Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Sat 5 Jun 04 07:53
I grew up in a very small town, Johnson City, just 45 miles from Austin. It's deep in the so called Hill Country, and the land is beautiful. LBJ cast a long shadow there -- in a positive way, as I was growing up in the sixties and admired all the things he did for civil rights, the environment, etc., and it was fine seeing him & his white limo, visiting his ranch, going to the same church he went to, etc. I attended LBJ High School (the town was named for his grandfather), and really, he was the only star around. Vietnam didn't seem that important until I was in my later teens, and I still don't blame him for all that. I was a cliche, the oddball kid in a town full of rednecks, and couldn't wait to escape and become a rock n roll star. The more I was taunted and roughed up by all the cowboys, the more determined I became, although I was always the artistic type rather than a guy who couldn't wait to own his own cow ranch or turkey farm, like all my classmates. Thank God Austin was nearby. Lots of stuff going on there. My older brother would let me ride along to concerts and clubs starting at age 15, and thus began my rock n roll education. I attended college 2 years at nearby SWTSU in San Marcos, which was still only 30 miles from Austin, and 30 from San Antonio, so Austin was still a huge part of my existence. I moved there in 74 to play music full time. At that time a lot of the blues guys like Jimmie Vaughan and Stevie Ray, plus Doyle Bramhall, the Cobras, etc., were just getting a following, although the rock bands I loved the most, Krackerjack and Werewolves, were gone. I moved to LA with Lois, my wife, in 87 and lived there 7 years. So yes, I've wanted to live elsewhere and we plan to move back to LA someday. I used to think I'd end up in NYC. In the late 70s and early 80s, NY was the place to go, we thought. Lois lived there in the late 70s and saw Blondie & the Ramones etc at CBGB's and fell in love with the scene. But in the mid 80's I discovered Raymond Chandler and became a real film noir fanatic, so LA was the natural place to go. I went there because of that, because I wanted to become the rock n roll Chandler. It was a lucky move, I guess, because I got my publishing deal within 2 months of arriving there, tho it was with Viking, in NYC. I was extremely inspired & stimulated there, writing screenplays, short stories, the novels, and documentaries, as well as around 100 songs during our 7 years there. Thanks for the compliments on my writing -- just so you know, however, the writing in my books is a little tighter than what you'll read here!
Berliner (captward) Sat 5 Jun 04 08:32
That's what editors are for! Or so they tell us, right? Here's a stupid question, sort of: why the bass? With your personality and your drive, why not try to be a rockin' guitair hot-shot?
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Sat 5 Jun 04 08:51
Editors, yep, that's a profession I appreciate. Although it's so much easier when it's not your own prose you're hacking, trimming, rearranging, etc. As to the bass choice, it's confession time. I first got interested as a young lad, age of 13 I guess, when a pal of mine who fantasized he was the next Elvis insisted that I get a bass so we could form a combo. I had just gotten my first guitar, an acoustic, and started taking lessons. Rudimentary stuff, from a lady named Boots Mauldin who'd done a stint on the Louisiana Hayride. I learned chords and a few songs, but my progress was stilted because I couldn't keep the damn thing in tune. Once out, I could never get it back. Same thing after I went electric about a year later. My brother's best friend had a cheap electric bass he'd bought at Radio Shack, a violin shaped bass. He convinced me to trade instruments plus $15, and I did, and I never looked back. Basses stay in tune a lot better! Although I've always been a sucker for hot guitar, there's nothing I like doing better than churning out the thunder, making things rattle and hum. At first I was inordinately drawn to the *lead* bassists, like Entwhistle of the Who and Jack Bruce of Cream, and the guys who soloed a lot, like Larry Graham of Canned Heat. Another thing about that was I was more able to learn their riffs during those long jams on Wheels of Fire and what was it, Refried Boogie? by Canned Heat? I had a tin ear. There was no piano in the house and our turntables were hopelessly detuned, too. It took me a long time to develop my ear, which was another big reason, besides the cheapness of the first guitars I owned. This also held back my singing for a while! So I'm still a fanatic for bass and hope to play for as long as I live. Someday I'll get a big upright and tackle that. I appreciate these days the more understated players, too, but whenever I play in the Skunks, especially, my playing is louder and more upfront than some people might find tasteful. But boy, it sure is fun.
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Sun 6 Jun 04 11:36
Hey Rik, let's not forget that you, too, are a pro musician with a track record with Dr. Hook and other bands. Have you done any *serious* writing? I used to keep tabs on rock n roll novelists, like Richard Hell, for instance, and credible rock n roll novels, like what's his name's stuff-- Nik Cohn? -- but have lost track of that lately. What's your impression of the field? I know Ed knows a thing or two about this.
Get Shorty (esau) Sun 6 Jun 04 12:07
Great stuff here, gang, I'm really enjoying it.
Berliner (captward) Sun 6 Jun 04 12:26
Speaking of Richard Hell, I see over in <newmusic.> that they found Bob Quine in his apartment, dead at 62. Awful, awful shame. Writers who are musicians and vice-versa...there just aren't many around. You tend to only be good at one thing, and so I guess most of the good writers wouldn't have been good musicians and I *know* that a lot of good musicians aren't good writers. One who surprised me is Adam Gussow, who wrote a book called Mr. Satan's Apprentice about his career playing the streets of New York with an older black guy who called himself Satan. As Adam and Satan they made a record for Flying Fish, but Gussow's account is unsentimental and very actuely observed. Then there's Elijah Wald, who wrote a book on narcocorridos, the gangsta-Mex genre which glorifies dope dealers and their lifestyle -- and has for 40 years. He's a guitarist, and it shows in his writing. He's got a new book on blues out I'm dying to read, more now that someone here posted an excerpt, saying, again, that it was unsentimental and sharp, which I know from the narcocorridos book. Richard Powers, as far as I know, isn't a musician, but the descriptions of music-making in his latest book, The Time of Our Singing, are clearly very well-informed. That's off the top of my head. Rock novels and rock memoirs pretty much suck, which is one thing you're up against at the moment, Jesse. How's the publicity campaign been going? Done any out-of-town media besides this?
David Gans (tnf) Sun 6 Jun 04 12:29
Laurence Gonzales wrote an excellent and totally credible novel about being in a band, JAMBEAUX. He gave up the music business and went on to an excellent career as a writer.
Berliner (captward) Sun 6 Jun 04 12:31
Right, I remember that one now.
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Sun 6 Jun 04 17:31
Gambeaux is totally unfamiliar to me, and Mr. Satan's Apprentice sounds like something I oughta check out. I have checked out and read portions of Wald's new book, and from what I've read it's really good. Seeing Robert Johnson on the cover, you almost assume it's going to be a Robert Johnson bio, but a lot of the book is devoted to shaking people up and out of this notion that RJ was the sort of Jesus Christ of the blues. I mean, the guy was an awesome, awesome talent, but the way we tend to ascribe to the "great man" theory, a lot things have been hung on his shoulders that are possibly misplaced. Wald wants people to realize that RJ was a lot more than a blues guy, that he played all kinds of music. Stuff like that. I don't know why I haven't bought the book yet. Every time I go in a book store I read a chapter or two. It's good stuff. I forgot that he was the author of Narcorridos. That's another good one. My friend Patrick Millican at Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale mentioned jamming with James Sallis. I would expect Sallis to be a credible musician. I always loved the story of Roger Torres, the Black Mask author who was a barrel house piano player, gambler and carouser, who wrote just one novel but many short stories and the novel, 42 Days to Murder, is about a barrelhouse pianist/gambler/carouser/detective who takes a case in Reno. And the capper is that Torres was murdered by a man who found Torres in the arms of the man's wife. I think there are probably some more guys out there who are decent writer/musicians, but for some reason I can't think of them right now. I do get tired of the Rock Bottom Remainders' schtick, and I don't think it's just because I'm jealous that they sell a few million more books than I do. That's a damn shame about Robert Quine. I met him with Lou Reed in Manny's in Manhattan one day in 1981. I came up to them, rather awestruck, wanting to say hi to Lou and get his autograph. Lou cut me off as I opened my mouth and said curtly, We don't work here. Then I babbled a bit about playing Sister Ray and being so influenced by him and came away with a scribbled autograph. Better than than the guy who (I forget just who this was, but he was a friend of a friend) pleaded with Howlin' Wolf to sign his guitar and the Wolf growled, Fuck off, boy! Which pleased the guy almost as much as getting the great man's autograph. Which reminds me, there's a new bio -- the first one, I guess -- of Chester Burnett. That's one I'll be reading soon for sure.
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Sun 6 Jun 04 17:53
Ah, yes, Ed, publicity. Well, I'm getting good press when I do get press, so far. The Austin American Statesman did a very nice feature on me on May 11, and that week the Austin Chronicle excerpted chapter one. On May 28 the Chronicle ran a very, very complimentary review, plus a recommended for the in store party for the book at Waterloo Records, where I played with Class of 78. And Texas Monthly came out as well, with a good review -- another one of their short reviews at the front of the book, but it's good. I've been on local TV a half dozen times already, and radio 3 times. LA Weekly is running a review on June 17, just in time for the book signings I have there, which will be at Mystery & Imagination in Glendale on June 18 and Mystery Book Store in Westwood on June 19. I taped a segment for KLRU, the Austin public TV station that will run sometime in June after their pledge drive. The book launch party at Book People, Austin's only big independent store, was a big success. There were over 100 people and we sold about 100 copies. There were people from a very interesting cross section of my past -- grammar school girlfriend from Johnson City, my otolarygologist, Dr. Melba Lewis, people I met in chemotherapy, musicians I'd played with, musician/fans, fans of the mystery novels, people I have written with, Chronicle people, parents of Dashiell's friends, and many more. It was fine. It's been interesting to do book events at mystery book stores. I had suspected, rather optimistically, that fans of crime fiction would like the book, and so far they do seem to like it. I did a signing in Houston with Michael Connelly, who happens to be an old friend, and Terrill Lee Lankford, and we all spoke for a while and then took questions and then we all sold a bunch of books. Not many people were there specifically to see me but they seemed to have gotten interested in the book after our talk. Same thing happened in San Antonio, where I did a joint signing with Rick Riordan, who is very popular in San Antonio, and writes a San Antonio-based mystery series. I'd like to do more events like those. Coming up next, before LA, I'm doing Barnes & Noble (Arboretum) here in Austin on Wednesday the 9th, with another TV appearance the Fox channel the morning of the 8th, and after LA, on the 24th, I'm doing a talk at the Austin History Center, sponsored by the public library. So the local support has been quite good. We've been trying to get the word out nationwide, and it's a struggle. A lot like pushing our little records back in the early, pre-digital, pre-internet DIY days. Very much like it, in many ways. I guess I'm lucky to have had that experience, because otherwise, I don't know how well the book would be doing at all. I'm not complaining. I'm having a good time peddling the book. It's given me the excuse and the openings to play music more than I have in quite a while. Which reminds me. Yesterday we played a pretty unique gig. Class of 78 was asked to play a party for a five year old boy named Teo, who just finished up three and a half years of chemotherapy for leukemia. His mother was a big fan of the Skunks and the Standing Waves, and so is Teo. The party was out in the country, near a community called Driftwood, near the venerable old barbecue joint, Salt Lick. They had clowns, face painting, fireworks, and us. Teo's mom, Tony, and father, Sandy, spoke and gave thanks and awarded trophies to their friends, supporters & oncologists, during our break. Here we were, four old rockers playing drug songs out under the oak trees for a five year old, who was out there dancing with his pals, and barbecue, clowns, face painting and fireworks. No place but Austin, right? On the way back home, I just about lost it. I was really honored to get to play the gig, but thinking about a kid, starting at two years old, having to go through all that shit, especially from what I know about it, is really hard to take. Goddamn! When I was going through my own treatment, a friend gave me a copy of Chicken Soup for the Cancer Survivor, and I read a few chapters. When it got to the stories about kids with cancer, including, I think, a very young kid with brain cancer, I just couldn't read any further. I mean, there's always someone out there who's got it worse than you. It will make you zip your lip the next time you want to groan and whine about how life isn't fair. Anyway, that's some deep blues. I may be a white boy, but I know a thing or two about some kinds of blues.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 7 Jun 04 18:35
I'm sitting here staring off into space and trying to figure out what's the difference between the music we call 'punk' and the music we call 'blues.'
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Mon 7 Jun 04 20:03
Yeah, really. If the Clash wasn't blues, and Robert Cray is, well... Not that I have anything against Robert Cray. I think I like him more than most people. And if RL Burnside wasn't punk --
Berliner (captward) Tue 8 Jun 04 00:57
The actual answer to that is audience. Blues is both a genre and a form, and as a form, it's pretty well defined in technical terms. But as a genre, it was a kind of black music that appeared around 1900 and became the rage for about 60 years, and then died with the audience that had given it life. Some of it mutated into soul music, some of it joined the gospel stream, but today there's almost no blues that interacts with its community any more, simply because the community that formed its audience has vanished. You have preservationists working in the field, and you do have some older guys like B.B. King still giving a taste of what it was like when there *was* an original audience, but once he and LIttle Milton and Bobby Bland and so on are gone, blues will be a museum piece. Nothing wrong with that, of course: nobody actually does the gavotte any more, which is not to say that we can't appreciate old European dances when we hear them. The thing that occurred to me while typing that, though, is that most of these genres get two, maybe three solid generations of followers before they disappear. Blues found its way into the cities during World War I, became mainstream black entertainment in the '30s and '40s, had a revival in Chicago when Muddy Waters and his generation found an audience of nostalgic southern black people who'd moved north, and finally withered away in the mid-60s when soul music was hipper for a young kid to like. This makes me wonder about the question of punk/new wave and aging. We just lost Robert Quine, who I was astonished to discover was 62. He was part of the very first wave, which came into being around 1975. Many of those people are still treading the boards, although increasingly as nostaliga acts. But the genre did spawn a second generation, which is beginning to reach maturity now. Why is it, Jesse, that you think your generation has held onto this music? Is it simply nostalgia, or is it something more?
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Tue 8 Jun 04 05:53
Well, first of all, I think you ought to expand your definition of the word community. Sure, the African-American community to who the blues spoke most directly has evolved and moved on, but when some kid or even some older guy downloads a Howlin Wolf song from ITunes and feels it tingling up and down his spine, and maybe he & his pals start a punk blues band and the music has a lot of meaning for them, a new community can arise from that, even if it isn't contiguous or recognizable from the original ethnic community that produced the music. I don't know, you're the expert, but I think you're being a little academic there. And maybe, just maybe, I hate to think of all the cool stuff I like becoming extinct within a generation or two. I don't mind admitting that. But as to your question, I don't know the answer. Certainly nostalgia has something to do with it for some. On the other hand, it's like the John Lee Hooker song, you got the boogie in you and it's gotta come out. My roots go back to blues, heavy metal, glam, proto-punk, punk and soul and R&B, so it's all mixed up together for me. I love to play all that stuff, but when I play with the Skunks & Class of 78, and we hit the punkish riffs, I think the thing that connects for me and a lot of our audience is the fact that that we defined ourselves as that kind of music arose. And although we're older and not as wild as we used to be, that music is still in our bones and the beat and intensity of it still speaks to us. Like now when all the Reagan bullshit is dominating the media, I just wanna put Never Mind the Bollocks in the CD player (where it is now) and crank it up, because it was a great antidote for that crap then and it still is now. I just wonder how many generations it will take for the primal yowls of those first two Stooges albums to seem quaint and irrelevant. Dashiell heard some new version of TV Eye on the School of Rock soundtrack and wanted to learn it. I said, Man, you gotta hear the real thing, so I got a copy of Funhouse for him and let him choose his favorite, and sure enough, he got it instantly, and he's a Stooges fan. I don't know, but something about our kids -- and I'm talking about a lot of parents who are roughly my age with kids the same age, that is, grammar school and teens -- loving the Ramones & Stooges, et al, that gives me hope. Or maybe it's just validation, a vanity thing, but whatever it is, I like it. One more thing. I think punk is a great antidote to a lot of the stuff that's out there now. It's always great to get back to basics, even if the music doesn't mean quite the same to the community that takes it up again. There's a lot of punk rock in the dime a dozen boy bands you see on Teen Nickelodeon, too, and even if their angst is carefully calibrated and formulated for mass appeal, I'd still rather hear three chord anthems than lame rap music or technica, or the soundtrack from Cold Mountain.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 8 Jun 04 22:18
I dunno. Rock and the punk variations are so far off radar now, and hip-hop is so overhyped. I felt relief when my grandson whipped out a cd by Simple Plan yesterday, which is oneof those dime a dozen boy bands, but it was resonating with the right hormones, and that seemed okay. I listened to a lot of crap in the 60s, after I discovered rock n roll, but it was all preparing me for 'Are You Experienced?' I think I bought the Strawberry Alarm Clock LP the same day. There was this mass marketing hash of crap and great music, and the great music kept rising to the top.
Jesse Sublett (jessesublett) Wed 9 Jun 04 06:49
Yeah, I think there was a point where I still loved Paul Revere & the Raiders AND Jimi Hendrix. Come to think of it, I still love the Raiders. The dime a dozen boy bands remind me of something, but I can't think of what it is. Maybe it's just what their marketing departments want me to be reminded of -- that it's every red blooded American boy's god-given right to buy a cheap guitar and start a garage band. I should probably feel dirty and used for being manipulated that way, but I don't, not particularly. Meanwhile, I'm anxiously awaiting the Hives new CD.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 9 Jun 04 18:53
Jack Nicholson took the boy band thing inside out back in '69 or so with his script for the Monkees' film "Head," remember that? Some bands are manufactured by corporate execs. So I guess it's a feeling that the music's inauthentic, not created from blood and heart but assembled based on focus groups and attempts to replicate the stuff that hits the charts. Have you noticed the web sites like garageband.com and magnatune.com that are connecting artists directly with their audiences? That's gotta be the wave of the future.
Berliner (captward) Thu 10 Jun 04 06:41
Yeah, Jesse, what's the status of the Skunks' recordings at the moment? Seems to me it might be a good idea to go in and make an online record store with people like Standing Waves, Wild Seeds, Doctors Mob, and the other older Austin bands that have rescued their stuff and have one-stop shopping.
Low and popular (rik) Thu 10 Jun 04 07:38
I'm beginning to think of punk as a form of folk music. Like the Appalachian stuff I fell in love with when I was in college, punk has harmonic and lyric simplicity, but retains the possibility of deeply evocative poetry. The bar to playing is low, so anybody can join in, and there is a canon that everybody knows. And as blues and poptunes found their way into mountain music, altering it and expanding it, so did blues and reggae in punk. And in spite of the simplicity, virtuosity occurred, as in the Police, Elvis' Attractions, Television, and Talking Heads. But I'm not sure why nobody, that I know of, at least, developed the complexity and almost impossible precision of Steely Dan or the Eagles. Does punk attitude and the DIY ethic immunize against that sort of thing? And Jesse, just on a gossip level, did you ever find out why Patti Smith turned off on y'all? And regarding Quine, I'm Voidoid ignorant. What would you guys consider essential listening?
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 10 Jun 04 07:39
i think that's a great idea! It would be great to be able to go someplace where all the pre-digital, pre-internet austin music could be found.
My free and simple demeanor set everybody at ease. (pdl) Thu 10 Jun 04 07:39
Low and popular (rik) Thu 10 Jun 04 07:45
It's bound to happen someday, Pat. I was just looking at the wall of vinyl in my closet and realized that MOST of hasn't been digitized. I can't bear to part with it, but there's not enough time in my life spin it all off onto a bunch of hard drives.
Berliner (captward) Thu 10 Jun 04 08:21
And when my '80s Austin piece hits Fresh Air, people are going to want some of the stuff I played. Happened last time, didn't it, Jesse? And <rik>, Voidoid ignorant is one thing, Quine ignorant is another, and I confess that besides private tapes Lester Bangs played me (Quine played with his band some) I've never heard any real *playing* from him. The Voidoids are pretty basic.
Dan Levy (danlevy) Thu 10 Jun 04 08:43
to me, the essential Quine is on Lou Reed's "The Blue Mask." A gorgeous record.
Low and popular (rik) Thu 10 Jun 04 09:02
I have the Blue Mask, and it didn't reach me. But that was so long ago, I'll have to dig out the vinyl and try it on again.
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