from the Critical List November 10, 1989
On the Road 1: Man in the Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Nashville, TN, puts a record on the house stereo. Out come who but the Ramones, buzzing like 100 cups of coffee, Joey singing about how somebody put something in his drink. Man listens a few seconds, turns to a fellow clerk and says, apprx., "Sahns jes lak Billy Crash Craddock," takes off the record and sells me two postcards of Tennessee, the Volunteer State.
    But that was yesterday. Today is Atlanta, today is the state whose bird is the Brown Thrasher, whose tree is the Live Oak, whose motto endorses "Wisdom, Justice, Moderation" -- hey, babe, no argument from me -- whose flower is the Cherokee Rose. But it's jasmine I believe I smell blooming around the Wash, Dry and Fold.
    What am I doing -- besides my laundry -- here? Let me answer that question with a question: What has 10 legs and eats garbage?
    Here's an idea -- a big-money bull's eye, the exacta, the Big Spin. My ticket outta here -- or outta there, the place where your eye meets the page. Here's the routine: For a small charge, equal to no more than say, the weekly take of a McDonald's franchise, I will conduct you and anyone else you know who can dig up the scratch on a tour of America just like the ones endured by actual junior-grade rock & roll bands traveling to promote a record or just to do whatever it is they think rock bands are supposed to do, and so do it. Travel will be by Econoline, accommodations by Motel 6, Red Roof Inn and various off-brand hostelries where the caulking around the bathtub is all that keeps it from falling through the floor, catering (in the Southern States) exclusively by Waffle House, servers of a variety of fine,  yellowish food products. Every night, like the man in the song, you'll get to "load that Econoline van" and perform on an instrument of your choice to an empty room. Beer and existential crises provided at no additional charge, and for every customer a complimentary copy of Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story, as told to Neal Shusterman (Price Stern Sloan). It's "the electrifying story of a 15-year-old rock star's trip to hell -- and back" -- and welcome back, I say -- that you will have doubtless finished by the time we get to Phoenix and find the gig canceled. This book will be your bible.
    Of course, Cherie's rock life will not in most salient respects resemble yours at all -- there will be no terrifying mobs (for there will be no mobs), no tempters toward corruption (for the tempters will all be around the corner or down the street or across town tempting and corrupting the Pixies or the Swans or whoever else is outdrawing you on any particular night). And Kim Fowley does not enter into the picture at all.
    But the version I offer you is no less true, and I will lay you good green American money that it is many times the more representative. My exclusive service enables you to experience directly the fabulous stupefaction of life on what musicians since time immemorial (for musicians this includes anything earlier than the last day and a half) have called THE ROAD. Isn't that worth whatever price it should happen to pop into my head to ask? I think so, but I'm funny that way.

    I'm funny that way, and I'm not in Atlanta anymore, Toto. And I'm not in Toto anymore. In toto, I'm in Hoboken, gateway to Weehawken. Frank Sinatra spent some time here -- not in this room, as far as I know, but possibly not too far from it; the city's not that big. Nowadays, Ol' Big Jowls pledges his allegiance to Rancho Mirage and Las Vegas, to the nearby City That Never Sleeps and that celebrated Toddlin' Town, and his last album bore the coy handle L.A. Is My Lady; but what would he be without he spent his wonder years scuffling his shoes on these mean Jersey cobblestones? A limp potato, a banana peel, a one-way ticket to the Poconos. If he'd been from someplace else, he might have sung like Frank Sinatra, Jr.
    Here in this eenymeenymineymo crosscontinental drift I hear a new kind of holy kind of wild kind of music being made -- the true bop of the place you happen to be. Tonight's program features the cat scratching in his box a weird tattoo that sounds like "Yakov yakov yakov" and the backspace of the electric typewriter I've borrowed, which makes a noise like a cartoon character shaking its oversized head in (inevitably) comic disbelief. For the neighbors, suddenly insomniac, the martial rhythms of my typing come into the night and repeat and repeat in their ears: "Kill the bastard." Music is all around us; all you've got to do is reach out and copyright it. Earlier in what can no longer pass for the evening, at Maxwell's (a "club"), I heard a more intentional kind of music performed by The Shams, a trio of harmonicovisually attractive female singer-players who make up in unpretentiousness what they lack in fine tuning, and who put me in mind of "L.A.'s own" Holy Sisters of the Gaga Dada, with a country-folk twist. Also enjoyed Movie Stars, San Francisco boys and girl researching the old-timey sounds, mixing them together pleasantly, performing with technical grace and have-a-slice spirit.
    And in Houston, there were Omar and the Howlers, shaking their boogie in public for perhaps the 10,000th time; and in Atlanta, there was Colonel Bruce Hampton of the legendary Dixie-fried mutant art-rock Hampton Grease Band, wringing the neck of his half-strung mandolin guitar at the head of a mottled crew assembled to brilliantly poleaxe bluegrass with funk, blues with Borax. Their drummer is named Apartment Q258. Hampton, who has been at this for a couple of decades, presides over the sometime Deadesque, sometime Zappaesque, sometime Beefheartian (and often not) program like a down-home Krokus Behemoth, a piney-woods surrealist, part preacher, part pitchman, part (friendly) lunatic.
    And in Nashville, where we began this particular rhetorical tour, this lengthy circumlocution, I read, in USA Today, Rolling Stone's list of the greatest albums of the '80s; none of my close personal friends made the cut, so I took it, burned it and headed out, smoky-eyed, into the kleptomaniacal American truckstop afternoon


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Copyright Robert Lloyd © 1989 and 2000