uncle ray's essay
on "la busta gialla"

the debut album from
il sogno del marinaio


"When I was a kid, I used to imagine animals running under my bed. I told my dad and he solved the problem quickly. He cut the legs off." -Lou Brock

"All I am is a guy with one talent, working my ass off to get better all the time." -Cal Ripkin, Jr.

   Nobody is in the kitchen when I get there, making Hell's Kitchen stew in honor of this Italian-themed throwdown I've promised. It is New Year's Eve, but somehow it always is over here. She is a pixie with titty-dancer proportions (and past), as I've mentioned elsewhere. She is wearing a modest pink calico peasant dress, red cowboy boots, and for inexplicable reasons one of those Arkansas Razorback Mascot Head hats for headgear. She has a radio, an ipod and a CD player going in 3-way opposition, she says to neutralize her boyfriend, Bullshit-- we know this isn't possible but Nobody's glass is always half full. For his part, Bullshit looks like a rode hard & put away wet skinny concave-chested meltdown on the dole, with enough Medicaid 'scripts to knock a platoon of Republican columnists to their knees at fifty yards. Life is great. They are always up for new watt & company and I trust them-- look, the thing is this: you make something and you put it out there and you have no idea how somebody else is gonna take it or what they're gonna do with it or what it ultimately means to them-- the secret heiyroglyphics it sets off in their DNA and ultimately causes them to act out-- case in point: think of the last time you went to see some band you really dug and there was some obvious ass-gasket cluttering up the proceedings and against all odds they weren't there by accident. One guy seeds clouds to make it rain and feed people, somebody else seeds clouds to make it easier to rain war on people. And so on. So we got watt with some Italian brothers on guitar and drums and some further augmentation on some of these eight soundscapes with synth, tenor & alto sax, trumpet, even a glockenspiel. Hell's Kitchen stew for the ears. I'm even hearing maybe some steel drums bein' whopped up, some vocalization and some spiels, in both 'merican & Italian. Nobody cuts the other two signals and fires up the CD. She calls watt Dances With Buffalo Squared, which she thinks is funny. We can't stop her.

NOBODY: "The Sailor's Dream," eh? I have bad memories of San Diego. Probably my fault.

ME: Can we listen to the damn thing? You are wearing a pig on your head. I like this; Stefano can throw down some nice, I dunno, squall-- and watt has writ some more melodic, infectious riffs to drift through your brain & soul & dreams--

BULLSHIT: Hell yes. Given the right meds and beverages, I can springboard, with this as righteous accompaniment, to any damn where in my past or possibly future. Check this out, I roadied for these cats called Alien Palindrome, and they had this cat from the sticks outside Baton Rouge named Norvon Terwilliger, a Hammond B-3 monster and an obsessive tinkerer. He was a journeyman machinist at his day job and kept helicopters running for the oil companies. Every time you went to the practice pad he had shit taken apart all over the place-- those cats who reconstruct airline disasters had nothing on NT. Over the years he'd appropriated enough machinery that he could have opened his own shop. He had two extra B-3s he used for spare parts and what assholes these days would probably call black ops. He spoke about four words a week on average, but when he was in the middle of something fiendish he was absolutely mute. For months and months he'd hang at the practice pad after everybody else went home and dink and dink with the Leslie speakers-- he built a circular aerodynamic deck, a 360 degree wing, and affixed it to the B-3 body and mounted it above him, you dig? On top he mounted sets of oversize Leslie upper horn rotors, and controlled them with the drawbars and the volume pedal. He floated the rest of the cabinets in a circular deck under him; he sat in the middle and jammed. He figured the louder and faster he jammed the better he flew.

NOBODY: Oh, fuck me--

BULLSHIT: I'm talkin', here-- obviously, it took some doing before he worked out all the kinks. I mean, it was imperative he go wireless, which took some doing; imagine running your bass boat off an electric outboard tethered to the dock by an extension cord. It would kinda cramp your fishing style, not to mention your range. And I don't have to tell you you wanna have all the bugs worked out before you jam yourself outta signal range and wind up on the long end of gravity and the short end of mercy.

NOBODY: Oh my gosh, so if I may interject here-- I mean, these beerjoints you assholes played were just perfect for a guy with an organ that flew like a helicopter when he played it. And poor old Pink Floyd had to settle for a rubber pig balloon. Obviously a vision deficiency on their part.

BULLSHIT: There is no shortage of meanness in this house. Whatever happened to two people forming a partnership and sharing a common burden?

NOBODY: You mean like us listening to you?

BULLSHIT: I will not rise to your tainted bait. Their practice pad was in a three-space warehouse where a lobster fisherman stored his traps on one side and the dirtbag landlord's brother squatted illegally on the other side and alternated between cooking meth and recycling hot shopping carts. They took the space over in May, which does not have an R in it, nor does June or July or August. The first of September the lobster cat shows up and baits the traps with the very deadest of dead fish; a kind of rinse/repeat process, they realize. The stench is so bad you can hear it. Musicians being good at impromptu math, they count eight Rs total till the next May rolls around. Well, the rent was cheap-- but that's not the problem. Even the landlord's dirtbag brother isn't much of a problem, but, surprise-- the landlord is. He is going through the ugliest of divorces and has decided to go off the grid as much as possible; to that end he establishes a rhythm method of squatting with the speedfreak brother; when crankhead is out pedaling a new batch the landlord takes over the space and is utterly dismayed to discover that a band makes noise. Negotiations ensue and a testy truce is hammered out-- he knocks off some of the rent and they roll with knocking off arbitrarily when he is there and his Kotex is chafing him. To add to the hostilities, landlord is a bit of a racist (surprise!) and one night he sticks his nose where it doesn't belong and catches (which really isn't the proper term, y'know) Norvon working on his B-Thopter, as he called it. Pleasantries ensue, and the next day yet another wobbly truce is hammered out by the unlikely alliance of the crankhead brother and the vanilla members of Alien Palindrome. The lobster cat even shows up and sends everybody home with some of those pacifist west coast clawless lobsters. Crisis averted. We thought. None of us sees landlord for a couple weeks, or forever in musician time, then one night in the middle of a feverish practice he comes roaring in with a snootful and heads straight to the fusebox on the wall and croaks everything at the source. He points at the guitar player and says "You listen to me motherfuc--" at which point Norvon and his rig flatten him; it was like he just wasn't there anymore. Norvon got away with a fractured ankle, which was a miracle. They'd been doing a wailin' version of Stormy Monday, the way Lee Michaels did it.

NOBODY: I'm kickin' your ass.

   Actually, at this point she walked to the butcher block in the center of the kitchen and extracted a blunderbuss she keeps affixed to the knife rack-- Bullshit bought her this as a joke; when they first met she always claimed he looked like somebody had filled a blunderbuss with Crisco and let him have it up close. He has since practiced better hygiene. Love. She waves it at Bullshit and shakes her head.

ME: This is my fault, isn't it? Because I said every song tells a story.

BULLSHIT: Damn straight. And respect to these guys for settin' 'em off. If an album set off the same images in everybody's head, you'd have the Hartz Mountain Parakeet Training Record. Or something worse. What happened to your interns?

ME: Can we fuckin' listen to this? What's this, 'The Tiger Princess'? watt's getting attacked, maybe by his cat-- he falls from a tree. I dig this progression of patterns; benevolent sleepwalk, happy ending...

BULLSHIT: Jesus, your interns, Uncle Ray. How do you lose interns in a treehouse fire?

ME: Oh, boy. Focus. I had interns and they worked for free and they lived in a treehouse in the backyard; it isn't really my backyard-- there's two houses on this property and the other one is called a clubhouse by the bikers who live there, which always makes me think of a children's television show and drives them crazy when I point this out-- we kind of share the tree, and as these cats, my interns, could never commit to joining anything, including, I guess, an actual friendship with me, let alone generic bikers with a mishmash of credos and philosophies, all parties just kind of accepted the idea of two goners erecting the goddamndest treehouse in a region with a climate auto manufacturers call extreme. It was fun to watch and we all pitched in and loaned them whatever we could. They were these two goners I once met on a Trailways bus decades ago I named Positive-Positive and Negative-Negative, after the way you hook up jumper cables. They always had car trouble and Positive-Positive, the mostly submissive half of this friendship, could never remember that the negative was always grounded to the block; this is back when you could open the hood and see things and actually do things-- I guess you still can. I know you can patch your laptop in now and really get creative as well as deadly in a heartbeat-- anyway, Negative-Negative was always yelling that at Positive-Positive so it stuck; I figured it should be his name and that they might as well be a matching set. Oppner. Positive-Positive's real name was Oppner-something so he didn't mind too much. Negative-Negative's real name was Keenie, I shit you not. He once tried to menace me when I found out. He insisted it was Ken, but I looked at his POW bracelet that some guy gave back to him years later when he made it home-- the guy had worn it for years-- I can imagine the scene when the guy thanks Keenie for his service and his unimaginable suffering and how he'd been looking forward to this day, only to be menaced for his trouble and informed he'd been wearing a typo made by hippie do-gooders who no doubt moved on to pet rocks as their next undertaking. Let's face it, he was a surly bastard. So, yeah, up into the treehouse goes the Belgian waffle iron-- the whole shebang always reminded me of something a biker couple would build if bikers were naturally a tree-dwelling species and they were about to raise a brood-- or pod, or klotch, or whatever it would be-- maybe a horde. Anyway, they had some fun up there with an accordian and a colorful array of extension cords, but you don't cook with an accordian, at least not literally, and something along the lines of what happened when the 0-ring on that space shuttle blew out happened when the 900 watt dual Belgian waffle iron got too close to a fuel oil heater and some vintage flammable Richard Pryor shirts. I was always dubious about the maunfacturer's label on the waffler that said "leave on all day for quick use." At least Ronald Reagan wasn't standing on my porch smiling like a dingbat while he watched some unfortunate souls go to their reward. Is there a chance in hell we can listen to this?

NOBODY: What's this, 'Messed-Up Machine'? That's a nice little insistent bass figure that's gonna stick in my head until the shooters start shooting at midnight.

BULLSHIT: And roger whatever you said about the guitar player overall; he's handin' out some ass-whippin's here. Hey, we maybe shoulda done a blindfold test.

NOBODY: Christ on stilts. Let me know when you're gonna cross the street-- I'll get the blindfold. Which reminds me, I need a medium-ass onion, about the size of a tennis ball. Go.

BULLSHIT: I wrote for this music magazine once and they went out of business.

ME: Me, too! Every one! Every time!

BULLSHIT: So ok, this music magazine discontinues the blindfold test after a certain musician causes the death of a journalist after he turns the tables on him and blindfolds him-- I mean, not thinking this thing all the way through, you know? It had apparently been a pissy and contentious interview, and the writer points out the musician promised he'd hold still for the blindfold test so he says he'll give it a go, and sure as fuck the writer starts playing him some really, really annoying shit, which offends the musician deeply-- he said later it was a very deliberate tweaking-- it was either shit so obscure no one much beyond the persons who made it had ever heard of it, or it was stuff the writer knew the musician had a personal connection to of a negative nature-- so when he had enough the musician suggests they switch places. The writer, being a writer, doesn't think things through as I said and agrees. The musician pulls out his ipod, thumbs up something about twenty minutes long and the writer hollers out what it is immediately, really pleased with himself, and starts to windbag about it. Now the musician's just had it-- he digs up something for him about a half hour long and when he knows what it is too, the musician insists it isn't, that it's somebody you'd never dream of who has just released a massive collection of covers so faithful that even the original artists upon hearing it insist it's them and not this artist. He challenges the writer to stop being such a damn know-it-all and hang in there and try to identify who this is, and by the way he must duck out to the pharmacy down the block and pick up his prescription before they close. At which point he marches to a male homosexual massage parlor and pays two rough trade Mazola wrasslers several hundred dollars to indulge his blindfolded boyfriend back at the office on his birthday; it's this little fantasy thing they do every year-- he'll resist like hell at first, he tells them, but that's part of the kink-- "just roll with it and show him who's boss! I'll be right behind you! With more money!"

ME: Focus? Huh?

NOBODY: Never mind about the medium-ass onion, got one. Look what I found here in my recipe book, right where it should be: (from Mark Tinney, tour director) "In Europe, heaven is where the policemen are British, the mechanics are German, the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, and everything is organized by the Swiss. And hell is where the cooks are British, the policemen are German, the lovers are Swiss, the mechanics are French, and everything is organized by the Italians."

BULLSHIT: Har! That there is settin' off some setoff. See what these guys done!

   At this point it's midnight or close enough and every gun-nazi in the neighborhood busts off in a frenzy, even though they've been told not to for, oh, a lifetime. Nobody eases down the top of the storm window, rests the blunderbuss on it and lets one off-- no Crisco, just streamers and confetti of pure love.

Hell's Kitchen Stew:

1 lb ground round steak (aka "hamburger")
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small green pepper chopped
1 medium-ass onion (about the size of a tennis ball) chopped fine
1 minced clove garlic (or two. Go crazy.)
(about) 28 oz canned tomatoes
1 cup uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

   Make in large skillet. Heat oil & then brown & break up meat, stir in green pepper, onion, garlic, tomatoes, and macaroni. Add salt & pepper. Stir to blend. Cover. Simmer 20 min. until macaroni is just tender. Stir occasionally. Then stir in cheese, heat thru, serve.

-Uncle Ray                                    

this page created 22 jan 13