Sum of Their Parts

With a twisted vision, Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs get a leg up on the competition

More mock preacher than gutter poet, Glasseye does revisit well-trod territory anytime he screams about Armageddon or having deadly intent with a 30-06. Truly songs such as "50% Murder" and "3 Ton Chain" -- both from Falls -- sound clichéd when compared with material from Waits' 1992 Bone Machine. But with a softer rasp and a wider, more operatic vocal range, the Rev maintains an aura of distinction in the subculture of modern freak-show barkers.

"[Waits] didn't invent this music," Glasseye insists. "If you look back, there's Blind Willie Johnson, who was a huge influence on what I'm doing. There's Dr. Souchon, who was Tom Waits before Tom Waits -- with the snake-oil-salesman pitches and the kind of junk Dixieland jazz and what-have-you. And his music -- if you can find it -- is brilliant. He was actually a real doctor, living in New Orleans in the '20s. But everything is derivative. There is no originality in music anymore. It just depends on what you do with it and where it comes from and what your intents are. If you intend to sound like someone, then you're particularly derivative. If you don't, you may be derivative of a style of music. It's all about matters of the heart, not to sound too cheesy."

Matters of the soul, Glasseye has discovered, are less complicated. "I found God a couple years back," he says, "and not having the patience to go through seminary and being married, I decided to do it the cheap and easy way." Through the Universal Life Church -- a worldwide ministry based in Modesto, California, since 1959 -- Glasseye received his free online ordination in less than five minutes. Legally certified, he's able to perform weddings and assist at baptisms and funerals. "They actually sell something called 'Ministry in a Box' that I've been wanting to get," he says. "But to tell you the truth, I'm not very religious. There's always the power of God in music. Religion creates earnestness in music without it having to be particularly earnest. There's a fundamental power in what you're saying, regardless of how serious you are as a person. That sounds like mad rambling, but there's beauty in Southern religious music that probably had nothing to do with the religion but with the fervor with which they're singing. I find that to be beautiful."

Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs: antique-collectors of the grotesque
Reverend Glasseye and His Wooden Legs: antique-collectors of the grotesque

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Saturday, March 8
Off Broadway

Given the band's willingness to toy with gimmickry -- the vintage clothing, the hyperbole and the frontman's handlebar mustache -- the more subtle beauty to which Glasseye refers often plays second fiddle to glaring shenanigans. But fun is fun, consarn it.

"I've been looking for some circus stilts so I can be the nine-foot-tall Reverend," he says, laughing. "I love the absurdity, the humorless jokes. I'd love to bring animals onstage. Goats! That would be awesome." Past performances have included roller girls and puppet shows; the band also sells tonics -- curious elixirs for pattern baldness and fungus-ridden toes -- demonstrating its perpetual knack for mischief.

"I actually dress this way on a day-to-day basis," Glasseye says of his turn-of-the-century ensemble, which includes a candy-striped vest, pocket watch and spats. "I'm really short -- I'm five-five. Modern clothing doesn't fit me. It makes me look like a latchkey kid. So I got into the Victorian stuff because I can find clothing that fits me that I don't need custom-tailored. But I also have a real big head, so I can't find hats."

Glasseye sees his next album evolving in a slightly different direction. "Our first album cost about the same as a year in college, so I'm guessing I have three more of them before I have to get a real job," he says. "We've been getting into more harmonies, not in the Beach Boys sense but in a Kurt Weill operatic sense. We're moving into vibraphone and pizzicato strings. Bells and whistles. Orchestration. Reverend Glasseye and the Boston Pops. I hope it comes out like I have it storming around in my brain."

Until then, step right up, folks. The funny little man in the pulpit just might hold the keys to your salvation. Or maybe that Bible that he's brandishing contains nothing more than a flask of whiskey. You pay and take your chances. But as the Good Book says: "If thine own eye offends, pluck it out!"

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