Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Goddess of Illusion in Louisville on Derby Eve

These details from a poster left for my band Enormous Richard at our safe house in Louisville on Derby Eve in the early 1990s shows the local underground's view of their town's biggest annual party.

For the scenester who drew this poster, Churchhill Downs was the "center of hell for the next 2 days". Theo, our hostess, would be "selling beer" on the street, along with the rest of the Louisville service economy, populated as always by rockers and artists and fellow travelers.

The extent to which the Louisville underground had disappeared into their paying gigs in the service sector is made evident in note 4. "If for some strange reason you cannot find Theo, or the keys never reach Uncle Pleasant's," Rhonda Rah noted, "then you are screwed unless Tracy decides to stop by after work. Jane is most likely never going to be off work."

Theo was my temporary girlfriend at the time. She also was the temporary girlfriend of Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs, when he was in town, and no doubt the paramour of any number of other itinerant rockers who knew a good time when they saw one.

I wasn't the only guy in our band who knew a good time when he saw one, and Theo quickly moved on from me to the guitar player, as I recall in a couple of chapters from my musical memoir devoted to our Louisville days and nights.

Please note: these are the memories of a twenty-five-year old singer in a rock band, me at the time. I'm not him anymore, though I learned a lot by having been him and I wouldn't trade those experiences for much of anything, even if I no longer live like that guy and wouldn't choose to now even if I had the chance.

Adult themes - sex, drugs, rock & roll - follow. Stop reading now if any of that is not for you!


From And Let Him Ply His Music: Adventures in Post-Punk and Amateur Folklore, an unpublished memoir by Chris King.

41. A One Nighter in Kentucky with the Goddess of Illusion

The van we had rented for the Metro show in Chicago was a luxury we could not afford. There were no savings, band or personal, to plunder for a van of our own. It was caravan time. We had entered a fascinating phase when we spent more time comparing the shapes of musical instruments to tiny open spaces in crammed car trunks than we ever spent onstage.

Skoob's packing task for our next gig, at Uncle Pleasants in Louisville, Kentucky, was eased considerably by an absence: Guitar Karl and his space-hog amplifier. Cell phones were in existence, and had appeared in our bowdlerized lyrics for "Dogs With Their Heads Out the Window", but they were not yet standard equipment for touring musicians. Calls to Karl's home phone failed to turn him up. So we hit the road to Louisville without him, as a trimmed-down five piece returning to our acoustic roots, with the addition of one large ruddy flower in the shape of an accordion: Chris Bess.

There was an amazing transmogrification that day on Highway 64 between St. Louis and Louisville. Richard Edwin Skubish, an individual I had been watching since fourth grade, finally grew into the size of his head. Skoob stepped into my car in St. Louis as a chipmunk, and stepped out of it in Louisville as a grown, proportioned, handsome man. Suddenly, it was Tom Cruise standing there in Skoob’s gig pants.

The rest of the band was amazed by our reception at Uncle Pleasants, which bordered on the fanatical. People screamed, hooted, hollered, brought us trays of drinks, insisted on an encore, shoved marijuana cigarettes at us. The bookie for a rival club left long enough to buy one hundred White Castle hamburgers, which he showily distributed to the packed house, starting with us. Between songs, after a crazy hamburger parade, he handed five belly bombers up to the stage and asked if we would play his Derby Eve show across town, the biggest local night of the year - the first time we had ever been offered the next gig in the middle of the current one, and at a rival club, no less.

It was all very difficult for any of us to understand. Absolutely none of it registered with me. I was too busy looking over at Skoob, the man. The chipmunk was gone. Our childhood was over. When he stepped down from the stage, the most gorgeous woman in the bar, a ravishing, fleshy blonde, immediately swept him away into the night. The last I saw of Skoob was a strange grown man handing me a phone number scrawled onto a piece of paper, next to a name - Maya - Maya, for Christ's fucking sake, the Hindu Goddess of Illusion.

Through fogs of illusion and booze I watched the headliners, The New Duncan Imperials. They were a countrified trio of theme show shitkickers named after a yo-yo. It began to make sense - the bonanza of crowd affection, that is.

These guys were rowdy rockers in straw hats and baby blue tuxedoes, who sprayed silly string at the crowd and sang nothing but joke songs. Naturally, a crowd that came to see three guys with stupid gig names like Pigtail Dick, Good Time, and Skipper singing songs about Jaegermeister and poking Pocahantas had a terrific head start on enjoying our songs "Hanging Out with Jesus" or “Steady Dick”. Yo-yos, dick jokes, accordions. That made sense. But nothing made sense. The Hindu Goddess of Illusion, a busty blonde from Kentucky, had scooped off Skoob, my oldest friend, the second he shed his chipmunk pelt.

Once illusion was on our side, all things became possible.

Guitar Karl actually showed up, waltzing merrily into a crowd that held us on its shoulders. There was, briefly, competition over who would get us stoned, over who would give Karl acid, over who would put us up for the night. Uncle Pleasants closed, not at 1 a.m. (Cicero's time) but at 4 a.m., and at 4 a.m. the speakeasy opened. When the speakeasy closed, an actress in a local porn film, Call Me Rod, insisted that we stay at her house and play at their cast party the next afternoon.

I woke in the bed of a character actress in an independent Kentucky porn film. (She played a hotel clerk who, in one comic scene, measures Rod's rod.) I took my morning coffee and bong with the male lead, none other than Rod, a drifter the director had met on a Greyhound bus. The director himself, a towering gay man, appeared by noon. His enormous frame cast approving shadows on Matt playing Hang Ups songs by the keg.

Johnny Death was there, and Screaming John, and at some point Johnny Scum appeared, in the more colorful of his only two known outfits, his Domino's Pizza uniform, which he shed down to his underwear. Johnny Scum power-lounged in his skivvies, drinking a beer and smoking a joint while everyone ate his bad free pizzas. Louisville was tilting again and so was the empty keg when Johnny Scum came back to the party, many hours later, off his delivery shift, in his only other outfit, head to toe black leather.

Even Skoob, the man, the stranger, appeared, cradled in the bosom of the Goddess of Illusion, lighting a cigarette off her cigarette, smoked down to the nub.

42. A Farewell to an Honest Wife

[This chapter describes my breakup with my graduate school girlfriend. Skip it for now.]

43. Alone with Lucifer on Derby Eve

She is fickle and unaccountable, the Goddess of Illusion. She lured us back to Louisville with one hundred White Castle hamburgers and an entire porn cast of the most deliciously creepy friends. When we got there, we were alone.

There was a sign on the door of our crash pad. "Theo is selling drinks on Bardstown Road. Make yourself at home. We'll see you at Uncle Pleasants." No one saw us at Uncle Pleasants. The new toast of the town performed at 2 a.m. on the biggest bar night of the year to an empty bar.

Out of loyalty, we had turned down the offer from the rival bookie who did the crazy hamburger parade. We stuck with Uncle Pleasants for Derby Eve. Unfortunately, the rival club, Tewligans, had booked Firehose, the remnants of the Minutemen without d. boon. That was the show to see and everyone, including our new deliciously creepy friends, was across town seeing it.

The highlight of our set was that Guitar Karl fell asleep during one of his own solos. A tape exists of this event. You can hear a very messy guitar solo. And then, suddenly, silence from the electric guitar, followed by the thud of a falling man hitting his own amplifier, which called him back to life long enough to finish the song.

There was one beautiful woman at Uncle Pleasants. She wasn't Maya, but she, too, grabbed Skoob, handed me her phone number, and swept him into the night. That part was not an illusion. Skoob's chipmunk days were gone forever.

I woke alone in Theo's bed. After finding my gig pants, a tattered and patched pair Marine Corps trousers, I picked my way through the chaos of the house. Sleeping members of Enormous Richard and the Call Me Rod cast were intertwined with empty liquor bottles and assorted pieces of garment and garbage. No Theo. I went back to bed.

There was still a tape spinning in her jambox. Her little stereo had a function you could select that kept flipping sides on a cassette and playing it forever. It was a new record by another band that crashed at Theo's house when they passed through town, a nasty post-punk band from nearby Cincinnati named The Afghan Whigs. I remembered Theo's drunken words of wisdom the night before, when she started this tape, Up In It, on its non-stop ride. "I love bands. But most of their music sucks! Not the Whigs!"

As I found a nest in Theo's dirty clothes to listen to those furious symphonies of electric guitars, which were seeping into my system like alcohol, I noticed a leg extending from the closet. I sat up. It didn't look like Theo's leg. I got up and looked. It was Guitar Karl's leg. The rest of him, and what was left of Theo, were collapsed deeper in her walk-in closet in tangles of hair and nakedness. I shuffled back to the bed and let the Afghan Whigs scream me back to sleep.

Television's gone
I'm alone with Lucifer

I woke back up in the middle of a blow job in which I was the featured participant. Theo was back. But not for long. When she had finished the job, she said, with a kind of shyness, "Sorry, Chrissy," and went back to the slumbering Karl. I watched as the last of her bleach white leg slid back into the closet, then let the Whigs scream me back to sleep.

Television's gone
I'm alone with Lucifer
What a drag

Matt had to work a shift back home at Blueberry Hill that night. That meant there could be no afternoon acoustic set, no thrift store tour, no more creepy sleepovers for now. Just coffee all around and bongs for the potheads.

When it was almost too late, someone thought to collect Skoob. Fortunately, his latest fling's phone number was still legible on the tiny wad of paper in my sweat-soaked gig pants. When I got him on the phone, Skoob was climbing the walls. "Get me the fuck out of here!"

He had woke up alone in Maya Number Two's apartment, with no clue how to get a hold of us and no idea where he was. She still had not come back home. Skoob had been watching TV and obsessively looking at clocks and beginning to wonder where was the bus station in Louisville.

Television's gone
I'm alone with Lucifer
What a drag
Motherfucker lied to me

Two Louisville gigs, two consorts with goddesses. We never saw either one of them again.


MLangley said...

Chris. Thanks for writing this and I truly enjoyed reading it-many wonderful memories were conjured.

Maya was indeed the Hindu goddess of illusion, wisdom and magic


I am Maia, the Graeco-Roman goddess of birth and renewal and Bona Dea, the only goddess that rarely showed her wrath.

MLangley said...

Chris. Thanks for writing this and I truly enjoyed reading it-many wonderful memories were conjured.

Maya was indeed the Hindu goddess of illusion, wisdom and magic


I am Maia, the Graeco-Roman goddess of birth and renewal and Bona Dea, the only goddess that rarely showed her wrath.