Hazel (Drag City)
by Nik Rainey
Good God! There they are again! Those two shadows that seem to always lag just a few steps behind when you’re trying to skulk the perimeter of the Avant Strip in peace. No matter which way you turn, you can’t seem to escape ’em. They’re sly, I’ll give ’em that – they make just enough noise to make the silence scream, so you’re well aware of their presence even in their absence, and even the air is different for their passing. Yeah, take me down to the station, I’m not afraid, sure, bring in the lineup of vagrant free-jazz artists and layabout third-stream composers, I’d recognize that pair anywhere… yes, officer, it’s them! I swear on my mother’s pre-paid burial plot! David “the Free-Range Squirrel” Grubbs and Jim “the Manipulator” O’Rourke! Slap the cuffs on ’em! Not too loud, they’ll make a song out of it!
Yeah, you can’t swing a dead cat in hopes of a write-up in The Wire without hitting those Gastr del Sol mooks these days. They’ve taken over the neighborhood. They practically run Little Bohemia. See that over there? The Brise-Glace candy store? It’s a front.
O’Rourke’s got a chop shop in the back, cut ya a tape loop like it’s a hunk of gabardine and lace it with electronics like they were sequins, you hear what I’m tellin’ you? And Grubbs, he used to run with a raucous bunch of punks down in Kentucky, then he split and formed an alliance with O’Rourke. Now they got the run of the joint. That skinny ungatz over there, cleaning up after them, that’s Little Stevie Albini. He don’t look like much, but he gets the whole block tremblin’ when he’s around. Used to, anyway. When these two are around, he genuflects like they’re the friggin’ two-headed Pope! Couldn’t handle it, hadda go hide out with some pretty-boy English kids ’til things cooled down. Came back, says he made ’em credible. Kinda sad.
Anyways, the Gastr Boys got some new company with ’em. That broad there, that’s Edith Frost (Calling Over Time[Drag City]). She’s a piece of work – ain’t got much use for metaphor, real plain-spoken like. Her turf’s the place where Patsy Cline and the third Velvets album meet, and that’s the kinda place where the soil’d be like quicksand if you don’ know what you’re doin’. If I told ya who’s buried there… well, alright, between you and me, remember the Cowboy Junkies? No? I rest my case. What I’m tellin’ you’s that the del Sol Twins over here swept in and turned that piece of land into a ghost town, hauling in the Vox organs, rearrangin’ the space around her, makin’ the whole place fit for the lovelorn brooders that drift in and outta the place. Wherever she goes now, it’s always three a.m. and the black coffee and unfiltered cigarettes flow like… somethin’ that flows, I guess, what am I, Edna St. Vincent fuckin’ Millay?
Yeah, speakin’ of desolation – I was speakin’ of desolation, don’t you freakin’ listen to me? – these two formed themselves a partnership wit’ some other muso mutts, a little improv gang calls themselves the Boxhead Ensemble. Got themselves a couple of them documentarian types and made a big score. Yeah, ‘scalled Dutch Harbor – Where The Sea Breaks Its Back (Atavistic). Now, I dunno who this Dutch Harbor is, but he’d have to be pretty friggin’ tough to snap the spine of an ocean like that… Alls I know is that when you got art brutes like this at yer back, like these guys from gangs like the Vandermark 5, the Pinetop Seven, and the Palace Brothers, you’d best stand aside ’cause the improv can get pretty fuggin’ hairy, fuggeddaboddit.
Gulp. Holy mother of invention, look over there. Not too close. You see who they got widdem now? That’s the Avant-Godfather himself, Mayo “Knuckles” Thompson, kingpin o’ the Red Krayola. If that name don’t make ya wanna wet your mocha chinos, I dunno what will. You know the story – he’s been runnin’ the show since ’67, down Texas way, and any tough guy widda line in experimental technique ends up gettin’ put to work for ‘im. Freddie Bartheleme, Epic Soundtracks, the whole Pere Ubu crew straight outta Cleveland – they all paid their dues with the man. Gets so messy sometimes with all the acid baths, skewed exoticism and such that Thompson hasta lay low for a while sometimes and change the spelling of his gang’s name to elude the authorities and the copyright lawyers. He’s pretty foogin’ slick – you can’t get a hold o’ him or what he’s doing. Now that the Sol brothers are in his crew, he’ll be breakin’ compositional laws all over the frackin’ map again. I hear he’s got Georgie Hurley from the Minutemen squad outta San Pedro whackin’ skins for him these days. I don’t wanna suggest nothin’, but Georgie’s fat buddy bought it under circumstances that were real suspicious-like. Anyway, his latest operation’s called Hazel, and by the time you figure it out, there’ll be musical arcana splattered all over the walls, no frippin’ lie.
Yeah, ever since them Gastr boys came to town, the neighborhood just ain’t been the same. Every week practically, another job gets pulled, another existin’ musical precept gets bent outta shape. Can’t much complain, though – they keep the place interesting. Enough o’ that, let’s go to the bar. Got a hankerin’ for a tall draft and some musique concrete.