Rant ‘N’ Roll: From The Ridiculous To The Sublime

Bats dance with voodoo chieftains as Alice Cooper brandishes a sword and hundreds of balloons are released inside Madison Square Garden. It’s the first week of May 1975. Spring is bringing new possibilities into my life and when Alice gets into bed with a female dummy to slap her and choke her, the dummy lies passive, accepting his wrath. Only when he drags her out of bed by the hair does she spring thrillingly to life to dance a ballet, pirouettes and all.

People all around me are lighting up joints, including the security guards. A huge spider web has materialized and two giant grisly spiders are dangling by a thread before a third even larger black widow descends to beat up Alice while a seven-foot, one-eyed Cyclops enters stage right just in time to get his head chopped off by Alice’s sword.

All goes black. A screen is lowered. A movie of Alice getting locked in a coffin is shown while the band revs up a cacophony of dissonant almost-metal. Alice escapes from the coffin and runs right off the screen onto the stage where nasty goblins chase him back into the movie and back out again.

Compare that to a week later. I’m in a fucked-up Manhattan neighborhood that makes Hell’s Kitchen look like Upper Montclair: East Third Street between Avenues C and B. I’m trying to ignore the drug dealer who keeps beckoning to my petrified wife as I ogle the whore who looks barely a teenager. There’s a big hairy rat with the longest tail I ever saw eating out of a spilled garbage can and we can’t seem to find The Olde Reliable Tavern, where a backwoods blues singer named Louisiana Red is supposed to play that night.

Once safely ensconced in the friendly confines of the Tavern, our uncertain fate is compounded by the fact that we’re the only ones in the joint. It’s so small, only a couple dozen people could fit. Is this even the right bar? Is Red really playing this shithole? We order a drink and ask the waitress as she shows off her piercings and tattoos. My wife likes the one that shows a mini cock and balls set near her left armpit.

“Yeah, Red’s here,” she drawls, “if he shows up. Last night he didn’t.”

We order another round. Then another. The place gets friendlier (the bartender comes over to talk to us). After our third round, we’re almost ready to split when in walks a short black dude with a guitar. It’s Red and he takes us to a back room where we do the interview and he tells us about his time in jail and how his father was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan. His wife had just died and he was supporting two kids by playing these crummy bars where nobody ever shows up.

That’s when the owner of this fine establishment comes in to tell Red to go back to his room, he’s canceling the show due to lack of an audience.

“I feels bad for ya,” Red says, “coming all the way here from New Jersey so hold on a minute.”

With that, he disappears, my wife looks at me with a let’s-get-the-fuck-out-of-here expression but before we can get up, Red is back with a bottle of Jack and three glasses. He pours a thumb-full in each, motions for us to drink up, and with that he proceeds to take out his Mississippi National steel guitar to serenade my wife and I with a set of lowdown blues ‘n’ boogie highlighted by one he wrote about his wife called “Death Of Ealease.” He beckons us to follow him back into the main room where the bar is now about a quarter filled and his harmonica player, Sugar Blue, awaits. The two perform a horror-blues called “Cold White Sheets” that makes the hairs on my arm stand at attention.

It’s even scarier than Robert Johnson’s “Hellhounds On My Trail.”The night ends. We walk amidst the garbage and the flowers to cab it back to Port Authority and the waiting sanctity of Montclair.


Mike Greenblatt would like to make Rant ‘N’ Roll interactive. Send him an email at mg2645@ptd.net, and your comments, questions, complaints and complements will be part of this column.