Musings on Rock and Roll
by Ken Shimamoto





Posted May 27, 2002


Being unemployed blows.

The thing that sucks the most is feeling isolated from other people. Most everyone I know works, so aside from e-mail, the only daily contact I have is with my cats. I'm starting to notice things like the subtle difference between their meows. I think I need to get out of the house more.
It's not a great time to be looking for work here. They say the economy is turning around, but not enough yet to create any new jobs. I talked to my old boss (not the one who fired me) a coupla weekends ago and she told me that she was just out of work for seven months. One of the jobs she applied for had THREE HUNDRED applicants. Feh.

I don't really have any regrets, but I do realize that if I had just kissed a little more ass, I wouldn't be in this position now. I remember my old man asking me when I got out of the service, "Are you going to stop fighting city hall now?" Sure, I said. I didn't know what was coming. It turns out the creeping sense of dread I had for months was foreboding, not paranoia. The thing that bums me out the most about the whole deal (besides the obvious - insecurity about the future) was the fact that I had a good reputation at my old job that I worked hard for a long time to build. Now it's toast.

I'm hoping my old company doesn't try to screw me out of unemployment. An old Air Force bud has offered me part-time clerical work with his investigative service to make up some of the difference between what unemployment pays and what I need to make expenses (house note, car note, car insurance which is three times what it used to be since I bought the car, child support, medical insurance, etc.). Bless him.

The rhythm at home is a little different, but there are just as many things to do. There's not enough job search action to keep you busy more than a couple of hours a day. (Hint to jobseekers: If you use online resumes, update them every week, late Sunday or early Monday, so you'll come up near the top when employers search the listings Monday morning. I got that from a headhunter I talked to.) I've been doing some freelance stuff (non-paying type), woodshedding with bandmembers, reading, watching movies. Mowing the grass, doing laundry and dishes, trying to get rid of some termites that I can't afford to get the expensive professional services to treat for. Not writing much, or listening to much music. Started smoking these little cigars that are made from pipe tobacco and smell real good. I figure I'll quit again when I have something else to occupy my time. The other night I went out to a local brewpub and got IGN'ANT with a guy I used to work with. Spent way too much money. Yesterday I took a bunch of promos to CD Warehouse. Got $12 for seven discs.

I blew off the debut Dallas performance of my friend Jimmy from Houston's band Gun Crazy (which was headlined by Dave Bone's Troublemakers, and Bone is maybe the best thing about the current incarnation of the Sons of Hercules) because of my daughter's wedding, and I also missed a show by the Bluesberries, a new Fort Worth band fronted by Buddy Miles (the ex-Hendrix drummer, convicted felon and California Raisin who now lives here; I stood in line behind him once at Pep Boys one of the times when I was there getting my old car fixed!) and featuring Rocky Athas, who played guitar in a band called Lightning back when I first came to Texas ca. '78 and more recently has been in Black Oak Arkansas (yeah, they're still together).

I did, however, catch a show by ex-Nervebreaker Mike Haskins' new instrumental band, the Big Guns at the Cavern on Lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas: three sets of instrumental rock. Underneath the punk exterior, Mike was always a finesse guy at heart, and he proves it with his new aggro. Immediately recognizable as "the one with the hair" (since both guitarist Dan McCreary and bassist Russell Hayslip sport shaved domes), playing a Godin guitar (Mike reps for them now) through a Fender amp with a pretty extensive pedalboard (including a wah, a TS-9, and a Rat; no "idiomatically correct" retro surf fetish here), Mike employs an ultra-clean touch and attack to wring a variety of sounds (harmonics, feedback) from his axes on tunes from his self-released CD like "The Mod Squad" (remember the sixties TV series?), the Knickerbockers' "Lies," the Yardbirds' "For Your Love," "Music To Watch Girls By" (wasn't that in a TV commercial for something or other?), even "Caravan" (with a no-shit drum solo by Devin Gibson). The net effect is more Jeff Beck than Davie Allen. Mike introduces "Pipeline" as "a Johnny Thunders tune," and the Big Guns play an epic version of "Peter Gunn," as well as both "Rumble" AND "Rawhide" (my own personal fave Link Wray toon, which gets mixed up with the Surfaris' "Wipeout" in the Big Guns' treatment). Fun and worthwhile.

The weekend before I had to fly up north to help my folks move house from New York to New Jersey, I got an e-mail from a guy I'd played with once before, offering me a slot in a band that was going to try and get gigs opening for these two, uh, Beatle tribute bands. Being at loose ends and somewhat desperate, I agreed. The next week, we met with the bandleader, a guy with some history in Fort Worth rock'n'roll who also turned out to be the father of one of my daughter's friends. The concept was wack, though: he wanted us to learn the entire repertoire of this defunct Brit band that "sounded just like the Beatles," which nobody around here ever heard and could be passed off as original. He said he had a promoter sold on the concept, with gigs to follow. It seemed a little dishonest to me, and reminded me of the band I saw open for Johnny Winter back in '75, doing a complete set of Wishbone Ash covers which the college sheep audience thought were 'riginals. Evidently the original guitarist from the project (a bass-playing bandleader who's been holding down one the Thursday night jam at one of the local blues dumps FOREVER) got cold feet at the last minute (or had too much self-respect to do it). I took home his CDs and started learning the material, but it rapidly became obvious to me that I wasn't gonna be able to do the gig...I got skin-crawly things happening every time I played the discs. I've just never been a Merseybeat fan; I hate the precious vocals and constipated guitar sounds. It's no accident we usedta call that song by Gerry & the Pacemakers "FAIRIES Across the Mersey." I'll do stuff I hate to make a living, but I can't bear the thought of having to play music I think suxxx. And fucked if I'm going to stand onstage in front of a British flag! I chumped out.

I've been watching a lot more TV than I usually would lately, including some cool rockvid. John Marvin in Chicago sent me a great tape with some Johnny Winter ca. '83 (boy I wish I coulda had something like this back when I was trying to learn "Mean Town Blues" off "Johnny Winter And Live" back in high school days) and Mitch Ryder's classic '79 performance from the German "Rockpalast" TV show. Thanks, John! That vid and the knowledge that Robert Gillespie is in Mitch's current band make me REALLY regret having passed on a chance to see Mitch at some spring festival down here a coupla years back. Another video find: the end bit from a '70 PBS documentary on Maryland guitar legend Roy Buchanan (RIP) when then-16-year-old Nils Lofgren comes out and burns Buchanan to death on a version of Junior Walker's "Shotgun," which was the reason why I picked up guitar and why "Shotgun" was the first song I ever "learned" (it's only got one chord). This thing was even better than I remembered it being - Lofgren plays with a thumbpick (just like my early idol/mentor Michael Rudden, RIP) and just flat BURNS for ten minutes or something. A marvelously extroverted and aggressive performance. Geoff Ginsberg, who dubbed me the tape, also had the decency to include a boss mid-seventies Lofgren performance from "The Old Grey Whistle Test" and the classic Black Oak Arkansas appearance from Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, where drummer Tommy Aldrich plays the most incredible solo (including the bit where he plays WITH HIS HANDS) and the two lead guitarists smash their semihollow Gibsons together at the end of the set. Awesome stuff.

Barfly Clark Paull up in the Detroit 'burbs has been keeping me supplied with a steady stream of taped wonderment by the likes of the 'oo, Steve Wynn, the Replacements, and the Clash, as well as numerous and sundry Detroit worthies. No way can I ever repay blah blah blah, so I'll just say, "Thanks, Clark!" Now I need a nice long road trip so I can have a chance to listen to all of this stuff. Might have to wait till Labor Day weekend, when Italo-American Crown Prince of Scandi Rock Mike Lavella is hosting a Gearhead party down in Austin that sounds like it might be worth the trip. Hopefully by then I'll have found a job, too. Film, as they say, at 11. - Ken Shimamoto