To say I was obsessed with folk music back in the early 90s would be an understatement. My friends and I would regularly get together and listen to Woodie Guthrie, the Clancy Brothers and any group where a large woman was surrounded by three suited men with guitars. We would sit in my bedroom, styled like a 1960s New York walk-up and play records, smoke pipes and talk about revolutionary politics. I sported a beard and wore tweed or a cotton-wool mix jumper, sometimes a cap.
This would lead to some sniggers and pointing from locals, but hey those cats were always like that. Whenever they hassled me or committed violence, I would yell,
“Hey, keep your hands above the Mason-Dixon line, thanks.” Sometimes with a two-finger salute and a ‘keep on keepin’ on’ look. Sweet, my claws were sharp, I tell ya.
Sometimes we would get dixie-fried on rum or gin and discuss the records we needed to get. The one we all agreed on was the Carmichael Brothers, a black folk group from Harlem. Richard, Ben, King, Arthur, Caesar, Roy and Chico made up the group (see above, note: Arthur and Caesar are standing behind the other five and crouching. They were off tha hook those two.) The interesting thing about these cats were that they were the only all-white group in the black folk music scene, which caused consternation at many of the clubs they went to. Gigs would be slated for crashville before they started, with race hate groups attacking them for being black but white customers pointing at Chico’s mop of red hair and Aran jumper querying whether they had the right club.
Anyways, one night while driving around in my lead sled, I spotted a late night record shop open. I flicked through the vinyl for a while, but couldn’t find anything except ‘new’ music. I went up to the cat at the counter and asked where the folk section was. He told it wasn’t that kind of shop. I figured that he didn’t know his groceries at all. I persisted.
“Do you have a folk section?”
“I told you. This is not that kind of shop!” he angrily batted me away.
I walked away fuming spotting the folk section to my left.
“So. What is this?”
“That would be our folk…Oh, sorry man, I thought you meant something else. It is pretty late.”
I angrily pointed at my beard and my jumper and my sandals and threw my arms in the air.
“Sorry man, what can I do you for?”
I stopped hyperventilating and asked him if he had anything by the Carmichael Brothers.
“The Chemical brothers?” he asked.
“Focus your audio man, The Carmichael brothers.” I said.
“Yeah, the Chemical brothers.” he looked at me quizzically.
“Sure, here. The Chemical brothers, Exit Planet Dust,”
I looked at the cover. A couple walking down a road. On the road. This was the beatnik dream right here. It looked modern but the car behind them suggested the era was right. A bright yellow sticker with price covered the album title. I was not deterred.
I ran home excitedly and then ran back to the shop to collect my car. Exhausted, I fell into bed, but not before putting the record on and plugging my headphones in. Sleep came quick, with the refrain of “The brother’s gonna work it out”
Fuckin bangin! I had to get to the shop to collect my new trainers. My shaven head felt real good these days and spliffs were commonplace in my significant armory. I would take the tobacco out of cigarettes and fill with a combination of bud and hash, walk near cops and puff away. Ha, what did they know, the galoots?I had changed. In the words of Nick Cave,
Look at me now
Look at me now”
I had been listening to Exit Planet Dust on a loop of fury for about two weeks. It was the soundtrack to every step and every breath I took. The feeling engendered by those electronic bass-lines and breakbeats made me move in a way I hadn’t since a boy when I competed in ballroom dancing competitions which due to a lack of a certain vaccine meant that an outbreak of polio in Dubalin town left me as the winner over and over. Oh yeah! Disco shoes!
My friends looked at me in my red long-sleeved Adidas top, my weathered jeans, shiny new trainers. They seemed unhappy. I tried to lighten the situation.
“You, you look different. Allen said.
“Coz, I’m all that and a bag of chips, yeah?”
They looked at each other and then at me.
“It’s not like I have a glow stick up my arse. (I did) Just new music, new me, y’knaa?”
Things got tense between us. I would drag them to raves and off my head on whatever I could get my hands on, I would be flying around, dancing like a loon. Waving a different glow stick in the air. it really was da bomb as they say. Copping with fly girls, life was sweet. I looked over at my friends in the corner and they swayed gently to this new music, their Aran sweaters with huge sweat stains in the armpits, their drenched cords sticking to their legs. They huddled into each other like sheep in a storm. The uncertainty in their eyes was palpable with a smattering of wooden threads. I felt sorry for them. Those songs, “Chemical beats,” “Chico’s Groove,” “In dust we trust.” They were me now. I had a drumbeat in my head and it wasn’t gonna stop.
Two months later my three friends took their lives by renting a plane and flying it into a mountain. At their eulogy, I eulogised eloquently with emotion,
And I’m alone
And I’ve never wanted to be either of those
I didn’t believe this. If only they had hung on, they would have been there when i combined indie rock, folk and dance music to create the band Folk Implosion.
My name is Lou Barlow and this is my story. The truth is out there, but you can’t handle the truth.