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Rock and Hard Places: Travels to Backstages, Frontlines and Assorted Sideshows

By Tyler Snyder,2014-11-04 17:21
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From Publishers WeeklyLondon-based Aussie Mueller is the kind of adventure journalist who inserts himself into nearly every story; as a rock critic, travel writer and foreign correspondent, Mueller gives equal weight to encounters with customs officials and foreign dining experiences as he does war-zone reporting in Bosnia or buddying up to the Taliban in Afghanistan. In this collection of 28 pieces penned for non-U.S. periodicals, dating from the early 1990s on, Mueller showcases his broad range-everything from The Prodigy in Beirut to Bruce Springsteen in Middle America, from revisiting Chernobyl to his own book tour of Britain. While Mueller's snarky style (think a clean-mouthed Matt Taibbi) tends to marginalize nearly everything his sources say, he pens new introductions to Published by Affirm Press on 2010/02/16

Table of Contents

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    Praise

    Title Page

    Dedication

    Epigraph

    Foreword

    ? Chapter 1 - IN A BLUE YORKE STATE OF MIND Chapter 2 - I’M THE TURBAN SPACEMAN, BABY Chapter 3 - BALKAN AFTER MIDNIGHT Chapter 4 - YASSER, I CAN BOOGIE Chapter 5 - EVERY WHICH WAY BUT MOOSE Chapter 6 - FRIDAY I’M IN CHICAGO Chapter 7 - APATHY IN THE UK Chapter 8 - NO SLEEP TILL TRAVNIK Chapter 9 - HUNGRY HEARTLAND Chapter 10 - THE FIRST TIME EVER I SAW YOUR FEZ Chapter 11 - EYE OF THE GEIGER Chapter 12 - STRAIT TO HELL Chapter 13 - IF YOU WANT MUD (YOU’VE GOT IT) Chapter 14 - BASTILLE CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS Chapter 15 - WHOLE LOTTA FAKE KING GOIN’ ON Chapter 16 - TAKE THE VEDDER WITH YOU Chapter 17 - 24 HOURS FROM TUZLA Chapter 18 - BORNE TEHRAN Chapter 19 - (GET YOUR KICKS ON) BEIRUT 66 Chapter 20 - CALIFORNIA SCREAMING Chapter 21 - YEN WILL I BE FAMOUS? Chapter 22 - WHAT TIME IS LOUVRE? Chapter 23 - IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR ROUBLE Chapter 24 - MID-LIFE STRAIN TO GEORGIA Chapter 25 - CRAZY NORSES Chapter 26 - MAGICAL MISSOURI TOUR Chapter 27 - LEMON ON A JET PLANE Chapter 28 - I WANNA BE YOUR ZOG

    ? Acknowledgements Copyright Page

    ANDREW MUELLER was born in Wagga Wagga, Australia, and lives in London, England. He writesabout various things for various titles, including The Financial Times , Monocle , The

     , The Times , Esquire , Uncut , Australian Gourmet Traveller , New Humanist and,Guardian

    frankly, anyone else who’ll have him. Another book of his, I Wouldn’t Start From Here: The

     , was lauded as “not bad for a guy from Wagga21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong

    Wagga,” by The Wagga Wagga Advertiser .

    Andrew Mueller is also the singer, songwriter and rhythm guitarist with The Blazing Zoos, anincipient alt-country phenomenon who released their debut album, I’ll Leave Quietly , in

    2010. Mueller plans to spend the royalties generated by its success on an immense andtriumphantly gauche Nashville mansion with rhinestone-studded gates and a guitar-shapedswimming pool. Or, a sandwich.

    His hobbies include swearing at televised sporting fixtures, sighing at newspapers and themaintenance of a minutely annotated list of people who’ll be sorry when he’s famous. Form anorderly queue, ladies.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR

    ROCK AND HARD PLACES

    “Andrew Mueller’s piece on my band’s tour with The Hold Steady is my favorite thing everwritten about us . . . The fact that he is a war correspondent (although he claims otherwise)and music journalist and approaches both with a similar slant makes him one of the mostinteresting writers out there to me. The fact that he also is such a great storyteller and doesso with such an acute (albeit black) sense of humor makes him that rare beast whose byline Iseek out every month.”

    —Patterson Hood from Drive-By Truckers

    “Andrew Mueller knows the best stories usually linger at the edges of the main event. Nomatter if it is a rock show or a war, Mueller finds the longest way there . . . This is justgood storytelling. He conveys a sense of world-weary cynicism and sublime humor in the sameparagraph and I imagine he has distaste for happy endings, even though he seems to keep livingthem, over and over.”

    —Bill Carter, author of Fools Rush In and Red Summer

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MORE PRAISE FOR

    ANDREW MUELLER AND HIS RECENT BOOK I WOULDN’T START FROM HERE

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    “The best foreign correspondent of his generation.”

    —P.J. O’Rourke

    “His face has the same expression every time: comic disbelief. He can’t believe it’shappened to him again . . . he thinks it’s the poor directions, the road maps or the unkindstranger that pointed him here. And where is here? Nowhere . . . it’s not who he likes to belost, it’s just that he likes the company of the lost. Be very careful reading this book.”

    —Bono

    “That perfect blend of investigation, humor, drama, and above all, insight into the globalhuman condition.”

—Robert Young Pelton, author of The World’s Most Dangerous Places

    “A tour-de-force of hilarious, harrowing and ultimately enlightening reportage.”

     The Washington Times

    “His sardonic, self-deprecating perspective makes for unstuffy company.”

     The Los Angeles Times

    “A joy.”

     Financial Times

    “A gung-ho Candide with a taste for places it is wiser to avoid . . . graphic, comic, bemusedand properly contemptuous of faith and ideology.”

     Evening Standard , Books of the Year

    “An utterly sui generis report from the world’s plague-spots.”

     New Statesman , Books of the Year

    “A mix of dark humor and incisive political discourse.”

     CNNGo

“Peppered with trenchant observations that reflect a nimble, cut-to-the-chase practicality,

    Mueller’s interviews with everyone from terrorist warlords to international peacemakers are

    refreshingly irreverent yet astute.”

     Booklist “Travel writing in the danger zone that maintains its hipness and humanity.” Readings Monthly, Books of the Year “I can think of no more entertaining companion on a perilous journey than the ever hopeful,

    wildly optimistic yet clear-thinking Andrew Mueller.” The Guardian “Lively reporting from a gently humorous narrator.” The Times (U.K.) “Touching, often blackly comic reportage.” GQ “In the grand tradition of Mark Twain, though in a world considerably more hostile.” The Daily Truth “Brilliantly observed, articulate, often funny and immensely readable.” The List “An instructive ricochet between cities and continents and war zones.” Time Out “Mueller’s humour saves this book from being just another danger travel memoir.” —“The Book Show,” ABC Radio National “Not bad for a guy from Wagga Wagga.” The Wagga Wagga Advertiser

For Mum and Dad

“Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”

    —DANIEL 12:4

“Road (n): A strip of land along which one may pass from where it is too tiresome to be to

    where it is futile to go.”

    —AMBROSE BIERCE, The Devil’s Dictionary

THE GREAT LEAP FOREWORD

    Introduction

    ZAGREB, CROATIA, AUGUST 2009

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    I T IS A fitting happenstance of deadline that I’m writing this here and now—in Zagreb,Croatia, in between U2’s two shows at Maksimir Stadium. As the thrillingly witty pun thatserves as this book’s title suggests, the reportage gathered in this volume straddles, withvarying degrees of chafing, the realms of rock’n’roll and conflict, and it’s a version ofthat same ungainly feat that U2 are attempting here. The two nights U2 are playing in Zagrebare their first shows ever in Croatia, and their first anywhere in the former Yugoslavia since

     circus to the shattered Bosnian capital of Sarajevo inthey took their gaudy, glitzy PopMart

    1997.

    That these shows are essentially a long-delayed sequel to the Bosnian outing was acknowledgedlast night in Bono’s introduction to “One,” U2’s supremely versatile lament for the loss oflove, faith or whatever you’re (not) having yourself. “The next song,” he’d said, “means alot of different things to a lot of different people. Tonight, we want to play it for everyonein this region who has had their warm hearts broken by cold ideas.” As the crowd recognisedit, there was a palpable shift in the atmosphere: a warm summer night suddenly felt a fewdegrees chillier. I’ve heard this song played dozens of times in dozens of cities, Sarajevo in1997 among them, but it has never sounded better than it did last night, which is to say ithas never sounded more wounded and reproachful, Edge’s scuffed-up guitar itching like anunresolved tension. U2 faded “One” into an excerpt from The Righteous Brothers’ “UnchainedMelody”; in the Balkans of all places, the phrase “time can do so much” hit a note somewherebetween a threat and a promise.

    If this book is about any one thing—which, just so we’re clear on this, it very definitelyisn’t—it’s about moments like that, when music steps beyond its boundaries of verse andchorus and becomes a soundtrack or accompaniment to something somewhat larger than itself.

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    THIS IS THE second introduction I’ve written for this book. I wrote the first a little over adecade ago, when a slightly different version of Rock and Hard Places was published in the

    United Kingdom to widespread indifference (it was, however, a minor if weirdly enduring culthit in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, from where I still receive emails about it with bafflingregularity; I can only conclude that the entire print run was mistakenly loaded onto a bargebound down the Danube, where it ran aground and was subsequently looted by delirious locals insome sort of Whiskey Galore scenario). Having just re-read said introduction for the firsttime in nearly that long, I’ve decided to lose almost all of it except the headline.

    It’s not that I believe the original introduction is bad, exactly. Indeed, for somethingcomposed in a hungover fog in a hotel room in Boston—where I was, at the time, on tour withThe Cardigans—it’s reasonably coherent, and contains what I still think is quite a good jokeabout orangutans. It’s just that ten years is a long time, in which much has happened, both tothe world in general and to the journalist meandering about in it. The difference between theworld this book was first published in, and the world this book is being re-published in, isneatly illustrated by the blurb which appeared on the cover of the first edition—and which,for reasons which will become clear presently, does not appear on the cover of this one. It wascontributed by the very great P.J. O’Rourke, who very kindly appended his name to an

    observation that the writing about rock music and various screwed-up locations contained hereinwas “as spectacular as a Taliban attack on Lollapalooza—which come to think of it, isn’t abad idea.” Which is to say that, back in 1999, the idea of a gaggle of religious cranks basedin Afghanistan threatening the destruction of an American institution seemed so preposterous asto be the stuff of throwaway whimsy.

    All the pieces in this book were first commissioned as journalism by various publications(except the last one—incredibly, nobody wanted to spend money on an account of taking acountry band on tour in Albania. And they wonder why nobody’s buying newspapers anymore). Theversions of them collected herein are, however, longer than those which were originallyprinted, which is to say I’ve put back in all the jokes, digressions, tangents and acrashingly self-indulgent flourishes which are invariably—and usually quite rightly—the firstthings to perish when an editor swishes his machete at one’s copy. As will be noted by the

     , as they while away longRock and Hard Placesdozens of owners of the initial pressing of

    winter evenings by comparing that with this, some old stories have been jettisoned in favour ofsome newer ones. The older ones appear, despite the occasionally retrospectively horrifiedurges of the author, unaltered from last time out—except for a few excisions of trivial andnow irrelevant references to contemporary phenomena, which really didn’t merit the explanatoryfootnotes that leaving them in would have necessitated. The new ones don’t have quite so manytrivial and irrelevant references to contemporary phenomena: let it not be said that I’velearnt nothing these last ten years. And all the stories have introductions composed especiallyfor this volume, seeking to place them in their proper context, wrap up what happened next,and/or basically explain to the reader what the heck the author thought he was doing at thetime.

    Rock and Hard Places is not intended to be a serious, or even a frivolous, portrait of ourtimes (my other book, I Wouldn’t Start From Here is, however, and remains freely available)

    or of anything else. The stories gathered here have nothing much to do with each other exceptthat I wrote them, so taken as a whole, this tome doesn’t really demonstrate much besides thesorts of things that can happen when someone decides to be a rock journalist, and then a travelwriter, and then a foreign correspondent and, finally, a country singer. I have gleaned someinsights along the way, however. Young men carry electric guitars and rifles with the sameinsouciant swagger, both implements prized as they are by vindictive and resentful males forthe instant, if often ill-deserved, gravitas they confer. In countries at war, the food isinvariably worse than in countries at peace, but the coffee is always better. The more alcohola people drink, the worse they look, except in Iceland. The major difference between Americaand the rest of the world is that America is unconcerned about becoming Americanised. Finallyand most importantly, travelling yields no answers, but it does, if you keep your eyes and earsopen, occasionally give you ideas for better questions.

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