This is supposed to be about #146 but it’s not really going to be, it’s going to be about J Church and Germany and 2004.
This is why I flew to Munich on 17 December that year:
Because J Church had had to cancel their Ireland dates while I was recuperating at my parents’ place. Because I wanted to see them before they finished their European tour. Because I wanted to treat myself after six weeks of being housebound. Because the doctor said I was allowed to fly again. Because #128 was going to meet me there.
Also, because 2004 had been amazing. I try again and again to find the words to describe how exhilarated I felt, elated, and I don’t think I’m ever able to sufficiently convey it. But I’d started the year in the depths of despair, going round and round in circles in my relationship with #117, and then it ended and I had to move out and I had no idea how I was going to cope. And then I woke up again to all the possibilities out there, and my opportunities to have adventures and to be creative and to just, you know, enjoy my life again. And then there was the bizarre love triangle and all the partners in crime I met along the way, and by the end of that same year I felt kind of invincible, I’d got my confidence back, I could be nothing but enthusiastic. I know I’ve told this story before. I hate to repeat myself, really; it’s just I have this dumb notion that if I reiterate it enough, maybe other people can feel that intensity for themselves.
So, then we have J Church, who gradually took over from Jawbreaker as my favourite band. It was #145 who originally alerted me to their existence, when he put Sound Of Mariachi Bands on that first mix tape, but it was #115, years later, who introduced me to more of their stuff, and then I wanted it all. J Church’s back catalogue is so extensive I don’t think anybody knows quite how much material there is. And, okay, despite having bluffed my way through it to some extent, I am not really a music writer, so this is where I stumble and wonder how to explain to people what the band means to me, and then I remember that it’s not about assigning labels (though they described themselves as anarcho-syndicalist pop-punk). So, for me, it’s about a sense of humour and a commitment to social issues and an ability to tell a good story and a knack for energetic punk cover songs. Additionally, J Church founder and frontman Lance Hahn was generally known for being an all-around nice guy, smart and funny and always genuine. He died aged forty in 2007, and he’s missed by many.
#128 had to bail on our trip, so it was just me. I didn’t know anybody in Munich. I e-mailed the venue where the gig was taking place, and asked if any of the local punks would be willing to host me. They said yes, and invited me to see the show for free since I was spending so much money to get there.
Nowadays, I think nothing of doing stuff like this. I book trips to wherever I feel like and figure out the accommodation later, usually for free through couchsurfing.org. At the moment I’m updating my blog from Manchester because I was able to get a free lift here, and I just spent nine days in Wales because I was able to get a free lift there too, and basically I have nothing better to do and I like travelling. But back then, it felt like a real challenge to go to Munich by myself with only the vaguest idea of how it was going to work. Plus, I hadn’t been to Germany since I was eighteen, when #20 and I worked in a factory and I bailed on the job and killed time by travelling around the country and feeling kind of weird and mopey. I associated Germany with the sort of melancholy that had hit me around that time, so I wasn’t really in a hurry to go back.
I made notes all that weekend on a KLM sick bag because it was the only thing I had to write on.
My flight got in late and I needed to take a train and then two buses. I didn’t make it in time to the second one; it had just pulled away as I crossed the road, and it looked like there weren’t going to be any more. I didn’t have a phone, a watch, or a map. I figured I’d just walk in the same direction as the bus, and hope for the best.
About twenty minutes later, and shortly after midnight, I arrived at the venue. There was another gig on, my name was on the guest list, and my host, let’s call him, oh, Sam, was working at the bar, so I did a fair bit of standing around awkwardly, but that’s to be expected when you travel. Eventually I found somebody’s bottle of red wine, and I hung out with Sam and his friend until they managed to get rid of everybody at about 5am, and we drove home listening to Samiam. I crawled into a sleeping bag and slept for about five hours, dreaming that I was lost in Spain and was helped out by friendly punks.
When I got up, I hung out in the kitchen for a few hours with Sam and his flatmate who we’ll call, oh, Daniel. We traded stories and laughs, spoke German-English. (Daniel was in fact really, really cute, and the sort of cute boy who seems a little shy and oblivious to how endearing he is. I still wish he could’ve been #146, but he wasn’t.) Then we went into town to get food and drink, paid for out of the venue’s budget, and then we prepared food for ourselves and the band, before I retreated to the office for a while to read zines. That’s when I met #146, who was the person with whom I’d originally made contact, but I was feeling slightly awkward and shy at that point. I recall the band being shown to their accommodation and discovering the biggest spider I’ve ever seen in Europe (or possibly anywhere); there was a mass stampede as #146 courageously removed it from the premises. (“I would’ve trampled on a child to get out of that room,” said Lance.)
The gig itself was not the most amazing gig I’ve ever been to, but I never expected it to be; I was there for all the above reasons. I was so happy to see the band. I had a mental shortlist of songs I hoped they’d play, and they played my top three, kicking off with Bomb. Lance was the only original member, and a couple of encores were demanded, so they played until they couldn’t think of anything else that they all knew.
By now I was heading down a pleasingly drunk route, and I chatted with numerous nice and friendly people, my social awkwardness having been abandoned somewhere along the way. #146 had had a few conversations with me by now. He came over and said he was leaving, and we hugged goodbye, and then we talked some more, and then we hugged goodbye again, at which point I kissed him, because it seemed like a reasonable gamble. I wound up going back to his place with him, which in retrospect was kind of a shame because Sam subsequently got kicked out of a club for setting someone’s ass on fire, and it might have been interesting to witness that. But, you know, #146 was pretty damn hot.
Still, it didn’t really go all that well. He kept taking hits from a bong, which isn’t my thing, especially after the cannabis-infused haze of my relationship with #117. And I found it hard to sleep so close together; I wanted some space, but didn’t know how to express that diplomatically. In the morning, I didn’t know what to say to him, and I couldn’t work it out because we’d had so much to talk about at the gig. Anyway, he needed to get up early for work. He had a radio show which came on right before a religious programme, so he liked to play the most brutal music he could find at the end.
It was snowing and the city was already under a white blanket. #146 gave me some directions. Ten to fifteen minutes’ walk to the bus stop, forty-five minutes on the bus. Without a watch, I translated this into an approximation of how many songs that would be on the mix CD #145 had made me. I got off the bus too early, but eventually recognised the JESUS graffiti in silver spraypaint, without which I’d never have figured out the way to Sam’s place.
I kind of felt a pang when Daniel opened the door, surprised, and asked me where I’d spent the night. There was definitely not going to be scope to make a move on him now, and anyway I needed to just take a shower, grab my backpack, and head for the airport.
So, that was Munich. That was also #146, and J Church, and my last adventure of 2004 (more or less), and how I learned that I didn’t need a partner in crime to have an adventure, and how I made my peace with Germany.
self-portrait, Schipol airport