Preparing for the pinnacle of the weekend with Saturday’s final act, Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, I found a spot at the front of the stage as it cleared up between bands. While I prepared my photo gear for what I could guess would be the best combination of lenses and cameras for the show, a young guy approached me, said hi, and showed me two album covers he brought with him, one Death Party by Gun Club, the other Psychedelic Jungle by the Cramps. One or both of them had signatures on them. Throughout the show, he either placed them venerably on the edge of the stage while he drifted into the crowd, or he clutched them affectionately to his side. His excitement rubbed off on me, and I drifted from mulling over technical details with my cameras to getting pumped to see Kid Congo Powers play two feet in front of me.
Tom Scharpling introduced Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds, and the lights were dimmed to a low red glow. Powers slipped effortlessly into the role of a curandero, bridging the gap between worlds with one foot dangling off into the ether and one firmly entrenched in the muck of the corporeal. He said a few words throughout the set, each phrase a small performance in and of itself. With his eyes perpetually focused off to some nowhere up and off to his right, each word he sang and spoke seemed directed toward some apparition in the upper corner of the room. It was as though his line of sight was some conduit of communion with his muse, and bringing his immediate attention to anyone in particular would break the spell.
Sunday afternoon, Rev. John Wilkins performed in the Cooper Young Gazebo. The weather was immaculate. Occasionally Wilkins’ daughter would take the lead and belt out her amazing voice while she drifted out into the crowd and engaged with the audience. Rev. Wilkins said a few words about his father, Robert Wilkins, and ended with a rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a befittingly annular theme for a closing hymn, considering our return to the (more or less circular) gazebo at the end of the fest.
Before I began the trek back home to Chattanooga, I made a couple of stops around Memphis. I went in the general direction of Graceland, since whenever I pass through Memphis, I consider going but end up spending a couple of hours in the Goner store instead. Considering I’d been getting gone all weekend long, I figured it might be the only time I felt like going.
I had intended to check out the area and assess whether I felt like going in, but before I knew it, I was paying for parking, got the up-sell on a tour I had to wait over an hour for, and then elbowing through fellow Graceland-goers while I fought for space to pretend I was William Eggleston and photograph crannies of rooms and details of decor.
Meanwhile, my tour-mates had iPads slung from their neck and bobbing on their bellies while John Stamos’ disembodied voice piped through their provided pairs of headphones, rendering their spatial awareness a notch below their own normal levels, which might not have been great to begin with.
My heart went out to the angry woman in the bottom of the main house whose sole job seemed to be to remind each cluster of visitors that they shouldn’t sit on the bright yellow barstools. A large sign also indicated that they shouldn’t sit on the bright yellow barstools. Without fail, about one out of every five people who came into the room disobeyed and sat on the bright yellow barstools. I wondered if this exercise in futility was some exercise in karmic debt for the poor woman, or if the tamest circle of hell overlapped with our realm and was located in Elvis’ basement. Only past-life serial killers deserve such a fate.
Nearing the end, there was a line to stand in front of Elvis’ grave and take a picture of it, which I skipped. The whole Graceland experience was more meaningful to me when I was a Presley-obsessed ten-year-old kid and I went with my dad.
He couldn’t have given a shit less about Elvis, but he suffered through it just because it meant something to his weird-looking kid who spritzed his hair off the Moh’s scale with hairspray into the most generous definition of a pompadour, and who demanded that the silk bomber jacket with a gold-glitter Elvis on the back was not for old ladies, but actually meant for a ten-year-old dude who would unknowingly leave an indelible golden sparkle on everything he leaned against.
My last stop before leaving town was a short visit to Jay Reatard’s gravesite. I can’t claim I ever knew the guy, but I was lucky enough to have the chance to see the Reatards, Angry Angles, Final Solutions, the Persuaders, et cetera. The last time was when I got to catch some friends opening for his solo outfit in Chattanooga in 2008. I didn’t stay in the cemetery long, as I felt strange being nothing but a tourist, but I felt like if there was ever a time where it might be an appropriate time to do it, this was it. I saw that someone had left a green guitar pick as well as a devotional candle with Jay’s face on the angel’s body.
Only two days after Gonerfest ended, I had the chance to ride out the last ripples of the weekend and see two Gonerfest XIII veterans, Nots and The World, play with locals Coma Vigil in Chattanooga. I was glad I could see Nots again, this time not through a lens and without having to creep around surreptitiously with a camera pressed against my face. They killed it, as usual. I bought one of their special editions of Cosmetic that comes with a screenprinted cover, a small compact mirror, and some additional artwork bound up in cardboard and a rubber band.
In the time since the fest ended, I have been listening to the full-album playlist of over four hundred songs that I made in preparation for Gonerfest XIII, albeit now with new context and ancillary memories to reinform the way I hear it all now. I still struggle to find content by bands that are either not well-known, they don’t have many or any recordings available, or their names make it particularly difficult to narrow searches down to their specific material (e.g., Power, The World, Pity, et cetera).
I can only hope that I don’t wait another eleven years to attend Gonerfest XIV in 2027, though I hope both I and it are still around for that one as well.