"I do yell at cars now, definitely," he says. "I've gotten to the point where the smell of piss in a subway is so common it's like breathing regular air. I actually think rats are kind of cute when they run by me. Pigeons are far worse."
Romero's musings on New York's more unappealing attributes belie the role the city has played in his artistic life. After experiencing a good old-fashioned "New York ass-kicking" in the months following his arrival -- his music met with indifference from club managers; he split from his Love Supreme partner, bassist Ron Voller; his talks with labels and managers went nowhere -- Romero has emerged with a new solo project and a partnership with a soon-to-be-launched online record company, audiopia.com. He now plays semi-regularly at such well-regarded places as CBGB's Gallery, the Den, and the Arlene Grocery. He's also finishing a book, Shut Up and Look the Other Way, a collection of prose and poetry largely inspired by his experiences in Babylon, that he plans to publish independently next year.
"At first, pretty much everything bad that could have happened, happened. I was basically reduced to a real level of survival," he says. "But the positive side of that is that the city kind of chisels you out. It helps define you. As far as my artistic process goes, I have no problem throwing things away now, whereas before I was afraid to throw ideas out for fear that they would never come back. I'm much more unapologetic about that kind of thing now."
On Sunday, November 26, Romero plays a Denver stage -- the Bluebird Theater, with On Second Thought -- for the first time since his migration, and he will treat crowds to a little skill he's picked up in the interim: Mongolian-style throat singing. How that will fit into the program is anyone's guess. Romero will be joined on stage by Andrew Monley of Jux County, who is just barely recovered from a European tour with his bandmates, the Czars. And while Romero is vocal in his belief that Denver is not the best place to pursue a serious career as a musician -- for starters, it's too stuck in the middle of the country to garner significant industry interest -- he regards the city with a kind of nostalgic affection.
"Denver audiences are very kind," he says. "There are a lot of people there who listen to a lot of different kinds of music, so they're very open, and it was a wonderful place to get your craft together. But what I saw was a lot of people doing very well for a certain period of time, and then the whole thing would kind of burn out, and that would be the end of it for them. I realized that that could very easily happen to me."
Christophe Cranberri, vocalist for local gothic band Vox Demonna and owner of Someone You Thought You Knew Productions, might take issue with Romero's sentiment that you gotta get outta Dodge if you want to make it in music. In fact, Cranberri will host the second annual Colorado Underground Music Awards at the Bluebird Theater on Saturday, November 25 -- an evening designed to promote the notion that Denver is becoming a city with more ability to support divergent movements in art and music.
"Denver is a growing city," Cranberri says. "We feel like the only way that artists are ever going to keep going is if we show them how much they are loved and appreciated and supported in their hometown. There are plenty of people here who can help with that idea. And plenty of talent to satisfy everyone, so we don't have to look elsewhere."
During the traditional pomp-and-podium ceremony, Cranberri will present more than forty awards to bands, promoters, clubs and DJs that he believes have been integral to the promotion of underground music in Colorado. Live performances from Vox Demonna and metal mavens Throat Culture will top off the evening. Tickets are $6.
What is it with the hot dogs? The new Limp Bizkit record (reviewed by our own John La Briola last week) makes reference to them: The release's title, in its full faux-Exquisite Corpse non-sequiturness, is Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water. Now, along comes Hot Dog City Limits -- a new recording from Alternative Tentacles' resident minister of psychosis, Wesley Willis, who seems to harbor a special affection for our Mile High City. The album was recorded this month at the Capitol Hill headquarters of Alpha Radio (alpharadio.com), an Internet radio station that usually confines its efforts to broadcasting music rather than recording it. According to Alpha's operations guru, Scott Stafford, Willis turned up at his studio with Chris Bagley, a local student who's currently producing a documentary about Willis for Autonomous Films. Bagley will release his film, also named Hot Dog City Limits, to correspond with the CD's release early next year. (Meanwhile, a short trailer of the flick can be viewed at autonomousfilms.com.)
I should note that Stafford is a pal of mine and that he and I have, on more than one occasion, debated Willis's artistic merits -- and the possibility that he belongs in a hospital, not on stage -- over cocktails at Charlie Brown's. (We've also discussed other pressing issues, like whether or not to go for the free chicken wings.) Stafford usually argues that individuals with deranged minds often produce great art; I usually agree (and point out that they also often produce piles of human poop on the sidewalk) but suggest that Willis's notoriety stems more from a "let's laugh at the crazy guy" curiosity than from true artistic intrigue. Usually, we finally agree to disagree and proceed to order chicken wings. Perhaps you'd like to consider the evidence for yourself: Wesley Willis performs with Rainbow Sugar at the 15th Street Tavern on Thursday, November 23 (also known as Thanksgiving). Hot dogs not included.