|In the darkest alley in town, he's got a story to tell...|
Stan Ridgway is, of course, the very distinctive voice behind Wall of Voodoo, an alt-rock band who formed from the ashes of Acme Soundtracks, a company formed by Ridgway to provide scores for horror films. However, the story goes that Ridgway didn’t understand that songs got commissioned for films waaaay before release, so the songs he wrote (like ‘The Passenger,’ a song obviously influenced by Airport ‘77) ended up being performed by Ridgway and his pals at The Masque, an L.A. punk club across the street. Their lively performances there attracted the attention of IRS Records, which led to their recording two albums, which led to the surprise hit ‘Mexican Radio’ on their second album, Call of The West.
The thing is, you could tell that Ridgway’s sensibilities--all spy movies, westerns and film noir--were different from his band mates, which is why I wasn’t surprised he split off on his own after an appearance at the US Festival in 1983. His first solo album, The Big Heat, pretty much cemented my love of him as a solo artist, as these were story songs firmly in the Warren Zevon mode. Ridgway wasn’t content writing fluffy pop songs or quirky alt anthems; no, each of his albums are little short story collections straight out of the hardboiled crime era of the 50‘s, tales full of desperate men, duplicitous women and lots and lots of alcohol. Stan Ridgway is Jim Thompson with a guitar cruising the honky tonks of the southwest. He’s Charles Woolford with a rhythm section waiting for his chance to play the Grand Ole Opry. He’s a pulp story teller at heart, and I love him for that.
|Yeah, with that dress, you might forget|
a kick-ass song at the start...
This track was originally from the disappointing attempt by Wayne Wang to merge punk rock with film noir, 1987‘s Slam Dance (a film perhaps more well known for putting the lovely Virginia Madsen in a slinky black, low-cut dress than anything else), and it’s the first of his solo works to be done specifically for an American movie*. It’s one of my favorite tracks of his, and for a long, long, long time I couldn’t find it anywhere, as the Slam Dance soundtrack went out of print and it wasn’t represented on any of Ridgway’s albums. Luckily, he released Holidays In Dirt, a b-sides and rarities collection in 2002 that contained the track in its full glory.
And what a glorious song it is--pure Ridgway noir, a song about a really, really bad man looking for his next job and utilizing some Hollywood history to create the killer of a chorus. Right from the crunchy synth riff, ably abetted by the woodblock-y persussion (Ridgway is well known for using Latin instruments on his tracks; one night I saw him perform at Maxwell’s on my birthday, and he called me up to play do the flute riff on 'The Big Heat’, which made it one of my best birthdays ever), there’s a sense of menace to this song. And then Ridgway’s whiskey-rough voice comes in promising us that if we know somebody we want messed up, he’ll do it for us--but don’t cross him. Even if you remain friendly with him, ‘it’ll be one punch for my patience/and a drawer full of dirty shirts/we’ll find out just who hurts.’ He doesn’t let up on the menace of this song, even when we get to the lyrical bridge--a trademark of Ridgway songs of this era--and that menace is left in the air long after we get to the fade. This song crystalizes Ridgway’s hardboiled sensitivies...plus there’s that amazing image of the chorus (‘Bing can’t walk/Bob broke both his legs’), an image so strong that there’s a story rattling around inside me that I still intend on returning to one day.
Stan Ridgway, bless his soul, is still out there performing. He recently released a new collection on songs, Mr. Trouble. With my beloved Warren Zevon gone, he may very well be the primary purveyor of musical short fiction alive today.
Here’s the song:
*--Truthfully, there were two songs with Ridgway’s involvement that precedes this one. ‘Don’t Box Me In’ was a Stewart Copeland composition with Ridgway on vocals made for Rumble Fish. And he also wrote the theme song for the French science fiction film Terminus. This is the first song that’s all his own written for an American feature.