Saturday, November 26, 2005
Eugene Chadbourne at the Western Front!
(The second photo reveals that there are actually some structural similarities, previously unknown to me, between the face of Eugene Chadbourne and that of M. Emmett Walsh. Dr. Chad appears to have great cranial capacity, as well, which we assume accounts for his genius...)
Something I never thought in my youth would happen: I got to hang out with Eugene Chadbourne for a bit, chauffering him to his Western Front gig on the 25th and chatting with him between sets. Dr. Chad has delighted me since my acid-soaked early 20s, when I first discovered the music of Shockabilly. I was living with my parents in Maple Ridge, dropping every few days, avoiding a whole host of issues that I hadn't dealt with, like finishing a degree, getting a job, or finding a girlfriend... It was all pretty terrifying for me, but drugs kept life entertaining while I braced for my oncoming failure, and often I felt like I was "learning" things from them, too (tho' I wasn't always that serious about trips -- the giddy distorted weirdness and humour of Dr. Chad's take on the drug experience was equally a delight; my friends who really thought that they were developing, uh, spiritually from acid never really shared the sentiment, preferring me to keep Dr. Chad's music well away from them). "Psychedelic Basement" could have been an anthem of that time for me. In fact, it kinda was.
Dr. Chadbourne was most affable when Dan and I picked him up at the airport. "Unless you're waiting for someone from the country of Chad," he said, gesturing at our big CHAD sign, "that must be me." He was taller than I'd expected, and more, uhh, normal, and it was kind of odd noticing an "American accent," which the linguist in me was unable to exactly pin down (since I'd been hitting the pipe prior to the drive to the airport). We talked about whatever came up on the drive -- how the Canadian government is dismantling the railroads in Newfoundland and selling the rail to Europe, which everyone agreed was a very bad idea, to Dr. Chadbourne's fondness for Chinese roast duck (which, alas, we never got to partake in together -- an early soundcheck necessitated we drop Dr. Chad off at his hotel, plus I had to come home to interview Terry Riley by phone -- which interview will appear in next month's Nerve). Probably Dr. Chad's funniest moment was his imitation of talking to Terry Riley as if doing so were a Terry Riley composition; without explaining what he was doing, he began a stuttering, mellifluous "hi-te- hi-te- hi-ter-hi-ter-hi-terry-how-hi-terry-how-hi-terry-how-are-you," remarking afterwards that one should always "talk to musicians in the style of their music." He then exploded in spastic noise, commenting that he was demonstrating how one might talk to Evan Parker. (I tried to share this all with Terry Riley but it just didn't work so well by phone).
After a brief stop by to leave merch and guitars at the Front, where Eugene told us stories of customs hassles -- including one BC customs officer who wanted to search his luggage for marijuana when he was coming here from Amsterdam, as if anyone would actually try to smuggle pot into BC -- we drove to the Best Western. En route, Chad started opening up about a topic I'd tried to interview him about previously via e-mail, drugs -- wondering just how similar his youth (in Calgary in the 1970s) had been to mine (slowly going crazy in Maple Ridge in the 1980s). Pretty darn similar, it turns out; as with my parents, his folks had no idea what he was up to until he told them, and his mother was far more disapproving. He told us of how she thought the comparisons Dr. Chad's cohorts made between Reagan and Hitler were pretty outrageous, since she'd fled Germany during the war; but her own attitudes towards hippies and drug users were themselves pretty extreme, and some of the things she said in heated moments put her to the right of Reagan. During the Reagan years, Chadbourne also related, children were encouraged to turn in their parents, which was pretty scary; he explained how he offered to drive his daughter to the police station to do it, since he "wasn't going to have this come up every time they had a fight..."
The show was delightful. Dr. Chad offered goofy beatific smiles from time to time, sometimes playing with his tongue out, sometimes stamping his foot maniacially. His hair, greying, stuck out from the sides of his head like that of a mad scientist, and he included a brief Bugs Bunny imitation in his between-song patter, which gives you a sense of where he lives; his songs veered between sincere sentiment oddly played and what I can only describe as ironic send-ups of pop tunes (from "Are You Experienced" to a surprise closing number, Michael Jackson's "Beat It.") The best songs were an intense little love song about forgiving someone after being burned, which apparently appears on his CD Me and Paul, from the House of Chadula -- I forget the title and the artist -- and his cover, in response to my request for a Phil Ochs' tune, of "Knock on the Door" (available on the Psychedelidoowop disc with Camper van Beethoven). There was a lot of fun in what he did, but also surprising beauty in some of his noisier solos; he participated in an improvisatory jam with the Vietnamese musicians who opened the show, too, accompanying their strange one-stringed zithers on banjo, which was a particular delight -- I could have listened to a lot more of that. Alas, it was not to be. After selling some of his CDs out of his guitar case, with his delightful homemade covers scavenged from old LPs and then modified, he packed up and crashed, to set out the next day for Victoria and then Calgary, where his dad still lives. I went home to delight in my acquired merch. The Chadklappmuntz CD in particular is delightful, if you're a fan of Chadbourne's more noisy/out there music -- it has some wonderful, veering, and very eccentric lines and textures to it. Any fans of Eugene Chadbourne who haven't heard him for awhile are urged to visit his website, where he sells most of his recordings and has lots of further info about himself.
Dr. Chad seemed very pleased with the interview in my print-version of my blog -- I've dubbed it my "blogzine," by the way -- and gave me a pat on the back after reading it. Delightful meeting you, Dr. Chad! Come back soon!