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My name is Keegan McInroe, and I am a singer-songwriter from Lubbock who’s been living in Fort Worth off and on since 2001 when I began my four years of study at Texas Christian University. Over the course of my ten plus years writing, performing and recording original music, I’ve played hundreds of shows and traveled thousands of miles throughout the United States and Europe. My latest tour is a four-month trek and ramble north, east, south, and west around the Old World. Whether you’re a fellow musician, a fellow traveler, or simply a reader who loves a good tale from the road, Texas Troubadour Abroad –– my bi-monthly travelogue published here on the Weekly’s website –– will have something for you.

“I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.” ― Steve Martin

It’s taken me four trips to Brussels, but I’ve finally stumbled upon the Red Light District here.

Ben's-Triple-300x2508

Once, when traveling by train into Brussels Midi-Zuid Station, a friend had said, “Oh, there’s the Red Light Light District.” I observed the blurred passing red lights burning dimly in the daytime but saw no flesh and had no bearings — I deducted it was close to the train tracks, but that was my one hint.

Just now, walking at speed from my truncated, outdoor gig at Les Apéros du Parc Josaphat to Brussels Noord Station, as I neared my destination, I came across the bra-and-pantied women in the windows, beckoning beneath the glow of red lights. All that meat. Smiling. Smelling of baby powder and a long shift’s worth of customers. Or maybe they’d just come on. Fresh — ish.

There’s talent out there, anyhow. The Friday Night A Team. The few I saw would give Amsterdam’s a run for their money, easy enough — and would give me pause, had I the time. Mercifully, I had no time. I was in a rush to catch this train I now find myself on. Heading north to gig number two in Essen. A stop for small talk and I’ve had missed this pony.

I’ve never employed a prostitute, but each trip to Amsterdam — and these new fleeting glimpses of Brussels’ finest ladies of the night — makes me wonder if I’ll be able to go to my grave saying the same. If I wish to keep my cherry intact, I’d be wise to avoid these window undressings in varied cities about the world.

But everyone has got to eat. I’m doing well. Spread the wealth. Spread the love. Possibly leave with something more than you came with.

A head full of Bukowski and a liver full of booze doesn’t help. I just started Factotum over a liter of beer at a small cafe before today’s earlier gig. Then more strong Belgium beer at the gig and a hurried set up and performance. Now beers on the train. And I have an ass-flask of vodka. I’ll arrive in Essen fully cocked if I’m not careful.

What in the hell is wrong with all the damn babies on these trains, trams, subways, buses, airplanes, restaurants, parks? I have been haunted by crying babies for weeks now. Everywhere I go: ear-piercing, wailing, sobbing, red-faced babies.

Do they know something I don’t? How are the children in Texas these days? Around Europe they are quite unhappy and they’re letting everyone this side of eternity hear it.

It’s enough to make me want to castrate myself and every other male I see that has the sparkle of future progeny in his eye.

It brings to mind a time I was on another train somewhere going somewhere else and a baby was letting loose a double-barrel blast of cry cry cry and this little girl who was also apparently being annoyed, climbed off her father’s lap — she couldn’t have been more than five or so — walks right over to the wailing baby, gets in wailing baby’s face, and loudly “Shhhh!” with one little finger on her lips. The baby stopped. It even giggled. Both sets of parents laughed. I couldn’t believe it. A little later the baby started thinking about winding up the vocals again, and the little saint, smiling big, walks back over, and shooshes the baby again. The baby stopped. Incredible. I’d never thought of trying that. So direct. So honest. So effective.

But I doubt I’d get laughter from the parents of this present little discontent. I think you have to be a five year old girl. That’s the line. No getting away with that kind of honesty as a 32 year old man, beer in hand, unkept beard inches away from the future’s face. They’d take care of the castration for me.

Prostitutes and babies and castration. There’s a thread somewhere.

This is an early start to the writing. It’s Friday. I usually wait until Saturday or Sunday. But reading Bukowski makes me want to write prose like listening to Dylan makes me want to write songs. And it makes me want to drink. So here we are. You and I. On a train with about an hour and change to get through at least two beers and some pulls of cheap clear liquor.

Speaking of you, it’s occurred to me that perhaps I’ve failed you. I’ve kept this journal pretty ego-centric. Whereas I could have gone on and on about novelties and idiosynchronicities and customs of various places you’ve maybe never been before, I’ve mostly focused on my exploits, which, excepting the various changes in scenery and accents, could almost as easily be observed on the streets of Magnolia Avenue right there in Fort Worth, Texas. Or on the DART from Fort Worth to Dallas.

I could have mentioned that I was in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina during Ramadan, mentioned the single firework that went off in the evening to signal the end of each day’s fast, mentioned each day’s amplified calls to prayer from the mosques’ high-perched speakers. I could have mentioned the early evening drinks and complimentary finger foods that are the Italian aperitif, a tradition every country should adopt, a tradition I love. I’ve been meaning to tell you about that.

I could go on about the Syrian refugee crisis that shouldn’t be a crises because there’s plenty of fucking room and these people need fucking help getting out of a war zone American and European governments have made much larger and more explosive and destructive than it ever could have been on it’s own — come you masters of war.

I could have mentioned how apparently girls in Scandinavia get worked up over a man who can handle a horse, or the fact that you can drink on the streets in Germany unmolested, or how in the Istanbul airport you’ll get the greatest cultural cross-section of humanity and world fashion that I’ve seen anywhere, or how that on a Belgian train you can pull from your tall boy of Polish beer while handing your ticket to a smiling employee in orange trimmed uniform.

I could give more insight into how America is perceived abroad.

Let me tell you: this whole business about Trump being a front-runner has made us the laughing-stock of the fucking world. And rightfully so. It’s embarrassing. We’ve finally made the big switch. Celebrity worship and politics, flirting and finger-banging it out beneath racy underwear for so long, finally doing the horizontal tango naked on the big screen in front of God and everyone.

It’s as shameful, despicable, and maddening as the possibility of another Clinton or Bush presidency. It’s as shameful as our brazen, arrogant foreign policy the last sixty plus years — with very few exceptions — which most Europeans — and citizens of the world — loathe and are sick and tired of. To be outside of the American bubble — i.e. the rest of our planet — can be an eye-opening, bubble-bursting experience.

But there’s also the commonly relayed observations of how warm and open American people are. How welcoming and friendly. There’s clearly a disconnect between the people and the so-called government of the people, by the people, for the people.

We need to kill apathy and breed action.

Our country has been hijacked by asshats in business suits and toupees with erupting fountains of horseshit flying out both sides of their mouths they’ve convinced the public is Nutella. We’re being divided and conquered by plastic snake-oil salesmen and saleswomen with suitcases full of speechwriters, personal stylists, advertising specialists, morticians, and fleas posing as acrobats. We’re being represented by the absolute worst our country has to offer — and of course, there is no representation. Not of the people. Only big money interests from giant multi-national corporations and banks, Wall Street, Big Pharma, the military-industrial complex.

Have you figured out yet how big a business war is? Perpetual war is perpetual profit. Maybe this is unpopular to really talk about in Fort Worth.

And then there’s the big energy companies. When a politician starts talking about the environment, about saving the planet, and then presents a money-making scheme to do so, know that this politician is full of Nutella, a devil and insincere. Know that so much energy technology has been suppressed the last 100 years that we could have gone completely off of oil decades ago. Still could. Oil and the dependency on oil is a mechanism of control. And it’s also great big gobs of cash pocket-lining for interested parties and greed-head politicos.

America is not a republic. America is not a democracy. America is an oligarchy.

oligarchy [ol-i-gahr-kee]

noun, plural oligarchies.

a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

I want to delve into all of this. I suppose Texas Troubadour Abroad isn’t the place. Still, I could be doing more toward consciousness-expansion, toward a better tomorrow, toward an awakening and less toward self-aggrandizing. Until then — wherever, however — here are the tales from the last few weeks.

~

I didn’t go to the casino the night in question. I went the next night. I had wrapped up a gig at Camden Proud and met up with American songbird Margo Cilker who had just arrived in London to kick off a tour. We sucked down a bottle of vodka, nostrils full of urine from countless romantics relieving themselves down along the water, with some friends of her’s along a canal in Camden Town, deciding vehemently: “We got ta get phruu vis.”

They left me with a male swimmer whom I quickly left with a bike. I had waking up a winner in mind. To the casino. It was a table I could have thrived at: no exceptionally big stacks, no heavy raises against the big blind, no real hot shots. And thrive I did. For a time.

I got impatient. I thought “I need a big fucking hand.” I was dealt Ace and Jack suited. I took it as a sign of my impending fortune. It was my doom. I ended up all-in that hand.

It was the river that killed me, but I could have easily been dead beforehand. I slept and woke a loser.

Fittingly, we are nearing Essen. One story down. More stories to come. I’m cocked and loaded.

~

I’m sitting at a tiny cafe in Brugge. Out the window to my left is an old Gothic church, grey skies, light rain, and pedestrians — a small sampling of the five million tourists which make their way to this picturesque Belgian town annually. Around me French, Dutch, and English are being chirped. I’ve put my headphones in and selected the Buena Vista Social Club to attempt to drown out the chatter and gain some focus.

It’s not working, but the Belgian beer is.

I started this writing early and now I’m late. It’s Monday. I should have this turned in by now, but these last several days have been a bit of a whirlwind around Belgium, and the weekend required my full attention and presence.

Last night I played Comptoir Des Arts a fantastic cellar blues bar here in town. A local celebrity blueser known as Long Tall Danny opened the show. It was his first time to publicly perform solo. It was the bar’s first night having any solo act in their five year history. It was, by all accounts, a success.

The night before I performed in Antwerp at another lovely little venue Café AMI , which was made extra special by the fact Travis Dixon, my old bandmate from Catfish Whiskey, made the gig and joined me for some tunes on bass. After we stumbled around with some new friends and got weird.

There was falafel, beers, bottles of cheap Scotch-whiskey and cheaper vodka, a man dubbed “Andre the Giant” yelling unintelligibly, laughing hysterically, almost falling, putting his arms around Travis, laughing harder, yelling, staggering off into the night, a trio of French speaking lads pushing a plastic rolling vacuum as if to clean the streets, occasionally spinning the vacuum and crouching into a defensive position, ready to strike, or drink from our bottle, and several times one of the young men pulled down his sweatpants to reveal his ass covered in some sort of writing which I never could quite make-out, but he did try to use our bottle cap as a butt-plug.

And there was a breathalyzer in a car park that said Travis was over-the-limit at .055 or .056, but when I tried it — no matter how many times I tried it — it just made a strange sound and the screen blinked “ h i ” and that I too was un-specifically over-the-limit.

The night ended around 5 a.m. at a not-gay-bar gay bar and a long, numb run at getting some rocks off before eventual sleep.

And the night before that I was on a train, drunk on Bukowski and booze, en route to Café Heuvelzicht in Essen, working myself into a little frenzy about crying babies, prostitutes, and politicians.

The gig in Essen went quite well, with Tom Beardslee, an American expat, sitting in on guitar and lap steel and doing a fine job of it. I ended up in at a beach party with several older men that night in a bar which had brought in a thick layer of sand to cover the floor for the amusement of all 15 or so men that were in the bar. I didn’t stay long.

I haven’t been back to the casinos. Not yet.

After awaking a loser back in London, I met up with a couple from Oxford who film live performances of various artists in interesting spaces. Oak Sessions  is the company name. For me, they chose a park. I chose my new song Give Me the Rain to perform, hoping for and receiving that dependable grey English weather. When we found our spot, as they began setting up, I pulled a small bottle of whiskey from my guitar bag and started pulling from it.

Laughter.

“You could not have done anything more Texan.”

Laughter.

“This is Scotch-whiskey, not bourbon. But yes, glad I can uphold a stereotype for y’all.”

The session went well, and they got the video I up a few days ago.

That night I played the famous London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s and almost got in a fight at a Chinese restaurant afterward with a man who commented that my reading the menu aloud to my friend across the table was “a perfect example of what’s wrong with Americans.” The man had a giant forehead. I thought about smashing it. I kept mumbling under my breath a bit, but my senses were a little too dulled to get a proper shot in verbally. What an asshole.

I enjoyed a couple of days off in London then made for Swindon for a weekend of gigs with my friend Jon Buckett on keys and my new friends Brendan Hamley on a cocktail drum kit and Andrew Maggs on bass. We made up the show I missed back in May at The Bee-Hive on Friday night and played a new venue The Locomotive on Saturday. That night ended around the table at Jon and his better half’s watching the sun come up and bullshitting and playing music and laughing.

The gigs went well enough to begin planning a string of shows with the band in May 2016 around the area.

Monday I made my way to Belgium via the Eurostar. It was delayed due to a flooded station in Lille, but the next day it was delayed due to refugees getting into the tunnel to try and hop a ride into the UK. There’s a small refugee camp in Calais in northern France where desperate men, women, and children daily attempt to make their way to a better life via the tunnel. Many die trying. Many die making their way to Calais.

I touched on this above, but it’s a tragedy and a damning revelation in regards to the current state of human sympathies that these poor people are not being welcomed and assisted rather than fought and turned away. There is growing support amongst the population, but the world’s governments are a bit slower coming around.

The same day that the refugees were trying to make their way to the UK for a better life, delaying the Eurostar trains for hours, three teachers in Brussels committed suicid themselves in separate incidents, throwing themselves in front of the trains on the first day of school, answering the question of why every train was so significantly delayed while I tried to get to my show in Bever that evening at Rosario B&B. What a world.

I heard this news from a friend on Wednesday when I met up with him to play a few songs at a going-away party in his office for one of his co-workers — my first office party gig — and the information was delivered rather matter-of-fact. Apparently, Belgium has a quite high suicide rate.

Thursday I met Mr. Ruben Bertrands in Leuven for a recorded interview and in-studio performance to be aired in a few weeks when Radio Scorpio, the oldest independent radio station in Belgium, returns to the airwaves after their summer break. That evening I had a show at another great cellar bar La Porte Noir, which ended with a sexy, fascinating woman with a multitude of metal piercings and pink-purple hair leading me to Tom Beardslee for my night’s accommodation.

The woman’s name is Mascha Patigny, and she does performances with “fire and horses” she told me. On her website there is a sitting horse and the woman herself in mask. I need to catch this show.

And Friday was Bukowski and the gig in the park and the train and we’ve come full circle.

And how about this? The clouds have parted and the sun is now shining and I’ve already got several beers in me to start my day of sightseeing. I just found out my house concert tomorrow in Germany has been cancelled, which means I have two days off to do whatever.

Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam. Maybe I’ll stay in Brugge. Maybe I’ll go to Cologne. Whatever I do, rest assured, if it is worth talking about — and likely even if it isn’t — you’ll be hearing about it here in a couple of weeks.

Until then….

Keegan McInroe

September 7, 2015

Brugge, Belgium

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