Sunday, May 13, 2007

Uncle Tupelo (1995)

The (almost) perfect setting for my introduction to Uncle Tupelo was a rural highway just outside of South Bend, Indiana. I was traveling for work there and driving a rental car while listening to a cassette that Anders had sent me and Scott. On one side was Guided By Voices' indie rock breakthrough, Bee Thousand, which didn't do it for me at the time. However, the flip side was possibly the most unique and awe-inspiring album I have ever heard, the album that inspired the modern alt-country movement, Uncle Tupelo's No Depression.

While I would give Guided By Voices the nickname Blighted By Noises, only years later to come to appreciate them, I had never heard anything like No Depression's blend of country and punk that, recorded in 1990, wasn't the first example of such a combination, but certainly preceeded the trend of hipster punk rockers embracing Johnny Cash and the like. If pressed to name the most important (to me) artist on this list, Neil Young would get the nod, but if I had to pick one album, Uncle Tupelo's debut would be it.

Uncle Tupelo would quickly become the house band at 43 Dove Street. In a March 16-20, 1995 tribute to UT, inspired by the title of their third album, we would feature one of their four studio albums each day. The math didn't quite work out on that one, so I'm not sure what we did on the fifth day...probably nurse our hangovers.

Speaking of hangovers, Scott and I were probably a little too quick to embrace the working class drunkard themes in Uncle Tupelo's songs, particularly those penned by Jay Farrar. I would take this fascination a bit too far when I drowned my sorrows after the breakup of a short-lived relationship by drinking a bottle of Southern Comfort while making the quintessential Uncle Tupelo drinking mix, aptly titled "I Fell Down." The only reason I didn't fall down was the fact that I was sitting and drinking on the floor while compiling the mix.

At the time, I was working the late shift, dispatching for Ryder at Grand Union in Waterford, while still pursuing the professional umpiring dream, so the drinking and recording took place from 3 to 6am. Scott returned home from spending the night at his girlfriend's to the ominous sign of the empty bottle lying on its side on the living room floor. For some strange reason, though I have no problem drinking vodka to this day, Southern Comfort is another story. This is at least in part due to a previous SC incident more than a few years prior in which I hit on Scott's mom, kicked his foot that had just been operated on, and broke the door handle off of Rob's car as he and Beau tried to stuff me into it.

Uncle Tupelo had already split up by the time Scott and I became fans, but this wouldn't be the last we would hear from Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy.

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