Rebel Yell

The bold history of David Allan Coe; plus, we talk with the Walkmen and compare Lunatic spending

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The Walkmen

Blueberry Hill's Duck Room

Monday, August 2

The Germans have a word, "schadenfreude," which is roughly translated as "shameful joy." Perhaps some St. Louisans felt a twinge of schadenfreude when it was announced that the revived Lollapalooza tour (which was to feature such heavyweights as Sonic Youth, the Pixies and Wilco), cancelled its Lou-skipping sojourn due to insufficient ticket sales.

Now St. Louisans can take some shameless joy (we don't know the German word for that one, sorry) in the fact that many of the bands scheduled to play Lollapalooza have rerouted their tours and will now come through our little burg. Of these bands on the rebound, NYC faves the Walkmen will play at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room next week in support of this year's quite excellent Bows and Arrows. Singer and guitarist Hamilton Leithauser shares his thoughts on the cancelled tour, his new tourmates and the late-night talk-show circuit.

The Riverfront Times: What's your take on Lollapalooza's demise?

Hamilton Leithauser: It sounded like it was going to be really cool. I was reading in the Washington Post and the guy there [contributing writer Andrew Beaujon], and I think I agree with him, that the selection of bands they have would draw the kind of fans that would prefer to see them in the theaters that they normally play in, rather than a field in the middle of the day at some drink-a-thon.

The Walkmen are touring with Modest Mouse [on select dates, though not St. Louis]. Any nerves about opening for indie rock's current 'it' band? I mean, all those video spins have to count for something.

I think it's a good match. It will be a good crowd for us to play in front of. I don't know that much about their music; I haven't really ever heard it. I mean, I've heard little bits and pieces. I look forward to seeing what they're like.

The Walkmen did the late-night routine to promote Bows and Arrows, yes?

[Late Night with] Conan [O'Brien] and [the Late Show with David] Letterman were really fun. And then we did [the Late Late Show with] Craig Kilborn, which was not so fun, and we did [Last Call with] Carson Daly, which was like playing at a pizza party.

Why was that?

We did the other three, and then we did Carson Daly and we felt -- have you ever watched his show?

It's pretty bad.

It's so boring. He was as flat as a board and he was sucking the energy out of the air. And they did these comedy skits that were so lame.

Is it tough to bring a certain live intensity to an affectless studio audience at five in the afternoon, when these shows are taped?

It's really odd. On Craig Kilborn they did something where they were paying the most energetic person in the audience like $20 or something, so it was just the exact opposite; it was like they were too overly enthusiastic. When they introduced the band and the band walked out, they were just going absolutely fucking berserk, which feels so weird.

That's like a trade secret there.

It was pretty brutal.

Boldface History

We like our legends large, and that's part of what's made David Allan Coe (who plays the Farmington Fairground on Thursday) such an icon. The stories about him are legion, and untangling truth from fiction would be as fruitless as trying to outrun your past. They're forever intertwined like who we are and what we were. Or as Coe says, "It's the past that molded my future and paved the way to my current situation." It's tempting to put parts of Coe's legend in boldface type -- and who are we to resist temptation?

It's a past that found the rebellious Coe in and out of reform schools during his youth, culminating with a stint in the Ohio State Penitentiary. Legend has it he spent time on death row for killing a fellow inmate who demanded a blowjob. When a Rolling Stone writer questioned this account, Coe penned a musical response: "I'd Like to Kick the Shit out of You."

He got out of prison in 1967, a long-haired, earring-clad, tattooed rebel sporting the colors of the Outlaws biker gang with which he once ran. He recorded an album called Penitentiary Blues that next year. It's as much blues as country, with a raw, almost-rock energy that would characterize the "outlaw country" movement led (inspired?) by Coe, Billy Joe Shaver and his Coe's lifelong friends Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

Coe would never strike it as big as Waylon and Willie, but he wrote a number of hits, especially for other artists, such as Tanya Tucker's "Would You Lie with Me (In a Field of Stone)" and Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job And Shove It." He's a terrific storyteller with equal talent for cutting wise (as on the classic Steve Goodman-penned "You Never Even Called Me By Name," where Coe opines the perfect C&W song must have a mama, a train, a truck, prison and getting drunk) or to the heart of a matter (as on his Human Emotions record, dedicated to his failed marriage and split into the "Happy Side" and "Suicide"). In the '80s he even wrote several X-rated "biker" albums with songs such as "Pick'em, Lick'em and Stick'em" and "Little Suzie Shallow Throat."

Bankruptcy in 1990 almost broke Coe, as rights to all his songs were sold off and federal agents interrupted a concert in Knoxville, storming the stage and taking the guitar right out of his hands, as well his diamond rings, the cash out of his pocket and his belt buckle. But this "Longhair Redneck" is nothing if not resilient, and he's pushed on, building a new base of young fans while touring with Kid Rock, Uncle Kracker and Hank Williams III. Time has certainly changed Coe, and he's more reserved than in his biking, hell-raising, polygamist (yep!) days, but the legend follows him, sometimes haunting him, forever intertwined with the music in his down-home, outlaw heart. -- Chris Parker

Spending Like Lunatics

You've probably heard that Nelly bought a share in the Charlotte Bobcats, an NBA-expansion franchise, and last week we told you about Murphy Lee's new restaurant (see Chad Garrison's July 21 feature, "Star Flack," for more). Both the most famous of the St. Lunatics and the second-most famous of the St. Lunatics have been blessed with investments that will surely pay dividends for years to come. But not all investments are created equal. A quick comparison of the two joints. -- Ben Westhoff

About The Authors

Ben Westhoff

Ben Westhoff is the author of the books Original Gangstas, Fentanyl, Inc., and Little Brother: Love, Tragedy, and My Search For the Truth.
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