Kicking Against the Pricks with Kaspar Hauser

Some month ago, our GB editors allowed a pair of aspiring contributors to participate in a CD-review session for our Transmission page on a trial basis. The experiment was -- in our opinions -- not entirely successful and barely suitable for print. But in recent weeks, one of the involved parties came knocking on our door again, petitioning to join the Transmission team as a contributor with the claim that he'd "redeemed" himself. Being gracious sorts, we decided to give him another chance; this time putting the prospective reviewer (PR) under the supervision of one of our Transmission staff members (TS). What follows is a transcript of the resulting listening-party session.

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PR: ...And so that's why they call it a "whoop tube."

TS: Fascinating. At any rate, we've got to get to the matter at hand. We're supposed to review this new CD by a local artist. It's called The Sons, by the local artist Kaspar Hauser.

PR: Ah. I remember hearing an album by him about a year or so ago. And I heard him and his band playing on my local radio station about that time, as well. I recall liking it pretty alright. Reminded me somewhat of Big Star.

TS: You mean that Southern band...the one from the '70s?

PR: The same. The one what had that Chilton fella from Memphis in it.

TS: Alex Chilton, tsk. I heard he almost got washed away by the floods after Katrina. That he went missing for a while...?

PR: Icing on the cake, that. That poor hombre ain't exactly had the easiest time of it over the years. At least now I hope he's gotten some steady royalties off the theme from That '70s Show.

TS: Well, then. Shall we? [Puts CD on.]

PR: Hey, now. Nice buzzy, low-chorded riff to kick things off with.

TS: This is putting me more in mind of That '80s Show. I'm having major deja-vu to the college-rock heyday of the later Reagan years; when everyone had their ear turned toward Athens, GA, and all its kudzu-covered Velvets revivalist fare.

PR: Perhaps. But I'm still kinda hearing Big Star. Except the guitars are much more rhythmic and centered -- more for moving hips than waving arms, if you know what I mean.

TS: Yeah. Pretty danceable, this.

PR: Don't mind if I do. I really like how this one churns, and it throws some spot-on punches at just the right moments. Kinda exciting, really. [Next song begins.] And oh lordy, now I'm having a flashback of my own.

TS: What of?

PR: From way back and down yonder. Sitting out on the porch on a Spring evening, overhearing my neighbors rockin' out to 38 Special.

TS: Is that making you nostalgic -- or making you wince?

PR: Neither nor, really. Just sayin'.

TS: I'm reminded more of Neil Young.

PR: Yep. That same kinda sound of openness, where the guitars sound like they're clangoring out over some rolling expanse, ever so slightly in an ominous kind of knoll. But I can't say for that for certain, 'cos -- y'know -- "a southern man don't need Mister Young around anyhow." Haha.


PR: I honestly don't have a strong opinion about him one way or the other. But I do know that his albums weren't exactly popular down where I come from. So I never really heard a whole lot of him. Which, I guess, in some people's opinion means that I don't know dick about music. But whatever. Oh, and what's this?

TS: This one's called "MacBeth II."

PR: A clever and sardonic literary reference, huh? But what I wanna know is how could there be a Macbeth II? [Listens.] Best I can tell, it has something to do with living long enough -- or just making it to the next morning, and arriving there with some dawning sense of clear-headedness about what you did the previous night, the stuff you did for the sake of ambition or desire or sexual conquest or whatever, and realizing how your own selfish actions caused so much damage to those around you. Or something like that.

TS: Does every story have to have a moral like that?

PR: Not necessarily. But if it doesn't, it better at least have a couple of good laughs in it. Some kinda point, y'know. If it doesn't, it really is "a tale told by an idiot." But the sequel business makes even less sense to me now, because it sounds like this Kaspar Hauser's apologizing to a woman. But Macbeth didn't do everything all by himself. He had a crazy woman -- and a coven of witches! -- goading him on. Aiding and abetting, if you will. But I can't remember Macbeth all that well ... It's been a while. What I do know is that this song's got some major pop hooks behind it. Mainly with the chord changes and the backbeat.

TS: Like how?

PR: [Claps and sings along.] "Oh yeah, I-I-I / Will tell you something / I think you'll understaaaaannd...". Y'see? Like that. Simple, but very crowd-pleasing stuff.

TS: Whatever you say -- just please don't do that again. Ah. Slower number, here. This is "Frontier."

PR: Yeah, the harmonica hints at something kinda languid and bluesy, but the beat takes it elsewhere. A roadhouse grind that tells you to grab your companion by her beltloops, pull her close and get to some hips-on-hips shuffling. The chorus bungles the beat a bit, but wait, the good part's back quickly enough. And this geetar soloing part is deeply sweet, the way everything settles cozily into the comfier contours of the tune.

TS: And he just inserted a wholesale lift from "House Of The Rising Sun."

PR: So that's where all those references to New Orleans were heading? Huh. "The ruin of many a poor boy, and many a poor girl." Yeah, that and Girls Gone Wild, I guess. Maybe that quote was meant as an homage, but it's an antiquated cliché. And there's a slight whiff of pernicious nonsense to it.

TS: You don't like anyone ragging on New Orleans, I gather.

PR: You don't wanna to get me started on that, trust me.

TS: Maybe this record'd sound better if we had a porch where we could go out and listen to it on a jambox.

PR: Watch it with the sarcasm, son. Hey, is this Kaspar Hauser a band or a person?

TS: I think it's a band, but more like a person. It seems it's primarily the work of a local singer/songwriter named Thomas Comerford. Originally it was the name of a case of a feral man-child in Germany who long ago was...

PR: ...Kept alone in a basement until early adulthood and then suddenly dumped into civilization. Yes yes, I'm familiar. "Every man for himself and God against all" -- I believe that's how that movie went. It's all too fitting, in a way.

TS: In what way?

PR: Oh, you know -- the whole the outsider savant thing. That whole romantic myth of heroic loner-hood that often provides the subject matter or narrative perspective for such stuff. Running outside the pack, sizing everything up from the margins. I mean, look at the titles we have here. "Not Of This World." "Mark Of Cain." "Frontier." "Prodigal Son." I think we have a recurring theme, here. Life on the edge, on the periphery. Bring me your outcasts, your abject, your wayward, your lost. Not so much the grist as the mill of so much rawk-rowl mythology. You want a refill?

TS: Wait a that a new bottle of scotch? What happened to the other one. You drink it already?

PR: Well it ain't like I didn't have any help in the matter, now is it? Here... [Pours.]

TS: The steel guitar on this one is quite nice.

PR: True. Another slower tune, but it seems to get at the heart of a lot of what this record is getting at, mood-wise. A feeling of deferred yearning and wondering, of sneaking high-and-lonesomeness. Of being up there in your apartment at 3 AM. You've got your lights and your stereo on, but the streets outside have all emptied out. You're up there alone, and the darkness outside is trying to bleed the light from your room. Your thoughts are hovering on the edge of the shadows in the corners of the room. You're not so much concerned with what anyone else might be doing at that hour, but almost thinking -- or wondering, morelike -- just what it is that you're doing. With your life, I mean. Like how long the inertia can sustain itself before it gives way to something else. Whether it's gonna get lonely, more adrift, maybe get to be something less tolerable if not outright bad -- even though it's pretty alright for now. But what are you gonna do when of if things go sour? And what's gonna happen if the smiling familiar faces that bring you so much joy and comfort every now and again were no longer there? When they drift out of reach or are taken away, where you gonna be then? What's gonna keep the night from swimming through your window and taking over? But that ain't happening just yet, so you turn the music up to drown out that part of your mind. And you saw some of those faces and cherished friends a few hours ago or maybe you're gonna see them tomorrow night, and that's all what matters for now. And, for the time being, the music and a few pulls off the bottle and that 60-watt bulb that's lighting the room is enough to keep the night at bay.

TS: [Flummoxed.] You're getting all of that from the lyrics?

PR: Nah. Well, sort of. But mostly from the sound of it, the tone or spirit of it. And from what lurks between the lines. It doesn't so much wear all that stuff on its sleeve, but you can tell by the way it walks that it's carrying it around in its pocket -- if you know what I mean. It has that sense of knowing how life can be. But hey now -- we're back into a way more uptempo, rockin' groove on the next song.

TS: Something about chasing some annoying "baby vampire" out of town. Sounds like that baby vampire can't hack life in the city. "This town will eat you alive..."

PR: You'll never suck neck in this town again, punk! [Bobs head.]

TS: You like this one?

PR: It ain't bad. It's got some nice shuffle and scoot to it. Once again, it makes me wanna dance. But if you're dealing with a vampire, you gotta sound like you mean business. It could use a little more brawn behind it.

TS: What...not 38 Special enough for you?

PR: [Sighs, glares at the ceiling.] Tell me -- should I just go ahead and kick your ass now, or should I wait until the record's over?

TS: I don't think that's...

PR: On the contrary, I believe it most definitely is.

[Sounds of scuffling, cursing, glass breaking. Session ends abruptly.]

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Kaspar Hauser plays at Beat Kitchen this Friday evening, February 20, and serves as the official record-release party for The Sons. Headlining for the evening is Jon Langford's Skull Orchard. The Judy Green opens. 2100 West Belmont. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Doors open at 9 PM. Reportedly, attendees will receive a copy of the The Sons with admission.

The Sons is available via Spacesuit Records, or can be obtained via the artist's website.

[audio]: Kaspar Hauser - "MacBeth II (In The Morning)"

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