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Lizard lounge: The Austin Lounge Lizards play bluegrass with a twist.

Lizards in Space

The Lone Star State's genre-bending bluegrass band hits the highway

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SPACE, AS THEY SAY, is the final frontier. For the Austin Lounge Lizards--the 20-year-old bluegrass band with a mind-boggling knack for socio-political satire (and whose rip-snorting sound is heard each week on NPR's "Car Talk" radio show)--space may just be another stop in their already skyrocketing trajectory toward fame and fortune.

"Yeah. There's this astronaut," says founding Lizard Conrad Deisler, "her name is Pam Melroy and she lives in Houston. She and her husband come to our concerts a lot. She's a big fan." She's also scheduled to blast off soon to help assemble the international Space Station--just as soon as the Russians are ready to launch something called the "Service Module."

According to Deisler, "Pam came up to us after a show and told us she'd be taking a bunch of our CDs into space with her, and we think that's nice. Our music will be up there in space with Gene Roddenberry's ashes." One can't help but wonder what the Russians will think of such side-splitting romps as "Shallow End of the Gene Pool" or "Jesus Loves Me but He Can't Stand You" or "Teenage Immigrant Welfare Mothers on Drugs."

At any rate, the Lizards--featuring Deisler, Richard Bowden, Hank Card, Tom Pittman, and Boo Resnick have already been invited to Miami to watch the launch in person--whenever that might be.

"We'll be there if we can," Deisler says. "I hear those shuttle launches are real pretty."

But first things first. Before the Austin Lounge Lizards go interstellar, they have a date in Sonoma County, where they'll be performing at an upcoming benefit for local public radio station KRCB-FM, an event that will mark the Lizard's first appearance in the county.

"We're always happy to go play in a new area, especially when it's so lovingly promoted," says Deisler. He admits to a fondness for California--their first non-Texas gig, in 1987, was at Yosemite's Strawberry Music Festival, followed by an appearance at a solar-powered Earth First reunion--and says the band is looking forward to using the Sebastopol Community Center gig to test out some brand-new songs they've been recording for an upcoming album.

"We've been in the studio, working hard, but we'll take a break for the Sonoma County show. We'll have finished eight cuts by then, and I'm sure we'll be performing some of those, and trying out a few others we're still thinking of putting on the album."

Such as? "We'll probably be doing a new, still-untitled song that I wrote with Hank, about an artistic collaboration between Richard Petty, the king of stock-car racing, and Luis Buñuel, the French surrealist filmmaker. It's pretty weird.

"Then there's a song called 'Rasputin's HMO,' " Deisler says, launching into a short history lesson about the bloody death of that infamous Russian cleric. "Rasputin was the walking wounded," he laughs. "Those people went to great lengths to see that he was dead. So this song is about a grievously wounded Rasputin going to his HMO for medical treatment, but then they ask him for his card number and his deductible and make him take a number and sit and wait.

"It's been going over pretty well when we sing it in public," he says, laughing.

Hmmmm. Can't wait to see what those cosmonauts think of that one. "Then there's 'Hillbillies in a Haunted House,' which we've been performing for a while and just finished recording. It's based on a bad movie by the same name, about 80 hillbillies who, for no particular reason, go into this haunted house, where they get killed off in small groups by different weird things--the Crawling Eye and the Sticky Black Goo."

Deisler stops to laugh again. "it does make a good lizard song," he admits.

And how, exactly, does one describe an Austin Lounge Lizard song?

"You can't," he says. "You have to hear us to believe us." True. Packed with irreverent, satirical moxy, the Lizards' one-of-a-kind musical sound is a mix of bluegrass, country, rock, and Cajun, while, lyrically speaking, they're part Loudon Wainright III and part Weird Al Yankovic and part
. . . whatever.

"After almost 20 years, we've stopped trying to define ourselves," Deisler says. "We just keep pluggin' along, having fun. That's good enough for us."


The Austin Lounge Lizards will perform Friday, Jan. 21, at the Sebastopol Community Center, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $16 in advance, $18 at the door. For details, call 585-8522.

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From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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