– The Savage Young Taterbug
I first encountered the eternal highway drifter and perennial grinning ghost Charles Free (a.k.a. The Savage Young Taterbug) on 4th Street before I ever knew who he was or heard any of his music.
Whenever I’d see him, he was usually sitting behind the Vaudeville Mews with a group of two or more crusty boys, constantly smoking cigarettes and frequently smiling as he searched the pavement for answers. I never interacted with him. He seemed to be something that was placed downtown, like a potted plant or lightpole, more forged into the scenery of brick and spackle than separate from it. I did, however, remember his face.
It wasn’t until a few years later, when the underground tape scene was growing to be a larger part of my life, that I stumbled across his musical output. Immediately, his gnarled and hissy Americana collages and dusty songs struck me as something truly unique. I had never heard anything quite like it, and to this day I can’t say I’ve heard anything similar since.
His live shows are the type of thing traveling bands still emphatically talk about when they come back through Iowa. His tapes, too, are something of legend, often fetching triple or more than their initial price on sites like Discogs whenever they infrequently appear.
There’s a mystery to Taterbug that is all but lost in the information-saturated world of modern music. His presence is hardly felt first-hand. Instead, it’s through stories told of dumpster diving or getting kicked out of bars with the man; from faded photos which seem like they’re thirty years old. It is through the combination of mythos and reality that one begins to piece together just who’s behind the busted, salty compositions of The Savage Young Taterbug.
On Shadow of Marlboro Man, his first official LP, love shines it’s busted, toothy noggin’ right in front of your face. Its breath rank, its eyes kind and tired, and its melodies so bittersweet that tears inevitably well. Taturbug’s cast iron fingers, heated and tethered by the open sun, strum away on rusted strings tacked on with cloths pins to the headstock of a borrowed guitar. Loops of found sound repeat like a first kiss replaying in the mind as his raspy voice waxes atop. His obfuscated vocals have all but been cleaned up. A certain clarity has arisen. But that’s not to say the dust has settled.
Redemption is for the saved, and salvation is out the question for Taterbug. He is of no specific time or place. He isn’t about time or place. More so, his being is one of time leased without a home to return to. A wanderer and a wonderer. A preacher who speaks of a concrete gospel. And that’s concrete literally. Scuffed boats floating on top of rough water. To pump eyelashes and smoke and laugh. Shadow of Marlboro Man is the type of record that reminds you how immensely celebratory and triumphantly sad life is. Forever and eternally.
Listen and purchase Shadow of Marlboro Man at the Night People website.