I Got Kicked Out of America for Having a Guitar
As any noncitizen who’s traveled to America knows, it’s a pain in the ass to pass through customs. The border officers are suspicious of everyone with a foreign-sounding name or accent, they’ll treat you like a terrorist until you prove to them you’re not, and, as I found out last month, they really, really hate guitars. At least, I assume they do, because I can’t think of any other reason they would have held me up for hours, given me a full-body search, and kicked me out of their country, when all I wanted to do was tour the South and maybe play some unpaid gigs with my guitar.
I was planning on following in the footsteps of my musical idols—Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, John Lee Hooker; well-travelled men with guitars and drug addictions—by taking the Greyhound through the South and up to the West Coast before visiting my aunt in Alabama and holing up in some motel somewhere in the Mississippi Delta to record some music of my own. I’d also emailed a number of bars in the hopes of playing some open-mic nights along the way, which I assumed would be OK with the US government. On the State Department’s website, it specifically says you can visit America without a visa if you’re an amateur who’s taking part in “musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating.”
So I planned my trip without worrying about any bureaucratic red tape. Before going to the South, I’d meet my girlfriend in California. Since I live in London and she’s in Constance, Germany, we flew to the US independently, planning to meet at Los Angeles.
On a busy side street an hour from the center of Bogotá, Colombia, the Communidad Pantokrator meets every Saturday to rock out in the name Jesus Christ.
We spent an enthralling evening in Pantakrator’s mosh pit of raw emotion and got a glimpse of how some cast-off rockers have found community and resurrection in the crashing cymbals and sweet arpeggios of Christian metal.
In the 1990s, as grunge and rap surged, metal faced a crisis. Bands were forced to enter survival mode and, consequently, did weird things to adapt. In Volume 1 of Metal’s Lost Survivalist Endeavors of the 1990s, Chunklet examines the case of German shredders Helloween.
I Had Dinner with Buckethead
A friend of Buckethead’s agent recently invited me to dine with Buckethead in Los Angeles at his oceanfront Manhattan Beach home. Once a month, Buckethead apparently holds invite-only “Dinners with Buckethead.” The invite said, “Please wear long pants.” For a week I wondered what foods the elusive guitar player would serve. When the day arrived, I show up at the address at 7pm sharp in long pants, and a man in a white suit greeted me at the door. Inside, he led me to a table facing the ocean with three place settings. One other person (not Buckethead) was already seated in the middle; a white guy, shorter, with longer brown hair, wearing a trucker hat and big grandma sunglasses that he never took off. We were handed placards with calligraphed menus on them, and a few moments later, out glided a lavender-smelling Buckethead, in the Bucket and mask. No one spoke, or faced each other. We faced the Pacific Ocean, as the sun set, in silence.
No one really knows why Buckethead (born Brian Carroll, May 13, 1969) wears the KFC bucket on his head, and a Michael Myers Halloween-esque mask on his face. In fact, little is known about the virtuoso guitar player. His style spans from progressive metal to bluegrass, jazz, ambient, space. He shreds like Ares lives in his fingers. He’ll speed-pluck Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” then segue into the Star Wars theme with a solo that sounds like R2D2 fucking Amadeus at the speed of light. Buckethead is an anomaly. He doesn’t speak, to anyone. He’s released 37 studio albums—14 in 2007 alone. He’s performed on over 50 other albums and has played and toured with Mike Patton, Iggy Pop, Bill Laswell, Bootsy Collins, Les Claypool, Serj Tankian, and was a member of Guns N’ Roses from 2000 to 2004.
The “Dinner with Buckethead” placard began with: Potables:
Vodka Martini with Huckleberry Juice “Caviar.” Hand-foraged wild huckleberries spherified into caviar using a sodium alginate gelling agent. How it’s done: Add the alginate little by little to the juice, then drop spoonfuls into a bath of calcium carbonate dissolved in water. A skin will form around the liquid. The process is made known by El Bulli’s Chef Ferran Adria.
It tasted mostly like vodka, and I said, “Are we not talking?” As an icebreaker, but no one answered. Trucker Hat burped quietly. I tried to catch a glimpse of how Buckethead drank under the mask, but didn’t want to stare. He drank like a cat.
The placard continued:
Monkey-Picked Oolong Tea sweetened with Acacia Honey, collected by nomadic bee-keepers operating in a Tuscan National Park. How it’s done: Monkeys were trained by monks in the 18th century to pick tea for the Emperor Qian Long. Nowadays, the term “monkey-picked” simply means the tea is the highest quality available.
Acid Sweat Lodge is the coolest website in the world, if you’re into burnouts, biker dudes, metal bands, and the topless women who love them. Which, duh.