note: this story is the extended version of an incident touched on in the post “Touring in the US”
I never got into any problems with the police ever until I went to America.
The closest I came to a brush with the law before then was when I was drinking on the street of a holiday town as a teenager. I was walking along the road one night with some acquaintances from a different school when one of them hurriedly passed me a champagne bottle then ran away. “Thanks!” I said at this unexpected gift and started necking it. It was immediately snatched out of my hand by an undercover cop. Four plainclothes police officers were roaming the streets nicking kids who possessed alcohol. The kid who passed the bottle to me had seen them coming, dumped me in the shit, then legged it. The police bailed me and a couple of others up. “Where’d you get the drinks?” they snarled. I was petrified. The other kids weren’t, they were cocksure little bastards. “From our parents” they sneered.
The cops smashed all the bottles in the gutter. “Go home and tell your parents you had a good time.”
That was the extent of my troubles with the law when I was younger. Even when I moved to Melbourne and went to university, I didn’t get into any trouble. I had friends I grew up with and people I knew at university who had real problems with the cops and would call them ‘pigs’ but as far as I could see that was because my friends were caught nicking things, spitting on politicians, or were out drunk and causing trouble so they had it coming. I’m not saying that in Australia there’s no such thing as police harassment, just that I’m yet to meet someone in person who copped hassle and didn’t do something to earn it. I never got in trouble with the police.
Until I went to America, that is.
The first impression I got when I arrived in America was ‘Police State’. You can’t do anything without the police coming along and questioning you. When you’re on tour, both you and your clothes are unwashed and tatty and the company you keep tends to be long-haired and tattooed, so we’d attract police attention all the time. It could be anything from long stares, to low-level questioning (“Where you from? Is that your vehicle? When are you leaving?”), all the way through to outright harassment. Other bands on tour had some amazing stories about their encounters particularly in the southern states, and it seemed like half the people we met had been arrested and jailed at some point. The general vibe is that the police can do whatever they want with you, right or wrong, and it scared me a bit. It reminded me of being at high school and having to keep your head down so you didn’t attract attention from the bullies.
The other thing about the US police was that we couldn’t play the ‘foreigner card’. If anything, they often seemed to hate that we were from another country and would go extra-hard on you. In my experience in other countries if you play up the police sometimes figure you’re just a stupid foreigner and take it easy on you. One time in England I sped through a roundabout and accidentally cut off a police car off at the exit, while driving a car with expired registration. They laughed, told me to calm down, and suggested I see to my rego the next day. An Aussie friend in Japan was driving with a beer in one hand, and said that a cop car pulled up alongside him. The police looked at him sternly, wagged their finger, then drove off.
“YOU’LL NEVER TAKE ME ALIVE, COPPERS!”
Although I can peel off story after story about police in the US, the best story by far is an incident we had with the infamous LAPD. The police in LA have gotten a bit of a bad reputation what with Rodney King, and all that stuff those nasty rappers have to say about them….and I reckon every bit of that reputation is earned. And although we did earn a portion of grief, I believe the retribution we experienced was in excess of our crime. I’ll let you be the judge.
I guess this story starts on the way from San Francisco to LA. We were driving along in the motorhome and our tour manager suddenly went “hmmmm….it’s going to be a long drive, and a long night, AND a long day tomorrow. I think I’m going to smoke some meth”. And with that, he got out a glass pipe, filled it up, and toked away. I had no idea what he was doing. As far as I knew the only drugs you smoked in a glass pipe were crack and DMT. He wasn’t saying “BLING BLING” in a vocoder voice, and he wasn’t talking about intelligent lights and dribbling on himself, so I knew it was something different. He toked his last bit, put the pipe away, and returned his attention on driving. Did I mention he was driving? He was driving. He became intensely focussed on the job at hand and I kept an eye on him for the next few hours. If anything, he seemed more work-minded than his normal self. I approved.
Our lives. His hands. Bono’s sunglasses.
We arrived on Sunset Boulevard in LA which is always a joy for me. The arrival was without incident, except for when someone backed the motorhome into a bollard and pushed the ladder on the back through a rear panel. It let cold air into the motorhome for the next few weeks. We fussed over it but in retrospect it was nothing serious. The motorhome would experience far worse in a week or two’s time, when Luke would drive it straight through a red light in New Orleans and get t-boned by a car. He was playing Sega ‘Mortal Kombat’ while driving and was steering with his knees at the time.
So we were in LA to play the Key Club and I was happy. LA means warm weather, and Sunset Boulevard means civilization, beautiful people, and decent food, things I’d normally have to go without for weeks while on tour. People shit on LA and call the nice parts fake, but I’d rather some insincere nice stuff over real sincere ghetto-horror any day of the week. I got my dose of civilization and went to the Key Club, where the night went tits-up.
Although we were travelling as part of a four-band package, the promoter had added a bunch of local bands on before us. The venue had a strict curfew. Local bands being local bands, they all started late. I’ve got to rant here, sorry, but if you’re a local band opening for a bunch of bands on tour – especially bands from overseas – do everyone a favour: get your shit on the stage on fucking time, stick to your fucking set time, and get your shit straight off afterwards. Don’t start late because your girlfriend hasn’t arrived yet, don’t stretch your set out to include encores, don’t stand around shaking hands and fetching drinks when you’re done. The other bands didn’t travel countless miles just to have their sets cut short because of your local hero bullshit.
You can probably already tell, but we had some Local Hero tossers on before us. If anyone wants to know who they were, find the band on before Berzerker at the Key Club in LA in november 2002. I’d look them up myself but I care about them so little that I can’t be arsed, not even for this story. I shall refer to them as Local Hero Wankerband. They started late, had stressy rockstar fits about their sound, soundchecked way past their start time until they felt ready, played…and then did encores.
Normally a stage manager, the tour’s manager, or our own tour manager would storm the stage, unplug them, and kick them off. I remember an awesome night on the Nile/Napalm Death/SYL tour where the promoter inserted a local band into the lineup against contract and then threatened to pull the entire gig if they weren’t allowed to play. Poor local band. They were marched onto stage early by all the tour managers, and for their entire twenty-minute show every single roadie, techie, and tour manager stood on the side of the stage just staring at them furiously. At the end of the set the singer yelled out to the crowd “DO YOU WANT TO HEAR ANOTHER – oh”…they had already been unplugged. Everyone on the tour was snarling viciously at them “get-off get-off get-off”. They were all but shoved off the stage. The tour manager Boz made a note of the band’s name to ensure that they would never be booked again for anything, ever.
No-one came to our rescue that night in the Key Club. The stage manager did not rise to the occasion. Woody – the tour’s manager – hated us because we were foreigners and didn’t lift a finger to help. I think he actually said to us, sorry, but you can only play thirteen minutes tonight. There’s nothing I can do. Our own manager was off in a meth frenzy, chatting up a chick called April whose twin professions were ‘porn-star’ and ‘death-metal vocalist’. When we got onstage, we were given thirteen minutes to play and that was even without openers Origin making it to the gig. They were stuck in San Francisco for van repairs.
We played, and I broke a string in the first song. There was no time to fix it. I spent the remainder of the gig trying to transpose songs onto the other strings on the fly at 300bpm. Fortunately I was on bass, so people probably couldn’t hear what I was playing anyway. I put a foot on one of the foldback monitors which was super-light and weighted forward, and nearly fell into the crowd. Everyone had a bad gig with multiple mistakes. We got off after our thirteen minutes rather dispirited. Local Hero Wankerband had already polished off a lot of the drinks rider and were proudly telling everyone how they blew us away.
One good thing about the masks was that although everyone could hear me scream, no-one could see me sob
I went to the merch stand, hating everything as I usually do. Luke went out to the motorhome to have an argument with the booking agent Finberg and Woody. Woody was making us pay the opening band Origin $100 a week to use their backline despite our contracts stating that we could use the headline band’s backline for free. Finberg hung Woody out to dry in front of Luke – “What are you making them do that for?!” – but by then it was too late. We weren’t getting refunds from Origin, they were as broke as everyone else, and it was near the end of tour anyway. I sometimes wonder what happened to Woody. That was his first tour as a tour manager. He used to be a cop. He was a total dick, and I hope he’s mopping bathroom floors at truck stops with his tongue for nickels, that big pasty-faced bitch.
The gig finished. The promoter was looking for our tour manager so he could pay him the show fee. Someone pointed our tour manager out, the promoter tapped him on the shoulder and said “I’ve got your money here”. Our manager spun around and shrieked “DID YOU JUST CALL ME AN ASSHOLE?” He was tweaking a bit. I’m surprised we got paid that night.
We packed up and loaded into the motorhome, defeated. It was a windy night. April was with us. Our tour manager drove us back to her flat on Venice Beach with the intention of hanging out with her to par-tay for the rest of the night. I fell asleep before we even got there.
I woke up twice the next morning. Matt opened the door of the motorhome. I could see the beach outside, the lovely sand and water. It was a beautiful day and no-one was about. Matt went for a walk. I fell asleep again, thinking this’ll be great. I’ll get a bit more sleep, then go for a swim and get some sun. Then I might go get coffee and a taco somewhere, enjoy myself a bit.
The second time I woke up was because I could hear someone knocking on the windshield. They were knocking insistently. I waited to see if anyone else in the motorhome would respond. It appeared not. I pulled back the windshield curtain. The knocker was an angry cop. There were police cars outside and more angry cops and flashing lights. There were also many angry business owners and residents. Angry windshield-knocker cop uttered the cliché American-Cop phrase “Get Out Of Your Vehicle! Get Out Of Your Vehicle Now!” If I was french, I’d be like c’est pas bien! But I’m not, so I was like oh-shit-what-now and I got out.
It appeared our glorious tour manager had parked the motorhome in a ‘No Standing – business loading’ zone. None of the local cafes could load their stock in and they were standing around on the sidewalk pissed. Additionally, he had left the generator running and the noise had woken the entire block so all the residents were pissed too. Now I was left on my own to deal with the fallout. I was pissed.
KnockerCop barked. “Are you the owner of this vehicle?”
Well, there’s many ways of looking at that. Sure my name was listed as one of the renters, due to me being the only member of the band with his shit together enough to have his own credit card. But I was renting it, not owning it. And I wasn’t listed as a driver. And besides, the tour manager had been driving and everything was his fault, and no-one hands me the champagne bottle and does a fucking runner. Not anymore.
“No sir. But I know who is, and I’ll get him now”
“GET HIM NOW” yelled the cop, as if I hadn’t just offered to do that.
There was one phone in the motorhome and the tour manager had left his contact number. I took great delight in calling him and handballing the entire mess over to him. The phone rang and rang and rang. I had no idea what to do if he didn’t answer. Finally he picked up. I told him what the situation was and told him to get his ass down here immediately. He let loose with a long anguished howl – “NOOOOOOOOOOOO! I’m just about to put my dick in her!!!!”
I’ve never taken such delight in cock-blocking someone.
So the tour manager came downstairs and was promptly slapped with a $60 fine. The police yelled at him for a bit and told us to move on. Could we wait for Matt? He had gone for a walk, we didn’t know where he was, he didn’t have a phone, he wasn’t from this country. NO! said the cops. GET OUT OF HERE NOW! We jumped back in the motorhome and started it up. The road we were parked on was actually a cul-de-sac. At the end of it was the boardwalk then the beach. I looked behind us. The road was blocked with police cars. I asked the cops if they could move so we could get out. The KnockerCop said “No. Drive straight ahead. Turn right onto the boardwalk. Drive down to the next street, and leave from there”.
I was kind of doubtful. There were big signs saying “No Driving On the Boardwalk”. But it was a policeman telling us, so off we went. We drove forward and turned right onto the boardwalk. A cop car was parked there, blocking the way. They had been waiting for us. Their light flashed. One of them got out and screamed at us “PULL OVER!”
They immediately gave our tour manager a $100 fine for driving on the boardwalk.
“This is bullshit!” he cried. “Those cops back there told us to come down this way!”
“What cops?” the policeman smirked.
I got out and walked back to the road. CockKnocker and the other cops were gone and the road was already empty. Some of the business owners were still there, laughing at us. They’d known the set-up was happening. I marched back to the motorhome, shaking my head.
“I told you to stay off the boardwalk…”
The cop kept yelling at the tour manager. The cop demanded the motorhome insurance. We got it out of the glovebox. One of us had the foresight to quietly remove the top page and keep the carbon copy hidden. We gave it to the cop, who went back to his car. The tour manager was fuming. “I better get some money from you guys to cover these fines!” I just stared at him in disbelief. I would like a day on this piece-of-shit tour, went the conversation in my head, where I get to enjoy myself and not get dragged from drama to fucking drama, especially by a meth-addled tour manager who can’t park for shit running after his dick. After five minutes, the cop returned.
“Here’s your ticket” he said, handing the fine over. He brandished the insurance. “And I’m keeping this.”
“That’s our car insurance” I pointed out. “We need that. We paid for it, we need it to drive.”
“WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” screamed the cop, getting in my face.
“Sam Bean” I said. I no longer gave a shit. I’d had enough.
“DO YOU HAVE A PASSPORT?” this pig hollered. I had finally reached the stage where it seemed appropriate enough to use the term.
“Yes”. I had it in my coat pocket. I displayed it.
The cop snatched it out of my hand and leafed through, then held it up. “I’m keeping this.”
Rule 1 of travel: Never give up your passport, even to police. Or depending on where you are, especially to police.
“What!” I said.
“I’m keeping this, you can pick it up at the station tomorrow.”
Tomorrow we’d be racing from LA to San Diego for the next show. I snatched the passport back out of his hand.
“GIVE THAT BACK NOW” yelled the cop.
“Get this straight” I said. “I am on a tour. I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where your station is. I don’t know where I’m playing tonight. We have to be gone in the morning, and I don’t have time to arse around picking my passport up off you. You do not have permission to take it, and you have no cause to take it. I AM ON TOUR. If you want this passport, arrest me. Then my next call will be to the Australian embassy, who will want to know what you’re doing taking passports off Australians and arresting them for trying to hold onto their vehicle insurance. Are you going to arrest me?”
As it turned out, no.
The police left after a bit more chat with the tour manager. We drove down the boardwalk, turned right,and drove aimlessly through the streets. We were a bit shellshocked. We just kept turning random corners and driving and trying not to break any laws. Luke and Gary, who had been fast asleep in the back the entire time, started waking up. Twenty minutes later by some random fluke, by some unutterable MIRACLE, we saw Matt walking down the road.
He had been at a cafe having a coffee, and when he got back to where the motorhome was parked to find it gone, he just went walking through the streets thinking that we might turn up at some point. He didn’t have a mobile or anything. I remember asking him what he would have done if we hadn’t found him. He said he was going to give us another hour or two, then go into a business and ask to use their phone, try to find the number for Earache, and tell them to call us and tell us where he was. Or get them to call and pay for a taxi to that night’s show.
It’s hard these days to really convey how incredibly lucky it was for us to find Matt. Today everyone has a smartphone, everyone has GPS, but we didn’t. Matt didn’t. We had no idea where the hell we were, or where the hell he was. There was a reasonable chance that if we hadn’t stumbled across him in the street that we may have lost him for the rest of the tour.
“…pretty sure they were parked around here somewhere…”
The show that night was better. It was at the Galaxy Theatre, a glorious place. Our tour manager was a little dented though, and suffered an almighty comedown that lasted a few days. He was still distraught over getting fined, and not getting to sleep with April.
Once a week during the last year of high school my year group and I would sit in an auditorium and have a different speaker talk to us. We had a few notables; the late Campbell McComas gave us a speech in disguise, pretending to be a Harvard Professor. He fooled every last person in the building right up to when he removed his wig and switched back to an Australian accent. We also had rock legend Nick Seymour from Hunters and Collectors come in and give us a talk about the music industry. But to my mind the most memorable and valuable speech was given to us by my old House Master, and it was the very last speech we received before we graduated.
He said that before we got sent out into the big wide world, he needed to give us a talk about police and how to handle ourselves. In retrospect, I had completely disregarded most of his advice when I was in LA. He said to make sure that you don’t do anything wrong. If you were caught, then co-operate. Whatever you do, don’t argue with police. Stand up for yourself but do it politely. If the police are being unreasonable or it looks like you’re going to get roughed up, don’t fight back – you’ll only make things worse. Save disputes and fighting back for legal channels afterwards. All of it was good advice, and it has kept my life trouble-free for the most part.
And the House Master who gave the speech? Last I heard, he’s in jail.
postscript: this link added…just because
update 30/04/13: holy zeitgeist! – Tucker Max giving tips on dealing with police