Acoustic Demos Performed by Kirk James Folk

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Published and Available NOW!
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Rhythm Junkies

Rhythm Junkies


Phone: (717) 843-7612

Thank You, Harper Lee


     It is not my practice to have a “favorite” of anything. Just last week, when I'd finished my Thursday gig, a guy asked me what my favorite song is. I told him that I have many, many constantly evolving favorites from a vast and varied catalog, but have never considered there to be a Number One. He seemed taken aback. I feel the same way about bands and musicians, artists, movies, filmmakers, actors, authors and food for that matter.
     However, there has always been one book that defies this rule. I have never hesitated to claim “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my favorite novel.
     I didn’t read “To Kill a Mockingbird” the first time for school. I sought it out on my own. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I can say without hesitation that the amount dwarfs any other novel I’ve ever reread. With the news of Harper Lee’s death at the age of 89 last Friday, I have picked it up again. And once again, the subtlety of its depths stagger me. The huge cast of beautifully realized characters in itself should have made it a classic. It weaves courtroom drama, alcohol and drug addiction, race, bigotry, tolerance and intolerance, poverty, class, wealth, heritage, politics, comedy, tragedy and the perils and joys of family relationships, within a tale of a young girl’s coming-of-age. It is also a crystal clear encapsulation of a specific period in a small town of the American South, and manages to be unflinching in the depiction, yet graceful and forgiving.
     Through the wise eyes of our tomboy narrator, “Scout” Finch we experience the human capacity to
survive and endure love and hate from the vantage of both sides of every story. While watching Tom Robinson’s trial from the balcony, Scout realizes that Mayella Ewell “must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years.”
     This is a deeply human story, and Ms. Lee at a young age was able to distill and report in a deceptively, simple way all that it means to be an adult and a child during difficult and yet, rewarding times. If you have never read it, I urge you to give it a chance. I will even lend you a copy. I say this, as someone who has lent and subsequently had to buy enough new copies to fill a closet. You will laugh, and…if there is a heart beating in there, you will cry. If you are not inclined to read, this is one of the few novels where the movie version does the story and characters justice. After watching, I defy you to read it and imagine anyone else but Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Hell, that can be said of the whole cast. It was a perfect storm of the right actors for each respective part.
     In closing, please allow me to paraphrase one of the multitude of great lines from “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Harper Lee is passin’.”

How I Became an Idiot ™


     Somewhere during the mid to late 1980’s I began toying with the idea of performing in an acoustic duo.
     I was originally a bass player, but became a singer by default. No one else would take the job. I played bass and sang in a band in high school, then in a band in college, and then with 1/2 of the band from high school after graduation from college. Distressed by the nodules I was convinced were growing on my vocal chords from over singing songs that weren’t in my range, nor any humans not equipped with the larynx of a porpoise, I planned to return to my home town of Phoenix, Arizona and become a writer.     
     Instead, I was shanghaied into a popular local band whose new lead singer, Sean Contres could assimilate the screaming porpoise style so prevalent during that era. Originally the band’s bass player, Sean now supplanted their former singer. I in turn took over Sean’s duties on the bass. All I had to do was jump around and froth at the mouth like a rabid dog and every once in a while use both hands to play. Oh…and sing maybe four or five songs that Sean felt were beneath him.
     Not long after we began to gig at least three times a week, the inevitable happened. Sean shredded his vocal chords. As he was already a gifted bassist, I was shoved into the spotlight without my blankie. For someone who has had a shield for all of these years, this is tantamount to being stripped naked. I became a “lead singer”.
     True to rock’n’roll cliché, various members were replaced or deported, and tragedy befell us. Soon, Sean was the only original member left standing. It was time for a name change. We settled on “Back Talk” as it was the one name no one really cared about. Suddenly, we began writing songs! Lots and lots of songs. Before we knew it we were a 99% original act. This was a godsend for me. Now, I could sing in my own unwashed, untrained voice and not have to attempt to be an impersonator. Yippee!
     After I was (rightfully) evicted by the girlfriend I was mooching off of at the time, I finagled residence above the local nightclub, Swizzles.
     If you were of legal age during the ‘80’s you will understand that if you live above a bar; particularly a bar that hosts live bands (and strippers), there will be a party in your room EVERY night. This is the law, and I do not enjoy breaking the law. In short time I became Swizzle’s doorman, then d.j., and ultimately bar manager, radio spokesman and owner of the smallest colony of brain cells on the planet.
     I’d been noodling with the acoustic guitar for a few years, and used it as a tool for writing songs. Notice, I don’t claim to have learned how to play it. Still don’t. Mostly, it is propped in my lap or substitutes as a table for drinks. When the inevitable party began, someone might ask me to play. A slew of dirty, slurry, random songs coalesced and became staples of my late night set list.
     During this period, it took about four hours for our road crew (and me) to set up for a Back Talk show. This does not include the painful hours of tearing it all down again. As lead singer you would think I would NOT be involved. Have I mentioned that I owned our $10,000 light show? I can’t say that I didn’t wander off from time to time after a gig, but I’m pretty damn sure I was always there for the hated setup.
     That’s when a seed germinated in my soggy mind. “What if” I wondered, “I was to start playing acoustic shows on the side to augment my income?”
     This was pre-MTV-Unplugged and there weren’t many people in this region doing the “stripped down” thing. As I’ve always enjoyed hearing solo performers or duos hammering away on acoustic guitars, I counted myself “in”.
     As someone who prefers a good “B-side” to a hit single, I mused to myself “What if we play a variety of rock songs, that people may not be familiar with?”
     You'll notice that I didn’t say acoustic songs. Nope. We left poor James Taylor, Jim Croce, Jimmy Buffet and all of the other James, Jim’s and Jimmy’s alone! I’m positive that if they had known, they would have been eternally grateful!

     I enlisted our sound man, Mike Couch as my partner in crime. Mike is an incredible, versatile guitar player who at the time owned and operated a studio where we recorded.  He had just recently joined “Once Fish”, an original jam band who still perform locally under the name “Hexbelt”. I figured that if we kept our gigs to off nights, neither one of us would have to worry about butting heads with the schedules of our respective bands.
     My goal was to keep the show as simple as possible. Since Back Talk had a light show of 100+ par cans and rain lights, and fog machines and a drum riser with a strobe light built into it, I decided to use a tree lamp of mine that had three bulbs as our lighting. Depending on the tone and “weight” of the song, I would refer to it as “One”, “Two” or “Three bulb” and turn the knob for the desired effect. I know: Genius. And just like that I had our name: Two Idiots and a Lamp.
     Mike is much younger than I, and at that time suffered from “stress”. Is it necessary for me to stress how often my antics “stressed him out”? I remember one fateful evening where he got so pissed off at me that he smashed his guitar on the wall of the bar where we were playing. To add insult to injury, I laughed at him and told him that if he wanted to get my attention, he should have smashed my guitar! (Disclaimer: I wasn’t being mean, just making a point. If you want to hurt someone, don’t bust your own stuff. That’s like punching a wall, when you really want to send someone’s teeth down their throat. Now, you’ve got a broken hand, dummy!!!!! You’re welcome.)
     For “Two Idiots and a Lamp” inaugural gig we opened for Back Talk in my downstairs living room, Swizzles. Scroll back up a few paragraphs. Remember when I said I wanted to keep the show “simple”? Temporary amnesia must have set in. At the time, comedic songwriter Martin Mull was touring the country with living room furniture. I thought that sounded like a great way to debut the “Idiots”. We drug a couch, coffee table complete with magazines, end table furnished with a black and white television that was on, with the sound turned off, and “the lamp” from my upstairs “apartment” onto the stage in front of the drum riser.
     Showtime! Mike and I ambled onto the stage with our guitars, propped our feet up on the end table and basically said “Whassup?” to the packed room full of puzzled faces. We then careened shakily into our set. Uncle Igor from Starview 92.7 taped the gig and aired pieces of it over the years. Somewhere, languishing amid cobwebs I believe I have a cassette copy. I’m scared to search, on the chance that I may find it.
     Before long, Back Talk and Once Fish were playing more and more week day shows, and it was difficult for me to schedule “Idiot” gigs without double-booking. Or… maybe Mike grew tired of pulling his hair out. Either way, the torch was passed.

     My songwriting partner, Back Talk guitarist Eric “Todd” Wisniewski seemed like the obvious replacement. We certainly weren’t going to interfere with the other’s schedule. This way we also incorporated unplugged Back Talk material into the mix along with many of my original acoustic songs which we didn’t play with the band.
     We started playing a gig every Sunday night at 55 West in downtown York. Hot wings had just become the big thing, and 55 West served five cent wings every Sunday. Read that again: five cent wings! Prior to the Wing Craze you couldn’t give those things away! Now, you can’t buy them for much less than a dollar a piece.
     The Sunday night gig took off and a new phenomenon began to develop. People began to gift us lamps. Not Granny’s sixty year old gummed up lamp with a frilly shade, but vintage lamps, Disney character lamps and crazy decorator lamps. The pinnacle was finally reached when a young lady bequeathed us a giant ceramic bust of Elvis lamp. The damn thing had to have weighed fifty pounds. A new stage of evolution began: people began to accessorize Elvis. On a good night, Elvis might be wearing purple sunglasses with a lit cigarette taped to his mouth, while sporting a fright wig and bow tie that lit up with blinking red lights. Just like in real life!
     One fateful Sunday, a good friend of ours who may have been drinking (wasted) bum rushed the “stage” in an effort to tell us some sort of vital information that couldn’t wait for the song to end. You can see where this is going. He knocked poor Elvis right off of his perch. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis wasn’t just all shook up. He was spread across the floor in a million shards of ceramic sequins and scarves.
     I made an executive decision. From now on: No LAMPS. We became “Two Idiots”, or more commonly “the” Two Idiots.
     It was also at this juncture where I decided to test my mettle and perform every Thursday at First Capital Dispensing Co. as a solo performer. I was the day bartender at First Cap, and Terry, the owner wanted to try something new on Thursdays. I volunteered to pop my “solo” cherry and give it a shot.
     This also continued the serendipitous connection between yours truly and hot wings. Terry decided to make the Thursday night special a dozen (!) wings for a dollar. The reason that this special deserves an exclamation point is because most places cut their wings in half; severing wing from drumstick. This way they charge you for one wing, when in reality it is only half of a wing. Terry gave you the whole wing and he bought the largest damn chicken wings I’ve ever seen in my life. They had to have been raised on steroids, or incorrectly labelled “chicken” when they were actually turkeys. Wingzillas! He marinated and breaded them overnight and they were the best damn wings I’ve ever had! They weren’t “hot”, but they were tasty, and you could add as much sauce as you wanted to them for no extra charge.
     One of the original caveats to me performing on Thursdays, was that I would also deep fry the wings to order. Picture this for a moment. I am playing for an audience, and you decide you want wings. I now interrupt the song, put the guitar down, go upstairs, cook your wings, then deliver them to your table piping hot. Hmmmm. That lasted one week.
     This new gig presented a new quandary. What name would I go by? I wanted to remind people who had heard of, or followed “Two Idiots” that I was indeed one of the two, and yet stand alone. My dear friend and drinking buddy, Gina London from Starview 92.7 had given me an ugly framed black velvet portrait of Elvis. I don’t know why, other than it was so splendidly tacky that she knew I would love it. Hello, Inspiration! I billed myself as “One Idiot and a Bad Black Velvet Elvis”. Once again, I was forced to carry around a prop, and once again that didn’t last long before I rechristened myself “Kirk the Idiot”.

     People seem to forget that I willingly labelled myself an idiot. I gave MYSELF that name! It wasn’t a childhood nickname that stuck or a misprint on my birth certificate.
     Flash Forward: I became a father. Around the time my son, Skylar was five, a good friend of mine and her son spent the day with us at the the York Fair. We were wandering along the thoroughfare, when a voice over the loudspeaker said “There have been a lot of idiots here today, but now we have the biggest idiot of them all: Please give a round of applause for “Kirk the Idiot”!”

     My son wanted to know why the man with the microphone was calling me a mean name. Lucy- you got some ‘splainin’ to do! For quite sometime after this revelation, Skylar would respond to a scolding with “Well, at least I’m NOT an idiot!” Touche’ and well-played, sir. I worried that fights during recess would become part of Skylar’s daily routine. "But Dad! His dad said that YOU are an idiot!!" I’m happy to report that as of this moment, they have not. Another bullet dodged…and enough digression. Back to the story in progress:
     Another unforeseen wrinkle of the every Thursday, First Cap gig was that people would respond to my heckling by whipping masticated wing bones at me. On Friday mornings, with a searing, cross eyed hangover, I would often run into Terry when I opened the bar. He would be grumpily mopping the floor from the night before.
     “Why the f*** are there chicken bones everywhere?” he would ask in an agitated bar owner tone. “Huh! I don’t know, that’s weird...isn't it?” I would mumble while stealthily plucking bones from the top shelf liquor bottles and the light above the bar. It wasn’t long before he showed up on a Thursday to see what the hell was going on. I’m pretty sure he pelted me with more than his share of wing carcasses.
     In the meantime, Eric married another d.j. friend from Starview 92.7 and followed her to her new job in Toronto, Canada. I don’t remember why or how he knew that this job was only going to last a few months, but he threatened to return, and warned me not to dismantle the band or give away his spot as an “Idiot”!
     During this interim, my buddy, Don Carn volunteered to be Eric’s replacement. Don is a high school music teacher and jazz musician. He’s been a staple on the local music scene since before fire was discovered and was known for his fantastic bass playing with the band “Extremity”. But Don had other ideas. He began to carry a violin around like a third arm and sit in with anyone who would let him. I was one of the anyone's, and it wasn’t unusual to find Don killing cats with his violin with one or both Idiots on a Thursday or Sunday night. With bowstrings snapping and fraying, Chile Don Carne' became an Idiot...until Eric returned from the Great White North. I thought there might be a duel between pick and bow, but I reminded Don that he knew his reign as an Idiot was only temporary, and he would always be welcome to sit in and wow the crowd with his frenetic guitfiddle. And he has, and continues to do so on a whim to this day.

     Time travel ahead a few years: Back Talk dissolved. Right before the implosion, Johnny “Star” Stauffer had begun playing bass with us. A longtime friend, and gifted musician, Johnny sidled right into the Idiot lead guitar slot without a stutter. This was by far the most gratifying and prolific period for me as an Idiot. We gigged an average of seven nights a week (often with two gigs a day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) and learned a ton of “new” cover material while writing originals. During Johnny’s tenure, I watched him transform from a good guitarist to an exceptional one and his melodic playing and choice of notes elevated every one of my original songs and made them complete. We formed, disbanded and put out CD’s with both “Duck Butter” and “Cotton” and were together so much we were like an old vaudeville team bouncing off of each other’s wit and providing a foil to the other’s warped sense of humor, tics and pecadilloes. Even during our worst moments, I had a perma-smile.

     With “Cotton”, we were fortunate enough to have our world class bassist and inspirational friend, Ralph Weyant Jr. frequently join us as the third Idiot. After Ralph’s tragic, devastating death from cancer, Johnny and I parted company, and I didn’t have the heart, desire nor ability to replace either of them.
     I continued playing solo gigs for years, until I reunited with Back Talk drummer Alan White, and connived Linda Kopp into anchoring the “Rhythm Junkies” with her sassy bass playing. As a woman, and for fear of bodily harm, I knew better than to ask her to be an “idiot”. We perform as a duo under the wildly imaginative moniker “Kirk and Linda”.

     Over the years “Two Idiots” have opened for classic rock legends “Blue Oyster Cult”, “Robin Trower”, “Molly Hatchet”, “The Romantics”, “Blackfoot”, “New Riders of the Purple Sage”, “Pat Travers Band”, “Foghat”, and “Black Oak Arkansas” to name a few.
     In hindsight, dubbing oneself an idiot provides it’s own set of complications. To this day, it is extremely rare that I don’t hear “Hyuk, yuk, there’s an idiot!” when I walk into a room. These are the same people who ask me (while I’m lugging in my guitar, speakers and amplifier) “Are you playing tonight?” I often answer with “No; just practicing setting up”. This is usually met with a dull, blank stare before a dust mote captures their attention and leaves me free to continue prepping for my gig. Who be the Idot now, eh?

Driver's Helper

     As I am not currently riding the crest of  the bestseller list and house-hunting in Malibu, I decided to take a “seasonal” position at a well known parcel delivery service over the holidays. The job description is “driver’s helper”. Translation: driver’s bitch. I didn’t really read any of the paperwork I signed when I applied for the job, but I’m pretty sure there is a clause in there where you are not allowed to write in your blog about what went on during your employment. In keeping with their “loose lips sink packages” code of secrecy I will only say that once I donned my uniform I looked like a giant turd.
     Since I had worked for this company in this same “seasonal” position six years ago (and there weren’t many applicants) I was a shoe-in. Let me restate: six years ago. That’s practically a lifetime in dog years. Taking a page from Toby Keith’s song “As Good As I Once Was” I figured I could stumble through.
     During orientation it is repeatedly drilled into your psyche how when the driver says “Take this package and run it to the side door” they do NOT mean to actually RUN. Yeah. Right. They also stress that you are always to deliver from behind the truck. In other words, you are a much better target for speeding cars if there are no obstructions in their way (you know, like a big ass truck full of packages).
     So…the way this works is, you call in at 8 a.m. and they tell you where and when you are to meet your driver. My first five days I worked with five different drivers on five wildly different routes. I’m not complaining. There is no time for monotony. After the fifth day they assigned me to a driver who has worked for the company since they delivered by pony. His route is very much in the area I live, and I got a whole new view of the town. This driver is a font of knowledge about the people he delivers to. I’m not sure how he became privy to so much inside scoop, but he could write a book and it would be a doozy. I mentioned this to him, and he seemed intrigued. Should he decide to move forward with this plan, I’m throwing my hat in the ring to be his ghost writer. Lurid, is too mild a word. I smell a hit.
     In keeping with the nondisclosure nature of this piece, I am going to give my new best friend an alias. From now on I will refer to him as Scooby. Not because I’m a fan of talking dogs; just because I know how mortified he would be to be called Scooby. Hey, if that’s how I get my jollies, who are you to question it?
     In our area, Scooby has the most seniority with this company…hell, probably nationwide. And, since he has seniority (this IS a union job) he is still allowed to use an “old school” truck. That means it is the only one in operation that is NOT wired so that the man behind the curtain can see exactly everything the driver is doing. The Eye in the Sky knows when your seat belt hasn’t been fastened and how long it takes for you to make a delivery down to the millisecond. They even know what you had for lunch (if there was ever time to take one)! Being an old school truck, the step into the cab is at least a foot higher than any other truck I delivered from. This means that you have to catapult into the cab and parachute out, roll and run. I’ve got a knee that’s been welded together with leftover car parts and gum and have broken and sprained both ankles multiple times. I don’t even want to guess how many times I’ve broken all of my toes.
     During orientation, you are also told that you will exit the truck an average of 200 plus times a day. Their math is shoddy. To exacerbate the jarring joints factor, 95% of the houses that we delivered to had driveways that were at least a mile long and were either 60 degrees straight up, or 60 degrees straight down. Whether leaving the truck or returning, you were scaling Olympus. By the time I finished the “season” my legs were chiseled from marble. From the waist up I still look like the Pilsbury Dough Idiot, but my legs look like Brad Pitt’s in the movie “Troy” (except shorter, hairier and covered in scars). I would characterize my delivery style as “wounded trotting”.
     The helper must also carry a scanning device which is the size of some of the earliest computers and just as cutting edge. Once you have set the package(s) down (oh, yeah- there are innumerable rules on how and where to place the package) you scan it and then input a constantly evolving set of codes. More frequently than I care to recall, Scooby would yell “What’s taking so long?” from the safety of the truck as I mashed my fingers repeatedly against every key in a vain attempt to make it work. Sometimes, Scoob would get so fed up that he would emerge from the truck, make the arduous trek to where I was beating the scanner against a wall and (to my absolute pleasure) not get it to work. He’d be forced to whip out his tiny pocket sized scanner and bingo! Back to the truck we’d hobble.
     Have I mentioned that the helper’s door stays forever open? There is no reason to close it. Most of the time I would pole vault into the truck, fasten my seat belt and already be halfway back out the door. Luckily, the weather, for the most part, was gloriously cooperative. Six years ago, I spent most of my time diving out onto glaciers or into banks of snow. This time everything was hunky dory until around 4 p.m. when the temperature and sun would simultaneously drop. My last day, I was christened by an unending torrential downpour. Defying the laws of probability, I leapt into a pond of water at every stop. As if the insult of having my shoes and calves drenched the whole day wasn’t enough, there was a constant rivulet of water that poured from the doorway onto my legs during the ride and down the back of my collar whenever I dismounted and reached back in for the stack of 95 pound packages.
     In closing, I survived another season and swore that I would never submit myself to this abuse again, but I forgive and forget pretty easily. Mainly forget.
     In all seriousness, I commend and salute parcel delivery drivers around the world. It is fast-paced, relentless work and their days are long with no room for goofing off. They don’t go back to the Alpha Base until their truck is empty. All of the drivers I worked with were pleasant, entertaining characters who handled themselves with good cheer and professional courtesy. It is often a thankless job, although I was very impressed with how cordial the majority of the people we interacted with were. There is still plenty of good in the world. And from what I’ve seen, Amazon is distributing the lion’s share of it.

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Twenty-five years ago, who would've guessed that David Lee Roth would become the Crispin Glover of Rock'n'Roll? This goof is one stamp shy of postal!