Culture, Country, and Corsets at the Carlin
The world we live in, I’m happy to say, is perched right on the cusp of a science-fiction future turning into science-fiction present. We modern Americans have things that no futurist could have predicted even half a century ago. Farnsworth probably never anticipated his brainchild, the television, would one day outstrip even indoor plumbing as a household necessity. Bell probably never figured the telephone would merge with Turing’s computer, and in doing so create the modern smartphone. Also, nobody could have seen that all of it—computers, TVs, phones, cars, radios, the lot—would be connected to Al Gore’s greatest invention: the internet. As wild as it sounds, this is but one small facet of the amazing world in which we live. I, for one, love the modern age, and can’t wait to see where humanity is headed (come on, Road Warrior future! I believe in you!).
That said, it’s sometimes nice to take a break from living on the cutting edge and enjoy an old-time experience. When my editor emailed me (I read the message on my internet-connected smartphone, of course) about covering a show at the Carlin on 12/14, I went for it at once. Why? The performers were each doing their part to resurrect things from our past that must never be lost. The Cigarette Girls, a burlesque troupe out of Missoula, were practicing the classic art of the burlesque show. The other performers, Missoula trio The Cold Hard Cash Show, were bringing something I love: the music of the late, great Johnny Cash.
My editor said that my admission would be free that evening. I walked into the Carlin for the first time in well over a year and found its newfound event-venue stature much more pleasing than its previous iteration as a dance club. The high tables and multitude of chairs are now gone, removed for the sake of floor space. The venue needed plenty of floor space; though not the capacity crowd of Hank III a few weeks back, the turnout for this event left it pretty much standing room only. Bartenders and bouncers from the nearby Railyard Bar were on hand to work the door and pour drinks. The young man with a clipboard near the wristband table checked for my name, but told me I “wasn’t on the list.” Disheartening news, but one of the door guys let me in. He recognized me from the Railyard. Never let it be said that hanging out in bars never got anybody anywhere!
I found a place to stand near the stage. I got about as close as I dared. I was far forward enough that the only people in front of me had all sat down on the floor. It wasn’t long before the show began.
The Cigarette Girls played the part of emcee and between-set entertainment. This was my first burlesque show experience, and I can say now that I see the appeal. I’m sure some people go to these shows in hopes of seeing a little skin (it doesn’t disappoint), but there’s more to a burlesque performance than that. Combining elements of stand-up comedy, Vaudeville, and exotic dancing, burlesque has a more “upmarket” air versus stripping’s lower-brow reputation. It’s not as explicit as stripping, either, making it family-friendly in my book! (Note: I do not have children and have no idea what constitutes “family-friendly” in the real world).
The Cigarette Girls Burlesque opened the show with a brief rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock.” It led right into The Cold Hard Cash Show playing an opening set that left me speechless. Johnny Cash, I’ve found, is one of the few performers everybody can agree on and to hear such note-perfect renditions of his music is staggering. The performers had the look and sound of a true rockabilly band. If I’d closed my eyes, I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between TCHCS’s Merle Travis Peterson’s vocals and those of The Cash Man himself. With Ryan Yates on upright bass and Fel Torres on drums, I felt like I’d had the privilege of walking into one of Johnny Cash’s concerts. The band ran through a wide spectrum of Cash’s songbook, from the classics “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” up through Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage.” There was even an Xmas song thrown in, with the Cigarette Girls providing backing vocals and jingle bells. It was like some magical Xmas TV special—one that I would enjoy, featuring excellent tunes and a multitude of scantily clad, tattooed women.
I left that show feeling on top of the world. There just aren’t enough performances like TCHCS and The Cigarette Girls in popular culture anymore; here, there was little thought given to onstage spectacle or high-dollar effects, and the show was richer for it. There were no fireworks, video screens, advertising banners featuring hashtags, or…anything one often associates with modern stage shows, really. Matter of fact, the part of the performance that elicited the most oohs and ahhs was Ryan Yates playing his upright bass after scaling one side like it was a stepstool. Believe it or not, the band played at such a reasonable volume that even though I stood center-stage for about half the show, I didn’t even need my earplugs!
The past was never as good as people claim it was. As a matter of fact, things are objectively better today than at any other point in human history. Here in America, we have a stable economy, a decent school system, clean drinking water, and a mind-boggling number of snack foods near to hand. Even better, things show every sign of improving further. However, I for one hope humanity doesn’t advance so fast that it loses the good things the past had to offer. I caught a glimpse of two of those things this last Saturday, and I can say, no matter how good the future gets, if it loses this show and all it offered, we’ll all be poorer for it.