At an Agent Orange show in Milwaukee, of all places, maybe twenty years ago. It was cold as fuck for our Southern California blood. We’d known bass player Sam since his days playing some terrific bass for the Lexington Devils in the ‘80’s, and known Mike Palm forever. Crazy venue too. It was near downtown on an ancient block of low brick buildings from the 19th century. You stepped down some stairs which opened into a basement, three basements really, with big holes bashed through the walls separating them to give the illusion of three adjoining rooms. There was a bar in one, while in the middle room Agent Orange played and it was a ball, especially Mike’s guitar playing that wonderful blend of punk riffs and surf chops and that stinging tone matched to his ebullient stage presence, and seeing them out there was just like seeing them out here except for the freezing temps. The Milwaukee kids were beside themselves, bands we take for granted living here are something thrilling and longed for in the Midwest where they live for rock’n’roll. And while I love visiting Milwaukee—it’s Fyl’s hometown—seeing a Southern California summer band on a frigid Milwaukee night was discombobulating. But it was a good discombobulating. Having your expectations jarred loose once in a while lets you know you’re alive, otherwise everything turns grey.
Anyway this piece needs some tightening up, but later, later.
The AC3 at the Garage, I think, a zillion years ago. Allen A. Clark III was all of three years old here and already quite the drummer. His pop, Allen Clark Jr and mom Zebra (aka Zaida Clark, that’s her legs) formed the trio when AC started syncopating before he could walk, taking after his old man (once the driving beat of the Lazy Cowgirls) who is playing guitar here off to the right. You have to imagine it, as he’s not in the picture. I remember carefully composing this picture to get the perfect balance of child and gams, but I didn’t bother with Dad. After you’ve seen a guy leap stark naked into your drum kit there’s nothing much else to see. But that’s another story, deep in the blog somewhere. And little AC the tyke drummer is now huge AC the monster drummer, and mom and dad and son are rocknroll lunatics back in Indiana. And if that ain’t a wholesome tale I don’t know what is.
Formed in 1977 on a chicken ranch in Nipomo CA and quickly banned just about everywhere between Frisco and El Lay, Publik Enema was the greatest first wave punk rock band you never heard of. I saw their very last show, at George’s on Lower State in Saint Babs in 1979 and had my 22 year old mind blown. Still have a piece of that see thru guitar Ronnie shattered on the concrete floor at the end of the set in a fit of beauty, punk, pique and punctuality. And dig the crazed punk rock solo he plays on that guitar at the 9:00 mark of the Publik Enema Movie. This long lost film was shot in ‘78, at a bar in Goleta CA they were banned from soon after and in front of a terrified music appreciation class at a junior college in Santa Maria. Those were the days.
Terrific Mike Watt & the Missing Men set last night in MacArthur Park. For some reason their take on Little Johnny Jewel was my favorite this time but the whole damn thing was great. Perfect even. And I had never seen Bastidas! before. Great three piece, noisy and dissonant and young enough to run all over the stage without hurting themselves. There was a biblical prophet or a fur trapper or maybe one of the lesser known members of ZZ Top spinning obscure 70s Europrogopsych and zany glam and fucked up bubble gum before sets. Don Bolles, he said, but I knew better.
Great night, saw a lot of pals. And standing there on a cane a nice lady brought me a chair. I could get used to this gimp shtick.
And thus began our summer concert season.
Hillbillies in a Haunted House (which would be one word in German) seems dumber than a rock, but Ferlin Husky just picked up a guitar and sang a beautiful ballad so I’ll keep watching. Sonny James just sang another. It was shot in 1967 without a hippie in sight and set in a haunted house on the road to Nashville. John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr and Basil Rathbone (in one of his very last roles) provide the spooky parts, but they’re not really ghosts but Russian spies, back when being a Russian spy was a bad thing. Imagine that. If you would betray your country you would betray us, Basil says to a treasonous FBI agent in a rare plot complication, and shoots him.
Anyway, waiting here for Merle Haggard and figure Ferlin’s got more sanging to do. Joi Lansing is in a shirt a size too small except when she moves and it’s three sizes too small. They really knew how to fasten buttons on in those days. She’s supposed to be a country singer. But this tacky torch tune she’s singing is about as country as chicken fried steak in Santa Monica.
Oops, Merle’s on, cooler than fuck. Someone told his story, he’s singing, in a song.
I’m digging this drummer. He’s right there in the pocket with Carl Perkins, doing a rockabilly hep cat Mitch Mitchell to Carl’s playing and singing and bopping the blues. It’s a house band and I assume a house drummer, but the cat is so hip and has that rockabilly thing down in a Krupa crazed torrent of sticks and cymbal crashes that never ever loses the bloozy dancing shuffle of the tune. You don’t even see him till the last forty seconds or so, then there he is, eyes locked on Carl, a thirty something cat who’d probably played in every Western swing band this side of the Mojave and yet loves that Sun rockabilly, loves it so much he’s singing along as he plays. All his friends are bopping the blues, he sings, drum stick dancing across the high hat. He loves you baby, but he must be rhythm bound.
It came out in 1969 and even though I’d heard of it for years, I didn’t actually hear Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica until much, much later: 1978. Nine years late. Talk about uncool, uneducated, and unhip. Still, it immediately had a huge impact on me. Not just the mind blowing music (“Pena” remains the strangest piece of music I’ve ever heard), but the stunning imagery in the lyrics, which shaped my own prose (especially “Bill’s Corpse” for some reason I could not begin to explain). People read my stuff and assume I’ve read James Joyce but I never have, what they’re hearing is Don Van Vliet. But perhaps most surreal to me now is the fact that four decades have transpired since this now five decades old album finally connected with my gray matter. It was on the third spin in perhaps as many days and it still eluded me until half way through “Hobo Chang Ba” I got it. Hobo Chang Ba, the Captain groaned, Hobo Chang Ba, and suddenly all was clear. What exactly made it so clear I do not know, but suddenly the frantic clattering music made perfect sense. It still does, most of my lifetime later. Forty years can make a man’s eyes, a Beefheart fan’s eyes, flow out water, salt water.