If the hundred-mile stretch of burning desolation on Rt 62 out of Twenty-Nine Palms, California near Joshua Tree was the best ride of my trip, the ride out of Arlington on Rt 30E was the worst. Google had alerted me that just outside the city there would be a thirty minute delay due to an accident. These Google Alerts had been pretty good at predicting slow downs in densely populated metro centers but not so great in more rural areas. They nailed this one to the minute as I set out on my eight hour ride through northeast Texas and Arkansas toward Memphis.
To pass the time as I sat there, I listened to the autobiography of pianist/composer, Burt Bacharch, “Anyone Who Had A Heart.” Daniel Tashian, who did a five-song EP with Bacharach, had recommended the book when he was on the Buddy Miller/Jim Lauderdale show that I heard on Outlaw Country the night I spent in Canyon Creek, New Mexico.
Most of what I knew of the Bacharach came from top-forty radio in the sixties and seventies. Though his songs with lyricist Hal David were a constant presence in my formative years, by seventh grade I was pretty much a rock guy and have remained so through the years. That doesn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate the decades of hits he produced and all the people he worked with from Marlene Dietrich to Dusty Springfield to Elvis Costello and, of course, Daniel Tashian. Also a few years back I became obsessed with his and David’s 1964 top ten hit, “Walk On By,” by Dionne Warwick. That sparse arrangement accompanied Dionne’s anguished voice is a freaking revelation. A perfect song.
Listening, I discovered that Bacharach was married to Angie Dickinson from 1965-1980. I had a real crush on Dickinson as a kid. This crush lasted into high school when she played a badass cop, Pepper Anderson on the TV show, “Police Woman,” in the mid 70’s. Later, I saw her topless in this terrible movie on HBO called “Big Bad Mama.” I don’t remember anything from that movie but the gratuitous topless scene which made me sad. Back in those days there was real judgment about a woman going topless in a movie. None of the A-list actresses ever bared their breasts on screen. Angie was kind of a legend by then and I felt bad for her. I think A-lister Jamie Lee Curtis changed the paradigm when she went topless in “Trading Places,” in the mid-80’s. With the rise of the internet and endless access to naked female bodies I don’t know if going topless is even a thing anymore.
Also, Bacharach and Dickinson had a daughter who was born premature and had many health issues her entire life. Dickenson gave up her career to care for their daughter, who sadly committed suicide at the age of forty.
Despite some tragic personal life stuff, the book was a really good read/listen as I rolled along 30E. As mentioned, Bacharach worked with everyone in the music business through the decades—he was in his early nineties when the collaboration with Daniel Tashian came out. And, by the way, that five-song EP is a really beautiful little set of adult contemporary music. Like Michael Buble bullshit . . . but good.
I needed something engaging to listen to because 30E which transitions into 40E was a main trucking corridor from Texas to Memphis, where I was headed, and points east. It was constant weaving and bobbing through truck traffic until I crossed over the depleted Mississippi River on the Hernando de Soto Bridge into Memphis.
I would be spending the next two nights with a couple of old friends I also met through the Paul Westerberg message boards—Miquel Simone, aka “El Goodo” (after the great “Big Star” tune) and Kev, aka “UnKevin.” Unlike RJ, I had hung out with Goodo and Kev a couple of times. Early on in our Message Board friendship a bunch of us met in Louisville, Kentucky for a Westerberg show. I was all anxious and got way too drunk before the show and kind of made an ass of myself. But I rallied a bit and was able to make it through the show which was some kind of promotion that included thirty-minute sets by Westerberg, Patti Smith, Sonic Youth and the Polyphonic Spree.
Someone in the group found out Westerberg was staying in the same hotel as us—The Brown— and left him a message to come hang out. There were about ten of us and we had overtaken this community room on the fourth floor that was outfitted with all this comfortable living room furniture. Sure enough the erstwhile frontman of the Replacements and his manager showed up. We were all a little star struck as the great Paul Westerberg moved among us sipping a glass of red wine. Kev had brought his guitar and eventually Westerberg sat down on one of the couches and played some tunes. Most memorable was the beautiful ballad “Born For Me.”
As I rolled through Midtown in Memphis along the North Germantown Parkway my spirits got a boost from the big old houses and the leafy trees that lined the route. Though I was still pretty far south of the Mason Dixon line, this little green corridor on the way to Goodo’s suburban home had the feel of a northeast city. For about the last two months I had been in the rocky, dehydrated part of the country and it was good to see full leafy trees and old houses with character.
At Goodo’s house I backed the van in the driveway, set the emergency and said hello to him and his sweet dog Sheeba. From there he set up a flat screen for the Thursday night football game between the Broncos and Colts and in no time we had beers, bourbon and brats. Unfortunately, the game was pretty boring but the conversation was good, if subdued. Goodo has a big on-line presence, especially back in the day on the Westerberg board, but in person he’s quiet and understated. I guess you would say he was a polite southern gentleman. It’s sometimes hard to pair the on-line character with the in-person Goodo.
Goodo is also a retired air-traffic controller and an excellent song writer. This past year his band, 40 Watt Moon released a great power pop album called “I Hope The World Lasts For You.” Besides songwriting duties Goodo also plays bass and Kevin plays guitar and sings. The band is a draw in Memphis and I believe would find a respectable audience if they really started to chase it. But, both Goodo and Kevin are grandpas these days and trying to build an audience by gigging around the country in bars and clubs playing rock music, catchy as it might be, would require a huge commitment and sacrifice.
I don’t know about Goodo or Kevin, but with my artistic pursuits the last thing I want to do at my age is sell myself to anyone. I’m not afraid to work hard at the creative part of my craft and I’ll take part in promotion. But the idea of having to be in constant sales mode is a really unpleasant thought. The world should just trust that I am awesome and buy all my shit. Same with the three 40 Watt Moon records. Buy all of them and spread the word. I mean, you’re probably going to waste fifty bucks this week on some Amazon gadget that you’ll hardly ever use, why not spend that money on books and music instead? Thank you.
Next morning Goodo made an excellent breakfast of pancakes and bacon and then we hit the links. I may have mentioned here or maybe not that I hate golfing. Back in the day I was a decent golfer—maybe a fifteen handicap. But once the kids came along I essentially stopped playing. Twenty plus years removed from the game I suck. And, I hate sucking. Everyone points out all the pluses—being outside on a summer day, hanging with friends or family, it’s good exercise. I hear you, but sucking supersedes all of that touchy feely bullshit. I also hate that guys now play their shitty music when golfing. Save the Bob Seger for when your rocking out like a badass in your F150, not on the golf course where there’s birds chirping, brooks are babbling and guys are cursing out this god forsaken game.
We only played nine holes, but I had a pretty good day. As we downed a couple of Miller Lite tall boys I made three or four pars along with a couple of snowmen and doubles. Goodo has a nice smooth swing and was really on, making six or seven pars. It was a fun outing. Not enough for me to step back from my “I hate golf” stance, but still fun. And we didn’t listen to any bullshit Bob Seger in the cart.
From there we went on a cool little tour of Sun Studios, where some of the biggest icons of music have recorded including Elvis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins—Goodo and the 40 Watters recorded there too. There have also been lesser lights like that Irish band, U2 who have recorded there as well. In fact, the main room features a drum kit left by U2 drummer, Larry Mullen. Maybe that’s why they have to do these tours instead of being a full-time recording studio—the curse of U2 and Larry Mullen’s drum kit. I’m not into conspiracy theories, but it's something to think about on this increasingly overcast Memphis afternoon.
At any rate, the friendly kid at the front desk with a moderately disheveled afro collecting the admittance fees was asking everyone where they were from and got excited that I lived in Buffalo. He said he was coming up for the Packers game at the end of the month and wanted to know where was the best place to get wings? And I gave it to him straight—everywhere. And that is the stone cold truth. Everywhere. Just like everywhere is the answer to the best pizza, burgers, fish fries, Ruebens and steak sandwiches. Buffalo bar food is awesome and it’s awesome city wide.
Of course, some places have a wing reputation like the Anchor Bar, where Frank and Teressia Bellissimo were the first to capitalize on this neglected part of the chicken and drown it in Frank’s Hot Sauce—another Buffalo delicacy. They served them up with celery, carrots and blue cheese, not ranch—we’ve been over the ranch thing. Then there’s Duff’s, which over the years gained a reputation for having the hottest wings. Now the biggest name in the wing game is Bar Bill which has two suburban locations and is known for the size and variety of wings they serve.
I’ve had all three and they're all good, but I’m not really much of a wing guy. Wings are relentlessly messy and I don’t like dealing with the bones. I like to plow through my food unobstructed and without having to use fifty napkins. The same goes for ribs—too messy, too many bones. A totally bullshit eating experience.
After we got going on the tour we heard about the early purveyors of rock-n-roll that launched under the tutelage of producer and owner Sam Phillips. Rocket 88 by Ike Turner was recorded there in 1951. They also had this really cool exhibit of the radio studio of DJ, Dewy Phillips (no relation to Sam). Phillips had this rapid fire hillbilly delivery and sense of humor. His show which ran from 9-midnight on WHBQ had 100K listeners. He is credited for playing Elvis’ first single and hit, “That’s All Right (Mama).” The tour was kind of short and to the point, but a pretty cool place in general.
Next we sat at the empty bar at the Bar-B-Q Shop and got some authentic Memphis barbecue. Both Goodo and I ordered the regular barbeque beef sandwich plates which came with various sides. I got beans, slaw and potato salad along with a nice locally sourced blonde draft. I can’t remember what Goodo’s sides were, but it was really delicious. I bet like the wings in Buffalo, the barbeque in Memphis is pretty good everywhere.
When we got back to Goodo’s place he suggested a nap, which was a great idea. Even though I try to nap all the time, rarely do I fall off and get any real sleep. But not today. I was in and out for a couple of hours when about 5:30pm I heard my phone ding and there was a text from Goodo saying we should get ready to head to Kev’s house, which was a twenty minute ride to Collierville, Tn.
The plan was to have some beers and hang out at Kev’s for the night.
Kev is divorced and he lives by himself in a big house. It was really great to see him. Though I met him on-line at the same as Goodo as soon as the message board thing fizzled out Kev quit social media besides Instagram where he promotes gigs and posts pics of his grandkids and family. Unlike Goodo who is quiet and reserved Kev is more out there and extroverted, which I suppose is a prerequisite if you’re going to be the front man of 40 Watt Moon. He’s a really great, fun guy.
Since I’m not an Instagram guy it had been probably like a decade plus since we talked, but we picked right back up like we never missed a beat. It was a totally fun night sitting on his comfortable patio/deck catching up. As we drank beer and sipped bourbon—they did Fireball—we watched a great college football game between Memphis and Houston. UH scored 26 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the win 33-32. After that Kev and Goodo pulled out the guitars and did a little acoustic thing, which was sweet.
They played the REM tune “Driver 8” and while I recognized the song I didn’t know the album. When they told me it was the third album “Fables of Reconstruction,” I admitted I sort of lost track of REM after the second record, “Reckoning.” This was met with a couple of stony looks like I was some kind of uncultured philistine asshole.
I was not embarrassed or ashamed of being dressed down in this way because in a different situation I would have done the same thing to someone else. And the truth is I did pick up on the fourth and fifth REM records, “Life’s Rich Pageant” and “Document.” I dropped out again when the awful hit single “Losing My Religion,” was everywhere. Then later liked some of the early 90’s stuff before totally losing track. REM put their last record out in 2011 and disbanded shortly thereafter.
Sometime after that they got to the main event and played a sweet ass version of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” by The Replacements—a never would be hit song, that should have been. I recorded them playing with my phone and texted it Joy and Andy up in Minnesota. They too were friends with Goodo and Kev from the message board. Eventually we placed a call to them as well and chatted with Joy, Andy was in Minneapolis visiting their daughter for the night. It kind of felt like old times on the board drinking, talking and listening to tunes with people from different parts of the country. Another great night on this van life expedition.
In the morning Kev fried up some awesome breakfast sandwiches and potatoes and then I hit the road for my last stop in Charlotte, to see another Kevin, my old buddy Kev Mac.
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An Ode to Fire and Donna
Chronological Posts From The Road
Going Mobile: What We Learned
Our Rig: A Pictorial Essay
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