Showing posts with label Features. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Features. Show all posts

Jun 16, 2020

Austin Loses More Music Venues, What's Next?


By Robert Dean

Thanks to the pandemic, the Red River District has lost three more live music venues. Barracuda, or “Barry’s” to the faithful, closed its doors, same with DJ spot Plush, and the hip-hop room, Scratchhouse. Sidewinder sits vacant, so does the old Emo’s, as well as the former Headhunters. And Beerland, after a murky deed transfer, it’s anyone’s guess what the little room becomes.

Red River is a unifying theme of Austin. It’s got weirdos hanging on street corners, Elysium throbs with goth anthems, and Hoboken pizza slings pies for all of those with bleary eyes after having too good of a time at Better Days. Is this magical mixture of punk rock, country, hip-hop, and everything else going away? It’s one of the things that make this city hum – or twang.

The words, “the time has come for Barracuda Club to bid adieu,” it hit home. Barracuda was laid back, the staff was always down to help, and they booked good shows. Everyone knew the routine: pre-game at Sidebar, walk over to Barracuda for rock and roll city.

Every DJ in town knows that Plush is where you build a name. For twenty years, it held down its address next to Swan Dive at Red River and 7th, and now, another one bites the dust. According to a Facebook post back in May, it was a “combination of ever raising prices and new regulations,” which is an all-too-familiar story. Scratchhouse also cited rising rents as the reason for closing its doors. Plush plans on re-opening somewhere else, but who knows how long that will take in this market.

Where are our leaders who love to be martyrs for everything that sucks about Austin when we need them? The tourists might think of 6th as the musical heart, but we all know it’s Red River’s little five-block district.

In May, district leaders proposed getting the city to commit $35M to purchase venue properties to mitigate closures via the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Austin got $170.8 million; you’d think allocating some of that to the very thing that draws people into town would be a priority. Instead, Austin is complicit in letting culture die because all we need is more places for overpriced sushi or a quiet yoga center.

This begs the logical question to ask: who’s next? Could we lose Valhalla? Is Cheer up Charlie’s ok? Is Mohawk on the chopping block? There aren’t many venues left in our so-called “music district,” a massive piece of Austin, an area that defines the “Live Music Capital of The World” moniker, despite everything seeming to go in the complete opposite direction. The city loves to brag about the “cultural district” so much, it’s got a whole page on its official website. But where’s the support? Are we actually about supporting music, or does it just look good on a t-shirt at the airport?

The bosses on Red River pleaded. They need the cash – to the tune of $40K a month until the business can get back to normal. The city approved grants for working musicians, but without places to play, it’s a moot point, isn’t it? No matter where you look, live music hasn’t been considered as a means for support. What district reps wanted was the city to buy buildings to fight skyrocketing rents and yuppie redevelopment projects who complain about noise and bbq smoke. We’re pushing our venues out of downtown and off into the far-flung reaches. That’s problematic. If this city is going to hang its Stetson on live music is our lifeblood, then back it up. Our local businesses need support. And that proposal? It fell on deaf ears, like always. You lose the music, and we’re on our way to becoming Dallas.

May 13, 2020

Big L Never Got His Chance to Shine

By Robert Dean

Big L never got his chance to shine. It's a story all-American, all-believable in a country where our legends and our brightest stars burn out faster than a citronella candle left to burn on a hot summer night. Like Nipsey Hussle, Tupac, or Biggie Smalls, Big L's life was snuffed out by a hail of bullets back in 1999. All before the mainstream was starting to know his name. It's a heartbreaker because he could have been great, he could have stood as tall as the giants of the game today, because when Big L was lowered into his grave, neither Nas nor Jay-Z were the superstars we know them. He could have been on that wave to greatness.

Coming up from the East Harlem hip hop scene in the early to mid-1990s, Big L blew up thanks to his ability to devastate in freestyle battles as well as flip the context in any situation. He could take literally any subject and flip the point of view on its head with a samurai-sharp eye – all while keeping that smooth New York style. Big L had the bars and the stories that sold his songs, legend has it he'd have people shouting in awe as he laced tirades left and right.



The Source, the OG of all things hip hop journalism, has stated he was one of the best storytellers to ever do it. In an interview with Funkmaster Flex, Nas claimed, "[Big L] scared me to death. When I heard [an Apollo Theater performance] on tape, I was scared to death. I said, 'Yo, it's no way I can compete if this is what I gotta compete with."

Big L's classic record, Lifestylez ov da Poor & Dangerous is not a token entry into one of the overlooked greats, it's a fact that most true hip hop heads will agree with. It's got all the elements of style, but also has the vibe and that special thing that reverberates through time, the bars, the beats, and the attitude is genuine. The record went on to sell two hundred thousand copies on the strength of singles, "Put it On" and “MVP." Big L was scooped up long before the pretend gangster that would emerge years later. 


Being the king of the New York mixtapes back in the early 90s, Big L was on a series of tapes with scene luminaries like Cam' ron, Ma$e, and McGruff, (who he briefly had a group with called COC, short for Children of the Corn.) He was also tight with rappers like Jay-Z, Big Pun, and Fat Joe, who happens to perform on the stone-cold classic, "The Enemy."


While most people credit RZA's Gravediggaz as the origins of "horrorcore" but, go back and listen to Big L's "Devil's Son," saying, "I've always been a fan of horror flicks. Plus, the things I see in Harlem are very scary. So, I just put it all together in a rhyme."

When it all turned sideways 

Apparently, Columbia didn't understand what they had, trying to box a real MC into radio singles and, despite selling a lot of records, dropped him, "I was there with a bunch of strangers that didn't really know my music." Despite all of this, he went on to form his own label, 

Flamboyant Entertainment, which was "planned to distribute the kind of hip-hop that sold without top 40 samples or R & B hooks." Ironically, his harder style landed him at the feet of Damon Dash, who wanted Big L to sign with Rockafella. It almost happened as Big L, Jay-Z, and Herb McGruff, C-Town, was going to be called The Wolfpack. 

Sadly, the good fortunes weren't meant to last. On February 15, 1999, Big L was killed at 45 West 139th Street in his native Harlem. He was shot nine times in the face and chest. A kid he grew up with, Gerard Woodley, was arrested three months later. "It's a good possibility it was retaliation for something Big L's brother did, or Woodley believed he had done," said a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department. Woodley was released due to a lack of evidence. The case remains officially unsolved. In 2016, Woodley got his, catching one to the head in 2016. 

The legacy of Big L 

There are a few things that dropped after his death, a record, The Big Picture came out back in 2000, thanks to a plethora of freestyles and a capella tracks they had in the studio from tracks the rapper was working at the time of his death. The record features verses by legends like Fat Joe, Tupac, Gang Starr, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane – the record when on to sell almost one hundred thousand copies.

If you're looking for some of that deep, old school hip hop that gets every party hot or is the perfect soundtrack for a long car ride on a summer day, look no further than Big L. he remains unsung despite the legends of the game knowing full well that he was one of a kind. He died for a street vendetta he had nothing to do with like many have before and since. We can only imagine where he would have fallen with the other New York giants many MC's of today are still chasing. 

Apr 2, 2020

Breaking Down Steve Earle's Discography (Pre-Woke)

By Kevin Broughton

They say Gram Parsons was the Godfather of alt country, and I believe them. Evidence abounds. If that’s the case, Steve Earle was the Michael to Parsons’ Vito. I don’t know – though I doubt it – that they ever met. If they had, I’m sure Steve would have told us. Funny thing: Neither knew they were part of a musical movement. At least Steve didn’t in 1986, when Guitar Town came out, and I was a sophomore in college and about to ship out for Army basic training. (I have Auburn University’s WEGL to thank for even knowing who he was at the time.)

It was a record that transformed my musical life. Suddenly it was okay -- cool, even --  for a kid raised on rock ‘n’ roll to dig country music. He was part of the “new traditionalist” movement that included Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam. But there was something extra-edgy about this guy. A few years later I’d learn to play guitar, inspired by the songs on Guitar Town and Exit 0. I’d write to him in prison, after I’d wondered, pre-Internet, where the hell he’d gone.

There was always a populist, working-class ethos to his music. But it stayed mostly below the surface, never predominating his work. Well, for a while, anyway. His dad was an air traffic controller who got bounced when Ronaldus Maximus fired him and the rest of his brethren in the PATCO strike of 1981. I don’t think Steve ever got over that. Politics sprinkled his musical world for a while, but eventually covered it. Early on, he was clever and nuanced about it; later, he decided you needed to be punched in the mouth with his Che Guevara chic. Steve Earle, you see, was “woke” before “woke” was a thing…you little savage capitalists.

He had his (then) pet projects. Death penalty bad! Land mines bad! I guess we can let Steve in on the bad news – not that he doesn’t know.

Quadruple murderers can still get the needle.

American soldiers in the Second Infantry Division just south of the 38th Parallel in Free Korea can still count on defensive land mines to help stave off Kim Jong Un’s communist hordes, at least until the cavalry can arrive.

Western Civilization can be thankful that Steve Earle failed in his woke crusades to abolish the death penalty and land mines.

There’s a new pet project, you know. You didn’t? You didn’t know Steve Earle’s a playwright? Yeah! And he doesn’t hate Trump supporters anymore. (I’m not one, so I don’t really care, but yeah.) He talked all about how he doesn’t loathe Republicans anymore. I’m sure it’s not because he wants people to SPEND THEIR CAPITALIST DOLLARS to buy records or go see his play or anything. It’s all about the West Virginia miners. Not money. Money is evil, like capitalism.

But that’s not why we’re here.

We’re here to break down the albums of Steve Earle. Well, the ones of his pre-WOKE era, anyway. And by “pre-woke,” we mean every album up to the point he became so overcome with hatred for America that he felt compelled to write an ode to the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh. Nah. We stop just before the album Jerusalem.

I say “we.”

I mean “I.”

I quit listening, Steve, when you glorified Lindh. My fellow Auburn alum, Mike Spann, was the wrong American to die that day in Balkh Province in November of 2001.  It should have been the California POS you wrote your song about.

Oh, wait. I’m getting angry and political, aren’t I? Sort of like you and all your records after 9/11? Mike Spann’s buried in Arlington. Think you’ll ever write a song about him? Here’s a picture.


Sorry. Let’s look at the Steve Earle albums before he got so angry and political, shall we?

Okay, let’s break them down…

One more thing, sorry. Hey, Steve: I’m sure your reaching out to Trump voters has nothing to do with making money for your stupid effing play that trashes the coal industry that employs millions of people, right? Because that would make you a capitalist…and a hypocrite.

Okay, I promise. I’m done.

We’ll look at them in chronological order, highlighting the great songs, then do a rating, which will be purely subjective. Sound good? Okay.

The pre-prison albums


Guitar Town, 1986

The one that started it all. The title cut is so good and attention-grabbing. It was just SO different for the time. Kathy Mattea and Randy Travis and Michael Martin Murphy were pulling country back to its roots, but there was an anti-hero vibe from this guy who’d learned his chops from Guy Clark and Townes. This sad song is the one that hooked me. “Lovers leave and friends will let you down.” I think he might have been singing about heroin.  



Exit 0, 1987

The perfect follow-up record. If you go through the whole (pre-woke) Steve Earle catalog, I challenge you to find two back-to-back albums that pair together more seamlessly. “The keeper at the gate is blind, so you better be prepared to pay.” So much unintentional foreshadowing. “The Rain Came Down” was his answer to Mellencamp’s “Scarecrow,” and it was better. “Six Days on the Road” made it onto  the Planes, Trains and Automobiles soundtrack. “Someday” is a teenage wonder-hit.


Copperhead Road, 1988

At this point, Steve and MCA knew they were headed for a breakup, even as he had his first – and only – crossover hit. He didn’t LOOK like a country singer was supposed to, and he was basically telling Nashville to pound sand. So very many great songs… “Snake Oil” is his song of rage against Reagan, and well done. Maria Mckee of Lone Justice sings with him on the most unlikely Christmas song, “Nothing But a Child.” My favorite? The WW II ode, “Johnny Come Lately,” with the help of The Pogues.



The Hard Way, 1990

Things are really starting to fall apart for him now, though no one really knew – again, pre-Internet. Crack and heroin are in control of Steve’s life right now. There are two or three decent songs on this one. “Billy Austin” is the best, but it’s a bedwetting, anti-death penalty, pro-murderer ballad.  We’re posting the other good one:



Shut Up And Die Like An Aviator (Live), 1991

If we’re to believe the storyline of “Johnny Come Lately,” we have to believe the title of this album is from a saying of Steve’s granddaddy. He’s pretty out of his gourd during this one. But this cover got me interested in the Stones’ (Keith’s, really) country fixation.



The Post-prison albums

“Post-prison,” you say?

Yeah. Steve got 11 months, 29 days for a bunch of failure-to-appear violations on crack/heroin offenses. In fact, he did a prison gig at Cold Creek Correctional Facility as part of his community service. MTV filmed it, while he was working out some new material. This was in 1996. But first there was…

Train A Comin’, 1995

A truly unplugged album, and a new beginning. It features a Beatles cover (“I’m Lookin’ Through You”), and his first recorded cover with Emmylou, “Nothin’ Without You.” We also got a taste for Steve’s appreciation for history with a couple cuts. “Tom Ames’ Prayer” is an outlaw ballad that makes mention of Arkansas Judge “Hanging” Isaac Parker. But what’s really chilling is his point-of-view tale of a Confederate soldier:



I Feel Alright, 1996

The post-prison triumph and return to form, and maybe the best pre-woke album. “The Unrepentant” is a straight rocker. “Hardcore Troubadour” is the most Steve Earle song ever, and a duet with Lucinda Williams is the unheralded gem of a great record.



El Corazon, 1997

Notable for several collaborations, and Steve’s first foray into bluegrass. Del McCoury and his band (FORESHADOWING ALERT) post up on “I Still Carry You Around.” The Fairfield Four accompany him on “Telephone Road.” Emmy makes a return on the historiography “Taneytown,” another great point-of-view song. “You’d think that they’d never seen a colored boy before.” What a line in a great murder ballad.



This next one’s so good it deserves its own

Separate Heading. Though Still Chronological, The Bluegrass Record:

The Mountain (With The Del McCoury Band), 1999

The thing about bluegrass is, you don’t just dabble in bluegrass. Yet Steve wrote a really good record in the genre. It didn’t hurt that he got a really good band to back him. Steve, being Steve, managed to offend Del not long after by using a bunch of foul language at the bluegrass festivals they played together. Still, what a bunch of keepers on this record. “Carrie Brown” was his vision of an enduring bluegrass hit. It should be.

But just to bookend things, I like the Civil War song, this time from a Yankee’s point of view. Based, incidentally, on a composite character in the Michael Shaara novel The Killer Angels.

“I am Kilrain from the 20th Maine and I fight for Chamberlain. ‘Cause he stood right with us when the Johnnies came like a banshee on the wind.”

There will never be a better couplet written about July 2, 1863. Makes this Johnny weep. It’s that good.

“…now we’re all Americans.”


Transcendental Blues, 2000

As we wrap up our tour of the pre-woke catalog, we see a transition into what might have been: that old/new Steve Earle sound without virtue-signaling pretense. There are a handful of really good songs here. The title cut is great. “Everyone’s In Love With You” is an electric rocking/stalking tune in the tradition of “More Than I Can Do” from I Feel Alright. “The Galway Girl” is a return to a Gaelic thing we’d heard hints of on a bunch of records. “All Of My Life” is a real keeper. Sucks he had to get all preachy after this record.



Maybe he’ll come back, that Steve Earle.

Ranking Them

1. Copperhead Road

2. Guitar Town

3. I Feel Alright

4. Exit 0

5. The Mountain

6. Train A Comin’

7. Transcendental Blues

8. El Corazon

9. Shut Up and Die Like an Aviator

10. The Hard Way

Feb 11, 2020

There's No Wonder Why Everyone Loves Durand Jones & the Indications

By Robert Dean

One of those sleeper groups you never saw coming is Durand Jones & the Indications. Out of nowhere, they’ve raged into the hearts and minds of anyone sweet on old soul, classic funky r&b and a whole lot of the doo-wop flair from the past. Mixing the soul of legendary singers like Sam & Dave, Sam Cooke, and Otis Redding, Durand Jones & the Indications are easy to fall in love with. 

Recently, during their sold-out performance at Austin’s Scoot Inn, the group showed why they’re packing rooms, selling out venues, and more and more people are tuning into the smooth sounds of these cats from Bloomington, Indiana of all places. 

For almost an hour and a half, the music swung, and the people in attendance were thrilled to be locked in with the band. Sometimes, when a band is firing on all cylinders, it’s dead-set apparent. On this night, they slayed in that melty, oozy kind of way only the truest musicians with that unctuous flair know how to do, when the riffs are grimy, when the groove is airtight, all of it worked, there was nothing left on the table. 

Given by how many couples slow danced arm in arm, while people sipped drinks off in the shadows, either missing someone or wishing someone missed them, it’s nearly impossible to say Durand Jones didn’t own a chilly night in the Texas capital. Despite the need for some jackets and a few folks wishing the weather was a little better, nothing stopped the night. 


The band raged on through a collection of their tunes, “Don’t You Know,” “Smile,” and “Cruisin to the Park,” while of course, they played their massive YouTube hit, “Is It Any Wonder?” to feral acclaim. If their Austin performance was a showcase of talent for the band, 2020 is going to be a year of letting a lot of new people know the band has arrived and no matter what genre you lean on, they’ll make a fan out of just about anyone loves a little tenderness.

Durand Jones and the Indications are on every streaming platform and of course, YouTube. Give them a listen and hit the shows. If you’re a vinyl nerd, they’ve got you covered in spades. Plus, they’ve got some super cool jackets, too. 

Jan 16, 2020

Possessed by Paul James is Back and Thankfully So




By Robert Dean

Do you remember those old ads for Miller beer where they used the old idiom, “pure as the driven snow?” The tagline was meant to offer a sense of balance, provability, that no matter what, this beer was something you could count on as a taste of humility, of home – no matter where you were. A lot of people bought those beers and toasted in dives or over campfires. If there was an artist who elicits that sensibility, that ode to “home” as a function of being rather than a tangible object, it’s Possessed by Paul James. 


For years now, it’s escaped me how Possessed by Paul James isn’t a household name. He’s one of those artists who does what the Avett Brothers or even The Devil Makes Three does, but with a sense of darkness that’s palpable, infectious, but always feel believable, feels true. 

Back in 2013, his record, There Will Be Nights When I’m Lonely, scored major critical points gaining praise from outlets like NPR, The New York Times, CMT, and MTV, it even reached the Billboards.

On his new record, As We Go Wandering, PBPJ doesn’t stray from the path, it’s his classic sound complete with odes to moving forward through the fires of our personal lives, but also how to be a better human despite it all. With his day gig being a Special Education teacher, Konrad Wert, as he’s known in professional circles, is a champion for justice in education, and it’s no question these batch of songs reflect that quality. There are moments of hope, despair, and longing to see humanity through a lens that isn’t hateful or ugly, which is something we can all arm ourselves within 2020 and moving forward. If Possessed by Paul James is a symbol of the positivity that could linger through the ether this year, let’s get behind him, the record, and that feeling. God knows we need it more than ever. 

As We Go Wandering will be available wherever the good stuff is found on January 31.

Sep 26, 2019

The Melancholy Sounds of Chris King and The Darkness 

By Robert Dean

There’s “Texas Country,” and then there’s Texas Country. The Lone Star State pumps out an impressive number of bands and artists, that absolutely change the game, but there’s a lot of stuff that sucks beyond words, too. We’ve got the red dirt and the outlaw thing down to a science, but ho-lee-shit, the pop stuff people try to pass off as legit ain’t exactly what someone would call a “good time.” Texas is a prominent place in the country music lore. There are a lot of conflicting ideas of what the state should sound like - we’re overrun with dorks in an oversized dress shirt and a bad cowboy hat try to get people excited about tailgating in a field. Because we’ve not heard that scenario in song form over a bazillion time. 

Thankfully, we’ve got a healthy center of gravity with acts like Scott H. Biram, Dale Watson, Black Eyed Vermillion, and Chris King holding it down.

On Chris King’s new record, Lone Rats, the central Texas singer-songwriter taps into some of the tried and true Texas themes while keeping far away from the tired bullshit. The songs are stripped down, honest, flawed, and raw – precisely what one should expect from a solo singer-songwriter. These songs tackle those issues we think about lying in bed, wondering where we fucked up, how it all went wrong, and in those fantastic, and rare cases, what we did to make it go right. 


Lone Rats is all over the place, it’s got some uplifting tunes about flowers, and it dwells a little long in the darkness, it’s a lot of colors, but that’s what makes this collection fun. King recorded it in the back of the furniture shop he works at with a bunch of other musicians in the middle of the night, in the dark. Which is a fitting vibe for the sound of the songs. King also played all of the instruments on the record, which also gives it an interesting flair. 

If you’re in the mood to experiment, check this collection of jangly Texas tunes. Give Chris King a listen or at least talk shit to him on Twitter about college football. Whatever road you take, get him on your radar. There might be a little mud on the tracks, but they ain’t some high-dollar Nashville bullshit. 


Lone Rats is out October 4.

Aug 6, 2019

(Finally) New on Vinyl: Bloodshot Releases Robbie Fulks’ Masterpiece, Country Love Songs

By Kevin Broughton

The mid 1990s will always be the golden years of alt country. Son Volt and Wilco showed that Uncle Tupelo might have been greater than the sum of its parts. Steve Earle was out of prison, sober and not yet insufferable, having released Train a Comin’ and I Feel Alright in quick succession. Whiskeytown pushed out two phenomenal albums, Faithless Street and Strangers Almanac, foreshadowing a lead singer’s prolific and meteoric career. Heck, a trio of hippies from Mississippi, Blue Mountain, made the second-ever cover of No Depression magazine. Heady days indeed, for alt country.

But in the middle of all that, one album emerged that made it okay to listen to pure, unadulterated country music. Only one man, in retrospect, could have made country music cool, way back in 1996. Robbie Fulks’ Country Love Songs was everything the genre had been lacking. And mind you, this is back when lovers of true country thought Garth Brooks was the worst bastardization that could ever happen to the name “country music.” What else could save country?  

It took a wordsmith like Fulks. It took his bracing high, whiny tenor. It took his sense of humor. And his assemblage of musicians – how about Tom Brumley, steel player for Buck Owens? On a song about a Buck Owens, no less! 

Since 1994, Chicago’s Bloodshot Records has defied convention as the home of genre-bending misfits. As long as there’s been a thing called “alt country,” there’s been Bloodshot. And Robbie Fulks is the label’s MVP. Fitting, then, that they’ve gotten around to releasing Country Love Songs on 180-gram heavy vinyl for the first time

The two-time Grammy nominee touched all the bases on this, his debut album – and to me, his eternal masterpiece. 

And here’s how the man himself pitched it to the label, nearly a quarter-century ago:

"Thirteen original country songs with an early 50's production aesthetic (hot vocals, robust bass, live instrumental tracks) and arrangement, reviving certain types of songs long abandoned by mainstream country music. Likewise in retro spirit, these songs will frequently violate current country songwriting trends which hold as taboo themes of negativism, forceful expression, and points of view uncongenial to the prevailing ideology of fatuous feelgoodism; they will instead reflect a modern sensibility in their emotional graphicness, vigorous iconoclasm, and sense of humor. In composition and presentation the music will honestly reflect the heart and personality of its author/singer, and in its fundamental sincerity will stand resolutely against the poisonous tides of camp." 

There’s not been a better songwriter in Bloodshot’s storied history, nor any other label’s, since that time. Country Love Songs is an album for the ages, and it is to Robbie Fulks’ credit and a testament to his enduring influence that Bloodshot has made this masterwork available on a classic medium. There is something for all country music lovers on this record: Drop-dead, now-classic honkytonk gems like "Every Kinda Music But Country," "The Buck Starts Here," and the sing-a-long fave "She Took A Lot Of Pills (And Died)." Foodies will love "The Scrapple Song," duet fetishists will adore "We'll Burn Together." 

It’s impossible to pick a favorite on an album without a weak cut, but his humor always seems to win out. Having had the chance to chat with Fulks for FTM a couple years back, I loved his response to this question:

Over the course of your career, you've done songs that embrace and celebrate everything traditional and pure about country music; and often on the same album you might have a couple that are essentially self-parodies or caricatures of the genre. Discuss this continuum. (That sounds like a high school essay question, doesn't it?)

Too much Mad Magazine as a youngster. If I love something I put it under the light.

And because America just bade a final, sad farewell to Mad, I’ll pick a favorite from Country Love Songs: The final cut, “Papa Was a Steel-Headed Man.”



--------

Postscript:

It was two years after the release that I discovered Robbie Fulks. Like so many other artists of the early-to-pre-Internet age of alt country, I stumbled across him on Austin City Limits. It was a musical game-changer for me.



Jun 7, 2019

From Amtrak to The Misfits: How I Made it To Chicago


By Robert Dean

Chicago is a place with a lot of memories. It's the city where I was born, and where I'll always cite as home, no matter where I live. It's a complicated, working-class city that takes zero shit. Humble Midwestern town, Chicago ain't. 

When the bat signal went into the sky that the Misfits were playing a show in Chicago, I went numb. They'd played two years prior at Riot Fest, but the impending birth of my second son, Luke prevented me from hopping on a plane to witness Glenn Danzig, Doyle and Jerry Only play together for the first time in forty years. Because our child was on his way, within a matter of days, I watched via live stream in Target. My fellow shoppers were not impressed with my shrieks of joy upon hearing "Skulls."

This time around, a Misfits ticket was my Christmas present. 

Because I lucked out on a cheap flight home, I pulled a few freelance gigs out of the ether. Going up to Chicago from Austin, I took an extra day and booked a roomette on Amtrak. I'd fantasized about writing on a passenger train; I didn't know what to expect. 

Amtrak is not what you think it is. It's ramshackle, a lot of weird, and the experience leaves you to think about the mortal coil. One thing I immediately learned: you're at the mercy of freight trains. I was five hours late getting to Chicago thanks to long haulers clogging up the tracks. 

As the Texas Eagle pulled into the station, I was ushered into my room. While not the most up to date accommodations, the room was clean, and the porter was genuinely pleasant. Whatever millions Joe Biden secured for Amtrak, that cash hasn't funneled down to Texas. 

Riding by train as you might expect is steeped in tradition rather than expectancy. It's not for anyone in a hurry, but instead, is meant to spend the time watching the American landscape whip by from a window while sipping coffee. 

In the dining car I was seated with two older gals from somewhere up in the nether regions of Wisconsin. It’s a pleasant experience mixing it up with complete strangers, people you'd never met in any other circumstance. I had the burger and was surprised at the quality. 

There's something romantic about a sweeping conversation with strangers about love, politics, and our future as collective when you've already forgotten the names of those you're riding with. It becomes less about the pretense of the subject matter and more about honesty. While a steady sound of Motown rocked the car back and forth, the meal was one of the most honest experiences I'd had recently. 

Throughout the trip, I'd stumble my way to the observation car where people talked over hands of low stakes poker, old men chatted up anyone willing to sit down for a cup of joe, and I met an old trucker who told me I was 'cockblocking' him because I was reading and working, but the young stripper who'd just got out of jail wanted to talk to me about what I was reading. "I got my rubbers, and I'm gonna fuck, youngblood.”

I massaged his ego for serving in the infantry and finished my one beer. I gathered my books and laptop and split. Something about a guy who brings crackers and mini-bottles of gin for a train ride doesn't seem like the kind of dude you want to argue with over intention as you're inching somewhere in the middle of a murder dark Arkansas in the rain. 

I met a lovely couple from Belgium, finishing their cross country odyssey through America, sampling our endless supply of meats covered in cheeses and salads topped with fried chicken. 

The more meals I took in with the dining staff, I was entertained by their lack of fucks. As soon as we broke past St. Louis and picked up new passengers with every stop toward Chicago, they grew less and less patient. Requests for tape, (does this look like Home Depot? Why would I have duct tape in a dining car?) or something free to drink (there's a little store full of chips, sandwiches and plenty to drink. If you're not sitting down for a meal, you can shop there for ten Cokes.) As a whole, though, the Texas Eagle staff were wonderful and accommodating, at least to me.

Waking up in my roomette, my anxiety was in full bloom, I missed my family. Laying there, watching a fog hover over craggy hills of nowhere, Missouri, I battled with existentialist, "what does life mean" moments. Dogs roamed property unchained, staying far from the muscle of the roaring train. People sat behind the wheel of rusted out Toyotas, annoyed they caught the train, but thankful our small convoy wasn't hauling freight. Reaching Union Station in Chicago hours late, I was happy to see the skyline.

Chicago was a hurricane. I had one healthy meal while visiting. In preparation for the Misfits, Preston, my best friend and our friend Ben from New Orleans ate with little scruples in regard to our well-being. We had sloppy beef sandwiches at Al's, hot dogs at Superdawg, along with pizza standing with our friends celebrating the opening of Rocket Tattoo. I chowed down on breaded steak sandwiches with my great aunt at Ricobene's. And I successfully avoided Malort. 

We hit Rainbo in Wicker Park, witnessed the awful yuppification of one of my oldest watering holes, Tuman's. We downed cold ones with my editor Jacob in Bob Inn, listened to the classics at The Exit, and paid homage at the wondrous Old Town Ale House. If there's anything you need to know about Chicago, we appreciate a good tavern. 

Pre-gaming around Wicker Park, we took the EL train to the venue out in Rosemont, but two stops away somewhere near Harlem Avenue, those tall Old Style's needed an exit strategy. Racing off the EL through the one-day "only in Chicago snow-cum-sleet" we ran to a Wendy's bathroom for a three-man race to the finish line pee in two toilets.

Because my brothers, friends, and other randoms were all in the house, we didn't go in till just before Fear took the stage. While I love Fear, Lee Ving and Co. didn't translate well into the room full of onlookers dressed in black, ready for one thing: to hear Glenn Danzig belt out the hits.  

When the Misfits came out at 900 MPH, complete with Jerry Only coming from a fucking coffin, it was one of those few times in life that when you want something so bad, to see it actually deliver. It's was a transcendental moment, the songs I'd loved since I was a boy, hearing them, "20 Eyes", "Who Killed Marilyn" or "She" – I've still got the setlist saved in my phone. I was so happy with the performance, the vibe in the room, that it wasn't a bunch of corporate dudes there to drink beer and sit in the suites, I cried. I was that happy. 

Relentlessly, the Misfits delivered. Danzig sounded a little beat up when he spoke to the crowd, like the throat pipe might burst, but as soon they counted off in their signature “1-2-3-4,” Danzig didn't miss a beat. It actually looked like he was enjoying himself, like sure, I'm making a fuckload of cash happy, but a legitimate joy that I hadn't seen in any of my times catching him previous. 

Spending the $150 for the tickets felt like a fair exchange to hear all of my favorite songs in a row as the encore, including my all-timer, "Hybrid Moments," followed by "Attitude" and finally, "We Are 138." 

I accidentally punched the guy next to me in the face, and Preston's glasses were knocked off and we spilled a few beers. Anything is possible when you're high on seeing Jerry Only do a bunch of power slides across the stage. I mean, those shin guards have to serve some kind of purpose, right? 

Despite my utter joy and later elated drinking with my friends at the Exit, the significant moment of the trip came from the bond between myself, my brothers, and Preston. 

My brother Brandon was tight on cash since finding out he was becoming a dad, Preston stepped in and bought him one, which facilitated him and his girlfriend Katie attending. That was a class move so he could be there with me and my other brother Bryan. 

Bryan, like me, is a huge Misfits fan, we both have crimson ghost tattoos. When I rolled into the show, I had my eye on one of the posters. At $30 a pop, it was a pricey piece of memorabilia. I ponied up the cash and bought one, but immediately following found out, they had signed ones for a cool $100. Being that I was already on vacation, spending that extra $60 seemed like a bad idea. I went without. My brother and his wife Samantha knew how much the show meant to me and bought me the signed poster. When they gave it to me, I was touched by their act of kindness. They didn't have to do that. So, by accepting the gift, I gave my $30 unsigned poster to Brandon. 

And now, sitting in my office, I have that poster framed on my wall. It's a reminder that while yes, I had the best time at the show, the bonds with my brothers are unbreakable, despite living across the country. Getting to share that experience with them and Preston and Ben will be a highlight at the end of my movie. A guy can only be so lucky, devil lock or not. 

“In hybrid moments, give me a moment.”





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