Remembering Garth Brooks’ Alter-Ego Chris Gaines

July 11, 2014 Leave a comment
Alter-ego Chris Gaines on the left, original persona Garth Brooks on the right.

Alter-ego Chris Gaines on the left, original persona Garth Brooks on the right.

Remembering Garth Brooks’ Alter-Ego Chris Gaines
by Jaime Lees
Fri., Jul. 11 2014

Inspired by Garth Brooks’ recent announcement of his world tour, we thought we’d take a minute to look back on our favorite era of Garth-ness: the invention of Brooks’ alter-ego, Chris Gaines.

Alter-egos help an artist feel free to express sides of their persona that might make their fans uncomfortable otherwise. When we see an artist as just a ballad singer or just a rapper or just a pretty pop star, the artist often feels the need to rebel in the form of an alter-ego.

David Bowie had multiple alter-egos. Most notably, he posed as Ziggy Stardust, space-age rock superstar. (Not really a stretch.) Bono from U2, ever the overachiever, had three alter-egos: The Fly, Mephisto and The Mirrorball Man. Prince had Camille. Beyonce was briefly evil Illuminati super goddess Sasha Fierce. Gaga did Jo Calderone. Mariah Carey released Mimi.

Janet Jackson was Damita Jo and Strawberry. Eminem was Slim Shady. Mary J. Blige’s rap persona is called Brook Lynn, a move revived by Justin Bieber when he rapped under Shawty Mane. The Beatles, heroes of reinvention, found freedom from expectations while posing (and recording) as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And the most current (and extreme) example of the artist / alter-ego divide is Miley Cyrus / Hannah Montana.

Taking on a full alter-ego isn’t the only way to put on a new face. Many artists have flirted with this method to a lesser degree, insisting on being called other names for (usually) brief amounts of time. For example, Snoop Dogg became Snoop Lion, Sean Combs has been everything from Puff Daddy to Puffy to P. Diddy to Diddy. Paul McCartney was briefly going as Gladys Jenkins. David Johansen of the New York Dolls released music under the name Buster Poindexter. Jack White tried to go by Three Quid while touring Europe. Even Hank Williams recorded other song styles under the name Luke the Drifter.

While some stars have varied levels of intensity and commitment when it comes to their alter-egos, Garth Brooks embraced the character of Chris Gaines with an intensity that was weird, off-putting and kind of thrilling. It was one of the greatest train wreck moments in pop culture history, right up there with Bald Britney and Michael Jackson dangling “Blanket” over a balcony railing.

In the 1990s, Garth Brooks had been riding an unprecedented wave of success. His first album was released in 1989 and he broke nearly every music record out there for the next ten years solid. He set concert attendance records, was a best-selling artist world-wide, every album he released went platinum multiple times and he won nearly every major music award available.


This is a wig… right?

And then, inexplicably, in 1999 at the tail end of a decade that he just flat owned, Brooks decided to mess with the formula. In one of the most perplexing events to ever happen in pop music: Garth Brooks invented Chris Gaines.

Maybe Brooks was rebelling against his success or maybe he just needed a change. But most likely, he was sick of the confines of country music.

Country, like any good subculture, has its own unwritten rules about how a person should speak, what words they should use, where they should go, who they should interact with and — especially — what they should wear.

Every genre has a uniform and conformity is demanded. Rappers wear gold chains and bling just like country stars wear pointed boots and cowboy hats. Brooks wore all of that plus those nut-exploding painted-on jeans and a whole series of bad rodeo wear. Maybe he was just sick of having to wear those damn obnoxious shirts?

Particularly in country music, conformity is demanded and artists are expected to acquiesce or be promptly smacked down by Nashville executives. The idea of a “country crossover artist” — now presented so perfectly by Taylor Swift — was looked down upon in 1990s country music. At the time, artists like the Dixie Chicks had been labeled with the “crossover” tag, but that’s because the members didn’t dress classically country. They sure sounded country, though.

So while artists and potential label signees were being told they weren’t “country” enough, Garth Brooks, the absolute King of Modern Country, threw his cowboy hat out the tractor window and went digging in his dress-up trunk. Confined by his own specific success, Brooks couldn’t just go make a pop album, he had to invent a character.

Seemingly overnight, Brooks morphed into Chris Gaines, the fabricated pop singer with an invented background and an entirely different musical style and singing voice. Supposedly built as a character for a never-completed movie staring Garth Brooks, the character of Chris Gaines soon took on a life of its own, with Brooks performing, doing interviews as and even staring in a VH1 Behind the Music “documentary” as Gaines.

Which obnoxious shirts? These obnoxious shirts.

Which obnoxious shirts? These obnoxious shirts.

Gaines had flat-ironed angular black hair (a wig), a severe soul patch and terrible Eurotrash clothes. Gaines also had his own elaborate back-story with a whole big fake history of family troubles and personal problems. He was pensive, deep guy who was also supposed to be from Australia.

The from Australia part was the worst decision of them all (now Brooks had to attempt to pull off an accent, too) but Brooks later said that the hardest part of being Chris Gaines was not trying on a brand new personality, but trying to look thinner. Brooks designed Gaines to be 40 pounds lighter than him, meaning that Brooks was constantly making Zoolander‘s “Blue Steel” face in Gaines photos because he was always sucking in his cheeks.

Just like his inventor, eventually Gaines cracked the Billboard charts. His Babyface-esque “Lost in You” made it all the way to the Top 5. Brooks’ time as Gaines was largely seen as some symptom of a mid-life crisis or a full-fledged freak-out, but he definitely had enough talent for two artists.

It was odd from top to bottom — he came off like a total nutter, and it essentially marked the end of his career as a major player in the music industry. But Brooks took the biggest risk of his career with Gaines and cheers to him for that. His rebellion wasn’t even Gaines, his rebellion was refusing to not rebel. Basically, this country guy dressing up and posing like a gothic MySpace teenager was somehow totally punk. Go Garth.

Brooks retired from recording and performing for almost a decade after the Gaines Disaster but has since released a few singles, done a residency in Las Vegas and dropped a rare performance here and there. But now Brooks has put his hat back on and has scheduled a world tour.

Will it be the biggest comeback of all time? Probably. Brooks already has the future of entire cities hanging on his stirrups like he’s the gosh-darn Olympic games.

Garth, we know you’re really busy and all but can we make just one request? Have Chris Gaines as your tour opener. We love him. Please? Thanks.

link: Riverfront Times

Veruca Salt – Critic’s Pick

July 9, 2014 Leave a comment


Veruca Salt
by Jaime Lees
w/ Battleme

One of the greatest success stories born out of the massive ’90s alternative scene in Chicago was Veruca Salt. Fronted by Nina Gordon and (St. Louis native) Louise Post, each songwriter offered her own distinct strength: Gordon with blooming melody and Post with fiery power. The band was signed to Geffen Records, had a few videos in heavy rotation on MTV (“Seether,” “Volcano Girls”) and produced a handful of albums of revved up alt-pop before fading from the spotlight and officially announcing its hiatus in 2012. But this year brought a new Record Store Day release from Veruca Salt and renewed public interest in this band that undoubtedly still has something to prove.

link: Riverfront Times

I Kinda Like It: Tales of an Arcade Fire-Ambivalent Music Journalist

April 25, 2014 Leave a comment
photo by Jaime Lees - Win Butler of Arcade Fire in 1999 or 2000. (No, he didn't always dress like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.)

photo by Jaime Lees – Win Butler of Arcade Fire in 1999 or 2000. (No, he didn’t always dress like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man.)

I Kinda Like It: Tales of an Arcade Fire-Ambivalent Music Journalist
By Jaime Lees
Fri., Apr. 25 2014

We music writers are often encouraged to argue our musical tastes in black-and-white terms. Not only does it make for a more interesting article, but hard-stance or scandalous opinions prompt conversations and an interesting, interactive online comment section.

One band that every music journalist seems to have a big, unalterable opinion on is the Arcade Fire. Love it or hate it, this band seems to have prompted the most spilled ink and fevered nerdy debates of any modern group.

I consider myself an Arcade Fire agnostic — after all of these years of exposure it’s like I still need more proof before I can commit to an opinion. Not only do I feel pulled in two different directions when I think of the band, but my views are wrapped up and twisted in my own personal history and the kind of “full disclosure” experiences that journalists are meant to avoid when writing objectively.

See, I spent a decent amount of time with Win Butler, singer for Arcade Fire, when I was just a teenager. He attended Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, with a friend of mine whom I visited frequently. (I mostly scheduled my trips around when I’d be able to attend Echo & the Bunnymen concerts in Manhattan, just a short train ride away. I’ve always been weird.)

I visited SLC a few times in a two-year period during 1999 and 2000. Sadly, the friend I was visiting seemed to always be ill when I arrived. (Once because she’d had surgery and a couple other times because of what I now recognize as probably alcohol poisoning.) In any case, when she wasn’t available I spent a lot of my time on the East Coast being babysat by her excellent friends and dorm-mates who were kind enough to let me tag along with them. They took me into the city and offered to be my guides so that my seventeen- or eighteen-year-old ass wouldn’t get into trouble.

Sarah Lawrence was (and probably still is) a school for the freakishly ambitious, the insane and the insanely privileged. It was one of the most expensive colleges in the country during the time that I visited, and it has maintained that standard. (Total undergraduate tuition and fees are currently estimated to cost over $66,000 per year.) Honestly, it’s one of the most ridiculous places I’ve ever been. The school was known for not giving grades, working on a pass/fail system and letting students “explore” and invent their own “concentrations” instead of committing to a major. This meant that most SLC students basically blew through around $200,000 of their parents’ money while they fucked off for four years.

Everyone seemed lonely and bored on that campus, too, but this worked in my favor when I’d hop off a plane and needed a companion — and one of my favorite babysitters was Butler. I liked him because was a total sweetheart and a big Cure fan. He sometimes had the Robert Smith hair and everything. He seemed to wear mostly black, and despite what the picture above might indicate, no, he didn’t always dress like Brendan Fraser in Encino Man. (I took that photo at a dress-up dance party.) He was geeky, shy and mega nice. And very, very tall. Whenever he took me into the city I’d always be jogging to keep up with him because my short legs had to take an average of two and a half steps for every one of his. Our adventures were always exhausting.

He left SLC sometime in around 2000 and took off for Canada. The next time I saw him was when his new band, Arcade Fire, toured the Midwest in 2004. I saw the (now-legendary) St. Louis show at the Rocket Bar and another one in Columbia at Mojo’s. I’d heard his demos and liked them, but I still thought I was going to see some stupid college band. To my surprise, they arrived in town fully formed, and the music was impressively passionate. Arcade Fire was opening for the Unicorns and played for a very small audience at both of these gigs, but by the next year the band was on a main stage at the revived Lollapalooza festival in Chicago.

photo by Jaime Lees - Arcade Fire performing at Lollapalooza 2005

photo by Jaime Lees – Arcade Fire performing at Lollapalooza 2005

The vibe backstage at Lollapalooza was intense. Gone was the joyous, silly kid who had shown me around New York City. He’d been replaced by a guarded grown man under intense scrutiny. The pressure was palpable. It was the hottest Chicago summer in decades and Butler sat at a table under a white tent, and we all tried to enjoy some delicious catered pumpkin ravioli while his handlers were attempting to pull him away to do this or that. None of that tension was visible from the stage that day, though. The band played in the blazing heat and impressed the thousands in the crowd. They all seemed more relaxed after they played, but the responsibility was still great. I watched the band be interviewed by MTV and realized that their lives had completely changed.

It’s still hard to wrap my head around what happened in this year where the band went from playing club dates to becoming major festival headliners. It was hard to process for them, too, no doubt. Arcade Fire had signed to Merge Records and its debut, Funeral, was released during one of the oddest periods in modern music. Merge pushed the band hard (the hardest I remember seeing a band, not a pop star, being pushed in recent history), and it managed to hit right at a time where an odd cultural shift was occurring with American youth. There were tons of young and college-aged would-be hipsters (for lack of a better word) who hadn’t really found their place in music and weren’t sure where to angle themselves and their tastes.

Arcade Fire’s sudden and massive popularity also inspired tons of musicians to form multiplayer ripoff bands who were hoping to cash in and get signed. We had a couple of these type of groups here in St. Louis (don’t worry, I’m not naming names), and they wore the outfits and tried to be way epic but didn’t quite have the talent to pull it off.

During this time the rules of music journalism were also changing quickly — with reviews (and photos) becoming more important than previews. Major music festivals hadn’t quite fully become travel destinations yet, and girls didn’t even know about “festival fashion” or the unwritten rule of wearing flowered headbands when in attendance. Mostly, it seemed that kids were desperate for something to grab onto, something to make theirs. This, combined with the sudden popularity of MP3-fueled music blogs, social media and every kid with Internet access on the planet striving to be the first to drop a link to the next cool thing caused a magical pop-culture moment, and Arcade Fire just happened to be there.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, could have predicted the insanely sudden and international success of the Arcade Fire. Not even the music executives who pushed the band. Yes, the band was good. Right away it was good. But it was also weird. There were a bunch of members onstage and they made all of this big noise with an intensity that was nearly off-putting. They dressed like they were bohemian Amish, and the songs they played were often lyrically obtuse and frequently sung in half-French.

Music journalists — always feeling unappreciated and therefore quick to prove their intellectual qualities — grabbed onto the band and projected shit-loads of assumptions onto its music. Arcade Fire has inspired some of the most tedious, over-written, uninteresting thesis-type “think pieces” in modern journalism. (Sorry, I know this is one of them.) We writers overthink this band with an amazing frequency. From pointing out deep literary references to deciphering coded statements about the September 11 terrorist attacks, these essays never seem to be completely off track, but they miss the point: Arcade Fire songs are about human emotions. That’s why so many people like the band. Fans seem to feel them, for whatever reason.

photo by Jaime Lees - Arcade Fire backstage at Lollapalooza 2005 with John Norris of MTV

photo by Jaime Lees – Arcade Fire backstage at Lollapalooza 2005 with John Norris of MTV

This is where I start getting confused, though. I wouldn’t say that baroque, dramatic art rock via Canada about partying with “the Haitians” is exactly my thing. Without a personal connection to the band I might have dismissed it outright as a bunch of art-school losers. But no matter how loosely associated you are, or how long ago it occurred, it’s jarring to see someone you once played spin the bottle with on the cover of Spin with Bruce Springsteen. I think without a personal interest I would have only vaguely paid attention to the band, and that would’ve been about it. But because I was invested, I actually listened and was rewarded. Sometimes.

I’ve always found most of the band’s music to be overly dramatic and semi-annoying, but, man, it also has a few really, really good songs. I loved “Wake Up” off of Funeral deeply and immediately — it reminded me of the promise shown in some of the demos I’d had in the early 2000s. And Neon Bible is by far my favorite Arcade Fire album because it combined the band’s trademark builds and blasts with more lush, subtle sounds. I caught the Chicago show on the Neon Bible tour and it was appropriately mind-blowing, and raised my expectations for the band. But then after that I thought The Suburbs was just OK and I’ve only heard pieces of the latest record, Reflektor, twice, both times while riding in someone’s car. My verdict was a resounding, echoing “meh.” It seemed as though with Reflektor the band had discovered the Talking Heads, and that was kind of my only thought.

I last saw Arcade Fire play in Kentucky in the fall of 2007. I took a friend who had just received a cancer diagnosis but had not yet undergone surgery. It was rough. He needed a road trip in the worst way, so we drove to Louisville to see Arcade Fire play on the riverfront with LCD Soundsystem. LCD brought the dance party, but AF’s show put us on a bad track emotionally. Let me tell you: an Arcade Fire concert is not somewhere you want to be if you have something heavy hanging over your head. Arcade Fire’s intensity can easily fuck your vibe if you’re already in a bad place, which actually says more about the bands power more than it does about our emotional state that day.

Indeed, how I feel about the band seems to depend on my mood. When I’m feeling generous, its activism, earnestness and stage costumes can remind me of later-era R.E.M. When I’m not, everything about the band reminds me of the bloated, pompous arena monster that is U2.

As far as pop culture influence, the band’s public image is also something to be examined and explored, for sure. There’s always a backlash with any level of popularity and most of my friends who haven’t really listened to the band think its members are a bunch of poseurs. I can’t blame them, really. They look odd and the band has endured a series of PR gaffes and very public swipes. (A while back Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips went on the record about his distaste for the band. This must be a personal bummer for Butler and his wife, vocalist Régine Chassagne — they took friends to a Flaming Lips concert years ago on the eve of their wedding.)

After that first huge rush of attention occurred, the band did the only reasonable thing — went back to Canada and hid out for a while. It was a smart move. Arcade Fire had reached maximum saturation. But this kind of thing also has consequences. Because the band doesn’t give many interviews, it has retained an air of mystery, and therefore it can be easy to make assumptions about its members’ character or intentions. As cool as they may be, or sweet or funny, there’s something whack with their media presence. To put it bluntly: They seem to always come off like douches. It’s an easy leap for the public to make when all the public knows is the serious nature of the music and there’s not much good information out there to counter all of the bad information.

The worst of the anti-Arcade Fire backlash came just last year when the bands Twitter account announced that to attend one of its shows: “Formal attire or costume MANDATORY. (Formal wear = suit, dress or fancy something…)” The request was also printed on tickets by Ticketmaster and the outrage was immediate. Young fans who were already strapped for cash because of buying tickets to the shows were now panicking that they had to go out and buy prom dresses and rent tuxedos — thinking that they wouldn’t be able to get into the show otherwise.

Like many others, my first reaction was something like, “Eh, fuck you, buddy!” What a bunch of bullshit. I was appalled, thinking, “No way. We don’t tell you to stop wearing those Mennonites-at-the-disco suits or those horrible fingerless gloves, you don’t get to tell us what to wear to your concerts.”

Worse yet, the band waited nearly two months to issue a formal “apology” via its Facebook page, posting in part, “To everyone really upset about us asking people to dress up at our shows… please relax. It’s super not mandatory.” Hm. This seems like the wrong approach, entirely. They said it was mandatory, but then they said it’s not and then they seemed to imply that the fans were stupid for getting “really upset.”

If the band wanted to inspire a sense of spontaneous community in fans by getting them to dress up and have fun, this was a whack-ass way to go about it. Here, it seems, the band could take some advice from the Flaming Lips. Instead of encouraging fun, AF tried to make it mandatory. It’s hard to defend something like that and this is where the bands’ aloofness again works against them. It might not seem fair, but people can only go on what you show them. And when all you seem to show them is crap like this, they’ll respond accordingly.

The only, and I mean only, good PR move I’ve seen Arcade Fire pull in the last few years was appearing on Saturday Night Live. The song performances were okay, but the band members participated in a comedy sketch that showed the public that they might actually have a sense of humor about themselves. A few members of the band participated in a scene that was fully at the expense of their egos, with Butler taking the brunt of Tina Fey’s ribbing. (She said he looked like, “Some kind of hipster Paul Bunyan. Could be a Civil War reenactor or some kind of Serbian basketball player,” and that the band’s old-timey instruments look “massively stupid.”) Butler even did an impersonation of Robert De Niro on-air — it was the first public display of levity or humor I’d seen from him in years.

I was laying in bed a couple of weeks ago with my dude friend and we were talking about the special releases for this year’s Record Store Day. I was going on and on about how great R.E.M.’s MTV “Unplugged” recordings were and forced him to listen to a bootleg copy of a song that I had on my phone. He was patient through the song and then took a deep breath and said, “Every R.E.M. song sounds like it’s trying to break my heart but it just never can.”

As soon as he said it I realized that’s how I feel about Arcade Fire: It is trying to break my heart but it just never can. I can feel the intensity but it just doesn’t sway me. I think the band is good at what it does, it’s probably just not for me. I’m glad that the generation just younger than me seems to enjoy it — I really think they could (and do) like a whole lot worse. But with Arcade Fire, I just don’t know what to think anymore. Am I letting my fondness for a dude I hung out with as a kid sway my views? I don’t know. Music appreciation and tastes are so personal and complicated, even sometimes for those of us who get paid to have an opinion.

With this band it’s not like I feel that I don’t care, it’s more like I’m just not sure how to feel at all. I have strong feelings in both directions. Am I missing something here? Persuade me either way.

link: Riverfront Times

Please Kill Me author Legs McNeil on His New Book, Music and Chuck Berry

April 22, 2014 Leave a comment
photo by Jaime Lees

Legs McNeil at the Chuck Berry statue on Delmar Boulevard, photo by Jaime Lees

Legs McNeil became one of my favorite authors when I first read his Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk as a young teen. Even if you don’t own the book, you’ve undoubtedly seen its ransom-note-styled spine on the bookshelf of your music-loving friend. It’s an assertion that’s been made by others many times before, but I’ll say it here one more time: Please Kill Me is the definitive account of the early New York punk scene. (Trust me, I’ve read them all.)

But McNeil’s pedigree far precedes my birth. He has many professional accomplishments under his belt, but he’s probably best known as the cofounder of Punk Magazine, a New York-based pop-culture magazine famous for documenting the CBGB scene in the 1970s. (Through this, McNeil is also frequently credited with popularizing the word “punk” as we know it.)

Exactly a year ago this week, McNeil came through town on a book-reading tour, and I arranged for him and his beautiful, kind-souled assistant to stay with me. (I came in contact with him a few years back when he interviewed me for an upcoming book.) His St. Louis tour stop was set up at the Silver Ballroom, the friendly punk-rock pinball joint. He did his reading there, gave a great interview at KDHX and in between we basically spent a few days hanging out on my porch and drinking tea while McNeil gamely entertained any of my friends who stopped by with delicious insider tales of Patti Smith, Blondie, the Stooges and all of the rest of our favorite artists.

I texted McNeil a couple of days before his arrival and asked if he wanted to see Chuck Berry while he was here. He replied with an immediate “FUCK YES,” and my wonderful friend Jim got in touch with Joe Edwards and they got us hooked up with tickets to see Berry play his monthly gig at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room. As a proud St. Louis native, I’m always glad when I get to take out-of-towners to see our rock & roll legend in that super-intimate room. McNeil was as impressed by Berry as I was with him, calling him an “original punk.” We stopped for touristy photos at the Berry statue on Delmar Boulevard on the way home.

That night, after thoroughly inspecting my bookcases, McNeil said, “You’re really going to like my next book.” He was right.

Here’s the back-story on the book: McNeil lives in a small down in Pennsylvania and is friends with the man who runs the post office across the street from his house. One day this man’s daughter came by his house to borrow a book, and when McNeil asked her what she’d been reading, she said that the best thing that she’d read lately was a diary written by her best friend’s older sister, Mary Rose, who had died.

McNeil was intrigued. He arranged to meet the girl’s mother, read the journal, and they decided to publish it. Because Mary Rose died when she was a minor, the journal was considered part of her estate and thereby controlled by both of her parents. According to McNeil, Mary Rose’s father was a creep who never paid child support and showed little interest in his child unless he thought he could profit off of her. McNeil and Mary Rose’s mother took him to court to gain control of the publication rights. Six years, four judges and $50,000 later, the diary was finally theirs to publish.

Dear Nobody: The True Story of Mary Rose arrived in the mail at my house last week and, honestly, I didn’t want to put it down. I blew through all 330 pages in two sittings. It’s a fast read and compelling. Mary Rose was resilient, confused, troubled and brave. She wrote about everything she experienced in her young life, from boy troubles to new hair styles to family problems and chronic disease.

At times, I identified so much with Mary Rose’s troubles I worried that I am immature. But Mary Rose’s teenage fretting, lostness and bravery in the face of pain and illness is something that any reader can identify with from time to time. Her words express the kind of deep truths that can only be written in a private journal.

I called McNeil over the weekend to interview him about this new book and about Mary Rose. In the interview he is his usual blend of smart, curmudgeonly and kind.

Jaime Lees: Tell me what drew you to the story of Mary Rose.

Legs McNeil: Nonfiction stuff is just gripping to me, you know. Also, when I read Go Ask Alice I knew it was fake. Even when I found out that the editor had kind of made it up, before that I knew that it was fraudulent. Because no one used the slang that they used in that book. I’d never heard anyone use it. It really pissed me off for some reason, probably because they sold it as a true diary. I don’t know. It just made me furious that they confused everyone. So I’d always been kind of looking for the real Go Ask Alice, and I think I found it in Dear Nobody.

Did you follow the A Million Little Pieces scandal? Do you remember that one, from like, six or seven years back?

Yeah, and what was the one with… the [J.T.] LeRoy book? Yeah, that just seemed like more bullshit, you know.

Yeah, I’d rather read true things any day. But I think I’m weird like that. I think you’re weird like that, too.

You know, you can tell when something is authentic or not. And I think that’s part of what’s great about Mary Rose, is that there’s no doubt about the authenticity. Also, we’re posting original pages from the journals so people know that it’s not another fraudulent literally scandal.

Tell me about the legal issues you had in getting the book published.

Oh, that was a nightmare. In about 2009 when we were going to go out to sell it — after we’d spent a year and a half editing it — our New York lawyer said that because she was a minor when she died that her parents inherited her estate. When a minor dies, the parents automatically inherit the person’s estate. So that meant her deadbeat dad was entitled to half of the money from the mother’s share. And he was really…I mean…this guy was an asshole. I just felt like he wasn’t entitled to anything. So we went to court to open the estate and have him removed as the beneficiary. And that took four and a half years, because no male judge wanted to make a ruling on it, so they passed it to the next judge because they didn’t want it to be overturned in a higher court. I don’t think they knew what the fuck was going on, you know?

It was really frustrating. And it wasn’t until we got a female judge who understood and who ruled on it when we went to court. And I knew the father was a deadbeat asshole, but I didn’t realize how much of a deadbeat asshole he was until the mom testified in court. He wanted to pull [Mary Rose] off life support the week before she died so he could collect on the insurance policy he took out on her. He’s just a scumbag, you know?

So, what do you think is the most interesting part of the Mary Rose story?

Hmm. That’s a good question. I think…she can be so profound one moment and so bratty and just an asshole the next. The main contradiction with her seems to be adolescence, you know? That roller-coaster ride of emotion and mood swings. You know [she wrote things like], “I love him. I love him. I love him. I hate him. I hate him. I hate him.”

I can relate.

[Laughs] Yeah! She just seemed to capture all of those dumb mistakes. She gets high, and she wakes up in the hospital, and they throw her in detention or wherever. I could relate to those fuckups, you know?

When you came across the story, you already knew the ending and you knew that she had died. What if you came across this journal and she hadn’t died? Like, what if you knew her as an adult and she gave you this diary? Is it as interesting to you then?

See, I don’t know. I think I was attracted to it because I knew she had died. It wasn’t until I really read it and realized how shitty this girl’s life was that it really affected me. I think I was just thinking about it superficially when I heard about it, but when I read it and could see all of the pain and torment that this girl went through…it was just shocking.

Yeah, and it wasn’t just that she died, it’s that she knew she was going to die. So she sort of has that hanging over her head the whole time.

Yeah. Impending doom. So, you kind of don’t blame all of her stupid choices. You think about “Well, what the fuck would I have done?” Probably something very similar.

Or worse, even! So, Mary Rose wrote that she liked Nirvana, but what other music did she like? Do you know?

Well, in the actual journals she had all the bands names that she loved, like Hole, Nirvana, Pavement. Who else was in there? She liked those Bikini Kill kind of things. You know, those grrr grrr…

The Riot Grrrls?

Yeah, in the ’90s. I think the book takes place between 1996 and 1999.

Yeah, that’s about the right time period.

Oh and L7, I think, she was into. She had really good taste in music.

She also kept describing that her hair color would change.

[Laughs] Yeah, I know.

Do you have any pictures of her? Or do you know what she looked like?

No, in fact, I refused to look at any pictures of her while we were editing. Because I didn’t want to be swayed by it. I’ve only seen one picture of her.

Are people trying to give you stuff of hers now? Have you become the caretaker of her legacy?

No, no her mom is the caretaker of her legacy. No, I don’t think I’d want that responsibility.

Does this book make you more interested in teenage-girl diaries? Did it change your taste in things that you might find fascinating?

A lot of girls have said to me, “Wow, you should have read my diary.” And I say, “Well, let me read it.” And they say, “I destroyed it.” Or they lost them. And that’s something that is kind of tragic. But I’ve always been kind of interested in teenage writing. I mean, that’s what Please Kill Me is.

It’s teenage writing?

[Laughs] Well, it’s very emotionally retarded. It’s also very smart, like Dear Nobody. But at some point we’re all stupid. Like when Cheetah Chrome throws the guinea pigs out the window, you know? It’s just like, “What are you doing?”

Yeah, there are some adolescent tales in there, that’s for sure.

But you know what? When I was a kid — and I have them all now on the bookshelf right next to my desk — I have all of these gang books from the ’60s. Like Run Baby Run and Down These Mean Streets, and that’s kind of what Please Kill Me was based on. These gang books. I always wanted to be in a gang. I grew up in the suburbs where the only gang of kids were, like, toddlers riding in big wheels. So I always liked the city. And hanging out on fire escapes and smoking cigarettes was always very romantic to me.

Well, you did it!

Yeah! When we did Punk Magazine I did a lot of that, but it was more hanging out on stoops and drinking beer. Talking to girls as they walk by and stuff like that. It was fun. I tried to live out those books, but I was too much of a wimp to join a gang.

Was it as great as you thought it would be? Sitting around on stoops and hollering at girls?

Yeah! And drinking beer! And smoking cigarettes!

Speaking of, when you were here you saw Chuck Berry. Can you tell me about that?

Oh, it was great! I really wanted to see Chuck. I mean, he couldn’t really remember the words, but it was so much fun just to be in the same room with the guy when he’s playing, you know? And he was fuckin’ ancient, wasn’t he?

He’s ancient plus a year, because that was a year ago this week.

Was it? This week? You know, it’s like Chuck Berry will never die. Ever. Even when he physically dies, he will never die.

Well, that’s sort of what you did for Mary Rose, too.

Oh, who knows? It will probably come out and nobody will read it…

Oh, shut up. Now tell me, do you often see bands when you’re out on book tours? What’s your musical intake?

I’m really into garage bands from the ’60s. So over the summer I’m going to try to see a lot of garage bands. I’m going to see the Standells. They’re touring, actually. Their tour starts now. I just want to see them do “Dirty Water” live, you know? And I’ve been buying a lot of records these days. Vinyl is back!

Dear Nobody is available now at Barnes & Noble and other retailers.

Legs McNeil at a Chuck Berry concert at Blueberry Hill, photo by Jaime Lees

Legs McNeil at a Chuck Berry concert at Blueberry Hill, photo by Jaime Lees

link: Riverfront Times

link: OC Weekly 

Alejandro Escovedo – Critic’s Pick

April 1, 2014 Leave a comment
photo by Marina Chavez

photo by Marina Chavez

Though he’s never quite reached mainstream success, Alejandro Escovedo has long been underground famous — pleasing audiences across the planet with his unique sound. A shining soul with a punk rock past (via the Nuns), Escovedo now plays No Depression-approved, churning alt-country with a rock foundation and a chicano veneer. But it’s not just his ability to incorporate different genres that makes him so well-loved: Escovedo also has charisma and stage-presence to spare. He’s basically Bruce Springsteen, if the Boss was raised in Texas and had the advantage of some Southern charm. Escovedo is a tour-hound, seemingly addicted to the stage, and when he’s at the microphone the room belongs to him. Witness it.

— By Jaime Lees

link: Riverfront Times

Dr. Dog – Critic’s Pick

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

DrDogDr. Dog
8 p.m. Wednesday, March 12.
The Pageant, 6161 Delmar Boulevard.
$20 to $22.50.

Dr. Dog loves St. Louis and St. Louis loves Dr. Dog. Music fans here have long supported the hard working Pennsylvania act, embracing its harmony drenched, Beatles-come-jam band psych-rock and delicious live show. The band has been touring constantly for nearly a decade and it seems to always include an STL date on every tour. Dr. Dog has played at Mississippi Nights, the Creepy Crawl, the Red Sea, the Firebird (and the Bluebird), the Gargoyle, KDHX and LouFest. Its latest stop came last year as the opening act for the Lumineers at the Chaifetz Aren a, and all of this hard work has paid off with a headlining show at the Pageant.

Don’t Hate: Yeah, Dr. Dog toured with the Lumineers, but try not to hold that against ‘em. They’re just hustlin’.


link: Riverfront Times

Live Blog: 24 Consecutive Hours at Pop’s Nightclub

March 10, 2014 Leave a comment
photo by Diana Benanti

photo by Diana Benanti

Live Blog: 24 Consecutive Hours at Pop’s Nightclub

By Jaime Lees
Sat., Mar. 8 2014 at 12:00 PM

We’ve all done it. You’re at a bar and it’s closing time, but you’re not quite ready for the night to end. Maybe you want to grab just one more drink. Then someone in your crew suggests that you “go to the east side.”

Fifteen minutes later you’re in another state. You’ve crossed the Mississippi river into Sauget, Illinois and you find yourself in a massive gravel parking lot, stumbling into the after-hours beacon that is Pop’s Nightclub & Concert Venue.

Pop’s is a rare bar that is open (and serves booze) 24 hours a day, making it the go-to spot for late-night debauchery. But what happens there during the daylight hours?

I decided to spend one full day at Pop’s to see what it was like without beer goggles. Pop’s offers many amenities that make an adventure like this manageable: lockers to hold your stuff, comfortable couches for lounging, a variety of food and loads of entertainment. (Both accidental and on purpose.) It’s an easy place to have a good time.

So starting now, noon of Saturday, March 8, I’ll be live-blogging my experience at Pop’s here on RFT Music. Entries will include updates, photos, interviews and research on the history of the venue and its “24/7 Since 1981″ tagline.

I’m going east. Check back soon (and often) for live updates.


Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 11:20am
I packed my prep backpack. Red Bull, granola bars, sunglasses, my favorite pens and my super-hawt Taylor Swift notebook. Let’s do this. Also, now would probably be a good time to mention that there’s a man at my house and I’ve authorized him to use deadly force to protect my collection of heart-shaped sunglasses, so don’t go trying to bust into my crib while I’m away.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 11:45am
There are few stretches of road in St. Louis that I love to drive more that lovely section of highway 55 north from Loughborough to downtown. The beautiful architecture, the view of the river, they way traffic always slows down just south of the merging highways, allowing you a nice long view of our beautiful Arch. But this time, I peeked across the river with apprehension, knowing that soon I’d be in Sauget for, like, forever.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 12:01pm
I’ve arrived.
Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 12:02pm
The first song I heard as I walked in. A good sign, I think.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 01:05pm
The bartender here is very sweet. She was confused about why I was here at first, but she’s super nice and before I can even ask, she offers me the Pop’s wifi password. I’m the only non-employee here right now. It’s dark in here. I like it.
POPSempty-thumb-500x500Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 1:28pm
The music has been switched off, the sound in here is now the audio for the basketball game that’s on the the TVs. One of these basketball players is named Dalton Pepper. Dalton Pepper! Say it aloud, if you don’t get me yet.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 2:26pm
I forgot hand sanitizer, but remembered to bring an extension cord. We’ll call it a draw. The Blues game is on the television now. GOshie! Also, I’m going to the show advertised in this photo next weekend. Two Saturdays in a row at Pop’s? My life is awesome/sad like that.
POPSred-thumb-500x500Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 1:50pm
I’m settling into a groove. I brought a lot of stuff to work on because I knew I’d be here for at least a while by myself. Do you know how many ways you can procrastinate at home? Instead of getting writing done, I’ll frequently decide that it’s a great time to clean the dust off of my ceiling fan or reorganize my shoes. Not here. I have nothing else to do right now but work or play a one-sided game of pool. It’s just you and me, Taylor Swift notebook.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 2:45pm
A few dudes just showed up and ordered drinks. Should I talk to him? I feel too shy to approach them, but I have the feeling that they’ll come and talk to me soon, anyway. They always do.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 3:06pm
These Blues announcers sound like they have a major crush on David Backes. But who doesn’t?

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 3:08pm
“And they got a pool table, too!”

(If you didn't read that in Garth Algar voice, your life sucks.)

(If you didn’t read that in Garth Algar voice, your life sucks.)

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 3:27pm
This Blues game is thrilling, yo. And while we’re on the subject of local celebrities, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics to come hang out with me today/tonight/tomorrow. We’re in love, he just doesn’t know it yet.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 4:02pm
If I start losing my mind later, remind me that things could be worse. At least I’m not live-blogging Billy freaking Corgan playing a faux-intellectual 8-hour jam. The horror.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 4:57pm
It’s just me and one other guy here now. A pretty girl just came in and picked up a paper (job application? pay check?) but then she left. She had nice boots. If you ever need a place to host a party, try Pop’s on a Saturday afternoon. You’ll have the place to yourself with no rental fee!

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 5:55pm
I was just sitting here wondering if I’ve ever written about Pop’s before today. I don’t think I have, but I remembered talking about this place in an interview quite a few years back. I’ve interviewed Kelley Deal of the Breeders a few times, but on this occasion in 2008 the Breeders were due to play at Pop’s.

Me: So you’re gonna come here to St. Louis. Do you know about the place you’re playing? It’s kind of like that place you’d go to see a Journey cover band.
Kelley: Ha! The place that we’re playing there? Really? Oh God, I hate when you tell me shit like that, it’s so weird!
Me: No, it’s a fun place, but it’s in East St. Louis, and it’s sort of like, you have to stay on that street or you die.
Kelley: [Laughs]
Me: So don’t go roamin’ around there.
Kelley: OK. I mean, will people not come because of the location?
Me: No, you can totally go there, you just have to go straight there and then leave. Its like, in the middle of a couple of strip clubs.
Kelley: I can take my clothes off, that’s what you’re saying?
Me: Well, uh, next door at least. Or, uh, probably there, too. It’s your show.
Kelley: I’ll just take ‘em off there, too.

[I was at the show. She didn't take off her clothes. Tease.]

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 7:20pm
Took a nice little break for a bit. Talked with the awesome employees here and heard lots of great stories– like how Pop’s accidentally booked Nickelback back in 2000 on a metal show assuming they were a different metal band.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 8:08pm
Bartender Brian Werner tells me that he has a YouTube channel where he uploads clips from virtually every band that plays at Pop’s. This will be good for my research. Check it out here.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 9:25pm
Dinner time! I got hungry so I went next door to the Penthouse Club and picked up some steamed broccoli. Yes, I saw some breasts there. No, I don’t have pictures of that. I did see a dancer helping an old man use his iPhone, though.
POPSbroccoli-thumb-500x500Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 10:16pm
Sports sounds off, music on. The night at Pop’s has begun.

Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 10:31
Now playing:


Saturday, March 8, 2014 – 11:22
First friend visit! My friend Lindsay showed up! Here she is, doing her Samantha Ronson on stage.
POPSlindsay-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:09am
I have solved the greatest mystery of Pop’s. If you’ve ever been here, you’ve probably seen these signs on the wall with seemingly random letters on them. The signs light up in parts, illuminating certain letters. Before tonight, I’d figured out that the sign is a security alert system. But with the help of my new Pop’s employee friends, tonight I learned that the letters correspond to different areas of the club and are lit up when an employee sees some kind of potential problem happening (a fight or something) to alert security and other workers.
POPSsecurity-thumb-500x500Wanna learn how to decode the system? I have the key.


Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:23am
I’VE BEEN HERE FOR TWELVE HOURS. The place is filling out. I am fueled on broccoli and ready ready ready.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 1:26am
I’m kinda big on life anniversaries, and it occurs to me that exactly one year ago today/tonight, I did the most monumentally stupid thing that I’ve ever done in my adult life. It involved an adventure to a different establishment not too far from here. I’m not giving up any details, you’ll have to wait for my memoirs.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 1:34am
IT’S ALL HAPPENING. A big change just happened here. DJ Big J just took over, cranked up the music and turned on the lasers. And 40 people walked through the door in the last few minutes. IT’S ON.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 3:05am
So, “spring forward” just happened and this place just got balls insane. People are coming through the door at the rate of about one a minute and the whole place just got instantly packed. Big J is killing with the hits and the dance floor is filling up. Here’s the view from the stage.
POPSdance-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 3:53am
My friend Ryan doesn’t know how to do the “Cupid Shuffle” dance, but he’s trying. Dude, you need to spend some more time at Time Out on Gravois.
POPSryan-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 4:21am
This crappy picture is a view from the balcony. It’s WAY more crowded than it appears in this photo. This place is packed. The DJ just played Pharrell William’s “Happy” followed by “Great Balls of Fire” then “Footloose” and “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s a party on the dance floor.
POPSbalcony-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 5:32am
The Philly cheese steak shack outside in the parking lot is bumpin’.
POPSphilly-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 5:55am
The crowd has thinned just a bit, but the place still feels full. Some are leaving while others are just arriving. In the super-amazing film Tapeheads, they would call this photo “production value.”
POPSgirls-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 6:00am
Six more hours. I amaze me, but I have friends here to keep me company. They’re eating cheese fries.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 6:30am
So, here’s the deal: I had planned on staying here from noon on Saturday until noon on Sunday, but since tonight marked the “spring forward” bit of daylight savings time, my plans got all weird. This means that if I stay until noon on Sunday, technically, I’ve only stayed for 23 hours instead of 24. That would ruin my bragging rights. So I think I’m going to try to stay until 1pm today.

Also, I haven’t mentioned this yet: I am at Pop’s and I’ve been way sober the entire time. I repeat: it is 6:30 in the morning and I’ve been at Pop’s for about 18 hours and “Rack City” is playing and I’m sober. Fact: I am more punk than you.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 6:42am
“Cupid Shuffle” is on again and friend Shaun is dancing the Curly Shuffle. #blessed

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 7:02am
People are waking up for church right about now, so let’s pretend to be civilized for a minute and drop some actual results of the research that I’ve been doing while I’m here.

There is a local urban legend that Pop’s has actually been open 24 hours a day since 1981. The first location of the club was just across the parking lot from here on the same plot of land that now holds the Sauget Diner, but it burned down as a result of an electrical fire in the 1990s. So, the story goes like this: when Pop’s #1 burned down the club still sold beer in the parking lot to maintain its 24/7 reputation. Management at Pop’s says that story isn’t true, but do offer that employees and patrons certainly did drink beer in the parking lot as they watched the building burn. Some brought flowers, too. Their grieving was short lived, however, when the current Pop’s location opened just a couple of days later.

For the record, Pop’s is closed exactly one day a year: on Christmas. They joke that they have a hard time on every December 25th with finding the keys to lock the front door since the front door is never locked otherwise. And because the place is so enthusiastic about its 24-hour-a-day reputation, we locals know that winter weather is actually really, really bad when Pop’s makes an announcement that it is closed because of ice or snow. Personally, I know that the few times that has happened that I have been terrified for my life. In my mind, if Pop’s is closed, that must mean that we’re all going to die.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 7:21am
Good morning from the Pop’s parking lot.
POPSmorning-thumb-500x148Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 7:45am
Much clown love in the powder room. Family!
POPSwhoop-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 8:06am
There are still a crapload of people here. I just caught myself rubbing my eyes like a sleepy toddler.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 8:51am
DJ Big J really is the best. He took a full break so he could karaoke Toto’s “Africa.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 9:15am
Yeah, anyway.
RFTchalk-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 9:29am
Oh, you know, just at Pop’s at 9:30 in the morning talking about JFK assassination theories. The sun is shining bright outside and every time the door opens and I see a flash of it I cower and hiss like a Lost Boys vampire. There are still about 150 people here. They are entertaining me with their terrible fashion choices.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 9:40am
The bartender who was on shift when I arrived here yesterday is back for her shift today. The DJ is playing a mix that includes The Commodores’ “Easy.” There is hope. One day I will be home again.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 10:20am
Big J just finished DJing and we had a bro-down. He saw that I was drinking Red Bull and suggested that I try Monster Rehab, promising that it tasted like tea. We split a can and had a “mini-social” (others would call this a “cheers”) and hung out for a bit. I asked him about his energetic, enthusiastic DJ style and he said, “Well, the way I look at it, if I’m having fun then everybody else is having fun.” Truth.

When he was leaving, I thanked him for all of the excellent music and told him that he saved my life with his good tunes. He said, “There’s a song about that!”

And then we sang the chorus to this:

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 10:34am
Taylor Swift’s “22″ is playing on the radio here! I feel like getting out my T-Swizz notebook and dancing around. Is that weird? I might be a little delirious. I’ve been awake for 26 hours now, forgive me.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 11:05am
A half an hour ago there were about 40 patrons here. Now there are ten. Though this place spent most of the night functioning as a mega dance club, it’s now back to the same (extra large) corner bar vibe that it had when I first arrived. The stumbling drunks have headed out and all of the people left are just sitting at the bar, shootin’ the shit.
POPSten-thumb-500x500Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 11:19am
I’m hearing the music here at low volume through over-worked ears, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear that on that Daft Punk / Pharrell song it sounds like he’s singing “You go suck a dick.”

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:17pm
Hanging with a dude called Stretch from PT’s Sports Cabaret. He has lots of good blonde jokes. For real, though. Countdown: 45 minutes.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 12:30pm
Random facts about my 24 hours at Pop’s:

I am losing my voice. The combination of exhaustion and yelling over music has done me in. Send tea.

Most heard songs:

  • Icona Pop – “I Love It” – 7 times
  • Lorde – “Royals” – 6 times
  • M.I.A. – “Paper Planes” – 5 times
  • Robin Thicke – “Blurred Lines” – 4 times

I think I powdered my nose six times while I was here.

By the time the sun came up my boots were sticking to the floor. Drunk people spill drinks. A lot.

At about 7:30 last night a 45-ish-year-old white man wearing a plastic horse mask over his face, a weird-ass outfit and full-size scuba flippers entered the bar. The place was practically empty and he asked (in a very high-pitched fake voice) to speak to “the reporter lady.” He was met with hard blinks and blank faces. The excellent staff told him that I wasn’t here and he asked to look around for me. He did one lap through the bar– clopping and flopping all the way in his scuba flippers– before placing a red apple on the bar (without explanation) and then leaving. What. In. The. Fuck. Dude, did you just want me to promote your band or something? You could’ve just showed up and hung out. Instead, you freaked us all out. So, congrats? In any case, I didn’t mention this dude earlier in this live-blog because I didn’t want him to come back. The staff here has been having fun watching the security footage of Mr. Horse Head. I’m going to request of copy of that surreal shit, m’self.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 – 01:01pm
HEY, GUESS WHAT? I’m leaving Pop’s now!

I thought that once I spent 24 consecutive hours here that I’d never want to come here again, but the exact opposite is true. I love it here. All of the employees have been so nice and I’ve actually had a great time for at least 22 hours of my 24 hour adventure. Bartender Teresa greeted me and is now sending me off. Big thanks to my friends who came and hung out with me and much love to the staff at Pop’s for being so sweet and telling me countless (mostly unrepeatable) stories and gossip about superstars and touring bands.

So, does Pop’s really rock 24/7? Oh, yes. Indeed. Check out the Pop’s website, “like” the Facebook page or stop in to see for yourself.

Me? I’m headed west. Night night.

Full circle, 24 hours later

Full circle, 24 hours later

link: Riverfront Times

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