Beyond The Mirror- Red Moon Travelers
Nimbus Records 2015
There is no pretension whatsoever in this new release from The Red Moon Travelers – Beyond the Mirror. Anyone impressed by fifty skimpy blinged dancers on-stage, spooky multi-effects and de-tuned grunge bludgeons will have little to like here. This 12 track CD is simply put – straight forward power Rock with great lyrics, stellar production and guitar work that lights up the night sky. This Florida band BRINGS IT. Turn it up and listen to a hurricane.
I have been a fan since I heard Rob Royer’s early work in Legal Eyes. The new line-up in The Red Moon Travelers bring fresh life and energy to this strong release. 2015 will be a great year for this band. I predict strong airplay and live shows to look forward to by a growing audience.
Now for the self-indulgent portion of this narrative. It is lengthy because it has taken me a long time to have the courage to write.
Lives are made of networks of happenstance and conjecture. The six-degrees of separation that seems even more prescient than Karma –though I’m a firm believer in both;make this song (How Gone Is Gone) the result of scars in the shape of smiles, gritted teeth, abstract works, and the power of controlling vibrations that not only blow out the fucking walls, but touch lives. Sometimes the circle of influence is a thousand packed stadiums, sometimes a few thousand people in dingy punk clubs during a limited run. Or a campfire circled by a few friends. It matters little. Math is not soul.
I’ve never written of any of the circumstances surrounding the composing the song, ‘How Gone Is Gone’. It’s too painful. It makes me break down –and for some ridiculous reason breaking down is unmanly, unseemly and weak. Yeah. Fuck That. It’s Time. The honor bestowed upon me by the Red Moon Travelers by including their version of ‘How Gone Is Gone’ on their stellar new release ‘Beyond The Mirror’ prompts me to clear the decks.
When I recorded ‘Swampadelic Hound Dawg’ in 2008, my second solo release, I included –rather reluctantly – the most personal song I have ever written. It was embarrassingly raw. It was emotional. It was a love letter to a dead brother who would never hear it. I sat in the basement, overcome completely at times, trying to put the poetry and chords in the proper order – like limning the bones of a masterpiece I vowed NEVER to show another human being. Some art is too personal to share. There is not one artist that hasn’t experienced this feeling of protectiveness. There was more to it: How am I supposed to say out loud that I am ABSOLUTELY certain that Eddie waited to leave this dimension until he helped me write it. Yeah; that’s right –a punk rawk ghost stood behind me in a dark basement and helped me express the in-expressible. I give a rats-ass who believes it. It’s not up for debate.
Eddie died of Meningitis in Taos New Mexico in August of 2008.
We parted on less than favorable terms; this after 25 years of musical partnership, street-level struggle, and tenacious brotherhood. We definitely scrapped and fought -just like any brothers would; be they blood or adoptive. Ed and I had pretty different world views. Of course Ed was some kind of a muthahfuc’n alien. It made him inscrutably beautiful. Ed was some kind of a genius –just what kind no one could quite figure out, but some people you are better off not trying to define. And make no mistake – he was a bona-fide musical guitar monster of epic proportions. Anyone who ever witnessed him live on stage in full flagrante delicto wailing with his freaky-ass chopped down guitar will bear me out on this fact. He was the Boris Spasskey of guitar, the Bobby Fischer of the fretboard – an absolute master of electronic transmogrification. Any who doubts that just need to listen to the recorded work he left behind in the catalog of Shock Opera and his own solo recordings.
Oddly this was one of our differences. When Eddie was being treated for stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma I remember dragging him out of bed to go to Carlos Garza’s studio to lay tracks; even on days that the treatment left him lethargic and the chemo side effects left him without feeling in the tips of his fingers. He told me more than once that he didn’t give a fuck about leaving a musical legacy; this left me in the frustrating position of being the ‘fascist’ who insisted on putting it all down on tape. Part of his gestalt on this point was bullshit – I saw how hard he worked in the studio to make our music a perfect imperfection. Some of the most creative and innovative writing he ever did was when he was close to dying. (He beat the lymphoma that year.) His approach was punk dirty avant garde – in raw power and resonance. Eddie was no folkie –of course, like I wrote in ‘How Gone Is Gone’;
‘I know how much you hate that folkie shit, but secretly we both knew you were good at it…’
One listen to his mandolin work on ‘Nothing’s Sacred’ off Mer De Mente by Shock Opera will hint at this: he came from a tradition of acoustic music from the hills he was raised in. Trust me, he ran like hell from those Allegany County hills the first chance he got; but traditional music was ingrained under all that punk raging and backwards classical mind-fuck he would pull out of that guitar with one super-distortion pick-up, glued on TV knobs and randomly dripped house paint criss-crossing a body that looked like somebody’s idea of a psychedelic Frankenstein’s dope cigar box. That guitar is lost in the ether somewhere in Cumberland, Maryland –Eddie’s hometown, where I dropped it off with all his other belongings after he left for New Mexico. Without a word. Just like that.
I am not blameless. I had stopped talking to him. He had been living next store in my big spare room for 4 years and was becoming increasingly depressed, inattentive, unmotivated and isolated. He drank and smoked up the rent. He would barely speak until I became certain that giving him a secure place to rot was doing him no good at all. It was beyond my expertise. I couldn’t reach him, and I damn sure wasn’t going to give him a nice secure place to commit slow suicide. His tinnitus had reached a point that he could no longer stand to play loud electric music. The constant ringing drove him slowly (more) insane. I became angry at some of the company he would occasionally keep – the kind of personalities who seemed to delight in getting him wasted out of his mind so they could make him do funny tricks for their own amusement. Then they send him home to my house where I would have the dubious honor of trying to deal with his personal destruction. Living with Ed was no picnic.
Ed at his best was quiet, kind, generous to an absolute fault(I’ve seen him give his last buck to a homeless guy more than a dozen times), and above all, willing to help his friends play a difficult musical passage, help in writing a song, or fix an electrical glitch. He was hell with a soldering iron. I often joked that if you gave Ed some duct tape, flux, solder and a ball of twine he could repair the Titanic.
We spent a lot of time repairing the Titanic. It was like a mantra. Playing music in Washington, D.C. had its self-immolating properties; (not all of them undesirable).
Ed and I arrived in the D.C. area from Cumberland( I from Slabtown –don’t ask) with a duffel bag full of rags and our guitars. Small amps are easier to carry- so we always beefed up what we had to sound big.
D.C. is pretty cliquish – politics in this town permeates the music scene as well. It’s tough everywhere to find gigs; leads are jealously guarded, networks nearly impossible to infiltrate. Lucky for us we arrived dead in the middle of the D.I.Y. punk scene and it was a perfect transition for Ed. I thought a lot of the harD.C.ore music sounded like shit. I still do; some of these people barely knew a minor key from a large colon –but the energy was remarkable. The oppositional mentality and anti-status quo arrogance appealed to us both. Ed LOVED it here. Suddenly he didn’t have to give a burning flying fuck how he dressed, colored his hair, or loved his fellow man.
( “Hey. Any of you fuc’n Yuppies gotta quarter? I need some crack..”)
Eddie might have been one of the physically hilarious, twisted, natural comedians I’ve ever seen. A few beers and he had absolutely NO fear of saying whatever was most inappropriate in a public place. Statements so outrageous that the target of his mocking could only stand still and blink in stupidity or pity – as if trying to decide to call the police or an ambulance from St. Elizabeth Mental Hospital. He often reserved these magnificent displays for his fellow musicians who had not tasted of his essence – other bands on the infamous eight band bills we played at city clubs. We called it being “Edified.” Either you got Ed or you didn’t. His blatantly absurd behavior was often confused as random idiocy. Trust me – it wasn’t. Ed mind-fucked people he judged were in need of it. He could smell the stink of pretention six miles away. He could be merciless. To those who had survived “Edification” who watched him in action it was like a Punk Stan Laurel tweaking a political head of state. I was always personally amazed at what he got away with. It was mathematically impossible. The law of averages NEVER ran out- he made me wet my pants laughing on many occasions- I’m not ashamed to admit it. Screw it. Piss pants in the service of the Punk Army was not necessarily a detriment. I liked dropping the pretense of traditional Rock coolness. What a bunch of over-wrought Poodle-headed poseurs. I mean really. When Eddie crossed the liquid line, however, it was then he ‘monstered’. It was never violently ugly – just totally unpredictable and occasionally included a cartoonish brand of vandalism. Sometimes it was funny. Sometimes it was not. Those are the times he needed ‘a minder’. That was usually me. It wasn’t really all that fun. After 25 plus years it could get old and I wanted to kick his ass for putting me through it. In order to be Ed’s friend you had to commit to the long haul. It was trial by fire. In fact it was on one such occasion in Virginia Beach when I came up with the line:
‘Beat The Monster – Feed Him Wine And Show Him Fire.’
Yep. Pretty much summed it up. If Stan Laurel shtupped the bride of Frankenstein Edward Russell Arnold would most certainly have been the result.
The point of this long-winded exercise is to underscore how short-term resentment and hurt feelings can lead to life-altering consequences. I will never be able to have the chance to hold my friend by the shoulders and tell him that all this bullshit and drama never really mattered. I can’t tell him I’m sorry for being so intransigent and hard. I can’t say – “Well fuck you, anyway; you’ll always be my brother-in-arms. I can’t say shit. I blew the chance and it will haunt me the rest of my natural life.
All I could do was write ‘How Gone Is Gone’ and make it as real as possible. This song is a one-sided conversation with a beloved shadow; with help from the essence of Eddie surrounding me and my old 12-string guitar down in a dark basement. When I finished it I sat there and cried like a goddamned baby. It was the one song I ever wrote that I refused to promote, blurb about ,or put a clip of on streaming media. I only played it for a few truly dear friends- people who also knew and loved Eddie.It was on the CD, but it would simply have to be discovered by anyone who bothered to listen. I knew it was good, but I didn’t care to put it up for review or discussion.
At that point the only person who heard the song was the magnificent Blee Child- who had the unenviable task of trying to lay very expressive drum tracks onto the rough mix with me as I tried to direct him like a lunatic in a studio in Richmond. He did a fantastic job. Blee loved Ed as much as I did. We all played together in bands since 1981. Blee Child was only 14 years old. We had to sneak him into gigs inside a bass drum case. Luckily he is not only attractive, but compact.
When my old friend Rich Lansberry called me up and told me that his partner and band-mate Rob Royer had overheard the song , and expressed interest in covering it, honestly, I was a little shocked. ‘How Gone Is Gone’ is not my most in your face rocking tune by any stretch. It was a ‘sleeper’. I had heard Robbie Royers song-writing and production skill on his previous release of Legal Eyes and had mentioned to Rich that I loved the way Robbie placed the acoustic guitar in all his mixes. It was clear, clean, present and BOLD. The vocals weren’t buried and needlessly distorted.
I am a great proponent of using the rich sonic textures of the acoustic guitar in rock n’ roll -Jethro Tull did it; The Who did it, The Stones pioneered it and PROVED the acoustic guitar BELONGS in the mix. I was, to be honest, pretty blown away that Robbie and Rich would even consider recording or including a song of mine in their repertoire.
We had a Skype session where we went over the chord progressions and meter;( partially without benefit of visuals) and a few weeks later Robbie sent me a rough mix of his version of the song. Again I use the phrase- Mind Blowing. The vocal delivery was perfect, the interspersed guitar work amazing, and Rich Lansberry’s bass fluid, emotive and poetic. I sat there with my mouth hanging open. For any writer to hear an original song covered by another artist is an emotional experience. In this case I felt incredibly honored and grateful that Rob and Rich treated the song with so much respect. Incredible.
I suppose the moral of this story is very un-punk and as corny as grandma’s advice, back when we were all teen-aged geniuses, when we let words go in one ear and out the other. It’s simple.
Try not to part in anger.
Try to find a way to be honest without inflicting pain.
Never let trivial disagreements fester into stone cold silence.
Remember: Some crossroads you can never revisit.
And Know This: there are some things you will never, ever get back again.
Love is all we really have.
Love makes the need for definition and explanation dissolve, and allows the soul to bask in the simplest light of just …being.
Be Kind To One Another.
Rock Like There’s No Tomorrow.
Volume Is Your Friend.
~ J.D. Brayton (MYSTR Treefrog) January 24, 2015