Arts Desk

Across the Europeverse: Esslingen, Germany

JQA — a pretty cool president.

For most of the month of October, Arts Desk contributor Justin Moyer and his band, D.C. modern rock quartet Edie Sedgwick, are touring Europe. Here is his latest dispatch.

Our adventures at Dachau and a huge traffic jam in Munich make us late for the show in Esslingen, a small suburb of Stuggart. The venue is called “Komma.” Promoter J., who I have known since 2002, has worked at “Komma” since dinosaurs roamed the earth, listening to Nirvana. He makes us vegan dumplings, vegan strudel and a vegan sauce for the strudel that is either really lumpy, or is a vegan pudding.

After the show, for which we are paid 250 euro, I sell T-shirts to a young woman who has fallen on hard times. She traveled to Lake Constance to study art and literature, then dropped out; her mother died, and her father either is “crazy” or has “gone crazy,” though it's unclear whether this means that he is in an institution, or merely an asshole; her boyfriend made some unfortunate decisions in re: his facial hair, which looks a little bit like Herman Cain's, and a little bit like "Macho Man" Randy Savage's. “I lack orientation,” she says. (A side note: I am well aware that bloggers and memoirists have an annoying habit of recreating decades-old conversations and putting them in quotes as if they just happened. In fact, I just read an otherwise engaging memoir by a dolphin specialist who engaged in this atrocious habit, "quoting" dialogue from the 1980s as if it had been transcribed from a tape recorder. I do not engage in this habit—when I quote someone, it is a quote. Don't hate.)

After selling about 100 euros of merchandise, I wish the woman well and devote the rest of the evening to my favorite hobby: finding a place to sleep that is as far away from the rest of the band as possible. Though we are ostensibly to sleep in a small room on twin mattresses a la summer camp ‘89, I instead choose a couch in the kitchen. There, unable to rest, I read a biography of John Quincy Adams late into the night.

On page 296, JQA is finally elected to the presidency. “It may confound some readers that a biography of any American president should devote only a single chapter to his administration,” the author writes. “Nevertheless, such brevity seems appropriate for John Quincy Adams. His four years were a misery for him and for his wife…His administration was a hapless failure and best forgotten, save for the personal anguish it cost him.”

Around 3 a.m., I decide that I like JQA. He was the first normal-ish president. Though the founding fathers are, by definition, a bit pretentious, JQA can’t really be counted as one. He’s prickly, vain, cranky, tempermental, and unsure of himself; as ambassador to Russia and England, he lives beyond his means and, even after his administration, is only one step ahead of bankruptcy; he rails against slavery, but seems to hate black people; he gives overlong speeches on arcane subjects, i.e. “the nature of faith”; he translates Cicero; he almost dies in a boating accident; his own biographer seems to slightly hate him; he was probably an alcoholic. Still, like Gallagher or Roger Waters, average folks seem to love him. In the end, he’s just the son of a famous dude who, as a result, became a famous dude too—in spite of himself.

There are worse fates.

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