Saturday, October 2, 2010

October 2: The Rugburns, "Dick's Automotive"

Artist: The Rugburns
Song: "Dick's Automotive"
Album: Mommy, I'm Sorry EP
Year: 1995

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Though they come from different eras and different genres, at some level, nearly every song ever written has some sort of common bond between them.  Whether it is within the lyrical structure to the musical arrangement, there is always some aspect that shows the writers' influences as nearly every song in some way can be connected back to blues or jazz.  Then of course, there is the extremely rare occurrence where a song is so unique, so inexplicable, that by simply existing, it defies all normal musical standards.  Songs of this nature represent one of the most rare musical occurrences, and the fact of the matter is, most of these songs end up living under the radar, being experienced and enjoyed by only "those in the know."  While most bands don't even come close to having a single song of this style, there is one band that was able to release a handful of songs that were so brilliantly odd, that is is largely what defined their sound.  Representing the largely overlooked musical hotspot of San Diego, California, few bands have showed as much musical creativity and controlled madness as one finds within the music of The Rugburns.  Though they found moderate success with one of their later singles, it is within their first widely-released EP that one can find the true genius of this band.  In its length, musical arrangement, and lyrics, there has simply never been another song that quite compares to The Rugburns' 1995 song, "Dick's Automotive."

As the song begins, "Dick's Automotive" sounds as if it is some strange hybrid between blues, folk, and heavy metal, and yet it fits into none of these categories very well, as the arrangement jumps all over as the song progresses.  Both Steve Poltz and "Dr." Robert Driscoll tear across the song, bringing a distorted tone that is far to aggressive for folk, and yet is not quite rock or metal.  The guitar progression follows a loose blues pattern, and yet there is a far more powerful tone and it seems to jump off into controlled chaos whenever the verses are completed.  This sound is further enforced by the bass of Gregory Page, as he almost brings a punk feel to "Dick's Automotive" with the speedy, winding bassline he deploys.  Rounding out the band is drummer Jeff "Stinky" Aafedt, and it is within his performance that the true madness of the song lives.  Though he brings a consistent cadence to the verses, he kicks the energy and mood of the song into high gear during the bridge and chorus sections, making the nearly nine-minute runtime seem far less.  It is The Rugburns ability to cross through so many genres and yet never fit into any of them that makes their music so wonderfully unique, as they level of musicianship is exceptional, and yet they are able to keep their influences largely hidden.  The manner with which they are able to blend together folk, blues, heavy metal, and so many other styles is what makes "Dick's Automotive" such an unforgettable musical experience.

However, while the musical arrangement is exceptional, one cannot say enough about the brilliantly odd voice and lyrics deployed by Steve Poltz.  Over the past two decades, Poltz has proven himself to be one of the finest lyricists of his generation, showing time and time again how to perfectly balance his odd sense of humor with deep meaning and impact.  Rarely using any type of vocal distortion, it is his raw and honest voice that is one of the most intriguing aspects of The Rugburns, and it is also within his singing that the stronger link to folk music is forged.  However, on "Dick's Automotive," there is simply nothing that can compare to the absolutely insane lyrics that he sings.  Not even remotely close to anything else ever written, there is truly no term that can accurately represent the stunning madness that is contained in this hyper-tale.  Based around the tale of "John" and his girlfriend, "Julie," the song sings of love, deception, and a barrage of oddities ranging from afghans to cans of peaches to Charles Bronson.  Somehow, this all makes sense throughout this modern spin on the folk tale, and though the lyrics are disturbing in many ways, they come off as far more hysterical than anything else.  From the unforgettable chorus to mind-bending lines like, "...David Koresh was selling barbecued ribs on the side...," the lyrics and the way in which they are deployed makes "Dick's Automotive" a song that must be experienced first-hand to be properly understood and appreciated.

Not quite "indie" rock, not quite folk, and not quite punk, there is simply no label that is accurate when one attempts to describe the musical assault that is The Rubgurns.  Over their handful of albums and EP's, the group showed a musical expertise and uniqueness that cannot be found in any other and from any other era.  Never compromising their distinctive take on music, the group perfectly balances wild musical arrangements and logic-defying lyrics with an exceptional level of musicianship and the honest, unaltered singing of Steve Poltz.  While each of their songs has it's own special style and sound, it is their nearly nine-minute twisted tale, "Dick's Automotive," that displays all of the bands' talent, as well as shows just how unique they are in every sense of the word.  The way in which the band takes the folk-based approach of telling a story through music and one can see their performance as an early example of the transition of what was called "cowpunk" into the more modern idea of "folk-punk."  It is both within the sound of the music as well as the attitude behind the song that the band connects with the punk sound, and the fact that there are also elements of blues and heavy metal is what makes their music defy accurate description.  Due to this inability to categorize their sound, combined with the superb musical and vocal performance, The Rugburns' 1995 song, "Dick's Automotive" is without question deserving of the title of "genius," and is an absolutely essential listen for music fans of any age and any musical persuasion.

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