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You've Got a Friend

We catch up with the Gentleman Callers, find out what Ron Jeremy has to do with school and examine how much James Taylor really sucks

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Yes, the Gentleman Callers' brand of garage rock draws heavily from the soul, R&B and blues sounds that inspired the original '60s beat groups. And yes, the band usually plays in bars. But drummer Matt Picker doesn't want anyone to get the wrong idea. "We aren't Blues Hammer," he says, referring to the horrid frat-blues band in the film version of Daniel Clowes' Ghost World. "I don't mean to be all rah-rah, but I think there's a lot of real integrity in our original stuff. It's not just bar-band schlock."

Thrash-pit demon or not, Picker has every right to be all rah-rah about the Callers, who are finally getting around to releasing a full-length CD, Don't Say What It Is, after years as one of the most entertaining bands in town. The Callers' secret: varied melodies, arrangements and rhythms that ward off the sameness plaguing a lot of lesser garage bands. Picker can convincingly pound out proto-punk ravers and greasy soul slides alike, while singer/bassist Kevin Schneider's vocal yowl belies his AV Club look and guitarist Mike Virag stores a vast riff library in his fingertips, at the ready for any occasion. Then there's Mike Young, the most valuable utility man since Jose Oquendo, who jumps from Farfisa to Fender Telecaster as the song requires.

So why has it taken so long to get a CD out? The same old St. Louis story: a dearth of local record labels. "It was actually recorded in March 2004 with [ex-Phonocaptors frontman] Jason Hutto," says Picker. "But there was just nobody to put it out." A record label based in the heart of Blunt/Ashcroft country -- Wee Rock Records of Springfield, Missouri -- saw what nobody in St. Louis could. -- Jason Toon

A Host with the Most
Some might offer up a comedic hypnotist to celebrate the dawn of a new school year. Others may show a free film series in the fine-arts auditorium or even hire a banal contemporary-rock band to half-fill the basketball arena.

But promoter John Mancuso is throwing the "Welcome Back to College Bash 2005" this Saturday -- and it's hosted by adult-video thespian Ron Jeremy. Yes, student bodies, rejoice, for our favorite Surreal Life housemate and star of last year's controversial Very Intimate Playthings commercial spoof of Becky "Queen of Carpets" Rothman will be getting down and dirty on the Creepy Crawl stage.

"I've been booking shows for four years, and lately I've been looking for new ideas," says Mancuso, 26, of his coup. "I just got ahold of his agent and he loved the idea."

Not only will the Hedgehog introduce Craig Daddy & the Car Bombs, 7 Shot Screamers, the Electric, LoFreq and the Pubes, but he will oversee a wet T-shirt contest and perform a short stand-up comedy set. After the show, a stretch Hummer will be on hand to take Jeremy to the Penthouse Club afterparty in Sauget.

Mancuso -- who will be arranging additional celebrity appearances before the end of the year, including one by Viva La Bam and Jackass punching bag Don Vito -- notes that Jeremy is no stranger to the area.

"Ron said he has a lot of friends in Florissant and that he liked to hang out there," he says. "I'm not sure who he knows or how he knows them, but I'm going to have to get to the bottom of that mystery while he's here."

Attempts to reach the porn maven to debunk some of these mysteries were unsuccessful, but the bands he's introducing are clearly expecting great things from Jeremy's appearance.

"Ron Jeremy's work has been a constant source of inspiration," says the Electric guitarist Matty Coonfield. "Because of him I know there are men that can actually suck their own dicks." Adds Pubes guitarist Mario Viele: "We appreciate any show with sexy results." --Julie Seabaugh

Fire and Brimstone
In 2002, culture critic Joe Queenan wrote a GQ piece that decried James Taylor's ubiquity by objecting mainly to the intrusive nature of his frequent guest appearances. Yet Queenan also admitted that Taylor "is not a carcinogenic force of pure musical evil." In fact, Taylor didn't even appear in Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon, which chronicles Queenan's experimental immersion into pop-culture idiocy. This made us curious as to where Sweet Baby James really ranks on the suck spectrum.

James Taylor

Who: Singer-songwriter known for his earnest demeanor, pre-Dashboard confessionals and fine-point enunciation

Legacy: As a delusional square who touted his own funkiness in his lyrics, Taylor wrought Jason Mraz's emphatically misguided Mr. A-Z, itself a painful stab at hip-hop wordplay.

Queenan says: "Taylor ushered in the poisonous concept of soft rock."

Devil's advocate: Taylor's cameo appearance on The Simpsons -- during which he answered to "unkempt youngster" -- was actually enjoyable. Except for the part when he sang.

Phil Collins

Who: Genesis drummer-turned-frontman whose solo career descended into annoyingly assertive dance-pop tunes and soft ballads that smothered like pillows

Legacy: Eminem's "Stan" references an apocryphal interpretation of "In the Air Tonight," posing Collins as an avenger confronting a criminally negligent witness.

Queenan says: "Collins is a bald, bland Englishman who writes interchangeably uninteresting songs."

Devil's advocate: Baltimore Ravens linebacker/justice obstructer Ray Lewis praises "In the Air Tonight" -- you tell him it sucks.

Billy Joel

Who: Gently irked pop balladeer turned doo-wop cheeseball and possible pyromania apologist; now a widely ignored classical composer

Legacy: Owing to his late-career skid, Joel forfeited his status as a legitimate influence, meaning Joe Jackson and Ben Folds now receive full credit for all fledgling piano men.

Queenan says: "No artist has ever remained as consistently bad for such a long time."

Devil's advocate: Joel checked into a mental institution early in his career after guzzling furniture polish. His evolution from an aseptic suicide attempt to supermodel-marrying stardom makes him the Lance Armstrong of pleasant pop. -- Andrew Miller

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