Posts Tagged With: Jere McIlwean

Patty Duke Syndrome’s namesake passes on

PattyDukeWay back in the long-ago days before Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams had a great little punk band called Patty Duke Syndrome — named after the television star and Oscar-winning actress Anna Marie “Patty” Duke, who had played “identical cousins” on “The Patty Duke Show” in the ’60s (and was subsequently diagnosed with bipolar disorder). Patty Duke Syndrome was around in the early 1990s, and I remember being surprised at the time to learn that the real-life Patty Duke was actually still alive.

But she was. It’s probably just as well that the trio of Ryan, Brian Walsby and Jere McIlwean didn’t get a record deal, which would have caused a lot of awkwardness and possibly litigation. Patty Duke Syndrome came to a bad end in 1994, with a breakup ugly enough that Ryan was still writing songs about it with Whiskeytown a year later (more on that is in chapter three of “Losering”). As for Patty Duke herself, she finally passed on today, at age 69.

Rest in peace, Ms. Duke. You were never forgotten, then or now.

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A working-class hero is something to be: “Bastards I Used to Know”

“Bastards I Used to Know” was one of the earliest Whiskeytown songs, and it still lingers even though it was never released on a record. Also variously known as “Lucky Me” and “This Old City,” “Bastards” kind of stumbles along on the demo-ish recording of it that survives, with Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary still working out their vocal-harmony dynamic. It’s ragged but wonderful in a shambolic sort of way, like a drunken younger cousin of the old Jerry Jeff Walker warhorse “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” But where that song was pointedly tongue-in-cheek, this one is bitter to the core.

Ryan wrote “Bastards” as a poison-pen kiss-off to his former Patty Duke Syndrome bandmates, Brian Walsby and Jere McIlwean, with whom he’d had what he called “an evil breakup” the first time I interviewed him (more about that is in Chapter Three of “Losering”). Although it isn’t really about jobs or labor, I’ve always thought of “Bastards” as a Labor Day song, steeped as it is in working-class dayjob blues. Picture Ryan slaving away in the Rathskeller kitchen while muttering this under his breath:

This old city where I live is poor and dirty
Work I do, it barely pays the bills
This old city, it is home to stupid bastards I used to know
Lucky me, I’m too drunk to remember their names…

Should your Labor Day cookout today take a turn toward the inebriated, you could do a lot worse than this for group-sing-along fodder. So fire it up.

ADDENDUM — When I posted this on Facebook, I heard from Danny Kurtz, bassist in late-period Whiskeytown (and also the Backsliders):

That’s crazy. I took that photo of Ryan in Wyoming while driving to Seattle. We all stopped to take a break and there were all these pretty daisies growing on the side of the road. I sent it in years ago to a contest for best ryan photo.

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More from the supporting cast: Brian Walsby

While I was reporting “Losering,” I wanted to talk to a bandmate of Ryan’s from his last and best pre-Whiskeytown group, Patty Duke Syndrome. That meant drummer Brian Walsby because the third member of the trio is no longer with us. Bassist Jere McIlwean died in a 1996 drug overdose, which inspired the 1997 Whiskeytown single “Theme For a Trucker” (named for McIlwean’s post-PDS band Trucker).

So I asked Brian if he’d talk about the old days and we had the same pre-interview conversation about Ryan that we always do, in which he expressed hesitancy about reopening that can of worms. But then we talked and it was fine, and he had many interesting things to say about his old bandmate; most of them fond, some not so much. Both kind of quotes are in the book. Still, nothing Brian told me on or off the record was as harsh as a graphic essay he composed in 2003, which is nicely summarized by the headline:

RYAN FUCKING ADAMS OWES ME, MOTHERFUCKERS!!!
A twisted tale of almost obsession

Even leaving Ryan aside, Brian has an interesting history. He’s a fine drummer who has played in a dozen Triangle bands since the mid-’80s (highlighted by Polvo and Double Negative, who had some discussions with Ryan about signing to his label Pax-Am Records a year or two ago), and he’s also  an excellent cartoonist of semi-legendary repute in underground metal circles. I’ve written about some of that history in a couple of features for the paper, one in 2004 and another in 2011. Honestly, though, Walsby is his own best chronicler, as set down in countless cartoons and compiled in his “Manchild” series of books. Volume Six is the latest and it’s subtitled “Bye Bye Punk Rock..Hello Adulthood!!”

Some of the inspiration for that mindset comes from Walsby’s young daughter, Willow, who has Down Syndrome — which he and I have bonded over a bit, since I have a daughter with Down Syndrome myself; that’s Claudia, age 13, and she rocks just as hard as her twin brother Edward and big brother Aaron (a budding rock star in his own right, dig his work on bass in the Raleigh teenage hardcore band Pure Scum).

Nevertheless, Walsby still gets out to rock a good bit. He’s been on the road a lot with Seattle proto-grunge band the Melvins in recent years, handling merch sales as well as drawing what he sees and selling his own wares. Get his attention when the Melvins play Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro Wednesday night, and maybe he’ll draw you.

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