Monday, March 15, 2010

Jerry Cantrell Gets an Emergency Steak Knife Tracheotomy: Final Chapter, Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan

I went to high school with Alice in Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell (he graduated one year ahead of me). We sang in choir together, and spent a lot of time talking music: He was one of the few headbangers during that halcyon time (ahem, the early eighties) that didn't grimace when you mentioned The Clash or The Sex Pistols.

We even partied together some: One of the most surreal things I ever saw after an all-night party was Jerry in the front yard of Kevin Yeagher's parents' house as the sun rose, sitting hunched over like some zen gargoyle. Beads of morning dew peppered his serenely sleeping-sitting-up form like spiders' eggs as steam rose from the grass. It was a strange and humorous vision that always stuck with me, and we had a good laugh about it the following week in choir class.

The last time we bumped into one another was at the taping of MTV's New Years' Show somewhere around 1993. Cypress Hill, The Breeders, and Nirvana headlined; Jerry was a VIP guest, natch; and I was a Production Assistant. We hadn't seen each other in about seven years, and I was sporting regulation shoulder-length grunge hair and thirty additional post-collegiate pounds. But he recognized me and called me over to introduce me to (I think) Alice bandmate Mike Inez and chat for a few minutes. Even in the flush of fame (this was right after Dirt had made the guy a star, for Chrissake) he was still the same laid-back, unpretentious, friendly guy he was in high school. Word has it that he's still that way, too.

All of this is apropos of nothing, except as a segue into this silly cartoon. Click images to enlarge.

Incidentally, thanks to the Internets (and my own dumb luck and detective work), I'm now reconnected with Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan Grunge-era Greek Chorus Dan Troy after eleven years. He's living happily in Davis, CA with a wife and two scrappy grade-school-age sons. This strip--and a bottle of Snapple--are lovingly dedicated to you, mi amigo.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan #3: A Blow to the Happy Sacks Sparks the Seattle Scene

The third installment of The Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan (see parts one and two to catch up) showcases Lanegan's um, lateral, contribution to the Northwest Music Scene via a misapplied Ninja kick. Click on image to enlarge.

In case the joke's not immediately apparent, one of the songs on Nirvana's multi-megaton smash Nevermind was a track called "Stay Away," hence the speculative fiction on its genesis. (The actual origin of the song is a bit less, um, impactful).

OK, after eighteen years the below panel still makes me snicker. Go figure.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan, Part 2: Lanegan Rescues Calvin Johnson from a Bear

In the second volume of Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan (circa 1993), the Singing Tree saves the head of K Records (Beat Happening/Dub Narcotic Sound System Singer/songwriter Calvin Johnson) from the clutches of a pissed-off bear. Johnson was/is a great songwriter and important figure in Indie Rock (Beck released an early album on K Records, and the whole Olympia music scene that Johnson helped create influenced the DIY and Riot Grrl scenes immensely). Johnson was also the vocal equivalent of Eeyore on some of those Beat Happening records.

One of the highlights of my early music geekdom was attending a K Records Barbecue with my buddy Brad circa 1988, and getting into a humorous drunken discourse with Calvin Johnson on whether or not Isaac Hayes ever recorded a version of the theme from Shaft on which Hayes sang the F word instead of implying it with, "He's a Bad Mother--Shut your mouth." (Calvin insisted that Black Moses did sing the unexpurgated word on a recorded version of the Shaft theme at least once; I vigorously dissented). Johnson also had a singing voice that sorta sounded like a cooler version of Eeyore's deadpan monotone, a detail that merited lampooning.

 Again, click the image for a detailed zoom.

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Tales of Brave Mark Lanegan Part 1

 I spent one night not too long ago, scanning various print articles from my chequered past in that eternal, Quixotic quest to drum up some paid scribbling gigs. There, buried amongst features about everything from operatic sopranos to Mexican masked wrestlers, resided an entertainingly silly piece of my misspent youth. And this being a blog, I thought I'd share. This is a bit of a long set-up, but it's kinda in order.

I was 24 years old, toiling away at a couple of telemarketing jobs circa 1992. One of these gigs was for an 'Employment Services' group known as Progressive Media. They specialized in selling Employment Guidebooks for everything from working on fishing boats in Alaska to teaching English as a Second Language in Japan. We received only inbound calls, so frequently I and my fellow bored twenty-somethings--music geeks all--wasted time doing strange things. Like (if you were me, at least) drawing cartoons of famous grunge singers.

The Screaming Trees were one of the finest bands to come out of the era; more a loud, heavy psychedelic band than strict grunge. Their lead singer Mark Lanegan's smoky rasp of a voice gave their brand of rock a sunburnt garage tinge. Lanegan also had a reputation as a guy who wasn't averse to a drink, or two...Or more.

My best buddy at the time was a New York ex-pat named Dan Troy. Dan, like me, was a hardcore music nerd, and he was good buddies with the head of an indie record label. Said label head knew much dirt and many silly stories about a lot of the era's rock luminaries, and he related a pretty funny story about Lanegan to Dan.

The Screaming Trees singer was in a bar, imbibing and watching a Portland Trail Blazers game. He waxed enthusiastic about the playing of Blazers' star Danny Ainge, and a fellow barfly good-naturedly chimed in with a genial reply of, "Yep, Danny Ainge: He's my boy." An inebriated Lanegan reputedly took the innocent remark wrong--VERY wrong--and the rest, as they say, is history. Or at least the stuff of goofy grunge-era comic strips.

Dan Troy's dry sense of humor and lanky, amiable mien made him the perfect Greek chorus for my tangents, so he became my surrogate Crypt Keeper. And I turned Mark Lanegan, serious musician and artist, into a mountain-climbing, emergency-surgery-performing, happy-sack kicking comic figure. I was just being silly, but the few people who saw these got a chortle or two out of them. The first Sub-Pop retail store (not the online one, sadly) allegedly had this first Tale of Brave Mark Lanegan proudly tacked to their wall, and Dan told me at one point that Portland band Pond liked 'em so much that they wanted me to illustrate a T-shirt for them.

(hey, Pond guys, I'm still around and I work cheap).

Looking at these with a jaundiced grown-up's eye, they're incredibly innocent and naive. It was before Kurt Cobain took his own life--and before drugs, bickering, and rock-star excess caused the Seattle Scene to become just another bit of rock history. I saw some great bands, collected some silly stories of my own, and learned a little about the music industry (and myself), too.

This first strip (The Danny Ainge Story) is based on ostensible fact (or at least semi-reliable hearsay). The other three that I'm gonna post are pure fiction. Hope you get a kick out of them. Click the image to see the complexities and subtleties of my finely-honed illustrative skills.