Extracts from the book, 'The Anarchist & The Devil Do Cabaret,' by Norman Nawrocki
'I saw myself, held myself, hand to hand
Headless, I, too, walked in this strange new land'
Normally, I'd hide my diary under my bed, hoping no one would dare look. Here, now, I ask you to take a peek. Flip the pages. Read what happens when my bandmates and I decide to inject a bit of imported, Canadian anarcho rock 'n roll into the outstretched arms of Europe.
Live, as 'Rhythm Activism,' we perform high grade political cabaret guaranteed to shake, rattle and question. How? We take the best of traditional European cabaret, combine it with the worst of American TV, throw in cutting-edge and traditional music full of surprises, add some slapstick, costumes and masks and underpin everything with a serious social message. We also get people dancing - from Berlin to New York.
On paper, it's hard to reproduce the energy and stench of four guys playing music as if every show was the last, as if every word, finger or hand movement mattered as much as a heartbeat or a breath. On stage, the real world shrinks and stops. Headaches disappear. Greasy, pre-show, queasy stomach food never happened. If it's not part of the set-list, forget it. That spurt of blood? Keep it in the act. The drooping microphone, the smoking amp, the de-tuned string, the wet, clammy socks, the cables: the damn malfunctioning, cheap, fucking, on sale cables - this world matters. The all-important performance qualities of plastic, rubber, metal, wood, vocal cords, muscle and bone - this is important. A false note hurts.Three hundred pairs of ears might not notice, but yours do. Mess up, and bandmates can be unforgiving. Give more than the night before and maybe no one notices. Because on stage, for the one or two hours of this night, the truth of your vibrating G-string, the delivery, the substance of what we're trying to say, and any gut or heart-driven emotion, counts. Nothing else exists. At least, this is what we convince ourselves to believe.
But the music, the theatre, the urge to perform is only part of this sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious story of one particular European tour as seen through my bloodshot eyes. The rest - the moments in between - have little to do with the world of music, stagecraft and band van lore.
The rest are "urban fairy tales." They talk about Europe's new, multi-racial underclass: the working poor, immigrants, the marginalized young and old who live in the shadows. For them our music, our showmanship, our stab at
helping promote "resistance culture" doesn't matter. Europe loves visiting artists and treats us well. But when has Europe ever been kind to refugees, to the Roma, to migrant workers, to ever-trusting Slavs, to women who work the streets and panhandlers who keep the sidewalks free of cigarette butts and apple cores? In a world of globalized fantasy, these people represent the new scarred face of Europe: uncertain and insecure, filled with growing disenchantment. They reflect an Europe in transition, marked by political and racial tension as East and West, the old and the new, vie for the future while remembering the past.
This book was written between soundchecks, loading and unloading band equipment, and sipping beers. I spent time with dozens of street kids, prostitutes, beggars and the homeless who I met on park benches, in bus depot cafes, and in stinking alleyways behind the clubs we played. Over shared food and drink I listened. These conversations morphed into true stories and tall tales - the reality of people who usually are never listened to. Though I may never see these people again, they could be my neighbours or yours, the woman laid off last week or the guy getting old on that bus stop bench. They could be in the audience on our next tour or on the front page of a newspaper clamouring for Jobs, Food, Peace and Justice.
For this book, I've changed the names and characterizations of band members.
Between the journal entries are letters from an uncle to my father. I thought these letters had disappeared, but they surfaced in time to include here. You see, this was no ordinary band tour. My ailing father asked me to track down news about his brother who he hadn't heard from for years. I said I'd try.
As a band, our music lives on in videos, on CDs and the Web. Occasionally, we'll learn about how our music inspires listeners, turns them into fans and helps reinforce or give birth to their visions of a new, more just and free world. I'd like to think that these stories will also breathe life into different visions, even for just a moment - that moment when truth and fiction, reality and dream blur, when the dreams of strangers, like the dreams of my bandmates, my friends, and you, dear readers, are released, take root and grow. Join me and the Devil and let this cabaret begin. **