Track 9 of Hamell On Trial's debut album, Big As Life. Spoken word with buzzing guitar in the background. Although some of the sentence structure of this piece is strangely convoluted (usually to suit the internal rhymes and more importantly the rhythm in which it is spoken), on the whole the language use is quite clever and the phrase "fuckin' asinine" alone is worth several points in my book.

As with much of Hamell's work, it's anybody's guess how autobiographical "Piccolo Joe" is. The singer/songwriter has a soft spot for the criminals, some petty and others not, who populate songs like this one and the title track of his 2000 album Choochtown's, to name a few. ("Junkie Bobby", a minor character in this piece, recurs in the latter song and album, in which he plays something of a starring role.) Hamell's fascination with the world of drunks, dealers, and druggies extends to --- or perhaps from --- real-life experiences: many of his songs and stories are about the time he spent working in what was essentially a crack bar in Syracuse, New York, and he ruefully admits to having brought home more "'nice guy' felons" than his wife really cares to recall, let alone count. In the song "Choochtown", the title character and narrator actually demands that another character, whom he calls "Baldy", put him in a song --- a clear reference to Hamell's role as sometime chronicler of Chooch's world. Nonetheless, there's no way of knowing how much the singer/songwriter has fictionalized in this piece and others (although it is interesting to note that in real life, he eventually moved away from Syracuse to determine whether audiences would still apppreciate his music if they couldn't identify and gossip about his characters).


What do you know, it's Piccolo Joe
They call him that 'cause he's high
No time for fun, there's work to be done
Doing the deals on the fly.
The bullshit will cease, the bartender's greased
Basically, he's got the room
He ain't real vocal, but any local
knows where they can cop some
They belly over like calling out "Rover"
everyone's ears on the perk
He says "The house is on me" and everyone can see
he's putting that bartender to work

Wouldn't you know, every "Thank you, Joe"
has got eyes for what's in his hand
His wallet is bulging, a point worth divulging
A temptation for many a man.
But here is a fact: no one will act
'Cause in seconds they'd be less than a hoot
Guarding that loot, there in his boot
Joe is just itchin' to shoot.
He pays for the round and then settles down
to a table, way in the back
Quiets his thirst, and waits for the first
nibble his bait will attract

According to Monkey, see Bobby's a junkie
Long since forgotten bashful times
"What are you, a fool? I'll hit you with a stool."
Joe ain't dealin no dimes.
To show he's big-hearted, since he got Bobby started
he'll turn him on to a line
But no, he doesn't want to buy his leather coat:
"What are you, fuckin asinine?"
They head for the john, the party is on
Now several boys got to pee
A coincidence, but they commence
In the hopes of catchin' a buzz for free

It's Friday night, and if all goes right
I seen as much as $1200 go down
Some cop and run, they're in it for the fun:
They don't wanna be seen hanging around
Some stay for the show, cause you never know
What's gonna happen or when
Someone gets lusted, someone gets busted
and tomorrow we do it again.

I never heard more talk of the big score
than I did hanging round that bar
Everyone's motto: "Fuck the lotto:
A drug deal is surer by far."

Joe had to wait till they were dry upstate
Then he told them he was their man
I seen him in brawls, I knew he had balls
But I was surprised when he copped 30 grand
He did it all clean, nothing was seen
No one ever fingered the source.
But you gotta dig, they must've been big
The others were chump change of course.

He walked through the door, never touching the floor
I knew by his smile he had the dough:
His usual cool was overruled
By his pride having moved all that blow.
The money went down, and after four rounds
he bought bottles from under the bar
Then him and The Monkey, a two-bit flunky
Went downtown in a new rental car.

Joe's appetite for ladies of the night
was usually satisfied by a local with the jones
But with all that cash, and with all that head stash
Why not some professionals they could chaperone?
He got three with a call, the five of them in all
hecked into a swank hotel suite
The door was triple-locked, the coke was turned to rock:
They were literally smokin' between those sheets.
Up for three days in all kinds of ways
Joe and The Monkey finally slept to a cocaine lullaby
The ladies saw their cue, grabbed the bucks and flew ---
But not before Joe opened one eye.
He reached for his gun, but before he was done
One of the ladies pulled a .38 from her purse
A shot through each head left them both dead—
Joe and Monkey would leave in a hearse

Everyone's take on Joe and Monkey's wake
Was that it was tastefully... short
Amidst the gloom, in the men's room
Junkie Bobby snuck off for a snort
And what we must face? We'll all be replaced
And quicker than we might like to think
There's a business to be had by some enterprising lad
This Friday, if he's buying all the drinks.

—Ed Hamell

Reproduced by permission; see Hamell on Trial for details.

CST Approved

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