When Franz Nicolay quit his job playing keys in The Hold Steady, he did exactly what any sensible, accordion-toting folk-punk would: he went to tour the former Soviet Bloc on his own, sleeping in strangers' apartments and on venue floors, and traveling via overnight trains with dubious schedules. With Rebecca West as his literary guide, Nicolay visited some of the darker, stranger corners of the Balkans and the former USSR, met a tight-knit community of rockers, artists, dreamers, and all-around nutjobs, drank a quantity of Vodka, and played some great shows – all while witnessing firsthand the disturbing resurgence of nationalist movements and the renewed spread of Kremlin control in the region. A fascinating travelogue, a political study of an increasingly relevant corner of the world, and a rare rock and roll tour memoir that manages to be engaging and intimate without feeling self-indulgent, all wrapped up in one excellent package.
— From Sam
In 2009, musician Franz Nicolay left his job in the Hold Steady, aka "the world's greatest bar band." Over the next five years, he crossed the world with a guitar in one hand, a banjo in the other, and an accordion on his back, playing the anarcho-leftist squats and DIY spaces of the punk rock diaspora. He meets Polish artists nostalgic for their revolutionary days, Mongolian neo-Nazis in full SS regalia, and a gay expat in Ulaanbaatar who needs an armed escort between his home and his job. The Russian punk scene is thrust onto the international stage with the furor surrounding the arrest of the group Pussy Riot, and Ukrainians find themselves in the midst of a revolution and then a full-blown war.>
While engaging with the works of literary predecessors from Rebecca West to Chekhov and the nineteenth-century French aristocrat the Marquis de Custine, Nicolay explores the past and future of punk rock culture in the postcommunist world in the kind of book a punk rock Paul Theroux might have written, with a humor reminiscent of Gary Shteyngart. An audacious debut from a vivid new voice, The Humorless Ladies of Border Control
is an unforgettable, funny, and sharply drawn depiction of surprisingly robust hidden spaces tucked within faraway lands.