Archive for September, 2010

#56 Kerosene Hat-Cracker. Richmond and Oregon Hill Continued.

Posted in Cracker with tags on September 29, 2010 by davidclowery

 

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In #47 part 2  I mentioned the move Johnny Hickman and I made from California to Richmond Va.  The 64 plymouth threw a rod in Arkansas stranding us in the middle of rice paddies in the middle of the night. That’s where i’m gonna pick up.

We were being eaten alive by mosquitos in the rice paddies while we were waiting for a tow.  Johnny started smashing the mosquitos with a magazine on the headboard of the car.  Finally aftter 2 hours a tow trucke arrived and took us to a local Uhaul facility.  We had to wait several hours for the place to open up.  We’d now been up all night. We rented a truck and a tow dolly and towed the station wagon all the way to Richmond.  When we  pulled the station wagon off the dolly in Richmond i noticed all these brownish red smudges all over the headboard of the car.  I stared at them for a while trying to figure it out.  Those hadn’t been there before.

Johnny leaned in the passenger window to see what I was looking at.

“It’s our blood”

I guess I gave him a confused look.

“from the mosquitos”

There were hundreds of these smudges. “We’ve already played a price in blood” I thought. I knew this was funny and overdramitic still  I didn’t say it out loud.  I couldn’t decide if this was an inauspicious or auspicious start for the band.

 

Big Dirty Yellow Demos were recorded on a machine like this.

Big dirty yellow is what we named the house at 239 S. Laurel street in Oregon Hill. Because it was well Big, Yellow and Dirty. This is also what we called the demo tape of 20 songs we turned in to Virgin Records.  The house had a few distinct pluses.  The first was the neighbors took an immediate liking to us, cause Johnny (always the goodwill amabassador) did an impromptu duet of Streets of Bakersfield with the neighbor lady to the right.  This drew a small crowd.  When Johnny flipped the last chorus to Streets of Oregon Hill the small crowd broke into pandemonium.   They had to play it 2 more times before the crowd dispersed.  Meanwhile I had managed to unload half the truck by myself.  It was a small price to pay for the goodwill of the neighbors.  We never had to lock our doors, and no one EVER complained about the noise we made recording the demos.

It also didn’t hurt that the neighbors on the left were a deaf family.  Well not entirely. The oldest daughter could hear.  She would play the pop radio station quite loud.  On weekends we noticed that the radio would often blast  all night.  This was because the one hearing member of the family, the daughter, had gone away to the grandmothers for the weekend.

It was not always easy to gain the locals trust.  Oregon Hill had been it’s own little city within a city for 140 years. A white some would say white trash ghetto in the heart of the city.  And the neighborhood was beginning to be not exactly gentrified but filling up with artists, hipsters and especially musicians. They were drawn there by the ridiculously low rents and charm of the funky houses. Members of GWAR, The Alternatives, The Fugs, Michael Hurley, House of Freaks, Flat Duo Jets and Cowboy Junkies could be seen wandering around the neighborhood. The old locals which dominated our block were hostile to these newcomers.  But never us.  It was fortunate that Cracker was such a country rock roots oriented ensemble.

Big Dirty Yellow  had three bedrooms and was 300 dollars a month.  It was the classic Oregon Hill row house.  Narrow like a shotgun shack.  Each room lead into the next room till you got to the kitchen on the back of the house. It had no heat or air-conditioning.  There was a hole in the floor between the kitchen and living room.  You could crawl down into the basement through it.   We tacked a large piece of plywood over the hole. I found an industrial strength restaurant kitchen fan at a junk store.  I installed this in the uppermost window of my bedroom recording room.  It basically sucked the cool air out of the basement into the upstairs of the house.   Except for the hottest days it was adequate.  In the winter Johnny and I each had a kerosene heater.  We would actually carry these around the house with us.  not lit of course.  But if we had people over we would drop both of them in the living room and kitchen.  If we took a bath or shower we would bring our kerosene heater with us.  To this day the smell of kerosene reminds me of the poverty and the wistful hope we had for our music.

 

Site of the old East Coast Gas Station in Gunsmoke.  Cary and Meadow Richmond VA.

In some ways this is part of the inspiration for the song Kerosene Hat.  The kerosene hat was the wool hunting cap with earflaps that I would have to wear when I walked to the  gas station in the middle of the night to get more kerosene.  This was sometimes a scary proposition because if it was too late and the local texaco by VCU  was closed, we had to walk to the East Coast station up in the neighborhood known as “Gunsmoke”.  Cary and Meadow st.  This is still a sketchy area today.  It was really quite dangerous in 1990.

The second part of the inspiration for this song was the simple fact that Johnny Hickman and I were older than many of our peers in the alternative and indie rock scene at that time.  Also we were one of the few bands that was playing what would later be called Americana.  So this is exactly what i’m talking about when I sing:

How can I fly with these old doggy wings

While a magpie sings some shiny song.

Finally the main body of the song is populated by characters that are similar to the broken down houses and people who populated the neighborhood at that time.  I’ll go into this more in the next post “Can I Take My Gun Up To Heaven”.

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04 Kerosene Hat

[INTRO & BREAK:]
[Em]-[C]-[G]-[D(bass F#)]
[Em]-[C]-[G]-[D(bass F#)]
[Em]-[D]-[C]-[A]-[G]-[C]

[Em] How can I fly with these [C] old doggy wings
While a [G] magpie sings some [D(bass F#)] shiny song?
[Em] Old corn face row of teeth, she says [C] sweetly to me
In the [G] elevator [D(bass F#)]

CHORUS:
[Em] Everything [D] seems like a [C] dream
and [A] life’s a scream.
[G]-[C]

Here come old Kerosene Hat
With his ear flaps waxed, a courting’ his girl
Come clattering in here on your old cloven skates
With that devilish spoon

CHORUS:
Everything seems like a dream
And life’s a scream
When you’re submarine

[BREAK]

So don’t you bother me death with your leathery ways
and your old chaise lounge (old chaise lounge)
Wickerman’s fence of leathery tyres
And the cook’s gone bad, started several fires

CHORUS:
Everything seems like a dream
When your submarine

Head like a stream she says softly to me
from the rattling chair
Bring me a steak and my old pair of crows,
my medicine lamp

CHORUS:
Everything seems like a dream
So life’s a scream
(life’s a scream)

#55 James River- Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven. Richmond Virginia.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker with tags on September 28, 2010 by davidclowery

 

The James River in Downtown Richmond.

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The James River is the major waterway through the center part of the state of Virginia.  The river is quite deep until it hits the “fall line” at Richmond.  Indeed this is why Richmond was built at this spot.  It is the farthest you navigate up the James in an ocean going vessel.  After that there are a series of falls and rapids. In the early 1800’s  the James River and Kanawha Canal was built to bypass these rapids and bring trade from the mountains of Western Virginia down the James River to Richmond. As a footnote it was surveyed and designed by George Washington. But that’s another story.  This canal helped bolster the city’s commercial activity turning it into a relatively prosperous and large city.

Although Richmond is very far inland few people realize that there is actually a Port of Richmond which accepts container ships -albeit the smallest container ships.  The port is tucked away along the south eastern side of the city, in an area dominated by large (and mostly abandoned) industrial sites.  Few people who live in Richmond even know where it is. I’m not sure how financially viable it is. I suspect that the fact the Defense Supply Facility is nearby has something to do with it’s continuing function

But these days the James is a relatively unimportant waterway.  And it figures little into the commercial life of the City. The city literally turned it’s back on the river for many years. The banks were  dominated by railroad right aways,sidings industrial facilities and power plants. Until recently there was no easy access to the river from downtown. It was only in the last 15 years a riverwalk was built along the river in downtown.  There were parks along the river but you still have to cross railroad right aways to reach them.  And thenyou were often in close proximity to railroad hobo camps (south bank) or the rough but not unfriendly denizens of Oregon Hill.*  It is a beautiful river nonetheless.  There are spectacular rapids for rafting and this is in the core of an urban city.  Quite strange really. Deer, foxes, bald eagles and even bears are often seen wandering along the forested banks of the city’s river.  But to me there is a certain sadness or nostalgia to river.  It feels at times a relic of the past.  Like the antebellum mansions and the Civil War battlefields  and monuments. And a hint of even darker things.  Belle Island in the center of the river was a POW camp for Union troops throughout the Civil War.  By american standards a gulag of unimaginable horror.  30,000 prisoners on this island. 1 in 25 perished.  A prominent Baltimore surgeon who treated some of the  released captives from the Belle Isle prison  had this description of the prisoners:

“in a semi-state of nudity…laboring under such diseases as chronic diarrhoea, phthisis pulmonalis, scurvy, frost bites, general debility, caused by starvation, neglect and exposure. Many of them had partially lost their reason, forgetting even the date of their capture, and everything connected with their antecedent history. They resemble, in many respect, patients laboring under cretinism. They were filthy in the extreme, covered in vermin…nearly all were extremely emaciated; so much so that they had to be cared for even like infants.”

 

Talk about Southern Gothic! Cormac McCarthy in his imagination could not do much better.  But it is less the horrors along the river that captured my imagination. It was the sense the river was part of the lost past.  Once important it  is now but a shadow of itself. It is irrelevant to the life of the city. Just as the city was once the capitol of the Confederacy it is now a second tier urban center.  It is somewhat irrelevant to the greater life of the nation.That is both sad and sweet.

The river was the heart of a system that sent the products of the colonies and antebellum south mostly tobacco back to England and Europe.  An export oriented agricultural / natural resource economy.  Trade that went East to West with Richmond an important trans shipment point.   But as the North began it’s rapid industrialization, and railroads proliferated  trade shifted North to South.  The Civil War only accelerated this trend.  Indeed one of the minor frictions between the norther and southern states was over tariffs.  High tariffs protected developing industries in the north.  Richmond was also industrializing and was becoming more tied to the northeast than the south.  Hence many Virginians reticence to join the cause of the Confederacy.  As Corry Arnold (Rock Prosopography 101)  recently explained to me:

Thus the geography of Richmond is infused with a logic that no longer applies to the way the city works, as it is oriented towards the river when that is not actually the economic engine of the city (rivers are pretty, fortunately, so its not a terrible thing, but I’m not researching quality of life). In effect, the economics of Richmond were literally rotated on its axis, as the James River initially facilitated East-West transportation, but was of no value when commerce in the the region moved to a North-South axis (eg Atlanta and Florida to Baltimore).

(This post on richmond is largely based on research that Corry sent to me)

I wasn’t aware of this when I began to write about the James River.  But one – even an recently transplanted westerner- could sense that the James River represented the old romantic past of Richmond.  It’s sorry state also represented something else that I came to associate with Richmond. “Elegant decay”  and “opulent poverty”. Two evocative phrases my ex-wife  Mary uses to describe Richmond.

 

The first time I ever spent any real time in the City was my 29th birthday sept 10th 1989.  Camper Van Beethoven was on tour with the 10,000 maniacs.  We played a show at the Mosque theater (now called the landmark theater) just west of downtown in the middle of the VCU campus.  Natalie Merchant had some friends that lived nearby.  Later Natalie asked me if I wanted to go to a party at her friends house in this funny little neighborhood to the south of the VCU campus.   This neighborhood is called Oregon Hill.  It is a former factory neighborhood built along the banks of the James for the workers at the Tredgar Iron works.  The neighborhood is very distinct.  It even has it’s own accent despite the fact it’s a 4 by 10 block area.  Tiny two story  row houses with porches.  It looked like some neighborhood in New Orleans.  The residents were out on their porches this fine late summer evening.  Some polite with nods or “good evenings”  others drunk with catcalls and wolf whistles.  Cicadas buzzed in the trees and I thought to myself?  “where the hell am I”.  I’ll explain this  neighborhood more in a later post (Can I take my Gun Up to Heaven).

It was at this party where i met my future ex-wife.  (I’ve always wanted to use that expression). It is the neighborhood that Mary and I lived in for many years.  And more importantly this is the neighborhood that Johnny and I set ourselves up as we sought to finish writing the first Cracker Albums.

So the song started as a Camper Van Beethoven Song.  With me trying to evoke what I would term the “Old-fashioned seediness” and “antiquated decadence” of Richmond.  There were a surprising number of junkies, drug fiends and decadents in the music scene when I first began courting Mary.  So that was what first struck me. That’s what the Camper Van Beethoven version and early Cracker demo reflects.  Later I would come to appreciate the “Elegant Decay” and “Opulent Poverty” of Richmond VA.  Thus the later more gentle more evocative version of the song on Gentlemans Blues.

Finally I hope my description of Richmond comes across as honest but still affectionate.  In many ways my musical career is deeply infused with the life of three places the Inland Empire,  Santa Cruz and Richmond VA.

james river (live) Camper Van Beethoven Italy March 1990

05 James River (Demo) Cracker Sept 1990

04 James River-Cracker Gentleman’s Blues
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James River (later version)

[INTRO & BREAK:]
[Dm]-[Ddim]-[F]-[C]
[Dm]-[Ddim]-[F]-[C]
[Dm]-[Ddim]-[F]-[C]
[G]

 

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

[Dm]You come across [Ddim] the [F] James River [C]
[Dm] A-for a [Ddim] needle, and a [F] spoon [C]
[Dm] But would you [Ddim] come across the [F] James River [C]
To be my woman again [G]
To be my woman again

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

You come across the old lee bridge
A-For a dollar fifty in change
But would you come across the James River
for this heart of gold?
For this heart of gold?

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

[BREAK]

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

You go to work for Ms. Kitty
For a decent rate of pay
But would you come across the James River
To be my woman again?
To be my woman again?

[BREAK]

[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]

You keep a pistol in your left boot
A brush and comb in your purse
But would you come across the James River
To be my woman again?
To be my woman again?

[ENDING:]
[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]-[G]-[Dm]

# 52 Yalla Yalla Yall. Gallows Humor Addendum. Cracker Live in Iraq.

Posted in Cracker with tags on September 24, 2010 by davidclowery


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Frank Funaro  (drummer Cracker and CVB) reminded me of some of the excellent Gallows Humour while we were in Iraq.   Here is Frank’s comment:

Oh, and lest we forget… When we were riding around in Iraq in armored vehicles, we all had headsets and microphones on so we could hear each other above the ungodly din these vehicles produce. The 82nd Airborne guys that were in the vehicle that David, Greg and myself were in would pepper us with questions about the band and touring, and music, etc, constantly chattering into our earpieces over the radio. This was to (as we later found out) keep our minds off the fact that at any given moment, it was entirely possible that we would get hit with a roadside bomb. Ok, that was part of their their job, can’t have any civilians gettin’ all panicky in the back of a sealed, 14 ton MRAP. But, here’s the strange thing. Every now and then, apropos of nothing, they would yell BOOM! over the radio. Talk about your professional-grade, industrial strength gallows humor…

And since we are on the topic again.  Here are a couple more pieces of gallows humour I overheard in Iraq.  The first are normal military variety.  The last is of a Deer Skull variety be forewarned.

BTW I am 6 foot tall.  Foxx on the far right  is really that tall.

First while we were  traveling through baghdad by MRAP with soldiers  from the 82nd airborne Frank and I must have telegraphed to them that we were okay with the gallows humor. None of the other band guys got this treatment.  Once we  were faced with two unattended disabled vehicles along the side of a road.  The soldiers paused the convoy for a while and got on their comms.  I’m not sure how this works but they were talking to Iraqi security or American forces to find out what the deal was with these vehicles.  They didn’t want to proceed even though it was unlikely they were bombs. It wasn’t a long pause and  eventually someone gave them enough assurances that these vehicles were okay and we proceeded past them.  But before we did the soldiers began wagering on which of the two vehicles would explode.  Like anyone would be alive to collect on this bet.

“my money is on the mini pickup”

“thats  bullshit why would you use a pickup truck there’s no trunk, no place to hide enough explosives”

“it’s good enough for an Iranian shaped charge and stealthier”

The part about the shape charge may have been explained later within the safe confines of BIAP on the way out of the country. No matter how jaded these guys were I don’t think even they wanted to imagine a high velocity ball of molten metal ricocheting around inside a MRAP severing limbs.

I Forget Are klingons Sunnis or Shias?

At another camp I asked one of the Soldiers  what he thought of the Sons of Iraq or Sunni Awakening Councils.  These were former insurgents who had now switched sides to the US. And they were now on the US payroll.  We passed by their checkpoints occasionally.

” What do you mean what do i think? you mean how do i feel about the fact these guys  were shooting at me last tour of duty*?”

“yeah something like that”

“well,  this is Iraq: The next generation. They’re the Klingons” This was delivered with a disinterested shrug. A sort of “it’s not my fucking job to care” gesture.

Finally at one of the Army airfields in Kuwait right before we went into Iraq I overheard this very fucked up conversation.  Basically two young soldiers on there way into Iraq were sitting around talking about what terrible things should happen to  US army Major  and Psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan.  He is the guy who had shot up Fort Hood about 10 days earlier.  We were all waiting around next to these pallets that we had piled our gear and duffles on.  It was dusty and pretty warm.  We were waiting for someone to do some kind of roll call.  We would have rather been inside the airconditioned tent that served as the passenger terminal.  An older NCO was listening to these two young soldiers.  Whether it was the heat or the dust or he was genuinely sick of hearing these kids talk. He stood up and walked over to them.

“You two.  Shut the fuck up.”

They looked at him stunned.

“Sorry sir-“

“There are probably a lot of guys here that are a lot closer to that shooting and those events than you are.  I’m sure they don’t want want to hear your bullshit… besides there is a distinct positive to this event”

“sir?”

“The US Army now has a Psychiatrist with actual combat experience”.

JEEZ.  remember i’m just repeating the story. This is less than two weeks after the shooting.  So in the US Army  Tragedy + 10 days = Comedy. The deer skull has been….
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#49-Where the Hell is Bill. More Smart Ass Comments. Deer skulls.

Posted in Camper Van Beethoven with tags on September 21, 2010 by davidclowery

cvb truck more square

Camper Van Beethoven 1986.

08 Where The Hell Is Bill-

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Where the Hell Is Bill is probably the mother of all bust-the-balls-of-one-of-the-guys-in-the-band jokes.  You do have to think about it a little bit to see it in that light. It’s an innocuous silly song. Right?  Except  we wrote an entire song about the drummer (Bill McDonald) being late for practice. While waiting for him to show up!  Then when he showed up we made him not only learn the song but made him sing it.  Not just that day but for the rest of the time he was in the band.   That’s some serious ball busting.

There is some light commentary on the different music scenes and fashion that existed in southern california at the time. Punks,  Mods and the weird oingo-boingo (shudder)  inspired fashions.  But basically this song came about for the sole purpose of  embarassing our drummer. And this is probably one sentence too many on the subject.

As far as plain old get-your-ass-kicked smart ass comments goes there is a better story and I neglected to include it in the last post.

Feb 1986  CVB had embarked on it’s first  nationwide US tour.    We played LA probably at the Anti-Club.  Then hit the Mason Jar in Phoenix, possibly another show in Tucson AZ,  Then we did what would become the very familiar run up I-35 San Antonio TX to Minneapolis.

We drove into Oklahoma City on a relatively warm day for February.  It actually had been colder the night before in Dallas. So the weather raised our spirits and we were glad to be in a strange new city. We’d been to Texas before.  Oklahoma was a new state for us.  It seemed distinctly different that Texas.  There was something soviet about the architecture. There were a lot of blocky apartment buildings and government structures. There were also a lots and lots of churches.  We were in the very heartland of the USA.  And it flet alien to us.  I mean our town had a feminist marxist mayor.  we weren’t even sure if any of that was even legal in this state.  But i digress.

Unlike the dive and punk rock places we had played in Texas  the place we played in OKC was kind of a grown up bar.  It was a “blues” club from what I remember and we were opening for The Blasters. It was upscale compared to what we wre used to.  Now me and Victor Krummenacher really loved the blasters so we were quite happy to open for them.  I’m not sure if Jonathan Greg or Chris really cared about them that much.  But it didn’t matter. We were excited.

We were not so excited when we played for their audience.  Or rather their audience weren’t so excited about us.  The audience was largely seated at cocktail tables.  And they weren’t really hostile or anything. They were polite.  But they weren’t really digging us either.  They began to get impatient.  That’s when we started talking to the audience. It was all down hill from there.

Especially in the early days of CVB we liked to kind of harass the audience.  Playfully tease them.  Sometimes it wasn’t so playful.  And we were always sarcastic.  We had launched into a little of this.  It seemed to loosen the crowd up.  Unfortunately it also loosened up a couple folks who really didn’t like us.  We were now getting heckled.  So I resorted to an old trick. I played the momma card.

“Hey, now,  whoa, whoa, that’s too much.  You can say anything you want about me,  the band,  how much we suck whatever but don’t say anything about my mom.  my mother passed away recently and that… that is really not called for…”

No one had said anything about my mother. But in the commotion no one could possibly know that. Also my mother is very much alive and well.

There was dead silence in the room. Uncomfortable silence. You could hear a pin drop. I let it stretch out and hang there for a while then   I turned around and looked at the rest of the band. Chris took this as a go signal and started counting off the next track. Suddenly  i hear Jonathans voice over the PA on the upbeat of the next song.

“Yeah, she was on the Space Shuttle”.

As you could imagine this did not go over well with the crowd. First it was Oklahoma City in the very earnest and patriotic state of Oklahoma.  Second the space shuttle Challenger had blown up only a  few weeks before that show.  Many of us had watched the event live on TV. It was fresh in all our minds.  It kind of shocked even me and I was used to Jonathan’s shocking humour.  Still the Andy Kaufman part of me had to laugh,  I mouthed to Victor across the stage  “we are all gonna die”.   He nodded in agreement and motioned towards the stage door.  I guess he was suggesting the escape route.

We made it through the next song but were roundly greeted with a mixture of boos loud grumbling and epithets.  We may have played another song,  I don’t recall but  the show was definitely  cut short and we retreated to the dressing room.  We didn’t come back out until long after the Blasters show was over and the audience had all gone home.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

One final note on Jonathan’s shocking smart ass punch line.

By this point everyone must be familiar with the expression “Jumping the Shark”. Basically this is when a show spins off into an absurd plot line  or more generally the moment or event that begins a celebrity’s downfall.   In Camper Van Beethoven we have a similar concept.  It’s “The deer skull has been F*cked”.  Shocking! and from such a nice band!

It refers to Jonathan Segel’s tendency to take a slightly off color story or topic of conversation and take it way way way beyond the bounds of good taste.   In particular one evening Victor was musing on Maria and Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘s sex life.  The conversation was hijacked by Jonathan who then painted a grotesque and hilarious picture that ended with the govenor and first lady of California copulating with a deer skull.

So in general it refers to anything that has been taken beyond the boundaries of good taste.

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Where the Hell is Bill

CHORUS:
[A] Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?
Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?
Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?
Where, [D]where the [E] Hell is [A] Bill?

[A] Well, maybe he [D] went to get a [E] sideways haircut
Maybe he [D] went to get a [E] strip-ed [A] shirt
Maybe he [D] went to get some [E] plastic [A] shoes
Maybe he [D] went to get some [E] funny sun-[A]-glasses

REPEAT CHORUS

Well, maybe he went to get an Air Force parka
Maybe he went to get a Vespa scooter
Maybe he went to get a British flag
Maybe he went to go Mod Ska dancing

REPEAT CHORUS

Well, maybe he went to get a mohawk
And maybe he went to get some gnarly thrash boots
Maybe he went to go ride his skateboard
Maybe he went to see the Circle Jerks

 

REPEAT CHORUS

#48 Friends – 3 Guys Walk Into A Bar In Canoga Park. Why being backstage at a low grade music festival is like being in Iraq.

Posted in Counting Crows, Cracker, Johnny HIckman with tags on September 20, 2010 by davidclowery

Patterson Hood, Johnny Hickman and I Perform Friends.

alternate link

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In february of 1998 Cracker was mixing our Gentleman’s Blues album.  Don Smith our producer engineer had just acquired a mini estate in Agoura Hills CA. It had a smallish mansion and enough land that it cost a small fortune to water and landscape.  It also had some kind of  combo 6 car garage guest house at the bottom of the driveway. Don had set up a studio in the garage/guest house so he didn’t have to drive all the way to hollywood to mix his records.  He got to be near his family and at the same time stay up all night mixing albums. I didn’t understand that so much then.  Now I do.

“Costalot”

That was Don Smith’s playful nickname for the place.

Costalot was  little bit of a shock for Cracker cause we were used to being right in the middle of Hollywood or Manhattan when we were mixing a record.  We weren’t used to being in a gated community in the far western San Fernando Valley.  We weren’t used to being in the nuevo riche suburbs with the faux mission style shopping malls, upscale restaurants and wine bars.    As detailed in a previous post Johnny and I back then enjoyed our dive bars,  our funky old man bars, and the general seediness of Hollywood and Downtown LA.

 

So one night,  must have been a weeknight and late, like 1:00 am,  Johnny Hickman,  myself and the Austrian assistant engineer decided that we need to go find a seedy bar and get a drink.  First it’s difficult to even find anything open in Agoura Hills at this hour so we head south on the 101 back into the valley.  By my recollection we probably ended up in Canoga Park.  We finally found a place that seemed to be a sports bar that may or may not have had a country music subtheme.  Certainly some pop country was on the juke box when we walked in.  And the the only other customers in the place three vaguely jock looking dudes at the bar turned and blatantly stared at us in that particular way that california rednecks stare at you.

To be fair:

1)The Austrian assistant engineer Martin Pradler  was wearing tight leather pants.

2)I was commuting out to my cabin near pioneertown on the weekends so I was probably dressed in high desert thrift store hippy cowboy threads.

3)And well Johnny has always been the metrosexual of the group.

We ordered the usual,  bourbon on the rocks and a beer.  Martin may have ordered schnapps which also probably didn’t help.  But the three locals went back to talking amongst themselves. So we lost ourselves in conversation discussing the various songs on the new album and relative merits of the mixes.

After a while i noticed that one of the locals was standing right next to me.  He wasn’t the biggest of the three and he didn’t seem overtly hostile,  yet somehow i knew something was up.  His two friends were watching intently.

“Hey man” I said.  I think I kind of tipped my beer towards him in a friendly gesture.

“Can I ask you a question?”  he said as he peered around me to get a better look at martin in his leather euro-jeans.

“sure”

“Are you guys..  are you guys queer?”

I couldn’t believe the softball the guy had tossed my way. And before I could stop myself or consider the consequences  I shot back in the most friendly manner, smiling ear to ear.

“No,  but what did you have in mind?”

His two friends just about fell out of their chairs laughing. So did the bartender.

Johnny had initially alerted me to the guys presence when he suddenly acquired a guarded serious look and  slyly palmed a glass ashtray.  (you definitely want Johnny around if there’s gonna be a bar fight). Johnny now visibly relaxed and joined in laughing.  The Austrian was the only one not laughing.  He was convinced there was still going to be an altercation.  No. When everyone laughs at you it’s over with and the guy knew it.  He slunk back to his friends. His friends had completely joined our side.  They kept yelling at him “yeah what DID you have in mind?”

I did not write the song Friends.  Johnny Hickman did.  And I’m pretty sure he was not referring to this incident specifically when he wrote these lines:

If a fight breaks out and you’re the cause of it

In some redneck bar where you been talking shit

However it very well could have been about this fateful night in Canoga Park.

+++++++++++++++++++++++

 

“it vas Terrrrrrrrefying” even his hair was frightened.

But it’s not just me that has this survival threatening smart-ass gene.  Virtually everyone in the band and crew has at one time or another done something like this. On reflection there are about a million of these incidents I could describe.  It’s something about being in a band,  being in close quarters driving around busting each others balls constantly that keeps us in this heightened state of smart-assdom. We are all always ready to pounce on the smallest opening.  There is intense competition to be the first one to the punch.  That’s why it’s funny when people attempt to heckle or make smart ass comments from the audience. They have no idea how practiced we are…

And now that I think about it not just our band.  The poor austrian Martin Pradler was also involved in a milder but similar incident with the Counting Crows.  That same year I hired Martin Pradler to help with the “This Desert Life” album.  Dan Vickery Counting Crows guitarist had taken to purposely referring to Martin as German.  This was driving Martin Crazy.

“I’m not German I’m Austrian”

“But it was once all the same country”

“no”

“Yes in World War II”

“No-No”  Martin was getting visibly flustered  ” We were invaded just like most of the european countries”

At this point Adam Duritz couldn’t stand it anymore and kind of runs out of the room in feigned terror  waving his hands above his head.

” IT VAS TERREEEFYING,  ZEY RODE IN ON BICYCLES!”

This was not only funny in a ball busting way but made a very valid historical point.  Austria was annexed by germany in 1938 when German troops-many on bicycles-rode into the country and were greeted with flowers and enthusiastic crowds. Ouch.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This trash talking and ball breaking is an important part of the band’s camaraderie.  In fact the old adage is that when people stop making fun of you,  you need to worry about getting kicked out of the band. So it is also important to acknowledge and repeat to others when you have been the victim of a particularly brilliant bit of ball busting.  It means you belong.

For instance.  I must dutifully report that  Thursday morning I was in Las Cruces New Mexico with Bugs my childhood friend and former cracker  guitar tech.  We were driving back from breakfast with our concert promoter when she pointed out a bunch of buzzards circling in the distance.  Bugs  happily chimed in:

“Oh  that’s just David’s career”.

Again all the crew guys and band members are quick this way.  Relentless training and repetition.  During the recording of Gentlemen’s Blues Bugs had gotten so good at these one liners that we started calling him Shecky Salcido after the comedian Shecky Greene.

We were all in a thrift store in Woodstock NY when a parked  car (with a dog in it) rolled down the hill and bumped into another parked car.  An older gentleman came into the thrift store and asked

“does anyone in here own a blue toyota sedan with a dog inside”

Bugs quickly fired back “That’s no dog! that’s my wife!”

We were pleasantly surprised that when we went to Iraq  the soldiers who transported us around Baghdad engaged in a very similar kind of trash talking and ball breaking.  Within our MRAP convoy  there were external and internal comms.  The external traffic  to things like helicopters or to destination bases was highly formal and proper.  The internal comms were  a profanity laden free association roast of virtually everyone and everything within view of the gunners and drivers. Iraqi women in traditional abayas became “Ninjas” and were treated with mock reverence as a lethal threat.
“Number 2 you got 3 ninjas at your 2 o’clock. Prepare for some wild monkey style”

Iraqi policemen got some of the funniest treatments. This centered on the very specific style the high ranking Iraqi policemen adopted.  Very large bushy moustache and 70’s style leather jacket. Like they’d been watching reruns of The Mod Squad. This was summed up best by one of the gunners in our convoy.

“We are training the Iraqi Army and the Paramilitaries.  Apparently the Ensenada Police Department is training the City Police”

The ball breaking included us in the band as well.  Sal with his thick NYC accent was for some reason a  particularly inviting target.  Sal also made the mistake of not buckling his 6 point harness properly when we were put in the MRAP rollover simulator.  When they flipped us upside down Sal  landed on his head with an audible thump.  This prompted the operator to ask over the intercom “Is everyone good?”

“I’m not good”  came Sals response over the intercom.

This was hilarious to the soldiers in our convoy.  We could hear them laughing  through the intercom system. If i fall and hit my head it’s tragedy, if you fall and hit your head it’s comedy. For the rest of our time in Baghdad every so ofthen someone would randomly and anonymously pop on the internal comms  with an “I’m not good.” Complete with thick NY accent.    This was later translated into latin “Salus Non Sum”,  and when we  made our official coin for the cracker tour  we included Salus Non Sum as our motto.

 

The ball breaking did not stop when we returned to the states.  St Patricks day we were playing in Myrtle Beach SC.  A typical city street festival thing. We got word that 5 or 6 of the guys from the 82nd airborne that had escorted us around Baghdad would be coming to the show.  I realized that they had only been back home in the states for a couple of weeks. I figured there would be some hard drinking that night so i put them in the VIP tent NOT backstage.  I just wanted to play it safe.  One of the soldiers was underage.  Frank took him backstage where Drivin’ n Cryin’ invited him on their bus.  This was not lost on the other soldiers.  Eventually their highest ranking NCO started bugging me to get take them all backstage.  Fair enough  I could tell at this point they were all pretty well behaved and didn’t need to worry about them.  So I led them all backstage.  At this point their sergeant looks around and says to me:

“This is backstage? Tents?  Porta-potties? Generators? Steam trays?  I can get this shit in Iraq”.

 



 

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Friends.

I’d [C] never sleep with [G] your ex-girl-[C]-friend
Even if she starts to flirt with me [G] again
Al-[F]-low me to a-[G]-pologise for my [C] slightly [Bb] wicked [F] thoughts
But [C] that’s the kind of [G7] friend that you’ve [C] got

If a fight breaks out and you’re the cause of it
In some redneck bar where you’ve been talking shit
I would not forsake you later in that parking lot
‘Cause that’s the kind of friend that you’ve got

CHORUS:
Through the [F] laughter and the tears
We go [C] stumbling through these years
A bit disfunctional [Bb] some might [G] say
But I’ve [F] got the dirt on you
Hey I got [C] plenty [Bb] on you[F] too
So I [C] pray we stay to-[G]-gether all our [C] days

When you’re on a date and you finally bring that girl home
you put a little captain beefheart on the stereo and disconnect the phone
I’ll show up drunk and ravin’, and then i’ll pass out on the spot
‘Cause that’s the kind of friend that you’ve got

REPEAT CHORUS
[Bb] [F]
Dear Lord I [C] pray we stay to-[G]-gether all our [F] days
[C]

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