Smithsonian Institute Blues

Don Trubey

Touring. It's never boring. 110° heat in Kansas City... Chicken from a chain store... Truck stop speed... Omaha to Minneapolis to Iowa City in six days... Arguments with surly bar owners... Can we sleep on your floor?

In July of 1981, The Dancing Cigarettes, living gig to gig, found themselves stranded for a week in Washington D.C. when their interim booking — a club in Philadelphia — literally went up in smoke. Seemed like a good time to reflect on "First Encounters" with their on-location host, WQAX's Gus Travers.

Gus:  Yesterday, I was talking with Tim, who mentioned his first encounter with a musical instrument. Do you remember that story?
Tim:  What... Being thrown against a piano?
Gus:  Yeah.
Tim:  When I was very... When I was a toddler...
Emily:  Your father did that?
Tim:  No. My brother.
John:  He threw you right on the keys?
Tim:  Yeah. You know how kids, like... While your big brother will, you know, whirl you around by your arms, and you let loose... And I hit the piano.
Don:  And what was the chord you hit there?
John:  Yeah.
Tim:  Sharp... Bruise sharp... And that's how I learned to play the bruise.

Gus:  Butch. Do you remember your first encounter?
John:  I think... I used to play my brother's bongos a lot.
Gus:  How old were you?
John:  Oh... You know, eight or something. And I also used to play the piano, but I always... I played these compositions that were just noise... And that's before I ever heard of anybody like Cage or anything like that. I was a little kid, so I didn't take them seriously, but after I thought... After I got older, you know, I thought about it.
Gus:  Did you record them?
John:  Yeah. Actually... But I lost all the tapes.

Michael:  I had an early encounter with a musical instrument.
Don:  Tell us about it.
Michael:  Well, in my folks' house, they had... There was a... On this very high shelf that I had to stand on chairs to reach, there was an old zither that we still have around here. It was made in about 1898 and has gone completely out of tune in a real wacko way. And no one ever played it. It was just up there. I was the only one in the family that ever... I'd bring it down frequently and twang around on it... Sort of get this Twilight Zone effect.
John:  Yeah. That's the kind of stuff I did on piano... Just press all the... Press the pedal down, so you get that real heavy sustain.

Gus:  Well, I've noticed that, in your music, you sometimes use childhood rhymes and tunes...
Don:  What about my first encounter?
John:  Yeah. What's your first encounter?
Michael:  Let's talk about first encounters, then we'll talk about childhood rhymes.
Don:  Well, I never had a first encounter, so... Next question...
John:  What about Emily?
Don:  I found a silver-plated C-melody saxophone in my grandfather's attic. And... I was about seven. And I'd go up there and honk on it.
John:  Yeah.

Don:  My grandfather played twelve different instruments...
Emily:  At the same time. (Gordon Trubey) 
Don:  No. He'd play trumpet for three months, then he'd go to clarinet, then he'd go to piano...
Michael:  He was a restless kind of guy.
Don:  He lived in Chicago...
Michael:  Land of the bruisers.
Don:  My great-grandfather was a marching band conductor... And he invented a chord player for the piano.
Gus:  Like artificial fingers?
Don:  Yeah. He had a patent on it.

Emily:  Well, Tim's aunt invented the ice cream sandwich.
Tim:  Well... Telling true historical tales, my aunt invented the ice cream sandwich.
John:  My god!
Tim:  She sold the patent to Nabisco for $500.
Gus:  Oh, no!
Tim:  She didn't have any money, so she sold it.
Gus:  What did she use? Real bread?
Tim:  Well... She used chocolate cookies and ice cream and just put 'em together. She ran a little grocery store in St. Louis... And the kids loved it... And Nabisco heard about it, and they bought the idea for $500. This was during The Depression.

Emily:  How do you like that?
Tim:  So, Emily... What's your story?
Emily:  My first encounter... I took piano lessons when I was really small, up in kind of an upstairs closet of a music school with this old lady, but I rebelled against it... I can remember... I was at a parade once, and I heard a bass drum go by, and it was a really low sound that hit me right in the stomach, and I thought there was something really horrible about that, and that it shouldn't be played. I used to run away when they played it... Now I play the bass.

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