Gods And Queens’ Jeff Ziga
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Philadelphia punk trio Gods And Queens returned home from their fourth European tour this week as survivors of a Blues Brothers-esque van accident and ensuing run-in with Czech police. On Thanksgiving Day, the band’s van flipped on the highway en route between tour dates in Austria and Germany. This was the band’s first tour abroad not in support of a new record, so while the band members fortunately weren’t loaded up with (or bludgeoned by) heavy merch boxes, the crash still stranded them in a foreign land with a crumpled van, broken rental gear, and hospitalized drummer Jeff Ziga.
Ziga suffered a broken collarbone in the accident, which will put him out of commission for a couple of months. As a co-owner of Little Baby’s Ice Cream company and (along with guitarist Jamie Getz) a longtime R5 Productions employee, convalescing doesn’t come easy for Ziga, who has also served in bands like Knives Out, Affirmative Action Jackson, and Armalite. He was kind enough to e-mail The A.V. Club from Europe the day before the band members all finally flew home, and to answer a few follow-up questions back in Philly.
[Ziga sent his responses with the caveat: “my reality is currently being dulled by Czech narcotic pain medicine, the name of which I cannot pronounce, and also Belgian beer.” The responses have been slightly edited for clarity. —ed.]
The A.V. Club: So ... what happened?
Jeff Ziga: Before the accident, tour was going absurdly well—the people in Zrenjanin, Serbia and Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina were some of the most earnest and enthusiastic punks I’ve had the pleasure of playing for. We shot bow and arrows next to a castle in Hungary and got drunk on öszibarack in a basement wearing authentic WWI military regalia. We ate pizza on top of a mountain.
AVC: And then came the crash.
JZ: I was sleeping on the lead-up to the accident, having been in the habit, as many proud musicians before me, of drinking all night and sleeping all day, and also sleeping sometimes into the evening as well. I awoke to an amount of commotion and skidding on gravel, and then was thrown against a side of the van. By my best recollection, we rolled upside down and then once more, stopping with the van on the driver’s side.
AVC: Do you remember anything from right after the accident?
JZ: Immediately after the accident, [bassist] Ben [Roysdon] kicked the rest of the windshield out and [guitarist] Jamie [Getz] started taking roll call. After hearing everyone but me, he took off down the road, thinking that I was dead. The first thing I remember is reaching for the sliding door to my right and not being able to use my right arm. I’ve broken my collarbone before, so I immediately knew what was wrong.
It’s very disorienting to be sitting in a van that is sideways and looking out of the windshield and the grass is perpendicular to the dashboard. Our driver kept repeating “I don’t know where I am.” The first thing I said was, “We are sideways, we have to go out through the windshield. Is everyone alive?” Everyone else already knew that they were alive, and were relieved that I was alive. I then grabbed my bag so that I would have my laptop and cell phone charger. I remember coming out through the windshield and thinking of all the people I’d have to call.
AVC: How was everyone else in the van?
JZ: There were five of us in all when we crashed. Everyone had various knocks and scrapes on the face, bruised ribs—that sort of stuff. Ben’s hand, while miraculously not broken, had a giant hemorrhage-type thing on the top of it, lots of blood inside his skin. It looked like his hand was a cartoon-sized red balloon. The Czech hospital wrapped it up, and a few days later it was fine. No idea how that happened. He wore his bloody jacket all the way back to Philadelphia.
Jamie had blood pouring out of his face, but no bruises or breaks, so he cleaned up all right in a few days. He scared the shit out of everyone who responded to the accident. The other two must have bounced off the three of us and came out of it with the least damage.
AVC: How did you guys get to the hospital?
JZ: Another car on the road stopped, and between that woman calling for help and Jamie running to the closest house who knows how far down the road, an ambulance showed up. I have no idea how long it took. [In the meantime] a man brought us hot tea in a kettle and cups in a basket. I remember smiling at him and thinking it was the most adorable thing in the world.
I smoked a cigarette with Ben. I think smoking is disgusting, but, you know, whatever. The rescue vehicles showed up then, and a truck with big searchlights. I took advantage of that opportunity to snap a photo from the road of the van sitting sideways in the woods. It took some effort to use my left hand to get my phone out of the jacket pocket it was in and keep it steady enough to get a good picture. I deleted the first one because it was too blurry.
AVC: The Czech police handle this sort of thing a little differently than their American counterparts, right?
JZ: We talked to a Czech punk kid on the phone, and he explained that in the Czech [Republic], it’s common for the police to oversee all aspects of a situation like this. They took our driver to prison, and the next morning, with the investigators, they took him out to the accident site and made him go through the course of events.
The police also stayed with us at the hospital and made sure that we paid our bill in full—the security guard and police locked the front door while we were in there. At the end, two policemen escorted half of us with everyone’s ATM cards to the nearest bank. Meanwhile, Ben and I sat and stared at the two remaining policemen. When Ben went out to smoke, one officer went with him. I stared at the other one until we were allowed to leave. He didn’t look over at me directly all that much.
AVC: What’s a Czech hospital like?
JZ: The hospital looked like something out of the movie Saw. Or maybe 12 Monkeys. I wish I had photos. It was empty and gray and Eastern Bloc, and awesome and spooky. The nurse tied this length of tube-sock-type thing stuffed with gauze around each shoulder, like a backpack with a figure eight in the back, and unceremoniously yanked my right arm and shoulder into the spot she determined they should be.
AVC: How did you get yourselves out of there?
JZ: We got in touch with everyone we knew. We spent two nights in a police-recommended Czech hotel, until finally some punks from Dresden [where the band had been headed to play a show] got a hold of a van and scooped us up. We stayed at a squat there for two nights while I went to another hospital. Then half of us and some of our gear were then scooped up by a sympathetic Belgian driver with a van [who took the band members to Amsterdam, Netherlands, the departure point of their scheduled flight home]. I elected to remain behind another night, as I had to go back to the hospital and talk to the trauma surgeon.
AVC: How is your collarbone doing?
JZ: The German set of X-rays revealed that my right clavicle is in three pieces, not two. However, none of the pieces migrated inside me to wild or overlapping positions. The next morning, the surgeon said he was of the opinion that I would likely heal with my new, nicer German brace. Then he gave me a report and all my X-rays on a CD so I could go to a doctor in the U.S. for a follow-up. I probably won’t, because I don’t have any money, and most medical tourism articles point out that health care costs in the U.S. are astronomical compared to other places. I’d probably do better to fly back to Germany and get surgery rather than pay out of pocket here in the U.S. Our country is fucking stupid sometimes.
AVC: Speaking of that, if readers were to be so inclined, what could they do to help out?
JZ: It’s kind of like begging, but pride and benefit shows aren’t gonna cover this hurricane of crap that we are collectively in. I am personally unable to work for about two months while I recover. We’re asking people to look at our blog and also to buy our latest digital EP—“pay what you will.” Beyond that, if someone is feeling particularly generous or doesn’t care about our new EP, they could PayPal money to Jamie Getz.
AVC: Back to the story—how did you manage to get back to Amsterdam in such bad shape?
JZ: We took trains back to Holland. My shoulder and arm get very sore when I’m [in] anything other than a reclining position, so traveling on a train for three hours sucked. I spent a lot of time drinking and taking pain medication. You can drink everywhere in Europe, so that was a relief. I eventually discovered that I could sort of lean in a particular way on someone next to me and get comfortable, but it’s a tenuous balance. Beer is also so cheap, so that was a huge relief.
AVC: What’s flying with a broken bone like?
JZ: I dreaded the flight a lot—nine hours in the air. We lucked out a few ways: One, they didn’t charge us for extra checked bags and overweight bags. Maybe they knew how in debt we were? And, miraculously, it wasn’t sold out, so I had an empty seat next to me. I even boarded the plane before everyone else as the only person “in need of special assistance.” I explained to the head flight attendant that I would be drinking quite a bit, but I promised not to be a problem, and she told me to do my best. I had seven or eight cans of Beck’s, had a quick nap, watched two movies, finished one book and read half of another. It was maybe my best plane trip ever, which is weird.
AVC: Can you pick a strangest moment out of all of this?
JZ: Picking broken glass out of my pants pockets a week later in the airport—that was pretty weird. Maybe drinking hot tea out of porcelain cup on the side of the road in Nowheresville, Czech Republic, and looking at the wrecked van down the hill and being relieved that at least my legs were okay, so that [business partners] Pete [Angevine] and Martin [Brown] wouldn’t be mad at me for not being able to ride the Little Baby’s Ice Cream tricycle anymore. I made myself laugh with that.
AVC: Is it too soon to laugh?
JZ: I see the world through comedy. I was cracking wise to the farmer who brought us tea; I was cracking wise in the ambulance; I was cracking wise when the Czech cops locked us in the hospital; and I was cracking wise when all we could do was drink cheap beer and watch Bad Boys II, dubbed, in a cheap hotel room, waiting until morning to find Internet and get in touch with anyone sympathetic as our gear sat in a flipped-over Mercedes-Benz sprinter in the middle of the woods.