A visitor to John Huff's house in Kansas City, Kansas, could lose half a day just studying his stuff: the little bowling trophy by the sink, the curtains with a multicolored pattern of records on them, the sequin-and-stitches owl tapestry from 1974.
In fact, it could be 1974 here, save for the CD player (which actually seems to get less use than the turntable) and the computer. By his own admission, the 34-year-old musician is hung up on an era that he barely toddled through. Huff dresses, decorates and jams in a way that implies Reagan hasn't taken office yet. "All of my synthesizers are old," he says. "I use nothing beyond 1980. It's too cheesy-sounding."
That personal aesthetic made Huff a good fit for Be/Non, until he parted ways with the local prog band about a year ago. Having since reconciled with bandleader Brodie Rush, Huff hopes to play with Be/Non again someday.
In the meantime, Huff has his own little project with Flaming Lips drummer Kliph Scurlock. The former roommates and longtime friends have been jamming together since 1994. "Kliph and I are both, like, nuts about Yes, ELP and Genesis with Peter Gabriel singing," Huff says.
Their current drums-and-keyboard outfit doesn't have an official name yet — MySpace moderators didn't think the temporary handle "Super Rape" was funny. Huff is now considering the less inflammatory Captain King Gray, a nod to a childhood neighbor with a great decorating sense.
True to Huff's style, he and Scurlock don't make their demos with Pro Tools. They use four-track tapes. "We like it because it's like, 'Oh! This has that analog hiss!'" Huff says.
But making those cassettes hasn't been as easy since Huff moved to KCK in July. "It's hard when I don't even have the gas to get to Lawrence," he says.
It's an unusual feeling for this musician, whose fallback plan used to seem so fail-safe.
Huff became a handyman in high school, when someone offered him a job doing plaster restoration. "Ever since then," he says, "all of my friends were like, 'Will you paint my kitchen?'" (Or build a deck, rebuild a staircase, maintain the yard.) "I've never had a time for at least five years where I had to think about what I'm doing next," he says.
Along with almost everyone who does freelance work, Huff has found that his skills are less in demand in the current economic climate. At this point, even some of his regular clients have lost their jobs.
"But despite being really broke, I kind of feel better," he says in regard to the time off.
Huff knows there are some unglamorous painting gigs that he could probably snag. But he rationalizes that by not taking them, less of his income-tax money is going toward the war in Iraq. "I'm not paying to blow people up and fuck them," he says, going on a bit of a rant. "Look at Kansas City, Kansas. It's crumbling. And instead, we're overseas."
But on the day I met with him, Huff was dressed in red, white and blue, from his striped shirt to his faded Chuck Taylors with the flag design. He does believe that this country is about to turn around. And in the meantime, his empty days have allowed him time to work on his own home.
Huff's pad has its own profile at myspace.com/hufulobungalow, featuring pictures of every room that he has fixed up, from the walls to the conversation pieces. Huff is nuts about chairs. There's an egg-shaped, mod-looking white one in the sitting room. In the pantry — where "normal people would keep food" but where he displays knickknacks and pretty dishes — are two seats with spiky backs made of elaborately carved wood.
The music room is the only one left to decorate. It's currently a jumble of keyboards, album collections and random treasures. Like the wood chair he found on the street and reupholstered with a trippy yellow-paisley fabric, and the Shag Witch, an old rake with two teeth missing that was designed to comb out shag carpeting.
There is no shag carpeting in this house.
But there is someone who can appreciate its place in history.
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