Heaven is Black

A letter to the Mundus group:

March 23 was one of the best nights in my life of rock and roll: front and center for a band I've tried to see for eight years, The Black Crowes.

Attempt number one:

I was sixteen and at the peak of my Led Zeppelin obsession. Jimmy Page had scheduled a tour with the Black Crowes, and concert song lists were a mix of Led Zeppelin classics and Black Crowes originals. The day tickets went on sale I bought one, for myself and only myself, fourth row, center.

I spend my time leading up to the concert getting pumped by listening only to albums by these two bands. Then is all comes crashing down -- just a few days before the concert, Jimmy Page cancels the Colorado leg of the tour due to a strained back.

I proceed to boycott every album by these two bands. My only chance to have the slightest sliver of raw Zeppelin experience had been shot down due to Page's problems of being an old man. At the time, teenage bitterness was an understatement.

Attempt number two:

At nineteen I had forgiven Page and The Crowes; still throwing in their albums religiously and recklessly rocking out in my car. Fort Collins friend's of mine would join me in weekly sessions of getting stoned and listening to Zepp and Crowes songs -- a pure college stereotype we thrived on.

One night I was at a party, in a good mood, being nineteen had done me well thus far. I remember leaning against a small pillar in a house when someone turned to me and said, "The Black Crowes just announced a one night at Madison Square Garden...it's going to be their last performance..."

A full body wave of joy then depression had never hit so hard -- I knew the scheduled date matched the date my mom was getting remarried.

Shit.

So the Crowes broke up (or so I thought) -- my music side and senses devastated, defeated, convinced that living rock and roll had been killed!

Attempt number 3:

The Crowes reunite, I'm 21 and I'm ecstatic because not only are they coming to play two nights at Red Rocks, Colorado, but with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers! I buy tickets a little less than a year in advance for August 21, 2005.

Nothing could stop me now!

Except, of course, for Erasmus Mundus Masters Journalism within Globalization: The Audrey Is Screwed Once Again Perspective.

And yes, I thought about not going to Europe because missing this band three times was ridiculous.... for about three minutes... long enough to realize I'm thinking like an obsessed fool.

Attempt number 4: Victory

When I moved to Denmark, one of the first things I did was look for a Europe concert list (pollstar.com is a good one). Six Europe dates in March ’06 for The Black Crowes had already been announced and sold out. Three dates in London, three in Amsterdam at the Paradiso, all back to back performances.

But, it was sold out and I was clueless as to any European way of getting tickets, if there was one.

So I dealt with it in an adult-like manner: I wrote it down on my calendar and decided to make up for it by buying tickets to all those other concerts. You know, to make myself feel better about missing them for the fourth fucking time! Fuck me!

This “show replacement” method didn’t work, and yesterday when we all returned from our outing with Jan I was determined to see The Black Crowes play. For heaven’s sake, we were in the same flippin city…

I make it to Paradiso around 19.00, doors were scheduled to open at 19.30 and the show was to being at 20.30. I had never been ticketless or passless for a show before, so I didn’t have much of a plan. But I had my determination and 70 Euros in my pocket, which was the most I would allow myself to spend.

I shuffled around the venue, trying not to look like a timid little girl without a ticket and surrounded by big black leather-jacket rockers; which was exactly my situation. I would slowly swing my legs forward and quietly mutter “Tickets?” and “Anyone with tickets?” I found one scalper, a bald guy with black everything and three times my size, offering a ticket for 100 Euros.

“Are you serious?”

“Yep, there are too many tickets and too many people.”

“Wait, then wouldn’t it be less then?”

“I mean, there are too many people and not enough tickets.”

I look around; not many people were there yet. Too intimidated to further question this guy, I give him a dirty look, like the way a dog would sniff and then snort out with his nose if he doesn’t like a scent, and I walked away.

I mosey around Paradiso, over the canals until I complete a full hundred-meter radius of the area. Not many people were around and I still didn’t have a good plan. I went back to the scalper, still the only man who responded to my ticket cries.

“I have seventy Euros.”

“Yeah?”

Was there hope?

“No, sorry, one hundred,” he says.

“You really think you can sell them for one hundred?”

“Yes, one hundred.”

“No!” I shout and walk away.

Crap. I’d kick my own ass if I had to pay that much. So I walk to Leidsplein and sit myself at the bar inside the pub with all the classic rock d├ęcor. Black and White I think it’s called. I felt like it fit my situation. I order a beer, grab a pen, bust out my notepad and begin drawing thick block letters that say, “I NEED 1 TICKET, PLEASE!”

I set the note on the bar, drink my beer and contemplate my situation. I’ve tried so hard for so many years to see this band, and failed miserably each time. Why was I one of those people who had fallen into the 'Have Always Wanted To See Them' file? This story had to have a happy ending.

“You need one ticket, huh?” says the man next to me.

“Yes, you have one?”

“Yes I have one,” he says, but I knew what he was going to say before he even answered.

“But it’s for you, right?”

“Yes! But it’s for me!” he laughs.

“I’ve heard that before, and it’s not very funny.”

“Well you shouldn’t be sitting here with that note. Time is running out, go to the venue.”

“I just came from there; one guy is selling them for a hundred Euros. After this beer, I only have sixty eight.”

“But more people will be coming to sell. Then the show will start, soon.”

“I’m going to leave just after this beer.”

So I sit there another minute or two, and a woman comes up to me.

“Wish I could help you, but we’re looking for tickets, too.”

“Well there’s a bald scalper selling them for a hundred outside the venue.”

“Really? Well the people I’m with are loaded so this won’t be a problem. Thanks!”

Dammit, there goes that.

So I slam my beer, attach the note to the strap of my purse so that it sits right below my neck and head out. I’m nervous. I’m nervous because I might pay too much for a ticket. I’m nervous because I might miss the Black Crowes play again. I’m nervous because I wish I had the balls to sneak in like I used to. I’m nervous because time is running out.

But I was determined, and this story had to have a happy ending.

People read my note, looked at my face and looked away – once, twice, again and again. I made it halfway to the venue where a cash machine was. As I was walking past the machine, a man was grabbing his cash and turning around just before I passed him. Just long enough for him to read my note as I walked by. I could see the Paradiso in front of me. More people were there now, which made my nervousness jump to a new level.

“You need one ticket?” says the man at the cash machine. I turn around and looked at him. He looks at me. I look at his friends. They look at me.

“…yes I need one ticket.”

“I’ve got one,” he says.

“You’ve got one for you? Or you’ve got an extra one?”

“I’ve got an extra one.”

I pause and look at him. He looks at me. I look at his friends. They look at me.

“How much? I only have sixty eight Euros.”

“Nah, I’ll give it to you normal price,” he says.

I pause and look at him. He looks at me. I look at his friends. They look at me.

“Really?”

“Really.”

“No, really?”

“Yeah, really!”

“REALLY!?” I scream.

“Yeah!” he screams with me.

He shows me the ticket, we make the exchange, and I just stand there like an excited idiot jumping up and down, waving my hands in the air and hugging him and all his friends. I thank him a hundred times over, hug them all some more and float down the street to the Paradiso, perma-smiled and busting at the seams with happiness as I shout out YES to the sky, the venue, the people, the sidewalk, the air.

I pass the scalper and show him my ticket.

“One hundred Euros my ass! Thirty five, because there are people in this world better than you.”

He gives me a funny look because he doesn’t remember me and probably is too busy counting his winnings.

Victory was mine, the ticket man ripped the stub and I entered Paradiso to see the Black Crowes. I grabbed a beer, waltzed to the front and waited for the show to start. Some 45 minutes later the lights dim and six of the most amazing musicians alive played a three and a half hour set.

Top 10 Best Things About The Show

10. Dancing and getting lost in all my favorite songs.

9. Hearing frontman Chris Robinson give a few words of wisdom, such as “It’s cold outside but it’s warm in here. Alright, let’s do this.” and “Thanks a lot to whoever knocked that drink over on stage. Real fucking cool, man. You know, an apology goes a long way in the year 2006… I guess we all should remember that.”

8. Watching Robinson jam out on the harmonica like a pro.

7. Being able to say thank you to one of the guitarists.

6. A kick ass drum solo that reminded me of Mr. Bonham himself.

5. The guitarists whailing on the most fantastic collection of Fenders and Gibsons I’ve ever seen.

4. Dutch poet Jonathan Sinclair making a guest appearance

3. Robinson grabbing the mic stand and holding it perpendicular to his body as he stomped his feet or kicked his legs up and down.

2. Whenever a band member wanted to look out at the fans I was usually the first one they saw because: a. my face was right in the light, b. I was a new fan rocking out nonstop in the front, many others were band followers.

1. Reminding myself that I finally saw the Black Crowes play, in Amsterdam, front and center! Wahoo!

It was a concert I truly didn’t want to end. But when it was over I grabbed another beer, walked upstairs and sat on the balcony just to make sure I soaked it all in. In one hand was a pick I caught mid-air, the other a poster some artist had made and was passing out for the three-day Crowes event.

I took a deep breath and looked around me. Paradiso had emptied out quickly, and the next round of night clubbers began to make their way inside. The past three and a half hours were so unbelievable for me, I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

I biked home that night, singing snippets of all the songs the Black Crowes performed that night. Every now and then I’d let out a little hoot and holler. As I crossed over the Amstel river, lights glistening against the canals, I couldn’t take it anymore. I threw up my hands, coasted down the bridge and yelled “I LOVE AMSTERDAM!”

The unexpected man on the bike behind me rang his bell and said, “Yes you do!”

Happy Ending.

Audrey

Snowboard Fakie


Without mountains nearby, I've gone through physical withdrawals knowing I can't snowboard. This sounds ridiculous, but at times my feet actually tingle, my eyes actually tear and my chest actually tightens. So I spend hours online looking for cheap ways to be mountain bound, yet plans have fallen through since January.

Until recently.

When I first heard of a two-week ski trip to France I backed out -- too much money and too much class time missed.

When I heard about it again, I thought harder, my feet tingled and I said yes -- but I still backed out.

The third notice sent me into a state of indecisiveness. I needed this trip, but it would set me back hundreds. For the sake of my sanity I needed this, but I would miss my grad classes. So, what did I do?

I called mom.

"Hi mom. There's this ski trip to France, which is an area I haven't ridden yet. But it's almost two weeks. But I really need to go because I might die if I don't. My feet tingle and my chest tightens ...sometimes..."

"Is it expensive?"

"Kind of."

"And you're missing class?"

"Kind of."

Silence.

"Mom?"

And I thought she would tell me to stay, save my money, go another time. I wanted to hear that moral rationale mother's are so good at. I wanted her to say this was a bad idea so I could lay it to rest.

"Why are you even second guessing this, you have to go!"

"What! Really?"

"Yes. Jeez Audrey, this is a chance of a lifetime!"

That's all I needed to hear. So I pedaled to the office, flew up the stairs, busted through the ISC (International Student Center) and practically shouted, "I MUST RIDE FRANCE!" The office response wasn't as enthusiastic as I had hoped, and a Very Tall Dutch threw me the sign up list.

"Put your name here. You're on the waiting list. Number two."

What?! No! I refuse! No really, I refused. I told the Very Tall Dutch he didn't understand, I needed to go, a waiting list wasn't good enough.

"Can you feel my absolute need here? I'm trying to give you a 'matter of life or death' vibe, right now. Can you feel it?"

He wasn't feeling it.

I said I would sit in the aisle. Very Tall Dutch said no. I said what about a bigger bus? Very Tall Dutch called around, and said no. I said what about another university, Very Tall Dutch called another university and gave the only open spot to Number One on the waiting list.

"Hey, what the hell? You wouldn't have called if I wasn't here!"

"Yeah, but she's number one," said Very Tall Dutch.

"Yeah, but I deserve it more than this punk ass," I agued.

"Yeah, but that's my girlfriend."

Oops. Crap, blocked by the girlfriend. I had spent three hours in the ISC office, trying to find all possibilities available in my favor. Nothing was working. I was afraid. Afraid of losing. Afraid of a boardless spring. Afraid of Very Tall Dutch because I called his girlfriend a punk ass, and he's a lot bigger than me.

I would have walked out, head hung low and defeated, if it weren't for Barbara. Barbara knew all about my passion for riding -- because the week before I sat beside her for an hour and drunkenly slurred about it:

"Hey hey, ask me about 'shreddin the sick pow in my steeze' and hittin the asses."

"The asses?"

"No! The PASSES!"

Anyway, Barbara came just in time and asked if I had ever taught snowboard lessons. There was one opening on the list for a snowboard instructor...

Now, I've never taken a class on snowboard instructing. I've never been certified. I've never even been good at teaching others how to snowboard. But this seemed like my only open window so... I lied.

"Yeah I've taught for years!"

"Are you certified?"

"I used to be. But it expired. Those things expire fast in Colorado"

"Where did you teach?"

"...Colorado."

"Yeah, but where?"

"Ski Cooper."

"And you wouldn't mind teaching?"

"No, I love teaching!"

"Ok, well I'll call you tonight about it."

That night the ISC offered me a spot on the trip. My expenses were fully paid for in addition to the 200 Euros I'd be given for instructing eight students how to snowboard. Victory was mine.

A few days before the trip I asked myself how the hell was I going to teach eight foreigners how to snowboard? I thought back to the days when I was a beginner, but it was too long ago. The night before I started to worry, so I called Sarah Steinwand, a great friend who taught at Crested Butte this season, for a few tips.

"Hey Sarah, give me a ten minute run down on how to be a snowboard instructor."

"Why?"

"Because tomorrow I'm going to France to teach eight people how to ride."

"What?"

"And the only way I could go was to tell them I was an instructor."

"What!"

"So now I'm going for free and they're gonna pay me, so I need to act legit."

"What!"

"I know!"

"Audrey!"

"I know!"

So I printed out the notes and memorized them on the 15-hour bus ride to La Plagne, France. Myself and 100 other ISN students arrived on a Saturday afternoon. It was raining below, which meant snowing above. While the rest waited to check into the condos (we stayed right on the mountain), I put my gear on and headed up.

It was one of those days where the snowfall is heavy yet silent. No wind. Fresh lines. Empty runs. I felt relief, at peace, excited, awe struck and really flippin lucky -- overall stoked as all hell.

The next day my act as an instructor began. It would last for five days, two hours a day, with nine students: Nacho from Spain, George from Portugal and eight Dutch. None had ever been on a mountain before. Fortunately if I acted really excited all the time, hollered constantly ("Bend your knees! Heel! Toe! Awesome! Woohoo! Nice turn!") and used a lot of hand and body movement I could pass as an instructor.

And it worked. Out of the five snowboard instructors, I was the only fake. However, the only class whose students never got injured? Mine. My students progressed more than all the others because I ditched the bunny hill and took them on more challenging runs. By the fifth day, they were intermediate snowboarders who could ride powder. All of them. I was amazed. And so proud of all of us...

I told them they're all naturals.

They told me it wouldn't have been possible without my help.

...I never told them I was an imposter.

The best part? I still had time to ride the massive ski area of La Plagne. Lessons were over by noon and lifts didn't close until 6:30. I had time to ride glaciers and off-piste powder everyday in the best conditions. Snow every night, sun and blue skies each day. The areas of amazing terrain and snow seemed endless- at times I felt like I was in my own snowboard film (soundtrack includes mostly RJD2, Queen, Jackson 5 and DangerDoom). Most of the mountain is above treeline, so runs were like a free for all.

I ended every day sweat-soaked and glowing from glorious spring shredding in France. I drank wine, ate cheese and sipped beer on lawn chairs. I partied hard and rode harder. Injured free.

The time of my life.

Label me Amsterdam


I was labeled today. In the same breath, a friend of mine told me I'm no smarter than a five-year-old child or Hillary Clinton.

I didn't know exactly how to take this -- was it a compliment or an insult? I have defensive tendencies, so I chose the latter and argued that I'm definitely smarter than a child. He asked me how, I said something like there is no way I'm going to start a debate as to why I'm more knowledgeable than a kid.

"Ah yes, perhaps you know more, but are you really smarter?"

Welcome to Amsterdam, the place where adults can wax in circles about strange ideologies and get away with it, because, well, that's just what weed does to people. But all stoner talk aside, I've been living in Amsterdam for almost four months now and have barely written. I'm hoping this blog will keep my skills, however much skill I actually have, intact. So heregoes...

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I was labeled a social butterfly. Again, I took minor defense to this. Let's face it, calling someone a social butterfly makes you think of a creature that flies in the air somewhat retarded like because they have poor sight. The creature also gets carried away in the wind, splattered on car windows and chased by dogs.

Add the social aspect, and you have a creature that not only flies like a drunk, but also talks like one in an even more absent-minded way. Not to mention, butterflies are cute from afar, but the body is frightening, especially to children. I know it wasn't meant like this, it was just on my mind.

Maybe it's true anyway. I can't see without contacts and lately the wind has been blowing me and my skirt around way too often. I've managed to avoid car windows, but there are many, many ugly dogs in Amsterdam that make me a little hesitant to walk next to. Plus, I've been known to slur out nonsense, which probably frightens children...

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I was labeled a capitalist. When I'm in a situation, the first thing I think about is how to make a buck. It's because I'm American and have been brought up in a capitalist environment, unlike many Europeans. Supposidly.

First off, when I'm in a situation, the first thing I think about it what the hell is going on. It usually never involves me making money, it involves me spending money, and so I'm a poor college student who needs a job. The last time I had an opportunity to make a buck was an hour ago when my flatmate Luke bet me five Euros Jamie Lee Curtis was a hermaphrodite. Which, I'm not so sure I won.

I am an American, however, and maybe am more susceptible capitalist to thinking than others. For example, I'm learning the harmonica right now in hopes to one day join a bum on the street to jam with and experience what it's like to have coins tossed at me.

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In the end, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't like being labeled. In a city like Amsterdam that thrives in individuality, I never expected to experience this very often. My name is Audrey Sykes, that's the truest label I know.