I wouldn’t call myself an international pop star as I’ve only played outside the U.S. a handful of times. But, damn, it sure feels like I’ve crossed the border a lot.
When I was in Short Dogs, my best friend Jessie put in a good word for us with her Vancouver booker friends, Cattle Prod productions. They booked numerous Vancouver clubs and had the knowledge, patience and ability to legally bring punk bands across the border. Tom was from Calgary and had experience crossing the border, often regaling us with exciting stories of cavity searches, confiscated equipment and jail time. Our first time through, however, was only excruciatingly boring. We sat at the border for 4 hours while they processed our working papers. It made the risk of an illegal border run almost seem worth it.
Pic 1.Greg takes us to the border
The second time we sat for hours at the border again. There was only one other van next to us, side panel open and a cute girl sitting in the doorway. It didn’t take George long to wander over and start talking to her. Finally Greg came out with our papers and waved us into our van. George ambled over, (“hurrying” not being a part of his vocabulary.) I asked him how it went with the cute girl- would she be coming to our show in Vancouver? He said the van was full of chimpanzees. The cute girl and her partner were trying to bring the animals back across the border, but they didn’t have all the documentation they needed- vaccinations, etc. She talked to the chimps in sign language- they did research but the girl referred to the chimps as her friends. The chimps signed at George, and she interpreted- they were bored too! She told George that the chimps were cooler than most people and she preferred to hang out with them. I was so bummed to miss the chance to talk with them, but George was probably our best representative, a gentle soul who lacked pretension. You can’t fool a chimp.
After playing in Vancouver, we went home through the same border, and U.S. guards actually turned us around and sent us back to Canada. They said the van was too dirty for them to inspect, and we needed to clean it out before they’d let us back in the U.S. We sat in no man’s land doing our best to clean it, while the border patrol looked on in amusement.
Pic 2. The dirty van! The occupants weren’t exactly roses either.
On a later Canadian tour, we thought it might be easier to cross back to the U.S. at a desolate border outpost, so we went down to the Dakotas. The lone border cop had nothing better to do than to ask questions and make us empty our pockets. Mine were empty. Tom had some guitar picks and matches. Greg had an “I Dream of Jeanie” hand mirror, and George had his very thin wallet, which upon inspection by the agent, contained a razor blade.
“Got any nose candy to go with that razor blade?”
We thought he was joking and giggled a bit. But he was using the term “nose candy” FOR REAL.
“Well I’ll have to take it and test it.”
George jumped into action and told the agent that he was a drummer and used the blade to cut drum heads to size. Miraculously, the agent believed him and let us through. God knows what was on that blade.
Pic 3. Carmela and George kicking it in the van’s loft.
The last time we went to Vancouver was the worst. We had borrowed a mini-Winnebago from our friends’ band Field Trip (extraordinarily generous and trusting folk). Before we crossed back to the U.S., we cleaned the van from top to bottom. At that time there was a “zero drug tolerance” in effect at the U.S. border. People were being busted for pot dust (they would wipe the dash board with a chemical that turned purple if there were any marijuana residue.) It was possible to have never smoked pot in your life, buy a car secondhand, and basically have it confiscated at the border. We were stopped as usual and waited a long time. Finally the border cop came out with an empty small film canister and a little tissue swab with some purplish stain on it- a positive test for pot dust. My first thought was it had been planted, but they said the dogs found it under the last seat bench. We were screwed. The Winnie Wagon belonged to Greg’s childhood friends, and the border patrol said they were impounding the vehicle. Greg went pale at the thought of telling Jim Galbraith, the registered owner, and I turned red invisioning dollar signs flying out the window because I knew it would it take a fight to get Winnie back, and we lived far from the border.
We kept waiting- and luck would have it, there was no place to park the beast. The border cops had impounded so many vehicles since the zero tolerance went into effect that there was no room left in their lot. I guess they hadn’t started to auction them off yet. Finally after what seemed like 12 hours, they told us to take the Winnie Wagon and go home.
Short Dogs never played in Mexico, but when our drummer Joe quit the band in El Paso, we went for one last hurrah in Juarez. In a tiny bar we did shots of cheap tequila with the local drunks. Pretty bar maids selling buckets of Coronas complete with ice were subject to Greg’s high school Spanish. “Como te llamas?” Greg thought he could keep the bucket and a struggle ensued as the bard maid tried to take it back. I decided that 25 cents a shot was too much to pay, and went down the street to the liquor store to buy a bottle of cheap tequilia. Greg came with me and bought a case of Corona to take back to El Paso. While we were in the store it started to rain. It was very hot outside, and as we waited at the stop light steam rose from puddles on the street. “Desert rain” I said to Greg. Later he and Tom wrote a song with that title, detailing our little Juarez adventure.
Back in the bar, things were getting out of control, and I decided to leave. In a foul mood, I walked back over the border bridge by myself. Once across, I realized I had no idea how to get to the place we were staying. Luckily a police officer stopped me and asked me what the hell I was doing alone so close to the border.(where people get killed by smugglers, I later learned). I told him that my friends were drunk in Juarez and I wanted go back where I was staying- all I knew was it was an apartment builiding next to a park.From my meager description he was able to give me directions and I made it back. I got into the apt and collapsed on a futon on the floor. Five minutes later, the front door burst open and my hostess ran in, hit the tape deck button on her stereo and started climbing the walls. “I’M STILL IN HOLLYWOOD!!!” blared from the speakers. She ran around me, she circled the house, she jumped up and down on the couch, she danced on her bed, all the while singing with Johnette Napolitano at the top of her lungs. Her date had slinked in after her and eventually he got her into the bedroom and shut the door. The music finally turned off. I was just about asleep when the door slammed open again. Greg Foot lurched into the room and fell down next to me. He took his shoes off. Then he started punching me hard in the arm.
Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”
Whack, Whack “Fucking Mel.”
Then he leaned over and puked in his shoes. He got up, ran to the sink and puked. Then he went to the door, opened it and looked outside.
“Where are you going? Get back in here, you’re drunk!”
The doorbell started ringing.
“Tom’s waiting for me downstairs in a car with the girls.”
“Girls? What girls? The girls you were trying to steal the Corona buckets from?”
No response. He ran out the door and into the night (leaving the door open of course). I got up, closed it and laid back down, too exhausted to chase him because I had walked home FROM MEXICO! The next morning I got up, resigned to clean up the mess. Greg’s shoes were sitting next to me. But there was no barf to be seen. I walked over to the sink, and…..it was spotless. He must have been full of pure tequila, which evaporated during the night. My hostess appeared hours later. I could tell she had no recollection of her Concrete Blonde performance, and I don’t think she was too thrilled with the guy she woke up with. Greg and Tom eventually came back to get me and Greg was happy to find his shoes. He thought he’d left them in Mexico. We regrouped and took Joe to the airport. Unfortunately we were now stuck in Juarez with no drummer and the cruelest hangover of all time. I cannot drink tequila to this day. Fortunately we got a call from promoter Mary-she’d found us a drummer, and we left the scene of druken debauchery to move on to……New Orleans.
Pic 4. Hightailin’ it across the desert to New Orleans
The only time I played south of the border was with Hellfire Choir. We were invited to play a Toys for Tots benefit in Tijuana, run by some San Diego motorcycle gang. The motorcyclists had set a flatbed trailer with all the equipment-we just had to show up with our guitars. We decided to leave the van in S.D. and walk over the border. As we were standing in line to cross the border, Shelley started to worry that they wouldn’t let us bring our guitars in. I told her to relax as I was wearing my mirrored sunglasses (originally purchased for my faux metal band) that made me look like Tom Petty . “If the border patrol gives us a hard time, I’ll just tell them I’m Tom Petty’s illegitimate son and we’re on our way to Cabo Wabo to jam with Sammy Hagar.” Shelley decided to go to the front of our group to distance herself from me. Luckily I didn’t have to use my celebrity influence; we got through no problem. It was a strange gig though. The locals showed up to get the toys, but had no interest in the rock music. The five or six motorcycle gang people seemed to enjoy it however, so we put on a show for their entertainment. Tom Petty would have been proud.
Oi! Oi! Oi! England!
The last time I crossed the border to play was in jolly old England. Cookie Mongoloid was invited to play a couple of shows in London by a group called The Meanies (not the Australian indie bunk band) who reassured us that yes, English people were familiar with cookies even though they call them biscuits. Crickey! We only took a few necessities (guitars, drumsticks, pedals). Because we probably looked like a degenerate metal band in disguise, we were searched at Immigration. The guard opened Scot’s suitcase, and resting comfortably on top of his clothes were a pair of drumsticks, a large circular saw blade and a goalie hockey mask. The agent gave us a look of resignation. “We’re performance artists!” I blurted out. Without saying a word, he gently zipped up the case and motioned for us to go through. The British invasion would commence.
Pic 5. Crueller sets up merch while Crumb supervises.