Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 12/20

...and this dude next to me turns on his barstool and looks me in the eye and says, "Honestly, and I really mean this, you guys are the worst band I have ever seen in my life."

Mission accomplished!

Here's a little post-script to our utter and uncontested triumph over Tipitina's: the next night we are still in New Orleans, having found a groovy bunch of young fans to crash with, their messy apartment actually overlooks the noisy French Quarter (harsh morning light streams in through the ancient white-washed horizontal slats on the shutters; somehow it's meaningful to be seeing them from the inside, instead of gazing up like all the tourists), and that night we hear about an event at Tipitina's, a movie opening party or some such official closed event with popular people and free food and drink, and somehow the idea of crashing this party gets stuck in our minds. So we get seriously tricked out in our finest white tuxes and green pants, adorn our strong young bodies with trinkets, beads, and other swag from the Quarter, get a little liquid courage on board, pull our Hawaiian punch brims low over our eyes, and follow the searchlights over to Tipitina's. In a purposeful single file the three of us walk in past the velvet ropes and black-clad bouncers like we own the place. Which, in a sense, we do. If anyone shouts at us to stop, I certainly never hear it. Inside we mingle and drink and eat, entirely at home among the celebrities we do not recognize. High class. Right where we belong.

But here's the punch-line: at the bar, we overhear the manager-type, who never bothered to show up the night before when we played, bitching about something. Apparently the assholes in one of the bands last night threw fucking marshmallows all over the place. They got ground into the fucking carpet, and there was no way to get that shit out before the party. They almost had to move the whole thing to the fucking DoubleTree hotel! If he could just get his hands on those guys...

Tipitina's: outpunked!

Jackson, MS was pretty wicked cool as well. Here's the story, recorded in our tour diary that some of you may have seen, but most of you have not, I'm guessing:

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!

The last few days of the tour were fuzzy with fever and face gruffle. But we did make it home! And when we did, it was time to record our first album...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 11/20

It's hard to leave the Country Rockers in the middle of their second set and go across the street to the dark and nasty confines of the Antenna Club, but we're due on stage in a half an hour and we need to put on our stage tuxes and get our voices limbered up. There are a few people there, not many, it's a Wednesday night and we're pretty unknown, but there's a good rock feeling in the air. We hit the stage and people stop what they're doing to stare at us, always a good sign, and afterward we collect quite a few names for the mailing list, a few more sick and twisted fans.

After the people are gone and the gear is more or less packed up we're sitting at the bar having a post-gig cocktail, watching a flickery image on the black and white TV behind the bar. It's hooked up to a VCR and they are showing a video of last night's show here, some slimy motherfucker rolling around on the ground, and I'm watching, and I realize it's gg allin, a true madman, a bad person, a performance artist really, who strips naked and shits on stage and throws his poo into the crowd, and generally goes one big step farther than any other "punk" act in existence. His music is without any merit whatsoever but I guess you have to give him some kind of credit. We're watching, transfixed, and gg is rolling on the stage in broken glass from a bottle he smashed on himself, there's shit and blood all over -- how did they clean this up? The club does smell like bleach, come to think of it. This is really disturbing. Then gg rolls over and there's something coming out of his ass, a tube of some kind, a thin black cord. A microphone cord. "Whoa," I say. "Does he have that mic completely up his ass?" The bartender dude looks up at the screen and laughs. "Yeah," he says. "It took us forever to clean that fucker off."

“To clean off what – the mic?”

“Yeah,” says the bartender. “Nasty.”

I have to put two and two together, though God knows I don't want to: the mic I had spent all night singing into had spent much of the previous evening up the ass of one of the most unclean humans alive. What place on earth could be more toxic than gg allin's colon?

Bartender, another drink!

The Antenna club out-punked us, maybe, but a couple of nights later we get our revenge by out-punking Tipitina's, apparently a legendary club in New Orleans. Already over a week into our first NDI tour, we're submerging into our new identities with alarming ease. We are basically always in character, at breakfast, in truck stops, at the hotel, and of course at the shows, and our first glimpse of the moss-heavy trees and wrought-iron balconies of the old town feels like coming home. We can be our new selves here without thinking twice, since everyone else seems to be engaged in their own inside joke, their own bit. Some folks are wearing hats just like ours. Fans? Not yet...

We pull up and hike on into Tipitina's, a classy joint that is gorgeous and big and by far the nicest club we have played on this tour, or ever. How the fuck did we get this gig? Apparently Kenn, the suddenly motivated booking agent for the New Duncan Imperials, had convinced them that the band would be perfect for their weekly "Live from Tip's" radio broadcast on WTUL, the Tulane University college radio station. So we are in the middle of a triple bill of bands playing what would these days be called "alternative rock," and the entire performance will be broadcast live on the radio. Can you see snazzy tux coats and flying chicken claws on the radio? No, but who cares? All we have to do is be exactly on-time to the stage. And no swearing.

The old band would have taken this shit seriously. The new band doesn't take anything seriously, and so ninety seconds before we're supposed to take our positions on stage Skipper decides that our matching green pants, purchased the day before at a Salvation Army store in a town somewhere around Birmingham, would look slick with our white tux coats. He's right -- we absolutely need to change. So the NDI start pulling off their pants in the dressing room while the dead-voiced college radio deejay girl begins introducing the band. "Next we have The New Duncan Imperials, from Bucksnort, that's in Tennessee... and we've been promised a highly visual show... The New Duncan Imperials... from Bucksnort..." It's a long and wonderfully awkward moment, the empty air and this helpless college mouse with nothing behind her voice, no power, even when she intones in disgust, "amazing...", and then finally, five minutes late, the band bursts onto the stage, banging drums and throwing handfuls of breakfast cereal at the crowd, and we strap on and the first shot of power knocks them back, it has this entire tour, and after everyone gets their feet back under them it's off to the races, forty minutes of prehistoric riffs mixed with Klassic Kountry, including a song we picked up from our Country Rockers cassette, "Rockin Daddy from Ding Dong Tennessee," and then GT is out in the crowd handing out our free-shit gift of choice these days, Sta-Puft marshmallows, and he shows the crowd how to whip them at us, and now we're playing in a hail of the harmless things, they patter against us while our power riffs push the crowd around like drunken sailors on a sinking ship, and this is what it is, why we are what we are. “Aw,” says Skipper after a brutal take on “Jimi Page Loves Country,” “you fuckers are the best!” He really means it, and it's true, but he forgot we're not supposed to swear, and soon a stage manager dude, the kind of person we have come to refer to as a "squid," is at the side of the stage waving his arms around, trying to get us to stop. But Skipper says it again: “No, really. I mean it. You guys are the fucking BEST!” The squid is losing his mind, they shut off our vocal mics, and we do “Velour” and just yell the title at the crowd, and we're done, we leave the stage, we rule. The lecture from the squid is a foregone conclusion, and as it turns out pretty entertaining in its own right. The deejay girl will not speak to us. We wander out into the crowd and people are smiling and laughing, we entertained them, mission accomplished, and I am high on life and a fair amount of Jagermeister and I lean up on the bar to get another drink and this random dude next to me turns on his barstool and looks me in the eye and says, "Honestly, and I really mean this, you guys are the worst band I have ever seen in my life."

Mission accomplished!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 10/20

The day comes, it's Leaving Day, and the van rolls up to get me, and right away it's clear that touring NDI-style is a new game. GT and Skipper are wearing thrift-store suit coats and garish ties; they both reek of Hai Karate, and Skipper appears to be growing a fu manchu. It's five hours to Iowa City, and with every passing mile we sink deeper into the hermetically sealed hyper-reality of our new selves. A stop at a travel plaza for gas and Little Debbies and MD 20/20 wine; by the time we pull into the featureless outskirts of Iowa City the show has basically already started.
Loading into the club, trucking our gear and props up the slippery iron stairs in our thrifted old-man shoes, we pass each other and giggle. And on-stage, heads swimming, the band is sloppy and uncontrollable, rolling through a set that is dangerously close to falling apart, a hurtling train; there are some kids there, fans of the opening band, along with a few weirdos who go to clubs without knowing who's playing, and that new magic, the rock and roll fairy dust with which we are now somehow frosted, is in full effect. The crowd is jumping and thrashing and laughing, just plain bonkers, and we are all in love and it is so loud and nothing matters, after so long when everything mattered, now nothing matters; and now the show is over and we load out down the slippery metal stairs in our old man shoes and straw hats and sweat-sodden tux coats, pile everything and ourselves into the van; and then we are at the Motel 6 in Coralville Iowa, poured into bed; and the room is a swirling black and sparkly universe of noise, and the noise is in your head, and then it's five hours later, and the sun is burning through the ugly motel curtains and the phone rings and the front desk wants you to know that check-out was half an hour ago, and even then, even when you are miserable and subhuman, even then, you still feel the rock and roll angels hovering over you, lifting you up, whispering in your ear: "Get up, motherfucker. You are Pigtail."
Into the van and on to St. Louis. We load in, we play, the people clap, we load out, we go to the hotel. So okay, we don't see God every night. This is still rock and roll at the very lowest level, and we can forgive the world for not rolling over to have its belly scratched every night. So it's on to Louisville. And at this gig, God does show up. On stage in Louisville, pounding through the third song, "Hamhocks," it's time for my guitar solo, and I hoist my Les Paul strings-side-up, and I site down the neck at the crowd like I'm aiming a gun, get my slick-as-shit two-tone loafer on the old Crybaby wah wah pedal, and here's my solo: a frantic back-and-forth across the strings, open and unfretted because I'm holding the heavy guitar up with my other hand, just six open strings at full vibration, full volume, and the wah wah glissandos up and down the tonal range, and it sounds like shit, noise, a harsh wall of shitty noise, but with GT pounding that tribal beat and Skipper doing his best to keep up, it sounds right. And look here, in front of the stage: almost a hundred people crammed up front, rocking, blissed-out faces upturned. We can do no wrong, because the more wrong we are, the more they love us. This is how it works, after all: people tell people tell people tell people, and next thing you know you're a rock star, people reaching arms up to you, laughing and singing and dancing and falling down and getting back up and shaking their hair and laughing and singing and dancing – three encores, we are out of songs, so we start making them up, some we will remember and play for the rest of the tour. I wake up the next morning still wearing my hat. Actually, no -- Pigtail wakes up the next morning still wearing Pigtail's hat.
Memphis. We load in and set up. The Antenna Club is big and dark, black spray-painted plywood inside and out, top to bottom -- a real punk rock crypt. Sound check, fine, no mysteries there, except the microphone smells atrocious and the monitors sound like shit, and here we are, it's nine o'clock and the bar isn't even open yet, we don't go on for hours, and sitting around here isn't really our style, so what else is there? Skipper pokes his nose out the door and comes back with a report: "Fellas, there's a real swank bar across the street. We need to go get a cocktail."
Walking together into bars, or truck-stop diners, or small-town thrift stores, has become a source of amusement for the NDI, and this little dive bar proves no exception. It's that scene from a movie: people stop in mid-sentence, swivel in their seats, eyes on the new dudes in town, three swinging dicks flashing through the door in matching tuxes and ties, raggedy Hawaiian Punch hats low over their eyes, looking for space at the bar, teeth smiling at the strangers around them. We're friendly and we drink interesting drinks and GT can play pool, so these scenes pretty much always turn out fine. In this case we order three black russians and light up cigarettes, smile at the world. And looky here -- there's a stage, orange and red lights and a tinsel backdrop and drums and amps, but no band, they might be on break, and we give each other a nod or two, people resume talking, and we drink our drinks and soak up life and enjoy the mind-meld, no talking necessary, and then there's a sound, the band is taking the stage, and we make our way up front to check them out, and oh my goodness.
A three-piece band, bass, guitar and drums. Matching jackets. Hats. They start playing, a simple, powerful riff, "Rockin Daddy from Ding-Dong, Tennessee." It's all so familiar, but check it – the drummer is so old he can hardly stay on the throne. His eyes are puffy and squinty and he's totally bald, maybe five feet tall, barely mobile. His arms and hands and fingers are weirdly short, stubby, like a cartoon -- he might have only four fingers on each hand. How does he hold the sticks? The guitar player/singer dude is no spring chicken either -- at least in his sixties. The bass player is the youngest of the three, and he looks drunk, wobbly. But oooh, listen, Skipper. Listen GT. These cats have got something. "My Happiness," -- "whether skies are gray or blue/any place on earth will do"... crooned by the drummer in a cracked, croaky voice, then "Pistol Packin' Mama," "Bucket's Got a Hole" -- the drummer swinging behind his kit, little stubby arms pounding the beat. Who are these motherfuckers? How do they manage to be so great, so right, when they're so messed up and strange? We're not so drunk or stupid that we don't immediately see the connection: it's us, us in some future decade, here at this Memphis dive bar, slinging the shit for a half-wit room, running down the old songs, the old standards, not for the people at the bar but for ourselves, for the love of music, even if it long since stopped loving us back. After the set we rush the stage, bring them drinks, babbling. They tell us the drummer's name is Ringo. It's all so perfect.
Now Skipper's doing it again -- the band wad is out. He's talking to the singer, Gene, the cat most likely to be capable of carrying on a sensible conversation. But I repeat -- the band wad is out. Skipper is buying something -- a cassette! He's actually buying another's band merch. But we approve -- of course we do. We now have a precious artifact, a bone for the reliquary, a memento of our future. This cassette will stay in the van tape player for weeks and months, and we will cover nearly every song on it, from those already mentioned to "There Stands the Glass," "Barrooms to Bedrooms," and "Yearnin Burnin Heart." Everything we do in the country vein from here on out will be either a cover or a direct rip of the songs on this album.
Back inside the Antenna Club...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Call Me Pigtail 9/20

On The Road Again 
The wanderlust is building, the countryside is calling. Time to wake up and go outside, back out to where we were, the clubs and college towns. Let's get in the van and drive and drive and drive and fill foreign stages with our glorious tacky debris, blast their brains out with our new-found power, make them hate us, make them love us. It will be hard at first, there will be some empty clubs, just like in Chicago. But we don't care. We've seen worse.
Somehow the old band always managed to get gigs in towns from San Francisco to Winnipeg, from Memphis to NYC. We never drew crowds or made any money, yet they booked us again and again. Why? Well, that band looked good on paper. We had four albums and a decent press kit, and we know how to manage time and distance and money and promotion. But now, who is "we"? Does Skipper Zwakinov know how to pick up a phone, dial a number, and deliver a coherent pitch to a busy club owner? Does Pigtail Dick know how to package and address a stack of fliers with the correct date on them? Can Goodtime Dammitt read a map and tell the band how to find the club? No, no, and no. The solution is obvious, at least to us: Let Kenn, Rick and John book, promote, and plan the tour. But in that process always, always, refer to Skipper, Pigtail and GT in the third person. Deny any association. Put our logistical expertise and experience to work on behalf of these three idiots who are incapable of wiping their own noses and who, of course, are also us. Only they aren't. It can get a little confusing. Only it's not.
So in the little office from which he books our old band along with a few other local semi-losers, Kenn picks up the phone and dials a club in Iowa City and asks to speak to Dan, the booker. Kenn has booked our other band there many times, the two dudes are friends, and Kenn says "Yeah, Dan, listen. We got a new band over here. I'm pretty sure you're gonna like these guys." And then he goes into some detail about this hot new property, but never mentions he's in the band, or that it is in fact made up of three guys Dan knows well, we've even done a few short tours together with his side band, so when NDI finally does pull up in front of the Iowa City club and climb out and wander into the club, in our matching hats and matching snazzy coats and encounter Dan at the bar, he'll give us a "what the fuck?" look and Skipper will walk up to him and stick out his hand and say, with the most unruffled straight face in the business, "Skipper Zwakinov. Nice to meet you." There are a lot of Dans out there, a lot of clubs our old band played, and Kenn spends a lot of time on the phone talking up the new rock ensemble.
Those clubs where we have never played, have never been invited/allowed to play, are a little tougher to crack. So how does NDI approach a club for the first time? For most bands at this time, the standard promo pack includes an 8x10 black and white glossy photo with the band's name, a poorly executed bio with dubious claims and outrageous spelling, and a stapled-together packet of photocopied clippings from local papers and zines. Bands with recordings to flaunt, like our old band, toss those in as well. It's a conformist and awkward little exercise.
NDI has no recordings, no reviews or press clippings, no photos to speak of. We're unknown and stupid. But what the fuck -- it don't matter. We put one together in the same spirit that we set up the stage and make up our songs. So here's what's in the official New Duncan Imperials promo pack that we mail to clubs::
* a thrift store TV with the guts removed and a photo copy of Skipper's grinning face taped to the screen
* a hand-written plea from Goodtime to book our band "because we are nice."
* a copy of "Sir!" magazine
* a double handful of confetti
* two or three packages of pork rinds and moon pies
* condoms
* noisemakers and party horns
* an assortment of class-C fireworks
* a genuine custom-wrecked NDI straw hat
* random items on hand from constant foraging; stuffed animals, dolls with parts missing, Mexican candy, mismatched socks, pomade, off-brand cologne, trucker speed, old sunglasses, a handful of change, 8-track tapes, and so on.
No mention of our music, our sound, our history; no press clippings, no recordings. But we're pretty sure it's going to get us noticed. We start sending these love bombs out to clubs, plotting our first ever real road trip as NDI.
But where are we going? Ah. Yes. Iowa City, for a start. Dan will give us $200 for a Friday, that's gas and food for a few days. Then St. Louis, get an opening spot at Cicero's Basement Bar, a place the old band played, a weird and cramped little cellar with a support pillar smack in the middle of the stage, but they pay okay thanks to the restaurant upstairs. Maybe then keep going south -- can we get back to Louisville? Fuck yeah, pretty sure that'll be a good night, after the lunacy that transpired last time, probably enough money to coast for awhile. There's no place in Lexington that'll hire us, but the Antenna Club in Memphis does a lot of punk bands, too hardcore and cool for the old band to get a gig but the owner will probably like the TV we send him, so let's pursue that. Keep heading south! LaFayette, Louisiana! Send 'em a TV and a thrift-store hairpiece and see what happens. And since we're in the neighborhood, howabout New Orleans? We've never even tried to get a gig there, but clearly Skipper, Pigtail and Goodtime understand the concept of bars without doors and free shit giveaways. Send 'em a TV and a filthy Barbie Styling Head and see what happens. That's over a week out, almost two including travel days, and now we need to get back before we starve, die, or completely lose sight of reality. So let's drive north, and pick up a gig or two on the way back -- Jackson Mississippi is routed right, send 'em a TV and a Don Ho album and see what happens. Then maybe Carbondale, or Springfield. Some cheap-ass weeknight gimme gig on the last leg so we don't have to drive too far from Jackson. DONE. Get Kenn on the phone, get those packages sent out. The world wobbles a little farther off-axis. Invasion USA starts NOW.
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