Saturday, June 09, 2007

Richard Buckner (1997)

The inclusion of Richard Buckner completes a trifecta of sorts. I've previously discussed Anders' recommendation of Joe Henry and Jud's of Steve Earle in 1996. Well, it wasn't until the following year, but John Parker gets the credit for Richard Buckner. It was during a Varnaline tour, while joining the band for dinner at the Middle East prior to a show that the subject came up. Buckner was scheduled to play TT the Bear's the following week, and John recommended highly that Len and I go see him. He also said to say hello from the guys in Varnaline, but we didn't. In fact, years later, and after all the tours Anders has done with him, and all the times I've seen Buckner live subsequently, I've never talked to him. He actually seems approachable, unlike Jay Farrar, but it must be his somewhat imposing size, lerch-like look and his unconfirmed reputation as one of the toughest guys in indie rock that's intimidated me a bit.

This, of course, reminds me of a discussion Len and I would sometimes have on the subject of meeting musicians whom we were fans of. Having fairly obscure taste, the fact that we were able to see some of our favorites at such small venues was an advantage that was not lost on us. Being huge fans of Uncle Tupelo, and later Son Volt, the main focus of this conversation was Jay Farrar, as Anders toured with him several times. I'm sure Jay is a decent guy, but given his reputation as a reserved and private person, we basically decided we didn't really care whether or not we ever met him. There certainly were opportunities. At one show at the Paradise, we were hanging out backstage with Anders after his set, while Jay and Mark Spencer were on stage. Near the end of the show, we opted to rejoin the audience to watch them perform their last few songs rather than remain backstage and possibly get to meet Jay.

Being a Neil Young fanatic, the question often crossed my mind as to what I would say to him if I ever had the chance. I really love "Cortez the Killer", man? The bottom line is, I have no idea what I'd say, and I'm basically happy that I'm not one of "those fans". My only real brushes with greatness have been baseball players. In the spring of 1993, during the year that I lived in Fort Myers, FL, I was at a restaurant with a few co-workers and spotted Dave Winfield dining alone. It was his first year with the Twins, who trained in Fort Myers. I mustered up the nerve to approach him and, although it was a brief and satisfying exchange in which he referred to George Steinbrenner as "The Fat Man", I've since decided that there are times that these people should be left alone.

A couple years ago, I was eating at a Thai restaurant in the Back Bay on a Sunday night, with some friends who knew nothing about baseball. Just as we were getting ready to leave, I realized that Mariano Rivera was dining, with Felix Rodriguez, at a table behind us. I'll admit that I became pretty starstruck at that moment, so I headed to the bathroom to figure out what I was going to do. On my way out, I stopped at his table briefly and wished them luck in their upcoming series with the Red Sox. Rivera, in a very softspoken and polite tone, said, "thank you", and that was it. I was pretty giddy about the whole thing and immediately called Jud to tell him what had just happened.

Oh yeah...Richard Buckner. I went to that TT's show per John's recommendation and immediately bought Devotion & Doubt, which would eventually make that year's top ten. One year later, the magnificent Since would be my album of 1998, and 2000's The Hill completed a three album run of top ten honorees, second only to Steve Earle's streak of four consecutive top ten records. None of these, however, are as good as 1994's Bloomed, which was reissued in the late 90's and remains my favorite Buckner album.

Though the three albums that Buckner has released since have failed to chart as high, he remains one of the most consistent and enduring artists from my alt-country period. While I have been generally unenthusiastic about the recent output of some of my favorites from that period, the aforementioned Earle included, Buckner consistently writes and makes music that, while it never strays far from his standard formula, rarely manages to disappoint.

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