Tav Falco’s Panther Burns – Behind The Magnolia Curtain
Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon. Total nonsense of course. There was music too. But the suggestion was that I was missing out. Total nonsense too. Products have so much to teach us. So many stories to tell …
Okay, boy, here’s the rub. Tav’s been offered a fantastic fee to perform the Panther Burns’ Behind The Magnolia Curtain at some grand theatre in your capital. Didn’t want any part of it though. Not initially. Well, then he got to thinking. And he thought, sure, why not, let’s make a show out of the old Magnolia thing. A show he’d want to see. A show he could go and see. So, it wouldn’t be him. It would be, yeah, the spirit of the Panther Burns up there. A reinterpretation of a classic if you like.
So what he suggested was recruiting a crack troop of kids to perform. Just for one night. A scuzzy band of brats who had never even been near Memphis. And as he rightly argued, well, Tav’s never seen the Magnolia Curtain performed neither.
And, so, your name kind of cropped up kid. Apparently someone had seen you performing in an east end social club and was pretty well taken with your guitar playing, and your outfit’s take on Fiery Jack, which just happens to be one of Tav’s favourite recordings. So, yeah, I reckoned we should have ourselves a little chat before you get to meet Tav. I think you look the part. The pompadour’s in place. And the hair oil smells just about right. So, let’s run through a few things.
Tav’s going to be the musical director. The set will be precisely Behind The Magnolia Curtain. On paper pretty much as it appeared on record. I say pretty much because there will be a few surprises. So a quarter of a century on from when it came out on your Rough Trade label. I gather it’s still going. So we’re going to invite Mr Geoff Travis along as a guest of honour and maybe as a member of the chorus. And the set will be played by a bunch of kids who don’t even know each other, who are no older than 19, and can feel the music. They’ve gotta understand the heart of the Panther Burns.
So, Tav will want to do a little bit of vetting. Do you know your rockabilly? The really nasty stuff? Johnny Burnette, Charlie Feathers, Ronnie Self and the like. It’s important. We’re talking about the white trash born talking back. The yelping and scrapping stuff. The burning and snarling wildcats. Shadowy dreamers. Losers. Savages. The spirit the Panther Burns were summoning up when they put down the tracks for Magnolia. Communicating with the lost spirits of another age.
I’m reckoning Tav won’t push you quite so far on his other sacred roots musics. It wouldn’t hardly be fair. You see folks forget Falco studied all that stuff. For years. Like Alan Lomax, he was out there digging up the folklore, the sounds of the country blues and earliest rock’n’roll, the swamp stuff and Las Vegas grind, the tangos and rhumbas. The stories and the characters. Where it all came from. And it wasn’t so easy then. The Cramps and Chilton opened the door. Robert Gordon raised a few eyebrows. But there wasn’t all those people like the Bear Family and Ace digging up lost gold.
I remember coming over to England. It would have been at the start of the ‘80s. Before you were even born. And I went to this market in Soho where there were all these kids hanging out around one of the stalls. That guy from the Pogues worked there. And all these little kids had these Mac Curtis flat tops. I bet most of them didn’t know Mac from Tony Curtis. But they had the look. And I bet at the time Charlie Feathers and all the cats they were listening to couldn’t have got themselves arrested back home. These kids were wearing confederate flags when probably Dover was as far south as they’d been.
We were over to meet some of the Rough Trade people. They were real gentlemen. We loved the fact that they were throwing the Panther Burns in with some of their mad stuff and reggae and all that. We met Adam Kidron around then too, and he would produce the Blow Your Top EP for us back in New York. We liked him. He got hold of a whole load of political books for us. His father ran this socialist publishing house or something. Plato or Pluto. He’s still around. We thought it was hilarious he outraged the whole of moral America by doing a latino version of the national anthem to mark immigration day.
Look, the big thing for this event, and why we think you’ll look the part, isw that it’s going to be a real spectacle. The blonde Ronnie Self thing you’ve got going on there is a good thing. It’s going to be one hell of a show. Tav’s always been into the theatre of the absurd and all that. And he wants to enjoy this. Personally I reckon you look more like Sparkle Moore, but that’s no bad thing.
How about this? Tav wants to fly over a whole pipe and drum corps. To keep up the Jesse Mae Hemphill tradition. And the big, big finale will be a massive un-amercian activities extravaganza with Bourgeois Blues as the encore. And we are talking way way over the top, with the fife and drums marching band up front, and we’re gonna climax with a full recital of Ginsberg’s Howl!
The big question is who we get in to read the poem. Tav’s keen on your Mark E Smith. That would be fun. We’re talking to his people. Tav’s had a thing about him ever since way back when Fiery Jack came out, and The Fall were slagging off the Cramps, saying they were just jumped up Yanks trying to act weird. And we were like woah this is blasphemy. No one and I mean no one has been more true to the cause than Lux and Ivy. They’ve eaten, slept, and breathed the music since kingdom come. Ain’t no one knows more about the sewers and swamps than those guys. You find me something more real than Drug Train. And they are still going and still looking great. But back then, it was just us, the Cramps, the Gun Club. Our little underground resistance. We’ve come a long way from Tennessee, and Tav’s still going. And The Fall’s still going. That’s what got us interested in you. The fact that your group’s doing Fiery Jack. That takes nerve.
What I haven’t mentioned is who’s playing Tav’s part. But I don’t want to go into that now. And that’s the great thing about all this. The crazy gamble. You’re not going to meet the rest of the group before the afternoon of the show. It’s madness but it will give the show a sense of risk. That’s what we want we want from all this.
Okay, you ready to go meet Tav?
© 2007 John Carney