Rockie Bee’s Golden Drops of Honey — ‘Dan Sartain SINGS,’ Reviewed

In the summer of 1999 I experienced a deeply unpleasant upheaval in my personal life.  The positive upshot of it was that I was free to chase after the deeply stupid dream of a career in the performing arts without being an absentee to any other responsibilities.  The first thing I did in my attempt to accomplish this childish goal was hit the road from Tuscaloosa, AL for Birmingham and the open mike night at Marty’s.*  I met Dan Sartain that night, though I think I saw him play at a coffee house a few years earlier in the nice Birmingham neighborhood of Highland Park.  I can’t even hazard a guess as to what my set was in those days; probably some perfectly cromulent covers of the Gumdrop Soaps, Spayed Kats, Rubbery Norton Neat and Johnnie Blodger Spee.  Dan’s set was a mix of Rick Nelson covers and his own originals.  Two rockabilly dorks angling for stage time at the one place in the state that not only accepted oddballs, but let them play music on Tuesday nights.

Before I returned to crappy old Tuscaloosa that night, I talked to Dan and we exchanged numbers.  I don’t know what got into me, I’m not exactly Fred Friendly or Jackie Joinup.  But it wasn’t long before I was heading up to Birmingham on the regular to practice with Dan.  We’d practice on the sidewalk in Highland Park.  Dan’s friends on Beer St. gave me a place to get away from oppressive Tuscaloosa and my failures there.  It was like an Elvis movie, making music was, back then, something one would do after a shitty day of racing cars, frogmanning, rodeo riding, helicopter piloting or fisherboat captaining and people would quite naturally show up, lose their goddamn minds enjoying this music, and then tell their friends all about it, as opposed to now, which is much more like Glengarry Glen Ross. 

I first heard the opening song — ‘One Is A Crowd’ on Dan Sartain SINGS! over the phone late in the summer of 1999.  It wasn’t even the first Dan song I’d heard over the phone that summer — that was ‘Mexican Girl.’  I loved those songs the minute I first heard them; they were part of my set list for years.  Dan made the verse lyrics for ‘Mexican Girl’ out of ‘Highwayman’** and some dialogue from ‘For A Few Dollars More.’  “This train will stop at Tucumcari” is absent from this version of ‘Mexican Girl;’ Dan had probably ‘moved on’ in his head by the time he recorded Dan Sartain SINGS.  The spaghetti Western and Ennio Morricone connection in ‘Mexican Girl’ and ‘One Is Crowd’ is important for me to mention because it gets at the very heart of why I liked playing Dan’s music so much (although I didn’t understand why until a few years ago): spaghetti Western and John Barry spy music was the music I set out to play when I took up the guitar at 15.***  There was no band that played that type of music, besides the Ventures, and you definitely tooks your chances when you found their tapes in the cutout bin.  You couldn’t even find most of it in soundtrack form, even the James Bond stuff, except by one-man synthesizer operations disguised as the ‘Hollywood Starz Orchestra’ and ‘Star, Inc.’ and they always had those awful electric drums and terrible fake string sounds.  The Rubbery Norton Neat came closest to combining the formal issues that interested me, so I copied that for a while, pretty much up until I met Dan and saw up close how music goes from ‘some thing one likes on the radio’ to ‘some new thing that’s not a cover.’****

‘One Is A Crowd,’ as I mentioned before, was first presented to me over the phone, same lyrics as you can hear now.  First, the lyrics SPOKE to me (that’s young person drama for you), and then the chords were hypnotic and dreamlike.  So it felt like my life story at the time, coming thru the phone, as strange as any of the radio devices shown in the 1975 surrealist sci-fi film Black Moon.  And best of all, when I caught up with Dan that weekend, we (I think) wrote a solo for it that borrowed from both ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and ‘For a Few Dollars More.’  (Like I say, I think ‘we’ both put it together, but Dan doing it all and showing it to me is also plausible.  I could never figure out where to put the B flat in ‘Fistful of Dollars’ and Dan never had that problem, so he could probably also figure out how to make that melody work over completely different chords in the same key.)  ‘One Is A Crowd’ was our instrumental opener for a time; Dan would bring out a toy gun that made electronic shooting and ricochet noises and blasted it into the mike with all the subtlety of an Italian foley artist.  It was a peak experience, if you ask me, to play that ‘authentic’ spaghetti Western stuff and NOT have to be in a fuddy-duddy gear-nerd band to do it.***** (Later we played with some fuddy-duddy gear-nerd bands.  Those guys were as much fun as a trip to the tooth dentist.)  And then we could come back and close out the show with THE EXACT SAME SONG WE STARTED WITH, AT THE EXACT VOLUME AND TEMPO, but with the sort of hard-hearted, tough-guy, young-man-insecurity lyrics presented in a pre-rock’n’roll style, like a Desi Arnaz or Frankie Laine.  There were garage bands we played with that had songs with similar lyric sentiments, but they had to be ‘1966 snotty’ in their presentation, never as ersatz adults modeled on ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns and middle-of-the-night public tv ARTS programming.

A Birmingham radio station, 1230 AM, was a big influence on Dan’s material at the time.  Like a lot of radio stations aimed at old people at that time, it was making an effort to lure first-wave Baby Boomers with billboards declaring their allegiance to Babs Streisand and Neil Diamond easy listening.  But that was just lip service; most of their programming was weird.  1230 AM was fond of a strange instrumental from the early 60s called ‘Washington Square’ by the Village Stompers; it sounds an awful lot like most versions of ‘St. James’ Infirmary.’  Anyway, Dan took ‘Washington Square’ and turned it into ‘Baby’s Town’ sometime after he and I parted ways; I know we drove around Birmingham enough with the radio tuned to 1230 waiting for that dopey song to come up, so I’m glad he got a way to play ‘Washington Square’ without being the ‘guy who won’t shut up about the Village Stompers, man.’

1230 AM loved some Roy Orbison, too, especially ‘Running Scared.’  I wasn’t all that familiar with Roy back then; I think I knew ‘In Dreams,’ ‘Pretty Woman,’ ‘Only the Lonely,’ the unremarkable rockabilly crap that came up in my Sun Records samplers, and an awful duet with Emmylou Harris called ‘That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again’ from the late 70s.  I had no idea when Dan was drilling us on ‘I Walked All Night’ the afternoon before we recorded in a demo studio that we were doing a straight-up rip on ‘Running Scared.’  Our drummer had some snide comment along the lines of “yeah, I like that song better when it was done by Roy Orbison” but it’s not like he named the tune.  New to me… And it’s too bad that demo tape is lost forever, we played all our parts at the same time, something I don’t think Dan was able to do with this record, because this version of ‘I Walked All Night’ suffers for not having the drums rise and crescendo on the last line.

Another song that we did at that lost session was ‘Same Situation,’ a tightly-timed pop number.  I liked listening to the song on the demo more than I ever liked playing it; the version here is a reasonable facsimile of the song as I knew it.  One thing your hardcore Dan fan will learn from this album of early material is that he popped out pretty much fully-formed.  There might not be the wide range of styles shown here as he has throughout his career, but examining his lyrics they are as ‘about something’ and ‘completely trippy’ here as they are on any of his ‘real’ releases; it’s not like he started out singing gloppy, sincere ballads about the moon in June with the spoon, then PUT THE MASK ON and sang about breaking on thru to the other side, man.  For all I know, ‘Same Situation’ is more young-man-insecurity-drama, or it could be about the Destro/Baroness/Cobra Commander love triangle.

‘If You Never’ is one Dan wrote for me to sing, but that never wound up happening.  Chances are, I was probably some kind of a dick about it all because I really wanted to make Rubbery Norton Neat music and wouldn’t appreciate what Dan was writing.  I’m sure when I went to play on it I went with ‘blazing’ Hee-Hawg Herman licks that mostly just tried the boy’s patience.  I’m glad I learned to appreciate songs like this. Why, ‘If You Never’ is just a semitone away from my favorite song to sing with my last band.

‘Shadow of Myself’ is probably the first Dan song I learned to play.  That, or ‘Girl Trouble.’******  It was fun until we got a drummer, who must have thought the song was beneath him, ’cause he fucked with us and made playing it more trouble than it was worth.  The trick to the song is getting all those  low notes going up and down to lyrics in a way that puts a nice bow on them, rather than a distracting rickety-rack.  That was something we could do before drums.  I don’t remember what the problem was.  Maybe the line ‘I woke up crying/with my pillow in my hand,’ which, if you sing that around at least two immature assholes, it’s just going to sound like the caption to a Dwayne Trosley Hustler cartoon and just blow everything all to hell.  And you can hear Dan’s frustration in recording this one track at a time; none of the up-and-down low string stuff works as neatly  as it should.  No wonder he never plays it; what’s the point of writing cool songs if they can’t be recorded one track at a time and still sound good?  Well, what the fuck.  Marty and Marty’s is gone.  Marty’s was the last place I could go for a gig without getting a bean-counting blast of shit; I could not be happier to have this version, however vexing, of ‘Shadow of Myself’ to take me back there.

‘Adios, Amigo’ was eventually how we ended our shows.  I got that it was like a sign-off from a Captain Chesapeake-type kid’s show host; I thought it was a great gag.  I loved it; it was a part of my set until I quit drinking and became less ‘wacky.’  The last time I remember playing it with Dan was at a pool hall run by an immigrant family, English was their third or fourth language.  We’d tried the management’s patience with an artsy-fartsy opening band that ran a theramin thru a Carvin stack.  Things were briefly righted by middle band Model Citizen, and then they got pissed with us for doing a short set that ended with goofy-ass ‘Adios, Amigo.’  They HATED that.  They didn’t get it at all and were pretty mad at us for being white people with no friends.  I think, deep down, they hoped we were heavy metal and would bring heavy metal die-hard consumers to their pool hall.  The days before MySpace.  Shitholes took chances, then.

‘It’s X-mas and I’m Cold’ is a nutty bit of album closing mania.  I’m assuming it’s one of Dan’s weird joke songs, like ‘Dracula.’  I like the keyboard bit — it sounds like some manhandled bit of Sun Ra equipment from ‘Concert for the Comet Kahoutek.’  If it were thirty seconds longer I could see it being played in malls across America starting in October of each year.  There’s a desperate need for Christmas music that doesn’t make people homicidal.  Someone will have to put it in Garage Band, break it up, stretch it out to 2:30.
Why would someone buy this album? I dunno.  I bought it because I missed the material.  Sure, about half the songs were hard-wired into my brain thru repetition, but I definitely missed ‘Shadow of Myself’ and ‘Same Situation’ and it’s nice to have them back.  And although the demo we cut is long gone, these versions of the songs will have to suffice. Because that was the soundtrack to my life as an Elvis movie.  Will parts of your life turn into an Elvis movie if you listen to these songs?  I don’t know.  Would you risk ten bucks to find out?  If you wait for someone to buy Dan Sartain SINGS and then share it with you, are you even worth being at the center of an Elvis movie?  The answer is ‘No, you’re not.  You’re Bill Bixby in an Elvis movie. A real wet blanket.’

*Don’t let that SEC Footbaw Show on Saturdays on the tv tell you any different. Tuscaloosa sucks.  It’s as much fun as a prostate exam.  Though Tuscaloosa THEN isn’t as hateful as Baltimore is NOW.

**By the Highwaymen. DUH.

***Stuff your Ramones, your Iggy, your Clash, your ‘This band (album) saved (changed) my life, man (dude)!

****Not that I learned that lesson especially well.

*****I never would have cut the mustard, gear-wise, with that sort of boujie crowd.  I had a Western Auto Truetone Speed Demon for which I’d overpaid $200.  It was barely playable, but it was SO IMPORTANT to me to have a hollowbody electric guitar I just didn’t care.  If I were a better player then, I could have just gone from gig to gig with the Charvel Charvette I had when I was 16 and never heard anything of it.  It was a real mark of shame to have one of those ugly, pointy 80s planks in those days, and besides, I liked the ‘breathy’ quality that hollowbodies have, even my crappy Speed Demon.  In any case, I had a reasonably respectable 70s solid-state Kustom with a vibrato feature, which was much more important than whatever guitar I used.

******Dog gone girl trouble.

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This Lick’s On Me, Ya Nashville Bum

I was listening to a podcast this afternoon; one that has featured, over the last few months, songs from an only-just-released album from an old friend of mine.  My friend’s featured song today was one I used to play with my friend years ago.

This particular song was very, for lack of a better descriptive term, ‘singer-songwritery.’  In that the terrible equation that must be considered — ‘narrative’ vs. ‘melody’ — ‘narrative’ comes out on top in a unanimous decision.

I’ve never been Mr. Melody.  You would think that a tin ear for melody would be a real spoiler for a go-nowhere career in the lowest depths of performing, but it doesn’t really matter that much. (No one’s listening that closely.) Nevertheless, I gave it the old college try.  I tried to cook up some on-time Don Rich-ish hook to hang on this singer-songwritery putty glob of dream logic, if only to keep the decidedly useless rhythm section on task for this particular song.  (Not that they were really listening, either.)

My friend gave me a real blast of shit for what I did come with, thanks for asking.  So I had a good larf this afternoon when I gave my friend’s only-just-released version of his song a closer second listen and discovered that the Nashville hired hands didn’t come up with anything different from me, Mr. Mediocre, all those years ago.

Musicians.  JEEBUS.  If they aren’t buttering you up to get something out of you, they’re high-handing you, treating you like a provincial rube dumb-ass.

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The Super Session — Rockie Bee Encounters Rootsy Rowdies

So:  I produced my first recording session yesterday.  I’m a regular Eddie Kramer ovah heah!

A more accomplished friend of mine put out an open call for some novelty music based on Ennio Morricone soundtrack music.  I said, what the hell; I’m in.

I had planned to do it all myself, as I had our living room free for the clutter of musical instruments, cords, microphones and the like. And that’s when they showed up.

I got back to our house at 7:30 or so on Saturday morning after running out for my weekend breakfast treat of bagels and cream cheese.  They were in my driveway, waiting.

They really darken up our nice neighborhood, what with their roots-music tough-guy attire and poorly-kept painters’ minivan.

“Isn’t it a bit early for you to be up and about, especially on a Saturday morning?” I asked.

“Sheee-it fire,’ the oldest of them responded. “We can’t get no Friday-Saturday gigs like them young bucks down in Fell’s Point can.’  That was Leland-Klell Hatefull, the Kowpunk Klarion.  He’s from Bel Air, or Perry Hall before it got too ixed-may, they’re one and the same.  I don’t know why he talks like he’s going to bump bolts with a tire-changer down in Glen Burnie.

"I bid on Hank III's laptop. We're tight!"

“I bid on Hank III’s laptop. We’re tight!”

“Yeah man, Friday and Saturday shows are for softies. Tuesdays thru Thursdays are for LIFERS!” his younger buddy interjected.  It was a guy I saw back in late winter, on one of my rare excursions on the town: Clarence ‘Plaque’ Artclass, the Stormpooper of the Blues.  E Pluribus Unum.  He’s one of, oh, many thousands of kids from MICA simultaneously playing ‘roots’ music and boring the paint off the walls of many a dive bar with anecdotes and trivia culled from a decade or more of reading books on music at the Borders or Barnes & Noble at the shopping center back home.

"An element of the Robert Johnson mythos that people tend to floss over is... hey, where are you going?"

“An element of the Robert Johnson mythos that people tend to floss over is… hey, where are you going?”

I’ll say this for Clarence ‘Plaque’ Artclass: he’s at least getting a little combo together.  (I don’t think he and Leland-Klell Hatfull play together, I think they just party together.  You gotta have your ears closed in the Baltimore roots world.  NO MIXING OF IDIOMS!)  He managed to find perhaps the only 23 year-old with no ambition and supportive parents to buy a standup bass and learn it, to play roots music, which no one under 30 likes.  Well, he met a guy who was impressed with him to follow him around like a puppy dog and get his parents to buy a bass.

L.L. Pilfer, the Bass Dawg Bandit.  (Wince.)

L.L. Pilfer, the Bass Dawg Bandit. (Wince.)

As I’ve been telling you, it’s 7:30 in the morning and I’ve got roots-music dork-creeps in my driveway.  I do have a recording project to do, but just between you, me, and the internet I don’t really want to listen to any of these guys sing.  Harold Reid of the Statler Brothers got small-time guys like this down to a tee with his Lester ‘Roadhog’ Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys project.  These guys don’t do melody but they DO do a lot of phlegm and sputum.  I was about to give them the brushoff — see now, good fellows, you’re making me look like a loser in front of my neighbors just by standing here, it’s a cul-de-sac, out is that way, well, look at the time — when HE came out shambling out of the painters’ minivan, the loop on the leg of his painter’s pants getting caught on the latch in the driver’s side door opening.

Mother. Of. The. Egg.

Mother. Of. The. Egg.

It was Dex Magnum. Man, what a talent!

If you’re curious about the rumors about Dex Magnum, they’re all true.  He’s every bit as charmless and brusque off the stage as he is lackluster about working the phones to cajole the good ol’ boys at Two Thousand Flushes in Millersville to hear the finest interpretations of the Great American Songbook.

“Dexter, it sure has been a long time!  These idiot friends of yours didn’t tell me you were sitting in the minivan! I’ve got your disc of folk music that your old drummer gave me years ago….”

I quit speaking, because I noticed that while his head and eyes were pointed at me, he was staring right thru me.  He turned around and mumbled to L.L. Pilfer the Bass Dawg Bandit.

L.L. turned ashen.  And his skin is pale and shitty-looking on a good day, I’d bet.

"Mr. Rockie, can... do you have a toilet Dexter can use?"

“Mr. Rockie, can… do you have a toilet Dexter can use?”

Dexter pretty much sat on the couch until one, when we were ready to record vocals.  I don’t think there was even a book, magazine, comic book, Puzzle Buzz, political leaflet or doorknob hanger around.  He just sat there and stared at the wallpaper.

If you’re thinking of getting Baltimore middle-of-the-week saloon warriors to record rhythm tracks for you to a metronome, forget about it.  You’re better off doing what I ultimately did, which was get 4-6 bar chunks of the song recorded on time and then copy and paste, copy and paste.

At one, we finished the rhythm tracks, and then it was time to lay down the vocals.  We did the novelty version for my accomplished friend, and then a ‘straight’ version for me.  I handed the mike over to Dexter, and he nailed in two takes. Perfection.  One for each set of lyrics.  It was a stunning phenomena to behold.  He transformed himself from a lump on my couch into to some sort of 10-foot tall titan, radiating all the loss, power and sorrow from the Maestro’s composition into the recording and the room.  The cats sure won’t forget it.  And with the last decay of echo on the vocal track it was gone, and Dexter was just another blank cipher again.  “Uh, I gotta piss,” he said as he handed the mike back to me. He let himself out thru the garage and sat in his minivan while Clarence ‘Plaque’ Artclass wheedled me into letting him put an authentic ‘rawkin’ blues guitar solo’ on the version I kept for myself.

I’ll say this: those guys are dopes, but I got surprisingly good work out of them, for which I will take ALL the credit.

So here it is, from some Italian movie called ‘Machine Gun McCain:’




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Stormpoopers of the Blues

It has not escaped my notice, over the years, that the young and formerly-young  performing people in the underground of the music world make a lot of hay about ‘casting off the shackles of the Man,’ ‘being an individual, not a sheeple,‘ and ‘sticking it to Mr. Charley.’  Nor has it passed me by that these performers are all in costume, no matter what they may say about ‘keeping it real‘ or ‘being authentic.’  I’m sure your scrappy indie performer would protest, but they’re not all that different from the cosplayers you see every couple months at the convention center.

Just like us.  Don't pretend you're too cool, mang.

‘Just like us. Don’t pretend you’re too cool, mang’.

Which isn’t to say there isn’t a tremendous variety; I mean, there’s all kinds of stormpooper costumes out there.

'I believe we are the metaphor you are looking for.'

‘I believe we are the metaphor you are looking for.’

So I go out last night — sometimes, a guy’s gotta get outta the house.  A couple guys on my FB feed recommend some dude playing a not completely shitty mildly cool-ish dive dump and I see this guy: the Blues Stormpooper.

'Ah Gots Mah Ordah 66 Woikin'!'

‘Look sir! Adenoids!’

I see tons of gig pix daily of guys in the roots/blues/Americana idiom who all have costumes just like this: funny hat, black t-shirt, pipecleaner arms, tats, and BIG BOOTS.

(I dunno what it is with BIG BOOTS.  I think for young guys it’s the same impulse that causes professional-class dorks to buy hefty pickup trucks to sit in beltway traffic in.)

I was vaguely pissed.  When I made music in that idiom of that mediocre quality, my friends in the music world ridiculed me. My loved ones turned their backs on me.  I couldn’t talk Northport high schoolers into drumming for me. I’d get the Sandman’s hook after 10 minutes. The concept of a dude making music that warmed-over and getting even the slightest whiff of  support blew my mind.  That, according to my experiences, is not how the Universe works.


When I came up, this is who was gigging everywhere:

'Mmmyessir, mah bayind Kinder Goofen got tuh play awna Sunsit Streep once...'

‘Mmmyessir, mah bayind Kinder Goofen got tuh play awna Sunsit Streep once…’

And people loved it.  You couldn’t sell the idea of ‘stripped-down’ to anybody.  Wasn’t happ’nin’, cap’n.

Roots-ish bands did play the local legendary indie dive.  Booking dude was a blue-ribbon though, upon being presented with the idea of a local guy he didn’t even know opening up for some of these bands when there were cancellations.

'Young Rockie Bee, you have been weighed in the balance and been found NOT COOL.  BY THIS GUY.'

‘Young Rockie Bee, you have been weighed in the balance and been found NOT COOL. BY THIS GUY.’

I’m back in the same boat I was in all those years ago. But for a few years there, I didn’t have to suffer that shit.  I don’t know how it happened, how I went from getting the violent throat-slashing gesture from Fratty McBarback:

'You're makin' it hard to see the Tipitina's posters on the walls over there.'

‘You’re makin’ it hard to see the Tipitina’s posters on the walls over there.’

…to being welcomed in my own Blues Stormpooper costume:

'I lost my pipecleaner arms at the Vulcan Wire Mill, THANKYOUVERYMUCH!'

‘I lost my pipecleaner arms at the Vulcan Wire Mill, THANKYOUVERYMUCH!’




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“Have You Checked The Trunk? I Was Aging A Salami In There.”

Warning: The following contains dumb ideas, awful Batman impersonations, and a Matt Weiters (pronounced ‘Mat Wheat-erz’) – shaped hole in the lineup.

A look at some panels from Peter Bagge’s Hate #22, published in 1996.  In 1996, I lived about four hours away from anyplace that sold ‘alternative’ comics.  I didn’t get to see this ’til 1997.  This little chunk of a larger story has echoed in the space between my ears for sixteen years.


The guy in blue in the panels above was pretty representative of, say, 90% of the ‘rock guys’ I met when I turned 21 and could go see live music besides earnest youth deacons and horrible all-ages shows at the Hour Haus.  I’m pretty sure the ‘service station shirt look’ is done and over with; I think it’s been replaced with black t-shirts from other crappy bands no one cares about topped with a disgusting taco-shaped cowboy hat.

"Give me the 'Guitar Face.'  Show me G.E. Smith chewing on Stevie Ray Vaughan's bones."

“Give me the ‘Guitar Face.’ Show me G.E. Smith chewing on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s bones.”

Here’s what people say about the guy in blue behind his back:


Guy gets duded up in his coolest Batsuit, and people still laugh at him.

So the guy in blue is playing a rowhouse dump in the Northeast with a low, flat ceiling.  Naturally, people are gonna hang out and pay attention to him, after he’s gone thru the trouble of loading in his big old amps, and helped his drummer set up, right?



Look, the guy in blue has little wrinkle lines which are supposed to show that he’s somewhat older than the couple above, who are said to be in their late twenties.  The guy in blue in somewhere in his thirties, he’s got his Batsuit on, he’s posted fliers at the ‘cool’ record shops, and the place that sells comics like this one and other artifacts of ‘underground’ culture, and maybe at the guitar shop, maybe the overpriced secondhand boutique.  He’s gotten out his book of phone numbers and called up his buddies from over the years to make himself the nervous, sweaty center of attention for thirty-five minutes late on a Thursday night. Is there someone out there to hear his lute song?

Of course not.

Of course not.

There are two morals to this story, and they are these:

1) Never try.


2) Try playing thru smaller amps.

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In The Cards For Spring 2013

Disclaimer: The following contains questionable opinions, terrible Batman impersonations, and a Matt Wieters (pronounced ‘wee-terz’) – sized hole in the lineup.

Went to the ballgame last Saturday; had to get there early.  The Golden Boy, for some reason, wanted to see the ‘Earl Weaver Remembered’ ceremony that started an hour before the game.  I think maybe he wanted to get close enough to Brooks Robinson to get an autograph.  I don’t know why he cares about Brooks Robinson, other than just his general knowledge of Baltimore Sports Legends, and ex-Orioles seem a lot more normal and adjusted than ex-Ravens and ex-Colts (who all seem irreparably damaged in some way).  We watched Brooks Robinson say a few sweet and gentlemanly things about the old skipper; Rick Dempsey told us how Earl Weaver’s antagonizing made him a better person in that weird sports way.  The Boy loves Rick Dempsey, on account of a bobblehead I got years ago and a Sports Illustrated on the ’83 World Series his grandfather stored away for 29 years.  And I must admit, I like the guy.  Not because of his constant shilling for infamous Joppa Road meat-market nightclubs, or dubious HMOs; but because back in ’82 he seemed to be a one-man wrecking crew on the White Sox, the broadcasts of which made ‘doing shit with Dad’ a lot more interesting that summer.  Cal Ripken got something in his eye while speaking; Eddie Murray was in attendance and it got in his eyes, too.  Kids and their damn sparklers.  And that dude who sang that horrible ‘Talkin’ Baseball’ song came and krokeyokeyed his Baltimore version of that song afterwards.

But before we got to the park, we stopped by the outdoor vendors and got some sodas.  One guy has a table full of baseball cards, 2 bucks for tightly-packed plastic case of them. Most of them are packed with Orioles players on top, so of course my son wanted one (but I gotta admit, he’s got most of them, notable or not, since 1980, but no Wayne Krenchicky); and because he got one, my daughter wanted one.  And then I saw an ’81 Donruss and I had to get one, as well.  3 for $5.  Shop smart, shop S-Mart.

"I'm a little overdressed for my appearance at Woodward & Lothrop."

“I’m a little overdressed for my appearance at Woodward & Lothrop.”

No, I’m not a Jim Palmer fan.  But if you’ve read my posts previous on baseball cards, you know I love the gloriously crummy 1981 Donruss cards.  They just did not use the right ink on that card stock.  At least Jim Palmer still looks like Jim Palmer, unlike those unfortunate Atlanta Braves who got blurred into their garish home uniforms.  And I bet if I’d got this from the ice cream man in the summer of ’81, I’d have wound up with a stick of gum frozen on this card.  Like Steppenwolf sez, ‘God damn the ice cream man.’  ‘Cos he’s the only game in town, unless you want to go to the supermarket with your mom and spend four times the money on Topps cards.

"I'm just here to make Patrick Bateman jealous.'

“I’m just here to make Patrick Bateman jealous.’

Here’s a more modern card, printed on clear plastic.  Take that, 1981 Donruss.  USE THE RIGHT INK.

DRIVE! Drivin' like the demon that drives your dreams...RIDE!

DRIVE! Drivin’ like the demon that drives your dreams…RIDE!

This was a nice surprise; I’ve always been a fan of Chris Hoiles since I watched him squirm while some Warehouse shill fawned over him on some ‘Orioles Update’-type show back either in late high school or early college.  He was not unlike John Cleese playing  boxer Ken Clean-Air System, or that soccer player with one boring anecdote — ‘I looked in the back of the net, and there was the ball. HUR HUR HURR!’  He couldn’t sit comfortably in his chair; he deflected all compliments, he could not wait to get the hell out of there. Awesome.



Here’s the guy who enabled Joe Satriani to go Flying in a Blue Dreamavailable on Relativity Records.


I also snuck off to the comic book store on Sunday.  I couldn’t remember what I was looking for when I got there (Batman ’66, this happens to me all the time, especially at work), so I dug thru the stacks and found this Topps’ Comics adaptation of Jurassic Park, drawn by Gil Kane, which also came with ‘collectable’ cards.  Gil Kane’s rough sketches are fascinating to look at, much more so than any finished artwork he’s ever had published.  Nobody ever knew how to ink Gil Kane, which is why this adaptation of JP stars Ted Kennedy, Middle-Aged Diane Ladd from Wild At Heart, Bruce Campbell with shades, and Kenny Rogers as The Gambler.


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The Undertow

One of my favorite comics of recent years is Criminal, by Ed Brubaker and an artist whose name doesn’t leap to mind.  It’s boiled down from the paperback crime novels of the Forties thru the Seventies; if you’ve ever made the effort to read that stuff (after having it brought to your attention, without a doubt, by lurid cover art), it’s more of the same, but faster.  And more intense.  It’s great if you’ve been embroiled in Dad Business for years, which somehow ate up all the time you used to spend going to bookstores just looking for strange, alien things to grab your attention — Criminal will scratch that itch to completion in fifteen minutes.  Now you can go back to making sure the kids don’t stick forks in electrical outlets, or be somewhere nearby when they make hamburger of themselves on their bikes.  Verily, the neighbors won’t gossip about how you ignore your bloodied, bruised brood because you wallow in a pulpy underworld.  ‘Mercy day!’ they’ll no longer be heard to remark, ‘that Rock really ought to pull his nose out of that vulgar trash long enough to spatulate his kids off the driveway.  I’ve gotta get to Target!’

ANYWAY, Criminal is set in an industrial city — I can’t remember whether or not it has a name — one that has a lot of buildings of four stories and taller, where the cellar dive bars aren’t seen by normal people who keep their noses clean.  All the criminals in this town hang out in a place appropriately named ‘The Undertow.’  A common trope for characters in the Criminal world is to walk away from the underworld, only to have to go back to it for one more score!  They have to go down the steps, to descend, to meet up with the plot elements at ‘The Undertow,’ which keeps pulling them back in, to get their stories going.

‘The Undertow’ seems to take it’s inspiration from a classic, much reprinted Will Eisner Spirit story called ‘The Vortex.’  ‘The Vortex’ has it’s first page of eight devoted to a drawing of a whirlpool; it’s loaded with text setting up a mood of dread for another small-time Central City crook who can’t escape his past.  The prose on the first page of ‘The Vortex’ seems to have also informed a little-regarded Johnny Cash song called ‘The Whirl and Suck,’ which I personally have never heard, but I’ve seen the sheet music in the various folios my dad collected when he was a kid, so it’s more of the same, filtered thru John R.’s weird pill guilt/churchy funny business.  ‘The Vortex’ and ‘The Whirl and Suck’ must have come from the prologues to old radio dramas; episodic television seems to have given up on shabby dive bars after Starsky and Hutch.  An argument could be made for ‘Undertow’-type dumps making a brief comeback in The Wire and Treme, but the bars in The Wire are segregated for cops and criminals, and the joints in Treme are there to show how pointless it is to keep the party going for a living.  The defining characteristic of places like ‘The Undertow’ is that it acts as a neutral zone for the ‘above-ground people’ to meet with ‘the underground people.’

So this past Sunday night, my band Hilljack Suicide played an ‘Undertow’-type place in Frederick.  I got excited about Frederick eight years ago when I took a side job building a deck out there; I drove a load of lumber from the west side thru town to a suburb on the east.  I did this at dusk in the early spring; the ‘nice’ interior of Frederick reminded me favorably of Birmingham, a town of which I am probably overly fond.  I saw the ‘nice’ parts of downtown — sad to say, that’s not where the live music is. Or, more to the point, where any place that has live music and would also have me provide it is.  Frederick’s downtown is like a drain that flows north; it gets seedier and also more open to weirdos like me as you head to the outskirts.  I’d never seen ‘honky tonk Fredneck’ in the daylight before; there’s a class of struggler that disappears when the sun goes down. I’m sure they’re out there when I’m normally there — well after dark — but they make themselves invisible by sundown.  While I’m glad to have a more realistic appraisal of Frederick now, I’m also sad to see that it’s got a class of Hagerstown-grade creeps.  Oh, why can’t the world provide me with a mythical city that’s more like a hipper Starkville, or a Montevallo that’s easier to drive in and out of?

So I get to the hole-in-the-wall; I like the particular block it’s on as it’s right next door to a rowhouse fire station, and that always reminds me of my first gig there, which happened when my son was small and he was still ‘into’ firefighters and all that, and how I wished he could be part of my adventures.  I don’t think that way any more, of course; while I love music — it still really turns my crank — I hate looking out at a bunch of people who are basically, just by being in the kind of craphole that’s so lowdown that it would hire me, throwing their lives away.  I’ve really gotta stifle the urge to berate barflies with ‘Drain that bottle and go home! YOU HAVE TOO MUCH TO LIVE FOR!’  They can’t all be the Bob Cummings Block Party.

AS I WAS SAYING, I pass the ‘national touring band’s’ van on my way in and I’m immediately thankful my ‘music career’ never took off when I was younger.  Those guys could not have looked more miserable.  I guess it’s a matter of perspective.  When I was much younger, it was An Awfully Big Adventure to spend the day with a touring band like the Gumdrop Soaps, Jack Slacks, or the Frankly Flapped-Tops  — who were probably as miserable hanging out in their van in Tuscaloosa as Those Darned Gallows were in Fredneck — because those guys seemed to Living the Dream, Doing Something They Love.  I know now that those bands made as much money in a week as a single (one) low-skilled factory worker.  And that was three or four guys trying to live on that, AND having to fill a giant tank of gas every day. AND NOW, there aren’t even any factory jobs to be had.

But to blazes with that, that’s Those Darned Gallows’ hard cheese.  Hey, you drop out from society, get your face (and other places visible to a judge) tattooed, you’re actually pretty lucky to be penniless and bored silly on a Fredneck side street. You could be in a correctional facility, working in surveying, or roofing. We did our show, and we were mostly out of there by ten.  First one to slip out was our drummer, then the boss.  I like shooting the shit with the bass player, and I was STILL on the road by 9:45.  The band’s trying to evade the Undertow.

I only feel I was a little hasty in leaving when I found out an old high school friend was at the show; the room we played in is roughly the size of a Home Depot ‘Homer Bucket’ and it’s hard to miss anybody in there.  Apparently, he went back to the bar for some ‘good’ beer and there wasn’t room for him when he came back, and I never saw him.  A million years ago, he got a red electric guitar from Sears and an old Montgomery Ward amp with a psychedelic speaker cover (after, of course, the obligatory 5 watt Gorilla practice amp) and I had to get in on the action too.  I bought a cromulent P-Bass copy for 60 bucks — my dad said I got burned — so I could be part of the electric music thing, too.  My dad eventually told me he’d buy me an electric guitar and amp if I’d get rid of that damned bass.  I gave the bass to another friend, and got a pointy-headed Charvel Charvette and a 10-watt Gorilla amp.  I think Dad got the guitar ’cause he needed an excuse to give lectures on the Ventures and Luther Perkins.

The band really needed to play, never mind the inconvenient day of the week.  We’ve been recording an album, and while we got the basic tracks done within the deadline we’d set, we’d had second thoughts about what we’d done in comparison to our demos.  It’s a pain in the nuts figuring out how to record stuff in isolation for max cleanliness.  We were in recording mode for a while; we had an opportunity to play the week previous, so we made an effort to put some Hamburger Helper in the set in the form of Easily Recognized Covers.  And then we went back into Record Mode, and then real quick had to switch back to Learn Mode for this past gig. We demo’ed Judas Priest’s Breaking The Law for reference purposes; last week this time I was overdubbing a twelve-string via GarageBand to make another YouTube video.  I loved the drums on the demo, which both rocked pretty hard without drowning the guitars — which are just acoustic flattops with D’Addario drop-in pickups — and sounded like completely commercial folk-rock drums.  I put the 12-string on just because I’m a nerd for Billy Strange’s cash-in folk music.  I think it’s a gas, man.



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