Editor’s Note: This is what happens when your text sprawls over 20 pages of copy (in 10 point font!). It gets broken up, B. It gets broken into two parts. You want a complete piece? Write a friggen’ book. As for you readers who have stuck with us, I do believe that he gets around to making his point in the next two sections. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go nurse a coffee and try to remember how to feel. TJC
For those who missed Part 1, you can retrace our steps here.
4. Outside Little Rock…A Discussion…The True Meaning of Origins.
TJC – Here we go, you’ve got it now.
ACB – Tell me again why I’m taping this conversation?
TJC – Because.
ACB – Because?
TJC – Because I (cough) I’m not going to remember shit from this drive, so I need some way to remember it.
ACB – So you can remember it? Fuck you, this is my story.
TJC – Well, fine, but I don’t trust your memory either.
ACB – You should.
TJC – Like hell, I should. Say that bit you were talking about one more time.
ACB – About what? Cheese dogs?
TJC – No, idiot. About THE SOUND.
ACB – Right, THE SOUND.
TJC – Explain it.
ACB – Basically, THE SOUND is that new form of music that changes everything. That starts revolutions. That gets banned from airplay because it’s too sensational. That rocks harder and rolls farther than anything we can even conceive of. THE SOUND is too far beyond conception to even try and wrap our minds around what it sounds like, it’s just that far out there and original.
TJC – What would you say the last true form of THE SOUND was?
ACB – Oh, that’s hard to say. The problem is that the last real game changers were all in the 60’s, and all they were figuring out was what their damn instruments could do.
TJC – What about people like Van Halen?
ACB – A technical master, but how much did he really have to say? Look at his hits – “You Really Got Me” is a cover, and all he’s doing is what the Kinks did when they wrote it – turn their damn amps all the way up and wail.
TJC – “Eruption” is impressive.
ACB – Yes, but he never followed that promise. Besides, the counter-argument is that he just played a bunch of scales mixed in with too many repeating patterns to make anything truly original. If I want a guitar solo, I want it to sing like something by Clapton.
TJC – Or Hendrix.
ACB – There’s that name again. Yes, like Hendrix.
TJC – But what about him? A bunch of his songs are covers. Shit, his biggest hit single was a cover.
ACB – You talking about “Watchtower”?
TJC – *nods* Even “Hey Joe” is a cover. And his lyrics are good, but nothing as good as Lennon/McCartney or Dylan.
ACB – Yes, but his true voice is in the guitar, not that crypto-hippie bullshit he was spouting. He re-invented “Watchtower” in such a way that Dylan can only play it like Hendrix did now, instead of the other way around. And those guitar solos? Melodic. Technically pure, like opium. They flow. It’s like his hands learned how to sing at God’s feet.
TJC – Is it necessary to be a musician to have THE SOUND?
ACB – I’d disagree. The Clash and the Ramones touched it. Marvin Gaye has it in his voice. So did Michael Jackson. Something that made you just sit back and notice.
TJC – What then would make Gary Clark Jr. THE SOURCE of THE SOUND?
ACB – He’d have to be doing things with the guitar that people just aren’t doing. None of that Black Keys – post White Stripes bullshit. None of that awkward pop-punk. And if he was, it’d have to have something else coupled to it.
TJC – Can I just float out a theory real quick like?
ACB – *sniff* Sure. Doesn’t mean it’ll be right.
TJC – How about this – what if there is no true originality anymore? What if everything’s just a composite of influences, and every now and then it makes something that we’ve not heard before?
ACB – *stares* That’s the whole god damn point, isn’t it? Are you just now catching up, fuck wit? Jesus, it’s a shame your mother never had any children that lived.
TJC – That’s a bit far.
ACB – You’re right. But anyway, the idea is that everything is a direct compilation of what’s come before. Bob Dylan leads to the Byrds leads to the Eagles and Neil Young leads to et cetera and cetera ad nausem or something like that.
TJC – If that’s the case, then is anything new worth getting excited over? I mean, if everything is just a post-modern collage of what’s come before, then is it really new? And does that mean that it’s really THE SOUND in the first place? Or is it just a diluted collection of existing versions of THE SOUND?
ACB – That’s valid. I mean, a valid concern. I guess it’s all conjecture, isn’t it? I mean, Gary Clark Jr. spoke to us enough to drive across country in pursuit of hard evidence –
TJC – You.
ACB – Pardon?
TJC – It drove you across the country. You kidnapped me, remember?
ACB – Minor details.
TJC – I think not.
ACB – Anyway. So it’s really just a chance that this modification of THE SOUND is our SOUND. What would be really interesting is if it was a universal SOUND, one that spoke to people the way the Beatles did.
TJC – That’s almost an impossibility nowadays, given the variance in culture and taste. There’s nothing truly universal anymore, is there?
ACB – Not so much. And that’s terrifying. *pause* Jesus, it’s dark out here.
TJC – You’ll have that. At night. In the woods.
ACB – Don’t get smart with me. Where the hell are we anyway?
TJC – Somewhere outside Little Rock.
ACB – Before or after?
TJC – Come again for Big Fudge?
ACB – Before Little Rock? Or after Little Rock? Have we gone through it yet, or do we still have to pass through?
TJC – Oh. We’re through it.
ACB – How did I miss that?
TJC – You were either asleep or doing a fairly convincing job of it. You had your face up to the window and were spastically licking it.
ACB – Oh. *pause* How did I wake up?
TJC – I rolled the window down.
ACB – You bastard! Wait. Was that just a bit ago?
TJC – Yup.
ACB – And I’ve already forgotten?
TJC – What the hell did you take?
ACB – I don’t know. The Torodol must affect memory loss. Or I’ve purged my brain from the past few days.
TJC – We’ve only been on the road for about 12 hours.
ACB – Add in six for me. 18 hours of travel.
TJC – Did you know we have to pass through Dallas?
ACB – Dallas? I don’t want to go through Dallas!
TJC – Me either. Let’s get back to THE SOUND.
ACB – Absolutely. The Quest.
TJC – What would the original sound be?
ACB – It’s not so much anything as it is the blues. The chanting and rituals of the early American slaves. The stuff that the Delta blues is made of. Consequently, the blues is always THE SOURCE of whatever new SOUND happens to come along. There’s nothing else as primal, as aggressive, as downright heart-wrenching as the blues.
TJC – So Beethoven and Mozart couldn’t be SOURCES for THE SOUND.
ACB – They weren’t in the right circles to discover it. If they’d been around, they’d have fit right in with whatever was going on.
TJC – You’re saying if Beethoven had been alive in the early 20th century, he’d have played slide guitar?
ACB – Look how many early blues musicians were blind. Is it that big of a stretch to think that he’d fit in there?
TJC – He’s white. No way in hell would he be a slide player.
ACB – Fine. He’d run some place like Chess Records, he’d be Elvis or Les Paul. Maybe even Keith Richards, though that’s a stretch. If he were a Beatle, he’d be McCartney.
TJC – You’re wrong there. I’ve had this debate before. Beethoven is Lennon, Mozart is McCartney.
ACB – Explain yourself.
TJC – Beethoven is all fire and passion, right? Think Lennon in the Plastic Ono Band. Mozart is a bit more playful, more articulate with his musicality, less bombastic and more bouncy. That fits McCartney right around his Sgt. Pepper period.
ACB – *pause* Fuck you.
TJC – Not in your price range.
ACB – Damn it. Wake me when we get to Dallas and we’ll figure out how to get around that temple of sin. Now, where’s the off button? Oh, here it – *click*
5. Early Morning Rain…From an Impala 12…Beyond the Sea and Back Again
Texas broke across our horizons like a laser beam, exemplifying scrub country. This was too far out of the range of desert, though I knew we’d be speeding through Waco, home of the legendary Waco Kid. (Or was that Gene Wilder? I’d still be afraid of whatever backwoods nest would spawn the one and only Willy Wonka. Also, fuck you, Johnny Depp. Fuck you.) As we sped along, my companion driving, I shifted the radio to play Gordon Lightfoot, a (mostly) forgettable medley of singer/songwriter ballads about trains, rain, and one highly noteworthy ballad about a ship that somehow managed to sink in a lake, less than twenty miles from shore. Damn Canadians.
The trip through Texas was mostly irrelevant. I descended into a coma of the obscure, with pink lights flashing and tripping across my vision like so many dancing pink elephants. My cohort, locked behind the wheel of the car, gradually drew his body nearer and nearer the steering wheel, with actual tears slowly forming in his eyes and pouring out. Every so often, he would pull from a water bottle beside him to avoid dehydration, only for the precious moisture to once more pour along his pale, warbling face.
“What the hell are you crying for?” I asked sometime after 4 am.
“I’m…so…happy…” he said, nervously giggling. “But I’ll never see her again.”
“Nutella…that’s the key.”
I abandoned him to his ravings. Good god, man, if he keeps this up, we’ll be dead by 7:00, and all things considered, I’d rather be asleep in the end. If there is an end to this insanity.
By 8 am, we were dusting into Austin, an oasis of modernism amidst the backwash of central Texas. Dallas passed irreverently in the night, as did Waco, but reaching the city limits of our destination was like a breath of fresh air. We passed through several surreal scenes straight from a Robert Rodriguez flick, strangers in a strange land populated by liberal desperados and music of all types and colors.
Ah, the soul, the blues, the country boogie, the dull heady thump of back country folk, the modern and post-modern garage rock, the classically driven guitars and archaic pianos of a new age. If Gary Clark was indeed a composite of this town, then we had great splendors to look forward to, indeed.
Waterloo Records, the home of the desperately sought for prize, the ultimate SOURCE of THE SOUND, did not open until 9:00, so we cruised the city streets, circling the Mecca of Football at the local University, fantasizing about days to come when a cooler temperature would be more apt and appropriate for our living. Here, the air was thin, mesmerized by the heat of the day to come. Already, it was possible to tell that spring had come and gone here; promises of June lurked over the city like a guardian angel brimmed with fire.
At last, we could take it no longer. Parking on the store front sidewalk, we ran up to the window, spotting several people milling about inside, preparing for another day of retail hell in the depths of Hades. Our palms slapped the window, though my companion was lucid enough to prevent me from striking at the glass with the tire iron that had been located in the trunk of the Impala that lay purring behind us like a gilded silvery leopard, waiting. Finally, a young female clerk stepped over to the door, her arms heavily tattooed, and wearing enough eyeliner to give a raccoon pause.
“You guys know we’re not open yet?” she said, her voice thick and husky like a spread of Nutella (maybe there was something to my companion’s ravings…)
“We’vecomeallthewayfromChicagoandwereallyreallyneedtogetGaryClarkJr’salbumonvinulsoifyoudpleaseletusinwedbeeversograteful – ” My associate’s ramblings were abstract, terrifying in their simplicity, and the exact opposite of efficient. Wasteful, even, in the context of the morning lights now rising up above the skies of Austin.
The store clerk was clearly not buying my comrade’s rant. She turned to me, sensing a slightly more acceptable manner of dealing in my outward appearance. (I am at my most calm and relaxed at the climax of a long cross-country drive. Where most others find themselves stretched to their wit’s ends, I am as cool as if I just stepped out of a 1960’s jazz club.) “Can you tell your friend that we’re not open? Come back in half-an-hour.”
I leaned closer to the crack in the door. “Look, let me level with you.” I sensed that frank and direct address would be the only way to deal with her in a manner that might lead us to some manner of success. “My friend here has recently met with a severe loss in his life, and mostly through my own fault, he has discovered that Gary Clark Jr. is the best means to deal with his incorrigible case of heartbreak.” She nodded, seeming to understand my companion’s drooling appearance, even regarding him with a touch of sympathy. “See here. We’ve had a long night, and we’re not too proud of ourselves, but the only way to console this tragic mother fucker is for him to listen to Gary Clark Jr. on vinyl.”
“I love him. New album’s a bit mixed for me, but his blues are fantastic. You should hear him play sometime.”
“We’re hoping to,” I said, gritting my teeth in a forced smile. “Is there any way you’d see fit to let us in and pick up a copy of his work on vinyl? We’ll also need an appropriate record player and set of speakers.”
The clerk looked back at some distant figures in the store, shrugged her shoulders, and then turned back towards the door. “We’ll let you in,” she said, drawing out her keys, “But no browsing. I’ll help you find what you’re looking for.”
Ten minutes more found us having purchased the appropriate equipment and a fresh pressed, plastic sealed copy of Blak and Blu, Gary Clark Jr.’s album released in October of 2012, all for a grand total of $112.97. It was a small price to pay for the necessity of exploring THE SOUND, but sacrifices must be made in support of discovery. I paid with my credit card, uttering a silent prayer when it was accepted, as my limit would still be accepted at every gas station between us and Chicago. But first, there was work to be done.
I thanked the clerk for her kindness and with one arm dragged my associate from the store. The other arm supported our baggage; I refused to trust my associate with any of the precious cargo that I was carrying. To do so would have been infantile madness, of a kind not to be trifled with at these early hours. Loading up the groaning Impala, we drove straight for the river.
“Why the river?” Mr. Cook asked, the fog temporarily lifting from his vision.
“What better place to experience THE SOUND than by running water? Besides, we’re too far from the ocean for it to be worth our time. In the time it would take to make it to the Gulf, we could have listened to this piece twice over. Just doesn’t seem worth it to me.” I yanked the wheel hard to the left, turning into a gravel lot that overlooked a riverfront park. Ambling out, I searched for a power outlet that would support our miniscule record player. Had I had my druthers, we would have refrained from listening to the LP until we reached the city limits of Chicago, where we could then set up in my swank (or decidedly unswank) Edgewater pad. Alas, THE SOUND was too close to us to ignore it for a second longer. I’d already committed twenty hours to this quest, and a 16 hour drive awaited us still.
Spreading ourselves on the bank, we reclined, popping enough greenies and stimulants to keep a bull elephant conscious for two weeks on safari, and plugged in the red and black wires of the speakers. Taking great care with the record, we placed it on our turntable, set it spinning, and dropped the needle into the grooves, allowing the sound to wash over us in the early Austin morning like a flock of geese, moving steadily north in pursuit of their old grounds.
Editor’s Note: Apparently, we recorded ourselves listening to the LP, so as to preserve our commentary, and probably also to keep ourselves awake. At this time, we were both running on fumes, with a long drive ahead of us. Extreme times call for desperate measures. Or so it seems; quite frankly, I don’t remember saying these things. However, I do recognize my voice on the audio files. Who knows.
A. Ain’t Messin Round
TJC – A bit of Prince, here, don’t you think?
ACB – It’s a little bit of the old Stax-Volt, a lot cleaner though. I wish this were as dirty as “Numb”.
TJC – Should we just skip ahead?
ACB – No, this is pure archeological work. We have to listen to every second of this.
TJC – At least he’s talented.
ACB – Yes, but talent doesn’t mean there’s a SOUND. Press on.
B. When My Train Pulls In
ACB – Oh, please tell me there’s a solo. *solo* OH GOD YES. THANK YOU JESUS, THERE’S A SOLO
TJC – OH MY GOD, THIS IS THE GREATEST GUITAR PLAYER FUNCTIONING TODAY.
ACB – I WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO HIS SOUND.
TJC – TELL ME THERE’S ANOTHER. *second solo* HALLELUJAH.
ACB – WE ARE GODS AMONG MEN AND WE HAVE THE MUSIC OF VALHALLA IN OUR POSSESSION.
TJC – *high pitched yowling noise*
ACB – Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
TJC – Sorry.
C. Blak and Blu
TJC – He’s been listening to Frank Ocean, hasn’t he?
ACB – Diversity is an essential component of THE SOUND.
TJC – Are you sure? This sounds like any number of R&B tracks I’ve heard in the last few years.
ACB – I hope this isn’t where he’s going, that’s to be sure. But it’s all part of the show, my friend. Gotta get through his vibes. He’ll outgrow this.
TJC – I hope so – oh god, there’s a turntable.
ACB – That’s not good. That riff sounds a bit like Billy Squier.
TJC – Ugh.
D. Bright Lights
TJC – That’s more like it.
ACB – But wait! This is one of those early songs of his. It’s his pure, original sound!
TJC – But it’s just – it’s not – I mean, it’s good. I hear him in there. But he can kick it harder than this, surely.
E. Travis County
ACB – Oh no.
TJC – Not good.
ACB – It’s like “House Is A Rockin” threw up on Chuck Berry’s grave, bottled it, and sold it as preserves.
TJC – I’m ashamed to be named Travis.
F. The Life
ACB – I mean, he’s got a point, right?
TJC – Couldn’t say. Pass that over here, will you?
ACB – Sure, man.
TJC – *pause* Yeah, I’m a little fucked up.
ACB – Good.
G. Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ for Nothin’)
TJC – Now that’s more like it.
ACB – Dirty riff. He wears his influences on his sleeve.
TJC – Nirvana?
ACB – That, the Pixies, and some good bluesy-70’s rock.
TJC – I have to say, going back to his earlier stuff, he’s got a good voice. Marvin Gaye-esque. He really does wear his influences on his sleeve, you’re right.
ACB – As long as they don’t define him. I wish his voice were darker. Less of this John Legend shit that he’s doing.
TJC – Forget that. The guitar playing. It’s smooth, not too effects driven, technically sound, but it sings. No wonder Clapton loves this guy.
ACB – Jagger loves him too. He’s boomer friendly while bring solidly in his own thing. I can see this guy fronting like a dozen different bands all around here.
TJC – Kind of like a black Jack White.
ACB – Only less insane. And with more soul.
TJC – This song somehow gets better every time I hear it.
ACB – That SOUND!
TJC – He’s earned the right to pull over on the side of a highway and shred. Didn’t you say that earlier in the Impala?
ACB – THAT SOUND!
TJC – Well, yes, you said that, too. But –
ACB – THAT SOUND!
TJC – Never mind.
I. Please Come Home
ACB – And my high is gone.
TJC – Franki Valli meets Otis Redding?
ACB – Is it a sign that on anything that isn’t blues, we’re debating who he sounds most like – there! He sounds like Prince there! – rather than what his style really is?
TJC – Or is that just a sign that we need to expand how we talk about new artists?
ACB – Fuck that. I can talk about him however I want. Right now, he sounds like he needs to man up, get in his Cadillac, and go woo his woman with his guitar. This singing of 50’s doo-wop isn’t cutting it. And I hate to say it, Gary, but that solo – aw, shit, you’re fine, it hits the right notes. Sorry I insulted you.
TJC – I’ll never see her again.
ACB – Who?
TJC – You wouldn’t understand.
ACB – I hope not. Last time it was Nutella.
TJC – Come again?
ACB – Never mind.
J. Things Are Changin’
ACB – You know?
TJC – Hmm?
ACB – I totally see myself getting laid to this music. Just the right amount of groove, nice vocal tones, you get a good bottle of pinot noir, this would hit all the right spots.
TJC – If you didn’t scare her away with “Numb” first.
ACB – The ideal woman would find “Numb” the sexiest thing in the world. Well, my ideal partner, that is. I already find it sexy as hell.
TJC – We’re done here.
K. Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say
TJC – He knows people are calling him Hendrix. That’s the only reason he put this in here.
ACB – That and he can just fuckin’ play.
TJC – I bet this would be amazing live.
ACB – It’s already amazing just being a little fucked up.
TJC – Speaking of…*pause* His playing here is just…sonic.
ACB – Super sonic.
TJC – The keyboard is really adding perfectly.
ACB – Super keyboard.
TJC – And the shift? Masterful.
ACB – Super masterful.
TJC – Okay, you’re finished with that.
ACB – Super finished.
L. You Saved Me
ACB – That is one fuzzed out guitar he’s got there.
TJC – Back to Marvin Gaye again – oh, and Frank Ocean, too.
ACB – There’s a bit of Ben Harper back in there.
TJC – Nice.
ACB – And some old Dan Tucker.
TJC – Who? Where?
ACB – No, that’s a whiskey. Back in the back seat. Bring that to me.
TJC – Fine. But aren’t you going to be driving?
ACB – Like that’ll stop me.
TJC – Bollocks.
M. Next Door Neighbor Blues
ACB – I killed a man once, you know.
TJC – *pause* Really?
ACB – No, not really.
TJC – Why would you say that?
ACB – Anytime I hear pure Delta blues, it feels like the kind of thing I should be admitting.
TJC – Huh. I get that. And that’s what this is.
ACB – You got that right.
TJC – Where did he record this? In a swamp?
ACB – Sounds like a cabin somewhere in Mississippi.
TJC – I love it.
ACB – It’s a little derivative, but it showcases his roots. Good stuff. Better than Zep’s “Bring It On Home”, anyway.
TJC – *pause* So…is this THE SOUND?
ACB – It’s A Sound. Not THE SOUND. But after all of this, A Sound seems perfectly fine to me.
TJC – I hear that.
6. Retracing a Path…Calling the Hogs…Desperate Vocal Overtones
The time had come to depart. We fled Austin as the sun was approaching, taking in the full of the landscape about us. We were running on minimal sleep, facing a long, long day of driving, and in danger of exhaustedly flinging ourselves into the roadway at any time. To get us back on our feet alone took much of our remaining supply of greenies, coupled with half an hour of chugging coffee straight out of mugs at a local tacquito stop. Collapse seemed imminent, if we weren’t able to get ourselves back to the corridors of the Windy City.
Talking was minimal, which sounds strange for a 16 hour trip, but fit the general ambiance of the trip well enough. We’d accomplished our basic mission, but the Quest for THE SOUND had failed. I now had a new LP player and a set of speakers to replace my melted pair back in Edgewater, as well as a gorgeous new vinyl edition of Gary Clark Jr.’s opus. A magnum opus? I think not, but visceral and enthralling none the less.
I dropped my companion on the outskirts of Wrigley Field, sending him stumbling into the evening light with his suitcase and a hearty kick on the posterior.
“Next time, just order it online!”
“What, are you saying you regret this?”
He paused to consider this. “No, I guess not,” he admitted, sighing heavily. “It might just be the hash, but I feel like we did something.”
“It often does.”
He considered something more. “We should have called the hogs in Little Rock!”
I snapped my head back against the seat. “The audacity, man! Those people have families! You deplorable bastard! Ingrate!”
Mr. Cook laughed at me. “A load of malarkey nonetheless. But it’s all been done before. What are you doing now?”
“I have work to do. Yourself?”
“I’m gonna forget about today until tomorrow. Then it’s back to work.”
“Well, play a song for me.”
“I would, but I’m too sleepy. I refuse to go anywhere, either.”
I laughed. This was one of our favorite games. “In that case, I’ll do it myself, fucker. In the morning, then. I’ll follow you.”
“I hope not. Last time you did that, we ended up in Austin.”
“Was it really that long ago?”
“Good night, ass clown.” With that, he turned and descended into his apartment. Throwing the Impala into gear, I drove past a succession of familiar bars, the type that sit at the corner of every city section dominated by sports. Somewhere in the fading light, some small band was gearing up for a cover of Dylan, by way of Hendrix circa 1967, and dozens would be hearing it for the first time. I grimaced to myself, trying to remember a time before I knew of such things, of covers and originals, of ballads and howling guitar solos, a time when everything once again seemed fresh, bold, shiny and new.
That time was two days ago, I realized. When I pushed play, allowing Gary Clark Jr. to flow from my speakers until I felt “Numb”.
If that’s A Sound, then it’s worth it.
…4 stars, if you’re into that sort of thing.