Cuds

Ah, me...such good and trustworthy friends I've had. I'm not certain outsiders fully understand the strength of bonds which can exist among sociopaths. At the distinct risk of seeming redundant, I'll ask you once again to check out the brilliant film Going Places which exactly encapsulates the concept. And keep reading as I attempt to describe something similar from my life.

Recently while reflecting on the notion of melancholia, my mind immediately went back to Cuds: he was one of The Gang, fellow musician in King Jupiter, and undoubtedly pulled the greatest stunt I've ever witnessed. See Working for details. If I can master a decent South African accent, I'll post an audio clip some day of what's so vividly remembered.

I guess I met Cuds in sophomore year, so he must have been a Central Junior High kid, but soon afterwards he moved to my part of town. I can't recall exactly how we met, other than it was through music. As described in Journey's End, we experienced some of the usual personnel problems all nascent bands go through, but eventually ended up a three-piece: Cuds on drums, Armpit on bass and me on guitar and vocals. A quite wonderful experience, as the three of us didn't give a whit what others thought of what we wrought; if we had been painters of sunflowers, three left ears would have lain on the pavement.

Beginning to rehearse with Cuds was a marvel. This guy knew it all! Not only could he sight-read, but he could also play anything perfectly upon hearing it just once.

I still have vivid memories of rehearsing in the basement of Armpit's parent's house, darkened except for various colored lamps casting psychedelic rays. The lingering blue cigarette (and otherwise) smoke also helped. Making it all worthwhile, Armpit's Lutheran-frenzied mother would shriek from the top of the staircase every now and then, imploring us to refrain from playing that "goddamn" song (The Pusher) by "The Steppenwolves." Which caused the three of us laugh our asses off.

The Steppenwolf album Monster had just come out, and I was completely taken by the entry, Power Play. (Of all their songs this is perhaps the one which rings as true today as it did back then. Nothing changes in Amerika.) So, I proposed we learn it that very night and we set to it. I struggled with the guitar part, since it derived from Chicago blues with which I was most unfamiliar. Armpit didn't have too much trouble with the bass part, because it was written by Steppenwolf's then bassist, Nick St. Nicholas, not the most accomplished of musicians. However, the gaps he left were redolent of what the late lamented Rushton Moreve might have envisioned.

But Cuds! He took one listen and completely nailed the weird-ass drum lick on toms and floor drum near the middle of the song. I almost had a pollution in my trousers when I heard him carry it off with such aplomb. You probably ought to be given a chance to hear the tune yourself:


Pay attention to the third measure drum lick at about 1:20. Cuds made my day (or night) with that.

We really clicked on this song. Not only was it sonically intriguing, but the lyrics pounded home what we three, contra mundum, were all about. From the first verse:
What gives you the right hey you
To stand there and tell me what to do
Tell me who gave you the power
To stop me from livin' like I do
Remember if you plan to stay
Those who give can take away.
Don't bite the hand that feeds you.
See! Even then, Sade was my hero!

As a band, musically, I suppose we weren't all that good. My voice was still some three/four years from dropping to baritone, which was the main handicap. Our P.A. system was probably only suitable for an auction barn, though I don't remember much about it, other than that the microphones were filched from various church pulpits. And while my Les Paul Junior was a real humdinger, Armpit's bass guitar left much to be desired. It would eventually come to be splintered over the head of a urolagniac; see A Word Comes to Life.  Of course neither Armpit nor I had decent amplifiers, but somehow we muggled along.

Assuredly, Cuds was our anchor. Not only did he have a premier and expensive drum kit, but he could play like nobody's business. I'm certain I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Cuds was hands-down the all-around best drummer I've ever listened to, professional or otherwise. With his continual weekly private lessons in Des Moines and then later in Minneapolis, he kept getting better and better. And yes, he fully understood the concept of leaving gaps in the music, dancing around the empty places, delighting in the tacits. I've always said that real heavy metal is more a matter of knowing what to leave out than what to put in.

More important was his allegiance to what King Jupiter (our new incarnation) was attempting, much to the chagrin of his parents. There were perhaps a half-dozen bands in town then vying for attention. Some had brass sections, some were trying to cash in on the folk-rock-pop craze, and some wanted to go to Hollywood. (One actually did...for a day). Would you be interested in hearing our competition? This is for real, by the way:


We were the only three-piece group in town. Cream and Grand Funk Railroad set the standard we followed, not James Brown or Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. And, of course, the notion of ostrobogulous bits between songs while live on stage (thanks to early indoctrination by Spike Jones, Arthur Brown, Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts, and The Fugs) put hems in our skirts.

And we had the best drummer anywhere to do it all with. I know for a fact that a number of other bands tried to seduce him away, but, ever loyal, Cuds stayed committed to our little experiment in sociopathy.

Rehearsal for our final performance.
One more thing, before leaving the musical side of our relationship. It appeared to me that Cuds was born into a wealthy family which moved in exalted circles. Once again, here's a household on the southern edge of town, usually only peeped at from a distance, hat in hand. Of course, his folks were quite proud of what Cuds was becoming, hence the expensive long-distance lessons once a week. I think they had visions of him becoming the next Buddy Rich, but he was already way beyond that...seriously.

Anyway, his parents were always bugging him to play drum solos on command. For example, at Christmas when Grandma put in an appearance, poor Cuds had to lug the Ludwigs out to the living room and stage an impromptu concert to her glowing approval. Likewise for uncles and aunts, his father's clients, neighbors, and I suppose any stray tramp wandering through the neighborhood looking for a handout.

In a quiet moment between the two of us, Cuds told me that he absolutely detested being pimped like that.

So, when he turned 18, I heard that he sold the drum kit, never to pick up sticks again.

But enough of music. Let me take you back to when we both worked in the dishroom at the Student Union. It was that blisteringly hot and muggy summer between junior and senior years I've written of in Working and The Shy Mind

The most important part of any job paying 65 cents an hour is breaktime and lounging with the fellows. We each had a locker, in which the South Africans kept their textbooks and lunchpails, Ink the janitor his cheap snorts of wine, and we of The Gang our chewing tobacco

In those days, we chewed loose-leaf tobacco such as Red Man and Beechnut, or cut plugs like Masterpiece, Day's Work or Union Standard. Pretty tasty stuff in general, but physiologically offering not much of a kick. However, the black juice capable with these made such products eminently attractive to The Gang. Waste not, want not. The sputum flying in the dishroom was quite unbelievable.

Anyway, one day Cuds and I are having a sit-down together during break, and he opens up his locker to fetch something. It was a tin of Skoal snuff, what we call snüs up here in Svenske-landHe dips in, then courteously offers the open container to me. "Want to try it?"

What kind of a question is that to ask a lad of my breeding

I lodged a wad in place, and we continued to chat. After about two minutes I felt a definite buzz. Then came the giddiness, concluding with massive vertigo, the likes of which never experienced before or since. I was sicker than shit! 

I asked Cuds to cover for me with some lie or other (remember, he was an esteemed member of The Gang), and I somehow weavingly wound my way home a block away. That hike up Lynn Avenue was miserable! My head was swimming, and the insane temperature and dewpoint so common in an Iowa August only added to the pummeling, not to mention the 10% grade of the hill I had to negotiate on foot. I really was a basket-case by the time I blurredly stumbled over the threshold of my own front door.

My mother greeted me, surprised to see me so early and asked what the problem was. I offered some lie or other (remember, I was a member of The Gang, too), and ascended the staircase to my bedroom and flopped down. The bed spun.

After an hour or two, I awoke and felt human again. Retracing my steps to the Student Union, I arrived just in time for the next break. (It need hardly be mentioned that I was still punched-in on the timeclock from earlier in the day). In a bit of déjà vu, Cuds and I sat and chatted in the locker room, while he pulled out the snüs can once more to make an offer.

Of course, I accepted. That's the secret of my life.

And it was delightful!  Indeed, about a week later at work, Cuds told me he had found an even stronger snüs, Copenhagen.

Two friends in 1971.
Cuds and I were the only ones in The Gang who could appreciate its true merits. It really is a potent substance, and in fact saved me from being roughed up by motorcycle hoods in Albert Lea one night, during a Pharaohs concert. But that'll have to wait for another time.

Before leaving, however, permit me to return to what started this reminiscence: melancholia.

The last time I saw Cuds, I guess we were 17, both ready to start college and independent lives in our respective states. Perhaps we knew this was to be the final good-bye. We sat on his bed in his air-conditioned basement room, conversing about this and that. The blanket beneath us was one of those dark brown affairs with two 1-inch wide light tan stripes running lengthwise, and four more widthwise. I bet no woolen mill has woven that design in fifty years. Nor put tassels on the perimeter.

Cuds reached under the bed to retrieve an old pickle jar which served as a spit cup.

With no words, we each uncorked our tins and dipped the mighty Copenhagen, passing the makeshift cuspidor back and forth, sharing. As we always did in The Gang.

After quite a few minutes of silence, he finally spoke, those deep brown (almost Japanned black) eyes glazing over in a faraway look. With a swipe of the hand, his straight bangs which usually hung like heavy drapery over the brow, were parted. And, of course, there was that funny little tic in his mouth which I only saw twice in our times together, but which I understood to mean he was going to open up about something. Cuds almost never opened up; Harpocrates was his god.

"You know Studs, whenever I feel blue, this..."

Here he lifted his Copenhagen tin upward as a priest might a transubstantiated cup of Mogen David.

"...is who rescues me. The one who never lets me down."

At the time I didn't understand him fully, but knowing Cuds as I did, definitely docketed his claim for later consideration. It has gestated for 45 years. Cuds' use of the word "blue" struck me in a particularly forceful fashion. In those days, and especially among my macho group, it would have been considered a sissy word. So, I just knew it carried real weight coming from his lips.

In 1971 (when this took place), I was chomping at the bit, ready to take on the world, prepared to meet any new experience head-on, anxious to make full use of the only life we're each given. Feeling blue never would have been on my radar, what with so many mores to contravene in the glorious future just opening up.

I didn't get dewy-eyed then, but I do now, thinking of our farewell. The last thing Cuds said to me was that he intended to major in Philosophy and that his father (an insurance agent) was outraged at the prospect.

Now I look back and understand what Cuds meant as he tucked the snüs can away in his jeans' pocket.

Thanks, old buddy. Wherever you are, may someone's dishwasher ever reek of chicken soup.

Next installment: The Fork in the Road

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