Monday, September 12, 2016

C Is For...

Songs A to Z

My 26-day challenge to myself -- write about a different band every day, working from A to Z. And lest we get stuck in the 80s...

Commander Cody & 
His Lost Planet Airmen / 
"Wine Do Yer Stuff"

Mea culpa, mea culpa. I didn't know about these guys in 1971, when this track was released on their debut LP Lost in the Ozone.  The best I can figure out is that, even though they'd started at the University of Michigan in 1967 or so, they'd moved to San Francisco by the time they landed this recording contract. Just as I was migrating from the Midwest to the East Coast, they headed in the other direction and established themselves as a West Coast band. Which, in those pre-Internet days, meant it was easy to miss them altogether.

But even if it wasn't actually in my dorm room vinyl collection, spinning on my trusty pack-n-play turntable, this one brings back college days quite nicely all the same.

I will admit, as a kid I hated country music (I was probably forced to watch Midwestern Hayride a few too many times), but the genius of this band was to ramp up the twang, ditch the slickness, and replace cornball humor with stoner humor.  (I can't imagine Chet Atkins ever singing a song like "Down to Seeds and Stems Again.") I guess if they'd been willing to dumb it down, they could have gone the soft country-rock route of the Eagles.  Respect must be paid to them for never selling out like that.

What I love about their stuff is that the musicianship is so topnotch. There's that witty roadhouse boogie-woogie piano, played by the Commander himself, George Frayne; the counterpointed pedal steel (Steve Davis) and lead guitar (the inestimable rockbilly guitarist Bill Kirchen); and especially on this track, the nimble fiddle of the brilliant Andy Stein (who years later I'd meet in a New York City playground while our kids played together, who modestly told me "I'm a musician" without ever 'fessing up to just what a musician he is*).

True, that opening line is vintage George Jones lament, right down to the pregnant pauses: "Today was the last day / You played me for a fool / So I stopped in here like I always do /Before I lose my cool."

But things drift into irony mode as he woefully continues, in a hangdog voice: "Now the color of this warm red wine / Is the color of her hair / And as I stare into my glass / I see her face in there." Forgive me my English major tendencies, but he has now descended into what we call bathos -- mixed metaphors and all that stuff.  And so we're allowed to distance ourselves; he becomes a character, a meme, and we notice he's getting sloppy in his cups.

We can distance ourselves, AND AT THE SAME TIME kick back and enjoy the buzz. Feel free to chime in ever more raucously on the chorus, "Wine, wine, wine / Do yer stuff."

We can be dumb and smart at the same time. And high. Low culture, high culture.

Noam Chomsky would approve.

* More recently Andy's been playing with Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion house band, which is no mean notch on the resume. 

1 comment:

NickS said...

That is lovely. I've always thought of them as a stoner band, so I wasn't quite sure how country they were going to be. But that is a great country song -- tidy and funny.