“Let’s count our dreams and go out walking step by step;
Always hoping that we’re walking the trashline;”
— From “Walking the Trashline” by Kim Rancourt
Kim Rancourt has always embraced his musical roots.
As a kid growing up in Detroit in the 1960’s, Rancourt was exposed to a range of musical styles, including the Motown sound and rock artists like Bob Seger and Alice Cooper. Rancourt told me he was so inspired the first time he saw Iggy Pop and The Stooges perform that he “actually went to Kroger’s and stole a dog collar after the show.”
But for Rancourt, embracing one’s musical roots was not about hero worship per se, but rather about embracing an ethos—anything is possible. Growing up, Rancourt felt trapped in a destiny he did not choose. He recalled how David Bowie’s song “Panic in Detroit”—allegedly written about Iggy Pop’s stories about Detroit revolutionaries during the late 60’s—opened his eyes to a different path.
“They told me that if I didn’t succeed and go to the University of Michigan that I’d work at the Chrysler corporation—working in the factory,” Rancourt explained. “That’s when ‘Panic in Detroit’ happened,” Rancourt explained. “That’s why I couldn’t wait to move to New York. The Bowie, Lou Reed glitter grass roots I had when I came here—we really had perfect timing.
“I went from a kid wearing jeans and flannel shirts to wearing silver satin pants and silver shirts.”
Rancourt found himself living in Spanish Harlem, surrounded by a community of like-minded people. “Back then there was a pocket of people on the Upper East Side and everybody knew each other,” he recalled. “You saw people walking down the street and you knew you were going to see them at the Home Bar, which was my first job in New York and John Lennon’s favorite bar at the time.
“He would close down the place and play ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’”
Rancourt remembered the thrill he experienced getting The Ramones’ first record. Of course not everyone was as ebullient. “I bought my first Ramones record. It was the greatest – look at that cover!” he exclaimed.
“I played it for my friend and he threw it out the window.”
Eventually, Rancourt played in his own bands, When People Were Shorter and Lived Near the Water and Jad Fair and the Shapir-O’rama and worked with Shimmy Disc, a label that embraced an open, experimental sound consistent with the range of influences Rancourt had throughout his life.
Over the years, Rancourt always appreciated artists that seemed to remember their roots. He described how impressed he was by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana at Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York performance, where in addition to playing their original songs, they played covers by Bowie, Meat Puppets, and Lead Belly.
“Kurt was a huge fan of Shimmy Disc,” Rancourt said. “I think Kurt realized his roots and was able to exemplify and use those … even doing songs on ‘Unplugged,’ he dug back in there – and melted it into a guitar lead.”
Rancourt also tapped into his musical influences in his new album plum plum. Rancourt assembled an “all-star” band, including Gary Lucas of Captain Beefheart, Don Fleming of Gumball, Joe Bouchard of Blue Oyster Cult and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth. Rancourt described how this album was in many ways his embracing of the exciting, inventive spirit of New York that he experienced as a young man.
“Getting back to the grass roots. Getting back to the essentials of what was going on in the Lower East Side,” Rancourt described. “That’s where you get the inspiration. That’s where you get the recognition. You need people who are in the same boat as you.
“It’s a shot up your spine.”
Michael A. Friedman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with offices in Manhattan and South Orange, NJ, and is a member of EHE International’s Medical Advisory Board. Contact Dr. Mike at michaelfriedmanphd.com. Follow him on Twitter @drmikefriedman.