Sunday, December 27, 2009
Two days after Christmas and I am somehow in a way groovy kid's basement room in a loft in Atlanta. The far wall rafters lined with old license plates, exposed wood beams roof, the play room next door fully carpeted and containing lots of race track, space and a large chest of toys. Our bed is covered with a bright blanket festooned with happy multi-colored numbers that will most likely cause me to have pleasant Phantom Tollbooth dreams.
I have just spent a week on the road plunging farther into the South than I've ever been and I encountered nothing but love, good food (I will ignore the Krystal burgers if they will continue to ignore me and not put me in an e-coli coma and I will also try to ignore the strange trend in two Alabama rest stops in a row where seemingly guys were taking dumps in the urinal. Either that or dormant Southern pee eventually grows brown fur.), lots of great vinyl and pleasant weirdness.
If you would have told me five or ten years ago that I would be getting married and having a great time way down South meeting my future-in-laws, I would have attempted to laugh, causing hoarse seal barking noises to emit from my lardy ringed neck, and then I would have petulantly spilled out my various medications onto your lap, if you were sitting.
Of course most of my other trips down South I was half pickled and shivering with anxiety like a newly shaved chihuahua. All my vibrations yelling "Come beat me now, I am your meaty beat mate." But also, there is a good reason to fear the South, like there can be good reasons to fear most places. On one trip to New Orleans for Jazz Fest we stopped off somewhere in Alabama for coffee around midnight and there were about 15 gentlemen sitting around a table beneath many Confederate flags and guns and angry type decorations and the air was thick with words that had left their mouths moments before we entered and the silence that now couched those words and escorted them up into the rafters where the twin brothers were assigned to keep watch with lugers.
And there was also the other stop on the way to a Jazz Fest, in Virginia, when we kept seeing signs for "Hank Williams memorabilia". Hell yeah, we all thought. Just the stuff to load up on and wear with pride as we dip our ears and brains in nothing but music, laughter and booze for a week or so. We take a few weird turnoffs out of our way and come upon a fairly inviting looking establishment and run inside. Immediately we are hit with the baroque mug of Hank Williams, Jr., both a yuckle- and a chucklehead, adorning not only mugs, but buckles and bumper stickers and pink midriff tees and manly black tees with silver stuff on them.
Our more adventurous friend, Frenchy Duggan T-Dogg, wandered off to the backroom, not content to give up so quickly on what appeared to be a failed mission. A few moments later she came back looking paler than a fatty cyst removed from Elton John's taint. She had stumbled upon a lair of Klan toys and gifts and the mean looking bulldog woman cashier up front went from an unfortunate looking person who didn't like our kind to a case where the insides maybe cook up with hatred and reach out from within and do a rubber number on your face until it matches up with your fetid half thoughts and turn you into a goblin.
Nothing but goodwill on this trip, though. Particularly in the Waffle Houses. I openly and proudly and loudly proclaim that they are bastions of freedom and equality. The one we hit in Anderson, South Carolina late at night two nights before Christmas was like being in a play written by a buddhist christian healer. Everyone from the cook to the waitress to the obligatory solo guy sitting at the end stool by the counter had thoughtful, warm things to say. They didn't even cringe or shrink back when we said we were from Baltimore like most people more than two hours outside our misunderstood magnetic pull. The solo guy did say a friend of his got mugged there once, but then he added "Of course I think he wandered off into the wrong place looking to buy something he shouldn't have been looking for. But there ain't no Mayberries anymore. We even have our own homeless person here in town."
I would like to propose to The Waffle House chain and its corporate officers that they give me a cable tv show where I travel back forth between Baltimore and my future mother-in-law Rio's house, buying up books and records at all the roadside flea markets and eating only at Waffle Houses.
We scored some fantastic vinyl on this trip: two Hank Williams mono originals, two early Roy Orbison mono originals, a 1958 Folkways 10" with Woody Guthrie, Cisco Houston, Bess Lomax and Pete Seeger, near mint original stereo copy of Love's "Da Capo", near mint original stereo of Moby Grape's "'69", some cool blues and an original near perfect mono copy of Francoise Hardy's best album, "Maid in Paris".
We arrived in Mobile finally around 7pm to balmy weather and comforting breezes. My fiance's family immediately whisked us to an oyster house called Wintzell's and we had one great jazzed up waitress named "Mz Pinky". Throughout the meal, pilgrims approached the table to worship at young Laurel's highchair. Laurel is my soon to be sister-in-law's 9 month old golden child, who is making the Gap baby models bristle with jealousy and say all kinds of bitchy garbled things while pumping up their diapers with steaming coils.
The night we finally got around to hanging out with Everly's Alabama boho friends from her youth, I had the ambiguous Small World moment where discovering the tragic news of Vic Chesnutt's suicide led me to realizing I'd met Everly's one friend in Athens, GA a lifetime ago when I was trim and hairful and lived on beer and tacos. Turns out she was a friend of a very good friend of mine who left Baltimore to be with a notorious printer there in Athens. He had given us a whirlwind tour of New Orleans late one Jazz Fest night that turned into dawn at the Cafe Du Monde. The night virtually exploded in conversation from there. Lots of music and social history to discuss.
And her husband was one heavily tattooed font of lore and information on all things vintage and tasty. He makes a living scouting out old guitars and fixing them up. He had just found a beautiful original Les Paul that he said will one day buy him a beach house to live in cheaply. He also had the most exquisite body of National Steel guitar I'd ever seen. I fell into the final stages of man crush when he mentioned that the guitar style he most admired and emulated was that of Andy Gill from The Gang of Four. He told a great tale of working in a convenience store in Nashville where folks like Gillian Welch would come in for ketchup to use on her french fries in the greasy spoon next door. He also had been friends with Manuel who he says is the heir to the detailed embroidered Nudie suits of country music legend. He brought out an authentic "plain" Nudie suit that was striped and had killer deep maroon lining and Western cut pockets.
After a few hours of great music discussion and Holly learning us up on Alabama history, we made the final pilgramage to the home of the legendary Harvey Wallbanger, a musician and filmmaker who has often used beautiful Everly as his video muse. The party that ensued there was like one from "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", but somehow healthy and almost wholesome. Harvey wandered serenely about with black tie and leather blazer overseeing a few rooms of friends working off holiday stress. By this point I felt emptied of words, but comfortable. At my age and without booze two hours of steady conversation is about all I'm good for. Hopefully, though, I still managed to win Harvey's benediction for the pursuit of Everly's heart.
Sri Rebecca The Desert Vixen who is my spiritual adviser worries that my new state of happiness will be followed by a crash, but I tell her that what is left of my soul and time is tempered. I saw the folks in the flea market saying "it's a sock and underwear Christmas" and all the others who weren't there to buy hip stuff, but to find the best possible deal to scrimp and get by on. And of course there is the endless religious and/or racial tension that no part of the world is free from - although I have to say that Richmond seemed to be one fucking groovy integrated place -, not to mention the latest man exploding from odd places on a plane. Who would ever think that hearing about exploding shorts would be a bad thing?
And dear Vic Chesnutt dead, not all that long after Jack Rose dead. But Vic may have been tired and this is the rest he wanted and his way of getting it. His first three albums alone are a legacy anyone could be proud of. I'll never forget his gentle manner during shows and the way he said "Miss Tina". I'm glad I caught him last year, going despite the show being held at the godawful 8 X 10 Club. It was Vic Chesnutt and Jonathan Richman and the tool at the door is asking "Which performer did you come to see, we're breaking the pay down by attendance votes." Jesus Christ, I came to see them both. They're both legends and here the club is acting like it's a high school battle of the bands. What they should be getting the audience to vote on is a new layout for the club.
Speaking of tempered happiness, back to work tomorrow morning and facing the grim economic reality of the end of this war and terror riddled decade. Have I mentioned I love my future mother-in-law? How lucky is that?
Friday, December 11, 2009
With very special guest floating about in the crowd brandishing a cocktail: Courtney McCullough
Could it be nearly the end of whatever this last decade was called? The Oughts? The Naughts? How it flew by, taking with it most of my head hair and a lot of what was left of my belief in the goodness of humanity or faith that we can beat all the weird new viruses and microbes and booger bears and religious extremist wack jobs.
But then again the Harry Smith Anthology of Folk Music just get reissued on vinyl as did Roscoe Holcomb's "High Lonesome Sound" and The i.e. Series Reader has been published after much anticipation, so I guess there's still some spin left on the over-heated gumball of Earth, even if the polar bears are already being slated to go out next after the art of civilized debate.
How did I get on this, dear reader or two. Maybe it's because I just came from visiting an old friend in the ICU, a wonderfully strange old friend who just happened to be the guy who introduced me to my beloved, where I saw him without consciousness or words stuck to more tubes than I've ever seen in one place. The fact that we had to put on astronaut gear before we could even see him lent an extra otherworldly helplessness and removal from what we know as life. This after hearing the gifted guitarist Jack Rose died at 38 from a heart attack last week. We wish our friend well and all of us each one struggling with this sometimes cold and eery world.
The good and gooder news is the lineup for the next Shattered Wig Night that just happens to also be a bit of a birthday party for former Baltimore bon vivant, musician and Normal's employee, Courtney McCullough. He has just hit the half century mark and his wife Sabra and mother, Sri Rebecca the Desert Vixen, bought him a plane ticket back to Harm City from New Mexico so he could catch this show. I will take this moment to brag that I got lucky and was able to get Brett Sparks of the transcendent Handsome Family to play at Courtney's true birthday party at the Press Club in Albuquerque. There is a small, tiny chance I may be able to land the Family here when they come through Baltimore in the Spring.
As luck would have it, two days before finding out Courtney would be here, I had gotten a call from Amanda Pollock, another Baltimore legend who ran back in the '90s, looking for a booking. Amanda is an incredible vocalist, kind of in the soul folk category, who has done time with The Barnyard Playboys, The Velvet Mafia, Cloaca and many others, but also has always been mainly a solo vocalist with her own guitar accompaniment. She has a new duo in New York called Redbird and I'm excited to hear what she's been up to the last year besides writing twisted memoirs for her writing class.
Also performing is another great duo, this one local - Sea Couch, consisting of Dan Dorsey on banjo ukulele and regular uke and his fiance Amanda Copeland (she of the brightest smile) on banjo. Both warble pleasingly. Dan has the most clean picking style I've heard lately. He also plays in The Same Damn Thing and was in the Pasadena supergroup The Jumping Off Point and Other Moments of Grace. He also did this show's flyer, pictured above, saving me from another one of my tacky '80s School cut and pastes.
Knowing that Courtney would be in town for this special event, I had to muscle his favorite musician, John Dierker, into playing. Solo. Naked soul up against the wall of Oblivian demanding answers.
Our visiting reader this show is a novelist I've been wanting to book for a while, Goodloe Byron, author of The Abstract and Revisions Of. The Abstract truly reminds me at times of Flann O'Brien and Phil Dick, which is some fine company. Plus Goodloe is an interesting 21st Century Lamont Cranston kind of presence so I'm curious to hear him hold forth.
And of course it wouldn't truly count as Shattered Wig Night without Blaster Al. He's been on a particularly good roll of late, despite his recent mugging right on the front porch where he and I live with the reclusive millionaire Shuggie Berndt. The streets of this town are starting to really feel sinsiter again. Times are beyond hard. Rigor mortis stiff to the point of twisting.
At the 14 Karat Cabaret. Doors open at 9pm and the cover charge is a whopping $6 since we're top heavy with performers, aged ones, ones that have various monkeys to keep in silk smoking jackets.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Last Friday, December 4th, I had the honor of reading a few mumbly words at the gala opening of Scott Larson's new art show - "Failed Rescue".
As usual Scott nailed the modern human condition on its steroid pumped head while also mixing in some nice abstract Philip Guston-like lumps. Beautiful spirit of whimsical menace. Impossible machines/growths veering along somehow at breakneck speed through constricted/obstructed paths - an electric feeling of being alive for the hell of it.
I would marry Scott Larson's sensibility. Play it Bettye Swann lps on Sunday morning when we are both feeling coy, gentle and muzzy. Then sometime around 1:00 when the Saturday night wears off and the cough syrup kicks in, slap on some Etta James wax and get all sloppy over it like the last Salvation Army suit on the day before Thanksgiving.
Baltimore is a land of enchanted folks adrift or half-slumbering beneath protective rocks while mayors carry out their junior mafia activities and the murder rate climbs. Scott is one of our under sung heroes and like many a Baltimore artist/performer, he also manages to work 50 or 60 hours a week at his day job and raise two gypsy children he picked up in a dice game down South long long ago.
The evening was closed by Sir John Dierker's group Il Culo. Hammering funk that included a Fela cover to warm folks up for the weekend of The Baltimore Afrobeat Society shows coming up.
Drop your spatula, throw your kindle into a loan processor's bathtub, take all your investments and run to the Metro Gallery and love up in all ways on the demented eye candy of Scott Swede Larson.