Book Excerpt

From 'Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand'

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Monday, January 22, 2007; 5:44 PM

After a show, food options can be grim. A lucky leftover pizza slice or dressing-room scraps - ham that's cracked and hardened from the air conditioning but pink and slippery where the slices overlap. Or Subway. The smell of stale Subway is part of the subtle odour combination that makes the stench of a band's touring van. We're in Washington DC, and I'm not hoping for much, when I get a text message from Nick. 'Ebbitt's Grill. Oysters and Guinness.' It's on the other side of the White House lawn. Floodlit cherry blossom wafts delicate scent over the black railings and ram-resistant concrete blocks. Cops lay placid hands on holstered hips, leaning against a polished patrol car, chatting. It's a surreally peaceful spring night in the capital. The barman is a Scot. Nick is excited because his Westcott Bay oysters were half price. Oysters on special offer? My stomach cramps in warning.

I spy the barman. Grey flat-top and Dickensian specs. Highwaisted black apron. Starched white shirt. He left Irvine in 1982 but didn't forget his accent. I wonder if he is going to be a Jimmy MacJimmy. Every town in the world has a Jimmy MacJimmy - an expat parody of a Scot. Although they have not been home in thirty years, their identity is based around being a 'Jock'. Nobody who stays in Scotland describes themselves as 'Jocks'. Jimmies speak with a comical brogue like actors in Disney films about Brigadoon O'Doon or Greyfriar's Bobby. The vocabulary is archaic. 'Acccchhh - they muckle jooabbies urrr braaaaw!' When they learn you are from Glasgow, they lean a wee bit too far into your face.

There's a Jimmy MacJimmy in Manhattan, who runs a fish and chip shop. When we were shooting the video for the song 'Do You Want To?', we wanted some chips as a prop. We didn't want fries, those lightweight twigs the unfortunate many in the rest of the world have to eat, but chips. Thick, soggy wedges of greasy potato like you can only get at home. Or Manhattan. You can get anything in Manhattan. Any flavour from anywhere on the planet is there, including real chips. So the runner brought the hot paper parcels back and Jimmy followed, the smell of Scotland in his nostrils and the smell of whisky on his breath. He stumbled around the set searching for us, shaking our hands and crushing them with grievous bodily enthusiasm. The more famous you are, it seems the more people want to squash the bones in your fingers when they meet you. I'm not very famous. It must be tough on the digits of David Bowie. Or Lou Reed - his handshake is barely there - a whisper of palm against palm. A German journalist told me that he interviewed him once and was told by his press officer not to offer to shake his hand, as he had injured it. The interview went well, both warming to each other. As he got up to leave, Reed offered his hand to shake. The journo was baffled, so Lou explained that he got the press officer to tell the injury story. People are intimidated when they meet him, so they tend to bone-crush to show that they aren't. It's easier for him to avoid shaking this way than to explain why he won't shake.

Ryan is all right, though. He knows everything about Rangers and oysters. He tells me I should try a couple of dozen Olympias from Washington State. Tiny and intense - grey pearls shivering on thumbnail shells. DC is a city of extremes: Anglo-Saxon affluence and African-American poverty. Ebbitt's is a bastion of the former. Built in the mid-nineteenth century, the bar was, and is, a hangout of the political elite. Glass cases are stocked with antique shotguns and a wooden flock of decoy ducks. An oil-painted rusty gundog leaps from a frozen lake. The carved mahogany booths are cushioned in velvet. I scrape the shells and listen to Ryan talk about the days of Gazza's glory. It's so very lonely when you're two thousand light-years from home.

Reprinted by arrangement with Penguin Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from "Sound Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand" by Alex Kapranos.

Copyright © Alex Kapranos, 2006


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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