Love Away The Pain
Love Away The Pain (Paying tribute to Rainer at Wavelab Studios).
Rainer's widow Patti Keating does what she can to keep Rainer's back catalog in print. She's dusting off a tribute record from some years back and adding songs. I was honored when she asked me to come out to Tucson to contribute. Tommy Larkins was the contractor for the gig. He gathered Van Christian, Rudy (Rainer's boy), Chris, Craig Shumaker, Nick and Nick. (Rainer's long time bass player) for a session at Wavelab Studios. Howe was there in spirit. We saved him an open track.
Now WHO'S Rainer you ask? Let's go back, shall we?
In 1988, while staying in Tucson, doing the Green On Red song and dance, I stumbled hung-over down the stairs of the Hotel Congress, bee-lining for the Tap Room bar, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by this music spilling out from the next room. This cat was sitting atop a Fender Bassman amp perched on the bar playing and singing with a beer can wrapped around his shoe. Sounding like a one man Chess record. I was in love. It was immediate.
Obscure? You betcha. Maybe it's because Rainer didn't trade in all that necessary mingle mingle; none of that puffed up hucksterism the glossy mag's gobbled up like raw meat. He was the living embodiment of everything we longed to be; Rainer was cool. Stone cool. Too cool for this world it turns out.
I watched and listened in awe that night. Listened as he sang in that high lonesome Bob Dylan doing Robert Johnson circa Blood on the Tracks whine. And just as I'd fallen into a diddly bo trance; a left hook. Rainer pulls a Replacements song from his trick bag. The album Pleased to Meet Me had just come out. Rainer knew what time it was, he'd already worked up "I Can't Hardly Wait" recognizing it as the soon to be classic that it was. I stood transfixed as he sang Westerbergs's own ode to the "DT Blues". "I'll write you a letter tomorrow/Tonight I can't hold a pen..."
"fuck.... FUCK!" Fucking perfect. I almost forgot to breath.
From that night on, I always went out of my way to hear Rainer. In a Pizza Parlor out on the east side. (Is that possible? Does anyone remember that gig?). At an outdoor fern bar somewhere. We once even played together in my little room at the Congress neath the swamp cooler fan.
Can I way this? He was impossibly handsome. Like Gregory Peck charismatic. The Atticus Finch of the slide guitar. Chew on that analogy for a while.
Rainer was born in East Germany in 1951. Before there was a wall. At the age of five, something pulled his family west (The Wolf? Sleepy John Estes, Hubert Sumlin? Muddy Waters? I suspect) and they settled on the South Side of Chicago. In the 70's, Rainer headed for the deserts of Tucson. This is where he met his wife Patti, raised his kids and made music until his untimely death by brain tumor in 1996.
I never thought Rainer would die. After he fell off his bike coming home from work, and they patched him up only to find that inoperable tumor buried in his skull, I always thought he'd somehow just BE THERE like he always was. Until Van Christian, who's own father had succumbed to cancer back in `88 or so, turned to me—all but shook me and said, "Prophet, Rainer's DYING man... he's gonna DIE."
I never really got that close to Rainer per se. On occasion, like when my guitar was in emergency need of repair after some airlines mishap, I went down into the shadowy basement of the Chicago Store and sat there while he patiently repaired it for an hour at his bench. Charged me like 5 bucks or something stupid. We really didn't talk much. Truth is, I was a little shy around Rainer. Sitting there watching him work with his hands was powerful. A powerful memory today, like that scene in On The Waterfront—Terry and Edie sitting on a park swing, exchanging small words, Edie drops her glove and Brando absently picks it up, slips it onto his own hand, or the memory of my dear sweet mother making me cinnamon toast on a quiet afternoon when I stayed home from school sick.
It's impossible to capture in words Rainer's presence. People use words like "mystical" and tired phrases like "he was on a journey" "deeply spiritual" "presence of the divine". Yes, it's all true. A man could drown in a sea of non sequiturs—in their own piss, trying to capture Rainer's thing in words. Yes, his THING. Rainer had THAT THING in every sense. What's also true is that it's damn near impossible to make a record on Rainer. A definitive recording doesn't and won't ever exist. His spirit wouldn't be bottled. His spirit refused. It's like canning sunshine. Show me the guy who can do that and I'll go down on him.
So we kicked his music around with his old friends and put Van on lead guitar and Rudy on drums and stopped worrying about making sense of the music and just played. Of course it was ragged, but this time it was ragged and right and we even broke bread at some fancy ass bistro they opened a couple blocks away in the old train station. Check out Lilly attempting navigate that texas toast grilled cheese into her belly! A sight! If Rainer could see us now he'd fall off his bike—this time laughing his tits off.