Sneakabilly Freakout!

Sep 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm
Show: Unknown Hinson, psychobilly musician/vintage vampire performance artist extraordinaire, in an intimate show at Mad Art Gallery. As an extra-awesome bonus, the fine and talented ladies of the Alley Cat Revue provided a burlesque warm-up with typical wit and inventiveness.

Food: Bread pudding with bourbon sauce from Frazer's Restaurant & Lounge.

Difficulty: Thwarted! The problem, dear Brutus, was not our stars or in ourselves, but in service slower than Johnny Cash's phrasing on "Hurt." More on that in a bit, because it still makes me mad.

click to enlarge Bela Lugosi
Bela Lugosi
There's something that taps into deep currents of 20th-Century mythos about a man with a guitar that can raise hell itself.

Imagine Robert Johnson, feet scuffing at the Stygian Mississippi dirt by the crossroads as he waits for a man with a face always in shadow to come tune his guitar until the strings burn and snap in the air like bacon grease off cast iron.

Imagine B.B. King running back into a building burning to the ground, floor spread with flaming kerosene knocked over when two men got in a fight over a woman. Maybe nobody remembers her, but everyone knows her name. It's the name of every crying guitar King's played since that smoke-cured one he pulled out of the fire: Lucille.

Imagine a middle-aged guy in a ribbon tie, hair slicked back into a dramatic Bela Lugosi widow's peak, pasted-on sideburns, teeth blacked out in front giving brief flashes of hillbilly "fangs" when he opens his mouth wide enough, which is rare. Unknown Hinson -- named after his father, says so on his birth certificate. "Father: unknown." -- is an outrageous, Andy Kaufmanesque persona: a man who speaks unintelligibly and carries on with a big shtick.

That's the thing, though. We love the shtick. It's so ridiculous that it also taps into those other American rock 'n' roll myths about having a will, a force of personality so strong that when you pick up the guitar, when your hands form the arcane mudras of the chords and the sliding, shimmering notes, the devil stops what he's doing to listen.