Originally issued in 1981, The Other Side of Town is terminal L.A. hipster Chuck E. Weiss' debut album on the Select imprint. He's claimed on at least a couple of occasions in print that it was a demo and issued without his permission. OK. Weiss' biography reads a little like Neal Cassady's, whose fictional incarnation was the hero of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Weiss, who hails from Denver, was the son of parents who owned a record store. He was originally a drummer who played with Lightnin' Hopkins and gigged with Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, and Roger Miller, to mention a few. He has been immortalized in song by his old running mates Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones -- right, that Chuck E. -- and had characters loosely based on him show up in Sam Shepard's plays; what these three all have in common with Weiss is that they all lived in the Tropicana Motor Hotel in Los Angeles at the same time. While the rest have all gone on to various forms of legend, Weiss is still hanging out in Los Angeles, talking to anyone who will listen about the old days and banging about on countertops in coffee shops and the like. He's a rascal and proud of it, and he's recorded three more albums between 1999 and 2007. There isn't anything particularly special about The Other Side of Town other than the fact that it goes back to an earlier time in much the same way the Red Devils and the Blasters did with the blues and rockabilly. Some guy named Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John) plays piano like a firehouse burning down, and Jones in her beat angel voice sings a duet on the track "Sidekick." Larry Taylor plays bass, Alvin "Shine" Robinson wails a pretty mean guitar, and Freddie Stahle plays drums -- Weiss sings and plays percussion. It sounds like a demo, but it's full of great wit, charm, and an utter carelessness that makes it feel dangerous in a time when music is anything but. It is reminiscent of old rock & roll, blues, and raggedy R&B because to Weiss it's not remotely revival music. He's actually playing that stuff because that's who he is -- he was a relic even then.
A mere 25 minutes in length, these aren't so much songs as musical vignettes, all of them streetwise, hip, and uncompromising in their guttersnipe intensity. If Weiss had recorded these tunes with a lesser group of musicians, they'd come out around the same -- perhaps more dangerous because then the listener would realize he wasn't trying for a record deal, but to be heard, to speak, to get it out there in the open. Yeah, that is a good thing. It may seem quaint to those kids getting their kicks on piercings, tribal tattoos, and personal scarification in order to showcase their individuality; it may seem distasteful to those from an earlier generation who'd like to forget they once lived precariously through the lenses of Kerouac, the younger Tom Waits, William S. Burroughs, and Iceberg Slim as they dig into their latest bland "sophisticated pop." To those who come from privilege and spend their time listening to generic-sounding bluesmen from Chicago who play 20-minute guitar solos and wear big ugly hats, loud designer Hawaiian shorts, and smoke expensive cigars while trying to "get down," this raucous swill will sound like noise. It is noise, thank God. Whether it's "Saturday Night Fish Fry," the title track, the brief rambling spoken word story set to music that is called "Luigi's Starlite Lounge," or the cranky wildman barely keeping his lines inside the verses of the bonus cut "Down the Road a Piece" (it could have been a lower-rent outtake from Waits' Heartattack and Vine), it's all racket and impolite and a downright nasty doesn't-give-a-rat's-ass-what-you-think kind of rock & roll; it doesn't fit now and never did, and if you heard people playing it from some garage on your street you'd call the cops. Select claims that Weiss persuaded them to re-release this, so apparently he's given it his blessing. Maybe he needed to hear it again, too.