It was the summer of 1996. I was home after a sophomore year of college that worked out better than freshman year and had me thinking college might end up being OK. I still wasn't entirely comfortable, but I was getting there. Slowly, but getting there.
Although many now think of me as some righteous music guru, the truth is that music didn't really mean all that much to me when I was growing up. Sure, I clung to the Billy Joel tapes that were issued to every Catholic Schoolboy on Staten Island. And I had a decent collection of 45s and cassettes, though mostly of songs like Pee Wee Herman's "Surfin' Bird" and The Fat Boys' version of "Wipeout" and soundtracks to movies like "The Great Outdoors" and "UHF." Now, don't get me wrong--those are all fine works, but they're not exactly, y'know, weighty or whatever. The weightiest I got were Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Roy Orbison, the latter of whom I started listening to at an age at which no boy should be listening to Roy Orbison. But I digress.
Anyway, after two years of college and being exposed to different kinds of music, I started to look for what else was out there, musically speaking and otherwise (perhaps mainly to drown out the Rusted Root that played incessantly from the room next door...send me on my way, indeed). And that eventually brought me to country music, and its neglected, socially inept offspring, alternative country. It was about 1996 when I first heard of people like Steve Earle and Joe Ely, who were alternative country before such a term existed. Or at least it was the first time I actually paid attention to them. And that I learned that it's pronounced "EE-lee" not "e-LIE."
It was around that time that Joe Ely covered Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" for a tribute record. He recorded the song with a guy called Todd Snider, who I had seen once on the TV show "Austin City Limits" and was pretty impressed by. In fact, I almost reviewed his CD, "Step Right Up," for the college newspaper, but I went with B-52's lead singer Fred Schneider's CD "Just Fred," because I figured it would be easier to make cheap jokes about it. And I was right.
I did finally get around to buying "Step Right Up" in that summer of 1996 when I saw that Todd Snider (and his band, The Nervous Wrecks, would be opening for Rory Block at The Bottom Line in NYC. I was but a lad of 19 at the time, so I couldn't go to the show at the over-21 club, but I figured I could maybe get the CD signed outside the club after soundcheck. So with very little knowledge of what Todd Snider even looked like, I headed down to the club.
I was standing outside for awhile, holding the CD, when a guy came up to me and asked, "Are you looking for Todd?" I told him I was, and he said, "Well, that's him right there." He brought me over, and I asked Todd to sign my CD. He asked if I'd be coming to the show, and I explained the situation, saying that I wasn't 21 and adding, "and I'm not cool enough to have a fake ID" (what a slick kid I was). Then, Todd and his brother, Mike (who was the guy who had asked me if I was looking for Todd) put their heads together, and Mike just said, "Well, come back at around 5:30 and we'll sneak you in. Just pretend you're with the crew." I think I managed to stammer, "Um, OK" and then I went to get something to eat at Wendy's. And to buy another Todd Snider CD.
I came back at 5:30, looked for Mike, and he directed me to another member of the crew, who just told me to follow him and look like I belong. So I did. And a minute later, I was sitting in a tiny dressing room at The Bottom Line, talking to Mike Snider about that Buddy Holly tribute record and how I had heard about Todd. Now, at the time, I hadn't even really listened to a Todd CD (I bought "Step Right Up" that day), except for a few snippets on a Tower Records listening station. So I didn't really have much to say. I just mentioned seeing him on "Austin City Limits" and that was really all I had to go on. But Mike, and everybody else in the band and crew, were all real nice to me anyway. I ate their fruit, watched the drummer ( Joe McLeary) shave, and offered to help, but was told to just relax. Mike was even apologetic about not being able to get me a beer, but then decided it would be OK if I really wanted one (I didn't, naturally).
A few minutes before showtime, Mike told me to go find a seat for the show out front. And about 15 minutes after I sat down, I saw what, at the time, was easily the greatest thing I'd ever seen. It was loud, it was fast, and it was rock and great-God-almighty-I-am-free-at-last roll. I recognized some of the songs from "Austin City Limits," including "Side Show Blues," which I had decided was my favorite when Mike asked me before the show. And there were others that I loved, like "Alright Guy" and "I Like Country When It Rocks" (and at that point, I was pretty sure I did, too). The show was over way too soon (it was probably about 40 minutes) and after Rory Block's dull headlining set, I wondered why Todd wasn't headlining. And that wasn't the first time I'd wonder if a concert's order of performance should have been reversed.
After the show, I wanted to just say goodbye and thanks to Mike and Todd, so I saw one of the guys in the crew, Kevin Shackleford, and told him how what I saw completely knocked me out. He told me, "Really? Well that was Todd on only, like, 7. You oughta see him when he gets to 10." Then he asked me if I was staying for the second show, which I hadn't even thought about. Well, yes, I guess I will.
So I did, and the second set was as good as the first (though still, in retrospect, not Todd on 10). After the second show, I went backstage (with the help of another good guy on Todd's crew, Shamus Bacon) to thank Mike and Todd and promise them that I'd do everything I could to get people to listen to Todd Snider.
And I'm still trying.
All of that was really just to say that "That Was Me: 1994-1998," a collection of Todd's best work from the MCA years (plus a cover of "Margaritaville), is now available at all your finest music stores and online music outlets. The MCA CDs (including the aforementioned "Step Right Up") are all out of print, so this is the best chance to hear the best of those discs ("Songs for the Daily Planet," "Step Right Up," and "Viva Satellite," if you're taking notes).
I will forever owe a debt to Todd and his brother for sneaking me into that show and opening my eyes to a world of music that wasn't played on the radio or shown on MTV. And that's a world that forever changed my life -- a world where I'll travel to Philly to get lost at a Marah show, or to Charlotte to see a Scott Miller and the Commonwealth show, or to Falls Church, Virginia to catch a Todd Snider and the Nervous Wrecks reunion show so I can feel like I'm 19 again. It's a good world, and it all started that night at The Bottom Line.
So help me repay the debt and buy the CD, OK?
I'm sure the awards will be rebroadcast roughly a gajillion times in the coming weeks, so you'll have a chance to catch it if you missed it live, assuming R. Kelly doesn't come to his senses and ask MTV to never show that again. Luckily, I don't think R. Kelly has much sense left, so we should be in the clear.
Originally uploaded by MrBadExample.
It is a testament to the mighty power of the Avett Brothers that they managed to overcome the incredibly drunk girl sitting next to me and the McCormicks of Wilmington last night.
Now, I don't really have any gripe with drunk people in general (some of my best friends are drunks). But when you're screaming "OHHHHHHH SHIT!" and "YEEEEEEEEAH BOYS!" every two seconds, that's probably going to bother me.
If you listen to Howard Stern and are familiar with the clip he's been playing of the drunk Scores girls (vodka, straight up, thank yooooooooooou!), then you have an idea of the level of drunkenness we're dealing with here. Luckily, she was sitting next to the better-looking half of the Wilmington McCormicks for most of the night. In fact, she asked both McCormicks--and not me--to get up and dance toward the end of the night. They declined.
Unfortunately, my luck ran out at the end of the show, when I felt someone grab my arm. What followed sounded something like this:
"Abagabagabadaba dooba Avett Brothers?"
I thought that maybe she was asking me how I'd heard of the Avett Brothers, so I said, "Oh, y'know, I read about them in magazines and..."
"NOOOOO! Dooba ralike the Avett Brothers shoooow?"
I think that was "Did you like the Avett Brothers show?" So I decided on, "Oh, yeah, y'know, I've seen them a bunch of, like, 8 times now. So, y'know, I'm in the club or whatever."
And then she just kept staring at me. I turned away. She kept staring. For about a half-minute or so. Then she walked away to find her friends who had abandoned her.
And that's why I don't talk to people at shows.
Anyway, the show itself was a good time, cut short by the park curfew of 9 p.m., which no one seemed to tell the band about until 9 p.m. I think there were about 6 strings (4 banjo, 2 guitar) broken. So a pretty good night.
And now on to Teaneck...
After falling asleep somewhere between "Match Game" and "Family Feud" and waking up drenched in sweat, I thought it might be a good idea to get out of the apartment and do something. When most people plan to "do something," they come up with something constructive or maybe call up some friends and see if they want to hang out. I, however, think "Hey, that Corey Feldman play closes next week. I should really get my CD signed."
And so I headed out the door and over to the NYC theater where Corey is starring in "Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy." After waiting for awhile and watching the rest of the cast arrive, I was getting a little antsy. A security guard arrived, which made me laugh, because he had to have been hired just to protect Corey. God bless the rest of the cast, but I think they'd be fine without security detail.
Anyway, finally, a white Jeep (or something like a Jeep; I don't know car makes) pulls up, and out of the driver's side comes the Feldman. His wife gets out of the passenger side. And that's when the fun starts.
There was some bad car maneuvering, and all of the sudden, I hear the sound of breaking glass. In my rush to get to Corey, I missed the moment of impact, but, from what I can gather, a cab knocked into the door as the Mrs. exited and somebody's side mirror got broke. I would have more details, but soon after the cab driver got out of the cab, fantastic amounts of yelling occurred.
It started peaceful, but when the cab driver started to blame Mrs. Corey for the accident, Corey, resplendent in a white vest and what I think were velvet pants, started to lose it. And how do you know when Corey Feldman loses it?
He takes off his sunglasses.
After some yelling in the street, Corey came back to the sidewalk, and I had to decide if now was a good time for an autograph request. I had, after all, abandoned a night of watching "Undeclared" for this. I tried calling his name, but then the cab driver came back over and tried to explain that you can't open a car door on the street side. Corey's response didn't do much to calm things down.
"What? What fucking country do you live in?"
That didn't go over well with the Pakistani gentleman, and he said he was going to call the cops. Corey insisted that he should, and then asked the security guard (who earned his pay today), "Should I just call my friend the lieutenant now? Should I?"
And then I got Corey's attention and he signed my CD, while the cab driver continued to yell at him. I really wish this had been filmed. I almost took pictures.
After Corey urged the cab driver to "get out of his face," both sides went their separate ways to cool off, Corey gave the security guy the contact info for his lieutenant friend, and Corey's wife told him that she almost had her leg taken off.
Just goes to show what can happen when you leave your apartment.
I'm not really sure of the copy-shop etiquette on this, but I think you should at least try to be discreet about it. But he wasn't, and so after making the copies, he came up to the front desk.
"You write this?"
(I should note that at this point I had decided to disregard my anger about him reading what I wrote and was gearing up for a compliment. I'm very needy.)
"You read that Jack Kerouac book 'On the Road'?"
"Um, yep." (How was this leading up to that compliment?)
"You know Dean Moriarty in the book?"
"Kerouac based that character on Hunter Thompson and a trip they took."
At this point, I had a great urge to scream, "You moron. That's completely and embarrassingly wrong. And probably not even possible. Do you just sit here and make shit up all day? Have you ever even read a Hunter S. Thompson book, you tubby, pale-faced goon?"
Instead, I fell back on my standard response when I know someone's wrong but don't have the heart to tell them: "Oh yeah?"
Then I took my copies, paid the man, and ran.
At some point today, Hunter S. Thompson's ashes will be shot out of a cannon on the grounds of Owl Farm compound in Woody Creek, Colorado. Hunter S. Thompson was not the basis for any character in "On the Road." Nor was he, as some would have you believe, a drug-addled fool whose writings can only be appreciated by similarly baked readers. And he was certainly more than just "that guy who wrote the book they made into that Johnny Depp movie."
He was a writer, a journalist, a character in a world that could use a few more like him. As much as I enjoy what he wrote, I might enjoy even more his appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," where he and Conan shot various items (from posters to stuffed animals) in a field somewhere. That segment is why I still say "Fuck you, bear" a little more often than I should. And I remember telling Hunter how much I enjoyed that appearance when I saw him at a book signing...and then having him turn away to talk to somebody else. I moved down the line, but then I was called back amidst much yelling from staff and hangers-on. When I went back, Hunter apologized and mumbled, "Sorry man, I thought you were some kind of loose cannon." It might be the greatest compliment I ever got.
But sometimes lost in all the tales of Hunter's misdeeds is the fact that he wrote a ton of great stuff, like "Hell's Angels" and "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72." And you don't have to be under the influence of any drug to know that it's all burning with the fire of a man who waged an unending battle against boredom and drudgery.
And the battle continues today with the shooting of his ashes into the Colorado sky. His remains will be launched out of a giant, Gonzo-fist cannon as a group of friends and family look on. It's not exactly your average way to go out. But Hunter S. Thompson was never average.
Rest in peace, Doc.
I have seen the future of unclassifiable music with elements of pop, punk, rock, bluegrass, and old-time music and its name is the Avett Brothers.
Nope. Too wordy.
The Avett Brothers tore the roof off of Joe's Pub last Saturday night.
Nah. Just dumb, and might offend victims of recent hurricanes.
The Avett Brothers are the best band you've never heard of. But that won't be the case for long.
Now how would I know if you've heard of them? Plus I've mentioned them a few times here, so scratch that one, too.
Oh, screw it. How about I just tell you that the show ended with Seth Avett breaking strings on both of his guitars (causing him to switch to tambourine), Scott Avett breaking three strings on his banjo (leading to a cry from the audience of "Go on... play that string, Scottie"), and Bob Crawford laying flat on his back with his stand-up bass on top of him?
But that might make it sound like the show was full of equipment malfunctions and possible serious injury. And it wasn't. Sure, there were equipment problems (there always are at an Avetts show), but that'll happen when you play every note and stomp every foot with the sole intention of putting every last ounce of energy you have into a song. A lot of bands will build up energy for the end of the show, and then knock you out so you have something to remember on the way home. But the Avetts come out swinging and don't let up, so that when they reach the end, both you and the band are so emotionally and physically drained that it all almost doesn't seem real.
Look, I can't make you go see the Avett Brothers. Actually, wait, yes, I can. I can come to your house, rip you from your happy slumber up there on Melody Lane, drug you up, and drag you kicking and screaming to an Avetts show. And, believe me, if I have the time to take a bus to see Screech do stand-up at a Holiday Inn on a New Jersey highway, you can bet your ass I have time to kidnap you.
But I won't (probably). I'll just remind you that there's two Avett Brothers shows in the Northeast next week, in Philly (Wed.) and Teaneck, NJ (Thurs.). Not easy to reach for most of you, but not impossible (Teaneck's easily accessible by bus from the Port Authority. You should go. Seriously. Or just keep the name in your head and catch them when they play closer to you. Don't make me turn to a life of crime.
Anyway, back to "Undeclared." It was created by Judd Apatow, who was also one of the forces behind "Freaks and Geeks," which, of course, affords him a special place in my life, somewhere between Dustin Diamond and Bronson Pinchot, which, now that I write that, seems like a pretty depressing place. But I digress.
To sum up the show briefly in an SAT analogy:
"Freaks and Geeks":high school::"Undeclared":college
It's a pretty spot-on depiction of the college experience from the freshm...ahem...first-year student perspective. It has the same sort of sensibilities as "Freaks and Geeks," with a lot of the same people involved (including stellar work from creepy-boyfriend-portrayer-extraordinaire Jason Segel), but it's a half-hour and a little more jokey than "Freaks and Geeks." Still, it's real damn good and features a bunch of great episodes, all of which can be yours for, I don't know, somewhere in the $40-$50 range.
Loudon Wainwright III (the only known musician to appear on an album cover in a New York Islanders jersey) played the main character's dad, Hal, on the show and will be appearing at the Borders Columbus Circle at 7 p.m. this Wednesday performing and signing copies of the DVD and his new CD "Here Come The Choppers." Come on out.
And so ends my commercial for the "Undeclared" DVDs.
Originally uploaded by MrBadExample.
So, remember that Will Hoge show I mentioned a few weeks back? What? You don't? You haven't been reading every entry? I am disappointed in you.
Anyway, so I went to the Will Hoge show at the Mercury Lounge. I had seen a different incarnation of the band (with Yayhoo and Tinsel and Rot's first cover boy Dan Baird on guitar) at the same club a bunch of years ago (a vague phrase that enables me not to look up the exact date, because, well, I don't really want to) and I was certainly one of only a handful of folks who came to see them that night. I also was among a small group of Hoge fans at the shows they did at the late, rarely lamented Wetlands Preserve, where they once opened for Flickerstick, who won VH-1's "Bands on the Run" and have spent the last few years carefully working their way back into obscurity.
Will Hoge, on the other hand, has developed a steady following since lo that bunch of years ago, so I expected this show to have more than a handful of people to show up to greet Hoge and his bandmates.
Little did I know that there would be quite a bit more than a handful. And that they would be young women. Loud, young women. With too much alcohol in them. And a desire to declare the hotness of various band members repeatedly over the course of 70 minutes. And there was no escape from them from my spot near the stage.
Don't get me wrong. I am a big fan of attractive, young women (though the feeling, tragically, does not seem to be mutual). However, I prefer them to be quiet and, if at all possible, attracted to me and not the better-looking guy with the guitar and the vintage t-shirt. And, if that's not possible, if they could just not stage whisper "Ohmigod! He is so f**king hot!" during a quiet moment in a song, I'm probably gonna enjoy the evening more.
For a few minutes during the show, I started wishing it was the good old days, until I realized that my good old days and the band's good old days probably don't match up. Sure, I really liked being able to get close to the stage at Wetlands to take a couple of action shots and feel a little closer to the music. But my guess is the band is pretty glad that the silently bobbing heads of me and a few other baseball-capped guys have been augmented by a few infinitely better-looking females, professing their love in breathless screams of devotion.
So I tipped my cap to the gods of music, promised to stop being so judgmental, and vowed not to let the new folks stop me from seeing Will Hoge at Maxwell's in Hoboken. That show's Tuesday night (8/9). Come on out if you can and look for me.
I'll probably be in the back this time. Silently bobbing my head.
The Avett Brothers
Originally uploaded by MrBadExample.
Welcome to Avett August here at Tinsel and Rot.
Avett August is a month-long salute to my new favorite live band, The Avett Brothers, from Concord, North Carolina. They're doing their best to get a foothold outside of their home state, and that means a lot of touring in places where they might not have the biggest followings. That can be a lonely proposition, leading to nights where you're playing to such a small crowd at the Goldhawk in Hoboken that you can shake hands with each audience member when the show's over.
And that's a real disappointing thing, or at least it's disappointing to me. Maybe you don't care about music. And, really, that's fine. We all have different ways to get through the day. But music does mean a whole lot to me, which is why you should take heed of what I am about to tell you.
With all the shows I've been to, there have only been a few moments where I've (forgive the hippy-dippiness) felt a sort of magical feeling wash over me. It happened when I saw Todd Snider and the Nervous Wrecks at the Bottom Line in the summer of 1996. It happened when I first heard Marah perform "History of Where Someone Has Been Killed" at the Mercury Lounge in the summer of 2000. And it happened a few months ago at, of all places, a Tower Records in Lincoln Center, where the Avett Brothers (Seth and Scott Avett and honorary brother Bob Crawford) gave an in-store performance on a Saturday afternoon.
Now, a Saturday afternoon in-store performance isn't exactly a show you would expect to kick much ass. You figure they'll play a few songs for a smattering of indifferent people who are busy looking for a Norah Jones CD, sign a few CDs afterward, and be on their way. But the Avetts don't do anything half-ass. They stomp. They shout. They shake. Scott Avett slashes at his banjo til a string breaks or a finger bleeds, whichever comes first. Seth Avett picks out a clean guitar break and then pounds a way on his high-hat cymbal, stopping only when a spring pops loose and quick repairs need to be done. And just when you think it's all about the shoutin', Bob Crawford joins in on a three-part harmony, and it sounds so damn sweet that you want to cry. But you're 28 and you're in a record store on the Upper West Side, so you think better of it
Listen, what I'm saying here is that if they can do that at an in-store on a Saturday afternoon, don't you think you should check out what they can do in a full-blown show?
The Avetts will be up here in the Northeast a few times in August. You really oughta check them out. And I will even pay your way. If you don't like it, you owe me nothing. No strings attached. No money down. No kidding. But I'll only take the first five who jump at the offer. I aint no rich man, son.
I'll likely be at all the following shows. Come on down:
8/13 Joe's Pub, NYC (9:30 p.m.)
8/24 Rittenhouse Square, Philly, PA (already a free show to start with, dammit; with Chatham County Line) (don't know the time)
8/25 Mexicali Blues, Teaneck, NJ (10 p.m.)
But then, mere minutes after I walked into my apartment Sunday night, I tuned into "Celebrity Fit Club 2" and watched Willie Aames, covered in what have to be the worst tattoos I've ever seen, having a complete meltdown, first when awakened at 6 in the morning for an exercise session and then when recounting his anger on the Celebrity Fit Club set. It may be the best reality TV since Stephen slapped Irene on "The Real World: Seattle." When he attacked his own front door, I laughed very, very hard.
And you will, too. Do yourself a favor and tune in to one of the 1,832 reairings of the episode this week.