But, it’s on occasions such as these that my great gift shines on through like a crazy diamond. I’m talking here about the remarkable ability I possess to position myself (and whoever’s unlucky enough to be tagging along with me, in this case the RCK) right slap-dab next to the most excruciating punisher in the whole crowded house….”
by mike morgan
After much “I dunno, do you wanna go…I’ll go if you wanna go” of telephone ping-pong play during the work day, the Root Cellar Kid (RCK, aka Royal Crown Kola) and I decided to shell out a wad of shekels and splurge on the Blasters. Not that the Blasters probably saw too much of the hefty $32.50 per ticket or the gouging $6 per Bud, those bits of boondogglery went straight into the coffers of the old black Republican monarch, B.B. himself (or at least to his lawyers). The point is, you kick yourself for missing a show like this, even though you know you’re going to get raped in the process.
But, it’s on occasions such as these that my great gift shines on through like a crazy diamond. I’m talking here about the remarkable ability I possess to position myself (and whoever’s unlucky enough to be tagging along with me, in this case the RCK) right slap-dab next to the most excruciating punisher in the whole crowded house. This particular one, from here on in referred to as Punisher of the World #1 (POW #1), oozed that alone-in-the-city-for-the-night-with-a-corporate-expense-account reek. Clad in his “Planet Hollywood” leather jacket, drinking like a fucking fish, buying booze for all who acknowledged or cursed his existence, pinching under-age girls on the bum, he wondered loudly and repeatedly whether the Blasters would play “Marie, Marie,” perhaps their only song that has some regular air-time back in the day. Aspiring to the Mount Vesuvius pinnacle of this form of anti-social behavior, POW #1 scaled further dizzy heights by locating, within the sea of heads surrounding us, another punisher…a doppelganger, aka Punisher of the World #2 (POW #2), whose entourage joined POW #1 for a POW convention of sorts. POW #2, his brother-in-law (POW #3) and his wife (POW #4) were dancers of the variety that remain oblivious to their immediate environs, i.e. it’s their elbows and knees in your guts, spilling your drink. POW #2 had on the waffle-iron shoes, the leather pants, the Nick Lowe haircut, but he lost it all by completing the outfit with this pansyish type of cardigan, the kind of garb my ex-wife used to wear to peace movement meetings. He looked like a cross between an investment banker and Richard Branson slumming with the masses.
The poor old Blasters had yet to even hit the stage of the Stalag. The rest of us kriegsgevangene (kriegies) patiently awaited the advent of the Blasters, like inmates at roll-call. Replete with Goons and Ferrets, it was akin to being on the set of “The Great Escape.” When the lights finally went down for the band, I expected Charles Bronson, aka Danny the Tunnel King, to groan loudly about his fear of the darkness.
The Blasters have been playing a reunion tour, the band comprising of the five original members that appeared on their first (and only) three albums of their too-short life in the early to mid-80s. They are a classic roots rock and roll band with seeds in the East Los Angeles community, the same neighborhood that gave birth to Richie Valens, Los Lobos and the Blazers. Led by the Alvin brothers, Phil on vocals, harp and rhythm guitar, and Dave on lead guitar, they spew forth a relentless, high-energy music that speaks to the one redeeming characteristic that defined rock and roll, namely rebelliousness. Phil Alvin is perhaps one of the great living white soul rock and roll singers. Dave Alvin does not need a plethora of pedals, boards, knobs and assorted gadgetry to enhance his sound. His is the world of the Fender amplifier and the Stratocaster alone, and his playing is reminiscent of the revolutionary style that Paul Burlison brought to Memphis in the 1950s with Johnny Burnette and his Rock and Roll Trio. Gene Taylor, the piano player, not only looks like Doctor John, but he has the boogie to back it up. Rounded off by John Bazz and Bill Bateman, a rhythm section that would’ve made Sam Phillips proud, the Blasters then began to tear that playhouse down.
Of course the RCK and myself would not have known this had it not been for POW #1 bellowing in our collective earholes, “THIS IS IT, BABY!” POW #1 and POW #2 flatly yammered along, parroting every chorus, pogoing complete with high-fives, leaning hard against each other until our whole line of bodies shifted, causing a chain reaction of ankles to be twisted, shins to be scraped, knees to be bruised, turf-toes, stingers, ribs to be dislocated, achilles tendons to be torn and other assorted jock-type injuries. As the first song ended, we were treated to another “THIS IS IT, BABY!” POW #2 meanwhile, not wanting to be outdone by POW #1, proceeded to buy drinks for each and every POW, not all at once, however, but one at a fucking time. This meant leaning over the RCK and I, shrilly repeating the order to the barkeep, paying the barkeep, waiting for the change from the barkeep, spilling the drink all over the RCK’s ensemble, passing its dregs to another POW, and then going through with the same ridiculous procedure all over again. Punctuated by incessant klaxon-type blarings of “THIS IS IT, BABY!” the future was looking bleak, despite the Blasters best intentions. Screw “The Great Escape.” This was “King Rat.”
The RCK and I tunneled our way out of the compound and relocated on the other side of the camp. The RCK was a wee bit wire happy. He’d been punished before for attempted escape and impersonating an officer of the Luftwaffe, and, as a result, he had spent three weeks in the cooler with an obnoxious Jon Bon Jovi fan from Indianapolis. Our new position in the club allowed us to pay full mind to the Blasters. Phil was giving eerie voice to the haunting “Dark Night.” Both Phil and Dave Alvin have enjoyed vibrant post-Blasters careers: Dave as a later member of the John Doe band “X”, then as a solo artist with his band “The Guilty Men”; Phil with a solo album gem in the late 1980s that featured members of the Sun-Ra Arkestra. Whatever their differences or reasons for parting ways back then, those didn’t seem to matter that night.
As we positioned ourselves to make a run for the fence, avoiding the guard towers, searchlights and Alsatian wolfhounds during the final song, our vision was blocked by a large stumbling mass who parked himself directly in front of us. Pitching, tossing and weaving like a rag doll in a nor’easter, his only visible means of identification appeared to be a “Planet Hollywood” logo on the back of his jacket. He was throwing up on his ersatz crocodile-skin cowboy boots, his memory of the evening being reduced to vomit on his shoes. The RCK couldn’t help himself. ‘THAT WAS IT, BABY!” he yelled at the retching POW. On the way back home, we decided that next time we would go directly to the Hard Rock Café and then on to Planet Hollywood. Who needs the in-betweensies. Satisfied with our decision, we whistled the theme from “The Bridge on the River Kwai” as our train rumbled through the tunnel into Brooklyn. The blast was all worth it.
New York City – 11/18/02
A Brooklynite by way of Wales and South Africa, Mike Morgan is the founder of Burrow Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at several neighborhood bars, where he can be found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time. More from Mike Morgan can be found in the Vault of Smoke.