Sunday, February 28, 2010

I'll Take Sweden...

-The Fleshtones present Stockholm Super Rock Weekend, February 12-13, 2010

"I'll Take Sweden -Ja Ja Ja" -Frankie Avalon, 1965

02/11/10 morning
Peter Ingvarsson met us at Arlanda Airport to drive us into town -snow-covered countryside, pine trees, congealing suburbs and then we're in the middle of it all -Stockholm the splendid, Stockholm the icy beautiful, it's golden-topped 17th and 18th century spires and palaces arrayed, Canada-like, across rocky islets and narrow inlets -one of Europe's most gorgeous cities. However I'm having trouble figuring out my new Olympus Fe46 pocket camera. I'll cover for the total lack of pictures by declaring that no photo could do the scene justice.
My internal jukebox was on continuous loop -selection: the theme to 'I'll Take Sweden' the 1965 Bob Hope/Tuesday Weld/Frankie Avalon romp -naturally filmed mostly amid the ersatz Scandinavian splendor of Arrowhead Lake, California (the kind of Hollywood shoddiness that infuriated me as a kid, but I now find reassuring. Besides what's the use of actually going all the way to Sweden when you can drive from Hollywood to Arrowhead Lake in a hour? They weren't exactly working on another '7th Seal' -in the end a good thing. Bergman's black comedy is widely misunderstood and thus over-rated. I've always preferred 'The Virgin Spring'). Avalon always did seem like an odd candidate to ship off to a celluloid Sweden, but the studio was casting about for new horizons for our beach-movie veteran (that in itself an odd juxtaposition -the diminutive Philly-born teen idol somehow coming to represent the sunny blondness of the southern Cali surf-scene) as well as for Hope. Hope does better, at least conceptually, in his next feature foray, when he gets to team up with Phillis Diller. Frankie had to wait until 1966 to beat the shit out of his perennial antagonist, the great Harvey Lembeck, when Avalon's roles took a dramatic (and ludicrous) turn in 'Fireball'. If you don't count Avalon, director Frank De Cordova didn't even take the trouble to 'Swede up' the cast of 'I'll Take Sweden' with conscripts from Hollywood's stock of professional Scandinavians. Greta Garbo had long since fled into seclusion. Too bad Warner Oland, the fine Swedish actor who had found fame via his uncanny portrayal of Charlie Chan on the silver screen (back then everyone knew that you couldn't cast actual Chinese actors to play themselves on screen -they just weren't believable) had died back in 1938. Today that wouldn't be a problem -just think of the spate of living /posthumous team-ups -recording duets with ghoulish videos to match. But who, in this day and age, would venture the financial backing necessary to digitally add Oland to 'I'll Take Sweden', and to what ends? 'Authenticity'? You'd think there'd be at least a few billion for that very purpose buried somewhere in last year's 'stimulus' package, but like a lot else we'll probably never know. The wonders that God, and Hollywood, hath wrought. Here I was walking the same slushy cobblestones that Frankie Avalon would have walked, if only he made it any closer to Stockholm than the studio back-lots that United Artists had rented out for the filming in LA. Imagine that. No, I actually wasn't imagining that, but like I said, Frankie's recording of 'I'll Take Sweden' was bouncing around in my head -"ja -ja -ja".

Hotel Anno 1647: The Netherlands Embassy in the background

Shooting across numerous bridges, then thorough tunnels bored through the dark bedrock of the islands, we soon we arrived at our hotel. Contrary to what I've said about Scandinavian hotels being short on charm, Hotel Anno 1647 ( serves it up in spades. This 'boutique property' had caught my eye on my previous walks through Stockholm's old districts. Tucked down a narrow side-street right off of the busy Gotgaten, the 'Anno' is conveniently located near the Slussen Metro and within steps of The Netherlands embassy. Too bad I'm not Dutch. My passport is running out of space and I thought that it would be easier to have pages added to it at an American Embassy in a foreign capital rather than mailing it in and waiting weeks back in The States. I should have made my move in quiet Oslo. So instead of taking my cue from Bill Milhizer and visiting the (very interesting) Nobel Museum (yes, the gift-shop does sell dynamite-shaped licorice sticks) or even the City Of Stockholm Museum right next door, I figured I'd trek over to the other side of the city (lots of water in between) and avail myself of our country's crack diplomatic service. The Nobel Museum might have been more enticing if they had jazzed up the exhibit with life-sized wax figures of some of the prize's extraordinary recipients -say Al Gore or Bill Clinton. The desk clerk at Anno 1647 connected me to the American Embassy, or move specifically, their computerized telephone obstacle course. I finally gleaned that the passport services branch was open Mon, Wed, and Thursdays: hours (I think) 9:30AM to 2:30PM. The recording also teases callers with the possibility of reaching a real human being, rattling off another number and stating the hours when someone would actually answer the phone -being those same days (or was it only Monday and Wednesday?) from 1PM to 2PM. It was worth the call just to know that. I wasn't going to waste the afternoon, plus Skr40 each way for the ferry (not to mention a long walk on icy un-shoveled sidewalks) to be turned away by my own Embassy. Anyway, Anno 1647 is an extremely pleasant place to be awarded a bit of down time. There's a nice sidewalk cafe (summers!), you can catch a bit of 'Larry King Live' on CNN (Larry's focus was on Bill Clinton and his emergency heart surgery of the previous day -although he did not have Clinton on as a guest, he did interview a surgeon who sounded remarkably like the ex-president) and enjoy a Scandinavian-style breakfast buffet each morning while silent newsreel images of everyday life in Stockholm from the 50's go by on a large screen. As it is with most centuries-old urban structures, the hotel's guest rooms are quite tiny. You can say this does 'concentrate' the charm factor, but they are still tiny (we had to utilize a 'murphy bed' in our room). I could picture the rooms housing delegations of Lapps to the Royal Court in olden times.

That evening, we headed over to the rehearsal space of weekend co-hosts 'Stupidity' ( who would be lending us their back-line for the show as well, thanks guys -and gal! We don't often need to rehearse (we've been playing since 1976) but we did need to go over the songs we'd be doing on Saturday's 'horn night' with Magus, Stupidity's veteran tenor sax man and Tony, a young but enthusiastic trumpet player. Although an important part of our 'act' for many years, we haven't played with a brass section in over a decade (or more). It was fun to be able to play a lot of these songs again at full strength.

The Pelikan.
Although the posters graciously credited The Fleshtones with presenting Stockholm's first Super Rock Weekend, the whole affair was the brainchild and hard work of Peter Ingvarsson of ConnectPR ( Since the venue was going to provide us with dinner on the next two nights when we'd be performing, tonight Peter was going to take us to the 'Pelikan' ( for some old-fashioned Swedish home-cooking. Occupying a succession of locations since the 1600's, the Pelikan settled into a bastion-like structure in the heart of the 'Sodermalm' district at the previous turn of the century. There's a large, hall-like 'jugend' style dining room with soaring 18 foot-high ceilings, while the adjacent bar/lounge offers a more contemporary ambience with dark blue walls and the soft glow of crystal chandeliers. Stuck to the dining room ceiling amid the paintings of frolicking monkeys there's a king of hearts. How the card got there is the subject of much conjecture, but it's been there a very long time. We conjectured over what to order: herring? -manditory, and the best excuse to drink aquavit; grilled arctic char with 'creamed cépe' -SKr218; thin-sliced, 12-hour-roasted elk with pickled chantarelles and potato au gratin -SKr232 or other typically Scandinavian fare. Peter 'I' ordered meatballs -always a wise choice. I always go for the most basic dish of all, 'pyttipanna' -SKr140 -a hearty, one-skillet dose of meat, potatoes and onions topped with a fried egg. Mix in the accompanying beets and you've got our red-flannel hash. Of course, you could always have the lasagna -Skr198. Too bad no one had room for the cloudberry parfait in waffle-cone -SKr88 for dessert. My notes recorded that there was a 'good wine list' and of course lots of aquavit, although the stylish crowd in the lounge will have none of that.
Afterward, we hit some nightspots for some last-minute 'spreading the word' about the impending Super Rock Weekend. First, we took an elevator up to the glass-walled Och Himlen Dantill ( an ultra-contemporary, glass-walled bar with panoramic views from the 25th floor of one of the city's tallest buildings; then nightcap(s) at former biker bar -the highly aromatic Broderna Olssons (Olsson Brothers) -'a kitchen full of garlic & a bar loaded with 101 shots' ( As much as I love garlic, I steered clear of the infused shots.

You can always learn something new.

Kagelbanan Mosebacke & Sonda Teatern, Stockholm.

Peter had decided upon an unusual venue for The Super Rock Weekend -the 'Kagelbanen Mosebacke' -a classic example of cast-iron architecture that's chiseled into a stone hillside underneath (and is part of) the old Sodra Theatre complex ( The next day, after a lengthy but painless sound-check, we climbed a snowy iron staircase to the upper terrace, then up some more narrow flights of stairs in the main theatre building to the 'Mosebeacke establissement' ( -a 'cabaré' and intimate dining room with fantastic harbor/city views. The walls in the bar were covered with 8X10's of the stars of Swedish stage and screen that have, and continue to, perform here. The club also hosts various music and dance events like 'Studio Blacknuss Night'. On the small stage they were setting up for a 'punk' show -but we would have other fish to fry that night. We did have time for a cocktail. There amid the rows of small bottles of mixers behind the bar, I spotted something called 'Russian Water'. Noticing me curiously eyeing the bottle, the smartly turned-out bartender obligingly opened one for me (good bartender!) to sample. Hmmm, faintly pear and perhaps quinine flavored -and clear, like tonic water. Later, I found out the the Schweppes version is pink. The bartender explained it was an essential component of a 'Vodka Russian', a standard drink everywhere in Scandinavia. How that fact escaped me in our many trips to this part of the world is beyond me. Naturally, I tried one. Then it was time for The Super Rock Weekend to get underway.

Swedish rock & roll paragons The Nomads receive the Super Rock 'lifetime achivement' Award. photo: Vibeke Saugestad

A lot happened. Besides The Fleshtones and Stupidity playing both nights, Friday included performances by Kilroy and 'action rock' progenitors 'The Nomads'. History of sorts was made on stage when we presented The Nomads with the (over 1kg of solid brass) Super Rock Life-time Achivement Award -the only other band besides ourselves ever to be so honored. The event was duly noted in the morning papers (actually, Caroline Andersen and Morten Henrikssen had purchased the award from the guys at the dump in Moss for NKr100 on the condition that we use it to convince The Nomads to play the House Of Rock -which I hope we did). Magnus Carlson of The Weeping Willows joined us for 'Girl From Baltimore' and 'Screaming Skull'.

The Cocktail Slippers: Off-stage...

...and on.

Alhambra kicked off Saturday night's action, The Cocktail Slippers popped over from Norway and we backed Karin Wistland of 80's Swedish rock sensation 'Lolita Pop' on 'Born To Be Wild' as well as Eddie Cochran's ever appropriate 'Come On Everybody' (the first time we'd ever played either song). Between 'sets' DJs Robert Johnson of The Punchdrunks and Måns Månsson of The Maggots kept the music coming, assisted by Brock from Copenhagen's Mau Mau Club. There were even screenings of Geoffrey Barbier's Fleshtones documentary 'Pardon Us For Living'. Again, thanks to Peter Ingvarsson, and a lot of others including ticket-holders who came from as far away as Italy and yes, even Britain. I was worried about 'over-exposure', but even the Saturday matinee to benefit the international foundation 'Fountain House' was a blast -check out their good work on their website (www.fountainhouse) and help them out if you can.

Good Guys Don't Wear White: Keith Streng guests with Stupidity -photo: Vibeke Saugestad.

Now I'm looking out my window back in Greenpoint. By God, it's snowing -again. This weekend we'll be heading up to Lakeville, CT to celebrate our son Sergei's birthday with a few of his friends. He's turning teenager. I'll never forget the dread that that word struck me with when I was a little kid -'teenager...'
The Fleshtones will be touring (France plus) starting next week with the fabulous Bellrays. Here's where we'll be:

Fri March 5 St Nazaire, France -L'Escale
Sat March 6 La Rochelle, France -MJC
Sun March 7 France Bergerac, France -Roxanne
Mon March 8 Lyon, France -CCO
Tues March 9 Marseille, France - Cabaret Sauvage
Wed March 10 Dijon, France -La Vapeur
Thu March 11 Reims, France -La Cartonnerie
Fri March 12 Calais, France -Salle Gerard Philippe
Sat March 13 St. Germain en Laye, France -La Clef
Sun March 14 Ghent, Belgium  -Domocrazy
Mon March 15 Hamburg, Germany -Hafenklang
Wed March 17 Eindhoven, The Netherlands -Effeenar

Hope you can make it!
-Peter Zaremba