Bad Bean Stew

The story behind one of Bobby Bird's most iconic album covers.

Couple things 'bout this album.

            First, the name.  When I was really young, nine or so, I got to know this super Catholic kid in our trailer park named Joseph who's family had just immigrated here from a small town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Their big trailer was something else, man. Chickens out back, bleeding porcelain saints all over the place. Where your modern family would have a television, they had a knee-high statue of Jesus wearing not just a crown of thorns, but wrapped head to toe in the terrible things, every inch of our Lord's flesh crying blood. Looked like something out of a horror movie.

            Anyways, even though his parents were all starched and ironed and praying left and right, Joseph's rag-wrapped and wild-haired grandma, who he just called "Mima," was Catholic now too. Previously she had not been. Joseph called her "Reformed."

            "Reformed from what?" I asked.

            "She was bruja."

            "Bruja?," I said. "What's that?"

            "Witch."

            I wanted to know where she kept her flying brooms and shrunken head collection, but the kid wouldn't say much more about it.

            That is until one day when I let myself into the trailer to find it seemingly empty. There was a big ol' pot of something burbling on the range in the kitchen. My mom just about never fed me, had more important things to do I suppose, so I was starving and went right for it.

            I grabbed a big spoon, dredged up a big spoonful of steaming beans and was about to swallow 'em up when little shriveled Mima dart into the room and knocked the spoon right out of my hand. Beans scattered and the spoon banged into my lip so hard it left a welt.

            Mumbling in Español, little Mima took my wrist and led me down the hall, where good Catholic Joseph was folding his underpants and laying them into the top drawer of his dresser.

            She pushed me towards him, chattering more Spanish words.

            Joseph chattered Spanish right back at her, then sat me down and said, "Bobby, did you eat any of those beans in there?"

            "No," I said. "Why?"

            He told me that when you're making beans from scratch, before you cook 'em, you've got to sort through them all. Works like this—you put the beans on the tablecloth and slowly finger your way through each and every one, depositing the good, healthy beans into a pot between your knees and putting any beans that are moldy or weird-looking off to the side along with any rocks or little dirt clods or other debris you find.

            A holdover practice from her Bruja days, Joseph said that Mima saved and collected the bad beans in great glass jugs she kept hidden in the back of the family's chicken coop, and that when she wanted to "curse" a person she would boil a pot of water, pour in all the bad beans and rocks and dirt clods, and make "a soup of bad intent. Not to feed the person but to do the opposite. Bad bean stew."

            "Bad bean stew," I said to myself. And I never forgot it.

            Since Mima had splashed some of the bean-broth on me, just to be safe, she took me out back, rubbed a chicken all over me, then lit up a big black cigar and blew smoke in my face until the coughing made me upchuck. After a quick poke through my vomit with the toe of her slipper, she clapped once on either side of my head and the ordeal was over. She turned me 'round and swat my ass in a way that clearly communicated, "Go home."

            As I was leaving, brushing chicken feathers out of my hair, I saw a pale guy park a long black Oldsmobile in front of their trailer and get out with a briefcase. He walked to the front door and knocked on it in an overly-assertive manner.

            At school, Joseph told me this guy was a banker, and that he was trying to foreclose on their trailer. Figured the bad soup was for him.

            Long story short, after the bad bean incident, Joseph's parents said I couldn't come over anymore. Not sure why, and I didn't even bother trying to get to the bottom of it, seeing as the house was creepy and so was Joseph. I don't think me and a guy who folds his underwear could really be real friends to be honest.

            Now, about the album art. Thing came out in eighty-five when I was really into those little Garbage Pail Kid stickers some weirdoes at Topps were dreaming up for kids. I had a dozen of 'em on my guitar case, even had an artisan airbrush my favorite on the back of my leather jacket—"Soft-Boiled Sam."  Dude did such a good job of replicating the Garbage Kid that I asked him to do my next album cover. Told him, "just make a real ugly me."

            "Uglier than usual, check," he said. Dude had a lot of 'tude, which I guess I understood, considering how talented he was and how he was stuck eeking out a living at State Fairs airbrushing paper-thin Taiwanese T-shirts with Lamborghinis and Joe Schmoe and Susie Nobodys' names in big sparkly letters.

            Sass aside, dude did a killer job on the artwork. I love this album cover.