By Serge Bielanko
Sometimes on summer evenings, as the pigeons start roosting in the belfry and
shitting out their day all over the old church bell up there, I sit on my back porch
and light a smoke and start listening to the evening hush. It only takes a moment
to let something like a mid-June dusk massage your scalp and your bones and
even your inner-thigh if you want it to, but you gotta play ball with the universe,
you know? You can’t just sit out there and light a smoke or sip a glass of wine and
expect the warm air to do all the work.
You have to want it. You have to need it.
You have to really need the hands of something bigger and better (and more
beautiful than any woman you have ever even seen) to slide its hands up and
down your spine and whisper things to you, things you have been waiting to hear
for a very long time, since yesterday even.
“Shhhhh.” That’s what the husky voice of any summer evening says to me. “Hush,
Big Daddy. Mama gonna rub all them kinks away now.”
Oh, Jesus. I dig that so much.
And I guess it’s because I always want that to happen to me that I never have any
problems. I need to relax and I know it. And listen, I don’t have any money for
relaxation. So I need it to come for free, from the sky, or from the goddamn birds
getting ready for bed.
That’s when Chris Rattie and the Brush Valley Rumblers usually start jamming in
the church beside my yard. I’ll just be sitting there letting nature seduce me,
sinking slowly under her sexy spell, hoping against hope that she might want to
kiss my neck and maybe do other stuff to me that I need and I’m not getting and
just then: boom: I hear the amps start humming /the snare gets slapped a couple
times/a bass note/another bass note/the organ firing up/a guitar chord slipping
through the old church wall like the ghost of some fat guy who died long ago from
too much work/from too many big breakfasts/too much greasy bacon and eggs
cooked in so much butter that you could eat the goddamn ancient cast-iron pan
they got cooked in and it would taste pretty good.
It’s not music yet. It’s the music before the music. It’s the magical poinks and blips
that come in the moments before a band begin to play together. It’s a beautiful
thing usually. The uncertain notes of a band about to be a band, it’s the sort of
sound that either moves you in a very real way or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, you’re
probably a douchebag. I can’t help you with that. Neither can Rattie. It’s all on
But if it does move you, than you will dig what I’m about to tell you. Because this
guy and the music he makes with his band, it does something strange to me. At
first, it pisses me off a little. I mean, look, I’m out here to get off on evening
nature or whatever and here they come stomping all over it, right? But I’ve been
in a band before and so I have this forgiving heart. I understand the need to play. I
get what they’re doing over there in the old church.
They kick in then and it’s fucking glorious. There is a filter obviously. A thick
church wall from a long time ago doesn’t just let rock’n’music escape at will. It
tries to eat some of it before it can get out. And it does; it bites off good-size
chunks. So what I hear over in my yard is obviously just a layer or two of what is
really going down over in there, but that’s cool with me.
I can still hear the birds, you see. I can still catch the sound of the pigeons flapping
their wings in weird unison as they pitch themselves off the top roof in one
syncopated maneuver when the deep bass notes rumble up through their pigeon
I light a smoke and wait for it.
The band is thirty, forty seconds into the first song of rehearsal when it comes.
Chris Rattie must have been moving to the microphone right when I was kicking
my legs out to recline on my old wood block I use as a chair because now that I’m
leaning into the wall he is starting to sing.
I know the songs now and I like how I know them, too. It’s so rare to come to
really know a band this good, to begin to vibe on songs this cool in the way that
I’ve been able to do. I have become familiar with a man’s music without the same
old drills, not by constantly playing his album in my car or by seeing him and the
boys play live a hundred times or whatever.
I have come to know Chris Rattie and The Brush Valley Rumblers through a
fucking church wall that squishes their music into a squat apparition before it
shoves the little fat fuck out into the summer night where I’m sitting there waiting
like some closing time bum leaning up against the pizza place dumpster, a big
goofy smile swiped across my face.
Here I am, you bastards.
Feed me sorry ass, will ya?
And they always do. Even though they don’t know I’m out there listening, I’m
there. I’m listening, getting fed. I’m tuned in to the sound of a rock’n’roll spilling
up into the ether of a world that is winding its way back towards a cooler, gentler
night and do you know how badass that is? Do you get how good it is to have a
band become a part of your own personal cooling down at the end of one more
sticky shit summer day?
Hey, let me be honest here, okay? If I could change the band, if I somehow had
the power to switch out Rattie and his crew for any band from any era ever in the
history of music, would I even do that?
Let me think about that for a sec.
Okay, I’m ready.
You’re goddamn right I would do it!
I would replace them with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band from 1978.
My God, that would be magnificent, wouldn’t it? I would make that shit happen in
a heartbeat if I could, listening to that band every night of the summer from
across my freaking tiny-ass backyard, are you kidding me? Forget about it. You’d
do it too. Even if you hate Bruce, you’d do it, you sweet lying son-of-a-bitch.
But, here’s the thing, okay? Other than that band, from that particular point in
time, I’d have to say I’d honestly pick this one. Seriously. It might sound nuts, but
I’d pick Chris Rattie and the Brush Valley Rumblers, 2015.
Well, because look: they are one of the best bands I’ve heard in a long long time.
And Chris’s songs are damn fine ones. And because, even when I’m all geared up
for pigeon wings and wine and the sound of a small town sighing away the live-
long day, when Rattie’s crew fires up over in the church, I get pretty excited.
And so it goes.
This band, during this period of time, at this point in the history of the world, they
have come to define summer nights for me. They basically own a part of my
psyche, a part of my soul in a way. Organically, they’ve come to represent
something powerful and real and relaxing as hell to me.
And so, come this summer, when 7 or 8pm rolls around and you’re probably all
stuffed up inside your living room, trying to hear the TV trying to climb up over
the drone of the air-conditioner, remember this. There will be me: summertime
kissing me softly up the ear.
And I’ll know I’ve got it made, man; just a poor bastard smoking a cigarette, out
there alone in the sinking light, listening to the sound of a rock’n’roll band
colliding up in the sky with pigeons, with the distant cars, with the high traveling
airplanes twinkling away from me.
And, you wanna know something for real?
That right there makes them the greatest band in the history of the