Reed Weimer Espouses the Dirt-Crusted Details of the Old West on History Lessons

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The story starts off something like this: One day, Reed Weimer's dad came home with an old Army Jeep, maybe from the Korean War, that had been painted tomato red. Weimer's dad told his son he could drive the clunker if he checked the oil regularly. Sure, Weimer said. But Weimer was a kid and, well, they have a tendency to ignore their elders. “When dad towed me and the Jeep back to the Springs, we didn’t talk much,” Weimer recalls.

Years later, Weimer, a musician and artist who co-founded Zip 37 Gallery with his wife, Chandler Romeo, was in a business meeting feeling out of sorts. To occupy his mind, he started drawing some of the meeting's participants as elements of a bleak landscape. “Later I looked at the drawings and was inspired to add more characters to tell more stories,” Weimer says.

In the twenty years since, Weimer has immortalized various characters, some of whom actually make up his Old West family tree, some fictional, and their various day-to-day accoutrements – the red Jeep, his uncle's guitar, a coffeepot his great-great-grandfather (and maybe Ulysses S. Grant) used – into paintings and, most recently, an album called History Lessons.

Reed, who sounds like Tom Waits had he grown up wrangling cattle in Colorado, and his band the Flat Out Five will present History Lessons this Sunday at The Bug Theatre. In advance of the show, we talked to Weimer about his album, his art and his fascination with old stuff.

Westword: What inspired you to turn the paintings into songs?

Reed Weimer: I don't like writing artist statements, so I was like, why don't I write a song? Some of them were easy, some were not. They all came from family stories, or they came from family ideas, because we all have similarities in our families. That was one of the things that I found was great about this work: When I started showing them to people, they got them right away. They were like, oh, yeah, we have a guy like that in my family.

The album pays homage to the details of the Old West: empty booze bottles and old coffeepots and guitars and tool sheds. What beauty do you see in these things?

My family were pioneers in New Mexico in the 1860s, and so I grew up in a house with my great-great-grandparents' furniture. I like these stories of their lives, and these objects are talismans of the lives that they had. There's that old question: If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be? I'd choose my great-great-grandfather. He seemed like a pretty interesting guy.

Tell us about him.

When he was a teenager, about thirteen, they sent him from Germany to Santa Fe to work for his uncle in a dry-goods store. He spent a year in New York learning English, and then went to New Mexico and did well. He took wagons of stuff up to miners and eventually opened his own store in Ranchos de Taos. That's where my father's side of the family is from: Taos, New Mexico.

United States Western artifacts are interesting in that they're only a hundred or so years old. They're things people could still be using, and sometimes they are. My house is full of old stuff. I succumbed to the mass hallucination of nostalgia.

You sing about a coffeepot used by your great-great-grandfather and someone else.

When I was a kid, they said, oh, yeah, you know Ulysses S. Grant drank whiskey out of that coffeepot. You're a kid and you go, oh, sure, I don't know why adults do what they do, but great. Then you get older, and pretty soon it's your coffe pot, and it's been treated with the same respect and dignity that one would afford the general himself, I suppose. So now you start thinking, okay, now I've got this. Do I tell my kids this story? Do we keep going with this? How do I look this up? How do I verify this? Then you start studying your family's history. Is it plausible? How could this have happened? Do my kids even know what the Civil War was? You make a lot of discoveries, and you find out that maybe the dates don't match up. But it goes on being the honored coffeepot.

The songs have a title and then a subtitle that seems to hint at some bigger theme, like “The General's Coffee Pot (The Hero)."

The idea with these is that they have the title, and then they have their allegorical significance in the subtitle. Sometimes the songs are more narrative, sometimes they're more about the story, and sometimes they're more about the allegorical significance of the thing. When I first made the drawings, I didn't know why I was making them. Then I realized: These are personal. I have dozens and dozens of these. They could be my life's work, I don't know. They're very satisfying to turn into songs.

What should Sunday's audience expect?

We originally did this show in a bar as an album-release party. It was loud and crowded, and it was a fun show. But afterward, people were all saying, hey, that was really cool, but I couldn't hear what you were saying between songs. And I thought, well, you know, it was important for you to hear what I was saying since I tell a story for each song. That's why we wanted to do this at the Bug, which my brother owns – to approach it more as theater than as a rock band playing. We'll project the painting we're singing about. It'll be a multimedia extravaganza! 

The Flat Out Five will perform History Lessons at 7 p.m. on Sunday, August 21, at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street. Tickets, $10, will be available at the door.

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