5. Ross Johnson- Who doesn’t love a good storyteller with a Southern drawl who spins yarns about vice, heartbreak and the confusing, exciting experience of growing up in the Bible Belt? There’s probably someone out there, but I don’t want to know them. The fine folks at Goner love and understand Ross, a musician, raconteur and Memphis treasure. They released his stream-of-consciousness masterpiece Make it Stop and on Friday night, they handed him a microphone. It’s all he needs. Ross introduced bands, but he also rattled on about pills, Spring Breakers (Gonerfest was “fall break, bitches”) and his perception that more attractive women attended Gonerfest 10 than previous incarnations, when he surmised that the festival was the only place where the men were more attractive than the women. While holding court in front of a crowd mixed with those who appreciate him and another half who seemed confused by the middle-aged guy talking about taking pills and getting paid, he poured from a 1.25-liter bottle of Diet Coke into a plastic cup. In short, he was Ross Johnson on stage with a microphone. Seiji from Guitar Wolf and Gino of Gino and the Goons also served as excellent MCs, but they’re not Ross Johnson. No one is. There’s only one.
4. Mudhoney- I’ve wanted to see Mudhoney since I was in high school, when songs like “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More,” “In ‘n’ Out of Grace,” their cover of The Dicks “Hate the Police” and “Touch Me I’m Sick” served as a kind of manifesto in my developing, angry brain. Unlike some of the bands that appealed to my pubescent rage, I kept listening to Mudhoney throughout my 20s and into my 30s. It was still great. I was excited and a bit nervous about seeing them for the first time in 2013. It would be difficult for a band that essentially formed the year I was born to match the intensity and excitement found in the recordings that meant so much to me as a teenager. But there they were; miles from a nostalgia act. In front of a crowd that was likely full of skeptics, they destroyed. It’s possible they were better at some point in the band’s history, but I have a hard time believing that. Of all the things I would change about my younger self, I would keep Mudhoney.
3. MANATEEES- The best band in Memphis. I refuse to debate this. It’s an irrefutable fact. I see a lot of bands, most of which make me happy to be alive. I’m happy to be breathing, watching music being created while surrounded by people I like and taking a temporary vacation from the rest of the soul-numbing world. It’s an old-man outlook fashioned by a fundamentalist upbringing that made me far too aware of my own mortality. MANATEEES are one of the few bands that bridge the gap between my young, dumb “let’s destroy things!” ethos and my “every day is a blessing!” inner old man who could (and probably will) die any second. Maybe it’s because MANATEEES take the best parts of both. From what I’ve gathered, their songs are all about “let’s destroy things and act dumb because we’re probably going to die soon (and I might kill you first).” I’ve probably seen them 20-30 times over the last few years. Their performance at Murphy’s Saturday afternoon wasn’t their best I’ve seen, but it was thrilling because other people from around the globe were getting a glimpse of this excellent band with songs about cat food, isolation and dumping a body in the Wolf River. Memphis has its problems, but it also has MANATEEES. I’ll take it.
2. Wizzard Sleeve/Destruction Unit/Cosmic Psychos- Gonerfest began in earnest Thursday night with a blistering set from Minneapolis’ Blind Shake. I walked in ready to use the first hour of the festival to get beer and locate my friends. I decided both could wait after being slapped in the face with whatever it was Blind Shake were doing. What started with an unexpected good time Thursday ended with an expected mind-melting Saturday night from Wizzard Sleeve, Destruction Unit and Cosmic Psychos. I’d seen Wizzard Sleeve and Destruction Unit before and I knew they were among the best bands going . While I’d never seen Cosmic Psychos live, I knew they were going to be incredible from their albums and the fact that John Hoppe, Goner staffer and one of the best guys around, sounded legitimately excited about seeing them. Here’s an eternal truth: John Hoppe will never steer you wrong. By Saturday night, I was worn out, a bit sick and briefly fantasized about being in my bed. Wizzard Sleeve, Destruction Unit and the mighty Cosmic Psychos changed all that. Good lord, they were great. I can’t add much more than that and I don’t remember much of it. I just recall standing there with the kind of dizziness, heavy eyelids and fuzzy-headedness that comes from three days of self-harm thinking, “good lord, these bands are great.”
1. The people- When you attend a lot of shows in Memphis, you see many of the same faces. Some you know personally, some are only familiar faces. Every year, Gonerfest feels like a triumph for Memphis, rock music and those people I’ve seen all year. Some of them are playing in front of big crowds; others are watching, taking photos, acting dumb or all of the above. There are also people I haven’t seen since the previous year’s Gonerfest and others I meet for the first time. This year, I had conversations about Men at Work, pro wrestling, Ron Asheton and fried chicken. I talked about photos and endurance with Bully Rook. I talked with Tom Scharpling about The Best Show on WFMU, his brilliant radio program and my favorite entertainment in the universe. Maybe there’s something anti-rock about the familiarity and comfort I feel while surrounded by people I care about, respect and genuinely like. I really don’t care. I’ve lost the patience for tortured deliberations on rock music. Gonerfest is a good time and it’s always my favorite weekend of the year. My first Gonerfest was 2005’s edition. I stood in Murphy’s watching The Barbaras play in costumes while people dumped white powder on the crowd and Bully Rook danced on the bar dressed only in a codpiece. It dawned on me at that moment that I found my people. I still feel that way.