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Guy’s World: Culturally Appropriate, With a D.A.

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The Medicine Men, an acoustic swing duo I play guitar in, had just wound up for the night at Tupelo. Warwick, an old acquaintance, came over to say hi. “You guys looked just like a couple of Elvises,” he said. If I’d been feeling pedantic I would have corrected him - the correct plural of Elvis is, of course, Elvi.

A few nights later I was chatting with a girl at the opening of World Famous in Wanganui, an exhibition featuring a group of Wanganui Polytechnic art students at Inverlochy House in Wellington. The Medicine Men had just finished providing the music. “So, is your hair always like that, or is it part of the costume?” she asked. Jesus, I thought, maybe it really isn’t normal to have a rock ‘n’ roll hairdo anymore. I had to admit to her that I’ve had variations on the quiff, or the standard men’s as I like to think of it, for most of the past six years. My bandmate Justin's been combing it back as long as I've known him. “So, you’re, like, really into Elvis then?” Damn, I couldn’t deny that one either.

I was starting to feel freakish. But after chatting for a while longer I found out my inquisitor didn’t drink alcohol, coffee or tea, didn’t like spicy food and worked for the Salvation Army. I put her bemusement down to cultural differences, and I think she figured the same. Once we got that sorted we got on great.

The standard men’s concept I got from guitar slinger Brian Setzer, who remarked on the style’s ultimate versatility: from the outlandish, like the towering lacquered D.A. Brian wore when he was fronting the Stray Cats in the 80’s, to the respectable, as in the restrained quiff he sports today. While most people my age would be mortified at being seen as some kind of throwback and go out and get themselves a lawnmower haircut, I take it as a compliment.

The Medicine Men have been playing semi regularly midweek at Tupelo and seem to have passed the taste test. The main thing is the staff like us and therefore keep refilling our drinks and asking us back. Our big payday came through a patron though. We’d finished for the night and were having a drink when this beautiful girl who’d been enjoying the music asked us to play some more. We’d exhausted our repertoire so said that was all we had, come back next week and we’ll have some more songs. Next thing we know, her boyfriend’s at our table with his wallet open offering us $100 for one song. For $50 each, we decided repeating a couple of tunes wasn’t really in such bad taste after all and gave them four, which they got maximum enjoyment out of, dancing cheek to cheek. Their pleasure was our artistic satisfaction, and $100 dollars well spent and gratefully received. We’ve since doubled the repertoire for such occasions.

In Guy’s World: Lesson’s From The Hutt I praised the social distortion of cranked electric guitar and rock ‘n’ roll. But just as the standard men’s can range from punk to respectable, the same instrument that can be rude and obnoxious can be intimate and romantic.

It is in the latter tradition that the guitar has been the companion of gypsies, troubadours and mariachis – storytellers travelling with their “little orchestra,” as Segovia called the instrument. Justin, the Medicine Men’s singer and lead guitar player, and I have both played in our share of loud rock bands, but this duo works the guitar’s gentler side.

Despite a big chunk of our material predating the mid twentieth century, people often remind me of its continued cultural relevance. A Tupelo patron told us a song in our set, I’m in the Mood for Love, is featured in a new movie. I didn’t catch the name of the film, unfortunately. We were practicing Link Wray’s Rumble Mambo, a rock instrumental we give the acoustic treatment, when a friend told us you can hear it on the movie From Dusk to Dawn. It’s the soundtrack for the scene where a woman turns into a demon, setting off a massive vampire vs. human brawl. Wicked.

You can hear the Medicine Men at Tupelo on Thursday and see World Famous in Wanganui at Inverlochy House until the end of the week.

Feedback to: guy@scoop.co.nz

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