In the fall of 1980, I was kind of adrift. I’d graduated from high school, just about to turn 18, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So, as a stalling tactic, I went to Fresno City College, where I could dip a toe in higher education while waiting for life to shove me in one direction or another.
So my days were spent doing data entry at my dad’s office or going to City (where I mostly remember hanging out in the quad area or playing ping-pong) and my evenings were spent drinking beer out in that neighbood with the streets but no houses, going to shows with Tim and singing with the band I’d joined just after graduating from high school.
Only the 1980s coulda produced a band like Easterhouse. Musically, they sounded like The Smiths if The Smiths had wanted to sound like U2.
The lead singer with the big voice and guitarist with the huge delay on every note brothers, Lyrically, they were, well, Communists.
Commie Stadium Rock. On Columbia Records and Tapes.
Album: Second Hand Heart
And so 30 years down the line — a lot of great music I need to get deeper into — Dwight Yoakam has become an elder statesman, his audience loyal, his songs nowhere near the radio, and his songwriting as sharp as its ever been.
Free from all but the most superficial trappings of country music — of course, you’ll have to pry his hat from his cold dead head — for years, Dwight has filled his albums with whatever the hell he wants — folk songs, cover songs, rock songs and country songs. Or songs straddling the line, like “Second Hand Heart.”
Album: If There Was a Way
It was Rox who turned me onto Dwight Yoakam, naturally. At some point in the mid-1990s, I started playing her folks like The Jayhawks, Rank & File, and Gram Parsons. You know: alt-country.
And she was all “yeah, those folks are really good, but have you heard this?” And it was Dwight’s 1990 album If There Was A Way, which soon became one of our soundtracks for our trips to and from Fresno, along with Lyle Lovett’s The Road to Ensenada and Wilco’s A.M.
Album: Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc.
I came late to the Dwight Yoakam party. Despite the fact that he was making music from the very start that I would have loved had I bothered to listen, I’ll admit that I didn’t really pay attention him until a decade into his career.
And despite the fact that I think that he’s been pretty consistently great throughout his career and is probably in the conversation for best Country artist ever, I still think that I underrate him.