The backdrop to this story is different from where I’m going to set this image against. And writing a blog post like this, where it’s supposed to be about music, is – I think a first for me. (I think… it’s not that I sit down at night going over all my other blog posts from the past…)
Seeing the picture and reading the story about the controversy surrounding it’s coming about had me remember a personal anecdote in my earlier, post-teen life. It had me remember Glenny, a US citiizen, living and working as a DJ in Sweden and occasionally taking jobs elsewhere in Europe and Scandinavia. Like so many US citizens working in the music business back then, he had come to Europe with the US Army and stayed after having completed his contract with US Forces. What made him different from most other American GIs and former military personnel was that he seemed to be more adventurous than most others I had met so far. At the very least, falling in love and moving in with a girl from Sweden – far away from more familiar surroundings – had him stand out in some way – or so I thought back then.
The other thing that had me become friendly with him was that – much like me – he enjoyed turning the night into day, often preparing a full-fledged meal in the early hours of the new day, heating up the kitchen stove in the appartment we inhabited together with the other musicians in my band along with the girl-friend I had chosen to more or less “abduct” from whatever she called home in the French part of Switzerland. Needless to say, as we were travelling and never stayed more than 2 weeks in one place, she depended upon me – entirely. Food, lodging, health care, your occasional shopping. (In hindsight: Jeez – I made some good money in those days, or else, I wouldn’t have been able to afford two people living this kind of life. We didn’t lodge in exactly the most shabby abodes where we performed and I had to cover her accommodation at the usual rates, sometimes in the hundreds per night). So, like me, Glenny wouldn’t go right to bed after the job, but fire up the stove, fix himself and me all kinds of gumbo, we’d pop a couple of cold ones, and when he’d start to dig in around 2 am, I’d keep him company, listen to his stories and ramblings and we’d talk and discuss all kinds of things – most often until the sun came up. I must have loved it or I was overly polite – or maybe a mixture of both. But somehow, I enjoyed his company a lot more then the company of my fellow band members, who’d be satisfied with either watching porn at night or trying to “score” a minor… you get the idea. I wasn’t big on either, so I’d exhale whenever the job was done for the night and they’d go about whatever business they were after, while I enjoyed some cooling off with Glenny. (On most nights, girlfriend had long gone to sleep and would barely snort in my direction to acknowledge my presence.)
Until now I hadn’t mentioned that Glenny was black, have I? Because it never mattered in whatever regard to me. It wasn’t until him catching hell with the boss of the establishment we were both hired for that I got introduced to the fact that racism is real and happens just about anywhere. I didn’t know any of this at the time and took it for a random occurrence. Gosh, I was so naive… but I’m digressing. Glenny was a DJ, as I said. Back then, being a DJ meant hauling your vinyls all over the place. In Glenny’s case these came as two humongous flight cases, each probably weighing some 150 pounds or more. I was used to carrying and setting up heavy equipment at the time, seeing as the Porsche-loving guys in the band rather saved money for gas then affording us one or two roadies or stagehands. Anyway, I just meant to say that Glenny’s cases were really heavy! (and it was me at most times, who’d kneel and crouch down in the tour bus to accommodate all the speakers and amps and whatnot and then drive that mother to the next venue…). I began to wonder, how he’d be able to travel alone. What about his clothes, suitcases and other “road-gear”? Anyway. We’d sit down and talk a lot. And sure enough, at some point Glenny confided in me that the owner of the establishment we were working in had a problem with him. And somehow it seemed to revolve around the fact that the boss had eyed a particular lady at the club, who – on the other hand – had layed eyes on Glenny. Beginning of drama – and you’d think, only ladies do that? No, Sir, sorry to burst that bubble!
Long story short: Our contracts had a catch. You had a kind of probational period during the first three three days of the contract. In other words: Club owners were given the opportunity to check you out for an entire three days until they were supposed to commit to the contract. I had never been aware of this as I was touring with a band, who apparently had risen above those standards as far as contracts were concerned (P.S. Do I want to know exactly how our manager had established this situation? I probably don’t want to know. But I have any number of ideas in that regard…) Anyways. Glenny caught hard times, because this cheap fuck of a club owner had gotten jealous of him. And as naive as I had been around that time: It was plain to see and hear. Whenever they talked to each other – which was rare -, not one kind word was said.
Come day three, Glenny was fired. No more late night meals, no more bonding in the wee hours of the morning over a couple of beers. I saw a different Glenny. Despondent. Scared. The same person who had boasted statements like “Most white people wonder, why we’re still around” had trouble suppressing his tears and fear. Because he hadn’t gotten paid yet. No advance and what little money he had brought along he had spent on calls with his far away girl friend and food and supplies during the day. He was effectively stranded in a foreign country with barely any cash on him.
I talked to my girl friend about this. We’d have to make some more cuts into our budget in order to afford him a train ticket back to Sweden. But it didn’t take too long a discussion until it was a done deal. We’d – make that “I” – would buy him a ticket, so he could at least get home. I will never forget this moment. He barely kept it together and so did we. We’d drive him to the train station in that Swiss town and all of that was against the express consent of my band. They threatened me, too. They’d say, we’d be kicked out as well and there would be a fine, which I would have to cover all by myself (fines ranged from a couple of thousand Swiss Franks to several tens of thousands, depending on the contract). I didn’t listen nor care. So, on day four we had arranged to pick up his baggage, including these two flight cases, each holding about 100 vinyls and weighing a perceived ton, haul all his shit into the truck I drove at the time, take him to the train station, pass some time together for the last time over a cup of coffee and wait for the train to take him home.
About two months later – I had a few days off – I receive a phone call on the rotary dial phone at my aunt’s, where I stayed over. Glenny was on the phone. We had exchanged phone numbers and he had insisted on taking down my bank account information. I was more than happy to help out and didn’t even want his money back, knowing it’d probably be another few months until he’d make just enough to pay for the ticket. (there was a “tops” cap we had agreed on and he had decided to get some small things for his girl friend, which I was more than happy with). So the phone rings, Glenny’s on the phone and inquires, whether the money he had sent was put in my bank account. I confirmed to him that yes, all the money had arrived.
So, the moral of the story: You think an ill-fated photograph is a problem? Or the media’s and social media’s response to it? Well, baby-girl and -boy: In the real world it’s about despair and not knowing where to turn next instead of egos getting mildly bruised with questionable “art”. Eat this for a change.