#29. I met Craig Wedren and my favorite rock band, Shudder to Think (New Orleans, 2009)

I couldn’t believe it! Outta nowhere, my favorite defunct, weird D.C. Dischord Records band, Shudder to Think, had regrouped and was set to play New Orleans’s VooDoo Fest 2009 in City Park! And on the same Saturday as my band, The White Bitch!

In 1992, I loved Shudder’s Get Your Goat: muddy, psychedelic math-rock featuring even less toxic masculinity than Fugazi. Like some cross between Sonic Youth and Roy Orbison, Shudder to Think influenced my singing and my music more than any other band.

After watching Shudder to Think get boo’d by homophobic skinheads at a 1993 Fugazi show, we knew something was up; that show featured a new drummer, and new guitarist Nathan Larson, a show-offy rockstar with greasy 21 Jump Street hair. We later discovered they’d signed to a major label. “Selling out” represented a death knell in indy circles, but Shudder to Think really grabbed the opportunity by the balls, and switched up their sound, recording the clear, muscular Pony Express Record. Very different from Get Your Goat, my Pony Express cassette posted up in my car’s tape player for a straight year and a half. I air-drummed so hard to it at stoplights — swatting a lead ornament hanging from my rearview like a surrogate cymbal — I cracked my windshield.

So I couldn’t believe White Bitch would get to open the Bingo Tent (11am!) on the same day Shudder to Think would close it out (7:30pm).

Of course, I used this as an excuse to interview singer Craig Wedren for both Gambit and Filter, and ask him a decade and a half’s worth of questions. On the phone, Wedren and I talked about the nakedness of singing, and about Roy Orbison. We admitted to each other that we both loved David Lee Roth’s autobiography, Crazy from the Heat. We got on well. Twas a perfect superfan experience.

At VooDoo Fest, White Bitch’s morning show went well. Shudder to Think didn’t see it.

Then around 6pm, I took some very good ecstasy. My mind was aflame even before the Bingo Tent stage manager Lloyd ran up to me: “Can Craig Wedren borrow your guitar for his show?”

“Huh?” Am I making this happen with my mind?

I hadn’t met Craig in person yet. And my guitar was shitty. I mean I loved my orange Telecaster; I played it well because I knew its every problem precisely. I knew how it was rigged. But I’d never foist it on an unsuspecting professional musician headlining a festival. Anyway, I’d taken the guitar home, and didn’t want to drive back to get it while tripping balls.

Not long after, while wandering the backstage mini-tent, I spotted Craig’s silhouette in the dark at the edge of the lake, his big bald head like a giant white lightbulb. I saw headphones in his ears, and heard him practicing vocal scales, warming up his voice for the show. Though I knew it was the wrong thing to do, high out of my mind and hyped up about the guitar business, I interrupted him anyway.

He removed his earphones. I told him how high I was. He was very understanding. We talked more about the nakedness of singing. He told me he’d found a more professional guitar to use tonight, thank you.

I hugged him and went back inside to stand in front of the stage, waiting, eyes rolling back. Shudder to Think took the stage to adjust their own amps and guitars. As Craig tuned up for the show, he tested the mic, talking to the sparse crowd: “My friend Michael and I were just now talking about singing, and…” He was trying to trip me out. It worked!

The show was great. His voice sounded perfect (my interruption hadn’t fucked him up). As the band’s last note rang out, my partner and I, still high out of our minds, raced backstage to hang and party with Shudder to Think.

Except that they weren’t really partiers.

And neither am I! I’ve almost never been the most fucked up person at a party. But I sure was that night. Backstage, we proceeded into awfulness. It was great fun. My partner wore a padded boxer’s helmet and would walk up to random people and ram heads with them, like a goat. No matter how hard she rammed, it didn’t hurt at all! I remember Craig didn’t want to do it though. She bullied him into it. “Don’t break my nose,” he rightly worried before finally letting her slam his big bald head with her padded headgear. That’s one I wish we could take back. Just awful.

Shaking Nathan Larson’s picking hand, I couldn’t really speak. He wasn’t impressed. My partner and I finally realized a little too late that there was no party, and that we were making the biggest asses of ourselves. And so we drove home.

Years later, Craig Wedren created music for my friend Jonathan Ames’s second TV show, Blunt Talk (very funny show!). Around that same time, Craig wrote to me, asked for my address, then snail mailed me a box filled with his newest, excellent vinyl record, Adult Desire, and some cardboard virtual reality goggles. I downloaded an app and slid my cellphone into the goggles, which gave me the power to explore Craig’s actual house while absorbing his new, quieter, more intimate music. It was like learning about my favorite singer all over again.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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