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Sunday, July 16, 2017

A poem inspired by a neighborhood walk

I live in the land
Of cracked blacktop
Driveway basketball hoops
Car engine drive by dopplar effect
Gas powered lawnmower steady vibrating hum
Can even hear it from a distance
When not broken up by
Wind tree rustle and bird songs Reminding me of Snail Shell Harbor camp sites
And then the Sunday morning mowing resumes
Fleeting reverie is broken
My walk continues

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My follow up to my Pepper post is gone!

I had written what I thought was a fun follow-up to my Pepper post, but somehow I managed to delete the entire fucking thing. At least three hours of writing completely wasted. If at some point in the future I feel like attempting to replicate it, I will. Right now, however, I am so livid I can barely see straight. It's a goddamned miracle I didn't pitch my laptop through a window.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Ray Wylie Hubbard at Tip-Top Deluxe Bar and Grill, Grand Rapids

We drove to Grand Rapids yesterday to see Ray Wylie Hubbard perform at the Tip-Top Deluxe Bar and Grill.

I am only aware of Ray Wylie Hubbard (hereafter referred to as merely "RWH") through my old college roommate Paul, who is essentially a scholar of Texas music. (He may not like me calling him a scholar, but he is). Paul gave me RWH's memoir A Life...Well, Lived when we had our NADS Shaw Hall dorm room floor reunion back in January 2016. After the book sat in my "to be read" pile for a few months, I finally got through it last summer and enjoyed RWH's colorful tales of his rocky, wild, never dull life. I know more about RWH's life story than I knew about his music until fairly recently. I got around to listening to some of his albums that are available on Amazon Prime streaming.

When the announcement came that RWH would be performing in Grand Rapids, I knew I had to go. By all accounts, he was/is a great live performer, with a funny, engaging, self-deprecating storytelling ability--equally adept at story songs, gut bucket blues, outlaw country, and rousing rock & roll.

So Lynda and I received assurance from our older son that he could be responsible with the house and his 12-year-old kid brother, and younger son (aka kid brother) assured us he would be okay and not anxiety ridden with mom and dad 50-odd miles away in GR. We headed out in the Kia Soul, armed with our cell phones (with which I vowed to text the boys at regular intervals to check up on their well-being).

We arrived at the Tip-Top, best described as a hipster dive bar in southwest Grand Rapids, at about 7:20 PM. The doors opened at 7:00 for the 8:00 show, and the place was already jam-packed. It was so packed that we could not find a seat and stood for the entire show...all 3 1/2 hours of it. Naturally, I wore my least amenable shoes for standing, my 21-year-old Doc Martens. (Style over comfort, man!). My feet felt like raw hamburger when the show ended.

Lynda and I both decided to get drinks from the bar, both deciding on Bell's Oberon drafts. I sucked my beer down before the opening act, John Merchant (and his female singing partner Ashley Youngstrom) went on at 8 o'clock. I drank a Corona in the bottle (only $1 less than the Bell's) and was able to make that one last for about an hour. (Two beers per concert is my limit).

The Tip-Top was sold out. The tiny bar holds 57 people for a show, and I estimate the bar is maybe 1200-1500 square feet (and that might be charitable). It has a fairly nondescript exterior; an older building (age indeterminate) with a shell of steel siding, but the interior features an old tin ceiling, many vintage rock 'n' roll and blues concert posters on the walls, and an ornate wood bar.

The openers, John Merchant and special guest Ashley Youngstrom hit the postage stamp-sized corner stage promptly at 8:00. Merchant looks a bit, or at least reminded me a bit, of what Marshall Crenshaw looked like in, say, the 1990s. He's a bit thin, bald, bespectacled, with a small graying goatee. Dressed in blue jeans, black T-shirt, black vest, army dog tags around his neck. Ashley is blonde, wore a flower print dress. They performed some of Merchant's original songs, plus a Gram Parsons cover, Chris Bell's "I Am the Cosmos," and an energized rendition of "Gimme Shelter" with Ashley gamely taking on Merry Clayton's "rape! murder! It's just a shot away!"" backing vocals--no small task.

I felt a little bad that I didn't buy Merchant's CD that he was selling for only five dollars, but I was saving my cash for RWH's merch table.

So after the Merchant/Youngstrom set, RWH and his band (son Lucas Hubbard on electric guitar and Kyle Snider on drums) hit the stage at about 9:30.

Where do I start? For one thing, how did I not even know of RWH's existence until Paul gave me that book? How do some great, authentic, talented as all get-out musicians often remain obscure for decades? RWH's music is an amalgamation of gut bucket blues, confessional songwriting (with references to God, the Devil, Les Paul guitars, and even the MC5 making an appearance in one of his songs), raucous rock 'n' roll, and shit-kicking country. Perhaps RWH isn't more widely known simply because he can't be categorized, and the music industry thrives on placing artists into little compartments.

Simply put, RWH brings it. He performs with a warmth and connection to the audience honed by decades on the road. But it's also apparent that his son Lucas and his relatively young drummer Kyle keep him feeling energetic.

The audience at the Tip-Top was loud and enthusiastic. It was a mix of folks: youngish hip punky rockabilly cats in Reverend Horton Heat shirts all the way to grey-haired or grey-bearded and/or balding 50 and 60-somethings, even a few 30's-ish women who seemed to know all or many of the song lyrics. (I kinda thought RWH would be more "dude-oriented," but that wasn't entirely the case). RWH has an intense following, I believe they are referred to as "Snake Farmers" from one of RWH's better-known songs, "Snake Farm"). I felt slightly left out, maybe a little fraudulent, in that I was not as familiar with his music as probably 80 or 90 percent of the people at the show. (Though I'm not sure how many of those folks had read RWH's autobiography, so at least I had that one over them).

Lucas Hubbard is as interesting as his father. Maybe as meditative in his performance style as his father is exuberant and expressive. Lucas looks like he feels the music in his body and soul, often playing with his eyes closed and a Buddha-like grin on his face. Lucas is a slight young man, knit hat on his head, scruffy beard, smooth boyish face, decked out in black T-shirt and dark jeans. RWH is a wizened Texan philosopher, wild unruly grey hair, multiple necklaces, dressed completely in black like his son. Meanwhile Kyle holds the beat on his spartan drum kit.

They played a freewheeling, fire-breathing wet and finished up at about 11:30. The three musicians made their way through the adoring crowd to the back room of the Tip-Top, people asking and/or pleading for a few seconds of RWH's time as he slowly made his way to sanctuary.

I decided to leave RWH alone, What would I say, anyway? He looked spent and tired. We had to get home, anyway. I did, however, stop at the merch table on the way out and bought the Snake Farm CD. Despite sore feet, I walked excitedly back to the car, and texted the kids to let them we were on the way home.