Suffering for ones art is a well-trodden trope. Yet punk rock troubadour Eamon McGrath manages to breath new life into the subject, as well as the most rockist of all subjects, the tour diary, in his first book, Berlin-Warszawa Express. A novella based on a composite version of his and his friends experiences traversing the wilds of Eastern Europe, guitar in hand, McGrath recounts the path that first brought him to the continent and the friends and experiences that have kept him coming back every since.
Though barely 100 pages long, McGrath imbues his tales of broken teeth, sweaty shows and drunken nights with a deeper sense of purpose than "the next show." He pulls on the histories of the Eastern European nations he visits — notably Germany and Poland — drawing parallels between artists of the past and the touring musicians of the present; he sees a straight line running through that history that has impacted the way musicians are viewed and treated in the region. Food (and drink) and lodging are de rigueur, and the relatively short distances coupled with a plethora of rail links makes touring not just viable, but enjoyable, even for a relatively unknown performer like McGrath.
At times its hard to remember that the book, written in the first person, is a work of fiction; anyone familiar with McGrath's work, or the life of your average touring musician, will immediately identify with many of the problems the protagonist encounters. Ultimately though, what comes across is that while the path McGrath — or at least the fictionalized version presented here — walks may look like suffering in the eyes of some (little financial reward, poor health, many hangovers), for others these have been enriching life experiences unobtainable anywhere else in the world.
Evocative without become overly romantic, Berlin-Warszawa Express expertly captures the life and mind-set of the starving artist, offering convincing proof that they are more fulfilled than we could ever imagine. (ECW Press)