Finn’s Motel mastermind/auteur Joe Thebeau gifted us in late 2006 with the amazing, out-of-nowhere Escape Velocity debut, a concept album about leaving behind the drudgery of cubicle life and suburban malaise for some greater, unknown existence. Even with the help (cough) of a January 2007 MAGNET profile, it took Thebeau nearly 11 years to finally follow it up with the outstanding new Jupiter Rex (Victory Over Gravity). Thebeau will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new Finn’s Motel feature.
Thebeau: The first time I saw them, the Bottle Rockets were not yet the Bottle Rockets but were called Chicken Truck. It was at the old Cicero’s Basement bar in University City, and my band was playing the opening slot. It was probably about 1988. At that time we were called the Finn Brothers. (A few years later Neil and Tim would rightfully claim that name and we simply dropped the “Brothers” to be the Finns; and after that band broke up, and I went through a few others, I landed on Finn’s Motel, which is the name I wanted to use in the first place. But, I digress.)
The stage at Cicero’s Basement was barely higher than the floor, so the band and audience were pretty much at the same level, making for an up-close-and-personal experience. Chicken Truck was loud, drunk and wild. They threw fried chicken at the front row of the audience, who ate it up; though some of the audience did throw some chicken back at the band. At least one band member had a gun belt as a guitar strap. My greenhorn bandmates and I, in our white shirts and skinny black ties, I were blown away. To say we’d never seen anything like this was an understatement.
We received what we still to this day consider one of the highest compliments ever from Brian after the show that night, when he said, “That’s a good little band you got there.” In 1988, I had just moved to St. Louis from the rural town of Hillsboro, Mo. Brian and his band were from Festus, Mo., just up the road from Hillsboro. Something about them being from Jefferson County gave me hope that maybe we could be as good as them if we kept working at it.
Fast-forward many years and several great American rock records later, Brian Henneman and the Bottle Rockets—in collaboration with the Henningsens—give us one of the Best Songs By Anyone Ever, “Something Good.” This song has more hooks than my tackle box! The verses end with first line of the chorus, “We had something good,” and chunk on the guitar for a few beats to tease out the phrase turn, “but good was never good enough for you.” If that’s all the melody they were going to give us we wouldd be happy, but then the chorus takes off into its second movement, with Brian and Keith Voegele’s voices blending seamlessly. The chords circle around to return for one more “we had something good.” Perfect. There’s a pause and then Mark tosses us a Ringo-via-Bun E. Carlos drum fill and we’re off into the guitar solo. Brian takes the first leg of the race on his Rickenbacker 12 string and John Horton takes the second on a chiming six string. It’s the Byrds and the Bangles, but it’s also pure Bottle Rockets. As the final chorus swells you start to wonder, how will they end it? The way it’s constructed, they could conceivably play the circular chorus forever (and you kinda wish they would). They cap it off with a final “But good was never good enough for you” and slam out a minor chord that hangs in the air like the last word of an argument.