Sontolojoh!


More from the treasure trove. This is my grandfather, “Opa Dam”. Playing Bridge, one of his passions. His full Christian name was William Kodama Leopold. The middle name is Japanese. His mother named him after some Japanese general and it saved my granddad’s hide once when Japanese soliders caught him out after curfew, in the war.

Opa Dam tried to teach me to drive once, in a parking lot not far from where my grandparents lived in Amsterdam. I drove forward. I drove backward. I parked the car. Then I forgot where the brake was and the car very quietly bumped against a tree leaving a dent in the fender.

I’d expected him to get angry and shout ‘Sontolojoh!’ at me. I’ve no idea what that means, but he used to shout it a lot at us, his grandchildren, or at the telly, watching football. He said it didn’t mean anything, that he’d made it up. I didn’t believe him and thought it probably meant something really, really bad.

He didn’t shout at me. I said I was sorry. Then we went home and never spoke about it again. He probably put some money in my hand later on when I left. He always did that.

That was the last time Opa Dam tried to teach me to drive. He never did tell my grandmother.

I remember my grandmother, Oma Lien (Caroline… I was named after her), always wringing her hands, worrying about her kids and grandchildren.

Here she is, third from the left. Smoking a cigarette. When I grow my hair, it looks exactly like that only more straight and less dark. I don’t think I ever heard her yell at any of us. She was sweet and quiet and sometimes a little batty and maybe she wasn’t the greatest cook, but it was always there and always ready for me and all the friends I brought to meet my grandparents.

Anything I needed, silly things I wanted, whether books or kitchen ware, they’d provide me. Whether from their own shelves or from the shops, all I had to do is ask.

I wish I had asked them to tell me about themselves some more.

Have a heart

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“What a weird and stubborn summer this is.”

I consider this. Should we talk about the weather?

The seasons come and go, my dear, they have no say in things, it’s we who are the stubborn. And yes, you are, a little. Weird. A weird, sweet mystery, a little less each year.

He says I know him and I think I will, one day. One day when we’re old and grey.

When we settle down to be.

He says: “Sing ‘la la la’, ’cause the mad thing that’s life goes on.”

So I twist my rusty tongue around the words and sing for him. Allegro molto agitato.

“La la la.”

Vamos a la playa

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{Bjork, Amsterdam 08/07/88, click to enlarge}

It was some time after Righeira’s summer hit, ‘Vamos a la Playa’. The Sugarcubes had caught our attention with ‘Birthday’ and various flatmates and assorted friends had started collecting their releases, both in Icelandic and in English.

I was briefly named after their record company ‘One Little Indian’. For a while, the ‘cubes were OUR band.

Most of the boys drooled over Bjork – the little girl act really does work. It was the mad, funky, angular music that gave me a thrill, at least until I saw them live.

We were all there, in the Paradiso in Amsterdam. As close to the stage as we could get, and I was wielding my camera as usual. While the lads’ eyes were glued to the waif, mine were on Einar, the Sugarcubes’ other frontman.

Slim and compact, dressed in a black turtleneck and black jeans, a belt with a bat-buckle around his hips, Einar teased, taunted and quite frankly annoyed the fuck out of the entire audience.

I loved it. He ranted and raved, said ‘Good evening, Spain’ and shouted ‘Vamos a la Playa’ again and again. He blew a tiny trumpet or bugle and swung from the balcony.

I didn’t get a single decent picture of him.

  • Deus (live, Amsterdam, Paradiso 8/7/88, real audio)
  • Hot meat (live, Amsterdam, Paradiso 8/788, real audio)
  • Birthday (Rotterdam, Nighttown 9/12/88, real audio)

Shameless Hussey

Wayne Hussey, Utrecht Vredenburg 1988, photo by CVODB
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The Mission were probably the most ridiculous band of the 80s. More pompous than U2, the missing link between The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy with semi religious gothic imagery, acres of dry ice and the occasional catchy tune. When we first saw them on TV, their preposterous promo for ‘Wasteland’ – all wind swept hills and flying flags – had us in stitches. But for a brief time, we were heavily into them, like we were into wearing black and purple clothing. A bit like you might have been into Bros as a teenager. Except we weren’t technically teenagers anymore.

I saw them live on three occasions. Which I am going to tell you about – but not now. Come back for updates. For now: some music.

One day we’ll look back at this
And laugh and laugh and we’ll die laughing
One day we’ll look back at this and laugh

(Wake)

R.E.M.’s Summertime

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Sometimes when you hit that shutter button, you know – you FEEL it’s the one. When I took the picture above, I knew I’d captured the moment. This is Michael Stipe looking out over 50,000 people at the Pinkpop festival in 1989. He’d grabbed a chair, set it as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was singing ‘Summertime’.

We’d been standing in the sun all day. Some of our group were slamdancing to The Pixies. Some of us were laughing at Tanita Tikaram who couldn’t hold a tune to save her life (even her fans turned away in disgust). Some of us felt sorry for Marc Almond, pelted with food by an intolerant audience> We had all dropped our jaws in surprise when Elvis Costello came up and defied all logic by being solid, stunning and simply… sexy.

Costello, belting out ‘I want you’, had broken a string mid-song. He’d stood there, solo, still crying the words, his arms stretched out wide. A roadie rushed in, literally sliding in on his knees. He freed the singer of his guitar, slipped him on a new one, and plugged it in just in time for Costello to seamlessly continue his song. We had never been more in awe of musicianship.

We had made our way to the front row. Pressed up against the barrier, a little left of center. R.E.M. were last on the bill. It had been 2 years since they played our country. Two years since I had reluctantly gone to see them and had come back a fan. We didn’t know it then, but R.E.M.’s Pinkpop appearance was to be their last in Holland. Ever. Believe it or not, the next two occasions the band booked Dutch venues both were cancelled for health reasons.

This one almost didn’t happen either. The accident prone band nearly had to cancel at the last moment because Bill Berry’d been bitten by a tick, back in his beloved Georgia garden. The man nearly died of Rocky Mountain Fever in a German hospital. But they patched him up.

I still think the band were at their best in ’89. Stipe in his white floppy suit, sporting what he now calls an ‘unfortunate’ haircut, seemed on the verge of insanity. Buck hadn’t put on the pounds yet, and it was before ueber-nerd Mills got into dye jobs and glittery suits. And… damn it, they still had their drummer.

They launched straight into mayhem: Exhuming McCarthy, Turn you Inside Out, Stand, Orange Crush… the set heavily dominated by Document and Green favourites. Stipe swirled around the microphone stand, brandishing his megaphone. Feeling Gravity’s Pull felt like the apocalypse.

Then they let us all come down gently. King of Birds, Summertime, Swan Swan H and finally, with Mills playing bass sitting down on the edge of the stage, ending with You are the Everything.

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