Grimm and Bare It
It's a little-known pop culture fact, but Houston has a tenuous claim as "the birthplace of psychedelic rock" and also the use of the word "psychedelic" as we know it. The 13th Floor Elevators' Tommy Hall lifted the word from LSD pioneer Humphrey Osmond (who coined it in a couplet he sent to his acid buddy Aldous Huxley: To fathom hell or soar angelic / Just take a pinch of psychedelic) and slapped it on the band's business cards. A little later, Hall used it in the title of the band's debut, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators.
Prior to that, the term moldered away on library shelves, safe from all but the most assiduous of Huxley scholars, or the most devoted and bookwormish of acid-trippers. It had never been used to describe music or style or anything else. And the fateful album came out on Houston's International Artists' label, which belonged to (of all people) Kenny Rogers's brother Lelan.
So what better place than Houston to co-host a benefit for Ptolemaic Terrascope, the cash-strapped British journal of all things psychedelic? And who better to perform at such a show than Roky Erickson's childhood friend and IA labelmate George Kinney, whose band the Golden Dawn will be reuniting for the occasion after decades apart?
And who better to round out the bill than several of Texas's finest second-wave psychedelic bands? For the Houston show, to take place Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20, at Rudyard's, the first night's fare includes Houston's the Linus Pauling Quartet and the Mirrors, and Primordial Undermind and ST-37 of Austin. (Linus's Ramon Medina is the prime mover behind the event. Other organizers include Kurt Brennan of Sound Exchange and Medina and Brennan's indie labels, Worship Guitars and Fleece Records. Another show is slated in Austin the following weekend.)
Saturday's bill is epic. Not only will the Golden Dawn shine once more, but it also marks the live debut of the Dunlavy (a.k.a. Scott Grimm of the Mike Gunn fame), backed by former Gunner John Cramer and the rest of Cramer's new band, Project Grimm. Austin's Winslow and San Antonio's Crevice are also on the bill.
While the Golden Dawn reunion has the Love Street Light Circus crowd flashing back in anticipation, the younger set is most excited that Grimm will perform on stage for the first time since the demise of the Mike Gunn in 1994. Since then, Grimm has been something like a psych-rock Jandek. Like Jandek, he's prolific; despite not gigging, he's released five albums. Unlike Jandek, his identity is not a secret and he does speak to the media, though he prefers e-mail interviews. These cyberchats are classics. In his exchange with Medina on the Worship Guitars site (www.worshipguitars.org), Grimm richly earns Medina's description of him as "Houston's bitchiest musician."
Here's Grimm on why he quit gigging: "There's that famous rock cliché that recording is like masturbating, and playing live is like having sex. Well, I agree with the recording part, but I always thought that playing live was more like masturbating in public Live music sucks. The sound is always bad, there's so much smoke you can't breathe, that drunken imbecile decides you're his new best friend, it's always way too late, and who cares, really? When the Linus Pauling Quartet played at Sound Exchange, I kept getting jostled out of the way by people shopping, for Christ's sake. No one gives a shit about music. People just go to hang out, because they've got nothing better to do with their pathetic, miserable little lives."
In a later phone interview with Racket, Grimm elaborated on his views. "I didn't quit because I hated John or [drummer] Curt [Mackey], I quit because I hated playing shows. I hated playing shows to pay the practice space rent. That's such a lame reason to play shows. I wasn't doing what I wanted to do, which was just to record stuff. The Mike Gunn was together for five years and I think we managed to put out three albums. Pathetic. It wasn't like we were touring, it wasn't like we were busy doing anything else, we were just screwing around."
Also in the Medina interview, Grimm called the Mike Gunn's fans "three or four wretched rejects" and said that having nothing better to do than come see one of the Mike Gunn's shows boggles the mind. (Sound Exchange's Brennan remembers it differently. He says the band was drawing 200 people a night, not all of them wretched.) Grimm also dwelt at length on one show that illustrated that conundrum about a tree falling in the woods. "I remember when we played in Dallas with Lithium Christmas, and nobody watched us. Nobody! The fucking sound man got up and left! And we wouldn't stop playing! What did we think, that maybe if we played a good enough song, the sound man might come back?"
"I am still amazed we kept playing," Grimm told Racket. "We ended up jamming at the end and actually wrote some stuff. At some point, it just turned into a practice session."
So it was practice public masturbation? "Exactly. And it wasn't very good masturbation, either."
Neither does Grimm hold much stock in the belief that lyrics are vital to good music. "If I wanted to hear a fucking poem, I would listen to a fucking poet," he said online. "Now, this is just me, but I never really 'got' poetry. It all sounds like Rod McKuen to me ('I am a sad fish so sad. So very, very sad. Sad sad sad sad sad.'). The only reason I still have vocals in my music is that I still wind up writing riffs that need the sound of a voice to make them complete. I have no message As far as the myth that lyrics are the song, or even the idea that they're as important as the music, it certainly helps explain the proliferation of shitty music."
"I still have no message," Grimm says now, before launching off again into rant mode. "But Rod McKuen is the worst poet ever. Although there is one great Rod McKuen moment, I guess. There's a cover on one of his books -- there's this woman going through a swamp on one of those little swamp boats with one of those long poles that you stick in the water -- and the title of the book is Looking for a Friend. Bizarre. She's paddling through a swamp looking for a friend?"
He may feel like that deranged woman now. Surely with his scorched-earth interview policy, Houston is as empty of companionship for Grimm as that bog on the cover of McKuen's volume. Grimm admits as much. On one hand, he predicts that the show will be sparsely attended. "Honestly, I'm expecting the turnout for this thing to be a bunch of Sound Exchange employees and the people in the bands," he says. "I can't imagine drawing a big crowd. And what does Sound Exchange have, three employees? If Kurt makes them all go, that's a big $21 for Terrascope."
Of course, the pessimistic Grimm also worries that more people might turn up for motives that are less than altruistic. "I think all the excitement's maybe more from a humiliation standpoint -- 'Let's all watch Scott crash and burn live.' "
Still, he's planning to break his stage silence -- in part because the recent birth of his daughter has cramped his style at his home studio. His house is always full of people these days, and he can't find the isolation he needs to record. "I need a lot of privacy when I record," he says. "I can't be upstairs bellowing out my stupid lyrics with other people wandering around the house."
According to Cramer, another reason Grimm is on the bill is that he shot off his mouth. "Ramon had just kind of mentioned to Scott in passing that he was going to do this psych fest, and Scott was like, 'Sure, I'll do it,' thinking that there's no way that Ramon would get it together," Cramer says. "But with Ramon you've gotta be careful, 'cause sure enough he got it together."
While Medina and Brennan are singing the praises of Project Grimm for their dedication (the band will be rushing back from a Baton Rouge gig to perform as the Dunlavy behind Grimm, in whose honor their band is named), the man himself is singing a different tune. "Should get a sluggish performance from them," Grimm sniffs. "I do appreciate that they have kindly consented to share in the humiliation."
Oddly, very little of Grimm's humiliating set will consist of Dunlavy material. "We're gonna do a Mike Gunn song, another one I talked him into doing, and a Project Grimm song that he wanted to do for God knows what reason," says Cramer. "It's a bunch of really rock stuff. It's typical Scott -- we're going to be doing a psych fest and he doesn't want to do any psych music. He doesn't want to 'bore the audience.' "
It's not odd to Brennan, though. He remembers a Mike Gunn CD release party at which the band played nothing off the CD they released. Neither is it peculiar to Cramer, who perhaps knows Grimm best. "Scott likes to keep a certain amount of distance between him and everything else, basically," he says, stating the obvious. "One time he came into work and a guy was playing the Mike Gunn and he demanded that the guy turn it off. He's like, 'I don't want anybody to know that I did this.' I told him, 'You're supposed to be ashamed of your job, not your band.' "
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