Wednesday, March 16th 1994: I am somewhere over the Irish Sea on Aer Lingus flight #529 from Paris to Dublin, Ireland, scheduled to arrive at 8:15 p.m or 22:15 hours military time, which is the preferred format in Europe. Scattered around the plane are the various members of Soul Asylum, fresh from doing a TV show in France. Some were sleeping, others were gathered around Bill Sullivan, the band’s tour manager, placing bets on the college basketball playoffs. It’s March and that means March Madness. The band always had a pool to pick the winners at each elimination. I never win at this shit, but I put my $20 in the pool and picked some names. All I remember is that I bet on Kentucky to win it all. I lost.
The plane made its final approach and landed. We cleared customs with just a stamp and a wave of the hand. The customs folks were nonplussed and not interested in giving a rock and roll band a hard time. We lucked out. Outside the airport, those who smoked did so. Our passenger van was waiting to take us to our hotel. In the van, the late Karl Mueller, bass player and founding member of the band, used green food coloring to dye his “winkie” green in honor of his late grandfather, who also dyed his “winkie” green every Saint Patrick’s Day. Karl was a little tipsy (as we all were) so with great vigor (but not a lot of finesse) Karl completed his mission.
We arrived at the Westbury Hotel on Grafton Street approximately 45 minutes after departing the airport. The hotel was a Victorian affair with contemporary furniture and centrally located. One could take a short walk and find all the Irish culture one desired. There was a seven foot Steinway piano near the bar but adjacent to the lobby. It looked like a hotel that one would imagine if imagining a four star hotel in Dublin, Ireland. The concierge remembered your name, and they made everything available 24 hours a day. It is one of the nicest hotels that I have had the pleasure to stay in. It is definitely in my top ten.
We were scheduled to spend three days in Dublin. We arrived in the evening on March 16th, and we had the rest of the night off. We had to play a show at the S.F.X. Center on the 17th (Saint Patrick’s Day). Departure was scheduled for the morning of the 18th, flight # BD124 departing Dublin at 10:45 a.m., or 10:45 hours native time. After checking in, we quickly reconvened in the lobby and headed out for a night of drinking, mischief, and mayhem. First stop: the pub on the corner. We wanted to belly-up to the bar and drink a pint of Guinness Stout with real Irish people. These people were friendlier than the rest of the UK and Europe. They loved to drink. It was cool sitting in a bar with the sound of an Irish brogue in the air. Life was good. I could sleep until at least noon the next day so we were in for a late night. I wish I could remember the name of the pub, but it escapes me now. We left our first Irish pub and dropped into a couple more as we walked along Grafton Street. None of these were as happening as the first pub we drank in. We had heard the rumor that U2 owned a nightclub in Dublin. We inquired and found out that U2’s nightclub was in the basement of the Clarence Hotel, which they also bought and renovated. So off we went to find U2’s club.
The place was called The Kitchen. We arrived and talked our way inside. We didn’t know what to expect. It was very dark and cave-like inside. Techno and house music blared through the speakers at an almost unbearable level. There was a moderate crowd all dressed up like Euro trash, but that is what you get on a Wednesday night in Dublin, Ireland. Soul Asylum hadn’t broken in Europe at that point so we were not recognized. We couldn’t play the rockstar card. No one noticed us or seemed to care. Tired from travel and too much to drink, we fled The Kitchen to catch a cab back to the Westbury. The bar was still open there, and we had a nightcap before heading up to our rooms and passing out.
Thursday, March 17th, Saint Patrick’s Day: I awoke around 13:00 hours or 1:00 p.m. My head was pounding so I was on a mission for Advil, which I always carried with me. I took four pills and choked them down with water with gas, or club soda as we know it here in the states. I layed back down and let the pills start to work. We didn’t have sound check until 4:00 p.m. or 16:00 hours that afternoon. I ordered some coffee and breakfast from room service and read the paper they brought with the food. I took a shower and watched TV until lobby call at 3:30 or 15:30 hours. I met the van at the designated time and rode to sound check, which went off without a hitch. I remember we played this really moody song that Dave Pirner, vocalist and guitar player for Soul Asylum, wrote during our time off. The song was called “I Should Have Stayed in Bed All Day.” I like that song a lot, but it has yet to surface on a Soul Asylum record.
After the sound check, dinner was served. The catering crew that traveled with us on this tour was excellent. Good food while traveling abroad makes for happy campers. Bad food can ruin a whole tour. I believe they served Sheppard’s Pie. It was delicious. The band that opened for us on this leg of the tour was the Meat Puppets. I got to be very good friends with Curt Kirkwood, and later played on a Meat Puppets record, as well as a Curt Kirkwood solo project. We also wrote some songs together around 2003. One of them is on his recent solo record Snow. The Meat Puppets took the stage to a crowd of about 1500 punkers ready to rock. They sometimes played a George Jones song, and I’d play piano with them, but not that night. The Meat Puppets ripped through their set with enthusiasm and really got the crowd on their side. They rocked and we had to follow that.
Backstage in the dressing room, Bill Sullivan comes in and says we have a surprise guest for the show. Bono, the singer/songwriter from U2 is at our show. He proceeds to tell us that he’s a fan of the band, and wants to meet us after the show. Wow…could it be any better or nerve-racking? You have 1500 screaming fans to play for, Bono waiting to meet you after the show, and it’s Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin Ireland. It was like we were getting the key to the city. Thank God we had some vodka! Soul Asylum takes the stage at 9:15 p.m. or 17:15 hours. We played like we were playing these songs for the first time. We tried some new material, and it went over well. The crowd was over the top. It felt like home to me. We were nervous, but it didn’t show. Dave had a false start on “Somebody To Shove”, but that just added to the show’s charm. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. We did two encores. I think we played a cover of “Rhinestone Cowboy” to end the set. We did a good job, and we felt good about it. We were ready to meet “the man.”
I was taken aback when I saw Bono in person for the first time. U2 was between tours and writing another record. He had gained weight, I’d say about 30 pounds. He had a very thick beard as well. He looked more like Van Morrison than he did Bono, but there was no mistaking that it was him when he spoke. He came into our dressing room and Bill Sullivan introduced us around the room one at a time. He had a really cool vibe about him, and I remember thinking that Bono is the Rick Richards of Dublin. We talked about music and politics (we had just been to the Whitehouse). He listened to each of us intently and addressed you calmly. He was just a guy out on the town (his town) on Saint Patrick’s Day, meeting some new people, and the world was a better place for it. Bono told us that his brother, Norman, owned an Italian restaurant called Tosca. He invited the whole band and crew out to dinner at his brother’s place.
When we got to Tosca, we all filed into the place and sat at a huge table in the middle of the room. Apparently Bono had phoned ahead, and they were expecting us. The restaurant was typical of any upscale Italian restaurant. It was cozy…not too dark, nottoo bright. You had to look closely, but the walls were adorned with original paintings. Some of the artwork was Bono’s, and the rest was from other promising artists of Dublin. I can’t remember who sat where. I remember Bono sat at the middle of the table with Dave Pirner on one side and Bill Sullivan on the other. I sat next to Dave so I might get in on the conversation every now and then. My favorite song by U2 is “One.” I love that song, and I love the lyrics. I had one burning question that I wanted to ask Bono, and it’s the one question you are not supposed to ask songwriters. I got up my nerve and told him that I liked the song “One.” He said thanks. Then I asked him what the song was about. What he told me surprised me a little bit. He told me that the song was about a couple, and one of them was HIV positive. The one singing the song is the infected partner. When you listen to the lyrics now, knowing what they were inspired by, it brings new meaning to the lyrics. All I could muster up was, “Wow.”
We had several bottles of really good wine with our meal, and we were feeling a little glow. A couple of more bottles and we were ready to go pub-crawling. A pub crawl is where you go to one pub, have a drink, and check out the scene then immediately go to the next pub, have another drink, and so on and so forth. Everywhere we went the people practically worshiped Bono, but they kept their distance and showed him respect. He hugged a few people and laughed a lot. He seemed to be totally in his element. I lost track of how many pubs we visited at ten. The night seemed to last forever, but all good things must come to an end.
We all ended up at the Westbury Hotel. We drank shots at the bar and chased them with beer. I eventually found the Steinway Grand and started playing. Everybody gathered around the piano and started singing. It was a great moment of camaraderie. Everybody seemed to bond. I can’t remember what I played, but I’m sure I included some Stones, Faces, Badfinger and Beatles. The highlight of our instant concert was “Fairytale of NewYork” by the Pouges. Then we took turns playing and singing. Bono played piano for awhile and seemed to have a penchant for Motown. He played a couple of songs he had been working on in the studio. That was cool. Dave played “Piano Man” by Billy Joel, and we all sang along loudly. The impromptu concert started winding down, and people started saying good night… hugs all around. After all, we had a plane to catch at 2:45p.m. or 14:45 hours. It was already 6:00 a.m. or 06:00 hours. I barely remember going to my room and passing out. We had a travel day the next day, but traveling is tough when you are hungover. I took some Advil as a preemptive measure to dull the pain. And I drifted off to sleep with the sights and sounds of the night’s activities running through my head.
Friday, March 18th: I slept until the very last minute I could. I got up and took a shower, packed and met the band in the lobby. The sights and sounds of last night’s events were still running through my head. Everyone was quiet on the ride to the airport. I guess they were reflecting on how cool the night before had been. Maybe like me, they were realizing that last night was one of those once-in-a-lifetime hangs. It is a good thing to meet someone you admire and find out that he is just a guy like you, that he is motivated by the same basic needs and feels the same feelings that you do. I have had evenings that compare in some ways to Saint Patrick’s Day 1994, but none have ever topped it.
More to follow…