Our show for the night was in an abandoned Yugoslavian army base, in a small village on the Croatian - Bosnian border. Many buildings in the nearby villages were heavily pocked with small arms fire, while others had been blown to their foundations by indiscriminate shelling. The destruction was nothing new to us, as this was show number nine on the Balkan leg of our musical tour.
As we pulled off the gravel road leading to a few squat, nearly windowless barracks, our headlights shone on a dozen men dressed in fatigues and huddled close to a fire. The men were drinking moonshine, visibly drunk, not looking friendly. We got out of the van and approached the circle of men to offer up handshakes. They were frying chicken parts over that fire. The meat was bubbling in cooking oil, in a shallow metal garbage can lid that was upturned like a bowl. One of the men pulled away from the fire with two fistfuls of meat. He introduced himself as Nico, the head of our security detail. Nico handed us meat to share amongst ourselves, as this was our dinner for the night.
We were encouraged to huddle close to the fire and drink their moonshine. It was close to freezing that night and the sky was spitting droplets of ice that stung on our faces and exposed hands. Passing the bottle without drinking from it caused a few of the men to laugh at me and make comments in Serbo-Croatian. I never drink alcohol before a show, but that explanation was certainly not going to work with these drunken men. Each time the bottle came my way I falsely tried to explain that I have an ulcer and cannot drink. They would laugh and shove the bottle back against my chest and say “You DRINK”! I put the bottle to my lips and pretended to drink.
The grease covered meat in my hand was half-cooked. I certainly couldn’t disrespect these men and refuse my dinner, so I pretended to eat a few bites and then tossed the meat into the surrounding darkness at a moment of distraction. By the time we were shown the stage area, Eric our driver was trying his best to stay upright. Croatian moonshine and half-cooked chicken warmed him up nicely.
The stage was set up in the camp cafeteria and resembled other squat clubs we’d played in; with dim lighting and filthy couches placed along graffiti covered walls. We were warned not to sit on the couches until someone rousted the rats out from the cushions.
Nico recommended that we stay close to the camp, and perhaps even stay in the dressing room until the local police walked through with their drug-sniffing dogs. The police had not arrived yet, but we were told that they were sure to come by because we were an American band.
US Rock Band Attracts Cops And Drug Sniffing Dogs
The music hall was once the camp cafeteria, and the dressing room was the butchering area of the kitchen. The floors and walls were covered in ceramic tile, making the room seem colder than it already was. A tiny, free standing heater in the corner of the room was tring its best to chase away the chill. Eric sat on it for a second, not knowing that it was hot enough to burn. He was too drunk to notice at first, but jumped up and howeled as his jeans nearly caught fire.
We were given two loaves of bread and a case of beer to drink. I passed on the bread since it had dried up and hardened, as if it had been placed on the grimy table hours prior to our arrival. There was no running water or restrooms in the place, and our bass player had to be driven to a nearby bakery that had agreed to open up just so she could relieve herself. For the rest of the night, she would have to head out into the nearby brush. As the evening progressed, two local bands had managed to warm up the building and the crowd that gathered.
Meanwhile, our little dressing room had become crowded with security guards, a local television crew, a burned out Croatian rock singer, and half a dozen other rock and roll fans that were very eager to party with everyone else. For a brief moment, I felt invisible to the circus that danced and shone all around me. I began to feel at home with all these people and their drunken smiles. I mentioned to my new friend standing next to me that this place was a bit chaotic. He replied, “You are in the heart of anarchy right now, anything goes”.
Finally, it was our turn to play.