Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Roger Miller; Acid Mothers Temple

The Secret Museum

Michael Mooney & Jim Webb

"If I had my life to live over I wouldn’t have time."

Forget Chug-A-Lug, bobbies on bicycles, and maple surple. Despite winning eleven Grammies during one two-year period (1964-66), plus a 1985 Tony Award for Best Musical (Big River), Roger Miller will be remembered, like Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed, as a quirky Pop-Country singer with a penchant for novelty songs. This description isn’t fair to Roger (or to Ray and Jerry, for that matter), because Roger Miller was a brilliant tunesmith and a master of the lyrical device, including literary consonance, blank verse, personification, simile, exposition, onomatopoeia, metaphor, alliteration, and irony. Also, he’s not funny; he just appears to be. For proof, perhaps we should have a look at that maple surple:

Well here I sit high, gettin' ideas
Ain't nothing but a fool would live like this
Out all night and runnin' wild
Woman sittin' home with a month old child

Just settin' around drinkin' with the rest of the guys
Six rounds we bought, and I bought five
Spent the groceries and half the rent
I lack fourteen dollars, havin' twenty seven cents

They say roses are red and violets are purple
Sugar's sweet and so's maple surple
And I'm the seventh out of seven sons
My pappy was a pistol 
I'm a son of a gun

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman would you weep for me?

Not wildly hilarious, is it? And that’s what makes Roger Miller brilliant- appearances are always deceiving. Take this finely honed declaration of resentment:

I hear tell you’re doin’ well,
Good things have come to you.
I wish I had your happiness
And you had a do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do

They tell me you’re runnin’ free,
Your days are never blue.
I wish I had your good-luck charm
And you had a do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do.

Yeah, I see you’re goin’ down the street in your big Cadillac,
You got girls in the front, you got girls in the back,
Yeah, way in back, you got money in a sack,
Both hands on the wheel and your shoulders reared back

I hear tell you’re doin’ well,
Good things have come to you.
I wish I had your happiness
And you had a do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do.

Hardly a novelty song (who hasn’t felt that very same way at one time or another?), Do Wacka Do is as pure an expression of envy as anything by Rock misanthropes like Steely Dan, Micodisney, or Elvis Costello. Delivered as a casual, albeit gigantic, “fuck you”, it sounds, in true Punk Rock style, like it was recorded while he wrote it.

Much has been made of Roger’s predilection for (and colossal consumption of) amphetamines, and their influence on his lyrics. My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died reached #58 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966:

Who’ll bid me quarter, thirty cents for a ring of keys
Three sixty-five for a dollar bill of groceries
I’ll have me a car of my own someday but ’til then I need a ride
My uncle used to love me but she died

Hamburger, cup of coffee, lettuce and tomato
Two times a dime to see a man kiss the alligator
One more time around free on the Ferris wheel ride
My uncle used to love me but she died

Apples are for eatin’ and snakes are for hissin’
I’ve heard about huggin’ and I’ve heard about kissin’
I read about it free in a fifty cent illustrated guide
My uncle used to love me but she died

Well, my uncle used to love but she died
A chicken ain’t chicken ’til he’s lickin’ good fried
Keep on the sunny side
My uncle used to live me but she died

Are these lines merely the confused musings of a Hollywood/ Nashville pill head, or instead a levelheaded meditation on attempting to remain positive in a world fixated on money, power and sex? Miller’s songs are meant to be heard, not read, but the devil’s in the details. “I read about it free in a fifty cent illustrated guide”- this isn’t your run of the mill disposable lyrical pap. Further examples are found in Roger’s best-known hit:

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents.
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes
Ah, but..two hours of pushin' broom
Buys an eight by twelve four-bit room
I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

Third boxcar, midnight train
Destination: Bangor, Maine.
Old worn out suits and shoes,
I don't pay no union dues,
I smoke old stogies I have found
Short, but not too big around

I'm a man of means by no means
King of the road.

I know every engineer on every train
All of their children, and all of their names
And every handout in every town
And every lock that ain't locked
When no one's around.

“…I ain’t got no cigarettes”, “I’m a man of means by no means”, “Third boxcar”, “...short but not too big around “, and “every lock that ain’t locked when no one’s around.” Show me another song that is loaded with such vivid narrative imagery. Okay, I’ll show you two:

Old friends, pitching pennies in the park
Playing croquet 'til it's dark, old friends
Old friends, swapping lies of lives and loves
Pitching popcorn to the doves, old friends

Old friends, looking up to watch a bird
Holding arms to climb a curb, old friends
Old friends, lord when all my work is done
Bless my life and grant me one old friend
At least one old friend


Two broken hearts
Lonely looking like houses where nobody lives
Two people each having so much pride inside
Neither side forgives

The angry words spoken in haste,
Such a waste of two lives,
It's my belief
Pride is the chief cause in the decline
In the number of husbands and wives

A woman and a man, a man and a woman;
Some can and some can't
And some can't.

Finally, Roger lists what you can and cannot do. Words of wisdom:

You can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
You can't take a shower in a parakeet cage
You can't go swimmin' in a baseball pool
You can't change film with a kid on your back
You can't drive around with a tiger in your car
You can't go fishin' in a watermelon patch

But you can be happy if you've a mind to
All you gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down
Do it.

-Michael Mooney

Acid Mothers Temple: 21st Century Schizoid Band

Mike –

Japan’s Acid Mothers Temple is touring the States this April/ May in support of three new releases. Having seen them play in 2004 at the Festival Musique Actuelle in Victoriaville, Quebec, I thought I would try and describe what is about to be unleashed on my fellow Americans.

The group is the brainchild of lead guitarist Kawabata Makoto and was formed in 1995/96 with the purpose of becoming a “soul collective” with the common goal of creating music without boundaries. Numerous releases have followed. Makoto claims that he has personally not created anything, referring to himself as a radio receiver for the cosmos. Japan in 1995 experienced the continued stagnation of their economy. The country reeled from the Aum Shinrikyo Toyko subway sarin gas attacks that killed thirteen people. Creating a mystical, communal, psychedelic rock band during that time was an act of faith by Makoto. The official name of the group at the time was the Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. The band is unabashed lovers of Krautrock, Hard Rock, Prog Rock, and Space Rock. At any time one can detect these influences, as well as a little Frank Zappa and some Japanese musical (Minyo) and cultural (Godzilla) references for good measure. Their CD titles might do a better job of explaining what you are in store for::

Troubadours From Another Heavenly World (1997)
Pataphysical Freak Out (2000)
Electric Heavyland (2002)
Minstrel in the Galaxy (2004)
The Day Before the Sky Fell (2006)
The Soul of a Mountain Wolf (2007)

Another release, Starless and Bible Black Sabbath, has a gloriously heavy bass line that churns throughout the 39-minute opening track. They’ve also recorded a version of Terry Riley’s minimalist classic In C.

Personnel changes have been constant factor throughout Acid Mothers Temple’s history. Cotton Casino is credited on early releases as contributing beer, cigarettes and vocals; she has since departed for a solo career. As the band changed, so did its name. Acid Mother Gong was a brief incarnation with Daevid Allen, and they once toured as Acid Gurus Temple with Mani Neumeier of Krautrock legends Guru Guru. Other names have been used, the most recent line up operating as Acid Mothers Temple & the Cosmic Inferno.

At Victoriaville, mellow washes of ambient guitar prefaced furious squalls of pure molten riffage, morphing into an impenetrable heavy wall of sound. In 2009, concert goers may get a Hawkwind-at-the-Roundhouse-1970 style Space Rock extravaganza, but when the music begins to sound like you are descending a deep tunnel on the Express Train to Gehenna, that’s not one too many Michelobs; you’ve just been caught in Sorcerer Makoto’s web of sound.

If you decide you want to go all in and purchase the entire Acid Mothers Temple catalogue, there are around fifty CDs to acquire (that’s BEFORE you get to Makoto’s 25+ solo/side projects.). Granted, long guitar jam/trance freak-outs are not for everyone. But if you want to indulge in the occasional psychedelic Japanese sea chantey or recreate the psilocybin experience without the mushrooms, this is your band. You can see them rampaging around the U.S. in April and May, but if you go, take my advice and be prepared for anything. Kawabata & band can pull you out of your comfort zone within the first eight bars of music, and on a great night will escort you to the other side of the sky.
-Jim Webb


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your comments about Roger Miller's lyrics, and I think you're right on the money in so many ways. I was listening recently to a song called "I'm a Nut" by country artist Leroy Pullins (the song crossed over to the lower-half of the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the summer of 1966). In short, it's a poor Roger Miller ripoff. While he nails Miller's vocal style, the inane lyrics make it painfully obvious that Pullins is no Roger Miller, and it reminded me of just how brilliant a lyricist Miller was. Great post.

Michael Mooney said...

I'm actually familiar with that song. In fact, it appears on a South American collection I own entitled "Roger Miller: Super Hits!" I visited YouTube to give Leroy Pullins' version a listen, and it's identical. Mr. Pullins is a very convincing imposter. And while I never did like that song, I think the general rule of thumb regarding insanity applies here: if someone says they're crazy, they're not. Roger Miller would never make such a statement. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. By the way, the "Super Hits" I own contains 30 tracks. The other 29 appear to be sung by the real Roger.

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