I’ve decided to describe this backward.
I came home just now after having availed myself of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system. The last leg of the journey was in the darkness mostly through my familiar neighborhood but still felt like the first reel of a zombie movie, except for the dogs barking at me and the occasional working streetlight.
Before that I was on a bus with a dumb grin on my face and complete strangers glancing at me wondering if I was a terrorist or something.
Before that I was walking with my cane down Lamar Street this brisk late November evening. My back started hurting after I passed by the Buddha, but it was a good kind of hurt.
Before the pain kicked in, I passed by a man who could have been The Buddha on the road. I did not kill him. I thought I might ignore him in case he asked for money, but he wished me a good evening and I returned in kind. I’m not a complete ogre. Somehow I managed to get home without being mugged. The beggars and dudes who look like they might be in some kind of street gang were in chipper good spirits this evening. Perhaps they have the Christmas spirit early.
As I ventured out in to the night air heading home however, I was not that optimistic. In fact I was kind of scared, but as you already know I had nothing to worry about.
This isn’t how I felt as I said goodbye to my friends and complete strangers and reached the door to the outside. I’m far too proud. I probably coulda asked for a ride home, but maybe I needed the walk, to sort through in my mind what I was going to write down when I got home. Scary as it may be, I’m gonna need the cold air and the brisk walk to channel my creative energies. I had a lot of ground to cover, and I was gonna have to get some sleep tonight. Tomorrow’s another work day, but first I’ll need to get all this out of my head and into a blog post before I lose it all, like I’ve done so many times before. You have no idea how many blog posts didn’t get written down. Probably for the best in some cases, but for better or for worse, this one’s getting saved.
Before that, I stood up to make my good byes and head for the door. They just got done playing, and if I hurry I might just make the next bus.
Said goodbye to my waiter. Nice guy. This was his first night. He was in training. Did a good job, I thought. Shoulda got his name. I tipped him as good as I could afford (30% if i did the math right. Is that good?), but I think cuz we changed tables, that tip might have gone to someone else. It’s been a confusing night.
Before that I was sitting at The House of Blues in Dallas Texas in the warmth of friends and company of happy strangers. Slow night, I guess. Not many people there. Didn’t matter. Felt like old times, really. I made a point to pay for my own meal (tho Jim offered to help me out there, guess i’m too proud for that). I don’t do this often, and I wanted the establishment to know paying customers come to see them, cuz this band is that awesome. Maybe this is my way of voting. Putting my money where my ears are.
Every time I have seen these talented musicians perform, I’ve always thought they were great and couldn’t get better, and then the little critic in me would come out of his hole and go “well if X did Y and A did B and C, then D could do to pi while tau could offset the whatchamacallit.” More on my little critic in a bit. I’ll keep him in his little holdy hole for now. Tonight I realized these great people keep getting better. Time is being kind to their talent, and like Annie said to me earlier tonight, it’s all about practice. You just keep practicing.
This evening I did something I should of course do more often, but it’s a pain to do this sort of thing even though the end result is always rewarding. For the first time in perhaps two years, I went to see my favorite band you’ve never heard of: The Gung Ho Guns. They performed on the VooDoo Stage at The House of Blues in Dallas Texas. I miss these guys.
I say I miss them cuz I just don’t do this anymore: go to a bar and listen to a band live. In this economy, I can’t afford to do that kind of thing like I used to when I thought I didn’t have money. Now I really think I don’t have money. I’m concerned that reality will choose to prove to me in the near future that this is nothing. It can get much worse. I’d rather just take reality’s word for it and go in the other direction where there’s more money and more nights like this.
Since you’ve probably never heard of The Gung Ho Guns, allow me to completely fail to convey to you how awesome I think they are. It’s currently a four person band. Jim Scott is on bass and also main male vocals. His wife Michelle Moore-Scott handles main female vocals and Rhythm Guitar. Rob DeStefano does percussion and some backup vocals, and the most recent addition to the team is Annie Benjamin who plays guitar, flute, some percussion, and probably anything else she wanted to play. She also assists in backup vocals with harmonies that must be heard to be believed. There were moments tonight when Michelle and Annie harmonized and I got goosebumps. I got chills.
Rewinding back several years now to give you literary whiplash: I have been following these kids for well over a decade. Jim used to be in a band called The Touch and I first started listening to him back in 1997 or thereabouts. The touch was a three piece band reminiscent of.. well any band you’ve heard that was bass, guitar, and drums. They were pared down, no nonsense, no holds barred hard rock. There was a bit of a religious (or perhaps spiritual would be a better word) sensibility about the intelligence of their lyrics, but the music was gritty and blue-collar wholesome. I still listen to the albums they managed to record before the band had to end prematurely. Their lead singer and lead guitarist Lee Caropesci died of cancer, and while both Jim and drummer Ken moved on both together and in separate projects.. We all miss Lee, but we still have that voice. He had a great raw voice. The kinda voice Bruce Springsteen probably wishes he had. Songs with names like Shadow of a Doubt. World Turns. Somewhere. Next of Kin. Kennedy. Great music that you’ve probably never heard. I have. Nyeah. However, while Lee was the voice of the band and the front runner on stage, my observations over the years led me to realize the pillar of strength that had kept The Touch together, and that still stood rock solid long after Lee went to meet his maker, was Jim. Bass players are usually the brunt of jokes or the quiet ones. Not in Jim’s case. He was kind of the business end of the band, helped solidify gigs, get them recording studio time and made sure the CDs got burned. Sold them out of his trunk. He knew how to hustle, but no matter how much muscle he put behind his hustle, perfection and grandiose success seemed to just always be one step ahead of him. He was missing something.
Around that same time (late 90s), Annie Benjamin was in a band called Chattervox. I bought both their albums (Touch and Chattervox) and attended their gigs whenever I could get the chance, usually in the Deep Ellum part of downtown Dallas, or sometimes in the Greenville area. Wherever each band could get a venue to let them play. Though I loved both of these bands dearly, I found the critic in me kinda piece them apart and put them back together in my head. I could see that while the bands were great separately, it’d be really neat if Jim Scott’s strong yet sensible rock n roll sensibility could meet Annie Benjamin’s firebrand bravado. Castle in the Sky thought. They both got to know each other through no effort of my own. I was just an occasional fly on the wall. Creatively they’ve worked together now and then, one doing background vocals for the other’s album, or just comparing notes. They became friends, and the rare time I’d get to see them on stage together it was always my own personal ..uhm.. pick two talented musicians you like who never played together and imagine them playing together. It was like that, for me.
I wanted to hear Annie play less folk and more rock n roll. Annie is rare precious jewel in the music industry and she’s never gotten her due. She’s like a swiss army knife of music. You could put her in any band and she can find a place to make everyone else on stage look and feel even better than they are. She’s a trooper. She’s a team player. She knows when to steal the limelight and when to give it back. She’s got an ego when she wants it, and back in the days of Chattervox she conflicted with some other equally talented egos, which made for some amazing energy and conflict on stage in ways I don’t think the ladies fully understood when they were together, and inevitably they broke up. Annie Benjamin has since gigged with several other artists and bands for many years. I even got to see her sit in one night with The Touch, back when Lee was still around. A fun memory to replay in my head now and again. I thought she found her place that night, but reality tends to disagree with me.. on pretty much everything. Annie Benjamin has front lined bands and worked with other bands. She’s worked with some great talented people here in Texas and yet that grandiose success and perfection has always eluded her too. She was missing something.
That something that both of these talented people were missing until recent years, was Michelle Moore. I’m tempted to describe her as The Strong And Silent Type, but when Michelle wants to be heard, believe me you hear her. She’s got a soprano voice that shines out over the din of any music, unless she wants it to mix in and nestle and wrestle with it. She’s got pipes and power behind it, but also control and humility. A few years ago when she and Jim met and fell in love and I watched them perform together I remember wishing she’d find more confidence in herself. Well tonight I didn’t have that concern at all. I’d glance over at Annie whose eyes would follow Michelle whenever they harmonized. There’s a communication happening here that’s subtle and understood and really palpable. I’m not privy to any personal stories between them. Whether they really get along or not behind the scenes or not, on stage it’s like listening to and watching wings lift up an angel. I’m not sure which is which. So far as I can tell they’re like sisters from different mothers, but not in that clingy fake way shoulder hugging almost kissing each others cheeks kinda way you see some girls do. Birds of a feather. Kindred spirits but in a business sense. Not mushy. They might secretly really hate each other, for all I know. I’m terrible at gauging that sort of thing.
And well, Jim fell in love with Michelle. So. I don’t wanna try to describe their relationship to you. I can’t. I don’t understand it. Just understand that it’s conducive to good positive solid music making. The love is there. You can feel it. They don’t hide it on stage but they aren’t all kissy feely lovey dovey either. Maybe you’d want to see more of that on stage. I don’t. There’s still my inner child who never had his cooties shots, so I’m fine with it being understated and the focus being on the music.
Not to leave Rob DeStefano out completely. I don’t have a lot to say about him other than I was very impressed with how he was able to take what essentially looks like a box and make it sound like a full drum kit. He doesn’t use an elaborate set up for their acoustic sets. He does have one, and years of experience behind it, but he’s pared down to the absolute essentials of percussion and less is definitely more here. If you closed your eyes you really couldn’t tell. In my wordy opinion, the percussion of the band is the foundation. You need a solid rock for everything else to explode from. Rob’s not flashy and doesn’t bring a lot of attention to himself, but he definitely gets the job done. Like a trusty and dependable kitchen appliance that you should probably treat better than you do, but you probably take for granted and it doesn’t complain so you don’t think about it.
Times have changed. Fifteen years ago these talented people were striving to be singer songwriters and wanted the world to hear their compositions, but that’s just not marketable today for some reason. So Gung Ho Guns is more interested about playing covers; music you have probably heard before, but not exactly as you have heard it before. They put their own unique and individual twist on it. If you’re not familiar with the song you’d swear they just made it up. They make it their own. If you are familiar with the song, you can sing along if you want and enjoy the moment. You’ll recognize it, but at the same time the familiar becomes slightly unfamiliar, in a really nice way.
Tonight as I watched them perform I found the little critic inside me want to get out and dissect what I was watching. My little critic is hungry. I don’t let him out as much as I used to. He began to compare them to The Ghostbusters. Not from a humor standpoint but from the logistics standpoint of what made the foursome work in the context of that movie. Ghostbusters is one of my favorite films, and the chemistry between the characters is in my opinion what makes the film a success. Tho they battle ghosts in the story, they act like rock stars to me. This is my little critic’s idea of a compliment. As you’re about to see, he’s not good at compliments.
Peter Venkman was the front runner and mouthpiece of the group in the film Ghostbusters. He took a lot of punishment throughout the storyline but he could take it and he could dish it out too. That’s Jim.
Michelle reminds me of Egon Spengler. She’s strong and silent and while Jim did study (unlike Venkman) when it comes to stuff he can’t quite wrap his mind around, he defers to her. While she’s not into molds and fungus, Michelle does seem to be more pragmatic and practical and giterdone. Or maybe it’s just the glasses.
Rob DeStefano is Ray Stantz. He holds the fort musically, and keeps everyone on even footing. Venkman referred to Stantz once as “the heart of the Ghostbusters.” Again, I’m not comparing them comedically. I am (or rather the little critic in me is) referring to what each band member brings to the chemistry on stage, just as each character brought something to the table in the course of the story.
I thought walking in that Annie Benjamin was gonna be like Ray Stantz cuz I’ve seen her take that role before on stage in other bands and performances. She can be the glue that holds everything together. She knows how to do that, but that’s not what I saw tonight. Annie surprised me. She’s Winston Zeddemore in this band’s configuration. She came to the band kinda late (Zed doesn’t appear in Ghostbusters until around the 3rd reel, kinda late in the film) but she gets the best lines. Her flute soars over many of the songs in ways that the originals could only wish they coulda achieved. She’s just what the doctor ordered. She knows when to come into the mix to cause a chemical reaction, and she knows how to pull out before something explodes.
At one point near the end of their gig, as Annie was doing a flute solo, Jim noticed he was in front of her and nonchalantly stepped to the corner of the stage to get out of her way, that’s when this silly Ghostbuster analogy coalesced in my little critic’s mind. “See? They’re not crossing the streams! it’s brilliant!” That’s about when I told my little critic to shut up.
This wasn’t like watching a movie, I explained to my little critic after gagging him and sticking him back in his little hidey hole. This is like watching a sunrise, or a sunset, or a double rainbow.
It occurred to me that as I was watching my favorite new old band play it was about 8:30pm. Somewhere west of me perhaps in California or maybe Hawaii, there was a sunset taking place, or about to take place. The number of people who might actually stop and look up and just stare at the sunset as it happen would perhaps be a larger number than the couple dozen or so who were in The House of Blues on a Tuesday night. Maybe in some places when a sunset happens, there’s no one there to appreciate it, but I don’t recall ever seeing a sunset that wasn’t worthy of stopping what I was doing and just watching it happen. I rarely have time to do that, but it doesn’t make the sunset any less worthy of that behavior.
Most of us take sunsets for granted. They happen all the time. Yet they are magnificent, awe-inspiring events. While common, they are also unique. Perhaps there are too many bands on this planet. We take them for granted too. However, The Gung Ho Guns is more special than just any sunset. They’re like a sunset that’s happening over a mountain range. You don’t sit there with your little critic and tell the mountain range that it needs to move its trees over to the left a little and put some more snow on its peaks to reflect more of the sun during the next sunset. Maybe you would tell a mountain how to be a mountain, but it’s just gonna ignore you. It really doesn’t need your advice to go and be what it is.
My favorite band may not be like this forever. The only constant is change. Every time I think these guys get better, but they’re still not perfect. Every time I think they’re ready for that elusive opportunity of a lifetime to come their way, and then the next time I see them I’m like, well it’s a good thing they didn’t get on Ellen or David Letterman after the last time I see them, cuz this time they’re even better than last time. Last time they wouldn’t have been good enough to be discovered but now surely they are. Next time I see them, I’ll probably think the same thing. They were imperfect before but now surely they’re ready for the big leagues. Any day now it’s gonna happen. I been thinking this since back when Jim was with The Touch and Annie was with ChatterVox. Reality tends to disagree with me every time.
Imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. That’s what The Gung Ho Guns are. Cuz we’re never perfect, we’re all malleable, and we’re all works in progress.
Wabi-sabi. I love that about them. I love these guys. I don’t show it. I don’t become breathless and cry like a baby and shout into a youtube video exclamations of awe and reverence. Perhaps I should. I’m too much of a shoe gazer, but watching this band play makes me a little serene and melancholy and happy and sad and proud and humble and vexed and .. well. wabi-sabi. Imperfect perfection.
They’re my own personal Double Rainbow. If you ever get a chance to experience them, they’ll be yours too.