This one night in 1997: I had this huge marble ashtray at that point into which I would put any pills that I happened upon, which were mostly painkillers, muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines, crush ‘em all up, stir in all the crystal meth I could get and then scoop out bumps on the point of a knife. I was also smoking a shit-ton of weed. Anyway, this one night, it would’ve been October or early November, this cocktail waitress/prostitute that I had a casual sex thing going on with “borrowed” a car from some other guy she was sleeping with and asked me to take her to work and then come get her when her shift ended because she would be too drunk to drive when she got off. I took her to work and then figured that since I was driving what was basically a stolen car and had no driver’s license, I might as well have some fun so I took the car for a joyride all over the goddamn county. There were a few cassettes in the car, almost all of which were pop music shit. The only remotely decent thing I could find was Chumbawamba’s Tubthumper, the title track of which was on the charts at the time. I knew a guy who ran a record label in Richmond which had included a Chumbawamba track on a compilation and I thought the whole anarcho-punk band crafting a hit single was hilarious and yes, I did kinda dig “Tubthumper”, plus I was blasted on a smorgasbord of chemicals, so I blared “Tubthumper” over and over while careening around the county, burning up some guy’s gas.
When I have detailed flashbacks to the late ‘90’s, it usually means something’s wrong. I started an interior scan for malfunctions and then realized that it’s officially autumn now – the time of year when I’m most likely to experience some mental/emotional problems. I don’t always have major issues. I’m properly medicated and I have a fairly sane and stable life, but I do get some little ripples and so I figured out what was happening: the change in season had tripped some wire which was crossing the recent shit and creating interference. I have ways and means of handling my mental/emotional disorders, so I decided to just put my head down, get through the shift and then draw on the available resources to prevent a major slide into depression: supportive and knowledgeable friends, prayer and meditation, avoiding any contact whatsoever with She Who Shall Not Be Named and other negative influences.
Well, aside from a few little mistakes on my part, the evening went as well as could be expected until the gutless musicians packed up their guitars and one of my coworkers hit “play” on one of the playlists on the house computer. My coworkers are all good and kind people and some of them are mildly subversive in hippie-ish ways, but they sure do love some godawful music. Most nights I’m able to just shut it out, but tonight I was already a little edgy and what came out of the stereo was particularly offensive: “Drugstore Truckdrivin’ Man”, the Gram Parsons solo version, not the slightly more tolerable Byrds; Pure Prairie League’s “Amie”; and then, “Ripple”, Jerry Garcia’s most heinous and unforgivable crime against humanity. As soon as I heard the opening notes of that loathsome abomination, I knew I couldn’t maintain. There was an hour or more left to go and unless something happened fucking fast I wasn’t going to be able to do it.
The coworker who had initiated the pollution of the atmosphere walked over to me and said she didn’t think anybody was going to come in, we might as well start closing work. This was the opportunity I needed.
“Well, if we’re going to start closing, how ‘bout we play something a little more upbeat?” says I. See, I’m fairly new to the place. I’m trying to get along with people and not rock the boat too hard. It’s not easy because I’m who I am and because I truly and genuinely hate so very much of what they love. I really really really try to tolerate the music they play. I do. But it’s so difficult sometimes. Music has a lot of power and I feel it keenly. I’m able to avoid horrible music most of the time, but when I can’t get away from it, it grates on my nerves. I don’t think I can just say to somebody “Hey, I really fucking hate this horrible shit you’re playing, mind if I change it?” That would be rude. Suggesting that we listen to something “more upbeat” while doing the closing work is a tactic that allows me to avoid being subjected to the Grateful Dead without grossly offending someone who I have to work with.
And it worked. I gained access to the computer. The trick in this situation is to play something that I can stand which won’t cause everybody else to run to the computer to switch it to something terrible. Tonight I was inspired. I pulled up Dick Dale, added the Ventures and hit the go button. Boom. Surf rock for the rest of the shift. Duane Eddy, the Belaires, Link Wray, a Woody-load of unknowns and one-offs. All instrumental. That’s important. Rock lyrics are almost inevitably banal to the point of being insufferable. Instrumental surf rock is like abstract-expressionism: completely freed from the need to represent anything, the artist can just go apeshit. There is no stupid narrative. Titles don’t matter in the slightest. This is exactly why so many early BDSR tracks are untitled. Recently, I have started titling stuff because it gives me an opportunity to throw more puns around, but no one should think that the titles are meant to “mean something”.
Fuckin’ A, a heavy dose of early ‘60’s single-coil twang in 4/4 time was all I needed. I was able to slam through the closing work in record time, my joie de vivre in full force, except for those moments when duty forced me to step into the dishpit where the disher was playing Rising Appalachia, who sound every bit as nightmarish as a pair of Ani Difrancos slathering patchouli oil on the corpse of Harry Smith while stroking a djembe. Jesus fucking Christ: hippies.
I bitch about rock’n’roll as much as anybody. It really is a bloated and hackneyed cliché, shaved and neutered by the record industry. Crass pronounced punk dead in ’79 or so and they were spot on. The garbage that passes for rock’n’roll these days is as embarrassing as a forty-year-old man with his collar popped up. White Stripes? Yeah Yeah Yeahs? For fuck’s sake, man. I’d rather listen to crickets and sirens. Or that massive flock of swallows that spent a recent night in the trees around the apartment. They made an awesome racket.
I gotta say, though, Dick Dale and the Deltones pulled me out of the ditch tonight.