Park Avenue Dregs
In the mid-80s there sprouted in Kentucky (of all places) something weird, wonderful, and a little frightening. Three college dropouts in Bowling Green became a trio (guitar, bass and drums) that was something beyond psychedelic rock and into the realm of Salvador Dali and Jackson Pollack applied to sound. Savage and subtle, the Park Avenue Dregs started their shows like a bus picking up passengers. An invitation to go on their journey was a cleaving between those who had the stomach for it and those who just needed to go back to their dorm rooms where it was safe, where they could reassure themselves having a listen to R.E.M. or the Cure – two bands the Dregs made sound safe as milk.
Fronted by Nashville native Johnny Thompson, the Park Avenue Dregs slung onto canvas an aggressive mélange of dense chord clusters, quartertone harmonies and whiplash time signature changes that sounded like satanic back-masking without having to play the record in reverse. One minute they were in your face with the punk fury of “Let the Brain-Kicking Ceremonies Begin”, and in the blink of an eye they would crash-land into the spacious, blissed-out surrealism of “Stairwelling.”
Playing a pink paisley Stratocaster with the chorus pedal always on, his face hidden behind jagged bangs hanging to his chin, Johnny Thompson sang with a voice that was automatically unsettling and weirdly beautiful, a helium baby’s cry capable of conveying agony and serenity simultaneously, and strongly suggesting that Johnny’s brain was a soft womb with tacks on the floor. With Pete Lentz on the drums and Keith Heric on bass, the Dregs were armed with a blessed ignorance of what was acceptable and unacceptable in music. “I had no idea what I was doing.” Heric says, “We were just there to push boundaries and serve Johnny’s unique vision.” It’s not like they said, hey, let’s play 12 bars in 4/4, then switch to 7/8, and let’s harmonize to a mixolydian mode and sing halfway between B and B flat. They didn’t script it out; they just did it, because no one ever told them they couldn’t.
It’s the hoariest rock scribe cliché to saddle a band with comparisons to other previous bands, or to say they’re like a cross between so and so and such and such, and in this case the whole motif comes apart anyway. This author had heard a lot of music before the Dregs came along, and has heard a lot since then, but I am stumped when it comes time to say whom they sounded like. There were elements of Syd Barrett, Sonic Youth, the Doors, Nick Drake and the Velvet Underground, but they also sounded nothing like those influences. One thing, though, was there. Underneath all the weirdness and chaos, there was a hint of the Beatles, just enough to be the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down.
The Dregs are reuniting now, in the safe and sober 21st Century. That’s a good thing and you should go see them. The world still needs music that can’t be put in a tiny box with a label on it and an expiration date. Especially when at the core of it is a warlike, unstudied brilliance that transcends time, labels and maybe even understanding. Jon E. Thungston, lead singer and lyricist for the band claims, “We hate being pigeon holed. If you want to label something then label your silverware. As for the music, if you don’t get it then we probably already despise you.” His satanic choir boy glare convinces me to change the subject.
The Park Avenue Dregs were formed 7 years ago when former Ted Nugent roadie Keith Herring found himself penniless and covered with candy wrappers on the doorstep of tambourinist Pete Dawnsbrother. “Pete’s a confirmed vegetarian now”, chimes Herring, “but at the time his favorite foods were sauteed marrow and bull semen. Anyway we decided to start a band for the hoot of it.”
I queried Dawnsbrother on the origin of the band’s name. “Most people think of Park Avenue as the name of a street or something, but actually it’s the take-off of the Czech word ‘perkavv’, which loosely translated means wolverine-screaming-from-a-bear-trap-wound. And ‘Dregs’ was the name of the pet wolverine I kept as a child. I still have its cranium at my aunt’s nursing home in Dothan, Alabama.”
As showtime approaches, a wide variety of people gather – some tall, some not so tall. One thing they do all do have in common is the collective desire to get trashed and do a little trashing of their own. The room darkens and over the P.A. is heard the strains of electric piano (from Seed Sharone – the Dregs’ 5th Beatle), followed by electric harmonica and synthesized washboard. Without warning, the band launches into the title cut from their latest tape, “Eggs in ya”. Jon E. prances around the stage like a cocktail waitress who’s just realized that she’s left the iron on at home. “Boogie-woogie now baby”, he wails, “gonna grease my grits with your napkin dispenser tonight!”. The crowd is bobbling and chortling as if they’d all consumed a family sized bottle of Robitussin. Keith Herring – the Lyle Lovett of the group – appears to be on the verge of sweating, but mysteriously no moisture appears. Seed (the Dregs’ so called 5th Beatle) pounds the keyboards while simultaneously thrusting his crotch to the delight of the cheering crowd. Meanwhile Pete adjusts his “skins ‘n’ sticks” in the professional way that has earned him the moniker “the Richard Petty of beating shit”. The crazed writhing fans scream “Rizpah! Rizpah!”, which is street slang for “We hear you loud & clear & it’s taking us to town!”
A few hours later it’s all over and the floor is littered with wadded up Country Peddlers & drenched panty sheilds. The band has retired to the men’s room where they give each other five & take turns drinking water from the faucet. After a silent prayer of thanks, they tearfully depart and vow to return. Somehow I believe them. Somehow indeed!!!
P.S. (post script)
I was feeling like an adobe hut, caved in and long abandoned by starving Indians. It was easy to imagine the last blade of grass curling up brown & dying. How do people endure such miserable segments of desolate desperate life? As my friend says – “When the sacred falls before profane the wisest man is deemed insane.”
These were my thoughts as I contemplated keyboardist Seed’s departure from the maxi P.A.D. Following his childhood dream he moved to Ohio where he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. “Once a jock always a jock.”, he snickered last Friday as we conversed over a bowl of mosquito larvae. “I know I’ve got at least two seasons of serious ball slamming. And if not – I got your Louisville Slugger dangling.”
Goodbye young Seed. May the host of contemplated reason receive your blonde tobacco chewing bounty!!