Your first impression is probably your longest lasting: four white guys standing on a stage at some venue and with the utmost sincerity and guilelessness making a holy racket that’s so out of sync, out of tune, and utterly ear-drubbing that it actually comes off as sweet and endearing. “Hoogie Boogie Laaaand!” will forever live on in our memories the way Curt Low will forever live on in my iTunes. The Complete frontman recently suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 58.
I don’t think I ever met him. Or maybe I did at South-by one time, because Complete played the annual Austin festival several times in a row back in the mid-aughts to my enragement — I once cursed out SXSW for continuing to invite Complete to perform at sanctioned showcases while all of Fort Worth’s “real” bands were sitting at home only dreaming of the exposure. I was such a dumbass, and my memories of The Scene back then or whenever I last actually sweated South-by and local music are hazy at best. Curt and I did exchange emails on occasion. Our messages consisted of him inviting me to Complete gigs at sports bars in Arlington or Haltom City or wherever and me coming up with nonsense excuses why I couldn’t make them. As with most folks whose first impression is of the notorious YouTube videos (nearly a million views and counting), I did not understand Complete until a little later in life, after I had stopped partying like an idiot, after I had realized that the local music scene that I loved so much did not always love me back, and after I had moved on from writing about local music nearly every day for little to no thanks from anyone but the occasional artist to penning longform essays about statewide and national politics and overseeing steady, fruitful investigations into public corruption, where I am now (happily).
I will miss him — if not Curtis Brumbalow the person, who was well known as a sweet guy, then Curt Low as a towering figure in underground music. I’m not going to say I enjoyed Complete’s artistic excursions. Other than Curt, bassist Creecher (R.I.P.), and the rotating cast of characters who held down the rhythm section over the years, did anyone? “Enjoyment” was never the explicit point of a Complete song. The bandmembers, contrary to what they may have said online or in person, were not put on this Earth to entertain us. They were here to challenge us, to make us question all of our dated, backward, downright vile assumptions about Art-with-a-capital-A. I don’t know if this is any sort of barometer, but I will forever remember “Hoogie Boogie Land” — and “Dream-Ing” and “Into the Niiiight” — in ways I have forgotten 75% of all the other Fort Worth music I’ve listened to in the 20 years I’ve been writing about Fort Worth music on a weekly basis. I’ll also remember tearing my right biceps as I’ve forgotten every bench press and pull-up I’ve ever done. That’s got to account for something, all this pain and strife. That’s how we grow. No pain, no gain, as they say. That surgery cost me 3 Large. I’ll never forget that, either.
For the moment, let’s do away with labels. Let’s skip formulae. Let’s just say that the ethos of rock ’n’ roll is to shake listeners out of their daily drudgery (Little Richard, The Doors, The Clash) or wake them up from their soporific routines of sleep, work, consume, die (early Genesis, non-screechy-Geddy Rush, Radiohead). Some bands get your butt shaking or head banging. That’s one way they rattle you nicely. Some other bands activate those parts of your brain that contextualize data, and as gritty and out of tune and out of rhythm and all-out … nontraditional as Complete was, Curt and the boys got you thinking and maybe even — if you’re like me — questioning entire power structures and indeed perhaps reality itself. For that, I thank them dearly.
Now take the four most talented local rock musicians in any local scene and ask them to cover a single Complete song. They will fail. There is no accounting for the type of reckless, emotional, passionate abandon that defined Complete’s approach to musicmaking. None. If the average Complete song were a bit of film dialogue, it would be “One dog goes one way, the other dog goes the other way, and this guy’s sayin’, ‘Whadda ya want from me?’ ” You can’t practice playing four different songs at the same time together. It’s impossible. Unless you’re Curt Low and Complete.
The last time I wrote about the band was to say that they belonged in the Outsider Canon right alongside Wesley Willis, Daniel Johnston, Jandek, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and all of the other outré visionaries revered as conduits to alien tongues in a world overflowing with us mere mortals, following rules, following systems, following lies. In the words of Curt Low after asking a crowd if they were ready for a party song, “You say no, well, how about this?” Well, how about this? Complete is right up there with Burning Hotels, Flickerstick, Shea Seger, Tame … Tame & Quiet, Stella Rose, Goodwin, BULLS, Quaker City Night Hawks, and Squanto in my personal pantheon of Fort Worth rock. And that’s where they will forever stay.
I don’t listen to Complete for fun. Listening to Complete is like lying naked on a bed of ice-cold bottle caps (pointy parts up) with your arms and legs being pulled in different directions by cranky old ladies. For the same reasons I drag myself to the gym (still, age 51), read Proust, and practice scales on my high-action acoustic, I listen to Complete to die and be reborn stronger. I listen to Complete to expand my consciousness. I listen to Complete to survive in a shitty, ugly, craptacular world, one far, far removed from the Hoogie Boogie Land that Curt Low wanted for all of us. Meet you there, brother. *huge bong rip* Cheers.