Saturday, April 26, 2008

Uncle Tupelo

"I'm a little worried, this is so not Metal..." - Captain Fireball to Umlaut.

Once a year Umlaut goes through an Alt-Country binge when he renews his longtime affection for twangy guitars and heartfelt lyrics. No, it ain't METAL... but it's just as important to me. Ironically, this year's binge happened to coincide with this landmark event:


No Depression, the bimonthly magazine covering a broad range of American roots music since 1995, will bring to an end its print publication with its 75th issue in May-June 2008.

Plans to expand the publication's website ( with additional content will move forward, though it will in no way replace the print edition.

Umlaut had a subscription to No Depression in the beginning, so this news dovetails ironically into my long delayed monologue about Uncle Tupelo. I wrote something along these lines a couple of years ago but somehow I lost it.. and I gave up trying to recreate it.. until now. We'll see how this plays out...

Uncle Tupelo are one of those bands I discovered because I was in the right place at the right time. In the Summer of 1990 I made a road trip with a roommate up to Seattle where we crashed at his friend's house. This friend was a fellow Music Geek and he had just returned from St. Louis where he'd been hanging out with a band he had befriended.

The band was called Uncle Tupelo.

If I remember correctly, our host had heard the band via cassette demos and liked them so much that he travelled to Missouri to find and meet them... and he eventually befriended them to the point where they invited him to visit when they played shows. I remember being amazed by the story then and I'm still amazed 18 years later.

Anyway, our host played us their debut album which had just came out.. He also threw on a cassette of the band rehearsing Neil Young songs. He was also cool enough to make me a cassette of the new album to take with me before we headed back home. For history's sake, this is what that Summer of 1990 looked like:

Umlaut: Neil Young & Crazy Horse shirt > Seattle Host: Uncle Tupelo shirt
The Twin Peaks Diner, North Bend, WA

Yes, Umlaut was 14-years old in 1990.. Unfortunately, I've forgotten the name of the guy who introduced me to Uncle Tupelo. In the years since that momentous Music Geek moment, UT became one of those bands that causes random memories to flash in my head... Flashes out of time.. Flashes like:

In pre-Internet times, spending time with a girl and noticing she had a copy of the 'No Depression' album next to her stereo.. Listening to 'No Depression' over and over and over because it was the only cassette I had in my car as I drove back and forth to my mindless job. Listening to the band's songs and getting profoundly lost in the music in a way that I've only done with a few bands. 'We've Been Had' being my theme song in the wake of my first layoff experience...

Uncle Tupelo only visited San Francisco three times. For whatever reason, Umlaut missed their debut performance which was just before the release of Still Feel Gone in October 1991 (supporting The Walkabouts I believe). Thankfully, Umlaut did witness UT's other S.F. visits..

(Courtesy of the Captain Fireball Archives)

Setlist: Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down/ True to Life/ Grindstone/ Watch Me Fall/ No Depression / Life Worth Livin'/ Looking For A Way Out/ Nothing/ Fall Down Easy/ Cold Shoulder/ Wipe the Clock/ Postcard/ D. Boon/ Flatness/ Graveyard Shift / Gun/ Whiskey Bottle/ Atomic Power/ Factory Belt/ Effigy/ Sin City/ Heard It On the X/ Before I Break

(Courtesy of the Captain Fireball Archives)

Setlist: Grindstone/ Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down/ True To Life/ Chickamauga/ Watch Me Fall/ Anodyne/ The Long Cut/ Slate/ Atomic Power/ New Madrid/ Sandusky/ Steal The Crumbs/ Acuff Rose/ Looking For A Way Out/ We've Been Had/ Give Back The Key To My Heart/ Fifteen Keys/ Nothing/ Life Worth Livin'/ No Depression/ Willin'/ Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/ Truck Drivin' Man

I don't know what happened to my 11/11/93 stub... but I do remember why I don't have a stub from 2/22/93: I was on the guest list 'cause Joey Acid King's old band the Stimmies opened the show... and having said that I have a confession to make after almost 15 years:

Hey Joey: I was mainly at Slim's that night to see Uncle Tupelo and not your band. Sorry, dude... I think I also drank some of your backstage beer too. You can bitch slap me the next time you see me.

In hindsight, it's strange that it was nearly 3 years before I saw Uncle Tupelo live for the first time... but sometimes the Rock Godz work in mysterious ways.

I typed this while spending an entire evening listening to old UT live bootlegs and the band's albums... and every couple of minutes I'd make a comment to myself (or to the cats or dogs) when the band sang lines like "Rivers burn and then run backwards for her..." I can't explain why I find those lyrics so great... they just are... Hey, I was an English Lit Major before I dropped out of college, so cut me some slack.

It's weird, but it doesn't feel like I can put into words why UT are so important to me. All I know is that after all these years, these songs still reach out of time and space to help me articulate some sense of appreciation for my life... and I think these songs also remind me of a time in my life when I wasn't sure which way I was headed. Now that I've arrived where I'm supposed to be, these songs still resonate but now they remind me of where I've been. Wait a minute.. I guess I just did put it all into words... Ignore the first sentence of this paragraph.

I'm not sure if this post is a success, but it is what it is.. and if anything it's the product of one of Umlaut's favorite things: A night listening to his favorite music over a glass of red wine with a charismatic black kitten nearby:

Anyway, I know my METAL friends are saying: "WTF.. Get back to THE METAL!" Patience, my friends... patience......

Note: Thanks to Captain Fireball for providing me with the missing memories that allowed me to complete this rant.

"There was a time you could put it out of your mind... Leave it all behind. There was a time.. That time is gone."

7" UT (From the Umlaut Archives)