Light My Fire

Chris Meck and Abigail Henderson were married on a summer night last year in Montana, after their van was totaled by an 800-pound moose (female, halved). On the night of the accident, a humorless state trooper informed Henderson that if she decapitated the moose and mounted its head on the wall of the van, as she had expressed a sardonic desire to do, she would incur a $500 fine. Meanwhile, Meck was standing by the wreckage, repeating phrases such as “Why couldn’t I have just liked numbers? Why couldn’t I have been an accountant?”

Instead, Meck is a musician. So is Henderson. She writes the songs; belts them out like a smoother, countrier Janis; and strums an acoustic guitar. He smokes and peels notes off a Telecaster. Together they lead the Kansas City country-rock band the Gaslights.

Meck and Henderson say they keep their love life out of band business. That may sound unromantic, but, Meck says, “I’ll take whatever strain that comes with this, because we get to go through it all together.”

And they’ve been through some crazy shit.

The band’s other guitarist at the time of the moose slaying, John Stubblefield (who is also an ordained minister, apparently), officiated at the nuptial ceremony, which was held at the Talking Bird Saloon in a town called St. Regis. The bar is named in honor of its talking bird, George, who had learned to say “Rock and roll, George” by the time the Gaslights left town in a new van, which Meck bought for $11,000 after hitchhiking to Missoula and getting a loan.

For a while, Meck and Henderson wore hair ties around their ring fingers. Now they wear simple, matching silver bands. “We got more important shit to spend money on,” Henderson says. “Like brakes!” Something’s always going wrong for the Gaslights, sometimes colossally so. That’s not because the band is ill-managed or cursed. It’s because the Gaslights operate by putting it all on the line.

Take the time that all five members quit their jobs and moved to Springfield, Missouri, intending to tour three weeks a month with the help of a booking agent. Crammed into an A/C-lacking, down-by-the-river cabin owned by Henderson’s grandmother were core members Meck, Henderson and drummer Glen Hockemeier, plus newbies Stubblefield and Quentin Phipps.

The moose incident, followed by the end of the band’s relationship with its booking agent, broke up that happy, two-month-old home. Then Phipps and Stubblefield quit for personal and financial reasons. As a five-piece, the Gaslights had recorded an entire album, called 15 Hands, with Springfield producer Lou Whitney (who has worked with the Bottle Rockets, Jonathan Richman and Wilco, to name a few). The disc had to be shelved because the Gaslights couldn’t play the songs live without their ex-members. Also, Stubblefield had contributed songs to the album.

This has all happened in the past eight months, and yet, in a week or two, the Gaslights will be touring Europe.

Having recruited It’s Over bassist Bill Sundahl (known around town as Roach) on a temporary basis, the group will play shows all the way out to New York. From there, they’ll fly to Brussels and hit clubs — and a couple of prisons — around Belgium and Holland.

They played much the same route last year, minus one of the jails.

There, things got a little surreal for Hockemeier when the Jeff Spicoli-like drummer met a European version of himself coming out of a bathroom. Not only was the Belgian fellow similarly long-haired and also named Glen, but the two also had the same distinct laugh — always the same pitch, of telephone-ring length, and frequently in use. (In crowded areas, Henderson and Meck have used Hockemeier’s laugh as a homing beacon.)

Anyway, thanks to a couple of Belgian bookers named Gert and Ludo (spelling approximated), plus the European audience’s affinity for merch, the Gaslights are able to execute the tour in a cost-effective way, barring disasters.

And even when disaster strikes, the Gaslights are trained to take it in stride and laugh about it later. Safe travels, kids.

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