Release the Hounds
Plenty of my friends have been in touring bands, but I never truly understood their pleasure in couch-surfing across the country, bathing in Taco Bell sinks, subsisting on free condiment packets (a Floridian hobo once told me he spread them on toilet paper because it “expands in your stomach”) or toiling nightly in smoky, urine-soaked dives for disinterested audiences. Some newbies toured to see the nation — a town-by-town litany of identical strip malls, Starbucks, Targets, Home Depots — or to avoid their soul-sucking day jobs. Others loved the music and believed they had a future.
Listen close and you'll hear Henry Owings scoffing.
Owings founded the supremely opinionated, Georgia-based magazine Chunklet, ripping bands new orifices since 2001. Known for issues such as “The Biggest Assholes in Rock” and articles on overrated and worthless live bands, Chunklet prides itself on artful heckling in print. If you want an insider's look at touring, or a stocking stuffer for the jaded rocker in your life, there's a smug, often hilarious little chapbook in stores called “The Rock Bible: Unholy Scripture for Fans and Bands,” compiled by Owings.
Usually I recommend dodging like a panicked street squirrel from the so-called hipster guidebooks, but at least this one was written by music geeks with firsthand experience (a longtime promoter, Owings has toured more recently with “Mr. Show,” featuring comedy genius Bob Odenkirk). And truth be told, I've nursed a weak spot for fan-oriented rags since I was a kid scanning Safeway racks to find Creem writers like Rick Johnson, who once described Geddy Lee's vocals as “snip-n-fix-it time at the kennel” and Van Halen as “one of the promising new practitioners of slash and burn agriculture.”
Much of the scripture here feels like it was penned by a group of over-the-hill indie rockers drooling to devour the hopes of the young. Brian Teasley admits in the introduction that there is a new disease spreading “like salmonella in a bowl of frat boy barf … you and your lousy band.” What follows are helpful gospel passages like these:
Being a great musician doesn't matter if the music you play is boring.
Never begin an encore with a new song. It's like punting on third down.
Only bands that are not from LA say, “We're from LA.”
Never hand-deliver your record to the local alt. weekly. Doing so merely doubles your chance of not getting it reviewed.
Art space is code for “sounds horrible” and “won't get paid.”
Sexually transmitted diseases don't wash off in the shower.
Jesus may well love you, but get it in writing.
No one wins a battle of the bands.
Owings is a classic fan boy. He loves listening and talking about music so much that he can't help but pontificate, dispensing lists and raunchy road tales. A Grammy-nominated graphic designer (for the Charley Patton box set), Owings has remarked in recent interviews that he's tired of being the guy who everyone thinks “hates everything.” Then again, his burning hatred does fuel some cleverly fiendish writing.
The “Rock Bible” is a worthy toilet companion that offers some useful advice for young rock bands, not the least of which is “it's never too early to break up.”
1. Nile Ethiopian food on Mondays at Elwood Thompson's
2. Werner Herzog's “Encounters at the End of The World” rental (Nov. 18)
3. Local author Harry Kollatz Jr.'s “Richmond in Ragtime: Socialists, Suffragists, Sex and Murder”
4. Jan Svankmajer