Danger is My Beer: Learning Nothing About Jazz

All right, Eggheads, gather ‘round my crystal ball and peer through the misty veils of time, back to when I was a skinny, unhappy, nervous asshole who was getting bored with his music collection. In the back of my head, I had this vague idea I’d learn about jazz. See, I'd fallen in love with a girl who happened to be a jazz musician.

If you don’t have the correct exposure to jazz, it’s pretty easy to hate. Unknown forces make sure that only the shittiest jazz music makes it onto the airwaves for mass consumption. There are shadowy white guys with clean gums and short hair and blue shirts who spend their days in an office behind a door with a frosted glass window. On this window the word “Control” is carefully painted. Their sole objective is to ensure that mediocrity reigns supreme.

Using little more than soybean extract, xantham gum, monosodium glutamate, a pound of garden slugs, a peacock brain, and electricity, these Listerine-breathed meddlers created Wynton Marsalis in a laboratory at midnight. They covertly financed the career of Herbie Mann, establishing a flute jazz junta that blandly spread over the airwaves like a gentle case of ringworm. They broke into the Ken Burns’ editing room, held a gun to the back of his head, and said “Hey! Nice job on the jazz documentary, shithead! Now take your little x-acto knife and cut Albert Ayler and Don Cherry the fuck outta this thing.” Ever walk into, say, a Starbucks, and there’s something jazzy on the speakers? Those soothing totalitaritones you hear are the lullabyes of Control. Sounds innocent enought, but in reality Control is throwing you up against a car and slapping the Pat Metheny braincuffs on you.

The cheap jazz selection was limited around my neck of the woods, making it difficult to find the longed-for genuine article. Instead, there was a lot of Al Jarreau, which I didn’t buy, as well as flagrantly terrible bullshit, with sleeves featuring stuff like a guy with oily hair playing a white piano, the sleeves of his blazer rolled up, against a background of neon tubing, which I also didn’t buy. Like any tight-fisted, dollar bin grazing record collector, I was hoping to happen across, you know, something that would blow my mind, but I didn’t. No one ever sells the really good stuff. You’re not gonna come across a copy of, say, Ornette Coleman’s This is Our Music in a used record bin unless its owner died without a will.

However I did come across this:

The Reverend Fred Lane, From the One That Cut You. I don’t know if you can call it jazz. All right, you can’t, but stick with me. The point is that this record had a great cover, and the songs had names like “Fun in the Funduss,” “I Talk to My Haircut,” and “Danger is My Beer.”

In fact, there was a small, crudely-written note included in the cover artwork. It said:

I hope the pain is through. This is the one that cut you.

Fuear sounds like the kind of guy I usually have the misfortune to sit next to on any given bus ride lasting more than three hours. According to legend, the note was found, by one of the band members, wrapped around a butcher knife and stashed in a truck.

Fred Lane’s album also had this going for it—it got released on Shimmy Disc. Home to the early Boredoms, Daniel Johnston, Ween, and other noted musical fuckups, Shimmy Disc was a cool label. I’ll buy anything that gets put on certain labels, ya know?

Anyway, back to our story. I paid the three dollars, and five minutes later I was sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, peering at the record sleeve. There were a lot of personnel on the record, with names like Motor Hobson, Doc “Bob” Cashion, Bill the Kid Dap, Whitey Stencil, E. Baxter Put, Shep Estrus, Cyd Cherise, Dick Foote, and Ron ‘Pate. In fact, the record was billed as being released by Rev. Fred Lane backed by Ron ‘Pate’s Debonaires.

The paper sleeve featured fake covers for some thirty-odd fake records. Such as Fred Lane Sings Some of Your Fried Fish, and a record with a beachy Brian Wilson-looking fella staring contemplatively out at the viewer, entitled Get Outta My Gal.

There was a fake press release, Xeroxed on yellow paper, included with the record. The press release led one to believe that a Rev Fred Lane stage show existed. It was hard to tell. There was even a parody recording of the recording method used—it seems that the record was recorded at 93º Zagreb, for full Bolophonic Sound. The packaging for this album had more marginalia than the Talmud, is what I’m saying. It was exciting before even before I tossed it on the turntable.

From the above, you might think that Rev. Fred Lane would be more aligned with the Zappa/Beefheart nexus than he actually is, which is not at all. The record sounds like a bizarre fusion of Jackie Gleason’s Velvet Brass, novelty music, and vaudeville. The garagey instrumental “Danger is My Beer” inspired my friend Matty to emblazon the back of his jacket with a pictogram of a guy hitting his head on a pint glass, accompanied by the caption Danger is My Beer. It was hilarious-looking. Matty has since sent this jacket packing to a Goodwill somewhere in Boston, so should you be in Boston, and see some scrungy punkeroo wearing it, take a picture for me, all right?

Despite the fact that Fred Lane didn’t teach me anything about jazz, I hit upon an amazing plan: I would reverse-engineer my jazz knowledge. Starting from stuff that wasn't really jazz, I'd work backwards step by step, until I arrived at John Coltrane's Love Supreme.

It didn’t work, though. I had to do something else.


Michael said...

Oh my, I love this. I have to read in little increments to avoid overwhelming myself. Just like jazz!

jgs said...

If'n the totalitariatones are not already a band name I hope i can will them into existence from this day forward. I envision them as playing rousing marches and soaking with megalomania, wearing matching uniforms... natch.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes...the goodly Reverend Fred. It would have been a find if you came across the original, on Say Day Bew records, but the Shimmy will do...

Some of the fake records are real. One of them, the Raudelanas Pataphysical Review, is a recording of the stage show. A recent CD reissue exists...