Friday, December 23, 2011

That Great Atomic Power Scared Charlie Louvin More Than God

"There's a White House war machine, the one Wilson switched on, waited long enough and joined the side that won..."

Thus begins my damning chronicle of the presidential lineage of America's twentieth century. The song was supposed to be specifically about Harry Truman, Missouri's only contribution to the whole mess, but I got carried away by history. I found I couldn't write about the president out of context. It would be like trying to write the biography of Mr. Punch without referring to his beating of Judy and the conquering of his various foes, not to mention his status as puppet under the control of another's story-line.

The process started with the title. I often come up with that before the lyrics are finished, as a guiding inspiration and to keep things focused. Ten or twelve years ago I discovered The Louvin Brothers and their Christian-flavored bluegrass, such as the album "Satan Is Real". Their song "That Great Atomic Power" struck me as an anomaly in their repertoire. They were talking about Jesus again but they were relating it to this political issue at hand.

About the same time, I began reading Howard Zinn's "A People's History of The United States" and began a lengthy list of near verses noting the history of atrocity that was American politics of the twentieth century. It had to be pared down, so I focused on what led to Truman's appointment and the Fifties culture that followed his epoch, all the while keeping a watchful eye on that looming nuclear presence.

Then, my Bad Folk bandmate Joey Gavin and I were playing one day and we started in on "White House Blues", played by many old time musicians including Charlie Poole on the Anthology of American Folk Music. How could I have not thought of ripping off that chord progression for this particular song's purpose?

As we enter another election year, I join many in their disappointment with Barack Obama's term. The second George Bush dragged this song's relevance into this twenty-first century and the current man has also neglected to cut his puppet strings, tying him to this shameful history as well.

"Truman" or "#33"

There's a White House War machine, the one Wilson switched on, waited long enough and joined the side that won. Roosevelt was dying, they had to find a man who would keep things running just like they planned. Henry Wallace said what he really thought and there's no room for that, no chance for that to move up in Washington.
When Roosevelt died, they had Truman move in, left all the furniture exactly how it had been. "Show me" a man who would seem to take a stand, got the White House blues all across this land. MacArthur covers a whole nation's eyes and he waits for William Laurence to come claim his prize, Hiroshima to Washington. That great atomic power, scared Charlie Louvin, scared him more than God.

Drop the little boy and the fat man, now you got the whole world with the Marshall Plan. The doctrines were in order, they just needed a name, almost any other man, it would have been the same, it's a shame in Washington. Now you have to close your eyes to deny the rumors, the working class, we're all consumers. Truman left the White House, his job was done, left all the furniture for the next one, Eisenhauer to Washington. The Rosenbergs were still in prison, going to the chair, now there's a new man in the White House, it doesn't change a thing, in Washington. Because that great atomic power, scared Charlie Louvin, scared him more than God.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The films of Sergei Eisenstein

Monday night, September 19, will be the third of four nights where The Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra will perform a different live score to a silent film. This week, they present Eisenstein's "Strike!", which was made early in his career, right before his better-known "Battleship Potemkin".

Opening the show will be The May Day Orchestra, performing their folk opera "May Day, or Songs For Lucy Parsons". This music will accompany a later, unfinished film by Eisenstein called "Que Viva Mexico!". The German anarchists of Chicago and the customs of Mexico will be united under the roof of El Lenador, a feat no other venue could accomplish.

May Day Orchestra, 10PM -
Rats and People, 11PM -
free show, donations welcome

Next week, The Rats and People will perform their score to "Go West" by Buster Keaton. Mustard Rob will be returning to Saint Louis from his tour to open the final show of this month's residency.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Handsome Family

The May Day Orchestra will double as a cover band this weekend. Usually I might scoff at such an idea but what if it was a cover band performing the songs of The Handsome Family? Okay then.
Melissa Anderson suggested the idea a while ago. Her band Tenement Ruth already covers "So Much Wine" at their shows, so we decided to go ahead with it and learn a handful more.
This Saturday, therefore, September 17 at noon, in the parking lot of a beer festival, we'll try it out. Schlafly's Hop In The City festival might not yet know what they're in for. Perhaps this will be the one and only time, but perhaps we'll do it again after because their songs are something unique.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The second 7" record, August 2010

Reprinting the lyrics to this 45 record, now that the band is selling more digital copies of these songs than actual records...

Thyalcine (words taken from the poem of the same name by Stefene Russell)

suitcase jaw, knife stripes, they eat the bones
no bloody feathers blowing against the salty grass
and the chimera shadow, the flip book
with jowly wolf head and hindquarters of a tiger
and a middle part that we don't know how to name

suitcase jaw, knife stripes, they eat the bones
the farmer's children slam the closet door
pull the hems of coats and dresses over their eyes
at the thought, at the thought of croupy barking
pull the hems of coats over their eyes

suitcase jaw, knife stripes, they eat the bones
but the gait, three animals put together
the book says awkward, though tireless
like the one who can't keep up, far down the path
three rhythms that trip off a little migraine of the heart

suitcase jaw, knife stripes, they eat the bones

Bugs (adapted from the true story told by Ross Lessor)

the old man worked for the chemical company
when he retired moved out to the country
that old house on the river was infested
called on the phone and siad he had to move
all those years in a blue jump suit, working for the chemical company
mixing, fixing to kill, mixing pheromones with the poison
that's how you kill them, attract them to the posion
one last phone call from that old man
the bugs are killing me

old man worked for the chemical company
mixing, fixing to kill
all those years making DDT until he himself radiates it
built a new house every step by hand
new wood, new ground, up on a hill
but these things are futile if you've been mixing to kill
that's how you kill them, attract them to the posion
one last phone call from that new house
the bugs are killing me, he said

and the heart attack was from the shock of how well it worked
and how they'd come for him in the end
at the end of that dirt road
the bugs are killing me he said
and the neighbors found him dead
shine a light on this infestation
exterminator down

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat dan Singa in Saint Louis

On Friday, June 3, Arrington de Dionyso will play Saint Louis for the first time in his 15-year musical career. He is touring in support of his newest K Records release "Suara Naga", an album sung in Indonesian.

Saint Louis' own The Union Electric and The Volcanoes (from Saint Charles) will open the show. Doors open at 8PM at the Jefferson Warehouse, 2501 South Jefferson.

Check out Arrington de Dionyso's music. His band Old Time Relijun has released several albums over the past decade. It is wild and compelling music of a sort that you probably don't hear often enough. Unknown to the point of scaring some people, but be brave readers and listeners, it's worth the attention. De Dionyso has also collaborated with Thollem McDonas, a more frequent visitor to Saint Louis, in a group called The Naked Future. I happened to buy this record from McDonas a year ago while he was touring with his band Tsigoti. Malaikat dan Singa fits into this tradition that De Dionyso has created for himself, with rock guitar, strange horns and some throat-singing for good measure.

The Union Electric's new 45, "Tunnels" b/w "An Irish Orphan" will be available at the show before its official release later this summer. Pressed on marbled purple vinyl.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Upcoming shows in Saint Louis

My friend Joe Eisenbraun reminded me that I hadn't updated this blog in months. It's not like I haven't been doing anything worth mentioning - quite the opposite actually.
Both bands have been busy, especially The Union Electric. We went on a short tour in March with Robert Sarazin Blake of Bellingham, Washington, and another in April with the Fervor of Louisville, Kentucky, We opened for Dax Riggs last weekend,, and are releasing a new 45 on Rankoutsider Records this summer. The new record will be available, before its official release, at our shows in June.

Speaking of which, some upcoming gigs:

Tim Rakel, solo, trading sets with Alvan Caby and Chad Ross of the band Rusty Nail - Saturday, May 21 at Urban Chestnut Brewery, 3229 Washington (near Compton). 8PM
Rusty Nail's kickstarter project:

The Union Electric - Friday, June 3 at the Jefferson Warehouse, 2501 S. Jefferson, opening for K Records artist Arrington de Dionyso, best known for his band Old Time Relijun. 9PM
Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat dan Singa:

The Union Electric - Friday, June 17 at Foam, 3359 S. Jefferson. 8PM. Middle Class Fashion and a touring band from Ohio are also on the bill.

The May Day Orchestra - Saturday, June 18 at the Schlafly Tap Room, 2100 Locust. 9PM.
Nighty Night from Carbondale, IL will play after us.