Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 12:22 am
Tell me, Adrian
A rock star guitarist in Springfield? Really?
On January 25, 2016, the State Journal-Register published an article in which rock guitarist and former Springfield resident Adrian Belew reminisced about his career. Ordinarily, one would expect to see the words “Springfield” and “David Bowie” in the same news report only after a plane crash, but the connection was Adrian Belew. For a time in the late 1970s and ’80s Belew was one of the busiest among a new generation of rock guitarists, working not only with Bowie but Frank Zappa, Robert Fripp, Brian Eno and Talking Heads. He lived briefly in Springfield while recording with local musicians, as is noted in the column below in which I tried to render humorously my bewilderment that there might walk among us people of real talent.
OCTOBER 15, 1979: I encounter the name “Adrian Belew” for the first time. He is not a jeans designer. He is a rock guitarist. His picture is in the Springfield paper. His pants have cuffs. I wonder, What is he doing in Springfield? I find out later that this is the first question everybody asks. I wonder if he has an answer.
Belew is said to be cutting a demo album at Cwazy Wabbit studio on the north side. Cwazy Wabbit is run by some people I know, Rich Denhart and Christy Bley. They are founding members of a seminal local group called the Tonguesnatcher Revue, which darted across Springfield skies in 1973. Tonguesnatcher’s sets ranged from Gershwin to Tammy Wynette to Frank Zappa. I wrote program notes for a concert which featured the All-New Abyssinian Buttercup Dancers, notes which remain arguably my best work to this day. Tonguesnatcher included a sax player named Janssen, who was reputed to have once told a joke at a party attended by Melvin Laird. They are well-known kooky funsters.
“Belew” is recording songs of his own composition. One of them is called “Adidas in Heat.” Another ends with peas playing “a sort of funky dirge” for a dead pea-fan. The article in the Springfield paper says that Belew was working in a Nashville lounge band when Frank Zappa saw him and hired him. The article says that he worked with David Bowie after that. Sure he did. This sounds like just the sort of stuff Tonguesnatcher would pull.
JANUARY, 1981: Robert Palmer, who is a rock critic for the New York Times and Rolling Stone, says that the Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light” is one of the best albums of the year. Palmer is my kind of critic. He writes for The Atlantic, and I’ll bet that he owns at least one pair of Hush Puppies. I buy the album. It is good. Very good in fact. The man playing lead guitar on “Remain in Light” is named Adrian Belew.
Coincidence? I wonder.
APRIL 14, 1982: The New York Times publishes an article titled, “Adrian Belew issuing his first solo album.” The piece calls him “the hot-shot rock guitarist of the moment.” It describes the work he allegedly did with Zappa and Bowie and David Byrne and King Crimson, complimenting him as “today’s most highly regarded and in-demand” player.
APRIL 20, 1982: On a hunch, I look up Adrian Belew in the Springfield phone book. He is there. I become confused.
MAY 14, 1982: I mention Adrian Belew to S. “Oh yeah,” she said. “I saw him at the library the other day.” Rock stars at the library? I become more confused.
JUNE 10, 1982: Rolling Stone publishes a profile calling Belew “rock’s most valuable player.” He describes how he achieved the rhino sound on his album’s title cut, “Lone Rhino.” “It involves a flanger, an echo unit, a fuzz tone, compression and ambient miking, together with my overhand style of slide playing,” he told RS. “I turn the slide to an oblique angle, hit the strings with the volume off, then force the volume on so that what comes out is a kind of dissonant rumble. The flanger gives it that breathy effect.”
Well, sure. But what I want to know is, how does Belew know that rhinos sound breathy? I decide that this is why he was in the library.
RS, by the way, describes Springfield as Belew’s “adopted hometown.” Apparently it is true after all. I am unaccountably excited.
JUNE 8, 1982: I am standing in line at Appletree Records. A customer and the clerk chat. “Adrian will do an in-store promo when his record is released,” the clerk says. “Excellent. Excellent,” replies the customer. I feel out of it. “Adrian and I read at the same library,” I say, hoping to score some cool points. The clerk staples my finger to the sack.
JUNE 12, 1982: I have a bad dream. I am sitting in Adrian Belew’s living room [ready to interview him], with my Bic pen and my steno pad and my Redwing shoes while Lone Rhino plays on the box in the background. I open my mouth, and I hear myself say, as if from a place far away, “Tell me, Adrian, what is your favorite color?”
Contact James Krohe Jr. at CaptBogue@outlook.com.