Lutes aren’t rock n’ roll, everybody knows that. Lutes are the stuff of medieval folkies. Lutes are for the Incredible String Band or Gentle Giant, not Black Sabbath or Van Halen. At least, that’s what I used to think… and then I heard Dawn Culbertson.
A reclusive but active member of Baltimore’s folk, baroque, and classical scenes for decades, Culbertson was a composer, performer, and radio personality, who hosted an overnight classical music program on John Hopkins University’s radio station for over a decade. She played bass in an avant-garde big band and played lute on the weekends at local restaurants in Baltimore. In 2004, at the still-tender age of 53, she died of a heart attack. She was twirling the night away at a waltz event at the time. If you’re gonna go at 53, you might as well go out dancing.
While she will be surely be fondly remembered in her native Baltimore for her tireless work promoting folk and classical music, to the rest of us, she will remain the undisputed master of what she liked to call “punk lute.” Shortly before she died, Culbertson began performing covers of popular punk and metal songs on her instrument. They are collected on a long out of print and highly sought-after 2011 cassette release, Return of the Evil Pappy Twin. “The Evil Pappy Twin” was her punk lute alter-ego. We all have one. Accompanied by her plaintive, unwavering vocals—a kind of bored monotone drone that really is punk-as-fuck—these magical covers breathe new life into crusty old nuggets by DEVO, Van Halen, The Ramones, Black Sabbath, the Stooges, Sex Pistols and more, turning them into doomy outsider ballads from the outer edges of sanity.
I honestly like most of her covers way better than the originals!
Check out Culbertson’s desolate take on “Iron Man” below, and listen to the rest of Return of the Evil Pappy Twin here (I can’t embed it).
Further proof that punk is a state of mind, not a costume.