‘Toilet Tales’ is a SOUNDS exclusive chapter taken from the upcoming memoirs of Kim Hawes, one of the very few female rock tour managers of the time. Kim worked with the likes of Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and Chumbawumba in a whirlwind career starting in the heady days of rock supergroups.
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Chapter 8 ‘Toilet Tales’
Open the pages of any rock ’n’ roll memoir and you will come across a story involving a hotel room, the police and a dash for the toilet. This book is exceptional only insofar as it contains two such stories. Taken together, they relieve the light and the dark of the business of rock ’n’ roll.
The first story is unmatched—certainly I have never come across anything to match it—for its lunatic convolutions, and centres around the sharing of pornography. The second is almost as ridiculous, though not nearly as funny.
One source of concern, which I had decided it was simply best not to think about, was the fact that one of our backline technicians, who was from England, was working without a visa. He had been working with another band before he joined the Concrete Blonde tour and since there hadn’t been time to obtain a new temporary worker visa, we hadn’t.
He was therefore working for us—there was no other way of putting it—illegally. This was known amongst the band and crew, who made sure to keep it to themselves. There was one item of personal information another member of the crew, a sound engineer called Rick, almost certainly wished he had kept to himself. This was his wife’s habit of tucking a porno mag into his suitcase when he went away on tour, the idea being that it would keep him from going looking for female company in which to while away the nights after shows. We all thought this was very funny, including Johnette, who took it on herself to see that Rick didn’t want for literature. Rick was duly inundated—magazines turning up not just in his suitcase, but in his hotel room, in the drawers of his bedside table, under his pillows. He decided that he oughtn’t to let the favour go unreturned, and so Johnette began finding her own supply of material suited to her own inclinations.
At one venue, she walked into her dressing room to find pictures of unclothed male bodies stuck up all around her mirror. I had checked the dressing room beforehand and found it devoid of pornography. Access to the dressing rooms being restricted to crew members, there was little question who had seen to the decorations. Though Johnette was hardly appreciative, this was within the bounds of acceptable japery, and so the pornography kept popping up. Rick, however, went and took things just that little bit too far…Because ticket sales for Johnette’s tour were fantastic and everyone was making a lot of money, the promoters were unusually accommodating, especially as our riders were quite modest.
Were we sure we had everything we needed? Wasn’t there anything else we would like? ‘Well, actually,’ I think Rick must have said to one of these promoters, drawing them inside, ‘there is one thing, now that you mention it…’ For one evening Johnette was met by a discreet, and very obliging, promoter who presented her with a stack of male pornography, it being his understanding that this was something to which she was quite partial and trusting that it would meet with her satisfaction. Needless to say, Johnette was not amused, and immediately set about an elaborate scheme of retaliation.
We were staying in a hotel in New York. It was early morning and the sun wasn’t up. Rick was sharing a room with the visa-less backline technician. They were woken by a knock on the door. Rick got out of bed and went to the peephole. Looking through, he saw a policeman stood out in the corridor. Rick’s heart must have dropped into his bowels, for, in their suitcases, he and the technician were carrying small bags of something they shouldn’t have been. He rushed back inside the room and told the technician to wake the fuck up, the fucking police were outside. The officer
continued knocking on the door and asked them to open it. They scrabbled about in their suitcases for their stashes of coke and hurried through to the en-suite, shoved the bags in the toilet and frantically flushed them down.
The technician jumped back into his bed and Rick went to answer the door. ‘Good morning, officer,’ he said.
‘Good morning,’ said the officer. ‘May I come in?’
‘By all means, officer,’ said Rick, cooperative and perspirant.
The policeman stepped through to the room where the technician lay in his bed, peeping out from under his covers and making a show of blinking away sleep.
‘How can we help you, officer?’ said Rick.
The policeman looked over the room, its general untidiness rendering the mess they had made while retrieving their drugs incongruous. Though they had just lost a lot of money to the hotel’s plumbing, there was at least no chance of the officer’s finding anything and charging and arresting them as a consequence.
‘May I see your passports?’ said the officer. Rick nearly shit himself.
‘Our passports?’ he said. ‘Um-hmm,’ said the officer, hands on hips. Rick looked over to the technician, who emerged from his bed and went to fetch his passport
with its expired visa, then went to fetch his own. The officer stood before them, immaculate in his uniform, lips pursed, eyelashes beating beneath the brim of his cap. He held out his open hands and they surrendered their passports.
The officer’s eyes held theirs, seeping guilt, then lowered them to examine their passports. First he opened Rick’s, and appeared to find everything in order. Then he opened the technician’s. His eyes scanned the pages. He looked up at the quivering technician, then at Rick. And then he said:
There was a blare of sliding trombone and the officer flung the passports up into the air before flinging off his cap. Rick and the technician watched in disbelief as the officer proceeded to dance a confident striptease. At the appropriate moments in the song, the officer pulled off his shirt in one, then his trousers in one, and carried on dancing in his shoes, suspenders, socks and pouch. Johnette, who had orchestrated the whole thing, and had received the instruction to hit the play button on the CD player which she had brought out into the corridor, was doubled over with laughter. Rick and the technician, on the other hand, were rigid, still charged with fear in the expectation of the technician’s imminent arrest and dismayed at having flushed all their drugs down the toilet for nothing.
I had been up since 5.30 that morning, having had a lot to do. As the lift doors opened, I heard ‘The Stripper’ drifting down to the landing. Following the music, I saw Johnette by the CD player, her nose near the floor. I strode down the corridor and entered the room to find the stripper down to his pouch and left sock. The hotel not being large, neither was the room, and so the performance was rather an intimate one. It didn’t take much skill in face-reading to see that Rick and the technician were finding the joke thoroughly unfunny and that things were about to kick off.
First was to persuade the stripper to take his leave. I picked up his shirt and trousers from where they had landed while he continued dancing around me. ‘Excuse me,’ I said to him, ‘but I think it’s best if you wrapped up now.’ Exhibitionist that he was, he was loathe to interrupt his act.
‘Johnette,’ I said to the crown of Johnette’s head. ‘Johnette, turn the music off.’But for the flaring of their nostrils, Rick and the technician were statuesque in their lividity.
‘Johnette, please turn the music off.’ The music stopped.
‘Oh jeez,’ said the stripper, as he let go of his left sock. ‘Such a tough crowd.’
I handed him his clothes and asked if he wouldn’t mind leaving. ‘Whatever you say,’ he said. ‘Would you mind if I put my clothes on in the bathroom?’ I said sure, go ahead. I watched Rick and the technician watching him as he sashayed to the en-suite with his bundled uniform. Once the door clicked to, I asked what was wrong, thinking I knew full well that it was the business with the passports. This was disingenuous of me, given that I had been in on the joke, but I didn’t think it would help matters if they knew this, and so I did my best to appear innocent and concerned.
Neither of them was able to come up with words: Rick was incensed, having lost his drugs, as was the technician, though he was still reeling from the prospect of a spell in a US prison. Johnette, meanwhile, was dying outside. I could see the morning’s schedule going to pot if I didn’t work quickly to placate the two men. I looked at them to tell them I was all ears.
‘What’s wrong,’ Rick said eventually, his voice quiet but furious, ‘is that we’ve just gone and flushed a shitload of very good shit down the toilet.’
This wasn’t what I’d expected to hear, as at this time I knew nothing about the drugs.
‘You did what?’ I said.
‘We thought the stripper was a narcotics officer. We had some coke in our suitcases.’
‘Just for personal recreation,’ said the technician.
‘And we flushed it down the toilet when Corporal Cupcake called.’ ‘Oh Kim,’ said Johnette, staggering into the room. ‘Oh, Kim, wasn’t that magnificent?’ She succumbed to further convulsions.
Rick’s eyes daggered mine.
‘You knew?’ I couldn’t say I didn’t.
‘I don’t believe it.’
‘I didn’t know about the drugs,’ I said.
The bathroom door opened and the stripper stepped out, once more immaculate in his uniform, his cap on his head.
‘Well I’ll be seein’ you crazies. Hope you enjoyed the show!’
Johnette assured him they did, they did, they most certainly did.
‘Well bless you for saying that. At least someone is able to show a little appreciation.’ He flicked a look at me, Rick and the technician, then, fluttering a hand, waved ‘Bye bye!’ and sashayed out into the corridor.
‘If I’d known about the drugs, I could have done something about all this,’ I said to the two men. ‘Saved you flushing them down the toilet.’
‘Yes, but we couldn’t have let you know,’ said Rick.
‘You might have fired us,’ said the technician.
‘Fired you? I wouldn’t have fired you, if it’s for personal recreation and doesn’t get in the way of the work, I haven’t a problem with it, you should see what I’ve seen in some of these people’s suitcases,’ I said, referring to the band and crew asleep along the corridor.
I apologised for what had happened and suggested that we try and put it behind us, though it was really only the two guys who had anything to put behind them. It was going to be a while, I knew, before they were ready to think about forgiveness. This incident marked the end of the escalation and put an end to all the pornographic provisioning.
The second story I have to tell about drugs disappearing down a toilet isn’t nearly as funny. It happened during the summer of 1988, during Michael Jackson’s Bad tour…
To read the full chapter, pick up your copy of New Sounds at all Rough Trade and Independent music stores across the UK.