Thursday, March 22, 2012

"That Year" Twenty Years Ago

Has it Been That Long?

Twenty years ago I was visiting a friend in St. Charles, Missouri.  It, much unlike the present, was bitterly cold.  My vacation time was planned perfectly for raw cold wet weather.  The day I left Lee's Summit on the eastbound Amtrak, the weather was gorgeous -- warm, spring -- a bit breezy.  The day before, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration people were proudly showing off their severe storm/hurricane hunter Orion P-3 aircraft to family members of Commerce Department employees.  I got to tour that thing and listen in on their mesoscale tele-conference meeting at Richards Gebaur Airport.  I knew a strong front was coming through and they were all excited about going up in their new toy to collect data on the storm.  However, the day it rolled in, I was on my planned trip to the St. Louis area.  When I got on the train, it was hard to believe that when I got off the train, I would need a jacket.  It was shirtsleeve weather in Lee's Summit.  It definitely wasn't when my friend, Mark, came to pick me up in Kirkwood, Missouri.

Sometime into my week off, I was waiting for my friend at his employers.  He loaned me his car so I was there to pick him up from work.  While listening to the community radio station, KDHX, I was tuned into some kind of local show.  They played a song that immediately got my attention.  I loved it.  The announcer came on to say that this band was local out of Belleville, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis.  The band was Uncle Tupelo.  The band had been around for a few years, and I, ever curious about local talent, had heard of them on the west side of Missouri.  This was the first time I heard them, and I was hooked.  That week, I believe I bought a cassette with a bunch of local alternative country acts, including Uncle Tupelo -- It was called "Out of the Gate." Later that year, I saw them for the first time live, in Columbia, at a place called the Blue Note.  I was fortunate in that I got to see them two more times, once more at the Blue Note, in 1993, and finally, once before they broke up in 1994 at the Bottleneck in Lawrence, Kansas. 

I was unaware that at about the time I was freezing my tush off in St. Louis, Uncle Tupelo was down in Athens Georgia recording an album with a simple title and a huge following.  Many people credit this band with singlehandedly launching the alternative country genre and consider this album to be amongst their finest work.  It was an all accoustic album recorded in Athens Georgia while Uncle Tupelo stayed with REM guitarist, Peter Buck.  March 16 to 20, 1992 is one of my most favorite albums.  It combines folk, country, and punk in a traditional, yet original way.  I was saddened when I learned the band was breaking up after their last tour in 1994.  I was happy to have been able to see and meet them in person. 

On a side note, the first time I heard them play live in 1992, a band opened up for them.  Due to their drummer touring with another band, they played an all-acoustic set.  They played a song, that, though I could not remember the name of the band, I remembered the song and was able to track the band down by that song and buy their album.  What I remember of the song was the chorus...

"Wave that flag
wave it high...
do you know what it means,
do you know why.
Maybe being a rebel
ain't no big deal,
but if someone owned your ass,
how would you feel..."

I also remember the closing line of the song...
"It's a red white and blue flag,
but it ain't ours..."

The band I mention is a band also from the St. Louis area -- Festus, Missouri to be exact.  They are the Bottlerockets.  I've seen them several times as well.  Everytime I see them, I get to talk to at least one of them, and they are down to earth, very personable and nice.  Brian Henneman is the voice and the guitarist behind The Bottlerockets, and he served for awhile as guitar power for Uncle Tupelo.

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