Thursday, November 12, 2015

Italy, KJ Jansen, and me

Two and a half years... I hadn't seen one face from Italy in that amount of time which was way too long!! Needless to say, on October 21st, I was full of anticipation to get back out to a location that feels more like home to me than lots of other places. After weeks and weeks of sunny skies, rain clouds were the first thing to greet me as I walked out the front door of my place that morning and I knew this would be no easy journey to my destination. After a 45 minute delay on the first flight caused my wait for a connection in DIA to grow from less than one to five hours and seeing enough tie dye t-shirts to make any self respecting punk rocker barf, I boarded a direct flight to Frankfurt. Praise Dee Dee for teaching me how to get my way inside of an airport minus the calling anyone motherfuckers part. Only he could do that!! From there I was just a short hop away from Milan and FINALLY, I made it. To the land of good coffee, pizza, beautiful architecture, many of my dearest friends, music I hold very dear, and handsome punk rockers. Italia Ti Amo.

   What I did on the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th of October. Time well spent! 

After finding my gracious host Chris Polecat at Malpensa, there wasn't much time to do anything else other than take a shower, get dolled, and head to Salsomaggiore. Specifically to the Devils Den because none other than KJ Jansen was playing an acoustic set there. This architect of 90's pop punk is so special to me and while I adore Chixdiggit, getting the opportunity to see him perform in a more stripped down way was something I was really looking forward to. Another part of going to this show that made me happy was finally getting to meet JC Atom, a friend and fellow writer for his own webzine Massoneria Ramonica which I love for the sense of honesty and humor he can always project each time he creates a new piece. After hanging out, meeting a few new faces, and of course getting reacquainted with good wine, KJ started to play, making an atmosphere only he can create. In all honesty... l can grow a little weary with pop punk heroes when they perform this way but KJ managed to become my favorite one in about two minutes. No fun you'd expect from one of his electric performances was missing and he was completely engaging as always, including everyone in the moment right from the start. That's what I love about this man. You're never in observation of his craft because he makes you a part of it.  I OF COURSE was in the bathroom when he played "I Remember You" which was one of the two songs I wanted to hear most but it was no huge loss because the whole set he played was filled with lots to smile for. There was a great cover of Cheap Trick's "Surrender"at the end, and our completely winsome pop punk superhero was finished for the night!!

    KJ and Tough at Sound Bonico.

KJ was perfect and I was so excited to know that after catching up on a little desperately needed sleep, I'd be seeing him again the next night in Piacenza. With his strong devotion to doing everything precisely on the day of a show he's playing, Chris and I were the first ones to arrive at Sound Bonico besides the staff and I got reacquainted with more good wine as he got the back line set up. Are you sensing a theme for this girl Dee Dee yet? Not long after, familiar faces began to arrive and then KJ joined by Diego. While KJ and Tough were announced on the bill, there was a pretty big secret in the works. Not only would they be playing their own sets but at the end of Tough's, KJ would come plug in with the guys to surprise everyone with an electric set of six Chixdiggit songs! Chris, Biso, and Robi as his backing band could only be a good thing. KJ went on to do his set, opening the night and was nothing short of fantastic once again as he effortlessly filled the room with his infectious charisma. Lots more smiles going and singing along. This was my favorite of the two sets I got to see him play and I recorded him doing "Brunette Summer" which you can see here! Next up it was time for Tough. I make no mystery when it comes to my love for this now part Piacenza, part Milan trio and this time I was just as excited as I was the last time I saw them in Rome. In true Ramones fashion, they wasted no time delivering what they do best, ripping through so many songs in a short amount of time including a nice range of selections from their discography. It was great to finally see the new ones from their Hurricane 7" in person and of course as always, yes I cried when they played "Hey Baby Monster". It happens!! In addition to all this, it was the first time I got to see them play live with Robi since he joined as guitarist and there was no surprise in how impressed I was with him. I've been crazy for that guy ever since the first time I heard Mega and he proved himself to be a total asset for Tough too. As things were closing for their set, KJ inconspicuously crept on stage and it was time for the debut of a little band we call Toughdiggit. These guys only had one sound check as far as rehearsal time was concerned, but the chemistry between everyone was super cohesive and I got my wish to see "Melissa Louise" be played! The set was short but so much fun and since I had the feeling lots of people who couldn't be there would want to see it, I recorded four songs(click here or here to see them)!! 

    Toughdiggit at soundcheck and in action!

Now we arrived on Saturday... Which was the one day that made me choose to be back in Italy during this specific time. As a total Summer Sissy/Autumn type person, I had decided that's when I would go season wise but my wizard of rock 'n' roll science/chosen brother Andrea Manges started to suggest this particular weekend. There was great purpose to this suggestion as I soon discovered this would be the first opportunity in my life that I'd be getting to see the band that initially brought my attention to Italian punk rock. In Italy no less and yes I'm talking about the Manges!! My mind was made up from that point and this show was appealing for obvious reasons but also the Ponches would be playing and the show would be taking place at a long running squat in the heart of Milan. So the stars are aligned in a very magical way to do something I've always hoped for, and fuck yes I'm going. After arriving to my former writing partner of I Buy Records and forever brother Andrea Imbalzano's flat with Chris, we made our way along with him and his beautiful girlfriend Ale whom I am crazy for to the show. All I can say is, Holy Shit!!! I was aware Milan could be a clusterfuck of people during the day but my social anxiety began to be dizzying in those crowds that seemed even more dense at night. It was totally worth it to be a brave little girl Dee Dee though because after clearing the gauntlet of earthlings on those crowded streets, we were at our destination, Cox 18. I loved everything about the feeling of this place from the somewhat hidden door as we entered, to the layout of the patio, and of course the inside because my brothers the Manges were waiting there. After a big hug from my tallest brother Mass, I said hello to one of my most favorite painters in the world, Manuel, and finally got to place a voice with the talented Mayo's face. After Andrea appeared I can't describe the way I felt in any other way than to say I was at home. Home is never a location and always a feeling to me!! Chris and I decided to take a walk down the street while things were getting set up with the very cool Raffaele Meles for a drink and then I started to see them appear from every direction... There's really no way you're gonna go to a big show like that in Milan without knowing the presence of SNAFU and this was also something that made me happy! I found my favorite agent of their special forces for some terribly missed hugs and then it was back to the squat for some rock 'n' roll.

    The Ponches and The Manges at Cox 18!

I have admired the Ponches for quite some time now but really had no clue what I was in for as I watched them go into motion. In a word they are powerful. In more they are one of the best live bands I've ever seen and I was so happy just to exist in the moment while they were on. "Hum" is one hell of a record too but I will save that for another time, because as they were starting to tear down, I was moving quickly to stake my claim on a spot in the front. It's kinda crazy to love a band for as many years as I have the Manges and after so many missed opportunities, submitting to the fact that I may never see them live, then it all changes in one instance of good fortune. This moment is one that I place above anything monetary because it was my dream coming true. They played so many songs I am infatuated for from "Barrage Of Hate" to "All Is Well", then even a couple of the new ones that will be revealed on their upcoming "Florida EP", but that wasn't all cause they chose some great covers too!! I stood there with little hearts in my eyes for "Judy Go Home", the Ramones songs they always give great honor to, and in the end it was "Say Goodbye To Your Generation". It all was over way too fast for my liking but all things that matter are this way: You treasure them while they're happening, and you take the memory with you. I'll have that picture in my head forever. If you look at it you'll see one of the greatest poets punk rock has ever had, an entirely commanding bass player that no one can compare to, an enigmatic guitarist that just draws you in, and then a drummer who leads from the back of the stage with more integrity than 1000 punk rockers put together. The Ramones may have saved my life but I will always be ready to tell you in a heartbeat that it's bands like the Manges that keep my pulse strong.

What a night and previous two days to be grateful for.

In closing I'd like to send a special thank you to all the bands, venues, everyone who went out of their way to connect with me, and last but not least Chis Polecat who is the reason I even got to go in the first place.

Then there's one last thank you. It's the biggest one and for my father who suddenly took ill as I was leaving for this trip. Sadly he passed away a few days after I got back home... Papa never fully understood what I do with Ramona Confidential but would always proudly tell anyone he spoke with, "My daughter Sara is a writer!!". This was our bond in life, for him to always motivate me to do what I loved and while I did disappear to take care of him as his health declined, I commit to return back to this, as my way to honor him. No matter what happens, my friends, remember this time we have to exist is so short. So do not use it for anything less than what you believe in. That is a life worth living.

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