Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Women in Rock - two dirty tales

Sugar and spice and all things nice.
I'm pretty sure that's how all of us are born, boys and girls alike.
Here are a couple of rock'n'roll tales about how sometimes in life, in order to survive, sweet sugar-cane turns into rock hard candy.
To the tales:
Rat on a knife edge
We were travelling in a sleeper-bus from France to Spain, at the end of a long European tour, heading towards Barcelona, for the Badalona Pop Festival, where we were due to play alongside Sonic Youth, Beck and Yo La Tengo - the gig was on my birthday, so we were all looking forward.
If you've never been inside a sleeper-bus, this is the lowdown: mini-lounge w/seats and micro-kitchen at the front, sleeping-pods at the rear, which are arranged like individual bunk-beds, each protected by heavy curtains for privacy, and provide just about enough space to get a moderately decent night sleep.
The idea is that the driver sleeps during the day, and drives during the night, while band is asleep, so you wake up reasonably fresh at the next gigs's destination.
We played our last show in France and had our usual post-gig chill-out in the bus, having a few drinks, singing a few songs before hitting the foam-beds, all in good spirits.
I was deeply asleep when it happened.
And it took me a few confused seconds to grasp the situation, then it hit me:
The driver of the bus, a disgusting little man, was leaning over my bunk-bed, the heavy dark curtain was slightly open and I could clearly see his horrid face facing mine - my pyjama top had been lifted up and he was groping my breasts, squeezing them, one hand on each breast.
Just like in your worst nightmare, when you try to scream, but for some strange reason can't quite do it - I opened my mouth, but no sound came out. Nothing.
I just pushed him away - pushed him away. He went.
I lay there in my micro-bunk-bed, petrified, stunned and in shock.
A few minutes later, the bus, which had been stationary, started moving again.
I checked my watch: it was around 4am - not long now, I thought, not long till it's daytime. Hang on in there.
I waited and waited, quietly smoking in my bunk-bed, until the bus eventually stopped, the sun was now rising high and the driver, now finally gone to sleep.
I got up, woke the band and crew up and summoned everyone for an emergency meeting.
I told them what had happened, but was surprised and dismayed at their reaction, or lack of reaction, which was not what I expected:
'Oh no..., that's terrible, real sorry. But, look, nothing we can do right now, maybe we can ask the guy to apologise, have the TM speak with him?'
'Er... apologise? Are you freaking out of your mind? This pervert abused me last night, we must call the police. I want the police here!- I don't want an apology, I want to get another bus, another driver - I can't travel in this bus!- Its a fokin outrage! I wanna call the police!'
'Isabel, what good is that going to do? We still have to get to the Festival site, and we're only a few hours away. Why don't we get to the Festival first, then we'll decide what to do, everything's gonna be fine...'
I was shocked. I genuinely expected them to be as outraged as I was.
I wanted someone, anyone, to be as indignant and angry as I was, and say:
'What?! This bastard touched you?! Get the bastard in here, no one touches you!'
But, no - they were like a bunch of little kids, who didn't quite know how to handle the situation and wanted to avoid any kind of confrontation.
So, realising that neither band or crew were going to do anything about it, I called our manager in London, Adrian Boss - whose reaction was just as bad:
'Look, you don't really wanna report this guy, he's probably a father of two, gonna end up losing his job, you don't wanna do that... And it's gonna be your word against his, you're not gonna be able to prove anything, so let's just get you to the Festival site ...'
'But I WANT HIM TO LOSE HIS JOB - I do - he is not fit for working, he is a pervert and I want him reported... and I can't travel in this bus - I can't I can't/...Get me another bus, another driver - I can't travel in this bus!'
'Look, Isabel, let's just get you to the Festival, do the gig, I'm gonna ask the Tour Manager to have a word with the driver and make sure he doesn't come close to're gonna be fine...' blah blah blah/
I remember just throwing the mobile phone on the ground, in sheer frustration, and that terrible sense of being completely on your own and being the only person who is prepared to stand for yourself - for clearly, no one else was going to do it.
So, I got back into the bus, demanded the crew woke the driver up - and when all were gathered by the lounge at the front of the bus, I made my stand:
I walked up to the mini-kitchen, grabbed the bread knife, and standing in the middle of the bus, red-faced and knife in hand, delivered my speech:
'Right, you see this knife here? Take a good look at it, because if this disgusting rat even so much as look at me I will not hesitate to use it. I'm gonna repeat, so you understand me: I will not hesitate to use this knife to defend myself if you ever come near me again. Now, I don't give a fuck if you need to sleep or not, just fucking get your ass into the driver's seat, where you belong, and drive this fucking bus to this festival site and don't ever, ever even dare to look at me again - now: drive!'
Without a word, he got into the driver's seat - and away he drove.
I then sat down, still clutching the knife, and stayed there throughout the remaining 2, 3 hour journey, knife in hand, staring hard at band and crew until we got to the Festival site.
We played a beautiful gig, it was sunny, and the crowd even sang happy birthday.
I remember asking them during the gig, if anyone had a house or hut on the beach, I desperately wanted to stay, and was dreading the 16 hours long drive back to London.
A couple of fans came forward, had a flat by the beach - I took them up on their offer - and stayed behind in Spain for an extra week, for there was absolutely no way I was getting back inside that bus.
This is an event that has remained weighing heavily on my conscience, for I was later dissuaded to report the driver - but I should have done so, not just because of what he did to me, but the possibility that he may still be out there abusing other vulnerable female artists.
But I do take a little pride in the fact that in the middle of that Spanish desert, there were 7 big guys in that bus, but it was only the 5ft lady who showed any real balls.

Keith Allen, Damien Hirst and the ass of miss Monteiro
During the 'White Magic for Lovers' album promo, I handmade a couple of hundred mini-voodoo dolls.
The little fabric dolls, about 3 inches tall, looked totally sweet and made the perfect little promo-gift to tie-in with the album concept.
I would always turn up at interviews with one in my pocket, and use it as a photo prop.
This one particular afternoon, I was at a posh restaurant in west London doing some album promo: interviews, photoshoots / more interviews/more photoshoots.
As the afternoon progressed, the restaurant closed, and we were the only table left, but another - where in a corner, Keith Allen, Damien Hirst and some other brat-pack guy who I didn't recognize, were drinking, at the end of what must have been a well-lubricated lunch.
They were talking loudly and brashly. They were talking dirty, and they were talking about me:
'Just look at that round ass, I wanna a piece of that! - Nice waist - I wanna grab that and stick... yeah, I wanna fuck her ass too. Who is this woman, can someone find out? I wanna fuck her tonight..'
Well..., you guys get the picture.
So there I was, sitting two tables away, trying to discuss the songwriting process, the meaning of 'Mondo Cane', while they were talking about how they were gonna fuck my ass.
It was embarrassing.
I was just about to walk up to their table and tell them to shut up and piss off - when I decided to go one better.
All interviews over, I stepped out, went into Boots/Superdrug and bought the biggest pot of blue hair gel you can buy - one of those mega pots.
Got back into the restaurant - the little pigs were still drinking, still ogling - I went into the loo, washed the gel-pot label away, stuck a mini-voodoo doll inside it, - (which by the way, looked pretty cool: with its fluffy hair floating, the voodoo-doll with big white eyes, caught mid-air and motionless inside the pot of bright blue hair gel, had the same striking effect as some of Hirst's most notorious formaldehyde works) - I then quickly made a mini-label out of a serviette, got sellotape from the till, and wrote the name of my brand new 'artwork':
'number 253-b - floating'
er... 'number 253-b - floating'? WTF?
It means bollocks, obviously, absolutely nothing at all - just a little stab at all that pretentious snobbery of conceptual art, which tries to add meaning to something that has no meaning at all. (note 1)
Anyway, happy with my brand new piece of conceptual voodoo art immersed in blue hair gel, I got a copy of the album, walked up to their table and to their amazement, I said:
'Good afternoon, gentleman. I'm Isabel Monteiro, songwriter, lyricist, arranger, singer, bass and guitar player, performer, artwork designer and creative director behind my band Drugstore.
Here's my latest musical work, called 'White Magic for Lovers', (handed CD to Keith), and here's my brand new artwork installation about the indelible tension between life and death - (handed the voodoo-doll gel pot to Damien Hirst).
So, as you can see, I'm not just a piece of ass. Enjoy my work'.
I then walked away, before the stunned male ensemble had a chance to utter a word.
I have no idea what they made of my CD or fake formaldehyde voodoo-artwork, but have a feeling, Damien Hirst knows exactly what I think of his artistic output.
Is it Art? yeah, sure, of course it is. art with a capital 'F', (said the ass
(note 1) (look.., anyone can add whatever meaning to whatever they want - it's a dead end argument, but probably best not to go round tagging your creative output or interpretation of it as 'grand art' with some universally profound meaning - meaning in art, can be quite personal - and to me, that is just the carcass of a shark, it's strangely beautiful, but so is any sardine lying flat and gleaming at a fishmonger's block - perhaps, to me, even more so - you see? I have now attached my own personal meaning and interpretation, and find a bloody £1 sardine more meaningful than a £1m embalmed shark - and who could argue against it?)