The Freelance Mentalists.
Saturday, October 24, 2020
  Coepolitan Sunday Supplement: Technically Lonely 2

(This is a remix of pieces written for Chuck Eddy and the Voice in 1999 and Kandia Crazy Horse and Charlotte Creative Loafing in 2005

---tweaked originals of those are archived here (the '99 piece, archive post was 2005)

And the Loaf piece is here:

Both of those blogs have all my work for both publications [also, most (?) of my Paper Thin Walls spitwads are currently lodged in Paper Comet, a work in progress which starts here, from the most recent post on back to the earliest, the Blogger way:])

Some people seem most at home in crowds. Not necessarily happiest, but that's

not necessarily what home is for. It's about having your own slot—in deep

catalog, remastered import twofer CDs, maybe misty-, maybe cracked-cased,

yet still-handy cassettes from pleasantly musty thrift store crates, and whatever

else can find its way onto this jaded digger's packed shelves.

"Can't you see?" David Allan Coe asks his multitudes at (his show in a long

series of concert albums recorded in) big-ass Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, on

1997's brickhouse Live—If That Ain't Country,

"Ah'm a desperate man." And on his 1999 album of all-new material,

Recommended for Airplay, he's still throwing tasty songbabies to the wolves of anxiety. 

Coe first appeared in end-of-the-'60s/ earliest-'70s Morning After fog, on a crispy critter cusp.

Fresh out of prison, he was the kind of country singer who slept in a hearse

parked in front of the Grand Ole Opry, when he wasn't touring with heartland

arena rock heroes Grand Funk Railroad. The kind of country singer who meant

to bumrush Nashville (with only the unavoidable portion of resulting bumrash, a

calculated risk), near a bandwagon of convergent, finally trending Outlaws

whose coattails he soon had to ride.

Born in Akron in '39, early-thirtysomething Coe was considered a little old for a

potential music star. So were several newly-biz-tagged Outlaws, but they never

claimed to spend their youth on or near Death Row, nor to teach Charlie Manson

how to play the guitar... When, in the Bicentennial Year (1976), Wanted! The

Outlaws lassoed the right earlier-70s tracks of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson,

Jessi Colter, and Tompall Glaser, becoming the first album of country of any kind

to go platinum, when that designation was new, as the record market reached

Boomtown---Coe, just not that in with the Outcrowd (who had been building up

cred with cautious suits and dedicated heads for several years before he

appeared), was left at the station. 

Which may have something to do with why he always has seemed a bit grizzled,

'n' frazzled, too—a bitten bit anxious. But he's prowled around enough to sniff out

the most likely, bearably bumpy ways to get his money made and his 'maker

shaken---even more of a deadpan baggy-pants character actor than other

Outlaws,  Coe's the one who makes the gigs like an underdawg independent

contractor, hustling and shuffling, still semi-tucking those cuffs into some hungry boots.



Despite some performances behind a Lone Ranger mask and a debut concept

album based on life behind bars, his early music face was more ominous than

blustery. 1974's The Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy is snowbound Southern

Gothic. It follows the colorful, rueful memoryscape of Michael Peter Smith's

"Crazy Mary"----now it's Lil Coe and his boys, running scared as they taunt an

old, supposedly formerly running-wild local character---with the Coe-Marty Yonts

monochrome "River," sung from his cell. Which is where he then freaks out, via

Mickey Newbury's grandiose, ritual, solitary meltdown, "33rd of August," pushing

against its impossible, indelible date—Coe finally bleats "Looks lahk rain!" at the

very end, which actually comes as a splash of welcome comic relief, each time I

dare listen. (But lately, the comic's getting darker, as questions emerge, and

answers follow: who the hell cares, who even knows about rain, when a body's so deep inside? He does.)


Overall, a cautionary tale: that's how the Cowboy got this way---yet there are

holes in the links of his chain-chain-chain---it's only part of the story, as always.

This segment of songs and associations is just another visit from the thought train, and the night may still be young, who knows.

It didn't sell, and, like another David, he took another step out and went Glam,

which, as in Rock, meant matching the glittery (in this case cowboy) suits with more macho music. 

Yet all the while, he was still studying how to build his own Big House (after what

some in prison lore call the slammer), starting with a big tent, and a bigger boat.

As you might guess from the Grand Funk connection, he had audiences who

crossed from grassroots radio rock---smokin' gold---to country, and that was

before country radio programmers knew just what to do about it.

"Living on the Run," from 1976's Long-Haired Redneck,  was one of the earlier

(listenable) melds of Allmanesque guitar wheels with fiddles, steel, and as

replenishing a mountain spring of female vocalitude (thoughtfully subdued on the

subsequent polygamy song "The House We Call Home") as you could find, east

of Tupelo Honey-era Van Morrison. He even drew balm for sore spirits from

Caribbean rhythms, seeping deeper than Jimmy Buffett's.


But this was no happy-hippy blend; it was an effective contrast for


Don't Tread On Me principles and mood swings, malcontents under pressure,

shipping themselves all the way down through the ever-smoldering Lower 48. 

The aptly named Human Emotions proffers "Suicide," actually about shooting

his unfaithful wife and her lover—but he yowls like a parody of Hank Jr. with a

mouf-ful of pills 'n' beard, the music's ZZ Top as carnival ride, and basically this

here's his Slim Shady moment, in 1978. 

Well, kind of: close as a cautious parolee/sane person,

can get to rootin'-tootin' revenge, via the creative coup of clapping on a mask of

comical psychodrama---it wasn't a leap to the top of the critical-public-

commerical heap 'o' real trouble's acclaim, a la Eminem,

but, whatever the attorneys thought, it's not bad for someone who just found out

his real-life wife was cheatin', while this very album was still in the works.(so he

said later). At least as effective as/ much more enjoyable than Dylan's notorious

"Idiot Wind," this track is a stage blood steam whistle showdown, with sufficient

Realness to satisfy judges of such in the drag doc Paris Is Burning, probably.

More discreet music: among the Nashville Cats on the aforementioned 1970

debut, Penitentiary Blues, is drummer Kenneth Buttrey, who previously played

on Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35" ("They stone ya when you're tryin'

ta be so good..."). Buttrey got to march, pound, shuffle and roll Coe through the

echoing halls of this portrait of the later-self-proclaimed Longhaired Redneck as

young bluesman. Its songs don't all deal with prison life, but, in this context, they

sure seem like cells, both connected and separated. Places where your thoughts

crowd you and people are alone together, in little cages like stages, even when

teeming, because somebody's always watching and being watched.

Penitentiary Blues -- long out of print,  until the 2005 Deluxe Edition CD reissue

by Hacktone/Shout! Factory, in time for Coe's 66th birthday -- now seems like the

blueprint for his enduring worldview. Ro-mance is alluring, but in an elusive,

somewhut fairytale way (later attempts at real normal, country radio-acceptable

updates of  countrypolitan gentility can suddenly morph into nobody-but Coe-

politan after-midnight specials, with backing voices of dream babies from the

holler and thee canyon, suddenly spilling like a slo-mo gold rush all around his

eternally smoky tones). He sees himself and his lady friends as forever finding

and losing each other in the maze and locks of life, like ships that go bump in the

night. If one discovers or accuses the other of (and/or finds oneself) bumping

someone else, Coe's always ready enough, soon enough (sometimes eager,

sometimes sad) to hit the road, to stay away from conflict, and any other

confinement. (I've been told that he wrote a pamphlet of guidance for his fellow

ex-cons, perhaps included in some original-release LP sleeves of PB, which

sternly advised them to have sex only with prostitutes for the first six months, or

maybe more, after being released.)

Measuring, maintaining, and adjusting what sounds like his sort of technically

lonely space in the crowd means that he can apply a very practiced eye to

situations that call for the bolder side of professionalism too, as in Coe's most

famous song, "Take This Job And Shove It" ("I ain't workin' here no more"). No

going postal or on strike for him: he's already out the door. Oh, he might go along

to get along, but only so far. Another standby, Steve Goodman and John Prine's

"You Never Even Call Me By My Name," establishes an ironic distance between

himself and the clichés expected of country performers (and here listed and

demanded by Coe---Mama, trucks, prison, drinking, and more!--- as

commemorated in frequent live and recorded monologue, always leading into the

resulting, added, Coe-approved-as-"perfect" final verse), which allows him to

use them again elsewhere however he pleases (always shamelessly, and, in

proximity to this audience fave, pert near blamelessly). A little space can be

becoming, when you're ready for the spotlight, under that hat and/or braided beard.

Past certain once(?)-notorious self- bootlegs (and the 1976 sleeper classic Nashville Outter-Than-Outlaws documentary Heartworn Highways letting its smokey the contemplative five & dime vibe 'n' groove get shattered by backstage-at-the-prison-concert Coepulsively on-the-seized-day-ov-on-record testifying---extruding, before the glittering eyes of a trusty, who is nodding obligingly, encouragingly, "Uh-huh, uh-huh...", the ever-self-generating coat of many dark colors that was already  something that he, especially, was known for, among mythopoeic peers),  studio outbursts remain carefully framed, though sometimes by ludicrous rhetoric in motion (watch it now, podner).

Speaking again of Glam, You could even say it afterglows, that  DAC's still

running gender-convention redlights, unashamedly and frequently and doubtfully

asking, in effect, "No, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" But isn't this actually a

certain expedient Country Male Tradition? Especially if you leave out "Country"?

(Even on '77's Rides Again,with cover pic of DAC on motorsickle, dressed damn

appropriately, he travels "Under Rachel's Wings," 'til his magpie eye is taken


One thing that helps him get over (musically, at least) is, along with the often,

though not always, shrewd-to-astute choices of material and personnel, the way

he manages to suggest a compatible combination: just the right elements of

other, more inherently (or anyway precedent-establishing) distinctive voices. He

often sounds like Waylon, minus the trademark vibrato, thus paradoxically

poised. Maybe he just can't vibrate like that, and/or knows not to try (later for too

much trying in this world).There's also a fairly reliable rate of drying and drawing

out of mawkish phrases, a practice I first associated, and still do, with Merle

Haggard, when he's not sagging: those long Coe-Hag whitefolk-nostrils spear

excess sentiment, but borth artists' residual warmth (plus DAC's slightly-fogged-

windshield Waylonics) guarantee that love's left enough sediment for pipedreams

and homefires.

'99's Recommended for Airplay is actually, in its autumnal cool, and even

(initial) political correctness, a seeming curveball for those expecting new

veerings through vintage-style illin'. Despite the usual dry runs, "The Price We'll

Have To Pay" manages quite the civil, reproachful undertone (yes, he's picked

that trick from wimmen too!), "She's Already Gone"'s pedal steel breathes

unearthly joy (Joy might even be the backup singer, exuding her own

inscrutables), and "Drink My Wife Away" is so fun it's almost Bubblegum. Yet "Let

Me Be the One You Turn To" is the soulfullest, r'n'b–est thing I've ever heard him

do, and his "In My Life" moves me like the Beatles'.  "We Can Talk" (rhymes with

Billy Swan's "I Can Help") somehow sustains intimate insinuation via epic guitar,

and "Sweet Rebecca" is so concisely (yet Skynyrdly!) in love. It's got his old

heart-shaped tattoo beating like a question mark. So what? And why not?

Inferred musical  swingin' door questions for which more words might go

something like this:

While we're living on the run, my designated driver friends, in this crowded house that we call home, the odds can shift, and if she never even calls you by your name, Coe, maybe that's because she doesn't need to, not in here----can't that be a good sign, some of the time? And like the Goodman-Prine, Coe-approved song says. "Ah was drunk the day Mama/Got out of prison." Also vice-versa, likely enough. Things come to those who wait.


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