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Rock/Pop > Suckerpunch

X inflammable

Metro Times photo/ Brian Smith
Bootsey X in his charred shell of a flat
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Published 10/1/2003

It’s Tuesday night and Bob Mulrooney (aka Bootsey X) is at home alone, dead tired. Long hours spent stocking pop platters at a chain record store and debilitation from dope detox has him drained. And since the electric company cut the power (nonpayment), Mulrooney is navigating his small, two-bedroom flat by candlelight. But things are looking up for the seasoned frontman, and he’s relatively contented to be pulling himself up out of depression and unemployment.

The next morning starts early with a trip to the methadone maintenance clinic followed by a full day of work. Now he just wants to go to sleep. At 9 o’clock he blows out the candle in his bedroom and climbs into bed.

He wakes up at midnight to take a piss and stumbles in the darkness to the bathroom. He pisses and returns to bed. Moments later he’s sleeping again.

At 5 a.m., a skin-scalding heat jolts Mulrooney awake. Seconds later he’s wide-eyed and surrounded by rising flames; fire has attached itself to nearly everything in his bedroom. He bolts to the kitchen for water and attempts to douse what is quickly becoming a blaze. The move is in vain, and syrupy smoke fills the rooms. He runs out the front door and up the stairs to his neighbor. He bangs on her door to get her out of bed. She’s up and out, running across the street to the police station.

Mulrooney, who’s never before been involved in a fire, rushes back in to retrieve his glasses but the smoke has overwhelmed the place and he can’t breathe. He retreats and suffers burns to his feet. Flames pour out of the bottom-floor residence, and everything Mulrooney owns is ablaze. He goes into shock.

Once the Fire Department arrives the flames are raging. By some miraculous fluke, the two-apartment residence is saved; the upstairs flat is virtually untouched. But a good chunk of Mulrooney’s worldly possessions are gone. Turns out a festering ember from the blown-out candle started the blaze.

A few days later the flat is a startling sight; a gutted burrow with the appearance of sure death, windows and doors boarded up, dark as midnight. What’s left of Mulrooney’s place, what was once a veritable gallery of rock ’n’ roll nostalgia — Mulrooney’s life — is now an uninhabitable edifice of incendiary insults. Mulrooney’s bedroom and living room are cooked beyond recognition. The charred interior reeks of dirty chimneys. His television and stereo are stewed into creepy Daliesque shapes, and the classic posters on the walls that survived at all are burned into eerily familiar coal-black etchings: Iggy Pop peering out from horrible dark depths, the Detroit Cobras in charcoal and ash.

The good news is, obviously, Mulrooney is breathing. And he managed to salvage his vinyl collection, which includes countless rare soul 45s, some books and albums, and his collection of old Creem magazines, all of which he plans to hock to get back on his feet. The fire department managed to salvage most of the kitchen and second bedroom area of the flat.

Mulrooney is, you’ll note, a celebrated vet of local bands dating back to the late ’70s; he’s played with everyone from the Mutants, Ramrods and Coldcock to the Sillies, Rocket 455 and Andre Williams to his own Bootsey X and the Lovemasters. The fortysomething is and was an earnest fan and participant of Detroit music since he was old enough to drop a tone arm onto a 45, a character stamped into local folklore. As I’ve written before, there’s a least one fan of Bootsey X in every American city.

Mulrooney is weary and has the startled look of a raccoon. “Now I wake up with knots in my stomach. I have nightmares now,” says the Iggy ringer in his patented voice-from-the-chasm. “This could have been so much worse.”

Now homeless, Mulrooney is temporarily bunking with his pal, former Motor City Mutant Tom Morwatts. Fondas drummer Chip Sercombe stepped in and offered assistance with storing Mulrooney’s smoke-damaged belongings. “When Chip came by and opened up his garage — that was a godsend.”

The landlord, Richard Serapinas, is, of course, nonplussed. Walking into the flat, he winces at the prospect of repair. “Yeah, I’m mad at him but what are you gonna do?” he says, shaking his head.

Apparently the proprietor sports a compassionate streak; as if he understands the life of unremitting headwind X has assembled for himself. Friends of Mulrooney know how his manboy charm and lead singer charisma has gotten him through the stickiest of circumstances. “So he’s some kind of local legend, huh?” says Serapinas.

For a man who’s had his share of circumstantial and self-inflicted setbacks, a life wrought with the ups and downs of rock ’n’ roll mythology, this is just one more demoralizing turn. For Mulrooney the holy mess is all sadness and loss, and the fire could, to some, be interpreted as a parable of the man’s life. But that would be lazy and dismissive. The thing about Mulrooney, as with the themes that run through the songs he’s written and ones in his record collection, is he refuses to succumb to apathy and inertia.

A benefit show is in the planning stages to help Mulrooney get into a new place. We’ll keep you posted.

Earwax

I saw the Waxwings twice last week and I must say I don’t get it. I don’t get how a few writer and musician friends of mine can find them boring. Others can’t figure out why they aren’t huge. Well, they’re not huge because they’re not a colorful consumable package, not in the traditional pop sense anyway. The band, which has a new single out soon on Cass Records and is currently finishing its third full-length (this one recorded with Brendan Benson), has no record deal, and, judging from these shows, play as if they don’t care.

Unlike ubiquitous hip-hop and rock bands preening at us from all corners of culture — from whom you get the feeling you’re being sold a bill of goods, a line of hip-huggers, a fucking cell phone, an enhanced lifestyle — the Waxwings offer up the threadbare idea that a good song can transcend the sickly consumer morass. Christ, good music is supposed to do that.

You get the feeling that the Waxwings aren’t writing and performing to become famous, to hitch a ride on the Motor City Rock Is Back gravy train hurtling forth at the peak of its steam; rather, they’ve taken the Laurel Canyon ease of, say, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Gram Parsons and filtered it through an autumn vista of a decomposing Detroit cityscape. And the combination is remarkable; singsong hooks with attendant ache and twinge, raucousness and restraint, melancholy and sweetness. No matter what pop trend revolves around the band, they seem to remain unaffected, through myriad grievances, dubious luck and fucked-up record deals. Live, the band’s new songs are bumpy with clunky harmonies and hesitation but reveal how the band has a corner all their own.

The secret of any kind of prolonged existence as a songwriter and a musician is to keep listening and learning. And the Waxwings’ new songs show no dearth of inspiration. They are a the result of four guys sopping up the correct stuff without coming off as antique merchants, as is the case with many in the current crop of exported Detroit bands. Armed with nothing more than deceptively effortless pop songs, the band is persuasive and inclusive; yet ’60s pop authenticists won’t be let down either. It’s a band that sounds only like the Waxwings.

Another noteworthy show was the scarily Scandinavian sextet Turbonegro at St. Andy’s the other night. And what a magnificent Les Paul/Marshall stacked mess of power chord-y goo and knuckle-jacking hookla. We closed our eyes and saw visions of Glen Buxton and Michael Bruce with outstretched legs, drunk, full of mirth and hope. Head Turbonegro Hank von Helvete was a teste slab o’ artless flesh, replete with a squishy, bouncing midriff, Alice Cooper kohl and an overall child-molester mien. Worse, er, better, the crooner’s wonderfully insulting Ned Beatty-ready between-song yak about Michigan hillbillies favoring sphincters of clammy, white Scandinavian-American rock worshipers sent the whole package home. It was ugly, stupid and wonderful. So ugly, stupid and wonderful that the Oi-loving skinheads standing in front of us took offense, particularly to the reverse-armed heil Hitler fist-hoisting. They just stood there shaking their dumb craniums in disbelief.

Brian Smith is the music editor of Metro Times. E-mail bsmith@metrotimes.com.

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