In early 2014 I received an email from someone named Simon Fletcher who--in connection with former Creation Records mogul Alan McGee--was apparently managing the Jesus and Mary Chain now. Was I available to go to South America for a few shows in May? he asked. Yes. I was, I replied. It had been quite some time since our last--and indeed only--show in the summer of 2013 and I was desperately broke and had resorted to working as a street fundraiser.
Our short tour began in Argentina where I met Fletcher and McGee for the first time. They both gushed enthusiastically about the Mary Chain and it seemed as if things were looking up for the band.
I’d been to Buenos Aires before--five years earlier--and had a very strange night out with some friends who had offered to show me around. My pal Mariano had hailed a cab and asked the driver to take us to Bosque del Palmero where we’d spent an uncomfortable fifteen minutes circling some trees under which were gathered dozens of scantily-clad transexual prostitutes, all hoping that we would engage their services in exchange for some American dollars. It seemed that going out for a drive to gawp - nobody appeared to be buying - was just a regular Friday night out for the locals.
After Argentina we went to Chile. I don’t remember much about the show itself but I smoked a joint afterwards for the first time since in many years and had a prolonged schoolboy laughing fit at something Phil King said. I began to think I was going to die laughing at which point paranoia kicked in and I had an anxiety attack. I was relieved to get back to my hotel room and lie down.
Back at the hotel I found myself thinking about the band’s previous visit to South America in 2008, a couple of months after I’d learned I was soon to be a father. We’d performed in Argentina, Brazil, Peru and, most memorably, had opened up for REM in Santiago, Chile on the night Barack Obama was elected as the new President of the USA.
Our set had been greeted enthusiastically but when REM took to the stage the audience went ballistic. They sounded great and it was obvious that they were fired up at the potential of their country electing its first African-American President.
They fired out a few of their big hits and then Michael Stipe took a minute to update the audience on events back home.
“Obama’s just won Illinois!”
The audience erupted into a huge cheer.
The band banged out a couple more tunes.
“Obama’s won Wisconsin!”
There was another enormous cheer.
“Obama’s leading in Virginia!”
By the time the show was coming to an end it was clear that Obama had won and the excitement and optimism in the air was palpable. It felt like a pivotal moment, not just in American history but on a global level. The old order was fading away and a new, fairer society was on its way. (Yeah, right…)
We were invited back to REM’s enclave after the show to party. I grabbed a beer and sat down next to Michael Stipe to listen to Obama’s victory speech. He had tears in his eyes by the end and I couldn’t help but shed a few myself.
Later, Phil and I stood and chatted to Mike Mills and Scott McCaughey about music. Well, they chatted and I listened. Peter Buck came over and the conversation turned to politics as they recalled their childhoods, growing up in segregated Georgia. It was a sobering moment. Though clearly not sobering enough for me, who in a moment of excitement, thinking of my pregnant girlfriend back in New York, enthused “I’m having an American baby!” The conversation came to an abrupt end. Mike Mills punched me more-or-less playfully on the shoulder and said “Well, good to see you again,” before wandering off into a private part of the backstage enclave, leaving me to wonder who he thought I was as we’d never met until just then.
I traveled back to the band hotel with Phil where, after a few nightcaps, we stumbled to the elevator together to retire to our respective rooms for the night. As the elevator doors opened we were surprised to find we were sharing our ride with a couple of shriveled, leather and denim clad rockers.
Phil didn't miss a beat.
“You’re KK Downing and Glenn Tipton.”
"I saw Judas Priest at the Twickenham Winning Post in 1975.”
"You don't look old enough" KK Downing said with a twinkle. "You're just a child."
Phil chuckled in delight.
"He dyes his hair," I said.
It was a bizarre end to an already memorable night.