Saturday, Harry, and Beaches

We’ve gone from an incredibly mild beginning of the month to slowly making our way back to some summer heat. Hell, we had a high of 65 degrees just a few days ago and are back to mid-80s and balmy(thanks Obama!) After I ran to the bank(and the comic book shop and Karma Records) I took to the yard for a serious round of mowing. Despite the cooler temps the grass still felt it necessary to grow way out of hand. I put on the latest Marc Maron podcast and proceeded to sweat like an atheist at a church social. Even after a good two hours, a spinach, strawberry, pineapple, wheat germ and almond milk smoothie and some Greek yogurt and a relaxing shower I’m still sweating(am I dying?) It’s okay, I’ve got some new tunes spinning. I’m sure I’ll survive.

Before I even had my first cup of dark roast I started seeing folks posting pictures of Harry Dean Stanton and got a bad feeling in my gut. Sure enough, one of the greatest character actors to grace a screen had passed away. I was pretty bummed about this. I was thinking to myself “Man, he was probably in his late 70s or early 80s by now.” Turns out I was wrong. Stanton was 91. 91?! I think maybe because of the fact that he’s looked to be in his mid-60s for the last 40 years I just assumed he was in his 70s. He was always this thin, skeleton of a man wrapped in secondhand clothes in the films he was in. He always looked like a guy that had seen far more in his life and had experienced even more than that than everyone in the room combined, yet never felt compelled to share too much. Quiet, unassuming, and someone happy to share a longneck(or two) and a pack of Reds at the local watering hole with anyone willing to buy a around or two.

He could’ve been any number of guys I’d see when I was a little kid and my grandma would take me to the Moose Lodge for lunch. She worked there as a waitress and bartender when she and my grandpa lived on Lake Manitou back in the 70s and 80s. We’d go over there when my mom and I would visit during summer. We’d sit in a booth and I’d eat a hamburger with fries and a Coke while a cavalcade of regulars would come by to say hi to my grandma. Maybe Harry was one of them, I don’t know.

First time I remember seeing Harry Dean Stanton in a movie was Alien. He was the unfortunate soul that tried getting the cat and was bit in the face by the Xenomorph for his troubles. Then in the mid-80s we rented Repo Man and I think it was that movie that made me think, “You know, I kind of like this guy.” Repo Man was an insane, head trip of a film that put me onto both Alex Cox and punk rock. It was also one of Emilio Estevez’ finest films. Stanton was the crusty old timer showing the young punk the ropes and trade of repossessing vehicles. It’s a classic. Then in the early 90s when I worked at a video store I started bringing old Betamax tapes home(because nobody rented them anymore and I had our newly repaired Toshiba at home.) There were lots of movies that they never replaced with VHS copies and only had the Betamax left. There was literally a giant box filled with old Betamax tapes in the back that I could take whenever I wanted. One of those was Wim Wender’s beautiful Paris, Texas. It was this European arthouse film that was shot in the heart of Texas with grizzled American actors. It was this tome on loneliness, the open road, regrets, and how insignificant we are in the scheme of things. For me, that film defined the lonely soul that Stanton could play so well. He was also featured in several David Lynch films and was even in The Avengers as a security guard that finds a naked Bruce Banner in an abandoned factory.

So long, Harry. 91 years. You had a hell of a good run.

What am I listening to, you ask? The new Beaches album Second of Spring. It’s a double LP of dreamy psych rock from this all female rock outfit from Australia. I absolutely loved their 2013 album She Beats. It had a lo-fi vibe to it, yet never came across as amateurish. It felt like a well-aged rock record you might find in some collection sitting and collecting dust. One of those rare treats of an album that had a special appearance by none other than NEU!s Michael Rother.

Second of Spring is a double album clocking at over 75 minutes of psych, dream, shoegaze, and grungy garage rock. These ladies lay on the hazy guitar vibes beautifully this time around. It’s been four years, but Second of Spring was worth the wait.

That’s all I got. There’s some PBRs in the fridge with my name on ’em. The boy and I plan on marathoning the Alien collection tonight. We watched Prometheus and Alien: Covenant a couple weekends ago and are doing the original Scott film, along with Cameron’s Aliens, tonight. If we’re so inclined, maybe we’ll finish up Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection, too. If we’re feeling crazy or something.

A little “my two cents”, in regards to Scott’s newest Alien films. I think they’re great. It seems that there’s either the “we loved it” or “we hated it” camps. I don’t get all the jeers for these films. They looked great and had great acting. The effects were amazing and the story, though a little dense, starts to make sense after my second viewing of Prometheus. Plus, Michael Fassbender was fucking brilliant. So there’s that.

Alright, enjoy your weekend my lovelies. Grab a beer and watch Paris, Texas.

 

Goodbye Kid Charlamagne : Walter Becker 1950 – 2017

Image by © Neal Preston/Corbis

It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I fell for Steely Dan. It took one of my oldest friends to make me a tape mix of the “highlights” of their storied 70s discography for me to finally get it. I picked up the famous Steely Dan Gold best of at a used CD store in 1995 and I was off and running. The hits brought me in, but “FM” kept me coming back. “No static at all”.

I think what it was that I didn’t like about Steely Dan growing up was the exact thing that I loved about them once I was all in. There was this almost muzak-like vibe to their songs that as a uninformed teenager I found boring and safe. It sounded like leashed-up jazz, meaning jazz that wasn’t able to run wild and explore. But once I found my way to albums like The Royal Scam, Pretzel Logic, and Countdown To Ecstasy the easy listening vibe I realized was just a front for some of the most subversive, slyly dark and humorous music the 70s spit out at us. Those two Bard jazz and sci fi loving dorks named Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were writing breezy, jazzy odes to drug dealers, outlaws, prostitutes, and safe sex(“ain’t gonna do it without your Fez on, oh no”), as well as plenty of beatnik and science fiction references to fill a couple notebooks. They slid these dark and seedy worlds inside groovy and funky three minute tunes that would get stuck in your head, whether you wanted it to or not.

For the longest time Donald Fagen was the face of Steely Dan to me. He was the voice. He was the slinky ghoul behind the electric piano that told these tales of degradation and seemed to be the puppet master to a handful of studio wizards. But while Fagen may have been the narrator, Walter Becker was just as prominently helping to build the worlds within those Steely Dan albums. Fagen was the glitz, while Becker added the greasy grime. He made those tunes dirtier with his bass playing, and on Pretzel Logic he made tracks like “Pretzel Logic”, “Night By Night”, and “Monkey In Your Soul” down and dirty with his excellent guitar playing. You see, Walter Becker came into the Dan songs with the grit of a Chicago blues guitarist and the mind of some trans-dimensional traveler from some other plane of existence. Fagen brought things back to earth once Becker took us out into far reaches of reality. His guitar work on “The Fez” was also exceptional in its funk and groove delivery. Whether Becker was playing the parts or not he was meticulously writing them for guys like Larry Carlton, Denny Dias, and Elliot Randall to perform on album. He was a player, but he was also a master curator, along with Fagen.

Walter Becker died yesterday, September 3rd, 2017. He left behind some seriously great records. Can’t Buy A Thrill, Countdown To Ecstasy, Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, The Royal Scam, Aja, Gaucho, Two Against Nature, and Everything Must Go are all class act SD albums. Doesn’t matter which one you pick, cause each one has some magic.

RIP, Charlie Freak.

Tobe Hooper : 1943-2017

I was sad to wake up to the news that we lost yet another “Master of Horror”, Mr. Tobe Hooper. While he never quite had the career or accolades of guys like Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and George Romero, he still contributed to the genre in a big way.

His biggest and most prominent work was 1974s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For me, that film felt like watching a snuff film. It was jaunty, awkward, and seemed to be cinema verite for horror. The way Hooper shot the film it almost seemed like a found footage movie. The frankness in the deaths made my stomach churn. The Leatherface family was scarier to me than any boogeyman hiding in my closet. It truly seemed to be the  bloody, violent death knell of the peace and love crowd. It was like Hooper was saying “The grand experiment failed, so here’s what you get. Don’t choke on your own rib while you’re at it.” This was one of those movies that sat on the wall of the video store with a gnarly layer of dust on it, taunting me each time I’d come in. It was daring me to take it home and destroy my psyche with it. When I finally did, it did not disappoint. In the 80s he made the sequel and did something amazing. He turned a horrifying, gut-wrenching film into something more. He added gallows humor and made the Leatherface clan into joke-cracking psychopaths and created something as equally entertaining as the original. It was much maligned when it was released, it’s now considered a cult classic. It was also the start for Bill Moseley, a Rob Zombie regular.

Besides TCM, Hooper also made Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Spontaneous Combustion, and The Mangler. While he never reached the plateau of the Chainsaw films and Poltergeist, he always made entertaining bad films. I quite liked Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion. The 80s were a great time for decadent, sleazy horror. Hooper was a big part of that.

He also did some great television work, most notably on Amazing Stories, Freddy’s Nightmares, and Tales From The Crypt. But the greatest thing he ever created for television is easily Salem’s Lot. To this day I’ve never been more freaked out or scared than I was watching that two-part miniseries based on Stephen King’s vampire novel. I still get freaked out if I hear something that resembles someone scratching at my window. If all Tobe Hooper had done was Salem’s Lot, he could still feel solid in knowing he made that truly horrifying film.

Another horror master gone. RIP, Tobe. I think I’ll have some roadside BBQ in your honor today.

King of the Dead : George Romero 1940-2017

The first movie that ever truly got to me was George Romero’s Creepshow. At 10 years old I watched the George Romero/Stephen King horror collaboration and was more and more horrified as each story unfolded until we reached “The Crate” and I felt my blood run cold. Something about that scene where the college student goes under the stairs and is pulled into the aforementioned crate by the Tasmanian Devil and is gnawed on and killed. Blood running down his shirt as he’s pulled up into the crate to be a late night snack. That scene made my stomach curdle(and I hadn’t even gotten to the “bug” episode.)

That movie and that moment put me on a track to horror-dom that I’ve never quite gotten off of, and I owe it all the George Romero(and I suppose Stephen King, too.) That night started a journey into all things creepy, kooky, and downright disturbing. While many directors helped to fill my psyche with visions of the bizarre and bloody, no one did it with as much class as George Romero. Before Creepshow I had seen Night of the Living Dead on late night TV, but it didn’t really sink into my brain at 7 or 8 years old. Once Creepshow indoctrinated me, I was off and running. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was the game changer. It was disturbing, chaotic, quirky, gory, and it spoke to society and consumerism. You couldn’t go to the mall after seeing DotD and not see blue-skinned zombies walking around with Orange Julius cups and Hot Sam pretzels. Day of the Dead, while not as essential as Dawn, still spoke to the evil that men do went left to their own devices. It also upped the ante in the gore department.

Those two movies, along with after revisiting Night of the Living Dead felt like these massive peaks that every horror filmmaker ever since have been trying to ascend to. George Romero wanted to scare the hell out of you, but he also wanted to comment on the current state of affairs. He wasn’t out to give us cheap thrills. He wanted to show us the horrors that awaited us outside our very front doors that we weren’t willing to look for ourselves. Romero’s zombie films were like these carnival mirrors showing us the world in distorted, grotesque fashions. You could get lost in the metaphors within those films, so if you chose just to enjoy the gore, story, acting, and sights instead no one could blame you. Least of all George Romero.

Besides his series of zombie films that changed horror forever, George Romero made many more amazing horror films. Martin, The Crazies, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, Bruiser, and even his collaboration with Dario Argento Two Evil Eyes all showed Romero’s unique eye and perspective on a genre that had been weighted down by sleazy thrills and cheap production design.

George Romero came from a place of creating art over commerce. His influences were heavy hitters and included Orson Welles, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Michael Powell’s The Tales Of Hoffman as one of his favorite films. His films never felt like cheap horror. They borrowed from the classics that came before and built their own worlds within Romero’s keen eye and knack for storytelling. He could’ve told stories in any genre, but horror was where he found a unique space to tell his stories. Edgar Allan Poe, with his morality plays as seen through the eyes of a doomed world and lovelorn spirit, is where Romero himself found a spot to speak out on society’s missteps and foibles. There’s nothing more horrifying than what’s lurking in our own subconscious, waiting to rise up when we least expect it.

We’ve lost one of the great voices in horror cinema, or any cinema for that matter. Romero saw the world, both the good and bad, and attempted to portray them both with equal fervor in his films. Despite the darker dispositions of his films, he was a man with heart and the desire to make great art. If he’d only made Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead and had stopped at that point we’d still be talking about the man as a genius.

Long live George Romero, the King of the Dead.

 

 

Burning Dinosaur Bones : Revisiting Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’

It was October of 1991. It was a Tuesday which meant it was new release day. I’d gone on a field trip with my Art & English class to Indianapolis to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art as well as a synagogue(we’d just finished reading Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’.) The bus got back to the school around 6pm and I sprinted to my car for my escape. I had two goals: give my girlfriend the cool and colorful hair tie I bought her at the museum and get to Video World and pick up Soundgarden’s new album Badmotorfinger. Both were important, but one was essential.

I can remember the first time I’d heard Soundgarden was way back in 1989. I think my friend and I had seen the “Hands All Over” video on 120 Minutes and immediately thought “Who is this??” Back then we couldn’t just jump on Google and find out the band’s life story in 2 minutes. It took foot work and real research. Combing through magazines and inquiring at record stores. It was work, dammit! So on a trip to Fort Wayne for my birthday day with said friend and an older friend of ours that was out of school and could drive we hit up Wooden Nickel(a favorite record store back then) and I located a copy of Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love on cassette(the preferred method of music listening at the time) and we made our way back home. Louder Than Love was unlike anything I’d heard before. Up to this point I’d only recently been getting away from the teased hair and sexual innuendos of the Sunset Strip crowd but diving head first into the likes of Rush and instrumental guitar music like Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Vai. Soundgarden stood in stark contrast to those albums. Louder Than Love, to my ears, wasn’t punk rock and it wasn’t heavy metal. It was its own beast. Songs like “Hands All Over”, “Loud Love”, “Get On The Snake”, and “Big Dumb Sex” had an almost pop feel, but pop done up in rusty age and a bloody smirk. But then you get to songs like “Gun”, “Full On Kevin’s Mom”, “Ugly Truth”, and “I Awake” and things feel dingy and dark. There’s an oppressiveness to those tracks that make you feel like flipping on the light switch and keeping a conversation going through the night so you don’t have to shut your eyes. The production wasn’t necessarily lo fi, but it was somewhat muted; muffled even. It was an eye opener to my 16-year old self. It was also the first time I ever got my older brother to get into a band, instead of vice versa. That was a proud moment for me.

So fast forward to October of 1991.

I’d been dipping my toes in the Seattle waters with bands like Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Alice In Chains, and the newly released Ten by Pearl Jam since late 1989. I was an early follower of the Seattle scene, having thought I’d found my own little secret musical world(that secret world would blow up in the fall of 1991.) I’d loved Temple Of The Dog the year before as I was a big fan of Mother Love Bone’s Apple album, so I was ready for Badmotorfinger. The first single, the wonderfully-titled “Jesus Christ Pose”, didn’t disappoint. The sound was more aggressive and metal than anything off Louder Than Love, and the production was spot-on. The video was a melee of psychedelic desert shots with Chris Cornell doing a fine job with the menacing faces while colors shone and the film skipped and blipped like a strobe light. It was the quintessential middle finger to religion and the hypocritical line towing that’s involved with organized religion. I knew I was in for a treat with this album, because once I finally got to really listen to Badmotorfinger it felt like a re-wiring of my brain. From the opening salvo of “Rusty Cage” to the the crashing blow of album closer “New Damage” I was enthralled and won over. I felt like a new convert to some new musical language. I wanted to know this world more. Everything that came before it sort of felt trite to my ears. Musically Soundgarden had created this forward-thinking metal that while may not have been “new” per say, but they seemed to have found a way to convey something new within the confines of the classic rock and roll tools.

“Rusty Cage” is one hell of an opener. That opening guitar felt new and alien in a world overrun by pop metal. Ben Shepherd’s bass playing was also a standout on this track, which was new to the Soundgarden sound as prior to this the bass seemed to linger in the background. Lyrically Chris Cornell really went to another level. “Too cold to start a fire/I’m burning diesel burning dinosaur bones/
I’ll take the river down to still water and ride a pack of dogs” felt like poetry as much as lyrics. Cornell could really paint some amazing visuals with his words, as on the next song “Outshined”. “I got up feeling so down/I got off being sold out/I kept the movie rolling/But the stories getting old now” and “I’m feeling California and feeling Minnesota” sort of defined that “what does any of this mean” vibe we were all feeling in 1991. Soundgarden were still writing songs as anthems of the disenfranchised on this album. With Superunknown the lyrics began to point inward. They began to deal with the “I” as opposed to the “we”.

Elsewhere, “Face Pollution” was a blistering track that barreled through the speakers like a freight train from Hell, while “Drawing Flies” was just this vitriolic anthem. “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” to this day knocks me on my ass. It’s this dirge-y, psychedelic monster of a song. Part Black Sabbath and part new age metal. It’s just incredible. “Holy Water” sounds like post-apocalyptic blues. “Holy water on the brain and I’m losing sleep/Holy bible on the night stand next to me” Cornell sings over massively d-tuned guitar playing a bluesy guitar riff that dangles into the doldrums.

I bought this on cassette, but in 1992 a special edition of the album was released on CD called SOMMS which stood for Satan oscillate my metallic sonatas. It had the original album plus an extra CD that contained some covers, one non-album track, and a live version of “Slaves and Bulldozers”. The covers included Black Sabbath’s “Into The Void(Sealth)”, which was Sabbath’s music with the lyrics replaced with words of protest from Chief Seattle. There was also a cover of Devo’s “Girl U Want” and the Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues”. There was an excellent non-album track called “She’s a Politician”. This was the premier version of the album. It’s still a prized possession of mine.

Besides maybe Thayil’s “Room A Thousand Years Wide” I don’t think there was a bad song on this record. I’ve been listening to it all week and I can say that with confidence. And even after 27 years my favorite song is still “Mind Riot”. It was a peek at what Chris Cornell had in store for us on future albums, both with soundtrack work(“Seasons” on Singles S/T), Soundgarden, and his solo albums. He had such a unique way of building chord structures in his songs and this was no exception. It was heavy but also very melancholy, and the lyrics are quite telling. “Candles burning yesterday/Somebody’s best friend died” he sings in the chorus, while one of my favorite lines is “I was crying from my eye teeth and bleeding from my soul/ And I sharpened my wits on a dead man’s skull“. This song, for me, is the shining example of what this band was about. They could give us a beautifully unique and catchy song in such a creative and one-of-a-kind way. That was the result of the Cornell/Thayil/Shepherd/Cameron magic.

In the wake of Chris Cornell’s death, I’ve found some solace in revisiting his work. He’s left a treasure trove of music for us to enjoy and to keep him singing in our lives for years to come. Superunknown put Soundgarden in households worldwide, but Badmotorfinger put them in my head and heart forever.

 

R.I.P. Chris Cornell : Long Live That Voice

Truth be told I haven’t followed Chris Cornell’s music career since that first Audioslave album. Call it moving forward with ones life or just not really being into what he’d been doing since “Show Me How To Live” burned into my brain. But that’s not to say he didn’t make a HUGE impression on the younger J Hub back in high school and my early 20s. The fact that he’s suddenly gone and never going to tear the roof off a theater or stadium with that massive, “Thunder-0f-the-Gods” vocal weapon of his really is quite depressing.

I bought Louder Than Love in December of 1990, on my 16th birthday, and I never looked back. That album was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was heavy, dirty, dark, and hissy in a way that you’d a thought this cassette came out from under the front seat of some dude’s ’78 Olds Cutlass covered in dirt, dust, and THC resin. It stood in stark contrast to the Rush and various LA hair band albums I’d been slurping up heartily to that point. That album led me to Screaming Trees’ Uncle Anesthesia which led me to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff which led me to Nirvana’s Bleach which led me to everything else. And as much as I dug Kim Thayil’s howling abuse of his Guild, it was Chris Cornell’s voice that kept me entranced and enthrallled.

Though the guy bemoaned the Robert Plant comparisons, you couldn’t help but go there. He was my generation’s Plant(no offense to the very much alive and well Robert Plant), except better in that he was an incredible songwriter and musician. He wrote complex songs with unique chord structures and lyrics that ranged from poetic to cryptic. Badmotorfinger contained some of my favorite Soundgarden tracks. “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”, “Holy Water”, “Mind Riot”, and “Rusty Cage” were some of the best songs to come out of the 90s for me. Every Soundgarden album, though maybe not all classics, had at least three or four shining moments easily. And when he stepped out on his own with Euphoria Morning it was apparent he was the main music muscle in Soundgarden. Not taking anything away from Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd, or Kim Thayil, but the feel and off-kilter melodies were all Cornell. With the help of Eleven’s Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider, Euphoria Morning turned out to be a rather unique and quite beautiful record even without much in the way of great reviews.

Audioslave was one of those projects that seemed like the greatest idea in the world and the worst idea in the world at the same time. Fortunately the good ideas outweighed the bad, at least on that first record. The grooves of RATM with the soulful, powerful belting of Cornell proved to be a lightning in the bottle moment. When they hit they hit strong, but the power quickly fizzled for me. “Show Me How To Live” was that band’s shining moment. Pure power and hooks. It was the best thing Cornell had done in years.

I was lucky enough to see Chris Cornell live twice. The first time was August of 1993 at the World Music Theater in Chicago. Soundgarden and Blind Melon opened for Neil Young who was doing both acoustic and electric sets. Seeing Soundgarden live was unreal. They were so powerful on the stage. Cornell hit every note while also expertly playing rhythm guitar. Neil Young was amazing, but Soundgarden were breathtaking, even in a mere 40 minute set. The next time I saw Cornell was in October of 1995 in Indianapolis with Audioslave. Again, amazing show. His voice started out a little rough, but by the time they closed the night out with Rage’s “Killing In The Name Of” he sounded absolutely incredible. One of the best concerts I’d ever seen.

Chris Cornell as a guy seemed like he was pretty down to earth. He had struggles with drugs and alcohol and made it through the other side. He was interviewed by Marc Maron a few years ago on Maron’s podcast and it was an enlightening conversation. He seemed very humble about the mark he’d made on the world, almost uncomfortable about it. In that respect he seemed very punk rock. He liked his privacy and he’d follow the musical muse wherever she led, whether fans dug it or not. He was a pretty funny guy, too. Soundgarden covered Cheech and Chong and Spinal Tap in the past. They also covered plenty of their influences over the years; from Devo to Black Sabbath to the Beatles to Sly and the Family Stone to the Doors. He was as much a fan as he was a music titan.

Don’t know the circumstances behind Chris Cornell’s passing, and frankly it doesn’t matter. We’ve lost one of the best rock and roll voices to emerge in the last 30 years. No one belts it like Chris Cornell. Nobody.

Go spin Badmotorfinger a few times today in honor of the man. I’m looking Indiana, and feeling kinda bummed.

Stuntman : A Few Words On My Friend Mark Hutchins

I woke up to the news that one of my good friends was dead. Before coffee, before the full brunt of the new day had come into focus, before I’d even put on socks I sat in my chair and saw posts on social media from friends and acquaintances talking of a great loss in our part of the universe. My friend, musical brother, and fellow curmudgeonly middle-aged dad Mark Hutchins is gone. No more emails, no more messages, no more shared cups of coffee at Sweetwater Music, and no more collaborations with a man I considered as much a big brother as a friend who happened to be a songwriting genius.

I’ve known Mark for close to 8 years now. Back in 2009 he reached out to me via Myspace(remember that?) We both had music accounts on there, him for his bands Vandolah and New Pale Swimmers, and me for Goodbyewave. Mark knew me from the many CDs I’d sent in to local magazine Whatzup for review. It was a big deal around here to get your DIY-produced album in the pages of Whatzup, and especially when DM Jones gave you a glowing review. DM Jones was the nom de plume of Mark Hutchins when he was in music journalist mode. He’d reviewed four of my CDs from 2006 to 2009, and finally reached out to me with nothing but words of encouragement in the summer of 2009. I was in awe, as I’d heard Vandolah and was blown away by their album Please. Mark was as much a storyteller as a songwriter, and his songs were homes for characters as diverse as stuntmen, lovelorn, and of course the disenfranchised and misunderstood. I think in his heart of hearts Hutchins truly wanted to be a writer of stories, as opposed to a writer of songs. He had a knack for painting these vivid pictures, accompanied by beautifully ornamented music.

Yeah, and this guy was sending me a message telling me he loved my work. Jesus.

This began a long distance friendship and collaboration that continued up to just last year. He asked me if I’d ever want to contribute to his songs. He worked alone at home and would love to have me add some of my musical ideas. I ended up contributing to nearly every album he put out from 2009 to 2016. The first was a song called “First Off The Moon” from his first proper solo album Sleepy Furnace. I played piano on that song. I don’t really know how to play piano, but I played piano just the same. I had an opportunity to collaborate with this mountain of a local music legend and I couldn’t let him down. Mark was pretty open to whatever I’d throw his way and he’d work it in one way or another in the tracks. When I’d write a song of my own he was one of the first people I’d send a file to. I wanted him to like what I was doing. His opinion mattered greatly to me.

Outside of music we became sounding boards to each other for our disenchantment with politics, religion, music trends, and just about everything else that bugged us as middle-aged guys trying to get by in the world. We also bonded over Kurt Vonnegut, Wilco, musical toys, 4-track cassette recording, DIY aesthetics, and being dads. Mark was 6 years older than me, which put him at the same age as my older brother. That age difference, along with my adoration for the guy’s talent and his biting Midwest wit, put him more in line as a long distance big brother than musical peer. I never saw myself even close to his level of ability. I was somewhere on the map. Somewhere in my own little musical world while Mark locked into the earth’s vibrations and connected on some other human level which, I think, may have been eating away at him a little more year by year.

In all the time I’ve known Mark, I’m not sure I ever got to really know him. There always seemed to be an invisible wall that followed him around, keeping folks a safe distance away. He always seemed to be inside his own head even when in conversations(though he was a good conversationalist.) He wasn’t much for social gatherings and chit chat. Despite being a powerhouse behind a mic and an acoustic guitar(and he reveled in putting hecklers in their place), he was a quiet guy and would prefer to keep to himself. I don’t know what it was he struggled with, but I know there was a dark cloud that followed him. He dealt with it the best he could, but not without his share of wounds. Not without his share of hurt.

Photo by Duane Eby

There’s not much more I can say other than I’m saddened by the passing of my friend. Mark was a musician I admired and will continue to admire. But more than that he was a friend. Someone I could relate to as a working class clock puncher, a father, a guy struggling to make sense of the world, and as a human being. Someone who I could get sound advice from. Someone who could talk Tweedy and Turkel. Vic Chesnutt and Kurt Vonnegut.

You will be greatly missed Mark. So it goes.