A MOVIE ABOUT THE SCENE, AND ALL IT MEANS
A coming attraction from Upstairs Film: "High and Dry: Where the Desert Meets Rock 'n Roll," a feature-length documentary about Tucson music.

Parks, Keenan and Salmon
Tucson's Phantom Limbs, circa 1983 (from left):
Jim Parks, Jeff Keenan and Howard Salmon.

THE PHANTOM LIMBS

You think that people are good
You think that they pay attention
Think they have reasons for the things that they do
You think they're sorry when they're not
You think success comes to those who try hard
You think they've earned what they've got
Well, don't talk to me about things you know not . . .

— From "Bleak House," on the Phantom Limbs' "Romance" album


Lead Limb Jeff Keenan once described his band's cynical sound as "analytical cowboy despair pop passing itself off as new-wave dance music." He would no doubt cringe to hear this quote repeated yet again, but no tribute to the band would be complete without it.

Phantom Limbs devotees understand what he meant. While we hard-core fans were listening to every twisted word, a good quarter of the audience just came to dance. (They're the same ones who now watch "The Simpsons" to hear Bart say "Cowabunga!") If you're among the uninitiated, imagine the above lyrics, sung in Keenan's Dylan-meets-the-Chipmunks twang and coupled with a bouncy, neo-surf guitar sound. Like Dylan, and beer, oysters and most of the other things that make life worth living, it's an acquired taste. If you were in Tucson in the 1980s and you identified yourself with the "alternative" crowd, you probably acquired it.

At Nino's or the Fine Line or, later, Club Congress, Jeff would appear in (pre-grunge) flannel shirt, black jeans, bowling shoes and tinted granny glasses and chirp out his wordy but danceable ditties on the dark side of human nature. Jim Parks, who at times looks like Al Franken, lent the bass lines and backing vocals, his voice similar to Jeff's but not as nasal. When it came time to play Jim's compositions, even bouncier, happy-sounding variations on the theme but still with that brooding edge, he and Jeff would switch instruments as well as places. "Let's Party," a Parks song that doesn't appear on any of the Limbs' albums, was a crowd favorite. Some of Jim's solo work from the 1980s is now available at MP3.com.

On drums, Howie Salmon was in the studio for the first two albums, but he was replaced on most of the band's mid-'80s live dates by Cheryl Graham. On 2000's "Not in So Many Words," Peter Catalnotte handles the drums and Gene Ruley is a second guitarist.

If this sounds like a nostalgic tribute to a bygone era, that's because it is — I left Arizona in 1989. But don't get the wrong idea: The Phantom Limbs are alive and well and living in Tucson. The last I heard, Jeff Keenan (a k a Jefferson Keenan) was a lawyer, and Jim Parks was working at the University of Arizona's tree-ring laboratory.

What others have said

  • A 1995 article from the Tucson Weekly.
  • Ira Robbins's Trouser Press rave.

    Recorded history

    The Phantom Limbs have released three albums, "Romance," "Train of Thought" and "Not in So Many Words." For lyrics, click on the song title.

    ROMANCE
    1983, Modern Masters Music
    Search CDBBQ and see if you can find a copy.
    Dead Language Slice of Life
    Wedding Ring (On the Bathroom Floor)       Crawl Space
    Bleak House Somnambulance
    Hostile Witness Big Leather
    (Isn't It a) Wonderful World Suicide



    TRAIN OF THOUGHT
    1986, CD Presents Ltd.
    Search CDBBQ and see if you can find a copy.
    Suzanne Valadon Stigma
    Saw the Woman in Half Train of Thought
    Handful of These Dissipation
    At the Cafe Psychology Today
    Formaldehyde Continental Drift


    NOT IN SO MANY WORDS
    2000, San Jacinto Records
    Available through
    San Jacinto Records or MP3.com.
    Letters Burden of Proof
    Tailspin Flashflood
    Not in So Many Words Hector
    I Forget Airstream
    Two Days Beautiful
    My Six Friends




    About the author

    Bill Walsh, who is now old, attended the University of Arizona from 1980 to 1984 and received a bachelor's degree in journalism, which he put to use at The Phoenix Gazette, The Washington Times and The Washington Post, where he is now the chief copy editor for national news. The Phantom Limbs were an important part of that college experience, and this Web site is a meager attempt at repayment. If you have a comment or contribution, please write.