Wine, Women, and Song. And Beer.

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One of my great regrets in life is never being in a barfight. No knock-out brawls with whiskey bottle head-smashing. No people slung crashing down the bar. No bodies thrown out of saloon doors. Not even a “you frontin’, bro” frat boy brouhaha. Never defend a lady’s honor with my fists Never thrown a haymaker. Never had a chair broken across my back. Never even had to Pee-Wee dance to Tequila to avoid a biker beat down. Not once. I imagine this lack of experience has as much to do with my temperament of conscientious objector teddy bear as it does with my Andre the Giant skeletal structure. And while I’m probably too old, cowardly, and/or sensible to have a good-old fashioned alcohol-fueled melee, I know that in a pinch I would I rumble like Patrick Swayze in Road House.

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I probably should’ve taken a hint from the sparring creatures on the bottle or the super strong aroma (really more like a pleasant chloroforming), but Firestone Walker’s Wookey Jack is a barfight in your mouth. The spicy rye jabs, the bitter hops come at you with a hook, creamy malt shots to the body. By half a bottle, you are getting woozy. Then the a slightly tart finish comes at you a headbutt. You are finished. At the end, you are left with a black-eye, split lip, and some serious beer blood lust. This isn’t this Jack’s first rodeo. You now know its laid waste to much manlier fools than you. No hugging it out. No acting like adults. No being the bigger man and walking away. It trashes you and leaves before the cops get called. It probably took your girlfriend home too. You black rye IPA scoundrel.

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Dr. Feelgood’s Down by the Jetty is the best bar album that I have never actually seen in a jukebox. Rollicking and steady, the songs cover the perfect pub subject matter: wine, women, and song. It chugs along like a late night rowdy dance party, but has enough edge that you could hear it blasting from a car stereo soundtracking some afterhours parking lot fracas. The songs are three minute blasts of blues-punk-RnB bastardizations that sound better and better as the drinks flow and tempers flare.

The album and beer are bruisers. Blustering fun times. Classy in lowdown ways. They exist not for the subtle beautiful sunsets, but for the bleary eyed sunrises – full of surprises bruises and obvious headaches acting as reminders of they lived,  loved, and fought. So the question is can you take a hit?

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“The day of reckoning is coming faster than anyone here realizes. And our love is like Jesus, but worse. Though you seal the cave up where you’ve lain its body, it rises, it rises.” – John Darnielle

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Resurrection is a tricky business. Or so I’ve heard. I myself have yet to come back to life from the death (unless you count a few amazing hangover recovers in college). I figure I just leave the rebirths to the experts.

Maybe it is because I am typing this with food-colored dyed fingers, but Dogfish Head Aprihop is one of those beers I just always equate with Easter. Or perhaps it is cause I always seem to pick a four pack around the Holiday or maybe cause its pastel colors or maybe cause that is what I am supposed to think. Either way, it is a fine fruity IPA that is both hearty and sweet. Like a stronger version of Magic Hat #9 that all the kids seem to like these days. Either way, I’d choose it from Easter treat over the Cadbury Eggs and Peeps(until, of course, they make an Easter candy beer – which I imagine is already being worked on in some brewmaster’s lab).

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If you are needed to soundtrack your Aprihop and Chocolate Bunny feasting, I offer for your consideration the songs from the amazing and inspirational documentary about the “rebirth” of Rodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man. The album has been on steady rotation at our household since we watched the movie a couple months ago (you should probably watch if you haven’t). Light in the Attic Records (specializing in Lazarusish resurrections of amazing lost records) put reissued a spectacular and legendary album, Cold Fact, that had been lost to all in USA, but had been considered a classic in Apartheid-driven culture-shielded South Africa. A fantastic piece of wax had incredible tunes with subtle, Dylan-esque rambling lyrics over smooth 60’s grooves. Generations later, thanks to the reissues and the movie, Rodriguez is finally receiving the recognition and listenership he deserves. The finest part about Rodriguez’s rock n roll resurrection is that you realize the man was so much more. And his greatness was in a simple, pure built life around his character rather empty idol worship that creates unstable pedestals around some many of our cultural icons. You realize, he never really need to be resurrected, we needed to be reawakened. But onto the beer/record pairing…
There is a common shimmery polish over a more intense roots in both the beer and the record. Both are easy to take, but leaving you with a bit more than you expected. A great beer or even better record for that moment where you need a little bit of life and joy resurged into you.

Tiptoe Through the Tulip Glasses

“There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” ― Diane Arbus

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The Rogue Voodoo Bacon Maple Donut Ale tastes like Cracker Barrel. It tastes of campy reproduction K-Tel record and Camulet baking powder tins as wall decoration. It tastes of sweaty truckers smoking cigarettes and playing giant checkers on oversized rocking chairs. It tastes of mass produced home-cooking and surly waitresses with stars on their aprons. It has the cloying fake maple sweetness of 1960’s hard candy. There is a synthetic smokiness of bad sausage. The pink bottle screams trailer park chic (my friend said that he really wanted to try it, but was too embarrassed to buy it because the bottle…he likened it to buying tampons for his girlfriend). The beer is basically a liquid meme. And all this to say, I am okay with it. I think it is kind of fun. Yeah, it is overhyped, overpriced, overdone, and overboard…but I can deal with that. I am, after all, an American with plenty of my sin allotment given to gluttony.

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God Bless Tiny Tim is a one of those records that looms in your collection waiting for the weak moment when you see it and grab it and hear that voice echoing through your speakers. With a preternatural knowledge of the American songbook, Tiny Tim was one of rock’s few evil geniuses. Wielding a glass-shattering falsetto and an apocalypse-summoning ukulele, this clumsy, dopey fellow tore through forgotten tunes and one man duets, all while blowing kissing to his uncomfortably perplexed audiences. The man was a performer. He knew what he was doing. And there was absolutely no logical explanation for his success. That’s what makes him great. And while his version of Tiptoe Through the Tulips has beat the odds and become an oddball standard, he really made some interesting and worthy music throughout his career (and thousands of dreadful songs as well). And, no doubt, Tiny Tim definitely spent his fair share of time hunkered down at various Cracker Barrels across this fine country’s interstate system –  serenading young hapless waitress, horrifying the good folks eating their biscuits, and effortlessly mastering the peg game.

So, what happens when you combine these guys. Chaos? Perhaps. Doomsday? Possibly. But more than likely you’ll just laugh at yourself. They broke the mold and slaughtered the mold maker for his atrocities. I would not fault anyone for despising or fearing either beer or musician. They carry a Frankensteinish off-putting vibe at first, but persevere and make their own path. Polarizing characters in their fields, both can be hard to sit through (really you deserve some sort of medal if you can drink a whole bottle yourself and listen to Sides A & B in one session), but give you a certain pride and inside knowledge once you’ve conquered the beast. The best and worst of American kitsch all rolled up in giant figures. Why else do you patronize to Cracker Barrel if not for the uncomfortable comforts?

Glambic Rock

“Give me a smart idiot over a stupid genius any day” – Samuel Goldwyn

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The people on the fringes make it all interesting. The people who can see beyond conventions. People who don’t have limits, nor care about them. The person who can remember pi to 22,000 decimal points. The person who can draw a city to pinpoint accuracy after staring at a picture for just a minute. The person who can describe the shape, color, character, texture and feel of integers. The person who can memories thousands of taxonomical features of crows. The person who got a pipe through his head and now can play Mozart by ear. People that are often shoved to the edges of our society. We need to learn from the amazing and accept the what we can’t understand. Brewers (and all humans for that matter), I humbly submit, might do well to live by this fact…it’s good to be on edge.

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Washington state’s Elysian brewery has a reputation for putting out some interesting brews with some creative themes and fetching names. Their Savant IPA (or the beer formerly known as Idiot Sauvant) is no exception to this tradition – great label too. An especially sweet IPA lots of mango, orange, lemon, and other tropical goodness. There is a kick too – more floral than bitter. But hanging around either way. So, I would argue that this guy isn’t a true savant, certainly more than a one-trick pony. Hence, we need a record that can match the sort of savantitude with a good dash of fruity, floral, and fun. Errrr?

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I would submit only one main man as rock’s most fabulous sort-of idiot savant. I speak, of course, of T. Rex. Now as far as guitar skills or song structure construction (as well as MENSA- high quotient in the boa-wearing intelligence) Marc Bolan is top notch, no argument. And The Slider remains one of my all time favorite rock out classics. However, let’s discuss the lyrics for a minute.

Exhibit A: Main Man
Bolan likes to rock now/Yes he does yes he does
Bolan likes to rock now/Yes he does, yes he does
Is there a sane man/Anywhere anywhere
Got giraffes in my hair/And I don’t care

Not since Bo Diddley has egotistic self-referential lyricism been so great and so simplistic. It is as if T. Rex had all the rhyming dictionaries in England set ablaze just so he would never be tempted to thumb through one. Or how about this:

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Exhibit B: The Slider
I could never understand/The wind at all/Was like a ball of love
I could never never see/The cosmic sea/Was like a bumblebee
I have never never kissed /A car before/ It’s like a door
I have always always Grown my own before /All schools are strange
And when I’m sad/ I slide

At the core, I love all the subject matters Bolan tends to write about: rockin’, animals, cars, babies (I assume he means ladies here), space, dragons, space dragons, himself. I can’t help if I love these mini-poems that read like they were written by 1st graders tripping on illicit substances on a fieldtrip to the zoo (editor’s note: This blog does not think any elementary school aged children should be exposed to drugs. Well, really no one of any age should – except maybe T. Rex – he might could handle it). I can just imagine other famous lyric-smiths listening to the record. I see Leonard Cohen cringing then facepalming. Townes Van Zandt laughing his ass off between tugs of Old Grandad. And Bob Dylan feeling increasingly nauseous (especially since a song or two has lyrics the mention him – “Bobby’s alright, he’s a natural born poet and he’s just out of sight”). And while juvenile, guileless, and braggadocious (or perhaps just straight stupid), you still just love the way the words meld with the slinky guitar, bouncy conga drums, and perfectly fuzzy pop tunes. There is a fit that is otherworldly. Lyrics that couldn’t function in the real world. That are only good for one thing – glam rock accompaniment. They are pure, honest, and damned if not a little genius. But, I digress…

Beyond the “Idiot Savantness” of beer and album, they share several wonderful qualities. Slider and Savant are bright, fun, bubbly, and certainly don’t take themselves too seriously. Great for putting out a bottle and putting on the disc for social gatherings. No obligations except to have fun. And you don’t have to be a genius to do that. In fact, its probably better if you’re not one. Good thing for me.

Electric Lite Beer Orchestra

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I am always up for a fool’s errand. A trip to a lost city. A snipe hunt. Alchemy lessons. Tracking down bigfoot. Bowling 300. Drawing a perfect circle. Grabbing a beer from the fridge using only my mind. Whatever. Impossibility doesn’t deter me. As I get older and rack up more mistakes, failures, and horrible choices, I found the best way to deal with regrettable quests is to just enjoy the trip to nowhere. In the immortal words of Lemmy, “The Chase is Better Than the Catch”. This holds true especially when there never will be a catch to be had. I am Wile E. Coyote. I am Elmer Fudd. I am Boris & Natasha. I am Tom…there is no Jerry. Squirrel and moose have got away again. Bugs Bunny fooled me with a dress and wig and an Acme Co. anvil just crowned me.
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I know I’ll never find my perfect beer but Central Waters Peruvian Morning is in the ballpark. Why, you ask? Well, mostly, the immaculate blend of my three favorite liquids – bourbon, coffee, and beer. No sickly burn from the bourbon taste. No bitterness from the coffee taste. No weird aftertaste that big beers sometimes impart. It is like the kept the best parts of the three with no side effects. Perfectly balanced – a drunk tightrope walker prancing with wobbly grace between the ruinous remains of Macchu Picchu (okay, I don’t know where I was going with that, but I had to get it out of me). All this and remarkably drinkable, even light for a barrel-aged imperial stout.

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Electric Light Orchestra’s Eldorado is an album for which I fight tooth and nail. Even as an ELO apologist, I am clueless as to why this record is never mentioned in the same breath as now revered under the radar early 70s production sort of classics Here Come the Warm Jets, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Tago Mago, or Aja. Perfectly blended and balanced much like the aforementioned Peruvian Morning, Eldorado is an album that does everything right for me. Cohesive, original, rich, high soaring, ethereal. An album that sounds exactly like its theme…the blurring dizziness of the point where dreams and reality crash together.  A perfect blending of orchestra and rock band. Beauty and the beast. Kansas and Oz. You can’t escape reality by dreaming…but reality can’t shake the dreamer either (trust me, it makes sense in ELOese).

Both these under-heralded personal pleasures seem to just float above their peers. I am up there with them. Head in the clouds. And yeah, it’s true I am an excitable boy. That the record I listened to last or the great beer I am drinking tends to be praised with hyperbole and grandiosity and then forgotten tomorrow. Isn’t that the point? So, I keep chasing the dragon. Seeking the lost City of Gold and its fountains of beerfection. Hell, the only problem is, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I ever got there.

Nasty Gal-lon

“People react to fear, not love – they don’t teach that in Sunday School, but it’s true.” -Leonardo Da Vinci
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Sunday mornings, I have a little ritual. I get up late, open the windows, throw a disc on the turntable, and blare my stereo. Sitting on the porch (in my underwear, of course), beer in hand, waving at my neighbors motoring to and from church. I find their looks of disbelief and judgment relaxing. Their delicate sensibilities assaulted by early morning salacious funk, fierce punk, or earth-shattering metal and the knowledge that my forenoon worship often involves AM imbibement (of the non-sacramental sort) and Ozzy (also of the non-sacramental sort). I love my neighbors and neighborhood (and I mean them no disrespect), but dammit, this is my castle. And the king wants his Black Sabbath and stouts!
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Until I can finally fulfill my lifelong goal of obtaining a copy of Metal Machine Music on vinyl, I think Betty Davis’ Nasty Gal is absolutely the best record I have to play for these Sunday instigative morning sessions. Even without the words (which are outrageously suggestive, breathy, and grunt-y), this is probably the dirtiest sounding record I own. It is incredible heavy funk, Mrs. Davis backs herself with a crack team that can make the listener dance, grind, and blush at will. Legend has it that Betty was too much woman for hubby Miles (who was no prude himself so I’ve heard), and it is easy to believe that the creator of this record was quite a lady to handle. So exploitive that it becomes empowering in a sense.  In short, an album that makes Serge Gainsbourg songs sound like nursery rhymes and Prince records sound virginal. And there is a good deal of supremacy in controlling a provocative sound with that much grace, style, and umph.

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Conversely, Clown Shoes’ Tramp Stamp has no such clout (especially regarding gender relation matters). In fact, the beer had three strikes against before I even bought it. First, the beer store clerk said that some guys from a fraternity had just bought 20 bottles of the stuff for a party the weekend before. Not generally a good sign for craft beers. Second, it is a Belgian IPA that is definitely not very fresh, caked in dust. Finally, the name and logo are ridiculously bad. Just lowbrow in the wrong sort of way…juvenile, sexist, and, worse, just not that clever. Frat boy oafish. Perhaps that’s why they bought so much of it. More likely it was the same reason that I bought it…it had been reduced to 2 bucks a bottle.

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And, well, really not too shabby of a beer. It tastes like a dirty IPA…hops muddled with some Belgian yeast tartness, citrus bite, malt and bread thickness, and spicy clove flavors. Nothing too distinct. Nothing clean at all. Nothing to take home to ma. Nothing to marry or say “I Love You” to. But good enough to make out with at a party. Or grind on at the disco. Assuming you can still find a disco.

Both beer and vinyl make their living lacking subtlety, exploiting their griminess. Both do the trick. And you can’t mistake the fact that the album resonates as a powerful street funk testimonial, while the beer is maybe just a better than average BIPA with a stupid ass-centric label, they work well together for me. Maybe one props up the other, maybe not. Either way…crack the windows, pop a top, and let those Sunday morning libidinous hymns fly. Give the neighbors something to pray about.

Mad as Old Ale (or Henry David Thorowing Up Beer)

“I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
-Henry David Thoreau
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Our local weirdo has a yard completely strewn with hubcaps, doll parts, and old bicycle scraps. He rides his bike into town to pick up trash (hoping for doll parts apparently) and to buy gallons of Mountain Dew (well known as his only form of sustenance). Sometimes, I wonder how close I am from being this guy. Had I not met my wife, I am pretty sure I would be well on my way to becoming a hermit. I would live on the seashore cliff in a one room shack quite content in my self-indulgent hobbies and my ever increasing idiosyncrasies. Dressed only in an open purple bathrobe, drinking beer, muttering to myself, organizing my LPs, managing 13 fantasy baseball teams, writing Twilight Zone fanfiction, ebaying pogs, eating cream cheese, smelling something fierce, lost in time.
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Founders Curmudgeon Old Ale is a beer that probably has washing machine skeletons and dinosaurs made out of old tires decorating its yard. Eccentric, crazy, and a lot to take in. As the name suggests, a little bit bitter and mean at first, Old Curm is a sipping beer for sure. Best taken in little bits, letting it warm and unleashing its mellowing tidbits of crazy. Rich and strong flavors beset with toffee sweetness, sherry dryness, molasses gooey-ness. A guy who seems pretty cool and interesting if you can just ignore his off-colored jokes and the spittle in his beard.
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Kevin Coyne is the hermit of rock. He barely scratched the surface on mainstream, yet his records have an amazing range. None of them greater than Marjory Razorblade. The album is ferocious in its driving isolation. The characters are alone locked up in their songs, afraid and desperate. Sonic mental illness. It is gorgeously dark, perfectly human. And this is where the beer and the record intersect. In the beautiful gloom of our world. Both give a great sense of wonder in their shadowy aspects. It makes them almost fun. That kind of fun when you are by yourself all day with nothing to do and can just revel in your own weirdness.

Both record and beer let the spices and sweetness brighten the corners, but never interfere with their dark passage. Lock yourself up with these two and, just for a moment, forget about the kids on your lawn, the government satellites spying, and the chip implanted in your brain.