I am walking down stark corridors in a WWII Flaktower. These otherworldly overground boxes were built so robustly that they can never be removed. If you were to dynamite them hard enough you’d blow half of Hamburg away. The supporting walls are so thick that they serve one purpose, to allow beardy lecturers in headless math punk bands an unspoiled place for rehearsal.
I am sitting down to type a post-tour diary, wondering which angle I should take. ‘Sideways’? ‘Three Men in a Boat’? But we’re nothing like naïve mittelmen rekindling teen dreams, learning something about themselves they knew already. We’re here to learn.
I am hearing a drummer snore, missing the drummer jokes. Beside him, on her parents’ sofa, his partner. I find out so much about her that, at breakfast, he suggests writing a book for him called ‘Know Your Plumeyer’. Ceaselessly proud of her city, showing it off, she manhandles post rock hangovers by taking them canoeing on the Alster, cycling the Elbe, the docks, the media zone. ‘Backbeat’ is on DVD. Is anyone still awake? Stuart Sutcliffe is being seduced by the sophistication of urbane and artsy existentialists. Whither the alien mindscape we happily fall for these days? Is no-one nearly provincial enough? Plumeyer’s father was a small town German mayor, impeccable in many ways, except he didn’t have a wife (until he returned one day with a liberal Swedish bit-of-stuff on his arm, replete with her adopted Tunisian children. I’d set it Deep South. Carson McCullers. Late Harper Lee, before she joined the army.)
I am standing on the junction of Paul-Roosen Strasse and Grosse Freiheit, after a Deutsche-Beatles walk-and-sing tour hosted by a friend of the Plumeyer. Here’s where they bunked down behind a cinema screen, where they took amphetamine. To my right is the road to the Reeperbahn, the Kaiserkeller, the Star Club (‘We don’t play provincial music’, scorns the old sign). Begged by Bruno Koschmider to be more expressive during ‘Money’. “Mach schau, Beatles. Mach schau.” To my left, where a prefab four trudged back into their shells. There is something mid-century socialist and grateful about the sentiments inside ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ or ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. I envisage them writing those songs to spite their first boss. That’s seductive.
I am staring at a warm spotlight above the stage in a classic Camden pub venue. We are headlining the finale. Mid-riff, mid bridge, there’s a measureless moment when I have to turn away, Liv Ullmann in ‘Persona’, to face the wall behind me. I’m not sure why it happened. I tried to see the audience’s faces and I couldn’t. The light is preventing me from seeing, from making it relative and immanent rather than transcendent, like the ego might prevent us from being.
I am responding to a missed call from my landlady. There is fire in my home and the fire brigade are punching a hole through the front door. The balcony is burnt but no-one is hurt. I hurry away from a sound check, chewing over what might have happened. The backpacks and reciprocal airbeds, loss-making as this reciprocal tour. A floor-crashing St Pauli ‘Ultra’? A ‘Heimatpunk’? Who will ever know? Always a scar after the heat of enjoyment. Always a scar. Math punk — it all adds up.
I am watching Dine, a bright teen in a German pop band, taking selfies and documenting soundcheck, GoPro-ing every crutch scratch for posterity. It’s getting on the old guys’ moobs. Social media, micro-province, even when worldwide. She’s the best big-nosed drummer since Bongo Debbie, I say, definitely in my top three out of two, and better than Ringo. I’ve been discussing Niklas Luhmann’s system theory with her guitarist, observing supertankers outside, as they nestle into docks. “Those containers are empty. Maybe a Mercedes. When they return from Shanghai, they’ll be full.” Chinese millionaires can’t snuffle the warehouse apartments quickly enough, and keep their investments lived-in looking with fraud plants on the balcony. I am wondering if soul is a middle-class vinyl collection of essential blues artists, or real people in real time, trying to make sense of supertankers happening in front of their eyes.
I am purchasing an official FC St Pauli baby grow. “You’re broody,” Plumeyer suggests. It’s for a colleague, a Celtic fan, who see themselves affiliated to the socialist-run club, the underdog’s underdog (nothing sectarian, even if someone mentions ‘rich Stuttgart Catholics’ it’s the Danes who get it here). We watch their 2–1 victory over relegated überfooters Karlsruher in the Knust, packed with beleaguered locals and nodding rockers in FCK NZS t-shirts. Ready for the ruck, ready for Rostock. The skulls, the crossbones, the molten-looking Che Guevaras. Punk should threaten strata, a glimpse of liberty through the concrete, hormone straighteners, body shamers. Planes of immanence where anything can be what and where it wants to be. Now punk might be a strata itself, comfy in defence, basking in tats and fishnets. Still, you’re glad this is no All Bar One. A cigar smoker blows her output repeatedly into your right nostril. “I was broody fifteen years ago. Now I’m just insane.”
I am sitting, sunburnt, in an all-night kebab house in Den Helder, Noord-Holland, my bio hacking and ketogenesis snookered by a week of bratkartoffeln, flammkuchen and Ratsherrn. I’m watching Moroccan kids watch drunk, provincial Dutch girls totter out with doners. Supertall, tallest in the world, seems to be a turn-off and their judgement makes me glad to be grey. Only Nietzschean supermen would do life all again, all the same, forever (without drugs).
I am discussing rock and roll novels. There’s a great comic novel to be written about groupies, I suggest. The madness, the status-centred and the sexuality. “It would have to be handled very carefully,” I’m warned. So many people so awake. Part two hundred and twenty two.
I am firing foam air rockets at the sky with Valentin, the two-year old son of a Dutch music entrepreneur, now writing a film score. We’re at a barbeque in the Flevopark, near a Jenever distillery and tasting room. “You’ve found a friend!” someone says, noticing my sudden ease and the kid’s inability to leave me alone. I never thought that I’d be the kind of person who gets on better with children than adults. Those people always seem to be snow quiet, rural au pairs with a blush of shame, stratified in a gentle self-stigma. The rocket lolls back to the grass and bumps a slumbering woman on the butt. “Bullseye.” I teach Valentin a word.
I am standing in the elegant south Amsterdam apartment of Dr Sebastian Groes, a Roehampton lecturer with a chain of literary critique to his name. He is kind to me, and I’m at the age when that surprises me. At an age when one tends to be ignored. In the end, it is kind to be invited in the first place. He buys me a cool t-shirt from the Butcher’s Tears — a hipster microbrewery where the pilsners have names like prog rock album titles (‘La Condition Humaine III: Fear of God’). Everybody’s clever nowadays. Even drunkards. The dumb physicality of 13/8 punk, making equations way beyond self-consciousness, confirms its shine.