There’s something to be said about writing songs about nothing. It’s a real skill to pull off and still have the music move people. It’s a skill honed with steady doses of beer, weed, sweat and practice, practice, then more beer, I suppose. It’s a skill the Gourds have got down pat. The new album, Cow Fish Fowl or Pig, brings the Gourds once again on the road, and once again, to Missoula this Wednesday for a CD release party to celebrate it. Those who saw them on Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago surely had their tickets in hand and their shit-kickers shined for the show that was scheduled for last September, but had to put those boots back in the closet and turn their sorrowful eyes with the rest of the world to the surreal news and images of 9/11. Yes indeed, it’s been almost a year already and a crazy year at that. But in all that craziness isn’t it necessary to, well, get a little crazy from time to time?
“My name is Jorge and I twist and I juke. I roll into town with a wagon of fruit.” No, this lyrical poetry is not from a Spanish sonnet, but rather the timeless intro to Cow Fish Fowl or Pig. The mysteries of the universe and love and death are explored within this album with a gentle curiosity and tenderness not many bands today can touch. Can’t we all relate to the story of “Hell Hounds,” which tells of escaping the neighbor’s hell hounds by way of the state fair, the smell of carnies and cocktails in the bearded lady’s trailer? Don’t we all know a “Sweet Nutty” who “come[s] from Ocalala/and was caught by the FBI for driving camels through a needle’s eye?” Can we deny the complex, simplistic, abstractness-obtuseness of the lines, “Monochromes strummin’ their bones/Yella bikes high tail it on home/Wild ass sleepin’ on his side/He’ll eat anything as long as it’s fried”?
I digress. Does it not all come back to Jorge in the end? Can we deny this man his place in history, this man who sold a pear to Muhammad Ali? I digress again. Jorge sells fruit, but a gourd is a vegetable. Some indigenous South American men wear gourds over their crotches as signs of their manliness, and reliable sources tell me it’s called a penistulp. Not only are penistulps a fresh and virile look, in some parts of the world they also protect their wearers from the unwanted attentions of the candiru, an eel-like parasitic fish with a nasty penchant for homing in on streams of uric acid discharged into brackish water and lodging deep inside the discharger’s naughty bits with rows of recurved barbs. There’s only one way to get rid of a candiru, and it ain’t pretty or nice to think about.
I ask: Are we all that dissimilar from these men? I think we are not, and I think its high time we make peace with that. Let’s celebrate the gourd in all of us. The band plays at the Blue Heron on Sept. 4. You’re sure to hear more rockin’ rollin’ bluegrass country sounds coming from five men than you’ve heard in a long time. The show is sure to be a party, and yes, if you ask real nice, they might even play “Gin ’n’ Juice.”
Mark Olson and the Creekdippers, December’s Child
Mark Olson, formerly of the Jayhawks, and his wife, Victoria Williams, call a little house in the Joshua Tree Desert home. They are sweethearts, and the music they write together will make you laugh and cry at the same time.
After a long and wonderful run with the Minneapolis classics, Mark Olson went solo and set up a studio in Joshua Tree with Victoria. Victoria, a multiple sclerosis survivor, has recorded many albums of her own, and even had her songs honored in the album Sweet Relief, which brought such musicians as Soul Asylum, Pearl Jam (“Crazy Mary”), Pavement, Lucinda Williams, Michelle Shocked and Evan Dando together to sing her songs. And so, in the tradition and spirit of the late great Gram Parsons, the Creekdippers were formed and many simple and beautiful songs sprung forth. Mark Olson’s music speaks of the innocence of America. He writes of the human condition with an offbeat lightheartedness and vivid imagination. Virtually none of these songs are quite as simple as they seem, and that is the beauty of the music. Tony Glover said it best when he wrote of Olson’s and former Jayhawks co-songwriter Gary Louris’ style: “They use words like kids use fingerpaint.” These songs all seem like fond memories. They speak of ghosts, roots, mean old men and women, sweet old grandmas and grandpas, dusty roads, broken arms, forests and one-eyed old black dogs that are all made legends in songs sung with passion and played with acoustic guitars, fiddles, banjos, and pianos. Just as the Gourds invite us all to get in with our inner penistulp-sporter, this music celebrates the creekdipper in all of us. This music is real, and it is a reflection of who we, as a country, are and who we were. December’s Child keeps the tradition of great American songwriting rolling.