good at heart


One of my clients had an extra ticket to see Wilco at the Circus Krone here in Munich, and invited me along. Although I had to work rather late that night, he waited outside for me and the place was packed when we finally got inside. The only seats available were way up in the stands near the rafters. It was ok. Actually, it was more than ok. He’s a longtime fan of the band, and although I don’t know everything they’ve done, I like them a lot.

My client is German. They rarely do anything halfway, and when you like a band, you really like a band. In his case, he owned everything they’d released. He’d waited years to be able to see them live. I could tell he was really excited and maybe even a little anxious. If he was angry at how late I’d been, he did a good job of hiding it.

Almost as soon as we found our seats, I could tell the people behind us were rowdy. A bit drunk and even a little louder. They were American and were very vocal in their displeasure at how long the opening band was playing. Rather than clap after a song, they’d chant, ‘Wilco! Wilco!‘ That the opening band (Jonathan Wilson) was really quite good didn’t seem to phase these guys. They were there to see Wilco and began to chant during the songs. ‘We want to see Wilco,’ they droned on. Soon enough, their demand was met.

You’d think they’d be happy about it, and I guess they were. Yet their way of showing it was to sing along with every song. Badly and out of tune. It was one of those situations that was uncomfortable to begin with and just dragged on and on. For the first half of the show, they made fools of themselves and mainly only irritated our section of seats. As the night progressed, you could feel their idiocy increase proportionally to their increasing drunkenness. As much as it was like watching an accident approaching, it was somehow weirder because it was behind us. We could only listen as they got louder and more brazen in their miserable howling and hollering.

The other people sitting near us started to turn and give these young, rude folk the dirtiest looks they could muster. It only seemed to fuel the flames. This was getting uglier by the minute. Like I say, this was a train wreck in the making. The band began to chat a little between the songs, but we couldn’t hear what was said. We were treated to screams of ‘Wilco‘ and ‘Chicago‘. By now it wasn’t only our near surroundings that were affected. It was so distracting that the band even felt they had to say something from the stage.

Again, I’m not entirely sure I caught all of it, but it was something like–why is it always the Americans in the audience who act like that when they travel around Europe? Jeff Tweedy even made a comment that could’ve been a veiled threat of violence when he said that in Scotland, such fans would most probably be physically assaulted. For a brief moment, I thought the poorly-behaved Wilco fanatics would take a hint and settle down. Nothing could be further from the truth. The attention seemed to give them a second wind.

They were so loud that the normally polite Germans sitting around us started to get up and yell for them to ‘Shut the hell up!‘ This was the first overt response to the awful behaviour, but now I knew that I hadn’t been the only one stewing about these guys. The people in our section were losing their patience.

I could go into more detail about how they insulted the woman who was accompanying one of the more vocal Germans, and then that the woman was so offended that she went and got security. For the rest of the show, we had our own personal security guard assuring that the trouble makers were at least moderately quieter. Once they realised how unwelcome they were, they started making very pointed and inappropriate comments about the indignities of living in Germany. Like I say, I could get much more specific about what they said, but it’s really not worth repeating. As they left a bit before the end, I saw the culprits for the first time. They were young. Shockingly, I couldn’t believe how unassuming they looked. If I didn’t know that they’d just spent the last few hours ruining my evening, I’d look at these young men and think they were normal, respectable blokes.

But why am I writing about this here? Why go to all the trouble? A few malcontents that you could run into any evening. Not even necessary that they were Americans, right? You can have jerks in any culture. Well, I suppose that’s true. Yes, of course. But then something occurred that has had me thinking about for weeks since it happened. If I hadn’t glimpsed his face right at the end, I wouldn’t even have known it was him.

One of the miserable guys who’d left fifteen minutes earlier, hadn’t gone straight to his train. I suspect he stood around outside the Circus Krone continuing to complain about his experiences living in this strange land. As I was walking out of the venue after the show, I saw him frantically running up to some people entering a taxi and begging them to let him take their place. He breathlessly told them he’d miss his train if he didn’t get the train station AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

And here’s what I thought in that moment: he has no idea how his actions that evening affected the people around him, and he probably think of himself as a pretty decent guy. I’m not saying I stopped being angry. That’d be too easy a resolution and I wouldn’t still be turning it over again and again in my mind.

I’ve been thinking about times in my life when I was also thoughtless and cruel. After a situation like that, it’s the easiest thing to rationalise that my actions weren’t that bad. What is it about a person in that position that they assure themselves that they’re a good person at heart?

I felt for this guy when he madly pleaded for his cab. That he was in danger of missing his train-possibly the last one of the night-and might even be forced to get a hotel room. This guy was so clearly unhappy living here in this country where he could barely speak the language. It was cold and he was far, far away from home.

Although I felt bad for this guy that only a short time earlier I’d been dreaming of murdering, I completely understood that the whole evening had been a sort of fuck you to his helplessness. Little frustrations had been building up, he was out with his American buddies and they were just having a good time. Again, he was a good person at heart.

None of this excuses his actions. It doesn’t absolve him of what a jerk he’d been. I was still furious. And embarrassed about the horrible things he and his friends had said to the angry and frustrated people. I’m sure he thought it wasn’t a big deal how he’d acted. And again, that he was genuinely a good guy. I’m absolutely positive he still believed that as his taxi rushed to make sure he caught his train.


  1. I’m sorry those guys ruined your concert. I see guys like that around here all the time. You can tell who they are, because they have pickup trucks with plastic models of ball sacs tied to the back bumper. Don’t ask me why. I will exact my revenge for you by stealing these ball sacs from their trucks. I will need a mailing address to know where to send them.

    1. But the bigger point is…if you asked them, those guys would insist that they were genuinely good people. They’d really believe it. Even after all evidence to the contrary.

      1. I couldn’t really tell if they thought they were good people or not. Mostly, they seemed to be drunk on Budweiser and rather pissed to catch me trying to unwire the ball sacs from the back of their pickup truck.

  2. Yes, it’s a fundamental human condition: we’re all at the centre stage of our own life, the main character of our own television series if you like, and therefore we can’t be the bad guy. The bad guy is never the central figure, the hero is. So whatever bad things we do we have to justify them to be allowed to stay the most important person in our own life.

    Although you sometimes wonder quite how we manage to delude ourselves. Like how could a Nazi SS Ober sturmband führer ever convince himself he was the good guy? His pitch black uniform was adorned with silver skull and bones badges, for crying out loud! “Oh them? Yeah, no they’re just.. er.. a symbol of.. um.. Shut up! I’m the good guy!”

    1. Wasn’t quite ready to go that direction with this blog, but I’m sure I’ll deal with the National Socialists at some point. You know, they get so much attention that I find myself much more fascinated with what happened at other times in German history.

      Am certainly not playing down their impact or importance, and I can see how your comment applies directly to what I was discussing.

      What you say, ‘…it’s a fundamental human condition: we’re all at the centre stage of our own life, the main character of our own television series if you like, and therefore we can’t be the bad guy,’ is absolutely true and it makes it even more difficult to be objective in our assessment of people.

      I was also very aware of how personal this was for me. Not just that other people disregard their blindness in this regard, but to be very clear that I’ve done the exact same thing. That I’m not immune.

  3. Sorry about the ruined concert. We Americans seem to think we are entitled to a good time, even at the expense of others good time. Hypothetically we all don a set of those plastic balls Lisa is talking about; look at us, we are American, our needs come first. But you are right; we all think we are super people; top notch good guys. We need to become a bit less self aware.

    1. This definitely wasn’t intended as a commentary on Americans. Not exclusively. My point was much more universal. I’m sure you got that, but if someone else comes along and thinks I’m tearing them down to make a point, that was not at all my goal.

      1. Well said. Not an America bashing blog at all. Just related to the fact these particular obnoxious beings were American.

  4. If he had missed his train,that would have proved how karma works. You get what you give sometimes. He had invested so much time into being a jerk,had gotten so wrapped up in it, when it was time to get back to regular interaction, it possibly caused him some problems. Unfortunately, bad behavior is all around us. From movie theaters to restaurants to concerts to you name it. Hope the next time goes better.

    1. The irritation that I experienced at the show is water under the bridge. Even by writing about it, I realise that I’m talking about first world problems.

      I definitely can see his actions resulting in some version of karma, but so often in my observations the karma isn’t nearly punctual enough. This example, on the other hand, was immediate and biting.

  5. I work with several people who are convinced that they are fine, upstanding citizens…even as they twist the truth to try to ruin people’s lives. And no, karma does not work quickly enough to suit me…although I have seen it work. I think this post gives some really clear insight into you – you try to understand people and their motivations.

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