Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Varnaline (1995)

The first time I saw Anders play, circa 1988, he was on the drum kit as part of one of the many lineups who backed up Beau's band on the Arlington High School party circuit. Or, maybe it was at Senior Follies in a band that included him and Sean Thompson, with neither of them as lead vocalist. That band also included Anders' younger brother, and eventual Varnaline member, John on bass, but the singing duties were left to none other than Mark Lublin.

It wasn't until years later, and the previously mentioned mixed tape that Anders sent Scott, which included "Return of the Grevious Angel", that I was introduced to Anders' songwriting talents. On that tape, one side consisted of songs by other artists, but the other side was devoted to a mix of Anders' originals, with various other collaborators making appearances on a few tracks.

Scott and I were both in agreement, and probably still are to this day, that "Slow Breathing" was one of the best songs we had ever heard. I'm not sure exactly why, but we likened it to Neil Young's "Look Out For My Love", which became one of Scott's favorite Neil songs after I mistakenly put it on a mix I made for him. [I meant to include "Comes a Time", but decided to go with it even after recognizing the error.] There were several other quality Anders tunes on that tape, but "Slow Breathing" was the only one that would turn up on a later recording, Varnaline predecessor The Ballad of...Lowboy, though Scott and I were not as enamored with this version.

Varnaline's debut, Man of Sin, was first released by the now defunct Zero Hour Records (who still owe Scott money for his brief gig as Varnaline roadie) in 1995. AllMusic calls 1996 the release date, but what do they know? They also refer to Varnaline as the alter superego of Anders Parker...whatever the hell that means. Jud, who would become Varnaline's drummer after the debut, was instrumental in helping Anders get signed to the label that his band, Space Needle, was presently recording for. Unfortunately, Jud's efforts to get The Doids a deal fell short.

"Thorns & Such" was clearly this album's "Slow Breathing", although I would express my affinity for "Want You" by including it on an ill-fated mix that I would make for a woman who will remain nameless. Later, I would consider sending her a mix of just two songs...Uncle Tupelo's "Cold Shoulder" and England Dan & John Ford Coley's "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight", although the Flying Burrito Brothers' "Christine's Tune (Devil in Disguise)" would've been more fitting. File that one under mixes never sent.

Of course, Len, Scott and I would see Varnaline live numerous times, but I have to say that, when the trio was in full force (Anders, John, Jud), these were among the most enjoyable shows I've seen. Obviously, the music was a big part of this, including a stirring rendition of "Cortez the Killer" at the Met Cafe in Providence in 1997, but the hanging out before and after shows was as well. It was during this time that Jud and I would discover our common fanaticism for baseball in general, and the Yankees in particular, and forge a friendship that has witnessed two near-perfect games together. Come to think of it, it must be Jud's fault that neither of these came to first flirtation with a no-hitter was a successful one, Dave Righetti's July 4, 1983 gem, attended with Rob and his dad. I also recorded the final putout of Mike Ferrari's no-hitter for Edison Motor Inn in 1982, so it can't be me who's the jinx.

The Varnaline era is now over. Anders has continued as a solo artist, John is hiding out somewhere in the lower Catskills, and, unbeknownst to Magnet Magazine, Jud is a high school math teacher in Brooklyn. I'm sure there will be reunions though, and hopefully not just at dive bars outside of Poughkeepsie where Scott Tyner and Tony Fusari can be seen doing their Jim Morrison impersonations. I'll be patient though.

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