Geraldine Fibbers: Beautiful Anguish

by Amy Carlson
(Minneapolis Pulse, September 10, 1997)

If Carla Bozulich presents the intense hard-edged side of the Geraldine Fibbers, then guitarist Nels Cline is the band's innovative, left-brain side.

"I don't think I'm that avante-garde or reinventing anything," says Cline. "I'm not generic. I don't say nice things about myself too often, but i can say that without squirming."

Cline permanently joined the band last November after Daniel Keenan left because of tendonitis. Originally scheduled only as a guest player for the band's newest album, Butch, in the end Cline turned out to be a major contributor and a full-fledged member of the group. Cline was delighted to join the band, although he felt uneasy about the loss of Keenan.

"I was totally racked with guilt and remorse on a certain level and at the same time I was ecstatic," says Cline. 'So, I played down the ecstatic part -- it was embarrassing and it just didn't feel proper. I love the road and I particularly love the music and these people. It's embarrassing to talk about because it is so mushy. Just mushy."

Cline started playing guitar at the age of 12 and now, three decades later he has made his mark in Los Angeles and beyond. It's obvious that Cline has spent numerous hours with the guitar and has as obsessive relationship with the instrument.

"I'm interested in the sonic applications of the guitar," he adds. "I get a lot of grief for having a lot of pedals and I use a lot of implements on the guitar when I deem it appropriate. You know, like egg whisks, sound toys, bottle necks, springs and things like that. But as goofy and theatrical as it all seems, it's all in the service of creating some kind of textural and visceral element in the music that helps it along and gives it flavor."

The Fibbers' new release, Butch, provides hot sparks of beautiful anguish and sweet torture in its tales of killings, death and survival, delivered by Bozulich's androgynous pipes. The haunting string arrangements of the title track, "An Arrow to My Drunken Eye" and "The Dwarf Song" relax the listener at times but never lose their disturbing undercurrent. The two dandy honky-tonk tunes, "Folks Like Me" and "Pet Angel", add a fun touch of old school country. The Fibbers' former violinist Jessy Greene is featured on Butch, but she left shortly afterwards to join the Jayhawks. Greene's departure was unexpected and disappointing to the band. It left them scurrying to find a replacement.

"I'd say that it was pretty bad," says Cline. "I'm so unclear as to why it was handled the way it was on her ends, which is to say not well."

Since the start of their tour in July, Cline and the band have seen attendance and response fluctuate. They have also been plagued by many broken instruments.

"We had a lot of trouble on the West Coast where everything just broke,' says Cline. "We are a lot more careful now as far as that stuff goes. But I had a petulant, stupid little dumb-ass thing that got into my head in Baltimore. I was having a meltdown on stage and at the end of one of the songs I just thought it would be a bitchin' idea to just ...pick the guitar up and smash it as hard as I could on the stage. But I forgot that I was playing a guitar with a plug that was at an angle instead of a straight-out plug. I kinda destroyed the whole plug input jack. It was really bad and it was just really stupid."

Ah well, I guess that's not too left-brain of Cline now, is it? But it's definitely rock and roll. And despite such costly stage mishaps, Cline is keeping things in perspective.

"As long as I can keep improvising and playing with the Fibbers, I'm a happy man. Life is good."

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