I’ve added a new page to the site labeled Lady Winchester, a little semi-official home for my band. Here’s why:
The best advice I can offer anybody who finds themselves living and teaching in Korea is this: join a band. You will have nothing but time on your hands. You will work six to eight hours per day, Monday through Friday, and you may choose to spend the rest of your time watching Netflix through a proxy server, or you may choose to engage with the community somehow. I knew people who accomplished that by writing for the local expat magazines, or producing and/or performing in amateur theater, or starting weekly board game nights in their tiny studio apartments. I chose to join a band.
The band I joined was called Lady Winchester. Being that I am nearly completely bankrupt of actual talent, I sang. Those participants whose talent was less meager (indeed, way, way, way less meager) were my favorite kinds of people: clever weirdos. Each and every one of them. We were a big band. Seven people, including myself. We were an international band. Our ranks boasted members from the US, Canada, England, and Wales. We were weird. We were super, super weird. We tied fireworks to the ends of our instruments and set them off during guitar solos. We sang songs about ursine mammals drinking Korean liquor and dancing on the surface of lakes. We jumped on (and occasionally, to the severe detriment of my beautiful face, through) tables.
Did I happen to mention we were a folk band?
“Man the sails, boys. We are all alone.”
There was nothing else like us on the peninsula, of that I’m quite confident. We played with tons of excellent groups, and I don’t mean to suggest that they were anything short of awesome (of particular note, Daegu’s own Mr. Headbutt… a personal favorite). But nobody was Lady Winchester. We weren’t quite a punk rock band, although we frequently behaved like one. We weren’t really a folk or a bluegrass or a celtic group either, in spite of our banjo and our violin. We couldn’t be accurately categorized as ska, but I did see some motherfuckers skankin’ up a storm out in front of the stage on more than one occasion. We were junkyard blues. Screwgrass. Folkcore. I feel the compulsion to quote my good buddy Devon Brockhopp-Hammer (formerly of the aforementioned Mr. Headbutt):
I described The Lady to my dad as “Tom Waits meets a punk rock Old Crow Medicine Show” and he said, “that doesn’t sound like it would be good.” After listening, he said, “Lady Winchester is the chicken marbella of bands – the ingredients sound strange but it actually works!”
The chicken marbella of bands. That was us.
So we stood out. We wanted to stand out. We dressed like silly assholes, jumped around like maniacs, and if you ever saw us, you didn’t forget about it.
“Is there any danger of making any sense?”
We built an entire fiction around the band. The Lady herself became our patroness, a mythic folk hero transcending culture and country, a universal saint who had, like Captain Planet, called us all together to spread her message of… well, we weren’t really sure. But we were sure of these things:
- The Lady once played in a jug band with an undisclosed number of giant mutant frogs.
- The Lady is a champion leg-wrestler.
- The Lady breeds and trains pygmy goats.
- The Lady is a champion mutton-buster.
- The Lady brokered a peace treaty between the subterranean mole people and a race of “giant-pygmy” alligators… which, one assumes, made them regular-sized alligators.
- The Lady is legally married to 17 living things, only 11 of which are human beings.
- The Lady is proudly infertile.
- The Lady claims all saguaro cacti as her consorts, however nurtures a fierce acrimony toward prickly pears.
- The Lady keeps dormant clones of the band in an undisclosed location in case one of them should die during a performance.
- The Lady initially hired Sid Vicious as either the band’s original bassist or banjo player, depending upon the source.
- The Lady’s enemies have a history of being eaten by mountain rats, whatever those are.
- The Lady’s favorite band is Bread Zeppelin.
We disseminated these rumors live and via social media, and occasionally in print (I got into the habit of writing Winchester myth-proverbs on napkins and hiding them in places where someone was sure to find them). We changed our name after every show (Lady Winchester and the Rusty Buckets, Lady Winchester and the Cardiac Infarctions, or my personal favorite, Lady Winchester and the Top Ten Best Trees) under the pretext that the band broke up after every show and had to be reassembled. We straddled the line between The Carter Family and The Church of the Subgenius. This was one of my favorite things about the band. The show never ended.
“Be happy now. You can’t when you’re dead.”
We released our record and played our final show on the same night.
February 23rd, 2013. That seems like a thousand years ago instead of just a handful of months. I remember laboring over what I would wear. Staring at myself in the mirror as I cycled through outfit after outfit, it seemed like that determination was the most important decision of my life. It had to be perfect. I had to look like a cowboy street-preacher, an alcoholic Edwardian undertaker, a post-apocalyptic dandy. I had to turn myself into the apotheosis of Lady Winchester somehow. I’m not sure why that was so vital, especially since my stupid antics and the blistering stage lights inevitably conspired to make me strip my torso bare three songs into every damn gig we played. Maybe it was just something to obsess over that wasn’t the impending end of one of the most satisfying epochs of my short life.
The show was… Goddamn it. The show was perfect. We pulled in enough people to pack Club Urban wall to wall. They sang along to every song. And at the end, we pulled them all on stage and sang together. There’s not much else I can say about it. It’s too big. I don’t know how to show you how important it was. Writing is my only real skill, and I’m failing to utilize it here. I don’t know if that speaks more to my talents as a writer or the enormity of the show’s emotional impact on me.
In the months that have followed, a lot has happened to me. I’ve come back to the US. My book has been released, and people seem to like it. Most of the other people in the band have dispersed across the planet to do whatever they do. But here’s the truth: if one of them called me tomorrow and told me we had a gig, I’d be on a plane tomorrow.
To watch the documentary about Lady Winchester, click here.
To get Lady Winchester & the Name of the Album from Bandcamp, click here.
To like Lady Winchester on Facebook, click here.