Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Tim Warren, longtime head of kingpin garage and 60s punk label CRYPT, is one of the more enigmatic characters I've come across over the years. I barely know the guy and we spoke maybe 20 words to each other during our only mano-a-mano encounter, but I've always chortled at the good-vs.-evil battle lines the guy draws with regard to music and general hipster culture. You're either a righteous supporter of kick-ass rock and roll music (exemplified by cool risktakers like BO DIDDLEY, THE SONICS and THE PAGANS, for instance), or you're a flat-out square, dweeb or homosexual. I believe a good chunk of his stance is tongue in cheek & that the guy's got a thick skin & a strong sense of humor, and with the exception of a (very) few Crypt-housed NEW BOMB TURKS-molded clunker garage bands in the 90s, his taste in raw rock, R&B & soul music is strictly top-drawer. If Tim says, in his now-online, Paypalable Crypt catalog, that something is essential and will improve your record/CD collection and luck with women, you really ought to pay heed. I've never found the guy to be wrong, ever.

For years he's been churning out amazing compilations under a variety of label names to avoid close, copyright-wielding eyes -- "Sin Alley", "Down And Out", "Loo-key Doo-key" and so on. When I heard about a decade ago that he was involved in a country & western compilation, I bought it with nary a moment's hesitation. "GOD LESS AMERICA" (the name taken from a photographed cover-shot motel sign missing the "B" in "Bless") is a very worthy collection of "sinner" country, roughly translated as 1950s-60s cautionary country songs all dealing with alcoholism, drunk drivers, girls who smoke marijuana on their path to hell, LSD-blasted hippies wondering how to get off a bad trip (Mohawk and The Rednecks' great "Enchanted Forest"), and the usual array of cheating wives and murderous husbands. Very few of the songs stand up as first-rate country numbers outside of their lyrical content; "God Less America" is all about the stories and the sinning and the sorrow, not the pickin' and the fiddlin'. I will, however, direct you to a few standouts if you need further convincing -- by all means, take a listen to Chuck Wells' "Down and Out" and the opening heart-puller "8 Weeks In A Barroom" by Ramblin' Red Bailey. 8 weeks in a barroom. Hey, we've all been there. Tim's slowed up his release schedule the past few years, and others have gone out and done the hardscrabble archival work that he, and he alone, once undertook. But if you want to catch a glimpse of one man's warped yet exceptionally well-informed view of all that was great and good in American lowbrow culture the past 30-50 years, Tim's compilations are still the place to start.