Moments In Song #4 – Urge Overkill ‘Sister Havana’
By Scott Creney
It was August 1993 and I was living in Plains, Georgia — population 660 and home of Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States. I had been away from home for almost a year, working as a machine press operator at a factory in the nearby town of Americus. It was back-breaking work, but I was young and I enjoyed it for the most part.
But still, it was pretty lonely for a California kid so far from home. That part of the country was, and is, so rural that I found myself adopting a southern accent just so I could be understood. Even the television anchor people spoke in a thick, slow drawl. The only relief I got was driving two hours up to Atlanta on my day off and buying shitloads of cassettes and music magazines. Back at Christmastime I had actually called the Tower Records near Lenox Square Mall and asked them to hold the year-end double issues of NME and Melody Maker for me. I remember spending four hours in the McDonald’s up the street eating McNugget after McNugget and drinking endless refills of soda while I devoured their contents, then going back to Tower and buying close to a hundred dollars worth of music.
After getting out of high school, I’d spent a couple of years dropping in and out of the local community colleges, managing not to obtain a single credit. Fed up with my drifting, my mom informed me that I needed to start paying rent. Fed up with my life in California, the endless sun and the endless boredom, I decided to take the money I had saved and go see the country (gas was still cheap and plentiful at this point). Maybe I’d find a place I liked better and decide to live there. Maybe I’d figure out what I wanted to do, come home and start doing it.
I hadn’t counted on car trouble wiping out most of my money halfway through the trip. So I found myself visiting my grandmother in Plains and needing a job in order to get back home. My uncle worked out at the factory, and he got me a job out there, but with the condition that I stay for a year. It would reflect poorly on him if I just worked there for a couple of months and then bailed out of there. I agreed to his conditions, and like I said, it wasn’t so bad. At the very least, it gave me some time away from the pressures of growing up.
I had planned to stay until November, but when my grandmother died unexpectedly that July in a car accident — driving back from California, ironically enough, where she had been out visiting family — I decided to head home a little earlier. I probably can’t properly convey the strange, heartbreaking creepiness of being alone in the house of someone who has just died, in the sweltering, wood-bending heat of south Georgia.
But this isn’t a story about grandmothers, factories, and untimely death. It’s a story about Urge Overkill and my best friend Bobby.
Bobby graduated from high school that summer and his parents offered him a trip as a graduation present. He could have gone anywhere in the world, but he chose to fly to Atlanta and drive back home to El Cajon, California, a town 20 miles or so east of San Diego, with me. Poor guy.
A good bit of our friendship revolved around music — listening to it, talking about it, and occasionally playing it. I hadn’t seen him since Christmas and we were both excited to hear what the other had been listening to. I told him about Pavement, PJ Harvey, Superchunk, etc. And he told me about this band he’d seen the week before on MTV’s 120 Minutes. They were called Urge Overkill. They all had funny names, and according to Bobby, they were hilariously awesome.
We were having a good time making our way across the southern half of the US. But when we pulled into Austin, Texas, Bobby got extra excited when the radio station started playing ‘Sister Havana’, the lead single off the Urge Overkill album Saturation, their major label debut for Geffen.
“This is the band I was telling you about!” he shouted. I thought it sounded OK, a little silly, but kind of fun. Then the DJ said they were playing at Emo’s that night in Austin, and Bobby got more excited. Even I was laughing at the coincidence.
There was only one problem. Bobby wasn’t 21 yet. I had just turned 21 a couple of months earlier (I celebrated by driving to a convenience store in Americus and buying a six-pack of Miller Genuine Draft — the guy behind the counter didn’t even ask for my i.d.), but if the show was at a bar, Bobby couldn’t get in. We found a Tower Records and asked the guy working about Emo’s. Sure enough, it was 21 and up. I suggested we go hang around outside and see what happens, but Bobby said that would be even worse. Instead, we headed back to our motel and got some sleep.