Saturday, September 4, 2010


Blurt Magazine ( the online version of what was once Harp magazine) has a piece by Fred Mills (who I remember from our shared Tucson days, though I imagine he remembers me not at all) on one of my all-time favorite records- The Dream Syndicate's Medicine Show. Follow the link, go and read. A few things to add, though- First Steve Wynn is not just a huge musical hero to me, he's also one of the most subtle, literate songwriters in any Pop idiom. I taught high School English, very briefly, and when I did, Steve's were the only lyrics I used in the classroom. Not Dylan, not Springsteen- Wynn, because his were better for showing characterization, metaphor and allusion. He writes songs like other people write short stories. Sure, Dylan writes poetry, and Springsteen has some great images, but take this verse from The Medicine Show's "Merrittville"
Matthew with the pug nose/
Caught me with his sister in the wheatfield/
Got a couple buddies/
Tied me up and threw me in his Oldsmobile/
I said "Matthew are you crazy?"/
As he started closing in for the kill/
Matthew slowed the Olds to 10/
Left me here to die in Merrittville/

The whole story is right there- it's like a James Ellroy book in a few lines.
Second, that music- it's panoramic rock with country, psychedelic, blues and Jazz touches. There are bits that get echoed in bands as diverse as Wilco and Isis. The music is still completely current. I would listen to it again, in a heartbeat, over against the Arcade Fire or whatever hype of the moment is going down. It's some of the finest music you can hear- deep and dark, and rootsy and cutting edge. Many of the songs sound like a bar band made up of slumming jazz and blues artists, trying to kick heroin while they play garage rock. Tell me that's a sound you'll hear often!
Third, and finally- in terms of Biography- in 1984, I was still completely, fully about hardcore Punk rock, and "death Rock". I only saw the Dream Syndicate by mistake, one night, when they were playing after the first, very- Velvet Underground inspred record was out. So, I thought they were a slightly goth noise band- like Non playing Chris D songs. So, I was blind-sided completely by the record. It's amazing that a kid like me would like it- it's got very little to compare with either the Circle Jerks or Christian Death, which is where my head was at. Imagine, for a modern comparison, some kid who's a huge Slipknot fan putting on a Sparklehorse CD. It opened me up, such that I could get into huge new amounts of music- I would never have given at least half of my favorite music a chance if it weren't for The Medicine Show. So, maybe it'll do something similar for you.


  1. I saw them too. Like you, it was right after "The Days of Wine and Roses" came out (1983 maybe?). We had been listening to that record a lot especially the song Halloween. They played in a hole in the wall in Madison called Rick's Havana Club, a place that didn't really ever have shows. When Karl Precoda, the crazy Hendrix-inpsired guitarist came on wearing a Iron Maiden t-shirt, it kinda blew our minds. How could someone in a cool underground/alternative band be into metal too? It made me reassess how I thought about and categorized music. The show was incredible too. I didn't get into The Medicine Show nearly as much, but man... Days was an amazing record.

  2. Here's my argument for The Medicine Show- Days of Wine and Roses is a really great record. Probably Steve Wynn's most successful project, unless we count his current Baseball project. He went from that, which wears all the psychosis in the guitars, to a much more roots-rock place- but all the psychosis is directed inwards- like real killers and criminals. Daddy's Girl, for example, sounds, at first, like the Long Ryders- but this isn't a beer commercial- it's about incest. Sure enough, as the song goes on, the guitars get more twisted, and the vocals get more ugly. It's like a parody of the happy Bar- rock that all the new Americana bands were playing, at the time- everyone from the Aforementioned Long Ryders, to the Blasters, to Lone Justice- everyone was in love with the cult of how cool blue collar folks are- like a bunch of Steinbecks. Meanwhile, The Medicine show is like a Thompson (hunter or Jim, take your pick) in that it's presenting both a more naturalistic portrait, and a more twisted view. It was like shooting up Cougar's little pink Houses.
    But, of course, everyone has their favorites. I think there's a real value to listening to "When you Smile", but there's also a real value to "The Medicine Show"....