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December 23, 2011

You may remember from my last post that some mysterious things were going down at Uncle Steve's a while back. Norm married Catherine, which apparently surprised everyone except Bert, and Admiral Porkliver's bus somehow disappeared and was then returned in running condition with the keys in the ignition, and that left us all scratching our heads big time.

Well, we didn't have to wait very long for the bus mystery to be solved.

A few weeks ago, the Rocking Dudes were playing another one of their extremely boring sets, featuring a "brand new" piece called "Rocking Out," which is a typical 12-bar blues number played at about twice the usual speed. For them, that's pretty groundbreaking, I suppose.

The lead guitar player, I forget his name again (Sam?), anyway, he bought yet another new sound-effects gadget that he says cost him 800 bucks and has all these space-age features on it. It seemed like he decided to turn all of those features on all at once and to set each one of them to 10 while he was jamming to "Rocking Out," so for several unbearable minutes there his guitar sounded like a cross between a jungle leopard straining to hack up a massive hairball and the Bionic Man working full-tilt to unstop a toilet with a plunger.

At that moment, nobody was in the building except for the Rocking Dudes, Bert, Norm and me. No other performers had showed up on that cold, rainy evening. According to Norm, Catherine had decided to stay home and catch an episode of her favorite reality TV show, Jersey Shore. Norm, our bartender, was slouched over in his lounge chair and snoring softly. I was reading the latest edition of Rolling Stone magazine and trying to ignore the Rocking Dudes. The only person really paying attention to the band was Bert, who was even more sloshed than usual, and was shouting out: "Awesome effects box! Killer sound! You dudes rock!"

Yes sir, we had really, really reached a low point there at Uncle Steve's. I was even thinking about simply shutting the place down altogether until the spring since attendance had been so bad. Norm and Catherine had even stopped preparing dinner because of the lack of people showing up.

And then, just when we had touched bottom, just when all hope seemed lost, just when darkness seemed to be closing in on every side, and I was seriously tempted to go in the back room and switch off the main breaker, and put a merciful end to the Rocking Dudes' set (I would have acted as if the power must have gone out), suddenly, right then, the front door to Uncle Steve's slammed open and in walked the members of Admiral Porkliver as if they'd just left yesterday. But allow me to refresh your memory -- they'd been away for over a year, since September of 2010, to be exact.

I ran up to bandleader Stoughton Finney, who held his hand up to my face and turned away with a look of complete disgust. Sheesh, how was that for holding on to some serious resentment, and after all of my online apologies, which I am certain he read. But I was still glad to see that he was back.

Stoughton walked right up to Norm, placing his hand on his shoulder and waking him up. Norm was overjoyed to see him, since you know how bad he felt about Admiral Porkliver leaving, and had considered himself to be personally responsible for Stoughton's decision to abandon Uncle Steve's.

While Norm was anxiously and excitedly apologizing, Stoughton tried several times to cut in, all to no avail, until he finally lost his patience and shouted out at Norm: "We are exceedingly hungry and I understand from the website that you presently serve dinner here! Now, can we have some food?! Chop-chop, man, chop-chop!"

Norm said no more, ran into the kitchen full speed, and started work on a huge pot of couscous, and he also pulled several packages of frozen chicken breasts out of the freezer and threw them into a pot of boiling water. In a few minutes this very basic but thoroughly satisfying dinner was prepared and served to the members of Admiral Porkliver, who attacked it with the plastic utensils we provided them. They ate so fast and furiously that I had to wonder when the last time was that they had enjoyed a decent meal.

Bert was not pleased to see the return of Admiral Porkliver, a band that he particularly dislikes, and started shouting out profanities at Stoughton, who walked up to Bert and calmly remarked that Bert need not worry himself, since Admiral Porkliver would soon be on the road and out of Bert's hair.

The drummer for the Rocking Dudes stopped playing when Admiral Porkliver came in, and was about to get up and greet them, but the lead guitarist said, don't stop, no big deal, just keep playing.

So, the Rocking Dudes finished the rest of their set, and then quickly packed up their things and -- with Bert joining them -- left without saying a single word to Admiral Porkliver. I think that the Rocking Dudes' drummer maybe wanted to welcome them back, but the lead guitarist doesn't like Stoughton Finney, who had insulted him several times in the past, so I guess that was their moment to show group unity and just walk away. The members of Admiral Porkliver were so intent upon inhaling their food that they couldn't have noticed the silent departure of the Rocking Dudes.

Once they had enjoyed second and third helpings, and had calmed the ravenous beast within, so to speak, I sat down with them while Norm served them a round of our very best beer, on the house along with the food. Bass player Melvin Mayo, congenial and talkative as always, filled me in on what had happened in the Czech Republic, and how the band had finally made its way back to Uncle Steve's.

After their arrival in that European country, Admiral Porkliver was very graciously received by the government authorities, and gave a concert at the "palatial retreat of the minister of information," as Stoughton calls it, which caused something of a minor sensation when news of it was released in the national press. For awhile there, large segments of the Czech population wanted to know what Admiral Porkliver was all about. The band was introduced to a consortium of central European music industry bigwigs, who got Stoughton to sign all kinds of contracts in exchange for their support.

It seemed like a very good deal at the beginning, since the money wasn't all that bad, and they got to live in hotel rooms and eat as much as they wanted, but as time went by, the group started to feel trapped.

They were forced to record musical jingles for upcoming monster truck shows, which are extremely popular in the Czech Republic, and were also obligated to record with rather conventional, unimaginative and thoroughly uninspired European studio musicians who were brought in to play with them on stale and uninspiring tunes written by hack songwriters working for the consortium. Willy the kazoo player was excluded from the recording sessions, which deeply infuriated Stoughton in particular. Several of their newly-recorded tunes were made available for purchase over the Internet, but it seemed that the Czech people were perhaps more interested in the visual spectacle of the band during its live performances than in their actual music, and sales of their online tunes were so poor that they were eventually taken off the Internet altogether. They did an endless series of government-sponsored concerts at small military bases throughout the country, and as their popularity steadily waned, ended up playing at grand openings for furniture stores and car dealerships. The final straw was when a female Czech singer was brought in to work with the band on a recording of a Czech version of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" for the cell-phone company Vodafone Czech Republic. That's when Stoughton threw a fit, stormed out of the studio, and refused to cooperate anymore.

Well, it turned out that the consortium had also just about had enough of Stoughton, and arrangements were made to amicably put an end to the terms of the contracts on the condition that Admiral Porkliver might receive a generous severance package. Stoughton ranted and raved, complained and criticized, insulted and condemned, and basically acted like such a total pain in the rump that the consortium doubled the offer and literally begged Stoughton on their hands and knees to accept it, which he finally did, provided that the consortium director kiss his ring, which, believe it or not, was actually done right then and there.

So, there they were in the Czech Republic with a big whopping chunk of severance money and no definite plans. Lots of ideas were kicked around with Stoughton listening in silence for several hours.

Finally, he summarily declared that the band would have someone repair the bus they had left back at Uncle Steve's, and would then set off upon an extensive tour, which he dubbed the Magical Mystery Meat Tour. It was actually just going to be the Mystery Meat Tour, but then Dr. Roscoe Hogg suggested the addition of the word "Magical," which Stoughton approved. Later on, they discovered that Stoughton had no familiarity whatsoever with the Beatles' discography, and when they asked his opinion about the Fab Four, he dismissively described them as "trite rubbish unworthy of even one millisecond of a true epicure's recognition." The other band members wisely decided not to bring the similarity of names to his attention.

Not wishing to spend any more time at Uncle Steve's than he had to, and with his intense resentment towards me still festering inside of him, Stoughton decided to wire ahead money for repairing the bus to the mechanic in Duckworth who had initially come over to look at it several years ago when it first broke down. He also mailed him the keys. So, that explains why the bus disappeared and reappeared, as I mentioned in my previous article.

After they flew in to New York, Stoughton declared that there was no time to lose, and rented a van at the airport. The band members piled in, and then started off on their long journey from the Big Apple to Bratwurst, Ohio, and Uncle Steve's. Stoughton was so cross and angry thinking of Norm and me and our imagined betrayal of him that he refused to stop the van to let his mates buy any food or even use the bathroom. He kept saying stuff like, "We must make extreme haste in our journey to that wretched dive of a club, and retrieve our coach without a single moment's delay! Hinder me not, sirrah!"

However, once he had filled his stomach and drank several beers -- in spite of his insistence that the band never touch alcohol -- he seemed to soften up a bit, and leaned back in his chair, and quietly dozed off to sleep. The members of Admiral Porkliver retired to their bus and spent the night next to Uncle Steve's for the first time in many long months.

The next day, a Saturday, Catherine and I showed up early with Norm, wanting to see if we could somehow convince Admiral Porkliver to do one last show at Uncle Steve's before departing. All members of the band seemed pretty positive about the idea, except for Stoughton, who just looked at me blankly.

Finally, after several earnest entreaties from his band mates, Stoughton silently nodded his head and quietly withdrew to the curtained area at the back of the bus where he dwells in solitude.

Norm and I were determined to show Stoughton that we could get a whole lot of people to show up for his concert. So, I got on Facebook, I called every number I could on my cell, and Norm and Catherine went driving around, knocking on doors of people we know, all in an effort to make this a comeback concert to remember. We wanted to show Stoughton that we were on his side, and hopefully put an end to his longstanding suspicions about us.

That evening, the band set up on the stage, and people started coming in, one after the other. By the time they started their set, the house was totally packed. Norm looked at me and he was grinning from ear to ear. I felt pretty darned good myself. It was a triumphant moment for us, to say the least.

Actually, I think credit goes most of all to Catherine, who went to the campus of Adlai Mortensen College, knocked on the door of the student-run radio station there, and told them all about Admiral Porkliver and their latest adventures in the Czech Republic.

It turned out that the editor for the college newspaper was there, and he volunteered to tell several people he knew, and also committed to being there in order to cover the show and write an article about it. The guy at the radio station also volunteered to tell some friends, and promised to announce the event over the radio.

Well, it turned out that no special events had been scheduled at the college that weekend, no visit from Carrot Top at that time, so the Admiral Porkliver concert turned out to be the biggest event of the weekend, and dozens of college students showed up, most of who had never heard the band before.

I was amazed to see how much the band had improved during their extended visit to Europe. Now, don't get me wrong, they are even weirder than before and are just as dissonant, disturbing and discombobulating as ever, but, how can I say this, they've got all of that down to a "t" in a way they didn't have it before.

In the past, they used to unintentionally play in key with each other every now and then, but after being on the road a year, they are solidly, thoroughly and consistently in violation of all standard rules of conventional music. And let me tell you, that is no small accomplishment, folks. It was a marvel to behold, to say the very least.

Well, I was concerned that the college crowd would drift out the door after only a few minutes of the band's sonic assault, but instead, out came their cell phones, and several of them were filming the whole thing. They didn't applaud so much as just stand there in awe, waiting for the next number in the set.

My good friend Joe Minsk was there with his video camera, ready to do his thing, but he ran into technical problems of some kind and couldn't even turn it on. So, those of you who know those students with the cell phones who recorded the concert, see if you can get them to upload their recordings to Facebook if they haven't already done so.

After the show, the band was interviewed by the college newspaper, and not a few students came up to ask for autographs, something that had never happened before. I must say once again that the trip to the Czech Republic changed them in a good way.

The next day, Sunday, we decided not to open the club in order to give Admiral Porkliver some personal space so that they could get ready for their upcoming tour. However, that morning I got a call on my cell from Melvin Mayo, who asked me to come by Uncle Steve's to talk to Stoughton about something important.

I promptly showed up, and was ushered into the bus, where I found myself alone with Stoughton, who bade me be seated. He told me that instead of just driving off right away as he had originally planned, he thought that it would be more sensible to make arrangements beforehand, since in his extended discussions with the editor of the college newspaper, he had gotten useful information about regional venues, and several helpful tips about how to best arrange advance bookings at those places. He asked if he might spend a bit more time at Uncle Steve's while setting up for the tour, and offered to install wireless Internet service at the club as an expression of gratitude. Of course, how could I refuse?

Stoughton also asked me if my good friend Joe Minsk might be willing to accompany the band on its tour so that the whole thing could be captured for all posterity. I told him I'd have a word with Joe.

And then, surprising me more than you can imagine, Stoughton looked away, and in a low voice, asked if I would also be able to join the band on its tour. I was speechless for a moment, and then asked what service I might be able to provide them.

He replied:

"I would chronicle the entire touring experience myself, but I anticipate that I will be will so utterly occupied with managing the affairs of my orchestra that I will find it absolutely impossible to preserve the record of this unparalleled excursion as it unfolds. You may thus serve as scribe on our behalf, and I will skillfully redact your crude and unpolished accounts at the journey's conclusion."

What can I say? It was an offer I couldn't refuse. Fortunately for me, the tour is scheduled to take place during the holidays when I am on break from teaching English classes at the college, so it works out just fine for me.

Like I said, we've now gone wireless at Uncle Steve's, and in my book that's another awesome addition to the club. Stoughton bought us the wireless router and set up the service, which he will pay for the first month, but we'll have to pay for it ourselves after that. I think we can afford it, and with the extra customers it brings in it just might end up paying for itself.

Since he's set up the wireless service, Stoughton has kept his band mates busy on two laptop computers and talking on their cell phones, getting everything ready for the upcoming tour. It's looking like the band should be setting off on the road within the next couple of days.

So, Norm and Catherine will be staying behind to watch the club while I'm gone. Okay everyone, try to behave, alright? Just kidding. Well, no, not really kidding, actually.

One other thing. If Pete Wilkinson comes by with my car when I'm gone, please try to remind him to leave it at the club for me. He can give Norm the keys. I've already talked to Norm about it.

Alright, folks. Stay tuned for my next update when I'll let you know how the Magical Mystery Meat Tour went. It'll be a wild ride, no doubt. Fasten your seatbelts, everyone.

-- Jake Silverman

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"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...