Saturday, February 27, 2010

Roots Music Freakos: The elusive island hippie marmots

All greasers seem to have a natural aversion to hippies. It's just the way that nature intended. My disdain is no secret and if you go to some of my older posts, you will find one called 7 varieties of hippies.

My observations were always based on the urban hippies; young, self-righteous, most likely from middle class families, these deluded freaks are always found in urban settings.

Usually living in what are considered hip neighborhoods, they come in several varieties, not unlike cockroaches. Enjoying squalor, bad food, filth and bad music these foul smelling denizen are just as hard to eradicate as their cockroach brethren.

There is another variety of hippie, however, that I had forgotten about: the elusive island hippie marmot. Not as shrill and mangy as their urban counterparts, their hippie-ness is un-diluted and, in their natural habitat, they can revel in their own self-fabricated eccentricities.

A lot of the marmots migrate to urban settings and live there. Like urban hippies they are attracted to all things new-age and are just as every bit annoying.

The one thing that drastically sets them apart is their inexplicable fascination with roots music.

Many years ago, I was invited to be the token greaser at a local university. A professor of ethno-musicology was giving a night course on the history of rock 'n' roll.

It was an in depth course and the prof was very knowledgeable and a few courses were dedicated to Rockabilly.

As I entered the room 50 pairs of eyes were upon me. Their mundane un-coolness washed over me like a wave. Disheveled hair, lots of wool and mis-matched clothes, clogs and other things that I cannot even describe.

They seemed like nice enough folks, but there was a hint of lunacy just under the thin veneer of civility.

It was like a psycho ward. The urban hippies would be in the criminally insane section and these people seemed like they belonged in the section where everybody was heavily sedated and happy all the time for no particular reason.

I spoke my piece, all the while distracted by the weird clothes, slight musty aroma and blank smiles. I needed a drink after that.

Around that same time, my Cajun accordion playing buddy, Texas Nick, and I were invited to a Cajun party. It was held in some remote 'hood where a school had been converted to an arts center. I just happen to really like Cajun music, it's great drinking music, so off we went.

When we arrived with our instruments, we were greeted by bemused expressions from the rag-tag group of freaks in the room.

A few had instruments and did a passable job playing the tunes. The problem is as follows and is key to understanding the marmots' behavior: They approach music from an academic point of view. They don't dig it cuz it's cool, rather they try to find the "cultural significance" and proceed to analyze the shit out of it.

Whether it be Cajun, Tejano or Pygmy weasel-flute music by some lost amazon tribe, it's all the same to them.

After me and Nick had a few beers, it was our turn. Nick fired up his accordion and I backed him up on guitar. Nick tore it up, but the marmots seemed un-impressed. Like the hippies that were butchering Hank songs in one of my previous posts, these clueless leftoids couldn't tell the difference between good shit and just plain old shit.

We hung out for a a little while longer. Some people dragged out weird looking instruments and started playing, what me and Nick assumed to be, medieval music. When the freaks started dancing around a pole with ribbons attached to it, we fucked right off.

Fast forward a few years to the west coast. I had tickets to see Steve Riley, considered by many to be the top Cajun accordion player around. People flock from around the world to take lessons from him and attend his famous " Balfa camps ". This was gonna be cool.

When a really good Cajun band is playing, you expect to see shit like people with teeth missing, snake skin jackets, cowboy hats and the odd pair of alligator boots.

In fact, the show was organized by a " jazz society". Yikes. If you gotta belong to a society to dig music, that precludes any coolness whatsoever.

As I entered the hall, I began asking myself, " Who the fuck are these people?" There were various age groups, one as un-cool as the other. I sat and observed and it dawned on me that this was a quintessential west coast experience.

I sat and watched in amazement as people began streaming in. It was just getting weirder, and yet these people all kind of looked the same. Keeping with the anything-goes hippie ethic, I wondered how anybody could consciously throw together such chaotic outfits. I thought to myself, " Where do you even get shit like that?"

Full-on rubber ponchos, sandals with socks, ill fitting pants, flood pants, really fucking dumb hats and other shit probably purchased at Johnson's tent and awning. I saw it all that night.

The band was great, of course, and played for almost 3 hours. The acoustics were stellar thanks to the efforts of a well known local soundman. It was a rare treat to see a Cajun band of this caliber ( or any Cajun band for that matter).

There was the ubiquitous clapping along, usually done by people who never go to shows, and for the life of me, hardly any of those folks could clap on the beat to save their fucking lives.

The clapping was a precursor of what was sure to come next; the freako dancing. Sure enough, into the third song, there they went. Arms a-flailin' and jumpin' around. Anyone who's ever been to a Blues bar probably knows what I'm talking about.

As the night progressed, amidst the throng of certified weirdos and the slight odor of wet wool, I had visions of these people rowing small boats to get to some god-forsaken island where their unheated hovel sporting a driftwood outhouse awaits them.

They spend their days growing organic potatoes, composting bird carcasses, muttering to themselves and riding their second hand recumbent bikes to see if their neighbors have any pot left.

They will smoke the hippie-crack and wax philosophical about the rocks they are sitting on. The evening will deteriorate into a rambling amalgam of conspiracy theories, con-trails, denouncing "the man", and bad poetry.

They row their leaky boats to another larger island once a month or so to pick up their mail. This how they find out about various roots music shows.

As I went back and forth from my seat to the bar, it was me who was garnering the stares and the (as it were) hairy eyeballs. That night, I was the weirdo, a greasy fish out of water, the nail sticking out of the board.

The copious quantities of over priced beer ( hippies always seem to over charge ) soon alleviated my discomfort and I enjoyed the rest of the show.

I returned to the rock 'n' roll haven that is East Van and the marmots drifted off into the night back to their secretive lairs, where even the tax-man can't find them, and will only re-appear at the next roots music show.

Look around your neighborhood for the elusive island hippie marmot.

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