Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Tax Audit Blues

This morning I spent about three hours trying to explain the world of indie rock to a couple of accountants from the IRS that have great interest in the minute details of my financial dealings spanning a number of years.  This is not an easy task.  The world of indie rock has almost no written records, heavy expenses and little financial reward.  Meanwhile the accountants sitting across from me are wired to look at things very logically.  It seemed like none of what I was saying made any sense to them.  I completely understand why they couldn’t make heads or tails on why anyone in their right mind would play music in the manner in which we do.  They both appear to be very nice people just doing their jobs, and unfortunately for them they wandered into an abyss of illogic.  They had to be thinking "This guy is full of shit.  Why would anyone do what he does and not make some kind of  money on it."

I will admit, it sounds absurd when some of the situations we place ourselves in are exposed to the harsh light of day.  For example, I remember with vivid clarity playing a show in France in the basement of a club on a Tuesday night.  The room was about the size of an American living room.  There must have been seven (7) people there.  We were playing through some Mickey Mouse amps as it was impossible to carry our gear down the winding staircase.  It was like being booked to play a gig in a U-boat.  We were about three songs into a set that was being received indifferently by these French people when Bobby Lanphier leans in to my ear and says “If you were to tell someone that four middle aged American men jumped on an airplane to fly across the ocean to play a set of songs in a storage room to seven Frenchmen, no one would ever believe you.”  And he was right.

People in the IRS don’t want to hear explanations of $100 in a PayPal account that sound like this.  “Well, the guys in the last band needed some more cash because their van broke down and the only way they could get the part they needed was to get to a wrecking yard.  To be able to get to the wrecking yard they would have to leave tonight so they could be outside my buddy’s place in Marshallville when they opened because they are driving to a blues festival in Memphis tomorrow.  So they didn’t plan on the hotel expense, so I spun them an additional $100 out of the cash from the gig, but Craig felt bad about that so he got this guy from the bar…  Manny I think?... He got him to give him $100 so I told him that I’d send that guy a couple T-shirts so just send it to me on PayPal.  It wound up being a fiasco because I sent the shirts to the wrong address and this bartender chick named Jasmine gave them to her boyfriend who’s in this other rockabilly band that Manny won’t book and then Manny was pissed because he thought I gave shirts to Jasmine instead of him when he’d spun the other band the $100.  You follow?”

It’s a lot to take in.  These IRS agents are normal people with reasonable lives that probably follow patterns and set behaviors.  It really is a lot to ask for them to understand that an expense line of 168 euros for drum equipment is legit.  “Wait.  I thought you rented equipment there.”  Yes, but see what happened was that Leo had to bring his own snare, bass drum pedal, sticks and cymbals.  The problem was that he forgot to pack about half of that.  Now I know that seems impossible, but you need to understand he was smoking a heroic amount of pot back then, so his memory was dodgy at best.  He was sleeping in the Brussels Airport and I hear him say “uh oh”, and that’s never a good idea when you hear that in general, much less the Brussels Airport.  I was really pissed.  I mean, it’s literally the only thing he needed to bring, you know?  He didn’t have any fucking money, so we are driving to Holland trying to find an open music store on a weekend to buy this shit.  You ever been to Holland on a weekend?  All that shit is closed, except for coffee shops, and those aren't coffee shops!  So anyway we find this joint open in some weird little town.  I was the only one with any euros on me so I went out of pocket.  That’s why you see that money going from the band back to me, although it was mixed in with the fantasy football money I had to send to T-bone so it’s sort of confusing.
Now that story makes perfect sense to me, but as I am spelling it out it dawns on me that we all sound like lunatics that need to be incarcerated, or at the very least placed on some sort of watch list.  What are completely normal situations to me sound insane when someone out of the scene hears it.  I feel like a total asshole as we are talking this stuff through.  “So the first time you flew to Spain for a tour you had received one letter and one fax from a man you didn’t know.  You then hopped on a plane at your own expense to stay at his friend’s house in Madrid where an alleged tour was to be based according to this other man you never met named Pepe?”  That’s right.  What?  Is that not how these things are handled? 
Most people are under the impression that with certain small notoriety comes great wealth.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For example, people are very impressed that our music is on itunes and Spotify.  We have never received any money from either of these two billion dollar companies.  YouTube, with valuations in the billions, is a complete illusion as they don’t actually create anything.  You can listen to almost all of the Cowslingers and Daredevils music there.  Once again, no cash to the band.  If I didn’t know any better I would think enormous checks would be arriving to compensate everyone that made these YouTube clowns all their fortunes, but they decided to keep that money for themselves.  There is no band that is making any money in this wonderful digital age.  I think guys that have cool haircuts and shill products on Instagram for teenage girls do.  Probably guys that get hit in the nuts on video and sell ads do too.  Not bands.  Unless we start hitting Leo in the nuts and have a “Mountain Dew” logo in the background.

Ultimately we do this to play songs we write and see them connect with people.  It’s not complicated.  It’s fun to play rock and roll.  It is a part of who I am, and maybe when I am justifying it in economic terms it sounds ridiculous.  Unless you ever wrote a stupid song on your couch and had someone you never met before sing it back with you while you played it live, it’s hard to understand.  I sell advertising because I have to.  I play music because it’s who I am.  I just hope the tax man understands.    

Monday, May 29, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The Continued WSET Diploma Slog

I am on the home stretch in prepping for my doomed attempt to pass the “still wines” WSET Diploma exam.  I am surrounded by oblique wines, computer print outs, arcane wine books, and class materials.  I am in deep.  I have ruined wine for anyone that spends more than 11 minutes in my company.  I am shoveling the information in as fast as I can but only some of it seems to stick.  I find myself to be in “Full Leo Mode” more often than I care to admit where I respond to a written exam question with his characteristic “Right…  Right… What the fuck were we just talking about?”.  My brain now stretches to get the details of the answer which are just out of reach.  It might be early onset Alzheimer's, which would actually offer some comfort in being able to blame my inability to remember anything on a progressing medical condition instead of just general stupidity.  

I have been going through past “Examiners Reports” put out by the WSET organization.  These are recaps of previous test results from the essay portion of the exam.  They are actually cruelly entertaining.  There is not an author credited to these reports, but it must be the same person as the snotty condescending tone rings through each one of the documents.  Somewhere in England there is a domestic partner being told repeatedly by the author “they’re doing it wrong” in such matters as garbage removal, driving directions and sexual intercourse.  Example of a test question recap:    “This was an extremely popular question that was answered badly by the majority of candidates attempting it.”  Then the best provided example of the answer had this caveat:  “(The following script) was one of the few higher scoring scripts for this question, but is by no means outstanding.” 

Here’s another one.  “The breakdown of marks for this question showed that it was answered both by those who really knew the subject (with a top mark of 88%) and those who clearly did not have a clue (a bottom mark of 10%), with the latter far more prevalent than the former, with 24% of candidates gaining the lowest grade –fail (unclassified).”  The best one though is "In spite of the large number of truly atrocious scripts, there were also some good ones..."  The WSET is not very big on positive affirmation or encouragement.  It’s much more of a Marine Corp Drill Sergeant with a Monty Python accent.  I wonder what “Your days of finger fucking Miss Mary Jane Rotten Crotch are OVER!” sounds like if Michael Caine said it to a platoon of Marine recruits. 

I like to think of the home life of that author along these lines.  “Janet.  I have provided a synopsis of your alleged lovemaking last night.  It was an unclassified failure.  There was very little attention paid to foreplay with almost no oral stimulation, and what oral stimulation occurred involved some teeth.  The rush to the actual penetration was ill-advised.  Your failure to utilize different positions, varying rhythms, eye contact, or stimulation from your hands in any manner was a great disappointment.  I have left a full candidate assessment on the kitchen table.  I suggest you absorb it and return to the bedroom more prepared next time.  If there is a next time.  Good day!”

This is what I signed up for, so it’s my own fault I am in this mess.  There are two parts of this exam.  Tasting and theory, which is essentially essay questions graded by the Monty Python Drill Sergeant.  That will probably go poorly.  There is good news.  I have been tasting very well lately.  It’s odd the way tasting works.  I find it to be like hitting a baseball.  Sometimes you’re just hot and seeing the ball very well.  I am smacking the shit out of the thing in the last ten days, nailing obscure wines like mencia from Bierzo, petite sirah from Lodi, Malbec from Cahor, a Gavi, a Toro, and a Valpolicella Ripasso.  Now I’m just wondering how long I can keep “seeing the ball” like I am.  Cody Ross had an unbelievable Playoff run for the Giants on their first World Series run.  That didn’t last.  I think he’s probably running a baseball camp in Phoenix now drinking 16 oz Miller Lites and watching 12 year olds take cuts from pitching machines.  It’s a long fall from the top.  I just need to be Playoff Cody Ross on June 14th.

I have almost no prayer in passing the essay portion on this test attempt.  I can’t make German wine law stick.  I can’t reliably remember the name of Hungarian Rivers or Austrian mountain names.  I just need to get really lucky in what they ask on this exam.  I’ll bet that snotty Monty Python Drill Sergeant is already scanning this blog entry making sure to have extensive questions on Hungarian sweet wine production.  (Or is this my plan and I am actually drawing you into my little trap as I am completely versed in the topic?  Ask yourself that my nemesis…  How’s your mind now?  Blown?)  My hope is I can keep it together and get past tasting.  In theory I can take another run at the exam in January.  There have only been an average of about 183 people on the planet annually that have passed this Diploma Unit since 1969.  The pass rate is unbelievably bleak.  I will not let it break me.  I will get past this thing.  Somehow.  I have done many things by sheer force of will, and this will be another one.  While I have absolutely no practical application for this certification at this point, it is my primary driver at this point.  There is no great payoff at the end except the achievement itself.  And maybe avoiding a public dressing down in the dreaded “Examiner’s Report”.        

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The First Time We Played With Southern Culture On The Skids

I had become aware of Southern Culture on the Skids when we played a show at the Penguin Pub in Youngstown in the early 90s.  1992 maybe?  Keith, the soundman and booking agent, was playing a band out of the PA I had never heard before but instantly made my heard turn and ask “Who is THAT?”.  At this point I had assumed that the Cowslingers were in a void making American roots music updated to our time and with our own voice.  Most of the bands we knew about at this time were from a generation before us and were gone.  Jason and the Scorchers, the Blasters, X and the Beat Farmers had given us the blueprint.  The four of us in the Cowslingers couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t obvious to everyone that these were the coolest bands on the planet.  We thought we were alone.  Yet, here was evidence to the contrary.

The music coming out of the speakers was Southern Culture on the Skids first full length “Too Much Pork For Just One Fork”.  It was this absolutely perfect stew of swamp rock, CCR, surf, rockabilly, and skewed hillbilly observations.  It sounded familiar and yet totally new.  Holy shit.  Someone else thinks the way we do.  Keith then mentioned in passing they were coming to town in 6 weeks.  “Keith!  You have to let us open!  I have to see these guys!”  No one wants to deal with a sweaty guy in a polyester cowboy shirt begging to play a gig with a band from North Carolina no one has heard of either at your shithole bar.  We got the gig.

We were still sort of finding our way back then and played a set of tentative originals mixed in with a few of our “hits” like “The Burro Show” and “Bad Booze Rodeo”.  We still did a ton of covers from our hero bands too just to make sure audiences didn’t forget that we wanted to be Jason and the Scorchers.  It was a good crowd at the Penguin Pub that night.  For those too young to remember the Penguin Pub, it was noteworthy as a place that GG Allin was welcome to shit on the floor and toss it around the club.  The sound of gunshots in the nearby neighborhoods was common on load outs.  Johnny Thunders showed up at the Pub to discover no one knew where to score heroin, so he drove home to New York to get some, and then drove back to the club to play.  Sure the show started at 1:15 am, but he got there!  Now I am pretty sure the GG Allin story is true.  I want to Johnny Thunders story to be true.  The one thing I know for sure is that at the Penguin Pub that night Southern Culture played the best show most people in that club had ever seen in Youngstown. 

I became a fan that night and bought what I believe to be the single best 7 inch of The Great Age of the Indie Rock Seven Inch Single (1992-1996) in the “Santo Sings!” SCOTS 4 song EP.  Dave sold it to me at the edge of the stage for three bucks.  Three songs that are still in regular rotation in a Southern Culture on the Skids set list are on that little record.  I may have spun that seven inch 134,765 times at my squalid apartment.  More importantly we struck up friendships with the band that night that endure to this day.  Damn, we have known them a long time.  There have been some incidents…

There was the time we got delayed in traffic driving to Louisville and the promoter wouldn’t let us set up and play as we had “missed load in”.  It turned out the second band on the bill (The Silos, who I still can’t listen to) decided they didn’t want to slide their amps back 18 inches to let us set up.  We had driven 8.5 hours for nothing.  The bar let us backstage so we drank all our beer, The Silos beer, and then SCOTS beer.  We could be a handful.  The Silos steered clear of us, but SCOTS were good humored about it.  We all went to a bar later where an extremely intoxicated Bobby got amorous with a woman that looked like “Do YA Think I’m Sexy” era Rod Stewart in the back of a minivan.  Dave Hartman has never let Bobby forget that night.

There were all those Sleazefest gigs in Chapel Hill where SCOTS assembled all the misfit bands like them into one three-day weekend of Bar-b-que, beer, and loud sloppy rock.  I almost killed the occupants of the Local 506 when I blew up a piñata filled with cigarettes with an M-200.  The explosion was so forceful that it knocked over a grill and a member of the Subsonics who were on the roof of the club at the time.  After a Mad Dog snow cone from Cousin Crispy, all was forgiven.  I think that was the night that Dave Robertson ran out on the street naked in his German army helmet.  Those Sleazefests all sort of blur together.

Sugar’s first gig with the Daredevils was with Southern Culture in Milwaukee at Turner Hall.  She was nervous but it all worked out fine.  Thank God she didn’t know that Mary would have given her a handful of muscle relaxers to help her “relax” before the show had she known.  Mary is such a nice Southern belle in that respect.  We all went out for tiki drinks at Rick’s favorite tiki bar, “The Foundation Tiki Bar” and later took our picture at the oddly diminutive statue of Henry Winkler as The Fonz by the waterfront.  I did not feel my best in Madison the next night. 

We used to play with them at Mabel’s in Champaign IL as often as Sasha could get the bill together.  I remember one night when they were tired from a Rolling Stone photo shoot earlier as their “Dirt Track Date” record was gaining steam.  It was odd to have someone you know involved in a Rolling Stone photo shoot.  We tried out our new twisted cover of “Sweet Emotion” that night to great success, and I lit a monstrous string of firecrackers off during “Strip Bars Liquor and Fireworks” that filled the room with sulfur smoke.  This was before Great White killed all their fans with their “flaming wheel of fireworks next to a velvet curtain trick”, so folks were more forgiving of that type of foolishness.  I remember Rick leaning his head out the dressing room door and shaking his head saying “Awright… Awright… Ya’ll gonna make us work hard tonight.”  They then effortlessly crushed the room as I recall.

I am so happy that they are still making records I want to listen to, like their new one.  It’s not easy pushing boundaries and keeping the fan base engaged.  People want to hear the songs they are familiar with more than anything new.  Let’s face it.  At a shed show, if Tom Petty says “here’s a new one”, he might as well say “Here’s a good time to hit the men’s room and get a beer”.  I hope the SCOTS faithful like the new “Electric Pinecones” record as much as I do.  For me, the more psychedelic they went on it, the better.  “Waiting On You” is so great when it kicks into the psychedelic freakout section.  If you haven’t picked it up, get on board.

We are playing Sunday June 4th at the Rex Theater with Southern Culture.  It is hard to believe that in 1992 that Penguin Pub bill would happen again, but this time in a large theater.  25 years later and we are all still doing it.  It seems like once again we are making this twisted country punk rockabilly shit we do in a bit of a void.  They say everything is cyclical.  Hopefully we are Jason and the Scorchers to someone else and Southern Culture on the Skids is X.  You do what you do and let history sort out the rest.  

See you at the Rex.   

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The Drawing

Wally was one of those guys that even now is probably not known as Walter.  I would call Wally’s enthusiasm for things as innocent.  The guy always seemed to be grinning like he was just waiting for the next bit of good news.  He was skinny.  His clothes hung off him.  His battered white tennis shoes were always coming untied.  He was an art student that seemed out of place.  While all the other students in his classes wore lots of black and listened to Bauhaus and Joy Division, Wally was an early Replacements guy.  I remember seeing him thrash around to “You Lose” when I saw the Replacements play it live once.  He was grinning the entire time.

I thought of Wally today for the first time in a decade.  I had parked my car and noticed a woman walking across the parking lot and thought “I know her…”.  Her name was Karen I think.  She had lived in an apartment across the street from me.  She was friends with someone I knew, so she identified me as someone “safe, but not trustworthy” as I recall.  I wouldn’t call us friends, but we knew who each other were.  I think once at a party I had the following conversation with her.  “Hey… Don’t you live across the street from me?”  Yes.  (As you can see, we were very close.)  

It was a late Spring day.  A group of people were sitting around some steps in the sun in a courtyard.  One of those where the sun is struggling to warm everything, so when the wind blows it’s too cold, but you think if you just sit still the wind will stop and it will be warm again.  Wally was sitting in this communal area sketching into a notebook.  He was pretty good.  Not so good that you thought “That guy is going to be a famous artist”, but more like “That guy is better than anyone I know personally”.  He was always furiously sketching, so I didn’t even really notice.  One of Karen’s friends did though.

Karen’s friend, a woman who I could only recall as giving a mutual acquaintance a hand job at a booth in a terrible strip plaza bar called “BC’s Bus Stop”, noticed Wally sketching.  She was always confrontational.  She nudged Karen to get her attention and walked over to Wally.  “Hey!  What are you drawing?”  Wally had been so engrossed in his sketch he hadn’t even see her come over, so he looked up with a surprised facial expression I had never seen before that bordered on panic.  “Oh…  It’s nothing…  Just a stupid assignment..”  Karen’s friend demanded to see it.  “Come on.  Let me see it.  I know what you were drawing.  You were drawing my friend.  If you are drawing my friend, I have a right to see it.”  

I have no idea why this logic was connecting, but in the moment it did.  Wally clearly did not want to show her the drawing but could feel more and more people looking at this blooming incident.  “Let me see it!”  Wally sheepishly turned the pad towards her, and then had it snatched from his hands.  Karen’s friend immediately started shrieking “Oh My God!  You fucking creeper!”  She then turned the drawing to show Karen that Wally had been clandestinely drawing her.  Karen’s friend was laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world.  Wally was looking down at the pavement.  Everyone else was staring at the drawing.

It was really good.  It was probably one of the best things I had ever seen him draw.  What made it so good was you could tell that Wally had all sorts of feelings for Karen.  There was something in the expression he captured, the look of the eyes or maybe the slight curve of her lips.  It was the very definition of unrequited love.  There was a soft familiarity that was also wrapped in sadness.  He had allowed his emotions to move that pencil and I’m sure never considered showing it to anyone.  You didn’t have to be some sort of art critic.  It was like that Girl with the Pearl earring painting where once glance says “Uh oh”.  The problem was that I don’t think Wally had ever spoken to Karen, and I’m sure with his scruffy shoes and sloppy clothes he was essentially invisible to her.  He was out of her normal path-to-success orbit.  At least until now.

You could almost feel the entire group of people turn to see Karen’s expression.  Meanwhile her loudmouth friend just kept going on and on.  “What the fuck man!  That’s a violation!”  Wally just kept looking down.  I could see that Karen was having this internal tug of war.  She didn’t want to be on display like this.  She didn’t even know this guy, and if I saw something in that drawing, I’m sure she saw it too.  That had to register with her.  Meanwhile the peer pressure from her friend is mounting.  Then it came to the fork in the road.  “Karen!  Can you believe this fucking weirdo?” Wally looked over at her.  No grin.  He is mortified at being exposed.  His eyes were so big.  She has his entire soul in her hands.  “Stay away from me you fucking creep!”

Bam.  The girls marched away with her friend laughing.  Humiliation.

What’s funny is I can’t remember ever seeing Wally, Karen, or that loudmouth friend again after that.  I’m sure I must have, but the only thing I remember about them is that.  I’d like to tell you that there was one of those great summer movie endings where Wally kissed Karen at the party after she told him how much she was touched by the drawing.  I don’t think that happened though.  I’d also like to tell you that Karen received a karmic payback and never found happiness, but she was laughing as she walked two almost perfect children to her car yesterday.  All I know is I never saw Karen like Wally did in that drawing.  And I bet he didn’t after that day either.