Kicking My Legs

The other day, I found myself in a disconsolate mood.

This is not usual. I am temperamentally optimistic, which I used to think was my Midwestern heritage but now realize is primarily a function of my white male privilege (why shouldn’t I be expecting the day to go well for me when I wake up every morning?) and secondarily the by-product of my obsession with art and learning (I can be reasonably assured that every conscious day I live will bring me at least one moment of aesthetic or gnostic thrill, and I can live on one for hours).

But on this day I was down. For one–though I can usually keep the relentless ugliness of these times at bay by reminding myself that they are nothing new, it’s just that the mask is all the way down (so why should I start moping now?)–the sordid litany of the Cohen hearings had so penetrated my defenses I had come to feel like Washizu Taketoki at the end of Throne of Blood. For another, I had just had a miserable experience with my Stephens class, and having a miserable experiences when I am teaching–it is an action I love, no matter how difficult it may be–is foreign to me. I happen to be teaching a second-semester composition class that is mostly made up of freshmen who failed composition first semester–several of them who failed my class. This in itself is no problem; with three decades of high school experience with struggling learners, I am probably the best person on campus for this job. Things is, with this particular group, simple attendance and work completion is a struggle (remember: we’re talking college here), and it’s an 8 a.m. class, so enthusiasm for the education process is occasionally wispy in nature. In this case, I had prepared a lesson that I felt was very high-interest, exceptionally stimulating, and inarguably relevant to my class’ concern–and, out of 16 students registered at that point, five showed up. Five. I know what you teachers out there are thinking: Perfect! Small group–a more intimate, direct, and collaborative experience!  Yeah, well, cool and all, but I prepared the lesson for sixteen, and there’s the matter of the role it was not going to play in the success of 69% of my students’ upcoming papers. Not to mention that I like larger classes; I thrive off the gathered energy, and the possibilities of accidental inspiration and enlightenment are far greater. Thus, I scrapped the lesson and held writing conferences for the hardy humans who showed up. Useful, yes, but nothing fresh, fun, challenging, and interactive. (I know you’re wanting the deets, but they are too painful to recall; suffice it to say that it involved Dusty Springfield.)

I’d dismissed the class and was pouting at the computer (recording attendance, as it happened). I was literally shaking my head and contemplating harikari, and decided, of course, to take one last look at Facebook (when the bombs start falling on the first day of World War III, we will all be recording our statuses). I’d almost forgotten that, as one of the two songs I share every morning and have shared every morning for close to a decade for no discernible reason, with the hearings immediately swirling in my head upon having awakened, I’d posted the above video clip from the Bob Dylan documentary Don’t Look Back. “Even the President of the Yew-Nited States / One day must have to stand naked!”: really? That’s too easy, Phil.  Be that as it may, I absently clicked on the link, dimly aware that I still had the data projector on, its volume turned about halfway up.

As Uncle Bob’s screed rolled out–it’s damn near long as the Gettysburg Address!–I twisted out a grimace at the phrase “There is no sense in trying!” and reminded myself of my old-time idol’s cynicism. I am not really a cynic, but that line actually sounded pretty good to me and made me feel even worse. However, the song (I hope you do not need me to tell you this) is not only an astoundingly detailed catalogue of American failings imaginatively and skillfully written (though “propaganda all is phony” is a wince-inducing glitch), it’s not even completely cynical. “…[H]e not busy being born / is busy dying!”? “…[I]t is not he or she or them or it / That you belong to!”? “Although the masters make the rules / For the wise men and the fools / I got nothing, Ma, to live up to!”? And does he stick the landing!

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed
Graveyards, false gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough, what else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only!

Yep, those lines are anything but cynical. They’re motivating, liberating, life-affirming, and definitively sans bullshit. As I listened to them for the umpteenth time, my short hairs rose to attention, my heart leapt, my blood warmed, my grimace warped into a defiant smile. I was still shaking my head, but in amazement. And it was cool to hear it in the open air of the classroom…

Another teacher was holding court in my room after my class, and, in my hypnotic state, I hadn’t noticed that some of her students had rolled in, seated themselves, and were apparently remaining silent out of respect for my meditation. The vibration of those final words–“it’s life and life only”–deteriorated into our space, followed by about 15 seconds of silence, and one of the students said, “Did you like that?”

I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant; these days, you can’t be. But I blurted out instantly in response, “Oh yes. For me, that is the rock. If I’m barely treading water, that’s what I’m reaching for, and what I’m gonna stand on. It’s worked for me for years, since I was 17–still does 40 years later. So…did you like it?”

I inhaled sharply, awaiting potential injury.

She answered, “Yeah. That was amazing.”

“Truth,” I smiled–and bolted out of there, knowing that, if I lingered, the resulting conversation would overlap into my department head’s allotted time. But I’d crashed the cuffs off, and skipped out of the building full ready to be shown more.


I Can’t Help It

I just listened to this seven times in a row riding in my truck. I am (perhaps oddly) one of the last people who’d argue that music lyrics are poetry, but these verses—these triplets—are close:

“If she walks by, the menfolk get in rows [it also sounds like “engrossed”!]
If she winks her eye, the bread slice turns to toast
She got a lot of what they call ‘The Most’…!

“She mesmerizes every mother’s son
If she smiles, beefsteak becomes well-done
She make Grampa feeeeel like 21!”

The ivory-tower-occupiers, Rex, might call that “demotic poetry.” Whatever.

I also love the shift from “The girl can’t help it” to “I can’t help it.” The mad vocals, Earl Palmer’s razor-sharp and rock-hard drumming, and Lee Allen’s one-man sax section are perfectly fitted to the feeling behind those words.

Man alive.

No wonder Frank Tashlin and John Waters were inspired to create scenes in their films just to use it (I bet):

(Adapted from a Facebook post made by the blogger on 1/10/19.)

From the archives of The First Church of Holy Rock and Roll: A Testament to Two Road Trips

Yellow Brick Road Trips 
     Supposedly, it’s the journey, not the destination, that truly matters in life’s grand design. For the most part, I’ve found that to be true. I’ve seen many comrades contract the Elvis Virus, where you shake and hustle and holler and shift into fifth just to catch up to that Gatsbian green light, then shit twice and die when you see, feel, and taste what you thought you wanted. But, while in pursuit of my degree in rock and roll road scholarship in and after college, I never failed to find the sweetest nectar at the end of the road, not while the wheels were turning. The actual trips were plenty memorable, and I’m sure any visitor to this site will recognize the details: endless cheap beers and butts, drugs (hell, we’d crush up Vivarin and snort it), rock and roll blasting from the speakers, jokes, tall tales, and arguments. However, these treasures could never compare to what happened when we got where we were going, or, on occasion, when we got back. Here’s a short, fond history of two rockin’ road trips I have known.
Part 1:  Pine Bluff, Arkansas, ’81–“The Law Won, but So What?”
     The first road trip I ever took was a warm-up for a lip-synch contest two of the writers for this page and I had entered. We figured that a five-hour drunken dash through the night to a shit-kicking interface with Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Paycheck in one of the worst hell-holes in the Arkansas landscape was perfect Method-acting preparation for a sure triumph at noon the next day (we were doing the Clash doing “I Fought the Law”).
     The trip started inauspiciously, with Manthon emitting some of the foulest shrimp gas ever smelt by human nostrils before we even got out of Fayetteville, a blast that lingered for hours in Kenny’s Monte Carlo. However, spilt beer and clouds of smoke soon overwhelmed that stench, and before we knew it, we were shoulder to shoulder with other hellraisers we were too stupid to realize would have loved to kick our asses. We were also too stupid to realize Johnny Paycheck was worth our attention–don’t remember shit and wish I did–and stagehands had to help “The Killer” to and from the pianner. Dressed in a white leisure suit, he underwhelmed; we didn’t know he’d just gotten out of a hospital where one doctor pronounced him a certain corpse and another warned him to stay off the road for two years at least.
     On the way back, I was an asshole and not only refused to drive–me had a headache–but couldn’t find decent music to keep the other two awake (the Heads’ Remain in Light??). Finally, Johnny Rotten scandalizing “Johnny B. Goode” powered us home, and at 3 in the morning, even a typical collegiate fool would have hit the sack. Not us. With some Schaefer’s still in the lil’ frig, we set about composing as many songs as we could think of combining the Bo Diddley “shave-and-a-haircut, two-bits” riff with oral sexcapades. None of us could play at the time, but Manthon bloodied his knuckles playing a tennis racket with a nickel, and Kenny and I just yelled! Sounds like dicking around, I know, but it felt like we were a room away from the Grail.
     By the time we’d exhausted the rhyming possibilities for the line “sucking on a ding-dong” (yes, we’d listened to White Light/White Heat way too much), it was 11 o’clock, and the victory for which the Pine Bluff trip and its coda had prepared us was imminent. We crushed up a few more Vivarins, shotgunned a couple of Schaefer’s apiece, boarded the recently deflowered Monte Carlo, and gunned it for White Dog Records, where the showdown was to take place.
     Drunk, sweaty, smelly, and glowering in that moon-walking sleepless zone, we scraped ourselves out of the car, knifed through the “crowd” with j.d. attitude, and got ready to rock. We were the Clash (what we thought they were, anyway), and the competition were the Beach Boys (???), AC/Delco (an AC/DC “tribute”????), and the Go-Gos (we dug the chicks, liked the music, but they had to pay). How could we lose?
     We did, despite delivering as intense a performance as a lip synch can be while blasting an actual Applause-O-Meter off the scale. To the fucking Beach Boys. But, from that road-trip-born point onwards, we were brother rebels and born-to-losing winners, and–guess what?–here we fucking are in cyberspace almost twenty years later, still faking it with passion ’cause we can’t really “do it” for real, still getting our asses recreased by the likes of Addicted to Noise and Perfect Sound Forever on the internet “hit” parade, but still living it more fully than those pencil-necks can imagine. I know a couple of those claims sound contradictory, but they wouldn’t be rock and roll if they didn’t, and besides, it’s all about being able to re-invent yourself, even in your late thirties. And that can keep you from becoming a ‘borg.
Part 2: Shreveport, Louisiana–The Louisiana Joy Ride
     If the Pine Bluff road-trip applied the cement that held us together as rock-lifers, Shreveport ’87 tested the strength of the bond, and, most importantly, left us with the confidence of faith. On that occasion, Manthon and I loaded down my rod with a case of beer and two boxes of tapes, and cut a swath from southern Missouri down through the Boston Mountains of northern and mid-Arkansas to Ruston, Louisiana, home to then-retail king Kenny. We found him glad to see us, but suffering from a pernicious case of the K-Mart blues.
     Several hours, four boxes of Popeye’s Chicken, a couple of six packs, one bottle of whiskey, two fine ladies of KMart persuasion (fraternizing with fellow employees–for shame!), a shitload of loud rock and roll, a strange homoerotic Mekons video, a bizarre Harry Shearer impression of Laurie Anderson hawking tampons, and a bag of Zapps Cajun Craw Tators later, the blues were running for shelter, and I was wailing Sonny Boy Williamson riffs on Kenny’s harmonica though I’d never played before (and would never “play” again). I myself wondered later whether it was just inebriation playing tricks on my ears, but to this day, Manthon and Kenny swear I made Mick’s harp on “Stop Breaking Down” sound like John’s on “Love Me Do.” We didn’t actually ever hit the hay; we just passed out in action: Kenny awakened clutching the empty chip bag, orange Craw Tator dust encrusting his lips and the corners of his mouth; Mark in a chair with the guitar and the empty whiskey bottle in his lap; I on my stomach on the floor, head resting on a beer-soaked throw pillow, with the Hoehner still in my fist. The Girls of Retail had apparently fled, undoubtedly spooked by the rampaging spirit of road-ready rock and roll camaraderie, their soft charms no match for our version Dee Dee’s “1,2,3,4…,” David Jo’s “C’mon, boys,” and Rob Tyner’s “Kick out the jams, muthafuckahs!” all spit-sealed together. And this was only the wake-up for the second leg of our trip.
     After a big fucking Coke, a cigarette, and a couple of aspirin apiece, we were heading to the home of The Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, where we were hoping to see something little break wide open and big. Instead of the Elvis, Hank, or George Jones of yore, the musicians in question were the then-unknown (damn near now, too) Flat Duo Jets, BBQ Killers, and Killkenny Kats, on a postpunk package tour straight outta Athens, Georgia. They were playing a punk club downtown, and we were sure we were gonna see the future of rock and roll unfold before our bloodshot eyes.
     We should have known some Rock and Roll Ghost had us hanging from its callused fingertips from the minute we walked into a Shreveport pizza joint to get some fuel: Yoko Ono’s “Kiss Kiss Kiss” was blasting from the jukebox. Since this was a fucking Godfather’s, we were severely rattled, but figured somebody had accidentally played the b-side to “Just Like Starting Over,” and we settled down to order some pitchers and pizza … but the hits from that hectoring Hecate kept right on coming. None of us were card-carrying Yokophobes–the gifts she had bestowed upon the B-52s and XRay Spex (not to mention John) exalted her in our hearts and minds, actually. However, it quickly became apparent that we were the only diners in the restaurant and the employees on hand appeared intensely loyal to the Flock of 100 Haircuts, and, combined with the dislocation caused by lingering hangovers, liberal doses of hair of the dog, and being in a strange city, these realizations began to jangle our nerves: whose dimes set this wailing in motion? Or were we receiving warning transmissions from the Devils soul?
     Show time. Smoky downtown club. Kenny and Mark still hoisting beer. I feel like a rhinoceros on Wild Kingdom, shot in the ass by Stan and one of his damned darts as Marlin Perkins cheers him on from the copter: Slow, slower, then face pressed against the bar top. The only things that keep me awake are the need to, as the South Park kids say, “drop some kids off at the pool,” and my two comrades’ derisive laughter. I rise. Trudge to the head. A line of 5 people. My turn comes. Confronting a sight that would have made G. G. Allin puke, I turn away in disgust, walk through the bar, past my comrades, past Killkenny Kats playing shit I could tell even in my pickled state I didn’t want to hear anyway, out the door, down the street … looking for any dark place to do my business.
     Fully on auto-pilot, I shuffle into a multi-level parking garage. No nook or cranny looks dark enough for my foul deed. I am approaching Def Con 2. I come upon the open-air final level, walk to the edge, see the darkened building next door, a story below and about a yard-and-a-half across. It calls my name, gentle as Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia.
     I jump.
     Standing on the next-door roof, the jump having sobered me miraculously, I realize to my dismay there will be no jumping back up. Getting my priorities straight, I divest myself of excess waste and walk to a ladder leading to the next story of the split-level building. Reaching the lower roof and walking to the back of the building, I can see that a jump of over 25 feet to the alley below is my only way back to the bar.
     Not being Jackie Chan, I wheel in growing panic, and notice a door in the back of the top level, just to the right of the ladder I’d just descended. I race to it and turn the knob, without an ounce of real hope. A click, and the door opens. I step into a hallway. A whooping sound from within welcomes me. I am now fully sober. I dart outside. A whooping sound from without welcomes me back. I consider the options: 1) wait for the cops to come and get me down and explain to them that I’d just gotten on to the roof to take a shit, or 2) jump.
     Back on the edge–which I should mention lacks anything serious from which to hang and drop–I hear Yoko’s voice again: “Jump, Magnum, jump!” (Maybe I wasn’t completely sober after all). I hurtle off into nothingness, and actually hit the alley in a roll. On my feet without any apparent injuries, I thank Elvis that I hadn’t insulted Yoko back at Godfather’s, and head out of the alley.
     I hear the police sirens as I exit the alley. I see three cherry-tops screech around the corner… as I casually slip back into the bar.
     Feeling like D. B. Fucking Cooper, I combed the bar looking for Mark and Kenny, the BBQ Killers blasting some skronky noise behind me. I found them in roughly the same condition I was in when I’d left them. Fuck! I had a story to end all stories to pour in their ears and they were comatose! I spent the next hour or so pogoing my adrenaline away to the Killers and Flat Duo Jets, drinking beer like it was ambrosia, and sweating it right back out. It wasn’t the rock and roll future, but it was more than good enough for the present.
     Out in the cool air after the show, rejoined by my grog-sodden brothers, we sparred with the Killers’ punky bitch of a lead singer (really, the only talent of the evening that registered with me…don’t think she ever went anywhere, though) over the Replacements, who, she muttered, were “fucking sell-outs”(sacrilege in our church), and the aforementioned and since-departed G. G. Allin, who, according to her, was “better than Iggy” (very serious sacrilege–like matricide) because he shat on her on stage once. She was the sell-out in this case, I pointed out, because she was securely tucked away inside of plastic bag–that ghost-muse Yoko fucking Ono again!–at point of impact, and I informed her I did my shitting off bank rooftops, which stopped conversation for a second. It’s in moments like these when anybodies like us realize we can be somebodies in the rockaroll world. It’s wide open to any dim-witted smart-ass with something interesting to spew.
     We covered the first half of our drive back to Ruston in satisfied, stunned silence, absorbing even more skronk from the stereo.  That hunger can’t be stilled, can it? Suddenly, Kenny blurted, “Hey, Phil–where the fuck did you disappear to?”
     “You’re not gonna believe this, but….”
     Since the lessons learned from the Ruston/Shreveport journey, the three of us have always believed that anytime we (or any two of us) get together, some magic rock and roll strangeness is promised us, and that that belief–and especially the music, from whatever source (a car stereo, an incomprehensible harmonica, a tennis racket and a nickel, a haunted jukebox)–is all the power needed to coax deliverance. And we hope we can deliver some promises of our own here at The First Church.

Archival Interview: John Schooley, Uncompromising Texas Guit-Slinger (rescued from the ruins of The First Church of Holy Rock and Roll, November 1st, 2018)

Schooley Rouses the Rabble at the Sympathy Showcase
John Schooley: Hard Feelings, Hard Thoughts
    I know no one more straight-razor serious about proper rock noise than John Schooley, the driving force behind Austin’s premiere garage outifit, the Hard Feelings. Straight outta the nothing of Niangua, Missouri, he helped craft the greatest band Columbia, Missouri’s ever known, the Revelators, who musically mugged the Oblivians at the Down Under Bar at their first-ever gig and waxed We Told You Not to Cross Us (click for our review) for Crypt Records, a raging slab of venom topped only by Ike Turner and the Bottlerockets (barely) in the annals of state rawk history. After the Revelators unfortunately self-destructed, Schooley packed his six-string and headed to the Lone Star State, where his new band’s Sympathy for the Record Industry release, Fought Back and Lost, chewed through Garage Nation like a pissed-off wolverine. The band’s sophomore release is imminent.
Schooley pulls no punches. Nevertheless–or should we say, consequently–the Reverend decided to wade into an interview situation last month, armed only with an inquisitive mind and the desire to bring some excitement to the congregation…..
You’ve been at “the rock and roll thing” for a long time for somebody so
young. What first lit that fire in you, and how have you kept it lit?
Well, actually, I always thought I got a late start. I was always interested in music, but I didn’t have much access to it. I grew up in an isolated, rural community (Niangua, MO, pop. 450, Sa-lute!) I had wanted to play guitar for awhile, but my folks didn’t wanna drive me somewhere to take lessons (the next biggest town being 15-20 miles away) so I didn’t start until I turned 16. I never got a chance to play with anybody else until I was in college, I just practiced in my bedroom. I always figured most people were in bands in high school, but there was really nobody to play with.
So the Revelators was the first band I was in. I had been playing long enough by then that I kinda knew what I was doing, and I had been doing it in isolation for so long I didn’t have anybody who tainted my “vision”, (ha ha). And actually, my One Man Band 7″ on Goner was the first record I ever did, it came out awhile before the first Revelators single. So the die was cast, so to speak. I was doomed from the beginning!
It helped that the Revelators enjoyed some moderate success right off the bat, so that was encouraging. Since we did put out a record, and get to tour, I wasn’t ready to quit when the other guys did. I was just getting warmed up.
What distinguishes the Hard Feelings, your current band, with the plethora
of other so-called garage rockers out there?
We mean it!
Ha! To elaborate a little, it seems like there are lots of bands out there right now that are jumping on the “rock” bandwagon. Some of these bands are loud, some of them are fast, some of them play hard. Some even play loud, hard and fast. This is enough to fool the average dumbass into thinking he is watching a rock n’ roll band. And he is, but it’s a BAD one. I think what separates us from these other wankers is
1. We actually have SONGS. Bands used to have these long ago, now they mostly have gimmicks or a formula or sumthin’. I think every song on the album is good, no filler.
2. Good guitar riffs. Repeating the same thing twice does not make it a RIFF. A riff is something that makes the song!
3. Some distinctive musicianship. I like to think I have my own guitar sound. Trey’s one of the best drummers around. And when you hear the new album with Will’s playing on it, you will be impressed. We aren’t afraid to actually play our instruments
and, finally (and perhaps most importantly)
4. We have ROOTS. Most bands sound like they never listened to anything past a few years ago, so you get a third or fourth generation interpretation (of something that usually sucked to begin with!). And most people don’t know anything about music older than when they first started buying records, so both band and audience are in pretty shallow waters. We bypass the puddle of contemporary historical blindness to explore the lost rivers of American musical experience, from blues, country, and soul to unknown garage and punk rock. (We also like AC/DC).
You’ve always been pretty eloquent about what you do and what you like, so let me play devil’s advocate for awhile. One theory about garage rock is that it’s seeking after that “amateur epiphany” that you hear in so many ’60s groups (like, say, the Monks or the Sonics or the Music Machine), but that, in being self-conscious about something that lacked self-consciousness to begin with, it’s a doomed pursuit. What’s your take?
Well, I’d hardly say the Monks lacked self-consciousness at all! They very much knew what they were doing and the sound they were creating. I feel the same way. I’d be pretty pissed if anybody described my guitar playin’ as “amateurish”. I think this kind of attitude is what you get from people who think, say, Eric Clapton is a great guitar player. Their assumption is that technical competence makes for acceptable music.
I don’t know anyone in a so-called punk or garage rock outfit who is “holding back” so as to appear more amateur. It’s not like I can play like Yngie Malmsteen at home and I’m dumbing it down on stage. It has to do with a whole different attitude towards music, that drive and passion take precedence over the technical aspects. Some may just have a hard time accepting that we mean for it to sound that way.
The Sonics, Monks, all those bands knew what they were doing, they didn’t just stumble across their sound blindly. Their sound was a reaction against the bland pop of the day, a rejection of the status quo, or maybe it just made ’em fuckin’ happy. I think people seem to have a hard time accepting that you can make music that is simple, direct, and brutal like that and still be a thoughtful, intelligent person. People either seem to assume that it must take an idiot to do it and are interested in a sort of freak show way, or that it takes some sort of genius and are all misty-eyed and reverent. It’s really neither one. Incredible music can be made by normal people. Iggy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, Hazil Adkins, Cap’n Beefheart, all the “greats” attain a sort of hero status. But it’s really a cop out ‘cuz if you think that way, then there’s no way YOU could do anything as worthwhile ‘cuz you are either 1.) a mere mortal or 2.) simply not “crazy enough” to be able to do something like that. The reality is that Iggy, Jerry Lee, and you and me all put our pants on one leg at a time like everybody else. That’s not to diminish what they’ve done, or to ignore the fact that they were some pretty forceful and fucked-up personalities. But in order to recognize that YOU have something to contribute, as well, you have to get past all that fan-boy baggage.
But I think what so-called modern “garage rock” has in common with it’s 60’s forebears is that the people makin’ it, at least those that don’t suck, are really doing it for their own amusement. I hope they all know enough to know they aren’t gonna be rock stars and be rich! It’s more like a modern folk music, moved from the front porch to the punk rock bar. It’s the same concept of making music for yourself and yer friends, but you can get more people drunk and turn the amps up louder.
How ’bout the possibility that striving for the perfectly raw sound reduces“raw” to a cliché?
Well, I can agree with that on some level. On the one hand, there can be alotta charm in recordings with less than perfect fidelity (Back From the Grave comps, etc.). One of the reasons we’re into punk and blues and rootsy musics is that we want to avoid the artificial polish of mainstream pop. (Or even mainstream so-called “roots” music- Keb Mo may be blues to some folks, but it sounds like pop to me. Yech.) On the other hand, I hear some bands that maybe are shooting for that Back From the Grave ideal and instead they make something that just sounds shitty.
Cost can be a factor. I mean, why is it “authentic” if a band 30 years ago made a shitty sounding record, but one this week does it and it’s clichéd? I’d love to go into a real expensive studio and take a week to record an album. I think we sound raw to begin with, you’d just get a much better recording of what we really sound like, our “rawness.” But that’s not an option money-wise for us, and for most bands in the “garage-rock/punk” world. I mean, every 7″ I’ve ever done has been recorded for free, either in somebodys basement home studio or on a boom-box or something. So it’s authentic, in that we were trying to get it to sound as good as we could with the shit we had available to us.
I like the Mummies, the Gories, Billy Childish, and these folks seem to make it work (and my One Man Band singles both really sound like shit). But generally I wanna hear everything that’s going on. Alotta the time a “raw” sound can just be covering up a bands lack of ability! I think our album is raw, but you can still hear everything. It’s the performance itself that’s raw. So sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
What about the caveat that lots of the trademarks of garage (misogyny, stoopid lyrics) are indicative of modern guys pretending to know less than they actually do?
Once again, you may have a point, but I also disagree a little. I’m a fan of some of yer singer-songwriter types or some folks who are known for their lyrics (Dylan, Merle Haggard, Elvis Costello, Townes Vand Zandt, etc.), but I still like plenty of rawk with what some may deem “stoopid” words. The thing is, it ain’t poetry, it’s rock n’ roll! “Louie Louie” is not supposed to read like fucking Leaves of Grass on the printed page!
Here’s an exercise: take any great rock n’ roll song and write down the lyrics (if you can understand ’em). Fer example, take “All Day and All Night,” by the Kinks, which I don’t think anybody can argue is a great song:
Girl, I want to be with you in the daytime
Girl, I want to be with you all of the time
The only time I feel allright is by your side
Girl I want to be with you
All day and all of the night
All day and all of the night
Notice the lack of resemblance to Emily Dickinson! The words are worthless if you take ’em off by themselves, they’ve gotta have the riff, the beat, the screamin’ to go along with ’em. Not to say that some lyrics don’t hold up without all that, but the point is they DON’T HAVE TO, and even that they AIN’T SUPPOSED TO. Most of yer so-called “poetic” rock lyrics, usually liked by English majors or folks who want to appear smarter or more sensitive because they listen to A, B, and C, are crap! We’re talking about Jim Morrison and Morrissey, here!
Anyway, rock n’ roll is supposed to be visceral, dynamic, of the moment, an experience. Lyrics are just a part of it. Hearing Iggy sing “Nineteen sixty-nine okay, all across the U.S.A.” with the Stooges is not the same as seeing the words on the page. Not that rock can’t be intellectual, but it can be over-intellectualized. I generally find it’s yer so-called “rock critics” who need to have some “intelligent” lyrics so they have something to write about. And some indie-rock wankers need these to prove how smart they are to themselves and their friends.
And yeah, I like alotta songs with misogynist lyrics. If it works in the context of the song, it works, and some women will sing along with it and some will be offended. So be it. You gotta have a sense of humor about some of this shit, after all! Besides, hip-hop has pretty much taken the honor of being “most misogynist music” at this point. Most rap records make “Under My Thumb” or whatever might have been considered sexist at the time sound downright quaint.
Now, all that being said, I don’t really think my lyrics are misogynist or stupid at all. There are a lot of bottom-feeder bands out there whose “lyrical themes” center around drugs, sex, and clichéd aspects of rock n’ roll. Are these people genuinely as stoopid as they make themselves out to be? Well, maybe they are that stupid or maybe they are just playing to the audiences expectations.
I think it comes down to two things: image vs. music. Some people are into Johnny Thunders ‘cuz he wrote good songs, some people are into him ‘cuz he was a junkie fuckup who died, they’re into this rock n’ roll martyr image. I’m into music more than image, so I want a well-written song. The thing is, you can still write a good song about getting drunk, or being horny, or whatever tired “rock n’ roll” kinda topic that comes to mind, ‘cuz these things are still part of the human experience. It just takes some talent!
I know you’re a harsh task-master, and probably even more so with yourself. When you’re playing or recording, what does it take to produce something you yourself can live with?
Actually, I like things to be loose, I don’t care if you can hear the mistakes as long as the feeling is there. I’ve never had a lot of time in the studio, it’s always been a git-in-&-git-out-quick situation, so I usually have to settle for getting through the song without fucking up too bad. That makes a good take: not TOO MANY fuck-ups.
Live, I like it when bands are sloppy. I don’t think The Hard Feelings are usually that sloppy, but we can be. I assure you, depending on the beer intake, the potential is there! I think the key is that you practice enough that you have shit down, and then you just cut loose and try to have fun with it live. I don’t sweat the small stuff.
I know that, economically speaking, the music you make isn’t a going concern. Being a veteran of two of the coolest garage rock labels (Crypt and Sympathy), were you able to turn much of a profit and, if not—if making a simple living doesn’t keep you going, what does?
A profit? (Insert laughter here) I’m always surprised when some delusional folks think we make any money! I could’ve gotten the same return on my “investment” if I took all my money, pissed on it, and then doused it in kerosene and set it ablaze. I’ve never turned anywhere near a profit being in a band. You get some money here and there, but compared to all you spend in the long run you are way in the hole. Really, I try not to think about it that much!
Crypt made some pretense of giving you a royalty statement, but the Revelators never sold enough to actually get anything. With Sympathy, we never signed anything, it was strictly a handshake deal, and Long Gone John doesn’t even bother with the pretense of giving you a royalty statement. If he reprints the record, he’ll send us some more copies, and that’s all we can expect to see from it in the future. I’d say on our record Long Gone covered the advance he gave us, and he may have actually made a profit on top of that. So somebody is making something, at least. And Long Gone is pretty generous with the money he gives you up front, unlike a lotta other labels, so I got no complaints.
With most small labels, and I’m talking about the ones small enough to be in our ballpark, all you get (if you are lucky) is enough dough to cover the recording expenses and maybe a pittance on top of that. And they put out your record and give you some copies. They print (maybe) a couple thousand copies of the record. So you aren’t gonna see any royalties, ‘cuz they may recoup the expenses (i.e.: the pittance mentioned above) but after that there won’t be much left. You make some money selling yer records off the stage, usually enough to buy gas to get to the next town and get some tacos.
That’s it. And that’s with Crypt and Sympathy, the “big” labels. Most don’t even give bands that much. Most small labels also go out of business on a pretty regular basis ‘cuz nobody buys their releases!
So, it’s pretty obvious that it AIN’T about the money. The way I look at it, most of the bands I love were never very popular and never made any money. I mean, some, like the Stones or CCR were big, but overall we’re talking about bands that nobody cared about then, and nobody knows about now. I’m grateful that these folks bothered putting out records, because their music means a lot to me, even if I never got to meet them and tell them that. I guess I’m just doing it assuming there are people like me out there who will find it and dig it. So this will sound lame, but it’s for the fans! I’m a rock n’ roll fan, and I’m making music for people like me and my friends!
And, it’s also a chance to do something creative that will maybe outlast you. A good rock n’ roll album lasts forever. I was reading the liner notes to that recent Saints compilation on Raven and the writer was talking about seeing one of the Saints’ first shows at a Communist party function. Think about that: The Berlin wall has fallen, Communism is dead in it’s homeland, but people are still listening to the Saints! And ask Chris Bailey and Ed Kuepper if they ever made any dough. Or guys from a lotta my favorite bands. Ask John Felice. Or Jeff Connoly.
When the Revelators first started out, I asked Steve Mace if Untamed Youth ever made any dough and he just laughed, too! He pretty much said we were doomed, and I remember his words quite clearly: “You’ll never make shit playing garage rock. It’s all for the glory!”
Were you pleased with the reception of your first record, Fought Back and
Well, everybody who’s heard it seems to like it, but of course I’d like it to reach a wider audience. I think we are hindered by our lack of a gimmick. No matching outfits, no fire breathing, no black chick lead singer, not Scandinavian. It’s a problem for some, ‘cuz there’s nothing ‘cept the music.
With no gimmick and a maybe a record that’s a little subtle that you have to take time to get into, no reviewer is gonna care! That’s why you should never trust record reviews – they get them for free, listen to ’em once, and they prob’ly have a big stack of ’em to go through. So of course what sticks out is the gimmicky shit. With us, there’s nothing to write about, just three guys in jeans and t-shirts. There’s no angle! We’re a pretty straightforward rock n’ roll band, so there’s not “snob appeal”. We do reference alotta things (country, soul, r&b, blues, rootsy shit etc. that indie-rock types avoid like the plague) but I think that the average rock critic or punk zine writer isn’t familiar enough with that stuff to appreciate it. We are both too lowbrow and too highbrow at the same time!
But I say put “Fought Back and Lost” up against any so-called garage rock, punk rock, or indie-rock release to come out in the past couple years and it will totally slay and lay waste to it! It is a good record, I feel pretty confident. So even though we’ll probably never be any more popular than we are right now, I’m satisfied.
What inspires your songwriting? Do you start with music first or lyrics?
A little of both. Usually, it’s the guitar riff first, and then I’ll come up with a melody line. Then I’ll just sing with that melody and see what words fit. Sometimes it springs forth fully formed, sometimes we’ll play a song live for quite awhile before I actually finish writing the lyrics. I’ll have an idea, a topic, for the song and then just see what I can come up with. Most of the clubs we play have shitty PA’s, so live you can’t hear the vocals anyway. So that gives me a chance to play with things and see what works. Usually a “hook” will come to mind, and I just have to fill in the blanks.
Is there a song you’ve written in particular where you’ve really hit the
ball with the fat of the bat, so the speak?
On the Hard Feelings album I really like “We Need Another Vietnam”. I got the idea from a Bart Simpson quote, and I think it’s just hilarious. A very broad indictment of the youth of America, who deserve it. It seems to be a popular live number, it’s our usual set closer. I never get tired of playing it.
I also liked “Roger Peterson’s Blues” ‘cuz it was an attempt at a “story song,” at least in my mind. And it was written from the perspective of someone else, which made it an interesting exercise. I was reading a book about Buddy Holly and there was a bit about Roger P., who piloted the plane Holly, Valens, and the rest died on. I thought it was really interesting, and sad, that this guy was a footnote in history. He got called outta bed on a cold shitty day to go to work, died, and his death was totally overshadowed by the death of his passengers. And it added an extra tinge of tragedy that it was probably his fault, too.
Who are the guitarists who’ve most inspired you?
Link Wray is the main one. Before I heard him I was a bedroom wanker, practiced a lot of scales. I was mostly into classic rock. I was just getting into rockabilly, like Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore, and somebody told me I should check out Link. I bought Missing Links Vol. 3 on Norton, on LP ‘cuz that’s the only way it was available and it was the only one I could find. I didn’t even have a turntable. When I finally played it, I started it on side two and played “Growlin’ Guts” ‘cuz I liked the song title. Immediately I knew I’d never practice a scale again! It was really a revelation, it was so easy you could figure out how to play it as you heard it, but it was so ballsy and so much fun. It was how guitar was supposed to sound. It was more punk than punk. I was hooked.
My other big influence is probably Hound Dog Taylor. He’s like the Link Wray of slide guitar! Quoth Hound Dog: “When I die, they’ll say ‘He couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good!'” That says it all right there. And in keeping with that spirit, I’ve never sat down and tried to “learn” a Hound Dog song. I have all the records, but I can’t do like a note-for-note “guitar in the style of Hound Dog Taylor” impersonation. I also learned a lot from R.L. Burnside when I toured with him, and that helped my slide playing immensely.
And though I play some leads, I really think of myself more as a rhythm player. I guess from my Revelator days when I had to fill up all the space. So Malcolm Young is a big one, ‘cuz he is the best rhythm guitar player in the world. And R.L. plays great rhythm guitar, he can really lock into a simple groove that could just go on forever.
So those are the big ones, but I’m a (reformed) guitar nerd, and a record collector nerd, so I’ve listened to A LOT of guitar players. Bukka White is a big one as far as slide. Grady Martin’s playing on Johnny Horton’s early records kicks my ass. Travis Wammack. Johnny Ramone. Paul Burlison. Ike Turner. Danny Gatton. Billy Gibbons (the solo on “Just Got Paid” is what made me wanna play slide in the first place!). Angus Young. Ed Kuepper. Lots of players.
I know you’ve had some interesting touring experiences here and abroad, with both the Revelators and the Hard Feelings. What have been some of the highlights of your life on the road, and, as someone who has to work for a living…how do you do it?
Getting to tour Europe was the biggest thrill, it was also the first real tour the Revelators had ever done. Crypt paid our way. We were with the Oblivians, a band I really liked, and so we got to see Europe and see the Oblivians every night.
The sights and smells of Europe! I remember in Rome we played this hippie punk squat, and couldn’t find a bathroom that didn’t make us nauseous. We had to go out in this vacant lot/field to take a dump! Making shit like a bear in the middle of Rome. We played in front of probably 1000 people at that show. We got to see Paris, Germany, we went to about 10 countries in two months.
The tour really made me a lot more aware politically, after seeing Sweden and Holland and all the countries with more socialist economic systems. It was eye-opening to see how much better the average person lived there than in America. The quality of the floors we were sleeping on were much improved. Then we came back to the U.S.A. and did a miserable month and a half tour. That pretty much broke up the band.
I’d love to get to Europe with the Hard Feelings, but we’d have to buy our own tickets over there and then hope we made enough from the shows to make that back. We can’t really afford to lay out that much cash with no guarantee right now.
The Hard Feelings have done some brief U.S. tours, we’ve hit the west coast a couple times. I know, having lived there, that I can avoid the mid-west and the Revelators toured the east coast and nobody cared, so the west coast looked like the best option. We’ve been decently received. We played the Vegas Shakedown, and we played to more people at that one show than at all the shows on our tours combined!
We haven’t done any extended tours like the Revelators did, ‘cuz that seems to be just a good way to drive yer band into the ground. It’s a catch-22, ‘cuz you can’t reach more people if you don’t tour, but if you tour too much your band breaks up or you get burned out. You can’t make any money doing it unless that’s all you do. Otherwise, you have to quit your job so you can lose money for a couple weeks.
I’ve tried to keep our tours short, so we can keep our jobs. We use our vacation days, ask for time off, fake family emergencies, etc. Touring for an unknown band these days is trench warfare. You can stick your head out to fight a little, then dive back in the trenches where it’s safe. Or maybe guerrilla warfare is a better metaphor. If you launch some big campaign to take over North America you’ll be defeated. You have to sneak around, do a little damage by skirmishing here and there, and then get back home to lay low. We are an underground band, and always will be, so guerrilla warfare is our only option.
I know you probably don’t wanna talk about this, but what’s the chances we’ll ever see the 2nd Revelators record? (EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ve seen it, and it is GREAT!!!)
Tim Warren claims it’ll come out this year, probably September. I wrote some liner notes for it. There is even an ad for it in the new Gearhead. But he about went broke doing these new Pagans reissues, if those don’t sell the Revelators album won’t get released. So if you wanna see the 2nd Revelators LP, you better buy Shit Street and the Pink Album!
Your one-man band singles are the cat’s ass (click to see our review of the latest one). I’m lucky to have ’em both–how can the curious but unlucky obtain ’em? Any more in the future?
The Goner one is out of print (and going for thousands on E-bay). The new one you can get from Goner’s web site or from Ball Records directly (PO Box 152,Gardiner, ME 04345).
I’ve been messing around with the one man band shit a lot lately, since I moved out of an apartment and into a house. Now I can be as loud as I want. I’ve added a snare drum, and I play a little harmonica as well. I should have enough material for an LP pretty soon. That should annoy lotsa folks. I figure the one man band is the only way I’d ever be able to make any money touring, and it would probably be more popular ‘cuz all the records (by necessity) would all sound the same! I’m pretty much reached the conclusion that too much variety just confuses people. They want every song to sound the same, or they don’t know what to think. The one man band could be my cash cow!
You’re a pretty voracious reader and record-collector. What’ve been some books and records that’ve been keeping you alive recently?
Just finished Noodling For Flatheads by Burkhard Bilger. The concept sounds shakey (New York writer travels the south in search of “lost” southern traditions) but he’s good and pulls it off. Great essays on cock fighting, squirrel brain eating, catching catfish with your bare hands, and a marble game called Rolley Hole. I’d recommend it.
I picked up a few AVI re-issues of various artists (Wynn Stewart, the Hightower Brothers) that I was missing. Anything that AVI re-issed is good, and they’re all out of print, too. Sometimes you can find ’em as cutouts or markdowns. Whoever it was at MCA that deleted all these records (when MCA bought AVI) should be hunted down in the street.
Also recently picked up a cd comp of Moon Mullican called “Moon Over Mullican” that’s his more rock n’ roll songs. It’s pretty incredible.
But mostly I’ve been listening to Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis, ‘cuz I finally nabbed the out-of-print Charly box sets for both those artists. I like the Bo one better as far as sequence, ‘cuz it’s more or less chronological, whereas the Jerry Lee one is grouped into various categories by cd (all his country covers on one, all his r&b covers on another, etc.). But both of ’em are killer and it’s such an overload of music to have all at once that it’s hard to take it all in.
Your championing of unsung rock and roll bands have led me to some great listening experiences. Any bands you’ve played with or been exposed to you feel are worthy of better exposure?
Just saw Tyler Keith and the Preacher’s kids. Their record is great and they killed live. It’s Tyler from the Neckbones’ new band. It sounds like the Neckbones, but without the Soul-Asylum sounding tunes. Tyler always wrote the most trashy songs, and was the craziest on-stage. And now it’s all his show. They are brilliant, but I’m afraid nobody is gonna care because they are on an “americana” label (Black Dog) and I don’t think the people who’d like it are gonna hear it. And the Neckbones never got any breaks, they never sold many records and I thought they were a great band. The Revelators played with them some, both bands were active around the same time, and I think more people know about the Revelators than the Neckbones. (That should give you some perspective: lesser known than the Revelators!) So “featuring ex-Neckbone Tyler Keith” isn’t gonna be much of a selling point for most. But they rock.
The Deadly Snakes record was one of my favorites from the last couple years. Talk about records that sound like shit! But it works, and I saw ’em and they rocked mightily. I’d like to see ’em getting the kind of attention that the White Stripes are getting.
The Country Teasers just came through town again not too long ago, and I always enjoy seeing ’em. They’re the other white guy band on Fat Possum that didn’t sell diddley-squat, but I dig ’em.
Jon Wayne just played here, too, and it was one of the better live shows I’ve seen for awhile. Talk about a totally underground band. I’ve never seen anybody review them, never even seen ’em mentioned in print. But the place was packed, and everybody knew the songs, so word got out somehow. Very drunken show, very funny, lotsa fun.
I’ve heard mixed reviews about what it’s like to be a musician living in Austin. How’s it for you?
Well, I for me it’s great, especially compared to Missouri. People actually go out to see music here, there is a healthy scene as far as bands and clubs. Emo’s has improved a lot in the past few years, the guy who does the booking there now really knows his shit. Also, a friend of mine who used to book the Bates Motel is opening his own club (Beerland!) and it should be a great place to play.
And there are quite a few good local bands around town and in nearby cities.When we tour, I always hope we’ll play with some cool band I’ve never heard, but usually it’s an endless parade of lame combos. I haven’t seen any town that can sport as many cool rock n’ roll bands as Austin. I hear Detroit has quite a few, but it’s too fucking cold up there, so I haven’t seen for myself. Texas has a fine roster: The Crack Pipes, Damn Times, Titz, Big Foot Chester, Deadites, Sons of Hercules, Gospel Swingers, Boozers, Teen Cool, Ignorance Park, lots of bands that can provide a good evenings entertainment are from around here. Also, there’s Sweatbox, a great studio that’s pretty cheap. Bands come from all over to record there. As far as making money, it stinks, but I never made any money in Missouri and at least we can attract a crowd here.
My friend D.B. Harris is a honky-tonk country singer here, and it’s harder for him ‘cuz he has to pay his band every night (he uses some of the same players as Dale Watson). Austin also has a good honky-tonk scene but it’s pretty competitive. The “professional musician” types might have a hard go here, but if you give up the idea of ever making any dough (like I have) you can have a good time.
Austin is changing, the tech boom hit it like it hit San Francisco and raised rents and the standard of living. I’m hoping the music scene will survive, but it has been tainted by lots of yuppie bullshit (if you ever hear the name Bob Schnieder, RUN!!!). Luckily we exist so far from the mainstream that we don’t have to worry about Dell and Intel tech-yuppie types flooding our shows. The scene we’re a part of has survived and I hope it will continue to do so.
What’s the current activity on the Hard Feelings’ radar screen?
We’ve got a new single coming out on Dropkick, the Onya’s label out of Australia. It’s got an original on the a-side and a Flamin’ Groovies cover (“High Flyin’ Baby”) on the flip.
We’ll record the new album this summer. Will is real anxious to get an LP out with his bass playing on it, ‘cuz at this point he’s been in the band longer than Andy was but it’s still Andy’s picture on the cover of the only record.
I want the new album to be shorter, probably only ten songs, ‘cuz I think the first one suffered by being too long. All the songs were good, but people’s attention span starts to wander after too many songs, so I think some of the tunes get overlooked. I’d also like to be able to spend a little more time on the production.
I can’t really describe it in too much detail, ‘cuz of course we haven’t recorded it yet. But we’ve got lots of new songs, some in a familiar vein and some a little different. At least in that they have more chords or are shooting for a different mood or whatever. Not a radical departure, but I’d like to think we have a distinctive sound as a band and so anything we do is going to sound like The Hard Feelings. When the White Stripes were in town, I asked Jack White about his next record, ‘cuz Long Gone had said it wouldn’t have any slide guitar or blues songs on it. He said yeah, that was the case, ‘cuz he didn’t wanna repeat himself, didn’t wanna make the same record twice, etc. I told him we were plowing the same tired ground with our next record! There’s something to be said for originality, but there is something to be said for consistency as well.
How would you describe the Hard Feelings’ mission in the rock and roll universe?
The Hard Feelings are a real rock n’ roll band. Our music is not for poseurs, squares, or lames. We will not dumb it down to make it more accessible, we will not fatten it up with pretensions to make it seem more intellectual. We play music which is rooted in country, blues, punk and other forms of American roots music, but we never try to outright copy or imitate those who came before us. We play rock n’ roll for those who like rock n’ roll. Our mission is to annoy as many folks who don’t as possible!
What are your Top Ten Desert Island Discs (as of today)?
I dunno, I’ve listened to all of these so much I’d probably get sick of ’em if stranded with ’em, but here goes I guess if you’re looking for an “all time favorites” kinda list…
Saints – Wild About You (Ha! This is really cheating ‘cuz this collection
has their first three albums on it).
Link Wray – Mr. Guitar (Norton collection)
Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde
Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers – s/t
AC/DC – Live at Atlantic Studios
Bo Diddley – Any of the Chess albums
Jerry Lee Lewis – Live at the Star Club
Slim Harpo – Hip Shakin’ (AVI collection)
Captain Beefheart – Safe as Milk
Heartbreakers – L.A.M.F.
Ahh, I hate this kinda shit! No room for the Oblivians (Popular Favorites) or Tennessee Ernie Ford (Ol’ Rockin’ Ern)! Or George Jones! Soloman Burke! Jerry McCain! My desert island would have to have a large record library.

Archival Interview: Charlie Burton, Iconic Midwestern Rocker and First-Class Wit (retrieved from the remains of “The First Church of Holy Rock and Roll, November 1st, 2018)

Charlie Burton: 12 Steps to Heaven
Don’t fight the band that needs ya!
(click to see Charlie’s web page)


Yep…CB at SxSW
Charlie Burton is the greatest rock and roll songwriter in the center section of our great land. After toiling in the wastelands of Nebraska for nearly 20 years, cracking whip on bands like the Cut-Outs and the Hiccups, he’s now residing in Austin, running not only a record store but a damned fine roots-rock unit, the 12-Steppers. Their first album, Rustic Fixer-Upper, on Bulldog/SOB Records, excellently showcases Burton’s creative wiles, and the 1999 release One Man’s Trash: The Charlie Burton Story (1977-1999) will neatly catch up anybody who doesn’t know who the fuck he is….which is too damn many of us. (See the Rev’s recent feature on Charlie by clicking here.)
Recently, Charlie took some time to answer a few questions.
Are you a folk singer?
How’d you get interested in music in the first place?
I grew up in a house where music was very important: my father was a record collector (classical and folk mostly) and he was a real literal Pioneer in FM radio: he started a commercial (meaning he had to sell advertising), classical FM station in 1957 in Lincoln. Nebraska, and sold Granco FM receivers at cost outta our garage to create a market for the station; nobody listened to FM at that time; there was no public radio or college radio. My sister was an accomplished pianist and I won an AM transistor radio when I was 12, in 1963–a good year for AM radio. You could still hear Wolfman Jack on the “Big X…XERF” playing Howlin’ Wolf while you were falling to sleep with the transistor radio at your ear. It sounded like the terrifying voice from Hell. I was both drawn to it and scared by it. Need I point out that music was extry-good in the mid-60’s when I was a teen??? And seeing Bob Dylan (on THAT tour) in March of 1966 when he played Lincoln’s Pershing Municipal Auditorium really did a number on mah haid!!!
Where’d your world-famous sense of humor come from?
Sense of humor… Yeah, I guess I’m kind of a quipster. Dunno where it came from. Some of my favorite records as a Husker Youth included Peter Sellers comedy records on the Angel label; I always liked the track “Balham: Gateway To The South.” which I seem to recall reading in a back issue of MOJO was THE favorite track of its producer, George Martin, who could have also picked many others, don’tcha think???
Were you good at book-larnin’?
I was good in English, yeah. I remember that we had to write our own obituaries in one class and I wrote “See the candle, burn out quick, no more wax, no more wick.” Then I forgot it, and wrote and handed in some total mediocre shit. Twelve years later, I remembered the line and it became a lyric in one of my most requested numbers, “Breathe For Me, Presley.”
Is there such a thing, do you think, as Midwestern rock and roll? You got the Skeletons, Freedy Johnston, Bottlerockets, and…hey, wasn’t Axl a Plains child?
Of course there is such a thing as Midwestern Rock and Roll, but I would cite such practitioners as Iggy, The MC5, Lonnie Mack, the SOMA label outta MPLS, and the aforementioned folk singer from Minnesota as being more of my Midwestern Rock and Roll Soul Brethren (at least in my dreams) than the artistes you mention. Also let’s not forget the great Nebraska rockers like Carl Cherry, Sparkle Moore, Lou and Red Berry. But then, Philbert, you have a Show-Me State bias. I was talking to my old friend Peter Jespersen, he of Twin-Tone and Replacements fame, the other day, about being Midwestern, and he ‘lowed as how it has something to do with being polite, and I would have to agree.
How’d you keep a band together for nigh-on 20 years without raking in the big bucks?
The bands stayed together with minimal/gradual personnel changes because, I think, we all believed in what we were doing. It’s really that simple.
Any highlights from the Cut-Outs’ life on the road?
Highlights? Hmmm… there was one night at the Rodeo Bar in NYC when I remember going over to Phil Shoemaker, the geetar player, and looking at him and saying, “Geeziz, we sound great tonight, and making eye contact with him and just knowing we really did sound great. And it was always a thrill and an honor to play on the same bill with the Replacements when that happened. There were lotsa fun nites at The Lifticket in Benson. I always liked the feeling of driving home after a good gig and maybe stopping at this all-nite BBQ joint in Omaha.
You’re now located in Austin, which many folks in my parts consider the Mecca of American music.  Have you found relocating there to strike your fancy?
Well, as Sonny Boy Williamson the Number once said, “Don’t start me talkin’ I jes’ might tell everything I know!!!” Let’s just say that as a Mecca of American Music, Austin may be somewhat over-rated.
Tell us a little about the genesis, progress, and future of the 12-Steppers.
The Texas Twelve Steppers are what I call the people I play with here in Austin; they are a pool of some of the finest musicians in Austin and there are many fine musicians in Austin, yew betcha!!! They play subject to availability, in other words if there is a higher-paying gig with someone other than myself when I get a gig they can…and will!!!… take it. Hence the pool. Progress??? Progressive!!! Future??? Unknown!!!!
Has the resurgence of interest in roots rock and roll had any impact at all on your, uh, career?
Resurgence in roots rock and roll??? Impact on my career??? Geeziz, if this has been a resurgence then I AM screwed!!!
How hard is it to write “funny”?  How do you normally go about writing your songs?
Y’know, I don’t really try to write “funny.” I just approach an idea the way I approach it and I usually don’t like songs where the songwriter tries to make a Big Statement About Life. I try to deal with what’s left.
Describe the typical Charlie Burton fan.
Men: Well hung and intelligent. Women: Beautiful and intelligent.
Based on the evidence of some of your songs, you gotta be a major record collector. Do you have any “Holy Grail” records you’ve yet to find?
I am an avid rekkid collector and have uncountable LP’s, 45’s and CDs, many of which are totally rare and which my fellow collector friends will never own. As far as any “holy grail,” for which I still search, there really is (are) none simply because I am well aware of the countless great “sides” that await discovery by us one and all and regret that there is not time enough in life to listen to them all. Sigh. I do love the Thrill of the Hunt For Music. In fact I shall now impart to you my current 25 fave listening items. They include both all-time faves which I never even bother to file away, and current acquisitions.
In no apparent order:
1) Vernon Oxford–Let Me Sing You A Song. (Westside).
A new release and a dream come true for me, reissuing on a single CD all of  this great hard-core honky-tonk singer’s classic 1966 recordings for RCA. Minor (major) Quibble: They shoulda used the original LP cover.
2) I work at a CD store and gazed longingly at the Frank Sinatra “Capitol Years” UK box for about a year before I finally traded in a buncha shit, including all my US remastered Frank-on-Capitol stuff, to acquire this SHOEBOX o’ DISCS. Gulp!!! Well, it’s the BEST DECISION I HAVE EVER MADE!!! Simply astonishing sound–I mean I’m no audiophile,–BELIEVE ME–but if you “dig” Frank on Capitol …YEOW!!!
3) Los Shakers, “Por Favor!” (Big Beat) Another dream come true for me, an entire CD of the best of Los Shakers, the Uruguayan Beatles. I stumbled on Los Shakers when I got a reissue on Raven of their “Break It All” LP and wuz ah evvah HOOKED!!! Cynics will cite similarities to the Rutles, and, okay, there is something of the pastiche about ’em, but I just love these guys. You will too.
4) Iggy & The Stooges “Raw Power” The greatest Hard Rock LP of all time. The remixed-by-Iggy-version is best, but I will part with my original with the last grip o’ mah dyin’ digits.
5) Percy Mayfield “My Jug & I” Why hasn’t anyone reissued this PULVERIZING AND INFLUENTIAL LP (on Ray Charles’ Tangerine Label, with backing by RC & band)on CD???
6)Johnny Bush, Texas Legends Vol. II–(Texas Legends) These are earlier recordings than Vol. I which covers his RCA period, which I adore also, but there is something so SOULFUL AND MAJESTIC AND SPECIAL about the STOP recordings of Johnny Bush, ca. ’68 when the Country Caruso was at the absolute height of his honky-tonk power. Totally over-the-top and totally devastating music.
7) Elvis 60’s Box From Memphis to Nashville. “Elvis is Back” and “From Elvis In
Memphis” with the hugely under-rated no-sountrack studio recordings in between. My favorite period o’ the King.
8) MC5 –“Back in the USA”
9) Elvis Costello “Get Happy!!!” (Ryko) I like Elvis Costello and this is my favorite by him.
10) Bob Dylan — Royal Albert Hall CD’s (SONY)
11) “Otis!” Otis Redding Box on Rhino. He was so great.
12) Buddy Holly Complete LP’s. Hopefully someday soon all the legal shit will get hashed out so there will be a CD update with stuff currently only available on bootlegs added. It’s a National Crime that you can’t get it at this time.
13) George Jones – Live at Dancetown USA– (Ace) I love George Jones and have been looking for this for a while. It’s great.
14) Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Vols. 1 & 2 (Kent) These are great “northern soul” compilations for which I tend to be a total sucker. There’s a new Volume on the horizon for which I have high hopes.
15) French Accordion Music 1913-1941 (Vol. I) and 1925-1942 (Vol II) (Fremiueux & Associates) One of these came in “used” at work and I hadda get Vol. II!!! Like the Harry Smith Archive of American Folk, these things give yew a glimpse into another time and world alltogether, this world being French.
16) Ernie Kovacs’ Record Collection (Varese Sarabande) I have always adored the great Tee & Vee Pioneer Ernie Kovacs, and I remember Where I Was When He Died like I do Marily Monroe and JFK. This wonderful CD collects the music that was so prominently featured in his shows and ah jes’ love it.
17) Anything by Johnny Paycheck on the Little Darlin’ label
18) Clyde McPhatter–Love Ballads— (Atlantic) Wotta voice!!! Sheesh!!!
19) Willie Nelson–Complete Liberty Recordings
20) Various Artistes –Brown Eyed Soul Vols 1-3 (Rhino) & Huggy Boy’s Presents Oldies But Goodies (RCA) Love that triplet Barrio Soul style like a fiend likes his dope and a drunkard his wine. Why isn’t there a full length CD by Thee Midnighters any more???
21) Dusty Springfield/Walker Brothers/Ivor Raymonde arrangements. You don’t have to be gay to dig the over-the-top melodramatic vertigo-inducing string arrangements featured on these 60’s Polydor recordings outta the continent!!!
22) Rockpile–Seconds of Pleasure (Colombia) and Live at the Palladium (CDR offa friend). What a rock and roll band oughta sound like. The Live thang is so blisteringly HOT it’ll take the paint off yer walls!!!!
23) Arthur Alexander–the Greatest– (Ace)
24) Charlie Rich: the Smash Recordings (Mercury)
24 1/2) My 45 rekkid collection — always within an arms’ reach is my mysterious and huge and randomly organized 45 collection from which I love to stick in my thumb and pull out a plum or three. Whether it’s the medium itself, the EQ of same, or my short attention span, the 45 is my favorite form of ingestion of da shit from snotty punk to honky tonk to soul to ???
25) Replacements–Pleased To Meet Me (Sire)
What are your favorite recordings from your own oeuvre?
1) “Rock and Roll Behavior” (original Wild 45)
2) “(You’re Not Playing Fair) Elise
3) “Is That Wishful Thinkin On My Part???
4) “Spare Me The Details
5) “Embarrassment of Riches”
Charlie, I’ve done my level best to convince the congregation that One Man’s Trash is an absolutely e-fucking-ssential purchase. With your last words of this interview, why do they need this hard-hittin’ compilation of your work?
Interviewer’s Note: You should buy The OMT compilation because it is essential to have if you
ever want to get laid again.

Now I Got a Reason (October 15th, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

I am not sure when music put a hook in my lip, but I was quite young at the time, and it could have been any one of the following moments:

  1. When I received the Banana Splits theme song 45 (I feel like it came out of a cereal box, but I don’t remember–did you know Al Kooper, Barry White, and Gene Pitney contributed music to the show’s soundtrack?).
  2. When I first heard Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy”–my childhood best friend’s dad owned a jukebox stocking and repair shop, and when we’d visit, he’d always let me have a beat-to-hell record, and this was probably the first. I didn’t care about the forest-fire surface noise, and it was probably the first song I memorized. I don’t think I ever flipped it over….
  3. When my parents gave me my first album: Sgt. Pepper’s, of course (that would have been ’70 or ’71). I could not get enough of that one, then I subjected it to a long, long, long period of avoidance, which ended late last year when, after reading a couple Beatle books, I once again found myself infused with affection for it.
  4. When I first heard Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman”–I think my mom had a crush on Glen, thus we had the albums (I tended to stare at Bobbie Gentry on the cover of one of those), thus we watched his show, and…man, I caught the vibe of this song. I think it was the first time I ever heard loneliness. 40 years later, when I read the story of its recording, I ended up playing it every day for about a month.
  5. When I first heard either The Spinners’ “Mighty Love” or Warren Zevon’s “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” on the Carthage Municipal Pool jukebox: the former sounded like pure, unadulterated joy on wax and probably caused my junior and senior high romantic life to be torture, because that was what I expected having a girlfriend to feel and be like (whatta sap!); the latter seemed like I would need decades of research to fully understand, and with a title like that, I just had to play the “B” side instead of the “A.” (What a 45 that was!)

I mean, I can sort out the chronology, but I’m not sure which moment was the one that really struck me with the fever. Most definitely, one of those was the cause.

I bring all of this up because this morning I found myself recalling the moment that ensured the hook of music remained sunk, as it still is and will likely remain, unless I lose my mind, which these days is very much a possibility.

Most of my high school friends probably remember me as a music nut. I wrote reviews for the Carthage High School student newspaper; the first couple enthused about Boston’s Don’t Look Back and Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True. I skipped lunch frequently to spend my money at Ken’s Records, which was just a few blocks from the school and right next door to our favorite lunch joint, so friends often saw me “eating” there. My friend Todd Freeman and I regularly arrived to school early just to man the senior lounge stereo, its speakers wired out into the lobby, and philosophize, girl-watch, and heckle underclassmen–we had an East Coast thing going for some reason, so Springsteen and Billy Joel were our eight-tracks du jour. Even then a drooling Dylanophile, I successfully lobbied to make “Forever Young” the theme of a homecoming dance–o former classmates, please forgive that, for I was young and foolish and my dreck-detector was ill-calibrated! I sat patiently next to my home stereo, cassette tape on “REC” and “PAUSE,” waiting for KSYN in Joplin to play my favorite songs that hadn’t made “Casey Kasem’s American Top 40” yet; back then, kiddies, you had to have the bucks and hope the local shop (if your town even featured one) carried the 45 or album if you wanted a chance to hear it over and over and over again. Speaking of Dylan, I heard “Hurricane” on the radio exactly once on KSYN during my entire high school career, and I didn’t have a blank cassette ready. Once. Why didn’t I just go buy Desire at Ken’s?

A) I wasn’t made of money.

B) I wasn’t yet reading reviews every week, and thus I might not have known it was on Desire.

C) Ken’s might not have carried it, or might have been sold out–I didn’t hear “Hurricane” until way after Desire was released, anyway.

Back then, simple listening on demand did not come easy. We did, though, have KSYN’s late-night show that played new albums in their entirety (thank you, programmers, for Live Rust and for 2112, two seemingly vastly different albums that, come to think of it, have much in common).

Well, that was the good stuff. The frustrating stuff was, I was (and still am) a restless seeker after new sounds and knowledge, and I didn’t then know anyone, really, who was also down for the search. I’m pretty independent–I don’t tend to need much validation for my interests–but you have to admit few moments are more fun than discovering new sources of exaltation, amazement, and enlightenment in good company. Try as I might, I had zero luck enlisting anybody for deep dives into Armed Forces, Darkness on the Edge of Town, London Calling, 1969 Velvet Underground Live, The Essential Jimi Hendrix, Night Moves, Never Mind the Bollocks, or The Basement Tapes. I mentioned Live Rust earlier; elsewhere on this blog, I documented the pain and suffering inflicted upon me when I dared to foist its revelatory content on high school friends (and potential more-than-friends). One can see I wasn’t getting a ton of positive reinforcement, and since my seeking also extended to non-musical paths, the possibility that I might have jumped off the musical hook at some point in the near-future was…distinct.

At the time, music and sports ran neck-and-neck for my attention, with sports leading by a nose. I played basketball, football, soccer, and baseball (very, very poorly and mercifully briefly in the last case); I also ran track, and swam competitively. I wrote almost all of the sports copy for the school paper, as well as covered junior varsity (and some varsity) sports for the local paper, and, most tellingly, when it came to a career, I just wanted to watch, record statistics for, and write about the NBA for a living. I headed off to college at the University of Arkansas with that intention, as well as the promise of a gig as the school’s baseball statistician. With me, I hauled about 19 records (why do I remember that number?) and a faux-leather case of 12 eight-tracks (Queen, Head East, Alice Cooper); if that tableau doesn’t indicate the potential for my musical passions becoming fleeting–or at the least stunted–I’m not sure what would (though I had bought a rubber stamp with my name on it and stamped all my records–that’s a tad strange and obsessive).

So, my parents had dropped me off at Reid Hall–I was clearly an early arrival–I’d gotten comfortable in my dorm room on the fourth floor, a nice breeze was blowing through my open window and door out into the hall…and I decided to just blast something annoying to test the waters and find out as soon as possible if I were indeed going to continue to seek new sounds alone (if, alas, at all). I remember feeling pessimistic about that process continuing. The obvious album for the task was The Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks. Though I didn’t have a fucking clue about most of what Mr. Rotten was raving about, though I had not yet listened to it with anyone, though it had essentially gotten me kicked out of Sunday school forever a couple years before (that’s another blog post), I thought Bollocks would be the perfect album to blast, mark my territory with, and measure the degree of alienation from my peers I was bound to suffer/cause. I didn’t know Whitman yet, but also, underneath all that bullshit, it was, probably, “Noiseless Patient Spider” time for me. I snapped the eight-track into its slot, turned the knob to seven, and sprawled out on my bed to await the results.

No sooner had those four opening seconds of marching boots led into Steve Jones’ first chord than a dude walked right into my room, pointed at my stereo, cocked his head slightly to one side, and asked (note the implied question!), “Ummm…The Sex Pistols?”

I sat up and said, “Yeah?”

The dude enthusiastically proclaimed, “Hello!” This was not a greeting–that five-letter word, as he used it, would have many meanings, depending on the context, over the course of our still-ongoing friendship. In this case, it was an affirmation.

The dude was from Little Rock. Turned out he was ensconced with his cousin Bruce in the dorm room next to mine. He was distinctly not angry with my selection or the stereo volume.

“I’m Kenny. You heard of The Ramones?” he asked.

“Well, some kids I never met spray-painted that name on the baseball stadium wall in my hometown, but no.” (Ken’s did not carry Ramones records as far as I knew, but I also hadn’t yet read about them.)

“We can fix that. Are these your records? Hello, eight-tracks!”


“Ooooooooooh. Elvis Costello!”

Soon, we were over in his room. Kenny introduced me to Bruce, slapped on a record, and I quickly realized The Ramones were a subject for serious further research.

His vaguely dangerous-seeming cousin was into Sabbath, whom I knew well, but also Funkadelic and Jerry Clower (HAW!) and Monty Python, whom I didn’t. And that wasn’t all. Without checking with us, Bruce took Leave Home off the turntable and replaced it with a yellow-covered album he’d snatched so quickly out of a nearby crate I couldn’t make out the other artistic details. Waggling his eyebrows and darting his eyes about manically, he lowered the needle into the record’s groove. Sounds from a deeply weird space slithered out of Kenny’s speakers, and Bruce launched into an almost threatening solo dance, at which point I took a step backwards:


If you haven’t already deduced it, this was the moment I hearkened back to this morning. I honestly think it not only re-set the musical hook in my lip, but also insured that music wouldn’t just be a hobby for me–that I’d ride that line like the shark in Jaws. Before long, I got bored with baseball stats and found myself rifling through the university bookstore’s handy cut-out bin for Kinks and Howlin’ Wolf records. I didn’t end up sitting at an NBA scorer’s table, but I did end up playing in three bands (absolutely unaccountably–I’d never imagined the possibility). My writing was diverted from a sports focus to a near-exclusive attention to records, whether I was knocking out an essay for a course (I became very adept at manipulating my professors’ assignments to allow for that subject), scribbling lyrics on the back of a Taco Bell sack before a gig, writing reviews for college newspapers and Xeroxed fanzines–or designing assignments for the English classes I ended up teaching for 35 years (and counting).

I’ve always been deeply impressed by the power and significance of chance, and one thing that stereo-cranking on the fourth floor of Reid Hall taught me is that you can best take advantage of chance’s bounty by putting yourself (or, rather, your self) out there. Kenny, Bruce: thanks for helping to save me from a fate worse than death–crunching sports numbers.






Take Me With U (Minneapolis, July 22-23, 2018)

Of course we nerded out and blasted Prince as we entered the Minneapolis highway tangle! I do love me some Replacement, some Dü, and even some Suburbs (!), but in our vehicle there was never any question. We’d also damn near finished the Erdrich book, which unsurprisingly takes place mostly in Minneapolis, where she resides and runs a bookstore. We were too tapped out to visit it, plus we’d already bought at least 10 books while on the road.

We stayed at the Hewing Hotel. If we can afford them, we like to try interesting lodging, and the Hewing is that. Too much on the posh side of interesting, I’d say: severe valet charge, extra charge just to access the rooftop bar, hot tub, and spa (which guarantees the people up there won’t be that interesting), pet-friendly around the bar and dining area (we have five, but come on). When I scoffed as the concierge informed us of the rooftop charge, she folded and gave us free access (Camus: “There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.”), so we scoped it out. Here we are shortly after I’d had an absurd argument with a bartender about a sliding glass door:

Next morning, though, we zipped out to Paisley Park. I’d read plenty that might dissuade one from paying the $55 “general level” admission–wait, is it here or in England where one always knows one’s place?–but turns out it was a pretty enjoyable and emotional experience. Pics are not allowed–

and I don’t want to spoil your potential future trip, but you might not know it’s His burial site, it’s got a goodly amount of famous items you’d want to see, he lived there for at least the last couple of years (by the way, it’s as cool as Graceland in its way), and (though I’ve heard it didn’t start this way) the tour guides know their stuff–though don’t assume Prince would have wanted it this way. Exit through the gift shop you will: I picked up some Prince guitar picks for one of my favorite former students, Nicole purchased a loverly scarf, and, being a teacher, I had to have a Purple Rain coffee mug.

Then, it was off to Lake Minnetonka, where we were denied much-needed purification (16 days on the road) by a teenage lifeguard and a more public body of water than I’d imagined.

Finally, we tracked down the Purple Rain house, which Prince bought shortly before he passed. It needs a little work, but it, too, brought an emotional ripple as we recalled the partly-autobiographical scenes that were shot there:

After a nap, we wended our way to Salsa Ala Salsa, where we met some serious rock and roll friends (Billy, Darren, and Julie) for excellent margaritas, sangria, and tamales. I kid you not–we have rock and roll friends in every city!

Alas, we awakened the next morning realizing our final eight hours of driving were ahead of us. A few things about that last stretch:

Erdrich’s The Future Home of the Living God is pretty worthy. If you can imagine her already formidable talents under the sway of Atwood and confronting the darkness of Drumpf, that’s pretty much what it is. She has a bit of trouble shaking loose in the middle section, but I have to say it’s one of the best literary accounts of a pregnancy I’ve read (the book’s written in epistolary form to the narrator’s future kid). 4.3/5.

When in Des Moines, jump off the highway to Alohana Hawaiian Grill for some loco moco or spam musumi! Delicious!

I can’t say enough about the indefatigable research that the participants in Season Two of the In the Dark podcast put into the case of Curtis Flowers. Please check out the 11-episode story, especially if you think the justice system works….

If you’re driving from Minneapolis to Columbia, Missouri, you can trust your GPS, but the fastest route will not seem that way!

Finally, thanks for reading and I encourage you to road trip with your loved ones to see your loved ones. Load up the mp3 player to save on data, download some podcasts and audiobooks, gas up the tank, and head for the hills–I have to say that after 5,000-plus miles and sixteen days, I got a little choked up when I turned to meet my driver’s eyes. In particular, consider the Northwest–the beauty of the landscape seems to roll out infinitely.

Dimension Seven (July 17-22, 2018 / Victoria, Seattle, Bozeman,Wall, Minneapolis)

Been too busy to blog–good thing on vacation, eh?–and when in the car (35 hours of driving last three days) we’ve been audiobooking, podcasting, and rocking out! When I have had time? I’m telling you, the Internet ain’t made it to the upper left quadrant, people. So–a quick recap. This is s’posed to be a music blog, so it’ll have, um, hints of that.

Victoria, British Columbia

I had never planted my feet on foreign soil, so I was just thrilled to be in the most British Canadian city. Music played very little part. I visited the Fan Tan Alley shop Turntable, where the proprietor seemed stuck in the Sixties but I did find the above record. Didn’t buy it–$50, and the sleeve was about cashed–but it’s a good ‘un. I also trekked up Fort Street to Ditch’s and snagged a previously rare Sam Rivers ECM and a neat Dick Hyman Fats Waller tribute which he played into a Bosendorfer machine (for what that’s worth). The night before we left, I was forced to witness the current version of Lynyrd Skynyrd playing live (on TV only, thankfully) at a pub where the Old Fashioneds were too good for me to get up and leave (Bartholomew’s).

Other highlights:

Butchart Gardens, a beautiful botanical display. (See previous entry.)

My first real dish of Ramen.

Russell’s, a used bookstore so overwhelming I couldn’t buy anything.

A primer on an interesting facet of the Canadian health system.

We hiked all over its spread–I’d estimate 12-15 miles–notably about five clicks out to its east breakers:

We walked through the Empress Hotel a couple times, but they didn’t have low tea.

We weaved through Fisherman’s Wharf.

I really got used to seagulls outside my bedroom window.

…and before jumping back on the Clipper back to Seattle, we had time to pop into the Odean Theater for a screening of Sorry To Bother You, which, as much as I love Boots Riley, graded out to about a B/B+–it needed a little more juice, I thought.



Return to Seattle

Again, music didn’t figure much into our brief return visit to Seattle (I played country music classics during our time in the highly-recommended Mediterranean Inn), but being with our Seattle friends is rock and roll! They operate spontaneously and delightfully. Our dear long-time friend Frank–he and I used to write collaborative punk 45 assessments for The Banks and Bibles Revue–led us on a marvelous foot tour of downtown Seattle.

The Echo Statue:

A skywalk:

Seagull feeding (I tell ya, I love them birds):

The Gumwall:

Smith Tower, bottom…

…to top:

And finally a Lyft out to Ha! in Fremont to reunite with the whole gang, toast everything good, and go listen to garage 45s at some old vintage lounge. It was hard to leave.



Bozeman, Montana

We blasted Hendrix again all the way out of Washington, and after being diverted from I-90 by a brush fire, we found ourselves at Wild Horses National Monument with a wonderful vista.

Bozeman was not scintillating, but we arrived in time to find decent food–locally-raised bison, anyone?–and great cocktails at Ted’s Lounge, which also is the only restaurant I’ve ever visited that has played The Gilded Palace of Sin on their sound system. I must say, though, that the mountainous beauty of this part of the country makes an 11-hour drive pretty damned pleasant. New audiobook: Louise Erdrich’s Future Home of the Living God.

On our next leg, through Wyoming and into South Dakota, we visited Little Big Horn, where apparently we’re still trying to see Custer as a hero, or at the very least worth memorializing, but far more riveting was Devil’s Tower. We’d been blasting Nirvana (I find their music’s aged very well and is indisputably great–just like Jimi’s), and we’ve been shooting a 20-second highway video every 100 miles, so I had a corny inspiration:



Wall, South Dakota, and The Beauteous Badlands

We’d been to The Badlands before, and they are a must. If you go, stay at Frontier Cabins and request a meadow view. It was too dark upon our arrival and too foggy upon our departure for me to snap a good pic, but here’s an interior.

We got up early to drive through the park on our way to Minneapolis. We blasted punk rock (Minutemen, Roky, Minor Threat), were stunned again by the views, and dropped some cash for a stack of books to express our love for the National Parks Service (Black Elk Speaks, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Crazy Horse: Strange Man of the Oglalas). Here’s a selfie with my beautiful one.

On the way to our next stop, I had an Indian Taco (made with fry bread) at Al’s Oasis. I thought you should know. We continued listening to the infuriating podcast In the Dark (infuriating due to the miscarriage of justice it explores–Mississippi, goddam!!!), Erdrich’s fascinating if flawed new novel, and, of course, blasted Prince all the way into Minneapolis, where we’ve never been.



Minneapolis (just dropped in)

Today: Paisley Park, Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, and dinner and drinks with friends.

A Great Big Clipper Ship (June 13-16, 2018, Mt. Rainier/Seattle/Victoria BC)

13th: Reluctantly left Portland for Mt. Rainier State Park. Thrilling, and for the traveler we do recommend an annual parks pass!

Ain’t no quick way from that park to Seattle, so we jammed Local Boy Jimi all the way in, and it was a balm. I included this neat item in the playlist–you have to lean forward a bit:

Seattle: so many great things to do, but for us the greatest thing is boon companions. Jill (who offered us a bed): smart, hilarious, endlessly boisterous, and a heart as big as an ocean; Rex, our fellow Missourian who was also visiting: ace poem picker, situation-parser, spokesman for the public; Beth, my best friend since we were 18 at the University of Arkansas: a perfectly dangerous big-sister type with a subversive sense of humor and a heart as big as the ocean Jill’s heart is as big as; and Angela and Frank, whose amazing kiddo Cecilia is our kinda-godkid: joined in unholy matrimony, in amazing parenting, and staying young as their relationship grows older (no sin, no easy road). We all know each other well, to some extent accidentally, and when we converge the laughter peals, the suggestions alarm, the drink overtops the sandbars, pizza is the only necessary fuel, and the music ain’t no didgeridoo solo! Here’s a pic from shortly after our arrival:

Deep into the night, we plotted and planned, punched free selections into Jill’s ’70s-dominated jukebox (in her living room!), and tried to solve the world’s problems.

Yeah, that was just the 13th.

14th: Road trip! A 12-hour one! It’s easy when Jill’s got her van rocking out to classic garage rock!

Out to Deception Pass (it’s historic, but that name doesn’t bode well) for hiking, low-tide discoveries, arguments about didgeridoos (Nicole: “Didgeridon’t–unless you’re an aboriginal musician!”), facing up to fear of heights on the bridge over Dire Straits (yeah–it’s real), and miscommunicating over our splintered wanderings.

On the way back to Seattle, we waited hours at The Shrimp Shack for Dungenness Crab Burgers that were worth it, visited Ebey’s Beach and resurrected the didgeridoo theme thanks to Rex’s discovery (see video below), and got harassed by The Vanloads of Christian Athletes while waiting for the ferry. Arriving back at Jill’s, we honky-tonked into the night though I was out on my feet.

15th: You’d think we’d have to recover, but we were down at Pike’s Place Market with Frank and Angela, eating the best macaroons ever created at Le Panier, hoofing it over to meet the rest of the bunch at the Museum of Pop Culture–

–brunch Bloodies and great Hendrix and Nirvana exhibits–plus a fun “scream recording” in the horror exhibit that Nicole, Beth, and I tried), railing it to Chinatown for Dragonfest, King Noodle, and orgasmic origami, hopping in Jill’s van again for a foray to Hendrix’s grave–

–and to one of the best dive bars I’ve ever bellied up to, Darrell’s:

Along the way, Rex, Nicole, Beth, Jill and I envisioned a Seattle “underground history tourism” service that would have made Larry Flynt blanch. Dry eyes were not to be found. Much thanks to Darrell’s jukebox for this:

We continued some beer-drankin’ at Jill’s after, but the dawn would beckon Nicole and me at 5 the next morning…

16th: We took the Victoria Clipper over to Victoria BC–my first-ever trip outside the U.S.

We immediately took a bus out to Butchart Gardens and beheld much flowery glory–sorry, not too rock and roll, but it was indeed glorious.

I’m sipping a Molson’s in our room at the Victoria Regent, knowing what it sounds like when gulls cry. Tomorrow: a music injection from Turntable or Ditch’s? Or a lit re-up from Munro’s Books? We shall see. Off to Ferris’ Upstairs Seafood and Oysters…

O My Stars (June 11th-June 13th, 2018, Portland, Oregon)

Began Wednesday morning with a drive out to Multnomah Falls, east of Portland. Ravishing. Plus we got in some good climbing. We also drove down to the banks of the Columbia River to appreciate that behemoth more thoroughly. By the way, we’ve been listening to Season 2 of the In the Dark podcast, the gripping quality of such does make time fly when you’re in the car. The host drives me bats, though.

Once back in Portland, we drove through the downtown chaos, dined at the terrific Thai Peacock (hella dranks, too), then arrived at the shrine: Powell’s City of Books! My word–it is the book nerd’s Mecca. Of course, there is shopping porn:

Then, we headed out to Forest Park and St. John’s Bridge to explore (vehicularly, only) some of the terrain in Peter Rock’s great novel My Abandonmemt:

What about the music, you say? Well, some dude from Sunny Day Real Estate played about 25 feet from our hotel room (Doug Fir is the venue–seems connected to The Jupiter), but we looked askance and chilled in the evening to a cavalcade of hardcore honky tonk.

However, Thursday morning, driving west to Cannon Beach (my first ever view of the Pacific), we cranked up a “First Nations” playlist featuring the mightily missed John Trudell, the underrated A Tribe Called Red, the unmistakable Tanya Tagaq (Nicole survived four of her songs!), Martha Redbone, and assorted others.

I strongly suggest you visit Cannon Beach and The Haystacks. Also, Thomas is a cool server from Festus, Missouri, who works at Pelican Brewery: he’ll have great advice and knows his beers!

Later in the evening, speaking of My Abandonment, we visited Cinema 21 on 21st Street to take in Deb Granik’s film that was inspired by that book, Leave No Trace.

The film was shot in and around Portland, so it was neat to watch it with a local audience. It’s strong–Granik also directed Winter’s Bone, and she clearly has a gift for locations and directing young women. Surprise musical cameo appearance by Ol’ Snock (not this song, though):

Today: Mt. Rainier–and dear friends in Seattle!