Monthly Archives: August 2010

ALWAYS ON OUR MINDS Elvis Presley Pt. 2

33 years after his
death, there’s still no getting away from The King…

 

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

For
Elvis fans making their pilgrimages to Memphis,
the High Holy Days are during “Birthday Week” in January, the month of Elvis’
birth (Jan. 8, 1935), and “Elvis Week,” held the 10th through 16th in August, the month of his death. The rest of the year, Memphis is comparatively free of Elvi.

 

Conversely,
you’ll see them roaming the streets of Vegas all year round. The jumpsuit-wearing
superhero of the ‘70s takes precedence here, and not just because Vegas is
where Elvis reestablished himself as a live performer during that decade. Vegas
is all about the spectacular, and the bigger the better – it’s why perfectly
good hotels are repeatedly torn down to make way for something more lavish. And
what’s treated with reverence in Memphis is
delivered with a wink in Sin
City. How could it be
otherwise? Even Elvis’ most elaborate jumpsuits seem restrained in comparison
to the over-the-top costumes on display at the Liberace Museum.

 

The
Cirque du Soleil show Viva Elvis,
which opened earlier this year, tries to have it both ways, mainstreaming the
storyline while playing it tongue in cheek. The show follows in the footsteps
of the Cirque’s popular and critically-acclaimed Love show, which celebrated the music of the Beatles. It’s a
curious pairing in some ways, given that the Cirque’s shows have a more
sophisticated, artistic sensibility than Elvis ever aspired to.

 

Nor
does the resulting show feel as innovative as Love did. A specially designed theater-in-the-round was created for
Love, in the same space that used to
house the Siegfried & Roy white-tigers-and-lions extravaganza. The Beatles’
music was also heavily revamped for the production, with Giles Martin, the son
of Beatles producer George Martin, taking the unique approach of creating
mash-ups solely from the group’s own recordings (as opposed to the usual trick
of using the music of two different artists). Viva Elvis is a far more straight forward production, presented on
a conventional stage, and the music isn’t mashed; instead, Elvis’ vocals are
dropped into different (i.e. more modern) settings; the soundtrack is set for
release in November.

 

And
as Love followed the Beatles’ story, Viva Elvis mirrors Elvis’ life and
career, with varying degrees of success. “Blue Suede Shoes” gets the show off
to an energetic (if rather obvious) start, as the fans who have been
circulating throughout the theater leap on stage to dance around, and on top
of, a giant blue suede shoe. And “One Night” is surprisingly moving; the number
has two men, representing Elvis and his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon
Presley, doing gymnastics on a large guitar suspended in mid-air, with Jesse
falling to earth at the song’s end. But the set pieces don’t always work. “Got
A Lot O’ Livin’ To Do” has men bouncing on trampolines dressed as fantasy
superheroes simply because Elvis was a fan of comic books. “Mystery Train” is
oddly used as the jumping off point for flashy cowboys to display their equally
flashy ropin’ tricks. Elvis’ marriage to Priscilla is cast as a gauzy fairytale
in “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” complete with jumbo wedding cake and kewpie
doll bride, which is supremely kitsch, or supremely ironic, if you consider
that the King wasn’t exactly the most faithful of spouses.

 

Instead,
the show chooses to accentuate the positive, with the exuberant “Viva Las
Vegas” making the case that Vegas is the natural home for the King of Rock in a
way that Memphis never could be. In the number, Elvis is not just everywhere,
he’s everyone, with Elvi of all ethnicities, and both genders, filling the
stage, gyrating away in jewel-studded jumpsuits and plastic Elvis wigs. It’s an
unwittingly fitting tribute in a city where there are more impersonators of
stars working than there are actual stars.

 

And
spend just a few days in town and it becomes obvious that the jumpsuit is as
quintessentially Vegas as it is quintessentially Elvis. It’s a jumpsuit-clad
King whose statue stands outside the Las Vegas Hilton, where a plaque proudly
boasts he played 837 shows before two and a half million people (“Enough to
fill the Rose Bowl 25 times over!”). There are jumpsuits on display at the Hard
Rock Hotel and the Imperial
Palace (recently home to
“The King’s Ransom,” an exhibit of Elvis’ personal artifacts, including an
X-ray of the lungs that powered all those Vegas performances). The impersonator
shows all feature jumpsuit-attired Elvi, and the vendors on the street who
dress up as Elvis to attract further attention are invariably wearing a
jumpsuit.

 

Vegas-based
Elvis tribute artist (or, as he prefers, “Elvis emulator”) Jesse Garon jokes
that the prevalence of the jumpsuit is due in part to most impersonators not
being able to squeeze into the King’s slimmer Hillbilly cat outfits of the ‘50s
(let alone the form-fitting leather suit featured in the 1968 TV special Elvis). But for Garon, they also
represent the era when Elvis truly became the King. “He created what a
rock star was, with his jumpsuits and his belts and his entourages and his
planes” he says. “That’s
my favorite period still. And I think it means a lot to me because I’m just now
able to play that character, because I always had that baby face before. But
now I’ve finally grown into it.”

 

It
was 1993 when the former Jesse Grice of Dallas,
Texas, came to Vegas “with
a pink Cadillac, a U-Haul, $1800, and a dream.” He was reborn as Jesse Garon, paying his dues in the
touring version of the Legends In Concert impersonator show, before going into business for himself, eventually working
his way up to being proclaimed the “Official Elvis of Las Vegas” by Mayor Oscar
Goodman. Garon made the cover of Time magazine
in 1998, when Vegas was one of the fastest growing cities in America. The gates of his home were
modeled after the ones at Graceland.

 

But
when he tried to diversify by opening a bar in 2005, his fortunes began to
change. The bar closed just over three years later, and mounting bills led to
Garon losing his home. But Garon is nothing if not resilient (“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do”), and he’s back to being a
full time Elvis-for-hire. He specializes in weddings (“What I love the
best, because you’re dealing with people on the happiest day of their life”),
or special events like chauffeuring guests to and from the Viva Elvis show in his pink caddy – “Anything and everything having
to do with Elvis!”

 

But even though Garon attributes Elvis’ continual appeal to
how “Everybody sees a little bit of their self in him and emulates a lot of the
good qualities that he had,” he admits that the best part about being Elvis is
that he can step outside of the role. “My favorite thing about being Elvis is
that unlike Elvis I get to put it on and take it off,” he says. “When I go out
of town, I go to do a show and they treat me like a king. You go to Thailand, and
they truly treat you like a king. But if I want to put on a baseball hat and
just be Jesse, it’s a privilege that I have. I can see how it can really get to
you, having to be Elvis all the dang time.”

 

Elvis of course never had that luxury; he was forced to be
Elvis all the dang time. And perhaps
he wouldn’t have had it any other way. “He lived his life and died his death
just like he wanted to,” says Wayne Jackson, a trumpet player who played on the
classic tracks Elvis laid down at American Sound Studios in Memphis in 1969,
including “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.” “He traded a normal life for
42 years of being Elvis, and I think he kinda knew what he was doing. And I
think he loved being Elvis. Wouldn’t you?”

 

In a culture that so reveres fame and wealth, we’re supposed
to want to be. Elvis Presley
epitomizes the American Dream, after all. In his case, it turned out to be a
dream with a dark flipside, a dream that consumed the dreamer – “the American
Dream turned nightmare” as author Alanna Nash put it. But that’s also the key
to the durability of Elvis’ legend. The dream and the nightmare, the light and
the dark, aren’t diametrically opposed but inextricably intertwined. Thus,
neither the fans nor the detractors will ever come out on top in the debate
over Elvis; instead, they continue to fuel a discussion that’s only helped his
story resonate with increasing depth and meaning over the years.


Go here to read Part One of our Elvis tribute. Meanwhile,
check out author Gaar’s photo gallery of assorted Elvi and Elvis-related
happenings right
here.

 

Gillian G. Gaar is the author of Return of the King: Elvis
Presley’s Great Comeback, out now from Jawbone Press. (Read more about the
book here on
the BLURT website.) She will be doing a reading and book signing Monday, August
16, at Seattle’s Café Racer for Elvis Tribute Night & Karaoke Party, and then the
following evening, August 17, she’ll be at the Feedback Lounge (also
in Seattle), signing books and co-hosting a rock and Elvis trivia contest.

 

ALWAYS ON OUR MINDS Elvis Presley Pt. 1

33 years after his
death, there’s still no getting away from The King…

 

BY GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

Elvis is working the streets. Everyone knows him of course,
and few seem surprised to see him hanging out on Las Vegas Boulevard; indeed,
the people passing by often shout out “Hey Elvis!” and rush over to say hello
and ask if he minds if they take a picture with him. Of course he doesn’t mind.
Elvis is jovial, but he really beams when people tip him a dollar after the
pictures are taken: “Hey, thanks a lot. Appreciate it.” This Elvis is actually
Billy Gouvier, who’s also appearing in the impersonator show American Superstars up at the
Stratosphere, alongside replicas of Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, and Tim
McGraw. But Gouvier only works a few shows a week, and in order to generate
more income is forced to hang out on the Strip snagging tourists for photo ops.
You know times are hard when even Elvis has to hustle for spare change.

 

“We will never agree on anything the way we agreed on
Elvis,” Lester Bangs wrote in his memorial piece on Presley after Elvis’ death
on August 16, 1977. But what exactly is it that we agree on? The scope of
Presley’s legend seems far too broad to allow us to come to any consensus about
what Elvis “really means.” Was he a musical innovator? A racist? A God-fearing
patriot? A washed-up junkie? Elvis is now all things to all people, less an
artist and more of an idea, a concept, a blank façade onto which people project
whatever they want to see.

 

But this was apparently always the case. “He was like a
mirror,” Marion Keisker, record producer Sam Phillips’ assistant, said in Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.
“Whatever you were looking for, you were going to find in him… He had all the
intricacy of the very simple.” The only thing that remains unchanged about our
perception of Elvis, especially in his posthumous life, is that what was once
seen as scandalous is now conventional. What once pushed the envelope is now
comfortable and safe. And therein lies the debate that continues to this day,
between those who take him too seriously and those who don’t take him seriously
enough.

 

Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), which runs Graceland and oversees the marketing of Elvis’ image,
naturally wants you to take Elvis seriously. They’ve been criticized for
sanitizing his image, not officially releasing the TV special Elvis In Concert on video or DVD, for
example. Filmed in June 1977, and aired the following October, two months after
Presley’s death, the show all too clearly captures the King in sad decline. But
in this regard they’re no different than anyone else looking after the estate
of a posthumous icon. The Doors don’t focus on the bloated, drug-addled Jim Morrison,
but the glory years of the leather-clad Lizard King; reissues of the Beatles’
records occasionally airbrush cigarettes out of the Fab Four’s hands.

 

Instead, recent releases have emphasized the durable nature
of Elvis’ work. The excellent four CD set Elvis
75
(2010 would have been the year Elvis turned 75) is a judicious mix of
Elvis’ best songs, whether hits or non-hits. It’s a “serious” retrospective;
there’s no room for overly lush production numbers like “The Wonder of You” and
“You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” despite the fact that both were hits at
the time of their first release, and there’s nary a whiff of kitsch (with the
possible exception of “Bossa Nova Baby”). Instead, you’ll find such treats as
Elvis’ exquisite cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time,” originally
hidden as a “bonus” cut on the 1966 Spinout soundtrack. The set even pulls off the remarkable feat of finding the wheat
amongst the chaff of the post-1970 years (in some ways, more of a musical
wasteland than the movie years were), with poignant versions of “Always On My
Mind” and “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues,” and rockers like “Promised Land”
and “Burning Love.” (See the BLURT review the RCA/Legacy box set here.)

 

Other official releases this year have been hung on the
anniversary hook. The 40th anniversary reissue of the live-in-Vegas On Stage album (packaged in a two CD set
with the 1969 Elvis In Person At The
International Hotel
album as a bonus) looks back at the period when Elvis
still found performing in Vegas enjoyable. Two new DVD box sets repackage
Elvis’ movies (the one aspect of his career that’s long overdue for a good
critical assessment), each tied in with his 75th birthday. And this
October will see the RCA/Legacy release of a lavish box set entitled The
Complete Elvis Presley Masters
, a 30 CD box set featuring master recordings of every song
Elvis released during his lifetime, along with rarities and a 240-page book
with an essay by noted Elvis historian Peter Guralnick, all of it “housed in a
stunning, limited edition display case.” Undoubtedly to the consternation of
fans everywhere, the initial run of the set is limited to 1000 numbered copies,
and caries a hefty price tag of $750.

 

In
contrast to his obvious recording achievements, the release of the 1972 concert
documentary Elvis On Tour on DVD, the
last of Elvis’ original films to appear in the format, offers a more sobering
portrait of the King. It captures Elvis on the cusp of his fall; his face is
pudgy, and his athleticism in concert is noticeably muted, but he’s not yet the
tragic figure he later became. Still, it’s clear that things have started to
slide. Mid-way through the film, clips from his September 9, 1956 performance
on The Ed Sullivan Show are shown,
and the contrast is startling – Elvis is vibrant, alive, exuding an energy that
he clearly can’t muster two decades later. His voice still has impressive
power, as revealed on songs like “Never Been To Spain” or “You Gave Me A
Mountain.” But the frenzy of the shrieking audiences has him playing up style
over substance – the increasingly lavish jumpsuits, the ritual dispensing of
kisses and scarves. When the Beatles got tired of playing to screaming fans,
they simply stopped touring. Other groups, like the Rolling Stones, began
making the kind of music teeny-boppers weren’t about to scream at. With Elvis,
it’s as if he grew up, but his fans didn’t. Fatefully, instead of seeking out
newer pastures, Elvis opted to stay where he was the most comfortable.

 

And
it’s the fans that have kept Elvis from really leaving the building, at least
in spirit (though a reported 7% of Americans believe that Elvis is in fact
still alive). For Elvis fans, the High Holy Days are during “Birthday Week” in
January, the month of Elvis’ birth (Jan. 8, 1935), and “Elvis Week,” held the
10th through 16th in August, the month of his death. Fans
from around the world descend on Memphis to tour Elvis sites, purchase Elvis
memorabilia, meet those who once crossed paths with Elvis (many of whom now
have their own books or souvenirs to promote), and pay homage at Graceland,
both Elvis’ home and his gravesite; August 15 is “Vigil Night,” when the faithful
solemnly walk by Elvis’ grave, next to his house, from 9 pm until the early
hours of the morning, passing the innumerable elaborate flower tributes from
fans that line the long driveway.

 

The
August gathering is an especially intense experience, further heightened by the
punishing Memphis
weather (temperatures are routinely in the 90s, with the accompanying
humidity). The diehard fans who attend speak of their love for Elvis in the
same way they’d talk about the love they have for their spouse, or children.
And it’s this emotion that the impersonators (or Elvis Tribute Artists – ETAs
in today’s parlance) tap into. It’s the one setting where they truly make
sense, for the fans that need an outlet to express their heady devotion readily
find it in the impersonators. Even EPE, with a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join
‘em” attitude, finally began offering their own official “Ultimate Elvis
Tribute Artist” contest in 2007. So you’ll find impersonators in droves during
Elvis Week; you can barely get around the tourist hotspots of Graceland
or Beale Street
without tripping over one.

 

Tomorrow: Part Two of our
Elvis tribute. Meanwhile, check out author Gaar’s photo gallery of assorted Elvi and Elvis-related happenings right here.

 

***

 

Gillian G. Gaar is the
author of
Return of the King: Elvis Presley’s Great Comeback, out now from Jawbone Press. (Read more
about the book here on the BLURT website.) She will be doing a reading and
book signing Monday, August 16, at Seattle’s Café Racer for Elvis Tribute Night
& Karaoke Party
, and then the following evening, August 17, she’ll be at
the Feedback Lounge (also in Seattle), signing books and co-hosting a rock and
Elvis trivia contest.

 

MAXIMUM BOB! Bob Dylan

A pair
of fresh bios, one about the Rolling Thunder era, one covering The Bard’s
songs, aim to add weight to the discriminating Zimmerologist’s already stuffed
bookshelf.

 

BY STEVE PICK

 

It seems there’s no end of things to say about Bob Dylan.
We’re just a few months away from the 50th anniversary of young
Robert Zimmerman’s first appearance in New
York, and not all that much farther away from the 50th anniversary of the cottage industry called Dylanology. From the beginning,
Dylan’s music has led to people musing about what it all means and how did it
all get that way.

 

Two brand new books tackle the subject from different
viewpoints, though each starts  in the
middle of the ‘70s with the release of the last Dylan album that everybody
agrees was great, Blood on the Tracks.
Sid Griffin, who used to play in the Long Ryders (still doing occasional
reunion gigs) and now leads the Coal Porters, takes a close look at the next
steps of Dylan’s long meanderings down the performance road in Shelter From the Storm: Bob Dylan’s Rolling
Thunder Years
(Jawbone Press; 8 out of 10 stars). Clinton Heylin, who wrote
about Shakespeare before a long assortment of books on music, including six
previous works on Dylan alone, comes up with something to say about every
single documented song Bob Dylan wrote between 1974 and 2006 in Still On the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan,
1974-2006
(Chicago Review Press, 10 stars).

 

Shelter
From the Storm
is hardly the first book to shed light on the
1975-76 tours, but Griffin
has some fresh thoughts and some previously unavailable source materials.
Rolling Thunder neophytes will find the basic story of Dylan’s attempt at a
rock’n’roll carnival tour, with a wide variety of guest  performers and, at least at first, as little
advance planning as he could get away with. There’s also detailed rundown on
the writing and recording process of Desire – Griffin doesn’t let Dylan or collaborator
Jacques Levy off the hook for their romantic takes on criminal behavior in
“Hurricane” or “Joey” – and a pretty thorough run-down of what paying customers
experienced at Rolling Thunder shows early and late.

 

Griffin
acquired access to Roger McGuinn’s collection of audio verite tapes recorded on
the bus as the musicians traveled from town to town. Depending on your
tolerance for drunken and/or stoned rambling and cross-conversations between
the likes of McGuinn, Rambling Jack Elliott (whose nickname is herein revealed,
quite accurately, to have much more to do with his story-telling prowess than
with his desire to move on to places unknown), Joan Baez, Allen Ginsberg, David
Mansfield, and T Bone Burnett, you may find it excruciating to read the chapter
of transcription from just one of these tapes. On the other hand, when Mick
Ronson explains to McGuinn that he can actually name the chords Joni Mitchell
uses in her songs – remember that Mitchell basically invented her own tuning
and fingering methods years before Sonic Youth tried that sort of thing – you
just might find yourself getting goosebumps. This is an amazing
fly-on-the-wall  opportunity to hear
musicians discussing their art.

 

Dylan filmed parts of the tour for use in TV specials both
aired and unaired, and in the four-hour long surrealistic film “Renaldo and
Clara.” Because Griffin
is a musician, he comes up with endless amounts of insight into tiny decisions
good and bad which make Dylan’s performances come off the way they do. (Just
for one example, Griffin’s
discussion is breathtaking on page 22 of the way Scarlet Rivera’s near-constant
fiddle fills work in ways a guitarist could never achieve). And he helpfully
edits Renaldo and Clara down into a
much shorter film, with all the necessary hints as to which clips you’ll want
to seek out on YouTube.

 

Heylin’s book is the second of a two-volume set which looks
at the first 600 songs Bob Dylan has written for mostly public consumption. The
first volume, Revolution in the Air,
had the advantage of containing explications of the 200 songs Dylan had written
and mostly performed before 1967; the first 9 years of his writing were
considerably more prolific than the next 53. Still on the Road, however, covers a breadth of material no less
intriguing, if artistically more sporadic. There is the aforementioned
acknowledged masterpiece Blood on the
Tracks
, and a range of one to six or seven terrific songs on each album of
original music Dylan has released since.

 

It should be said that Heylin, while acknowledging the
ability of songs to come alive via the recording process or even more often,
onstage, is primarily interested in the words Dylan writes. As Dylan seems to
be almost never satisfied with the entirety of his songs, and as Heylin has
heard every single live Dylan performance ever recorded by the most obscure
bootlegger in the world, there is much breakdown of alternative approaches to
these words. For every improvement Dylan has made in this process, he’s thrown
away some gems. “Wiggle Wiggle,” for instance, from 1989’s Under the Red Sky, was an apocalyptic rant before it became the
lightest weight celebration of sexual pleasures ever.

 

Heylin loves Street
Legal
more than most critics, and he is troubled by laziness and sonic
excess on Time Out of Mind more than
is generally done. He offers rigorous scholarship on not only the
Biblically-inspired songs of Slow Train
Coming, Saved
, and Shot of Love,
but on the dozens of further explorations of Christian principles Dylan has
offered since the so-called end of the Christian period. And, considering the
wealth of information Heylin unearths on folk music sources, pop music
templates, and other assorted influences on Dylan’s mind, the recent trend
towards accusations of out and out plagiarism gets an interesting take from
Heylin. It all boils down to the belief that Dylan can take any source and make
it into something uniquely his own, but that when he doesn’t do anything aside
from quote, the result is flat and easily dismissed.

 

 For all Heylin’s
elucidation, he’s also just plain a hoot to read. You won’t believe how many
ways he can insult the musicianship of the Grateful Dead in a book wherein they
really shouldn’t be overly involved (though, apparently, the brief tour Dylan
and the Dead did together was instrumental in getting him to dig through his
back catalogue for songs he hadn’t performed in years). And Heylin never misses
a chance to make a punning reference to Dylan song titles and lyrics (though
admittedly, these are easier found in the first volume of the set).

 

Both Griffin
and Heylin convey their love of Dylan’s music, their occasional exasperation at
his choices, and their ability to find different ways into songs which may have
seemed either frustratingly opaque or overly obvious. Both books send one back
out to the source material with fresh ears. Listening to Bob Dylan just became
even more pleasurable.

 

 

 

MIXING, MASHING, SAMPLING, BASTARDIZING: Cumbia Argentina

You don’t have to
understand the words because you can dance to it like mad – all night
long. 

 

BY LEW HERMAN

 

For anyone interested in checking out surprising new sounds,
you should really visit Buenos Aires.

 

And Niceto Club (pronounced nee-say-toe, not “nice, too”) in trendy, hipster
barrio Palermo Soho is ground zero. If you can’t raise airfare, this summer
several Argentine deejays and musicians on Argentina’s
ZZK label are touring North America and Europe as we speak. They
played South by Southwest last year, paving the way for this year’s tours.
Previously they’ve played Summerstage in New York City’s
Central Park as well as big festivals like Coachella in California
and Roskilde in Denmark.

 

I was in Argentina – and Buenos Aires – earlier this year, grooving to the new music; call
it Argentine cumbia, cumbia electronica, psychedelic cumbia. There’s more – folktronic, cumbiatronic, neo-cumbia, even futuristic cumbia.

 

When I arrived in Buenos
Aires, a city of 15 million, my guidebook said,
“Greeting someone with a kiss on the cheek is quite normal” or, “A long siesta
is the norm between 2 and 5PM.” Both were accurate, so when someone said,
“Clubbing begins at around 2AM and continues past dawn,” they meant it.

 

In Buenos Aires
I headed straight to Zizek world headquarters, a house in barrio Villa Crespo,
as most new cumbia is on the Zizek record label. My
contacts at Zizek were deejaying at Club Niceto, so they said, “Come by at
3:30. Asking, “AM or PM?” they laughed and said, “Night!” Turns out, music may
be the only thing that runs on schedule in Argentina.
As my friend Marcela told me, “We Argentines don’t really have a good sense of
time.”

 

ZZK and their accompanying Zizek Urban Beats Club – their
mobile, roving party – is headquarters for the budding international cumbia
cult. Actually, cumbia’s been around for 200 years, since African slaves
brought its loping beat to the shores of Colombia’s
Caribbean coast, mixing African rhythms with indigenous
flutes and pipes. The catchy, hesitating beat is caused, they say, from the way
the slaves had to dance with shackles on their legs. Cumbia’s gone through
quite a few changes since then and this new Zizek phase is the latest. Cumbia
Villera (gangster cumbia) was the previous version and like early hip-hop, originated
in tough urban slums, in this case from the villa miserias or shantytowns
ringing Buenos Aires.
 Like hip-hop, Cumbia Villera had a bad
reputation, with misogynistic tunes about sex, drugs and violence, but the
Zizek folks knew it, studied it, played it. In one peculiarly ironic stroke, I
was told stories about Pablo Lescano of Damas Gratis (Women For Free) – the
Elvis or Bob Dylan of cumbia.

 

But cumbia evolves regularly, so now there’s Zizek. Co-owner/honcho
Grant C. Dull explained, “We call ourselves ZZK in the US, to avoid
copyright problems. “You know, Zizek the (Slovenian) philosopher is kind of a
rock star in the philosophical world.” 

 

Grant C. Dull is one of three label managers at ZZK and a
co-founder of Zizek Club.  He’s a 6-year
adopted citizen & cultural ambassador of Buenos Aires and a transplanted Texan also known as El G. (“I
answer to both English and Spanish pronunciations.”) He’s also a musicologist, editor,
theorist, deejay and internationalist. He runs the ZZK operation with two
others, both deejays and more, Diego Bulacio aka Villa Diamonte, and Guillermo
Canale aka DJ Nim. Grant was leaving soon on his North American/Euro tour, but
Diego stayed behind suggesting proper clubs, musicians and bands. “You’ll like
the band before me. Come early at 2:30 and you’ll catch them.” Fantasma was the
band and they were fantastico.
Accordions are king in Argentina
and Fantasma rocked out as a live band with accordion, reggaeton/rap and a full
throttle sound, heavy on percussion. Villa Diamonte deejayed after and was more
vital and contemporary than most deejays back home, playing cumbia electronica,
oddities, mashups, screeches and bleeps.  

 

***

 

Edgy, tropical cumbia made itself a second home in Argentina and is
presently going global. There was Seattle, New Zealand, Iceland,
Chapel Hill and now maybe Buenos Aires.
As Grant said, “This is maybe the only time in Argentina’s history that this can
happen.” He wasn’t only referring to the music but perhaps to Argentina’s
recent, calamitous history; the collapse of their currency ten years ago and
prior to that, Argentina’s murderous military
dictatorship. Now comes the rising of new music representing a new
alternative in Latin consciousness; a mixing of technology with Andean
cosmology, not just here but in other hotspots like Bogota and Mexico City. Buenos Aires, with its boundless, new artistic energy is
like Weimar Germany
in the ‘20s – or Paris in the ‘60s or New York
in the ‘50s. It’s emerging, hung-over from an extraordinarily horrific state of
affairs – universities closed;  you
couldn’t study sociology, history, psychology or anthropology; the economy
tanked, and worse than Greece today; no one bailed them out; and they defaulted. It
couldn’t get any worse, but it did. There were concentration camps. Their own armed
forces declared war on their own people – called the Dirty War (La Guerra Sucia),
thousands were murdered. So-called subversives were dragged from classrooms, flung
out of planes, babies were snatched from pregnant women who were then murdered
after giving birth, their children given to childless military families. In
terms of numbers, Pinochet’s dictatorship in neighboring Chile
was murder-lite in comparison. The word “disappeared” was synonymous with Argentina, culminating in a war with England
as the last gasp of a dying military dictatorship.  

 

After the Argentine peso collapsed ten years ago, Buenos Aires, once the most expensive city in South America, overnight became its most affordable.
Foreigners, like Grant, investigated the city and the country and liked what
they saw. “I came here (to Argentina)
first maybe ten years ago, after the devaluation, then came back for good in
2005. Before, in the last ten years, I lived in eight countries – China, Spain,
Ghana, Chile. I taught English around the
world, immersed myself in many cultures. I dove into cultures, staying up all
night, jamming with musicians.”

 

So, world traveler, culture surfer Grant picks BA as his
home, builds a website for travelers – people who like to hang out, play music or
listen all night. “Connecting us to the rest of the world and to my own world
view,” is how he describes it. He came up with the bilingual What’s Up Buenos
Aires (http://whatsupbuenosaires.com/wuba2),
and to publicize his project he and his pals threw parties every week “We
wanted to emphasize local producers. After one and half years we decided to
form a record label – ZZK”. Not a big shot label, more a collective, “Now we
have 30 deejays/bands, almost all Argentine. Only exception is Douster, who was
here as a French exchange student and he’s still here. And there’s me.” The dance parties known as Zizek Club, expanded to clubs and
nightspots throughout Argentina.
But the actual club according to Grant, “Is really a state of mind. We have shows
in Niceto, but it’s all over.” In clubs El G – Grant – spins what he calls,
“Mashups, bootlegs, official and unofficial releases plus the newest music from
the ZZK label. Plus, found sounds, B-sides, alternative cuts.”  

 

ZZK is also live music. Grant explains, “Some (on our label)
are traditional with full, live bands and percussion while some are minimalist,
just using a shaker or guacharaca and go electronic. We’re creating something
new.” ZZK infuses cumbia with new sounds – dark, psychedelica, trippy beats,
reggaeton rapping, accordion sounds. Accordion is king in Argentina and
being an accordion player myself, I felt at home. It’s been tango country for
eighty years, and now apparently, it’s cumbia time.

 

Cumbia has a long history and ZZK brings a pleasingly progressive,
cross-pollinating mix of new electronics and Argentina folk/trad. One of the
groups on the current tour, Tremor, uses authentic traditional Andean
instruments like charango, standup drumming and extensively trained musicians.
Another positive for ZZK is having King Coya aboard. “He’s part of our original
Zizek Collective.” His live show is phenomenal as he’s an acknowledged,
multi-dimensional force.” Coya typifies Zizek’s mutant blend of techno-cumbia/Andean
trad recombinants making his music unique, adventurous and listenable.

 

As Grant puts it, “We’re taking cumbia into 2010, 2011, and
12, mixing, mashing, sampling, bastardizing and creating something new.”

 

Coya – real name, Gaby Kerpel – is an Argentine of eastern
European background. His recordings under his own name like “Carnabailito” on
Nonesuch are exquisite creations, while his ZZK recordings as King Coya are delicious
mixtures of folklore electronica. His Cumbias De Villa Donde is available in the US on Nacional. He performs live
with five drummers and percussionists plus sexy, charismatic vocalist/sorceress
La Yegros. Onstage, Kerpel wields a snake charmer type reed attached to his melodica,
wheezing weird, accordion-ish sounds, blending Buenos Aires hipster sensibilities with
indigenous themes, Arabic trance and Brit trip hop making for a hallucinatory,
spellbinding, experience. Tunes like
“Trocitos De Madera” and “Un Nino Que Llora en los Montes de Mara” are
wigged-out, rhythmic classics.

 

At Niceto, I watched King Coya while sipping bitter fernet
con coke with my friend, Wade, who said repeatedly, “This is great! Greatest
show ever.” Later, he sent me an email saying, “Going to Niceto has really
gotten me excited about Buenos Aires.
I was getting so sick of dancing to suffocating electro and whiny reggaeton.
This cumbia is legit. It’s sexy. You’ve got to look for it and if I’m lucky
enough to find it I will be very happy.” He’s not the only one bored to
tears by endless drum ‘n’ bass and four to the floor house.

 

Other deejays in the ZZK fold besides the previously
mentioned musicians are Fauna, Frikstailers, Chancha Via Circuito, El Trip
Selector, El Remolon and Lagartijeando. We’re not listing everyone, but all represent
the top of the Argentine crop when it comes to the new music explosion. El Remolon’s
“Bolivia”,
is a minimalist mix of new and old. The Frikstailers are a mutant, stoner rap
duo, with post-rock sensibilities. Lagartijeando mixes jungle chants with
charango loops and psychedelica. Tremor mixes Andean flute with digital drum
samples. Chancha Via Circuito is hypnotic, heavy and psychedelic. His ZZK Mixtape Vol. 2 (online) or album Rodante are both superb. All these
groups are innovative, adventurous, moody and trippy. Elements of surprise and
recognition add to the pleasure and fun.

 

Other groups in other places are joining the nu-cumbia fray.
The Kumbia Queers from both Buenos Aires and Mexico City are a group
to be reckoned with. Described by Grant as, “Punk rock lesbians in the
Argentine punk scene, they’re working now with a big producer.” Not on ZZK but
on good terms with the folks at the label, they’ve been touring Europe and are on the verge of bigger things, with their
campy cumbia covers of Nancy Sinatra and Madonna. Uproot Andy from New York
City has an outstanding cut, “Brooklyn Cumbia” on the ZZK’s compilation (also
on Nacional), while Chicha Libre, a group also out of NYC, plays Peruvian
influenced cumbia – more indigenous and less electronic, using cheesier
electronics than ZZK.

 

While label ZZK in Buenos Aires is ground zero for new
cumbia, Nacional in Los Angeles is cherry picking Latin America’s best and the
brightest for American release and distribution – for example ZZK’s compilation
ZZK Sound, Vol. 1 & 2, King
Coya’s Cumbias De Villa Donde and
Colombia’s Bomba Estereo (“Blow Up”). Interestingly, all three have recently
been touring the US.

 

The ZZK World Tour began this past June and goes through August.
Beginning in Europe the tour swerves back to this side of the Atlantic to music
hotspots in North America – Brooklyn, Los Angeles,
San Francisco, Montreal,
Toronto, Chicago,
Seattle. Touring
with El G are Tremor, Chancha Via Circuito and El Remolon. This is the new
sound of South America and is spreading beyond its borders.

 

It’s the real deal, not a buncha poseurs playing crud you
hear all day on the radio or in clubs. This is 21st century cumbia, tripped
out, dressed up. No problem if you don’t understand the words, you can dance to
it like mad – all night long. 

 

 

Pictured above:
Frikstailers. Check out BLURT’s photo gallery of some of the above-mentioned
artists right here.

 

 

ZZK label, club and
tour info: www.zzkrecords.com (Don’t
forget to explore the site – there are some pretty awesome videos and music
samples to be found therein!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BLURT BULLY PULPIT: Big Head Todd and the Monsters

In which a not-so
big-headed Todd Park Mohr discusses the “bear” essentials.

 

BY TODD PARK MOHR

 

These days there is a lot of peer pressure on rock stars to
be green. I say this with a smile because big social issues are complex. Not
everyone agrees there is such a thing as global warming, and more often than
not the solutions that we encounter are not rational or even helpful when
considered from every angle. Everyone’s life is a contradiction of moral brinkmanship
in how we should save the world, which ultimately leaves one feeling deflated,
at odds with both the world and its problems.

 

In the music business we can use PR fast-talk to make
ourselves seem green. At the same time, they say nothing is more anti-Earth
than a good old-fashioned rock concert. Fans, crew and musicians drive
individually to get there; in some cases, a band may take several airplanes to
get to the gig. The P.A. slurps so much electricity, there are paper cups, beer
cans, human waste problems, the carbon dioxide from the pot fumes-so many brain
cells senselessly and needlessly killed. Every good deed seems to have its
necessary evil counterpunch, though at the end of the day we rock-stars want to
believe that we’re raising awareness.

 

I had my own personal green movement about 15 years ago. I
went Jeremiah Johnson-style and built
myself a 23-foot teepee on 107 acres that I purchased after the success of my
first big album, Sister Sweetly. I
was enthralled by the idea of being energy independent, and that I could live
off the land. Also, I had struggled with how being a successful musician fucked
up my social life so I wanted to work out my career pressures and personal
demons. And most importantly, I had songs to write. So I cut and shucked twenty-one
27-foot lodgepole pines and erected a glorious white teepee that I would live
in on and off for the next couple of years.

 

I learned that a flat surface is a good idea. Sleeping at an
angle has more than one downside, and my back is still crooked from cold nights
spent on rocky ground. I’d started a fire in the teepee for heat-as is the
traditional design, and the few moments that I had the teepee properly venting
an open fire were absolute paradise. Then the wind shifted and my tent became a
smoke hut-blecch! Soon I substituted
a propane heater and kept the blaze outdoors. Carbon-emitting to be sure, but
good fuel for the mind. To protect myself from spiders and other insect
interlopers, I set up a tent inside the teepee. Before long I had quite a
comfortable existence amidst the endless Colorado mountain wilderness.

 

In spite of this apparent independence, which I would later expand
on after building my solar-powered log house, I stilled burned fossil fuel in
my big SUV when I drove to the supermarket to buy steaks, or to my parents’
house to take a shower. I realized that I still relied on the worldly
conveniences in almost every conceivable way.

 

Those teepee days were so filled with pristine experiences
of living as a part of the earth, but I can’t help but think that as my estate
improved with walls and roofs that my quality of life declined. I was no longer
awakened by the bugling of elk and the howling of coyotes, or the pre-dawn
partying of teams of birds and squirrels. I no longer looked every night at the
bewildering starry sky while freezing my ass off to take a piss. I realized I
did nothing through those couple of years to aid the Earth, though I had lived
simply and near the soil. I had let the earth touch me in a way few people experience,
and I still look at things a little differently because of it.

 

One of the funniest chapters of my mountain-man life was
featured in Rolling Stone*. This is
what I call “The Bear Incident.”

 

My mother called me while I was on tour; she’d arrived at my
teepee to find my belongings dragged out and strewn over the hillside. She
quickly surmised that it was the work of a curious bear. When I came upon the
site, it was as she described-but I was unprepared for was the sheer carnage.
Absolutely everything had been punctured by the jaws of this large bear.
Aerosol cans, metal gasoline canisters, plastic coolers, toolboxes, chainsaws
and of course a seven-foot gash down the back of the canvas of the teepee. (*I
did not lose a musical work in progress to this bear, as Rolling Stone erroneously reported.)

 

Naturally, I brought this on myself through my own sheer
stupidity. I had left food in the tent.

 

Sleeping in the teepee was palpably tense after that. I
would kind of get off on the idea that there were much larger, much more
powerful beings roaming in the night than myself. I guess I smugly felt that I
would never see harm. Though I would have other close calls with dangerous
animals-elk and especially moose, I never had any trouble. These guys didn’t want
any part of me; they watched me from a safe distance. I would hear them more
often than not but rarely was I allowed to see them.

 

I now have a wife and children to care for, a minivan and a ranch
house in a Chicago suburb, where it’s hard to see even one star on a clear
night. I always carry those memories close to the surface though, as my
imagination sometimes drifts from the traffic and daily neurotic buzz of city
life, or the cacophony of life as a touring musician. My mind still lives in
that teepee.

 

Big Head Todd and the
Monsters’ latest album
Rocksteady is out
now on the band’s own eponymous label. Visit the band at their official
website
.

 


 

25 YEARS AND COUNTING The Wedding Present

“Good
people are what makes great rock ‘n’ roll possible”: on the road and backstage with
David Gedge and his Weddoes.

 

BY ERIC TISCHLER

 

When I finally get a look at him, I’m relieved to see that
David Gedge looks good.  I’ve known David for 15 years, but haven’t seen
him for two.  Dude works in an industry that’s going through tough times,
he isn’t getting any younger, and, frankly, I’ve worried about him; after all,
as every news outlet will tell you, times are tough for the small business
owner, even if he’s the owner of the coolest small business ever:  British
indie rock institution, The Wedding Present.

 

It’s early April, and I’m at the Earl in Atlanta because David invited my band, the
Jet Age, to join The Wedding Present for a few gigs on the East
Coast.  [U.S. tour itinerary for August follows this
story. – Ed.
] Apart from the
obvious reasons to play with such a venerable act, I agreed to the shows
so I can spend some time with Gedge, his partner Jessica McMillan, and
long-time bass player Terry de Castro (the band is filled out by guitarist
Graeme Ramsay, who recently vacated the drum throne and was succeeded there by
Charlie Layton). While doing some press for our
show in Hoboken I tell a writer that The Wedding Present are like my favorite
cousins, and it’s true: we see each other infrequently (yearly, if we’re lucky)
but the bond is strong and we pick up about where we left off.  They’re
good people, and good people, I will learn, are kinda what makes great rock ‘n’
roll possible.

 

Good HR = Quality Product

 

As it happens, the show in Atlanta
is a rousing success for both bands (the Jet Age is even planning on going back
to Georgia,
and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type).  For The Wedding
Present, attendance is up from ’08, merch moves in mounds, and new tunes are
introduced to great acclaim.  David says jokingly that those songs will be
favorites in 3 years, but I think they’re contenders right now.  As we
listen, my drummer, Pete, comments on Graeme’s counterpoint in one of the new
tunes. “I love what Graeme’s playing,” yells Pete.  Two nights
later, in DC, I pay attention to Graeme’s part in said song and Pete’s
right:  It’s brilliant.  But even the day before, as I drove with The
Wedding Present back to DC, I was already thinking about what a great new group
of people David had put together:  Graeme has a wonderfully dry sense of
humor, and new drummer Charlie is like the Cary Grant of rock:  Debonair
and utterly charming.  

 

One of the keys to The Wedding Present brand’s success is
consistency, but on the last three Wedding Present records alone, David wrote
with nine different co-writers.  I’d argue one of those three, ’96’s Saturnalia,
is not only the second best in the band’s catalog (’91’s Seamonster being
an unqualified masterpiece of guitar rock) but it belongs in the top 10 of
anyone who loves guitars and good. Fucking. Tunes.  Almost every record
that David has put out has had a different line up, and every record is
chockablock with killer songs.  That’s what you call good staffing and
astonishing quality control.

 

When I point this out, David, being modest, vaguely alludes
to some cocktail of luck and skills:  “To be honest,” he says,
“it’s a very inexact science.  I sometimes think it would’ve
been good to have been like U2 or the Beatles, to have had the same people at
the beginning of the band and at the end of the band, but I think the way we’ve
done it actually benefits The Wedding Present as a whole because every time we
have this kind of a line-up change someone comes along with a whole new line of
influences and it does move.  There have
been a succession of rebirths, which I’ve been very pleased
about.”  Well, here he is, 25 years into his
band’s run, celebrating the 21st anniversary of his second record, and the
dude debuts three new instant classics with yet another new
lineup.  When it comes to guitar pop, David has mastered
his trade, which explains how he’s still rocking and buying homes
(well, a home) in Santa Monica.

 

Know Your Customers

 

As a lyricist, David is plainspoken yet poetic, a veritable
Hemingway for the cuckolded; his tunes are sharp, propulsive, and memorable,
and he virtually blueprinted the template for a lot indie rock as we know
it.  He was covering Pavement when no one knew who they were and, while
his turbo-charged strumming and the band’s endless drive have precedents, The
Wedding Present seemed like the first band to bring that sound to the masses,
establishing a powerful cult audience in the U.S. and breaking top 40 records
in its native England. 

 

For its part, his audience is smart and appreciative. 
Being smart, many have found ways to make money, and they spend their money on
the Wedding Present; one fan of both the Jet Age and The Wedding Present writes
me to say he’ll be flying over for the Hoboken
show from… Switzerland. 
And he does!  A contingent of about a dozen fans from the UK, calling
themselves the Barmy Army, also flies over to follow along for various parts of
the tour.   For his part, David provides
plenty of solid product; on every tour, there’s an emergency shipment of tee
shirts to my home in order to replenish stock for the East Coast shows.  There’s a real loyalty, and it’s well earned.  

 

“I think people do genuinely want to support the
band,” says Gedge, “especially if they’ve been fans for a long
time.  People are really keen to help and they see it as contributing
to the overall project, and I’m very grateful.”

 

“He cares about the fans,”
confirms Terry.  “He appreciates the support. The ones that are
willing to talk to him do form a personal relationship with him, and people
want to do stuff for David [but] he doesn’t really ask it of
them.  People are dying to help him, and that’s
impressive.”  

 

“What’s interesting,” she adds, “is that
he is a pop star but he genuinely does not think he’s better than the
fans.  He’s a working class guy, he’s a regular guy who does not
think he’s special and that’s kind of what The Wedding Present was about:
 They were the lads down the street, that’s just who they were.”

 

At the DC show, once again attendance is up and merch moves,
and even DC’s traditionally staid Anglophiles enjoy us.  During The
Wedding Present’s set, one of the venue’s bartenders leans over to me and
laughingly points out the mosh pit full of 40-somethings, but he’s missing the
point: it’s not ridiculous that this crowd has been whipped into this frenzy;
in buttoned-down DC, it’s amazing.  Just as Jagger, Clapton, and Townshend
help the boomers remember there’s more to life than their depleted 401ks, Gedge
et al. are providing pure pop for people who need it now.

 

“I think that the music really connected with a sort of
blokey, but also sensitive, kind of guy, which is kind of an odd
combination,” explains Terry. “It’s these kind of lovelorn indie
kids that sort of grew up and now they’re all married but they’re really
emotional guys and they love the lyrics and it’s become kind of a lad’s club
but it’s sort of softer than that somehow.”

 

But The Wedding Present’s audience isn’t limited to fogeys
or dudes.  Jenna McKenzie is barely 30, but she takes me aside after the Atlanta show to pay a
compliment before telling me Gedge is her “Justin Bieber.”  A follow up
via Facebook (hey, she “liked” the Jet Age!  I’m married!  Come on!)
got her waxing poetic about The Wedding Present, who seduced her when she was
22.  Wrote McKenzie, “The first song I heard
was ‘Click Click’ and my fucking knees weakened. I am not joking.”  She
explained, “For me, it’s as simple as the perfect marriage of incredibly
sincere, clever lyrics and amazing instrumentation.”

 

The show in Hoboken is sold out and, after
gratefully listening to a drunk Brit go on at great lengths about how great we
were (any comparison to the sadly underrated Ned’s Atomic Dustbin is alright
with me), I realize that David’s been taking photos with people for about an
hour, and similar scenes played out in Atlanta and DC.  I’ve played with
some reasonably big bands, and I’ve never seen any of them pose for any photos,
much less dozens.

 

“I feel like it’s part of the job,”
he explains later.  “They’ve kind of paid my wages and the very least
I can do is stand for a few seconds; what else would I be doing?  I’d
be sitting in the dressing room, bored.  And you establish a relationship with people, long-time fans that I know by
name, they’re having kids, I’ve missed them.  It’s definitely not a
one-way situation, [it’s] symbiosis.”  

 

Maintaining the Franchise
 

As I type this, TJA is planning on meeting up
with TWP in one of rock’s most storied cities – Harrisburg, PA!
– in about a week.  It will be a bittersweet reunion, as this spin through
the U.S.
is Terry’s last tour with the band for the foreseeable future.  I choose
to believe she and her longtime beau, Andrew, will come visit us in DC, but,
even if they do, it could be a while.  In the interim, I’ll miss her,
particularly when the Jet Age rejoins The Wedding Present in the UK this
December for two weeks’ worth of dates.  David’s already got Terry’s
replacement lined up.  If The Wedding Present’s history is any indication,
she’s gonna kick a lot of ass.

 

Wedding
Present U.S.
Tour Dates (more details at www.scopitones.co.uk):

 

8/11 : Harrisburg, PA, USA
– the Abbey Bar/Appalachian Brewing Co. with The Jet Age (www.thejetage.net)
8/12 : Athens, GA,
USA – Popfest
8/13 : New York City, NY, USA
– Seaport Music Festival

 

 

[Photo Credit:  J.A.
McMillan. Pictured L-R: Charlie Layton, Graeme Ramsay, David Gedge, and Terry de
Castro]

 

THEIR CIRCUITOUS JOURNEY Red Wanting Blue

The Ohio indie-rockers are at once grungy,
structurally predictable and anthemic – but they’re also enduringly bright,
promising and wonderful.

 

BY MARY LEARY

 

At first audio glance, Red Wanting Blue doesn’t make my kind
of music. Hmm… but since I like about
nine existing kinds of music, as well as sounds that color outside the lines,
that’s not quite on-target. The band’s style – grungy, structurally predictable, anthemic – just isn’t one with which I tend
to resonate. At first hearing, I thought, “The lead singer sounds like several that
I can’t put a finger on” (because I’ve ignored them), “that I’ve heard a lot –
and one that I can – Eddie Vedder.” But, honestly, these guys have won me over.

 

The successful seduction has only a little to do with the
arduous path of founding and sole extant original minstrel Scott Terry (the guy
with the Vedder-ish grit in his vox). Thousands of players endure AWOL collaborators
and the need to rekindle chemistry with new ones – let alone memorizing different
beers, wives, girlfriends, groupies and grannies. Terry’s done this about eight
times. Since the seminal unit sprang from the quads around Ohio U. (Athens) in
‘95, Terry’s chain has been yanked by a stream of “breakout” events – if not
red herrings, they’ve been rather sparse bread crumbs. From 1995-2001, in bar
after tour stop, he pretty much just sang his heart out. In ‘01, the fourth
self-release Sirens debuted in first
place at Awarerecords.com. In ‘02 the band performed on CD 101.1 and joined the
Sprite Liquid Mix Tour. In ’04, nine years in, momentum finally started growing
legs when tracks from Pride: The Cold
Lover
went into rotation on XM’s Unsigned
Radio
and several publications threw up unsigned-band-to-watch flares.

 

Although it’s rather remarkable for one guy to keep his foot
on the pedal while others hop on or off the ride, that, by itself, wasn’t
enough to invite a closer listen to These
Magnificent Miles
. It went more like this: I couldn’t turn away from the road-erosion,
wisdom, and humility I detected on the members’ faces. Also, there’s something
endearing about a musician who threw on his boogie shoes in ‘95 and has been
playing, most of the time, since; in the process shrugging on a heroic and
inspiring role for 30- and 40-somethings.

 

‘Cause these days, as we all know, if you aren’t Tom Waits,
there are no romantic stories – those are just for and about artists between 14
and 28 years of age. While I doubt Terry and his crew envisioned themselves as grand,
older men of the road, the shoe’s starting to fit. I also love that a Pee-Wee
Herman doll dangles behind the driver’s seat in the band’s tour bus. And that
on its web page, instead of “merch”, the old-timey lettering reads, “General
Store.” And that in that store you can buy a foam fuck-you finger and a decal
or button of the angel/devil graphic that Terry drew in ’95, which has
subsequently been inked into hundreds of fans’ skin.

 

In a few years, the number of tat victims could rise to tens
of thousands. RWB’s MySpace currently lists 13,139 fans. NYC mover-and-shaker
Ken Davenport has documented the group’s saga in Never Enough: The Story of the Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard Of.
And late last month Fanatic rereleased the band’s independent, ’08 album, These Magnificent Miles (produced by Jamie Candoloro/REM, Willie Nelson),
which will also manifest as double-vinyl. The CD already includes a poster – tres après-1985.

 

If one of the original copies of TMM had landed in my player, who’s to say I wouldn’t already like
this band? I mean, Bruce Springsteen isn’t really my cup of tea, either. Yet
whenever he’s on TV, I’m like, “Gee, I hope he plays “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out”
and “Glory Days” – that’d be hot!

 

Which is yet another reason to resist categorization, labeling
prior-to-investigation, and general narrow-mindedness. Any of those could keep
me from the highly-likely: RWB jammin’ with Creed, Springsteen, These United
States, and/or Crow at the Grammys one day. But whether the kit-driven dynamics
of “U.S. Bumper Sticker,” the Wave-inducing “Where You Wanna Go,” the poignant
“Finger in the Air,” the foot-stompin’ “New Cool,” or the grunge/C&W
marriage of “The Air I Breathe” will be featured, well… hey, I’m no psychic –
I’m just a fan of everything enduringly bright, promising and wonderful.

 

Find ‘em on the web: www.myspace.com/redwantingblue

 

[Photo Credit: S. Albanese]

 

 

 

THE FALL OF PHIL COLLINS AS GREEK TRAGEDY

Fuck all if “In the
Air Tonight” doesn’t kick all kinds of ass: a meditation on Egg McMuffins and
the like.

 

By ROBERT DEAN LURIE

 

What’s it like to be a fallen god – to have once commanded
the heavens and the elements, only to now be at their mercy? To feel the
stinging contempt of the insects in your path, when once you were lord over
beast and man? In short, what’s it like to be Phil Collins?

 

            Okay.
Here’s where you laugh. Go ahead, have your fun. “One More Night”, “Easy
Lover”, “Another Day in Paradise”, “Groovy
Kind of Love”: budding serial killers cut their teeth on that shit.

 

            But really,
we shouldn’t be having this conversation. As the perpetrators of Crimes Against
Rock sweat out their final moments on death row (What would you like for your
last meal, Rod Stewart?), there he sits like royalty in exile, awaiting an
eleventh-hour pardon that will never come.

 

            An old
fable has been passed down from generation to generation to explain how this
all came to pass. It goes something like this:

 

 

       There once was a magical land called
Genesis, presided over by a wise philosopher-king named Gabriel. In his court
were three minstrels: Hackett, Rutherford, and Banks, and an impish jester
named Collins. In time, this jester-who, underneath his buffoonery, was really
quite wily-gained King Gabriel’s confidence and began whispering sweet nothings
into his ear: “There are many riches to be had outside the kingdom, my liege,
many fair maidens too. Do you wish to spend your days lording over familiar
faces and places, or exploring strange and exciting new lands?” Then he would
add, almost as an afterthought: “Anyway, you needn’t worry about your kingdom.
I shall look after it in your absence.”

       Eventually, the kind and trusting King
Gabriel gave in to these ministrations and sallied forth into the great
unknown. And he did indeed acquire great riches and have many adventures-all
the while doing his best to make the world a better place through numerous acts
of benevolence.

       Meanwhile, the Land of Genesis
fell into disarray. Disillusioned, Minstrel Hackett went into exile not long
after King Gabriel’s departure, while Rutherford
and Banks threw in their lot with the clown Collins. Together they plundered
their own citizenry for loot, demanding blind obedience and
tarring-and-feathering any heathen who dared pine for Good King Gabriel’s
return.

 

 

Fathers, in telling this tale to
their sons, would often conclude with the cryptic statement: “And that, my boy,
is how they started with Nursery Cryme and ended up with We Can’t Dance.”

 

            It’s an
enjoyable fable boasting an appealing cast of characters (chief among these the
noble leader and the Iago-style villain). Shame that it’s all a load of
bullshit.

 

            Mind you, I
bought into this storyline for many years. My first exposure to the mighty rock
group Genesis occurred at the tender age of thirteen. Our neighbor Mr. Istrie
owned an impressive record collection which included, among other things, the
first pressing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side
of the Moon
(complete with fold-out poster!) and the uncut British version
of the Beatles’ Revolver. But what
really drew my attention was an album by Genesis called Nursery Cryme. The cover appeared to be a child’s painting of a
maid playing cricket…with decapitated heads. The music, in its incorporation of
both the familiar and the frightening, matched the image: Peter Gabriel’s voice
oscillating between soft whisper and rabid howl without warning, the tempo
often following suit. It scared the shit out of me and I loved it. This album
seemed not so much the product of a group of musicians but of five troubled
individuals locked away with their fairy tale books in a nuthouse.

 

            Alas, I
came to Genesis late, for Nursery Cryme was already an almost forgotten relic of the moldering past. The release of the
moment was the ubiquitous Invisible
Touch.
Hearing the two side by side, it became abundantly clear that
something was indeed rotten in the Kingdom
of Genesis. Which is not
to say that my thirteen-year-old self didn’t groove to “Land of Confusion”
and “In Too Deep”. But my thirteen-year-old self also enjoyed eating at
McDonald’s and watching Knight Rider.
(Full disclosure: I still get an Egg McMuffin from time to time).

 

            The lasting
impact of my time spent at Mr. Istrie’s was an appreciation for Peter Gabriel,
both within Genesis and on his own. Phil Collins, on the other hand, didn’t
warrant more than a passing thought in the ensuing years. Until…

 

            Fast-forward
to spring 2007, exactly twenty years after I discovered Nursery Cryme. Quite unbidden, the ghostly voice of Phil Collins
began to insinuate itself into my thoughts during a seemingly never-ending
drive across the New Mexico
desert. This business trip had begun promisingly enough. Armed with Talk Talk’s
post-rock classic Spirit of Eden, I
had soared across the spectacular Arizona/New Mexico border accompanied by Mark
Hollis’s heroin-addled tales of despair and redemption.

 

            Then the CD
started skipping.

 

            Over the
next few hours the landscape became flat and my choices on the radio dial
dwindled to a handful of Spanish-language stations and one lone hip-hop/R&B
outpost. I turned it off and resigned myself to spending the remainder of the
trip listening to the music of my mind. Then, somewhere past the Navajo
reservation that Tony Hillerman had made famous in his mystery novels, a soft
voice began its plaintive croon from the darkest recesses of my subconscious: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight, oh
Lord / And I’ve been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord, oh
Lord.”

 

This was, of course, Phil’s ditty
about wanting to murder the interior decorator that ran off with his wife. Yes,
I know: it was also the soundtrack to a beer commercial as well as a Cadbury’s
Chocolate ad featuring a gorilla playing drums. That doesn’t change the fact
that the song is completely badass, and at that moment of mental vulnerability
it had wriggled its way into my soul. Try as I might to think of other things,
I kept returning to the eerie melody; and just as the beckoning tower of a
Wal-Mart appeared on the horizon, I recalled the part where Phil’s massive
drums come crashing into the track and his voice goes from ominous whisper to
shriek: “Oh Lord, oh Loooooooord!”  Was it
really as good as I remembered? How could I have forgotten that Phil Collins
had one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll screams, second only to John Lennon’s?

 

            The die was
cast. I pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot and my life changed forever.

 

            Two CDs
were acquired on that trip: Phil Collins’s Face
Value
(which contained the aforementioned “In the Air Tonight” and yes, it
was as good as I remembered) and Genesis’ Turn
It On Again: The Hits
. Within the next four months I would own every
Genesis album released between 1974 and 1984, as well as Phil’s first two solo
albums. The conclusion I arrived at after assimilating all this music was that
anyone who denied the greatness of Phil Collins-era Genesis was in denial of
the evidence of their own ears. “Turn It On Again”; “Misunderstanding”; “Mama”;
“That’s All”; hell, even “Throwing It All Away” and “Tonight Tonight Tonight”:
These were monster hits boasting serious musical chops. And then there were the
many deep cuts that did not disappoint: “Scenes from a Night’s Dream”; “Many
Too Many”; “Ripples”; “Guide Vocal”; “Los Endos”. Also, this idea that Genesis
had immediately sold out the kingdom (i.e. become a pop band) after Phil took
over was proven patently false; all manner of prog looniness permeated the
1976-1980 material.

 

            Amongst
friends, I was a bit more strident with this new obsession than I had been with
past fixations. Since 1992, I had been a staunch partisan of the music of Daryl
Hall and John Oates, but I had always couched my praise of that duo in irony,
as if my peers might find straight-faced adulation too bewildering. Not so with
Genesis. Perhaps I thought I could piggyback off of the Gabriel era’s street
cred – indeed, I started off tentatively: “Of course the Gabriel material is
wonderful. No arguments there. But you know, that first album with Phil Collins
singing lead is really quite inventive” which soon led to “Hey, the stuff they
did before Steve Hackett left in 1977 is really outstanding.” From there it was
a slippery slope: “Boy, I just love Duke!
(1980)”; “Abacab (1982) is not that
bad”; “They were still a smokin’ live band in 1984!”

 

            Every
Genesis fan has a cutoff date – the “point of no return” after which Genesis
ceased to be a good band and may have even become a force for evil. Purists
will go back to Good King Gabriel’s departure in 1975. A vocal contingent marks
the Great Prog Abandonment of 1980 as the turnoff onto Suck Street. Be that as it may, there is
universal consensus that by the time Phil began sporting what one Amazon.com
reviewer termed his “business up front, wild out back” mullet in 1986, things
had well and truly gone to shit. The catchy singles from this period were
simply the flailing, desperate thrusts of a punch-drunk boxer seconds away from
hitting the mat.

 

            Yeah, I
know that the mid-‘80s was a prosperous era for the boys and that their
gargantuan success probably enabled the acquisition of yachts and luxury
properties in far-flung locales, but these were musicians and they knew the nature of the deal they had struck. At
that very same time, Peter Gabriel was having his cake and eating it too:
enjoying critical acclaim and commercial
success with his smash album So.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about this sort of thing.

 

            That being
said, it’s easy to forget – now that we’ve been saddled with “Another Day in Paradise” for so many years-that Phil Collins seemed the
unlikeliest of pop hitmakers back when “Face Value” dropped in 1980. Within
Genesis he had been an innovator, perpetually subverting the band’s very
English wall of pomp with jazz-inflected syncopated beats. He was a fan of both
King Crimson and Sly and the Family
Stone. Pushing the experimentation even further, he joined the improvisational
jazz-rock outfit Brand X in the late ‘70s, crafting music with them that was
wilder and more free-form than anything he’d done with Mssrs. Banks,
Rutherford, Hackett, and Gabriel. Taken in that context, Face Value (which was begun alongside the Brand X work) could be
seen as another experiment: an opportunity to deploy his drumming and vocal talents
into the hitherto unexplored genres of pop and R&B. And you know what? Face Value is a great album. For that
matter, so is the follow up: Hello, I
Must Be Going.

 

            And yet, even at that early
stage, troubling omens were already in place for any Cassandra to see. The
faces of band members had never graced the covers of Genesis records, but here
was Phil’s ugly mug staring out from the cover of Face Value, daring us to take him seriously. That almost worked
because of the title, but his face popped up again on Hello, this time in profile. 1984’s No Jacket Required revisited the frontal shot, throwing in sweat
and a sinister red glow (evidence that the Faustian pact was up for
repayment?).

 

            I wonder
what Phil was thinking during those days. Did he relish the fame and fortune,
or live in perpetual dread of the stinging lick of perdition’s flame? As it
turned out, there were really two falls of Phil Collins: the first when the
increasing mediocrity of his solo output infected and devoured Genesis; the
second when the public abandoned him after his movie Buster tanked. His solo album at the time – But Seriously – (featuring the Phil face on the cover at a 45
degree angle with hair follicles fully in retreat) eked out two hits but
generated very little enthusiasm. From that point forward, the decline was
swift and irreversible.

 

(What’s that, you say? No no no.
You can take your Tarzan: The Musical and shove it, junior).

 

            There’s
this thing called “Tainting the Memory”: the idea that a talented artist can
release material that stinks so thoroughly that the noxious fumes engulf and
all but destroy the earlier well-regarded work. That was absolutely the case
with Phil’s oeuvre by the late ‘80s. To survive the long siege that is side B
of But Seriously, one makes desperate
promises to one’s god: “I will never listen to this man’s music again. I will
dispose of the old records in a great conflagration. I will cancel my
subscription to the Genesis fanzine. Anything to avoid this torture. And
please, God, can you help me get my money back?”

 

            Back in
1980, people had marveled at “art-rock” drummer Phil Collins’s foray into
popular music. Just eight years later, the terms “art” and “Phil Collins” were
about as far apart as “soul” and “Barry Manilow”. Old Buster never recovered.
True, people still attended Genesis concerts-you can’t dismantle a
multi-million dollar franchise overnight, after all – but the attitude had
changed from “God, they’re good” to “If we’re lucky, maybe they’ll play some of
the old stuff and we can forget that that stumpy ass-clown jumping around up
there is Phil Collins.”

 

So there I was nearly two decades
after The Fall, mulling through the wreckage of a self-sabotaged career and
trying to make sense of it all. Phil had once lamented a lover’s “throwing it
all away” and then had proceeded to do just that. But try as I might, any
attempt to explain his actions came up short.

 

            An analogy
can be made to Rod Stewart’s career, but it only goes so far, for if you listen
closely to the old Faces material or the first couple of Rod’s solo records, it
becomes clear that the guy was always a knucklehead and a boor, propped up on
the shoulders of talented collaborators. Phil’s Face Value, on the other hand, with its demented version of the
Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and its dizzying forays into jazz, funk, and
soul, is his brainchild and is more inventive than a good number of Genesis
albums. No, as hard as it is to accept now, Phil was clearly a talented artist
who chose to dumb it down. He decided to give the people what they wanted, or
what he thought they wanted. And after his second solo record, there would be
no more attempts to challenge his audience or incorporate his own varied
musical tastes into his work. It was strictly business – in plodding 4/4 time
with thin synths and overbearing horns, targeted for the local supermarket
soundsystem. He had found the formula and had decided to milk it for all it was
worth. In a word, he sold out.

 

            Okay, so we
have now pinpointed the nature of the crime. The motive, however, remains
elusive. Did his family need money? Maybe the ex had hit him with a hefty
settlement after she ran off with that interior decorator. Maybe he thought the
world would slide into another Great Depression after the excesses of the ‘80s
and he wanted to front-load that Swiss bank account. Hell, maybe he was being
blackmailed the entire time by a strapping young male lover. Whatever it was,
Phil ain’t squawking – which leaves us with the greatest tragedy of all: a
pointless and seemingly willful self-immolation.

 

            And boy,
what a messy crime scene! He left crappy albums strewn about like so many
entrails after a Jack the Ripper rampage. Dance
into the Light,
anyone?

 

In the Year of My Revelation – 2007
– Genesis fans were treated to the spectacle of Phil Collins’s reanimated
corpse sitting behind a drum kit playing good music again. By calling the tour
“Turn It On Again”, Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks implicitly acknowledged the
Frankensteinean experiments they had been conducting on their pal. Would “It’s
Alive” have been more apt? Not exactly. It’s true that the boys had somehow
managed to dial Phil’s brain back to 1978 for a large portion of the show, but
every now and then the corpse began to buck, most egregiously during the band’s
disinterment of their craptacular 1991 hit “We Can’t Dance”. At those moments
Phil resembled not so much a resurrected man but the bald-headed ghost of the
literary character Wolf Larsen, going down with his accursed ship one more
time. What one ultimately takes away from the valiant 2007 endeavor, then, is
that Phil (or Phil’s shell) is capable of playing – and sometimes even
breathing new life into – classic material, but he has absolutely nothing
contemporary to say. When was the last time that Phil Collins wrote – or played
on – a piece of music that spoke to anyone? I’ll resemble Rip Van Winkle by the
time you get back to me on that one.

 

Ah Phil, you have hurt me so. The
world makes less sense after what you did. But fuck all if “In the Air Tonight”
doesn’t kick all kinds of ass.

 

Oh Lord.

 

THE BUS DRIVIN’ PROPHET RIDES—SPEAKS—AGAIN: Hoot Borden

On Bob Dylan, Willie
Nelson, Michael & Janet Jackson, Alice Cooper,”Star Search,” investing
one’s money wisely, and much, much more…

 

BY RODGER CAMBRIA

 

Ed. note: back in May
we ran a story by journalist Cambria called
“Legend Of A Man Called Hoot,” about rock ‘n’ roll bus driver to the stars
Hooter Borden, who passed away, sadly, on May 2. In his time Borden had
chauffeured everyone from Ernest Tubb, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Bob
Dylan to Michael Jackson, ZZ Top, the Raconteurs and Megadeth up, down and
across America’s highways – in the process, accumulating the proverbial
lifetime’s worth of tales. Herein, then, we present more Hoot, this time
uncensored and unfiltered (you have been warned), as told directly to Cambria in 2007. The opinions expressed herein are solely
those of Hoot Borden (although that doesn’t mean we don’t agree with every dang
word). Enjoy! Read, it, spread it around, and meanwhile check out some classic
photos of Hoot right here.

 

***

 

ON BOB DYLAN:

His band bus pulls a trailer that’s full of Harleys. So this
motorcycle gang you see going through town is usually Bob and his bass player
Tony. I been with Dylan for three years, and he’s never said one word to me.
Not a single goddamn word.

 

ON DRUG USE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY:

It’s mostly out of boredom. 
They’re out here on the road, and they ain’t got nuthin’ to do because
everything’s been done for ‘em.  If they
want a hamburger, somebody hands ‘em one. And there’s so much availability,
with drugs and women and liquor. It’s all free, all the time.

 

ON MICHAEL JACKSON:

I drove on the Michael Jackson Victory tour.  I picked up his grandmas and grandpas and
aunts and uncles in Gary, Indiana and we had luggage bays full of fishing rods
and lawn chairs.  He took the whole
family on tour with him, and I drove them. 
But I’d been driving country for so long, I didn’t even know who Michael
Jackson was.  He wasn’t nearly as
eccentric then as he is now. They worked day and night on their dance
routines.  Boy did they have a tour….
Huge stadiums, lights.  I never seen
nothing like that.

       I don’t know
and I don’t care about the child molestation stuff.  That’s between Michael and his Lord.  I imagine he done some of it, but a lot of it
was probably people going after his money. 
He’s a big target. But that’s not the same guy I hauled 20 tears ago…
Back then he was a little black guy.  He
didn’t look then like he looks now. It was all very normal.

 

ON JANET JACKSON:

I drove several Janet Jackson tour in the 1990s, and she had
the damndest show.  One morning over
breakfast, she said, “I spent $33,000 this morning before I even peed.”  Which was 17 buses and 17 trucks. She was
always walking the halls, overseeing everything for her show. And she puts on a
show, pal.

       When I was on
tour with Janet, Michael was in a lot of trouble with those kids.  There was another bus driver, and he would
tell you these long stories, and at the end it would be a joke.  So he calls me and Angie down to the coffee
shop and says, “I got some bad news. 
We’re gonna have to cancel the rest of the tour because Janet had to fly
out this morning.  Michael (Jackson) is
in the hospital.

       I said, “What
happened to him?”

       “He got food
poisoning.  He ate a ten year old weenie
this morning.” 

       I remember one
of the riggers said something about Michael and the kids and got fired
immediately.  You don’t say nothing about
Michael. Not on a Janet tour. She wouldn’t have none of it.

 

ON TOUR ROMANCES:

Leann Rimes is having issues with her husband – he was a
dancer.  And Britney Spears just got rid
of her useless husband, and he was a dancer too. These darn girls are getting
hooked on these dancers in the videos. Tanya Tucker did the same thing.  She picked out her husband and said, “I want
you to get me pregnant.”  And he said,
“Really?

 

ON ROADIES:

The greatest job in the world is a roadie, and I’ll tell you
why.  When you’re at home and a tour
hires you, you catch a cab to the airport and you’re reimbursed for the
fare.  There’s a ticket waiting for you
there. There’s a $500,000 tour bus that’s gonna pick you up, and I’m gonna take
you to the Hilton, which is paid for. Then the road manager is gonna give you
$40 a day per diem, which you ain’t gonna spend. You’re gonna pool it with the
other crew guys and buy drugs with it, mostly. 
You get three meals a day when there’s a show, and I’m gonna haul you
that night and we’re gonna have pizzas on the bus. You do all of this, and then
when you take a smoke break, Jesus Christ you smoke dope.  And you don’t have to be in the band to get
girls, you just need one of these (holds
up his tour laminate
).

 

ON WILLIE NELSON:

Willie Nelson got his start as a Texas Troubadour in Ernest
Tubb’s band.  His real name was Hugh
Nelson. So Willie was writing all these songs and the world wasn’t ready for
him.  Even the record labels didn’t know
what to do with him.  He was the only
musician on Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain because he couldn’t afford any session
musicians.  He played everything on the record
– him and his sister Sissy, who’s still with him today.  She’s his piano player.  She’s 75 years old.

       Willie owns
channel 13 on XM radio, which is called Willie’s Place. It used to be Hank’s
place.  He won a truck stop in a poker
game in Texas, where 35 splits east and west and it’s called Carl’s
Corner.  So he’s gonna move the radio
station down there.

       Jody Payne is
Willie’s guitar player, and out on the last tour we did with Bob Dylan, he told
Willie that he wanted to quit and retire. 
And Willie said, “You can’t quit. 
We all started in this together, and we’ll all end this together.  We won’t have no farewell tour, we’re just
gonna quit.”  Paul played all those years
with a loaded 45 laying on his tom tom in them beer joints and honky tonks.

       You ever notice
all the songs Willie sings with other artists – artists that are struggling and
trying to make it?  His attitude is,
“Maybe I can help you. I’ll sing with you.” 
And that’s a dying breed. Boy, you won’t find that nowhere today.

 

ON PYROTECHNICS:

There were no pyrotechnics on the honky tonk circuit. What
you mean lights? In the old days, we’d run an extension cord from the bus to
the stage and plug in a lamp. And that was our light show. Much later, I toured
with Kenny Rogers and he had all the lights and effects. And one time I
disconnected the hose from the laser machine and was using it to wash my bus.
Almost burned down the whole building.

 

ON TECHNOLOGY IN MUSIC:

I drove Poison in 1989, but the music hurt my ears so I just
stayed on the bus most of the time. In the old days, Ernest Tubb would just set
an amp on a cane bottom chair and turn it on – I’d never seen all the stage
gadgetry like they have today.

       Most guitar
players today use so many electronics that the guitar plays itself. In the old
days, you had better know how to play that thing.  We ain’t got no gimmicks. Nowadays, they got
so many electronics – they don’t use amps they use rigs, full of echoes and
sound effects. You tell a kid to play for you today, and he can’t really play.  Sure, he can use that rig like a video game
and make that guitar play.  But I don’t
have one bit of animosity about a kid doing that, because that’s what it is
now. That’s like country music today. I think it’s very good, but I don’t
listen to it because none of the country artists are stylists. They all sound
like plain oatmeal. But sometimes I don’t want plain oatmeal. Sometimes I want
an omelette with bacon and grits.

 

ON THE HUMILITY OF OLD-TIMERS:

Guys like Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard – they had no idea who
they were. They didn’t know they was famous. They’d say, “Okay boys.  Let’s set up our gear cuz we got some people
coming down to see us play tonight.” Even someone as famous as Johnny
Cash.  I’d see him and June in Wal-Mart
all the time in the check out line. I’d say, “How ya doing, John?” And he’d
say, “All right.” But a guy like Tim McGraw – he knows exactly how famous he
is. And he’ll let you know it.

 

ON ACCOUNTING PRACTICES IN THE OLD DAYS:

You know about Willie’s legal problems? The income tax
problems? I don’t think any of that was intentional. Back in those days, we
carried our money in a fishing tackle box. We’d finish a show and be driving
down the road, and Ernest (Tubb) would hand me a bunch of money to go in the
box.  And I’d say, “How much is this,
Ernest?”  And he’d say, “I don’t know.”

       I would leave
Tennessee for 45 days without a contract. It was based on a handshake.  Today, it’s all lawyers, contracts, the IRS.
That’s like Willie – they never sat down and figured out the taxes. They just
worked on the road. That’s like Mr. Tubbs. 
He thought he was paying income taxes, but he wasn’t. Same thing with
Bob Wills. The IRS came into his house and chiseled the silver dollars out of
his bar in his ranch in Fort Worth, Texas. Those guys never thought of things
like that. There were no tour accountants and financial attorneys. There was
the fishing tackle box, loaded with cash from the shows. 

       They loved
America.  They loved our government.  They loved and supported whatever president
was in office.  They would never – none
of these people – sit down and try to figure out how to screw the IRS. They
would never do that… especially Willie. I would just give Ernest Tubb the money
after a show – we were paid in cash in those days. And he’d just stick a big
pile of money in his briefcase, and set it on the coffee table and go to bed.
Then Mrs. Tubb would count it in the morning. 
That’s just how it was.

 

ON STAR SEARCH BEING RIGGED:

CK Spurlock was a promoter who worked with Kenny Rogers for
years.  I rode around Omaha, Nebraska in
a circle while the band Sawyer Brown was being invented. See, they were gonna
be put on Ed McMahon’s Star Search TV
show. And Kenny Rogers and Spurlock paid them a nominal fee to make sure Sawyer
Brown won it. And if you watched that show, Sawyer Brown actually lost in the
semifinals. But the following week, the Star
Search
people said, “Our computers made a mistake… Sawyer Brown won.”  And the band doesn’t know that to this day.
That was a false deal. The thing was rigged.

       So Sawyer Brown
was invented to take Ricky Nelson’s place after he died in a plane crash. And
Spurlock wanted to jump in there and pick up Ricky Nelson’s fan base. And
that’s what they did with Sawyer Brown. They wanted a clean-cut group… They ran
into a lot of opposition because people said, “That ain’t country.” But it
worked. That’s when I learned that if you had enough money, you could buy
anything.

 

ON ALICE COOPER:

Alice Cooper was on Broadway for two nights before his show
was closed. And a promoter saw the show and put him on the road. The public
don’t know this, but Alice Cooper is really two people.  His name is Vince, and he’s Vinnie during the
day.  And then he goes in the back of the
bus and puts on that make-up… But when he comes up that aisle, he’s Alice
Cooper.  After the show I’d say, “How’d
we do tonight?” And he’s say, “Oh, Alice did very well. Alice did very
well.”  He’s one of the smartest men I
ever met.  He could read a whole
newspaper in 30 seconds. The want ads and everything.  He’s brilliant.  One time, we were doing a show in Phoenix,
and his mother was coming.  So he said,
“We got to change the words in these songs cuz my momma’s coming tonight.  My momma don’t go for that cursing stuff.”

 

ON THE MUSIC RECORDING PROCESS TODAY:

Kids in these bands today make more money in one night than
Ernest Tubb made in a year.  But these
guys were stylists.  You could hear one
note and tell who it was.  But today, you
can’t tell Kenny Chesney from Alan Jackson from Tim McGraw. And they don’t have
bands – I mean, they have a band, but who are they?  That’s what I liked about when I played.  It was Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, and
Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours.  I
pick up a lot of bands in Nashville, and they meet each other in the damn
parking lot at Krogers.  If you’re a
Nashville driver, you know every Krogers grocery store in that town cuz that’s
where they meet.  And they shake hands
and they got their little tape recorders. 
“That’s my part on this record,” they say to each other as they
exchange these little tapes. “This is what I got to learn.”  The bands are like an assembly line, and the
producer puts the pieces together to make a song. In the old days, the producer
would turn on the machine and go get a cup of coffee while we played and
recorded.  We didn’t work a year on a
record to put out a product.  We worked
for about eight minutes, ran through it one time and cut the record.  And they’d say, “I think we got a pretty good
scald on that.  Let’s keep that one.”

       The musicians
from my era – folks like Ernest Tubbs – they weren’t in the record
business.  It wasn’t their way of
life.  Performing in dance halls and
clubs and honky tonks – that was their way of life.  Making records certainly wasn’t their way of
life.  And if a record hit, they might
not ever know it. Now these kids are going five times platinum, and I really
hate that my people didn’t get to do that. And now, they got all these managers
and publicists, and ‘I’ll have my girl call your girl.’  We didn’t have none of that. You were lucky
to have a hot meal and a place to sleep. And if you got that, you were
grateful. That means it was a good day.

 

ON SINGERS TODAY:

Michael’s brothers – the Jackson 5 – man, those boys could
sing.  They were like Muhammad Ali – they
could back up what they said with talent. 
Most singers now days are making millions with no talent.  If you’re gonna sit there and tell me Tim
McGraw can sing, you’re full of shit. 
Tim McGraw can’t carry a tune with a bucket. And I don’t like Tim and
Faith at all.  They’re so fuckin’
phony.  But that’s okay. 

       Who’s the best
performer?  Well, a performer is puttin’
on act… So I’d have to say Alice Cooper. Vince (Alice) is the most gentle
person – the nicest man you ever met. A real performer. 

 

ON NEW BANDS BREAKING THROUGH:

These baby bands need to get experience.  They need to play little clubs.  And they ain’t gonna make much money at
first, and they’re gonna get the worst of the worst, which is really the best
of the best. You need to perform all the shows you can, and don’t leave when
your set is over. You need to watch who comes on behind you, and who went on
before you. And you need to watch the audience, to see if the eye is watching
and the mouth is moving.  That’s what
Tubbs used to say, “See if they’re singing the songs with you. See if they’re
enjoying what you’re doing.”  You have to
go and take the hard knocks first.  And
then the knocks will get easier and easier. You have to be able to survive
that. If you survive that, you can survive anything.  It’s like Stevie Ray (Vaughan)… He survived
Austin, Texas. And you got to watch all the sex drugs and rock and roll.  If you want to survive, don’t get caught up
in all that. Most kids don’t… They go the other route. But Jack White didn’t go
for all that. He worked with Loretta Lynn last year, and there was never a
finer young man around. And he survived them hard knocks.  Young people need to learn their trade, which
is entertaining. And you learn by watching, and by performing. You take some
from this guy, but not too much, and a little from that guy, and turn it into
something of your own.

 

ON CHER:

I did three Cher tours. 
There’s a good woman.  And her
door is always open.  If you got a
complaint, you can always walk into her dressing room. And she may be sitting
there nekkid, but you better be right. 
If you’re wrong, she’ll nail you to the cross.  I seen it happen three or four times.

 

ON BEING A SURVIVOR:

In my business today, I only deal with the survivors –
people like James Taylors, Bob Wills, the Four Tops, Patti LaBelle. The grace
and finesse they had with the crowd. Patti LaBelle can captivate a crowd for
thirty minutes without singing a song – they’re just listening to her
talk.  Billy Joel, guys like that —
they’re into the love of life.  But the
young kids are only interested in money. And that’s all right, because that’s
just how it is today.  I wished I’d got
that kind of money. But in my era we didn’t have it.  You talk to an older star now like Tanya
Tucker, and they were making $400 a night.

       I admire
survivors. And that’s crew, singers, drivers, musicians, magicians – I don’t
care who it is. Anyone who can survive in this business.  Like our truck driver.  He drinks a lot, but he’s never drunk.  He gets lost a lot, but he’s sitting at the
venue in the morning.  He finds a way to
make it happen.  He survives.

 

ON TAKING CARE OF YOUR PEOPLE:

Lord, I’ve seen Patti LaBelle clear out a kitchen in an
auditorium more than once.  “My people
not gonna eat that shit,” she’d say to the caterers. She’d be back there
cooking the whole meal for the crew and band. “My baby’s got to have something
good to eat.”  And that’s what’s so bad
about entertainment today – there’s nobody doing that. No one takes care of
their people like that. Nobody except little Kenny Chesney.

 

ON INVESTING YOUR MONEY WISELY:

I live on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee out there on Tater
Peeler Road. My neighbor is Gretchen Wilson. 
She has invested so much money – bought farm after farm and she builds
log houses on them for her family. So she directly takes care of her family.
She understands that next year her record might not do so well and she’ll have
to scale back to one bus and one trailer, but she’ll have everything paid
for.  And if you’re smart with your
money, you don’t have to worry about putting out a product.  You can make the music you want, and live
comfortably for the rest of your life.

       There is no
benefits here. I don’t have any health insurance. There’s no retirement.  There’s no nothing in the entertainment
world.  The only thing you have is what
you invested yourself and what you were smart enough to lay aside.  Even Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, who had
the biggest selling record of all time, had to declare bankruptcy.  They had millions and millions of dollars – explain
that one to me.

 

ON LIVING HIS LIFE ON TOUR:

It’s really been a great ride. I got to see this country
being built, driving across it for 51 years. I got to see Hugh Nelson become
Willie Nelson. I watched Paul Bigsby build them steel guitars. I watched Tommy
Morel invent guitar pickups… All the things we take for granted today. I was in
a great era when everything was being invented. Think about it:  When was last time that you actually heard a
new sound? See, there ain’t nobody come up with nothing. And I got to watch all
those things come about. Yes sir, it’s been one hell of a ride.

 

[Photo Courtesy Hoot’s
daughter, Sammie Baker
]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DREADLOCKED SOLDIER Bob Marley

A new biography
of the reggae legend draws a satisfyingly complete picture despite a few
factual bumps and omissions.

 

BY RICK ALLEN

 

Chris Salewicz’ Bob Marley biography Bob Marley: The Untold Story (Faber and
Faber) isn’t the only work that makes it easy to believe that Bob Marley’s
vision of peace, justice and racial harmony was so vital that had cancer not
claimed him it seems almost certain that some cabal of “baldheads” would have
come up with a way to silence or eliminate him. Marley’s transcendent music
makes the best case. Listening to “One Love”, “Rastaman Vibration”, “So Jah
Say”, etc.,  one can’t help but wonder
what would have been if only…

 

Could the Cheney-like forces of evil ever have
flowered in a world that had both a healthy and mature Bob Marley and, say,
John Lennon in it? 

 

Commencing his book, in February of 1979, a little
more than two years before Marley’s death, Salewicz had at least a passing
personal and professional acquaintance with him. For the most part he doesn’t
let his feelings of admiration and respect for his subject get in the way. If
it seems that sometimes he stretches a bit to justify some of Marley’s more
questionable behaviors, Salewicz makes a credible case for the reasons behind
them.

 

Like two other pop messiahs of the era, Lennon and
Jimi Hendrix, Marley also grew up with a mother (Cedella) who, for various
reasons, was sometimes absent. But if he wasn’t given the mothering he needed,
he certainly wasn’t short for familial love. Save for one aunt he described as
a “slave driver,” he seems (by others’ accounts if not necessarily his own)
to have gotten a lot attention and care from various maternal family members,
including one who helped him learn to play the guitar, and from his mother’s
father in particular. According to Salewicz, Marley sometimes spoke of his
maternal grandfather as the only person who “really” loved him. And, unlike many
American children of mixed race parentage of the time, he was openly
acknowledged, if not embraced, by his father’s family who took at least
perfunctory interest in his welfare during his childhood.    

 

Most of the incidents and experiences in Marley’s
life and career the book deals with are fleshed out. Among those that go
unexplained are his mother’s financial situation after her marriage to Marley’s
father Norval and the on/off relationship (or non-relationship) between Bob and
his father.  Norval Marley seems to have
expressed some concern with Marley’s education and welfare early on, but he
pretty much disappears very shortly after and Salewicz never tells us why. Neither
is there an explanation for Cedella’s financial hardships while Nesta Robert
Marley was growing up.

 

Her family is described as fairly well off and she
doesn’t seem to have become estranged from her father, Bob’s grandfather, after
her marriage. But, despite his affection for young Bob, he doesn’t seem to have
offered much practical support, nor did her in-laws, who were at least as well
off and probably more so. Perhaps Cedella Marley was just determinedly
independent – or maybe a consistently credible explanation was not to be had by
the time the book was written.

 

But poverty is not what set Bob Marley apart from
his friends and neighbors; being of mixed race was another matter.

 

It’s logical to infer (as Salewicz seems to do)
that part of the impetus behind Marley’s vision of racial harmony is his desire
to achieve that goal on the personal level of healing the pain of having no
real relationship with his father (though Norval Marley, like other ostensibly
“white” Jamaicans, may have had some blood connection with black Jamaica in his
not necessarily distant ancestry).  

 

Most of what Salewicz writes rings true and jibes
with other biographical sources, though there are a couple of factual bumps.
Salewicz refers to Marley’s song “Down In The Valley” (recorded by Judy Mowatt,
a member of Bob’s backing group the I-Threes) as being about an African leader
called “Lulumba.” Maybe it was a lapse in his knowledge about 20th century African political history or it may just be a misprint, but though he
gives no first name, Salewicz probably means the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba. And
if you don’t know who Edgar Tekere is, Salewicz isn’t going to tell you.

 

At least once Salewicz is just flat out wrong. The
British-born journalist interprets Marley’s “Buffalo Soldier” as being about
Native Americans allied with the Union cause during the Civil War, but a quick
check of the song’s lyrics would have corrected that: “There was a buffalo
soldier in the heart of America; stolen from Africa, brought to America,”
Marley sings, not making even a passing reference to Native Americans in the
entire song. In fact, it was the western American tribes, frequent opponents of
the black troops of the post Civil War army (one of American racial history’s
cute little ironies) who gave the Buffalo Soldiers their famous nickname, one
of many signs of the mutual respect between the two groups. Marley may have
been a hero to Native Americans, but that song, thematically at least, has
nothing to do with it. It’s a surprising error from a writer who otherwise shows
a great respect for, and fair knowledge of, African, Afro-Caribbean and African
American people and cultures. (Maybe Salewicz should add “Glory” to his Netflix
queue.)

 

Overall, however, Salewicz’ book is smoothly paced
and dense with facts and anecdotes; other than not filling in the blanks about
Marley’s mother’s finances and his father’s abandonment, it leaves few loose
ends. It’s rich in background detail about the history of post World War II
Jamaican pop music and the ties between it, Jamaican politics and the island’s
gangsters, offering an interesting and informative take on third world culture.
Salewicz, as a Brit, is of course able to separate himself from an American
point of view but he still seems pretty objective in general. One illustration
of that is when Salewicz addresses slavery in American and the Caribbean. He reminds apologists for American slavery who
take such pleasure in claiming that it was Africans who sold other Africans
into slavery that before Europeans made slave hunting such an irresistibly
profitable blood enterprise, it was criminals and prisoners of war who were
turned over to European slavers by tribal leaders trying to establish and
maintain stability. This was the same measure taken by British magistrates who deported
similar undesirables to Britain’s
colonies, particularly America
and Australia;
e.g., Europeans routinely banished other Europeans to a fate as unknown as the
fate of those unwanted, luckless Africans.

 

On its own Bob
Marley: The Untold Story
is a topnotch biography of one of the world’s
greatest and most influential popular music and cultural icons. Paired with
Timothy White’s excellent Marley bio Catch
A Fire
, it provides readers with as complete and edifying a picture of Bob
Marley as is ever likely to be drawn.