THE MOST FUCKED UP THING I’VE EVER SEEN: Susan SurfTone

Susan Surftone + Seana Steele, photographed in the Columbia Gorge

In which the surf guitar heroine, thanks to an absentee tour manager, goes from bad to worse on her first European tour.

 By SUSAN SURFTONE

 It started off bad. He left us waiting three hours after we arrived at the airport in Paris. No phone call. He didn’t answer his cell or mobile or whatever you want to call it. The Belgian tour manager. Let’s call him Road Warrior. I was with Bashful the keyboard player, Happy the drummer and Grumpy the bass player. I guess I’d be Doc if this wasn’t written in the first person. We were starting our big Euro tour; Belgium, Germany, Demark, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands and France. The Road Warrior was our guide. He spoke seven languages. Common sense wasn’t one of them.

 Grumpy did what he always did when he had time on his hands. He drank. If he drank too much he’d turn ugly. Happy ran around the airport checking out stewardesses, especially Asian ones. Bashful fretted with me. Road Warrior arrived with no excuse and off we went. This was perhaps the only time I was glad to see him.

 The van made “broken-down” seem like a luxury vehicle. It was a two-tone red and cream converted delivery van but, hey, it was a Mercedes. It could do 60 mph at best and we were going to be on the Autobahn a lot. It had no heat except a tiny space heater that seldom worked. No seat belts with a big bench seat in the back. A suicide knob used often and hard by Road Warrior rested on the steering wheel. Major Tom sitting in a tin can up front, just me and the windshield waiting for me to go through it.

 The first gig was in Brussels. Grumpy was mad. Happy was, well, happy and Bashful was optimistic. We went to the club and Bashful and I, both being female, encountered an odd ritual practiced by young Belgian males. Beer was served in a plastic cup. The young Belgians would literally take a full cup out of your hand, drink from it and walk away with it. One tried it with me and he was soon very wet after I threw it in his face. After that I drank in peace.

 Road Warrior forgot to get an adapter for the bass amp to accommodate the different current in Europe. He also forgot a lot of the drum hardware. Road Warrior ran off into the night to get what we needed. Grumpy proceeded to blow up the bass amp when he did some finagling with the wiring and plugged it in. There was smoke. Road Warrior returned three hours later with some equipment. We played and those who stayed seemed to like it.

 Road Warrior then disappeared leaving us with the club owner and his girlfriend who spoke very little English. They took us to a club. It was pouring rain. Then, to another club. It was about 4:00am and no Road Warrior. The club we were in wanted to close and were ready to throw us out. Finally Road Warrior showed up.

 We got into the van and drunk Grumpy, Happy and Bashful fell asleep in the back. I remained awake in the front passenger seat. Good thing. Once outside of Brussels we were driving along a two lane road when we started to veer off onto the right shoulder toward some trees looming in the dark. Road Warrior was asleep. I woke him up just in time.

 It was the little things over the 30 days that the tour lasted. I fell off the stage in Nuremberg when I couldn’t see the edge in the dark after we played. Straight down and landed on my feet. It hurt for days. After a gig in Kassel, Germany Grumpy was pontificating in the bar with a bottle of beer in hand. As he threw his arm back he caught me right in the mouth with the bottle and broke one of my front teeth. Blood and tooth everywhere. I was talking to a fan with Bashful. We went into the restroom to assess the damage and when we came out the fan was waiting to continue the conversation. Very punk rock.

 Happy had a tendency to play fast, too fast, when he got excited. We were in some dive in the Back Forest where the bathroom had overflowed even before the crowd arrived. The place was packed with people shoulder-to-shoulder about a foot in front of us. You couldn’t swing a guitar neck. Happy played faster than the van could go on the Autobahn. I mentioned it to Grumpy after the gig and he launched into a drunken rage at me.

 I left the bar and went across the street for pizza. One of the best pizzas I ever had. In the Black Forest, who knew? After every gig Road Warrior fed Grumpy booze. I think he was hoping Grumpy would finally hit me. He didn’t. Almost but he didn’t except for the accidental beer bottle.

 We played the second to last gig in a small bar in The Netherlands before heading into Paris for the final gig there. There were two sawhorses with a surfboard set up on it right in front of the very low stage. What the hell. As we started to play, liquored-up Dutch farm boys, big ones, took turns taking running leaps at the surfboard. The board went flying, farm boys went flying. At us.

 We literally had to dodge them. All while Road Warrior got drunk and danced around with silver Christmas garland on his head. After the gig he told me we played for free. He had to make it up to the bar owner because the band on tour before us left the tour early. It seems their drummer had trouble with the food and shit his way all over Europe until deciding to call it quits.

 After all this I went back again the following year. Round Two with Road Warrior. It got worse.

Susan SurfTone (yes, formerly of Susan and the SurfTones) released Too Far (www.susansurftone.com) this week, July 9. Check it out!

SUSAN AND THE SURFTONES – “I’LL CRY INSTEAD” (BEATLES COVER)

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