Review: Neil Young, “Bluenote Cafe” (Live)

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When I was coming up, Neil Young was quite a divisive figure in my rock and roll world. There were those of us who liked Neil and those who were as equally repelled by him. Generally the supporters of Neil Young were known as “males” while the haters on Neil were known as “females.” I don’t think I ever dated a single woman who said, “Hey, I know, put on some Neil Young.”

Neil’s music tends to get lumped into two categories and indeed there are two different styles he seems to return to more often than not. There is the acoustic side of Neil, the laid-back balladeer of “Harvest” and “After the Gold Rush”. Then we have the feedback-drenched, squalling guitar of Electric Neil most notably present when his once and future backing band Crazy Horse is playing with him.

Neil has never really seemed to care what critics or even fans seem to think about him or his music. In his superb 3 LP greatest hits compilation, “Decade” Neil wrote that after the huge success of “Heart of Gold” and the album “Harvest” put him in the middle of the road as a pop star, he decided he’d veer off into the “ditch” where it was a little more interesting. Critics were quick to seize on this and labeled the three albums he recorded after “Harvest” as “The Ditch Trilogy”. Those three albums, all recorded at a time of great personal upheaval in Neil Young’s life, “Time Fades Away”, “On the Beach”, and “Tonight’s the Night” are brilliant but could be somewhat confounding to the “Heart of Gold” casual listener.

All these years later Neil’s career can still be seen as confusing. His career has seen him take more left turns, blind alleys, dead ends, and attempted genre experiments than most other artists can even imagine. One thing is for certain, his career has never been linear. It’s more of a a hedge-maze. You can really get lost in there. It’s just fun to type the words “hedge-maze”.

The 80’s were a particularly difficult time for Neil Young fans. After the disappointing Crazy Horse record “Re-act-or” Neil veered left with a techno experimental album entitled “Trans”. Not even I can defend “Trans”. Then he veered in an entirely different direction with a rockabilly album “Everybody’s Rocking” with a backing band named, appropriately, “The Shocking Pinks”. Then he went full on country with “Old Ways”. I’m not sure but I think it was around that time that Neil’s record company, Geffen, sued him for “purposely making uncommercial music”. After the country record, Neil put out a couple of albums largely seen as clunkers, “Landing On Water” and “Life” which saw him reuniting with Crazy Horse. I bought both those albums but you have to be a real fan to like those records. They bear the bad production values of the times – too loud drumming, echo-y vocals. Sadly, I saw Neil and Crazy Horse on the tour in support of “Life” but I had a tad too much beer. All I can remember is throwing up and making out with some dude’s girlfriend in front of me. Que sera sera.

With a decade like that behind him it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise when Neil hired a 6-piece horn section, backed with Crazy Horse (Ralph Molina on drums, Billy Talbot on bass, and Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on keyboards instead of his usual guitar) as his rhythm section and dubbed them “The Bluenotes”. I’ll say this about Neil, when he goes into a musical genre, he really commits. He wore a funny hat, a long coat and shades whenever he played with the Bluenotes. It was like he was in character. But man did they play the blues. The album they put out, “This Notes For You” actually garnered Neil’s highest critical praise he’d seen in quite some time. According to AllMusic, the critic’s warm response to the Bluenotes was because “all critics tend to stand in awe of the blues in whatever form it appears.” Well, if that’s true, and I’m no critic, I’m just a music fanatic, count me in. I love the way Neil played the blues on that album. Neil is such a superb and expressive guitar player, the blues fit him perfectly. Let’s face it, the blues is where they invented the guitar solo.

Which leads to the latest in Neil Young’s Archive Series, “The Bluenote Cafe”. Neil has put out a bunch of great archival concert recordings. I highly recommend “Live at the Fillmore East” a Crazy Horse show back when Danny Whitten was still alive. For the fans of his acoustic material there are 2 excellent concerts – “Live at Massey Hall” after he’d become a superstar and “Sugar Mountain: Live at Canterbury House ’68” when he was still up and coming. Both are superb live albums culled from single shows. “The Bluenote Cafe” is a live album culled from a number of different shows, but it hangs together like a single concert.

I love this album. While the horn section is very prominent – the guitar is the star. Neil’s beautiful, black Gibson Les Paul is the true centerpiece here. Neil has always been known for extended guitar workouts like “Cortez the Killer” or “Down By the River”, and the blues is the perfect medium for him. I love the interplay between the guitar and the horns. Neil’s no stranger to writing sad songs, and his vocals are fabulous on the down-tempo, dirty blues tunes like “One Thing” and “Twilight”. The guitar work on “Twilight” truly makes it feel like the sun is going down and the world is turning gray…”the suns goin’ down on the long road home”… God I love that song.

There is a bunch of material on this live album that was written for “This Notes for You” but didn’t appear on that record. In some ways it’s like “Band of Gypsies” by Hendrix in that it’s a live album of almost exclusively new material. “Ordinary People” is an epic 13-minute jam that didn’t see proper release until “Chrome Dreams 2” in the 200o’s. I particularly liked “Bad News Comes to Town” and “Don’t Take Your Love Away From Me”. The songs “Doghouse” and “Sunny Inside” veer into Otis Redding territory and I mean that in a good way. There is a very muscular, early version of “Crime In the City” that just “rawks”, the horn section must be taking a cigarette break during that one.

The albums ending song is an epic 19-minute version of “Tonight’s the Night” one of the few back catalog tunes included in this live set. As best I can tell Neil chose that one because he must have thought, “what the fuck, I’m Neil Young”. I think one of the things I like about this odd, bluesy, backwater period of his career was that he’d basically bottomed out. He’d burned his commercial bridges with his record company and his fans. Yet, he didn’t despair, he put out a passionate, compelling blues album. He sounds totally committed and engaged on these performances. He soon abandoned the Bluenotes and put out one of his all time great albums, “Freedom” with the anthem “Rockin’ In the Free World”. I’m not sure that would have happened without the Bluenotes. This is definitely a period in Neil’s career that deserves more investigation.

Turn it up loud…

Cheers!

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Top 10 Rock Music Things to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is only 2 days away and it has me here at BourbonAndVinyl thinking about all the things to be thankful for this year. Well, that and the wife is busily prepping the house for the impending Christmas holiday. Ergo, I have barricaded myself in my office with a tumbler of bourbon and a stack of records. Christmas is not my favorite holiday. Frankly, St Patrick’s Day is the only religious holiday I still observe, but I digress.

In an attempt to avoid helping decorate the house for Christmas in any fashion, I have decided to compose the Top 10 Rock and Roll things I’m thankful for this year. There are many things I’m thankful for in my personal life: my beautiful wife and daughter, my parents are still going strong into their 70’s, Keith Richards is still alive, I discovered Bulleit Rye this year and everybody seems healthy. But in this post I must turn my attention to the things in the world of rock and roll that I’m thankful for in 2015. Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Rock n Roll Things to be Thankful for this Thanksgiving:

  1. U2 has rescheduled their Paris concerts for December 6th and 7th. If any band on the planet could help salve the wounds of that city it’s U2. U2 has been the virtual soundtrack of my life. I remember the last time I saw them, standing on the infield of some baseball stadium while tears ran down my face. Their music moves people that much. I read on Twitter that Bono said, “We’re going to put on our best for Paris.” There is no one better. U2’s best is as good as it gets people. My heart is still with you Paris!
  2. The Rolling Stones came to town this summer on the Zipcode Tour and I finally got to take my 20-something daughter to a Stones concert. It was a magical night for my wife, daughter and I. The Stones were on fire that night. They seem energized and rocked the stadium like it was a pub down on the corner. I hope they take that energy into the studio in 2016. At least now my daughter knows what I’m doing when I do my weird Mick Jagger dance around the kitchen, late at night, when I’ve been over served.
  3. The Faces, after years of keeping my fingers crossed, finally reunited for a show this year. I was hoping for an album and a broader tour, but I’ll start with a charity show. It was only a brief 35 or 40 minutes but it gives me hope for the future. It was a lot like dating in high school – I waited for a very long time for something that lasted a very brief period of time, but I sure hope to do it again.
  4. Archival Releases – Whether old live performances from Hendrix or Neil Young, or full fledged box sets from Springsteen and Dylan, I am very excited about older artists raiding the vaults. Springsteen’s “The Ties That Bind – The River Sessions” is extra special for me as it was the first record of his I ever bought. Dylan’s “The Cutting Edge” sounds like it’s for completists and obsessives but that pretty much describes me.
  5. Strong Releases in 2015 – Here at BourbonAndVinyl we like to focus on established artists who are releasing new music. It’s the reason I started this blog in the first place. We had plenty of those in 2015 – from Keith Richards, Rod Stewart (who is writing his own stuff again, which I’m thrilled about!), Chris Cornell, Dave Gahan, Jackson Browne and the list goes on.
  6. The trend in #5 above looks to continue in 2016 – There are a lot of great artists who appear to be prepping new music in the coming year. Most notably David Bowie whose Blackstar may be his weirdest in quite a while – 2 words, jazz musicians. The Cult have a new record coming, Hidden City. Many, many others are rumored to begin the studio including the aforementioned Stones.
  7. Tom Petty now has his own SiriusXM radio station. Terrestrial radio is largely dead to me. The fact that Petty has his own station, dedicated to his music is fantastic and well deserved. Buried Treasure, his show on XM, will also be broadcasting old episodes. Check it out if you haven’t yet.
  8. Guns N Roses original lineup to reunite for a tour – It’s only a rumor but fuck yes! I’m hoping that’s true. To see Axl Rose (vocals) reunite with Slash and Izzy on guitars, Duff on bass, and Steve Adler on drums would make up for me missing them when they were still together. This current group calling themselves Guns N Roses should call themselves “The Axl Rose Vanity Project.” I wanna see the original guys. As Joe Strummer once said, “never underestimate the chemistry of 4 (or 5) guys in a room together making music.”
  9. The Led Zeppelin Reissues are finally done – I’m thankful because I’m hoping Jimmy Page moves on and puts out some solo stuff. It’s over Jimmy, time to move on.
  10. Fleetwood Mac finally coaxed Christine McVie back into the fold. I’m very thankful for this because she brings balance back to the Force in that band. And by “the Force” I mean the ego’s of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there celebrating that particular holiday. For those who aren’t, here’s to a happy and healthy Holiday Season to come.

Cheers!

Review: Dave Gahan & the Soulsavers “Angels & Ghosts”, the hauntingly beautiful new album

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Shortly after I moved in with the Rock Chick, before I knew what was happening, Saturday became “clean the house” day. As a bachelor I had always taken a more casual approach to housework. Well, I probably took a more casual approach to all manner of hygiene, but as usual, I digress. During these Saturday “house cleanings” I would demand that rock and roll music be played in some form. Typically the Rock Chick would let me pick the music, but retained veto power. I had been playing the same few albums for quite a few Saturdays when I spotted a greatest hits album of hers, “The Singles 81>98” by Depeche Mode. I had really never listened to them and thought it would be a nice change of pace. I threw it on the stereo and before the first song had reached the chorus the Rock Chick shouted from upstairs, “Whoa, whoa, do you have any idea what you’re doing? You have to be in a certain mood to listen to Depeche Mode…” I guess cleaning the house isn’t the time for dark meditations on faith and heroin addiction. Who knew?

I really grew to like Depeche Mode, who I had largely missed out on during the 80’s and 90’s. Sometimes a great band will slip by me. “Violator” from 1990 is probably the masterpiece in my estimation but there is a lot to like in their catalog. Similar to the Cult, who I’ve written about in these pages, Depeche has put out some very strong late career albums in this millennium. “Playing the Angel” (2005) was extremely strong and the song “Precious” from that record remains a favorite of mine. They followed that up with “Songs of the Universe” (2009) and “Delta Machine” (2013). I loved “Delta Machine” as it was their most outwardly bluesy album to date. Everything I seem to be drawn to is rooted in the blues somehow.

I read in a recent interview with, of all people, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Billy mentions that he was also a huge Depeche Mode fan. In the 80’s he went to a show and went backstage to meet the band. I can’t imagine what these English synth-rock guys thought about Texas’ guitar wooly-mammoth coming in to tell them he dug their music, but I wish I’d been there. Billy says he could hear the blues in their music even way back then. He’s clearly got a better ear for this than I do.

I’m not a huge synthesizer fan, but I love the musical landscapes Depeche has carved out. Martin Gore is a very underrated guitar player. In the Billy Gibbons interview he said all Gore wanted to talk about with him backstage was guitars, he was trapped under all those synths. Poor guy. The thing that always draws me to Depeche Mode’s music has been the sultry, seductive voice of Dave Gahan. If silk sheets could sing, they’d sound like Dave Gahan, smooth and sexy. We bought the “Touring the Angel: Live in Milan” concert video and Gahan proves he’s one of rock’s great front men. The guy is as charismatic as hell.

I just found out that Dave Gahan has teamed up with a couple of guys who call themselves the Soulsavers. They have just put out what is apparently their second album together, “Angels & Ghosts”. This album is a hauntingly beautiful gem of a record. It’s only nine songs long but they leave an impact. The album is so short it feels like a 70’s throwback. While the Soulsavers carve out a similar brooding, eery landscape they do it with bluesy guitars and strings. The album even has a few songs with a soaring, almost gospel-y backing vocals. It’s a perfect backdrop for Gahan’s amazing vocals.

The album starts off with a bluesy/gospel tune called “Shine”. Gahan is calling all the sinners to the church of rock. I love this tune. The album then slides into a slippery blues tune, “You Owe Me”, that might be Gahan’s best vocal on the record. It’s followed up by two great songs “Tempted” and the first single, “All of This or Nothing”. It’s an amazing start to a record.

“Don’t Cry” is a hypnotic tune that starts off the second half of the record. That second half is a bit mellower than the first half of the record. You’d be tempted to say that it peters out were it not for the beautiful, cinematic closer “My Sun”. Actually the fact that this record is only 9 songs is probably a strength. Any more would have been too much.

As the Rock Chick once said, “you have to be in the mood” for this music, but who isn’t in the mood for some hypnotic blues sung by one of the greatest singers of all time? I dare say Dave Gahan is the greatest “crooner” to come along in rock music since Jim Morrison of the Doors.

As always, pour something strong, turn it up and enjoy.

Cheers!

Paris Attacks: My Heart is in the Bataclan #ParisAttacks

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I am not a religious person. I’m like Lloyd Bridges’ character in the movie “Cousins”, when he said, “God makes me nervous when you get him inside.” Maybe it is better summed up by Sting when he sang, “men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” I was raised a Catholic but as I once told my daughter, “I’m no longer a practicing Catholic, I had enough practice as a kid.” I have always looked at religious preference like sexual preference – practice whatever gives you peace and joy but a) don’t tell me about it (or preach to me about it) and b) don’t try to convert me. I guess you could find me at the Christopher Hitchens end of the aisle.

I have to admit, despite all that, I have seen some value in religion. One bizarre weekend a life time ago I was the best man in a wedding and then attended a funeral. I remember careening my neck around at the wedding and seeing the crowd, joyfully focused on the altar, where the nervous couple was saying their vows. By an odd circumstance, and this is what I mean by bizarre weekend, someone I knew passed away and I found myself in a funeral merely 3 days after the wedding. Once again I felt myself looking around the crowded chapel at people sorrowfully watching the folks on the altar who were eulogizing the deceased. It was then that it dawned on me that the sense of community that religion brings was something palpable. These two separate groups of people had come to celebrate a union of a new couple and to collectively mourn the loss of a man way too young to die. “I get it,” I finally thought. That’s what this is all about, the sense of collective joy or grief.

Despite my heathen nature, there are some things I hold sacred. In it’s simplest form, sitting down to a meal, “breaking bread” if you will, is something that is sacred to me. I don’t eat with people I don’t care about. I eat with family or friends or I eat alone. There is something intimate and almost holy about sharing food and laughs with family and friends. I feel the same way about sitting in a cafe and having a drink with friends or family. “Bourbon” is in the title of this blog. Sitting down in a darkened bar, with music playing in the background and sharing a drink is almost a sacrament in my mind.

One of the most sacred events in my universe is the concert. I remember the first concert I ever saw – it was a triple bill, three great bands, well 2 great bands and 1 moron (yes, talkin’ to you Ted Nugent) – and looking out into the crowded arena and seeing the crowd lift their lighters (this was long before cell phones) and I felt like I was in a church of sorts. I was connected to these people through the music. The communal vibe of people coming together to see a band, to listen to music, to celebrate that music and life itself is imprinted on my very soul. Again, it was that sense of community that I felt most strongly. Once my musical tastes became more sophisticated I found myself in smaller and smaller venues but that feeling of community and connection while the music played remained strong in me. The program in my childhood church said, “Singing Is Twice Praying.” Maybe they did get something right there after all…

While I sat in my home last night, a world away from Paris, my heart broke. To think that someone would shoot people in a restaurant or a cafe staggered me. There is a lot to be upset about last night, too much to put in a blog about bourbon and rock music, but what struck me the most was the attack on the Bataclan. I know nothing about the Eagles Of Death Metal, but my heart goes out to them and all the concert goers and their families. I read on Rolling Stone magazine’s twitter that “ISIS says they targeted Bataclan because it featured “hundreds of idolaters together in a party of perversity”.” You can not come up with a more fundamental misunderstanding of what was happening in that concert hall. People coming together in a joyful way to celebrate music and community has nothing to do with idolatry. Music is something that has been celebrated in every community since the dawn of man. Heartbreaking. Simply, heartbreaking.

They came into my church last night, the concert hall, and attacked. Senselessly.

I’d like to say I’m going to #prayforparis but that is not in my skill set. Like I said before, I’m not a religious person. And it would appear prayers and religion might be what fundamentally caused this horrific act. Perhaps a quiet drink and a tasteful toast would be more appropriate. My heart broke last night for the Bataclan crowd and the people of Paris. My thoughts, my heart, my very spirit is with those concert goers and with all of Paris. I think of the crowds I’ve seen in concerts my whole life and I can’t help but think of all the people who went out for a night of communal good times and met an untimely, senseless death. My despair over all the attacks in Paris last night is endless. These people were doing things we all do – dining, having drinks and listening to rock music – and they paid for it with their lives. It just makes no sense.

I am feeling a host of emotions. Despair, frustration and of course, enormous amounts of anger. The only fear I am feeling tonight is the fear that my thirst for vengeance brings. It will be easy for us to want to knee-jerk react to these senseless acts of violence and cowardice. Yes, cowardice, it doesn’t take guts to walk into a cafe or theater and shoot the unarmed and the innocent. It’s important to stand by our principles as civilized societies and make a measured, calculated response to this senselessness. Let’s not let these bastards take away who we are, or what we stand for.

Tonight, I toast Paris and I toast France for their loss and for their courage in the face of this outrageous act. I toast for the Eagles of Death Metal, who must be in shock and despair tonight.

Hang in there people. It’s a dark ride. Let’s not let the thugs and the lawless drag us down.

Cheers.

Review: The Cult, Dark Energy, the first single from the upcoming Hidden City

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In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit, I was late getting on the Cult’s bandwagon. Truth be told, my wife turned me onto the Cult. In the 80’s, which might be described as their “heyday” I was busy listening to music recorded in the 70’s. I didn’t have time for the Cult, Motley Crue or Metallica in the 80’s. I was busy spelunking for older music. Not to compare the Cult to Motley or Metallica. The Cult are one of the few groups I hear on hard rock/heavy metal stations and alternative rock stations. They have a certain “undefinability”. Their 80s albums – “Electric”, “Sonic Temple” and my favorite, “Love” are now standards in my record collection.

I owe all this, as I’ve said, to my wife, the “Rock Chick”. I got turned onto the Cult about the time they released “Beyond Good And Evil” in 2001. It was an outstanding return from an extended hiatus. It is a shining example of an album put out by a band later in it’s career. Excentuating their strengths without becoming nostalgic for those 80s albums. If the record company had been more supportive, this album could have been a monster. The first single from “Beyond Good and Evil” was a song called “Rise”. It’s not only my favorite song on the album, it may be one of my top 2 or 3 Cult songs, period.

In 2007, after another extended break, the Cult returned with their album “Born Into This”. “Born Into This” was another strong late period record for this band. The first single on that album was also amazingly strong, “Dirty Little Rock Star”. I still love to quote that song to my wife when we’re out partying…”you sick little hipster”. It was a great first salvo from another great Cult album.

In 2012 the Cult released another great album in “Choice of Weapon”. I saw them several times on the tour in support of this album, and the songs are even better live than on the record. Technically, the first single from “Choice of Weapon” was a song called “Lucifer”, again a catchy start, maybe not as strong as “Rise” or “Dirty Little Rock Star” but it was a damn fine rock song. Astbury said from the stage the night I saw him, to introduce “Lucifer”, “it’ll take the world 10 years before they figure out what this is about”. Ah, Ian. Prior to “Choice” coming out the Cult released a series of music “Capsules”. The first one they released, and the first single from this batch of songs was actually “Every Man, Every Woman Is a Star”. That too is an amazing first song, especially after a 5 year absence. The wife kept that one in high rotation at the house when it came out.

Which all leads me to “Dark Energy” from the upcoming February album, “Hidden City”. Apparently this album completes a trilogy of albums that began with “Born Into This”. Taking only 4 years between albums is almost a record these days for the Cult. As the Cult have such a strong history of great first singles, I bought “Dark Energy” the moment I discovered it was out. The song starts with some tribal drumming from John Tempesta who has been on board since “Born Into This”. Quickly Billy Duffy’s guitar (hopefully his Gretsch White Falcon) comes careening into the song. I was elated, here we go, another great first single. One of the strongest weapons the Cult have is the amazing baritone of lead singer Ian Astbury. He is simply put, one of rock’s great, under appreciated front men. So, naturally I was stunned when his vocals started and they are buried down in the mix. Don’t get me wrong, Tempesta’s drumming and Duffy’s guitar are enough to carry this song, but after a couple of listens I realized, this song has no chorus that I could discern. There’s no hook? “Don’t bore us get to the chorus”. The lyrics of “Dark Energy” come across as a litany of warnings or complaints, depending on your view point. It certainly lives up to it’s title, dark.

I have no fear this will be yet another strong Cult album. The more I listen to this single the more I like it, it’s a grower. But, I must admit, after “Rise”, “Dirty Little Rockstar”, “Lucifer” or, if you will, “Every Man, Every Woman…” I was a touch disappointed but only because I love Ian Astbury’s vocals so much. Billy Duffy is a riff monster on this song, so it is still absolutely worth a purchase but be prepared to spend some time with this song. The reward is there, but it doesn’t become apparent until the third or fourth listen. So enjoy all you “sick little hipsters” out there!

So that’s my take folks. Pour something strong, and as always… Cheers!

“My Name Is Larry”: Requiem for a Suicide, 11/8/93, 22 Years Ago Today

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“My name is Larry, my name is Larry…” Wild Man Fischer, “My Name is Larry”

It’s early November and all the vodka has been put away for months. We’re deep into fall, or as I like to call it, the Bourbon Season. I always have this odd feeling that I’ve forgotten something as the calendar turns to November. I have two friends who have birthdays in early November but I generally remember those. It always takes me a while but eventually the memories come back. It’s like the Pink Floyd song, “The Gunner’sDream” and the line, “floating down, through the clouds, memories come rushing up to meet me now…” I can’t describe the dream-like feeling of remembering any better than those lyrics. It’s funny how music brings things back to me.

On November 8th, 1993, a Monday night, the Kansas City Chiefs, the team I’ve been cursed to follow since I was ten (I blame my father) played the Brett Favre-led Packers. It was a crisp fall evening but the Chiefs played well and the Packers were kind enough to turn the ball over 3 times that night and I returned home to my humble apartment after a big win. It was late, after midnight (Monday Night Football games are always a bear getting home through the traffic) and I had a message on my answering machine. It was from Lynnette, my friend Matthew’s wife. I will never forget the words I heard that night…”Ken, if you get a chance tomorrow you might want to call Matthew, he’s pretty upset. Larry killed himself…”

Suicide. It’s a funny sensation when you hear those words. No one ever told me if it was that Monday night, or the previous night, Sunday that Larry had killed himself. Sundays can really be hard when you’re alone, that’s what I remember thinking. Larry was Matthew’s uncle, his father Martin’s brother, but he was an “oops” baby and was closer in age to Matthew and I than he was to Martin. We’d been friends for a decade. I remember sitting down at my kitchen table, with a strong drink and shedding a tear or two. But this isn’t supposed to be a sad story, so I won’t dwell on that night, 22 years ago today. Today, I celebrate my friend Larry.

As a kid, to go to sleep I always turned the radio on. It had a “sleep” feature which would allow it to play for 45 minutes and then shut itself off. The hope for me was that I could listen to rock and roll music until I dosed off (sleep has always been difficult for me) and the radio would always turn itself off vs wake me back up. It was a shaky plan but it usually worked. On Sunday night, the rock station I listened to, and there weren’t many choices, played the Dr Demento Show. Dr Demento played comedy/novelty records for three or four hours. It was goofy shit, but I needed something to help me get to sleep. Especially on those awful Sunday nights, where I’d lay awake dreading going to school on Monday. One of the funniest songs I ever heard on Dr Demento was Wild Man Fischer’s “My Name is Larry.” Wild Man is the worst singer, other than perhaps me, to ever record his voice. In the song, after proclaiming his name is Larry over and over, he goes through the litany of his family members and their tepid reactions to him. When he gets to his Grandpa, the Grandpa says, “Larry when you want to come over you tell your mom and we’ll arrange something.” The main message of the song was that “Larry” was weird. I didn’t know anybody named Larry but my high school buddy Matthew did, his uncle in Iowa was named Larry and so he recorded “My Name is Larry” on cassette and kept it.

A few years later, Matthew and my freshman year in college, we went off to KSU. At the mid-term, Christmas break I made the colossal mistake of transferring to rival school KU, for the worst reason anyone can choose to make a life change: a chick. That worked out about as well as everyone predicted and by early April the lass did me the favor of breaking up with me. I was the devastated, young romantic. Matthew, who was still at KSU, jumped in his car and picked me up. We were going up to Iowa to visit his uncle, whose name was Larry. Larry had been in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, I forget which, and was in his late 20s and was going to ISU in Ames on the GI Bill. Having just gone through a break up, the beer was flowing for me the entire drive up to Ames. Matthew produced the cassette of “My Name Is Larry” and we laughed the entire way up. I can remember closing my eyes, later on the drive, while Triumph played “Magic Power” and hoping the lyrics were true: “I’m young now, I’m wild and I’m free.” I was putting my freshman year behind me. By the time we got to Iowa we were a wreck. I was underage so Larry let me use his military ID, we looked nothing alike, he had sandy blonde hair and was a good looking dude. I was a head taller than he was. We hit the bar with a gusto rarely seen in Iowa. Matthew and I kept singing, “My Name is Larry” at the top of our lungs. We were a complete liability that night and yet, by the end, Larry and I had become friends, well as close to friends as Larry was capable. He had also managed to produce, out of thin air, a coed with perfect posture and huge breasts. Larry was the man! It was to be the first of many trips up to Iowa to party with Larry, who was one of the coolest guys I knew.

 After college I saw Larry sporadically. He held a number of jobs. He lived in Kansas City for a while, during my exile time in Arkansas so I lost track of him. Then he moved to Dallas and got married. When Matthew got married I flew down to Dallas for the ceremony. I was the best-man. At the rehearsal dinner, my old friend Larry sat across the table from me with his wife, Hope, and we laughed the entire night. He told me, after my toast, I was the funniest person he knew. (He probably needed to get out more). He wanted to be my road manager and take me out on the comedy circuit. I was selling medical supplies at the time and thought that was a more sound career choice. We had fun reconnecting at the wedding but I could tell there was an undercurrent of sadness about my old friend. Hope seemed overly affectionate that night and I didn’t think anything of it.

I had always wondered why I had had to cab it in from the airport when I flew in for the wedding. I had assumed as “best man” somebody would send a car. “I’m kind of a big deal around here,” folks, that kinda deal. I found out years later, Matthew’s family and Hope had apparently been having an intervention for Larry the day I’d arrived. Nobody told me. Larry had gone to a bar about a year earlier to meet a friend who didn’t show, and met a lady instead. It was always the ladies for Larry, they were his Achilles Heel, even after his marriage it seems. Chicks dug Larry. This girl liked cocaine and she turned Larry on in a bathroom stall, ah the early 90s, with sex afterwards. I live by one rule, stay away from white powders people, stick with murky, brown, distilled fluids. There are no upsides in powders and pills, people. Apparently my friend Larry had a prodigious appetite. He was burning through Hope and his assets faster than she could keep up.

The “Intervention” held for a while, but like most folks I hang around with, the “dark side” is strong. Summer of ’93 found Hope and Larry in Kansas City for a weekend visit. I met them in Waldo at a bar named Kennedy’s. They were both in high spirits. Back then, Kennedy’s was located in the lobby of an old theater, which has since burned down, with cramped, small booths. We were all crammed into one of the booths in the front of the bar. I was trying to theorize why Matthew’s wife seemed to hate me. Larry was philosophical as usual. “Ken, you’re one of the most obnoxious people in the world, and she’s from the south. Chicks down there don’t dig your loud, vulgar sense of humor. You’r like olives, an acquired taste.” Gee, thanks Larry. We drank until closing time and I cabbed it back to my apartment. I remember hugging Larry and Hope goodbye. It was our typical laugh-filled evening. It was to be the last time I ever saw Larry.

By that November he had terminated his marriage to Hope in order to save her financially, and perhaps emotionally. He’d burned up all their money. He was staying temporarily at a cheap hotel. Then, that night, in early November 1993, early fall, he wandered into the field next to the hotel with a gun and as Neil Young once sang, he “touched the night.”

That night at Kennedy’s is what always sticks out in my memory. Larry smiling and laughing. I always tried extra hard to make Larry laugh because I felt the well of sorrow in him. I always wonder if there was something I could of said or done, anything to have helped him. People describe suicide as “selfish”, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. Larry got, as U2 once sang, “caught in a moment” and “couldn’t get out of it”. I wish I’d been bold enough to ask, “Are you OK?” or “Is there something wrong” but I never did. I’m always quick to do so now with my friends, a lesson Larry taught me. It saddens me to think of all the things Larry has missed in the last 22 years. But for me, I like to think about that first trip to Iowa. I like to put on Wild Man Fischer and sing along…”My name is Larry”…. Perhaps in a lot of ways I see myself when I was young in Larry. I pushed through the darkness and I wish I could have helped my friend do the same.

I miss you buddy. Cheers!