Rollins’s Get in the Van meets Bidini’s On a Cold Road in an original fever dream
While touring Europe, Eamon McGrath wrestled with one of the biggest questions on the mind of any touring artist: should you suffer for your art? The pain and heartache that goes along with a working musician’s lifestyle must serve as a means to some kind of cathartic end, McGrath argues — otherwise that torment served no purpose. In Berlin-Warszawa Express, McGrath fictionalizes experiences from his life and the lives of his peers to seek out meaning and significance in the tumultuous and emotional experience of living on the road.
From boozy techno-fied weekends in Berlin, to punk squats in Prague, to the alleyways and barrooms of Vienna, McGrath chronicles the dramatic changes in emotion and culture occurring on both sides of the train window in this raucous debut.
McGrath's debut is a tight, vulnerable, trimmed-to-the-bone experience, a fictionalized memoir that begins in 2010 as the author a folk musician is touring Europe alongside a ragtag group of Canadian musicians. Low on funds and even lower on morale, McGrath draws readers into his tale of drunkenness, chance encounters, long nights on the floors of airports, and surviving a skinhead club in Chemnitz thanks to the magic of Neil Young. Suffering underlies much of McGrath's story, from physical mishaps to emotional upheavals, including a reckoning with his growing reliance on alcohol to make it through each night on the road. But there's a larger question of suffering at the heart of this book: chiefly, what artists are or are not expected to give of themselves in order to "make it," and if what it takes is even worth it in the end. Readers only get brief glimpses of McGrath's life back in Canada, and his descriptions of the time between overseas tours are like the filler tracks on an album, the songs between the hits. This book isn't an album, though; it's less a narrative and more a mosaic, a playlist of moments that define a life or a story.