In the 3rd installment of musical heroes from our co-founder André Archimbaud, he discusses the musical mystery that is Mr. Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers & The Gutter Twins (with Mark Lanegan).
To some degree, this is a continuation of my previous piece. It references the second band that I played that last night at KTSB-FM in Austin. I’ve written versions of this story before, but this has been edited & re-juxtaposed a good bit to appear fresh as a…well, you get it.
It starts in the Spring of 1992 & I was living in Austin – the one year I lived in Austin. I used to host an overnight college radio show on what was then called KTSB-FM. It was the early days media fragmentation. KTSB-FM was not broadcast over the air, but over cable TV. To listen to the station, you had to have your cable box jacked into your FM tuner. In other words, we had 4-10 listeners – at best – at any given time. After having been a freshman at Emerson College, which had one of the best & most-listened to college radio stations in America, it underscored my mistake of having transferred to UT.
Anyway, my time in Austin was coming to a close soon, as I was headed back to much greener pastures – other pastures are greener if they’re known pastures.
As I’ve mentioned, it was around this time that I’d begun to question my Catholic upbringing. I was realizing that the imprint that it had made on me was too strong, that the religion itself too overbearing for me – in many ways. I never quite believed the chapter & verse version of the story of Jesus. I always thought that, in the minimum, it had been embellished if not nearly mythological. That bit’s an entirely different story…for another forum.
Coinciding with that, I fell in love with the music from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ I listened to the original London cast recording incessantly. I guess I was fighting that upbringing in a musical way. Go figure…
The night of my final show on KTSB-FM was sometime in early-to-mid May. It was a 5-hour show that ran from Midnight – 5am. I loved those dark hours & the fact that – while it was a college radio station in 1992, read: college rock was finally breaking wide open a la Nirvana et al shooting through the stratosphere – it was also a completely free-form station. I could play Stravinsky or Strauss & then play The Germs or The Misfits.
Anyway, I decided that I would play an entire show of new music. There was a rack of albums, tapes & CDs that had new albums in it & I rifled through it to find a pile of tunes from bands I didn’t yet know.
That night, I played music from two bands whose music has shaped my mentality so very thoroughly that I cannot begin to explain…
I saw very cool cover art from a band called TOOL who’d just released an EP on an independent imprint of RCA Records called ZOO Entertainment. The cover art alone sold me. The music was raw & rough & loud. Some of it was played live…and I liked it very much. I played that album called “Opiate” from beginning to end. It is only 27 minutes, so I still had four & a half hours to fill!
Then, I thumbed across a few other discs & found a jarring image of a nude woman with a nude child on it. (Remember that Catholic thing? Here, for once, I was drawn to the forbidden…) The Afghan Whigs’ ‘Congregation’ lay before me. I was also drawn to the title of the first song on the record called “I’m Her Slave.” That one year in Austin was courtesy of a high school girlfriend whom I had dated long distance when I was in Boston. It was a bad idea to have moved, as we broke up within weeks of the move & I was all-but stranded in Austin.
But, what truly jumped out to me was ‘The Temple,’ their version of the song from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I was FLOORED that this band would cover music that had come to mean so much to me in the last several months. (When I returned to Boston the following year, I hosted a weekly 4-hour show tunes show on a *real* college radio station. I’d play The Temple at least once a month by The Whigs! to shake things up a bit on what was a pretty staid audience.)
What I’ve left out of this story was that around the same time I was questioning my upbringing & the faith I’d been raised with, I had also started attending Catholic mass twice or three times daily. I prefer to exhaust something before I give it all away…
So, the literal & lyrical imagery appealed to me in a very base way.
I kept track of The Afghan Whigs over the next 3-4 years. Buying the albums & getting a few bits & pieces here & there. But, I managed to miss seeing them live. I chalk that up to college & post-college debt of dollars & the fact that as a kid starting out in the broadcasting business, I would end up working evenings & overnights most of the next 10 years.
But, in the spring of 1996, I walked into a used record store called Mystery Train in Boston. I rummaged through another pile of CDs in the A’s & found ‘Black Love.’ I remember grabbing another one or two CDs from other artists & I took them all up to the listening station to preview.
With the opening organ growl that came from “Crime Scene Part One,” I was hooked. I spent the next 51 minutes standing, listening to the entirety of ‘Black Love’ at that listening station. “Transfixed by what I heard” would be an understatement. I’d listened to their other records & singles & covers…but, this thing, to me, was head & shoulders above anything I’d heard. It’s hard for me to listen to one or two songs from this record randomly. That thing demands to get played stem to stern!
When the band broke up, I was mostly on to listening other, harder stuff – tho, I did pick up their final record to that time called “1965.” Before The Afghan Whigs formally disbanded, the lead singer had formed a side project – an intentional revolving door of talent that would have him in & out of the limelight, sharing the stage with the likes of Mark Lanegan, Petra Haden & Joseph Arthur – called The Twilight Singers.
The Twilight Singers’ material was more murky & mired in love & lust & lack of trust than The Afghan Whigs’ material was. There was more meat on the bones from its founder having spent 15 years to that point in a music business that was quickly changing in some ways & slowly changing in others. As much as I adored The Whigs’ “Black Love” & earlier works, I really & truly fell in love with Greg Dulli’s work & words in 2010. After several years of personal & professional hardship, grief & anguish, I gave up on a lot of things. Namely, myself.
It was then that Greg leveraged his way into what had been a triumvirate of rock songwriters. I think I coined the term ‘quadumvirate.’
If you’re new to Greg Dulli, start with The Twilight Singers’ “Blackberry Belle.” It’s his single-best overall album, with a mild exception for “Black Love.”
I always loved his work – but now I needed his work. It was oxygen for me in a deepening sea of confusion. I cannot tell you how much this crystallized things for me…how much Dulli’s work opened me up to things I hadn’t realized were issues.
You see, when you blend a fairly religious childhood with a family that’s got a gay sibling and two parents who shouldn’t have made it past the 3rd date, it makes for strange…er, uh…bedfellows.
Dulli’s music poses questions where there should be answers & it separates where it should lift.
Below are some links to performances I think you should take in beginning with one of the most blistering live performances of a song I’ve ever heard: