The Etymology Of Rock ‘N’ Roll Monikers
Names are important, especially band names. A good one will have a certain charisma to it, a particular panache. But of course, because it’s rock ‘n’ roll, you can’t be too obvious about it for risk of sounding pretentious–there are no pretenses in rock ‘n’ roll. There are a lot of ways to go about getting a real radical name, plenty of which have been beaten to death. (Read: The Hardcore Band Name Equation). But it’s rare that you get a real gem of a nom de rock, something that rolls off the tongue real slick like and sticks in your brain. I could be OCD (or just a words snob), but I myself have opted out of attending shows, even and especially those of friends’ bands, or refused to listen to records solely because the band had a terrible name. My reasoning is that if they couldn’t take the time and effort to come up with a decent name, then how could they possibly have taken the time and effort to come up with some decent music? On the other hand, I’ve gone blindly to shows just because I saw an exceptional name on a flier and bought records just because I dug a name on an album cover enough.
Let us examine further.
Whiskey Snakes Junior
A good band name is often, yet not always, a sum of its composite parts. This is all subjective, of course; In my case, I should absolutely hate this name. Why? Because of its composite parts, of course.
Whiskey- a too sour, too mashed, too American intoxicating beverage that will greatly and negatively impact sexual performance. Also: The reason I do not remember 2006 and the majority of 2007 (and why the women of this period do not remember me).
Snakes- cold, sneaky, morally ambiguous creatures of habit that will hide in any recess (including sneakers, kitchen cabinets, and hatboxes) and strike at the first unsuspecting sap who happens upon them. Also: Animals that psychopaths and morons have tricked themselves into believing make really cool pets.
Junior- an addendum to the christening process that egotistical and/or failed (typically Anglo-Saxon) males bestow upon their firstborn sons in a shameless attempt at self-validation and/or replication (referred to colloquially as “Poor Man’s Cloning”). Also: A fantastic 1994 comedy about a pregnant man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito. (I have a VHS copy if anybody wants to borrow it.)
So if you do the math, you will see that Whiskey Snakes Junior is a good band name (and a great band, but more on that later). Elementary, right? When it comes to band names, sometimes x+y+z=x+y+z, but other times it doesn’t. Because rock ‘n’ roll should always keep you on your toes, dig?
Dowsing For Piss Alley
Any degenerate venue or dive bar worth its margarita salt has what is known as a “Piss Alley” within its general vicinity. (It is also colloquially known as a “Rape Alcove” in certain circles, although I haven’t run in those circles since 2007 or so.) The reason it’s referred to as Piss Alley is because said alley is often utilized by overzealous revelers to relieve themselves before they actually go into the place where the show is taking place. Because any place willing to put on a show (at least of the variety I frequent) is usually less than willing to keep their restrooms at a satisfactory sanitary level. Indeed, most attendees wouldn’t care, except that I know from experience that it’s real hard scrubbing piss out of Italian leather (and blood for that matter, but that’s a different article for a different time). The other, and perhaps more important, function of Piss Alley is that it provides a premium place to drink as much cheap booze as possible before the show. And where there is a Piss Alley, you can be sure there is a liquor store nearby (and vice versa): like chickens and eggs, except the order depends on how badly you gotta take a leak/drink.
Locating Piss Alley is a bit like dowsing. Dowsing is how people used to locate water, oil, minerals, virgins, etc. before some smart ass figured out science and ruined all the fun. Basically, some dude would walk around with a “dowsing rod” (fancy name for a twig, although I’ve been trying to popularize it as a sexual slang term for some time) until it dipped a certain way. Then he’d turn to the gaggle of simpletons following him and declare that “Here there be (nothing).” The Dowsing Specialist would proceed to collect his Dowsing Fees and laugh all the way back to his cave as all these primitives got busy digging with a shovel (fancy term for a twig).
Finding Piss Alley is a bit like that, although you usually don’t have to pay the locator and it’s a little more scientific. Simply walk around in concentric circles in a hundred yard radius of the venue until you smell the faint scent of stale urine and malt liquor and you’re pretty much home free. Just be sure that it’s concealed enough to hide you from most peeping passerby while also affording a hasty retreat in the event that you spot the fuzz or any other potentially hostile agents (ex-girlfriends, hooch moochers, rival gangs, etc.).
What The Fuck Do You Mean You Don’t Serve Gin?: The Avalon
The Avalon is a charming little place to hold a rock ‘n’ roll soiree: no stage, no bouncers, and blue lighting in the little boy’s room (which this blue boy is particularly fond of). The venue is pretty full when I arrive and a lot of the patrons have congregated in the little walled off area out front to smoke and schmooze with one another. I decide to grab a drink and join them. Unfortunately, this bar only serves beer and wine, so my choices are pretty limited in the drinks department. I order a pricey “cocktail” with some clever name that’s pink with a lemon in a martini glass and made of wine. It isn’t half bad, but it isn’t half good either. (“Good” in this context meaning strong, although it may be better that it isn’t because, after all, I’m trying to work here.) I find myself thinking about words again: Is the use of the word “cocktail” in this instance misrepresentation or is it merely artistic liquor license? Its composite parts don’t seem to quite add up to a cocktail, but maybe I’m just old fashioned when it comes to booze. Or perhaps, like band names, drinks aren’t always the sum of their composite parts.
There are a few inherent problems in playing journo at a show where your friends are in the bands and you personally know a good deal of the attendees. Firstly, it can be difficult to maintain your journalistic objectivity. Simply put, it can become very tempting to wax subjective. Now, this works both ways. For example, theoretically, if the lead singer of said band happens to be one’s business/creative partner, one could (theoretically) lapse into some overly praising diatribe about what a wonderfully brilliant musician, friend, and citizen said singer is. Or, conversely, if one is acquaintances with somebody in attendance whom he is attempting to interview, and said interviewee owes said interviewer, say, five dollars, then one may be tempted to misrepresent said debtor in a potentially embarrassing way. This is all theoretical, of course, and this journalist holds his professional integrity in too high of a regard to ever do such a thing. I would never, for example, take an exchange like this:
Interviewer: So how do you think Whiskey Snakes Junior will be tonight?
Interviewee: I think they are going to be amazing because all of the dudes (and dudette) are amazing.
And turn it into something like this:
Upstanding Lender To Needy Friend: So how do you think Whiskey Snakes Junior will be tonight?
Welching Debtor To Gracious Benefactor: I can not properly answer this question at the moment because I am so utterly consumed with guilt at not being able to pay you back money owed (with interest).
I would never ever in a million years stoop so low.
There are, however, undeniable perks to hiding your ugly mug behind a blue notebook in such a setting. For one, most people will leave you the fuck alone, with the exception of the occasional nosey pick up artist or nonsensical piss artist, all inquiring about what you’re writing. (Stock answer: Death threats to overcurious busybodies.) The best bit about masquerading as a journalist (and I use this title very loosely in my case), is that you get to indulge all of your little voyeuristic inclinations: A pen and paper is the quickest ticket to social pariah status short of leprosy and it’s just as ugly. Which lets one play Hipster Anthropologist. Which would be akin to pots and kettles if I didn’t take the time at this juncture to state that I’m a Dandy not a Hipster, damn it Jim.
Dandy Anthropology: Flannel And Fades And Facial Hair, Oh My!
These natives are a strange breed. Flannel seems to be their tribal dress, although it isn’t uniform; I swear I see some plaid in the mix, but I could be mistaken. Maybe I misjudged that cocktail and my senses have been dulled. However, there is a male pair at the bar that appears to be from a rival tribe, or perhaps former members of the larger tribe that have been ostracized for aesthetic transgressions. And I can see why: No matter how far society as a macrocosm, or society as a microcosm, progresses or regresses, it will never, ever, ever be aesthetically appropriate or acceptable to wear turquoise tank tops.
Their behavior is puzzling. Lack of shame in the pursuance of attaining alcohol seems to indicate a primitive drive towards satiation, while apparent impeccable memory recall points toward higher cognitive functions. For example, I overhear this exchange whilst ducking behind the safety of a wastebasket outside:
Hipster 1: (Incomprehensible at first) Hey man, how you doing?
Hipster 2: Real good, man. Just living the dream. I’ve been so busy living the dream that I thought I’d make some time to come get real, you know?
Hipster 1: Oh, I totally understand, man. My old lady’s been telling me to get out of the house because I’ve been so reclusive, you know? Just hiding away and working on my music and stuff.
Hipster 2: Wait a second, you scored a girlfriend?
Hipster 1: Nah man, I was talking about my moms. Anyways, what are you drinking?
Hipster 2: Pabst tall can, man. Because it’s cheapest and does the trick. (Pauses to push $450 non-prescription glasses back onto the bridge of his nose.)
Hipster 1: Right on! Hey, uh, you think you could spot me one? I got a check coming in next week for some freelance recording work I did.
Hipster 2: Sorry man, I can’t—
Hipster 1: But remember that one time you threw up all over my futon and I had to get it dry cleaned? Like, five years ago…
Hipster 2: Sorry, I don’t remember that.
Hipster 1: Well, can I at least get a King’s Share (see Glossary) or something?
I don’t know how much longer I can remain undetected behind this rubbish bin, but the level of self-absorption displayed by many of the native inhabitants gives me confidence that I can continue to record my observations for at least a bit longer. There seems to be a code of conduct at work here that is as baffling as it is telling. Contrarian self-promotion seems to be the task of the day. Teach a man to fish and he will feed himself for life; teach a hipster to fish for compliments and he will feed his ego in equal measure.
Case in point: A flexing machismo maniac (with questionable fashion sense, although this is irrelevant) says something to the extent of, “I have no idea why everybody tries to fight me. I mean, I’m such a nice guy! Although, I would definitely fuck them up because I bench, like, 300 pounds.”
Everything in the previous statement is demonstrably and irredeemably false. At least from where I’m standing (or crouching, rather, behind my comfort blanket/rubbish bin).
But my cover has been blown and an unfriendly native is now threatening me. I think he means to do me physical harm, although I can’t quite be sure what this bearded miscreant means by his repetitive invocations of “T STRAIGHT OFF.” (see Glossary)
Dive Bar Divination And Aesthetic Arithmetic
If you want to get a sense of what a band’s all about before they even strike the first note, you ought to watch them set up. Are they quick and hurried to get their gear rigged and ready? Or are they meticulous and slow? Is it only bandmates setting up or are some friends and roadies pitching in as well? These are all telling signs of the band’s character, and indicative of the kind of show you’re in for. But the most important and revealing aspect of a band’s setup process isn’t how they go about it, but what kind of music they have played while doing so. Now, I understand that oftentimes a venue will play their own selections or even be foolish enough to turn on the jukebox and leave it up to the drunken denizens to decide, but I know from experience that a lot of the time the bands themselves choose what is played while they setup. If you are absolutely certain that the band has chosen the setup tracks, then you can be equally certain in making certain judgments about the character and caliber of the performance to come. If not, then always err on the side of the band and blame the bar for any shitty songs you may have to endure. But remember: If the setup music is better than the music in the set, then you’ve been set up.
The crowd, for better or for worse, is as imperative to a great show as the performers themselves. Ever try to watch a band play while a circle pit of pit-stained cavemen try to cave your head in? It isn’t an experience I would recommend (particularly at the opera, where I experienced such an environment). For the reader’s benefit, I have devised a simple way to mathematically determine the caliber of a crowd in these circumstances:
The Hats To (Fake) Glasses Ratio:
3:2=Cool crowd. Sit back and enjoy.
2:3=Pesky poseurs. Get the fuck out.
Note To Self: Press Passes And Passing Glances Are Not The Same Thing (Although Neither Really Mean A God Damn Thing)
Whiskey Snakes Junior is about to take the stage (or lack thereof) and I find myself huddled in the back with a congregate contingency of relatives of band members, kids who use live music as a soundtrack for picking up strange, and scenesters who still aren’t comfortable enough to be seen in their own scene, man. And wayward novice journos, of course (without press passes or wayward glances). I got the perfect spot in my brim for a press pass, too. It’s a damn shame. Even worse is the lamentable fact that the only wayward glances going round are the ones I’m passing out as I get bumped into by bumbling barstoolers. But it’s not you, it’s me, baby—close quarters give me a short fuse.
Whiskey Snakes Junior takes the (not so) stage and I still ain’t had no whiskey and I’m still afraid of snakes and I’m still thankful my mother intervened when my father wanted to name me Junior, but none of that matters much because the band is brilliant. They are a three piece, but like the best musical trios, they seem greater than their composite parts. The first number, despite the fact that the vocals aren’t quite loud enough, is reminiscent of Thirteenth Floor Elevators (sans schizophrenia and water jugs). As they finish the number, I spot another member of the press (read: mustachioed dude moonlighting as a photographer) and we exchange cordial nods of recognition, because we both recognize that we’re not as professional as our facial hair might otherwise suggest.
The next song reminds me of Elephant Six stuff. It’s psychy and folky like the early recordings, before those guys became too self-aware and started taking themselves a bit too seriously for their own good. I’m so into it that I’m doing my best to get a better look at the band, because I’m in the back and it’s pretty packed. I am undoubtedly hated by those behind me, as I am at least six foot five inches on my tip toes (and that’s when I’m not wearing a hat, which I am). But fuck it—I’m on the clock here.
A comforting aside: There are at least four other people who look more awkward and unapproachable than you do with your pen and your cheap tiny blue notebook—and you only know three of them personally.
I look over and see an acquaintance of mine speaking in conspiratorial whispers with two girls who look slightly familiar. The three of them then proceed to push and shove their way closer to the band. This is a testament to the quality of the music: I know this kid really well, and his typical behavior would be to try to drag these unsuspecting girls back towards Rape Alcove, but that’s in the opposite direction of the stage and he would absolutely kill me if he read this. (He will definitely read this; please check back here shortly for funeral arrangements and be sure to write said friend in prison).
The next song is another change up from those before it. It’s like sped-up Sabbath or more dirgy Motörhead, which really gets me going. Everybody else seems to be getting into it too, with the exception of The Contingency Of People Who Go To Shows Regularly And Never Pay Attention To A God Damn Lick (or TCOPWGTSRANPATAGDL for brevity’s sake), who are too busy socializing (see Glossary). These are the same god damn yellow wallflowers Cometbus wrote about in the ‘90s. Or was it Charlotte Perkins Gilman? One of the two, I’m sure.
The song ends, to rousing applause, and I look over at my friend who’s been keeping me company in the back. He leans over and shouts in my ear over the reverb: “I didn’t know he could sing like THAT!” I smile and nod my head, because even though I knew that he could sing like that, it’s still a fine thing to bear witness to in a joint like this. Or any joint for that matter. I direct my attention back to my notepad and he nudges me and says, “If there is anything in there about me, I will high five you.” A poor attempt at a threat if I’ve ever heard one, but there it is: An IOU for one high five.
The next number is very MC5, especially the bass. The guitar work is minimal yet effective, with lots of reverb and bass drum and toms and cymbals. It ends unexpectedly and abruptly and catches the crowd off guard a little bit, so that the applause is delayed but as loud and encouraging as ever. The last number sounds like it could have come right off The Stooges’ Fun House record: extended rolling basslines and complimenting guitar work with somewhat subdued vocals. As Whiskey Snakes Junior ends their set, I find myself clapping and whistling along with the rest of the attendees. Over the roar of the crowd, which is particularly deafening considering the amount of people, I overhear somebody cry with emphasis, “HOLY SHIT!”
I smile to myself and silently second that notion.
In summary, there was no shitty, overly American hooch; no shifty, overtly amoral snakes; and no silly and superfluous nominal addendums—just really great rock ‘n’ roll.
From Behind The Orange Curtain With Love,
</3 Bonaventure Blau
A Glossary Of Terms
King’s Share- first sip on a shitty beer.
T straight off- a colloquialism, native to Orange County, that is similar in etymology and use to “fuck off,” “take a hike,” “get bent,” etc.
Socializing– euphemism for trying to pull tail, typically through lies and self-aggrandizement, while live bands play in the background (which will be completely disregarded by said socializers, excepting the opportunity to talk shit when it may result in them getting to third base with a third rate hussy).
While Whiskey Snakes Junior were not the only band who performed on this particular occasion, the truth is that I was forced to leave halfway through Drinking Flowers’ set because my ride was lighting out. They are a fantastic band and you should check them out, in the flesh or on wax. I plan to make them the subject of a future piece, where I can dedicate as much ink and space to them as they deserve and not just give half of a review.
I have neglected to provide names of songs in this piece. This is not due to the fact that I am a shoddy journalist (which I am), but rather because the band has informed me that they do not yet have titles for their numbers. After all, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, so deal with it.
Apologies to anybody I might have taken the piss out of. I tried my best to do the same with myself in equal measure. While much of this piece might fall under the category of satire, I would like to stress that my attitudes toward and review of the performance is one hundred percent genuine.
Please direct any criticism, death threats, or offers for freelance work to:
Sterling Arthur Leva