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Report on the Magical Mystery Meat Tour

February 11, 2012

As you may remember from my last article, my good friend Joe Minsk and I were preparing to travel with Admiral Porkliver -- an avant-garde freak-out weirdness band known for playing many of their compositions in 13/7 time -- on their Magical Mystery Meat Tour. So, for this update, I'll report what happened.

Before starting the tour, bandleader Stoughton Finney did quite a bit of legwork to have the band booked at different venues throughout the Midwest. It turned out to be a rather lengthy and complicated planning process, to say the least. He bought a large map, mounted it in his command center on the bus, and started plotting out destination points with red thumbtacks that he connected with black thread. I must say, the man shows an admirable focus and determination to get things done. You've got to give him his due credit for that.

I gave my final exams at the college around the middle of December, turned in my grades, and was expecting to have a week of rest before joining the band on its tour, but just as I was winding up things at my office, I got a call from Stoughton asking me if my bags were packed.

Realizing that he waits for no one, I rushed home at top speed, gathered my stuff together as quickly as possible, climbed on my moped, and raced off to the club.

When I arrived, the bus had already pulled out and was several hundred yards down the road. Fortunately for me, it had to stop at a red light, and I was able to get Stoughton's attention, so he pulled over and I got in. I had to abandon my moped at the side of the road, but I called Norm on my cell, and he went by to pick it up for me.

Our first destination was Cleveland. I've been there a few times, and I've never been particularly impressed. I think that it must have been a better city back in the day, but it seems to have fallen on hard times. We drove past a lot of abandoned homes in what used to be prosperous, working-class neighborhoods. Pretty sad stuff.

Anyway, we finally made it to the club, called Crazy Arnie's. It so happened that a bunch of leather-jacket-wearing bikers showed up, all with the same logo and name stitched on the back of their jackets. I'd say what it is, but I fear retaliation. But I will say this, those biker dudes were not exactly the friendliest people I've ever met. Their main reason for being in the club appeared to be the beer, not the music.

However, Stoughton was undaunted, despite Reverend Red Butts’ frank warning that "we're all going to get our tails kicked if we don't get the hell out of here."

I noticed a police car in the club’s parking lot. That gave me some hope that everything was going to be okay.

The band set up on stage, and one of the bikers called out: "You'd better (expletive) play 'Hotel California,' or I'll break this (expletive) pool stick over your (expletive) head."

Stoughton grabbed the microphone and told that guy that the band would play whatever it pleased, thank you very much. They then launched into "Slither Fried Refund Suction," which is largely dominated by Willy's kazoo. Joe started filming.

Well, after about five seconds, those bikers rushed the stage and smashed everything to pieces. One of them took out a Bowie knife and slashed all of the drum skins. Melvin Mayo's bass guitar was snatched away from him and splintered into toothpicks. More than a few steel-tipped boots ripped through the amplifier cabinets. We were grabbed by the hair, pushed to the floor, and kicked in the ribs. Then, one of the bikers took away Joe's video camera, threw it on the floor, and jumped on top of it a few times. So much for the priceless footage. We ended up bruised and battered, but luckily nobody was killed. I think the fact that several of us -- me included -- begged for mercy probably helped.

The owner of Crazy Arnie's -- who flashed us his badge and actually turned out to be the cop who owned the police car in the parking lot -- then told us to get the hell off the stage and clean up the mess, and insisted that we pay him $1,000 for the so-called damage done to his club, since, according to him, "If you had just played 'Hotel California' like they asked you, none of this would've happened."

When Stoughton balked at paying such a huge sum, the owner threateningly remarked that the bikers were good friends of his, and he sure wouldn't want to tell them that we were refusing to compensate him for the damages. So, Stoughton counted out ten one-hundred dollar bills. I don't know -- I suspect the whole thing might have been a complete setup between the owner and the bikers. You have to wonder, you know.

When we got out to the parking lot, the bikers were there waiting for us and checking out our bus, saying how they thought they could use a nice ride like that, and that the band should just take a break for a couple of weeks while they borrowed it. One of them picked up Roscoe Hogg's drum kit and remarked that he needed it on loan for a few months so that he could learn how to play it like Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. For what it’s worth, he promised to replace the ruined drum heads. Another one made off with the keyboards, which had miraculously remained untouched during the assault, and said he wanted to use it for a few years to practice playing his favorite Mozart and Beethoven pieces.

“Those are really (expletive) hard pieces to play,” he remarked, “so you’ll (expletive) understand why I need to (expletive) practice for so (expletive) long, alright (expletive)?”

But Stoughton was surprisingly unperturbed. Raising his hand for silence, he then gave one of the finest speeches I've ever heard. Bursting with eloquent indignity, he sermonized for at least ten minutes, during which time he held the rapt attention of the bikers. As he spoke, several of them were moved to tears. Afterwards, they came up to him and shook his hand, and one of them solemnly remarked, "I'm a better man for having listened to you." It was a touching moment.

The leader of the bikers beamingly strode up to Stoughton and said:

"You know, I was going to take this bus off your hands for a good long while, but I suppose I can do without it for now. You've earned my respect, friend, and thanks so much for lending us the drums and the keyboard."

We then climbed on the bus and drove away, thankful that we hadn't lost any more than that.

Well, we had to make an unplanned visit to a music store to replace the lost equipment, which put a massive dent in the tour's rather limited budget, but Stoughton remained unfazed. We continued to soldier on.

We then went to another club in Cleveland called Schnitzel’s, which had a great big rainbow-colored flag at the entrance. It seemed to be a club for men only. The band got about ten minutes into their set before someone pulled the plug on our power, and one of the club patrons got up on stage and petulantly asked:

"Alright, everyone here, listen up, sweethearts, darlings, because I have an important question. I need all of you angel hearts to weigh in on this one for me, because, really, I want to be fair. I don't want to be a witchy bitch, you know? Now, I don't mean to be blunt, but come on, people, does this band totally suck big time, or what?"

There was a resounding cry of "you suck," and then Stoughton tried to speak to the audience, but was drowned out with loud boos. Someone then switched on the club's sound system, a bunch of pulsating techno music came over the speakers, and the disco and strobe lights started flashing. A cheer went up, and the dance floor immediately filled with boogieing bodies.

We once again gathered up our stuff and left. The club owner felt sorry for us and gave us our agreed-upon fee anyway and kindly remarked that he was sorry it hadn't worked out. I guess that was the high point of the evening.

We departed Cleveland feeling pretty down and made our way towards central Indiana, where we stopped in at two small college-based venues. Here, we played to much smaller crowds, but were received much better, especially by the punk-rock and Goth types. We didn't make any money at those places, but at least we weren't physically abused or thrown off stage.

We then made our way into southern Illinois, where we stopped in at a roadside club and health food store called Russell Sprouts. I didn't expect much from a tiny place like that, but to my surprise, it filled to absolute bursting. There were people lined up outside, struggling to get in.

I found out that the owner of the place, Russell (what else), has a great relationship with the local private college, and is a big fan of avant-garde music. Apparently, he had downloaded all of Admiral Porkliver's Czech tracks before they'd been taken offline, and had been playing their tunes over the store's sound system for months on end. He had contacted the music professors at the college, and they had in turn insisted that their students attend the upcoming show.

After the performance, which Joe Minsk carefully and expertly filmed by using his newly-purchased replacement camera, Stoughton was interviewed by two of the professors, one of whom mentioned that he was planning to incorporate quotes from the interview into an upcoming article that he meant to publish in an academic journal. This did a lot to brighten Stoughton's mood.

Around that time, it was Christmas, and we celebrated on the bus by drinking a bunch of eggnog, eating cookies in the shape of Christmas trees and Santa Claus faces, and singing a few Christmas carols -- in tune, despite Stoughton's objections. We hung out at Russell Sprouts for a few days and welcomed in the New Year there. Then, we headed down to Kentucky.

At that point, I think that the initial enthusiasm for touring had greatly worn off, and there were some objections to continuing on any longer. Several band mates expressed a desire to just go back to Uncle Steve's and take a break for a few weeks. I of course reminded them several times that they were perfectly welcome to stay at Uncle Steve's as long as they might like, but Stoughton thunderously interjected, shouting out that his authority was not to be questioned, and that the tour would go on, like it or not. Thus ended the discussion.

We stopped in at a large barn in a remote rural area. According to the signs posted, it's used for livestock judging competitions on some weekends, and for fiddle-banjo-guitar playing acts on others. We seemed to have arrived during the latter kind of weekend. I saw a bunch of pickup trucks pull up, and almost everyone who got out was wearing a cowboy hat and boots. I had a bad feeling that this would not turn out well, and suggested that Stoughton reconsider, but he was unwilling to listen.

"The show," he pronounced, "has already been booked. We are obligated to fulfill our promise."

"How did you manage to get booked at a place like this? Did you lead them to believe you’re a country act?"

"I was asked if we play country music, and I responded affirmatively."

"Uh, Stoughton, with all due respect, you are no country act, no way!"

"Untrue," he replied. "You shall see that you are quite mistaken."

The band got up onstage, and I must say, their visual appearance was about as un-country as you might imagine. I heard some murmuring in the crowd and watched some muscular-looking cowboy dudes talking amongst themselves and sizing up the band. Some of them had their fists tightly clenched. I very quietly and discreetly began making my way towards the exit door. This time, I reasoned, I would not get roughed up again like I did in Cleveland. Joe saw me, switched off his camera, and decided to join me in my retreat.

Just as Joe and I had made it to the door, the band started to play. Willy had put away his kazoo and was doing the lead vocal for "Your Cheating Heart." All the words were pronounced perfectly and sung in tune with great feeling. If I had closed my eyes, I could have envisioned a tall white cowboy standing there instead of a short underweight man of Asian and African-American background. Stoughton had produced a fiddle, which he played in a solidly traditional manner. The rest of the band accompanied them in the most conventional way imaginable. Not a single note was out of tune.

The cowboys who looked like they were about to crack skulls now gazed up at the stage with big happy grins on their faces, and called over their wives and girlfriends to dance with them. Admiral Porkliver then continued on with a very long set of old-time country music classics, all performed perfectly. I was thoroughly stunned, as was Joe, who filmed it all for posterity.

At the end of the show, the barn owner gruffly thanked Stoughton and paid him his money, but not before sternly admonishing him and his fellow band members to get a haircut and dress more presentably.

Well, we were going to do a few more shows in Kentucky before returning to Bratwurst, but Stoughton suddenly came down with a very high fever, and we were of course all quite concerned. We decided to go straight back to Uncle Steve's, leave the bus at the club, and get Stoughton to the hospital in nearby Duckworth if the fever hadn't improved by then.

When we were about two hours away from home, the bus engine began to make disturbing noises, and black smoke once again started belching out the back. Stoughton cursed the mechanic who had worked on the bus, then faded out of consciousness. I put a damp rag on his forehead and silently prayed that the bus would make it all the way.

The bus actually gave out about a mile from the club, but we luckily managed to pull it off the road and park it in front of an abandoned grocery store. We then called Norm to come and pick up Stoughton, whom he rushed to the hospital. It turned out that he had a septic infection of some kind, and they had to operate on him. So, Norm got him there not a moment too soon.

A few days later, I made arrangements to have two friends with very large pickup trucks use extra-thick ropes to tow the bus to the club and to once again place it in its customary parking spot. I steered the bus while they pulled it.

That pretty much sums up the Magical Mystery Meat Tour. I can't say when Joe will post the video footage to YouTube, but I'll be sure to let you know when it's up there. Stoughton is still recovering from the operation and he is doing quite well now. I asked him if he was ready to proofread my report of the tour, and he just smiled and said, "Go ahead and put up what you have, and if I find any problems, I'll include my comments in a subsequent post." Thanks, Stoughton -- that really means a lot to me.

Well, who knows when Admiral Porkliver will do their next tour, but anyhow, I certainly hope they decide to stick around Uncle Steve's for awhile. You guys are the greatest, I really mean that.

-- Jake Silverman

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"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...