- sent to press May 19, 1999

part one: calm, cool, collected

old mils and sleeping pills (b/w sleeping pills and old mils)

So hereís the best songs to hear when Iím on a beer run these days:

"What Itís Like" by Everlast
"Nightrain" by Guns ní Roses
"You Blew Me Off" by Bare Jr.
"Detroit Rock City" by Kiss
"Looks That Kill" by Motley Crue

My best beer run memory is October 1991, when the Twin Cities got nailed by that two-feet-plus of snow on a Thursday night. I stayed at my office in downtown Minneapolis and worked late. I did this on purpose to wait out the traffic, a trick I learned from my main man Ken Seiler - the previous winter there was this big snow storm that hit on a Friday afternoon, and Ken asked me if I wanted to go to the Loon for a couple of drinks; his reasoning being that we sit in the Loon for a couple of hours and all the traffic and its assorted idiots would clear up by the time we were done. We did so, yukking it up over Grain Belt Premiums, toasting the traffic as it went by the window facing First Avenue. Kenny is a freakin genius. Anyway, in October 1991 on the way home to my apartment in St. Louis Park, I stopped at the neighborhood joint and got a twelver of Grain Belt Premo cans. When I got to my street, I cracked one open. I remember driving through my parking lot, sipping, slipping and sliding all the way. A neighbor was out on the sidewalk looking at the snow coming down, and I lifted my Premo as a toast to him. I sure can work a crowd.

Anyway, I was thinking about this stuff today (Saturday April 10, 1999) as I was driving to and from the Liquor Depot on my beer run. I love beer runs just for the sake of a beer run, as opposed to buying beer as part of an errands run like stopping at the post office, grocery store, and video store. You see, Iím back in the groove of getting cases of returnable longnecks, and itís just a freakin hassle to come home and unload them, then deal with loading up the fridge with groceries also. Because there are few things in life that are more fun than heading to the liquor store, with sliding-glass-door coolers of beer possibilities waiting to greet you, and doing anything else during a beer run just ruins the mood.

True confession: today I bought a case of Miller High Life returnables. Iíve been semi-unemployed lately (more on that later) and have reduced my beer buying to cases that are less than ten bucks. Last beer run was Old Mil at nine-ninety-nine per. This time the Champagne of Beers was coming in also at nine-ninety-nine per. Yeah, I know I mock the Miller Brewing Company, but those of you who know me well know that I have always said that Miller High Life in a bottle is a good beer*; plus itís my understanding that everybody in high school in the Upper Midwest in the early eighties started out on Miller High Life, then moved on to Michelob. And since I didnít drink in high school, hereís a chance for me to have all the fun I missed out on in my youth. And on my beer run today I had on a Levi jean jacket, which mostly only burnouts wore at my high school - see Iím totally set on making my second run at seventeen seem like a real cool time.

Okay, so Iím kind of unemployed at the time of writing this. Like only working six or so hours a week at accounting instead of my usual thirty or so. I wrapped things up at Big Department Store in mid-March, they had a little party for me and another outgoing temp - complete with cake and ice cream. We laughed, we cried, and the best part about the whole deal was that I never made any real acquaintances in my eighteen months there, so there were no empty promises to keep in touch. Anyway, I havenít lined up much work lately due to circumstances I wonít bother sharing with you. For a while there recently, I was kind of worried about my lack of work and its accompanying lack of money and had trouble sleeping because of it.

The worst thing for me about not being able to sleep is that sleeping is easily my most favorite thing in the world to do. Like last Sunday, I woke up around eleven thirty in the morning, turned on ĎCCO and listened to the last part of Sid Hartmanís show. Then when it was over, I laid in bed and thought hell, Iíve only had nine-and-a-half hours of sack time! So I went back to sleep until one-thirty in the afternoon.

But there are some nights where I just CANNOT fall asleep and I lay there kinda dazed. Sometimes I get up and crack an Old Mil and write and then eventually doze off. One night I finally got up at three a.m., cracked and Old Mil, and DID ACCOUNTING until ten the next morning. (That was strange: because when itís four-thirty in the morning, do you crack a third beer or finally make coffee? Thank God it was time to go to Kinkoís and I didnít have to worry about it.) And some nights, I take these generic sleep pills that I get at Walgreenís. These things are brutal (though they look cool - kinda like the University of Maineís powder-blue hockey jerseys; shades of how my allergy antihistamines look like my Fighting Siouxís home jerseys) as they totally knock me out and I basically walk around stunned most of the next day after I finally wake up. The night after my all-nighter accounting adventure, I wanted to ensure that Iíd crash. So I drank an Old Mil, popped a U of Mainer, then dove into another Old Mil. In my notebook, I wrote this horrible poem about "Old Mils and sleeping pills." Ugh.

I sleep much better these days, though. I just tell myself: the best thing about lack of work and lack of money is that they distract you from your pathetic love life. Then I laugh out loud. And I hope all of you out there laugh, too. Please.

* Upon further review after finishing the case: itís not that great.

obligatory drug references

So okay, I went to that movie Go during an afternoon matinee, there was probably only about seven of us total in the theater, and I was probably the oldest by about fifteen years easily. There was a clever The Breakfast Club reference which flew over everyoneís head but mine - it sure feels weird being the only one laughing in a movie theater. The opening part of the movie was about these kids trying to score some ecstasy, and I flashed back to being in the Antique (East Grand Forks bar, also known as "the Teek") in the mid-eighties. I got into a buzzed-up conversation with this guy I knew from high school, and he asked me if I had ever heard of ecstasy. I said "yeah I read about them in Rolling Stone," thinking they were a band. He didnít catch my goof and said "yeah, itís good shit." So my pal kept talking about ecstasy, and I just nodded my head and smiled. Later I read about it in Rolling Stone, it was some gonzo (yawn) article by Hunter S. Thompson. Then my roommate Dave told me that ecstasy was "designer speed," and to this day when people (not many, one or two) ask me about "E," (hip name for ecstasy, you didnít learn it here kids) I say "oh yeah, that shit is some sort of designer speed."

Alright, so Iíve never done illegal drugs. (Scary thought: this fact brings me closer to being presidential material in 2000, when Iíll be thirty-five and constitutionally eligible.) (But whoíd want me? As you will soon see, my buddies in the Grass Roots probably wouldnít trust me. I wonít kiss Christian Right ass, so I canít be a Republican. And Iím unwilling to drag my country into unwinable wars halfway across the world, so there goes my shot as part of a Democratic ticket.) Allergy pills and sleeping pills are a big enough hassle, so I donít bother fucking with the real stuff. Besides, three beers is enough to make me goofy, and five just gives me a stoopid hangover, so I stick to booze (mostly beers) - where I know my limits. I understand that marijuana is supposedly less harmful to you than alcohol - my problem with pot is that I associate it with hippies; and not only am I someone who likes to shower every day, I canít stand the Grateful Dead, and sandals hurt my feet. So Iíve never even toked or inhaled or anything.

One time I was sitting with a bunch of my buds at this big table in Whiteyís, (another East Grand Forks bar, same era as the above tale) and it was the beginning of the last semester most of us would be spending at UND. The drinks were flowing (big surprise) and some of the dudes starting talking about getting a twenty-five dollar bag of pot to kick off the semester. Except they were calling it a "quarter" - i.e. "we should get a quarter for the semester." I looked over at my pal Gary sitting next to me, and he was reaching into his pocket for a quarter coin. I grabbed a quarter from my pocket also. We put them on the table. No one thought it was too funny. Gary later told me that he thought they were actually looking for change. I stuck to Schmidt and Strohís buzzes that semester and got crummy grades anyway.

Years later at my Real Job, we all had to go piss in cups as part of the companyís drug policy. I remember drinking tons of water that morning, as performing on cue was bound to give me stage fright. (Bizzare quasi-related note: at Gamble Hall at UND in the menís room, someone cruelly wrote "Címon - You can do it!" at eye level above one of the urinals.) During the presentation explaining why we had to piss in cups, our safety director stared at me in suspicion most of the time. Despite the oppression, I dared asked questions about the companyís drug-testing policy. A few months later, somebody in the office asked me if I knew where to score some weed - apparently the market was tough at the time or something, and he thought I might have some connections. I donít know - maybe because I listened to "weird" (i.e. new) music it was taken for granted that I was a druggie. Cool!

part two: less talk, more rock

one of those things I write where I say how much I enjoy something - despite writing this and other such pieces; I will continue to be called a sarcastic, cynical, negative, anti-everything cheap-shot artist.

So Iím guessing maybe youíre with me in hoping that the whole cover-song-as-joke thing has run its course. While covers should be fun (unless theyíre moving or jaw-dropping or all of the above), it seems too many times these days artists are trying to make the cover funny, instead of fun, and the whole nod-nod-wink-wink-Iím-sending-up-this-song-get-it? shtick just isnít amusing me much any more.

I received a refreshing antidote to the whole cover-as-camp sickness via mail-order a few weeks ago. Itís Marquee Mark, a live covers album by the Crust Brothers, which is Silkworm with Stephen Malkmus from Pavement joining them. Recorded in a club in Seattle in late 1997 during an environmental organization benefit; the album is sloppy, inspired, and too much damn fun.

The first six songs are versions of tracks from Bob Dylan and the Bandís The Basement Tapes, music which isnít exactly well-known. How can you goof on a song that most people arenít familiar with? Itís damn difficult. You canít without trying way too hard, plus you have to hope your audience would get the joke. Instead, the Crust Brothers recreate the songs not as jokes, but simply as songs. They reassemble a portion of The Basement Tapes in their own image: drunken, slightly off-kilter, but not a goof - a party with a purpose. (Kinda like the originals.) They live up to the legacy of these songs by doing them live, they sound as if they just learned the songs the previous weekend -entirely possible, given some of the between-song banter. The way the vocalists hit the yeeeaaaahhhs in the opening "Goiní to Acapulco;" the spooky way the band hammers home "Yazoo Street Scandal;" and the glee with which they report on the "Million Dollar Bash" - are all affirmations of rock Ďní roll itself. It sure is a welcome sound, and beats the hell out of hearing something as dry as yet another cover of the Split Enzí emotionless "I Got You," which I had the misfortune of hearing twice by different local heroes in First Avenueís mainroom in 1998.

By the time the Crust Brothers move on to Marvin Gayeís "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," theyíre in control and Malkmus sings that chestnut dead-on, his goof-on-it vocal tendencies gone. Iíd almost argue they reclaim the song from that damn raisins commercial - the one that kicked off the vast plundering of the rock Ďní soul canon for television commercials just over a decade ago - if I wasnít convinced that the power of the song has already outlasted some ad agencyís lame attempt to be cute.

The last part of the album is Byrds, Stones and Skynyrd, then thereís a return to The Basement Tapes with a ragged, rapid-fire "Please, Mrs. Henry." The song ends, thank-yous are said, then instead of the deafening roar of a stadium or theater crowd, you hear the buzzed, eerie conversing of clubgoers as they wander out of the room. The album is over, and generally I reach for another cold one and hit the repeat button, thankful someone still likes to treat rock Ďní roll as rock Ďní roll, and not some inside joke for bored cynics. Too much irony in my diet gives me a headache these days anyway.

so hereís a space-filling top five list - my five most underrated rockers of all time

5. Lynyrd Skynyrd - The best band of the seventies. Is that possible? Skynyrd was from the South, not the East Coast or Britain. Then again - rock Ďní roll was invented in the South, so it follows that in essence ALL rock is in part Southern Rock, right?

4. Black Sabbath - The true godfathers of grunge AND wiser, older uncles of Metallica. I almost always listen to the We Sold Our Soul for Rock Ďní Roll anthology after tracking Big Starís #1 Record / Radio City twofer, kind of like how you crave a Pabst after having a too-sweet microbrew.

3. Van Halen (David Lee Roth era 1978-84) - Diamond Dave himself summed it up best when he said something to the effect of how rock critics prefer Elvis Costello because rock critics look like Elvis Costello. Donít know much about Elvis Costello - I donít have any of his albums and could probably only name maybe three of his songs. (Wasnít he partially responsible for "My Brave Face"? Fuck!) I do, however, have all of the Roth-era VH albums except Diver Down, so on Van Halen I can speak. They were considered evil for being metal (and for having a brilliant metal guitarist who pulled off amazing concise solos between the best uses of the powerchord since early Who) in an era that was bookended by crummy, passion-less, skinny-tie new wave bands on one end and tepid, obligatory We Are the Live World Aid sentiments on the other end. They had smart fast-and-catchy short songs that easily outhooked the hey-weíre-dumb ones by the Ramones. Their "DOA" sounded a lot like the Stooges. They were savvy enough to do a Motown song, cover the Kinks twice, and also cover roots artists like blues great Elmore James and obscure country artist Emmett Miller.* They touched on rumba beats ("Jamieís Cryiní") and reggae ones ("Push Comes to Shove"), then for their great finale they broke the dance barrier ("Jump.") The "problem" I guess with Van Halen is that they dared have fun. And Diamond Dave wasnít afraid to be the buffoon while inviting all of us to the party. Van Halen was a backyard-barbecue band for the ages; who do you think Jeff Spicoli hired for his birthday bash ... the annoying and overrated Talking Heads?

2. Fifties Rockers - Classic rock radio stationsí playlists all start in whatever year it was that the Beatles broke in America. And as the boomers get older, you donít even hear Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis on oldies radio these days. The result is that fifties rock Ďní roll is becoming as mysterious and foreboding as old blues or Hank Williams. Anyone who thinks that all fifties rock Ďní roll is about sock hops or grabbing a milkshake down at Arnoldís needs to listen to Little Richard, Gene Vincent, The Killer (not even Marilyn Manson could get away with having that nickname these days,) or a host of other madmen who invented or shaped early rock Ďní roll. Sixties rock may have been Art, but fifties rock Ďní roll was sheer chaos. Wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom.

1. Jimi Hendrix - Hendrix underrated? Yes - just think if he had been white and British, try to imagine the accolades, and youíll know what Iím talking about.

* Millerís discs, wrote Nick Tosches, were among the rarest of records. How did David Lee Roth happen upon Millerís "Big Bad Bill (is Sweet William Now)?" The story is repeated about how the Rolling Stones learned "Love in Vain" from a Robert Johnson bootleg - could it be that Roth was every bit the musical archivist as other, more hailed artists; but his big sin was having a flair for the vaudevillian?

part three: I woke up in a great mood and I don't know what the hell happened

the demise of a coffee achiever

So I recently started this two-month accounting assignment down at Rilly Big University, and I was all excited to go work down there. My office is in the student union, and for some reason I thought that thereíd be rock bands playing in front of the union at lunch every day. And the sights, oh boy the sights. I kept thinking it was going to be like when Playboy has "Girls of the Big Ten," and now that itís spring thereíd be all kinds of five-foot-three-one-hundred-five-pound blonde lovelies walking around in high heels, cutoffs, and jerseys that would be cut halfway to show their belly buttons. Theyíd be washing cars and having water fights and all other sorts of giggly fun. Then theyíd come upstairs after lunch and be file clerks in the office, taking breaks to give me neck rubs and ask me about my life as a zinester.

But no - soft porn has ruined my life. The girls dress like kids should, and they all look like theyíre about fourteen. Meanwhile, Iím dressed in the lame fashion statement that is Business Casual, meaning that while Iíd look okay out on some stuck-up peopleís golf course; at Rilly Big U I look uptight, overdressed, and old compared to the cool kids everywhere. Then to top it off, thereís no Diet Mountain Dew to be found anywhere, and there isnít free coffee in the office. What can a poor boy do with such a shortage of caffeine? Get cranky and tired and write about his pathetic fantasies, I guess.

i donít need Eur civil war

Funny how we were unable to escape the Twentieth Century without getting involved in another war in Europe. Funny how tribal conflicts in Europe become American problems. Funny how the Serbs were defeated by the Turks in a battle in Kosovo about four hundred years before the United States was even a country and funny how that conflict has circled on ever since. Funny how World War I started with an assassination carried out by a Serb on the anniversary of the 1389 Kosovo battle. Funny how Albanians are referred to as Muslims, yet Serbs are rarely referred to as Christians. Funny how every two-bit thug dictator these days gets labeled as a Hitler. Funny how liberal boomers support war now that theyíre decades past the age where they have to physically fight a war, and funny that war is okay with them as long as itís a Democrat that is heading up the slaughter. Funny how a president who dodged the draft can send others into battle. Funny how we have managed to piss off both Russia and China and not start World War III. Funny how no one has yet blamed Slobodan Milosevicís bloodthirst on Marilyn Manson or Oliver Stone. Funny how portrayed violence in art is bad, yet real violence waged on Yugoslavs is good. Funny how the president wants no one under the age of twenty-one to buy a gun in the United States, but itís apparently okay with him to be an eighteen-year-old soldier going to Europe to solve Europeís problem. Funny how NATO is bombing Yugoslavia, yet Yugoslavia is nowhere near the North Atlantic. Funny how spending tax money to help poor Americans is wrong, yet spending tax money to bomb some Europeans in order to ostensibly help some other Europeans is right. Funny how George Washington once said "it is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

Funny how I havenít written my congressman or senators yet. Funny.


Everything written by me, except where noted.

I wouldnít have known about The Crust Brothers album without a column written by Greil Marcus earlier this year in Addicted to Noise. He also wrote Invisible Republic, the definitive book on The Basement Tapes.

Reading Chuck Eddyís stuff has given me valuable Van Halen insights. Thanks to Joel McElhany (who quoted David Lee Roth to me) for Van Halen backyard barbecue line.

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Bill Tuomala
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