Skyscraper Magazine » These Are a Few of My Favorite Things: Wooden Wand
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By James Jackson Toth January 12, 2011

MURFREESBORO, TN: Of all the places I’ve lived, this is my favorite. I moved away for love, which is really the only legitimate reason to leave such a cool place. This is a town entirely free of assholes. Everyone I know in Murfreesboro (also affectionately known to locals as “The Murfhole” and “Bucket City”) is some mix of friendly, talented, and insightful. Even the most badass dudes there share recipes for yummy desserts. There is beauty everywhere, even beyond the community itself. One could do a lot worse than to end up in Middle Tennessee.

DRAG BOAT RACING: Got into watching some footage of this on YouTube while researching for a short story, and ended up reading about the entire history of the sport. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, a handful of crazy ass adrenaline junkies in Bakersfield would attach parachutes to their backs and race blown fuel hydros at speeds of up to 200mph. As with any so-called “action” sport with limited appeal, a community emerged around these nutjobs. The pioneers of drag boat racing more closely resemble members of an outlaw biker gang than the walking energy drink advertisements that make up today’s motorsports elite. I highly recommend Don Edwards, Barry McCown, and Bob Silva’s excellent book, Drag Boats of the 1960s, which documents this community, with a history of the sport and pictures that paint a thousands words.

ENVIRONMENTAL IRRESPONSIBILITY, OR “GAIA VANDALISM”: When my fiancée Leah and I started littering from the car window this past year, the rush was indescribable. This, the most ultimate and basic of rebellions, has become something of an addiction. We started doing it just for kicks, to make each other laugh, but now I do it even when I’m alone. There’s a definite rush that occurs when you roll open the window on the highway doing 90 and chuck a paper bag full of empty plastic bottles, gum wrappers, and tissues into the howling wind, watching the tumbling St. Vitus Dance of rubbish in your rear view mirror. Before you go feeling bad, you know who picks that shit up? Prisoners. So there’s a good chance that when you pitch an empty KFC box from your window, some carjacker or burglar or wife beater will have to pick it up.

THE HEMINGWAY HOUSE IN KEY WEST: I very much enjoy going to historic houses, even if I’m not terribly interested in what makes them historic (ask me about visiting the My Girl house in Bartow, Florida, sometime), but I’m a Hemingway fan, and seeing his writing room gave me the same sorta weird chill I felt the first time I saw an original Darger painting in person and a photograph of Jandek for the first time (see the next entry). There are too many people in America nowadays, so of course the tour was swarming with loud and stupid tourists who seemed interested only in photographing one of the famous six-toed cats that run amok on the grounds, but I tuned them all out best I could and allowed myself to take in the environment where such greatness occurred. Then, a few blocks away, I ate a slice of the best key lime pie I ever tasted.

SEEING A PHOTOGRAPH OF JANDEK FOR THE FIRST TIME: Like a lot of people, I didn’t really believe it when I heard that Jandek appeared in public. I’d heard that a man resembling the character on all of those great album covers, with the same spooky voice and inimitable guitar style, appeared onstage in Glasgow. It sounded like a stunt. I needed photographic proof. A friend was present and took a photo. I had an old computer at the time, so the picture downloaded slowly, from top to bottom, revealing in horizontal fragments the same man from the album covers, looking super cool, draped in black and peering out from behind a black rimmed hat. He was dressed like Kane from Poltergeist II. “Yup, that’s him, all right,” I thought to myself. I swear my heart skipped a beat. I haven’t kept up with Jandek’s post-coming out party music – not because I am not interested but because life has gotten too busy to keep up – but he remains an important figure to me.

LOCAL BOURBON: The single best thing about living in Kentucky is access to all the wonderful bourbons. My current favorite is Rowan’s Creek, but I have also been enjoying Old Pogue and Blanton’s a great deal. I’ve gotten so spoiled that I find my once beloved Jim Beam no longer goes down so smoothly.

LOCK GROOVES, SKIPPING RECORDS, AND REPETITIOUS MUSIC IN GENERAL: Repetition – what some call monotony – is an undervalued attribute where music is concerned. Sure, everyone loves Krautrock, but what about music that makes Krautrock sound like Zappa? Boyd Rice, Phillip Jeck, and Lee Ranaldo are just three of the inspiring artists to use vinyl lock grooves to create transcendent pieces of music. I’m frequently overjoyed when a record starts skipping at just the right place on a song. I once had a JJ Cale record skipping on a turntable for an entire day. Think about your favorite part of a song you love – whether it’s by Iron Maiden or Young Jeezy or Gong – don’t you wish it would go on forever? (Author’s note: This doesn’t work with skipping CDs. That shit just sounds terrible.)

MY FRIEND BRIAN LOWERY: Brian Lowery is my best male friend. We hit it off the minute we met and have been thick as thieves ever since. When I had to re-record parts for my new album in New York, Michael Gira asked me if I could only fly one person out from the original sessions, who would it be? I didn’t hesitate before I said “Brian Lowery.” His talent and good humor make him an asset to any record he plays on. He also writes great songs, but like a lot of great writers, he’s lazy, which is why most of you haven’t heard of him yet. Maybe this will light a fire under his ass to start getting his shit out there.

VIRGIL “THE RUCKUS” CAINE: Not every dog is worthy of his own Facebook page, but The Ruckus insisted I set him up one, so I did. He’s since amassed 106 friends. He is the light of my life.

NOT GIVING A SHIT ABOUT GEAR: I have never owned an instrument worth more than $600, and I only owned that one because I was playing in a metal band at the time and thought I needed to have a Gibson SG. Gearheads are boring. If you watch footage of RL Burnside, T-Model Ford, and Junior Kimbrough, those mothefuckers were playing through solid state amps on guitars that didn’t even have names on the headstock. I have owned some pedals, but the only one I didn’t sell within 6 months is a Boss tuner. I could probably even do without that one. I’m constantly hearing about bands on tour getting their vans broken into and losing tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear. Why would anyone tour with anything they’d need to take an insurance policy out on? If someone stole all of my gear tomorrow – I mean everything I own that allows me to play music, including batteries, cables, and picks – I’d be out about $400.

Oh yeah, and SUSHI. I fucking love sushi.

Wooden Wand is James Jackson Toth. The singer-songwriter, who has made dozens of recordings under nearly as many monikers, most recently released Death Seat on Michael Gira’s Young God Records in October. This latest full-length, his first for Young God, was produced by Gira and includes collaborations with Grasshopper of Mercury Rev, William Tyler of Lambchop and Silver Jews, and members of Big Blood.

Visit: Wooden Wand | Young God
Purchase: Insound | eMusic