Well, it finally happened: Ol Glenn, my neighbor across the hall, has moved out, headed back to Alabama. He will be missed. This is not exactly something I would have said back when Glenn first showed up. I was never super-close with the guy, but I liked him well enough. He had a dog, which should have been annoying, but it was quiet, and so I didn’t have that to bitch about. I would say hello to him whenever I’d see him, but I’m really bad at smalltalk, and so I’d do my best to scurry upstairs without running into him.
He knocked on my door a couple of days before he flew the coop and gave me a bunch of records and some DVDs. With the exception of Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, the DVDs were all awful, and the records he gave me were so incredibly on-point Old Man Records (a bunch of Atlanta Rhythm Section albums; a Grand Funk Railroad record; Works, Volume 1 by Emerson Lake & Palmer; Mick Jagger’s She’s The Boss on cassette) that it almost made my head spin.
It was also really sweet of him, a small gesture of kindness that I found myself strangely very moved by. And so godspeed, Glenn. You will be missed. Unless my next neighbor is a 22-year-old lingerie model who needs someone to help take photos, I’m not going to do any better than you.
A couple of weeks ago I watched Nothing Can Hurt Me, the documentary about Big Star, and at almost the same time I was re-reading parts of Robert Gordon’s It Came From Memphis. These, along with Holly George-Warren’s article “The Muse of Memphis” in the most recent issue of The Oxford American, have pushed me into a major Big Star mode, which is funny, because apart from their last album, which is really just them in name only, I don’t really even like Big Star all that much.
I knew of them, of course, for a long time before I ever actually heard any of their music, because that was sort of their thing: you could go a long time listening to music that paid a huge debt to them before you heard the real thing. So I knew “Alex Chilton” by The Replacements, and I knew Son Volt’s cover of “Holocaust”, and I knew Cheap Trick’s reworking of “In The Street” for That 70s Show. But Big Star themselves eluded me.
I don’t remember if I heard Third first, or if I got the first two albums, which came packed together on one CD, but for the purposes of this story we’ll say that I got the #1 Record/Radio City compilation first. And I didn’t like it much. I think, because of everything I’d heard about how the band were the godfathers of power-pop, I was expecting something more bombastic and in-your-face. Something louder, more powerful sounding. I was probably expecting something that sounded more like Cheap Trick, or, more honestly, more like Weezer, as hilarious as that may or may not be.
So at some point or other I got my hands on a copy of Third, which famously was never truly completed, and which never had a definitive track listing, though the version I have is the 1992 Rykodisc reissue, which features producer Jim Dickinson’s involvement and, presumably, represents the band’s original intentions for the album. And I don’t remember being blown away by it. At first. But it creeps up on you, mostly in a slow and unexpected way. I’d owned the album for years before, one night, during a period when I was living in an unfinished and unheated attic, I caught the lines “get me out of here/get me out of here/I hate it here/get me out of here,” and it went right through me, and the hooks were in. That Robert Gordon tells the exact same story about the exact same song in It Came From Memphis is indicative of how universal Third can seem at times.
It’s a beautiful album, and it probably means more to me now than it ever did. The crackle of feedback that begins “Kangaroo” is maybe my favorite moment of distortion ever recorded; the wobbly menace in Alex Chilton’s voice when he seethes “play it for me, guitarist” in “Dream Lover”; the extended “it ain’t gonna lassst” in “Big Black Car”; the way the whole thing sounds so exhausted and wasted and emotionally drained and falling apart.
Which is also the album’s biggest problem: Third is, fundamentally, a record about wallowing, about giving in to whatever dreary impulse you can latch onto (from It Came From Memphis: “back then it was loose. We were buying sealed bottles, thirty to a bottle, of Ambar twos, Desoxyn, up, downs, whatever you wanted.”) to distract you, because your feelings got hurt, or because your band didn’t become as famous as you thought it should have, or for whatever stupid reasons people pursue numbness. That some great art was wrenched away from the oblivion it was flirting with is what redeems the album.
Unearthed excerpt, from some thing I wrote about five years ago, late at night, while deep in my cups:
No one is entirely sure when the apes rose up and conqured their human masters, but the fact that it happened is not even a matter of dispute: Australia is, as of this writing, ruled by apes, and has been for some time. The last known year that the island remained in the control of its human population was 1986, when the film Crocodile Dundee became the second highest grossing film of that year. The movie spawned a wave of interest in Australia that was quickly tempered by the realization that there were no commerical flights to the continent available: the mystery deepened when 1988’s Crocodile Dundeee II was released to only mild success: at this point, it was painfully obvious that, rather than humans, the “actors” were nothing more than apes wearing masks and miming the lines along with a heavily edited soundtrack consisting of previously recorded dialog that had been chopped and pasted into the thinnest of possible plots. There are even those who claim the masks the apes were wearing were in fact the actual, skinned faces of the actors from the previous films, but there is at this time no evidence to prove or disprove this grisly rumor. There is at this time no living person who has seen 2001’s Crocodile Dundee In Los Angeles, so any rumors regarding this film are nonexistent.
Cody is a young guy. I think he only recently became old enough to drink. He’s built almost exactly like a teddy bear and has a little goatee that makes him look like a chubby Guy Fawkes mask when he smiles. He often goes for months without a haircut, and after awhile it looks literally exactly like this. He’s a nice kid, but uh…a little slow (he once asked me what 12 hours from five o’clock would be). He fucks up a lot.
Jeff is older, probably early forties. He’s short and slender and always wears a baseball cap. He looks kind of like Clint Howard, and his hands have a visible tremble to them. He used to drive trucks for us but after some unspecified troubles, he was given a demotion, and now works on the dock loading trucks. He’s having some family issues—divorce—and drinks a lot. He’s come to work and seemed drunk at least a couple of times, and has fucked up some stuff fairly badly. He’s a nice enough guy.
A couple of texts from my coworker Patrick:
Text 1: Cody has put in his vacation requests to coincide with car shows later in the year he wants to go to. He says the one in December is in Texas and says “yeah that’s the only car show that’ll show tits.”
Text 2: What an animal.
Text 3: Jeff starts putting in his two cents and goes “yeah man…you go to some of these black shows and they show a lot. They start tweaking and everything.” I assume he meant twerking.
Text 4: The depths of their perversion is unfathomable.
I’m from Texas, and I went to junior high and high school in a very small town in Louisiana, and I remember when I was twelve and thirteen years old that this is how eighty percent of the guys looked in their senior photos, creepy little mustaches and everything. It’s a style choice that manages to somehow make you look sixteen and forty-five at the same time, and it’s not something I recommend to anyone.
Looking at Tim McGraw in those pictures, though, it does make me sort of miss those days when country music was still largely a niche market and even the people in charge of the talent were still almost completely clueless about how to make the jump to a more mainstream audience. There was a weird sort of dopey innocence to it that’s largely been erased, though any nostalgia I have for it is more likely me pining for my own uncultured childhood, when I would probably have looked at the guy on the cover of Not A Moment Too Soon and thought man, what a cool dude.
Which, now that I think about that, maybe I don’t miss those days so much after all.
I really don’t think there’s anyone out there in the world who would disagree with me when I say that Smokey And The Bandit is quite possibly the best movie of all time—at the very least the best Burt Reynolds/Jackie Gleason truck driving movie—but I will admit that there is at least one huge plot point that nearly ruins the film for me. And I mean one huge plot point besides the fact that anyone would go to such outrageous lengths to get a truckload of hot Coors delivered to their big outdoor party.
That point is this: Big and Little Enos want the Bandit to drive from Texarkana to Atlanta with 400 cases of Coors: he has 28 hours to make it to the Southern Classic without getting caught. Which—spoiler alert—he does, and ably, with the utmost skill and derring-do. A good time is had by all. But this is where my issues with what is an otherwise perfect film come into play. When you see Bandit and Snowman in Texarkana loading up the truck that is to haul the Coors, you see that the entire trailer is filled with pallets, from front to back. Yeah, you’re thinking, of course it is—they’ve got 400 cases of Coors! That’s a shitload of beer!
And you’re not wrong. That is a shitload of beer. But you see, I’ve been working in a warehouse now for nearly two years, and I can tell you that while 400 cases of beer is certainly a lot, it is not a lot to load onto the back of a tractor trailer. You could pretty easily get a hundred cases of beer onto a single pallet. And a trailer as loaded as the one you see in the movie would hold somewhere around 20 to 24 pallets, depending on how they’re loaded on the truck and the exact size of the trailer, meaning that instead of 400 cases, you might be looking at as many as 2400, if not more. This newfound professional expertise really takes me out of the viewing experience, is all I’m saying, which is probably how Stephen Hawking feels when he watches some dumb time travel movie.
Christmas at my grandmother’s house. It was so hot in there, and the TV was so loud, and the woman smokes like her insides are actually on fire, so it was like being in a honky-tonk on a Saturday night. My mother told me a few weeks ago she smokes two cartons of cigarettes a week, which, at this point, I’m guessing makes her basically unkillable.
I had to work Christmas night, and all of my family lives out of town, so it made no sense to go anywhere. So instead I went to a Chinese buffet with a friend of mine. We were bored afterwards, so as a joke I suggested we go to a porno store, because what could be more sleazy?
When we arrived, I saw a woman, late thirties, lingering around the entrance with a couple of young kids, and by the time we parked and were approaching, a man came out and the four of them were standing around near the door. Well, I thought, this is way more sleazy: this pervert dragged his wife and kids down to the porn shop on Christmas Day and made them hang around outside while he went in to get his jollies. What a scumbag.
It was only when we got closer that we realized the lady was actually working at the porn shop, and her husband had brought the kids down to visit Mom, who had to stand outside with her kids because they obviously couldn’t come inside. Boy oh boy. An uneventful and indeed sleazy twenty minutes later we exited, and on the way home we accidentally ran over a dog.
And believe it or not it was still only my second-most dismal Christmas ever.