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Those dramatic elements are in full bloom on Wirtz's current HighTonerelease, Unchained Maladies. The CD delivers a dozen giddy blues-based anthems, all keenly backed by a crackerjack supporting cast (the Polyester Prophets) and Wirtz's killer piano playing. "Get Off My Lawn!" is a protest anthem that whips a record collection of song titles into a loopy lament about being too old to rock. "That stairway to heaven's getting harder to climb/I better rock 'n' roll and retire," the singer moans, before revealing that "I had my 19th nervous breakdown/My foxy lady spawned a voodoo child." On "The Visitor," Wirtz mines a frequent musical motif: the maudlin road narratives made famous by Red Sovine. In the Wirtz version, a dying truck stop waitress regrets never meeting Elvis, only to have him appear in her room and croon her off to the Big Sleep in the Sky. Sovine would be proud.
Other Unchained highlights include "Conspiracy Boogie," a jellyrollin' workout for paranoids, and "A Man's Gotta Do (What a Woman's Gotta Do)," a smoky soul number about a cross-dressing dad. The disc also includes a back-from-the-grave cameo by Root Boy Slim (the legendary Washington, D.C., madman with whom Wirtz played years ago) on "I'm Not Too Old For You." The song features such love lines as "I'll get some Viagra and Rogaine,/You get your real-estate license and the world will be ours." Floridians will get a special thrill out of "Tourist Trap," a bluesy send-up of the Sunshine State's biggest industry that's peppered with familiar advertising pitches. Swimming with dolphins and manatees, flea market shopping, and all-you-can-eat buffets come in for cuts from Wirtz's rapier wit, in a tune that Florida's hospitality-trade honchos should loathe.
Wirtz, who relocated to Florida after a stint in Nashville, says his current home state offers much to enjoy, even if he has to be careful where he performs. "I don't even try to play Orlando," he says. "It's too tourist-oriented, and they have the attention span of a hyperactive gerbil on Ritalin. And that's when they're really focused." How about South Florida? "Oh, my stuff goes over great there. People have a pretty twisted, sick sense of humor down there. I do real good in Miami. I always do well in cities with high violent-crime rates." And what about the recent string of criminally insane activity that's been taking place there around the Gonzalez household? Wirtz places himself on the side of Uncle Sam in the controversy.
"Janet Reno was smart," he says, "knowing that the particular people she was dealing with there were (a) volatile, and (b) they were enjoying being on national TV, loving every minute." He's also not buying the argument that the Gonzalez clan were victims of an overzealous federal government. "Storm troopers in the night, breaking into a home? The truth of the matter is the people inside had the door blocked, and there were all kinds of crazy things going on in that house. South Florida," he adds, "is a world unto itself. It's an entirely different reality down there."
As unreal as professional wrestling, perhaps? Not in Wirtz's house of worship. "If you follow what goes on in the world and in the media, at least 70 percent of the time what's presented as the facts of a particular story is a long way from the facts. And the truth is long in coming, or you never even see the other side. We move into a world now that has become so bizarre in and of itself. Well, as the old guys used to say, 'Wrestling is real and the rest of the world is fake.' These days, you look at everything that goes on, and you realize they're not that far off."