Train in Vain

Wayne Hancock still a genius, the Damned getting damned old

WAYNE "THE TRAIN" HANCOCK thinks I'm out to get him, which is alternately amusing, sad and irritating. I interviewed Hancock last year, and in typical fashion, the eccentric Texas hillbilly was running his motor mouth, trashing the SoCal swing scene, Nashville, fellow hillbilly bands and retro trendiness in general. I agreed with his assessments then, and I still do. At the time, I applauded him for having the courage to speak his peace, politics be damned.

But then Hancock, who plays at the Galaxy Concert Theatre on Sunday night, turned around and got bent because I quoted the imprudent things he'd said. What did he expect? He was being interviewed by a writer, fer chrissake; we had no unspoken pact of discretion. But apparently, he took some flack over his own words, which were accurately conveyed in these pages, transcribed verbatim from tape. So he blamed me for his own shit, even though I gave him a well-deserved hummer of a review.

I saw Hancock at a party in Austin, Texas, last month. "You're that guy who tried to make me look like an asshole," he said.

"You do a good enough job of that all by yourself without any help from me," I responded. That was all we said to each other. Then I sat and watched for a while as Hancock musically regaled the assemblage.

What can I say? This man lacks the conviction to back up his own words without blaming the messenger, but I still won't deny for a second that he's completely fucking brilliant. Hancock is so tuned-in to singing his songs that he's uncomfortable in a social situation without a guitar in his hand. He'd listen to snippets of conversation and immediately regurgitate a humorous, on-the-spot composition responding to the dialogue at hand. A good composition. You don't encounter sheer musical instinct like that very often.

Some critics have said Hancock is nothing more than a Hank Williams imitator, but that's bullshit. While it's true that his voice bears an eerie resemblance to Williams' and that similarity is hard-studied, Hancock is a unique and original talent. No one has synthesized hillbilly, swing and rockabilly in the manner of Hancock; plus, his songs are deeply evocative and brimming with vivid white-trash imagery. You can almost smell the Texas humidity, bacon grease and home-stilled moonshine when he performs.

Meanwhile, Hancock has an imitator of his own: the Bay Area's Johnny Dilks has a voice that sounds like Hancock more than Hancock sounds like Williams; I've heard Hancock fans in Texas decry Dilks as a "Wayneabe."

Hancock's Thunderstorms & Neon Signs will go down as one of the most important debut albums from a country artist in the '90s, and his subsequent efforts—That's What Daddy Wants and the recent Wild, Free & Reckless—are very nearly as solid. While his raw sound and rebel stance (when he's not running from that stance) will keep him out of the contempo-country mainstream—a fact which he ought to wear as a badge of honor—history will undoubtedly remember Hancock as the gifted, important singer/songwriter he is.

There's another hummer, Wayne. I suppose you deserve it, even though you're a little on the paranoid, hypocritical side.

One place to hear Hancock, Dilks and others of a similar ilk is on the DOUBLE WIDE HAYRIDE SHOW, a hillbilly/rockabilly Webcast from San Diego on Tuesdays from 7 to 10 p.m. Hosts "Gus" and "Mr. Lucky" lay down some mind-bogglingly stoopid, sophomoric, sexist attempts at cornpone humor as they play modern and classic tracks by a huge array of popular and obscure artists. There's a bit too much crappy psychobilly on the air for my tastes, but these college boys stumped me more than once with some burning vintage country tracks by artists I'd never heard of, and I appreciate being exposed to this stuff, which you're just not going to find broadcast elsewhere, no matter how much fancy dial twisting you do. These guys are so earnest and fun-loving that the awful joking and fake hillbilly accents actually begin to endear after a while. Check out their Web site at www.hayrideshow.com.

Is there anything more goddamned pathetic than the latest Eagles or Doobie Brothers reunion hitting the road? Well, uh, actually, yeah, there is. Such as when bands like THE DAMNED reunite to try and recapture the violent, youthful spontaneity of first-wave punk when the members are pushing 50. Look, I loved "New Rose" and "Neat Neat Neat" as much as anyone when I was a kid, but the whole concept of punk was to supernova—get in there, get drunk as a piss cake, leave a path of outrage and destruction in your wake, and get out. It just ain't like people with such names as Rat Scabies can grow old gracefully. Who'd have thought these guys would even be alive in 1999, much less trying to cash in on past glory?

Punk has become what it set out to demolish; G.G. Allin is rolling over in his grave. If you wanna experience hocking and pogoing as campy nostalgia, by all means catch this pitiable geezer parade Saturday night at the Galaxy.

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