by TOM HALLETT
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can’t mind their own business, because they don’t have any business of their own to mind, anymore than a smallpox virus has.” – William S. Burroughs
SONG OF THE WEEK: “God Is A Bullet” – Concrete Blonde
RIP – Stefan Olson, 1960–2006
Howdy, faithful readers, bright-eyed browsers and sticky-fingered detractors alike. Hope this week’s missive finds you all in good health, good cheer and ready to rock. We’ve got to start gettin’ to some reviews this time out, but first I’d like to take just a moment to remember and celebrate the life of a recently departed pal of mine—as well as of many of you who regularly read this column.
As most of you probably know, long-time Turf Club bartender, door-guy, musician and all-around scene-supporter Stefan Olson passed away a few days back. I’m not going to go into any of the so-called drama surrounding his demise—suffice it to say Stefan chose the paths he walked in life—and ultimately followed them to his far-too-early end. For personal details and more in-depth info on Stefan’s passing, just pick up a local mag or two or ask friends from the Turf crowd—my goal here is to just send a few words out to my fallen brother and those who’ll feel that cold, empty space where he used to stand and grin at them.
was probably as close to a real “rock star” (this side of maybe
Gary Louris) you’d run into around town—not that he had any pretensions
(Nor does Gary, lest I be misunderstood here)—nor was he even marginally
famous; it’s just that he carried himself, dressed himself and played
his music like he was a rock star. He was also the kind of guy who’d haul
your drunken ass back to his practice/living space near the Turf Club and let
ya sleep off an unwarranted or unapproved-of two-day bender—he’d
just tell ya to curl up near the heater and use your jacket for a pillow.
You’d ease yourself down on the floor, glancing blearily at the hundreds
of collectible movie, TV, sci-fi and cartoon figurines he kept neatly stashed
around the room—most still in the box because he could rarely bring himself
to part with one, managing to make a neat living on the side selling them occasionally
to shops, fans and on e-Bay.
You’d also notice that you were lying among stacks and stacks of great
albums, rock mags and memorabilia, posters and mounds upon mounds of rock band
and recording equipment, amps, guitars and space-age-lookin’ electronic
stuff that, for all we know, regularly took Stefan on interesting, well-deserved
journeys to far-off galaxies and uncharted dimensions. The rest of the time,
he either worked, jammed with his band, Expandable Hole Filler, or spoke endlessly
of his son, whom, like most decent dads, he practically worshiped.
When you woke up, you’d usually recall very little about the night before,
except that Stefan had entertained you most of the evening at a Ryan Adams or
Hank III or Mammy Nuns or Busiest Bankruptcy Lawyers set at the Turf, made sure
you had a great time and kept you laughing for the best part of the night. You’d
vaguely recall his tales of meeting Johnny Thunders or seeing Iggy Pop play
live in Germany when Stefan lived there in the ’70s.
You might also remember that he was wearing red leather rock n’ roll pants
that only Iggy Pop or Loverboy lead singer Mike Reno would also have been able
to carry off, assorted wicked jewelry, rings, necklaces and probably some kind
of slick front man button-down shirt, all fashionably unfashionable and worn
with pride under a bush of kinky brown hair. Oh, and that ever-present, all-is-well-here-in-hell
Anyway, I wasn’t around when Stefan passed away, so I guess I can consider
myself lucky that I didn’t have to wake up to the stunned faces of the
other folks I know who cared so much about him and did so much to help him when
he needed it—and did even more for him and his family and friends after
If you knew Stefan, you know why I had to write this farewell today—if
you didn’t, you really missed out on knowing not only a great, stand-up,
down-to-earth guy, but a genuine gem in the treasure trove that is the Twin
Cities music scene. He will be greatly missed, and by that I mean missed by
people who never even got a chance to meet him too, because if they had, their
lives would have been impacted as greatly as mine and my friends’ were
Speaking of friends, there are a few people who went above and beyond to help
ease the loss of our friend for the community, and I’d like to make sure
and mention them here. So big thanks and much love to Jim and Amy Randall, Hazy
Dave Hazledine, and all the Turf regulars, old and new, who will miss, love
and remember our goofily-grinning, rock-and-pop-culture-wiz, songwriting, guitar-playing,
joke-telling, great and irreplaceable friend, Stefan Olson.
Hey Stefan—wherever you are, I know you’re dressed to the nines,
the music is cranked to “10,” and you’re either bending Burroughs’
ear or looking for Dee Dee Ramone so you can give him some well-deserved shit.
Rock on into eternity, my friend, and goodbye for now.
Letters Never Sent
To get a handle on 26-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist Martin
Devaney, one must first ken that he’s a complete, total and unembarrassed
romantic. Not the cheeky, aw-shucks-you-don’t-really-like-lil’-ol’-me
kinda romantic that say, Ryan Adams is, and not the raw, expansive, almost ancient
(even when he was in his 20s himself) kinda romantic Dylan was/is. Naw, Martin
is one of those rare rock ’n’ roll romantics who so unself-consciously
exude their unchainable inner romantic that you just know they really and truly
don’t realize what an intrinsic part of their artistic personality it
I mean, Devaney—who’s checking in with his fourth release in almost
as many years with Letters Never Sent—simply isn’t the kind
of guy (at least at this point in his life—and if it ever happens I’d
suspect it was forced or at the very least less than solid) who’d write
a song like Adams’ “Rosalie Come And Go,” a tune about some
prostitutes the song’s character (or was it REALLY Ryan, har, har) had
met and befriended and somehow thought he’d immortalize in song.
OK—he might write a song in that vein, but he’d never be as cavalier
and downright uncaring as Adams (whose songwriting I absolutely adore, so fans
just keep your poison pens in your pockets and purposes—I’m only
using Adams and one of his songs as an example here) seems, and he’d probably
somehow end up falling for one of the hookers and trying to clean her up. Sorry,
Martin—ain’t it a bitch to care TOO much?
Frankly, as catchy as the song is, as a guy who’s actually counted some
prostitutes as friends IN REAL LIFE, I find it mildly insulting, and suspect
they would, too. Rosalie (the real one) probably still wants to kick Ryan Adams’
ass. Martin, on the other hand, continues to pen ditties that ring with self-inflicted
wounds of the heart and actually sound like they’re coming from a real
guy you could sit and have a beer with. Which you can—Martin’s not
only a nifty songwriter, but a rabid music lover who’s a genuine joy to
just sit and shoot the shit with.
back to the songs—I can’t really see Martin penning a ditty about
a political cause celebre’ like Bobby D. did with “Hurricane,”
either. Not that Martin couldn’t write a song about any subject he chose,
including those I mentioned, and do a damn good job at it, too. He certainly
could. It’s just that some guys have a knack for whatever it is they have
a knack for, and Devaney has a knack for writing soul-aching, love-weary ballads
(mostly about “Refugees of romances,” as he puts it on this album)
of the heart.
Oh, in case you were wondering—to me, that’s a good thing. It also
doesn’t mean Martin can’t cover other subjects or broach other points
of view—it’s just that rather than cast a song in stone about one
particular subject, Martin has an odd and attractive gift for swirling together
a bevy of topics (from today’s tone of fear and apathy in America to the
doubt and lost direction of his own generation) with his lethal little cocktails
of love and somehow pulling it off. Trust me—a few aural sips off this
album will have you warm, fuzzy and ensconced in your own personal happy hour
in no time.
If that doesn’t make sense to you, keep in mind that I’m the guy
who’ll play The Replacements’ “Here Comes A Regular”
at happy hour rather than a P-Funk classic or a raunchy classic rocker, cuz
sad songs make me fucking happy, and if THAT doesn’t make sense to ya,
I dunno what to tell ya.
Devaney’s pipes have never been his strongest suit (but then, neither
were those of some of his musical heroes/muses, like Dylan, Leonard Cohen and
Tom Waits)—not that they’re hard on the ears, just that they take
a few spins to get used to. Live, it’s a whole different ball game—seeing
Martin’s facial expressions and hearing his witty between-song banter
somehow warms you to his voice immediately. Ask anyone who’s seen/heard
him play out, and you’ll probably get the same reaction.
On Letters, however, we find a man who’s somehow slipped into his
“real” voice (again, not to keep bringing Dylan up, but hearing
Martin’s easy-going, natural style on this album is kinda like hearing
Bob sing “Lay Lady Lay” using his own real voice on tape for the
first time in something like eight years)—at least the voice of who he
is now, at this age, in this time, in this mind/heartset—and sounding
damn comfortable in it.
And, unlike a plethora of “cutely” titled modern albums glutting
up yer local music shop, Letters Never Sent actually sounds like a record
that lives up to its title. Each track does feel like a missed-opportunity missive—and
more than a few ring out (to me, anyhow) like notes I would’ve, could’ve
or should’ve sent to various people—OK, girls—myself over
opener, “Flowers On The Doorstep,” creaks out like a Whiskeytown
classic, all tear-stained bar-floor shimmy (thanks, in no small part, to vocalist/fiddler
James) and busted trust shuffle—right off the bat, Martin sounds more
at home in his own skin (and voice) than on any of his previous releases. “Boys,”
he winks musically, “you should see the way she dances / A drunken compass
of a blur / All these refugee romances / Have taken a toll on her ...”
“An Open Letter” chugs along on a martial snare crack and dire axe-work
(special guests on this album include Bellwether’s
Mick Wirtz, bassist Steve Murray, the aforementioned JoAnna James, Jake Hyer,
and longtime Devaney axe-man Josh Peterson), all lean, back-alley rock ’n’
roll with just enough restraint behind it you can almost FEEL the band wanting
to pour the coal on and damn that long twin double line. This tune also sports
lyrics that seem to back up my earlier point about Martin’s deep-seated,
darkly romantic outlook to a “T.”
“I walk around my hometown, clenched up like a fist,” he/his character
spits with barely restrained self-loathing and regret, “Dark eyes dwell
on danger of a dream that don’t exist ...” As he describes in bloody
detail both the death of his innocence and a spider on the wall (“...
the spider now has nine legs / when I see him crawl / And a little sun is setting
on the streets of old St. Paul / And I don’t know how I fell this far
...,” the lyrical comparison is so visceral I have to fight simultaneous
urges to scratch my back (there was no spider) and make a drunken, long-distance
late-night call (I resisted the urge—thank God) to an old friend in the
651. THAT’S good songwriting.
Other standouts include the heartbreaking “Almost Alone,” the too-true,
bittersweet “Five Day Affair,” which, with honky-tonk heroine JoAnna
James’ assistance, is nearly comparable to a classic Gram Parsons-Emmylou
Harris cut, and the dreamy, half-hopeful “One For The Road,” which
finds our soft-spoken, heart-weary protagonist ready to chuck his trunkful of
broken roadhouse affairs for a brief moment with the one woman who, if fate
and his own wanderlust would allow, might rein him in and bring him back to
that mythical home in her heart.
Another great collection of high-lonesome, heartfelt hometown classics from
one of our best and brightest. Martin, producer Stockert, and a superb cast
of backing players make Letters his best yet. With an outlook this bright
at 26, one can only wonder how far this boy will come, musically, after he’s
lived a few years on the backside of 30. Not that he’s done bad—releasing
four albums and running his own label, Eclectone, is a helluva lot more than
I’ve done at almost twice his age. Alright, alright—if you’re
talkin’ LEGAL shit that is.
As Martin so succinctly puts it in “Soundtrack To Our Success”:
“... it always seems that the saddest songs / Are the soundtrack to our
success ...” Hate to say it, but if that’s the case, I’ll
have to lift my glass to heartbreak, Martin—and another great album. Cheers!
Check it out for yourselves at eclectonerecords.com
Awright, that’s it for this week, gang. Tune in again next time out for
tons more reviews. On deck—Golden Smog’s latest, new Matthew
Ryan, fresh Paul Westerberg, and some interesting rock DVDs. Thanks to you
all for reading and until we meet again—make yer own damn news. ||
If you have local music news/gigs/events/CDs you’d like to see mentioned
in this space, or you remember where I left my vinyl copy of Raw Power, send
replies to: Tmygunn77764@yahoo.com.