If it were possible to convict a group of people for delaying something, or failing to act on a necessary impulse, then I’d like to indict whoever I could get away with blaming, and charge them all (myself included) with multiple felony counts – just because we’ve never seen or heard a full-length transmission by wax dedicated to a man who has probably scraped at least a nickel-sized piece of skin off your body through the years - and you may not even had felt it when it happened or recognized the scar as evidence of his presence in your life. But many have recognized these scars, from near and from afar, and have worn them proudly for quite some time.
This man I am referring to goes by the name of Byron Coley. Of course there’s enough we will never know about him that exposes the strong possibility that he is larger than life. Or perhaps I should say that his life is probably much more interesting (and therefore larger) than yours. Sure, he’s been identified as a music writer, jazz editor, underground columnist, author, and record label mogul. You may have seen and heard him on a handful of made for DVD documentaries deciphering the nomenclature behind the career of an artist or band that “the normals” have never actually heard of, sitting in front of a wall of vinyl LPs with a fucking ladder next to him. But that ladder has a purpose. It’s sitting there for when he wants to climb up to reach records by musicians that only 13, 289, and 345 people have actually listened to, respectively.
Byron used to be a hockey player. He played left wing in some distant micro-regional sub-tundra league long forgotten until he received a concussion from his coach who skated into him backwards. In fact it was rumored that he was one of the original Hansen brothers (immortalized in the film Slapshot) before taking up squash, then lacrosse, and finally, footnoting, which we’ll get to, post-academically, in a minute or two.
“Breaching national security interests, there are chunks of secret knowledge stored inside the grooves of this long player.”
Joyfully eliminating my above mentioned urge to manifest into a bitter extra-judicial prosecutor, the Hot Cars Warp Record label has done us all a huge favor here by finally collecting some of Coley’s “spoken word” works for a vinyl LP stuffed inside a lovely silk-screened jacket with artwork by Savage Pencil, limited to 350 copies for sale. So if you want one of these, you’d better act quickly otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of whoever owns a ladder.
I suppose we could burden BC (if we’re still using BC as a benchmark for Hey-Zeus, I have absolutely no problem using it as a before/after reference point for others who’ve inspired/followed him, but only within the confines of these parenthesis, since it doesn’t apply contextually to the sentence I am interrupting) with the moniker of “poet”, yet I prefer to think of Byron as a storyteller. And a master storyteller he is.
The opening side of the album flows seamlessly through 14 highly digestible tales from the rich and greasy American cultural sub-underground, that spiny and ragged mega-fuckin-saurus he rode as well as anyone for the past few decades. Probably breaching national security interests, there are chunks of secret knowledge stored inside the grooves of this long player, and I’m not even including the fresh spare ribs splattered on the floor of a Texas kitchen from Side A’s "Birth of a Nation." We probably all know that one. But most of us will discover for the first time what lurks within a thumb’s length of Don Rickle’s trousers, what Klaus Nomi used to eat before he died, who killed Albert Ayler, or how the American flag was originally stained with the color red. Although there is one story here that we wish Byron would have remembered “enough” to share with us all.
“…what lurks within a thumb’s length of Don Rickle’s trousers, what Klaus Nomi used to eat before he died, who killed Albert Ayler
, or how the American flag was originally stained with the color red.”
Side B is an 18 minute excerpt from Coley’s new book Dominoes titled, "The Closer." And if you never possessed the fine art of differentiating skunky beer from Miami turtle water and other less-appealing beverages, this is the definitive owner’s manual. At one of his workshops on improvisational drinking not too long ago, where only a bowl of scotch and ice separated us, I was reminded once more that Byron was a man of principle and he had a huge heart. And you can detect that warmth in spades on this album from his eloquent remembrances of Captain Beefheart and Jack Rose.
His voice has that confident and raw, yet precise descriptiveness that harkens back to radio theatre broadcasts. So if the mere mentioning of the “spoken word” genre turns your belly sour, don’t worry - you won’t find any of that nerd-drool NPR announcer bullshit here, you know, those frail shirt tuckers who steer clear from any possibility of offending plants. Byron is an international arm wrestling champion and he’s penetrated Joni Mitchell. Don’t believe me? Then buy this fucking record and put your money where your doubt is!
I just realized that I have forgotten to discuss Byron’s footnoting career. That’s ok - footnoting is a less human form of nostalgia. And, thankfully, not once does Byron use the phrase “back in the day” on this record. Although he does speak about days; “but they were great days…and they were punk…and they were never, EVER, new wave”.