90 Miles Out of Atlanta #2: Steve Gunn, Alex Beeker, & Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens
90 Miles Out of Atlanta is a column of music and collecting and life, written by an old writing professor at a midsized school in the Deep South. You’ll find here snappy prose, links, and videos made in homage to the greatest rock video of all time and deference to the YouTube cat hegemon. If you’d like to play along, send stereo-friendly things to Woodall Hall 133, 4225 University Avenue, Columbus, Georgia 31907.
Steve Gunn, ‘Time Off’
The first Steve Gunn song I ever heard was “Railway Gramble”, a spiky spiraling number that begins side two of Eight Trails, One Path, a compilation of latter-day solo guitarists, best RSD release of 2012, maybe best record of that whole year. It arrived around the same time that we sprung Jaxx from the Last Chance Ranch, a rescue shelter a woman runs out of her farmhome east of Atlanta. His first family abandoned him, and he’d been there for years, spending most of his time in a crate in the woman’s garage. He has an underbite and he’s muey mellow. The album opened a whole new world for us: solo guitar, tingle-thy-mind music of the gentle woodland variety, perfect for hanging around sipping wine and chewing on bones. These new sounds and Jaxx fit in cozy-dandy.
In no time I was ordering every Gunn thing I could find online. It’s not all solo guitar. He made a couple of records with a drummer. But it all accompanied our pack very well, and we were eagerly awaiting his every forthcoming note. I cut a deal with a label so I could get the RSD 2013 release he did with Hiss Golden Messenger before RSD, and it came the same day we made an appointment to have our older dog, Gobo, put down, last day of his life. We all gathered around him on the porch as it played. It’s a rock record, like a long lost joints-and-bell-bottoms masterpiece, nice and chill. I can’t say it soothed our pain because such pains can’t be soothed, but it worked its way into our muscles and nerves and helped us get through.
So the best cure for the grief of losing a dog is to adopt another dog, right? So we found a pitbull mix with a big alien head, and we’ve brought her into our home, but we’ve hemmed and hawed about keeping her. We love her, she’s perfect, but we’ve been afraid that Jaxx was unhappy, that he’d prefer to be an only dog. But then Gunn’s new one arrived on our doorstep and we put it on and the whole house filled with jamming energy and we decided right then and there to commit for life. The record is Gunn’s first with a full band, and it’s a toetapper, full of long jams that err on the dance-in-a-trance side. And the album closes with a muscled up reworking of “Railway Gramble,” all prettified with violin. So it’s all new life, new music, full circle. And the dogs are so stoked they can’t sit still.
Alex Bleeker and the Freaks, ‘How Far Away’
I’ve only met Alex Bleeker once and it was almost 25 years ago at the World Amphitheater shows, Brent’s last before he OD’d. I was uptight, in a bad mood, the traffic coming into the place was insane. The venue was just a towering shed in a cornfield, south of a lonely four-lane highway south of Chicago, and that highway had become a long-skinny parking lot: VW vans and Rabbits stopped dead, heads out prowling the pavement and selling Guatemalan string and tempeh burritos and shrooms. I ditched my car on the berm, ran through the muddy fields, missed the first few songs of the first set, got to my seat in the middle of “Walkin’ Blues.” I found myself surrounded by big jock-frat guys from Long Island, factory-tie-dyes stretched across their bulging guts, all shouting at one another over the music, sloshing beer everywhere. But then out of nowhere this friendly cat with a baseball cap and a beard shows up and he signals me to follow him. We go down toward the stage, squeeze around behind the stacks, and he flashes a badge and just like that we’re standing on the stage looking over Brent’s shoulder. The guy fills his pipe with the KGB, passes it to me, says his name is Alex and he’s from Jersey, and just then they kick in to “Birdsong,” and finally, I relax.
In the lot after the show he pulled a couple cold Sierra Nevadas from his cooler, opened the doors of his Celica and cranked De La Soul then the new Bongwater then Up On the Sun then fIREHOSE then If I Could Only Remember My Name, loaded bowl after bowl. Great time.
Anyway, on his second full-length with the Freaks you can really hear the kindness he displayed that day. What a guy.
Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens, ‘The Holy Dogs of Other Days’
I received in the mail a button full of music. It has a safety pin attached to the back so you can wear it on your shirt. On the front is a picture of a woman in a veil with hand reaching down and covering her right eye. On the bottom is a port you can plug your earbuds into, which I did a month or so ago as I was getting in my car to go see a psychologist for the first time. I drove north across town, listening. There was a twangy guitar like what you might hear in the background of a spaghetti western and there was an angular drum track like the kind you’d hear in the 25th hour of a mega-rave and there were many many echoes and theremin-ish sounds like the kind you might hope to hear and see on DMT. If I were to make a movie, any kind of movie, I would be wise to ask Jeffrey Wentworth Stevens to do the soundtrack. Sometimes his tunes are sci-fi, sometimes Latin romance, sometimes chase scene, lifechange montage, urban jungle, angry sex, Ritalin dream sequence, mad scientist. So many sounds, layered, so many things they remind me of.
I write this now a week after firing the psychologist. He didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. I have my earbuds in, the button resting on the arm of my zero gravity chair. The music is compelling but the soundquality is horrid because they had to squash up the songs to fit them in this cute little button. Still I keep listening and wondering now who’s going to help me write the script for this movie I’m in.
Birthday Binge at Wax’n’Facts in Atlanta
I celebrated a birthday this week, I’m now almost half as old as my grandma was when she died, so I went to Atlanta for a binge. This was supposed to be a momentous occasion, my first recordshopping trip with a smart phone, a device I swore I’d never own (“I don’t want the Internet in my pocket”). I caved and got one because I thought it would let me look records up before I buy them, thus reducing the number of duds that wind up in my Expedit shelves. I even emailed myself a list of records I want so I could pull it up on my phone in the store. But juggling the phone and my growing stack while thumbing through the bins required more dexterity than I possess, so I accidentally pressed the wrong button and the email with the list disappeared and I couldn’t get it back. Then I tried to log on to AllMusic but my phone said it was getting no signal. So I wound up with some real stinkers: four Pat Methenys that are not quite as tepid as muzak and a Herbie Hancock so lame that it would make everyone on the floor at Studio 54 hurl their daiquiris. But I did find a 2LP John Cage and some Miles Davises I’ve been looking for and a brilliant record by Donovan. The biggest surprise was Camel’s Nude. Even the worst genres have their masterpieces and this is the masterpiece of those bleak years around 1980 when prog was morphing into new wave and top 40 drivel. Still I’m seriously considering turning this dumbass smart phone in for a refund.