EDITOR’S NOTE: Marcus Mitchell, aka local Hip Hop artist and inspiration Skandal Da Ruckus Man, passed away this week after a battle with leukemia. In tribute, here is an interview with Marcus from March 2005, written by CityBeat contributor Mildred C. Fallen, from our archives. Check next week’s issue of CityBeat for more remembrances of the fallen Cincinnati music supahero.
To dub Marcus D. Mitchell a “big man” doesn’t necessarily state the obvious. In some cultures, “big man” also translates as a local personality who speaks on behalf of his people, commences rituals and parleys with other “big men.” And facing foes, big men fight for honor.
In 2000, Mitchell, better known as Skandal (or Skandal Da Ruckus Man), flew to New York to freestyle on BET’s 106 and Park and contended with other unsigned MCs on HBO’s Blaze Battle. Today, the self-described juggernaut of Supapowers has been reincarnated as an industry ghost writer and producer after someone attempted to rob him of his ambition last spring.
While he was away, thieves carted away his studio equipment and masters. Although his property never resurfaced, he feels he knew the thief’s motive.
“Damn monkeys!” he declares, still affected. “Whoever stole it was doing it to get at me personally, because they didn’t touch anything else in the house, not even money. It was Easter Sunday, at that! Man, they know they goin’ to hell!”
Depressed and unable to produce tracks or record vocals, Skandal bounced back after supportive colleagues bartered their efforts.
“A lot of cats just saw the opportunity (to barter) and was like, ‘You ain’t got no equipment? Man, I been wantin' to do beats with you for years,’ ” he says.
Producers Fame and DJ Scott pitched in and donated many of the tracks heard on Vet Game, his first in a series of mixtape compilations to be distributed through the internet. Presented by Hall of Justice Entertainment and co-sponsored by Supapowers cohorts CJ the Cynic and Da Kid, Vet Game tongue-lashes antagonists, reprimands local radio and guides listeners of a tour of the Queen City, pointing out its idiosyncrasies.
Rounding out the compilation are appearances from Trina Holidai and Michelle Hollis, Piakan, Science, Donte (of Mood), Hi-Tek and J-Wiz.
“As far as the bangers, look for ‘Get Stole On’ and ‘Spell My Name Right,’ both produced by DJ Scott. ‘The Wrong Nigga’ talks about the break-in on Easter, when I was at Mom’s gate eating a plate,” he says. Thunderous vocals set violators straight as they detonate: “Y’all ain’t do nothin’ but put Skan/Back to ’96 with the hunger pangs.”
Reloading, “The Big Payback” unflinchingly fires direct hits at local black radio and venue promoters for lack of support. On the other hand, he shouts out Big Kap of New York’s influential station, Hot 97, for giving “For the Queen” 30 spins in a week, and says the exposure opened doors for him to sell songs to other artists, which subsidized his upcoming CD, Vigilante World.
“People don’t understand; you’ve got to invest in yourself before that big record deal comes,” he explains.
“For the Queen” traces Skandal’s roots back to Woodward High School “Bomb Show” performances and huddling in rhyme-ciphers against out-of-towners on Fountain Square.
“Before all the fightin’ and shootin’ started, we defended this city against all outsiders,” he says. “It was like something out of the movie Highlander.
“(Cincinnati) always had a beast,” he continues, naming warriors who fell into obscurity. “Regan used to be the most feared in a MC battle; he passed the torch to me and Clips (J-Wiz). Now Ill Poetic is the beast.”
“I used to really, really admire (Skandal),” says Ill Poetic, a solo artist and half of the duo Definition. He met Skandal following the Blaze Battle. “He was battling at Top Cat’s and I was amazed that Zone (the other half of Definition) knew him. He was just one of those people I kept hearing about.”
Although the HBO Blaze Battle episodes are available on DVD, Skandal laments, “Ain’t no honor in battling anymore, so now songwriting is where it’s at. There’s money in it. Cats who are known for their battle rep often aren’t known for making hit records.”
Skandal hopes his upcoming release, Vigilante World, will change that.
“I got the formula,” he says. “The problem is that nobody is rockin’ the (Hip Hop) heads and the streets at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with making good music that people who don’t make music can jam to.”
Having hosted local battles, he observes that today too many MCs lack originality and rely on trading insults to win battles.
“(There) was a time when you could murder ‘em with style,” he says. “Now, you only get response from the crowd when you say a punch-line, which is what I don’t like about battling anymore."
Skandal cites crowd-judged battles and MCs who deliver pre-written raps as the demise of the art form. He also emphasizes that styles differ from region to region.
“A lot of New York rappers spit written (verses) in battles and call it a ‘freestyle.’ And in the Midwest we call freestyling right off the top of the head,” he explains. “We used to listen to the New York style, not knowin’ they was spittin’ writtens in a freestyle, and we thought New York was just ‘cold wit’ it’ off the head.”
But since New York MCs assumed the precedent for battling, Skandal says he and his friends used New York as a benchmark in the beginning until they crafted their own niche.
Endearingly, he refers to his friends Supapowers as “stand-up guys I’d take a bullet for.” But of everyone, his mother is his best friend.
“She gives me an insight to things that you can only get from experience. I’m a true mama’s boy and if anybody got anything to say about it, come holla at me,” he says.
His weightiest ambition is to appeal to the female market and he’s slimming down because he feels that MCs like Notorious B.I.G., Big Punisher and Heavy D were merely lucky to be seen as sexy.
“They were rarities,” Skandal says. “When you’re fat, I don’t give a fuck, people are biased. I wanna have the whole package, not just the skills. I wanna have the whole market on lock.”
Those not in the know often knock Cincinnati for a dilapidated arts scene, as if a conservative political climate results in a conservative cultural one. Those who have read CityBeat over the years hopefully know that this is a myth. Cincinnati's arts and music scene is often right on time, if not a few steps ahead. Tonight's tribute to the Ludlow Garage (and Rick Bird's feature this week on the late ’60s/early ’70s venue) is just one example that bucks any misconception that Cincinnati is, always was and will always be a backwards, messed-up city with, say it with me now, "nothing to do."
A couple of weeks ago, I finally got to check out the muched-buzzed about band The Tillers, nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award in the Folk/Americana category. Playing in the Southgate House's "lounge" room, the trio (playing stand-up bass, guitar, banjo and more) huddled around a single, vintage-looking, multi-directional mic and delivered their sweet, accomplished spin on traditional Folk, Country, Gospel and Blues.
The music of one of Cincinnati’s all-time greatest musical exports, The Afghan Whigs, hit me at precisely the right time.
As a child, the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who tattooed itself on to my DNA, while my high school years found me becoming obsessed with College Rock, Punk, Hip Hop and Hard Rock.
But The Afghan Whigs were my “coming-of-age” soundtrack — from (approximately) the ages of 20-27 — and, like those childhood musical heroes, their music has never left me.
Those years were pivotal in my growth as a human being. In that brief span, I was a raging alcoholic, a one-step-from-the-gutter junkie and a newlywed — at least for a few years all at once — with a handful of relationships that played themselves out painfully woven in between, followed by the “light” that comes with sobriety and clarity.
I can’t remember exactly the first time I heard The Afghan Whigs. I knew of
them right after high school by seeing their names on fliers for shows
at bars I wasn’t old enough to get into. But once I finally got my hands
on the band’s debut for SubPop, Up In It, in 1990, I was hooked.
While the music on Up In It still gives me a jolt every time I listen, the songs (save “You My Flower”) never became as emotionally resonant as 1992’s Congregation, 1993’s Gentlemen and 1996’s Black Love would prove to be for me.
The sound of the Whigs’ music was the perfect transition
for me from favorites like Dinosaur Jr., The Replacements and Husker Du.
But there was an aura in the Whigs’ music that those groups were never
capable of invoking. And originality — no one before or since has
conjured the magical abstract-art guitar squiggles Whigs guitarist Rick
McCollum has churned out and John Curley is one of the “Alt Rock”
revolution’s most distinctive bassists, with his sublime mix of melody,
feel and sheer propulsiveness. Original drummer Steve Earle also had a
trademark sound in his playing, a flurry of Hard Rock bluster and
shuffling dance rhythms.
Together with the hearty, evocative songwriting, The Afghan Whigs always had something more — an air of mystique and a sound beyond the trends — than their late ’80s SubPop peers, not to mention their ’90s Alternative Nation breakthrough cohorts.
I got lost in the dark corners and ominous shadows of the music, as well as its manic moments of pure, jubilant uplift and smothering, inescapable sadness. And I soon began to pick up on the words of frontman Greg Dulli, which have repeatedly given me those moments every deep music lover has where they’re almost freaked out by how closely the lyrics mirror their own feelings and experiences.
Dulli’s lyrics were raw, clever, poetic and brutally honest “love songs.” It was the brutal honesty of his poetry about relationships that led to a still ongoing belief by detractors that Dulli is a misogynistic asshole. But I never got that vibe, even when the lyrics (always taken out of context when used against him) skewed that way, like on Gentlemen’s “Be Sweet,” where Dulli croons,“Ladies, let me tell you about myself/I got a dick for a brain/And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you/Now I'm OK, but in time I'll find I'm stuck/'Cause she wants love and I still want to fuck”
Some find Dulli’s swaggering “lothario” persona onstage off-putting and such lyrics crude, sexist, deplorable. I find them a relevant part of the story and character development, but also a realistic portrayal of a virile young man’s mental process. Dismissing Dulli’s words because you find them dick-ish or “sexist” just seems disingenuous. Men are assholes sometimes. And they can realize that in themselves. And women can be assholes, too.
When I met my current longtime partner, she was as obsessed with Liz Phair’s music as I was The Afghan Whigs’, which made me draw some parallels between the two. She loved Liz Phair for the same reason I loved the Whigs — their music spoke directly to us and was dazzling in its self-awareness and rare candor.
It should be noted that I really love Liz Phair’s first album (the main one she built her legend upon, Exile in Guyville), but my girlfriend merely seems to tolerate my affinity for the Whigs. Still, The Afghan Whigs have tons of female fans, some who just love the sound of the band, some who appreciate the quality writing and musicianship, some who find Dulli’s honesty sexy and some who find the man himself a hunk among hunks. There are usually an equal amount of male and females in an Afghan Whigs audience.
Dulli’s lyrics have a personal, intimate style, like something being revealed to you in a whisper or drunken yowl in the backroom of a speakeasy, which might be why most of his critics fail to consider the possibility of a non-autobiographical “narrator.”
What Dulli’s lyrics offered to me was something I hadn’t heard before, and it all goes back to that brutal honesty. He was presenting a more complete and complex picture of love, one that admitted mistakes, wielded vitriol like a sword, cranked up the self-deprecation, wallowed in sex, drugs and misery and held on to the hope and promise that love first presents. The Whigs’ connections to classic Soul music isn’t just in the sound or beats; that lyrical description could also be about Marvin Gaye or any number of great vintage Blues and Soul artists.
Dulli sings about the emotional ups and downs a man in, out or around love feels. And his honesty made a lot of uptight people (and men trying to seem “femi-sensitive”) uncomfortable. It’s sort of like a non-ridiculous version of Howard Stern’s “He says the things we all think and feel but can’t say ourselves!” Like Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller, Dulli never ran his insight through a PC filter — he just ran it out, filter-less.
I can be masochistic in my listening habits, cuing up songs that are painful in their reminder of darker times or clinging to them during fresh, new depressing moments. But I’ve also listened to the Whigs while elated and ready to celebrate. Though I don’t have the same visceral response to the Whigs’ more upbeat “party” anthems (particularly on the band’s swan song, 1965), I’ve grown to love them almost as much.
During dysfunctional moments in love affairs, with my issues with drugs and alcohol, Gentlemen’s “Fountain and Fairfax” — with it’s lines like “Let me drink, let me tie off/I'm
really slobbering now” — stung. But it was a good sting, like a shot of
whiskey. Songs like these, the ones that echoed my weird, nihilistic
feelings of “fuck it all,” helped me realize I wasn’t totally insane. Or at least I wasn’t the only one who was trying to understand and deal with this insanity.
Black Love closer “Faded” has been an anthem for many breakups, the Purple Rain-sway
giving me the same kind of chills Wendy and Lisa get in the Prince
movie when he plays the title track for the first time. And whenever my
longtime battle with depression has led me to suicidal thoughts in my
life, “Crime Scene (Part One),” the numb, opening salvo on the Whigs
noir, emotionally-wrenching masterpiece Black Love, starts
running through my brain: “Tonight, tonight I say goodbye/To everyone
who loves me/Stick it to my enemies, tonight/Then I disappear.”
More than once, it’s brought me to tears and squashed all suicidal thoughts — thinking of saying goodbye to everyone who loves you is sometimes all it takes.
As I eventually got my shit together, getting off the hard drugs and managing my alcohol intake, another Whigs’ song would haunt me, but this time in a purely reassuring way. I’ve used a “program” called Rational Recovery to help me stay off of drugs and alcohol and the essence of the system is mental cognizance — being able to recognize when your mind and body are trying to get you to drink or do drugs. You turn this “feeling” into a physical thing and name it. I suppose it could be named anything, but I’ve gone with “The Beast,” per the suggestion of the Rational Recovery book.
It sounds silly, but merely saying in my head, “That’s The Beast,” has worked wonders for me staying sober. I eventually started to cling to a line from The Afghan Whigs’ single “Debonair” from Gentlemen: “Once again the monster speaks/Reveals his face and searches for release.” It so perfectly matches my “sobriety mantra” and mental ritual, I’ve considered having it tattooed on my arm.
I’m fairly certain that I would’ve become a huge Afghan Whigs fan if I wasn’t from Cincinnati. Even before I found a way to make a living from writing about music from the area, I loved “homegrown” music and never saw it as simply “local music.” But being able to see the Whigs in concert dozens of times, venues big and small, all over the region, including a few epic holiday shows and a couple of “secret” warm-up shows the band would sneak in before hitting the road — that certainly helped their “favorite band” status in my mind.
The Whigs have long been a phenomenal live band.
Musically, it’s always been a tight but ragged glory. But Dulli is one
of the most entertaining, funniest banterers in the history of Rock
& Roll. His mid-set chats (formerly trademark “smoke breaks,” though
Greg is now apparently a non-smoker) were like an edgy, fired-up
stand-up comedian going into the audience for some “Hey, where you
from?” volleying. But in Dulli’s case, it was usually a time to talk
musical tastes, new bands, maybe throw out some humorous sports
commentary, playfully taunting every other person in the venue. It was
loose, like party chatter, and I always found it an hysterical highlight
of every Whigs show. Comedy and music are my two favorite things in the
world and the Whigs usually delivered both in concert.
The band members were a few years older than me, so there was a sense of awe early on when seeing them around town. When a band I was in was playing at Sudsy Malone’s in the early ’90s, it would be a total mind-fuck to hear a Whigs member was in the crowd. Especially because I’d taken to listening to the band’s music so much, almost everything I played for a long time was informed by the Whigs. (Big C chords with a suspended 7 or mere C to E-minor chord progressions are classic early Whigs’ motifs.)
I’m far from the only local musician from the’90s (and likely beyond) inspired by the Whigs’ music, but there was another kind of inspiration during that era when all of the band members were out and about in Cincinnati. The Whigs’ “fuck it, let’s just go do this” ambition, just getting in the van and going, actually worked. That gave a lot of musicians hope that they could be heard outside of city limits even if they were from Cincinnati. But, unlike in Seattle, where there were several groups with similar sounds rising simultaneously, the Whigs were too unique to copy to the point where a label might sign a “soundalike” band. It’s what’s great about Cincinnati music — the lack of a unifying sound as a result of artists trying to make their own unique thing.
The Whigs were even involved in starting my career — the very first review of any piece of art I ever wrote was a take on the band’s Congregation album for a features/criticism class I took at the University of Cincinnati. (I remember getting a pretty high grade and thinking, “I got this.”) Once I’d decided I wanted to write about music full-time, I accepted an internship in New York City. Driving over the hills into New York City, the Whigs’ remix of “Miles Iz Ded” called “Rebirth of the Cool” came on some random NY/NJ-area radio station. It made me feel like I was on the right track.
Gradually, I’d meet all of the members out and about, and each had that Midwestern down-to-earthness that it usually takes outsiders to point out.
Well, I’d meet every member except Mr. Dulli. During the peak Whigs years, Dulli seemed especially sensitive to negative press, reportedly calling out (or just calling up) writers who’d say sometimes legit, sometimes stupid things about him or his band. I was a mentally unstable substance abuser who, for reasons I don’t completely remember or understand, added a couple of dumb barbs about the band into my column or elsewhere in CityBeat over the course of a few years. They weren’t especially harsh, save for one aside where I mentioned (jokingly) that a rumor was suggesting Dulli had developed a massive bourbon habit and gained 500 lbs (or something equally outrageous). It was stupid and baseless and, given his family lives in the area and might read it (this was pre-internet-is-everywhere), he had every right to be angered by my youthful idiocy. If you’re reading this, Greg, I apologize. It was another lesson in growing the fuck up, courtesy of The Afghan Whigs.
I came to despise that sort of trashy journalism but, in a cruel twist of fate, baseless gossip websites might just be the only job I’ll be able to get one day given the state of newspapers.
In response to my bad-taste alcoholic/obesity sentence, I received a fax (a fax!) from Dulli’s publicist saying the Greg was challenging me to an AIDS test. I’m still not totally sure why, though I think it was either a comment on my taste in women or my IV drug problem at the time. I was flummoxed. Embarrassed. Ashamed. Confused. Then tickled. “Greg Dulli knows who I am?” (Then ashamed again: “One of my musical heroes hates me.”)
That how much I love Dulli and his musical partners’ output — he might’ve strangled me with his bare hands if we ran into each other at a bar and I would’ve been all, “He touched me!”
Many of Dulli’s more direct peers from the Cincinnati area who were around when the Whigs were coming up don’t seem to have a very positive opinion of the man, but I’ve always taken their shots at him with a grain of salt. There might have been some jealousy or maybe Greg really was an asshole in his mid-20s. I can relate. There are so many stories and legends about Dulli’s personal life and actions during his time in Cincy as the Whigs were taking off, he’s like an urban Rock Star Davy Crocket.
None of it has ever changed how I listen to the Whigs’ music. To this day, when I’ve been in a relationship in turmoil or crumbling apart, I still think to myself, “My life is becoming an Afghan Whigs song again.” And I know there will be some emotional pain and probably a few bad decisions involved, but it’s at least going to be an interesting ride. The one that never ends.
The accelerated speed of tech developments over the past decade has changed the world in innumerable ways. The impact it has had on music is glaring, completely readjusting how the worldwide music industry operates and affecting everything from the way the sounds are created, recorded and distributed to the way they are experienced by listeners. Cincinnati’s Walk the Moon is currently in the midst of a quick rise in the music world that is a perfect example of how the career plans of aspiring young artists can today play out over an amazingly short period of time. It’s why you might want to catch Walk the Moon’s concert tonight at Oakley’s 20th Century Theater.
The city of Cincinnati is prepared to formally recognize King Records’ place in the city’s cultural history with a historic marker, a partnership with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a King-oriented class or lecture series, a King Records Center on the campus of Xavier University and a prominent role in this year’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for Music (CEAs). City Councilman John Cranley, Bootsy Collins and others announced the plans at a news conference this morning at the former King Records site in Evanston.
[See photos from this morning here.]
Cranley read from a motion he introduced to City Council that asks for up to $10,000 in city funds to install a historic marker on the former King Records office/studio in Evanston to be unveiled on Nov. 23, with the remaining funds used to book a former King recording artist to perform at that night’s CEAs. This year is the 65th anniversary of the founding of King Records in Cincinnati.
The Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland has agreed to construct, donate and maintain the historic marker, and if Cranley’s funding request is granted the Rock Hall president has agreed to attend the marker unveiling and the CEAs. The institution also will work to develop a class or lecture series on King Records at Cincinnati State.
Other newsworthy items from this morning:
• Xavier officials are looking into developing a King Records Center on campus, a history exhibition that also could be a working recording studio for use by students and the public.
• CityBeat Marketing and Promotions Manager Dan McCabe announced that the 12th annual CEAs for music will be the first event held at the reopened Emery Theater in Over-the-Rhine. The CEAs were the final public event at the Emery just before it closed in 1999.
This week’s CityBeat features the announcement of the first several weeks’ worth of headliners for PNC’s MidPoint Indie Summer Series. The free, every-Friday concert series on Fountain Square again features an interesting array of out-of-town artists and Cincinnati music’s finest. The concerts begin June 3 with local Electronica duo You, You’re Awesome headlining a typically eclectic night of provocative sounds. It’s good prep for 2011’s MidPoint Music Festival this fall. The Indie Summer kick-off is your first chance to get MidPoint ’11 tickets — MPMFers can buy three-day passes at a discounted rate while they last at the events this summer.
Below, take a look/listen to the performers announced so far.
After Lollapalooza created the "package tour" craze in the ’90s, most of the tours collapsed, faded away or adjusted, including Lolla itself. But the folks behind The Warped Tour figured out how to make it work (mostly by not overpaying bands or treating anyone like prima donnas) and Warped is by far the most consistent and longest running big package tour around. It returns to Riverbend this summer.
The fest brings its usual eclectic lineup of Punk, Metal, Hip Hop and Indie acts back to Cincinnati on July 31. Tickets go on sale April 6 at 10 a.m. (a week from today) and are just $35 (plus ticketing fees). Click here for more on tickets.
The lineups change throughout the Warped jaunt as acts come on and off the tour. Here's who's on board for the Riverbend stop. (Lineup is subject to change.):
Main Stage: Taking Back Sunday, All Time Low, New Found Glory, Streetlight Manifesto, Yellowcard, Piece The Veil, Four Year Strong, Of Mice and Men, We The Kings, Breathe Carolina, Miss May I, Falling In Reverse, Blood On The Dance
TBD Stage: Every Time I Die, Mayday Parade, blessthefall, Chelsea Grin, For Today, Memphis May Fire, Motionless In White, Rise To Remain, Sleeping With Sirens, The Ghost Inside, Vampires Everywhere!, Title Fight
Tilly's Stage: Senses Fail, Vanna, Polar Bear Club, We Are The Crowd, Man Overboard, A Loss For Words, Funeral Party, I Fight Dragons, Machine Gun Kelly, Oh No Fiasco
TBD Stage: Echo Movement, G-Eazy, Stepdad, The Constellations, Ballyhoo!, Champagne, T. Mills, Tomorrows Bad Seeds, Mod Sun, The Green, Amyst
Ernie Ball Stage: iwrestledabearonce, Born Of Osiris, Chunk! No Captain, Fireworks, Transit, Cold Forty Three, The Scissors
Kevin Says Stage: Make Do And Mend, Matt Toka, Tonight Alive, Skip The Foreplay, Sick of Sarah, Mighty Mongo, Captain Capa, I Call Fives, Hostage Calm, The Silver Comet, Twin Atlantic, The Darlings, Dead Sara
Acoustic Basement: A Loss For Words, Koji, Brian Marquis, Rocky Votolato, Transit, Owen Plant, Anthony Raneri
Ourstage.com is also sponsoring a stage this year and local bands are encouraged to sign up for a chance to play their hometown Warped (and possibly even join Ourstage.com's stage for 22 dates). Click here for details.
In the summer of 2009, several student filmmakers from Northern Kentucky University decided to make a documentary about Newport music venue the Southgate House. With a soundtrack loaded with local music (Mack West, The Tillers and many others), the movie features some great historical information about the old mansion, lovely footage of the interior and exterior of the building and lots of interviews with area musicians, music lovers, Southgate employees and longtime operator Ross Raleigh, all discussing the uniqueness of the club and what it means to the local music community. There are some prescient comments towards the end about what losing the Southgate would mean to the music scene. Click below to watch the full shebang.
While I’m not quite a junkie, I am fairly addicted to the “33 1/3” book series from publisher Continuum. If you’ve yet to hear about the series, the books are each dedicated to one specific album that has gained some sort of notoriety in the music world. The records chosen are mostly cult favorites with a few influential blockbusters mixed in. Of the 60 books written so far (each by a different author), the series has covered Pet Sounds, Songs in the Key in Life, Exile on Main St. and Led Zeppelin II but also lower-selling but no less influential recordings by the Magnetic Fields, Belle & Sebastian, Guided By Voices, DJ Shadow and Sonic Youth. (For a great overview, pick up one of the two Greatest Hits volumes released by the publisher.)
The tomes vary in approach, with some offering strictly historical examinations, some more about the author’s personal relationship with the album and others a mix of both. Chicago-based writer and music industry vet Bob Gendron has written what will likely be the only Cincinnati-connected album in the series, telling the tale behind Gentlemen, the major-label debut and relative breakthrough album by The Afghan Whigs. I would argue that records by Over the Rhine and The Ass Ponys, among others, deserve the 33 1/3 treatment, but they’re likely not well known enough to pique the publisher’s interest. I’d also argue that my personal favorite Whigs’ album, Black Love, should get a book, but the chances of having two Whigs stories in the series are just as slim.
Gendron mostly plays historian, telling the story via research and numerous interviews with the prime players, including all of the Whigs (drummer Steve Earle included), Sub Pop employees (Gendron himself used to be one) and other friends and industry connections. He also does a fantastic job of recreating the state of the Whigs at the time, a band of tight friends on the brink of major success yet also inflicted with drug issues and internal and external squabbles.
The story of Gentlemen is bookended by the tale of the band’s beginnings and their breakup, all the way up through last year’s greatest hits album. There are a lot of interesting tidbits and revelations. Gendron gets singer/songwriter Greg Dulli to talk about his serious relationship with the mysterious “Kris,” the dissolution of which led to the album’s tortuous, heartbroken tone. Other fun facts: Dulli recorded several of the album’s lead vocal tracks in one night while flying on coke and trying to impress a girl; Steve Earle was booted for several reasons (alcohol abuse, meddling girlfriend, creative control issues, ego conflict); and labelmate Linda Ronstadt was allegedly furious about the album’s cover (depicting a young boy and girl lounging on a bed), apparently under the impression that it was a naked bellybutton away from being child porn. It was also interesting to read that one of the band’s main friends at Elektra Records was feeding information to the nasty, slanderous 'zine Fat Greg Dulli.
Gendron gets to about every detail of the album, from the cover art’s original inspiration and liner notes to the songs’ inspirations and recording. But he doesn’t just relay facts. He also talks about Gentlemen as an artistic statement, carefully dissecting and describing the individual songs’ and the general album’s mood, cause and effect. Not only does Gendron’s book offer the last word on Gentlemen, it also shows what a compelling story The Afghan Whigs’ entire career remains.
For Whigs fans or even just those who were around Cincinnati to witness the band’s rise from little underground touring unit to soulful, seductive Rock machine, the book is a fascinating remembrance. For those who’ve never even heard of the Afghan Whigs, the story is universal and dramatic enough to be read as a novel (save the music-critic-y song dissertations).
The story is so good, in fact, that it would be great to see Gendron expand it beyond the 113 pages of this book. As his Gentlemen proves, the Whigs are deserving of a long-form biography that tells the band’s complete story. Who knows? Maybe Gentlemen: The Movie isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility.
Too bad John Belushi isn't around to play Greg. And Jimmy Page is too old to play Rick McCollum.
— Mike Breen