Friday, December 6, 2013

Nurse the Hate: Hate Country Standards

I am in the van hurtling towards Nashville to record a new Whiskey Daredevils full length.  I don’t know if anyone listens to full length records anymore, but that’s what we like recording so that’s what’s coming.  I’m excited about recording in Nashville.  There’s just something legitimate about saying, “We are going into the studio in Nashville.” like I’m Waylon Jennings.  Look at me now, walking around in cowboy boots hunched over a cup of joe after a long night in the studio searching for that chart topping sound.  Knocking back a Bud longneck at Robert’s Western World rubbing elbows with studio ringers trying to find a pedal steel guy for tomorrow’s session.  That’s Music City for ya…

There is a definite romanticism about Nashville.  You can see wide eyed foreigners walking the tourist traps on Broadway looking for evidence of the soul of country music.  Most of them have no idea that most of the real exciting stuff is happening in East Nashville in tiny shithole clubs, just like the Broadway clubs served that purpose in the Glory Days of the late 50s.  Almost no one is immune though.  The pull is too strong.

Friends of mine in Nashville reported to me from numerous angles about English alt rock/cult hero Robyn Hitchcock’s recent visit.  Hitchcock, if you don’t know, is a surrealistic songwriter with a “Rubber Soul” era Beatles vibe to him.  He has a million releases, and I think I have almost every last one of them.  He’s a really interesting songwriter, and his strength has always been his own material.  He could get up on stage with an acoustic, tell absurdist stories, and reel off dozens of great songs to keep a crowd entertained for hours.  This is what made his behavior on his recent Nashville visit so bizarre.

Hitchcock walked in to a number of local hipster stages, the places where locals play to other locals and take new material out for a spin.  Understandably, there would be a buzz when Hitchcock would stroll in.  Please note, Nashville is a really good place to be a celebrity. As major recording artists often make use of the town’s excellent studios, and the etiquette of country music is for stars to be just plain folks, celebs can usually maintain a low profile.  However, when something like this happens, people do that move where they talk out of the sides of their mouths and say, “Do you know who that is?  Do you think he’s gonna play?” while they watch the guy from their peripheral vision.

Robyn Hitchcock did indeed come to play, and there were voluminous sightings of him playing country and early rock & roll standards out with surprised bands all over Music City for a couple of weeks.  This brings a point to bear.  While it is probably really fun for Robyn Hitchcock to sing “The Weight” or “Mystery Train” deep in the heart of country music, this does not play to his strong suit.  I mean, at this point, I don’t think I want to see the exhumed corpse of Levon Helm do “The Weight”, much less the second most British man I am aware of on this planet.  American roots music has a certain swagger that does not translate well to the English delivery.  John Lennon’s “Rock and Roll” album isn’t exactly his best if you get my drift. Some things need to be left to Americans.  If you don’t believe me, search out some warbly youtube videos of Robyn murdering these standards. 

If he had walked up and done “Balloon Man” or “Mexican God” or “Tarantula”, I would have burst with excitement.  There isn’t anyone else that can knock out those songs.  It’s what he does.  I just don’t think he could help himself.  He was there in the eye of the hurricane.  It must have been too much.  He was just like a tourist making pasta in Tuscany, or riding to the top of the Empire State Building in New York.  He came all that way!  Who wouldn’t want to sing country in Nashville like every band on stage was your own personal karaoke band?  Now that’s going on holiday bloke!

A few days after learning this unfortunate information about one of my personal favorite recording artists, I was watching Los Lobos at the Beachland.  That’s a great band to watch whenever you need to feel inferior.  They effortlessly move from style to style, delivering the goods in spades with each song.  Suddenly they called a “special guest” on stage.  A pale middle aged guy got up and started to sing “Sea Cruise” with Los Lobos.  Suddenly, I identified him as Glenn Tilbrook from Sqeeze fame.  Holy shit.  It was an epidemic.

I now believe that all English rock performers from the so-called “New Wave” period of roughly 1978-1988 now feel justified in stepping on stage and playing any American standard they please while here in the States.  This must be some Musicians Union policy that recently passed with which I was unaware.  At any time you may see Brian Ferry play “Yakkity Sax” with Wilco.  Adam Ant may force himself up on stage to do “Party Doll” with the Old 97s.  Gary Numan will knock out “Johnny B. Goode” with the Black Keys.  It’s just the way it is now.

This led me to think.  Do I have the same leverage while in the UK?  While hardly a star worthy of “special guest” privileges, shouldn’t I be able to get on stage with the Arctic Monkeys and sing “Victoria”?  Can’t JD from the Shack Shakers go do “Mrs. Jones You Have a Lovely Daughter” with Franz Ferdinand?  Surely there should be a balance of trade and cultural exchange?  After a couple weeks, after touring the Old Country, singing “Autumn Almanac” in every pub I could find, I could head on home having been satiated by my very British Rock Experience.  I never asked for any of these pasty blokes to come do “Rock Around The Clock”, so they will just have to deal with Julian Casablancas from the Strokes doing “Nights In White Satin” with Noel Gallagher.

The last I heard Robyn was setting out for Oslo.  I don’t know if he will be performing Norwegian seafaring songs with local bands there.  I do know that I am closing in on Nashville, and I won’t be getting on stage with anyone to do “Ring of Fire”.  Well, probably not anyway…         




At December 6, 2013 at 12:25:00 PM EST , Blogger Unknown said...

Now I'm hoping you name this new record "Country Standards".

At December 6, 2013 at 7:21:00 PM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Lots of Hank Williams covers done awkwardly...


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