From the Depths
It's not every day that you get to scratch seven or eight years' worth of poison-oak caliber itch, but that's exactly what happened last night on the first date of my three-week spring tour. It was Charleston, South Carolina, and Charlie McAlister'd copped the opening slot. Charlie first came to my attention when he started sending tapes to the greatly-missed Car In Car Disco Product label, which dutifully released them; he was a shadowy figure in the cassette underground throughout the mid-nineties, if by "shadowy" you mean "totally cool in a where'd-he-come-from where'd-he-go living-legend kinda mystery guy." His Mississippi Luau album on Catsup Plate is one of my favorite records of all time. (As an aside, let me note that despite my longstanding philosophical opposition to Best Albums of All Time lists, I have got the urge lately to make a list of Them Albums What I'd Generally Consider My Very Favorite Ones Ever, and will probably get around to it sometime in the next year or two.)
Charlie's music could probably be described by any number of not-quite-right music terms: it's back-porch jug band stuff, sorta, but it's got a real affinity with guerilla noise warfare, and also with actual gorillas, who nine times out of ten will make the guerillas look like amateurs. It's got that organic Neutral Milk Hotel feel, but its spiritual side isn't the transcendent schtick that Jeff Mangum mastered and then put behind him; Charlie's spiritual kin are the mediums who charge you a quarter for an hour's worth of Ouija board in a shack down the highway near some southern beach town, and you think they're maybe fulla shit but then they hit that huckster vein where it's not really a con any more because everybody's agreed to just ride the moment out even if it did start out phony. Charlie's the wizard in Kansas without any MGM sanitization. He likes rum.
So what can I tell you? Not much. His band was a five-piece, I think; they had a tuba; Charlie broke four strings on his banjo during the first song; their rendition of "Death from the Depths" was so damn good it made me want to holler, and I did; his vocal delivery makes everybody else's sound mannered and stuffy, which is remarkable considering just how great his lyrics are: they are up there with anybody's you could name; he did not play "Island of the Robot Building Monkey," an oversight for which I shall never forgive him; it was one of the best shows I've seen in ages and it reminded me just how fantastic an artist Charlie McAlister is. There are a lot of fake-ass artists out there. You can tell who they are 'cause they are always thinking about how they are artists. Charlie is real-ass artist who just does the do. He should get a Nobel.
One other McAlister-related matter of importance. I copped his 'zine. It's a proper old-fuckin'-school ZINE, people; no web presence, no email address, no promotional strategy. No actual ads. It's called SARDINE MAGOZINE and when I try to describe just how great it is, page after page - hilarious, surreal, occasionally moving, genuinely educational, utterly obsessed with tinned fish - well, words fail me. I can't vouch for how quick Charlie'll get back to you, but I can promise that no matter how long you have to wait, it'll be worth it. I got mine for two-fifty but postage ain't free, Jack: put three or four bucks in the mail to P.O. Box 24, Johns Island, SC 29455. You'll be ecstatic that you did.
TrackBack URL for this entry: