In this Crazy Tour Stories segment, the singer-songwriter, Les Bohem, talks about some of his crazy moments from touring. You can check out the feature, after the break.
We were recording a show for Belgian television. We were half an hour late for the rehearsal because we had had to wait in our hotel lobby for the guitar player and the drummer. They were not really members of the band. They were two French musicians who had been hired for their looks. We were doing four television shows, all in “playback,” lip-synching to prerecorded music, and it didn’t matter whether the musicians could play or not. These two were members of a French electronica band called Performance. We had met them in Paris. A friend of theirs had come to do an interview. He was eighteen and wore shirts with ruffled crimson sleeves, tuxedo jackets and patent leather dress slippers with bows. It was the style that year in England. What they were calling the “new romantic” look. His magazine was called “Now. “ We had never heard of it. Later, we saw a copy. It was Xeroxed. One page. It was free in the bookstores at the Pompidou museum. The reporter’s name was Ariel and the magazine was his way of meeting visiting groups.
There was a French television show to do and we asked Ariel to be the guitarist. We need a drummer as well. He brought two so that we could choose. One was very nervous. He had oily skin and even oilier hair. The other was incredibly good looking, with full lips and sultry eyes. Like a schoolgirl’s dream of a Frenchman. His name was Philippe. We chose him.
The group was really just two brothers, the singer and the keyboard player. They had used many different musicians over the years. I had been playing bass with them for less than a year. I had played on the album that was being promoted on these television shows. The record company would not play to fly the entire backup into Europe for lip-synch TV. I had come to England to try to get a record deal for my own band. It hadn’t gone well at all. Since I was already in Europe, I had come to meet the brothers in Paris and to do the shows.
On the way to the Paris taping, Ariel, the Edwardian guitarist, talked about poetry. He said that he did not go to the nightclubs because he was a writer and writers should be dedicated. His favorite poet was Mallarme.
He asked if we were nervous. The keyboard player said no, he was only nervous when he really had to play, not when he was miming to a tape. I asked Ariel if he was nervous. He said yes, very. When the taxi stopped at of the hall where we were to perform, he excused itself and went into an alley and threw up.
There was quite an entourage in our dressing room. Five or six of Ariel’s friends, all in dinner jackets, all young and all nervous. Several of them had cameras. The three other musicians from Philippe’s band were there, dressed entirely in black and looking incredibly cool, detached, decadent. There were several girls who wanted to be models. They carried their portfolios with them.
The singer and the keyboard player used make up for the TV shows. There was none there, and no one to apply it. Philippe and Ariel borrowed some from one of the models. Ariel’s hand shook slightly as he applied his eyeliner, but he said that, after being sick, he was feeling better. They put on so much makeup that there was none left for the brothers. A girl from the French record company had to run out to the drugstore for them.
The show was being taped on the stage of the Palace Theater. It was a large stage, but covered with so many technicians that there was barely room for the band. Everybody was screaming, yanking cables, pushing cameras in and out of position. A famous French comic stood to the one side in a tuxedo, waiting to introduce the band.
Someone handed him a microphone and he read an introduction from a card. The music started.
The singer looked at his brother and then waived his hands in the air. The music stopped. The comedian looked at him angrily.
“Is this a rehearsal or a recording,” the singer asked in French.
A voice boomed out of the darkness. “Just a rehearsal,” it said.
“Are you sure?” the singer asked.
“A promise,” the voice answered.
The comedian moved back to his microphone and read the introduction. The music began. We did three songs, one right after the next. We made several mistakes, forgetting to come to the microphones when the singing began, bumping into each other as we found our way around the stage. Ariel was flawless. He hit every chord as if he were actually playing. When the guitar solo came, he moved to the front of the stage, threw his head back, closed his eyes, and wailed.
When the third song was over, there was some scattered applause from the crew. We began to talk about the things we would change for the actual taping. A middle-aged man came flying out of the stage waving his arms and hair. He wore aviator glasses, a leather jacket, and a scarf. When he spoke, I recognized the voice that had boomed from the darkness. Apparently, this was our director.
“For me,” he said, in French, “the mise en scène was incredible, incredible.”
The taping, it seemed, was over. The director took us outside the theater to a remote truck, where he showed us the tape.
“This is only one camera,” he explained. “I will edit later.”
The tape was not quite as bad as we’d imagined. The lighting and the angles managed to hide a lot of our worst mistakes. Ariel and Philippe watched intently. Ariel was only shown in one shot, from such a distance that you couldn’t see his eyes, let alone his eyeliner. You could hardly see Philippe at all.
We were leaving the next day to do the other television shows. Two in Luxembourg, one in Brussels and one in Munich. We asked Ariel and Philippe come with us.
Ariel called us that morning to say that he wouldn’t be able to go. He had too much school work and his mother wouldn’t let him leave. We hadn’t known that he was in school, or that he lived with his mother.
Instead, we’re taking the guitarist from Philippe’s band. One of the all-in-black fellows who’d been in the dressing room; cool, detached, and decadent.
His name was Eric. He was incredible. His entire wardrobe was black, with a neo-Nazi cut to it all. He spoke in a barely audible whisper. His hair was cropped short and shaved above the ears. It was dyed black over a red henna rinse. He plucked his eyebrows. He seemed to float into a room on padded feet, his expression cynical and bored. His thin lips would curl into a lazy, suggestive smile. He would arch what was left of his eyebrows. Slowly, as if the effort exhausted him, he would light one in an endless chain of American cigarettes.
Eric and Philippe were in the habit of staying up until dawn in the Paris clubs. They slept through the days. It was for this reason that we had nearly missed the train in Paris and had been late for both of our broadcasts in Luxembourg and now for the one in Brussels.
It was not too much of a problem being late for the show. The brothers were very polite and apologetic and their last single, which is sold over 600,000 records in France, had been a hit in Belgium as well.
We were shown to our dressing room. Eric went straight to the mirror and fussed with his hair. In the dressing room in Luxembourg, I had seen him like that, in front of the mirror for nearly an hour, perfecting every nuance of his image.
Philippe, who was by far the better looking at the two, was as vain as his friend. On the train from Paris, he had shown us a French magazine of male nudes that featured his young body on its cover. He was photographed with his back to the camera, wearing a black leather jacket and nothing else. He was looking back over his shoulder with a sultry sneer. His name, Philippe, was the name of the magazine as well and he was featured, in a full frontal nude, as the centerfold.
He hadn’t shown us magazine as an advertisement. He took pains to assure us that the poses were just something he done “pour l’argent.” He was simply proud of the pictures because he looked so good.
We left Philippe and Eric primping for their Belgian debut and went upstairs to look at the soundstage. The director, a Parisian buried to the wilds of Brussels, came over to introduce himself. He was a near duplicate of the director of the show we’d done in Paris, complete with leather jacket and scarf, but he was a bit older and a bit more timid, and the Truffaut imitation seemed a little sadder here than it seemed at the Palace.
We talked for a few moments. Several magazine writers approached, shook hands with the brothers and began to ask questions.
To the side, two boys and a girl were standing shyly. They were all about seventeen. One was dressed in imitation combat clothes, with epaulets on his shirt. His hair was straight and short. It was black with one patch dyed red. He had small features and very bad skin. The other one was blond a dressed in a plaid shirt and sleeveless ski jacket and jeans. The girl was chubby and blonde and wore a dress that looked homemade.
The one with the black hair with red patch approached the singer timidly. He waited for a chance to speak and introduced himself.
“I am Ruud, the president of your Holland fan club,” he said. “We drove from Holland. We heard from your record company that you would be here with your new band and we drove from Holland.”
“It’s only a playback.” The singer said. “It’s not even the real band.” He explained who I was and that Eric and Philippe were “friends” from Paris. “Wasn’t that a long drive?” He asked.
“Yes, nearly six hours.”
I looked at his two friends. The girl was staring at me steadily. She had a pretty face and she smiled and she didn’t look away from me when I stared.
“I would like to make an interview for the new fan club magazine,” Ruud said.
“Maybe in a little while,” the singer said. “I just have to talk to these people about the show now.”
Ruud stepped aside and then moved over to me. He knew my full name, having memorized it; it seemed from the back cover of the newest album.
“And you are the bassist,” he said. We shook hands and I shook hands with the other two as well. The girl’s hand was warm and firm and we stared at each other again for a moment.
“And how is it to play with them?” He asked.
I said that it was fine.
“It must’ve been the dream of your life.”
I said no, but I enjoyed it.
“Perhaps later I will take a picture for the magazine? You don’t mind being in the magazine?”
“No, not at all” I smiled at the three of them and excused myself.
The rehearsal had been delayed because of a breakdown in a tape machine. There was nothing to do but wait. I wandered back to the dressing room. The door was open and Eric and Philippe were there, trying on all of the brothers’ clothes; the singer’s jacket, the keyboard player’s hat, primping in front of the mirror and working on their poses. Eric took off the singer’s stage jacket and put on a white plastic jacket that the singer had bought at the Galleries Lafayette department store in Paris and had worn on the train from Luxembourg to Brussels. Eric turned the collar up, put his hands in his pockets, turned sideways looked at his reflection.
“Choette,” he said in a low whisper. “Tres choette.” He turned to pick up his guitar and then turned back to the mirror.
Onstage he moved stiffly, once every few minutes. He would catch a pose, hold it, then mechanically move to another pose. It was probably something he had seen someone in an English band do. It looked incredibly stupid, but there was no point in saying anything to him because he was barely seen in any of the broadcasts. He began to practice his posing in front of the mirror.
After a while, Eric stopped, put down his guitar and took off the singer’s jacket. He lit a cigarette and asked me if I knew about the clubs in Brussels. He and Philippe wanted to go out after the show. It was being broadcast live and they wanted to be recognized afterwards. They were sure that there would be a good club where people went to see celebrities, just as there were several in Paris.
I said that I didn’t know about clubs in Brussels but that there were a few in Munich if they were interested when we were there. Eric began to talk about Germany, where he had never been. He asked me if they were still a lot of Fascists.
I said that I had just read in the Herald Tribune that a survey had shown that fifteen percent of the population of Germany had said that they felt the life of been better under Hitler. A third of those surveyed had expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, saying the Jews only cared about money and power.
Eric raised an eyebrow and looked bored. “Yes,” he said in such soft, mumbled French that it was almost impossible to understand him. “I do not like the Nazis very much, but I love the way they dress. It is the best for an army. Very à la mode, with the boots and the pants like this.”
He pulled out the sides of his black jodhpurs. He was also wearing knee-high boots.
I went out into the hall. In the room across from our dressing room, the three Dutch fans had cornered to brothers. Ruud had a suitcase open and he was on his knees in front of them, showing his collection of single sleeves. He had the cover of every record they had never made. The Japanese cover, the German cover, the Italian cover. Many of the sleeves were ones that the brothers had ever seen.
“Would you mind very much to sign some of these?” Ruud asked. The keyboard player smiled and began signing.
“If I could start the interview now,” Ruud said. His voice cracked slightly.
The girl looked up at me as I came in. We smiled what by now was an obvious smile. There was a seat next to her and I sat down.
Ruud said something to her in Dutch and she pulled a tape recorder from her bag.
“You see I am prepared,” he said. “I hope I am not too much trouble.”
They said no; it was no trouble. He fumbled setting up the microphone.
“You see, I am just very nervous,” he said.
He began with the usual questions. Why was this album different from the last one? What were the plans for a tour? What would the songs be like on the next album? He was an encyclopedia of their careers. He knew every record they had made. Every record they had produced for anyone else, what had become of all the former members of the group, the names of the singer’s old girlfriends.
The girl had taken out a Kodak Instamatic and was taking pictures. She turned and took one of me.
“Where in Holland are you from? “I asked her.
“Omval,” she answered. “It’s just outside of Amsterdam. You’ve never heard of it.”
The tone of her voice made me sad. It was as if she were saying, “Why would anyone as important as you know my little town?”
“Are you in the fan club too?” I asked.
“Oh yes, I type all the letters.”
Ruud was in the middle of a question but he turned anxiously to look at the girl and me. Then he turned back to the brothers and then back to look at us again. He was so nervous that he dropped the microphone.
“And where do you get the ideas for your songs?” he asked the keyboardist, retrieving his microphone and then turning with nearly every word in our direction.
“It’s such a long way to come,” I said to the girl.
“Yes, first we must take the train to another town, where he lives.” She nodded towards the third fan club member. “Because we do not have a car and he must drive us here.”
“What do you do when you’re not typing the fan club letters?”
I am a hairdresser.”
Ruud turned again and, still looking very worried, said something else in Dutch. The girl handed him the bag from which he took several boxes of candy.
“These are gifts, “he said to the brothers. “Because you said in Melody Maker once you like chocolates.”
Neither one of them ate any sweets. They took the candy and thanked him. Now he took out an 8mm movie camera.
“You see I have thought of everything,” he said and handed the camera to the girl. She got up and began to film the interview.
Ruud asked several more questions and then the brothers excused themselves to get ready for the show. I stayed for a while and Ruud asked me a few questions. What were the other new members of the band like? Had I known the brothers before I joined the group? He was so timid and humble that it was painful. There was the same tone that they been in the girls’ “You’ve never heard of it.” As if a job playing bass in someone else’s band were something golden.
“How long have you been president? “I asked for something to say.
“For just a year. It is the only fan club in Europe. We do all the work ourselves. I do it with my fiancé.” He looked back at the girl and then at me, as if to make sure that I understood.
“How many members do you have? “I asked.
“Almost one hundred and fifty,” he answered quickly.
We did three rehearsals of each song. I hadn’t been able to get a bass guitar in France and Eric had brought a guitar for me. It was a red Gibson flying V, a guitar shaped like an arrow that was made famous by Jimi Hendrix and more recently by Tom Petty. It is a stupid looking instrument and I looked ridiculous playing it, but that didn’t matter; I was hardly shown at all.
Eric studied the monitors during the first rehearsal and then switched sides, standing close behind the keyboard player so that he would be shown in more of the tape. The director ordered him back to his original place.
Three Dutch fans came into the studio to watch the rehearsals. They stood close to the front of the stage. I caught the girl’s eye again. From the angle of the stage, she didn’t look very pretty. Ruud stood watching her and he stepped up to take her arm. She didn’t look at him.
Because the broadcast was live, they weren’t allowed in the studio for it. They were waiting in the hallway when we finished. Ruud look terribly sad. He wasn’t smiling at all.
“Would you just take one picture with my fiancé? “he asked the brothers. “Then I will leave you alone. It is my last picture in the camera.”
They moved to either side of the girl and put their arms around her for the picture. With the singer’s arm pulling in the waist of her dress, she looked much thinner than I thought now that she was pretty after all. She would not look at me. Ruud took the picture and the girl came over and put the camera in her bag.
“Thank you for everything,” Ruud said. “I hope we will see you soon in Holland if you play there.”
We said goodbye and he shook hands again with all three of them.
“I hope you will play with the band for a very long time,” he said to me before they left.”
(Photo credit: Bonnie Perkinson)