When I was a kid, I used to get rides to school from the slightly burnt-out father of my redheaded neighbor, Travis. His Dad listened to all kinds of bands that sounded unlike anything my young ears had heard on the radio. One of those bands was Mink DeVille, whose name I never asked for and whose music I never again listened to, until I was in high school and (re)introduced to the 1970s New York “new wave.”
It was then, during high school, that I heard “Spanish Stroll” from Mink DeVille’s debut all over again, on a mix-tape that a goth friend of mine made. That song and album are instantly lovable, evoking a lot of early soul music, some rockabilly and not a little of Bruce Springsteen. I remember hearing the album and feeling like every single song must have been a huge hit and then realized that, as familiar as they all sounded, I actually couldn’t imagine them being popular in the later 1970s. Or the 1960s. Or 1980s. They were songs that should have been classics but whose “moment” may not have ever existed. As was the case with my first introduction to the band and to Willy DeVille, my affair with those songs passed and I didn’t listen to them again for a very long time. This time, it was nearly two decades.
And then, very late one night I heard KUTX here in Austin play a Mink DeVille cover followed by a Mink Deville song that I’d never heard before. It sounded like Warren Zevon, The Boss and early ZZ Top channeled by a 1950s soul group. It’s a sound that somehow captures so much of the best rock and roll I’ve heard while sounding like nothing else.
Those eight minutes of radio sent me into an Rdio and Wikipedia bender wherein I tried to remind myself of everything I could about Willy DeVille and his band, Mink DeVille. His influences were vast — ranging from soul, rockabilly and new wave, to flamenco, zydeco and folk. He was like a more bohemian and hip (and less writerly and blue collar) Bruce Springsteen. But he didn’t take great care of himself, had more than one tragic marriage and devolved into a sad, lovely troubadour with an international cult following. He died in 2009. For those who are interested, “Cabretta,” “Le Chat Bleu” and “Return to Magenta” are all wonderful, and representative of his very best.
I realize I’m going nowhere with this post. I’m not sure why I even chose to talk about Mink DeVille except to say that, every time I hear their music, I am amazed that the band behind it wasn’t somehow destined to be the greatest band of some time. Or maybe they were. And maybe it was some parallel idea of time that I don’t understand. Or maybe it was just one hour in 1976.