Paul K. And The Weathermen
By Joe Strutter
The Soul-Shakin' Motown Country Hobo Campfire Folk-Punk Torch N Twang of Legendary Protest Singer, Paul K. And The Weathermen!
"Where authority and power flow down from above, from heaven to the White House to husbands and ayatollahs, the free and joyful living of people can be quite the enemy ... When people begin to really live their lives, the black and white certainties do not turn to shades of gray, but to the million-jeweled hews of a morning's dew." (Granny D Haddock, 'The Orchard Hill Speech')
"To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget." (-Arundhati Roy)
"You can not separate peace from freedom, because no one can be at peace, unless he has his freedom." (-Malcolm X)
"There was never a good war or a bad peace." (-Ben Franklin)
"We are played for suckers all the time/Phony rock'n'roll-it's a crime!" (-Iggy Pop)
RUNNING FOR OUR LIVES...WE NEVER GET VERY FAR...
John Lennon once said, "Genius Is Pain". Ramblin' gamblin' rock'n'roll raconteur, PAUL K. is the real McCoy, the genuine article, everything the commercial press pretend Jack White, Jeff Tweety, or whatever bearded moaner who lives in a log cabin on a big farm and collects expensive antiques, when not boring most with a lazy, fifth-rate, half-hearted, Neil Young imitation who's being over-hyped by Spin magazine this week, is falsely credited for purveying. A forgotten king of gritty Americana, his very cinematic, muscular, and organic sounds draw from a long and rich tradition of vivid story-tellers from all over the globe. He's the Leonard Cohen of Louisville. They don't call him Harry Houdini for nothin'...Paul K. is a much heralded, working-class heroic, poet cult-figure, world renowned for his social conscience, effortless gift for deft wordplay, and unflinching eye for confessional detail. What if Phil Ochs had grown up listening to British punk and seventies glam? What if Elvis Costello had been born in Detroit? Paul K. ought to be working with Bowie/Bolan producer, Tony Visconti, and Joe Strummer's last band, The Mescaleroes, but he's still a pauper, he doesn't travel that frequently in those rich celebrity circles. He's often been referred to as a junkie, and a criminal, while others see him as a folk-hero, or a holy man, a throwback to the outlaw country troubadours, the sixties Zen philosophers, and he's maybe, the last of the authentic, white-bluesmen. He's a torn and frayed refugee of the mean-spirited, corporate, culture-wars. Why haven't you heard of Paul K.? Maybe cos he ain't some fame whore, ambitiously chasing the corporate money-bitch. He just writes brilliant songs, year after year. He's never sold-out, or started to suck, from the adverse affects of Bambi-eyed actress-banging, or Cuban cigar-chomping, in expensive hotels, like oh-so-many of yesterday's romantics, and once proud gutter-poets, who got in-line for the farmhouse.
My early favorite on this, his latest shiny disc, "Gavage Volume 1", is a world-weary tune called, "Keep It In Your Heart". This song just speaks of something intimate and abiding, that all of us with many fractured memories, regrets, tangled relationships, unrealized aspirations, and departed loved ones can strongly identify with. I thoroughly appreciate his current collaborators, whom I understand are largely responsible for the shimmering, uncluttered production on "Gavage". "The Plan" reminds one of the Temptation's old anti-war, social-justice anthem, "Ball Of Confusion", that was re-popularized in the eighties, for my generation, by British goths, Love And Rockets. It just surveys the bleak, and inhumane, smoking wasteland around us. Wal-Mart jobs, Orahma Going Rove, one million dead in Iraq, drones in Yemen and Pakistan, the "official" stories always full of holes, cops using tasers on kids and pregnant Moms, the military spying on peace groups who are bad for business, foreclosures every six seconds, bail-outs for the billionaire hedge-funders, 24 hour a day cable war propaganda, genocidal shadow governments who obey no laws and have no respect for human rights, racist and Draconian drug policies, big pharma and insurance lobbyists and Monsanto penning legislature, an electronic police state beyond Huxley, or Orwell's worst nightmares. Paul hopes that we can find a plan. "Afternoon Tea" is a quirky, understated, quietly psychedelic ballad that's a bit Beatlesque-like you know, Macca's tin pan alley shtick, or Harrison's dreamy "Savoy Truffle" type songs. Paul K. is VERY Beatlesque-not in that studied and self-conscious, XTC/Oasis way, but in the sense that he's written so, so many fabulously versatile tunes, that even the die-hards can take him for granted, sometimes. *Okay, I just found out that "Afternoon Tea" is actually a Kinks cover--hence, the Brit-pop quality of which I speak. The fans are heartened to see him reunited with longtime collaborator, Tim Welch, on some of this album. "Quicksand" makes me think of hundreds of pinched and gnarled faces I've known who are bound hopelessly by habit, programmed fear, and blister-inducing poverty, repeating wretched cycles of resignation, futility, and pointless self-harm, in dismal, heartless, dead-end places they can never escape. "Walking Backwards" is almost gospel, in a maimed happiness, ferociously dysfunctional, sorta way, and reminiscent of older Paul K. And The Weathermen favorites like, "Radiant And White", "Call Me Up", "Who Would've Thought", or "You Did Not Have To Leave Me In Tears". A minor classic. All these, and hidden bonus tracks, including a harrowing, tear in your beer, hard-countrified rendition of Nick Lowe's excellent, "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love, And Understanding". A pained and haunting version.
Everybody knows the Zappa quote about rock criticism. What can I tell you about this still potent, powerhouse, truth-teller that hasn't been discussed at great length, for decades, by far more compelling, literate, and articulate, in-the-know, true believers than me? That his music has reliably consoled the lonely hearted, spurred many onto better things, that it irrefutably, has already changed many people's lives? Well-paid music critics, industry weasels, and starry-eyed fans say that much about him, all the time. That he sincerely "deserves" to be rewarded and recognized as one of rock music's great icons of the post-punk era? Lavished with easy street, lifestyle-amenities, and awarded, wined, and dined, by Mojo Magazine, like Paul Weller, Billy Bragg, or Shane MacGowan? Yeah, it's true, but so what? It probably ain't gonna happen. Not in this gutless, gilded age of naked imperialism, tight-knit nepotism, torture out-sourcing, Bill Of Rights erasing, and Wall Street Robber Barons. It's a damn shame, a cryin' shame, but whad'yagonnado? I already told Little Steven, Lenny Kaye, and Wayne Kramer the news.
YOU NEVER KNOW JUST WHAT YOU'RE IN FOR...
His new record is entitled, "Gavage". You probably won't hear it, but if you do sit with it for a few plays, you'll likely tell someone you respect, and care about, to listen to it, too. He's sorta like Bill Hicks, if Bill didn't suck so bad with a guitar. Some of his battle-nicked war stories will bring to mind Charles Bukowski, or Henry Miller. In spite of his stray, upbeat, light-hearted, toe-tappers like "Mulletville", "Nashville, TN.", or "Yellow Pills", much of his ouvre is sadder than Nick Drake, or Chet Baker, though. Torch songs that remind you of the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers. So be forewarned-some of this record is as mournfully revealing, rumpled, rain-soaked, and religiously heartbreaking as anything by Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clarke, or Mike Scott from the Waterboys. This is a gloomy, soul baring document, from a still surviving eyewitness, who's seen the unfortunate assassination of the American Dream, up close and personal, with his bloodshot, main street eyes. Haven't you had enough of Beyonce' and Lady Gaga, and all of those awful, awful, boy-band shills who appear in that "We Are The World" video-sequal, with their Disney over-singing, and forced cheerfulness? ? I know I've had my fill of that insincere, rotten swill. Other songs in his prolific discography are as angry, bold, volatile, and defiant as Brother Wayne Kramer, Last Poets, or "Guitar Town" Steve Earle. He's timeless, and absolutely, a great. The "alternative" people claim him as their own, but to many of us, "alternative" was always just a code word for "sucks". Others categorize him alongside stalwart punk vets like Television, Iggy Pop, and Paul Westerberg. His music's most frequently played on public radio stations by insurgent country fans. You can see I have a difficult time selecting an appropriate genre, or box for the guy-it's because his music's so diverse. I love his voice, his lyrics, melodies, compassion, courage, quiet fortitude, and outstanding guitar playing. If you like political, poetic, country-folk; anguished, yearning, torch and twang; highly sophisticated pop like the La's, the Go-Betweens, and Prefab Sprout; OR dirty, street-wise, soul music, stuff like Alejandro Escovedo, the Replacements, Cranford Nix Jr., or Lou Reed, you will love this, too. Pure genius. Pure pain. Pure. Guts and Soul, and Truth and Mercy. We Thank You, Paul K.!