Sofrito | Fred Arroyo
Sleeping In | Micah Bateman
On The Road Again | Tyson Blanquart
Kohlrabi | Rebecca Bodicky
Chili-Mac | Michael Castro
Breakfast with the New Madrid | Ian Dorward
Delicious | Hilary Hitchcock
Transmigrated Duck Heart | Thom Fletcher
Improvising | John Garcia
Lines in the Van, Lines in the Sand | Chris King
Hermetic Rice | K. Curtis Lyle
Don't Forget About Your Veggies | s.c. truckey
Mastication | Brett Underwood
Tables | Justin Visnesky
Lines in the Van, Lines in the Sand | by Chris King
Wash. U. was often said (somewhat dubiously) to be
the Harvard of the Midwest. The Cabaret Metro really was
the Harvard of the Midwest, in musical showcase terms.
It was the CBGB of the Heartland, the Apollo Theater of
post-punk west of the Mississippi. For our first road
gig, we were booked into the Cabaret Metro. It was a Wednesday
in January – a slow night during a slow month – but,
still, it was an event and received as such. The old
Cicero’s scene rose to the occasion. Benny the bookie,
Marla the dirty blonde barmaid, the spoonsman Fred
Friction, and our corner man Thomas Crone all piled into
cars and followed us five hours north on Interstate 55,
right through the empty corn country where so many
Enormous Richard songs were born to my whistles in the
Those five hours in a rental van formed the longest stretch the
six of us in the band had ever spent in the same place at the same
time. We didn't particularly belong in the same place at the same
time. We weren't a buddy band. Joe and I, as graduate students,
didn't have time for a social life outside of the gigs. Skoob, a
chemist from a steel mill town, had little in common with Karl, a
hippie from a Southern Missouri cover band, who had little in common
with Chris Bess, a pizza-flipping prankster from barren North
County, who had little in common with Matt, a quiet enthusiast of
alternative comics from leafy Minneapolis. We didn't even have music
in common. When Matt, who held a jambox on his lap, pushed play
during that drive, it was the first time half our band heard Meat
A line in the van was quietly drawn in the form of pot smoke.
Joe, Karl and I were active dope smokers at the time. Skoob took the
occasional toke. And Matt and Chris had to take an involuntary crash
course in pothead culture.
Among other drawbacks, smoking pot turns your saliva into a resin
slurry. Our technical term for this substance was “gack.” The same
word also became our nickname for junk food. In mysterious,
marijuana-gnarled logic, we believed in fighting gack with gack.
This made the following a plausible exchange during that drive to
Pothead #1: “Are you gacking?"
Pothead #2 (swallowing resin slurry): “Gacking bad.”
Pothead #1 (to driver): “Hey, pull over at the next gas station.
We need some gack.”
Then, after a junk food shopping spree, there would be a
Halloweenesque episode as everyone displayed their gack selections.
Traditional favorites such as Slim Jims, Funyuns, and Reeses Peanut
Butter Cups would be briefly modeled before the group. As wrappers
and crumbs descended to seatbacks and floor, piquant factory snack
smells joined the odor of cannabis lingering in the van.
In addition to gagmen and accordion lore, hot dog cuisine turned
out to be another of Chris Bess' research specialties. Everyone in
that van was a little star-struck with our first road show, but
Chris had the enormous added incentive of visiting one of the
spiritual homes of the hot dog. Scattered into his non-stop patter
during that drive was a detailed history of every hot dog style and
where to find its equivalent in Chicago. Thus, our first stop in the
Windy City was not the Metro, but Demon Dogs, a hot dog stand where
Chris held court in the cold as we all inhaled gack with mustard and
onions. In subsequent years, life has continued to align me with hot
dog gourmands. I have been handed many of those mysterious pork
products cradled in a bun (at Dodger Stadium, Coney Island, food
shacks all over) and been laboriously prepared for a sacral
experience. I continue to nod and grunt and think this tastes like
another fucking hot dog.
More pothead logic: if you have been smoking joints all day, and
just squashed your munchies with a trio of hot dogs, that means it’s
time to get stoned again! We were doing just that in the van parked
outside the Metro, when a tough-looking little man in shorts and
combat boots rapped on the window. “Get out of there!” he screamed.
“Do that inside the club!” Rock and roll is here to stay, come
inside where it’s OK …
The tough little blonde tattooed man in combat boots was Fred,
co-owner of the Cabaret Metro. He introduced us to our personal
dressing room (a first), took our beer order (by the case), and
offered to take our narcotics order (another first). Then Fred
showed us the first stage on which we would set foot that could
actually foster rock star self-image confusions. A bona fide big
rock show sound check followed. We had played more gigs without
monitors to project our sound back to us than we had played with
them. We were accustomed to singing deaf, painting blind, writing
with invisible ink. At the Metro, there was a sound man with no task
other than making sure we were happy with our monitor mix. The
influx of rock star fantasy was nearly powerful enough to make us
reconsider that narcotics order we had declined.
One of our mates on the bill seemed to be seasoned veterans of
rock star fantasy, and perhaps of narcotics orders. What one
noticed, first, was the hair. There was an awful lot of it. It was
standing and sticking out in ways more native to palm trees and
cacti than the human follicle. All of our gear piled on top of
itself would not have covered the square footage of their drum kit,
which, when assembled onstage, assumed the character of monkey bars.
Their name, improbably, was Imagine World Peace. We could think of
them only as Imagine Big Hair.
Our home for the night was the apartment of Benny’s brother,
within walking distance of the Metro by way of Wrigley Field. We had
an hour of downtime after sound check, and decided to go get settled
in there. As we were walking past Wrigley Field, admiring that old
ivy-clad beauty of a ballpark, flushed with big gig butterflies, a
car swerved uncomfortably close.
Someone rolled down a window and yelled, “We’re at war!”
A tiny television set in the apartment confirmed this disturbing
news. We were at war. We gloomily watched George Bush’s fireworks
over Baghdad. The incineration of an ancient city. The assassination
of a rock and roll fantasy. Imagine World Peace.
We kicked off our set at the Metro with “I’m Not Religious”. It's a scorcher that ends with a litany of improvised denials of religiosity: “I’m not a Mormon, I’m not a Baptist, I’m not a Buddhist,” and so on. To which I added, that night at the Metro, “I’m not bombing Baghdad, I’m not a war monger.” And so it was that a song with its roots in Skoob jumping up and down outside of a bar, singing “Hare Krishna!" at the top of his lungs, and including lines like
I don’t stop you at the airport on the way to the can
Don’t stop you on the street, stick a pamphlet in your hand
I don’t stop eating meat and give away everything
I do none of that stuff — but I sure do like to sing!
Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna! Hare Krishna!
became the very first protest song against Operation Desert Storm.
Excerpt from Chris King's unpublished memoir, And Let Him Ply His Music: Adventures in Post-Punk and Amateur Folklore. Chris is a writer, editor, musician, producer and director. You can befriend him at MySpace.com/stlchrisking