Monday, July 16, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Red State Blue State

It doesn’t take long when driving from where I live for things to become decidedly rural.  Within 20 minutes I can detect a twang in people's speech.  If I left my house on my morning commute and just kept driving southwest, I could have lunch in Kentucky.  Despite it being a relatively small distance, it is a completely different world, as was confirmed by spending the last few days in Kentucky and Tennessee.  There are Confederate flags, enormous pickup trucks, gun racks, fast food deserts, Wal Marts, trailers, and many, many, many people standing in line at gas stations with lottery tickets.  Side note:  If you cash in a winning lottery ticket so as to buy even more lottery tickets, it is safe to say that you will never “win” the lottery.  I suppose your dreams are still alive and that’s something.

When I was in Nashville I saw a man in a bar sitting with his friends.  They were clean cut with that side part haircut that preppy Southern guys seem to have worn since 1962.  This man was wearing a t-shirt that showed the American electoral college displaying a sea of Red Districts and the relatively small number of Blue Districts to show the large swath of the country that geographically voted Pro-Trump.  The script on top of the shirt aped the Constitution and said “We the Deplorables…”.  It is pretty persuasive until you stop and think that about two thirds of the population live in cities while most of the red on that shirt are cornfields and gas stations.

On the Kentucky border with Tennessee I saw giant flags attached to the backs of pickups that roared back and forth up and down the main drag.  Men wore baseball caps with Patriotic slogans and symbols.  There is a large Army base nearby.  Everyone belongs to a church, mostly Evangelical Protestant.  This is an area of the country that when strangers meet and try to weed out commonalities, they might ask “Which church to you go to?”.  These are very polite people.  They smile when they meet you.  They work hard.  They see themselves as “real Americans”, meaning people of shared values.  People tend to agree with each other.

There is a disconnect there when it comes to understanding differences.  Everyone is so much like one another here and tends to stay in their community that it breeds fear of the unknown.  It is hard to understand another culture when you are afraid of it.  If you don’t understand someone different than you, it’s very hard to have empathy.  It’s a fertile breeding ground for discrimination against anyone or anything different.  Unfortunately for our country we now have a leader that is committed to combining these fears and anxieties while wrapping them up in the same patriotic slogans and symbols that are such a source of pride.  It is leadership through division.  Us against them.  Get on the winning team and be afraid of people that look different than you.

Today should have been eye opening to these supporters.  This man is not your friend.  He is morally and ethically bankrupt.  He always has been and always will be.  To have an American President side with Russia over his own intelligence agencies is easy to understand.  Trump is either stupid or compromised.  There is no other rational explanation.  The good people I spent time with all weekend did not sign up for this.  They believe in their country and the vision of pride I witnessed did not include a leader folding to a foreign adversary to protect his own shrouded self interest.  They are proud of their home and they never thought they would see a man that promised them everything turn on what they thought they stood for on the world stage.

It's a real mess.  Things that all of us took for granted are up for grabs.  This is a crossroad.  It is a historically significant moment in our history.  It will likely come down to enough of these people that supported Trump to shake off the flimsy Fox News propaganda explanations and demand truth.  Can they do it?  It is not easy to admit you made a mistake.  These people got swept up in it.  They got sold.  To admit being suckered by a con man is painful.  I hope that the people that got conned will take that pain and turn it into anger at the lies they were told.  There is a traitor at the wheel.  What are we going to do about it?         

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Master of Wine Situation

I am becoming more certain that I am going to have to pursue the Master of Wine.  Like a mountain that must be climbed, I feel as if I don’t really have a choice.  Scratching and clawing my way to the WSET Diploma should have felt like an accomplishment.  Instead I had about 12 seconds of what I think was “relief from the idea you might have failed”.  I only had two real options when entering into the Diploma program.  I could pass or embarrass myself.  There was never an option for “blissful satisfaction”.  This either points to qualities suggesting “an ambitious drive” or being “emotionally handicapped”.  Either way, it is what it is. 

39 Americans have earned the Master of Wine distinction.  Even a scant review of their biographies suggest that each one of these people are more intelligent, better traveled, and have a level of experience in wine that dwarfs mine.  It’s like I want to try to take a few cuts in the batter’s box against Max Scherzer after having limited success in a batting cage set to "Pony League".  I am woefully underqualified to even attempt to bluff my way into the program and then have almost no chance of passing the exams.  Yet, I don’t really have a choice.  I have decided that not attempting to become a Master of Wine is to fail.  If I do attempt it, I will in all likelihood fail.  This however seems more acceptable than not forging an attempt, which I have decided is equal to “quitting”.  To summarize, I have two likely outcomes.  A) Failure or B) Failure.  Therefore I must push ahead to fail.

One of the most important areas in the wine world is Burgundy.  I am woefully undereducated in the region.  The source of benchmark pinot noir and chardonnay, the region is insanely complex with a quilt of specific vineyard names arranged in a pyramid of quality with an ever changing army of producers for minute quantities of each wine.  These wines are highly sought after, and as their production is very small, prices range from “high” to “who the fuck can afford to drink this?”.  I have never gotten into Burgundy as it seems to be a version of willingly getting involved in a cocaine habit.  As my associate Scutty once told me, “I know one thing.  If you do cocaine, you will like it.  You will really like it and it will become a problem for you.  You’ll be completely out of control.”  Scutty is a guy that knows a few things, so I took him at his word and never messed with coke.  I have the same wariness with Burgundy.  I just don’t need to spend the rest of my days chasing the dragon of a great red Burgundy that I can’t afford.  We are talking wines that can cost thousands of dollars per bottle.  Yet, I need to know this region inside and out if I want to pretend I can sit for an MW exam.  Hence, my triumphant planned imminent assault on Burgundy.

I have a difficult time truly grasping a place until I have been there.  For example, I knew what London looked like after seeing it in approximately 213 million movies and TV shows.  However, it wasn’t until I had walked around and got the feel of the place did I have a working understanding of it.  You need to know what a place smells like, how the people move and interact with each other, the attitude, the food and the customs.  “London?  Oh, I get it now.  It’s like a rainy Berlin but instead of people protecting themselves with harsh exteriors, they fall back on social niceities to keep others at a safe emotional distance.  Oh, and there's less street food.”  It’s a mental sketch that helps me establish context.  This is what I must do with the Cote d’Or.  It won’t be easy though as I have some real shortcomings regarding France.   

One of my principle downfalls is my complete inability to pronounce anything in French correctly.  I have no feel for the language whatsoever.  I have great envy at people that can effortlessly transform into what to me sounds like a perfect French accent as they melodiously rattle off French wine terms and locations.  I sound everything out like I’m an Oklahoma truck driver that isn’t gonna speak no godddamn French when I can speak American like the Lord himself intended. (said with a twang)  I still cringe internally when I think of the time I went into a gas station for help in getting to Gare St. Jean in Bordeaux.  I walked up to the register and sounded like a total hillbilly.  I wisely didn’t even attempt an accent, but essentially said “Pardon.  Gar Saint Gene?”.  (insert twangy accent again here)  It was a version of a French person walking into an Ohio Speedway gas station and saying “Ehchoose muy.  Zoo you deerec moi two zee Ahpot?”

 A group of very confused French gathered around me trying to dissect what I was attempting to communicate.  Finally they understood.  “Ah!  Gah Sah Jeaa!”  Yes.  That’s what I said.  Gar Saint Gene.  It was a complete disaster.  They fired directions back at me with heavily accented English that I couldn’t hope to understand.  It reminded me of similar disasters in Mexico when I proudly ask for a restroom in Spanish (one of my only useful sentences in Spanish I might add) and get rapid fire Spanish in return.  In retrospect, instead of memorizing Spanish for “Where is the bathroom?”, I should have memorized “Can you point to the bathroom?”.  I now just walk towards the back of the bar and hope for the best when looking for Spanish toilets, or "banos" if you prefer.

I have assembled the most brutal itinerary I can imagine surviving involving every type of transportation possible so that I might see with my own eyes most key Burgundian wine locations.  I think I am scheduled to visit La Tache in an ox cart, but I will need to check my documents to be positive.  I don't know how to ask for a toilet in French, so maybe I can just urinate in the straw of the cart and hope it isn't a cultural faux pas (note use of French lingo).  If it all goes wrong and I find a French farmer screaming at me, I will drop on him the one phrase I will repeat over and over until I have it memorized.  "Mon ami, c'est bien.  Un jour je serai un maitre du vin." or "My friend, it is fine.  One day I will be a Master of Wine."

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Waiting To Derail

I read the book “Waiting To Derail:  Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Alt Country’s Brilliant Wreck” by Thomas O’Keefe with Joe Oestreich last Sunday.  It was of special interest especially because we were there either during or directly after some of the noted incidents in the book as The Cowslingers wandered around the indie rock underbelly in the late 1990s.  I hadn't thought about any of that in years.  It's hard to believe it was so long ago, and that anyone thought it was important enough to write a book about.  The book was like finding a long lost book of photographs.  I totally got lost in it.  I remember the first time we played with Whiskeytown in Chapel Hill at the Local 506.  I had the “Faithless Street” CD on pretty steady airplay for the weeks prior to that show.  I really love that record.  I was looking forward to seeing them live.

Just as described in the book, this early version of Whiskeytown wasn’t too together.  They had that obvious cockiness in knowing that at their best, they were fucking dynamite.  The downside was that they didn’t yet understand that an audience wasn’t terribly interested in watching them tune up as they figured out what song to play, and maybe not being rehearsed didn’t make you punk rock, it made you crappy on stage.  I remember Bobby losing interest in about 11 minutes.  I leaned in and said to him “That Ryan kid is going to be a fucking rock star.”  Bobby laughed at me and said “Who?  Him?”  As was stated in the book by an Outpost Record executive “If I would have seen them play live before hearing the record, I never would have signed them.”  No doubt.   Yet, even in that ragged set, there was one song where it all clicked and made you realize the heights they could reach.  The key was the scruffy young guitar player/singer Ryan Adams.  When he sang something, it just sounded important.  In the book they talked about how it sounded like "he meant it".  That's a great explanation.

Many of the venues noted in the book were places we also played.  We played Mac’s in East Lansing shortly after Whiskeytown's disastrous gig that ended with them fighting with the small crowd until eventually falling back to their RV like the Alamo.  The people of Lansing were throwing full beers and tomatoes at them.  An audience has to be quite pissed for that to happen.  We got lumped in a couple weeks later as a potential problem by genre association, which is laughable to think of Alt Country as being “dangerous”.  It was mostly college educated guys in John Deere hats standing around.  Just as laughable is to think that in 1998 there was a moment where major record labels thought alt-country was the new answer to what “The Kids” wanted.  They thought they would sign everything and sort it out later.

We played the same SXSW where Whiskeytown and the Old 97s were the hottest girls at the dance.  I remember Ryan and Phil walking around at night in aviator sunglasses like they were Kick and Keith in San Tropez in 1971.  I get it.  There were so many people with expense accounts kissing their ass.  I would have been doing the same thing if I was 22 and had been in that situation.  Nobody was kissing our ass.  I kept my sunglasses off.  After that SXSW almost every band from our genre ghetto got signed to a record deal but us.  We even had that killer write up in the Austin Chronicle about our showcase, maybe the single best review we ever got.  Looking back, it is fairly obvious that corporate rock radio would never play “West Virginia Dog Track Boogie” or “Cha Cha Heels”.  We didn't know that then.  

There was a gig mentioned in Cleveland where the only people in the crowd were Caitlin Cary’s family.  That is not totally accurate as Bobby’s brother Joe and I were there too.  I seem to recall Phil telling us a story before the gig about him meeting Keith Richards in the studio weeks earlier and it going about as wrong as it could possibly go.  Then we wandered down by the river and talked about fishing as I recall.  The gig was at Wilbert’s on a weekday.  I had talked up the band to Joe beforehand and then Whiskeytown played a half hearted set to the tiny crowd.  It was a big fall from hanging out with Keith in an LA studio to 21 people at Wilbert’s I suppose. 

The thing that really hit me was how the book made all these events larger than life, just like books I have read on the glory days of CBGBs and early days of the British Invasion.  I would devour those types of books, a modern day version of Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast".  Everyone was talented, soon-to-be-famous, and a palpable energy in the air.  Debbie Harry is having drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald waiting for Jeff Beck to drop Ringo off with Nico and Lou Reed until Hemingway shows up with some beer.  Yet when I look back at that time I remember plenty of bands that I really liked and admired, but we were all slogging it out for the 50-100 people in any given town that understood what we were going for.  The big crowds still went out to see hippie bands and funk.  It's hard for girls to dance to Alt-country I guess.

Now I am confused if I might have underestimated just how good that scene was, or is it all just selective memory?  Maybe even the Haight in The Summer of Love, Paris in the early 1920s and grunge in Seattle were just a romantic dreams that never really existed as they get presented now.  Maybe the Moveable Feast was just a bunch of fuckups in Paris pretending to be artists until a couple of them got lucky with novels.   We need our legends.  The collective agreed history always twists events to make them better.  I can't recall anyone ever saying "You know, there has never been a better time than right now."  It was always better "before", whenever that was.  There is an admitted satisfaction to being involved even in a tertiary basis in a cultural movement that made a blip big enough for a book.  I don't know how important any of it was, but I will tell you this.  That Whiskeytown record that got them signed really was fucking great. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Thoughts on the 4th of July

This fall the band will be doing a European Tour.  We haven’t played in Europe for a few years, so I am very much looking forward to being back.  There is a different feel to playing in Europe and I like to go to new places, experience new things.  One of the gifts of being in this moderately successful rock band has been the ability to travel.  I have been able to go to places I never thought I would see, places I had only read about.

When I was a kid, I became consumed by World War II history.  I read every single book I could get my hands on, watched every movie.  The European Front was especially of interest to me.  The rise of the Nazi party and the madness an entire nation descended into was and still is fascinating.  It didn’t hurt that the German uniforms and weapons had great design.  Nazi Germany was responsible for unimaginable cruelty and ruthlessness, but you have to admit, they looked good while doing it.  While the British were getting shoved around in brown flannel uniforms, the Germans are flying around in Stukas while wearing crisp tailored black and gray uniforms with badass skulls on them.  I mean, c’mon…  What 12 year old isn’t interested in that?

When we tour in Germany and France, I can usually remember off the top of my head historical events from the Second World War that happened in each place we play.  Generally these events are centered on some type of vicious battle with terrible consequences.  From the books I consumed I saw the rise and then fall of the demonized Germans in black and white photos.  I remember standing on the exact spot where Hitler addressed his devoted storm troopers in Nuremberg.  I had seen the photo so many times of that Nazi Rally that to see the location in person seemed impossible.  It still felt like a story, not something that had really happened.

We played a club that was a short walk from the platform where Hitler had whipped his people into the froth that would allow so many atrocities to happen to millions of people across the entire planet.  Hitler had this odd combination of charisma, great public speaking ability, and the talent for knowing what the masses wanted to hear.  Looking back at it now it seems unbelievable that Germany bought in to what was obviously complete madness.  I remember being in history classes in school where fellow students would snort with derision.  That could never happen here.  What the hell was wrong with those people?  I was firmly in that camp.  The German people must have had some sort of defect or at their core wanted to kill the Jews and “undesirables”, follow a cult of nationalism and embrace a dictator.

The club we played in Nuremberg was part of a larger complex.  In the war years the building had been used to house German SS Troops, the elite thugs that carried out the worst of the worst.  After the American troops invaded, the Allies used the location to house their own troops until morphing it into a postwar base for a time.  Eventually it became a multi use space where in one room, drugged up twenty year olds danced to EDM and in another I would sing about dig track racing in West Virginia.  There would not be a greater contrast to the evil that crawled out of here 50 years ago and the utter normalcy of the present.  The people we met were nice and except for a language, just like us.

Something that always struck me in my World War II reading was how often American troops said they connected with the German people.  Despite all the propaganda they had been exposed to leading in to deployment, when they arrived on German soil they found the general population consisted mostly of people just like them.  There is something that never quite lines up with American sensibility with the French and Belgians.  It’s the French part we find so confusing.  The French are often oblique to us, while the Germans are very direct to the point of being blunt.  It’s easier to understand. 

While I was in Germany I would ask people about their family history during the war.  A joke in the van became the answer when you asked about someone’s grandfather in the Third Reich.  “He was a cook.”  All of Western Europe is invaded and yet everyone is a goddamn cook.  Only one guy I met said “Afrika Corps.  He got killed in shelling in Italy.”  Yet, that ratio is probably true.  For every gun-toting soldier, there are four guys driving trucks, filling out reports, and cooking meals.  Despite our willingness to lump everyone in Germany into being a diabolical Nazi like we have seen in cheap Hollywood movies, most were just people like you and me.

There weren’t that many actual Nazis.  Most people joined the political party as a way to gain advantages in business or social standing.  They jumped on when it became evident that it was the way to make more money and live more comfortably.  When Hitler first came into power with an election victory, he was looked at like a kook.  This was something that would blow over is what most reasonable people thought.  It was a temporary situation.  Then, little by little, things that were once crazy seemed normal.  Germany went from a democracy into a fascist state not by a swift seizure of power but by a series of concessions by the people, a failure to defend what had been their basic values.

Things in America today are eerily similar to when Hitler rose to power in Germany.  A charismatic public speaker tells his base what they want to hear and ignores basic facts.  The free press is demonized so the population is convinced only the leader is telling them the real facts.  Slowly the free press is replaced with media created by the state.  Minority groups are identified as threats to the public well being despite no evidence to the point.  The nation is urged to ramp up militarization all in the name of protecting the country and its values.  If you swap out the details, we are busy going down the same path to fascism that the Germans did.  Just like the Germans, we are pretending that it could never happen here.  We are allowing all these small concessions add up until there is no going back to what we had considered our ideals.

I spoke to a man yesterday.  He is what would be called a “working class guy”, a manager at a plumbing business.  He floated out some conversational trial balloons, perhaps to see where I sat on current events.  I don’t know him well, but well enough to know he is a decent guy.  He has two kids, coaches soccer, and roots for the local sports teams.  He is, by all accounts, totally average.  He said to me, “You know, I don’t even follow the news any more.  You can’t believe the media.  They are just trying to take down the President.  They are probably one of the biggest problems we have in this country.  I mean, I don’t agree with everything that Trump says, but I was so tired of the usual politicians.  I don’t even look anymore.  The media just distorts everything.”

Today in the Cleveland daily newspaper, the editorial board printed a guest editorial from a right wing radio program.  The headline read “If Trump Fans Are Called Nazis, You Can Expect More Violence”.  In what was once considered the most mainstream of all news outlets in the city, they printed an opinion piece stating such basic ideas as “facts” such as “the ever-descending moral and intellectual state of mainstream news media” and “if the American Left calls the president and his supporters Nazis…morality demands it takes violent action against Trump supporters”.  The writer then plucked examples of common people yelling out against Trump cabinet members in public places and can’t believe they have not had systematic retribution.  He suggests a Civil War is not only possible but also probable, and if violence happens then “just like Fort Sumter, it will be the Left that started it”.  To summarize, his idea is that to speak out about government action is to invite wholly justified military/police response.  This entire column from a right wing Trump radio host on the 4th of July is focused on forgiving as yet to come government carried out violence and incarceration against those that disagree with their elected officials.  This is in the daily newspaper of a major American city normalizing these ideas.  I find it chilling how similar this is to the 1930s in Germany.

While you enjoy the 4th of July celebrating the birth of our nation, reflect that we have a president that is having “rallies” with his supporters that are a Wal Mart version of Nuremberg, the highest courts are being stocked with “loyal” judges, we’re being told by our leader that “the free press is the greatest enemy of the American People”, a Fox News executive just became the president's head of communications, our military budget has just been raised to a level more than all other nations combined, systematic racism and vilification of non-whites is becoming so common that it is a non-discussion point, we have the highest incarceration rate of any nation on earth, the term “law and order” excuses any strong armed tactics, and religion is being used by government officials to justify their whims. All you need to do is swap out the details and this is the 1930s in Germany, with the exception that Hitler and his cronies were not being investigated for working with a foreign hostile adversary to take power.     

Happy 4th of July.  God bless America.  We need it.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The First Show

The first show I ever played was at Mother’s Junction in Kent.  That was 28 years ago.  I had no clue that I would still be playing, much less writing and recording music all these years later.  I think I had a vague idea that I would do “age appropriate” things in 2018, which I assumed to be golf, dinners at chain restaurants, and fiddling around in my "work shop".  As I don’t do any of those things, and had no interest in those things at any point in my life, it’s hard to pinpoint why I thought I would sprout this sudden interest.  Perhaps I felt that the need to dive into woodworking was a natural evolution.  It was something Dads did.  I don’t know.  I had a lot of fucked up ideas then.

Mother’s Junction was the bar upstairs above Ray’s Place in Kent.  I spent many very drunken nights dancing around to The Walking Clampets in that room.  I would even go to the reggae shows there, though at that point I thought all reggae songs sounded exactly the same, which even now is a somewhat debatable point.  First Light and I-tal were the two big bands, and if I really felt like slumming it I would go see Satta.  It was generally acknowledged that of the three regular reggae bands that played Mothers, Satta was definitely #3.  It was just good to hear bands.  I would normally drink 200 beers and strike out with hippie girls.  Hippie girls liked reggae.  They did not like me.

When we got the band going, this was an obvious place for our first gig.  It was one of the only venues where we knew anybody.  We played our first show the week school let out for winter break.  Everyone left town after the semester break.   Everyone.  It was a ghost town.  I think the club had to decide between “jukebox” and “some kids have a weird sounding rockabilly band”.  Even with those options, I think we had to lobby hard to get the show.  We finally got the OK about a month beforehand.  It was set.  We were going to play an actual gig.  To us it was like headlining Coachella.

Allow me to preface that we were painfully green.  I was under the impression that because the other guys in the band had rock and roll clothes and radical haircuts, that they were real pros.  This was not the case.  They were amateurs with rock and roll clothes and radical haircuts.  Still, their appearance gave them an advantage over me in that I had never done this before.  Not only hadn’t I played out before, I had never sung in public.  The closest exception was in 4th grade where I mouthed like I was singing Christmas carols in our school mandated Christmas Pageant.  I was so worried about looking foolish that I wouldn’t dare sing. 

As I recall there were open trials for parts in the play.  As was the way in 4th grade, all the girls tried out and almost none of the boys.  The word in the hallways of Manchester School was that “only fags” were in plays.  A line had been drawn in the sand.  Our teacher caught wind of this widespread agreement amongst the boys and forced all of us into a room where we were A) berated and threatened and then B) forced to audition in front of all of the girls.  Generally the best theater performances are not garnered at gunpoint, though perhaps Japanese POW camps did amazing yet undocumented performances of Othello.  I am not enough of an expert to offer a concrete opinion on that.  What I do know is that I was not very comfortable singing for literally the first time in my life in front of the entire fourth grade.

I did not grow up in a musical household.  The Millers did not burst into song.  I had somehow never even tried to sing before this "audition".  Not even in the shower.  The Millers did not suffer foolishness.  Singing was something done by professional entertainers.  At this time, I was under the impression that a good vocal was accomplished by singing in falsetto.  I am not sure why I thought this.  Perhaps I thought that I was supposed to emulate the Vienna Boys Choir, which was my only real example of a boy my age singing carols.  Maybe I thought that I was supposed to sound like the kids in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.  It’s hard to put it together now.  I do recall with vivid clarity my epic flame out as I struggled to sing falsetto to a crescendo of snickers and my own reddening face.  It went very poorly.  This was not a good time or place to try to figure out how singing worked.  The entire fourth grade was not an empathetic group. 

I was waved off the stage in disgust by the teacher.  After my failure I was relegated to “the chorus”.  This is where all the students without talent went to “participate” in the play.  After this spectacular embarrassing episode, I would not risk sounding foolish again, certainly not in front of the girls to my right and left.  I was very worried about public failure as a kid.  I just wanted to fit in with the crowd.  Standing out in any way was extremely risky.

The teacher made the chorus go boy/girl/boy/girl, either an attempt to prevent the boys from screwing around or to spread the students out that were going to try to sing "O Tannenbaum".  We had a few painful weeks of rehearsals and then performed one night in front of our parents and anyone else that had been forced to watch this debacle.  A girl named Karen leaned in after our first song and whispered "I can tell that you are just pretending to sing."  I denied it with false anger to hide my embarrassment.  The entire thing was torture.

Now all these years later I was going to willingly walk out on a stage and sing.  I still had almost no idea of what I was doing.  I had even written about half of the set.  My goal was to do this once, just to say I had.  I was amazed that I was going to get to play a show on the stage at Mothers, which to me was Carnegie Hall.  I figured it would be something cool to say I had done once.  "Oh, do you know that Greg sang in a rock band once?"  Then we'd all have a nice little laugh.

I don't remember much about that first show.  I remember carrying all the gear up the brutal staircase.  I remember being really nervous, this despite the fact that there were about six people there and I knew four of them.  I think we had eight songs.  I could effectively sing about four of them.  It must have been a painful experience for anyone in that room.  If a video existed of that show, there is no way in hell I could watch it without leaping out of my skin.  I do remember that we did it, and how good it felt afterward just the feeling of having been able to do it.  It was like becoming a member of some type of brotherhood.

All of these years later, I am still excited about being able to do it.  Playing and writing your own rock and roll songs is really fun. I have had so many great and terrible experiences just because I made myself walk out there on that dirty little stage at Mothers to try it once.  The secret of life is really just showing up and trying.  Good things can happen if you just try.  I wish I could pull that scared little fourth grade version of me over and tell him to go out there and not worry about failing.  You can be as good as any of them.  Well, as long as you don't try to sing in falsetto.  That was just a terrible idea.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Nurse the Hate: History of the Whiskey Daredevils Volume 3

For Immediate Release:  Whiskey Daredevils Lost Album To Be Re-released

In celebration of their 2018 European Tour, the Whiskey Daredevils will reissue their seminal 1973 Pye Records LP “The History of the Whiskey Daredevils Volume 3”.  Long forgotten by the existing band members, this record unexpectedly resurfaced in a Parisian flea market only weeks ago.  The cover art was painstakingly re-produced by Brian Willse from what is suspected to be the only remaining copy.  This landmark of recorded music will be available only as a limited edition on Whiskey Daredevils Tour Dates as well as housed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institute.

This is the famous “lost” record of the Whiskey Daredevils catalogue, a true Holy Grail for collectors and enthusiasts alike.  Though the quality of the recordings on this record have never been in question, the record has achieved legendary status amongst collectors for not only its rarity but its reputation as a “doomed” release.  “You need to remember that this was released on Pye Records just as the label was folding.  The label had gambled very heavily on a Billy Preston release that had done very poorly in the UK.  They were strapped for cash and had hoped the Preston record “Billy Does Skiffle” would strike a cord with young record buyers.  Alas, they had greatly missed on the “great wave of skiffle” by a good nine years as the youth culture had moved on to The Sweet and T. Rex.  This led Pye to only be able to print 200 copies of the Daredevils record, the vast majority of which sat in a loading dock in Bermondsey unopened.”, noted British music sage John Peel.

Surprisingly, the Daredevils failed to land a domestic deal for the album and it quietly faded from memory.  “Anyone that was in 1973 can tell you, if you can remember 1973, you weren’t there.”, said Whiskey Daredevils front man Greg Miller.  “The great wave of the 60s had broken and washed back, and we thought the party would last forever.  We had spent most of that year touring Europe.  We did the UK with Hawkwind, Germany and France with Uriah Heep and then a quick run of Spanish dates opening for Humble Pie.  Leo was filling in on a run of shows with Gary Glitter, who at that time was still doing a psychedelic act as “Electric Dan and the Current”.  That left me with nothing but time in the UK.  I holed up in a small flat in Bexley working on a rock adaptation of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor".  I was writing lyrics to it while collaborating with an exciting pipe organist that would later become my second wife.  Ultimately the project would come to nothing, but in that fog of that excitement and the heavy amount of Moroccan hash I was smoking, I just forgot all about “History Volume 3”.  I might have had a child with that woman.  It’s hard to recall.  It was an exciting time of experimentation. ”

The Daredevils visas and luck ran out at the end of that year.  The band was sent home by British officials after drummer Leo P. Love was arrested at a Billy Preston gig in Leeds for stealing one of Preston’s backstage “Old Peculiar” ales.  “Yeah, that was pretty fucked up.  It wasn’t my fault though because no one told me I couldn’t have one of those.  I was just trying to give someone the greatest gift you could ever give someone and then the Bobbies busted me.  I did not know!  I did not know!  Wait…  What the fuck were we just talking about?”, said Love shortly after the incident in an interview in Creem Magazine.

This LP will be lovingly pressed by the German record plant Flight 13 and be available September 21st.  A team of four German audio specialists formerly of Blaupunkt has committed to the project and will work directly with the master tapes acquired by Daredevils sound guru John Smerek.  Smerek noted “it’s fascinating to hear the Whiskey Daredevils at that time, well before I was in the scene.  These are the songs they played as rock and roll went from an underground movement to the big business it became.  You can hear the influence of the gigs at Eel Island with Eric Burden.  One a few of the tracks I could swear it’s John Paul Jones on bass, but the tracking sheets say it’s Sugar.  I know she was ill for a time after eating discounted gas station haggis.  Still, it was a golden time for the band as these recordings will attest.”

For More Information:

Greg Miller

Track listing:

  1. Honest Man
  2. Don’t Talk To Connie
  3. Please Stop Hitting Connie
  4. In That Order
  5. It’s Just Jail
  6. 12XU
  7. 101.1 Gram Man Bracelet
  8. Swim the Lake of Fire
  9. Never Again
  10. Mess On The Floor
  11. Last Train To Berlin
  12. Mojo Twist


Monday, June 25, 2018

Nurse the Hate: The Willie Nelson Tour Date

There is a scene in the movie “Bull Durham” where the main character is riding in a broken-down bus with a crew of minor leaguers.  All of them have the dream of playing in the major leagues, and for almost all of them it is just a pipe dream.  The leap from their modest circumstances to the top of their profession is vast.  They are all talking about what it must be like on that big stage, speculating about how good it must be when the protagonist stops the conversation dead by announcing “I’ve been to The Show”.  A momentary hush falls over the bus.  They begin to pepper him with questions.  What’s it like?  What’s it like?  They are all in rapt silence as he tells them “At The Show, you don’t even touch your own luggage!  They’ve got people to take your bags!”  All the other players are in awe.  This scene played over in my head as I watched our gear get unloaded from the Whiskey Wagon by a small army of men onto the Riverbend Music Center backstage.

I felt just like Crash Davis, a career minor leaguer that got one at bat in the majors.  Here I was, no doubt towards the tail end of my rock career, and I somehow got called up to a 22,000-seat facility.  The bill was an insane stack of vastly more talented musicians than us.  Willie Nelson is an international icon.  Sturgill Simpson is arguably the best live act on the planet right now.  Old Crow Medicine Show won a Grammy for God’s sake.  The other bands had ten tour buses and four semi-trucks surrounding the backstage as I backed our white van into a designated slot.  Dozens of people in black t-shirts and walkie talkies moved purposefully in every direction as our tiny amount of gear was placed next to the mountains of sturdy road cases of the other bands. 

I walked to the Production Office to get our laminates and passed Sturgill Simpson in the hallway.  We gave each other a nod.  “Hello colleague”.  I was pleasantly surprised he didn’t stop me to whisper, “You know how good our band is, right?”.  That would have been demoralizing.  Each band is assigned a dressing room with signs outside noting each one.  Whereas we are used to clubs where there is the possibility of a ratty couch and maybe a cooler of beer, this time we had a large room with ample beer, water, fresh fruit and a (clean) private bathroom.  I could already see myself leaning in to tell the Krank Daddies, “At The Show, you get your own private dressing room right next to guys that won Grammys like you’re one of them!” 

The stage itself at Riverbend is probably larger than a dozen clubs we have played.  We sound checked last after watching Sturgill, Head and the Heart, and Old Crow Medicine Show adeptly go through their prep.  We then had our modest gear rolled out on small risers.  A man grabbed my mic and stand and plugged it in to the massive sound system.  We started to run through line checks.  At the foot of the stage two people with TV cameras dialed in to project the action on the stage onto enormous Jumbotron screens around the facility as I said, “check check check” into the mic. 

One of the words I hate to see in interviews is “surreal” as I think it is overused and often used incorrectly.  For example, an athlete hits a game winning shot and then gets interviewed.  “It was surreal to do that.”  No, you are one of five guys that was on the court for your team, so there was a 20% chance that you would be the guy to take the shot.  There must have been a reasonable expectation that might happen.  You want to know what surreal is?  Try singing a Misfits cover to an empty 20,000 capacity shed for soundcheck as Willie Nelson’s crew and band members stare at you off stage.  That is surreal.  How in God’s name did this happen?

The gates opened at 4p and we went on at 430.  We played that portion of the show when people are filling in and are wondering “who the hell is this?”.  I would imagine that if you shelled out the $100 or so to see this bill and were confronted with middle aged cowboys singing about plastic jugs of urine, bad haircuts, and poor decisions that you would likely question your own decisions regarding the entertainment choice you had made.  However, people seemed to like it OK.  We just went up there and did what we do.  We had done this so many times in conditions so shoddy that to have a pristine stage and great sound mix made it surprisingly comfortable.  In fact, Leo was so comfortable that he took off his shirt.  He even stayed on his riser as the crew wheeled off his kit, waving like a homecoming queen.  Leo clearly was enjoying himself.

After the set the army of guys moved our gear off and loaded it in our van.  “In The Show you don’t even load your own van!”  It was most likely the fastest load out I will ever experience in rock and roll.  I normally spend twice that much time trying to find Leo in the hopes of convincing him to tear down.  Without any further responsibility, I went upstairs to our dressing room and passed the Old Crow Medicine Show main singer guy who gave me the “rockin’ set” lip service.  Now I know that he didn’t listen to us, and he probably knew that I knew that too, but I appreciated the neighborly gesture.  People from the South are very polite.  If he had said “bless your heart”, that would have indicated that we really sucked, so we must have sounded reasonably proficient through the concrete walls of their dressing room.  I can say that while watching Old Crow play that any one random band member from them has more musical chops than the Daredevils combined.  They are quite good.  

The problem with playing a set that ends at 455p is that there is now 6 hours to kill until you can settle the show.  We ran out of beer and Sugar walked over to the Head and Heart’s dressing room and asked if she could have a Stella from them.  The only reason I know this is that she sidled up to me as I was sitting by the river with their road manager when she said “I think I caused an incident.  We ran out of beer and I asked those guys for one.  They gave it to me but then shut the door.  I think they’re mad.”  She had clearly forgotten the fact that “At The Show, they’ll always give you more beer!”.  If members of the Head and Heart organization are reading this, please note we will reimburse you one (1) Stella Artois the next time you are in the Greater Cleveland Area.    

I spent a great deal of time talking to members of Willie Nelson’s crew.  That entire tour is like a big pirate ship.  It’s a traveling circus that some of them have been on for 35+ years.  Truck drivers and lighting techs and sound guys and road managers all woven in to their own little world with its own distinct set of standards and rules.  I was a guest in their world.  The last thing I wanted to do was The Wrong Thing.  It quickly became evident that as long as I had that “artist” laminate on I could do almost anything except climb on Willie’s bus.  I stood on the side of the stage to watch Sturgill Simpson completely destroy.  He has combined country and a Stax sound with a simple four piece band in a fresh and interesting way.  I had no idea he was that big of a monster on guitar.  To give you an idea of how well he went over, he had sold every single piece of merch when it was time for settlement.  All of it.  I guess people liked his set…

Willie Nelson’s bus rolled in about an hour before the show.  I will level with you.  At no point did it ever enter the realm of possibility that we would be playing cards and a-pickin-and-a-grinnin' on the bus with Willie.  Willie is an 85 year old man.  Most people that I have known that are 85 are focused on wondering when Wheel of Fortune is on.  Willie is knocking out an hour set every night to capacity crowds.  It seems like the crew does everything they can to make it as easy as possible.  His bus rumbles up as close as possible to the stage entrance to minimize his walk.  They clear the backstage area and he ambles on up.  It's a well oiled machine. 

Willie was in strong voice, unlike when I had seen him last.  We walked up front of the stage with our magic laminates and watched most of his set.  Then I decided to see if I could get a jump on the settlement.  It turned out I had to walk all the way back to the production office to fill out some paperwork for the merch guys.  I walked back and forth and then headed back to the backstage area to wait for Willie's show to end.  When I had spoken with a member of Willie's crew earlier, he mentioned that the show was 65 minutes on the dot.  I looked down at my watch and realized that it was going to time out that I was going to walk past Willie's bus and enter the hallway at that exact moment.  Sure enough, as I walked back in the facility Willie Nelson walked past me to his bus.  I played it cool like it was no big deal to walk past Willie Nelson, and in fact walked past iconic figures on an almost daily basis.  "Good evening Mr. Nelson.  Nice night tonight."

Willie entered the bus and it roared to life.  It headed out almost immediately.  Mr. Nelson has left the building.  The semi trucks started to pull out as well, as the people left were all those settling on merchandise.  The way it works is that everything gets inventoried in from all the bands.  As all the money goes into one big pot regardless of what band's shirt is sold, everything must then be counted once again to figure out the distribution of money.  If the count is off, the whole process starts again.  It takes much longer than you want it to, especially when you've been done playing for 6.5 hours.

Sugar was stuck waiting for me by the van.  As she didn't have the van keys, she had to sit in a folding chair and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  The following text exchange happened...

Sugar:  OMG.  I'm so bored!  Where's the office?!?

Me:  Back by the entrance.  He's finishing the count now.

Me:  It's slow going in here.

Me:  I'm never getting out of here.

17 minutes passes

Sugar:  I'm coming to find you.  Is the door closed to this "office"?

Me:  Yes
Me:  You'll never find it.  Seriously.

12 more minutes pass

Sugar:  O.M.G.  I am going to walk into the river and die.  I can't wait any longer.

Me:  I think I will be out of here in 20 seconds

Sugar:  I will be dead in 20 seconds

I walked back to the van to discover Sugar did not walk into the river as threatened.  We jumped in the van and motored out of the facility.  Would we ever get to play that type of gig again?  Who knows.  I hope so.  But if we don't, I will tell you this.  I was in The Show for one day once - the greatest day of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in The Show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains...  Well...  That was movie dialogue but somebody carried our gear and sold our t-shirts and a guy gave me my own monitor mix. 

Yeah...  I been to The Show...