Bleached by the sun
And scorched by the moon
If I make it ’til tomorrow noon I’m leaving
– Richard Meltzer/Albert Bouchard, “Death Valley Nights”
Lyrics have never been the be-all, end-all for me. Like Dee Snider said, “I wanna rock.”
That’s an oversimplification, of course. Give anyone verse after delirious verse of Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” and it’s not really a long drop down the well to 13 epic minutes of Maiden’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Spin the tale on the donkey.
That said, I fall in the Keith Richards camp (big surprise there). To the Dark Lord, it’s always been how bon mots sound together. “Jumping Jack Flash” means balderall – Jack was Richards’ gardener waking him and Jagger up one hazy, early Sixties a.m. – but it sure sounds wicked with guitars and maracas blazing. Musical imprints from every day phrases – songs, album titles, band names – remain most effective, say the title to Richards’ solo debut, Talk is Cheap. As much as I appreciate the handle of its follow-up Main Offender, I’ve always preferred another tag he long considered: Blame Hound. Those three monikers sum up the Man as well as any 26 tomes on the Rolling Stones. Richards cites a line from Offender’s opening series of non-sequiturs, “999,” as a naturally asserted vocal hook that took on its own life despite its relative disposable nature: “The price of bullets remains the same.” Whatever other felonies occur in the song, that line stands apart because it sounds nefarious, although he probably has a point, literally.
Which is all a very wordy (neé longwinded) way of saying, I lived with Blue Öyster Cult’s “Death Valley Nights” from about the time I was 12 until I was almost 30 before it even occurred to me that someone might have actually written that song. Its author was revealed to me when I was three years off the boat into Austin, 1996, living in a three-bedroom crab shack in Hyde Park where my cut of the rent totaled $120.
That was the year Goldmine magazine’s once exhaustive preservationism hit on BÖC, not that Spoon and Fastball at the Hole in the Wall, Bruce Springsteen solo at the Austin Music Hall, and AC/DC at the Frank Erwin Center weren’t keeping me busy. (And that was only January.) Nostalgia powered me through the Dickensian oral history on the band, through which all was explained. When the smoke bombs cleared, there stood one guy responsible for my worship of Blue Öyster Cult. It was as if I’d liked the Rolling Stones my whole life only to discover later that at the center of the whole juggernaut was some pirate named Keith Richards. It was then that Albert Bouchard became one of my music gods. Today I generate one response and one response only when BÖC comes up in any context at all, sometimes whispering it beneath my breath: Albert. In that sense, I took some creative license with this music feature: Blake Mutter must take a back seat to the drummer of his once favorite Cult.
Writing the piece and getting it published wasn’t something I really wanted to do, believe it or not. Sometime during the December deluge of gift guide repackages (Motown 6 maybe), for reasons now well and truly forgotten, I opened a fresh document and banged out two quick paragraphs about being 13-14 years old and shoplifting a cassette of BÖC’s tantalizing Spectres. Not exactly my proudest moment, nor was the rest of what I knew should be included in a story beginning there something I felt really needed divulging. Editors are a funny breed though: I stared at the pair of graphs, thinking, “If someone brought me these 150 words, I’d tell ‘em to finish writing the story.” In that respect, I forever cite a feature Louis Black wrote for the Music section in 1999, another reissue piece, this one a pledge to Moby Grape’s Skip Spence. My boss's personal connection to subject both kick-started my own Moby Grape renaissance and reminded me of the power of the first-person passion piece. Individuals relate to other individuals, pure and simple.
My story turned out as well as I could’ve hoped, though it was touch and go for the first few days. I’ve been sending out a “Fellini Friday” email to a group of friends, colleagues, and unfortunate acquaintances every week since the beginning of the year, some absurdist quote from the great maestro and an accompanying picture. When my struggle with BÖC cancelled Fellini’s first week of February, I felt that I had indeed undertaken a Fellinesque endeavor. I knew there was a story in there somewhere. Unfortunately, filming had begun without a final shooting script. I was the director waiting for a film to reveal itself through creation’s chaos. I don’t know how it is for other writers, but with almost any major piece I’ve written for the Chronicle in my 14 years ahoy, the abandon ship alarm goes off early on almost every voyage. Stay the course, man. Steady.
What made the end result such that I’d name a blog after it – besides the obvious fact these subjects are best embarked upon late at night – was the fact that I finally tracked down Albert Bouchard. After the Goldmine opus, I knew I’d have to interview him eventually. His way with music epics minor and major was just too singular. Yet I had no intention of my Spectres reboot being that occasion. Halfway into the story’s second section, I knew where my third act was best set – over the phone, with Albert Bouchard. Even greater than a Chronicle front desk guardian buzzing my extension with Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler on the line years ago, having Albert Bouchard call me at the office now qualifies as the best call I ever received there. Nice job if you can get it.
My darling let me tell you this – it’s crazy
It had been my intention to run some outtake quotes from Bouchard as the piece’s DVD bonus, but maybe I’ve said too much already. I should mention though that I saw “Death Valley Nights” lyricist Richard Meltzer many festival seasons ago at North by Northwest. Along with SXSW 2007 panelist Sandy Pearlman, Meltzer was half the tandem responsible for BÖC, Bouchard and Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser being the other crucible. Seeing Meltzer do spoken word in some Portland coffee house was another notch on my seen and heard post. Meltzer’s words and Bouchard’s music waft through my wheelhouse as ghosts of my music past, present, and future. Bouchard’s phone call thrills me still, like his answer concerning an Agents of Fortune bonus track, “Sally,” my new favorite Bouchard-wrought BÖC track:
Q: Is “Sally” about a girl or a dog?
A: That’s about a girl. Patti Smith wrote the lyrics. I think it was about her having had an affair with another girl, and she’s being accused by her boyfriend of being unfaithful.
Good one considering the track doesn’t credit Smith, which Bouchard was surprised by. There’s more, but I could just as easily run lyrics from “Unknown Tongue” and “Joan Crawford,” both written by the guy who recruited Bouchard into the NYC school system – D. Roter – and be pleased. “Speak to me in many voices, make them all sound like one…”
So is this some (infrequent) hoary metal blog? Despite this debut subject, and its Chronic prequel, Austin Powell’s “Into the Void” has the metallurgy down stone cold. Besides, I don’t consider either Blue Öyster Cult or Thin Lizzy metal. (My Shins interview as the next post? ) That was Sunday’s Stubb’s sell-out, where hoary old Machine Head and Trivium’s old-school vestiges (Priest, Maiden) were embarrassed by new French metal mastodons Gojira, who yielded only to undeniable shit storm headliners Lamb of Motherfucking God. To quote my Death Valley compatriot, “I’m on the Lamb But I Ain’t No Sheep.”
90-minute Albert Bouchard mix tape, Hyde Park, 1996:
"Career of Evil" (Secret Treaties)
"Dominance & Submission" (Secret Treaties)
"Cities on Flame With Rock & Roll" (Blue Oyster Cult)
"Flaming Telepaths"/"Astronomy" (Secret Treaties)
"Revenge of Vera Gemini" (Agents of Fortune)
"Death Valley Nights" (Spectres)
"Sinful Love" (Agents of Fortune)
"This Ain’t the Summer of Love" (Agents of Fortune)
"Debbie Denise" (Agents of Fortune)
"R.U. Ready to Rock" (Spectres)
"Hungry Boys" (Cultosaurus Erectus)
"Monsters" (Cultosaurus Erectus)
"Unknown Tongue" (Cultosaurus Erectus)
"Fire of Unknown Origin" (Fire of Unknown Origin)
"Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver" (Fire of Unknown Origin)
"Vengeance (The Pact)" (Fire of Unknown Origin)
"Joan Crawford" (Fire of Unknown Origin)
"I Am the One You Warned Me Of" (Imaginos)
"Les Invisibles" (Imaginos)
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