On my first day in Liverpool a lady in her best years, possibly drunk on lukewarm English beer and amused or alarmed (or both) by me growing more and more nervous over where to spend my first night, told me what a “handsome young man” (her wording) I was and also made it quite clear that sometimes she wished to be some twenty years younger. Even though this was a nice little thing to say, I not only turned down the advance with a shrug, I also knew I was not exactly what she said I was.
My beard was a full-blown disaster, my hair long and uncombed and unfortunately on the retreating side. I had gained quite a few pounds in recent years, my skin was pale, and my movements were no bit more elegant than the ones of a Golem. I also did not exactly have the reputation of a chic dressing-style. I just did not care. There had been times when I appeared in the uni dressed in jogging trousers. To cut a long story short, I was a clunky overall-cheeseball.
The shabby bloke I was, I was waiting at the foot of the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral, which looked every bit the goddamned spaceship it was. In any new place I usually went straight for the churches for the faint idea they´d tell me something about the townspeople. The Metropolitan was one strange thing of a church. Just like Rome or Jerusalem on those ancient manipulative maps, the altar was placed right in the middle and everything else circulated around it – gravitating towards the irresistible centre of power. I remembered one of the professors at home who – bare of any ounce of irony – wondered how we could not know by name and heart every single fucking pope history had ever spat out (not his wording). Wasn´t one of these indecent gold-painted kings enough to be endured? Light, in flashy LSD colours, fell through slits and openings everywhere around the building along your track around the benches, passing one modernistic chapel after the other. Probably an adequate update of all the religious tripping, intoxication and hallucinating to 21st century standards.
The Metropolitan was a perfect location, in the midst of the university campus, central to most houses of student accommodation, and close to the main streets leading downtown. We were all to meet there at the corner opposite to the Everyman. The sun had long gone down on the Merseyside, and the strange church glanced her wicked glance into the streetlamp-lit veins of the city, greeting her Anglican sibling some blocks away. Both of them towered over the rest of the houses like a couple of leery night-watchmen. The notorious Liverpool wind had calmed down too.
When the mail had arrived, I finally knew my new acquaintance´s name: Giorgos! Now I remembered: “I´m Giorgos, but you can call me Giorgis. Or well, George. Oh, you are from Germany. Dann bin ich Georg.” Giorgis the Greek had informed me about yet another of these Erasmus meetings. The idea was to go to the Cavern Club, a legendary place where the Beatles had played tons of concerts back in the days. The heart of a hysteria that never lost its breath, if you want, unaffected by the jumpy moods of the zeitgeist. I loved the Beatles. I signed up.
While I had not dared to give many thoughts to her, I now secretly hoped to have the blonde from Friday in our company, too. She had hit me like an avalanche.
When she arrived, again teamed up with the short Asian, Tammy, sober this time, who was actually an Aussie born to Taiwanese parents, I felt a small pang of excitement jumping in my tummy. My minor nod was supposed to hide my actual inner elation. When she told me her name, I was still in a half-daze, so I only got that she was Lithuanian. I mental-slapped my elated self for my nervousness and planned to catch her name somewhat later that evening.
The expedition team was further made up of: Giorgis, Agnes, Pepe, a tall skinny Galician with a dense shadow around jaw and chin and a practically uninterrupted loud laughter, his friend and co-Spaniard Miguel, and David, an actual Brit for a change.
We headed down Mount Pleasant, passing the gloomy YMCA, where I had rung and asked for a bed on my first evening when all town had been conquered and booked by hordes of football fans. Even here, in this miserable derelict place, I had not been successful.
We left the group of drugheads behind us, these poor bastards that (so much I had understood) always mooched there, their dead eyes searching the surroundings for fresh supply, and reached the Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool´s most expensive harbourage. Not only John, Paul, George and Ringo had stayed there for their film´s premiere but I had also, eventually, settled for that first restless night, with my suitcases, my weary limbs, an empty wallett and the cheapest fattiest fast food I could possibly get from Bazooka Chicken, to finally watch The Weakest Link on the teli.
Before us, the streets widened into broad streams. Here lay downtown Liverpool. A place where many had roamed before us and where some had created masterpieces. Where people were pumping through the streets like antsy bloodparticles with us just being the latest additions, passing by a long line of promising fastfood places. The city had swallowed an abundance of ramblers in its long life, had thrived on them and their energy and had grown and put on weight – we were just the newest course on the menu really.
It was rather early evening that winter day, but it was apparently late enough for screaming Scouser girls to wreak havoc in groups of three to five. They had big hairdos in imaginative colours, adorned with all sorts of ribbons and feathers. Their faces were painted as for a Greek tragedy play, and they were mostly packed in dresses (with remarkably high hemlines) that tried to hide what the aforementioned fast food places had done to them and shoes with heels higher than what they could handle. The male gangs, meanwhile, looked tough and always ready for a fight. They were less made up. Correction: They weren´t made up. They wore clothes. That´s it.
When on my first full day here I had taken a comprehensive walk through a cloudy Sunday city so as to soak in some of the town´s atmosphere, to and into the cathedrals, to William Huskisson´s grave, to the red-brick artifact that was Cain´s Brewery, the eminent docks, along an uncalm Mersey River and to the three Graces, into the Maritime museum and its Slavery Exposition, through the Met Quarter and over to St. John´s Garden, where the colourful World Museum and the Library took me in, always with a book in hand, Liverpool had looked sleepy and empty. Even this enigmatic big yellow Lama sculpture with the banana-ass just stood around dozing. Now, it was a different city.
Down the stairs next to St. John´s Shopping Centre into the pedestrian zone. The shops and malls were already closed; still, their uneasy eyes gave us light for our way. Construction sites to our left and to our right, the city being redesigned, flashy billboards, colourful advertising pillars and orange plastic barriers everywhere. And the streets were busy. No special sales controlled the mood but an insatiable wish for party and music.
And a baldheaded man whose yellow gloves held the wheels of his wheelchair in motion was cursing on people in a language only he knew.
We arrived in notorious Matthew Street without much ado. When we entered this touristic enclave, noise emanating from its every pore and crevice, every single one of the dozen Beatles-related pubs sent its messengers to the outside world, trying to attract the everlasting waves of tourists. The street was humming with invitations for karaoke and booze. That´s what I figured, at least. Understand them I didn´t. We ignored them, reached a John Lennon statue at the corner that did not look like John Lennon and made our way down the stairs into the Cavern, or if we are honest, a re-erected version of it, catering for all those who wanted to follow a phenomenon back to its roots. And if those roots had been torn out, they sure had needed to be re-planted.
Wide-eyed we pushed into the red-brick catacomb cellar. An oldie band played some sure shots, and the tourists were happy and sang along. It was much too warm and much too full. Behind the band, you could see the wall of honour. Many had left their signatures here. This was a (at least formerly) holy place in terms of music. Cilla Black had worked here before becoming the white Dionne Warwick; the Stones and the Yardbirds, John Lee Boom Boom Hooker, Elton John, the Kinks, they all had visited the Cavern.
We ordered some drinks at the overly busy bar and followed the younger public´s stream towards the backroom.
I believe I had other people communicate while I mainly listened for the music, trying to smile as much as possible in my self-conscious, unteethy way and giving other proofs of life only when needed. I cautiously surveyed the scene while others did the interaction. Tammy and Giorgis soon decided that their preferred way of communication was to fall into a high-pitched gabble. Agnes and the Spaniards talked like old friends, and David showed a fine tad of taste when he was all over the Lithuanian girl, talking himself closer while I held yet another cold Coke in my fingers. But that was way better than mindlessly killing a rattling jumbo pack of crisps and a long line of kingsize chocolate bars locked away in my room.
I had read this thing, that when young Lennon and his skiffle band played the Cavern, then a jazz club, they were almost thrown off stage when John started playing Elvis. “Cut off that bloody rock´n´roll!” No leather, no backbeat, no nonsense, jackass! That was in the 50s, long before the Fab Four created a global hype. Long before anyone would have fallen on their knees before them and asked them to play anyting they pleased. Everything needed time. Now, thanks to them and to all the Merseybeat that grew up with them, I was able to hang out there, dressed in a horrendous leather jacket I´d found somewhere in the depths of my wardrobe, and listen to bangslap rock and bloody roll.
Six newcomer groups set the speakers ablaze that evening. They had it all. Heart, sweat, noise and partly even talent. On the other side of the room, a proud father danced ecstatically to his son´s music. He howled and shook his head, jumping from joy, swinging his arms in all directions.
And then, unanticipated: “Do you like them?” asked the gorgeous blonde. She was wearing that smile again. A fine accessory to have.
Now, had I been the glorious Mr. Fascinating I would like myself to have been, I probably would have replied something terribly sophisticated and self-assure about their ambitious takes on classical formats. Maybe I would have compared their abilities to the greats, dropping a few impressive names now and then and that I had seen about three million rock bands live. I would have told her that in my humble opinion dance music better be bloody brilliant before it could in any way be of the same value as the most mediocre rock, for music, after all, comes from the heart, and so it should be handmade. It is an imitation of nature and its wonders, and by that it needs to be full of life. Having talked myself into a controlled frenzy, I would have concluded that these guys, even though they may not always be clean, even though their riffs, their beats, the hats on their head were kind of uniform, they sort of grooved, and that they loved what they were doing, and that, summing it all up and having said so and the bottom line was, I believed that I did indeed like them.
Instead I said: “Yes, I do.”, half staring to the ground half turning away. I let her return to David and his drumfire of attention.
Well, that was that.
Forutnately for me, Pepe was quick to be the next one who tried to discuss the performers´ quality. When Agnes joined the discussion with a smile, a sardonic comment and a roll of her eyes, I grew slightly more self-confident. The father was cute, wasn´t he? Yes, he sure was. He was actually worth this visit by himself, right? Look, they play folk, that´s different. I like them. Me, too. Let´s get the promo CD. All right then. Play that one louder! Pepe laughed, and Agnes blew her untamed hair from her face. Then she started a sentence, broke it off midway, cursed, shrugged her shoulder and smiled again. And I tried the one dance move I had perfected: Air guitar. Music was the universal language after all. And if it was able to give me enough words to formulate at least a handful of sentences, music was nothing else but magic. The speakers blasted out funky tunes from a teenage band whose singer tried hard for some 70s looks and even harder to sound like an Osman Eunuch in pain. And Tammy took photos, and Giorgis did, and Pepe did, and Agnes did so too. And I, caught in a thunderstorm of flashlights, realized that being part of them meant taking your camera with you. Giorgis, who studied computer sciences, remarked he was “more of a geek than a Greek for that matter.” Then he screamed “Group photo, everyone!” and assembled all of us for an Erasmus family portrait. All smiles. I grew calm – they were sure nice company to be with.
“Flushing, flushing!” shouted Giorgis, and the camera struck.
By the moment we prepared ourselves for leaving after the last concert, with all distorted guitar cries faded, all snares rattled out, I collected email-addresses in the small notepad I always carried with me.
“What for?” asked the beautiful Lithuanian girl. “W-well, I thought we could have something like a mailing list for next meetings or so”, I said. Satisfied by the answer, she painted a small flower next to her name: Urte.