And here's a 'nother one, 'nother one…
this one concerning Czech rock legend Richard Mader, aka Faust.
Richard is one of the really good guys in my pantheon over 40 plus years of peripatetic wanderlust, criss-crossing the globe in search of musical frissons.
A charter member of the Czech underground scene as principal guitarist and songwriter of his band UrFaust (contemporaneous with my old friends the legendary Plastic People of the Universe), Richard was unbeknownst to me ringside at my solo stand at the Jazz Club Železná, situated in a basement in the heart of Prague's Old Town, on Feb. 10th 1996, when I pulled in there with my Dutch driver / golem Eric Don in Eric's rickety old VW van.
We'd just driven in from Halle Germany after a night playing at the Turm -- a cool 15th century tower with an underground cellar / performance space.
The Železná was packed and Faust was part of a crowd that included Plastic People founder & bassist Milan "Mejla" Hlavsa, saxophonist Vrat Brabanec, singer / poet Pavel Zajíček, and various other members of Plastic People off-shoot groups DG 307, Půlnoc, as well as the entire Czech underground arts entourage, which included the brothers David and Ondřej Němec, whose mother Dana has been one of the Charter 77 signers along with her good friend Václav Havel. This pair did jail time for their "subversive activities" under the former Russian-backed government (as had the Plastic People).
Anyway, I rocked them all but good, leaving them hollering for more.
My kind of town, Prague!
Couple months later Faust turns up in NYC with his gal-pal aide de camp lyricist Marta Paduchová, knocks on my apartment door, and proposes a collaboration involving my "ghastly guitar." (He meant "ghostly, " and there is a kind of haunted quality to a lot of my work.) I agreed then and there.
And thus was borne what became an epic album in my discography entitled The Ghosts of Prague (1996, Faust Records), lyrically based on Czech ghost stories translated into English by Marta, and featuring the golden pipes of UK vocalist Pat Fulgoni (Kava Kava), along with several notable Czech female experimental vocalists (including jazz singer Jana Kubková, and my favorite lady screamer, the late Mirka Křivánková who sadly died of cancer last year). So this album comes out to brilliant reviews in the Czech music press and Faust asks if I'm up for a series of gigs all over the CR that fall of '96.
I'm down with that!
Faust books a solo tour of at least a dozen dates all over the Czech Republic, with him driving.Concerts include the elegant be-chandeliered Síň B. Martinů (a medieval church in Trutnov named for Czech composer Bohuslav Jan Martinů), a concert in Prague's sumptuous art-deco hotspot the Roxy (formerly a 1920s Yiddish theatre, now hosting all sorts of sonic mayhem)…concluding with a concert in Litomerice, just down the road apiece from Terezin concentration camp -- the iron gates to the camp emblazoned still with the chilling legend "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Will Set You Free). Which still rings true.
And which brings us to what may have been my worst...well, let's say my most vivid touring experience to date...the night Faust booked me into The Cotton Club; essentially a largish country and western honky-tonk in Hradec Králové (literally "Queen's Castle") -- a charming Bohemian medieval town on the river Elbe.
In those days I was supremely happy to get bookings in such an exotic place (to me, at that point) as the Czech Republic. I just accepted these type of gigs automatically with not too many questions asked.
What an idiot!!
After selling out a few shows at the start of the tour with Faust as my driver & tour manager, I got around to asking him what these concerts were paying me exactly, certain we had gone into percentages — the usual touring deal being a flat guarantee versus 80% of the door, whichever is larger — and Richard rattled off a price in Czech crowns. Which sounded impressive until I asked him what that amount translated to in "real money;" i.e., in US dollars.
"About 300 dollars," he told me, without missing a beat.
I hit the roof.
"Yes. But do not think of it as 300 dollars, Gary. Think of it as 300 beers!"
"Well that's swell, Richard. If only I drank beer." (I'm an inveterate teetotaler).
"300 dollars is what the average Czech family makes in a month!!" he retorted pompously, trying to guilt-trip me.
"But I'm not Czech! I live in New York City, which is quite a bit more expensive than this neck o' the woods, as you know.?"
And so it went.
As the owner, cook, and chief bottle-washer of Faust Records -- who had just released an album which for lending my playing and composing services to I'd received zero compensation to date -- Faust obviously had his eye on the bottom-line.
Thus, the idea of booking me for essentially bupkes up and down the CR in order to maximize sales had proven irresistible to him.
For me, such a tour was what they call a "career-builder" -- if not a character-builder. But hey, it was the Czech Republic. Substitute Russia, Cuba, South Korea, India, China, Brazil, Japan etc., here -- in other words, a whole bunch of far-away exotic places most US musicians will never get to play, let alone get to see, and you will understand why I put up with (at times) the economic and physical stress of my early touring years.
Every new territory I played in, I was adding another notch on my "been there, done that" belt. Also, of course, I was hoping to win over folks by playing my heart out for virtually nothing. (Check out "I Kill You For Nothing," my Marx Bros. music medley in my early repertoire). I was trying to increase the fan base, basically, one fan at a time.
So I was down (at this point) with the Faust program. Lotsa new Czech fans were being minted nightly. Not much income coming in, though, but generally it was Big Fun on the road with the sardonic and amiable Faust.
He was and remains good touring company, Big Fun, that is -- until the night we waltzed into the Cotton Club, right off the main drag of Hradec Králové.
Now said club had nothing to do with its legendary Harlem nightclub namesake. Nope, this was Cotton as in I wish I was in the Land of Cotton…with an actual Confederate flag hanging in the window. Also a poster done up by the club specially for the occasion, sporting my current publicity photo and some text in Czech:
"Gary Lucas hrál s Lou Reedem, Iggyho Popa a Joana Osborna".
(Gary Lucas has played with Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and Joan Osborne.)
It was not a bad-looking club, actually, a 200-seater, with an actual balcony. Lotsa country and western kitsch up on the walls. Kind of a deluxe Wild West saloon you might say...The pièce de résistance, though, was the club-owner / promoter and his fetching wife. A mustachioed, pot-bellied, greasy-haired dude dressed in an actual Nudie's of Hollywood western suit spangled with rhinestones, and a Long Tall Texan-type cowboy hat to top it off, replete with a fat-ass, blowsy wife, dressed like the ghost of Belle Starr (Bob Dylan, Tombstone Blues), or more accurately Diamond Lil' Davenport packed into a skin-tight satin outfit replete with plunging neckline, and humongous breasts a hangin' out.
These two birds and their techie factotums saw us come in with our gear, and remained stony-faced, like an oil painting, silent and unsmiling, and then I heard Faust mutter an aside under his breath:
"Next time we come with band. The drummer had a foot injury last week anyway and can't play."
News to me and a non-sequitur.
Not once had Richard ever discussed touring with any kind of ensemble.
So I basically schluffed off his remark, saying nothing.
Nope, it was always gonna be me in there solo; my eternal default mode -- kind of how I've managed to stay in the music biz for 40-plus years, by hook or by crook.
No one from the club, the promoter and his wife included, said anything. They just watched the two of us come in, unpack, set up, and soundcheck.
Come showtime, and the joint was solidly packed -- sold-out -- balcony included.
I did my usual wham-bam-thank you-ma'am 60 minutes plus, taking everyone on a musical trip up into the blue empyrean, then down to the Stygian depths, and back again...then did two encores. An hour and half's worth of music, and then I walked off stage to significant applause.
I came back out and marched over to the merch table where there were a bunch of fans lined up to buy my cds -- now including The Ghosts of Prague.
Suddenly, I hear Faust raising his voice loudly in Czech. I look over...and he is in a heated argument with the club owner, who is shit-faced drunk -- fucking foaming-at-the mouth piss-drunk plastered -- and he is shouting back at Faust even more loudly:
"I pay for BAND!! NOT solo! Where was LOU REEDEM?? WHERE WAS IGGYHO POPA??"
I can't believe I'm hearing this.
Faust is red in the face trying to argue back with this creep -- who is now doubling down on the bullshit:
"I pay for BAND!! There WAS NO BAND!!"
"No Hay Banda." - David Lynch, Mulholland Drive
His scarlet lady looks on disdainfully, haughtily sneering at me while her paramour makes mincemeat of Faust.
I slump down on the reinforced steel rim of one of my Calzone flight cases, covered with stickers from all over the world. Oh the places I've been… but I'd never (yet!) seen anything like this before.
As rip-offs go, it was kind of original.
Apparently, Faust had contracted with the guy for a full band….not one of course with Lou Reedem and Iggy Popa in the lineup.
Still, a band.
So Richard was technically responsible for getting us into this pickle. (I say us because, hey, it was a long way from Prague to Hradec Králové and back -- about 3 hours each way.)
Still, the club owner had seen us come in there...and had said nothing about the absence of a band.
He'd taken the tickets, sold the drinks -- in fact, he had sold the place out, and made a tidy profit on the night. And not one customer had complained about lack of band thereof. (I am a one-man band). But for whatever reason (a loophole—a mere technicality), this guy was now raking us over the coals -- ripping us off and fucking us over (do you detect a pattern here?).
Faust came over to me, supremely agitated:
"He's crazy, Gary! He's totally drunk. He's COMPLETELY CRAZY!!"
He doesn't want to pay!! He will not listen to reason!!"
I slumped on my case thoroughly sickened by this state of affairs, feeling helpless in the situation.
"Let's get the fuck out of here, Faust!!"
I mean, if I had sucked, and no one had turned up, and the promoter had lost a lot of money on the night, I might have understood...slightly.
I still would have expected to GET PAID.
As I, in my 44th year on earth had been putting my life (and my health) on the line for years to pursue the dream of my chosen profession (that of miracle worker). I mean, I had taken the risk of traveling across a goddamn ocean to Bumfuck CR in order to "play for the people".
I mean, I had fully signed up for this.
And I was not gonna stand for this.
But meanwhile -- let's get the fuck outa here...
A fan came over and said:
"Gary, you should go to the police. This guy is ripping you off!! I am so ashamed for my country!!!"
"That's so nice of you to say, my friend—thank you! I love the Czech Republic. But this guy is an ASSHOLE."
So we split. Exit, Pursued by a Villain (and his fat sow of a wife).
We packed up and drove over to the local police station to register a complaint against this promoter…got our story written down officially…and told them we intended to press charges against the guy for theft of services rendered (hey…it needed to be expressed). Then we drove the longest 3 hours of my life, my heart pounding in my chest, back to Prague.
Only to find that in our absence, that very same night, the city had completely frozen over. The temperature had dropped severely.
There were icicles hanging off the building which housed Faust Records in the lovely leafy Prague suburb of Dejvická. Where I had been sleeping on the couch in the office.
It was just then 6am. Sun coming up soon.
We dragged my three guitars, an unwieldy suitcase full of effects pedals (about 22 of them), affectionately referred to as The Flying Mary by Faust, plus his two heavy-duty Marshall amplifiers, back down the lift into the basement, where we put them to bed for the night.
Faust then saw me into his office upstairs, apologized again, swore we'd pursue this guy, then left me in the office to collapse while he drove off to go stay with his wife in their flat on the outskirts of Prague.
My clothes are filthy, I'm filthy with dried sweat from the gig. I'm knackered from the show and the after-gig drama, and the endless drive back home, and I can't wait to take a hot shower. I get into the bathroom, turn on the tap only to find that the water pipes in the flat had frozen.
No hot water. Or cold water. But also, and even worse, no heat in the flat.
And it was fucking COLD in there at 6:20 am.
So I shivered under a couple of blankets on Richard's couch for hours trying to sleep a bit; images of the faux cowboy and his chippy dancing in my brain.
Fed up, I finally leaped up off the couch, having had zero sleep. I got dressed, put on my winter coat, left the flat, walked to the luxury Hilton up the hill, clutching a bag of clean clothes and assorted toilet articles. I entered the lobby, joined the Health Club for 25 bucks and proceeded to shower, take a steam bath, shave, and finally, put on some clean clothes.
Feeling somewhat human again I walked back down the hill, stopped for some rolls and coffee, shuffled over to the Faust Records office, tried to sleep again, and then just gave up, and waited for Faust to show.
The last show of the tour was scheduled at the Roxy that night, replete with a cast of thousands...well, 4 other musicians and singers, plus a light show of ghostly images from medieval Czech woodcuts.
Around 4pm Faust arrived smiling ruefully, and apologized again.
I then said:
"Richard, to be clear, unless you pay me the fee owed me from last night now, I am not going to be able to perform the show tonight."
Like the big-hearted mensch that he was, Faust went downstairs where his older brother operated a retail record emporium also known as Faust Records -- a shop specializing in underground music by folks like the Plastic People (and Gary Lucas).
His brother withdrew the equivalent of 300 bucks from the cash register and handed it to Faust, who came back upstairs, and paid me in full.
"Cool. Thank you, Richard."
"You are welcome, Gary."
We went off with the gear to the Roxy shortly thereafter. I set up my stuff...and played one of the best shows of my entire career that night.
On a Czech tv interview later that week, they asked me if i had enjoyed playing in the Czech Republic:
"Absolutely. I love playing here! Except for this one club in Hradec Králové…"
Fast forward to 2022, and Faust and I are still at it as partners in musical crime / voyageurs au bout de la nuit.
"Rocking on / till the brink of dawn…" -- "P.S.K. (What Does It Mean?)" by Schoolly D
Bohemian Ripsody - Gary in Prague years ago...
What a great style of writing Gary Lucas has, funny, precise, witty, wise - and always directly! There is always some kind of suspense, you can`t stop reading this flow...great!
I loved the honesty in this piece. Can identify with SO many aspects of it! Lovely writing … and living.