Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Never Kissed a Bear, I Never Kissed a Goon, But I Can Shake a Chicken in the Middle of the Room

I remember the first time I heard Wanda Jackson. I was living in Atlanta, delivering food, walking out each night with at least 30-40 bucks in cash on top of my regular paycheck. Most of this cash went with me to Wax n Facts every Wednesday where I would exchange it for stacks of vinyl. One day I found a couple of the Born Bad bootlegs. These were full of songs that the Cramps either covered, were inspired by or borrowed pieces from. Jackson's "Funnel of Love" was the last song on Volume One.

As you could imagine, these comps were full of weird, unhinged music, but Jackson's song was something else. A catchy, tuneful song with a singer who had a voice like a wildcat. I played that song over and over.

Flash forward to 2011. After a particularly bad couple of weeks, I decided to go see her perform to lift my spirits.

Things did not start promisingly. My friend Matthew and I have some of the worst directional skills known to man and were stuck with a non-working GPS. He was navigating directions from my phone, which worked about as well as you would imagine. The concert was in Ponte Vedra, which we later discovered was about 30 minutes away. We took about an hour and a half, full of conversations like this:

"I think we're going in the wrong direction."

"Are you sure?"

"Not really. Hey. Those barricades up there? Does that mean the road is closed?"

This also required a lot of U turns in the dark, as well as turning and merging on to roads where I wasn't quite sure what was road and what was median. I should probably get my eyes checked again.

Jackson was playing at a place that looked like a church from the '80s, and it was full of ...well, it wasn't actually full, and there was a strange group there. A couple rockabilly revivalists, some middle aged parents (wait, I guess I'm middle aged now. Well, older-than-me parents) and some people that looked like they donated to the place so had season tickets.

It is also the only event where I've had an usher tell me, "You know, it's not full, so if you want you can get up closer."

Despite all that, she was amazing. She had a good backing band who had the sense not to get in the way or fill the music up with a bunch of unnecessary fills and showboating. Her voice still has that weird, otherworldly quality, but it's aged a bit. She told stories from the stage about her life, which avoided sounding corny or showbizzy.

And she has a right to be showbizzy - she toured and went out with Elvis. She played some covers, some songs from her new album which sounded great, and played every song I wanted to hear, even "Fujiyama Mama," which was a hit in Japan, even with the lyrics, "I've been to Nagasaki/ Hiroshima too/ The same I did to them, baby I can do to you."

Altogether a great night, and another example of how you should really get out and see the old-timers while you can. And call your grandma this weekend too.

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