Volume 5, September 2020
Buenos Dios, buckaroos and buckarettes!
I'm Bob. You may know me from the band Big Medicine Head or daytime television. This monthly missive from the land of tumbleweeds and the lonesome six string guitar features news from the frontier, music and prose. Each issue will have a downloadable track and lyrics, along with the backstory of the song. For the duration of the pandemic we'll also feature live songs from the bunker.
If you'd like to revisit past issues of Tales of the Western Hemisphere you can find them at bobgemmell.com.
Song of the Month
Sit back and relax as we explore the Bob Gemmell and Big Medicine Head song catalog
There is a lot going on out there in America right now. Some folks are discovering that being subjugated isn't an article of fate while others are being goaded into anger, and fear that liberals and people of color are going to come to their neighborhood and mess up their stuff.
There are not two sides to every issue. There is truth, and not truth. The truth is that certain classes of people have been historically relegated to second tier citizenship. How to solve that? Who knows. But it starts with raised voices in the streets. I'm reminded of a line from Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time":
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
You've got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight
Which brings us to Cool Electric Sky, our Song of the Month. I was feeling a bit of aversion to symbols of authority when I penned this. While playing it on my acoustic guitar the other day I sensed that it may vibrate at the resonant frequency of these troubled times.
I hope you dig it.
To stream this song, follow this link. To download this song, follow the instructions below - see you next month!
Cool Electric Sky
The Prince of the City admires my guitar
but he says if I play that song again he’s gonna break my arms
out on Love Street all is bliss until you open up your eyes
legislation flows like mother’s milk under the cool electric sky
Well there’s a rumor on the street
and there’s a movement in the square
and the senator’s wife doesn’t like the way I wear my hair
The senator’s house is built with Lincoln Logs
his babies all have values, his babies all have jobs
golden babies by pool baking in the tax-free sun
yeah they’re living life as if this life was something daddy won
well they’re so foreign on the street
that the moonlight hurts their eyes
tanning oil is a joke under the cool electric sky
The Prince of the City's passing laws against the young
ever since the princess left he’s been sleeping with his gun
he’s singing every Sunday in the law and order choir
he’ll visit every house on Love Street and set ‘em all on fire
he’d hitch a ride with Jesus Christ
then let the air out of his tires
set him loose and hunt him down under the cool electric sky
No one likes the way the protest singer wears his hair
suburban wives are losing sleep
the protest singer doesn’t care
what is he saying to our pure?
what is he saying to our young?
what will this golden nation look like
when this this protest singer’s done?
well there’s a rumor in the street
read the paint before it dries
‘cause they’re shooting protest singers
beneath the cool electric sky
Songs From The Bunker
A few years ago I read an article in a medical journal that said the average person can have up to one drink a day. I did the math, and realized that at that point I had already met my quota, with a cushion of several thousand cocktails. With that life achievement out of the way I went ahead and quit drinking.
Under The Big Sky describes a life before that decision. I was thinking about the duality of the sober person versus the inebriated person, and I thought "what happens when one loses the other?"
For anyone pondering a life without cocktails, take it from me: it's beautiful. Moving from impairment to insight is a wonderful journey, and you'll be amazed at all the love that comes rushing in.
Click on the picture of Me and Rex to listen to Under The Big Sky. If you're curious about what the Big Medicine Head version of this song sounds like, visit bobgemmell.com.
Me and Rex
Lonesome Bob's True Adventures
The Time When Jailhouse Johnny Threw Up on Ava Gardner
(This tale of loss and redemption first appeared in the Big Medicine Head newsletter at bigmedicinehead.com)
I was Johnny McGuire's bartender during his most animated phase, during his legendary swaggering big as the black sun days when he roamed The Biggest Little City in the World like some kind of mastodon. Let me tell you, Bub: I got an earful of Johnny McGuire stories back then. He was the King of Reno long before he became the zeitgeist for Big Medicine Head, and every night you could catch his sordid act at my bar. Lots of stories. Like, I'll never forget the time Johnny threw up all over Ava Gardner's lap.
See, Johnny was the silent member of the Rat Pack. Never showed up for no photo shoots or nothin' like that, but he was one of 'em. He used to run around with those guys all the time, real chummy-like, and his path of devastation was even wider than Frank Sinatra's. Ava was a nutty broad, crazy as all get out, and she was wild for Johnny. Long before her tryst with Frank, baby.
Everybody liked to kid around in those days, but you didn't want to cross Johnny. Joey Bishop said somethin' once about Johnny's new haircut, and Johnny made him pay. Worked him up one side and down the other - had Joey walkin' sideways for a week. Joey said later he'd rather get violated by Turkish sailors than mess with Johnny again.
Anyhow, Johnny was at the bar one night, just sittin' there on his favorite barstool, knockin' back gin and handicapping the ponies, when Ava Gardner walks in. She's decked out in sequins and taffeta and she's got one of those Carmen Miranda fruit bowl hats on her head. Never one to make an inauspicious entrance, she's does some kind of solo line dance over to the bar (which must have been difficult, because she was righteously drunk and carrying a large Coming Ware bowl filled with casserole) and plops down on the stool next to Johnny.
Ava starts chatting up Johnny. He says to her, "What's in the bowl," (which she has placed on her lap) and she says, "My special beefy cheese casserole. I made it for Frankie, but you can have some if you want."
Johnny says to her "Pass."
"Fine", says Ava, "Me and Frankie will just go up to his hotel room and have a late snack."
"Whatever," says Johnny.
About this time I walk over and ask Ava if she wants a drink. She says, "Yeah, somethin' that sticks to my ribs," so I mix her up a Bloody Mary, real spicy, but I use tomato paste instead of tomato juice, so she has to really work to get it through the straw.
The dope on Ava Gardner, and everyone who used to run around those days can tell you this, is that she and Johnny had a thing long before she did monkey-time with Frank Sinatra. They were wild, and they had ways of expressing their love publicly that embarrassed all of us - but that's another story. The point is, Frankie knew they had a past.
About twelve-thirty Frankie walks in carrying flowers for Ava and he sees her sittin’ there with Johnny McGuire. Now, everybody knew how Frankie was; he was jealous of everything when it came to Ava. He was jealous of her end table, for Christsakes. And it's obvious that he's behind a few whiskey and waters, so the sight of Johnny and Ava sittin' there at the bar lights him up like a Roman candle. Now during this time Johnny's knocked back a few cocktails too, so when Frank comes over to ring his doorbell Johnny was too cross-eyed to see it comin'.
Frankie thought he was some kind of karate guy or somethin' (he had been running around with Key Luke back then) and he tries to do a roundhouse kick on Johnny. Only problem is, Frankie had stepped on a wad of gum that Ava had spit out on the floor, so instead of his foot leaving the ground the rest of his body does. Frankie flopped backward onto the floor like a drunken carp. Johnny's oblivious to the whole event.
About this time everybody rushes over to see if Frank's okay, and Ava's lookin' over her shoulder at Frankie on the floor, so no one notices Johnny's lunch is about to come up. He's got that panic stricken pre-vomit look on his face, and his cheeks are fillin' up 'cause he's tryin' to keep it in. Since everyone's lookin' at Frank flailing on the floor, no one sees Johnny spew all over Ava's lap.
Now I know this seems like a big problem, but it's really okay, see, 'cause Ava had the casserole on her lap, and Johnny's masterpiece got lost in all the macaroni, cheese, and ground beef. Later Frankie and Ava ate like royalty in Frankie's hotel room and no one was the wiser.
If I've said it before I'll say it again: that Johnny McGuire is a lucky guy.