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SXSW 2013 Guest Blog: Churchwood Make Like Salmon, Hang With a Mekon at the ‘Gigantic F—’

Churchwood Ginger Man SXSW
Mary Cat Doerr

[Editor's Note: We here at Diffuser.fm know our limitations, and given the sprawling nature of SXSW, we thought our best shot of providing interesting coverage might involve guest blogs from artists. We were certainly right in the case of Churchwood, the Dadaesque Austin blues-rock outfit whose wonky version of roots music has earned them comparisons to Captain Beefheart and Nick Cave. In this installment, frontman, college professor and poet Joe Doerr likens SXSW attendees to salmon and chills with the Waco Brothers on the rooftop of a bar. Enjoy!]

“History is written by the winner, this is a loser’s song…” — from “Walking On Hell’s Roof Looking at the Flowers” by Jon Langford

So Charles Berlitz has this theory, and it goes something like this: The reason European salmon swim out of their fresh-water rivers to spawn in the middle of the Sargasso Sea — which is itself located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles from land — is that like all salmon, members of the European variety swim to the place of their birth to start the whole cycle all over again. Berlitz goes on to suggest that the Sargasso Sea may once have been the site of an eighth continent; one that he believes is the ill-fated land mass that Plato called Atlantis. Berlitz suggests that thousands of years ago, this now lost continent was the original birthplace of the species known as European Salmon, but that it has since gone the way of the coelacanth.

So the image I want to put you in mind of is one that centers on millions of salmon, driven by intrinsic memory, swimming in vast concentric circles around a place that no longer exists anywhere but in their simple, fishy minds and participating in what Dylan Thomas once called “the gigantic f—” before passing the torch to a new generation of salmon carrying the same genetic curse. In the end, they all go belly-up — literally — in deep water and become nothing more than food for thought (or threadfin shad).

If you haven’t already guessed where I’m going with this, here’s the spoiler: SXSW is a lot like that piscine pilgrimage. Everyone who participates in any capacity seems to be in search of something that really doesn’t exist outside of the imagination. Yes, there may be something less imaginary and more tangible to be had in honest-to-goodness memory, but ultimately, we’re all chasing ghosts by returning to the scene of the crime (or “gigantic f—” as the case may be).

My crime scene last night was the Ginger Man and involved the Blurt Magazine Day Party billed as “Jon Langford’s perfect day of hand crafted Rock and Roll Perfection!” The lineup included Mike Scott & Steve Wickham of the Waterboys; Waco Brothers; Walter Salas-Humara; Twin Peaks; White Mystery; Kelly Hogan; Jon Langford & Skull Orchard; Churchwood; the Defibulators; Deano & the Purvs; the Shades; Seth Glier; Walk on Project Band; Autumn Owls and assorted other singer-songwriters and wayward troubadours filling in the gaps.

Churchwood landed on this bill because of another Bill: Bill Anderson, guitarist for Churchwood, to be exact. Mr. Anderson just may be the great Sargasso Sea to Churchwood’s epic periplum. He has played with everyone from Neko Case to Jon Langford himself. In fact, the stellar Deano & the Purvs is in many ways the spawn of Bill’s association with the iconic Mekon as it consists of members of the Waco Brothers — Dean Schlabowske (guitar/vocals), Joe Camarillo (drums) and Alan Doughty (bass) — and the Mean Purveyor’s Bill Anderson (acoustic guitar), Pete Stiles (mandolin) and Ms. Jo Walston (vocals). The ties are there and they bind Churchwood to Mr. Langford’s generous apron strings. While I worried initially that Churchwood would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb at this event, we earned much applause and made many a smiling fan.

Too much fun, too much sun and too many free pints later, Cat and I swam aimlessly around a long line two blocks away at the Belmont, where the Flaming Lips were to close later that night. As futile as it seemed at the time, Churchwood bassist Adam Kahan texted me this morning to say that as he returned to his car after not even trying to get into the Belmont and opting instead to see Polyphonic Spree, he happened to pass the Belmont just in time to walk through the doors without issue and catch the last two songs by the Lips. As for Cat and me, in the end, we opted for what amounted to a command performance by the Waco Brothers on the rooftop of Cheers Shot Bar. The Brothers did not disappoint as they blazed through a good set of standards and standard fare while the club’s smoke machine seemed to work overtime. And for a moment, imagination and memory shook hands, and I felt something like realization enter my tired fins.

Watch the Waco Brothers Perform ‘Walking on Hell’s Roof Looking at the Flowers’ at SXSW 2013

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