Wednesday, February 24, 2010

FROM THEN 'TIL NOW: Buck Pets and a fulfilled path

In the spring of 1991, I was a misguided, malnourished, and somewhat ideologically lost individual.
I had the good fortune, as a member of Kenosha, Wisconsin’s “Video Whiplash”, to interview The Buck Pets on a Milwaukee swing-through. As big a fan as I was, I was a tad nervous of that “fall from grace” that can happen when one discovers their heroes are assholes.

That. Never. Happened.

Being 18 years old didn’t help one bit in the nervousness department, but at least I had that musical connection that all fortunate youngsters have with a band to latch onto. That artist or group that echoes the sentiments, becomes a conscience of a sort, a comforting guardian angel of the musical variety perhaps making it an easy interview for one who feels those things.

Somebody out there gets it, feels that youth.

When you’re a teenager, and you have that to hold on to, it literally can be a difference between life and death, and in this case meant a difference between a joke and a solid Q & A.

I love the Replacements, and see Paul Westerberg as a deity. That being said, by the time I discovered the Placemats, they were recording “Don’t Tell a Soul”, and all my friends had been into them for years, knowing more than I did, and joyously rubbing it in my face. As much as I loved Paul and the boys, there was a bit of a distance there.

By the time “Nevermind” smacked the world upside the head, I was engaged, and preparing to start work on a family. So, in short, for my formative years of 17 to 19, when it all “went down”, the Buck Pets were My Nirvana.

That’s not an overstatement. Make no mistake.

I met Chris Savage, Andy Thompson, Ian Beach, and Tony Alba (I hadn’t had the pleasure at that time of meeting Ricky Pearson, the drummer who had taken the stool behind the kit for “To the Quick”. But I can tell you in hindsight, aside from his multiple instrument virtuosity of musicianship, he’s also one hell of a photographer) in Milwaukee in the winter of 1991. I won’t ever forget it.

Having seen the condescending jackassitude that can emanate from established rock acts, especially the ones I had dealt with, I was refreshed to find none of this with the Dallas foursome that emerged from the musically fertile whirlwind of vigorous youthful vitality that was Deep Ellum around 1988.

The Pets first record, a self-titled debut, didn’t so much emanate from the speakers, as it did violate them. It was a double-barrel blast with buckshot soaked in spit, rage, hurt, longing, lust, and “Inamorata”, “Good Day”, and “More and More” ran parallel to my state of mind at that time.

The second LP, “Mercurotones”, was a step, slightly drastic, into a different direction. This was a band progressing rapidly, evolving quickly, a whiplash snap into more mature territory, but do not be fooled, it still rocked. I can still get weepy hearing “Five o’clock or Thursday”. “Moon Goddess” blows the doors off the joint(especially that double feature tempo change at the end). ”Hey Sunshine” is a beautiful piece of acoustic song craft.

So I was prepared and excited for the interview. I had been burned by previous interviews in the past, so I had an understandable timid streak. That was immediately disarmed from me by these guys. They charmed me that quickly.
These kids were close friends, and family-minded. In the liner photos of “Tones”, Chris’ dog, Walt, is in full view. That’s right, hard-rocking six string slinger puts his pooch in the artwork. In and amongst the packaging was a boy and his dog. How un-grunge, unpretentious. How REAL. The Buck Pets looked out for each other, I found that obvious, not just because they had to, but because they wanted to.

In my interview, I found them hilarious, quick-minded, and damn, if not in complete opposition to their peers in the “genre”, Goddamn smart and self-aware.


The interview went well, as well as any could considering the fact that due to my age, the club owner refused to let me interview the guys inside Shank Hall. Because of his stubborness, really the Pets were off the hook, and had no obligation to do the interview…..

They did it anyway.

Andy and Tony decided to bring it into the cramped Winnebago they were touring in, sat us in the small but usable space, and as I like to remember it, one hell of a fine interview came off. Under the scrutiny of a plastic Godzilla. The kicker to this story isn’t the question and answer session that had me tickled pink. It was Andy’s reaction to the fact that I wasn’t allowed in for the gig either.

Thompson and Alba quickly made off to find Savage and Beach, and they instantaneously engaged in what looked like a football huddle minus 7 guys. This went on for several minutes before they pulled in what appeared to me to be the driver/ road manager.

The original plan was to boycott the show because I couldn’t get in. Unreal…..I got the interview I came for, I was thrilled, but because of my efforts, my fanhood, they wanted me to see them play. I was touched beyond belief. I, of course didn’t want to see that happen, a nightclub mutiny, people were beginning to file in to see them, and I had spoken to the leader of the opening act earlier, a big Pets fan, and he was geeked to be taking the stage before the Dallas foursome.

The show did go on,.

But that didn’t spare the owner of Shank from getting dirty looks from the guys behind his back, and noticeable attitude.

The Buck Pets, looking out for the little guy. A true deviation from the norm in the music biz.

As we drove away, I was looking over my shoulder to see all 4 members of the band waving good-bye…..I thought to myself, perfect….just perfect….."and he drove off into the sunset, a moment cryogenically frozen in time, that he would never forget".

If this was a movie, right now is where a sound effect would come in, with car brakes screeching, or the ripping sound of a needle being scratched across the vinyl of a LP record.

There’s more to this little tale.

Through a bizarre and wonderful twist of fate, Chris Savage and I have become close friends. He’s a person who means a great deal to me. A guy who is an infinitely patient listener, particularly when being subjected to the idle complaining of a broken human as myself. He treats me as an equal, values my opinion as much as I do his, and always has advice, and answers to questions, not about music necessarily, but life in general. He is indeed, a special person to me.

Chris is still in Texas, as is Ricky, the other two are spread out across the country… I mentioned them being talented and intelligent lads, they’ve gone on to start businesses, grow families, investigate unique endeavors ranging from culinary arts, the restaurant industry, motorcycle renovation, teaching, and photography, making unique music, and in some cases, all of the above.

But all have retained their senses of humor, humility, and likeable nature. Damn it, I love these guys.

They’re still funny and smart, yet they lack the superficial ego of many who’ve accomplished what they have, yet they’re still aware, sometimes self-deprecatingly, of their gifts.

And now, we come full circle….

On April 10th at the Trees in Dallas, Chris Savage, Ian Beach, Andy Thompson, and Ricky Pearson will take the stage again, after some 16 years, as the Buck Pets.

And I will be there……No, I won’t miss it this time.

The Buck Pets covered more ground, stylistically and emotionally, in their brief 3 album oeuvre than many bands with decades under their belt do in their careers. That’s varied, beautiful, crunching, eclectic, primal stuff. And eye-opening more is on the way.

That says a lot about what’s upstairs. Minds of differing thoughts and cultures, who when put together create something unique and powerful. Minds that are more than just music……

The Buck Pets are real.

Fakeness need not apply.

What happens next after April is anybody’s guess, but under those lights, bathed in sound, the circle will be completed for me. And maybe start a different one for them.

1 comment:

Tim said...

Hello! Loved this story! And LOVE The Buck Pets. I wonder if your Shank Hall show was close in date to my only time seeing them here in Green Bay. Lucky, lucky you seeing the reunion. I've heard it was epic!