Last time I encountered lovable fuck-up Michael Rank, singer/guitarist for Snatches of Pink, he was fishing his guitar pick out of a bowling alley toilet in Chapel Hill. This is why god or man created vials with little spoons attached. Ever the rock 'n' roller, Rank has his own desperate way of doing things.
Today, we're not meeting in person. I'm waiting online for "Jericho Haunches," as Rank sometimes calls himself, in the Wild Room of Adult Friend Finder's labyrinthine chat room network to discuss his new album, Love is Dead. (Could there be a better place to discuss love's demise?) The 15-track slab is arguably Rank's greatest accomplishment, a near perfect distillation of his Stonesy, garage-glam ethos cooked on the Bunsen burner of a very broken heart. There's the sticky-fingered "Sway" of "Just A Girl" and the dirty, Mudhoney-stomp of "High Plains."
Through it all, Rank feeds his rock muse the requisite nuggets. Opener "Rocks," the strutting apotheosis of Snatches' gritty rock rumble, gets Love off to a terrific start: "It's in the handbook that if you got a chorus based around the word 'motherfucker,' then it's gotta go first on the album," Rank offers after he finally arrives, late like a rock star.
But Rank isn't all piss, vinegar and attitude. For Love is Dead, he sweetens the pot with heartfelt aches, like the Southern-fried "Smiles" and bluesy acoustic closer "Holster." That's when he asks, "Won't you kiss me, I'm lonely?" Only a woman can cause that kind of carnage, which Rank confirms.
"I met the love of my life, truly, and then watched her vanish," he confides, while a 40-year-old woman in the chat room complains about a freak accident that left her "sporting some serious hardware where my ankle used to be." "I never thought I'd be that guy, but ... love at first sight. Without question. What's a boy to do?"
Maybe we should ask the college-aged boy in the chat room who's into surfing and football and, right now, talking about what he'd like to do to an 18-year-old girl named Usagi currently joining us in cyberspace. Spring may have broken, but I don't think that's love in the air.
Rank's never been notable for his stability, so it's not startling when he says this girl completely threw him. "Love at first sight?" I repeat playfully. "I didn't even know it was an option," he says, adding that his despondency turned into extreme prolificacy. He turned out 30 tracks. Songs like "Holster" and "Opposite of Horse" were conceived, written and recorded in one sitting, during the early morning hours when he couldn't sleep.
It's early evening now, and it would appear the AFF's real freaks come out at night. Only a half-dozen or so linger, though heads are popping in the door every few minutes before heading somewhere with more than one woman in the room. Any woman that does arrive is raw meat among wild dogs.
Like all of Rank's music, Love is Dead is raw, first-take type material, but it's still more polished than usual. Previously, Rank has reveled in the mistakes, even turning them up in the mix, like fellow ne'er-do-wells Royal Trux. But after the primitive, self-conscious oddness of 2005's Stag, Rank felt maybe he'd gone far enough in that direction.
"Stag was such a gloriously fucked up album, I didn't feel the need to duplicate or compete with it," he says. "It was almost like starting fresh."
Rank is starting fresh in another way. After 20 years of making music and enduring enough label up and downs to have a role in Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, he's finally decided to do it himself. Rank's starting a label with Snatches of Pink drummer and concurrent Two Dollar Pistols frontman John Howie Jr., dubbed 8th House Records. It'll also be putting out the new Pistols release, Here Tomorrow Gone Today, in June (though it will be available at Saturday's Pistols CD release show at The ArtsCenter).
"John asked me and I just figured it was a good time to cut out the middle man and start fucking over myself for a change," says Rank, enthusiastically extolling their knowledge and abilities. "You should hear me lie to myself. I got skills."
Speak of skills! Around us, Usagi has unbuttoned SurfandFootball's pants, and he is "moving his fingers inside Usagi's jeans faster." Forget the Wild Room. This is the Rut Hut. Pull it together....
So what ever happened to the lithe little Talullas bartender that pilfered Rank's heart, I wonder? This is the best part, actually. Rank's hardly what you would consider a planner, and that's unlikely to change. ("I'm too far gone for deal changing at this point," he observes.) So he wrote his love-wrecked opus, and karma rewarded him: He got the girl back. Now they have a 3-month-old son, Bowie Ryder Rank.
"It's in spite of David Bowie. I wanted a Western-sounding name, and that was the only one on my list I was told didn't sound like a gay cowboy," he says. I taunt him about the Hollywood ending, but he's a believer now. "Love is not dead. It just sleeps deep and plays dead. You gotta put a mirror under its nose and check for breaths."
Emboldened by Rank's cockeyed optimism on love, I welcome Hot2Trot when she enters the chatroom. Rank gibes me: "Are you flirting?" No, I'm just asking Hot2Trot if our 15-year age difference means I can't flirt.
She says she likes it, then she asks Rank if there's a problem with that. "No problem, officer," he replies. Somehow this rubs her the wrong way.
"Jericho," she writes, "if I were to guess I would say U are gay."
Oh, my: another exciting night on AFF. Or, as Rank offers, "story of my life."
Buy the soundtrack.
Snatches of Pink release Love is Dead Friday, April 27, at Reservoir in Carrboro. Two Dollar Pistols release Here Tomorrow Gone Today Saturday, April 28, at The ArtsCenter.