From Russia With Rock

The Return of Mousetrap

Mousetrap frontman Patrick Buchanan thought he was getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Little did he know that the next six months would forever change his perspective on life in these United States. But before we get to that, I urge you to get online right now and buy your ticket(s) to the Mousetrap reunion show Dec. 29 at The Waiting Room (or Dec. 28 at The Bourbon Theater for Lincoln folks). Guitarist/vocalist Buchanan and bassist Craig Crawford, who make up the core of this seminal Omaha punk band along with new drummer Mike Mazzola, are once again faced with great expectations. They not only have to compete with the golden memories of fans and bands that grew up watching them in the '90s (which includes just about every Saddle Creek Records musician), they also have to live up to last year's reunion show, which was better than any Mousetrap show I'd seen. Now on with Buchanan's version of It's a Wonderful Life … Like Spalding Gray, Eric Bogosian or any other great storytellers of the past, Buchanan knows how to spin a yarn that's so utterly fantastic, you're forced to wonder if he's telling the truth. Back in the '90s, he would call long-distance while on tour with Mousetrap and confess to some of the sickest, most twisted behavior imaginable -- all of which not only built upon the band's already notorious reputation, but also made for some great copy, regardless of whether it was true. This time, Buchanan says everything was true, and I believe him. He says he just returned stateside after spending the past six months in Russia, where he worked at BBDO Moscow -- one of the largest advertising agencies in the world whose accounts include Mercedes Benz and Pepsi. "Everything about life there was so intense and heavy, every single aspect of every minute of your day was so difficult, that it toughened me up in ways that I can't explain -- mentally, physically, everything," Buchanan says. "Stuff that would have bothered me before or pissed me off doesn't even affect me now. All I have to do is remember life in Russia and think about how amazing we have it here." His description of Russian life was like a scene straight from the Terry Gilliam film Brazil. Buchanan's office was in a row of giant identical, numbered office buildings that resembled faceless prisons. His daily two-mile bicycle commute was like a post-war obstacle course, spotted with falling buildings and 100-foot-deep holes in the streets. "I would always listen to Throbbing Gristle's 'Discipline' during the commute," he says. "It was a meta experience of total extremism." Extreme, like the gigantic forest fires that blazed just outside the city throughout August. "Because they deregulated their entire fire department to make money, a fire that here would have been put out in a couple days raged out of control for a couple weeks," Buchanan says. The blaze eventually spread to a nearby peat bog. "The combination of wild fires and the peat bog blanketed the city in toxic smoke. For a week I had to wear a full-on gas mask outside just to breathe. When I walked down the street at two in the afternoon the sun looked like the moon because the sky was so dark with ash and shit. It felt like a nuclear holocaust, like World War III had happened." Adding to the conditions was the hottest summer in Moscow's recorded history. "About 150 people died over the course of two weeks because they drank themselves to death in public places," Buchanan says. "No one has air conditioning. To escape the heat they'd get a bottle of vodka and drink until they passed out, sometimes into a fountain where they drowned. They had the choice of dying either by burning up or breathing the air." Luckily, Buchanan's 300-square-foot studio apartment, which cost 50,000 rubles a month (about $1,500) was air-conditioned. He hadn't counted on Moscow's extremely high cost of living, not only in terms of money, but in time. The simple act of making a deposit at a bank took no less than an hour, thanks to the mountain of forms that had to be filled out. "It's like their whole system was designed by some evil architect to try to make every single factor of life as difficult as possible," he says. At least the city was safe from crime; that is if you could afford to bribe the police. "They're shameless about it," Buchanan says of the payoffs. "If the police shake you down and you don't have any money, they'll drive you to an ATM," which is exactly what happened to him after he accidentally drove the wrong way down a one-way street. Over time, things only got worse. Then out of the blue, Buchanan got a call from a former colleague who knew of a job opening at Detroit ad agency Doner. And just like that, the nightmare ended. Clarence got his wings and Buchanan was back in the U.S. of A. with a new, more patriotic attitude. "I never considered myself one of those 'America, I love it' guys," he said. "I grew up a punk rocker in the Reagan years, so my idea of the United States is more negative, the world's oppressor. But it's like what people say who have been to war: If you haven't experienced it, you can't know what it's like. Moscow is like that. The people are incredibly tough, and it toughened the shit out of me. I feel invincible here." God Bless America, and pass the borscht …

posted at 08:55 pm
on Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

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