Yesterday morning, we got on a tour bus to Litchfield State Park, a two-hour drive outside of Darwin. Generally speaking, these tours are populated by elderly couples or families like ours. People, in other words, who are not especially cool, hip, famous or exceptional, just normal, everyday people.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the tour bus stopped in front of one of the showier hotels in Darwin’s central business district and five guys with varying degrees of long and modish haircuts, rakish straw hats and skinny jeans climbed aboard.
I knew that there was a rock and roll festival in Darwin this week, so after we all settled in, I turned the fellow next to me and asked if they were in for the festival. “Yeah, we’re playing tomorrow night. We’re Kid Congo Powers and the Pink Monkey Birds.”
That name didn’t mean anything to me, but we kept talking. The gentleman I was talking with was Kid Congo Powers. He looked to be about my age. The other guys were a bit younger, probably in their mid-30s. Kid Congo looked vaguely familiar to me, but I couldn’t place him in time or space. We talked a little about new music—he told me about the new Lucinda Williams album that he was fond of—and then I asked him about about his music and his career. He mentioned that he got his start in Berlin in the 1980s.
Berlin plays a special and, in many ways, unheralded role in rock and roll history. The city inspired Bowie’s three most important albums–Low (1977), Heroes (1977) and Lodger (1979). In fact, rock and roll critics often refer to those three albums as Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. I’m not sure about Nick Cave’s motivation for migrating from Melbourne to Berlin in the 80s, but I can’t imagine that he didn’t have Bowie in mind or that he wasn’t following Bowie’s muse. In Berlin, Nick Cave formed the Birthday Party, a short-lived, but influential band and, then, the Bad Seeds, a collective that he still holds together in various forms.
Knowing all this, I said to Kid Congo, “Oh, so you were there when Nick Cave was in Berlin,” to which he replied, “Oh, yeah, I was the guitar player for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in the late 80s.”
There was a moment there, when everything just kind of stopped. If you know me even a little bit, you what rock and roll in general and Nick Cave, more specifically, means to me. Here’s a post I wrote a few years ago, for instance:
I looked Kid Congo full in the face, offered him my hand and said, “I’m so happy to meet you.”
Kid Congo and I chatted on and off on the ride up to Litchfield and then on the way back. He came up through the Los Angeles punk scene in the 70s and 80s, found himself in Europe and then back in the States. Through all that he’s managed to build and hold together a 30-year career in rock and roll, and he’s currently working on a memoir that tracks through his early days in music. I’m hoping that we can bring him to Regis for a reading and a performance.
Here’s me and Kid Congo outside our tour bus:
The rest of the band was sitting close by and as the day went on I had a chance to chat with the other band members. Rob, the drummer, has a tattoo parlor and a writer’s retreat in Lawrence, Kansas. Jesse,one of the guitar players, lives in Washington, DC and teaches music. Shaun, the manager from Melbourne has his own rock and roll outfit.
They all proved to be excellent tour bus companions and I filled up a page of my notebook with new bands to listen to.