Plea For Tenderness David Grubbs Halana Essay .pdf
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[enters stage with guitar 1
This is going to be a very short set that I'm doing this evening. I rarely play by myself. I played here a week and a
half ago with a group called Gastr del Sol, who I play with regularly, and because there are several other people in the
group, it's not OK for me to talk onstage. And it's not OK for me to explain the music, but because I'm performing by
myself this evening I felt I might take the opportunity to do that a little bit.
One of the songs we did a week and a half ago is the first song that appears on the first side of the first Gastr del Sol
record. It's a song called "A Watery Kentucky." It's a song that Bastro - a group that I was in before - did for a
while, and we performed it as an instrumental for a long time. It wasn't really until I had completed the lyrics that we
were able to finish the song and work on the arrangement for it as it would appear on the record. We were on tour
playing it as an instrumental, and I had taken a nap one afternoon. I knew what the lyrics were going to be about. The
title "A Watery Kentucky" was already suggestive enough of a watery grave, and it was going to be about a friend of
mine from Kentucky who was alarming all of his other friends, not having a lot of luck catching up to his thoughts.
His mind was always racing. And he was coming up with more and more bigger and bigger plans and having a progressively harder time realizing these plans. But I needed a model with which to describe this person. So I had taken
this nap not with the purpose of coming up with a model, but when I woke up I had something that I could use in writing the song lyric to explain this person's mind racing. The model for it was the image of an individual standing in a
gray room that comprises a quarter of a sphere, and the individual looks down at his or her shoes on a yellow line
bisecting the quarter sphere, the gray room. On the yellow line are four mechanical objects, and for the purpose of the
song I used toy wind-up mice. Suddenly the mice are off, and this is how the mind races. One has the object of grabbing these mice one by one - this is instinct; you know how to play the game - and setting them on the line piece by
piece, working right to left, going 4-3-2-1, 4-3-2-1. But with each heat or repetition the fourth mechanical objectfor the purpose of the song, mouse - was moving closer and closer to the wall and it seemed inevitable, and in fact
the inevitable happened, which is that the mouse hits the wall and the physical result of this is that it comes off skittering in an irregular motion and moving faster than it did before. The purpose of the game shifts and one has to compensate for this, so the individual that I was writing the song about goes 4-3-2-1, 4-2-1,4-3-2-1,4-2- 1; hoping to make up
time and deal with this fourth object that's moving faster. But of course as you can imagine the third object moves
closer to the wall with each repetition and the inevitable happens: it hits the wall. And it's like a telephone switchboard game that always ends in defeat. That model was the way that I finished the lyrics for the song "A Watery
But the lyrics weren't really what I would call the primary effect of the recorded form. The primary effect of the
recorded form comes from its arrangement. It's an eight-minute song. It's just guitar and bass for the first seven and a
half minutes; John McEntire plays on the last thirty seconds. When we played this a week and a half ago, this was the
arrangement that we did. And there was no real shock because John plays before this in the set, and you can see what
he's doing during the song; you see him prepare to play; and he plays on the rest of the set. And it doesn't come as
much of a shock on the record, either, because the drums make sense in the song, they fit the mix well, they're recorded conventionally. It should gain its effect in repeated listenings, because one ought to ask, "What is it about the first
seven and a half minutes that necessitates that John McEntire, world-flight percussionist, is keeping silent? What's so
fucking important about the seven and a half minutes leading up to when John plays? And what's John doing before
this - is he smoking a cigarette or arranging his music stand?"
I would hope that questions like this come about because there's a model for this. The model is a song from a Modem
..overs bootleg. I don't know the title of the bootleg. It has a really poor drawing of Jonathan Richman on the cover
with his head superimposed on the photograph of Bob Dylan from Hi!!hway 61 Revisited. And the first track is called
"Plea for Tenderness," and as I recall it's a twelve-minute track that begins with six minutes of Jonathan Richman talking, not accompanied by the band. It's a remarkable track because what he says is ... you recognize it as Jonathan
Richman, and it's his voice, and it's pretty much what he would sing about. But he's just talking about getting to know
a woman, and he's the narrator, and he's the subject of the song. And he was saying, "I would go over to her house
and watch TV, and I didn't want to watch TV but she wanted to watch TV, and I would say to her, 'You're not fortyfive years old, you're twenty-three, so stop acting like Lauren Bacall.''' And it builds to the point where he asks a
question and he wants an answer, about six minutes into the song. And the way he asks the question is a statement:
"Tell me now." And he repeats it several times, and on the third time - and it's a shock every time you listen to it the band comes in on beat and they sing the backup vocals and guitar and bass and drums come up, and it's the same
effect that I wanted to get on "A Watery Kentucky." Because every time I listen to it, I say, "What sort of band was
this? What were these people doing while he was talking for six minutes? Were they smoking cigarettes or reading
newspapers? What does this mean about what they thought of him as a front man? Or if they thought of him as a
But I couldn't engage in talk like this playing with Gastr del Sol because Bundy and John and Jim O'Rourke wouldn't
stand for it for a second. Our history of live performances has been one of problems with audiences talking, and as
musicians we have to set an example.
Three weeks ago the Red Krayola were in the studio. We had to take a break one night at six o'clock because the engineer was taking part in a discussion at the Empty Bottle. It was a roundtable with Steve Albini and Brad Wood and
Rian Murphy and the guy from NARAS, who was really good. He was the best of the bunch. But there were 200 people in the Empty Bottle and they were dead silent while these people were simply talking. It could have been a number of things: one, it cost ten dollars to get in and people could have been showing respect and not wasting their neighbors' ten bucks by talking while these people were discussing record production. It could also be that people were listening closely because they were expecting someone to say something really horrible. They were expecting a real disaster. It made me think of whether it would be possible do in Chicago what some people in Munich have done, which
is to have a live punk-rock talk show. Bernd Hartwich is the host of a live talk show that takes place in the
Kulturstation. It's not an upwardly mobile talk show. It's not aspiring to be anything other than a live talk show. For
the Kulturstation, you have to take the subway to the end of the line and then you walk, and then you go to a bus stop
but it's after the buses have stopped running, so a Mercedes public van pulls up and you go to the Kulturstation, which
used to be an army hospital. It looks like a barracks and is covered with spray paint. The Kulturstation isn't really the
kind of place where you would expect people to go and listen to five people have a conversation, but like a lot of sueessful music it seems to be about importing atmosphere. The band Slim were alway good at importing the dimensions of their practice space to where they'd play, because they would frequently play without the use of a P.A. at a
, setting up in a room that would have the same dimensions as their practice space.
The last time I saw G. G. Allin was January 1990, and he didn't do anything but talk. He was playing at the Exit. and
was advertised as performing from midnight to eight A.M. I guess he's dead, but he was the most unlikely chara ter
fulfill a bill like that, because usually he got thrown out of a club during a soundcheck or he'd get beaten up ten
minutes into a performance. I showed up a little before midnight and he'd already been on for a half an hour. He
ked like Mick Fleetwood and he looked like he was about done for. He was hanging off of the Thunderdome,
chich was the gymnasium over the pit in the Exit, he was covered in shit and blood and wearing a jock strap and engizeer's boots and nothing else. He had a long beard. Rapeman had just played and he was talking about what the
"Rapefuckers'' command per show and that he was getting $250 when he puts his life on the line and he could die any. e. Somebody yelled for "Drink, Fight, and Fuck,' which is his most famous song. He was really offended. "I have
this anthem, and when you hear this anthem you're never going to ask for 'Drink, Fight, and Fuck' again. When you
zear this anthem you're going to destroy this club, it's going to be the end of the show, and you're going to want to go
Olll of here and fucking kill people. But I'm not so sure I'm going to do this anthem. I want something in return from
you all." He's hanging off the Thunderdome. "You know I throw myself around and I get bruises every night. Just for
e I want toland on somebody. I want somebody to catch me when I fall. I want all you fuckers on your knees
ight now! Right now, right beneath me!" There were maybe 75 people in the club and it was pretty evenly divided
. tween scumfucks and non-scumfucks. About fifteen people got on their knees beneath him and looked up at him on
. e Thunderdome. "One minute and I'm walking out of here. I could get hit by a car tomorrow and you'd never hear
. anthem. When you hear this anthem you're going to go apeshit, you'll never ask for 'Drink, Fight, and Fuck'
~ . , you're going to destroy the club, it'll be the end of the show, you're going to want to go out and fucking kill
people," He talked for about five minutes and at one point interrupted himself. "Thirty seconds! Thirty seconds! All
you on your knees!" Five more people got on their knees. Then he spoke for about ten more minutes and interrupted himself in the middle of a sentence and said, "Hey Bloody, hand me my leather coat." His friend Bloody Mess
ded him a leather jacket, and he took a black canister from it. It was one of those instances in which you would
drink that scent or smell travels faster than light. I knew immediately that those twenty people on the ground ... he
About this time there was a Peanuts comic in the Tribune. In the first panel, Peppermint Patty and Marcie are at a conlistening to classical music, and they're dwarfed by the seats. Peppermint Patty says to Marcie, "What is this
oeautiful music called?" And in the second panel Marcie turns to Patty and say , "It's Elgar's 'Pomp and
Circumstance,' sir." In the third panel there's no dialogue but there's a tear in Peppermint Patty's eye, and in the fourth
~el the tear is still there and Peppermint Patty says, "I'm so glad to be alive." This afternoon I listened to "Plea for
Tenderness" and was horrified to find that the six-minute spoken introduction was well under a minute.
Thanks very much.
'exit; applause followed by sound of Jonathan Richman's voice,
she'd invite him over, right? But the thing is
then he'd ... "; tape ends] ~
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