Monday, December 28, 2009

the Nourallah Brothers take in the Clash

Brad Austin was a kid who lived down the street from us
he had some sort of California surfer Spicoli thing going on
with a mop top of curly thick blonde hair
his house was always freakishly dark and at the time i was too naive to realize this
but i think he was stoned out of his mind all the time
i’d recently been demoted to the Morehead middle school
C band
for misbehaving with music charts
(i could never actually read them – i always played by ear and faked it)
so i found myself temporarily humiliated and sitting right behind my kid brother and the rowdy sax section
Faris and his friends were prone to intentionally ferocious non-musical blasts from their saxophones
Brad was in that section too with another kid named Sander Starr
Sander was the purveyor of cool
he seemed to be the one the other misfit kids were following
anyway B and S were into this kind of music we’d never heard before
it was called punk rock
they listened to bands with names like Jody Foster’s Army and the Dead Kennedys
we didn’t like it
it was too noisy and stupid with not enough melody
one day Brad and Sander showed up to band class with a punk rock songbook
i caught a glimpse of the front cover
THE CLASH was stenciled all over it in military style writing
i liked how it looked
Faris said “lemme see it!”
he flipped through it and i peered over his shoulder
the black and white photos looked cool
i asked if i could check it out too
i read some words
i liked them
“they offered me the office, offered me the shop
they said i’d better take anything they got
do you wanna make tea at the BBC?
do you really wanna be, do really wanna be a cop?”

later that day F and i had a discussion
“we should ask Brad if we can borrow his Clash record”
i vividly remember my brother and i marching up Constellation
to Brad Austin’s house on Stonebluff
the late afternoon sun beat down on our furrowed pre-pubescent brows
it was almost as if John Waters had collided with an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack
we were on a serious mission
the future of rock’n’roll hung in the balance
once the much sought after Clash vinyl was in our possession
we marched back to our house
and made a beeline to my bedroom
i set up the turntable and the first song came shooting out
“he’s in love with rock ‘n’ roll, woah
he’s in love with getting stoned, woah
he’s in love with Janie Jones, woah
he don’t like his boring job no…”
it was loud and fast
we’d never heard someone sing like that
“what’s the singer’s name?” F asked
“uh…says here - Joe Strummer”
guttural bellowing
emphatic and furious
we looked at each other quizzically
we kept listening intently
taking it all in
processing the information
my back was up against the side of my bed
ears positioned equidistant between the large Pioneer speakers
our father had bought us for writing 500 pages of prose and poetry
we liked the Clash
they had good tunes and good words
they looked cool too
we were hook lined and sunk

Thursday, December 17, 2009

me and the Church (part 2)

in 1987 Steve Kilbey released a solo record called “Unearthed”
on the back of the sleeve
it said “send faint praise” to a po box in Rozelle New South Wales
i painstakingly assembled a tape of material my brother and i were working on
i also wrote Kilbey a letter that tried to express how much his music meant to me
looking back on it all now my naivete is laughable and embarrassing
oh well, this is what over-earnest young fans do i suppose
if SK ever listened to the tape i can only imagine the gut busting chortle he got out of it
with my atrocious flat warbling burying any trace of decent songs
22 years later i’m not sure what i put on the tape
i only remember a song called “Unworldly” was on it
fitting considering it's subject matter

in 1988 the Church released “Starfish”
and had their 1st American hit with “Under the Milky Way” (#24 on the Billboard charts June 18, 1988)
i must’ve played “Starfish” a thousand times
i loved it
smart gimmick free music
these songs took you places with evocative words and guitar soundscapes
most everyone else in '88 was still fiddling with keyboard driven pop music
not the Church
in the summer of ‘88 my Mom loaded up the unreliable ‘80s Mercedes
hooked a u-haul trailer to it (making it a low-rider)
and bravely trekked across the state of Texas with 3 of her 4 kids in tow
the mission was to deposit F and i in Denton where we were to attend college
we left around sunset and drove all night because Mom was worried about the car over-heating during the daytime
i vividly remember listening to “Starfish” with headphones in the backseat
peering out the window and up at the starlit sky
imagining what life in Denton would be like
just outside of Dallas – near Weatherford i think
we tuned into a radio station that blared the following
“performing tonight at the Dallas Starplex – Tom Verlaine, Peter Murphy and the Church!!”
out of excitement i think i might’ve hit the roof of the car with the top of my head
it was August 20, 1988
we’d been up all night
a flat tire had slowed us down and made the whole trip take over 14 hours
we were delirious as we pulled into the dingy Stonehill Apartments
i was hell-bent on righting the wrong of missing the Church in Las Cruces 2 years earlier
i was going no matter what
although he was a fan too Faris didn’t wanna go
my Mom didn’t either
Miriam coolly agreed to accompany me
our Dad would have never gone for this scenario
but he wasn't there, was he?
Mom thankfully said "ok" so Miriam and i blindly set sail in the low-rider Mercedes
there was no Google maps back then
or GPS
we didn’t even have a map
how on earth we found the Starplex that night
i’m not sure
Dallas was massive compared to El Paso
it was exciting and overwhelming

the concert itself was a blur
the sleep deprivation lending sort of a surreal dream-like quality to my memories
almost as if it never actually happened
our seats were pretty far away
Peter Murphy played way too long
the Church not long enough
they wore vests and dressed in black and white
fans blew their hair back off their faces
Marty played the coolest assortment of Rickenbacker 12-string guitars
Steve played a dark green Fender Coronado bass
i was in bliss
at last i’d seen the Church live

a footnote:
i saw Kilbey and gang 1 more time after that
at the Bronco Bowl June 1, 1990
i waited around near the tour bus in the 100 degree heat
with my full MF regalia on
when the band finally emerged i conspicuously handed SK a Moon Festival cassette
and asked him if he'd mind signing "Starfish"
he smiled and said "yeah"
then glanced at the cassette and said
“you're one of the brothers from Texas! we listen to your cassette all the time”
and dashed off with a grin on his face

Thursday, December 10, 2009

me and the Church (part 1)

in 1986
when i was 19
my brother and i had a best friend
his name was Jeff G.
he had an older cousin who was Californian and cool
his name was Tom L.
Tom would blow in from CA
and tell us wild stories about all the girls he dated
and all the concerts he’d been to
we sort of admired him
‘cause we’d never done much of anything
one summer he brought a record with him called “Heyday”
it was by a band called the Church
they were from Australia
on the album cover they were sporting colorful paisley shirts in front of a Persian rug
it was strangely exotic
i was intrigued
when “Myrrh” came outta my bedroom speakers for the first time
i was instantly hooked
“emerald haunt in overdrive…nightmare descent into Jericho City/
oh lord i trust your intentions but money strangles our love/struggling like a fool with my junk and my jewels/you would have thought i'd had enough”

with shimmering 12-string guitars
insistent drums and slippery bass
they wove an evocative sonic tapestry
leader/bassist Steve Kilbey could not only turn a phrase but also wrote timeless melodies
i was hooked
“Heydey” overwhelmed me
i played it religiously
within a month i’d tracked down their 4 other records
a couple of them available only as Australian imports

in the early spring of ’86 Jeff called one day
he coolly stated “the Church are coming to Las Cruces”
i said
“what? are you absolutely sure? i don’t believe it…”
“yeah, just read it in the paper…4pm, April 23rd”
the University of New Mexico State was in Las Cruces
about 45 minutes away
they were slated to play there outdoors
i was beyond excited
you see NO ONE cool ever came to play where we lived
it was a heavy metal classic rock wasteland
the day of the show i wanted to drive to Cruces early because i’m nourotic
i wanted to make damn sure nothing went wrong
Jeff was driving so i was at his mercy
he didn’t want to stand around in the hot sun for too long
he burned easily
the whole drive out to Las Cruces i was squirming with anticipation
i had this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was gonna go wrong
when we got there Faris and friend John K. came running up to us
“we only caught their last chord…the show's over now…”
i couldn’t believe it
i grasped at straws
"were they at least coming back for an encore?"
F said "i don't think so...there was hardly anyone here to watch them"
nice job

i stood there in a daze
i was crushed
what a colossal bummer...

i still regret missing the Church play Cruces 23 years later
does anyone out there happen to have a bootleg video?

p.s. 9 years later i ended up playing the same concrete slab they'd played
after watching my vintage SVT bass head topple 5 feet off of my bass cab
with glass tubes spilling out onto the concrete
i decided that for me
this concert site was CURSED FOR ALL TIME!!!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

me and the Go-Betweens

when i was a teenager
still living in El Paso
my one and only guilty pleasure was driving up to Sound Warehouse
on Mesa Street
and browsing the import records bin
they didn’t have much
but i had nothing else to do really
every now and then i would see an album cover that sparked my interest
i would pick it up
examine the front and back carefully
looking for clues
often i’d set it back in it’s place and make my way around the store
only to come back to it and examine it some more
you see
there were no mp3 samples
or listening stations back then
one had to carefully consider parting with their hard-earned 10 bucks
for a record that might end up being iffy
it was like a Las Vegas crapshoot
though the only payoff was music
it made those innocent days of record buying dangerous
especially compared to the consumer friendly i-tunes, etc. climate of today

sometime around 1985 in Sound Warehouse
i came across the Go-Betweens “Metal and Shells” LP
on the cover one of them was wearing a collarless Beatles nehru jacket
which tipped me off that they might be doing something i was interested in
still i carefully considered parting company with my small wad of cash
i may have even gone home to consult my Trouser Press new music bible
before finally deciding to take the plunge and buy it
after the deed was done
i crawled home in the baby blue Monte Carlo
and gently placed my black vinyl prize down onto the turntable
the record didn’t overwhelm me at first
but i liked it
2 tracks in particular
“Cattle and Cane”
and “Draing the Pool for You” were incredible
i listened casually to “Metal and Shells” after that
playing it maybe a dozen times overall
and didn’t think much more about the Go-Betweens until i moved to Denton

there was a little indie record shop on Fry St. that i would visit from time to time
it was called 14 records
and just like El Paso
there was nothing much for me to do other than browse the bins for something new to listen to
the owner was nice
his name was Bucks
and when i bought “Tantalized” by the Church
he struck up a conversation with me
he was a Church fan too and surprised that anyone in Denton had heard of them
20 years later
Bucks Burnett and i are still friends
sometime during ‘88
i was browsing 14 records when i came across
“Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express”
it had an inviting album cover
a simple black and white photo of the Go-Betweens
horsing around and smiling on a black couch
i bought it
this record ended up being much stronger than “Metal” (which i later found out was a mish-mash compilation)
i listened to “Liberty Belle” a lot that summer
especially the melodic and strange “Palm Sunday” and “Head Full of Steam”
i became a Go-Betweens fan
i knew next to nothing about them
in 1988 “16 Lovers Lane” came out
i bought it right away
i even got my brothers to listen to them
one muggy afternoon in ‘89 i picked up a Dallas Observer
and to my surprise
read that the Go-Betweens were coming to Dallas on April 28
they’d be at a club i’d never heard of before
it was called Club Clearview

around 6pm on that fateful night of April 28, 1989
i was sitting in an emergency room in Denton
with a freshly broken nose
going to the Go-Betweens concert had been thrown into jeopardy
bloodied, bandaged and dazed
i convinced Faris and Amy K. to still make the hour-long trek down to Clearview
what i remember from that from the sho is this…

the band had 2 lead singers
one was very tall
with black hair and a nice hollow body guitar
he also had a split up the backside of his black pants
so every time he turned around his white undies came peeking through
it was both endearing and distracting
they had 2 girls in the band
the drummer was one of them
she seemed very uncomfortable and almost like she barely
knew how to play the drums
there was a very small audience
maybe 25 people
mostly guys
the band didn’t say much in between songs
but Grant, the other singer
seemed like he might be very nice
after the show i wanted to stay and talk with to them
to let them know they had fans here
i felt like i should apologize for Dallas
and the terrible turn-out
but i felt too self-conscious with the bandages on my face
i thought they’d probably just be creeped out
so we left
the Go-Betweens would go on to break up within a year of playing Clearview
and i didn’t think too much more about them
other than occasionally playing their records

in 2001
my friend and CD World co-employee Johnny Christ
told me that the Go-Betweens had re-formed
we listened to “Friends of Rachel Worth” in the store one afternoon
i didn't love it but i was glad to hear the 2 songwriters
Robert and Grant were back together again
in June of 2003 i went to Japan to play with Rhett Miller
while jet-lagged i went for an early morning walk through the winding Tokyo streets
when i wearily re-entered the hotel lobby
i saw a tall, dark haired man
who looked a bit like Robyn Hitchcock
he glanced back at me and it seemed like for a split second
he might’ve thought i was someone he knew
he sort of looked at me like “is it YOU?…oh, wrong person…”
as i walked off i thought
“that man looked a lot like Robert Forster from the strange...”
i wondered if i should’ve said something to him
later that day one of Rhett’s label reps said
“it’s too bad you’re going to Nagoya tonight – you could’ve gone to the Go-Betweens concert in Tokyo tonight”
i kicked myself a bit
i still feel foolish about not saying something to him
it would've been so nice and surreal to have had a conversation with Robert Forster in a Tokyo hotel

i just finished reading the Go-Betweens
by David Nichols
it made me realize i never really knew much about them
or their history
i just liked their records
their story made me a bit sad
because Grant McLennan died in 2006
online i read a very touching piece that Robert wrote about him
the 2 of them had been friends and songwriting partners for 30 years
how do you recover from a loss like that?

yesterday i played my son “Liberty Belle” on the way home from school