My good friend Vern died about a week ago upon collapsing due to organ failure. While I’d known for some time that he was not well, Vern was such a rock ‘n roll survivor that I guess I really thought he’d shake it off. He had expanded his solo act Red Rumsey into a three piece noise rock band that was really starting to sound like a unit, he recorded an album that stands up to the legacy of Unwound with supergroup Household Gods in 2019, and he’d just gotten married. He was trying so damn hard to live that it was almost possible to shrug off the obvious physical pain he was in each time he dragged himself onto stage these last couple years. I saw him play quite a few times in recent history (on top of having worked alongside him at Thekla in the glory days of Unwound and Long Hind Legs, seeing those bands as much as Olympia graciously allowed), at the Lombard Pub, at the Doug Fir Lounge opening for Treepeople (I roadied for Vern), at McCoy’s Cavern on this past Christmas Night in Oly, at Speck’s Records (a show I put on) and on my radio show at Freeform Portland. My band had the pleasure of opening for him at the Speck’s show and was slated to open the NW dates on his tour this year. The tour was cancelled pre-Covid when Vern realized he was just in too much pain to pull it off. Given the pain that he would go on stage under (he fainted at his last Portland show at Turn Turn Turn according to his drummer Aaron) it must have been monumental this time. Even so he kept interacting with friends on Facebook. I was arguing with him, and loving it, about the best Lou Reed album just 2 1/2 weeks ago. It did not in any way feel like our last conversation.
At the show at the Doug Fir, I watched Doug Martsch of Treepeople (and Built to Spill fame) break a string and borrow Vern’s guitar. Vern was so elated to not only get to open for his rock idol but to get to loan him his guitar and have it blessed with Doug’s fingers. That’s how it felt for me getting to open for Vern. He went out of his way, for the Portland show we didn’t get to play, to make sure my 12 year old son Lennon would be allowed in to play drums. Our lineup fluctuates and we play without Lennon in bars all the time, so I hadn’t even asked. But Vern saw Lennon drum when we opened at Speck’s and made it his own priority that the kid get to play. This is how Vern was made. He went out of his way to encourage anybody that played music to keep at it and would often offer to record them for free at his home studio. In a town that had it’s share of posers more interested in irony and hanging onto the cool people, Vern was always 100% genuine and snark-free. He wore ugly sweaters and soft pants because they made him comfortable and he did whatever the fuck he wanted, not because he was making fun by embracing it ironically or any such crap.
I have tried with the songs collected to capture all of Vern’s musical directions and ensembles. Of course there is more Unwound than any other group as he was on every one of their brilliant albums, but he was also the principal songwriter in Long Hind Legs and Red Rumsey. Consider in 1997 he was active in Unwound, Long Hind Legs, AND Blonde Redhead (who he recorded and played bass for that year)! Household Gods Palace Intrigue was a very strong final note from Vern, and even more sadly, also from drummer LKN who passed away before the record was even released. The last track “Rest In Power” features Lauren (LKN) speaking because it was in tribute to her, and I chose to close out this show with it as well, expanding the message in it to Vern as well. Lauren was also a Freeform Portland DJ under the name Suzanne Bummers. There is are two pieces of Errata on the show: 1) Unwound did not play in front of John Peel in 2015, they knew a lot of people but not Doctor Who (neither the band nor the DJ still existed in 2015 that’s when the album was released) and 2) I announced “For Your Entertainment” as the studio version, when it was actually the live version from 6/30/1999: Reykjavik, Iceland. I wasn’t having the easiest time back announcing the songs as I’m pretty overwhelmed with grief. Plus they nailed it that night so well it sounds basically like the studio version, but louder and with applause at the end. If you want to make this error right, go listen to Repetition all the way through. Several times.
Many thanks to Ryan Ray for his eternal engineering patience in assisting me with all the takes it took to get this right. Bleeping out Lauren’s swearing sucked heartily and the FCC can fuck themselves, but we did it for Freeform Portland, who don’t deserve the heat it would bring their way. The version uploaded here thankfully reverts to how Lauren (and most people) speak. Thank you to Jeff Ross from Freeform for holding my hand through all the delays and making sure the show would air on time. No thanks to the pandemic for shutting down so many memorials, and keeping us from sharing a microphone in the DJ booth as live radio requires. Freeform Portland is here for its listeners no matter what, even if the pandemic wants to give us some new hoops to jump through.
- Long Hind Legs “Open Wide” [Long Hind Legs]
- Household Gods “Shine Theory” [Shine Theory]
- Unwound “What Was Wound” [New Plastic Ideas]
- Red Rumsey “Shine On/Flies” [7″`]
- Unwound “Look a Ghost” [Leaves Turn Inside You]
- Long Hind Legs “Arranged For Viewing” [Feb 4-14 1998]
- Blonde Redhead “Kazuality” [Fake Can Be Just as Good]
- RedRumsey “Prime Numbers” [Redrumsey / Teach Me Equals]
- Unwound “Side Effects of Being Tired” [Peel Sessions]
- Household Gods “Avalanche” [Palace Intrigue]
- Long Hind Legs “Icarus Flew” [Long Hind Legs]
- Unwound “Kid Is Gone” [Unwound]
- Red Rumsey “Big House, Shine On, 1 is not a primal number” [Live at the Doug Fir Lounge 2019]
- Blonde Redhead “Futurism vs. Passéism” [Fake Can Be Just as Good]
- Red Rumsey “Live on What’s This Called? 1/5/2019” [Freeform Portland]
- Unwound “Valentine Card” [Live Leaves]
- Olympia WA Music Scene “Go With the Flow (excerpt)” [Go With the Flow (Film)]
- Unwound “Vern’s Answer to the Masses” [The Future of What]
- Unwound “Terminus” [Leaves Turn Inside You]
- Unwound “For Your Entertainment” [Repetition]
- Household Gods “Rest in Power” [Palace Intrigue]