Harvey Pekar may well be Cleveland’s most famed antihero, and his curmudgeonly worldview of life in post-industrial America came to life in the pages of American Splendor. However unintentional, The New Lou Reeds (also heralding from Cleveland) could most easily be described as the punkblues-rock embodiment of Pekar’s aesthetic. Down on his luck, fragile, resilient, and armed with an acerbic wit, Stephe DK (singer / songwriter) created a cynical masterpiece about a guy who just can’t seem to catch a break...and may in fact, be his own biggest impediment into ever receiving one. Much like Pekar.”
Originally released in 2004, Screwed by The New Lou Reeds received rather positive reviews but ultimately, they failed to reach the same heights as some their punk/blues/rock contemporaries (i.e., The Black Keys, White Stripes, etc). This is not shocking. The New Lou Reeds did not become a band with the intent to fill arenas with their sardonic outlook on life wildly self-depreciating lyrics.
Screwed contains songs about failure, resignation, arrest, getting high, teenage metalheads, and some generally great lyrics (“...praise be to the men and their guitars, give a voice to the illiterate and drunk...” - from Hate Fest). Backed by the beautifully shambling and almost primitive rhythm section of brothers Nick and Tony Cross (Coffinberry), Screwed seems always verge of spiraling out of control, only to be reigned in by absorbing narrative of the songs.
Famed musicologist, proponent of outsider art, and cultural historian Julian Cope began to champion the New Lou Reeds on his Head Heritage website in 2004, and the album gained steam until the original pressings (CD only) had disappeared. Cope became such a fan that he devoted an entire chapter the record in his 2012 book, Copendium. In some circles, Screwed has become quite the cult favorite over the years.
While all the biographical information might place the album in it’s historical context, a brief story about Stephe DK and the New Lou Reeds might shed more life on their operation and arguable missteps as a band and label. Cleveland and Akron are close. Close enough that the father of Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys, himself a songwriter, became a fan of the NLR and invited Stephe DK to come down to Akron and cut some tracks he had written with his famous son. Stephe obliged. Stephe sang, Dan played guitar, and Stephe felt uncomfortable out of place. Stephe concluded the sessions without ever getting copies of the tapes and even declined a personal invitation back to the family’s home for dinner. Yep. That was an opportunity to have dinner at the home of the Black Keys in the early 2000s when you played a similar style of music...