VISITED BY THE GREAT COSMIC COW
I awoke at about 5:30AM one August morning in 1994 from a strange dream. Bovine revolutionaries had just taken Omaha in the most significant defeat of the US military since Red Cloud dusted Custer. The story was told in a simple countryesque tune with an over abundance of weak rhymes and low blow puns. I immediately rose to scribble down the 14 or so verses I remembered from the dream.
Several hours later my girlfriend found me in the parking lot writing in my notebook. We were about to leave on a trip where I was to meet her folks for the first time.
"Are you OK?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah, just writing a new tune".
"Let me hear it, perhaps you can play it for Mom and Dad this afternoon."
I sang her the tune.
I worked on the lyrics of COWS for several weeks and had a lot of difficulty with the ending of the song. At one point I had the US dropping nuclear weapons on the cows, but my friends quickly rejected this ending as "not positive", and "too sad". Which was true. But how could a bunch of poorly armed bovines defeat the greatest military might on Earth?
My old friend Robbie Liben was visiting from New York City. He is one of the worst punsters I've ever met in my life. When he gets on a role, it can be a real punishment. (groan). Anyway, he was hanging out with me up at the treehouse where I live, and we decided to go over into the neighbors hot-tub and work on the COWS WITH GUNS ending. Four hours later, a pruned Liben lept from the tub exclaiming "Whoppers, coppers, shoppers, choppers!" a quadruple rhyme capturing the entire Western experience of malls, meat, military, and a Hollywood cavalry rescue all in one neat double verse. COWS WITH GUNS was complete.
RECORDING IN A CHICKEN COOP
I noticed that COWS WITH GUNS went over remarkable well at my concerts, so I thought I'd better get my rear in gear and record it so I could sell a few extra CDs at my shows. I recorded the CD at Binary Recording Studio, located in an old chicken coop just outside Bellingham.
For years I had loved the music of Mi Tierra Mariachi at my favorite Bellingham Mexican restaurant, La Pinata. I asked them to join me in recording "Vacas Con Pistoles", and they agreed. We got it on the first take, and then, at the band's request, I took them out to dinner at the new gambling casino in Bow. I'd never won at gambling before in my life, but that night I won $5. I was feeling good and offered to buy the band anything they wanted for dinner. They chose hamburgeses and papas fritas (burgers and fries), in honor of the song. I had an avocado on french bread. Hold the mayo.
MILITANT BOVINE MARIACHI
ON THE AIR
On September 5, 1996, our local radio station KISM 92.9 Independent Rock invited me on the air for their "locals only" show. I gave music dictator Jon Eliot a copy of my new COW CD and suggested that he play COWS WITH GUNS, "a goofy little tune". That evening when I got home there were 2 messages about the song on my phone machine. The first call was from Jeff Sinclair from Abbottsford, British Columbia saying he wanted to do a cartoon book of the song. The work is in progress. If all goes well, I may soon be an author. My parents will be proud.
The next day someone from Canada (I live on the border) requested the song and 92.9 played it again. After a week or so of requests, Jon decided to make COWS "locals only pick of the week". This is a very cool phenomena where 92.9 picks one song of a local band and plays it 30 times over the course of a week. For a broke struggling musician, this is a very big deal.
For reasons I am not entirely clear on, COWS WITH GUNS touched something deep in the American and Canadian psyche, and in about 6 weeks it became the most requested song in 92.9's history.
I was about to head out on a 50 elementary school tour doing environmental education concerts in small logging, mining and ranching towns in Eastern Washington and Oregon when the COW phenomena began. I called up my brother Zach and told him how excited I was to really work on promoting COWS after my tour finished in December. Zach made several gentle comments about my IQ and suggested that I postpone my school tour in order to ride herd on the growing stampede. "We need to get COWS into Seattle" (sound of a huge church organ) Zach said. With the support of my friends who were setting up the tour on "The East Side" (thanks everybody!), I postponed the school tour and began my study in music industry 101.
"Bring your convention to Seattle. One city that's a real gas!"
THAT MYTHICAL PLACE: SEATTLE
(soprano choral harmonies)
We realized that Seattle's Grunge scene might be ripe for the Grange Rock moooovement. The saying amongst gaunt destitute rock-n-rollers in the Pacific Northwest (most of my friends) is that if you take Seattle you take the world. Of course most of Seattle's rockers sleep on bunk beds in unheated garage attics and practice in damp, mossy, semi-flooded basements, but this is moving up for any Bellingham musician. The Seattle Grungers moan and groan about the terrible state of the world. At least they have indoor plumbing! Which is why in Seattle it's called "Basement Rock", and in Bellingham it's called "Outhouse Rock".
I brought Zach 10 CDs, which he took around to radio stations in Seattle. We concentrated our years of musical experience in determining our marketing strategy. "What kind of stations should I take this to?" Zach asked. "Uhhhh, I don't know." the artist responded. "I've never heard this kind of music anywhere. Let's bring it to all of them."
Within a week 6 Seattle Radio stations were playing COWS WITH GUNS simultaneously. The first Seattle stations to play it were KYCW Young Country on the morning show with Dent and Burns, KISW 99.9 - "Seattle's Best Rock", on the morning show "Twisted Tunes", with Bob Rivers, Joe Bryant and Spike on Sports, and KMTT - The Mountain, on the 5:20 funny. Zach brought CDs around to stores in the Seattle area, and in early October COWS WITH GUNS moooved onto the Cellophane Square Top 40 charts in the Seattle region.
Bob Rivers and Joe Bryant of "Twisted Tunes" on KISW put a blurb about COWS on their website, as did Dent and Burns on their Morning Country DJ website. Jon Eliot and Ken Richards of KISM 92.9 in Bellingham started sending them to DJs across the country. Slowly but surely radio stations started calling me up for CDs. Soon COWS WITH GUNS was receiving cross-over air play on Country, Adult Alternative, Rock, Top 40, Oldies, Community, College, Bluegrass, and Pirate radio stations all over the US and Canada.
(me in a treehouse with a fax machine, Mom and Dad in the garage,
a few friends starving to death, making the whole thing up as we go)
At Bob River's (KISWSeattle) suggestion I set up toll free number where people could order COWS WITH GUNS until I got distribution lined up. After searching for my first choice "800-MADCOWS", and finding it reserved by AT&T (you tell me), I was thrilled to find that 888-878-COWS was available. I don't know why this number pleased me so much, but it did. Kind of like finding that ultimate vanity plate for your car.
For the first week or so Mom answered the 888 number and rapped with DJs and folks ordering CDs. Soon it got a little busy for her so we hired an answering service and call forwarded the calls over there. When you're having calls forwarded it rings once on your phone before its forwarded to the next phone. Instead of turning off the ringer, Mom left it on so she could hear the orders coming in. I must say, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling to hear that ringer go off six or seven times when I'm talking with Mom.
Dad set up a shipping station in their garage. And he took out 14 books from the library on the music industry. After studying how many ways I could go bankrupt in the music business, we agreed that since I had been virtually broke my entire adult life, there was no problem.
My friend Aaron Booker set up this website and has very patiently held my hand as I've waded into the murky waters of computer land. Many friends have helped out in many ways throughout my bovine adventure, and I thank you all for your help and support. (Aaron speaks: Yup, I saw Dana sing "Cows" at a concert last spring at the Roeder Home, here in B'ham, and laughed at "Cows," but bought TWO of Dana's albums with my hard earned $$$ because of "June is a coming" and "Turn of the Wrench" - then sadly I got to know Dana and got coerced into the mindless slavery of writing html, night after night. It's been great, really. I also learned about Dana's oddities - living in a tree house, and his great love of Mariachi)
NUMBER 1 IN SEATTLE
In one of those Earthly occurrences that goes against all laws of physics, COWS WITH GUNS went to number 1 for the two weeks preceding Christmas '96 on Cellophane Square's Top 40 for the region of (slow building kettle drums) Seattle.
SEARCHING FOR GOD OUTSIDE TUCSON
In early January, 1997, Bellingham Rocker Tim McHugh and I bought $98 plane tickets (round trip, can you believe it)! to Tucson and wandered into the desert seeking sun and spiritual guidance. One afternoon after skinny dipping in a desert creek, I sat on a cholla cactus thorn. Humbled, I rose without a whimper, and while trying to remove the stinging thorn in my derrier, I stepped on a old barrel cactus buried in the sand. That was when I screamed. I lept back into the creek, and there in the frigid January waters, cholla thorn in buttocks and barrel thorn in big toe, I felt as one with the creator, and knew I must return to the rainy Northwest to face my destiny.
Sidelined with a Back Injury
Just as things were getting fun (got on CNN world news tonight and COWS was just starting to take off in Australia) I hurt my back. Bad. Couldnt sit. I was on the phone sitting in a lousy chair for an hour and a half discussing a stressful contract with a music lawyer about an agent, and when I stood up, something was very wrong.
ADVICE: Always use good posture while talking to a music lawyer.
Managed to make it down to a counseling session I was having with my girl friend, and never did make it back to the treehouse for a year and a half. My life started to sound like a country western song: truck broke down, gal broke up, house broke in, job went broke. That was the moment COWS started climbing the Country Charts in Australia.
Australia Saves my Sorry Butt
It was kind of scarey not being able to work. I moved into a shack near town and started looking through my bank book trying to figure out how Id pay the rent. Thats when the checks started rolling in from Australian sales. While it was frustrating not to be able to go tour in Australia while COWS was doing so well, the miracle of having income while one is down and out did not escape me, and I felt quite blessed to have some dough during my time of healing. Thankyou Australia!
I learned a lot of stuff during those months when my cat Oliver and I hung out in our shack above Padden creek in Bellingham. Probably the biggest one: appreciation. When you lose the ability to do something, and get it back, I am one appreciative dude. Life is sweet when you can see that youre healing.
Penguin Publishes the Cow Book
Somewhere in the first few months of back healing Jeff Sinclair (phenominal cartoonist and artist from Abbottsford, BC) managed to convince me that COWS WITH GUNS needed to be a book and that he should do the art. Ill get us a publisher he said. One week later he called back and said, Ive got the 3 largest publishers in the world interested, but they say we need an agent. Ill get one. A week later he called. I got an agent and Penguin will publish the book. I was impressed.
Penguin wanted to make a few changes. Cows are female, so the committee thinks that Cow Tse Tongue should be female. And we want this to be sold as a childrens book so wed like you to change the lines pissed in his eye and cow well hung.
Fortunately I had no idea I was talking with one of the most important publishers in the country. Sometimes ignorance can work in your favor. My back was killing me, my romance was disintegrating and I was in a really fowl mood.
Tell the committee that Cow Tse Tongues gender is a secret to create confusion around who the real Cow Tse Tongue is: And for purposes of security well have to keep Cow Tse Tongue male in the book. Also explain to them that pissed in his eye is the four year olds favorite line; and the line cow well hung will give parents a chance to be creative when asked about its meaning. Besides, the song is on the top of the charts in Australia, and Ill never be able to show my face over there if I wimp out on these lines.
And by the way, if Penguin has a problem with a word referring to urination being seen in a childrens book, have they considered the issue cows running around with automatic weapons?
Next week I got a call. The committee had a change of heart. No changes!