By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It's the damnedest collaboration in recent rock-and-roll history--then again, maybe not. On the one hand is Homer Henderson, who's all alley and not a little tin-pan. The self-proclaimed "Amazing One-Man Band" is the kingshit anthem writer for all the losers, loners, and little people out there--in time, his "Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine" may come to be remembered as the greatest song ever written, better even than Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman."
On the other hand is Nick Tosches, one of the most poetic writers who ever deigned to pen a few million words about the mundane subject of rock and roll. When Tosches wrote Hellfire and Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, he not only chronicled the lives of Jerry Lee Lewis and Dean Martin, he reached into their coffins and came up holding their souls like trouts on a fishing line.
That the Newark-born Tosches should be drawn to Dallas boy Henderson (born Phil Bennison)is not at all surprising--after all, Tosches spent years tracking down and giving voice to the Unsung Heroes of Rock and Roll, and there ain't no more unsung rock-and-roll hero in this world than Homer Henderson. But theirs is more than a casual friendship: Turns out Henderson and Tosches are collaborating on a handful of songs that may well turn out to be a full-length album featuring Tosches' words and Homer's music. "I don't know what the hell we're doing," Henderson says in that weary twang of his. "I really don't."
Henderson says he and Tosches were introduced "years ago" by Texas Monthly Senior Editor Joe Nick Patoski, after Tosches came across some of Henderson's old 45s and was born again. "Some crazy person was playin' 'em, and Joe Nick told him to call me," says Homer. So he did, and the two men began corresponding with each other, leading to Tosches' writing the liner notes to Henderson's forthcoming CD on Bill Logan's Honey Records label Greatest Flops and Golden Filler--which was completed six months ago and is scheduled for release...well, even Homer doesn't really know when. He shrugs and just says that the album, which compiles Henderson's old 45s (including "Lee Harvey," "Hillbilly Pecker," "Picking Up Beer Cans on the Highway" and myriad other should-be classics), has been delayed because of artwork problems.
In the meantime, the two began writing songs for what was initially supposed to be a present for some of Tosches' friends. But one song led to another to another, and now, communicating via the post office--they can't seem to ever get each other on the phone--they've got three completed, with a handful more on the way.
"Ihad some songs lying around, and a series of musicians were going to do them," Tosches explains. "One was an off-center religious song, and I thought it would make a great limited-edition thing for the upcoming Christmas season. I said, 'Phil, put this to music,' and he came up with something pretty amazing. Bill Logan wanted to do it as a vinyl single, so that meant we had to come up with another side, and Igave Phil an even longer song, which came out even better. Then I realized that Phil, beneath that surface, has a wellspring of genius waiting to come forth. He has not failed to completely surprise and captivate me."
Henderson says Tosches will perform on at least one song ("Pizza Man," as close to hip-hop as Henderson can get), and the record will be a pastiche of country, pop, and blues songs. Hell, they've even done a photo shoot for the record, if that's what it is.
"He's got a whole bunch of new lyrics," says Henderson, who is heading to New York City on August 21 to work on the project with Tosches. "And they're good songs: One's called 'The Sweet Thighs of Mother Mary,' and it's real sicko stuff--he dreams of sucking on the Virgin Mary's breasts, and instead of milk coming out, it's whiskey. He has a line, 'I dreamt last night of a bosom divine...and up from it bubbled whiskey like milk.' The way it works is he sends me the lyrics, and I write the music. It's kind of like a junior-college homework assignment. But he's a good writer, and he's a nice guy too."
This isn't the first time Tosches has recorded with someone else. He and Last Exit to Brooklyn author Hubert Selby Jr. have just released Blue Eyes and Exit Wounds, a spoken-word collection of their previously unreleased poetry. And you can see what kind of songwriter he'd make: The poem "My Kind of Loving" contains such memorable couplets as "Kill me a Kennedy; that's my idea of foreplay / Bring me his fucking pig-faced mick head / on a silver platter." Sicko? What, are you kidding? Tosches is also finishing Night Train, his Sonny Liston bio; The Nick Tosches Reader, featuring published and unpublished work; and Chaldea, a collection of poetry.
So, is Homer as much a fan of Tosches' as the writer is of his? Henderson grunts, then offers what is for him the most glowing of praise: "I've read all his books. I was a fan of his. Kinda. I read books. I don't give a shit who they're by. But some of this stuff we're doing is pretty good. Not that I have any idea what we're doing."