Angela Sawyer

Top Ten Dead People and Their Difficult Shit

Hello. This is a list of people I've known, none of them as well as I'd like, who are now dead. If I learned a lesson from their death, I put it at the end, and the list is in order of how badly I needed the lesson.

I made this list because, one, I'm middle-aged, so the population of people that exist solely in my head has some good variety going by now. However, I don't have a family (that's a much longer story, don't worry about it), so I don't have those important deaths-in-the-family to work out my shit with. Secondly, I did this because I listened to some folks who happen to be younger than me processing their own grief out loud, and I realized I need to get way, way better at it, and soon.

The senior year car crash was a girl I barely knew. She was a closer friend, of the girl who was the closest friend I could manage, J. The girl hated her parents (you have to in high school), but had recently been very happy to be dating a new mystery guy. Word was he had upset her right before she drove. All the adults ignored this narrative, and said she "hit a curve". They said it too many times for my taste, and since I'm tasteless enough to have made this list, you can go right ahead and judge them for it. I also recall some adults who wondered out loud whether she drank. Her parents were extremely religious and eulogized her as also very religious, which upset every teen she knew. I learned that everyone's bougie in the end.

Kim Fowley, probable rapist, was a lizardly, shallow leech-letch who raised himself, as he claimed he had Colonel Parker for a father and Phil Spector for a mother. He was not a good guy. He was, however, the literal best person born in the 20th century at sparking a raging joyfire in your brain with mere words or sloppy almost-music. Bring on the funeral march of the straight people. And hurry. Because otherwise, in the year 2087, when Elon Musk's martian terrorists knock on your underwater front door, what will you and your black wife say to them? I learned very little from Fowley's death, but a lot from his records.

I met my Stepmother's step-grandmother when I was 13 and she was in her 90s. She feared microwaves deeply, loved the Weekly World News wholly, and constantly (like every day) retold the story of her Little Rock, Arkansas father. He was a man who literally fought in the civil war, and I did not ask on which side. According to the story, he once became furious that the family Christmas tree was not taken down by midnight on the start of some new year, and personally threw the tree out on the sidewalk with the decorations still tinkling. She taught me that feminism is relative.

Henry Jacobs died in 2015. In 2003 I talked to him on the phone for more than 8 hours. I had to call twice, because he made me hang up the phone and go out and buy an expensive tape recorder that worked with a phone handset before we talked. My ear and neck hurt for days afterwards. I was writing an article about him for a tiny zine, and trying to figure out how he had managed to have his fingers in so many pies: Appearing on a Lenny Bruce record while not being a comedian, appearing on a Mexican radio station while attending school in Illinois, collecting blues records as a prepubescent, running the Alan Watts fan club, making field recordings, collecting traditional Japanese instruments, watching Bavarian news broadcasts, recording parodies of hippie-snobs before most people knew they existed. What connected them all and how did he even have time? He answered me that I was "kindof stupid for asking", but that once I let go of my bullshit and got into *real* underground culture I'd eventually be fine. I learned he was entirely correct.

I enjoyed the aquaintance of a sharp, self-hating guy, N, who requested doodles of cats on facebook last year. He chose the one I drew, had it tattooed on his chest, and then promptly killed himself. We didn't even date! I learned to stay wary of scale.

Sun Ra, duh.

Audree Wilson, the mother of 3 of the members of the Beach Boys, died at age 80. While she was articulate and sweet in interviews, she is also long rumored to have been an alcoholic, and to have remained passive while her sons suffered heaps of emotional and physical abuse. She died in 1997, just ahead of the crest of a whole generation of Brian-geniusers who might have interviewed her with less-than-friendly intentions. She taught me about keeping your trap shut.

So far this year (it's almost December), 876 Americans were shot to death by the police. It's a lighter year than the last couple. However a disproportionate number of those killed, as in previous years, were people of color. Only 3 of them have been in my state of Massachusetts, but there have been 75 in Texas, and almost 100 in California. Among the oldest was, Geraldine Townsend, 72, who was killed on January 18th in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One of the youngest this year, Anthony Jacob Weber, was 16, and was killed on February 4th in Los Angeles.

I had a quiet & smart acquaintance, S, who was once the only person to tell me I was right, when some no-longer-relevant highbrow music writer acted like a dick. Later she killed herself in what I honestly (and continue to) believe was a truly beautiful goddamn blaze of fuck you glory. But I didn't know her as well as I would've liked, so maybe it wasn't a blaze at all. And worse, later, there was a creepyass whisper that she had been bullied really, really badly at work. Even worse still, I eventually realized that I know (and very worst of all, sincerely enjoy the company of) her former boss. She taught me that just like a joke, every smidge of empathy you can dig up comes at someone else's expense. But you have to come up with it anyway.

Future me.

Whoever your dead people are, I sincerely hope they treat you as well as these have been to me.

Angela Sawyer is a professional nice-lady, very artsy, who currently runs one weekly and four monthly comedy type shows, one of which is held in her house. She's been playing horrible music no one likes since the early 90s, and also works 3 or 7 jobs because death comes for us all so your google calendar had better flow like niagra, damnit.

Tom Lax

Top Ton

I work as a cook in a high-volume corner bar.

You must be thinking to yourself, “What about all that Eat Skull money?” I know, right? What about it? Best to let it go. Life’s too short, but sometimes it can take forever. When that happens, a job is a good way to fill the time. And cooking is kind of the perfect gig because it can literally feed you.

It’s just me and the unflappable duo of Pedorro & Chinito. While Pedorro —the setup man, the fixer — mostly runs the pass, his experience and intuition have him constantly tweaking other, smaller tasks, all designed to keep our timing impeccable. Chinito is our runner, our eyes and ears. We work out of a basement kitchen, where having reliable intel is key, especially if a rush is building so we don’t go apoplectic when the POS starts spitting out the chits. It’s also useful for when things die down, so we can restock and clean. It could be “Amigos, clown cars all day” (i.e., four tops and up, pushing through the doors), or it could be “so many lonely hearts” (solo tickets, one at a time). It’s a steady nine-hour gig, so we listen to a lot of music. These are the ten we jam hard.

1. Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band Bluejeans & Moonbeams (Virgin, 1974)
While this might not rank high in the Beefheart canon of cool, to me it’s maybe the best prep album ever. As soon as the lights are flicked on, this gets programmed in immediately. The tempo is perfect for moving from firing the flat top, then the fryer, arranging the bain marie and finally my mise. Those guys roll in and we GTD — get things done. This album exudes such good vibes that as the doors open and the first orders come down from the itinerant burger aficionados (read: water drinkers) and free coffee schmos, you just roll with it. Chinito likes how it works between our ZZ Top selections, while Pedorro is impressed that they cover the same song as Lynyrd Skynyrd. This is key. Skynyrd is muy bien.

2. The Fall
Our playlists are via YouTube, and where The Fall’s concerned, we prefer a shuffle. A favorite win-win is a mashup of Dragnet and Perverted By Language. In the middle of a slam, it’s hard to pay much attention to anything, but when things settle and we begin to ease out, there’s no better aural tag team than “Spectre Vs Rector” into “Garden.” It chills everything the fuck down. We’re all about the discography up to PBL and that’s it. No disrespect to the gargantuan catalog that follows, just a matter of choice. I mean, I love James Joyce as much as the next guy, but I don’t go waddlin’ around with a copy of Finnegan’s Wake in my hip pocket, you know what I’m sayin? It’s a fucking kitchen, okay?

3. Lynyrd Skynyrd Authorized Bootleg: Live At Winterland - San Francisco Mar. 07 1976 (Geffen, 2009)
You’d be forgiven for not knowing about the brief period of time when Skynyrd functioned with only two lead guitarists. And those guys — Alan Collins and Gary Rossington — stepped the fuck up. I saw this tour in Cincy back then; they opened for Santana, blowing Carlos and his bogus, psychedelic merengue off the stage. Our favorite is when “Gimme Back My Bullets” gives way to “Tuesdays’s Gone.” It’s pretty unbeatable. The latter is Pedorro’s favorite. He gets very wistful. Among his many talents is an ability to cry at will. Sometimes as it kicks in I say to him, “Where have you gone, Pedorro? He looks over at me with tears streaming down his face. Cracks us all up. Chinito thinks Gary Rossington plays like one of the guitarists in Endless Boogie. But which one?

“The ghost face.”

“But which one is that, Chinito”?

He just shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders. Then he prays. Not out of shame. It’s fear.


4. Montrose s/t (Warner Bros, 1973)
Cabo Wabo seed money in action. This fucker has a very strong back. It just carries you. When “Space Station #5” locks in, the chits get crushed. Think of it as the Hawaiian shirt version of White Boy & The Average Rat Band.

5. Pere Ubu Dub Housing (Chrysalis, 1978)
When I first introduced this into our rotation, both of ’em thought I was nuts. David Thomas’s warble and falsettos threw ’em; they thought for sure it was some dumbass joke. It went from amused confusion to no-laughs hilarious pretty quickly. “Blow Daddy-O” is our jam; Allen Ravenstine’s hypnotic drone, punctuated by Scott Krauss’s snap’n’crack with Tom Herman’s guitar shred over it all… It's one bad hombre. Chinito and Pedorro agree it casts a heavy sombra.

“Yes,” I say, “Cleveland, late ’70s, aterrador.”

Their eyes light up, chattering “Si ,si, no good, Cleveland, no good!”

You can’t pull a fast one on these guys.

6. Slade Get Your Boots On: The Best Of Slade (Shout Factory, 2004)
For Pedorro, Slade are numero uno, so it doesn’t get any more crucial than that. By the time we roll into “Gudbye T’Jane,” I (almost) always find myself wondering how he came to Slade of all bands. Did he pick up on ’em growing up in Mexico, or from years of rolling through kitchens here in the US? No matter. The next track is “Cum On Feel The Noize,” and while it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, I have to give pause and breathe a sigh of relief. It could be so much worse. You have no idea.

7. ZZ Top
Again, in our exclusivity, we’re talkin’ first album up to Tejas. You won’t find a more honed and well-oiled line anywhere when the ’Top are hummin’ at us. Invariably, this is the soundtrack to, or inspiration for, a Tex-Mex staff meal. Surrounded by meats, spices, bell peppers and onions, you can imagine how effortless it is. When there’s a lull, someone front-of-house will pop out to grab queso y crema. What follows is always a delicious dealer’s choice. When you’re feeding voracious servers and bartenders, the setup area (our’s is tiny) can quickly descend into a Rabelaisian version of the Tres Hombres gatefold. I’ve seen pigs eat with more dignity. But our lot can spiff it up without much haranguing. They say service industry folks have no concept of EST. I can name five who do. And The Hunger Project connection? Merely a coincidence.

8. Brian Turner on WFMU and Jay Hinman’s Dynamite Hemorrhage podcast
These were / are my favorite conduits to keep up with what’s happening in today’s underground music. Turner is truly a freeform disc jockey, par excellence. For a station that brags about how freeform it is, really every show running now fits neatly into little niches of whacky, theme-based or genre specific. Seriously, having Irwin Chusid on board as the resident expert on Weird is like having Bobby “Boris” Pickett as your go-to on Horror. That the station manager would unceremoniously relieve Turner of his tenure has to say something about the corruption of absolute power, right? The program that runs now in Turner’s former slot is okay, but in the grand scheme of things, it makes about as much sense as expecting Bobby Murcer to be the next Mickey Mantle. Thankfully there are two decades worth of BT archives to go back and check out. So thanks for that, WFMU

Hinman’s podcast is usually an hour-long whoosh through (predominately) the contemporaneous landscape of no-fi, post-punk and avant crud. He goes with what he knows, so if you’re looking for an aural scythe to separate the wheat from the chafe, his show can be a hot ticket.

Brian's WFMU archives

Dynamite Hemorrhage

9. Crom The Cocaine Wars 1974-1989 (Pessimiser, 2001)
I think it was Thanksgiving of 2001 when John Whitson brought the CD of this to our annual bacchanalian fęte and it immediately became the hit of the party. I’m hardly a metal guy, but I know the clap of genius thunder when it rings in my ears. To me this a perfect CD release, right up there with Harry Pussy’s Ride A Dove. Sure, both saw vinyl but were conceived with the CD format in mind, so the narrative(s) flow naturally. No flipping! And while the foldout cover art isn’t on topic, feast thine eyes upon it some time and ye shall be rewarded in gleeful mirth. It gives away everything. Ironically, this one hardly raises an eyebrow with Pedorro and Chinito. They’ll talk about how in Mexico, there are way crazier metal bands, so to them, this might as well be yacht rock. But they indulge me. Pedorro loves the Kraftwerk sample (he has the same one as his ringtone). So when it springs up, he’s ready with his phone, playing it back as call-and-response. Again, much hilarity ensues and we toast with chilled shots of you-know-what from a bottle we keep hidden in the you-know-where. We keep talking about a chef’s tasting menu to accompany this, track by track, but the task would be Herculean. That’s why the drawing board exists. Just hope it’s big enough.


10. The Stooges 1970: The Complete Funhouse Sessions (Rhino Handmade / Elektra, 1999)
Like I said somewhere above, we pull everything offa YouTube and as far as I’m concerned, this was the find of the year. I was looking for the original John Cale mix of the debut album when this popped up instead. We were getting pushed, so I let it ride and it’s been in the rotation since. Whoever took the time to make this YouTube mix is a saint. Just pure, unbridled radiance. It explodes like a volcano. By the time it signs off with “Freak” (aka “LA Blues”), even Chinito says, “Is like Popocatépetl. If it blows, goodbye, Mexico City.” As crazy as it may sound to him, even more so than Dub Housing, David Thomas is merely a bebe grande in comparison to Iggy’s howling lobo loco. I gotta say I’m all about the intricacies of Dave Alexander and Steve Mackay, whose respective playing on these versions makes me appreciate the whole of this album like I never did before. Let’s face it — this is way more killer than what got the green light, and even that was pushing the boundaries of its day. People tend to think of these guys as Neanderthals, but if you ever lock into this, you’ll hear a band surging through a free-zoned stratosphere that almost 50 years after the fact is still ahead of the game. Superior Viaduct should invest some of that blood diamond money from their silent backers and release this on vinyl instead of finger-bangin’ the NWW list. Seems like a no-brainer to me. At least he’s not de-valuing all my originals.


Tom Lax has been the curatorial cyclops behind the Siltbreeze imprint for 30+ years. He also cooks at a high-volume corner bar in Philadelphia.
Photo by German Hawaii