJS, dancing, drinks, fun.  On every tour, thereís the promise of such a party, the promise of good music, interesting people, possibly a chance at debauchery.  For a band that doesnít really drink and most goes to bed earlyóCorin (Tucker, guitar) uses touring to catch up on sleep, and Iím know as ďGrandpaĒóthe after party is the night we might let go of our prudent ways.  We know about this night in advance.  We store up on sleep, we calculate the damage, we measure out the risks, we might even bring an extra change of clothes to the show.  Thereís the hope that this one will be different.  It wasnít. 

            We get lost on the way there.  When we arrive, we see a line of people and join them at the back.  Weíre stopped at the door by two hulking security guards, who do a more thorough bag search than at an airport and insist on taking our water and food.  In the dimly lit bar, Joy Division is coming through the PA.  A lone guy does an interpretive dance on the floor.  Janet, Corin, Nick and myself pack into a tight corner table no bigger than a dinner plate.  We order drinks.  I look around and note itís pretty much the crowd from our show, moved over to a new location. I feel like Iím in a fish bowl.

            The dancefloor has filled up an, with it, the promise of anonymity.  A Le Tigre song is our way in, and for the next three-and-a-half minutes, we dance and sing along and dare to forget about how our bodies hurt from the traveling, how are backs are sore in the morning, how we might be getting a cavity, how we arenít eating as well as we should, how tour turns you into your own Halloween mask, how old weíre getting.  But the song ends, and the next one starts.  It sounds familiar, and then we realize itís our own song.  Even though when I first brought home the recording of ďI Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone,Ē I jumped around my apartment again and again, not quite believing it was us who made those sounds, I couldnít dance to it now.  There are certain things that cannot be shared.