Monday, April 17, 2017
MUSIC BOOK REVIEW OF THE DAY: EAMON McGRATH - BERLIN-WARSZAWA EXPRESS
No, he won't be doing readings before the rowdy crowds waiting for July Talk. He'll be blasting his normal loud rock with a taste of smarter punk. But the Edmonton native will point out that Berlin-Warszawa Express is being released in May, and that it will tell you about the other side of being a touring musician, life on the road. In this case, it's the road through Europe, largely by train, through Paris, Germany, across the old Iron Curtain and into Poland, plus lots of other stops on the continent.
It gets pretty down and dirty into the realities of touring. The endless travel, the grind of being stuck in small vehicles with bandmates, lugging gear up flights of stairs, sleeping in disgusting band quarters, and the downward spiral of night after night of overindulging. And it's all in the name of creating art.
"That was kind of the whole thematic thread that's been woven through the book," said McGrath, home in Toronto, getting ready for yet another long tour. "This depiction of what it's like to put yourself through hell for the sake of something you're passionate about."
Don't look for scandalous stories about Canadian musicians behaving badly in Europe though. Well, that does happen, but the names are made up and it's not a biography. Rather, it's a fictionalized account, but that allowed him to be much more truthful, because no-one, including himself had to be protected.
"There's a lot of things that are under-exaggerated, and a lot of things that are over-exaggerated, and there's a lot of things that are really true to how it happened, and there's a lot of things that are completely fictionalized," said McGrath. "I make no attempt to hide that, that's the truth of the book, that some of these stories really did happen to me, and some of them happened to someone else. Using fictionalized names is what gives you the license to do that. The minute that you remove that journalistic element from what you're writing, that's when it opens it up for you as a writer to be a little more flexible."
McGrath has toured in Europe several times, and is obviously captivated with it. The book takes place in the mid-2000's, a time when countries in the old Soviet block especially were feeling the full flush of capitalism. McGrath's narrator is taking it in, through train windows, in small bars, from music fans and bartenders, punks and anarchists, all through increasingly blurry eyes as the boozing gets worse. It's Europe on five Euros a drink, and a view tourists never see.
"It was this really optimistic time," McGrath said. "Berliners, people started to have money there, which was this really new thing. Poland wasn't this poor country anymore. Even as a very left wing person, being a Canadian, at that time it would be very difficult to criticize the European Union. Because no matter how left wing you are, from the outside, it seemed to be working."
He tries to tour Europe every year, and has seen dramatic changes since then, especially a rise in nationalism and intolerance, and a loss of some of those freedoms of 10 years ago. Usually this is the stuff that goes into the songs from an articulate, knowledgeable rocker, what informs the music. With Berlin-Warszawa Express, McGrath lets us see everything that happens before and after the show, on a particularly wild stretch of the road.
Here's where you can see Eamon McGrath and July Talk:
April 18 - Fredericton, NB @ Farmer’s Market
April 19 - Charlottetown, NB @ PEI Brewing Company
April 20 - Moncton, NB @ Tide & Boar
April 21 - Halifax, NS @ Marquee Club
April 22 - Halifax, NS @ Marquee Club