Monday, October 24, 2011

tour diary #6 - glenrothes

October 21, 2011

Up before the sun for a radio interview about the show.  A car picks me up outside, drives me through the empty, pre-dawn streets and drops me off at BBC Scotland. The guy at the front desk is not expecting me or anyone else this early, he’s got the television on watching some military history program about the invasion of Panama.  He makes some calls, offers me coffee and I sip and wait.

My story checks out so my man ushers me into a small, padded room with a microphone and a set of earphones.  Turns out the show is coming out of Glasgow and I’m doing a remote, so I sit alone and listen to a Libyan-born Scotswoman talking about the death of Gaddafi.  She does the weird modern shuffle/dance around the death of a villain, “We’re all very excited and happy, not that we take joy in someone’s death, but it’s a good day.”  Why do we all need to do this these days?  I was happy to hear that Bin Laden was dead.  Simple, straightforward, glad he was gone.  Son-of-a-bitch killed 3000 people a mile and a half from where I sleep.  No moral ambiguity there.

I’m on and the hosts are well-prepared, they obviously have the press release open in front of them, so it’s an easy five minute back and forth banter and I’m done.  A car is waiting outside and I’m back home, slip into the flat just before 8:00, everyone still asleep so I sit in the kitchen alone, thrumming with too much caffeine too early, too jazzed to get back in bed, too tired to get anything done. 
The van picks us up out front at 11:00, we pile in and head east out of Edinburgh, over the magnificent Forth Road Bridge and into the kingdom of Fife, heading for Glenrothes.

Fife was one of the old Pictish kingdoms of Scotland, a peninsula bordered between the Firth of Tay above and the Firth of Forth below, both flowing east into the great North Sea.  St. Andrews is here, so here is where golf was born, as well as Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull frontman and hero of my youth. Also poor Gordon Brown, by all local accounts a good man corrupted by compromise and forever in the shade of the silver-tongued Blair.

We turn off the motorway and are immediately trapped in the sprawl, a feeling joltingly familiar to anyone who has driven in America.  We crawl through a town drawn by a child but robbed of the crayon’s color and any native charm.  Boxlike buildings, all stark rectangles and squares, randomly placed on a flat landscape under a paper-white sky.  We could be in Dayton, Ohio, Florissant, Missouri, Denton, Texas, any town in the great American in-between.

Glenrothes is one of the “new cities” created by governmental decree in Scotland after World War II and like all good-intentioned projects of grand social engineering, it‘s a grim, soul-freezing horror. The only thing that sets it apart from the other new cities is that, unique in the UK, the majority of the town’s center is indoors.

This turns out to be as scary as it sounds. 

We’re playing the Glenrothes Halls, which is part of the enormous shopping mall/entertainment complex/hive that hunkers squatly in the middle of the non-town.   The kids cluster by the entranceways, woolen hats pulled down low, kicking distractedly at skateboards, smoking unconvincingly, bored. Riot fodder if they could only be bothered.

We unload, set up and then head into the complex looking for lunch.  It’s an endless, bright corridor of shops and the Glenrothians are crawling over every square foot of it.  We find a Greggs, buy pre-packaged sandwiches and fight our way back upstream to the performance hall.  There’s a certain uniform pallor to the people in the mall, faces leached of all color, bad skin, tired eyes and I get a flash of Mole People dread or lunar colony hopelessness.  We run some lines in the dressing-room and then try to catch a nap before the show.  There’s no couch, so Nancy and I lay out coats and sweaters and huddle together on the thinly carpeted cement floor under the bright fluorescent lights, which are controlled by some master switch deep in the bowels of the Hive, no way to turn them off.  Miraculously, I sleep.

Up and down to the space for a sound check, warm-up and then our audience trickles in.  The show starts and the days off show a little bit, you can see the performers a half-step behind in some bits but it’s a solid show.  It’s our most deeply divided audience yet, some people laughing hard early, others shrinking into sullen silence.  The Shit-Grubbers section, which kicks off the second half and is on one level just an exercise in pure juvenile profanity, serves as a clear line drawn in the sand.  Sections of the audience are whooping and giggling helplessly while an arctic chill grows around them.  Catherine and Nancy bring it home at the end, their confidence growing throughout the show and the applause is strong and earned.

We break it all down, load up the van and drive the hell out of Glenrothes.

I feel for the Mole People of Fife and I’m grateful that I can just drive away from the Hive.

May god bless you all, but you live in a right shite-hole.

No comments: