Song Sung Blue

We have a 'Bone to pick with the Drams, write fan mail to the Vibrators and reflect on the music of New Orleans

Sep 14, 2005 at 4:00 am
The history of rock is the history of stupid band names. None, though, are dumber than the moniker Slobberbone. Last year, after bassist Brian Lane relocated to Florida, the Denton, Texas alt-country rockers officially buried the 'Bone. Lead singer and songwriter Brent Best, guitarist Jess Barr and drummer Tony Harper have regrouped as the Drams, adding Keith Killoren on bass and Chad Stockslager on keyboards. Best fills B-Sides in on the changes.

B-Sides: I'll miss Slobberbone, but I won't miss the name.

Best: Nobody more so than me, my friend.

Did you think about ditching it earlier?

Slobberbone was started as a joke. We never saw ourselves doing anything. Eight years down the road, we wished we'd been smart enough to change it.

The Drams set at Twangfest was moody -- like the old band, minus the slobber or the bone.

That was our third or fourth real show. The band is in gestation. It's hard for me to step back and look at it, but if there's anything major to it, it's letting things develop on their own. I'm pretty laissez-faire.

Is it hard to change direction, especially when Slobberbone was starting to register on the pop-culture radar?

The new band sounds more like what I've been doing solo, recording at home, for a while. I don't know if Slobberbone was keeping up with that. The band had become such a touring machine that we weren't able to come home and take the time to make sure we reflected the growth.

Were you surprised when brainiac rock critic Greil Marcus took a shine to your song "Give Me Back My Dog"?

That isn't the song I would have predicted he'd like.

It's flattering but worrisome. You never know when the dude will drop Nietzsche on you.

At the end of the day, it is just a rock band. "Slobberbone"? How precious can you get about it? -- Roy Kasten

Dear Vibrators,

Glad to see you could make it to the Creepy Crawl on Monday, September 19. With your lead singer turning 60 this year, I wasn't sure how much longer you guys would be able to tour. Hell, I think life is going to end after 30. But you guys just keep on chugging and remain dedicated to your craft.

Now, some may not consider stumbling and sneering on stage a craft, but I do. It's hard work night after night. It's something younger, less-tempered bands seem unable to keep up through the long miles of cross-country touring. Their lack of stamina means shorter tours -- and, as a result, cities with less-than-topnotch punk credentials suffer. Cities like St. Louis.

Last month both the Subhumans and GBH made stops in the Lou. MDC is here the day before you play, while the Exploited is dropping in on our little Midwestern metropolis next week. Damn straight punk's not dead! Sadly, only bands whose first albums I could have been conceived to seem to recognize the seething underbelly of punk-rock madness hidden beneath the surface of this indie-rock-ruled town. But you saw St. Louis before the emo takeover. You remember how good the scene was -- back in the day.

But while the scene may have shifted slightly, it's still thriving. We've still got seedy basement venues, grassroots rebels and a zillion shitty little bands that could open for any show. What more do we need? Hot groupies? We can stir some up if that's all it takes. Do you think you could help spread the word? Could you tell younger bands dissing St. Louis, like the Horrorpops, they really do have a following here? Don't get me wrong, I'm ecstatic you're coming. But like I said before, you're getting up there in age -- and what are we supposed to do after you're gone?


P.S. Happy belated birthday, Knox. Rock out with your cock out!

Lost in the Flood

Considering the as-yet-untold death and destruction in New Orleans, it may seem flippant to talk about music in the light of Hurricane Katrina. But if you've spent any time in New Orleans, you know exactly how central music is to the city and its people. And as with any time of mourning and sorrow, we look to music to say what we cannot, to put into context what seems so senseless.

As a former New Orleans resident, the recent tragedy has reconfigured my favorite songs about the city. Louis Armstrong's "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" has turned from a wistful recollection to a solemn dirge. Lucinda Williams' "Crescent City" (about a town where "everything's still the same") stings more, knowing that the city will never be the same, while Tom Waits' "I Wish I Was in New Orleans" -- a snapshot of the city's romance and allure -- lists streets and locales now ruined.

But more than all of the others, Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" (which concerns the Mississippi River flood that destroyed much of the rural South) keeps rising to the surface on disaster-relief telethons and on sympathetic radio programs.

Its chorus ("They're trying to wash us away") serves as a mournful coda for those displaced by the flood. But the sense of "us and them" that rings here is crystallized in the second verse, as President Coolidge, surveying the damage, says, "Isn't it a shame/What the river has done to this poor cracker's land." Of course, today it's not just the "crackers" left most devastated by this year's disaster, but the city's many poor, black residents (although our current president favors the similarly rural sentiment "folks").

Still, though the context of the song is incongruous with the current crisis (it was written 30 years ago about a flood from 80 years ago), "Louisiana 1927" manages to capture the sense of otherness -- the duality of being American citizens but existing as outsiders -- that has been part of the South since the Civil War. This sentiment of abandonment in Newman's song has arisen again, this time in the sorrow of those blindsided by nature and left to make sense of the tragedy. -- Christian Schaeffer