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Clip: Juddy on Slim Cessna

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  • Carl A Zimring
    Slim Cessna Dirt Music Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER The tale starts much as any
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6, 2005

      Slim Cessna
      Dirt Music

      Writer: JUSTIN HOPPER

      The tale starts much as any legend of Western Pennsylvania might: a
      broke-down Econoline, a companion near death in a Pittsburgh hospital, an
      empty night at the Electric Banana, and room and board with a middle-aged
      rural matron named “Maude” or “Mildred” or something.

      “One of our guys almost died,” says Slim Cessna. “We ended up being at this
      lady Priscilla’s house in Mars, Pennsylvania, for about two weeks while her
      inbred sons fixed our van using parts they stole from the junkyard next

      Sure, that’s it -- “Priscilla.” And of course it’s Mars or Johnstown,
      something gothic and poetic -- never Shadyside -- where the preyed-upon
      city folk land. One can almost hear this gold-toothed, tall drink o’ water
      singing an Appalachian-punk ballad about it now, with his Denver
      alt-alt-country band Slim Cessna’s Auto Club. Or maybe his high school pal
      David Eugene Edwards, frontman for 16 Horsepower and ex-member of Cessna’s
      first group, death-rock troupe Bloodflower. But you won’t hear anyone sing
      about Priscilla, because that’s no tall tale, that’s history, son.

      “That was my first experience with Pennsylvania,” says Cessna. “We had no
      money, we didn’t know what we were gonna do, and I loved every minute of

      He loved it enough that, 20 years after that Bloodflower gig at the
      Electric Banana, Cessna is now a full-time Pittsburgh resident. (The
      “amazing” new CAPA facilities didn’t hurt, either: Cessna’s daughter
      attends the school now; his son hopes to start next year.) It might seem
      like an odd choice, since the still-Denver-based Auto Club, in Cessna’s own
      assessment, never quite caught on here. In fact, Slim’s upcoming solo debut
      will mark only the fourth time he’s played Pittsburgh in 20 years of
      touring. But Cessna’s often lived with feet in different parts of the
      country. For example, the first Auto Club album released after his arrival
      in Pittsburgh, The Bloudy Tenent, Truth & Peace, was recorded in Colorado,
      but featured Cessna’s most recent home of Rhode Island as its primary

      “Once The Bloudy Tenent was finished, we realized that was really a sort of
      mock history of Rhode Island, and that was kind of humorous to us,” says
      Cessna. “As songwriting goes, I don’t have a story that I set out to tell,
      so it ends up being about things that directly involve you and things that
      surround you. I think the obvious progression is that it’s going to be
      based on things here. But I’m not going to force songs about Pittsburgh --
      we’ll see what comes.”

      Besides place, one of the arterial themes on Bloudy Tenent is of religion
      -- the title itself comes from one of Roger Williams’ fiery texts. It’s a
      subject close to Cessna’s heart: While part of his extended family was off
      in Wichita building jet airplanes, the modest-income side was in Colorado
      preaching the word -- including Slim’s father.

      “I grew up being told that that’s just the way it is: Jesus is God, Satan’s
      the devil, and there’s no middle ground,” says Cessna, “and that’s a hard
      thing to shake. Even if you make the decision to say, ‘That’s a bunch of
      bullshit’ -- it’s like somebody telling me that air doesn’t exist: ‘Well,
      I’m breathing something!’ There’s always a conflict in trying to understand
      what it’s all about, I can’t stop -- it drives me completely crazy,
      actually. There will never be anything I can do to take that out of my

      Not a strange sentiment, perhaps, for a country singer -- not matter how
      out-there -- to express conflicted feelings over the Lawd Jaysis; strange
      sentiment, however, to find on discs bearing the seal of the Alternative
      Tentacles record label -- even if songs like “Last Song About Satan” bear
      the Auto Club’s trademark humor, the Lawd pops up all over. Yes, the label
      founded and operated by one-time Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra hosts Cessna’s
      god-fearing country outfit, because, as Slim puts it, mutual admiration
      doth strange bedfellows make.

      “I come from the same place as Jello,” says Cessna, “and I think that he
      and I actually see music very similarly as well. We met initially ’cause he
      was a fan of the band -- whenever he’d come to Colorado to visit his
      family, he’d come to a show. Which was really difficult for me, because I
      was such a huge fan. I mean, I’ve opened for Johnny Cash, but Jello Biafara
      was much more intimidating for me.”

      In the end, Slim and Jello simply see music the same way because Colorado,
      as a relatively isolated musical entity, breeds its own sound. And in the
      end, whether he’s singing about whooping-cough vaccinations in Pittsburgh
      bars, or Rhode Island Anabaptists at Boston clubs, the music comes down to
      an American folk tradition bred on the crags of Colorado.

      “When we take it apart and look at what we do, it’s the same way that folk
      music has been played for thousands of years,” says Cessna. “It’s always
      about who you are, where you are, who your people are. It’s American
      country-people music. Colorado and the way the landscape looks, it tends to
      create a certain atmosphere -- and if you live there, and your people are
      from there, I think that comes out. There are so many bands from there who
      really look at music differently -- it’s the color of dirt, all reds and

      Slim Cessna with Local Honey. 9 p.m. Thu., Oct. 6. Thunderbird Café, 4023
      Butler St., Lawrenceville. 412-682-0177
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