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May 31-June 7, 2006

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Dave Alvin

Guilty Man: Love Dave Alvin and hate Dire Straits? Then don't read this column ...


Guilt by Association

By Bill Forman

One of the critic's most annoying weapons is the power of association. I'll give you an example: While wolfing down some barbecue at this past weekend's Santa Cruz Blues Festival--a feel-good event of revelatory proportions highlighted by B.B. King and too many other brilliant performances to do justice to in this lowly column (although the Boneshakers deserve special mention for their amazing after-party performance at Moe's Alley)--a stranger mentioned to me that Dave Alvin, whose Guilty Men had just taken the stage, sounded like "that guy from Dire Straits."

The problem, of course, is that it's kind of true. While no one's going to mistake "King of California" for "The Walk of Life," Alvin's drowsy baritone isn't that far removed from Mark Knopfler's. As a result, I couldn't help but think of Dire Straits for the next few songs, until an exquisitely extended version of my favorite Alvin song, "Abilene," finally drove the disturbing thought from my sunburned skull. But not before I had already passed the dangerous observation along, like some mean-spirited chain letter, to Metro's Steve Palopoli. "Why did you have to tell me that?" he complained a couple songs later.

Of course, Alvin himself may well have been a Dire Straits fan, at least in their pre-headband Making Movies days. But that's no excuse for my instinctive poisoning of a colleague's subconscious (or wouldn't be if Steve hadn't been the guy who gleefully tricked me into seeing a couple of the most disturbing films in cinematic history).

No doubt this all goes back to childhood. I remember how my older brother first pointed out that the reason Santa Claus didn't mind our not having a chimney was the fact that he didn't exist. That revelation, along with the realization that the Easter Bunny did not really enter the house through the heating vent bearing baskets of chocolate eggs, was pretty much inevitable. But my brother didn't stop there. He also had to go and drain the delight from my childhood drink of choice by pointing out that birch beer soda tastes just like Pepto Bismol.

All of which may explain why, when watching Mule Train's reunion gig at the Blue Lagoon last week, I was baffled when Attic booker Richard McSherry appeared to shout "Blue Cheer!" at me right after a song that sounded, if anything, like the Clash. As I was trying to make sense of how Paul Davis' local outfit resembles the San Francisco acid-metal group that had a 1968 hit with Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues," Richard added, "and Goblin Cock, too!"

Turns out he was talking about a double bill he'd just booked for July 14 at the Attic, pairing the '60s legends with the Spinal Tap-like spinoff fronted by Pinback's Rob Crow. Recovering a tenuous grip on reality, I asked, "Who's even in Blue Cheer at this point?," to which Richard responded, "Who knows? We'll find out!"

I guess we will. For my part, I'm just happy that I don't have to think of Blue Cheer and Goblin Cock every time I hear another Mule Train song.

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