Sunday, February 16, 2020

Nurse the Hate: The Cincinnati Hasil Adkins Gig

I had received an email seeking information about a Hasil Adkins gig I had booked in Cincinnati at the Southgate in what seems like a thousand years ago.  Billy Catfish asked me about details about how the show came together.  It was like trying to remember a disconcerting dream that leaves you off-kilter the entire next morning after waking.  The pieces started to fall into place, but I will admit some sizeable gaps.  This is what I remember, but don’t hold me feet to the fire on this…

It was Summer.  That I can remember.  At least I think I do.  I had put together a record for Hasil on Shake It Records from cassette tapes of songs Hasil had sent me.  The tapes were crazy.  A song from the late 1950s would be immediately followed by one he recorded two nights earlier which would go straight into something from the 1970s.  There were two types of songs:  Fast Songs and Slow Songs.  He was adamant that the record be synced to go fast song/slow song/fast song/slow song.  I preferred almost all the fast songs which captured the insanity and reckless spirit of the man himself.  However, he was the artist.  Who was I to argue?  Eventually we titled it “Drinking My Life Away” and I believe it stands as one of the best records of his later period after he had been “discovered” by Fat Possum well after the landmark Norton reissues.

I can’t remember if the show was a “record release” show or not.  Trying to work things out with Hasil was never easy.  I would have late night conversations with him which would almost end up with him asking me for money.  “Greg!  Can you send me an advance!”  I think he was under the impression I was a big time record executive as opposed to a guy in a pair of shorts in his living room.  We had a history of playing shows together in West Virginia, but he could never seem to make the connection that I was the same guy from The Cowslingers.  Thus, each time I called him I had to reintroduce myself.  It was never easy.  If I asked him if he wanted to play on show May 6th for example, I would hear a response like this…  “Oh yeaaahhh I am going to be in Canada, New York, they love me in New York, and Dallas and they keep asking for me over the water so I got to get over there and…”  That’s great Hasil, but what about May 6th?  Repeat.

It was a difficult feat to get Hasil on the road.  He could forget about the gig, refuse to go, disappear, or just not feel like playing when you went to pick him up.  There was no way he could drive himself as he had lost his license decades ago over countless DUIs.  If you got lucky, he would climb in the car to go to the gig.  The problem was that as soon as he got in the car, he would start drinking.  If the gig was 30 minutes away at The Empty Glass, that was no problem.  If it was four hours away at the Grog Shop, that was a sticky wicket.  John Steele told me the trick was to water down vodka to keep him on the rails.  It was a technique that was at least functional.  To think that Fat Possum records put Hasil and T-Model Ford together on a bus tour still blows my mind.   

For the Cincinnati show, I gave the Southgate the complete caveat emptor.  I will book him, figure out how to get him there but I can’t guarantee any of it would happen as he could refuse to leave his trailer.  I gave my usual backup plan of two Cowslinger sets with a Hasil no-show.  “Sorry everybody, no Hasil!  Here’s a deep cut from Boot N Rally!”  (general murmur of disappointment)  The problem on my end was I didn’t want to have to drive to his trailer in Boone County WV just to ply him with alcohol to then immediately drive to Cincinnati.  I would need to dupe someone into it.

I want to apologize now for not remembering the man’s name that volunteered to get Hasil for us.  I think it was Jason.  This was one of the most heroic acts of all time agreeing to make this suicide run.   It makes firefighters look like cowards.  He should get priority boarding for all airplanes for life.  “Thank you for your service sir.”  I can’t recall how we got him to agree to it.  Someone volunteering for this mission must have had a Leo tie-in somewhere.  This was all pre-Google maps so I had to draw out directions complete with the tips on how to handle Hasil.  “OK, so when you pass the third guard rail you’ll notice a small dirt road.  DO NOT drive down it as you’ll bottom out your car, so park just down the road and walk until you see the City Bus on blocks in a clearing.  I would call about 45 minutes and again 15 minutes before you get there because if he forgets you’re coming he might shoot you.”  These were just some of the actual directions.  It was a real production.

I called Hasil in the nights leading up to the Cincinnati gig just to make sure A) he remembered, B) planned on still playing and C) there was no other craziness I needed to know about.  It required a delicate touch.  Hasil was in good spirits, especially so about a new fashion trend he believed he had discovered.  “It’s been so hot, I’m been sweating like a mofo.  I just made myself a shirt.  People like it!  I made it myself!  People like it!  I’m gonna wear it tomorrow!”  It sounded like things were as together as they would ever be.  It was in God’s hands now.  Jason would drive down to get him and in theory, we'd have a show.

When we got to Cincinnati the next day, I walked into the Southgate ready to absorb whatever potential catastrophe had already occurred.  Things were oddly calm.  Hasil was in the dressing room and asking for me.  I walked to the back room of the old auditorium.  This was going to happen.  I couldn’t believe it.  I walked in the dressing room and saw Hasil.  He was sitting on a weatherbeaten chair in jeans and old brown dress shoes, an old thrift store cowboy hat with drawstring up to his chin, plastic sunglasses and each finger wearing a fake gold ring.  Most notably was his homemade “shirt”, which was a yellow and blue bed sheet which he had cut a hole in the center and tied around his waist with a remnant piece of rope.  It was sort of like a mumu.  It was insane, like something a mental patient in a post apocalyptic nightmare would construct out of necessity.

I don't have any memory of our set.  Honestly, we were just there to kill time.  I think Billy Catfish played too, but once again, this is just a vague feeling.  When you took Hasil on the road, the crowd was exclusively there to see Hasil.  Half of those people were jacked up to hear him play his "hits", in a stage of semi bliss that the miracle of seeing this obscure bucket list concert would be checked off.  The other group was there to see the freak show, to observe this mythological creature which had been pulled from the West Virginia holler like Bigfoot.  I always had mixed feelings about doing these gigs, like I was potentially exploiting Hasil.  However, I genuinely loved his music and he was certainly one of the most unique individuals I would ever meet.  The stories surrounding the man are legendary.  Plus, he needed the money...

I recall Hasil's set being chaotic.  There was a woman that kept getting up on the stage and touching him.  She had to be on LSD or ecstasy as there was no rational explanation for her behavior.  Hasil was a good sport about it, but it was hard for him to get into a groove as this woman would quickly drift back onto the stage just as soon as she would be led off in the first place.  Eventually he just got tired of the entire thing and finished in his traditional manner, tossing the drum kit.

There was a question about what to do after the show.  It's not like you could just send Hasil over to the Holiday Inn.  Billy had a party at his house as I recall.  Jason drove Hasil over.  It was pretty unhinged with a weird electricity in the air.  I have an image in my mind of Hasil playing some of his slow songs illuminated by a lamp with missing lampshade.  At this point, I felt a wave of relief as the show was in the books and whatever insanity that happened now was off my watch.  I crashed out quickly planning to escape the madness at morning.  I think Jason was supposed to drive Hasil back the next day, but instead there was some sort of audible called and those guys got into some adventures.  The story is very murky to me now, but in the end Jason ended up driving to the desert after spending too much time with Hasil.  This MIA road trip may have been responsible for sending his marriage to divorce.  In the Hasil Adkins concert promotional game this is referred to as "collateral damage".

That was the last time I got involved with taking Hasil on the road.  We played with him at the Empty Glass a couple more times, but he had canceled twice as often as he played.  We had a couple failed attempts at picking him up at his trailer, one of which a zonked out hillbilly woman chain smoked cheap cigarettes and glared at us as we tried to cajole him into the van.  He told us she would drive him to the club later.  "Hasil...  I don't see a car anywhere..."  He didn't make that one either.  The last time we played together we recorded both of our sets onto a half inch tape machine.  It was one of the best sets I ever heard him play in person.  I have never heard that tape.  Hasil died in 2005.

The great gift of today's world is that we are all connected, evolving and reacting to one another in real time.  This is also a curse.  It is impossible now that a man in the woods in West Virginia could hear songs on a distant radio station by "Hank Williams" or "Elvis Presley" and think that they alone made all the sounds he heard, forcing him to improvise into a crude one man band to try and create his own music.  Hasil Adkins was a unique individual from a time that is long gone.  Doing those shows were a terrible idea.  I'd do it again in a minute.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Nurse the Hate: A February Monday

I walk my basset hounds every morning.  I would be a simple target for assassination as I maintain a strict routine.  The basset, an absolute stickler for routines, is absolutely adamant that we go outside for our slow meander around the neighborhood at precisely 7:20am.  If I am being honest with myself, this routine is important to me as well.  The sense of purpose and inflexible schedule provide structure in my life that can at times seem completely unmoored in chaos.  The bassets and I have a classic enabling relationship.  Ultimately this will be our undoing as we are "whacked" by the Gambino crime family after I am in way over my head gambling and the Browns fail to cover at home in what appeared to be a "sure thing".  "The Browns miss the chip shot field goal!  Browns lose!"  I can see it now.  Hopefully there will be a grainy black and white photo of my bloody corpse staring lifelessly in the sky while uniformed patrolmen smoke cigarettes and laugh at private jokes.  The bassets will be taking a dump on the neighbors lawn, my hand clenching the unused blue plastic grocery bag flapping uselessly in the breeze.

This morning the bassets were edgy.  We didn't leave until 7:22, a clear breach of protocol.  They buried their noses into the ground and got to work.  I was thinking about the Super Bowl.  I should have been overjoyed.  I was heavily on the Chiefs, my biggest "play" of the season.  Things had looked grim at one point, but as expected Mahomes was great and Garappolo was what we all quietly expected.  This wasn't what bothered me.  It was the advertisements.  Almost all of the big budget Super Bowl ads were celebrity focused inside jokes.  The problem was I wasn't sure who most of the "celebrities" were, though I did vaguely recognize most of them.  I wasn't sure why 83 year old Martin Scorcese was freaking out because Jonah Hill hadn't met him at a party, and why Jonah Hill was the one that needed the much needed boost from some shitty Coca-Cola energy drink.  I didn't know why an unrecognizable gay bearded man campily told me I needed to eat pretzel pop-tarts.  I didn't know why character actor Luis Guzman (who's name I had to look up) was the guy most qualified to make a punch line in a confusing Snickers ad.  There were many music artists dancing around for soda and snacks, a decision that would have doomed a career in years past.  Unless Karl Ove Knausgaard or one of the guys from Calexico appeared in one of these ads, I just wasn't going to know who the fuck it was...

I should have been paying more attention to the bassets.  We were just slowly doing our thing, a sniffing of the general area in what I would call a "saunter".  As usual Monty was close to me while Ryver asserted her independence with a 15 foot drift from the team.  We were on a familiar corner, a house with a husky that has terrified the neighborhood and more specifically small dog owners since his arrival two years ago.  While some dogs need to be observed with some caution, this dog is bad news.  It is important to keep your head on a swivel.  His move is to lurk in the shadows and leap out in attack.  His victims include Brodie the collie and Charlie, the little fluffy bullshit dog, and those are just the two I know about.  Ryver, who assessed that the husky was imprisoned by an invisible fence, has been guilty in the past of staying just out of the range of the fence and taking a dump in the husky's face.  Not very neighborly to be sure, but as sure a sign of dominance that an admittedly wimpy 60 pound basset with a bad back can muster.  There is a history here between these two.

While I pondered Super Bowl advertising, the long term impact of the Corona Virus, and who might want to buy an Academy Awards local TV spot, I didn't notice the husky roaring out of the underbrush on a collision course with Ryver.  Ryver is a total joke as a watch dog.  She is 9 years old with a bad left leg.  She is a scent hound, and can become completely focused on a patch of grass.  The dog is oblivious to most of what is happening and has an inflated sense of her own ability if things get physical.  Frankly, this lack of self awareness is her most endearing quality.  I did the math.  She had her back to the husky sprinting towards her, and it was obvious the husky would get there before I would.  This was the Doomsday Scenario.

The husky immediately bit her deeply in the back, on the scruff.  There was no hesitation.  Ryver began to howl in shock and pain.  I had yelled out prior to the dog getting there as a last ditch hope to ward this attack off, but the dog had blown through the electric fence.  The husky bit into her again and Ryver yelped out again in pain while trying to get loose from the dog's toothy grip.  At this point I figured I was going to get bitten by this dog as I tried to prevent Ryver from being killed.  I had moved next to the two dogs and clocked the husky with a right hook to the head with everything I had, the impact shooting an electric pain up my arm as the blow sounded with a crack.  The husky bit down again on Ryver who was desperately struggling to get away, and I punched the dog again in the neck with a satisfying "thud".  Fuck this dog.  The husky lurched back and Ryver ran off howling, me following in mad pursuit so she wouldn't run blindly into the street and get hit by one of the teenage girls zipping around in the SUVs their Daddy's bought them for their Sweet 16th.  Ryver stopped after a short burst, blood streaming from her ear and shoulder.

The great thing about dogs is their ability to be stoic.  Had this happened to me, I would have been freaking out.  Ryver looked embarrassed more than anything, her brother Montgomery circling my legs as if to say "Hey, that crazy fucking dog isn't coming for me, is he?".  She looked amazingly composed considering she was bleeding from wounds on her head, neck and shoulder.  I made eye contact with her.  "You want to go home?"  Yep.  We all trotted the half block back to the house.  I dropped Monty off inside, tried to triage Ryver as best I could, and scooped her into the car to go to the vet.  She calmly sat in the back seat as I stopped at the the husky's owner's house.

My adrenalin was flowing.  I can feel my arms shaking.  I am partially hoping to get into a confrontation so I can go inside the house and chop everyone that lives there up with an axe.  "What?  You think this is my fault?  Here comes Johnny!"  (axe into door). Instead, after ringing the doorbell, I am met with a very nice woman, tears streaming out of her face as she begs for forgiveness.  She wants to know about the well being of Ryver.  Are we all ok?  Dammit.  I tell her what happened and tell her that I am going to have the vet call her for payment.  Meanwhile this poor woman has what might be the largest tears I have ever seen hitting the front porch as she sniffles through telling me about the family's attempts to train the dog.  She is purely filled with grief at the events that have transpired.  At this point I am making excuses for her.  I sheepishly leave, embarrassed by my early show of aggression at the door and drive Ryver to the vet.

Four stitches to the inner ear.  Three small puncture wounds to the body.  Ryver is like a zombie when I pick her up later that afternoon, the drugs used to sedate her still working though her system.  My jacket rattles with pills I will need to give her over the next couple of weeks.  The vet says the woman hasn't returned their call to offer up payment.  I leave the vet, letting Ryver let out a satisfying steam of urine after being locked up all day.  I wonder if the woman is going to willingly pay the vet.  I wonder if there will be more unpleasantness.  I wonder why I didn't know any of the Super Bowl halftime show songs.  I drive my dog home.