Some bands hit the decade mark and put on a show, go on tour, release a 7-inch — normal stuff like that. For the 10th anniversary of Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, bandleader Scott Hobart built a museum.
At the Pistol Social Club in the West Bottoms on December 1, Hobart's "Retrospective" museum displayed posters, fliers, costumes, slides and other ephemera from a decade of honky-tonk. At the center of the display was the band, sort of.
Hobart had made cardboard cutouts of all five band members, painted them and connected various parts, using fishing wire, to a pulley system. Powered by the motor of a bread machine from Maj-R-Thrift, the band came to animatronic life.
When I walked in that night, around 10, Van Halen's "Little Guitars" was blaring from speakers behind the flat-tonkin' band. Set up under a proscenium on which Hobart (who works as technical director and master carpenter at the Coterie Theatre) had painted giant six-shooters, the band strummed and nodded in lethargic synchronization.
"I like to do things that people are going to look at and go, Pfff!" he'd told me earlier. "It pulls the rug out from under it. It keeps things from being too serious. This is about looking back and laughing."
Some of it was more about laughing than looking back. For example, the movie booth Hobart had set up in one corner: It was a glittery cardboard construction that looked like the entrance to a carnival arcade. Inside, a TV was showing Okie Noodler, a documentary about barehanded fishermen that used a couple of Misery Boys songs on its soundtrack.
Misery Boy bass player "Black" Jack Charlotte Snow was certainly having fun at the Rexrospective. He saw me with my notepad out and drunkenly accosted me.
"Harper, you're not gonna write about this bullshit are you?"
When I told him I was, he hooted a disapproving Goddamnit! and offered to do an interview. "Van Halen is a huge part about Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys," he said. He went on to explain that David Lee Roth's memoir, Crazy From the Heat, belongs on the dashboard of every band's touring van, "along with the Bible, for when you might need to get out of a scrape."
Black Jack, like all of the Misery Boys (Solomon Hoeffer on pedal steel, J.B. Morris on guitar, T.C. Dobbs on drums), is an invented character. Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, though a damn fine country band with four albums on Bloodshot Records, is a quest of the imagination.
In 1986, Hobart's father, the original Rex Hobart, a guitar-strumming shoe repairman, was shot and killed outside his girlfriend's house after a night on the town.
In taking on his father's name and writing sad and funny songs such as "I'll Forget Her or Die Crying" and "Gotta Get Back to Forgetting You" and dozens more, Hobart expounds upon the dreams of a tragic figure. Using that loss as a starting point, he has created art that is both heartbreaking and fit for popular enjoyment by way of his band's vaudevillian personae.
"People are fallible, but if you have characters in a band, stage names, you step into timelessness," Hobart explained, a can of High Life in hand. "The fantasy won't let you down, if you believe in it."
Not many believers showed up to the Rexrospective. Maybe if the band had actually played, more folks would have come. I sure am glad I went. And I should've called Hallmark, because it was a night chock full of special moments.
Like when J.B. Morris and local rocker Cody Wyoming and an aging dude named Bill, who was handing out glow bracelets and talking about the old days of the West Bottoms stockyards, were all sitting around gabbing, and a George Jones song came on the stereo. While Bill yammered on, Morris tilted back his head, closed his eyes and sang along to Jones in his well-water-pure tenor.
Man, you can't lay a price on a moment like that.