As Lo Carmen’s (Alt country singer, songwriter, musician, actor) bio suggests, “Lo Carmen has a way with words, confessionary tones pervade her songs; equal parts rolling narratives, romantic rumination and restless, slow burning country soul. Using her gifts for wry lyricism and close to the bone observation, Carmen spins gold from playful twists of phrase, letting her lyrics and gilded vocals shine among the supernatural country arrangements.” “Whether she performs alone, armed with nothing but her electric guitar and tambourine shoes, or with whichever musicians she feels compelled to surround herself with, Carmen’s songs are always center stage and the effect is never less than mesmerizing.”
Like the majority of other musicians around the globe, much of Lo’s live work has dried up due to the pandemic. Most recently, she was due to perform in Memento Mori: The World of Wendy Saddington as part of the 2021 Vivid Festival in Sydney but unfortunately that wasn’t to be.
Without the prospect of gigs anytime soon, artists are reflecting on better days. In Loene Carmen’s latest newsletter she penned a beautiful reflection piece, recalling simpler times. We thought it was worth reproducing here.
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Lickin’ Stamps: The art of the rock’n’roll lure – then & now
My first band had twelve members, my next one had six, and then there were eight. To organise a rehearsal or book a gig meant sitting down next to the phone and making actual phone calls with prospective dates, of which a large proportion would be met by answering machines or housemates, and would then entail numerous follow ups for the next few days until a time could be locked in, or until the whole process had to begin again with a fresh date. I’d hold my breath when I had agreed availability from ten band members and had to wait on a final OK to nail it down. It seems so outrageously difficult now when I can communicate with my fellow musicians via group messages to which everyone can reply at their own leisure.
I spent hours at my acting agency cos I could use their photocopier for free, cutting and pasting images to make my posters and flyers. I could generally find a titillating image with text that worked perfectly to capture the mood of the night I was promoting, some saucy play on words, inside a vintage magazine or on the cover of a pulp fiction novel.
I borrowed heavily and often from the 1980’s noir graphic art ‘Kelly Green’ series, created by Leonard Starr (of ‘Little Orphan Annie’ fame) and drawn by Stan Grant (known for American newspaper classics ‘The Heart of Juliet Jones’ and ‘Blondie’) for the European market by French publisher Dargaud. In true French fashion it featured the bad-ass but always classy Kelly Green fighting off any number of degenerate criminals after she is plunged into a world of never ending danger and mystery following the death of her husband, in an array of sexy, exploitative, violent and complicated storylines.
I used them first for White Trash Mamas artwork and then later for All Fox Jam nights at the Excelsior, a showcase of ‘girls who love to rock and the men they love to play with’. The books were a gift that kept on giving from Noah Taylor, who always gave me the cool stuff, and the flyers were as much a love letter to Kelly Green and the illustrative genius of Stan Grant as anything. The idea of copyright never entered my mind. Often I’d use other vintage advertisements or pulp fiction covers that I’d photocopy and stick little pieces of doctored white paper with the pertinent show details written all over but nothing ever worked quite as beautifully as Kelly Green. If it was a decently paying gig I’d set aside $100 and get professionally printed postcards made to mail out, otherwise it was just the photocopies, maybe on coloured paper, 4 to a page, hand cut.
Addressing them was at least another half day exercise, gathering up the scraps of paper from around the house, with keen punter’s addresses scrawled on them at gigs and stuffed down our sweaty bras or tossed in vodka drenched gig bags or tobacco lined pockets. I’d start out particular about the types of pens I’d use, a nicely textured nib with a good strong colour was preferable, though as time and pens ran out some were scrawled in barely legible, disappearing texta. I still recall many addresses from over twenty years ago, they’re literally burned into my brain from repeated mailouts. Then there’d be another hour at the post office licking stamps. If I was lucky, a nice postal worker would let me use their wet sponge for the task.
Once I’d done the mail-out, I’d hit the streets taping A4 B&W photocopied versions of the full colour postcard flyers on every available street pole, traffic light etc, often late at night or getting up super early to do it before people were around. I’ll never forget the day where I was pretty impressed by how far down Oxford St I’d managed to plaster with my taped up flyers, fighting for air on top of stacks of other posters but always careful not to cover up anything current, when I turned around and realised a council worker had been following behind me with a knife, slicing them all down. After I recovered, I asked if we could swap places and he agreed, completely unphased, he was just doing his job and didn’t care one way or another.
I handmade a lot of merch too, painstakingly ironing images on op shop t-shirts and Woolworths knickers, which pretty much always turned out looking dodgy as hell, but luckily the places we played were dark and punters were kind and enthusiastic and they sold anyway. I stepped up my merch game with the release of Rock’n’Roll Tears in 2007, hand pouring cheap French vodka into little bottles from Reverse Garbage that I printed stickers for on my little home printer and sold with the guarantee of ‘a tear of joy in each one’. Dan the publican nearly had a heart attack when he noticed I was selling probably fairly unsanitary bootleg liquor out of my little merch display set up side of stage. But I did get a rave review in Mess & Noise that dedicated a paragraph to the magical allure of my merch setup.
Now I can make whatever artwork I want digitally and easily, and order custom online, and be setting up gigs and rehearsals (if such things ever happen again) while I do it.
But discovering an old flyer of mine still on a fridge at someone’s house or a shonky iron-on tea-towel always gives me a thrill. The show must go on but a good flyer lives forever.