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Allison Wonderland 

by Michael Bowen and Mike Corrigan


Advice columns and Cosmo are often all a-twitter about how best to break up with one's boyfriend or girlfriend. But Mose Allison (covering early Nat King Cole) had the right idea back in the '50s in "Meet Me in No Special Place": "Baby, we two can't get along / I'm never right and you're never wrong / I'm all fed up on your advice / Missin' you will be paradise / So meet me at no special place / And I'll be there at no particular time."


All this, delivered in the classic accoutrements of blues mixed with jazz: stride bass, soft brushes and Allison's jaunty piano solos, accompanied by his bemused and bluesy voice - a voice so drenched in the Mississippi Delta that back in the '60s, Jet magazine (then as now a premier outlet for news about black Americans) once called Allison to set up an interview, only to cancel it: Mose Allison, born in 1927 in a Mississippi town called Tippo, is very much a white man.


And a man entranced by the blues. So what about the blues' contrast that pits sad lyrics against infectious tunes? Doesn't the repetitiveness of the 12-bar blues, its predictability, make the sadness seem almost inevitable?


"Here's the thing," says Allison, his drawl sounding even more relaxed and cool over the phone lines than it does on his recordings. "As Willie Dixon once said, 'The blues is the truth.' In other words, you got to face the reality -- and then, if you can feel good after that, that's what the blues is tryin' to do."


The bluesman's persona faces the sadness and laughs anyway. "That's the one thing you gotta learn about," he says, "the Southern idioms, the speech patterns and the aphorisms and the understatements, the exaggerations, all that stuff. The key to that sort of thing is, I wrote a song called "Kiddin' on the Square.' It's like you're kidding on the surface but underneath, you're serious. Most people picked up on the cynicism and the deep part without gettin' the jokes."


That's why Allison has adopted a phrase from poet Kenneth Pachen as his motto: "Hallelujah, anyhow." In Allison Land, the cynic is also the one who laughs last.


"I'm a comedian now, man - are you kiddin'? I used to be considered a cynic," Mose muses. "Hell, for 20 years, people used to call me a cynic. Now, I get more laughs than most comedians, because they're just now pickin' up on the lines that I wrote years ago."





Ever since the world ended, I don't go out as much / People I once befriended just don't bother to stay in touch / Things that used to seem so splendid don't really matter today. It's just as well the world ended / It wasn't working anyway.





"That's on a CD on Blue Note that's out of print now," Allison chuckles. "It's called 'Ever Since the World Ended.' I do that every night -- that's one that people really relate to now."


Lots of people relate to Allison's tunes. He's been covered by a long list of artists: Tom Waits, Johnny Winter, the Clash, Eric Clapton, Elvis Costello, Leon Russell ("I'm Smashed"), John Mayall ("Parchman Farm"), the Yardbirds ("I'm Not Talking"), Bonnie Raitt ("Everybody's Cryin' Mercy"), the Who ("Young Man Blues" and "Eyesight to the Blind" in Tommy, though Sonny Boy Williamson did it before Allison). In 1996, Van Morrison recorded an Allison tribute album. Forty years ago this month, Allison moseyed onstage for a gig with the Rolling Stones. At age 76, he still plays more than 120 dates a year.


But celebrity status doesn't do much for him. Allison recalls when "Someone said to me once, 'You were a social critic long before Dylan; you were satirical long before Newman; you were rude long before Jagger -- why aren't you a bigger star?' My answer to that was: 'Just lucky, I guess.'"


In fact, he's more of a star in Europe, which accounts for 70 percent of all blues sales. What do Europeans understand that Americans don't?


"We don't have a picture of history," Allison says. "In this country, it's just what happened this week, and what's gonna go on next week. Everybody tryin' to figure out what they gonna sell next week."


Is that because our own history only goes back a couple hundred years?


"I think it has to do with the hustlers. Somebody just wrote a book sayin' that America's successful because they let the hustlers hustle. We ain't nothin' but hustlers over here," he laughs.


And right now most of them are talking into their cell phones. Allison doesn't seem like a Type A, rush-rush cell phone kind of guy.


"Yeah, sure," he agrees. "But I got a tune with a cell phone line in it. It's called 'The More You Get, the More You Got To Lose.' I'll be doin' that, probably, when I get to Spokane."





I've been doin' some thinkin' 'bout the nature of the universe / Found out things are gettin' better / It's people that are getting worse.





Despite the cynicism that his laughter camouflages, Allison doesn't engage in pointed political satire: "People are always askin' me, 'Are you writing anything about the current situation?' and I say, "No, I been writin' about the current situation for the past 40 years.'"


Hallelujah, anyhow.





Dark Remedy -- The Cure on tour supporting a new record is certainly very buzzworthy. Of the zillion or so English bands to emerge in the post-punk era, the Cure is one of the few remaining which can reappear at half-decade intervals and still get rock 'n' roll hearts beating like gangbusters. Front man Robert Smith's dark yet somehow hopeful vision and the group's jagged, thickly textured pop songs have an enduring appeal that transcends generational lines. They headline the intriguing Curiosa Tour this Saturday at the Gorge.


But there is another band (among many great bands) on the bill that has the smarts, the charisma, and the deliciously atmospheric sounds to potentially overshadow Smith's best efforts. That band is New York's Interpol, a young group that represents the best aspects of pioneering bands like the Cure and Joy Division while remaining firmly grounded in a modern lower Manhattan sensibility.


Interpol -- with singer/guitarist Paul Banks, bassist Carlos D., guitarist Daniel Kessler and drummer Sam Fogarino -- creates broad, moody soundscapes crackling with raw emotionalism, drama and a fair amount of jet black humor. Simply put, they are one of the most exciting bands to emerge from NYC -- or anywhere in independent rock -- in many moons. Since forming in 1998, they've managed to create something new by selectively borrowing from the past, without sounding contrived or dated. The sound on Interpol's critically acclaimed 2002 Matador Records debut, Turn on the Bright Lights, is expansive and breathtaking. Assuming the band doesn't crack under the strain of external pressures or internal strife -- the members have a reputation for being somewhat volatile -- look for huge things from Interpol when its new album, Antics, hits the streets on Sept. 28.


In the meantime, satisfy any curiosity you might have about the group this Saturday at Curiosa. I doubt very much that you'll be disappointed with what you discover.





NOTE TO READERS -- Just as we were going to press, we were notified by House of Blues that the Curiosa Tour stop at the Gorge has been delayed. It will be rescheduled, so House of Blues is encouraging you to hold on to your tickets, but the show may not be at the Gorge. Watch this section, or check out www.hob.com for the latest.





Publication date: 08/19/04
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