Franz Nicolay: The Humorless Ladies of Border Controli

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Subtitled “Touring the punk underground from Belgrade to Ulaanbaatar” this is probably the best travel book ever written by a musician, up there with Steve Earle’s novel for best book of any kind by a musician, and probably the best book about touring ever.

There’s not much about the actual gigging, a repetitive event that occupies but a short part of the day.

Nicolay — formerly with The Hold Steady — describes the basic gig routine early in the book just to get it out of the way.

He left his job in The Hold Steady in 2009 and, when the book was written, was touring the world with a guitar, banjo, accordion, merch suitcase and minimal clothing playing various punk and DIY venues, from decent bars to squats.

There’s a lengthy section on Russia, and then Eastern Europe. To call some of the places he goes to out of the way would be a compliment that hints they actually have a connection to the outside world. He travels mostly by train in Russia, driving himself round Europe.

He’s well read (he has a lot of time on his hands), with Rebecca West quoted often but many other writers also cited. He writes vividly and it’s like travelling the far reaches of Eastern Europe with a learned companion.

It’s all good, and he’s a thoughtful man.

The section on why Russian punks adopt right wing tropes despite punk being the birthplace of the Antifa movement everywhere else is fascinating — a combination of taking symbolism literally, biased reporting and propaganda, and a Russian concept known as stiob, sarcasm so dry that it becomes the real thing.

Ideal for music loving people who are tired of books about rock n roll excess, “life on the road” and egotism. (We bought this, by the way, so we have no PR to answer to and didn’t even have to post this – that’s how much we enjoyed it).

Published by The New Press.

A road far more travelled:

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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