Breaking news. This is Nathan Payne’s account:
On 15 May, 2013, I arrived at Heathrow airport on a one-way flight from Chicago with $750 cash (USD) and a ferry ticket from Newhaven to Dieppe, FR on August 15th. I have a friend in Brighton who invited me to stay for 3 months. I am an American songwriter/performer accustomed to strumming away in bars for cash on the spot, maybe the occassional CD & t-shirt sale. The idea was to show up and solicit pubs for gigs, not necessarily paid, just to get some momentum back and find my live mojo again. Europe & the UK are historically very kind to American performers, and I was looking forward very much to performing for an audience with whom I share different cultural reference points. The US can be stifling, artistically; I once spoke to Rennie from The Handsome Family about why they will play 10 dates across the entire US and 20 in England alone, and she said it’s because they (Europeans, the UK) actually appreciate what you do, whereas in the US, anyone who doesn’t toe the mainstream line is forever relegated to the fringes of society. If you’re not a caterwauling, auto-tuned hedonist with a false morality that will inevitably “go bad” at some point (insert three obligatory cheers for manufactured, state-sponsored rebellion), you don’t exist. The esoteric fringes, of course, are sprawling, and there is a place within them, but I’ve found that it’s a stupid place, and a judgmental one in its own right. The people in these fringes are not interested in you, or your individuality, they’re interested in how much you resemble them. There is no room within these esoteric pigeonholes to deviate from the norm. And as a steppenwolf, I resemble nothing. Never, ever, anywhere, have I ever been able to entirely identify myself with any of the so-called subcultures we’re given to choose from. I have some rockabilly in me, but I’m not “rockabilly;” I have some punk-rock in me but I’m not “punk,” I have some alt-country in me but I’m not “country,” on & on, ad infinitum. The pre-fab architecture of the soul that looks like a viable option at the age of 25, exposes itself as the farce it is as time goes on, and your individuality becomes more apparent. Most people never question it, and make the transition from subculture-identification to mainstream-assimilation painlessly, perhaps even joyfully. Indeed, I have never met anyone who has ever perceived that such a transition is taking place at all. As a result, I find myself more isolated than ever, indulging in jaded bitterness and negativity. I can see the end of the story before I begin. I have lived all over the US, and have stories for almost everywhere. And it’s all variations on the same sub-breathable theme. Whether it’s Hollywood or New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, or Austin…whether you’re living in a trailer park in Arizona or sitting around a bonfire with a bunch of hippies in Vermont, whether you’re associating with bartenders or millionaires, heroin addicts or Jesus freaks, it’s always the same. “Be like me or else.” And I have lost my faith. I don’t see it anymore. Not merely because it’s dead, but because it doesn’t exist. Oh horrible, wonderful freedom.
Thus the idea of the UK & mainland Europe. My thinking was (and still is) that if I don’t fit in anyway, and am unable to sustain the believability of my association w/in these numerous subcultures long enough to actually gain enough momentum to successfully move on my own steam, perhaps I should go somewhere where I am an ACTUAL FOREIGNER. A place where I share absolutely no cultural reference points with anyone. A place where I would be allowed to exist as a genuine anomaly, as opposed to merely a by-product. Where my status as a foreigner would be readily apparent, and therefore no longer a stumbling block.
And so I sold my van and bought a one-way ticket to London. I have a friend in Brighton who extended a 3-month invitation, and I had planned to spend the 3 months getting my live mojo back, and then taking it to France & beyond. I arrived with the pretense of being “on vacation,” because I’ve heard horror stories about the UK. “Yes, and I’m going to France in 3 months, and here’s the ticket to prove it. This is my friend’s address in Brighton, where I will be PAYING NO RENT,” etc. I naively assumed that because I have no criminal record of any kind, any bureaucratic suspiciousness would be overruled by “common sense,” and that in a worst-case scenario I’d be warned to not stay beyond the date of the ferry departure, and that doing so could result in this or that unpleasant situation, and be allowed through customs.
What happened was that the officious, spiritually-parasitic gentleman at customs confiscated my passport and told me to sit and wait for further questioning. No problem. Check me out, please do. I had no problem with it. Though it was clear during the initial confrontation that this person was LOOKING for a reason to deny my entrance, especially when he asked me “what I planned to do when I got to France,” as though he’d discovered some great conspiracy to overthrow the universe, and that uncovering the true motives of a (gasp) American guitar player was a national security operation of the highest-possible significance, when in fact it’s the very existence of such irrational, bureaucratic rules that make the slightest deception necessary for those of us who aren’t inclined to have an itinerary for EVERY SENTIENT MOMENT OF OUR LIVES. Something in me was a red flag for him. My non-jaded curiosity and naive openness, perhaps. He asked me about my finances, which would prove to be morbidly ironic later, when his government apparently had no trouble purchasing a transatlantic airline ticket for me an hour before departure, which presumably isn’t cheap. I sat in the chair for awhile, and then a woman appeared and told me I would be attended to shortly. She was friendly. Still, no problem.
Before too long I was summoned to criminal-escort position and was led by two fluorescent-jacketed aluminum-fed drones into a dingy, walled-off wasteland where my belongings were searched. Several times enroute, one of the drones looked back at me suspiciously, because I was dragging behind, and it was clear this person was “on alert” to…..what, exactly? I will never have a rational explanation. Was he/she expecting me to….what. Flee? It was clearly something they’d been trained to EXPECT. The mediocrity of mind and soul was truly unbelievable, but I said nothing of course, never having been interested in the inner workings of an Orwellian obedience-hound. At the table, they searched my belongings and confiscated my journal book. A bit overzealous, to be sure, but not completely outside of the realm of paranoid, delusionary, Stasi-grade anti-thinking. The criminal, “guilty before proven innocent” treatment was beginning to manifest more clearly, but I still was not concerned. The songs in that book are copyrighted. Hey, enjoy the poem. Learn something, or not, who cares.
Then I was escorted with shifty-eyed suspiciousness (I know, I should have “made a run for it.” I now regret not doing so) to one of the inner caverns, the bureaucratic institutionality of which was so stereotypical that it was frankly unbelievable. After providing my fingerprints and 3 digital photographs to 3 different cameras pointed in my face at intimidating, antagonistic angles, my bags were tagged and separated from me, and I was led into a puke-green dungeon with a vending machine, a payphone, and a television behind plexiglass, on which was playing, of all things, “Dog The Bounty Hunter,” an American TV show I have never had the slightest interest in, because it’s retarded. At this point, the intimidation tactics were obvious. Fingerprinting? I was still under the charge of the same shifty-eyed agents that searched my bags during the fingerprinting process, and it was at that point that my soul began to react to the nightmare. I laughed it off, of course, and thanked them for their thoroughness, because whatever. I guess Interpol, Scotland Yard, and the Metropolitan Police need to MAKE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN I’M NOT GOING TO HACK A SOLDIER TO PIECES WITH A MACHETE IN BROAD DAYLIGHT, which happened a week later. It was overkill, but I wasn’t going to argue with it. I’m a foreigner, whatever. I thanked them for their unthinking obedience, though not exactly in those terms, and then they disappeared behind a series of extremely important doors. I was now on the set of the movie Brazil. Only a cipher could deny it.
The woman inside the dungeon was actually very friendly, as was the guy who frisked me and told me I couldn’t sit in the presence of my luggage. I sat there on the row of chairs and mused at the irony of the “diversity” poster on the wall. Every chair was a different shade of mediocre death. The television droned. It was easy to ignore.
At some point, a bureacratic woman entered, someone new, and led me into one of the adjoining interrogation rooms, of which there were several. She asked me many personal questions, including financial questions, what my parents did for a living, and whether or not I was interested in her country. I replied that I was, and expressed an interest in London in general, and even mentioned the possibility of visiting Stonehenge, to which she replied that it “wasn’t that great,” a mindset as unbelievable to me as the stereotypical institutionality of the room. It’s “not that great?” What, from a perspective of “entertainment value?” Is the rollercoaster broken? I was hoping to get a cocaine tattoo by a naked cotton candy salesman, on the exact spot where the Druids mapped the stars for their own personal religious use. What a disappointment to learn that one of the most significant cultural & historical landmarks on the planet “wasn’t that great.” I was really hoping that it was. My expectations were closed in that regard. I was going to be “disappointed” in it, I just knew it, because I was going to visit it with an ahistorical interest, like an imbecile. I will never be able to say I wasn’t warned.
The impression I got was that this woman, like the 2 suspicious escorts, and the first guy at customs, were GOING OUT OF THEIR WAY to be contrary, and/or to find something in me that was “non-compliant,” for use as a justifiable reason for my deportation, and their continued existence as useless appendages on an arbitrary, irrational system, if you’ll excuse my saying so. If I had told the Stonehenge derider that the sky was blue, she would have said, “well it’s really more grey than blue,” and if I’d said it was grey, I suspect she would have replied, “in a mostly-blue sort of way, perhaps, unless you go to Stonehenge, where the sky always sucks.” It was ridiculous. The interrogation ended, and I was allowed to go back to my puke-green asylum.
A short time later, a young woman from Pennsylvania was led into the room. She was visibly shaken. She was a certified, professional English teacher, and spent a good deal of time teaching English abroad, in places like Thailand, Israel, and India. She said that they asked her “what a girl like her was doing traveling around like that,” a question to which no response is possible, because it’s loaded, self-righteous, and moronic. She had a boyfriend in England, and a RETURN TICKET TO THE US for mid-June, but still she was taken aside for fingerprinting and interrogation. She looked to be in mild shock. The criminal treatment had its intended effect on her.
The Stonehenge derider returned and after leading me into the glass-walled privacy of the interrogation room told me I was not going to be allowed into the country, at which point my politeness instantly disappeared. I asked her at one point, “what, do you have a problem with artists?” To which she replied, “we like rich artists.” Whatever that means. Looking at it later on the internet, I’ve discovered numerous instances of “rich” artists with actual sponsorship from actual UK-based arts organizations being denied entrance for no discernable reason. I then told her I would spend the duration of my life lambasting the pale, bloodless wonderland with every ounce of wit I could muster, which I am doing now, and which I am going to do forever. Unless reason & common sense prevail, of course. My breath is in a holding pattern above Heathrow, circling expectantly, waiting for clearance to land. I fear that it will crash soon.
In fact it crashed already, while I was being escorted by yet another fluorescently-attired agent toward my return flight to Chicago, less than 4 hours after my arrival. My journal book was returned. The agent (who was friendly) gave my passport to the flight attendant, and instructed her not to return it to me until we’d landed, an order she ignored. Every time I was escorted, the eye of everyone in the airport was naturally drawn to me. I was made a criminal spectacle of. Personally, I don’t care about that at all, because I don’t inherently respect arbitrary authority that has no common sense (in fact I had a relatively genial conversation with the last agent), but it was an intimidation tactic, and it worked on the girl from Pennsylvania, and probably some of the other passengers in the airport as well. I was given expedited service at the security checkpoint, though I had not been out of sight of any security personnel for even an instant, not to mention the eye-in-the-sky.
Following is the statement issued by the invisible star chamber on high, which could not be deigned to actually talk to me personally, an American guitar player with no criminal record of any kind, with a ticket out of the country and a rent-free place to stay for 3 months.
COH ID #19619096
To: NATHAN GARRETT PAYNE
You have asked for leave to enter the United Kingdom as a visitor for three months but I am not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a visitor for the limited period as stated by you. This is because you have brought with you insufficient funds for your planned trip and do not have a ticket to return. I am not satisfied that this trip is commensurate with your socio-economic circumstances in in [sic] America; you have no property or assets and no employment to return to. I have taken into consideration that you have a sponsor in the United Kingdom but I am satisfied that reliance on this sponsor would mean your reliance on public funds; the requirements of the Rules [sic] for visitors specifically preclude persons from recourse to public funds. I have also taken into consideration your intention to perform, an activity not permissible within the Rules [sic] for visitors. I therefore refuse you leave to enter the United Kingdom.
The statement is signed and dated, 15 May 2013. The italics are my emphasis; the bold text is part of the original document. The word “rules” is capitalized, you will note. That too, is part of the original document. Not only does the star chamber know how much money I will need for my trip, a subjective variable to say the least, but it also justifies its decision based on the knowledge, attained through cross-examinations and multiple interrogations, that I have no property or assets, or employment, a typical ostracization device used by mainstream America, though I have 14 homemade studio albums and a rather pleasant singing voice, so I’m told. The woman in the dungeon seemed to enjoy my material very much as she listened to it on her thing-device. She was fairly transfixed to her device. I thought, “yeah, I think I will do well here.” I truly was not planning to stay. I only wanted to get my feet back. As a non-citizen I was fully prepared to be forced to leave from time to time, which would have been fun. France, Germany, Italy, who wouldn’t? Now I’m stuck here in the underwear drawer of the universe, which country I do love but which has a nasty, malicious mediocrity streak I find unbearable & boring.
It was the guitar case that did it. “This machine kills fascists,” as Woody Guthrie famously scrawled on his guitar. Clearly, artists are the enemy. Unless, of course, we’re “rich.” Any arts organization that you could direct me to, or vice-versa, that could potentially provide me with an official sponsorship so that I could return at some point in the future, would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much for listening, Nathan Payne