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Dex Romweber and the TWO HEADED COW… definitely the most bizarre documentary screening/concert I’ve ever seen! by COOP

Posted on March 18th, 2009
Posted on March 18th, 2009

I came for a rock show… I ended up reviewing a movie.

The local Clarksdale, Mississippi newspaper said some guy named Dex Romweber, a 80’s rockabilly and alternative icon was going to play on St. Patrick’s Day evening at 7:30 at the old, Delta/Tyson single-screen movie theater downtown.

“Say wha?” I said.

The seats in that old theater haven’t touched my rear end since 1992 when many local residents deemed it too dank, dirty and unsafe to see a movie there. Not to mention, the picture and sound quality was so poor, many (including myself) often felt compelled to walk out. [Note: I still haven’t seen “Jaws: The Revenge” all the way through to this day because the reel at this theater broke four nights in a row… Although I’m told I didn’t miss much] Years later, under new management, the place seems a bit rejuvenated, but nothing I’ve heard/seen/read about it has convinced me to give the establishment another chance. I reckoned I’d get around to it eventually if I got desperate to see something and couldn’t make it over to Oxford or Memphis.

I confirmed two companions to join me. As we walked in, we saw a few people behind the counter and one or two others milling about. Since nothing else was open in town for St. Paddy’s, I figured a few dozen would show up. As we sat down in the theater, we noticed a small drum set, some mics and lights were set up in the front left corner amongst some movie promotional cardboard cutouts of Bernie Mac and Marlon Wayans. Plus there was a digital projector being set up, aimed at the modest movie screen in front of us. After a few false starts, a facilitator (or perhaps it was Dex himself) said, “Enjoy the movie and we hope you stay afterwards for the show!” He said it directly to us because we were pretty much the only ones in the theater not affiliated with the event.

My friends and I looked at each other. What the hell had we gotten ourselves into?

The film rezzed up and showed us exactly who this Romweber character was. As the frontman for the Flat Duo Jets, Dex made a huge splash in the same Athens, GA rock movement as REM and the B-52’s. The doc showed his appearances on David Letterman (who called him one of the most “dangerous” rock-‘n-rollers of the era), fans like Neko Case and Jack White calling him their biggest influence and idol, explosive energy performances from the early 80’s and drug-induced rants… besides the rants, I was immediately impressed. This guy was the real deal and I absolutely loved his aggressive rockabilly sound.

So what was Dexter Romweber doing in Clarksdale, MS entertaining three people? After one of my friends ejected herself from the venue, leaving us a party of two, the film answered my question. This guy is on such a distant planet from the rest of us, he drifted so far from his original scene that he is now on the fringe of music oblivion. Scenes of him in the 80’s, whacked out of his gourd on heavens-knows-what, rambling to the camera about spiritual gobblty-gook and nonsense did not endear me to him… Even more so when the film cut to him saying the same nonsense at his present age, albeit more overweight and a lot less happy.

I checked my watch. Nope, this wasn’t going to be a quick, 30 minute introduction to the man. This was a full feature documentary. I tried to get comfortable, but what I witnessed on the screen made me undeniably uncomfortable.

Awkward scenes included: Dexter playing an amazing piano piece in what looked like a VFW while three men playing cards completely ignored him. An overweight Dexter stringing his guitar in a hotel room in his underwear. Dexter trying to philosophize his failures through metaphysics and explanations of his neuroses (and possibly psychoses). Dexter taking a handful of psycho-pharmaceutical drugs before a gig and explaining what each one does. Dexter’s mom trying to explain her son’s quirks. Dexter talking about how he threatened to kill critics who wrote bad reviews (don’t track me down, Dex! I’m about to say some good stuff!).… And nearly everything in between.

Basically, it was an hour and a half about a musical savant; a real genius who didn’t seem to understand that spilling his manic-depressive, ADD guts on camera would not make him anyone understand or like him any better. It made him appear myopic, crazed and oblivious… a trait of many rock stars, but Dex never does develop a firm grip on reality, and the documentary suggests he probably never will. It was a difficult film to watch, but I dreaded it ending because I was a captive audience and had no idea what Dex had in store for me in person.

As the credits rolled, we learned why the film was titled “Two Headed Cow.” In a rural country store, Dex and band mates discover some animal freak show oddities, one of which includes a two-headed calf. As the three men observe the abomination, Dex begins strumming on his guitar and repeating “two-headed cow!” in a melodic voice. The other men join in, creating an impromptu round, culminating in a very inspired musical moment in history (trust me, it worked). This was the highlight of the film and fortunately ended the film on a positive vibe.

A pompadour-wearing silhouette appeared in front of me and asked, “Do you have any questions about the film?… Or did it pretty much explain everything?” To which I replied after some thought, “Yep, it pretty much did!” This seemed to satisfy Dex who walked over to the mics and started the final sound check. “We’re gonna do about a 50 minute set for you.”

Uh oh, I thought. Here we go. I turned around to see about a little over a dozen people scattered about the theater. They must’ve sneaked in while I was politely focusing on the film. That’s a mild relief.

After a five to ten minute sound check, Dex and sister Sara (formerly of the bands Lets Active and Snatches of Pink) on the drums began to play. In what I can only describe as a scene from a David Lynch movie – The “Silencio Club” scene from “Mulholland Dr.” comes to mind – the two siblings performed bathed in eerie green and red lights to a handful of folks in a deserted old theater…

And they played brilliantly.

Where “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” was a fantastic documentary that almost completely upstaged the live performance by the band afterwards, “Two Headed Cow” was the exact opposite.

The Dex Romweber in front of us was not the tortured soul from the film. On stage he was firmly in his element. He wasn’t merely normal there, he was exceptional. Songs ranging from southwest rock, Buddy Holly-like tunes, Roy Orbison, angry rockabilly to Elvis, all from the pair’s “Ruins of Berlin” album. I couldn’t help but marvel at Dex’s soulful as it echoed spookily through the hollow innards of the theater. It hadn’t aged a day. I turned to my friend next to me and we both agreed it was one of the most surreal moments of our lives. The lone captive audience of a rock god in a broken-down theater. We’d never heard of him before that night, but I doubt we’d ever forget him.

Halfway through the set Dexter said, “You know, I have this recurring nightmare. I’m tuning up, getting ready for a gig, I look up ready to play and all the seats are empty. Right now, this is about as close to that dream as I’ve ever experienced.”

The few of us in the theater roared with laughter.

Dex continued, “You can all say, ‘I was there that fateful night in Clarksdale, Mississippi! That spooky night when Dex played to a crowd of five!’”

You’re right, Dex. I will say I was there. I’ll brag about it for the rest of my life.

I can’t in good conscience recommend the documentary, “Two Headed Cow” directed by Tony Gayton which suffered from a terminal case of TMI (Too Much Information). A short, 30 minute intro to the man, the myth, the legend of Dex Romweber would’ve sufficed. The past footage of his rockin’ shows impressed me. His psychotic personal life did not. I’m sure Dex is proud of it and gets to vent cathartically through it like some form of media therapy.

You’ll have to excuse me, Dex. I am a film critic, but I really just came for the rockin’.

As for the live show, I can’t recommend it enough. I loved every second of it and he deserved a massive audience for it. Dex and Sara, I hope you find that massive audience at the South by Southwest Music Festival this weekend in Austin. I see by your schedule that you have no less than four shows there. I wish you thousands upon thousands of screaming fans. I won’t say ‘keep up the good work’ because I know you will. Hope to see you back in Mississippi, next time with a bigger venue.

As for me, and the theater, it was nice to visit the old girl again. The first film I ever saw was “Star Wars” in 1977 in that very theater. The experience was so vivid, I remember it clearly even though I was only 3 years old… It might even be my first memory ever. Sure it’s still run down and it attracts an intimidating/rowdy crowd, but the owners are nice and the prices can’t be beat ($1.00 popcorn!!!). I might have to drop by there a bit more often, at least for nostalgia’s sake.

To hear some terrific music from the Dex Romweber Duo, visit their Myspace page here. There you can check their tour schedule ending in Fargo, ND on April 24.

Here’s Dex in his heyday with the infamous Flat Duo Jets…

Now here he is now playing with sister Sara as the Dex Romweber Duo. Trust me, The video doesn’t do them justice at all…

-Coop
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