SMALL TOWN: TRUCK STOP LOVE
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For a young college student, the transition from late spring final exams to full-time employment in summer is liberating. It’s also strange. You transition from hours upon hours of intense intellectual work to hours upon hours of menial, brainless labor: laying cement, cleaning toilets and in my case waiting tables.
Truck Stop Love, which has about 300 hits for most of its songs on YouTube, made poignant, alt country rock music that reflected beautifully on its time and place: the early 90s Midwest. Live, the Manhattan, KS band was unbridled and loud as hell. They were my soundtrack in the summer of 94’ and a band that deserved major attention.
The song “Townie” (75 hits as I write) is an anthem for the ones in ripped jeans and dirty t-shirts who roll around like tumbleweeds in the empty summer sun from one coffee shop or bar to the next--budget of a couple bucks. The opening of “Townie” floats--like much of the song--one guitar jangles and the other is fuzzed up. The scene is set:
“Bob’s at home lookin at her locket…You’re 22--hands in your pocket--looking for a friend to get you high. Should I get a haircut? Do I look like a Jimmy Page? You’re 22, got no money in your pocket. Looking for a girl to take you home.”
It’s one of a few Truck Stop Love songs, including the sweet and crunchy “Other Stars” that reflects on hair and haircuts. And hair was very important at this time. Long hair was coming back and was the preferred style of grunge bands. You don’t forget Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain’s hair whipped over their shoulders or Kim Thayil playing his evil licks behind a gate of dark curls. As a college kid, you wished you had just come into school with long hair. Growing it out took time and made you come across as a wannabe. Once it got to the shoulders and you settled in with it for a couple months, you were cool. I cut mine just a couple weeks into a potential pony tail stage. It was skunky looking, and I never thought it was me.
“Small town boy, got a tattoo on your side….Small town boy, got a chain hanging from your pocket”. You’re 22, playin’ pinball in your pocket. Waiting on a lost cause to get you by.”
I stayed in my university town an extra year after graduation and was on the verge of becoming a “Townie”. The town began to shrink, however. Hitting bars started giving me a creepy embarrassment and the occasional flash fear of being a lifetime waiter. The thought of becoming that philosophy major who stuck around for twenty years to continue working in his favorite bar and hit on college girls sparked me to get the hell out of there. I ended up teaching in a tiny town in Japan.
"Hey Joe, you got some smoke? Well I got some fire. I’ll pay you back anytime. ('yeah right')."
I saw Truck Stop Love Twice. The first time was when I booked them for 250 bucks to play at our university as part of a punk show. The young kids who typically came to shows usually wanted fast and loud, so I was nervous that TSL might underwhelm when playing next to Compound Red and Alligator Gun, two great live bands from Milwaukee. Making matters more difficult was that one of the two singers, the one who sang on “Townie” and “Stagnation” (“I’ve been down to your bar/It looks the same or did you remodel?”), had a sore throat and wouldn’t sing. But when the audience of 40 started chanting “Townie! Townie!” the other band mates badgered him into it. The band had to be surprised a university audience knew and liked a song enough to call it out. Actually, as Music Director, I had kept their debut e.p. on our college station’s CMJ charts for about 6 months.
TSL stayed at my house that night. I remember the singer getting sick of the Possum Dixon cd I was playing and going up and changing it himself to Pavement. A German teacher, who was an old punk, sat down and gave the band a lecture on how to bring more attitude to their music, which was endured by the band as long as the Leinenkugels kept coming.
When I woke up the next morning and made my way downstairs, they had already left, a pizza box was against the wall and it said, “Thanks, Jake. We’ll see you again. Truck Stop Love.”
A year later after I had graduated I saw TSL in my university town again. They were without the above guitarist/vocalist and most of them had cut their hair. The sound wasn’t nearly as thick and gutsy as I had remembered. They basically seemed like a decent bar band at that point. Their album “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”, which was put out on Scotti Brothers, which had also released their brilliant e.p., did very little on college radio. They looked ready to fold. But for a year, their music described my life like poetry.