The first time I saw troubadour/busker Jason Webley must've been around 1995, when I was still in high school and he was playing his accordion on a sidewalk in the University District. He wearing a trench coat and singing in a growl many have compared to Tom Waits, and with a gutter-tango sound that was about to burst into pop consciousness with the cirque noir moment (Circus Contraption was probably its most memorable child). But that hadn't happened yet, and he sounded distinctive and strange.
In the next few years, I gradually realized that Webley was part of a network of homegrown oddball geniuses I'd come to know and admire through different channels—John Osebold, Jherek Bischoff, and so on.
This weekend, Webley is playing an unusual concert at the old Everett Theater, along with Jherek, Zac Pennington, Led To Sea, and several others. The program will be all music inspired by a woman named Margaret Rucker, whose life was discovered in a dumpster by Chicken John—an infamous San Francisco icon who ran a punk-rock circus, played guitar in GG Allin's band, and has a long and colorful career of activism (including an attempt to name a sewage treatment plant after George W. Bush).
Years before, Chicken was walking in San Francisco late at night and found a huge dumpster in front of a house - like someone had died and the the entirety of their life was being discarded. He looked inside to see if there was anything worth selling. But he was drawn to an old scrapbook detailing the life of a woman born in 1907. It began with her birth certificate and ended with her obituary. He was taken in by the old photographs, newspaper clippings and pieces of the woman's poetry, published in the 1920s. I won't tell the whole story here, but her life was tragic and her writing was dark and beautiful - sometimes heartbreaking...
The woman was born in Everett, and her name was Margaret Rucker.
She was the daughter of Bethel Rucker, one of the brothers who essentially founded the city. And her obituary, the last image of the slideshow, showed that she was buried in the Rucker mausoleum in Everett, the crazy pyramid that I had just climbed with my friend two days before.
One of her poems, found in the scrapbook, concerns a wind that ripped through her garden: "My marble god lies broken in the garden,/But I will patch him til he looks like new,/ So people will not guess that he is shattered/A lifeless Eros made of stone and/And since I've learned to patch, you needn't love me/If for a while you will pretend you do."
Of course, this story comes from show people and there's always the question of whether it's a put-on. But Webley seems sincere about the whole thing—when I mentioned I had met some Ruckers from San Francisco, he started asking how old they were and whether they might be related to her sons, George and John.
Either way, it sounds like one of the more promising music/live performance events happening this weekend. And it will feature these guys, who made our hearts flutter last year around Genius season: