by Tom Hallett
It’s a sickness, I tell you. An affliction, an addiction, a cruel, hungry monkey on ya back as hard and dark as horse, blow or meth. Thing is, there’s treatment for heroin, crack and crank addictions. There are 12- step meetings, support groups, therapy and a million books, pamphlets, films and treatises on the subject. There are umpteen fellow survivors and road-mates to call. Hell, there’s even a supposed “higher power” that’ll help ya get through just about any pharmaceutical or chemical problem you can think of. There’s even an island, courtesy of Eric Clapton, where (if your funds are in the right range) you can recuperate among rockers and movie stars. But is there such a treatment for my addiction? Is there a book, a movie, a credo I can turn to for solace and respite? Nay, I say. There ain’t no cure when yer addicted to music, baby. And as it turns out, I am one sick mofo ...
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “That's what I like about the youngsters
today. You can't hand them a lot of baloney ... if you don't give him a decent
answer, he gonna seek it out himself. And when he goes to seek the roots of
American music, he's gonna find the blues. These are the roots. And from those
roots come the fruits. And these fruits are the music." — Willie
SONG OF THE WEEK: “American Pie” — Don McLean
I’ve always known I had a problem, though. Couldn’t spend one waking minute—hell,
what am I talking about, not a sleeping moment either—without a radio,
tape player, record player or live band blasting out of some corner of some
room somewhere. I’ve fought with family members at holiday dinners (Actual
sample argument: “We wanna watch the game! Can you turn that music off,
Tom?” “Oh, Christ! You mean you can’t just read the score
at the bottom of the screen? Wouldn’t it be cooler to watch that tackle/home
run/putt to the dulcet strains of The Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy
You?” Or is it that you CAN’T read the screen? In which case you
should be READING, not watching sports on TV!”); had ex-es throw ashtrays
at me as I sat rapt in front of my (god/shrine/temple) stereo, contorted in
some ridiculous air guitar position to Uncle Tupelo’s “Whiskey Bottle”
or Alice Cooper’s “You Drive Me Nervous”; and missed countless
job and life opportunities because the music was too loud to hear the phone
ring or someone at the door. Yeah, it’s a sickness, alright.
Funny thing is, I don’t really want a cure. Frankly, if there were a program,
or a group, or a study I could get involved with, I’d only join it so
I could come back here and write about how fucked up it was. (Sample M.A.A.—Music
Addicts Anonymous—meeting: “OK, we’ve got a new face here
tonight. Everyone? Hello! Everyone—this is Tommy.” Loud clapping.
“Tell us about yourself, Tommy.” “Well, my name is Tommy,
and um ... er ... I’m addicted to music.” More loud clapping, the
smell of bitter coffee and clove cigarettes rising in the air. “Now, can
you tell us your most embarrassing musical moment, Tommy?” “Well,
um ... er ... There have been so many ...” Hoots of agreement, more clapping.
“I guess it could have been the time, in my late teens, when my girlfriend
walked in on me wearing only my underwear, shouting the lyrics to Terry Jacks’
“Seasons In The Sun” into the bathroom mirror ... or the time down
in Florida where I got good and liquored up after a break-up and went out to
a tony club to find a revenge date. Ended up scoring a few dances with a hot
Southern belle wearing a tank top and a tiny white tennis skirt. She wanted
to dance slow to The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” but
for some reason I thought my staggering around her in a circle and actually
singing the words out loud—to be fair, by that point in my buzz I was
seeing my ex-girl’s face, not hers—at the top of my lungs would
really impress her ... do those count?” Massive clapping, people rushing
the podium, “You’re one of us! Hey, you should be a sponsor, man!
I’ve been a music addict for 28 years and never heard a story that embarrassing!
What guts! Welcome to MAA!!”) Sigh. See? It’s just pathetic. There’s
nothing romantic, or sexy and dangerous, or even really physically harmful,
about music addiction. It’s just a sickness.
To wit: It probably won’t come as too big of a surprise to most of you
out there that music writers at small local alternative weeklies don’t
exactly rake in the big bucks. Hell, when you’re a freelancer, you’re
lucky to get paid on time—or at all. It’s doubly worse when you’re
a confirmed, lifelong music addict. When bill-payin’ time comes along,
you’re a lot like an alkie or a doper—you know you’re supposed
to do right, but you can’t even make it home from the bank after cashing
your check without the thrill of chasing down some album, tape or CD jingling
around inside your head like a coke-addicted rat in a cage. See, it’s
not really the end result—the “high” if you will—of
listening to the music itself. It’s the RITUAL, man. Like pullin’
out your works, tying off, tappin’ a vein, jackin’ the blood off
inside the rig before drivin’ the loaded spike home. Like takin’
a half hour to clean a bud of weed, sniffing your fingers, rolling the perfect
fattie. Like scoring a fat gram of powder and spending the rest of the night
chopping, re-chopping, and laying out each line like it was the foundation of
some great, historic piece of architecture. It’s a sickness, man.
Music addiction is pretty much the same thing. Deciding where you’ll go,
what you might be looking for, how much you can afford vs. how much you really
want to do, if you have enough to last the night so you don’t have to
go back out among the straights. Finally getting to the dealer and making him
really work for the sale, even though you know damn well he’s already
won the battle and you’ll take whatever the fuck he’s got—a
crusty stack of old jukebox forty-fives? Hell yes. A beat-up eight-track collection
that includes David Cassidy’s Cherish and Steppenwolf’s For Ladies
Only? You’re damn right. A wobbly stack of early ’80’s CDs
that have not only lost their digital shine, but have since been re-issued,
re-mastered, and include fresh liner notes? Fuckin’ A right, you are.
Like I said, it’s a sickness, people.
Like the other day—I got off of work at my day job (what’s that
Zappa said, “Wind up workin’ in a gas station, ya ya...” Fucker
was right, too), went home and found a shut-off notice from the power company.
If the light bill wasn’t paid by Monday, I’d be in the dark. The
bill wasn’t exactly sky-high (although with the current heat wave, the
AC is killin’ me as much as the heat is)—only around 85 bucks—but
the thing was, I only had $100 to live on for the week. That hadda include food,
smokes, beer, incidentals and the light bill. Power is to a music junkie what
a supply of fresh needles is to a smack addict, man. Gotta have it to deliver
the poison. So there was no question of stashing the 85 and pretending like
it didn’t exist until Monday. Thing was, it was only Saturday, and I had
to figure out how I was gonna feed myself and my music addiction for a week
on $15. What to do? Don’t tell me about sickness, man.
The change jar! Always a life-saver at the last possible moment, a veritable
cavalry of quarters, dimes, nickels and (mostly) pennies literally riding in
and plucking my ass from innumerable fires over the years. And this week, it
was almost full! So there’s one problem down—enough money for food
and smokes for the week. But what about beer? Christ, it’s hot. Gotta
have beer. Quick solution? Phone calls to friends who’ve been sucking
the life outta my fridge for the last four months. Bring a case over, I’m
havin’ a barbeque! Voila, there’s 88 bottles of cold, cheap beer
in the fridge, enough that there’ll surely be a case left over after the
party to last me for the week. Payback’s a bitch, dudes. Besides, I know
you’ll be back to drinkin’ my poor ass outta house and home in a
week or so. It all comes full circle, it always has. But the very fact that
I’ve become this desperate to make sure I have 15 bucks left to buy music—any
kind of music, any format, any condition—proves that I’m one ailin’
puppy. It’s a sickness, folks.
Now comes the thrill. The hair-raising, goose-flesh-inducing chase. The furtive
phone calls (“Yeah, I saw your ad in the paper. Are you still having a
sale on cut-out cassettes?” And, “Hey, how are you? Yeah, I was
wondering, do you guys have a copy of Alice Cooper’s Easy Action on hand?
Who’s Alice Cooper? Ah, fahgeddaboudit!” Or, “Hello. Yes,
I’m wondering if you still have that crate of old vinyl records for sale?
You do? Great! Oh, you say it’s a lot of really weird stuff? That’s
OK, I’ll be right over!”), the hasty drive through strange streets
and alleys, peering impatiently through sweat and a dirty windshield in a mostly
vain attempt to suss out impossible-to-read, sometimes nonexistent house numbers.
It’s like trying to find The Man when you haven’t had a fix in a
day and a half and your nerves are throbbing just under your skin and you sweat
and your eyes bulge out and your pupils shrivel up and the palms of your hands
stick to everything you touch. It’s a sickness, there’s no fucking
doubt about it.
So you get to the guy’s place, and he’s got four or five stacks
of vinyl piled up on the kitchen table. You notice little shit in the room,
like you would if you were there to score dope. A big shelf packed with medals
and ribbons—a war hero? A sports wonk? Who knows, who cares. A baseball
bat leaning against the kitchen door. THAT you notice. He either thinks you
might be hinky or he is himself, and either way a nervous dealer is a dangerous
dealer. He might get offended when you scoff at the cover of that 1983 Kenny
Rogers album you’re holding, or figure you’re gonna roll him, so
he’d best get you first, or he just might not like the way you look. Like
a good poker game or a successful dope buy, you’re always best served
by noticing the details. But you can’t keep your eyes off that stack of
records, no sir. Ah, you know it. It’s a sickness.
You flip expertly through the records, tossing old Barbara Mandrell and Hank
Williams Jr. With The Mike Curb Congregation albums aside like so much bunk
weed or cut-to-fuckall cola. You’re lookin’ for some good shit,
man, not this school-kid jive. You glance up at the dealer, but he’s actin’
nonchalant, sippin’ on a beer and smokin’ a fag and actin’
like he has all the fucking time in the world. Which he does. After you leave,
there’ll always be another sucker comin’ down the pike with a hard-on
for old Beatles singles and Terry Reid albums. And you know it. So you get back
to business, flippin’ faster and faster, makin’ a short stack of
the ones you absolutely know you HAVE to have or you’ll spend the next
week tossin’ and turnin’ an’ stinkin’ up your bed sheets
as sure as if you’ve got an endless hunger for laudanum or morphine. Yep,
it’s a sickness.
Now you’ve got your stack, and the dealer gazes at you through half-lidded,
record-dusted eyes, knowing he’s got you in the palm of his sweaty, greasy,
dirty little hand. And not only will you buy his wares, you’ll be back
for more, you weak-willed, note-stained, shameless fucking junkie. You’d
sell your soul for rock an’ roll, and he knows it as sure as he knows
he’ll find another crate of records at another estate sale or auction
and you’ll be back to roll in the whole stinking mess again and again
and again. Fuck this, you think. I’ve been around. I can beat this mofo
and still come out on top—I’ve played the game longer, harder, and
better. But inside, you know you’re the one with the need, the hunger,
the fire burning inside. You’re the loser. But for one night, with this
stack of albums, for a few loud hours, you’ll be a little less lonesome,
and a little less empty inside, and a little more human. So you take a deep
breath and almost try not to hear his answer when you ask him the dreaded question:
“How much, man?” Christ, is it ever a sickness.
See, you know you really only have that $15 bucks in your pocket. And you know
that, while you’ll eat and smoke and drink for the next week, that there
won’t be any extras. If you find some music you might want more than the
crap you just bought, it’ll be too late. The dealer doesn’t offer
money-back, satisfaction guaranteed deals, man. You buy it, it’s yours.
No goin’ back. But all of that takes a back seat when you see the first
album on the stack, and imagine how it’s gonna sound, and how impressed
your buddies are gonna be, or the regulars at the bar where you DJ two nights
a week for a pittance, tips and free beers. Or the girl you’ll put that
one special song on a mix for, and how she’ll smile when she hears it
and think maybe you’re not so weird after all. Or just how the cover will
look, framed and hung on the wall behind your stereo like a favorite aunt or
a long-dead pet. What a sickness.
He shocks you, then. “Fifty cents a piece, man.” Your jaw drops.
You were expecting maybe 2, 3 bucks a pop—after all, some of these albums
are clearly worth 5 or 10 bucks a piece to the right buyer. What gives? Your
hackles go up, your junkie reflexes kick in—what’s his game, anyway?
Does he figure you for some kinda greenhorn, newbie motherfucker who’s
never taken the plunge, given it all, gone all the way, not given a damn about
comin’ back from the edge? Shee-it. But you’ve looked at the grooves,
checked for the inner sleeves, ran your hands over the smooth, amazingly well-preserved
covers of each and every record, and you know you’re gettin’ one
helluva deal, don’t you? Just as sure as you know he’s throwin’
you this deal coz he wants you fat an’ happy an’ back again next
week. So you let the thrill come over you. You utter a gleeful, greedy inner
chortle at the great, grand wonder of it all, and you take the deal. Hell, at
that price, you can go back into the main stacks and pick out another four or
five you’d had your eye on but knew you couldn’t afford. Like you
can really afford any of this shit. But like I said, it’s a sickness,
Now you’re back in the car, hands shook, grins and backslaps and phony
promises made. “Sure, I’ll be back, man. Thanks for the great deal!”
“Hey, no problem, dude. Like I said, I buy a lot of albums at garage sales
and auctions, and I just like to make people happy. So make sure you come back
again, you hear?” Then you’re home, hands slightly shaking, sweat
beading on your brow, the smell of 1974 or 1968 or 1981 wafting out of the album
covers like the heady perfume of an opium den or the welcoming funk of a sawdust-floor
sporting bar room. You hastily arrange ‘em in the order you wanna hear
‘em, then take your time cleaning your first choice, turning your stereo
on, adjusting levels and knobs and buttons the same way you’d be measuring
the water-to-heroin ratio in your rig, lighting matches, balling up cotton,
playing with it like it’s a momentary diversion and not the one and only
thing in your miserable existence that gives you any fucking pleasure or sense
of place at all. Yeah, there’s no arguing with it—it’s a sickness.
Finally, you’re ready. You flip the first one onto the turntable with
expert fingers, crank up the volume, and sit back with a fresh smoke. You’re
ready for the rush, man. Crank it up just a bit more, enjoy those first crackles
and snaps like the first cold, explorative tendrils of dope racing through your
veins toward your heart. You know when it’s gonna hit, you know exactly
how it feels, and yet each time it’s a small, pleasant surprise when the
rush hits you, when your head snaps back, when the sound pounds down in your
ears and the blood slams into your skull. Fuckin’ A ... ahhhhh. You know
the stack won’t last all night, so you save a few tracks (jus’ a
taste, man, you’ll be glad you did later, later, later when the dealers
are all in bed and you just need one more hit to get ya through the night, right?),
tuckin’ ‘em away like unbeaten cotton and not-quite-emptied baggies.
As you slip away, as the notes slither down into your ear canals and the bass
thumps hard against your belly, you’re dimly aware of the phone ringing.
The door knocking. Life passing by. Who fucking cares, you think. It’s
a sickness, man.
The Best Of The Score:
1) Dusty Springfield, The Look Of Love, Philips Records. The
only real draw for this one is the perfect, sultry photo of Dusty on the cover
and her rendition of “The Look Of Love,” from the film Casino Royale.
A cover of “Sunny” is interesting, but this one is a keeper mostly
for the art.
2) Tom T. Hall’s Greatest Hits, Mercury Records. One of the
greatest American songwriters of the last 30 or 40 years, Hall’s got more
than one Best Of, and you own a few of ‘em. But this one has a great,
unscarred copy of “The Year That Clayton Delaney Died” on it, and
if that ain’t worth 50 cents, neither is stayin’ alive.
Loretta Lynn, Writes ‘Em And Sings ‘Em/One’s On The Way/Back
To The Country. This is a mother lode of classic country right here. Three
excellent albums from Lynn’s heyday as a (deservedly) reigning country
queen, all in great shape. The first contains all original songs, including
the cat-fight classic, “You Ain’t Woman Enough” (To take her
man, dammit) The second features the timeless title track, which deals with
being poor and havin’ babies, a subject Loretta was quite familiar with
growing up, as well as great covers of “Blueberry Hill” and “He’s
All I Got.” Killer. The last, Back To The Country, showcases the
fine title cut as well as one of Nashville’s rare, truly rebellious tunes,
“The Pill.” Still a hot-button issue today (Anti-pro-choice film
director Oliver Stone to a reporter when asked what women would do if abortion
was outlawed: “Oh, people will still get fucking abortions!!”).
And the thing is, Ms. Lynn is still doin’ it these days, as evidenced
by her recent shit-kicker of an album, Van Lear Rose. You gotta love
The Best Of The Statler Brothers, Phonogram Records. Four words: “Flowers
On The Wall.” You could care less about anything else on this hokey-ass
album, but that song has got to be about speed addiction, or something equally
disturbing, and the fact that it got past the censors of the day and onto country
and pop radio all over the world still fucking amazes ya. Great, sick stuff.
The Best Of The Best Of Merle Haggard, Capitol Records. Yeah, sure. You
have a cool CD copy of Merle’s Down Every Road, which contains damn near
every classic song the man ever sang on it. And about four other “Best
Of” Merle’s on vinyl, but this one features a great photo of Merle
on the cover, holding a puppy, and a note-perfect rendition of the prison anthem,
“Mama Tried.” Plus the whole story of the puppy (its mother was
hit by a truck and killed so Merle took the baby on the road—who knew
the tough old bastard was so sentimental?) and the greats “The Fightin’
Side Of Me” and “Okie From Muskogee,” both redneck staples
of the highest order, and both funnier than hell because Merle has admitted
many times that he was so full of coke, booze and pills at the time that he
couldn’t have filled out a voter registration card on his own if he had
given a damn about elections in the first place. He’s another Nashville
great with new music out (check out If I Could Only Fly) AND he’s
been touring with Bob Dylan. What will it take for the rest of those so-called
country fans out there to realize the difference between truth and bullshit?
Genesis, Self-Titled, Atlantic Records. Now, now, don’t start feelin’
guilty just cuz ya picked up an album featuring Phil Collins on it. Truth is,
most of this album IS terrifically horrible and massively overplayed—tracks
like “That’s All,” “Illegal Alien,” “Taking
It All Too Hard,” and “Just A Job To Do” deserve to be sealed
inside of an air-tight canister and shot into the far reaches of outer space,
and even that fate might be too good for ‘em. However, there is one song
on this record, “Mama,” which hearkens back to Genesis’ glory
days as a truly progressive, experimental English rock band. Yeah, you do miss
Peter Gabriel’s little personal touches, but “Mama” is just
odd, off-kilter and freaky (Phil doing the voice of Regan from The Exorcist—“HA!
HA! Ohhhhh! HA! HA! Ohhhh!” is just about enough to cause several weeks
of psyche-damaging nightmare action, and I mean that in a good way) to fit into
the Classic Genesis category. However, someone really should take umbrage with
Phil as to the title of the album’s last track, at least as far as his
future career in rock is concerned: No, Phil, it’s NOT gonna get better.
Country Special! 20 Country Music Classics, Capitol Records. This one
sports one of those totally inspirational album covers, the kind you used to
see posted willy-nilly all over the walls of great record shops like the late,
lamented Root Cellar Records in St. Paul. It’s a gate-fold (two album
set) photo of a hot sixties/early seventies chick, dressed up like a cowgirl,
replete with holster and real gun, leather vest, hat, and not much more, lying
suggestively in a grassy field with a saddle for a pillow—not exactly
politically correct, but no doubt it helped sell a whole passel of records,
buckaroo. And it’s not like it’s a Shania Twain kinda package, either—there’s
actually music of substance by real artists tucked inside this double whammy,
including Glen Campbell, Roy Clark, Wanda Jackson, Tex Ritter, The Louvin Brothers
and Faron Young. But as great as some of those cats (an’ kitties) are/were,
you didn’t buy this one for the art or those artists. You bought it for
one song—and ya always figure if you’d pay 50 cents to hear a song
on the jukebox in a bar, you’ll happily pay 50 to own the mofo, don’t
ya? That one song? The tough, Bakersfield-fried nugget “Tiger By The Tail,”
by Mr. Buck Owens. Yeah, you can make fun of Buck for his stint on Hee Haw,
or his eventual oldies circuit status, but listen to this one (or the more recent
“Streets Of Bakersfield,” with Dwight Yoakam) and you’ll know
why so many of your favorite artists revere the man.
Nazareth, Greatest Hits, NEMS. This is another one you’ve got
most of the songs from on other releases, but being that this is an original
English pressing of the album, and features a tripped-out looking psychedelic
disco ball on the rear cover (You get a kick outta thinking about how many Disco
Stu’s an’ Sue’s over the years bought this one not knowing
it was about as easy to dance to as the gearbox of a badly ailing big rig might
be) plus a couple of classics you only had on cassette, you figger it’s
worth a couple quarters. A steal, if only for “Razamanaz,” “Bad
Bad Boy,” and their killer cover of Joni Mitchell’s “This
AC/DC, Back In Black, Atlantic Records. Lost your CD copy, hadda have
it if only for “Have A Drink On Me” and “Shoot To Thrill,”
baby. Besides, the vinyl recording of this Mutt Lange-produced wonder absolutely
kicks ass on the recent CD reissue. Check it out. Crank up the turntable and
do the digital/analog challenge, mofo.
Don McLean, American Pie, United Artists Records. We all know the song,
we all know the story behind it. We also know, most of us anyway, that we’ll
always get goose-bumps when Don sings, “An’ the three men I admire
most/The Father Son an’ the Holy Ghost/They caught the last train for
the coast/The day the music died...” Besides, there’s always “Vincent,”
one of the greatest suicide ballads ever written, and that cover with Don’s
thumb painted red white and blue an’ all smudged just like the good ol’
U.S. of A. Where’s Don when ya need him, America? Talk about a sickness.
That’s it for this week, dear readers. Though I’ll be actively
pursuing my addiction over the next seven days, I promise to return to this
spot again next Wednesday to update you on the latest new music rollin’
into the ol’ office. Until then, enjoy your own sickness and make your
own damn news.
*OOPS! In my recent breakdown of Rick Nelson’s tune “Garden Party,”
I erroneously listed guitar great James Burton as “the late/great...”
when, in fact, Mr. Burton is gloriously alive and well and continues to tour
and play all over the world. My apologies to James and his fans. Watch this
space for more info on Mr. B ...
If you have local music news/gigs/events that you’d like to see listed
in this column, or you’d just like to brag about your own recent relapse,
send replies to: Tmygunn777@peoplepc.com.