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NewCityNet Bundy K. Brown's Dance with Death

Back in time to learn the strings

By Mitch Myers

AUGUST 3, 1998:  He had left both Gastr Del Sol and Tortoise for a solo career and had hit the creative wall with his latest ensemble, Directions. With mild hopes to break the monotony and get his artistic juices flowing, Bundy invited some friends over to his loft to play some acoustic music. A few days later, Curtis Harvey from Rex had flown in from New York and Chris Brokaw of Come was on his way from Boston. Bundy's pal Doug McCombs was in between gigs with Tortoise and promised to bring over a few bottles of wine for the evening's proceedings.

While everybody was eager to jam, things started out slowly. Each player had been working on some new acoustic compositions, but their combined sound had yet to meld. After hours of aimless musical meandering and a few laughs, the foursome decided to go out for some Mexican food. It was a warm evening and there was plenty of activity on Damen Avenue. It was then that the strangest thing happened. They had all stepped off the curb to cross the street when a flash of light exploded in front of them and blinded the group for a good twenty seconds.

As their vision returned, they noticed that Damen was practically deserted. Not only that, the street seemed different in some way. "What the hell happened?" Bundy wondered to himself. Without speaking, the men huddled together to cope with their confusion. A few moments passed when Chris Brokaw gazed down and then shouted, "Hey! Look at the date on this newspaper. It says today is July 23rd, 1972!" Doug McCombs laughed and said, "Yeah right, and we're the fucking Hardy Boys. Let's ask somebody else what is going on." The four began quarreling out of frustration just as a tall, bearded hippie walked by.

Without hesitation, Curt Harvey said, "Excuse me, but do you know what year it is?" The hippie stopped and stared at them. "What year? C'mon, I know it's near harvest season but the grass going around isn't THAT good. It's 1972, of course." Bundy and his friends grew hysterical. The hippie (whose name was Fred) watched them squabble for five solid minutes before interrupting their discussion. "Hey, I don't know what's wrong, but if you guys want to crash at my pad and sort things through, you're more than welcome."

"Gee, thanks," said Bundy. "Maybe we can figure this out if we get off the street for a while." As they entered Fred's apartment, the dazed time-travelers let out a collective gasp. For there, strewn about the room, were a dozen vintage guitars. There was a beautiful Guild 12-string sitting by the couch and a Martin propped up against the wall. There was a dobro, a mandolin and even a stand-up bass. "Yep," said Fred. "These are my babies. Any of you guys play?" The four laughed nervously and settled down in the hippie's cluttered living room. Almost immediately, Chris spied a small artifact near Fred's stereo. "Wow, check it out. A brand new copy of Leo Kottke's Takoma album, '6- And 12-String Guitar.' I'd recognize that armadillo on the cover anywhere."

Before they knew it, Bundy, Chris, Doug and Curt were lost in discussion with Fred. They spoke for hours about the history of solo steel-string guitar music. Fred really knew his stuff and was a pretty tasty player, too. He was a walking encyclopedia when it came to John Fahey's Takoma label and had all the albums by Fahey and Kottke (up to 1972, of course) as well as more obscure players like Robbie Basho and Peter Lang. "Yeah," he said. "Leo Kottke was an incredible technician while Fahey was more the stylist/composer. I've got a permanent cramp in my left hand from trying to play 'Vaseline Machine Gun' like Kottke." They continued discussing requiems, guitar soli and Fahey's all-time classic, "The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death." They talked deep into the night about the American folk form phenomenon. Big, wooden guitars, all loosely strung with open, dropped tunings and fingerpicking styles from the 1930s played by Southern blacks and poor white folks. "It was an American interpretation of Renaissance music with some Delta blues thrown in for good measure," Fred laughed. "Now let me show you my version of Kottke's 'Cripple Creek.'" It was two in the morning when Curt, Doug and Chris started getting hungry. "We gotta get something to eat, Bundy," said Doug. "You want to come with us?" Bundy looked up from the six-string in his hands and said, "Nah, Fred and I want to try the Allman Brothers tune, 'Little Martha.' You go ahead, I'll catch up with you later."

As the trio left Fred's apartment and walked back onto Damen, another blinding flash of light appeared before them. While their eyes slowly readjusted to the darkness, they realized something had changed. "Shit, we're back in 1998 but Bundy is still in the past playing music with that guy Fred," Curt moaned. "What are we going to do now?" "Let's go back to the loft," Chris suggested. "There has to be a resolution to all this."

As they got to the door of Bundy's loft, they heard a ringing acoustic guitar inside. They knocked and a spry old man answered the door. "Bundy?" they screamed. "Yep, it's me. What took you guys so long? Come in and close the door. I think I've got this acoustic stuff down finally. I've been doing a whole lot of practicing."

Bundy K. Brown, Chris Brokaw, Curtis Harvey and Doug McCombs are known collectively as Pullman. Their new album is called 'Turnstyles & Junkpiles' on Thrill Jockey Records. And guess what? It's all acoustic.


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