Thursday, September 12, 2013

All The Boss's Bastards, And Their Rowdy Little Bands

When I first heard about The Sons of Lee Marvin, I thought, “I want in!” When I heard who got it all rolling, I thought, “I'll stick to Groucho's Club, thanks.”

The initial Sons of Lee Marvin? Jim Jarmusch and Tom Waits.

A couple of cool hep-cats. Likeable. Enviable. Admirable, even. But as much as I like, envy and admire those guys, even I have to admit their respective acts have occasionally tipped into something a wee bit indulgent. Pretentious. Fey. Precious, evene.g., calling yourselves The Sons Of Lee Marvin, or more recently, The Bastard Sons Of Lee Marvin.

“Fey” and “precious” should be avoided by anyone claiming lineage to Marvin (blame your mother and you've really blown it). But “pretentious” isn't so bad. After all, Marvin was an actor, someone paid to pretend. Also, “pretenders to the throne” may have their deficiencies of character, but a lack of ambition isn't among them. If you're a slightly odd-looking dude, Marvin's throne is a fine one to pretend to.

The Boss's Bastards are a different breed altogether. These are the kids who listened to Darkness At The Edge Of Town and Born To Run and thought, “Yes. Yes! I can do this!”

"Le patron est mon père!"
They've got the throne in their sights. And, brother, they've got ambition.

I'm talking about grizzled vets like Mike Cooley, Patterson Hood and Jason Isbell, blue-collar sprats who scraped together enough for a kit and a van, called themselves the Drive-By Truckers then hammered themselves into public consciousness one rowdy juke-joint at a time.

If you want some idea of what that sounded like, Alabama Ass-Whuppin', their first live album (and my second-favourite DBT disc), has been re-mastered and re-released, here.

I'm also talking about younger acts, like The Hold Steady, Arcade Fire and The National, who caught the Boss's gene for earnest self-expression and spliced that into brooding contemplations of suburban ennui. And I'm talking about Okkervil River, whose latest, The Silver Gymnasium, (here) is all of that, plus — plus “irreverent” and “catchy as hell” and “fun” — and might well qualify as my favourite disc of the late-summer.

And I'm even talking about Low Cut Connie, who, at first listen reminded me mostly of early They Might Be Giants — though where the Giants came across as dweebs cracking wise between recess beatings, Connie came across as jokers whose next laugh was likely to come from delivering a few bruises of their own. But, like The Boss, Connie demonstrates just how far a tankful of attitude can take you in a crowded room of noisy drunks. In 1986 the Boss may have allowed Tipper Gore the last (non) word when he self-censored his live Mission Statement during “Raise Your Hand” (quote- “You think this is a free ride? You wanna play, you got ta pay! Now I wanna see you get up. And I want you to walk over to your radio, turn the mother [silence] as loud as she'll go, open up the windows, wake up the neighbours, 'cos if there's something you need, if there's something you want, you've gotta raise your . . .” etc. -end-quote) but Connie gleefully reclaims the prerogative. They also get the last word on fun: I bought Call Me Sylvia (here) back in January; nine months later it's proven itself the perfect soundtrack for the early evening hours of a Friday night, when a fellow wants the weekend to proceed on the right note.

But if you find your particular weltschmerz is best echoed in blue-collar anxiety, drama and miscreant tendencies, you'll want to hew closer to the Boss's country leanings. I refer you then to Eric Strickland & The B Sides. With their song-writing, Strickland and company have clearly graduated with honours from the George Jones School of Country, where strong drink is responsible for the bulk of one's errors in judgement, if also the bulk of one's succour. That sort of material is a natural fit on my playlists: this summer Eric's I'm Bad For You (here) formed a welcome “b side” to Wayne Hancock's Ride.

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