Read An Excerpt From Quintron’s Book About Life on the Tour Autobahn
The New Orleans organist's new book includes cops, truckstop sex workers, and American history.
Illustrations by Miss Pussycat
Quintron is a nightclub organist and inventor who operates Spellcaster Lodge, a New Orleans electronics repair shop/recording studio. Along with his musical and life partner, Miss Pussycat and her puppet performance, and his self-made Drum Buddy (an analog rhythm machine) they put on a wild show. I caught them once in Melbourne alongside the Ooga Boogas and Super Wild Horses. Things got mad. There was a lot of dancing, yelling and general spectacle. At one point it was as if Lightening Bolt had commandeered a Mardi Gras float.
After ten albums and countless tours, Quintron has stepped into the world of writing with Europa My Mirror, a new book published by Goner, the legendary Memphis label and record store. Inspired by a notorious series of Facebook posts that prompted readers to urge Quintron to write a book, the story is a chronicle of Quintron's last European tour. Accompanied by Miss Pussycat's illustrations, the book gives the reader a front seat view of life on the touring autobahn. Read an excerpt below.
TRUCK STOP PROSTITUTE
I have never been with a truck stop prostitute, but they are a regular fixture outside our van windshield.
In the states, you can identify them by the tight, dirty sweatpants, leopard-print slippers, and quick, methy hair-flip walk. In Spain (now sadly in the rear view), you can identify them by the bulky yellow reflective vests they are required by law to wear when hooking on the highway ramps. Safety first? I can only assume that this regulation dress code was issued in response to a bloody tragedy or two, or maybe it's some kind of socialist attempt to level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots in the tits and ass department.
When I took one of those aptitude tests they give you in highschool, I got "florist," but I always wanted to be a truck driver. Seriously…even as a little kid, we would go around the family dinner table discussing our hopes and dreams: "I want to adopt twin baby monkeys and teach them to speak Español!" my sister would say. "I want to be a lawyer for a large yet honorable law firm that allows me time off to play the cello!!" my brother would say. Me? Truck. Fuckin’. Driver. I'm sure my dad was thrilled.
I actually tried to get my CDL three separate times, but failed each test because I couldn't go backwards.
“Musician” ended up being the card I was dealt, but I'm pretty sure that when they log your total miles at heaven's gate, Miss P and I will have ninety percent of the legit eighteen-wheeler dudes beat. Today we did twelve hours. Tomorrow, I think it's eight or nine.
It's not all bad. We don't pee in cups or eat our own shoes like Mike Watt. We're not that hardcore. We take glorious thirty-minute "travel plaza" breaks to buy knives (why are there always knives for sale at truck stops?) and budget DVDs. We sometimes eat actual food while sitting at a wooden table. If we pass a twelfth-century cathedral that has on display the decaying shroud of Mother Mary Magdalene (Europe's equivalent to "The Thing" off the AZ I-10), then of course we are gonna stop and check it out. You only live once.
At about 1 a.m. this morning, en route to an automated Ibis Motel in Marseilles, we took a wrong turn off the highway and ended up at one of the thousands of random security checkpoints now set up in France. One thing that separates touring bands from the big-rig haulers is that truckers breeze through every checkpoint and border crossing in vehicles that could easily contain a nuclear warhead, but the puppeteer and the organ player are stopped and questioned for hours and hours about work papers, drugs, and random historical figures. This is nothing new to us, but it's always scary.
A couple Euro tours ago, we were stopped for a routine mega-grilling in Paris. Two cops in black pigskin gloves are tearing apart the van looking for anything, just being complete assholes.
Suddenly, one of them turns to me and asks, "Do you know the writer Albert Camus?"
Every precocious male teen goes thru a Dada phase, a Sun Ra phase, sometimes an Oscar Wilde phase, and always a European existentialism phase—Kafka, Sartre, Camus, etc. I was in good shape here.
"Yes officer," I said, "of course I know Camus. 'Killing An Arab.' The Cure. Released on their debut ‘Boys Don't Cry’ LP in 1980. Music and lyrics by Robert Smith…Lyrics recently changed because the book is no longer read by high school students and also Robert Smith doesn’t want to look like a racist!"
Touché Le Pig!!
He seemed confused, yet satisfied, by my enthusiastic answer and instantly stopped his comrade from destroying our bass amp and let us go.
This kind of roadside intelligence testing must be de rigueur for the French police because it happened to us again this morning.
We are pulled over at this middle-of-nowhere security checkpoint and getting harassed after our wrong turn. It is very late, and we are lost and exhausted. Flashlights in the eyes. Passports and work papers collected. Fake French spoken by me and puppet-show plot explained by Miss P. On the outside, we are all smiles, but I am secretly FREAKING out because I just remembered that some Spanish guy had stuffed a ball of hashish into my vest pocket three or four days ago in Alicante.
Maybe I got rid of it? Shit! It was soooo small! Why did I have to be polite? I should have refused. God. Where are the DRUGS?? I'm frantically feeling around in my pockets, trying to look calm.
Then, "KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!!" The biggest, oldest, meanest of the three French cops bangs on my window and asks, "Is this your passport?"
"Yes Sir," I say.
Then it happens. The cop opens my passport to the inside front page and points to a small blue etching of some event I can only assume is from American history—a pilgrim-looking guy pointing out over a large body of water.
"Who is this in the picture?" asks elder cop.
FUUUUCK!! My years of reading about surrealism and listening to Pere Ubu were not going to help me here. "Um, that's George Washington crossing the Delaware River. Near Virginia maybe? He is American and I think he is pointing at the beautiful…uh… sunset?" I said.
The cop snatches back my passport, scowls at me and says, "Or perhaps this is Marquis de Lafayette, eh?? The great Frenchman who helped to win your American Revolution!"
I'm so ashamed, but how could I possibly have known that? It was an etching of white guys in tri-cornered hats. THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME!
The French police keep us detained for another twenty minutes, as punishment for my incorrect answer, and then send us on our way.
Jonathan pulls a U-turn and gets us going up the on-ramp in the right direction, and there in the headlights, not a hundred yards from the machine gun brigade, is a gaggle of law-abiding Marseille hookers. Their collective beauty is stunning and oh so welcome at this moment—tight purple mini-skirts, perfectly sculpted big-hair, post-apocalyptic raccoon makeup, and no reflective safety vests. I feel an intense desire to stop and introduce ourselves, tell them the passport story and maybe invite them into the van for leftover wine and cheese.
We slow down to gawk and they look back at us with eyes even more suspicious than the police just moments ago. I imagine that these working girls and the checkpoint cops must convene by the side of the road when traffic is slow, hanging out, smoking, talking shop, and waiting together for all the bad men to arrive. Ahh…welcome to France, where priorities are spelled the same, backwards and forwards, and the entire population is skinny and well-read.
That said, the cop who just grilled me might wanna brush up on his American history. It turns out that we were both wrong about the blue passport etching. The image depicts neither George Washington nor the Marquis de Lafayette, but rather the battle scene that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The philosopher/poet wrote his ode to Old Glory during the war of 1812 while being held captive on a British navy ship.
I wondered if the prostitutes knew about Camus or the war of 1812. They probably understood, intuitively, more about French Existentialism than any man alive—including Camus—but I seriously doubt that a minor player in our short war with the Red Coats had made much of an impression, even though that war had everything to do with France…and my passport.
I asked Jonathan to pull the car over and wait for one of the ladies to approach. I told him and Miss P that we needed to ask for directions. In the states, it is understood that, if the chance presents itself, we should always stop at Hooters to ask for driving directions,so my request here did not seem that strange. We sit in silence and wait for them to decide whose turn it is to deal with a van full of foreigners (Dutch plates). After a few minutes, a long-legged brunette wearing a chartreuse jumper-thong, black miniskirt, and a short rabbit fur jacket strolls up to the passenger side window and arches towards me. Erect nipples are the only shadows on her otherwise glowing, skin-tight outfit. She wears a tiny gold cross around her neck and there are no stains on her clothes. Every inch of her body is without wrinkle or blemish—like a photoshopped Penthouse cover come to life. Her eyes are clear and intelligent, and the smell of rose oil and Aquanet fills the van as she leans in to survey our financial status. We probably don’t look so good. There are bread crumbs and pistachio shells all over the dashboard, and foil Kinder Egg wrappers are spilling out of the front seat drink holders. Also, the fact that there are three of us has got to be a bit creepy.
Oh Lord…what was I thinking? This is not Hooters, this is a real prostitute on the outskirts of a dangerous port city. We’re dead. I have waded into waters beyond my understanding and I want nothing more than to speed away and forget the whole thing. But it is too late…
“English?” she asks.
“Uh…Oui.” (How do they always know?)
I take my passport back out of the glove box, open it to the first page, and point to the blue pilgrim etching.
“Do you know who this is?”
The woman looks at the passport for a second and then back up to me. “You want I suck your dick?”
“No no no…I uh…just want to know if you know this man,” I reply.
She looks annoyed now. “He kill someone?”
I thought for a second, and I figured that Francis Scott Key probably had killed someone…or at the very least, he had enslaved another human being for financial gain (turns out that’s a big ole “YES”) so I say, “Uhhh…we think so. Please run away if you see him. Goodbye.”
Now she knows I am full of shit. “Fuck you. I don’t care who is this little blue man. YOU run away…stupid English.”
And so we do, but not before I pull a lint-covered ball of hashish out of my pocket and press it into her hand.
“Thank you,” I say. “I’m really sorry. Have a good night.”
Now, I’m not sure if this incident technically qualifies as “being with a prostitute,” but I’m gonna count it. At the very least, I learned something about the author of my nation’s theme song and his complete worthlessness in the face of true French existentialism.
'Europa My Mirror' is available now through Goner Records.
Quintron and Miss Pussycat play New Years Eve in Memphis at The Hi Tone with Jack Oblivian and the Sheiks.