The strengths of Bidini's two best-loved books, On a Cold Road and Tropic of Hockey, music and travel to unlikely places, come together in this account of his search for rock 'n' roll.
When it looks as if the Rheostatics are breaking up after more than twenty years together, Dave Bidini is left feeling adrift from his moorings and decides to go on a very long road trip, playing solo and finding out about the state of rock 'n' roll around the world. Accompanied much of the way by his friend Al, who also has a solo act, Bidini sets out for London, England, his springboard for travel to Finland, Russia, China, Sierra Leone, and Ghana, punctuated by trips to Newfoundland and Gananoque in Canada, and to New York City.
What Bidini finds is that the rock 'n' roll machine has not yet flattened the globe, as each place has taken what suits it from the West's dominant music and ignored the rest. Metal may have had its heyday in North America, but it still suits the quiet Finns just fine as a soundtrack for suicidal thoughts. In China, where Bidini plays with the Rheos-Not-Rheos as part of the Maple Rhythm Festival, he has to coach the crowd sitting quietly in plastic chairs how to clap rhythmically. In Russia, where live rock still lurks in hard-to-find places, the British band Smokie is far more popular than even the Rolling Stones, and the first Western band Mongolian audiences wanted to hear live was Boney M. In Africa, Bidini finds out just how far rock has wandered from its roots, and in Newfoundland, just how true it has stayed.
Peopled with hosers, the �ber-hip, and the profoundly baffled, and brimming with tales of playing in strange venues to bemused locals and the odd drunk, Around the World takes readers on an unforgettable, ear-opening swing through the world of rock 'n' roll.
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McClelland & Stewart
October 27, 2008
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Excerpt from Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs by Dave Bidini
I started playing my first song — “Little Bird, Little Bird,” a folk elegy about a Second World War soldier. I stood at the front of the stage but stepped down on the floor after sensing that the lyrics couldn’t be heard at the back of the hall. Before I got too deeply into the song, however, I borrowed a trick from our old drummer, Dave Clark, and divided the audience in half, getting the right side of the room to whisperZzzzzz-Zzzzzz-Zzzzzzzon the first three beats, and the left side to shoutHa!on the fourth. After I demonstrated this to the audience, Wilfred bounded out of his chair and began conducting the crowd on my behalf, swinging out both arms and counting in the air to show them where the beat fell. The Finns and the Chinese — with the exception of crowds in Joensuu and the Hunan — had been perplexed by this kind of razzmatazz, but the Liberians grabbed it by the neck. Soon their chanting had grown louder than my vocal, polyrhythmically transforming the song. The hall rang with voices, and I was free to take it all in, experiencing one of those rare instances when the musician feels bothinsideandoutsidethe performance, as conscious of how the song is being perceived as it is being played. Then I played “Horses.” I went over to where the drummers were sitting and repeated the song’s opening riff until they started thumping along. I sang a verse, then a chorus, and Wilfred sprang to his feet once again, waving his arms through the “Holy Mackinaw, Joes!” and getting the crowd to sing along as the King’s Jubilee had done the day before. My eyes fell on Stephen from Harmony Rocks, who was singing “The glory of God will take you over!” at the top of his lungs. Wilfred was quick to him too, and within moments, Stephen was on stage standing over Abbie as she held the microphone in the air as if putting distance between herself and a foul-smelling sock. Meanwhile, a tall, willowy woman dressed in a long African gown with her hair bundled in a cloth turban stood up, tightened her fists above her head, and wailed along with Stephen. Others in the crowd followed her lead, and, once again, the Liberians gloriously wrested my song from me and made it their own. I’ve played “Horses” at outdoor rock festivals over enormous speaker towers wired through mighty guitar cabinets juiced to fill stadiums and speedways, and the version at Buduburam sounded just as big without any kind of amplification, Abbie’s microphone notwithstanding. The song was driven by the cries of the crowd, the pounding of drumskins, my strumming hand slashing down on my guitar, and the whoops and screams of a pack of small children Wilfred had organized into a choir near the front of the stage. This natural accompaniment sounded intense in the same way that the wind hammering at a houseface is intense, or an axe thunking into cordwood, or a freight train shaking a quiet neighbourhood. It was all the more visceral for having been created out of nothing by the crowd. Because of this, the Buduburams were reluctant to let it go easily, and as the chorus looped and looped, I thought that “Horses” might never end. When the song finally began to lose steam, I turned to the drummers and shouted the song’s final bar — “One! Two! Three! Four!” They took this as a metronomical command, and played loudly and more frenetically in an attempt to straighten the groove into the tepid Western time signature I’d requested. I shook my head at them and counted out the song a second time, but my voice couldn’t be heard above the drums. I looked at the front row and saw Wilfred slapping his hands together and laughing at me, at which point I realized that it wasn&