Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Get Behind Me Satan And Push- Intro Chapter

EDIT: A few years ago I was bored, living in a shit hole town (that would be Madison, WI), not able to find a decent job, and miserable. The only things that made me feel better at that moment were the oodles of obscure country, blues and rockabilly songs I was hearing via Mark Lee Allen’s “Vinyl Wastelands” CD comps and YouTube playlists (now out on vinyl on Trailer Park Records). Desperate for distraction (other than all of the beer and cheese), I decided to write a book about some of my favorite scandalous, raunchy and silly tunes. It helped to pass the time and keep my fingers warm in the freezing apartment I lived in with my emotionally frozen then-wife. Life was UNGOOD.

But the music, and writing about it, got me through. I dunno if I will ever finish or publish this book, but I wanted to share some of it here. Below is the opening chapter.

RECORD COLLECTORS ARE PRETENTIOUS ASSHOLES (or, how I selected the songs for this book)

I have a recurring dream. In this dream, I am floating through the air in slow motion. The world seems to look as if I was watching it on an old sepia-tone film, and a golden light streams softly into my vision from afar. Clouds, or unseen hands, or perhaps an invisible mini bar on wheels supports my weight as I lay there on my back, slowly floating forward. All around me, spinning slowly, rotating and flipping sides, are floating 45 rpm records. I languidly reach out my hands to grasp them, but they slip through my fingers before I can read their precious labels. But I can see their logos, oh yes. I can see the Sun rooster, I can see the slick fonts of Cadence and Swan and Starday and King and Meteor. I look around and I realize that there are millions of these records, suspended in the air. Billions. All floating just beyond my reach. Falling like black licorice snowflakes. I know then, and the sudden sickening lurch of my stomach knows too, that I will never be able to hear them all. These beautiful, spinning black discs. These shining prizes. This arcane knowledge, this vibrant, unknown music that is etched in the grooves of these magical records will not be mine to know.

Somewhere off in the distance, I am certain I can hear the voice of Charlie Feathers, his southern drawl dripping with honey and laced with a delicious, hiccupping speech impediment. It is the voice of the hopes and dreams of men. Men and women who wanted to drive Cadillacs, wear fine clothes and sing absurd hillbilly rock and roll for a living. Still, their glorious records are spinning faster now, wildly faster and out of my grasp. Charlie Feathers’ honeyed tones turn into a slap back echo laden, tortured wail, and I jolt awake, sweating.

Writing this book was a lot like that dream of mine. I started earnestly and with great hope. I made a list of some rockabilly songs that I loved, that I figured were both a little “out there”, and fun to write about. Some pretty well known, and some more obscure. Then I started sending the list to rockabilly and hillbilly DJs, record collectors, musicians and fanzine writers whom I either knew personally or was friendly with on the internet. Some of these people referred me to other people, those people referred me to others, and it went on and on. Many of them were not interested in speaking with me. Many were suspicious of my intentions. Many mocked my song selections as “too obvious, too popular” and said that these records were merely the tip of the iceberg. The peak of the mountain range that is the great, mid century, hillbilly detritus. The vast, ever-reaching piles of obscure, bizarre, strange, inept and disturbing rockabilly and hillbilly records recorded in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Of course, I already knew all of that. I knew that even if I researched this book for the rest of my life, I would still likely never hear all of the crazy shit that’s out there. So, about two days into my research, which began on Elvis Presley’s birthday (January 8th), I decided to ignore the experts and do what I wanted to do, which was write a book about a handful of songs that moved me, rocked me, made me laugh, made me feel taller, made me dance drunk with my wife against her will in our living room, made me shake my head in silent disbelief, made me put extra grease in my hair, and made me eat a whole boot sock full of raw bacon fat, just because.

Another good reason to write about a record is that the record in question is utterly terrible. Whether it’s terrible in a humorous way, or terrible in a way that makes you dizzy and feverish with vomiting and loss of consciousness. Those records are also fun to write and read about.

These simple and very personal pre-requisites had to be my guide, because as soon as I discovered one hilarious hillbilly song about alien abduction, I then unearthed a behemoth mountain pile of even more demented, obscure, arcane, wigged out songs. Every time I found a great tune about ghosts, or vampires, or ghouls and goblins, I soon stumbled onto endless lists of a million more mid-century Halloween novelty records.

There are a gazillion religious country songs that mention Satan in a quaint and amusing manner. There are a shocking amount of songs about suicide and death out there, such as Buddy Knox’s “I Think I’m Gonna Kill Myself”, Billy Hunt’s “The Welcome Touch Of Death”, and Louie Innis’ “Suicide”, all of which are great songs, on top of being either amusing or disturbing. Sexual politics is another favorite hillbilly subject, and songs such as Gloria Becker’s “16 Pounds (of Laundry)”, Benny Johnson’s “Burn Your Bra, Baby”, and Little Carolyn Sue’s excellent (and to the point) tune “I Hate Men” are some pretty viable examples. There are even some records out there that are too weird to be categorized, such as young Troy Hess’ jaw-dropping “Please Don’t Go Topless, Mother”, and Jerry And Brad’s absolutely brilliant kitchen sink drama “The People Hater”, which I had not heard before writing this book, and is now one of my favorite songs. There are artists like Nervous Norvus, who was committed to being weird on every song he ever recorded. There are also thousands of songs with weird or funny concepts that just aren’t very good as music, like Yodelin’ Shorty’s “Crazy Laughin’ Blues”, which sounds exactly like you’d think it would. If you delve into the Rhythm and Blues side of the rockabilly fence, there are even more crazy discs to spin.

There are a million songs about prison, drugs, booze, sex, midgets, werewolves, witches, vampires, name it. Many of the artists behind these obscure songs are simply unknown. They seem to have recorded their bat shit crazy tunes and then promptly vanished into the ether, forgotten by time and whichever of their peers are still living all these years later. Even the internet seems clueless. There’s hardly enough information- meat to sink my jaws into there, as much as I might have wanted to. The last thing I wanted to do with this book was to simply write a dry, academic list of every weird rockabilly and hillbilly song in the universe. You have the internet for that. I do want to mention the better and weirder of the obscurities that are out there, and I did attempt to address those where and when I could.

Some people will question some of my choices. Why, for example, would I include Billy Lee Riley’s “Flying Saucers Rock and Roll”, when it’s a fairly well known song (in rockabilly circles), and when there are so many other, even more demented UFO songs out there? Two reasons. Number one, that record is not only weird and funny, it rocks. It is a great song, and a song that I love. Number two, while I welcome the readership of record collectors and experts, this book isn’t just for you, who have already heard all of these songs and thousands more. It’s for the casual rock and roller, or punk rock or garage punk fan who is discovering this weird world for the first time. We all remember how we felt when we first encountered this stuff, no? We were amused, inspired, frightened and a little sickened, but we wanted more. I want to share that feeling with the world. Having said all of that however, I did get some spot-on suggestions and pointers from some truly great record collectors and experts, and I thank them whole heartedly. They are fine, passionate, and knowledgeable people and you’ll find their names in the acknowledgements section of this book. If anybody out there reading this has any corrections, additional info on any of the songs/artists, or suggestions for future editions of this book, please get in touch.

To all of the crazy, debauched, drunken, inept, bad ass, politically suspect, morally dubious, disquieting and downright demonic records that I did not include in this book, I say this: Don’t fret, little babies. You are spinning black discs of shiny perfection. We will meet again. — Charles Matthews

MORE “Get Behind Me Satan And Push” coming soon!

On Repeat: Songs I Can’t Stop Playing, Both In The Then Times And the Now Times.

EDIT: I started writing this blog post two years ago, and I never bothered to finish it. Life got in the way, I guess? I recently met a really cool random person on the internet because my blog exists- and since I’m recently seaparated/divorced, I now have the “sitting and thinking” time to revisit. I decided to publish this old draft that I’d saved, even though it was unfinished, and add some new content. I had completed my rambling about one song here, but judging from the title I had saved, I must have meant to write about two more songs, clearly. I don’t remember what those were. So, in the interest of finishing the post, I wrote about two more songs that I’ve been spinning here in the now times.

THE SONG: the greatest form of communication ever invented by humanity. I would be willing to bet you, Sonny Jim, that the song was invented by some desperate caveman who just couldn't speak to his cave lady without a decent back beat. Something about the form of the song lets you say things that you would never be able to utter without that 3 chord security blanket to make it all OK. I have dedicated my life to the song, and in return the song has paid me possibly 2,000 dollars over the course of a 20 year "career" in "music". Maybe more, I'm no good at math and the money's all gone. Still, I love the song and the song loves me, and I doubt this not one second of any day. Writing, and hearing, and understanding good songs is what my life has been about, no matter what I'm forced to do for money. Or for a "living".

Everyone knows a few songs that for whatever reason, at whatever particular time, they could not stop listening to. In fact, you listen over and over until you can't stand the song anymore. Then you wait a few days and listen again. I do that kind of thing very frequently.

As a person who would prefer to get a root canal than drive a car, I take a lot of busses, and I walk a lot. This allows me to get closer to The Song. More time, you see. Maybe you listen to a lot of music in the car. Whatever. It's usually those times when you feel isolated and "in your own head" that a song can really speak to you.

There are certain songs which will ALWAYS speak to me, no matter how old I get, how many times I've heard it, or what's going on with me. The Replacements' "Bastards Of Young" is one. Redd Kross' "Stay Away From Downtown" is one. Elvis Presley's "Tryin' To Get To You" is one. The Manic Street Preachers' "Found That Soul" is one. Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" is another. For a music geek like me who has heard many, many, many songs, the list is endless.

Right now I want to showcase three songs that I have been listening to on repeat lately, just this past week. All newer artists, none of which are "classics"...yet.

The Bellfuries- Lovin' Arms (Hi Style Records)
These guys are RIDICULOUS. It's almost as if I dreamed up my perfect rockabilly band, and they came to life. But GASP--- "are they rockabilly??" Because, as you know, it's REALLY important to categorize music and have the right pants on for the genre you choose, regardless of artistic merit or creativity, because what IS that shit, anyway? Nobody knows, just words. What's really important is: are these Bellfuries guys gonna toe the rockabilly line and put their barre chords where their cuffed jeans are, or what? Thankfully, they don't give a shit about that. These guys see the connection, the great narrative, the big lineage of the SONG, which is always the same song, dressed up in different leather trousers...from Bill Haley to The Beatles to Slade to the Sex Pistols to Joy Division to Slayer to the Stray Cats to JD's all the same thing. The riff, the song, the interesting hair cut. and the Bellfuries have effortlessly (?) thrown their songs in that ring, and you know what? they hold up. Two brilliant albums ("Just Plain Lonesome" and "Palmyra") that were really different in tone and scope have led to this third album, "Workingman's Bellfuries", which is finally a crystallization of the semi- disparate ideas presented on the first two. This song I speak of, "Lovin' Arms", is the lead off single from the new album.

EDIT: Below is the new section that I just now scribbled.

THE TRIPWIRES- Nothing Of the Kind (House Frolic)
When I first came to Seattle in the much better days of three years ago, my walking and bussing journeys around this gorgeous city were all soundtracked by the Tripwires’ perfect album “Get Young”. The first band I ever saw in Seattle was the Tripwires. I’ve seen them probably five times now. Eventually, my band got to open for them and that was a proud moment for me.
I can’t understand why these four veteran Seattle legends aren’t more known in other parts of the country. “power pop” has become a better understood and known term in the international underground “rock community”, if there is such a thing. You’d think the songwriting of John Ramberg would be celebrated far and wide, and in a sense it is....but not to the extent that it should be. This song, like a lot of John’s best stuff (listen to “Maybe Now” by his old band the Model Rockets) can either be perceived/felt as melancholy or happy go lucky, depending on the mood of the listener. His lyrics are usually vague enough as to not interfere with this, but interesting enough to pull you in with very vivid imagery. The band’s playing is energetic and sparkling but never thrashes or crashes. While “power pop” is a catch all term that could catch this song as well, I can’t think of any other band that sounds remotely like the Tripwires. If anyone asks, I tell them “The Beatles meets Television”. This is a great, great song that will burrow it’s way into your psyche forever on first listen. I have listened to it probably a hundred times, and no matter what mood I’m in it seems to echo that feeling. I can’t think of many songs that do that, but I know that Lennon and McCartney wrote most of them.

MORRISSEY- Spent the Day In Bed (Etienne)
Opening with a strikingly fresh sounding electric piano riff, this is one of Morrissey’s best singles in ages. He still manages (along with his eternal songwriting partner Boz Boorer Of Polecats fame) to write instantly memorable tunes on every album he does, but I don’t know if he’s had a great single in awhile. Having said that, “Kiss Me A lot” from the last record just popped into my head and won’t leave. As a classic Moz single, STDIB will do nicely. His lyrical voice is strong as shit here, unfortunately the same cannot always be said of him these days, as he tends to over indulge in sloganeering to promote his sometimes questionable political beliefs. He does slip into that a little here with the lines “stop watching the news/because the news contrives to frighten you...”, and “spent the day in bed while the workers stay enslaved”, but these are well turned phrases that don’t distract from the melancholy message here. The message? Media over saturation, depressing and frightening world events, and personal isolation drive many of us straight to the couch (or bed in Mozzer’s case)after work each day, numbed my meds or alcohol and sore from the battery of the outside world. As usual Moz just wants you to see this in yourself, and take solace in the fact that most of us feel the same way in this modern world. No solutions or suggestions are given, other than “stop watching the news”. Typical Morrissey. Still, it’s a great song, and will no doubt turn into a shut-in anthem live.

WELL, that was that. Weird to have started writing something two years ago, only to forget all about it-and then finish it in the now times. Some weird shit. Some spooky business. Am I better off now than I was three years ago? Not as far as I can tell. But I soldier on, ya know? Speaking of, I’m going to try to update this blog more often. I have the half-finished rough draft of a book I was working on, and I think I will start publishing those chapters as blog posts. The book was meant to be about my investigations into wacky rock and roll novelty records of the 50’s and 60’s. Lots of talk about aliens, tattooed ladies, and people who just don’t like people. Check back often, or something.