- Tom Heyman
Where to start with DAN STUART? Musician, novelist, ex-addict, ex-ex-pat, as colourful a character as you can find over the last 30-odd years in the music biz. Hailing from Tucson, he and his band The Serfers decamped to LA in the late 70s, raided their own catalogue for a new name, becoming Green On Red, cult proponents of a B-movie, noir sensibility, peddling tales of outsider heartache for low down losers told with a wry humour and deceptive simplicity.
They never made it big time, their rough and ready playing dividing the critics at best. But anyway, I love them, and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the poster – ‘Dan Stuart (Green On Red) & Tom Heyman at Naked Lunch’. Naked Lunch – the small cooperative cafe out on renaissance-wrapped Smithdown Road – could it be? Lo and behold, it was true. The Green On Red in brackets on the poster tells you all you need to know about Stuart’s current popularity. He took over a decade out of the music business, hunkered down in Mexico City dealing with issues of loss and addiction. See the album Arizona for open-wound self-flagellation on that particular episode.
It’s early evening, and Stuart is keeping the sound engineer and supporting DJs on their toes – “Keep it quiet will ya, at least while I’m in the room, I don’t wanna hear any drums.” It’s exactly the sort of curmudgeonly attitude I imagined he’d have.
Stuart is supported by an old Green On Red compadre, TOM HEYMAN, and they kick things off with a cover of Lou Reed’s Vicious, all choppy rhythm and crystal-clear slide, before Stuart leaves the stage to Heyman who, when he’s not on the road, works as a doorman at a nightclub down in the Mission district of San Francisco – a songwriter’s treasure trove if ever there was one. Songs like Chickenhawks and Jesus Freaks where “no one rides for free” and Night Time, where “another day slips through the cracks”, are delivered on six and 12 string, beautifully played, and veering between a delicate slide that sounds like lap/pedal steel (which is indeed what he plays on Stuart’s recent solo albums) and some great bluesy hooks. He rounds things off with a beautiful cover of Woody Guthrie’s Vigilante Man – for those of us who grew up with the Whistle Test Ry Cooder version, it was that good!
With an arthritic wince, Stuart hoists himself back on stage and the duo get straight down to a set based largely on Stuart’s latest album The Unfortunate Demise Of Marlowe Billings (the final release of the Marlowe Billings trilogy, with accompanying novel of the same name).
Stuart’s voice is always on the edge, and hasn’t lost its punky sneer, the lyrics half-spoken, half-sung but he always rescues it and his music has a blend of melodrama, romance, desperation, and grit coupled with an honesty, a self-awareness, that stops any saccharin from cloying.
The guitar interplay between Stuart and Heyman is top notch. I may be falling into hyperbole to evoke Richards/Taylor but it’s that kind of vibe; Stuart’s jagged chords complimented by Heyman’s delicate picking and soaring slide. The first three songs, Love & Danger, Joke’s On Me and Why I Ever Married You give some indication that Stuart is still trying to work things out on a personal level, maybe doing so in public will help him along the way. The political reverberations of Gringo compliment the well received far-right bashing that both serve up, its Greenelandian tale of colonial greed, “Gringo go home before you die”, played out against Heyman’s lovely Spanish-infused licks.
His between song chat is caustic – “I wrote a requiem for my Dad but the bastard won’t die”; “One of our [GOR] albums is a piece of shit, the hot shot producer tried to make a fuckin’ LA album”; after (Never Going Back To) Tucson he leans into the mic and says “guess where I’m fuckin’ livin’ right now”. This is a man who hasn’t allowed the vicissitudes of life to dull his edge one iota.
A seemingly constant stream of sirens, blue lights reflected in the Smithdown Road rain, only serves to enhance the atmosphere and, to my utter delight, Stuart unexpectedly revisits the first Green On Red album, Gravity Talks, for emotionally charged versions of Old Chief (“wrote this in LA when I was 20 years old ’cos there was a homeless problem – sadly, I guess it’s still relevant”) and the darkly beautiful Cheap Wine (“I’m just a man who doesn’t know right from wrong, who can tell?”). He’s taken time out before and his latest album is reportedly his last but some people just can’t quit and, selfishly perhaps, I hope Dan Stuart is one of them.
Hats off to Naked Lunch for rounding off a first year of quality live music and visual arts with this one. It was a gas.