Dave Cuomo is one-half of Chicken Little, a husband-wife duo who mixes their old roots (punk rock, Brooklyn streets) with the lifeblood (folk, old-time, harmonies) of their new hometown (Nashville, of course): he once described their sound to me “as Gillian Welch meets the Ramones.” In addition to music, Dave also makes pizza at Bella Nashville — so, genetically speaking (you know, in the way that those of us from NYC regard a pizza disposition as an inherited trait), I was programmed to like him. Luckily, both the music and the food are excellent. Catch Chicken Little at The End on Thursday, and buy their new record, Disaster, here.
Sad Old Bastards, by Dave Cuomo :::
The bar was still mostly empty and our gear was all plugged in and warming up, so I took the opportunity before our set to run through a new song I’d finished that morning. It was called “Old & Tired,” inspired a few weeks before at a pop punk show where I stood cross-armed off to the side while everyone else bounced around me with an energy I couldn’t muster. It was upbeat and melodic, an attempt to mix old sad sap country with the pop punk I grew up on. Being young as far as I knew, the title was supposed to be ironic.
“Hey that’s not bad,” said a man at the bar in a friendly judgmental Nashville sort of way. “You’re young too. Keep working at it you might get pretty good. How old are you?”
“29,” I said.
“Oh man,” he laughed, “I guess you’re not young!” He said it good-naturedly enough. I was confused for a minute, then more confused when what he said sunk in. I didn’t know I wasn’t considered young anymore until that moment. Rock n’ roll years are like dog years though, each one gets counted for several and 30 is a wise (or sad) old man.
I had booked the show for an old friend in town from Ireland, Mick Flannery. We had met years before playing the open mics in New York. Back then, even at 21, he was the quintessential sad old man, his low Irish drawl only adding to the effect. I had a fascination with undiscovered genius at the time, and he was the best songwriter I had come across. His songs were dark & beautiful – as regretful and guilty as you could ever want to raise a drink to. He stayed in NYC for a few months and left still undiscovered. “Did you expect to get famous in three months?” I asked him as he was leaving.
“I guess I did,” he admitted. Then he went home and got himself signed to EMI-Ireland. The most talented musician I knew became the most successful. He’s a pretty big deal over there now. Often being lumped in the folk music category myself, the fact that he’s made such a success of being a sad bastard has been an inspiration. I’m told his last album went to number one on the charts beating out Madonna. Over here though he was at the mercy of whatever I could book for us. He had come to Nashville for a couple of weeks to work on potential publishing deals and needed a gig to show himself off and shoot a video. He’d had a meeting with Garth Brooks’ manager, and supposedly he was coming to the show. I chose Dino’s because it was the only place I knew I could walk in and book a gig for the next week with no questions asked. I was also pretty sure it fit an Irishman’s fantasy of a sketchy Southern bar perfectly – divey & run down, complete with dixie flag flying behind the stage.
Our set felt lack luster that night. Maybe it was because I spent most of it wondering if Garth Brooks’ manager was in the audience, or that I had just found out that I wasn’t young anymore which is a fairly large pill to swallow right before a set.
Mick played great. He’d apologize for the slow misery of his songs after each one, and then proceed to stop the room still with the next. His humility was endearing and sounded sincere, and you wondered if deep down he didn’t know how happy his misery could make people. The room was dead quiet and as his friends filmed, the lighting even managed to look a little magical – no small trick for Dino’s.
After the set I broke down equipment while Mick schmoozed. I saw him shaking hands with an important looking older man in a nice suit. Maybe I got a little jealous standing there wrapping up mic chords instead of shaking hands myself. Was I not supposed to? I like to think I’ve made my choices. I play political folk/punk, a decidedly non-commercial form of music, and what Mick was doing is not what I’ve ever tried or wished for. I know these things, but I also know that the question of whether a non-commercial artist is only so by choice is a question that can eat a person alive if they let it.
Mick told me later the man in the suit actually was Garth Brooks’ manager. Said he loved the set and was glad he’d come, then never contacted him again. He went back to Ireland and sold out shows, and we went back on the road to earnest idealistic crowds in places where being distracted by illusions of important people isn’t a problem or possibility.
Mick is in town again this week, playing on Tuesday at Family Wash at 9pm. Go see him before he leaves, you won’t regret it. My band, Chicken Little, has a new album out and a show at The End on Thursday to celebrate.