I’ve been meaning to write for months, but I’ve been busy. Stupid busy since mid-June.
In mid-June, I played a solo gig at an outdoor festival. My son had just had his tonsils taken out and came home with the creeping crud, which he then gave to me, the generous little fartbottom. So I was sick, and was in the midst of a marathon of side work which kept me from learning new material. I don’t get gigs all that often; and I do become self-conscious about having a set list that’s more appropriate for a sad guy in his late twenties trying desperately to Make A Statement rather than one that befits a guy who’s almost 40 and found his place in life, no thanks to night-time music-world assholes.
I gotta say, I love playing outdoors and in daylight. Beats the everlovin’ shit out of craphole bars and honky-tonks, where next-to-nobody cares about hearing your music to remember your name and tell anyone about it, and in the rare case that they do have someone to call, they only think they’ve got someone to call. Yes, playing during the evolution of the cellphone: it used to fill me with hope back in ’01, ’02 when people would call a friend while I played and put up their phones and drunkenly shout, ”…Y’GOTTA (hurp!) GEDOUD HURR, MAIN!” It made me feel like a legend like Son Seals, who was originally signed to the fledgling Alligator Records label when some guy rang up Bruce Iglauer from the bar’s pay phone and said “LISSUN TUH (hic!) THISH!” Over time, you just feel like you wind up playing for sad clowns who wouldn’t be in whatever urinal hired you if they had a place they fit into during their personal life and off-hours. You wind up over a barrel: you look at all the sad old dudes with their giant capped teeth and leather jackets and figure if they like you, what good’s it do you, they won’t bring anyone to see you — these guys have bought houses for several cocktail waitresses over the years and have left a lot of broken wedding china in their wake — and if they hate you, you tell yourself, “I have friends and the way I keep them is by not bringing them out to rub elbows with aggressively chatty and hands-y lone wolf salesmen.”
But yeah, I played an outdoor festival for a quasi-hippie crowd and God as my witness, I can’t remember what I ever held against hippies. Awful music? Not any more awful than any other genre. ‘Trying to be something they’re not?’ That’s every genre — metal (every stripe of it), roots (oh, especially roots music — everyone’s covering up the fact that either a) they came from money or b) they’re quite successful in the square world doing a square job, and that music is a money-eating hobby, like sailing, or fishing) or hip hop (I don’t know how many times I’ve walked into a High’s and found a clerk scribbling rhymes into a notebook. You tell me how many big-time hip hop dudes own up to mundane stuff like that.). Smelly? A-billy people have that crown to themselves; the men with all kinds of shit stuck in their hair and Brut-soaked shop rags, the ladies with their dresses that reek of mothballs.
So I’d signed up for a slot that gave me a lot of time to hot-dog and showboat, and my throat was a spotty mess and as the set wore on I felt like I did in school when I crammed for exams and just couldn’t remember shit. My wife and kids eventually showed up to see me, and I just couldn’t stand to make them watch me be sweaty and desperate, so as soon as I could give myself a dignified exit I got offstage. 45 minutes with a fairly extemporaneous set of the usual boilerplate.
Watching the other acts was a treat. The second band after me was a keyboard-driven band made up of a guy about my age on keys and three other guys in at least their fifties on guitar, bass & drums. They shocked me by playing this:
‘Road To Hell,’ by Chris Rea. While I didn’t exactly love this song when it came out, it was always a nice treat when it came on 99.1 WHFS. It came out in either ’89 or ’90 and it was still in regular rotation when I was first allowed to drive alone around town in an ’80 Ford Fairlane wagon with a radio but no tape deck. I gravitated to HFS cause in those days — when Stevie Ray Vaughan was still alive — HFS was the only station that played him. They also played the Chantay’s ‘Pipeline’ fairly regularly, and one of the dj’s was fond of Cream’s ‘Tales of Brave Ulysses.’ HFS played a lot of wimpy pop played by English guys in sweaters, so ‘Road to Hell’ was, by the relative standard, a regular truckload of machismo.
I didn’t go for the ‘manly’ 98 Rock back then, believing then as now that it was for dumb people who’d been put in their place and been told to find happiness only by looking backwards and drinking race car beer. 98 Rock has always been for guys who are 35 and just realizing that, as the song goes, their “…dreams are all dead and buried.”
And, without really having to do any work making phone calls or listening to sorry excuses or getting the runaround, I had another outdoor festival gig offered to me. The same one I did in Highlandtown at the end of last summer. I’ll have to skibble out on the fam on my next-to-last day of my beach vacation to do it, but what the hell, I’m game.
Back during the winter, I ‘inherited’ my grandmother’s Hammond organ. Relax, it’s not the type you’re likely thinking of when you think of the phrase ‘Hammond organ.’ It’s an early Seventies cross between an electric spinet organ, an early Casio keyboard that every household was eventually issued starting in 1985, and heavy, wood-grain pattern laminated pressboard furniture. I had intended to use Garage Band to overlay recordings of the Hammond’s swirly stuff and booming bass pedals over my existing ‘acoustic & vocals on-one-track’ recordings, but eventually just decided to use Garage Bands ‘Smoky Clavinet’ for basslines, and other novel effects for my cover of Dan Sartain’s ‘One Is A Crowd.’
Back in June, I put some smoky clavinet bass on my cover of Johnny Paycheck’s ‘Armed and Crazy,’ some difficult-to-find Outlaw Country album filler from ’78 or ’79. I fell in love with the song at the beginning of ’11, when I was working for some nutty engineer. I’d listen to it over and over while cutting brand-new doors down to size and shape. Then I recorded it on my 12-string, intending to play it at my next gig — which didn’t happen until June, and by then I’d run my hand thru a table saw and my options were, shall we say limited — and by the time I’d listened to my own cover a million times, it dawned on me that every piece of it is composed of anachronisms. And not charming anachronisms, the type people would overlook when one covers familiar Hank, Sr., songs, but EXTREMELY DATED anachronisms, that no one under the age of 38 could relate to it. Street sweepers, papermen, news stands, and smoking in public spaces. It might as well not even be in English. Here it is:
I’d been meaning to put together a proper Action Figure Theater video for it; I mean, it fairly begs for one, doesn’t it? I thought I’d get it done this past week with th’ Wife & kids out of town, but I couldn’t catch a break between stupid-long hours at work and a stupid-long commute. I’ll put one together, eventually. I think the keyboards are hilarious; they are exactly as ridiculous as the Moog on the original. Eh, sometimes I just get sick of modern ‘Outlaw Country’ people who make like ‘Outlaw Country’ wasn’t just Seventies music thru and thru. They’re as bad as the flood insurance salesman who made ‘canon’ for several generations of Country Music Instrumentation.
And I tried to make another recording by using Garage Band to stack live tracks on top of one another, but it didn’t quite work. I had a 12-string and vocals on one, an electric on another, and a capoed 6-string acoustic on a third. I could get two to sync up, but never a third, and it made the vocals sound like digital chunks were scraped off of them. So I gave up, took about 2 days to get the smoky clavinet bass right (yeah, right) and throw in a guitar solo with a virtual Garage Band amp. The song?
‘Golden Chain of Hate.’ I can’t tell whether I love the song anymore, or just find it as retarded as my old-time drinking buddies. Of course, when I first heard it I loved it unrepentantly — I had a lot of hard feelings at the time, which took years to dissipate. But over time, as I got a life and developed coping skills, it dawned on me that what I thought was real ‘tough-guy’ stuff in it was actually howling ‘titty baby’ self-pity. I sang it as earnestly as I always have; and did as well as I could on the solo — Jimmy Swope can rest easy — but if there’s any ‘eye-winking’ and ‘tongue-in-cheek,’ it’s unintentional.
LOOZIK – IT’S A REAL THING, MAN!
So every now and again I’ll write about the music world people I know who are happy as a clam not to have a pot to piss in, provided somebody thinks they’re cool and gives them drugs. For these people, I have coined a portmanteau — ‘loozik‘, the phonetic combination of ‘music‘ and ‘loser.’ I was unaware that ‘loozik’ is a real word, in some Eastern European or Central Asian language. I learned of this during the last month because, while I haven’t been posting, I have been checking to see if anyone’s been reading. Over the last month, it’s been fans of disgraced ballplayer Rick Camp and people from distant, faraway lands following the search term ‘loozik.’ It’s happened repeatedly, so eventually I’m going to google ‘loozik’ and see if it doesn’t show me a picture of a pumpkinhead living in a yurt on the Central Asian steppes.