From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Just The Tip Of The Tip Of The Iceberg

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

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Hogan: 24 years + 291 days later. Obit

I’m foggy on how we first met—it was either at the shitty, shitty White Dot club on one of those “Evening With The Garbageman” variety throw-down music nights—or maybe at Mudd Shack, that magic after-hours dork poetry slam in the old Tortillas burrito restaurant on Ponce de Leon Ave in Atlanta. But I do remember that he immediately blew my mind. I was an instant fan. The language in his poetry sounded ground floor but was meticulously crafted—dovetail joints—loose but tite like the best hip-hop rhymes—sophisticated—and truly Southern: dry, side-eye, sharp-as-a-shiv intelligence, humor, ribaldry. Such toothsome eloquence. Salt-lick vernacular. Double-dipped and fried hot. It’s hard to describe him to outsiders so that they’ll really get it — and what youtube clips that did survive do not do him justice. But to me he was a genius.

Our band the Jody Grind pretty much hand-cuffed him to our situation, and he traveled with us for about three or four years, opening our shows all over the place with his amazing poetry and spectacle.

I remember his buzzsaw voice and the way his coughs sounded like sneezes, so I was always “blessing” him until he’d get frustrated and yell at me to “cut it out!” I don’t really know what all he thought about me, but he always seemed bemused when I looked at him. Always little puzzled. Like he was trying to figure me out. He was always thinking. A buddha. Once during one of my love slumps he gave me some keen relationship advice that amounted to: “You, Hogan—you’re a classic paddler. Him? Well, he’s a classic floater. He’s gonna piss you off for the rest of your life.” Deacon was wise. And he was right.

Yeah, we all remember how he’d come running out onstage in Liberty overalls with the bibs dangling, wearing a giant white bra over his big man titties, sweating and heaving with adrenaline and stage fright, copper chest hair puffed up like Brillo pads. Or stomping out of a backstage janitor closet in muddy construction boots with that old ratty black and pink flowered muu muu flapping around his shins. The unbelievable racket of him banging his ball-peen hammer on that army surplus bombshell, and how he would start his set by revving a chainsaw held high above his head, gunning it over and over until the stage was shrouded in a big purple choke of gas fog. He sure knew how to make an entrance.

And though it might sound weird to people who only knew his onstage persona, one of the things I remember most about him is his gentleness—his shyness, deference, thoughtfulness, respectfulness, gentility, quiet intelligence, humility.

We all slept together so many nights on tour, five to a motel room, taking turns on the floor. Lord have mercy, that man could snore. And I remember his legs. He had great legs. Long freckled ones with incredible calf muscles. Skinny peanut toes sticking out of his Birkenstock sandals. That raggedy bright blue short-sleeve button-up shirt he always wore. His Stanley thermos. His knuckle wrinkles. How he’d hide his meticulously rolled toothpick joints down in between his cigarettes in the soft pack. That he’d comb his fingers through his lush red beard when he was telling you a story. That he was only 41. Forty-one.

I remember backstage at Sluggo’s in Pensacola in April of 1992. How there was no toilet and you had to pee out of a window, even the girls. I remember how that night after the show Deacon had wanted to ride back to Mobile with me and Bill and our manager, but because I felt sick and was getting laryngitis and wanted to lie down and sleep in the backseat, I am forever fucked in my soul because I said there wasn’t enough room. I said no. I said no. I said no.

His little seed corn front teeth. His diagonally framed Polaroids. The cheerful little jingly bell dangling from his rearview mirror. His hard crush on Richard Petty. His and Benjamin Smoke’s true and pure manly mutual admiration friendship love affair. How he once said that when he was young and had hair he got “more ass than a toilet seat.”

Whenever I hear that Dolly Parton song “Joshua,” I always cast him as the fearsome mountain man she sings about, living off all by himself—wild and imposing to those that didn’t know him, but sweet and cream-filled to those that did. I loved him. I love him. I miss him. I miss him so much. Actively. With fangs.

“Life is an illusion, so you might as well make it a good one.”  Deacon Lunchbox

“They got dope-sniffing dogs at Dollywood. My vacation plans are ruined.” —Deacon Lunchbox

Tim Ruttenber 1950 – 1992

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