Showing posts with label Conor Oberst. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Conor Oberst. Show all posts

Friday, July 06, 2012

'The mask I polish in the evening,
by the morning looks like s***'

From Moscow on the Hudson, Omaha's Conor Oberst tries to
keep up with underprivileged New Orleans teenagers busking
on a French Quarter street corner. Metaphorically, at least.

The other night at TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha officially -- in my mind, at least -- exposed itself as too big for its britches.

Simultaneously -- again, at least in the mind of this 24-year Omaha transplant -- it exposed itself as the cow-town version of a "hill William." You know, a hillbilly with pretensions. That often happens when your own great PR goes to your head like straight double bourbons on your 21st birthday.

To be fair, though, Omaha was goaded into it. It was confronted with something that wasn't
A) Journey, B) Keith Urban or Kenny Chesney, C) Conor Oberst whining in the key of Z about how woebegone is his life to an audience of angst-filled emo navel gazers . . . for a six-figure paycheck.

I should have figured that when a band like Cowboy Mouth is slated to be the entertainment sandwiched in between the TD Ameritrade Home Run Derby and the start of the
Omaha World-Herald 's Fourth of July fireworks show, nothing good could come of it.

To begin with, who thinks a band that lives somewhere near the corner of Joe Strummer and Professor Longhair (just a short block from Lynyrd Skynyrd Avenue) will appeal to a general audience in a town that touts itself -- somehow -- as "the new Seattle" of the indie-rock world . . . but can't support one decent radio station? Where Saddle Creek -- the little record company that nearly made Omaha almost-famous -- can only get one act onto the playlist at the closest thing we have to an "alternative" FM station?

C'mon. This was an event where people willingly forked over $7 for really bad beer and enjoyed it. Where Journey droned over the PA system like a Dave Heineman press conference, and people sang along. Like Dave Heineman.

Because they like it . . . and him.

Where people itched for that grand moment in the fireworks show where the pyrotechnicians blow shit up to yet another "patriotic moment" of Lee Greenwood schmaltzing his way through "God Bless the U.S.A." And the crowd . . . goes . . . wild!

Because we're hip that way in the Big O. Er . . . I mean "O!"

After Cowboy Mouth's mistaken decision to willingly walk into such an ambush -- one where Journey- and Lee Greenwood-lovers booed and yelled "Nooooo!" when drummer-frontman Fred LeBlanc asked "Do you want us to play one more song?" then tweeted and Facebooked about how the band and the show "sucked it hard" -- the New Orleans quartet's only consolation (other than what one hopes was a big paycheck) had to have been "God Bless the U.S.A.'s" omission from the fireworks extravaganza.

I'LL GIVE the naysayers this: The audio mix for the miniconcert was awful . . . because nobody turned off the stadium PA system, which caused an unbearable echo. Presumably, Cowboy Mouth wasn't in charge of the speakers ringing the ballpark in addition to its own sound system in front of the center-field stage.

Presumably, that was an all-Omaha clusterf***.

Still, the ugliest audience this side of Bob's Country Bunker may have forgiven all if only Fred LeBlanc would have counted down into a stirring version of the Rawhide theme. Or maybe "Stand by Your Man."

But a rude audience and a disaster of a booking isn't what's pissing me off.

There's no accounting for taste, or cultural differences
(and on that account, Nebraska and Louisiana might as well be on different continents) . . . or even for what percentage of the booboisie ends up attending big events that feature bad beer and relatively cheap admission.

And fireworks.

To overuse an overused phrase just a little bit more --
it is what it is.

What pisses me off, for the record, is arrogance tag-teaming with invincible ignorance. What pisses me off is when someone, thinking he's stating a fact as obvious to all as "The sun rises in the east," says something that's instead as gobsmackingly arrogant as it is unspeakably stupid. Like a local newspaper acquaintance after the fireworks show announcing to all who could hear that Cowboy Mouth wasn't his "cup of tea," which is fair enough, but then that "there must be 1,000 bands in Omaha better than that."

You probably best know me as someone with a raging love-hate relationship with Louisiana, my native state. And as a Nebraska transplant who generally is thrilled to be one.

It may surprise you, on the other hand, to know that I'm someone who, more often than not, just keeps his mouth shut instead of interfering with a body's God-given right to make himself look like an idiot, an ass . . . or both.

IT USUALLY surprises me when -- and where -- my inner pissed-off, ready-to-kick-Yankee-butt coonass from Baton Rouge erupts with full force. And as a native Baton Rougean, it surprises me even more when it's in full-throated defense of New Orleans.

"A thousand Omaha bands better than Cowboy Mouth"? Really? Leaving issues of musical taste aside . . . really?

What I told the guy, rather loudly, was this: "I'll guarantee you that 999 of those Omaha bands aren't anywhere as good as Cowboy Mouth. And I'll lay money on that."

I can say that because I've actually listened to Cowboy Mouth apart from an ill-conceived gig with shitty sound. For example, in the case of the band's 2006 "Voodoo Shoppe" release, I was left dancing and crying in the space of a single CD. And all you need to defeat a know-nothing is to know a little.

The guy walked away kind of stammering after I committed the ultimate Midwestern sin of being impolite in the face of complete bullshit. The effect is enhanced when someone thinks they're stating the obvious -- and then you call bullshit.

On the Plains, that moment when a blowhard is left defenseless by the belief that he couldn't possibly require one might be called "All hat and no horse." When I was a kid in Louisiana, we had a more colorful way of putting it: "His mouth overloaded his ass."

We Louisianians may have our problems -- and God knows our native state has more than its share of bad ones -- but one of them is not being boring. Boring might be more of a concern someplace that aspires to be the next musical Seattle instead of the next musical New Orleans.

arrogant and silly are definite immediate-action concerns for people in "the next Seattle" who think any but a couple or three local bands could hang for five minutes with a ragtag assortment of teenagers from the Tremé (or the Ninth Ward, or Central City, or the Seventh Ward) learning how to be a proper brass band on a French Quarter street corner in "the first New Orleans."

It would be like Nebraska touting far and wide the quality of its football program and the warmth and classiness of Memorial Stadium fans, only to have the "sea of red" raining Jack Daniels bottles upon visiting opponents after the Cornhuskers lose yet another game by 75 points.

Let's you and me examine some facts, Omaha.

Cowboy Mouth has been together for two decades. It's made more or less a go of it nationally. More importantly, it has made a go of it in New Orleans which, for all of its myriad problems and poverty, probably has more inherent cultural depth and musical talent in an average neighborhood than 21st-century Omaha has had to work with altogether as it pulls itself up toward the emo-wracked cultural nirvana of . . . Seattle.

I dunno, maybe a venerable and successful New Orleans rock band might get more respect here in Coolsville if Fred LeBlanc and company wore more plaid flannel. Sang more about the sheer psychic hell of living life in one's pasty white skin. Drank more Pabst Blue Ribbon and less Abita Turbodog.

And likewise, maybe people might really start to think Omaha really was Coolsville if Omahans started acting a lot less like Hicksville.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Spinning records, nurturing dreams

"Progress" happens. New things come; old things go.

Kids quit going to record stores, and they start "file-sharing" or buying singles comprised of ones and zeros on
iTunes. Digital in, physical presence out.

But with all the things the electronic marketplace can do, and with all the convenience and immediacy it offers, there are some things -- important things -- that get lost in translation. One thing is magical, musical places like The Antiquarium record store on the edge of Omaha's Old Market.

Another thing is the kind, curmudgeonly, opinionated presence of someone like Dave Sink -- the grandfather of the Omaha indie scene and purveyor of great old LPs, CDs and punk 45s. I know. I left much of my money there, then brought many of those LPs , CDs and 45s here.

And for a while there, I probably saw Dave every single week. So did a bunch of young kids with big dreams -- like Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes fame.

That won't be happening anymore. Some years back, Dave retired, and then The Antiquarium record store moved around the corner after its longtime home was sold. And now Dave is dead.

ON THE Hear Nebraska website, Oberst (one of the kids I used to see around the record store) explains what iTunes will never be, not in a million years:
I don’t remember the first time I went to the Antiquarium or met Dave Sink. It all just kind of happened. I suppose I would have been 12 or so, just tagging along with my brothers and the older kids from the neighborhood. Whenever that was I know I could not have known then that that place would become the epicenter of discovery for my musical life (and life in general) and probably the single most sacred place of my adolescence. Dave was a rare bird. He had a way of making you feel good even as he insulted you. He was especially kind to misfits and oddballs. Hence him nearly always being surrounded in the shop by a small enclave of disaffected youth. Boys mostly, but girls too, who would sit hour after hour listening to him pontificate about punk rock, baseball, local politics, French literature, chess, philosophy, modern art or whatever was the topic of the day. The thing about Dave that gave him such a loyal following was not just the way he talked to us but also the way he listened. At a time in life when most all adults are to be seen as the enemy it was strange to meet one who was on your side. He treated us as peers, like our ideas and ambitions were worth something. He wasn’t always pleasant or polite, but he wasn’t a fake. And it is that quality that cuts through the angst and straight to the teenage heart.

He made me feel like my dreams and plans mattered, encouraging me to pursue them even as he talked trash on my latest recording or most recent show. It is true you had to be a bit of a masochist to be friends with Dave, but despite his sarcasm and argumentative nature he had a soft heart and generous spirit. He gave me a lot of good advice over the years, as well as my first real stereo and turntable. He said he couldn’t stand watching me waste my money on the inferior formats of CDs and cassettes.
NEITHER will radio be, not anymore, what Dave Sink and his little record store (down the stairs and to the basement of the old building on Harney Street) were to its city. Maybe radio once was . . . kind of. That was a long time ago -- a generation or more ago -- back before dull men in pricey suits began to erase all the "Dave" out of their now-sinking industry.

Antiquarium Records was a social network digital eons before
MySpace and Facebook. It got the word out when radio wouldn't, and this nascent Internet thing couldn't.

Kevin Coffey picks up the story in the
Omaha World-Herald:
Sink loved vinyl, underground and obscure music, baseball and talking to customers, often recommending something or flat-out criticizing their purchases.

He also started One Hour Records, which released music from local bands such as Mousetrap, Ritual Device and Simon Joyner, among others.

When Gary Dean Davis' band, Frontier Trust, wanted to put out a record, Sink was their man. Davis, owner of SPEED! Nebraska Records and a Catholic school principal, recalled getting the first pressing of the band's record and racing to the Antiquarium to play it.

"We didn't have a radio station, so the Antiquarium kind of became that because there were kids hanging down there," Davis said. "We'd play our record and they'd immediately come down to the counter and say, 'How can I get that?'"

Davis recalled him as a local music booster who made kids in bands feel like they were doing something legitimate.

Sink's death left many to wonder what Omaha's nationally-recognized music scene would be without him.

"Dave was neither subtle nor short of opinion," said Robb Nansel, president of Saddle Creek Records. "I shudder to think of what this city would look like if there had been no Dave and no Antiquarium. It's safe to say there would be one less record label and one less music venue calling Omaha home."
YOU KNOW those records by Frontier Trust and The Monroes (another Davis "tractor punk" band) you sometimes hear on 3 Chords & the Truth? Where the hell do you think I got many of them?

Where the hell do you think I heard about the Monroes?

We live in a cynical world, one that loves money, breeds alienation and waits for a hero . . . in that Godot-esque sort of way.

Heroes we have. They dwell in out-of-the-way places like smoky basements filled with musty vinyl. They're so close, yet so far away.

Kind of like our hopes and dreams.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Never trust any Conor over 30

Conor Oberst, the angst-stricken Omaha indie icon of Bright Eyes fame, turned 30 today.

And, alas, the world still sucks. Only harder, because now he no longer can trust his over-30 bourgeois, establishment self.

LOOK AT IT this way, the teen age wunderkind of 1993, the one selling cassette albums of his youthful songs of teen-age angst and helping to birth the Omaha indie scene. . . . Well, that was more than half a lifetime ago, now, wasn't it?

Now the music world ponders the question it dare not openly ask. Namely, what will Conor Oberst write about now as he hurtles toward middle age?

I have my spies, and they tell me what follows is a rough draft of Conor's latest anthem for life past Bright Eyes.

A life on the backside of 30:

The world has sucked . . . since 1980
The world has sucked . . . since 1980
Some say it sucked before then, but I don't care
I don't care it sucked; I wasn't around then
I wasn't around then
I wasn't around then
I wasn't around then

But I got here . . . in 1980
In 1980
In 1980
And I have suffered from all the suckage, since 1980
Since 1980
Since 1980

And you joined me here . . . in 1982
In 1982
In 1982
And you have done nothing to stop the sucking
To stop the sucking
To stop the sucking

And the world has taken to conspire against us
It takes aim at us
It tries to destroy us
And I greet the despair with a fifth of Old Crow
With a fifth of Old Crow
I'll give you some, and you'll give me some
And we'll get us some to fight this suckage
To fight this suckage
Oh f*** this suckage

And I feel the burning inside my esophagus
The liquor burns hot inside my esophagus
I can't rhyme esophagus
I can't rhyme esophagus
The liquor warms me
The liquor warms me
The liquor warms me

But I'm still 30; I cannot trust me
Not this old me
Not this bourgeois me
And you're here with me; you're only 28
You cannot trust me
You cannot trust me
You cannot trust me

The Old Crow has reached the depths of my stomach
It makes a glow there
I'm getting drunk there
Because the world sucks here
My life is despair here
I am still 30
And you can't trust me
And you still can't. . . .