Friday, December 4, 2009

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

Ahoy! That is how people would greet each other back in the olde days. It means "Hi!" So since it is close to Christmas and other assorted holidays, I thought we would do something to go along with the famous Christmas song, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things." Raindrops on windows! Schnitzers with noodles! But most of the things I want to talk about involve rock, and the most awesome yet not very famous rock stars of all time. So let's go!

The first awesome rock group is one you may have never even heard of, except their name is the same name of the most famous fake cowboy of all time, and also the only dude my dad has ever heard who has also received a verbal beat-down by the rap group Public Enemy -- I am speaking of course of Jon Wayne. Jon Wayne was one of the first groups we, the mighty NDI, ever listened to. We had their record, "Texas Funeral," and we said to ourselves, "Dang, these guys are worse than us!" But they weren't just worse -- they were both worse AND better than any band you can think of. It sounded to us like these pig-stickers weren't even trying, which ran pretty close to our own work ethic. Also they had awesome songs that I am pretty sure they flat-out stole. Impressive. So we stole a bunch from them! We got the basics for our songs "Born to Be Hit" and "Jackson" straight off that first Jon Wayne album. The whole record had that warpy sound like the hole was off-center, or it sat in the sun up in your tree house all afternoon in the middle of summer vacation.

We never actually played with Jon Wayne, or even saw them. I am not sure they actually ever played live -- it doesn't sound like they could even if they wanted to. Skipper did write them a love letter but they never reciprocated. This was way before or any of your other social terrorism computer sites. Nowadays we would probably have tracked them down on-line and embarrassed them with our questions and importunities.

But the next band we did see live. Oh yes! To quote Bob Seger, "we are older now than these guys were then." But not the drummer! He has always been older than us. I am now talking about The Country Rockers, whom I mentioned in a previous blog entry, and their drummer, Ringo, who could barely walk or move his arms but still swung that beat so hard it made you dizzy. We first encountered these old boys in Memphis, Tennessee, where we were playing at a big dark empty punk club called The Antenna. This was a Tuesday night and it was raining and no one had heard of us yet and Skipper and I were both suffering from lung badgers, so our state of mind was a little bit on the dismal side. We needed some cheering up!

After we set up the band gear and inflatable clowns at the Antenna we decided to go across the street to this old-man bar that looked cozy and comforting. We crossed the street in the rain and entered a scene both familiar and strange. The beat-up bar was lit glowing red from beer signs, cloudy with smoke from unfiltered Camels, and populated by a few dozen serious drinkers who all turned their heads to behold these three straw hats walking into their inebriated little world. But most of all, there was a band on the stage whom we instantly fell in love with. It was The Country Rockers, and to us they looked something like where we might be in 50 years -- a three-piece band of croakers just trying to get through the set, slinging the prehistoric classics with casual authority. The primitive beats chased away our blues as we sat in the glowing red haze and sucked down icy PBRs.

The songs they played! The Elvis nugget "My Happiness;" stone weepers like "There Stands the Glass" and "Barrooms to Bedrooms;" a hot little number that we quickly adopted as a part of our set, "I'm A Rockin' Daddy From Ding-Dong, Tennessee." The Pigtail Character, I am going to go out on a limb and say his name was Gene, knew all the licks and possessed a gravelly twang that I know I will never earn but may be able to copy some day. The bass player was the youngest of the crew but was still well-seasoned, and I believe I have already mentioned the drummer, Ringo.

We did play in Memphis with The Country Rockers some short time later, when our fame had grown to the point where we could actually choose our own opening band. The Antenna was well-packed this time, and we all circulated happily through the crowd.
After the show the Pigtail Character asked Skipper if he could get a ride to his friend's place so he could pick up a bucket of barbeque that the dude apparently owed him from a bet. "Sure," said Skip, looking forward to dipping into the real world of our idols. So they headed off in the Zebra Van.

About two hours later Skipper showed up at the club alone. It was now about 4 in the morning and we were all a little worse for wear, but still going strong. Skipper walked in with an odd dazed look.

"Hey!" we said. "How did that go?"

"Well, we went to see his friend for the barbeque," said Skip. "Actually, it was a hotel room out by the interstate. His friend lives there."

"Cool!" we said.

"Yeah, said Skipper. "And his friend turned out to be Alex Chilton."

So that is how Skipper had barbeque with the unheralded king of 70's rock and the Pigtail Character from the Country Rockers.

The last band I will just mention here is not even a band, but a dude. His name is Jesco White, and he is the star of a TV thing called "The Last Mountain Dancer." There is no good way to describe this scene -- you really have to kind of experience it yourself. The magnificent world of old Jesco can be seen on the Youtube channel on the computer. Probably best not to go out there in person.

Right! I hope you got a little something out of this chapter. Also I just thought of about five more celebrities for future posts. I won't give them away just yet but trust me, they are pretty famous!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How Our Van Got Stuck in a Tree, Parts One and Two

Hi and howdy! This story is a long one, so I divided it up into two parts. You can read them all at once, if you want, just like you can eat both peanut butter cups at once. On the other hand, if you're the kind who just eats one and then stashes the other one somewhere neither me or the kids can find it, then you may want to take this one part at a time.

Either way, it's the same mostly true story!

Part One

These events came to pass way out west, in California. The west coast is long way from where we live, smack in the middle of this enormous nation, but we had a van and we had dreams. So plans were made by our agent, Mr. Michael P. Halston of Big City Bookings, to send us and all of our talent and props out on a three-week trip to see what would happen if the mighty NDI live show was shoved in front of people from California.

I won't spend much time here explaining the route and the roads and the towns we passed on the way, since I figure everyone pretty much knows how to get there, although to be honest with you I did not know at the time how FAR it was. Once you clear Kansas the world around you stops looking like it is supposed to. Then that one giant mountain rears up in the distance. This is the mountain that you never ever get to, no matter how fast you go or how much coffee you drink.

Some things did of course happen as we wended our way west, but I will come back to those in another story, maybe. The important thing for now is that we got there. The Zebra Van actually made it to the Western Ocean, to Los Angeles. We dipped our toes in the salty surf and contemplated life, but the mighty NDI did not waste much time with Los Angeles. That place was okay but really it looked kind of flimsy, like it could tip over. Mr. Michael P. Halston was right when he said we didn't want anything to do with a scene like that. Instead he had cleverly booked us a string of shows in lesser-known but up-and-coming locales in the northern stretches of the state of California. So we drove north, for a long time.

I think the first place we rocked without mercy was a little town somewhere north of San Francisco. It was built on a pretty steep hill so when we unloaded our gear, all of the round things like drums and Barbie heads kept trying to roll away downhill. This place was crawling with what I guess you would still call hippies, although to me they mainly looked like more casual versions of some of my mom's friends.

This is where I got my first pair of used paratrooper jump boots. There was this hippie dude with long scraggly grayish hair selling stuff that wouldn't roll downhill on a blanket in front of the club. He had a sign that said "Just Tryin' to Get Back to the Garden." I didn't have any idea what that meant but there was a sweet pair of heavy nasty black lace-up boots on his blanket. "How much are these?" I asked politely.

"Those are from 'Nam," he said. He was smiling a lot. "My brother came back and he lived in the basement for like 30 years, man. These are boots, brother."

Right! "So will you take like 5 bucks?" I asked.

He leaned in toward me a little and I could see that he was missing a lot of teeth, and also that he was batshit crazy. "Do you know Maryjane?" he whispered.

"No, I don't think so," I said. This was the truth. I have never known anyone named Maryjane anything.

"Would you like to?" He was nice and smiley but really I just wanted the boots. I did not want some random skanky hook-up from a hippie selling his refuse on a 45-degree angle.

"No, thanks. Will you take ten?"

"I will take ten, man! Alright!" I gave him half of my entire bankroll and picked up the boots and walked away but I don't think he realized he had just made a sale. When I glanced back at him he was looking at where I had been standing as if I were still there.

The boots fit perfect and went nice with my retirement-man shorts. I wore them the rest of the trip. I was wearing them when we saw a bighorn sheep on a rocky hill by the road, and when we saw whales spewing whale-water out of their butts in the ocean. I was wearing them when we saw otters at play in a river by the sea, and I was wearing them when we stopped to pee in the middle of the fairy-tale giant redwood forest.

I was peeing on a tree the size of a moon rocket and looking at a banana someone had carelessly thrown from their moving car, thinking, "man, that is one fresh-looking discarded banana," when suddenly the banana moved. Seriously. I had not slept in a few days and the cold medicine was wearing off but I was pretty sure that this was really happening. Upon closer inspection the banana turned out not to be a fruit at all, but instead some kind of animal! Never had I seen an animal this color, at least not on land. It was huge and slimy and squirmy. I picked up the leaf it was clinging to and the thing pulsed and glistened. It was heavy, too. "Skipper! Goodtime!" I called. I needed someone to confirm this living hallucination. I was happy and relieved when they said they saw it too.

What now? Should we leave this animal, clearly new to science, to roam the primordial woods? Or should we take it with us and charge people $3 admission to see it at the merch booth? We were full of ideas, but in the end decided to put it back and hit the road, with our universe just a little bit bigger.

At the next stop for gas, in yet another little uphill hippie town, I was standing at the checkout counter buying some more cold medicine when my eye fell upon a little sales display. For $1.29 you could buy a lollipop the exact size, shape and color of the yellow slime-monster we had just encountered! There were dozens of them! A little sign read "Get Your Banana-Slug sucker Today." Talk about your unexpected development! The counter hippie told us that banana slugs were not only common in the area, they were a serious garden pest throughout the entire Great Northwest. And nobody ever told us!

The suckers were delicious. With our universe widened even a little bit more, we again hit the road.

But the event I wanted to tell you about involves a giant redwood tree and our Dodge Zebra Van.

Part Two

We were on maybe the sixth day of driving uphill when we came across a sign that said "See the Tree of Wonder! See the Giant Drive-Through Redwood!" Then there was another sign. And another, and another, one every few hundred feet. We figured they must be serious, seeing as how they had cut down so many trees to make signs to advertise this tree. So we pulled in to check it out.

What the signs were talking about turned out to be a gigantic redwood through which someone had actually bored a tunnel wide enough to drive a car. Somehow this unfortunate tree was still alive, with big green branches fanning out hundreds of feet overhead. The clever people who had gutted this tree were turning a nice profit on tourist suckers like us. They had it set up so once you pulled into the little drive to just see the tree and satisfy your curiosity, you discovered you were also in line to drive through it, and that cost $5, and good luck backing up or trying to turn around because everyone honks at you and shakes their fist. Five bucks was a considerable sum in those days, at least to us. But there we were, in line to drive through the Tree of Wonder.

When it was our turn the attendant hippie took our $5 and then looked at our van and shook his stringy head. "Better fold in your mirrors, man." That was all he said. You would think that as a professional Tree of Wonder attendant he would have developed keen skills of estimation and car-to-tree ratio assessment, but he hadn't. He had made a mistake. But we didn't know that yet.

With the mirrors folded in we inched forward into the tree. Goodtime was driving, and he is highly skilled, but this one was beyond even him. We were about halfway through when up above, coming from the roof, there was a sound like this: "Screeeeeeee!" Suddenly all forward movement ceased. GT gunned the motor. No dice. We were wedged solid in the Tree of Wonder. People behind us began to honk.

"Whoa, man! Stop!" The incompetent hippie attendant appeared at the front of the van, waving his arms. "You're stuck, man!"

As often happens when events are spinning beyond your control and people are yelling and you haven't slept since Wednesday, things began to take on a comic air. Inside the van we were curled up in our seats, helpless with laughter. Except for one of us -- GT. He wasn't laughing. He was mad.

He rolled down his window and shouted, "Why did you tell us it would fit? Are you stupid?" He shouted this into the blank wood wall of the tunnel. I doubt the hippie heard him. People started getting out of their cars and coming around to the front to stand next to the hippie and peer in at the Zebra Van full of rock n' roll idiots that was stuck in the tree. They weren't all that mad. They were more curious. Their slack faces made our view of the scene even funnier.

So what do you do when you get your car stuck in the Tree of Wonder? As it turns out, there was a solution. But it took the mad owner guy getting out of bed from his afternoon siesta at his house up the hill and waddling down to the tree, smoking a cigarette and waving off the hippie attendant. He stuck his head into the front of the tunnel and shouted, "Stay there for 15 minutes!"

That was a good one. But it calmed everyone down a little and the people got back in their cars to read their maps or take a nap. We got out a guitar and tried to write a song about the experience, but for some reason it didn't really lend itself to any of the riffs we had kicking around.

After fifteen minutes the owner guy came back. We expected him to have a tow truck or some kind of complicated specialty tool for prying vehicles out of trees, but he was empty-handed and unaccompanied. "Okay," he yelled, "Give it a try!"

Give what a try? Had the tree expanded? Had our van miniaturized? But we did what he said. Goodtime started her up and eased on the gas. The "screeeeee" sound returned, but we did make a little headway. We were actually moving! More gas, more "screeeeee," and before we knew it we were through the tree and out the other side, blinking in the bright sunshine of freedom!

I am more of the type to thank the Rock Gods and not question miracles, but GT knew there was a secret behind our escape and he wanted to know it. He leaned out the window. "Hey!" he shouted. "How did you know that would work?"

The owner guy stopped berating the hippie attendant long enough to turn his attention to us. "Easy," he said. "You come off the road, your tires are hot, they're expanded. You sit there a while, they cool down, they lower your vehicle." He turned back to the hippie, who was obviously receiving some on-the-job training.

"Huh," said Goodtime.

And what else was there to say? We had certainly gotten our $5 worth. We left the Tree of Wonder and continued north, free and easy.

Okay this one was loooong! Hope you liked it, folks. Come back soon for more tales inspired by true events.

Monday, November 23, 2009

If Fish Were Sliders

Well first, I am happy to report that there have been not one but TWO comments to my blog here, and both of them have suggested ideas for stories. It must be more obvious than I thought that I have already run out of good ideas. Thanks for the suggestions and I intend to take you up on them. I like comments because it give me the illusion that people are reading these.

I understand that if you click on this, you will go to the place where I wrote this article. Amazing. They also have some other stories I wrote.

Okay. Now.

This one is going back into the dark and fuzzy vaults of memory. I am almost sure that it happened. If it didn't then it did anyway.

This is a little story about Uncle Pleasant's which was a bar in Louisville, and might still be, but I doubt it. It was the first place the mighty NDI ever played that wasn't within sleeping distance of our homes. The owner dude was named Uncle Mark and we liked him. He gave us our first real gig!

But this happened at maybe our tenth real gig, when it felt like things were a big ball rolling faster and faster downhill, and we couldn't stop it or even get in front of it, because it was us, getting famous. That would be impossible, to get in front of yourself. So we didn't try. We just rolled with the big ball of fame and tried not to get food poisoning or fall out of the van on the highway.

But this happened before we were the household name we are today. A LONG time before that. At this gig we were still making up songs as we went along, and not unrelated to that was the fact that there were about 16 people in attendance. But they were frantic. They were onto something.

At Uncle P's, on like I said maybe our tenth ever road gig, we had a nice idea. At the end of the first set, Skipper announced that we had decided to treat the crowd to a trip to White Castle. We had maybe 20 minutes between sets, and none of us knew where White Castle was or if they even had them in Kentucky. In those days we trusted things like that to the Rock Gods.

So we piled the entire crowd into the back of our undependable van and blasted off. It was empty because all the gear was on stage, and the crowd rolled and tumbled as GT drove us in search of our fast food goal. And do you know what? They DO have White Castles in Kentucky. The Rock Gods did not let us down.

We parked and the doors opened and the crowd spilled out and we rushed into the fragrant, affordable restaurant. Skipper led us up to the counter and a hush fell over the multitude and the counter guy in the paper hat said "Welcome to White Castle may I take your order" and Skipper held up one finger and said:

"One White Castle, please."

The paper hat said, "You just want one?"

"Just one," repeated Skipper.

Well, we got that slider and we got back in the van and we handed that little bitty burger to the crowd and everyone had a tiny bite and passed it on. No one went hungry. It was a little like Jesus and the fishes, if Jesus wore matching tuxes and fishes were sliders.

Back at the club the crowd went back in and we went back on. We were bonded for pretty much ever.

Okay let's let that sink in for awhile. More to come, and no mistake.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Goodtime's Big Adventure

Okay so today I would like to recall some of our rock and roll exploits in a far-away land, in this case the land they call "Winnipeg Manidosa, Canada." This is a place so close to the North Pole that it is cold and snowy even in July, so you have to plug in your car to heat up the engine block. This is true. Every vehicle has the business end of an extension cord dangling out of the grill like a limp electrical johnson. And the parking meters all have plugs, so you just park and plug your car's man-part into the waiting receptacle and head off to Tim Horton's for a donair. Your car will make it with the parking meter and generate enough heat to keep your engine from freezing up like a beer you put in the freezer and forgot about... Oh crap -- hold on a minute...

Okee! Back and ready to begin. The mighty New Duncan Imperials, of which I am one, has been coming to this frigid port of call for up on thirty-six years. We generally play at a rock palace called The Royal Albert Arms. This is a massive old hotel in the bad part of Winnipeg with a rock club on the first floor and rooms up above. I have to say, and here I am being as sincere as I can be, that this place will be in our hearts until the day we die by electrocution or some other means. This is a special place, folks. It is LOUD and beat-up and dark, and the people rock hard, and it has an enjoyable air of desperation and violence.

When we started coming here you could still smoke in bars, and usually it was so thick in there you'd think there was a tire fire smoldering in a back room. People started in on their Extra Old Stock bottles at about 10AM, so by the late afternoon the atmosphere was like a zombie party in Satan's cave. The best part was that we usually played two nights or more, and we stayed in the rooms upstairs, where our neighbors were recovering heroin addicts and aging post-traumatic servicemen (this is why we sometimes called it the "The Royal Amputee Arms"). It was not unusual to find needles on the floor in the halls, and someone was always pounding on a door in the middle of the night looking for a dude named Randy. Awesome.

The best part was that we each always got our own room, with a sproingy mattress and no phone or TV or light bulbs or curtains. For a young rock band accustomed to fitting five people into a Motel 6 single, this was our idea of heaven. There were old dressers and tables in the rooms, and if you opened the drawers you would find forgotten belongings like half-empty tins of pomade and crumpled-up legal notices and old belts. The smell was nothing a couple scented candles from Shoppers Drug Mart couldn't cover up, kind of. We really felt at home. We blazed through our shows, then rode the elevator up to our rooms for rest and relaxation. No tear-down, no load out, no muss, no fuss.

Being so comfy and on top of each other like that really made the creative juices flow, and we did some of our best prank work at the Albert. One night we moved all of the furniture from our rooms onto the stage. It took awhile due to the elevator being not big enough for more than one dresser at a time, but by the time we went on, the stage looked like someone's living room, complete with plugged-in lamps.

Another hilarious stunt involved Kernel, our road manager. This was during the phase in our career when we would occasionally wear these nice dresses that we got at a lady store, and Kernel had one also. We hadn't put them on in several weeks. One night right before show time we all put on our attractive dresses and we told Kernel, "Okay! Tonight is a dress-up night! Get your smock on!" Kernel was a funny nice dude built like a short bull, and his dress fit him like a pantyhose fits a beer barrel. He sighed and squeezed into his outfit and went down to start the show, where he would be stationed by the side of the stage, in full view of the crowd.

As soon as he was gone we immediately changed back into our awesome he-man matching tux coats with white pants and shoes. When we hit the stage Kernel was of course the only man in the bar wearing a tight skimpy dress, and he kept us well-amused during the set with his attempts to conceal his feminine wares behind a monitor wedge.

Good times, Kernel!

But I am really here to tell you of a death-defying stunt that nearly went fatally awry. Since we were always knocking on each others' doors to go out to Salisbury House or down to the Cowboy Lounge (a dance club), somehow a joke developed where the person knocking would not be there when you answered the door, or it would be someone entirely different from who you expected. It worked both ways -- once when I had some dudes from the opening band hanging out, and GT came to get me for an expotition, those boys got together and yanked the door open and screamed. That almost killed Goodtime.

It wasn't that funny at first, but then it started to mutate. Soon you would open your door to find an empty pair of shoes or a puff of cigarette smoke hanging in the air. Then it evolved into more ambitious items, like a stray dog, or the Coke machine from the lobby. We were at the point where you could open Skipper's door and find an elaborately made dummy with "I am Skipper" pinned to its chest hanging from the pipes, when Goodtime raised the stakes of the whole game, and also almost died.

It came to pass that at about four-thirty in the morning, after a Friday night rock set that could only be described as "schmuuhhh," when I had just excused myself from Skipper's swinging post-gig party to go to my room to do some serious passing out, it happened that GT got it in into his head to execute the Knocking Joke, only from the outside of my window. The band rooms were all on the third floor, and GT was not a skilled rock climber, or even slightly prepared mentally for this endeavor. But he was not listening to advice.

So he opened the window of his room, which was right next to mine. A blast of wind cold enough to shrink a tetherball hit him but did not smack any sense into him, so one leg went over the sill, then the other, and then the rest of Goodtime followed, giggling. He said later that he had figured out that the restaurant awning was underneath him, and that if he fell it would save him.

Skipper and assorted party guests had followed GT to the room and were trying to keep him from killing himself, but also trying to keep him from attracting the police, who were actually mounties, since this was Canada and as far as I know still ride their mounts to crime scenes, although technically this was not yet a crime scene.

GT hauled his wobbly, sharply dressed self out on the skimpy ledge. His green and tan golf shoes were not designed for adventure sports, but he was a strong man and he clung to the sheer rock face of the Royal Albert with determination. The wind, which had traveled from the north for 1600 miles unhindered by any geographical features of any kind and was therefore going close to the speed of sound, ripped at his spangly tux jacket. He pressed his face to the Royal Albert and inched on, giggling at this ultimate version of a joke that we, his bandmates, honestly thought had played itself out.

Closer...closer... Then one snazzy foot slipped off the ledge and GT had a sick moment of dizziness! But he was more than used to those and got his foot back on the ledge and continued on. On, into the frigid Canadian night. Finally, and I do mean finally, he was within knocking reach of the window. He balled up his furry fist. He knocked!

No one answered!

He knocked again!

No one answered again!

Nearly in tears, which would have frozen on his face, Goodtime knocked yet again. Where was Pigtail? Why didn't he answer? Didn't he know how close to destruction Goodtime truly was? After he knocked the forth time, the curtains stirred. And parted. And Goodtime peered into the grinning face of...

Kernel! The last person he expected! Kernel was wearing his slinky lady dress and dancing seductively in the window, beckoning to wide-eyed Goodtime. There was a colored light from the stage set up behind him, and it played on every curve and crinkle as he wriggled and pranced. Kernel had come to my door to wake me up and we had quickly set up GT for this ultimate version of the prank. Goodtime was so horrifiyingly amused that he let go of the Royal Albert and plummeted like a stone through the restaurant awning, which, as it turned out, did indeed save him. He sprained both thumbs and wrecked his straw hat, but overall he was fine.

The next night he rocked twice as hard as any of us.

Kernel, if you're reading this, let me tell you again that that was a red-hot idea. You may not remember the events just this way, but trust me, this is what happened. You are and always will be a funny man. Give us a call because I think we are headed back up to the Albert pretty soon.

BOY are my thumbs sprained. Typing is hard and takes FOREVER. Hope you liked this Pig-tale. There will be more.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Food A La Road #1

Well hi and welcome back. So far this blog idea is a pretty hot potato. I have almost TEN friends, which is five times more friends than I had before. And only one of those ten friends is also my brother!

If this episode turns out okay, maybe there will be more eating stories to come. For now let's just see how this sounds:

We were in the van on tour, hurtling down the road in probably Georgia or Mississippi. We were on our way to a gig at a club in Jackson called W. C. Don's, which was nothing more or less than two decrepit trailer homes nailed together to form a "T." The nailing together of the two homes had been done in a very half-hearted and probably illegal manner. You could see the sky from anywhere in the club and when it rained it basically rained right on your amps and your drummer.

We were playing there for what they called "Teen Night," an event that drew about 300 hot-looking youngsters to this nasty dive bar. It was a huge social event for the entire southern area! Since everyone was between the ages of twelve and seventeen, the bar couldn't serve any alcohol. So all of these young people were out of their minds on Extacy. The owner of W. C. Don's was no dummy -- he realized that this unpleasant drug actually sucks the fluid out of your brain and makes you ferociously thirsty, so the bar sold little plastic cups of tap water for $1 apiece. When he was paying us our $125 at the end of the night he told us that the bar had made $1,500 on tap water alone.

Later we learned that there was no one actually called Don, or even W. C., involved with this skanky place in any way. It was called that because the owner and his friends were sitting around trying to think of a name, and the best they could manage was "We Couldn't Decide On a Name." W. C. D. O. N.' s.

But we rocked W. C. Don's! The drug-addled teens hugged and shouted, especially when GT tossed florets of raw broccoli to them. We couldn't fail, because the drugs they had taken forced them to fall in love with anything anyone did. They loved us passionately. It really didn't matter that we were scorching the hell out the place. But we were anyway -- NDI doesn't know how to NOT rock!

In addition to broccoli, we also offered them a hurled gift of dozens of samples of coleslaw in little cups. This was back in the day when we would cruise out to the local supermarket when we got to town and acquire large amounts of any likely looking food item to offer to the crowd, in order to lure them closer to the stage. Alas, we had to lay off this practice as our fame grew. Huge unruly crowds would often hurl the items back at us, and if you were ever hit in the face with a raw chicken foot while you were on stage trying to sing, you would stop handing out raw chicken feet to drunk hicks, too.

While we are on topic of food, let's return to the topic of food. The morning after W. C. Don's, we went to eat and abuse each other at the nearest truck-stop diner. I cannot count how many times we went to places like this, always expecting to find some kind of authentic experience of the real flavor of the region. They say that you can tell if someone is insane because they do the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Well, there we were in Mississippi, expecting different results. But it was the same thing! The same smell, the same sticky plastic tablecloth, the same menu, the same flies. The same waitress. It didn't matter if it was Louisiana, Maine, or Flin Flon, Manitoba: any place where the sign just said FOOD was going to serve up FOOD.

But the reason I am telling you this is that at this place there was one little different result: a menu item that was new to us! It was not a Monte Cristo, or a Lumberjack Skillet, or Chicken Planks. It was handwritten on a greasy little card that said "Special's" at the top and it was this: Mullet. What could it be? I guessed it was sheep. Goodtime, who at that time actually had a mullet, only a hair one, guessed some kind of giant pancake. Skipper was the only rock tourist who actually wanted to try mullet, so he decided to ask the waitress what it was the next time she came waltzing by with the Bunn coffeepot.

We are coming to what I guess you would call the "punch line." But you have to be paying attention or it will slip right past you.

The waitress hove to. She had her waitress pad out and her waitress pen, too. She was ready to take our order. But Skip upset the usual order of things by asking his question. He pointed at the greasy card and said, "What's mullet?"

The waitress thought for a second and then she said, and this is the punch line I told you about:

"Well, have you ever had mullet?"

I have been told by lots of people that explaining a joke is worse than telling it wrong, so I won't. But I will say that the waitress lady's question made about as much sense as us being in this restaurant at all, expecting to find a real experience of the local people and their way of life, their way of thinking.

Unless, wait, maybe we did find it.

Anyway it turns out mullet is a kind of trash fish, like croaker or buffalo. Skipper did order it and it was actually pretty good! It tastes kind of like mullet. We ate hearty and then we hit the road, heading out to a new town, a new club, a new FOOD.

Okay that is enough for today. See you soon you big baboons --

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Estonia by Hovercraft

I am told by my manager, Mr. Kenn Goodman of Pravda Records, that you can put pictures and what-not on here and make it more appealing to the general populace. I am not sure how appealing pictures of me or my band would be to anyone but he has been right lo these many years, so maybe I'll try. Some day.

Since the last couple of chapters have concerned celebrities, I figured I would leave that topic alone for the next year or so. Plus I am out of celebrities.

Today we are going to Estonia, a country most of you only dream about visiting. A land of leggy models, ancient fortresses, and buses, and also bus drivers who yell at you for not speaking Estonian. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The journey began with a long airplane ride to Finland. The mighty NDI had an actual tour of this country, due to the efforts of a superfan name Miettinen who worked at a record-pressing plant and wanted to actually see the band whose records he had been seeing roll down the conveyor belt at work. The tour suited us pretty well -- a total of five gigs, spread out over two and a half weeks. We had time to truly experience Finland!

The first thing we learned about Finland is that everything is divided into three levels, and by everything I mean the stadium sausages and the vodka. So you can get Good, Medium, or Dangerous meat and booze, depending on the kind of cash you intend to spend. At this stage of our lives we were strictly in the "Dangerous" category, so that's the way we lived. Our hosts encouraged this reckless behavior and treated our bad choices as a spectator sport.

At some point in the trip Miettinen took us out to his uncle's lake cottage to experience the rural aspects of Finland. I can't say I recall much about this venture, but I do remember spending hours in a boat, fishing with a 12-year-old kid who spoke zero English and had zero interest in trying to learn. We floated around all morning in total silence, reeling in panfish and avoiding eye contact. Why? I do not know.

Also somewhere in here Skipper accidentally set himself on fire.

This is becoming a story about Finland, which I had hoped to save for some future date when I seriously run out of ideas. So let's move on to Estonia!

After the cottage in the woods, Skipper and I decided to take the hovercraft across the Gulf of Finland to Estonia, a country I had literally never heard of. Goodtime decided to stay in Helsinki and visit the galleries and art museums. So it was just us two tourists.

Somehow at 7 AM we were at the hovercraft port. I guess you would call it a hoverport. We were shaggy and starving, and Skipper made the mistake of eating a cold Finnish cheese and tomato sandwich from the only open lunch counter. Neither of us was in the best of shape but that really pushed Skip over the edge. It was a cold and nasty gray day, and the scene was complimented by the enormous grimy red and blue hovercraft that came skimming over the choppy waves. It looked like a beater UFO that couldn't get up into the air. The cool part was the 20-foot chopper blades on all four corners. Very dangerous in appearance.

Skipper's face had become an interesting color and a fat German dude was taunting us and falling on us. "Haben sie eine probleme?" he shouted at me. He was hammered and it wasn't even 8 in the morning. Give him credit.

The ride was problematic because the enormous gray waves of the Gulf of Finland kept smacking the bottom of the Hovercraft. This appeared to contradict the idea of "hover" and jostled us harshly. Skipper looked as bad as I've ever seen him, and believe me that is saying something. Inside the Hovercraft it was smelly and hot. Smelly and hot and LOUD. You couldn't talk or even really think.

After about a year of this abuse the engines changed their tone and we pulled into the ocean parking lot of Estonia. The next thing I can remember is walking, staggering really, into a place where I didn't know where I was. I had never been in a medieval city before and the rocky streets that never went straight seemed impossibly weird. Also the place was crawling with glamor model ladies in miniskirts and heels, pretty much the last thing I had expected. We poked our puzzled noses into the many hard-to-define shops where they usually had an abacus instead of a cash register and sold everything from can openers to maps. It was amazing to realize that this odd place had been existing for all the years I had been alive, and even now at this moment it is odd to realize that it is still there, existing.

One cool thing: We figured out that there is a tradition of visiting people after work and bringing them a little bouquet of flowers. So all along many of the streets there were little booths, basically little flourist shops, selling these pretty little bouquets, and everyone we passed was clutching a bunch of fresh flowers. I am not big on flowers but it gave the place a pretty nice feeling.

We checked out a concert in a park and shared a cold Estonian beverage in a bar that also sold clothes and knives. Then we realized it was starting to get a little late and we needed to get back to the hoverport to catch our hovercraft. We decided to take a bus.

First of all, Finnish is considered one of the top hardest languages to understand. It looks like mirror writing and the letters never repeat. Estonian is one step harder than that, so unless you grow up there you have no chance of communicating with anyone, especially if they are a furious bus-driver lady on a bus where you aren't allowed to get off through the front door. No-one got hurt, exactly, except for Skipper, who re-injured his nose, which had been broken during a fistfight in junior high. There was a lot of yelling. But I have to say that when people are yelling at you in a language you can't understand, it kind of turns funny. So although Skipper was bleeding all over the place and the stupid little dog who started it all by getting caught in the door was trying to bite someone, even though all of this was suddenly happening in the country of Estonia, I was basically trying not to laugh. Even when a cop car zoomed by us -- on its way to an actual crime -- the "wee-oh" siren also seemed more funny than official or threatening. I know this sounds terrible, like I don't care about other people or something, but there it is.

Thank god we were close to the hoverport and we could get off, through the correct door, and get the holy hell out of there. We fled the scene and joined the hovercraft herd, back to Finland, back to our reunion with GT, who didn't understand our incoherent story but was still glad to see us. That night we ROCKED a community hall with a statue of a cow out front.

Man my hands and brains are tired. I can't even guess what's next.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Skipper and Prince

This next true tale concerns one of the shortest yet most funky performers to ever come out of Minneapolis, not including the drummer for Husker Du -- I am talking of course about Prince. By the way, forget all that nonsense about your name being an unpronounceable symbol. That in my opinion is a blatant attempt to not only hide your true identity, but also make a lot of cash. I say whatever your name is, that is what you should answer to.

So we had a show in Minneapolis at a new club there called The Glam Slam. This was Prince's brand new club. It was so brand new that when we got there a crew of guys was applying varnish to a 50-foot-wide artist's rendering of the Prince symbol that took up the entire dance floor in front of the stage. We were not allowed to roll our amps or walk on or even really look at this work of art. It was supposed to be dry and finished by show time but we had our doubts.

This was one of those clubs where the band had to pay for water and the dressing rooms had furniture. There was no rock feeling whatsoever, and why we, the mighty and still-unknown NDI, were playing there was beyond any of us. But our manager at the time, Michael P. Halston, had wangled us a $135 guarantee on a Thursday night. Big money in those days.

We were playing that night with the truly weird but entertaining Dread Zeppelin. Some of you may remember these chicken-scratchers -- they played reggae versions of Led Zeppelin classics and their singer was an Elvis impersonator. Pretty much the whole enchilada! We admired the highness of their concept.

Our set was earth-shaking and we left the crowd in the usual stunned silence. Dread did their bit and played like champs.

The show was barely over and we were hanging out backstage, looking sharp, when every light in the club went dim and the music stopped. It was a spooky moment. Everybody froze. Then the first funkopated beats of the Prince classic "When the Doves Fly" came bumping out of the P.A. speakers. Suddenly the back stage door flew open and a flock of huge dudes in fur coats swarmed in. In their midst was a dwarf dressed in a sparkly ice-skater outfit. Obviously this shimmery little guy was a big deal, but it took us a few moments to realize that we were in the presence of the actual club owner himself: Prince! They cruised past us as we stood flat-footed, unsure what to do. Then Skipper, with nothing to lose, sprang into action.

"Hey, Prince!" he shouted.

Prince kind of turned his head a little and flashed a lovely smile and said, "Hey."

Well sir, that was enough for us. Within a day or two the story had written itself. Skipper and Prince had met and hit it off backstage at the Glam Slam, had exchanged phone numbers, and were planning to release a double album. This historical meeting of musical minds was immortalized in one of our biggest ignored hit songs: "Skipper and Prince," from the Loserville album. The song also includes a few other love connections we have made through the years: me and Dolly Parton, and Goodtime and Ringo, the drummer for the indescribable Country Rockers, from Memphis.

Okay then. That is enough about celebrities for a while. Next time maybe we'll talk about Estonia.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Incident in Iowa

Okay I haven't figured out the links on my computer here at work at the Jack in the Box, so if they're no here yet you can just wait, goddammit.

This is my second official blog writing, and no one can tell me, or will tell me, what people write in these things. "Just stuff." Well okay that does sound pretty entrancing, but in my case all I have really is dim memories of the past, along with some not-so-dim fears of the future. So here's a dim memory of the past for you to chew on:

It was I think early 1993, and we were on tour in Iowa. I was listening to a lot of live Osmonds and feeling sorry for myself, dealing with some serious knots in my hair, feeling itchy in my jeans. But we were on tour, rolling in our impossible-to-ignore zebra van, which looked like this here, minus the word "Zebra" on the side and those dorks standing next to it. Ours said "Bernie Hoffman's Animal Kingdom," I think, and we got it from Animal Kingdom on Milwaukee Ave, and the actual Garfield Goose, or one of him, used to ride in it along with the actual Ray Rayner, who was his boss.

We stopped at a normal old gas station on the windswept plain outside Iowa City. While the pump did its thing we all went inside to mill around. Check out the belt buckles and pork rinds. Maybe visit the men's. Well there we were when we noticed this freaky dude reading a Hot Rod magazine and acting squirrelly. He had long hair for a gentleman in his sixties and in addition it was also streaked with green. He had an amazing beaky nose. He looked like Tiny Tim. He WAS Tiny Tim.

"Tiny Tim?!" we said. "Yeees?" said Tiny, waving his hair back from his face like a lady. He kinda seemed like a big witchy lady, and that's how he talked, too. He wasn't making a whole lot of sense. "I live here in Iowa,' he said in his lilty, fluffy, old-man voice. "I'm on tour. Do you fellows know 'Leave it to Beaver?'" Yeah! we said. We know all the shows. "I have Jerry Mathers out in the car," said Tiny. "We're on tour."

What a tour that would be! Tiny could sing and I guess Jerry would act. Or maybe sing. Or maybe Tiny would just hang around on stage. We had so many questions, but Tiny had to go. We never got to meet Mr. Mathers but we did get Tiny's business card, which was just the middle cut out of some condolence Hallmark card with his phone number scribbled on the back.

Well sir, that was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Our manager, Mr. Kenn Goodman of Pravda Records, took that card out of our hands the minute we got back. He called Mr. Tim to see if he would like to play with the mighty NDI, or just come over for dinner, but Tiny was on tour in Australia, playing heavy metal songs with some bar band. Well, we reasoned, if he was desperate enough to do that, maybe he would do something with us.

That something turned out to be one of the most brain-challenging records of all time, Tiny Tim with The New Duncan Imperials Live at Martyrs. We assumed Tiny would be playing some awesome hard rock tunes, but when he got off the plane at O'Hare, toothbrush sticking up out of his suitcoat pocket, ukelele in a battered shopping bag, he declared, "Oh, I am done with the loud stuff! The modern stuff! I am now playing the greats, the classics of ought-seven and ought-eight!" What he meant was, songs that not even my Grandma Dick would have heard of, that's how old they were. Songs like "The Spinning Wheel Shall Turn E'er My Love Grows Sweeter" and "Sing, O Spangled Turtledove!" Stuff in keys like G minor. Impossible stuff. If you listen to that record, you will hear a guitarist, me, who is in so far over his head that he is not even playing notes, just keeping time against the strings. I became a rhythm instrument and I wasn't even so good at that. The person who saved the show was Crispy, the fourth Imperial, who actually knew some of these crusty old songs and played along on his squeeze-box. He saved the show!

I wish this story had a tidy nice ending, like something meaningful Tiny said when we said goodbye, or how a label executive heard the record and almost released it in Greece. Nothing like that happened. He just flew back to wherever, I guess Iowa, and we never saw him or talked to him again. Not so much later Tiny died. He was an odd person but who isn't?

Okay that's enough story for now. Go to bed.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I am not so good at this ye

t, so if things are messed up or mispelled that's pretty much your fault for forcing me to do this, goddammit. We were in Austin Texas last weekend, I mean my band THE NEW DUNCAN IMPERIALS, the least popular legendary band in the world, and while we driving to Houston Skipper and GT started demanding I write a blog, so I got on my kid's computer and after HOURS of my neck starting to hurt and my fingers too big for these little buttons here I am. I cannot over-emphasize how much of this is their idea, so when I have nothing to say like now that is pretty much their fault too.

We played some loud hot rock in Texas. We also drove around in Wet Dawg's 1978 Holiday Rambler motorhome. It is a spectacular vehicle. It has shag carpeting everywhere including the ceiling, which I think is intended to make a roll-over crash a little more comfortable and stylish. Other than my incorrect assumption that the toilet worked, this vehicle made the highway part of the trip more like the living room part of the trip. We talked and lied and listened to some music. Wet Dawg plays in lots of bands including ours sometimes and also El Orbits -- check out these hot-potatoes!

I am going to make a big old pork tenderloin for my kids now. The recipe I favor can be found here. I will post, as I think they say, more details of the Texas trip pretty soon. Maybe after dinner.

Bookmark and Share