33 Vol. 2

Please, forgive my heart.  1994 was twenty years ago.  What is “alternative country” anyway?  Dog spelled backwards.  He once said, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”  Or maybe it was Barry Manilow.  You get 1500 points for using the word “tincture” in a sentence.  Chains.  Changed?  Nothing.  And also with you.  Please be seated… in your faintin’ chair.  That’s why I love mankind.  Lions, tigers, and bears.  Oh my!  Geetar Gawds. (OMGG)

Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for awhile…

Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for awhile…

Oh, oh, oh, I’m going to be up for awhile…




Part 2: This Song and Dance Never Ends


The summer after my sophomore year in high school, my family made another trip up to Sanford, North Carolina to visit my uncle and aunt.  This particular visit we drove into Durham to go check out the Duke University campus.  Since my father is a N.C. State grad, I was properly raised on Tobacco Road Basketball.  Due to their recent dominance, my brother and I had become quite enthusiastic Duke Basketball fans.  For some reason, we thought we might get something out of walking the same pathways as Grant Hill.  Unfortunately, I did not magically become an all-world basketball player.  In fact, aside from purchasing some Blue Devil schwag from the university store, the trip was almost pointless.  There was one saving grace, however.  On our way out of Durham, lo and behold, I spotted a record store from the car.  I can’t remember the name of the establishment, or what street we were on (maybe Hillsborough or Ninth?), but this store looked fantastic.  After commanding my parents to stop the car, I hopped out and went inside.  I had never seen a record store like this.  The only record stores I had any prior experience with were the ones inside malls in Greenville.

As soon as I stepped inside, I knew my selection would have to be top notch.  I couldn’t simply walk into a place this spectacular and buy the new Toad the Wet Sprocket album (though there is still a soft place in my heart for that one).  No, this required something off the beaten path.  Of course, I thought of the No Alternative compilation.  For quite a few years it served as a sort of “grocery list” which I would mentally refer to when shopping for new music.  As soon as I decided on purchasing Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, “Cut Your Hair” came on over the store sound-system.  There was no way I could allow myself to look like I had made my selection based on what the clerk had decided to play in the store.  No.  This had to be my own distinct decision.  No outside influences were allowed!  I had chosen this battle, and I was going to conquer!  My search felt like an eternity.  Browsing and sweating.  Browsing and sweating.  I could feel the heat of the stare coming from record store clerk’s eyes.  I was pretty far along in the alphabet, when suddenly I had found my pumpkin in the patch.  Uncle Tupelo’s Anodyne.  I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew nothing of this band, really.  All I knew was that I loved that cover of “Effigy” on the No Alternative compilation.  This was going to be my purchase for the day.  I picked it up and carried it over to the register.   The clerk looked at my selection, and said, “Great band.  Where did you hear about them?”  He could see it scribbled on my forehead, all-caps, in black Sharpie:  “I’M A CLUELESS FIFTEEN YEAR-OLD FROM SIMPLEVILLE, SOUTH CAROLINA.”  I didn’t even respond, I was out of my element.  I just wanted to go about my day unnoticed.  “Well, nonetheless, excellent choice! I love these guys.”  It’s amazing the list of stupid items and situations that a teenage boy will place importance on.  High on that list for eventual music geeks like myself, was getting the stamp of approval from the clerk at the record store.  That day… that purchase… was the beginning of a very long love affair with a particular band.


My sophomore year in college I moved into an apartment with 3 of my classmates who were all graphic design majors.  One of them, Chris, was a big fan of Wilco.  I can’t remember how he discovered them… maybe they opened for R.E.M. or something?  Nonetheless, he was a big fan of Wilco.  I was more of a Jay Farrar guy at the time (now, I don’t lean one way or the other).  Trace by Son Volt is still one of my five favorite albums.  The lead track, “Windfall,” swaps in and out (at any given time) with The Impressions’ “People Get Ready” as my favorite song.  Chris and I had a friendly Jay Farrar vs. Jeff Tweedy rivalry at the beginning of our friendship.  I like to think that our entire friendship is based on Uncle Tupelo.  Over the ensuing years (with a lot of help from Austin City Limits and Sessions at West 54th), we both pursued an Americana education.  It was in those years that I discovered artists such as Iris Dement, Old ’97s, Kelly Willis, Steve Earle, Robbie Fulks, Doug Sahm, Whiskeytown, John Prine, etc.  The most important discovery of those years was The Flying Burrito Brothers, and of course Gram Parsons – who just happens to be one member of my personal holy trinity.  No single band has been more influential on the music that I’ve grown to love more than Uncle Tupelo.  When I was a fifteen year-old, I despised country music.  Now, I love a lot of country music.  Good country music.  Not shit country music.  There would be no Buck Owens in my life to this day if it weren’t for Uncle Tupelo.  I think there’s a lot to be said for that.


One summer in college, I made a trip up to New York City to visit a friend.  I crashed where she was staying at her sister’s apartment in Brooklyn.  Her sister’s husband was from St. Louis, and he saw Uncle Tupelo live several times.  Hearing him talk about seeing them was like hearing someone talk about seeing the Ramones at CBGB’s.  See, Uncle Tupelo had already broken up by the time I discovered them.  I mean, they had just broken up, but still, they might as well have been The Beatles.  They were done.  So, when he mentioned that he even had a bootleg copy of their final show, I flipped.  He let me make a copy of it on cassette.  So, now we’re at the point in this entry where we get to sharing.  While deciding to write about them on this blog, I stumbled upon something on YouTube that’s pretty amazing – a video recording of that entire final concert.  Whoever discovered this recording and uploaded it should be given a Congressional Medal.  I can’t believe it doesn’t even have 9000 views.

You can also download the audio for this show here.  I’m so excited that I was able to find this again, because I lost the cassette copy I had years ago.

As the informercials always say, “and that’s not all!”  I’ll leave you with these two final “bootlegs” I’ve also found online.  Here is an interview on an old NPR show from 1990 and, here is one more Uncle Tupelo gig recorded in Chicago.

Thanks for reading (and judging me).

Part 1: In the Beginning…


“It was 1990 give or take I don’t remember
when the news of revolution hit the air
The girls hadn’t even started taking down our posters
when the boys started cutting off their hair
The radio stations all decided angst was finally old enough
it ought to have a proper home
Dead fat or rich nobody’s left to bitch
about the goings’ on in self destructive zones”

~ M. Cooley ~

1994.  I was a sophomore in high school.  At fifteen years-old, I was really starting to discover who I was.  This online journal is about music-related things, so I’ll spare you the drawn-out psychological profile of a confused teenager.  I’m not interested in writing the world’s most boring coming-of-age novel.  The short backstory… I was an artistically-inclined clueless adolescent with low self-esteem who lived in Simpsonville, South Carolina.  I was terrified of drugs and alcohol, so I never got into trouble.  I was terrified of most things, so I rarely had any fun.  I had a horrible wardrobe, an even more horrible haircut, and absolutely no idea where I belonged.  So, like most fifteen year-olds in the early-90s who just “didn’t fit in,” I was obsessed with “alternative” music.  Of course, all I knew of “alternative” music was what I heard on an alternative music radio station or what I saw on MTV’s 120 Minutes.  I never had an older sibling who introduced me to punk or The Pixies or Sonic Youth.  I was too shy to strike up a conversation with the clerk at the record store.  I lacked guidance, and I didn’t even really consider myself a music junkie at this point in my life.  I had spent much of the last three years immersed in all those so-called “grunge” bands that were really just rock and roll bands.  Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, a little bit of Soundgarden… Remember the Singles Soundtrack?  Cameron Crowe had created an alternative music handbook for kids in small-towns across America with that one.

My sophomore chemistry class that year included a few students who shared my enthusiasm for all things “alternative.”  We all kind of huddled together in the back of the classroom hoping to disappear in the background somewhere.  It was our first class of the day, so we had plenty of time before the bell rang to have grand discussions about music.  This was the first time I ever had any exposure to this type of pop culture forum.  Three panelists in particular come to mind, and they were the ones that would usually hold court.  To protect the innocent, I will refer to them as Bobby, Tim, and Assbag.

Bobby was very similar to Bender from The Breakfast Club.  He was huge, reeked of cigarettes, and was at least 19 years-old.  Bobby wore only black t-shirts and jeans.  The t-shirts ranged from Pink Floyd to Iron Maiden, and Bobby would reference anything from King Crimson to The Misfits during our morning meetings.  Bobby was unique.  At first glance, I would have pegged Bobby for a typical burnout redneck, but I didn’t know any other rednecks who listened to King Crimson.  Of course, I knew nothing about those bands.  When Bobby held court, I just kept my mouth shut and nodded my head in agreement.

Assbag was a friend of mine at the time, however, we were in the process of growing apart.  He lived right behind me, and we were really good friends in middle school.  Assbag played football on the JV team our freshman year.  Our sophomore year, he hung up the jersey and cleats for a pair of shredded jeans and combat boots.  Basically, Assbag didn’t have a clue who he was either, but he had made a strong commitment to who he was going to be.  He just didn’t take me along for the ride.  Or… maybe I just didn’t accept the ride because of all that stuff I was terrified of.  Nonetheless, Assbag was the most knowledgeable guy in the group when it came to music.  It also meant he was very opinionated.  “Stone Temple Pilots are what Pearl Jam would be if Pearl Jam had any balls.”  He was always making full-of-shit proclamations like that.  He was also one of those guys that would immediately drop a band as soon as they achieved any fame.  One day he would be talking about how great Green Day was, then the next week they would be wiped from his collective conscience as if he suffered from some form of self-righteous amnesia.  Assbag was all about the underground.  I didn’t know where he discovered these bands.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized, all you needed was a subscription to Ray Gun or Spin.  He was always “refining” his taste in music.  The kid had a The The t-shirt for fuck’s sake.  The fact that The The even had a t-shirt was mind-boggling to someone like me.  I’m still not even convinced he really listened to them.  I think he just thought it was funny there was a band called “The The,” and he bought the t-shirt.  It was always the kids that tried the hardest, that were really the biggest posers.

Finally, there was Tim.  He was a complete goofball.  Really hyperactive.  He had a hard time focusing.  He also (much like me) didn’t really fit in to any one particular crowd.  We were pretty decent friends for much of our sophomore year.  Tim and I shared more of the same taste in music.  Really, it was whatever was “hot” at the moment.  He gave me a lift home from school every day during second semester.  I discovered a wide array of music on those car rides home.  Tim introduced me to a lot of darker/heavier stuff.  Nine Inch Nails, Helmet, Danzig, etc.  The soundtrack to The Crow was in heavy rotation.  That was how I discovered The Jesus & Mary Chain.  From what I can recall, I think his older sister had a boyfriend that worked at a record store in one of the malls in our area.  That’s where he was coming across most of what he listened to.  One day he popped in a cassette that the record store boyfriend had recommended.  It was the Red Hot Organization compilation – No Alternative.


This compilation was a road map.  Each individual song was a a starting point that led to somewhere else.  Tim let me borrow the cassette.  I was obsessed with it.  Eventually, I bought the CD and returned the cassette to Tim.  I was familiar with some of the bands already – Soundgarden, The Breeders, and Nirvana (they had a hidden track at the end).  Some of the bands I completely ignored.  Some of them, I would return to several years later.  However, one song completely changed my life.  Not in some exaggerated, over-emotional, “best band EVER!!!” way.  This song changed my life, because it actually exposed me to an entirely different world of music that has remained a constant in my life to this very day.  It was a cover of CCR’s “Effigy” by Uncle Tupelo.  You might think I’m being dramatic.  I promise you that I’m not.  Uncle Tupelo didn’t just introduce me to other artists that I idolize.  Uncle Tupelo’s music was the score to many memories in my life.  Hell, Uncle Tupelo is responsible for entire friendships.  

Tim and I never remained good friends.  We kind of lost touch over the summer after our sophomore year.  A lot of my friends were now behind the wheels of cars and driving towards freedom away from the confines of their suburban homes.  I was a late bloomer when it came to that.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it was another thing I was terrified of.  While the other kids my age were off racing in the streets, and I stayed close to home playing pick-up basketball games in the neighborhood.  I have no idea what Tim is up to these days, nor do I really care.  It’s just funny to think how such a short friendship could be so influential.