When we were younger -- amid the myriad musical oddities of the 1980s -- there was Eugene Chadbourne. A self-proclaimed "avant-garde country protest troubadour," Chadbourne seemed to be everywhere at once; he's recorded and performed with John Zorn, Kramer, Elliott Sharp, They Might Be Giants, Violent Femmes and Camper Van Beethoven. But it was when he performed alone that Chadbourne's satire gleamed brightest. On stage, he coaxed from his barely tuned guitar hilarious bluegrass-flavored diatribes against Oliver North and George Bush. He amplified vacuum cleaners and played leaf rakes. He even did an exquisite cover of "Eight Miles High." Lovers of weird music grew in those seasons like corn in the night.
As did Eugene Chadbourne's reputation. He recently toured Europe, created a new recording project, Ellington Country Trio, and published his first book: I Hate The Man Who Runs This Bar: A Survival Guide For Real Musicians. "Survival," to Chadbourne, means continuing to prosper without the backing of a major label. He's been putting out his own music -- literally hundreds of tapes -- since the early '70s. The ride hasn't been easy, but Chadbourne happily maintains uncompromising control over his melding of jazz, country and noise. "The media want people to think that these big corporations are necessary if they want to do something creative," he insists. "But, really, you can have a very successful career and influence a lot of people without having anything to do with them at all."
A long-running debate continues among Chadbourne disciples as to what kind of musician he is. The answer depends on whom you ask and on how your own tastes run. An astute listener to Chadbourne's There'll Be No Tears Tonight, The President Is Insane, Kill Eugene and I've Been Everywhere will unearth fragments of Erik Satie, John Cage, Thelonious Monk and Hank Williams. Throughout, his sound is genuinely festive, a quality sorely lacking in almost every arena of contemporary art. Chadbourne has devoted a quarter-century to the propagation of unbridled play. That fact alone makes him, as one fan letter put it, "a Buddha."
-- Brett Davidson
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Eugene Chadbourne will play Mary Jane's, 4216 Washington Avenue, 869-JANE, on Sunday, December 13, at 9 p.m. The Phil Gayle Trio and Susan Alcorn open. $7. Chadbourne will also appear at Sound Exchange, 1846 Richmond, 666-5555, on Monday, December 14, at 5 p.m.