Even if he wanted to, Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb couldn’t repeat himself. Just watch him sing sometime; the guy’s got two vocal mics, one distorted, one clean, and he doesn’t make up his mind which one he’ll be singing into until he’s halfway through his line. Tucson (Fire), Gelb’s latest release (credited to Giant Giant Sand), is named after his Arizona hometown. He will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.
Gelb: You’re not from here, no matter how much you think you sound like Ennio Morricone, unless you have been baptized on the roof of any home you’ve lived in by a broken swamp cooler. I am turning 56 this year and only last year did I finally get me some air conditioning for the house. I’ve kinda paced myself, I guess, and now I love it. I love the summer even more, too, but forever and a day we’ve had something else here churning out a kind of air that we figured was cool enough, and we all call it a swamp cooler.
It works like this: A metal box sits in the blazing sun all day on your roof or stuck into a window and houses a spurting pump that soaks three straw-like mats of a paperish mesh that line the inside of that hot box. A rotary fan sucks the air out of the broiling day and in to your house through the soggy mats. That’s it.
You can count on two things. In the beginning of the season, around May, you will adore the thing and its vibrant water-saturated particles it fills the air in your house with. It’s nothing shy of a miracle, especially when you see how cheap your bill is every month even when you begin to leave it on constantly.
This same sensation fills you with a sweetness near the end of the season of the endless summer, say about October or so, just as the monsoons from Mexico begin to visit. You will swear the damn thing isn’t working any more, but it’s inevitable. Basically, the operation just doesn’t translate in any humid environment, which is what happens when those monsoon clouds clog up the sky and stick around through the night; you bake right smack in the middle of the mean season.
Those coolers were never able to cool the confines more then 15 degrees less than what the sun is blistering up outside. So when it’s up to 110 and the coolers are still fine and doing their job, it will still be 95 degrees inside until the Mexican clouds show up, then forgot about it altogether.
You will scamper up to the roof finally to open the thing up, and you will begin the age-old wrangle with the swamp cooler that’s been handed down through the ages. The insult to injury is that the water supply here is so thick with chalky mineral deposits. You will be constantly fighting a losing battle with the mucked-up parts and eroding metal bits that will snap off in your hands. You hope to get that thing up and running again because now you have killed it altogether.
Four showers a day are required. Just ground-temperature water will do perfectly. It’ll pour out luke warm, but there is something in that ritual, something that bonds us all and everyone one here knows it. If you have never changed a swamp-cooler pad in your life and you have lived here for 20 years, then you have failed to really blend.
Video after the jump.