10 January 2007
DAVE TOMPKINS: GUEST RIFF WEDNESDAYS
Kicking off 2007's Guest Riff Wednesdays is one of my favorite music writers, Dave Tompkins. He is frustratingly not this Dave Tompkins, so I learned, but feel free to check out "Dave Tompkins"'s searchable online CD collection. I'll also probably write something today about Jim Jones or whoever but we'll see what happens. Thanks. --NBS
Welwitschia a happy New Year.
Day Of The Riffids
By Dave Tompkins
The welwitschia is Cousin It of the desert. The tweeds and turtlenecks might call a “living fossil.” Thankfully this heap is neither locomotive nor carnivorous. Not so much with the Triffid, however. Any Triffid would tell you that it’s easier to be locomotive and carnivorous when hanging out with a bunch of blind people after a meteor shower.
This year I accidentally killed most of my household plants. The only survivor was a cactus that had been commemoratively potted inside my late brother’s leather left half boot. (The right boot had been lost in a dance battle in Union Square two summers ago. This is somewhat of a mystery since he was doing The Lawnmower, not exactly the most boot-losing of dance moves.)
It is doubtful that James Brown ever did The Lawnmower. He did however do the Zombie Walk while performing “There Was A Time” at Boston Civic Center--in 1969 we think. He wore boots and appeared to be electrocuted by his own sweat, perhaps transmogrifying into The Zombie Mower. The Zombie Walk is kind of similar to The Lawnmower in reach but has more stagger, more goofer dust, more seizure and shoots the sleeve from the shoulder. Though the Zombie Walk wasn’t cited in the recorded version of “There Was A Time” (which cited the Mashed Potato), it was certainly there in spirit.
A rap group called Skram once did a song called “We Didn’t Even Need James.”
My brother once ran over my Mickey Mouse backscratcher with a lawnmower. The backscratcher posed as my dog Alice’s tombstone. (Mom’s idea.) The mower’s rip cord was tied to a shrapnel of kindling that drew blood, leaving you with what my brother called “Old Man & the Sea Hands.” The mower also had the shakes, bad, and put you on vibrate for the rest of the afternoon. We can speculate that my brother had picked up an early iteration of the Zombie Mower during this time.
Bushwick Bill, who’s into zombies but never lost his boots in a dance battle, did lose his pride one time in a Union Square Fresh Festival B Boy Dance Off, when he got served by a girl. Two days before Christmas 06, Bill called and talked about meeting his favorite drummer Pumpkin at Mr. Magic’s Rap Revue back in ’84 with RUN-DMC and everybody else.
In 1982, when Bushwick Bill was hitting trains under the name IS (I=Infinite, S=detective Jack Spade’s last name), my parents got divorced. My mom and I moved to Providence Drive which counted among its residents: 5 widows, a clock repairman, a 79-year-old guy who bicycled to his liquor store job every morning with rubber bands around his plaid cuffs, and a nurse who wore paperclips in her hair. There were no kids save for the one with cerebral palsy who stole all my brother’s Tiegs-era Swimsuit Issues (including Raquel Welch in Cancun).
Providence Drive was less a street and more like a small lump. I remember mom calling it a “cheery little street” one day when she’d driven me to school with her coffee mug frozen to the roof.
The first person I met on Providence Drive was Mae Leitch (like Leech*). We didn’t call her Widow Leitch, the way Mitchum says Widuh in Night of the Hunter (Incidentally, Foghorn Leghorn bit that shit when calling on Widuh Hen, eh?). She was just Mrs. Leitch and her house was full of old newspapers. To avoid cleaning, she spent most of her time on her stoop or lumbering around the front yard with a rusty flower pot. Mrs. Leitch was a Sunday school teacher and her students gave her plants which often got loose in her yard, giving it a mismatched shagginess, no more kempt than the botanical bedhead we had for a yard. She let that shit go and we loved it. The rabbits loved it too. (Mrs. Leitch’s backyard had lost the kudzu war long before mom started calling the neighbors “Chemlawn.” Two Christmases ago, I went back there and found an old stove, two mowers and a wilted basketball)
The week we moved to Providence Drive, Mrs. Leitch leant me her basketball and ensured I had a place to hone my baby jump hook. The backboard was rotten and devoid of sweet spot--it felt like I was throwing the ball at a defenseless barn door. It went wamp.
One night Mrs. Leitch came over for tea to welcome my mom to the neighborhood. I was in the next room watching UNC get upset by Wake Forest (I still like the name Delaney Rudd). Apparently, right when Leitch said something like, “David is such a nice boy,” Carolina went down by 10 and I yelled something like goddamn motherfucking shit and punted the TV tray across the room. The china rattled and mom made teeth and kicked the door shut.
In attendance at the UNC-Wake game was my dad’s best friend (named Frog) and Hugh Morton. Hugh always sat under the goal taking pictures with the press corps, dodging Michael Jordan’s shoe, Chiki Yonnaker’s kneecap and so on. Hugh owned Grandfather Mountain and somehow managed to be both a developer and an environmentalist, which is near impossible. Kind of like being a cactus and a shoe. My brother worked for Hugh in the Grandfather Mtn animal habitat. He once ripped his pants while fending off a “big fat diabetic pissed-off bear” with a broomstick.
My grandfather (who lived near Grandfather Mountain) once told my brother: “Boy, you got too much future in those pants.” Which is to say that his pants were too big. James Brown’s pants were so tight that my grandfather might’ve said he had too much past in his pants. There was a time and JB ripped a hole the future.
Hugh Morton, Mae Leitch and of course James Brown all checked out this past year. I heard Leitch went quickly. Her prewar bay window house was recently leveled by what my mom called a giant orange lobster claw (manufactured by Frog’s construction equipment company.) My mother watched the demolition from her window after rescuing a few Lenten roses, a baby magnolia and a pair of Mrs. Leitch’s salt shakers. It’ll be supplanted by some obnoxious Shock & Awe box with a private team of mowers to trim the welcome mat.
Mom tells me this on the phone while watching a squirrel guzzle all the Kool-Aid from her humming bird feeder.
“Goddamn squirrels. Sorry I’ve got to hang up. I’m gonna go out there and kill that bastard.”
*not to be confused with Winston Leech, the Phantom of the Paradise, who got his head stuck in a record press and had to be connected by the chest to a giant modular synth called TONTO**.
** My friend Toshio just got back from getting lost on a jungle island in Japan. His legs were covered in leech hickeys and he emailed me a picture of a synthesizer triggered by earthworms. I sent this to Maggotron McCauley, a gardener/Miami Bass artist who once referred to himself as the Thumpatollah of All Nematodal Keyboards. You really need to see Attack of the Mushroom People.
91 GUEST RIFFS