Greg Dulli

4 06 2008

Greg Dulli is the epitome of cool in his attitude, approach to songwriting and the way he presents himself.  He is my favorite living singer and is the lead singer & songwriter for three of my favorite bands.  The first band is The Afghan Whigs.  They were an Ohio based band whose music was similar to the garage band rock of the Replacements, but with a soul/rhythm & blues inflection.  They were known to cover songs by such soul artists as Barry White, Al Green, the Supremes & the Temptations.

In my opinion, Greg Dulli is so ineffably cool.  He almost makes me want to take up smoking and learn to like Maker’s Mark.  I think of him as being as cool as Frank Sinatra; hitting the town in a black suit, white shirt, no tie, cigarette (or possibly, a joint) in his mouth and a glass of Marker’s Mark in the other hand.

The Afghan Whigs were in the studio recording their Congregation album when they heard on the television that Miles Davis had died.  Miles Davis.  The king of cool.  Birth of the Cool.  Dulli sat down and penned a very cool, very dark tribute to Miles there on the spot entitled “Miles Iz Ded”.  I know, the title doesn’t seem like a very serious, touching tribute, but they would go on to re-record & remix the song a couple years later, entitling it “Rebirth of the Cool” and placing it on an EP of cover songs by Freda Payne, Percy Sledge/Elvis Presley, The Supremes & Al Green.

After the Afghan Whigs broke up, Dulli decided to pursue his side project, The Twilight Singers, full time.  He kept the soul and R&B influence prominent in his music but toned down the hard edged, garage sound of the Afghan Whigs.  The Twilight Singers’ first album Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers was one of those records I’d listen to with my roommate late at night while drinking beer and shooting the shit.  The album is a mellower affair than anything Dulli had tried at the time.  It was a project for him and two fellow vocalists, Happy Chichester & Shawn Smith, both of whom were part-time, unofficial members of the Afghan Whigs.  The three-part vocal harmonies were captivatingly beautiful.

Greg Dulli also had the short-lived Uptown Lights, which was a band comprised of Greg Dulli on vocals and current & former members of the Twilight Singers.  The group would play shows around Los Angeles & cover their favorite soul songs by the likes of Otis Redding, Sly & the Family Stone, the Temptations and others.  The band was primarily formed so they could perform live together while working on their respective individual projects.

Even though the Twilight Singers are still around, Dulli is taking time off to pursue his new band, The Gutter Twins.  The Gutter Twins, who refer to themselves as “The Satanic Everly Brothers”, include Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan from Seattle grunge band, The Screaming Trees.  Mark Lanegan is another one of my favorite artists; so, for Dulli & Lanegan to record an album together was kind of a dream come true.  Dulli has also invited Lanegan to sing co-lead & background vocals on several Twilight Singers albums.  Greg Dulli & Mark Lanegan are best friends and were also roommates together for a while in Los Angeles while they both struggled with their drug addictions.

Greg Dulli’s lyrics mostly deal with sex.  Lots of sex.  With a little bit of religion & drugs mixed in.  It is my understanding that he is a lapsed Catholic.  His lyrics deal with sex & religion so much that at one point during the Afghan Whigs’ career, a psychologist took it upon herself to analyze Dulli’s lyrics and came to the conclusion that he was molested by a member of the clergy when he was an altar boy.  Dulli vehemently denies this.

When the Gutter Twins album came out in March, I wrote a review of the album on my blog.  It was my first ever album review.  I tried to see if there was a theme to the lyrics and I found that over all, they mentioned the word “love” the most.  The second most mentioned concept was “God”, “Lord” or “Heaven”.  They also made mention of the “devil” or “demons” three times.  Religion seems to play a big part in Dulli’s lyrics.  He has an album called Congregation and also covers “The Temple” from Jesus Christ Superstar on said album.  On the album Gentlemen, there is a song called “Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer” in which a member of the clergy states “Brother Woodrow, lead us in the closing prayer”.  The Afghan Whigs’ final album, 1965, also featured the song “John the Baptist” & “Citi Soleil” which starts off with a man praying in French.

All of the interplay between sex & religion led me to actually state to a friend that I always considered Greg Dulli to be “a sexual badass who loves his Lord”.  I guess what led me to say that, was I thought that maybe Dulli felt a little bit of Catholic guilt; sleeping with, presumably, a lot of women, but feeling guilty about it when it comes to his faith.  That’s part of what attracts me to his music; the taboo practice of combining sex & religion.  Some people may very well be repelled by that combination.  I don’t know why, but when nearly any singer, especially Greg Dulli does it, it intrigues me and pulls me in.  It is essentially the same practice that Ray Charles and other blues/R&B singers adopted.  Taking a song with a gospel tone, or even possibly a gospel song and keeping the same gospel-style music, but changing the lyrics to reflect that of lust.  I’m a big fan of the Motown and Stax R&B sound, and I love that Dulli has adopted that sound and even covered many of those songs.  At one point, the Afghan Whigs adopted, for their concert t-shirts, the famous Stax logo of a hand snapping its fingers.  The Afghan Whigs augmented the logo slightly by placing a cigarette between the index and middle fingers.

Dulli’s demeanor and swagger on stage suggest that he knows he’s the kind of guy who could steal your girlfriend from you with very little effort.  One of the many times I’ve seen him live, he even stated something to the same extent to a heckler.  “We’ll see how funny you are when your girlfriend comes home with me tonight.”  He was cool about it.  He didn’t cuss the guy out or get visibly offended like most musicians on stage would.  He shut the heckler up by stating his woman would rather be with him.  He has mastered his technique of being able to strum his guitar with a cigarette pinned between ring and middle fingers and bring it back up to his mouth without missing a beat.  He’s known to take extended smoke breaks on stage.  He’ll sit back in a chair, make smoking actually look cool and appealing and drink from a glass containing Maker’s Mark whiskey.

Greg Dulli has also tried his hand at acting.  It is widely rumored that he was one of the 3 finalists who were called back to audition again for the role of John Bender in the Breakfast Club.  It is also rumored that he was in the running for a role in another movie that ended up going to a then-unknown Quentin Tarantino.  Dulli is best friends with Denis Leary and their mutual friend, the late film-director, Ted Demme.  Dulli did appear with the Afghan Whigs in Demme’s film Beautiful Girls.  He would also later appear with Denis Leary in Ted Demme’s Monument Ave as a mob henchman with an almost entirely silent but crucial role.

He also bought the movie rights to the book Spoken In Darkness with the intention of writing the screenplay & soundtrack and having Ted Demme direct it.  Sadly, the project was never realized as Ted Demme collapsed and died of a heart attack during a charity basketball game.  Denis Leary’s TV show, Rescue Me, has featured many Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers & Greg Dulli songs, usually played during the protagonist’s emotional peak.  Greg Dulli has stated that he’s appeared in one episode of Rescue Me, but not even his biggest fan would recognize him.  I would definitely like to see Greg Dulli in more movies or TV shows; hopefully, with a fairly sizeable amount of dialogue.

The songs he chooses to cover, the way he struts and swaggers on stage, his vocal style and the movie roles he chooses; everything Greg Dulli does is done with an undeniable sense of style.  Whether it’s the music he writes or the way he holds a cigarette, Greg Dulli is one of the coolest cats around.

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