Ah yes, we remember that year. Chunklet could take on all foes! And this was the result. A 160+ page tome dedicated to the worst bands we’d ever seen perform live. Ah, the Merzbox foldout review. And who could forget the Don Caballero tour diary? Probably one of the best pieces of rock journalism ever committed to paper and we’re not saying that because it was in Chunklet. It just is.
The sad news is that all the files for this issue were taken in the burglary of 2002, so we only have a few dribs and drabs to share. Maybe one day we’ll have time to type everything in.
The Species Is Ridiculous: The Exquisite Rantings of Keuhkot
While traveling in Finland on an infinitely clear, unseasonably warm day in June, I spent an afternoon at Helsinki’s renowned modern art museum, Kiasma. I was accompanied by Kari Heikonen, the gaunt, mustachioed cofounder of Europe’s – and perhaps the world’s – finest, most adventurous record label, Bad Vugum. He had just completed the eight-hour train trip from the company’s headquarters in Oulu, a city that lies roughly 135 miles below the Arctic Circle.
Shortly after entering the trapezoidal edifice of gleaming glass, we inspected one of the sculptures on display – a pyramid of alternating flowerpots and chamber pots in which every other receptacle contained either a rose or a dried blob of excrement. “If this crap can make it into Kiasma,” Heikonen said, contemplating the piece with subdued, unmistakably Finnish skepticism, “Kake should have his own museum.”
“Kake” refers to Kake Rainio, a.k.a. Kake Puhuu, the brains behind the one-man, multi-media, avant-garde Vaudeville act Keuhkot (“Lungs”), who performed that evening at Semifinal, the basement venue located below Helsinki’s premiere club, Tavastia.
“Kake Puhuu” translates as “Kake Speaks”-“just like Tom Waits,” laughs the blond, slightly elfin provocateur, who sometimes sports a mangy neck-beard. “The name fits because I can’t sing at all!”
Chances are you haven’t heard Keuhkot’s third album, Minun K?y S??liksi Bilharzialoista (‘I Pity the Bilharzia Parasite’). Issued late last year, this disturbing, import-only milestone was easily the most solipsistic and confusing, yet detailed and inventive release of 2000. Rainio is one of those rare modern thinkers who deserves the oft abused and overused designation of “genius.” A truly out-there individual who pukes on the masses below his ivory tower, he brings a nonironic, manifesto-writing fervor and a misanthropic sense of humor to his free-associative, yet uncanny, social critiques. The titles of his LPs and EPs, among them Keuhkot Latistaa Totuudenetsinn?n Sanahelin?ksi (‘Keuhkot Makes the Search for Truth into an Insipid Jumble of Words’) and Mit? Otat Mukaan Muistoksi Sivistyksest? (‘What Do You Take Along with You as a Souvenir from Civilization’) tend to summarize his outlook.
“It’s music from a one-man village, made from my own constructed traditions and way of playing instruments and anti-instruments,” he says. “The lyrics are my own philosophy, which is that I can’t accept prepared thoughts; the adult world is full of automatic mindlessness. Most of the time, I’m criticizing human culture. I hate new media and technology because they have made the level of expression worse. The whole species is ridiculous, and I have a good laugh at it from my perch.”
His whimsical prophecies and homemade hubbub are absolutely peerless. Sure, Rainio has antecedents-the Residents, No New York, the Sun City Girls, Mark E. Smith, Spike Jones, Wagner, Arabic folk-but nothing, repeat nothing sounds much like Keuhkot, whose tunes often resemble the rantings of a fanatical despot being hassled at a kebab house by clowns masquerading as a noise band. In a voice reminiscent of a choked, infuriated Peter Lorre, he babbles such wordplay-filled nightmares as ?P??ministeri Muuttuu Geometriseksi? (‘Prime Minister Turns Geometric’), ?Uuskiiman Ihana V?ristys? (‘Neo Horny Vibration’) and ??l? Koskaan Kuuntele Ihmisi? (‘Never Listen to People’) with the conviction of a machete-brandishing mental patient. Stiffly strummed guitars clang, synthesized percussion stutters, hypnotic woodwinds undulate, and some one-string, ethnic instrument saws lazily at your skull. Interludes of postapocalyptic peace briefly eclipse Rainio’s highly entertaining barrages of madness and comedy.
“‘I’m just plucking,” he confesses. “I can’t really play any instrument. When I start to learn, I quickly change the instrument. Uncontrolled sounds are most interesting. I use a home-audio program where I can record and sample, also four-track and mini-disc recordings with running MIDI. I usually sing in a potato cellar and record there to four- track. That creates the best atmosphere and the analog recording has a better dynamic. A wheelbarrow was my first echo unit. I stuck my head in and sang inside the barrow and it had great, metallic reverb. At the same time, I realized it would make a good percussion instrument. In my first live performances, I danced with the wheelbarrows, bounding through the audience. The other special sounds on my recordings are just my explorations; I touch and hit surfaces and record them to mini-disc.”
“Finnish people have roots in Asia,” he continues, discussing his fondness for Middle Eastern themes. “I don’t relate to Anglo-American music. Also I have traveled much in Morocco and Turkey and found much local music which is most interesting to me-local stories and musicians. My wooden flute is from Istanbul; I don’t know its proper name. The one-string violin, called kamngia, is from Taroudant in Morocco. It’s made from chair legs, and the case is donkey hide. The playing technique is similar to torturing a cat by bowing the tail-poor cats. Music should be spread by foot, like when the gypsies went from India to Turkey, the Balkans, Spain and Morocco. It should not be spread by record companies and MTV.”
Keuhkot’s live shows and videos are even more elaborate, involving lottery machines, headdresses, lecterns, log-and-carrot giveaways, moving sculptures, and the hajusinfonia (‘smell symphony’), in which a half-naked, wild-eyed Rainio mixes chemicals onstage and fans the resulting odor into the audience.
“It’s very dull to watch one man sing and play guitar. I had to envision something greater. When I’m in bed and I can’t sleep, I discover rope loops, mad-scientist inventions, chemical reactions. My performance should not be something that you would expect at a club or a bar. Smell is such a primitive form to express, so it goes straight to feelings and memory. The audience can forget the real situation.”
When asked about his fans, Rainio responds, “So many are ordinary people, which is great. I don’t want to be a crazy village man singing to drunken weirdos.” He does not see himself as a novelty, either. “I’m the only sensible person. I say what should be kept silent. I don’t appreciate anything so much that I can’t muck with it. The world is what’s crazy.”
For over two years, he has lived in relative isolation, working in various mediums from a converted schoolhouse near Pomarkku, in rural, southwestern Finland. “The township has only 2,600 inhabitants. There’s space to make art, exhibitions and concerts in the same building. I’m privileged. Here there are old forests and clean air, but also biting, big, bloodsucking flies called paarma. In the winter, I have to heat the house with wood. I’m stuck because of the snow and I feed the birds. Housekeeping isn’t exactly art, but it gives me time to think and plan.”
“I admit my art can be difficult to understand without being familiar with every form of my expression. My photos are like my music, made from collected pieces that I mix into one image. The objective world through the camera’s eye is not enough for me. I have to manipulate it’build it first, then take a picture. When I have an idea, I draw it on paper and then make the photo. I don’t appreciate photo manipulation on a computer. My sculptures are made from unusual materials-liquids, pumped gas, plastics, silicon, mud. My created organisms are an important part of my videos and they are best shown in installations. They also smell.”
Rainio’s visuals-biomechanical creatures and multiple images of his bare-assed form, usually juxtaposed against drab industrial settings-adorn most of his album jackets. “Naked shapes describe the human as a clone of body and mind,” he says. “These clone people think and act the same way. They have the same feelings for everything that surrounds them. Their world is made from ugly buildings, wonder machines and a lifeless environment. They are only objects, like elements in an element-made world. The world is a large, sand square where the clone people play. In photographic art, the human form is usually described as aesthetic, beautiful and ideal. I just want to show the low side.”
Rainio began doing just that in 1985, in Tampere, a former factory town that doubles as Finland’s second largest metropolitan area. By the late-’80s he had become the bassist in Liimanarina (‘Glue Creak’), the simultaneously feared and revered burnouts whose crude, acoustic scab-punk is some of the most inspirationally caustic rock’n’roll in recent history. Kake Puhuu appears on their 1989 EP Maailman Tylsin Vittumaisuus (‘The Most Boring Fuck-Up in the World’). In turn, most of Liimanarina supports him on Keuhkot’s first singles from the same time period.
“My songs were too progressive for Liimanarina’s tastes,” recalls Rainio. “It was frustrating to always make toilet-level music, to use only tape-recorder mikes. For the drummer, it was only one rhythm-we called it “the idiot-bastard rhythm.” I had always been recording by myself at home, before I ever intended to perform. At first I tried to get other people for Keuhkot, but they played “right” when it should be “wrong,” and they had problems.”
After several years of remarkably vicious output in the early-to-mid ’90s, Keuhkot’s insular crackle grew more electronic and less strident. “I just got bored with the sounds,” he recalls. “Also, I can’t afford new, acoustic instruments. Now I’m bored with electronic sounds, so please give me money to travel abroad to get exotic instruments.”
Rainio’s latest efforts, such as Minun K?y S??liiksi Bilharzialoista, consist of understated, less distracting digital spew animated by non-Western sparkle and no-wave squawk. In fact, Keuhkot may again expand into a full band with multiple participants. “It’s still only in the formative stages,” he says. “It will be acoustic, with no machines, real lutes and other ethnic instruments.” He also leads an 18-member vocal ensemble called the Choir of Organisms and contributes to the supergroups Kirvasto and Eturivi with recruits from such underground luminaries as Circle, Sweetheart and Ektroverde. “There will be many surprises and disappointments in my music,” Rainio foresees, “to my ordinary and weirdo fans.”
When it began?
My father was bald and so was my brother, and he took it really hard. He went through all the treatments and I thought, “Well, if you’re going to go bald, that’s just the way it is.” It was never an issue for me, so this might ruin your interview. It never bothered me, so I never even noticed it happening. At one point, I realized, “Wow, my hair is really going!” So now I keep it really short, and I prefer me without the hair, actually.
I do wear a hat now when I’m walking, because of the sun and your head tends to get cold. And I shave my head once a month.
My ex-girlfriend went out and bought me one of those barber razors so that I’d keep it short, so I felt loved whether I had hair or not.
I definitely felt older. When I first moved to Chapel Hill, I worked at a Kinko’s and this guy Steve who was really bald worked there, too. I always thought he was in his thirties, so I always thought, “Well, he’s a lot older than me, we’re never gonna really be buddies.” But we were because we worked together, and one day, something came up and I said, “Well, you’re an older guy.” He asked, “How old do you think I am?” and I said, “Thirty-five?” “I’m twenty-two.” So when I started going really bald, I felt much older, but I still get carded all the time to buy liquor.
Do you feel a sense of camaraderie with other bald men?
Ever thought of starting a club?
Have you met a lot of people on tour who bring it up?
If you’re selling t-shirts at a show or something and there’s a guy balding, we’ll kind of more often than not catch each other and be like, “Hey, we’re in the same boat!”
I’m not really dating anybody right now, but I get a lot of strange women coming up to me, rubbing my head. Just the other night, I was working at the Cat’s Cradle, which is a local club. I was doing the door and this couple came in who were supposed to be on the guest list but weren’t, so I said, “Okay, hang on, we’ll find the band and see what’s going on.” While we were waiting, the woman was like, “Can I rub your head?” And I said, “Yes.” So she rubbed my head, and her boyfriend pulled out a crystal and he said, “Touch the crystal; we’re collecting energy.”
I think it was previously made to make men feel less like a man. But the guy who I think really turned it around was Patrick Stewart; he made it cool. I think you should be proud if that’s who you are, because you’re just as God made you.
How do you feel about those who take the transplant or Rogaine route?
I think if it makes them feel better, then fine. But I think it’s somewhat vain.
Is it setting back the bald cause?
(laughs) No, because they’re not truly bald, I guess. It’s sort of like a guy who’s a transsexual, trapped in another body. If you like yourself better with hair, go for it. But I don’t ever equate my hair with myself.
Will Superchunk ever do a song about it?
Mac writes all the words, so probably not. I could ask him to.
(laughs) Well, he’s pretty busy writing songs about what’s bothering him.
How has baldness enhanced your life?
Well, I no longer have to go to the barber. I don’t comb my hair, I can get away without showering more but, I shower every day! I don’t have to buy combs.
I think the bald should be proud.
Extensive Testing Conducted for the Advanced Subsonics Technology Regional Engine Combustor Program*
* This title has absolutely nothing to do with the article other than that it is the first ‘hit’ when running a websearch on The Subsonics. The link is to a site at NASA’s Glen Research Center.
“So, when are you guys gonna be on the cover of Rolling Stone?”
We’re sitting at the back of a 24 hour diner late Saturday night. I’m lamenting my lack of preparedness as our gay Hispanic waiter brings the cocktails of water, tea and coffee we’ve ordered. He seems a little too happy for this late hour, but his character is immediately appealing to all of us.
The diner is a haven for local derelicts, strung-out hookers and plastered professionals who’ve stumbled in from the nearby strip of yuppy bars. It’s noisy and bright. The patrons at the bar are sopping up the last of their greasy food in anticipation of tomorrows hangover. It’s all very appropriate.
Clay Reed, Buffi Aguero and Christy Montero comprise the troika of The Subsonics – what is known, in the world of seedy bars and drunken dives, as a blistering force of rock and roll, as anyone who’s attended their shows can attest to. They’ve been described as part surf, part Velvets and Cramp-a-billy garage. Alternative Press has called their music “Shining, nerve damaged and kinetic”. Flipside has said, “They can write songs, they can look cool and they can move”. They’ve been called an “Ass-kicking, bubblegum-chomping, post-modern rock & roll animal” by Metro Times, referred to as “Music for the truly desperate” by New City, and Billboard has described them as having “A raw, trashy sound that rumbles in Poison Ivy’s garage, and a leatherpants, glitterhouse look straight out of New York’s lower east side.”
Their record sales are moderate, but no one’s really sure to what degree. As of yet, they don’t have any definative figures on the total number of albums sold to date. They’ve gotten good press wherever they’ve played, and those who love the Subsonics truly love them. Those who hate them truly loathe them, but the band couldn’t care less. Why, I wondered, aren’t more people familiar with the Subsonics after four records and nine years of touring?
After a few false starts and a fairly lame series of questions, we got down to the meat of the matter – “The music business is gross! It’s the lowest common denominator.” says Buffi.
“It’s a big stupid joke.” says Clay.
Admittedly the Subsonics are not reaching for the widest possible audience with song titles like – Reflections of a Gutter, Good Violence, I’m in Love With My Knife, Everything is Falling Apart and Pretty Pills, but they’re not interested in the widest possible audience. Clay’s happier to play smaller venues where people respect the music.
“You look out at that sea of vacant faces of yahoo’s in a pop band’s audience and you feel sorry for them.”
“If you look at people who’ve quote unquote made it,” says Buffi. “I don’t envy them. Bands we play with like that, it’s always money money money. It’s just this whole bloated thing. I mean, it’s like – a three piece band. What do you need? What do you really need? Even if we actually made money, we would never tour in a [huge] bus. I mean, yeah we’d stay in hotels every night. There’s that. Having a sound man would be a luxury. Having a tour manager would be a luxury. That would be awesome. But it’s just… touring on a bus with [an entourage of] people… It’s just bizarre.”
“It’s like an infantile desire to have somebody change your diaper.” says Clay.
“With the advent of MTV, music has became much more homogeneous.” says Buffi. “Where you used to have regional [cultures], they don’t have that anymore. Everyone has a Starbuck’s and a McDonald’s. What used to be alternative is now mass marketed.”
“Yeah,” says Clay. “So there’s nothing unique really, except us and we’re unpopular. Culture right now in America is at a low ebb.”
“Shit floats.” says Christy. “The worst stuff always gets the most exposure.”
None of them seem at all interested in hitting the big time, so to speak, but years of touring and barely breaking even has made them slightly ambivalent.
“I think it would be nice to make money.” says Buffi. “But I think it’s also a double edged sword. As soon as you start making money, you’re kinda boxing yourself in in a way.”
The Subsonics have certainly not allowed themselves to become boxed in. They’ve definately made their own way. They would rather struggle as an autonomous band than compromise themselves artistically and get stuck under the thumb of some huge record company. A few of the bigger labels have approached them, but Clay is weary of them. He’s not about to expend any effort courting a conglomerate and, in fact, prefers to keep his distance when they come knocking, lest he be forced to bargain with the devil.
“They want to make you dependent on them.” he says. “I guess that’s how they control you. Anything that can’t be exploited or commercialized is going to get buried.”
Asked if he thinks there was ever a time that things weren’t that way, he says, “I think that there were other times that were more idealized. Whether they were actually better…? I think there were little gaps at times where, before they had a handle on exactly how to market and make money off of stuff, there were little windows where things weren’t quite as horrible.”
Buffi agrees. “Ever since records started being made it’s been like that.”
And so does Christy. “It’s sort of been like that ever since the dawn of man.”
I wonder to them if there’s any hope of things reaching a critical mass, when people finally get fed up with this sort of thing. Is there any possibility of another counter-culture movement?
“It’ll get worse before it gets better.” says Clay. “Then maybe it’ll get better. I don’t know.
“I think one of the legacies of the sixties thing, where you had college students rioting and stuff, was that an educated populous is dangerous to the status quo. Therefore, for the high muckity-mucks, it was in their best interest to keep everybody stupid. And it’s worked.”
“Any kind of cultural movement,” says Buffi. “Always gets co-opted by bad people and ends up being bad.”
“Yeah,” says Clay. “And in really short order these days.”
Buffi rolls her eyes. “Instantly co-opted by the squares.”
“Underground culture is all the stuff that got flushed and ends up in the sewer.” says Clay.
I puzzle over their pessimism. Could it be that the same culture that got flushed is like the little pet alligator that got sucked down the drain, only to stalk the sewers and grow into a monstrous beast that emerges years later to devour the unrepentant?
“Yeah,” says Clay sarcastically, “And then they’ll call out the Army and they’ll have the Air Force come in and they’ll blow it up. And then that’s it.”
None of them believe there could ever be a genuine counter-cultural movement at this point in history, so they are semi-content to fester in the underground. Christy thinks everything is too fragmented for a counter-cultural movement. Buffi thinks people are too isolated in their cars, with their cell phones and their computers to come together in any kind of cohesive way. Why, I wonder, does it have to be this way?
As the conversation veers into the political, we are interrupted by an inebriated yuppy sitting in the booth behind us. He yells over, “What was the name of that TV show? It was back during Kaptain Kangaroo and all that bullshit. He wore, like, a body suit that had the organs showing…”
“Mr. Goodbody.” We say.
“That’s her shirt.” He says, pointing at the girl sitting across from him and trying to make some drunken correlation. The girl has on one of those tight fitting shirts with busy ethnic designs down the sleeves and a print of Vishnu on the chest. “Her shirt looks like Mr. Goodbody.”
“No,” I think to myself, “It doesn’t”
This is the unedited transcript as found on an old backup disk….
Q: ????? (inaudible)
Well, I just kind of did one of those things where you jerk something up and it kind of clinches up and usually I see this guy who works it out pretty quickly. I don’t usually get back stuff but this just… last night, I could actually feel it on stage, it was ridiculous. But we did three shows last night.
How many shows are you doing this weekend?
Seven. From Thursday through Sunday. You do three on Saturday.
And two on Friday?
Two on Friday and one tonight.
That’s cool. So naps are an important part…
Major. I don’t know how else you do it. It’s ridiculous. The problem of success for many of us is that it comes to the point that you need a nap to enjoy it. If I haven’t pick such a high energy delivery, but this is nuts! Three is when its rough, but even when its two and two…Even when I do two and two, I don’t spend a lot of time running around on Saturday.
So you grew up in Maryland?
Right outside of DC. And you went to college in North Carolina?
What did you study?
Theater. It really paid off. (laughs)
What else is on the horizon for you?
I’m in the midst of developing a project for comedy central, for myself, but that’s like saying I’m working with mud. Any time you can get something on the air, it’s like a testament to the human condition. It’s like Sisyphus; you push this rock up, and then you go [mimes “Eureka!” voice] ‘Ahaha!’ and then it goes back down again. When I say it’s like mud, it’s like…
Trying to get something to hold together?
Yeah. They got their ideas, they are inevitably interested in whatever… There are people who work in development, this is a specific thing they never taught in college, but there are people in development, they are your development people, and they work with you in ways that are absolutely mystifying, And I always have an anger problem with them. I’ve maintained it, I’ve got a lot better at it, but I just sit there amazed. Half of my energy is devoted to not screaming. You tell them an idea, and they repeat the idea to you and it’s not what you said. (laughs) So, I don’t know what’s gonna happen. We started as one thing, and it’s gone to something else, and I don’t know if it’s going to stay as that something else. I wish I could tell you something about it.
Where did these people start in the entertainment industry? Did they rise to the position?
I don’t know. We’ve yet to figure it out. There are a lot of us who’ve talked about. There are a bunch of us who have the same problem. I know guys who do it brilliantly, who walk in there, a couple of my very close friends from television, they can walk right in and go right through it like a buzzsaw and have no problems. I did it, this is the fourth time probably. Two years ago, I developed a project basically for myself with Norman Steinberg, who wrote “My Favorite Year,” and who’s written a lot for television. That was good because he’s been through it, so I had some sort of protection. As Bill Chef’s put it, if you’re gonna be in development, you need to be able to take a punch.
May I ask you did your choice of profession, being in stand-up comedy, did it find you or did you always want to get into it?
Totally, it found me.
Well, because I was I in theater. I started in theater. I went right into college, I was a terrible actor, and I wasn’t going to direct because who can stay and work that long? Who’s got that much energy to pay that much attention? So I ended up doing writing to see if that was what it would fall into, so I started writing plays, so by the time I graduated there was this small club, it still exists in Chapel Hill, called Cat’s Cradle.
Oh yeah, of course!
Great club. I don’t know if it just been open, I don’t know if it had been open a year. It was managed by my friend Jim Wan, who wrote (?) “Pump Boys the Dynastic.” Chapel Hill music scene at that point was small, but these guys, the Ramblers came out of there, they were just beginning.
This was late 70s?
No, this was early 70s. Then there’s this guy, Mike Cross, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, I thought for a while he was in Atlanta. He was a really good songwriter, he was in a band with a guy named Larry Reynolds with a bunch of my friends. It was the summer, I was hanging out in Chapel Hill, and they said, why don’t you come in? I had a fellowship to write plays that year, and I had some money left over, so I hung around, and they said why don’t you come in and do standup? Why don’t you try it? Because people were always telling me to go try it. So I did. Now at this point, I’d reached the point where I was fairly confident getting up in front of people, but I was not confident getting up and making them laugh. But I started doing, and I did it just as a lark, and I continued to do it as a lark for about 12, 15 years, where I would just do it and then they’d go, ‘This is stupid!’ I was always doing with music people, like in DC in this club called Brickscale, which is essentially a music club, or I found theaters where it was an off-night, where I could go in and do an hour show. Or coffee houses – as opposed to Starbucks, coffeehouses which used to exist. When I was at Yale, they had a cabaret there, and I did a lot of stuff there, then I started working with a guy named Mark Baker.
Actually, I came across a short film of yours. I rented a videotape called Franz Coppola’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the reason I rented it was because the last film was written by a professor of mine named Mark Steadman, and in the middle of it came on the name’s eluding me right now, an almost Waiting for Godot-like piece with two businessman…
Yup, that was mine…
Yeah, yeah! At the end it said Lewis Black, wait, Lewis Black, wait a minute! It was just really great. It was Waiting for Godot kinda, not totally, but… I’ve seen those two guys video’s too.
Yeah, you’ve seen them, they’re in a lot of stuff.
Yeah, I wish I had been more prepared for this. I didn’t realize I was going to interview when I watched it. I got a lot of laughs out of it… Was that written a long time before it was done, or did that move along as one steady thing?
No, it was written a long time before it was done, and then no theater would do it, because they found it offensive (laughs). Then I went to interview a guy, who basically helped me with my stand up career, to try to get somebody to move my bookings along, because they were in a mire. He’s a really great guy, but he asked me about my history, and he said, I think you should direct and go back and direct movies, write movies. I said, you know what I think? You should go fuck yourself. And he said, what are you insane? Give me your scripts. He got them to somebody to produce them, to his credit. But I continued to do this standup thing, but it was always on the side and I never though I’d really do it. Then I ran this room in New York City, that was essentially a club where we did new American one act plays, some music, we did sketch comedy, we did pretty much anything. It was an eclectic performance space, right off Times Square. Restaurant upstairs, downstairs was a bar we called the Theater Bar, and for six or seven years we actually produced more new American one-act plays than anyone else had ever done in that period of time, I think. We were doing two new one-act plays a week. And if you’re looking to make a living, no one’s interested. Not at all, not even close. We couldn’t find press, it was unbelievable. And we were producing unbelievable people. Aaron Sorkin,, the guy who wrote West Wing, his first work was produced there. Richard Dresser, who went on to become the co-producer of the Days and Nights of Molly, his first work was produced there. James Gandalfino, the guy from Sopranos, some of his first acting was done there. There were tons of people, it was insane really, if you actually wrote out the roster of people who were in that room. It was done mainly to give the people in New York City a place, there was nowhere, the theater scene was at its lowest point, in order to be seen you’d have to end up in some idiot production, Miss Julie down in east village. Basically this came as a way for people to get their work up, and done simply, we didn’t do sets or anything. I introduced everything, so I hosted and we were literally running the room six to seven nights a week, so I was opening 12 shows a week, and we did a show at midnight on Saturday called the free show, because our friends were broke. When we started, it was the height of clubbing in NYC, like Studio 54, people were waiting in line and you couldn’t get in. If you wanted to go out at midnight on Saturday, you were gonna pay 50 bucks in the early 80s to get in somewhere. So we ran this thing, and it was some comedians, some actors, some writers, giving people the chance… some people did sketches, some people did music, mostly with a humorous bent. And I would do the news every week, and I would just rip things out of the newspaper and stand on stage and go through what had happened that week, just making comments. And that’s where it changed, because over the course of that period… and I wrote a bunch of plays that we produced, and I was exposed to an extraordinary wealth of talent, and the guys from Catch a Rising Star saw me. Now, I had avoided the club scene, and my career has been, if there is a time to be successful, I will be someplace else.
It’s just been the way it worked out. I really thought I was going to be in theater. I’d gone around to audition at some of the clubs, I got so outraged by the standing in line, I’d already been doing it for ten years. I’d auditioned at Catch, and it was of these lineups things, and I was like 12th person in line. I had no money, and my five friends show up and there’s 12 people in the audience. I spend about 100 bucks to buy my friends their stuff because they were broke. So I asked the guy afterwards, this is five years before Catch started, I had just arrived in New York, and I said who do I talk to? He said, what do you mean? Well, you know, I just auditioned. Well, he said, no, you didn’t. What do you mean, I didn’t? He said, they only look at the first five people, everybody knows that. So I picked up a chair and threw it across the room. I said, I didn’t know that. So I said, who do I talk to, should I hand in a tape? He said, I’m not interested in your tape. So I threw another chair across the room, and said I’m not interested in working here. At that point, as I was picking up the third chair, they threw me out. I was livid. When they asked me to go back to Catch, I told them what happened, and I said I found that to be profoundly offensive. In a sense, it set my career back, in that I probably would have pursued it a little more. But once they said, don’t worry about it, please come over, I would go over there once or twice or three times a work. I’d do my shows and go over there after work, and it would be me, Dennis Leary, Kevin Leany, Mario Cantone usually on the lineup together. Then I felt like, I get it now. This was about 85, 86. They had clubs on the road, so they had a couple of rooms and I did their rooms. I middled twice, then became the headliner. Then I started poking around and thought, jeez, I can make a living doing this. Meanwhile, our space was coming under fire. The guy who had brought us in had two partners, who we called Null and Void, who thought we were making a small fortune downstairs. They were using the place just to squeeze money out of it, they weren’t operating it like you would operate a real business. They fired my friend, and that was it. We ended up losing that space. So I went out on the road with a friend of mine named John Bowman, 87/88, and spent 30 days with him in Michigan going club to club. That’s when I decided I want to do this. Then I kept writing, kept writing plays, kept thinking I’ll do this to support my playwriting.
Do you do any play writing to this day?
No, I continue to write, but the writing’s been turned to articles, or writing for television basically, Trying to come up with TV shows.
What magazines do you write for?
Well there’s only one. I was asked to writing for Travel and Leisure golf magazine (laughs). Yeah, it’s my relationship to golf. It’s the first time anybody approached me, and now Esquire. I’ve written a lot of stuff just for myself. I’m trying to figure out how to write a book. I don’t know why. Generally I have a tendency to make things more complicated. If you called me and said write something, I’ll go ‘oh, yeah,’ and I’ll sit down and it’ll take two hours. But if I have to fuckin’ sit there and write a book about anything, then I’ll just sit there… but I’ve started to write stuff for that. I’d spend six months writing, then left it in a hotel room. And I get approached about plays, and there’s one play I’ll finish. It’ll take time to produce it, because every two years somebody finds it, every two years somebody goes nuts over it, every two years somebody asks for a rewrite, every two years I sit down with a friend and we start to work on it, and we do a reading to see what needs to be worked on, and then the director or producer starts to sit on it. Last time, we sat down with the person, and she said, this would be a great musical…. Now I’ve got a very good director who knows what to do. At this point in my life I don’t have the time to put into it unless somebody says we’re really going to do it. If it’s not a reality, I’d rather spend my seven days here and work on something else. They discussed it eight months ago, and we sent them a list of notes of what we want to do with this thing. This play’s 80% written, it’s need 20% jerking around, and they said, well, we really want to sit down with you and tell you how we think it should go. That ballgame’s over, goodbye! I’ve done playwriting enough. The real rape of the playwright is that you get all these cooks, and they’re not paying you enough for rape. Now, TV pays you enough for rape.
They can buttfuck you all they want for the money they pay. With theater, it’s astonishing, and all done in the name of art. I love theater, but it’s like a really large outpatient clinic. 80% of the folks in theater are quirky but they’re in fine form. The other 20% are just unbelievable. I’ve been broke all my life, and all of a sudden they’re going to pay me what? My final break with theater was when I sent all of my little one-acts to the Alliance. They did one and said, this stuff is great, but we don’t have the kind of place to put on this kind of work, but you’re doing a terrific job. Then I wrote a play with the Alliance theater, this one which is the one I’m sitting on, and I thought this could be a shot here. It’d been done in a few places, and I had a relationship with the literary manager. I sent the play to them, and it’s basically a suburban comedy written in that classic form. It’s a farce. They said, we’re really sad to see you that you’ve given up on the way in which your writing was going, and you really seem to be selling out at this point. And I though, Jesus Christ! You’re not doing the other plays, so I send you this.. it’s a no-win situation. I also discovered, 8 years after I got out of yale, my professor approached me and told me that the letter of recommendation going to the Guggenheim, Rockefeller, the NEA, anywhere you try to get financial support to continue writing, he told me he wrote a letter that said I would never be a playwright because I was too scattered. He saw me doing standup or doing acting. So for 8 years so I may as well been wiping myself with that letter. That’s actually the first time I’ve ever told that in print. Things like that… I was doing a play in the Alley Theater in Houston called [?] Rock and Roll about Dean Reed. He was the American who went to Russia, great character, There’s actually a documentary about this guy somewhere. We wrote this mockumentary based on this guy who during the late 60s was a one hit wonder in Colorado, then went down to South America and became a marxist/leninist, but he’s a guy with blonde hair who looks like John Denver, wears cowboy stuff, developed that flower power communism thing. Then he goes to Moscow where they embrace him, he does cowboy movies, plays to huge arenas, and dies under mysterious circumstances in East Germany. It’s unbelievable. He lived the parallel American dream but in Russia! Until he ended up in East Germany. (laughs) So me and this guy Rusty McGee put together this pocket musical about it and we had done it really simply. The alley wanted to expand it into a full length, and they did in their workshop space downstairs. And it started with a $100,000 budget, and you sign the contract and then 3 months later it’s an 80,000 budget. Then the six actors go down to four, and you have to cut it to two, and then Rusty and I have to take a whack from what we’re earning to hire the other two actors. I’ve gone through this all my life, from the very beginning. My first play in New York City, I walk in and they say we don’t have any budget for the set. I was making $25 for the play, so I said here’s the $25. It’s like that.
Is it this frustration the reason that your standup career blossomed- its just this utter frustration?
Yeah. It’s certainly a part of it. It’s a reaction to the fact that I find most authority to be reprehensible. I’ve never had a good relationship to authority figures at all. I’ve been in the position of being an authority figure, I ran a theater for a while. I just don’t understand why people do it the way they do it. It’s beyond belief to me. So, we go to this theater and we do this thing, and I sit there and talk to the critics and explain, you know, it’s a workshop, we really need some guidance on it. I try not to club the actors. We’re looking out to the audience to help us finish it, it’s a collaborative process. Well, they come up and slice us up as if we’ve shit in their basement. I realize that the people at the Alley don’t give two damns about the production. Their interest is in plugging a hole so they can maintain a structure. Meanwhile, we’re downstairs doing this, and upstairs they’re doing Jekyll and Hyde, and that budget is $80,000 for sound alone. That play will then go on and run around the country. There’s no equity there. Rusty ended up finding radio stations to advertise this, because it’s a rock and roll musical. This guy had put together a compendium of really bad, funny rock and roll songs, all original. I asked to stay around while the play is going on, because that’s the whole idea of what a workshop is. They won’t give me an apartment now, and I say wasn’t that in the deal, they say no its not. So I go across town to Spellbinders and I go on stage and audition and do 12 minutes,. And afterwards the guy offers me a gig while the plays going on, and says he’ll give me X amount of dollars, and a car and a place to stay. In a week I’d be making more than my salary at this theater which I’d devoted three years of my life to. These guys in 12 minutes were treating me nicer than anyone who’s ever looked at my resume. I said this is what I gotta do, this is crazy. I felt like I left theater. But still, what it boiled down to is that I’m a guy writing for this character I’ve created, that’s all it is. It’s not a play, but it all comes out of theater.
So how long in total have you been working in television? Has it been since the daily show?
Five years. Longer in the sense that I did a lot of Caroline’s comedy hours. There was a bunch of those shows in the late 80s, early 90s, improv comedy showcases, I did a bunch of those, and then it was really Conan, 5 years ago, and then the Daily Show started. Then I would go in and out of TV. Richard Dresser and Jay Tarsus wrote a pilot called Harvey Burger Salesman, where I had to go to LA and audition for the Fox people, I was the lead, and they wrote this thing around me. It’s really just a lottery ticket. A week before they made the decision they were still calling me, telling me to hold my schedule, because it looked like it was going to be my show. Then they went with another show. The only thing that kept us off the air was that they wanted to do it with a laugh track, and I wanted to do it with a live audience, because that was the only way they were going to sell me. I mean, I did my bit in front of the eight Fox people standing five feet away and I was killing them. [With a live audience] what would have happened was you’d make that exchange, the writing of that character becomes broader. I put my thing in the mix, because I’m pushing the envelope to get laughs, because instinctively I know how to work an audience, I know where to go. And we didn’t get that, and it blew up in our faces. But the cast was astonishing. One of the guys went on to do the Star trek thing. It was a great cast. The problem was we needed the audience because it was a really dark comedy about a guy selling security alarm systems who lives in Hoboken and has a view of New York but will never get there. So it was really kind of gray. Then I wrote another pilot with a friend, a writer from Married with Children, about two brothers who live across the [?] from each other, for CBS. Same thing, that one didn’t make it to the light of day. But then it’s been the Daily, and that’s changed everything for me.
Even if it does make it on the airwaves…
I’ve always said, what they do is when they test these things, they put it in a room full of monkeys, and if they don’t shit themselves they put it on television.
[A female voice]: Since it is mostly monkeys watching television anyway….
Address exchanges, talk of the end of interview
The shitbox you live in?
No, I just moved from the shitbox. It never ends. [Mimes whiny critic voice] “Well, now you’re successful, do you think you’ll still be edgy?” It’s constant! When you’ve been broke all your life, just because you have money doesn’t mean you can’t see what the fuck is going on. There’s no difference as to why they’re paying me now, all of a sudden. All it was was access, accessibility to the airwaves.
It’s funny, now I’m on AOL, they’ve discovered me. So I get this constant barrage. A few times every month, Satan789 e-mails me, “Hey, you’re that guy!” Yeah, I’m that guy. “Really?” Yeah, now how’d you get my fuckin’ e-mail? (laughs)
Is comedy a pretty small field? The more you’re in it, the more you see the same people over and over again?
There’s always a constant flow of people. I don’t work with a lot of the same middles. This is the second time I’ve worked with Dwight this year, and that’s unusual. Usually, I bump into them, but as far as headliner status, it’s pretty small.
But also with comedy in general, on television, on radio, not so much with radio. Is it funny to see who is given carte blanche and who isn’t?
Yeah, it’s amazing to watch. I don’t quite understand the people who keep getting chances over and over again, it makes no sense. The usual list of suspects: substance abuse problems, anger management problems, then six months later they’re on another show. You go, what? How’s this possible?
I work in advertising, and I’ve also found that people who are in creative fields sometimes need to regress to the mentality of a child just so they can nurture their creativity. The guy right above me, he’s 45, and I have to constantly pick up his goddamn coffee cups off my table.
It’s the same thing. It’s wrong, they shouldn’t be coddled. There comes a point where you’ve got to be somewhat responsible. Look at this. Especially if you’re doing standup, most of your days you’re free, how tough is it to be responsible? And its hard, I find it hard, but you can’t treat people badly. It’s simple etiquette. It’s amazing. God love Robert Downey Jr, but how many times? Maybe I should just start getting into drug trysts with teenage girls, it’d be some kind of a breakthrough thing.
Any press is good, but bad press is great press (laughs).
Exactly. It’s true.
[end of side 1]
So do you do standup most weekends?
Do you like it?
Yeah, I do. What’s nice is you finally see the fruits of your labor. I’ve put all this time in, I’ve wandered around the country like some itinerant shoe salesman, peddling my wares in every village and town, then to be able to come back here and sell seven shows out, it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. But also financially, you finally are awarded for all that time. They say, boy you’re doing great. I say, if you look over the thirty years of my career, I’ve made the wages of a fruit picker.
That’s why it’s beautiful to see, after this litany of, like you said, like sisyphus, that you’ve accomplished it.
Yeah, it’s nice. You set out to accomplish something, and you reach the goal, and it’s nice to enjoy it for a while.
As a slight aside, when we saw you, and I’m sure you’ve brought this up, but Crystal, (?) you’ve never eaten there, have you?
No, but don’t tell anyone [laughs].
That shits bad for you.
Yeah, totally. Well, I’m a vegetarian, so…
I looked around. I think tomorrow I’ll try to track one down.
It’s not hard. There are two on the way to the place we’re going tonight.
The thing that’s interesting are the ads. They are very funny ads. Somebody had a very smart idea. The voice and the visuals are terrific. That’s what interesting. I mean, the 18-30 generation is the one that basically found me, the ones that are giving me a career and bringing their parents to see me. And then there are a bunch of ad people- I mean, the Crystal thing was written with me in mind. They seemed to want me. They asked directly to get a tape from me. There’ve been three of four others, which have been very close. I mean, tremendous, really fuckin’ funny ads were done by a small telephone company in Kansas City. They were really good and vicious about the other big telephone companies. So we put them all together and sent them out, and we got to the company heads and all the rest, and they panicked. But it’s nice you get people who actually hear my voice and are writing for it.
Would you have expected that ten years ago?
No, not at all.
It’s beautiful. It’s fucking brilliant.
You know, Cross Comedy (?), David’s stuff was down out of Westbeth. I offered him the space. [confusing] I did a Chris Durang play at Harvard at the American Repertory theater. I met all these comedians who worked with David, I would go down and watch their work and they killed me. I got such a kick out of their shows, they were terrific.
You know, David’s from around here, and they just finished their movie. Not only is David such an outstanding guy, but he’s very generous and friendly. He comes to town all the time and parties his ass off. He’s very loved here.
He should be. What kind of movie was it?
The Mr. Show movie. About one of the characters, Ronnie Dobbs, Mullet Guy. It was filmed all around Atlanta. He’s actually interviewing a non-comedian comedian named Neil Hamburger for the magazine.
[discussion of what Neil Hamburger is like]
[end of interview]
I’m writing this to make you aware of a particular career path that, while notably odd, also embodies the every essence powering a Neil Hamburger bit or the common “struggling actor” parody.
Murray Langston is better known if known at all, as The Unknown Comic – his one creative endeavor that might cause a resounding “Oh yeah” amongst the pop-culturally literate. Murray (inset left) enjoyed both success (regular writer and performer on The Sonny and Cher Show) and failure (selling women’s shoes at JC Penney) throughout much of the 70’s before the bankruptcy of his nightclub, Showbiz, left him with, as rumor has it, no choice but to appear on The Gong Show out of financial desperation1. Dreadfully ashamed of this, he armed himself with anonymity via a grocery sack with eyeholes, and some of the worst stand-up comedy that side of Bob Zany. As The Unknown Comic, he would prance about telling non-jokes and verbally insulting Chuck Barris, instantly winning approval from everyone including Barris, who subsequently made Langston a regular performer on both The Gong Show and The $1.98 Beauty Contest – the latter a peripheral example of Barris’ genius that aired in 1978. The bit enjoyed a fair amount of popularity, and The Unknown Comic began performing the Sahara Hotels Vegas/Reno/Lake Tahoe circuit as starring in the notorious and still heavily sought-after Gong Show Movie2 (1980).
After running into the open arms of the detrimentally insular Playboy Channel, where he produced, wrote, and starred in a handful of comedy specials, Langston began working on the free-association malarkey-festival of elementary shit jokes and editor-had-the-day-off pratfalls that would eventually be Night Patrol (1984). Co-written by and starring Murray, Night Patrol, much like Wacko and Slapstick of Another Kind before it, tries and fails at emulating the Abrams/Zucker/Zucker (Airplane!, Police Squad) formula of filling every available second with a gag. Murray plays “Melvin” – a bumbling cop moonlighting as a popular comedian who-uh-yeah you guessed it. A shameless Police Academy rip-off that lowers the brow even further, some of Night Patrol’s comedic guns include a perpetually flatulent Billy Barty, a rape victim played by Pat Morita (shelved and released AFTER The Karate Kid!!!!!) with a poorly overdubbed child’s voice, and the enigmatic Pat Paulsen (Kent) as Melvin’s oversexed shift partner. Linda Blair (a Langston collaborator for years to some) and Jaye P. Morgan are thrown in as love interests, and there’s plenty of post-comedy when The Unknown Comic starts chewing up the scenery with his also horribly dubbed voice. Look for the Chuck Barris reference when a criminal runs up and asks Melvin if he can get him on The Dating Game. A man holding a bunch of mannequin parts is charged with ‘armed robbery’ and a ‘cat burglar’ walks by carrying-yep-okay, we’re on the same food-stained page here when it comes to the children’s humor. The adult humor consists of little more than characters saying “bitch,” “nice tits,” and “let’s fuck,” people touching and stepping in doo-doo, “straights” getting high for the first time, and a load of lesbian bashing/stereotypes. The approach is literally the most pedestrian that I have ever witnessed in an R-rated comedy made after 1980, and I will stand by that statement.
Night Patrol should have made a gaping void of the flimsy career Murray Langston had established prior to its release, but he miraculously continued to (and still does) get sparse work. He had a small part in the Alan Smithee helmed Stitches (1985)-.you know, Stitches, with Eddie Albert and Parker Stevenson, come on-Stitches!!! Oh, I know you dug Lightning: The White Stallion (1986) starring a 438 year-old Mickey Rooney and a spent Susan George, well, Murray was in that, playing a blacksmith or something. Perhaps longing for the control and spotlight enjoyed with Night Patrol, Langston co-wrote and starred in Up Your Alley (1988) – a sensitive reporter (Linda Blair)-falls-for-street-transient (Langston) dramedy that swerved around the hearts of hundreds and went straight to video. Bob Logan, whom I’m sure you know as the man behind Meatballs IV, directed it. Wishful Thinking (1990) gets the same Langston treatment, as he co-wrote and starred as a guy who discovers a magic gnome (Billy Barty) and then has to deal with whatever character Ruth Buzzi plays in this pile of garbage.
A couple of bit parts later should put us up to date with the career of Murray Langston-but no! He still performs live as The Unknown Comic in the L.A. area, he wrote Night Patrol Too (unreleased, no really, it is), and wrote monologues for Dom Deluise to perform on The New Candid Camera. Not only that, he executed what could be the most credible move of his entire career by hosting The Gong Show 25th Anniversary Tribute and 24-Hour Marathon on the Game Show network this past summer. If Murray Langston was the product of someone’s imagination, you know, had the man never existed outside of a Hollywood hack’s head, then The Murray Langston Story would be another screenplay blurring the line between brilliant and god awful.
1 It has been said many times that a Gong Show winner was paid considerably more than the infamous $516.23, and that all of the performers, gonged or not, were sent home with some money.
2 Shortly after this movie was released to an almost universal critical flogging, Chuck Barris pulled the plug on Chuck Barris’ Productions and moved to the south of France. The Gong Show Movie made it to videocassette in very limited quantities, and Barris’ is reportedly not in favor of the movie enjoying a re-release. Copies of the original cassette fetch close to $100 on eBay, but good dubs can be found on certain personal websites for as low as ten dollars.
editors note: In the ensuing job of finding images and information for this article, Mr. Langston’s website was discovered. It is, not surprisingly, theunknowncomic.com
NEW YORK – Courting controversy and ridicule, Julian Lennon noted the 20th anniversary of John Lennon’s murder on Dec. 8 by posting a 682-word attack on John for being an absentee father.
“I wonder what it would have been like if he were alive today,” Julian wrote. “I guess it would have depended on whether he was “John Lennon” (Dad) or “John Ono Lennon” (manipulated lost soul).
Once I began to look at his life and really understand him, I began to feel so sorry for him, because once he was a guiding light, a star that shone on all of us, until he was sucked into a black hole and all of his strength consumed. Although he was definitely afraid of fatherhood, the combination of that and his life with Yoko Ono led to the real breakdown of our relationship. We did not see each other for extended periods of time and as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind! But the Beatles themselves played no part whatsoever in our demise.”
“Talk about bad karma!” the New York Post blared on Dec. 8, noting that the 37-year-old son of the dead Beatle by his first wife, Cynthia (John abandoned her and Julian when he was 4), had previously taken Yoko to task for profiting from John’s legacy and robbing him of his inheritance.
“It’s a free country,” replied Ono spokesman Elliot Mintz, “but I found it absolutely disturbing that he has picked this day and this time to once again vent his anger and frustration toward Yoko.”
Despite the knee-jerk defense of Beatles fans, Julian Lennon deserves the heartfelt thanks of the tens of millions of children of scumbag deadbeat dads for outing his peace-and-love father as a manipulative, irresponsible creep. I was born just 139 days after Julian, and my parents’ divorce was finalized just a year later than his, but the pain and anger of being emotionally and financially abandoned by a parent whose only motivating force is selfish self-fulfillment has never dissipated.
Tens of millions of Americans, most of them fully grown adults, are still dealing with the pain and anger of a divorce they had nothing to do with decades after the fact. They suffer in innumerable ways: Children of divorce are far more likely than other adults to commit suicide, go to prison, be poor and become ill. And one of the most depressing aspects of the post-divorce syndrome is that the only other people who “get it” are fellow members of the divorced-kids club – most of whom are too busy licking their own psychic wounds to help their brethren. “So your dad is gone,” an ex-girlfriend (parents’ marriage intact, naturally) told me. “You still have your mom!” And then that perennial American response to the aggrieved: “Get over it!”
Similarly, Julian’s resentment against Yoko is understandable only to those children of divorce who’ve watched their dads reassign the love, caring and affections that were rightfully theirs to a second family. While it’s true that the biggest burden of bastardom belongs squarely on John’s rotting shoulders, stepmother Yoko obviously did nothing to improve relations between her husband and her stepson.
What could the woman have done? Imagine this ultimatum: “I want you to start taking proper care of your son. Unless you become a real father to him, I’m leaving you, and I’m certainly not trusting you to be a father to Sean.” Or: “No sex until you call Julian.” Her failure to force John to face up to his responsibilities not only made her a vile stepmom; it also made her a crummy wife.
Society is barely beginning to recognize the immense damage that the pandemic of absentee fatherhood has caused over the last four decades, but calling deadbeat dads for the filth that they are is merely the first step toward fully addressing the problem. Now it’s time to take on the fellow travelers of fathers who gleefully “move on” – the second wives who cynically look after themselves and their own while hoping against hope that their husbands will never give the families they left behind a passing thought. Julian Lennon’s courageous public statement is the beginning of that movement.
Jizzbone Gary blindly reaches for a to’wel, mopping up the gist of the day’s meals from his denim jumpsuit. It looks like lunch may have been some sort of Chunky soup, but then again stomach bile always adds a creamy texture to the most substantive of up-chucked foods. Fitting for an artist whose vision looks no farther than his own seed. Man-naise, as he repeatedly calls it. The splooge from his reportedly diminutive loins that is causing this underground uprising, this great swell of support for a band that few have seen and even fewer have actually heard.
Debaucherous poetry set to the primal pentameter of old fashioned rock and roll, there is nothing intelligent about these guys – no irony or double entendres. The only duality these kids know are testicles and breasts, which take up a good sixty percent of their material. Lyrically they lie somewhere between juvenile and sophomoric, and both groups would be insulted by their association. Demeaning to women, animals, the elderly, straight males, gay males and generally people other than themselves, Father Fellatio and the Aural Ministry attack from the pulpit with the vocabulary of George Carlin and the charisma of Al Gore. Based on a name and a working legend, Jizzbone and his band, Father Fellatio and the Aural Ministry, are what a more pessimistic journalist might regrettably call The Next Big Thing.
When Aural Ministry guitarist Cardinal Cunnilingous breaks every string on his replication Fender upon striking the first note at tonight’s show, I realize that Father Fellatio is unlike any other band that has actually managed to get a gig. While the Sex Pistols made up their lack of talent with spunk and a message, Father Fellatio have neither. But to the mob of trailer-dwelling white males who have gathered at this “revival,” they have everything. Father Fellatio busts out the anti-hits with so much venom Luther Campbell’s ears would bleed.
But who’s listening? The set is the attraction, taking advantage of every square inch of the stage. Smack in the middle sits the famed Flaming Teepee, where the drummer wails on his kit without so much as a hint of a beat. On his flank struts axe-man Cardinal Cunnilingus, a hack of a guitarist if there has ever been one. Affront this whole mess of noise and confusion stands the lanky Father himself, Jizzbone Gary, stroking his bass like it was a penis and sounding more like the latter.
For a band as unimaginative as Father Fellatio, there are surprisingly few rock tropes apparent in their stage show. Jizzbone does his fair share of windmill bassing, AC/DC prancing and Chuck Berry duck-walking, but absent these embarrassing motions the spectacle is totally foreign to the eyes of anyone who is not a high-ranking Mormon or a Haitian witch doctor. On one side of the stage squats a beat-up plaid sofa where a middle-aged, overweight, white man sits. The man (reportedly Jizzbone’s uncle) watches nothing but a greatest hits collection of Nascar videotapes. As oblivious as he acts towards the group wailing merely ten feet from him, I assume him to be a lobotomy victim.
Along the other side of the stage, an Asian chef saute’s vegetables in a gigantic wok. The wok itself is easily the size of a tanker truck, with a bonfire heating its golden surface. The Asian man simply cooks during the set, occasionally bringing chicken to the TV-watching man.
Even though this stage design is integral to, and actually the entire reason of, the band’s success, when talking to Jizzbone Gary, Conway Titty and the drummer, I get the feeling this group would be happy playing atop a flatbed truck. I was surprised when they said they hadn’t. The only way a group like this should play is with the possibility of immediate escape: a drive-in so that once the novelty wore off, fans would exit as quickly and conveniently as they possibly could. Then again, the traffic jams five minutes into the show would be so horrendous, cops would have to be called to sort out the raucous mess.
After the first song collapses with looks of confusion and shrugged shoulders, Father Fellatio steps to the microphone breathing heavily.
“This is a little number that all you fine ladies love. A song called ‘Mount Vulvatha!'”
His declaration is answered with cheers – the juxtaposition of the crucifixion setting with a large genitaled woman is a surprising hit with the females in the audience. The song builds, harkening on the phallic connotations of the cross and other subject matter unsuitable for print. But as the song continues, the uninhibited glee that was emanating from the stands is turning to anger, and my confusion dawns into comprehension as I realize that Jizzbone is censoring himself, ditching many of the unmentionable themes in exchange for the much less stimulating sexual prophesizing.
The tension is finally released when a bearded, overalled man in the middle rows leans back as if he were trying to stop a nosebleed, and then screams with all his might:
Once Jizzbone returns from the bathroom after cleaning up the vomit he doused himself with, I inquire about the group’s musical influences. They cite only two – Jerry Lee Lewis and Dr. Octagon. I ask the group about the odd mixture of choices.
“Well Jerry Lee,” begins Conway, “he’s got the devil and the Lord both in him. He’s got the Swaggert thing, right, and then he’s got the great balls of fire. So blue balls and Jesus. Who doesn’t like that combo?”
“And Dr. Octagon has come up with more rhymes for genitalia than anyone else, ever. He is very influential on us,” offers Jizzbone (who also declares that Dr. Octagon is their A&R man for a DreamWorks record deal – the label denies any existence of said contract).
Before I can ask a follow-up, Jizzbone launches into the only subject I could get him to really talk about, a custom-made bass he claimed was in the works.
“The reason we signed with DreamWorks was that they offered me something that BMG, Warner and Jade Tree couldn’t. They told me they were going to give me a bass shaped like a dick. Now everyone has offered me that before. Shit, I could get a church collection plate going for that. But DreamWorks said they have used DNA technology, like in Jurassic Park, and they’ve made a T-Rex dick for me. No shit. A real fucking T-Rex. My bass will be carved from that dino’s wood.”
If drunk enough, Jizzbone will admit to being a pathological liar. I got him to do it later that night. He admitted it was a Pterodactyl dick, far less substantial in size. He may switch to pedal steel since, according to him, the majority of dinosaur dicks were larger in girth than length.
Meanwhile, the girth of Father Fellatio and the Aural Ministry’s fan base is swelling. New websites devoted to the group are sprouting everyday. To be more accurate, more porn sites are creating tributes to the band which owes much of its inspiration to the skin industry. The only corporate endorsement Father Fellatio have signed is with “Raunchy” magazine, which features vegetables in a surprisingly varied amount of sexual means and locations.
The group debuted a new song about “Raunchy” that night. Jizzbone prefaces the cut with a brief explanation to the crowd:
“This gets the Jizzbone’s juices moving like an African on a bed of coals.”
The bass ‘line’ kicks in, followed by an ill timed and ill matched riff while the drummer looks around confusedly, then realizes the song has started.
“Raunchy!/You make my loins puke!/You make everything sticky.”
It takes a minute or two, but I realize that they are ripping off “Wild Thing” but the chords, notes, and song structure are a mystery to them. The only thing tying this mess to the rock classic is Jizzbone’s half-hearted yelp and that striking rhythm that still manages to stand out among this meddled caterwaul. The crowd loves it, screaming its own callous variations above the din. An instant classic in these fans- blood-shot eyes.
If you should hap across a Father Fellatio fan in that all-too-familiar t-shirt, the one depicting the crucifix heading into a pair of gaping lips, the first thing they will always bring up is the Three’s Company finale, something the band pulled off at the end of that night’s show.
It begins with Jizzbone launching into a psuedo-sermon, preaching to friends, neighbors and prospective groupies about the joys of the flock.
“Ladies and gentlemen and especially ladies, let me tell you about the flock. The Father Fellatio Flock. This is the way we flock around here,” he announces.
He then sets the mic stand onto the ground and lays down on top of it, clutching the microphone as if it were a lover’s head, grinding into the metal rod while cooing his sermon.
“We flock like this, brethren,” he moans, moving faster. “For the wages of sin is death and if every man has sinned and we are all dying anyway, you got to make the sin worthwhile. Cast away your fears, ladies and gentlemen. Think not of the myth of the STD! Think not of the lubricated condom! Think not of anal discomfort! Think not of the gag reflex! We have been dying since the day we were born and it’s time to do something about it! Ladies and gentlemen, we are here to flock!”
At that moment, from the right side of the stage, television’s Don Knotts teeters out to the cheers of the crowd. “Barney,” the crowd invariably yells. Jizzbone announces Knotts’ arrival by saying:
“This is a man who had a gun, but only one bullet! And now at eighty five, the man is shooting blanks!”
The crowd roars and Knotts waves ecstatically in appreciation. Reports of his serious hearing problems are true.
The music dips low again. Jizzbone fiddles with the bass, playing scales essentially, the latest thing he has learned how to do. The crowd hushes, anticipating what is about to ensue.
From the left side of the stage, John Ritter, beard and all, strolls out relaxed, a seasoned vet who knows his role. The crowd erupts again, but clearly they are not as excited as they had been with Knotts.
“Ritter,” Jizzbone groans.
Then it happens. Ritter and Knotts lock eyes from across the stage. They smile knowingly, realizing the spectacle they are about to create, the history – the Three’s Company reunion Father Fellatio style. They begin to trot across the stage towards one another (Ritter anyway) and slow as they are about to meet near the center of the stage. They wait alert (again Ritter), looking for Jizzbone’s cue.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today for holy patrimony. To join this has-been, John Ritter, with this also-ran, Don Knots.”
The crowd cheers.
“Mr. Ritter, Mr. Knots, welcome to the flock,” announces Jizzbone.
Ritter and Knots inch the next two or three steps forward, until each of their right feet hit the hidden air ramp installed into the stage. The moment the right amount of pressure is placed, Ritter’s two hundred pounds and Knots’ buck thirty, the booster activates, flinging the two former sitcom stars high above the crowd, nearly sixty feet.
The second the ramp jettisons them, the whole stage erupts. The flames on the teepee get larger, the wok nearly explodes with vegetables that shoot all over the arena, while the band itself does its best to rock out in this theatrical climax. All three band members are howling into their microphones and abusing their instruments with a ferocity that reveals they are just as excited as the crowd to see the two actors launched to their near death.
Ritter and Knots are okay of course, almost always caught by a safety net and returned back to the pet carriers they reportedly ride in underneath the bus. The band doesn’t like to mingle with the ‘talent.’
“Really we pictured the stage before we did our sound,” explains Jizzbone. “The main things we wanted were what you see now: the wok, the flaming teepee, the air ramp and the couch. The other thing we really wanted was to have the only bathroom in the joint be onstage. We liked the flushing sound. I mean technically, the acoustics of a flush are one of the most complex sounds man has ever created. We thought it went well with our music.”
Indeed, next to the drummer sits a toilet, the only available receptacle at their show. When a patron needs to use the facilities, they simply walk onstage and do their business. Upon completion the drummer smacks the flushing mechanism, which is amplified, with his drumstick, sending a loud whoosh through their ambiance.
This is among the many provisions a venue must possess to book Father Fellatio, which, as one would imagine, severely limits the amount of places they can play. Clubs with an operating air ramp installed are rare, while adding a working commode placed in the middle of the stage makes the possibility as frequent as a simple chord progression in a typical Aural Ministry tune.
The obvious question that would stem from the descriptions of this pestilent revival would be: what the hell does the band sound like? After sitting through their sound check and two concerts, I can honestly say that I have no idea. I could allude to any number of acts, but I fear the wrath that may fall upon me by associating them with Father Fellatio and the Aural Ministry.
Due to my ineptitude, I ask the band to describe their sound in a nutshell, and Jizzbone replies with a titular giggle, “Have you ever heard the sound shit makes when thrown against a chalkboard?” The silence that filled that room may have been the most beautiful music the band has ever produced.
Father Fellatio and the Aural Ministry’s discography is scattered, and while they shop around their debut full-length,Lick Balls Y’All, this is the only way to get recorded material. The following list compiles all of the songs they have released.
Political Desperado (1990) – FFAM contributed “Rocky Mountain Highway Robbery” to this benefit disc. The cut laments sometime-Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh’s narrow loss in the 1980 presidential election. The record raised nearly $24 for Walsh’s failed VP bid in 1992.
Stop, Drop and Rock and Roll (1991) – “Burning Sensation” was featured on this educational album distributed to school kids to raise fire safety awareness. The group was compelled to participate because of Conway Titty’s community service sentence stemming from his previous employment selling flammable bongs outside of Grateful Dead concerts.
Let Loose the Dogs of War (1994) – This charity compilation garnered funds to help return the bones of P.O.W. K-9’s lost during the Vietnam War. “Who Let the Dogs Out and Why Did You Have to Eat Them” was written by Jizzbone during a Quaalude binge and marathon screening of every Vietnam film starring Tom Berenger. The title was later shortened.
Going On 27 (1997) – This disc seeked to raise awareness on the “injustices” of statutory rape laws. The organization’s goal, to add an amendment to the Constitution that requires age to be defined by one’s appearance, has stalled despite the behind-the-scenes support of nearly every lawmaker in the country. FFAM’s cut, “Carnal Communion,” is based on the melody of the Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon.”
O2B PBR (1999) – While billed as a charity, this one-song album was primarily released to raise alcohol funds for the band and to lobby for a Brew Thru to be built in their neighborhood. The title cut was performed using only beer cans with Father Fellatio & Co. extremely drunk on Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Before it died a very youthful, arrogant death, the magazine Revolution: th”e New Music Manifesto declared war on rock music while waving a flag that declared Flat Eric, Madonna, the Kaoss pad “party favors” while mythologizing the DJ-as-deity. Its sound and fury was little more than a failed marketing strategy.
However, the growing frontier of what’s come to be marketed as “electronica” is certainly a battleground. Between DanceSafe and the police; between the Dance Liberation Front and Mayor Giuliani; between inspired and vulgar music.
And dance music has certainly produced some sonic vulgarities. After hearing happy hardcore for the first time, I feared I would never feel clean again. But the fairly recent, potentially productive fusion of indie rock with electronica has come to be responsible for some objectionable music.
Mike Schulman (aka kidfrostbite) and I (aka silencefiction) had discussed this recent musical evolution many times and always ended with a quick dismissal. But a quick dismissal is a knee-jerk cop-out (unless it’s of happy hardcore) and begs the question of what the root of our objection is. So I enlisted Mike’s help to delve deeper into the matter.
silencefiction: When was the first time you heard the term “indietronica”?
kidfrostbite: Just a few months ago, actually. A friend dropped the term on me in reference to an ISAN LP I had bought.
sf: Did it adequately describe what you bought?
kfb: I guess so, yeah. It sounded like electronica made by indie guys.
sf: How do you think that phenomenon started?
kfb: Because it became cool to listen to stuff with beats. Why might be a better question. Why did that stuff become so hip?
sf: Well, what do you think? How did dance music suddenly become cool to people who don’t dance even though armchair techno has been around for a decade?
kfb: Well, is dance music really hip? I’m sure you would agree that the “hippest” stuff is just that armchair techno, which I would hardly classify as dance music. I think it is fair to say that the fact that some of the most interesting and creative music of the last 10 years has come out of the dance music scene couldn’t escape the rock-centric indie community forever. Of course they need to put their own stamp on it, and in many cases that means bleeding all the sensuous, rhythmic drive from the music and replacing it with phony chin-stroking experimentalism. And of course the best part of something like 94 jungle was that it was populist, danceable and also experimental.
sf: And indie rock is hardly a locus of experimentation. Why do you think people of that ilk suddenly began to embrace adventurousness in genres they had previously ignored?
kfb: I should have said “experimental” because there’s a general idea that real dance music isn’t very challenging or interesting (certainly not as much so as post-rock), and it becomes necessary to put up the front of being “adventurous.” That allows them to feel like they’re participating in something new and boundary-stretching. What they don’t realize is that acid house stretched the boundaries of REAL POPULAR MUSIC in ways Tortoise or Junior Varsity could never imagine.
sf: Absolutely. I think that what a lot of people saw in the emergence of Jungle and later-IDM was something that approximates a more traditional sense of “musicality” – which is odd to be picked up by the indie kids for whom “feeling” often takes precedence over virtuosity.
kfb: I think that this idea of “musicality” is of the most pernicious sort, though – the sort of worthy, brainy take on music that is embodied in prog and post-rock. it allows one to substitute specious intellectual rigor for soulfulness, somehow implying that music that lacks intellectual pretensions is somehow not as valid as that music that bases a lot of its appeal on just such pretensions. “Dance music” is not serious in the same way that something like your typical Warp act is, and is hence not as “good.” Yeah, just tell Jeff Mills and 4 Hero that.
sf: Not to mention the intense political climate and connotations of Jeff Mills and the Underground Resistance that suburban indie kids could never touch. The only thing that comes close is post-Riot Grrrl electronics like Le Tigre and Julie Ruin, that despite being conceptually interesting, are musically pale and uninspired. It’s interesting that the aesthetics of early house and techno were made totally DIY with a minimum of means, yet created something deeply inspired and soulful. Later, the DIY, indie kids pick up samplers and make tracks that sound almost intentionally meager and soulless.
kfb: Well, I think the point here is that it ain’t where you’re at but where you’re from, to reverse the adage. if you don’t have at least a working knowledge of and respect for dance music, how can you be expected to do something interesting with it? Sorry, Land of the Loops and Kitty Craft are okay as pop, but the beats simply don’t cut it. To be honest, I don’t expect or desire much of an explicit political program with my music – while I find the agitational stance of someone like Mad Mike to be pretty damn right on, there just aren’t going to be that many people willing to spend the time to examine what they’re doing that closely. Shit, just shaking your booty properly is hard enough.
sf: Well, with artists like Land of the Loops or Kitty Craft, when is it innovation, when is it ignorance and when is it cynicism? Refreshing naivete has always been one of the greatest drives behind musical mutations. And the destructive urge to undermine an existing sound also forces a genre to take a hard turn. At the same time, rehashing early-nineties, British techno because you didn’t know about it in the first place is embarrassing. Unless you’re tearing music apart with love, with the intention of being cruel to be kind, you’re performing the equivalent of turning up your stereo to annoy your parents. The disco medley in “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” is amusing only once and not worth repeat listening, let alone referencing in a history of disco.
kfb: I see your point, but to some extent it’s useful to try and separate the intent from the results. I couldn’t begin to imagine whether some of these people are stupid or evil, but I can sure tell when the music’s no good.
sf: I can’t presume to know or even understand their intentions but the question, “What are they thinking?” often turns to annoyance and suspicion. What do you think is so bad about these bands?
kfb: I agree that I find the intentions pretty damn suspect, but without knowing every one of these people personally I’m not sure I feel too comfortable asking those questions. I think there are enough unpleasant things about them (a manifest lack of dance music knowledge, feeble attempts to marry said lousy beats with lame song-writing, etc.) without even having to dig too deeply.
sf: Sorry, I have to dwell on the intentions behind this wave of indie interest in electronics. In particular, I dwell long and hard on Matador’s surging interest in snapping up Warp and Skam artists. I think it’s great that Matmos and the Modernist are getting such wide distribution, but yeesh they’re next to some drab beats.
kfb: Please don’t get me started on this Matador thing. I can’t think of anything more pathetic than rock labels doing some pointed licensing and passing it off as keeping on top of current developments. Huh. Really, I think what we’re seeing is the death throes of indie labels, as they flail about seeking relevance and pretty much wind up emulating the majors on their lack of understanding of the music that they seek to exploit. A pox upon them.
sf: I think we have to distinguish between electronic music that is released on indie labels and electronica made by indie artists (still released on indie labels). In theory, I think both are great because they open up the possibilities for dissolving genre barriers and inspire innovation, but in practice, the results are often painful to hear. Since their beginnings, house and techno have splintered into a thousand genres. Indie rock developed alongside electronic dance music with a similar DIY ethic and, as important as it’s been, hasn’t strayed very far in as many years – except for this indietronica thing we’re talking about. While indie kids relish the vanguard in other genres, the incredible conservatism built into the indie sound has caused it to stagnate outside its timid embrace of Roland products.
kfb: Too true. Rock is really inherently conservative, though, isn’t it? It seems to me that most of the formal experimentation is done in music outside of the rock sphere. Even supposedly revolutionary rock movements like punk were more about (mostly bogus) politics and less about the music. It always boils down to white guys and their precious guitars.
sf: Well, I have to point out, electronic music is overwhelmingly boy-made and boy-controlled beyond the diva voices. My greatest disappointment with indietronica is that, rather than meld indie rock’s penchant for strong song-smithing with dance music’s soulful funk and swing, indietronica usually combines the worst elements of electronic music (silly sound wank) with the worst elements of indie rock (a smug lack of effort). As a result, the majority of it lacks substance on any terms. Now, I can understand the reasons behind releasing Boards of Canada in the U.S., but why do you think Matador and other indie labels are releasing so many beats? And who is buying them?
kfb: Well, fucking everybody, right? They’ve very neatly managed to pick up on the zeitgeist and capitalize on it. The bottom line is that there’s still an underground of people making interesting music (like Kenny Dixon, Steve O’Sullivan, Theo Parrish, etc., etc.) and by the time they get big enough to make it onto Matador’s licensing radar there will be others. Most rock labels have no hope of keeping up with developments in electronic music because their interest is so superficial. I guess that’s why I don’t get more worked up on the whole, because it really isn’t relevant to what I’m interested in any more than it would be to your typical jazz fan.
sf: So, aside from the annoyance factor, would you say any of this has compromised dance culture or the important producers of it?
kfb: No, not at all. But, please Marc, let’s not underestimate the annoyance factor. Bad music sucks, and can seriously degrade your life. While it doesn’t make good music worse, it does make it harder to find and distinguish. My grudge is always that the uninitiated won’t know that there is something out there other than Darla-tronica and therefore won’t make the effort to find it. Poo on that.
sf: “The Uninitiated?” You’ve spent too many years working behind a counter pushing vinyl. Surely your grudge is against the artists who produce insipid, ginger-snap breakbeats over the quaint ambient drones of a little girl’s yawn and not the unwitting public who know no better than Drum & Bliss.
kfb: Well, Marc, I guess a bit of both. I do sort of blame the artists. It kind of points to a view that it’s somehow easy to make electronic music, or that electronic music is somehow not a fully-formed genre of its own that demands respect and serious scholarship. Would most of these indietronica artists try and make reggae? Or gospel? Probably not. And how would they feel if Jeff Mills tried to make an emo record? (Well, given Moby’s propensity for picking up a guitar at the drop of a hat…) I’m not at all against people being into lots of different things (you know me), but I think that rockers knocking out half-assed electronica shows a profound disrespect for the form.
sf: Well, I must say that it’s easier to make bad electronic music with a Groovebox than bad emo with a cheap Fender. It tempts me to believe that the problem with this trend is equal parts laziness, arrogance and ignorance. Sure, there’s wank in every genre, but I get depressed at the high degree of smirking irony that was thankfully absent from dance music until indie slapped its flaccid paws upon it. Cynicism, audaciousness and sloth, sure, but not as a single package – which I think is the worst of sins.
kfb: I couldn’t have said it better myself. I really don’t think that all is lost, though. As long as there are good records and people who know how to distinguish them from the “other stuff” then somehow an interesting underground will develop. Stay strong, brother!
sf: You too. And…um…plur.
On the 10th anniversary of Nevermind.
Whatever. They slept on my floor on that first tour with Tad, but I thought they were pretty beat by Nevermind. I never owned that record any way. Whatever.
Demo tape I heard in Isotope 217’s dressing room
Whatever. I prefer listening to a Krautrock mix tape somebody made me six years ago. That Chicago art thing is played out. Whatever.
The city, not the band
Whatever. It’s so predictable to move there. Like it is the indie rock mecca or something. Baltimore is cool. Whatever.
After interviewing them for my e-zine
Whatever. Kathleen Hanna did not remember me from that Bikini Kill house show I put on in 1990 before they even had a record out. She never really cared about the scene. Whatever.
On that reunion tour a couple years ago
Whatever. I always thought they were a second rate Dolls tribute band. The first two Public Image Limited records are okay though. Whatever.
All of those No Depression bands
Whatever. If I wanted to hear a Johnny Cash record, I would not have some punk rocker turned college dropout play it for me. Free jazz is the same way. Whatever.
That last record they gave me when we hung out before their show
Whatever. I thought that Sub Pop Singles Club thing was pretty okay, but ripping off the Oblivians and Pussy Galore does not impress me any more. Whatever.
The Merzbox came into my life, while working at Aquarius Records. Allan, the manager of the store, had thought that there must be two idiot customers out there who would have both the desire and the means to buy the ultimate artifact in noise music. So during the middle of September 2000, two Merzboxes came into the store. Initially, there were nibblers who were curious about the box, then it became a source of mockery. Who the fuck wanted $589.00 worth of Merzbow? Okay, it has 50 cds, a book, a metal medallion, a really cool looking t-shirt (sized only XL – cause you’re livin’ large when you own the Merzbox, so express yourself in a t-shirt the size of a small tent!), a bondage poster, and stickers, with all of this being housed in a soft-vinyl case looking like a travel kit that you use for toothpaste and shaving cream.
Needless to say, we had to sell it, and for those of you unfamiliar with Aquarius Records… we sell things by uttering the most honest critical reaction we can to any piece of art. There’s a lot of hyperbolic rhetoric in terms of what we initially think about a record, and we do champion some of the great underappreciated art from around the world. But we also have no qualms about telling everybody that the new Tortoise record is going to suck. So when it came to the Merzbox, I was the poor sap who stepped up to the challenge of reviewing the Merzbox. This is it. All of these had been previously published in the AQ bi-weekly newsletter, but have been editted just a bit. There are a lot of idiosyncracies to these writings, and for the most part, I’ve left those intact. One peculiarity that I’ve noticed about this text (and about other peoples’ critiques as well) is that I often shorten Merzbow to the pronoun “he” – referring to Masami Akita, even though a handful of other musicians have worked with him under the broader context of Merzbow. There could be some interesting semiotic discussions about that, but you don’t want to read crap like that.
DISC ONE / TWO / THREE:
Ohmigod. The Merzbox. It’s finally here. For real. 50 cds and whole bunch of other crap (a book, t-shirt, etc.). We’ve left the book intact in its hermetic (shrinkwrapped) seal, but unzipped (literally) the container which holds the cds. We’ll trust that noble publication The Wire with their analysis of the book as an exceptionally researched and interesting document. I intend on embarking on what could be a stupid project. Each day I work, I will subject myself (and AQ’s beloved customers) to one of the Merzbox’s discs — that is, until we sell the stock we have (only 2!), or I decide I really need to own it, or I go insane, or some combination of all of the above.
For those of you not familiar with Merzbow (not that you’re going to be too likely to purchase this if you’re not!), this is the noise project led by Japan’s Masami Akita working at times with Reiko A (who I believe is his wife) and a few other cohorts. If you recall your art history, Kurt Schwitters began a project in the 1930s of constructed the Merzbau — a house which was shaped, dissolved, and built out of junk. Akita’s project of a similar name take the junk of sound and transforms it into blistering noise assaults with an incredible spectrum that has warranted this 50 cd collection.
Disc One starts off with cable buzz that could explode at any moment but doesn’t. With everything from Merzbow that I’ve heard being so abrasive, mind-erasing, and abusive, I was pleased to see that it didn’t explode. Rather, Merzbow takes a direction you’d more expect from Sun City Girls or the No Neck Blues Band with what sounds like banjo pluckery and tin cup percussive rhythms.
Disc Two. Remember the guy from Police Academy who vocally emulated R2-D2, airplanes, and coffee machines? Well, Merzbow does that too, as this disc is a complex display of various squiggles that probably don’t have the comedic definitions that I got from it. Buried underneath the varied knob twiddled squeals and high-end vibrations is a noxious rumble, making this one quite a bit noisier than the last.
Disc Three. This is the first problem I encountered with this set (aside from the price). None of the discs themselves are marked with anything to explain which number of the series it is. Each are covered with some cheesy fractals constructed out of low grade porn, so mistakes in the sequence of the Merzbox can be common. Thus I dropped in, by mistake, Disc Forty-Seven, thinking it was Disc Three. 47 sounded really groovy, sorta like Alec Empire’s drum machines getting some terminal abuse. I discovered that on the inner imprinting, the manufacturer gave each of the discs a tiny number, so I could in fact discern where I am in the series. So I’m back to where I should be with Disc Three, which is much quieter affair, with a looping sample of distorted flute (?) in the background, with Akita scraping two pieces of metal together with restraint (!). Then there’s a kazoo and amplifier piece which sounded a lot like Gerogerigegege – the highly comedic noise band fronted by a masturbating 50 year old accountant. Regardless, it scares me how much I like this piece.
From this work, it may be more indicative that Mr. Merzbow may have his beginnings more in the jazz tradition of Albert Ayler, than the information overload of SPK, TG, or any of the original Industrial artists. This is an acoustic based piece with free noise drumming, violin scrapes, kazoo dissonance, and smattering of lo-fi acoustiic events that could have been one of A Handful of Dust’s lost recordings, that is, if anybody’s really scouring the planet for A Handful of Dust out-takes. Stranger things have happened… like this box set.
Byram now hates me. As I have been working with Byram while I’ve been listening to these discs, he too has been subjected to the Merzbox. I figured that this might be one of the draw backs from the ridiculous undertaking of listening to one disc a day, but the project must continue unabated. Byram interjects: “This is wimpy! Where’s the white noise? Where’s the explosive energy? Fade-out!!!??? Merzbow’s a lightweight!” Mr. Abbott does have a point to his criticism of Disc 5 in that this is not one of the more damaged recordings which earned Merzbow such infamy. Rather, tea-kettle electronic squeals, dense chugging pulses from old drum machines, and the live percussive elements indicate a strong inventiveness to achieve a broad spectrum of kinetic noises. The junknoise of these recordings is treated with a preciousness that keeps the sound at volumes and frequencies at tolerable levels. Even at this time, you can see the similarities between contemporaries like P16.D4.
I’m only 12% into the box and I’m considering taking the damn thing home with me. I’ve no one to blame but myself. The most self-evident thing about the Merzbox is its obsessiveness, and the obsessiveness that the curators of the collection brought to the Merzbox is most certainly contagious. I find myself addressing anxious questions like – which one will be my favourite? when will I get to all of the annoying stuff like ‘Rainbow Electronics’? am I really enjoying this, or simply waiting for something to really blow me away?
The last question can be addressed with Disc Six. Hands down, this one has been the best in the lot. I’ve actually found myself going back and listening to this one more than once (gasp!). Merzbow got his groove on. Sitting behind a drum kit and a drum machine, Mr. Akita fires off some remarkable, almost This Heat / almost Cabaret Voltaire backbeats behind some really crappy production that swells with rushes of primitive synth noise and amplifier hum. The middle of the disc squeals with noisejunk, tea-kettle electronics, and warbled metallic clatter found earlier in the Merzbox. But when bookended with something more rhythmic, these sounds seem to be much more energized. Merzbow has begun to discover that noise in all of its chaos is best appreciated when situated next to order. Under these circumstances, the noise is far more volatile; and at least on Disc Six, it is also quite giddy.
It occured to me that the Merzbow mythology includes a healthy dose of sex. Aside from titles like “Music For Bondage Performance” and enough Japanese bondage photos to keep John Zorn happy, I really can’t say I hear anything really sexy about the Merzbow. Disc Seven could easily be some sexual manifesto about the erotic poetry behind a specific knot that ties around a woman’s breast (not that I know anything about that). But then again, Disc Seven could be a soliloquy for Cronenberg. If there is any extra-sonic ideas that are present in the recordings so far, then this is Merzbow’s failing. I’m not generally concerned with the actualization of grand philosophical ideals, unless of course the aesthetics dictate something about the idea which cannot be expressed in any other way. Thus if Merzbow’s music is about sex, I know that only from reading text about his work, not that I have been informed by the music itself that this has anything to do with sex. However, I’ll remain quite content with the noise squallor found on each of his discs. Disc Seven falls not far from the structural themes found on the previous disc, but with the rhythmic elements replaced by a series of long extended organ drones.
Ah, the turntable. The easiest means of appropriating sound. Along with Merzbow’s discovery of the turntable as another weapon in his increasingly more nerve-rattling dissonance, Merzbow’s sound starts flexing its muscles. There’s almost a V/VM like sense of humour which emerges in his choice of records to abuse on the turntable with operatic crescendos, country western almost-hits, and Japanese pop struggling to break through the now thick walls of dissonance, noise, metallic scrapes, and punishing low end rumbles. I bet if I could convince Allan that he has this record and it’s by Otomo Yoshihide…
“No, Allan, this isn’t the Merzbox. It’s Yoshihide. I don’t know which record. Maybe he’s got a hold of a Merzbow record and is scratching with that. No, I told you the first time. It’s Yoshihide. Come on Allan, don’t you believe me? Oh no, don’t get Andee started on this.”
I keep hearing references to Zoviet France in these albums and I keep dismissing them as wishful thinking. I don’t use perfect as an adjective to describe much, but “Gris,” “Just An Illusion,” and “Mohnomische” by Zoviet France are three albums that clearly merit such praise. Zoviet France would splice delicately played ritualist clatter for percussion, ethnic stringed instruments, and various wood flutes between their blissful hypno loops. Merzbow does a similar thing on this disc, with short fragments of rhythmic elements coming from the noise junk of tin cans, abused banjos, and wooden objects. These rhythmic elements situate between extended passages of harsh thug noise that could have come from one of John Duncan’s earlier recordings. I might have to do the side by side comparison with Disc Six to see which I like better, as this one is pretty darn neat.
This is the Merzbow that I really dislike. Purely improvised with the only goal being to make it very difficult to write, concentrate, think, or exist. I know that this is probably what is qualified as his some of his more mature work. But it’s down right irratible. Sure if that’s the goal then he succeeded, and he should move on to something that I might listen to again. Suffocating chaos of distortion erratically dropping out completely out of sync with sputtering amplified banjo / guitar, twittering high-speed tape noise, and violin screech. Would you guess that I dislike John Zorn? Maybe that’s obvious.
Byram Abbott (no relation to the bone-headed UFC bruiser Tank Abbott) posited a very good theory as to the application of noise in Merzbow’s aesthetic: “Does he try to make each record more irritating as he goes along?” If my esteemed colleague had asked me this question on the disc ten, the answer would have clearly been yes. As that one is truely annoying! But my theory on the progress of the Merzbow aesthetic is one based more on the accumulation of noise generators, and how Merzbow reveals the wonder and excitement of getting a hold of a new toy. It’s sort of like a guitarist with his / her effects – the next batch of songs are going be a little dubbed out, because s/he got a hold of a killer delay pedal. Disc eleven finds Merzbow spending half of the time on a varispeed tape deck with loops of shortwave radio control frequencies, distortion-pedal driven field recordings taken from a loud restaurant, and overloaded analogue synth, while the remainder of his time is spent chopping all of the tape up in blistering shards of jagged noise. There’s some of the rhythmic stuff that I like from Merzbow, some of the erratic wank that I don’t. But there’s no doubting that Mr. Merzbow had bought himself a new pair of shoes, back when he recorded this one!
This has got to be a collaboration. I sort of feel like I’m playing the Wire’s Invisible Jukebox, trying to guess who the collaborator must be. After listening to all of the previous discs, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea as to what the sonic intentions of Merzbow are and what his voice is. Disc Twelve (yeah, I’ve still resisted the urge to break the hermetic seal on the book) has another presence in the tape. I know that there’s a wealth of collaborative efforts from Merzbow including work with Christoph Heemann and Achim Wollscheid. It definitely not the Heemann piece as I remember that one being quite beautiful, but it could be the Wollscheid one. However, this sounds much more like a really early Come Organisation production with William Bennett’s lo-fi tape loop mantras, rather than the Wollscheid’s hyper cerebral / neo-musique concrete. I didn’t think that any one from Come Organisation did anything with Merzbow. Steven Stapleton would be another guess, but it’s too crappy a production from Stapleton’s baroque dadaism… and furthemore I don’t think that he did anything with Merzbow (did he?). Another guess would be Richard Rupenus / Bladder Flask, but it’s too orderly for both parties involved. So, I’ll shrug my shoulders and say that this is quite a spartan production for Mr. Merzbow.
Gulp. I’ve been getting some complements on my determination in undertaking the Merzbox. That makes me nervous… “Oh you’re the guy who’s listening to the Merzbox. I’ve enjoyed reading your reviews. So have bought it yet? Have you gone crazy?” Or is that paranoia?
I’ll admit that this one took two days to get through. The first listen seemed much calmer than the first, but that day was spent also going through the rather hefty Alchemy order and picking through the harsh white noises from Mne-mic, Solmania, and the Incapacitants. After receiving another large import order from Stefan Knappe of Drone singles and the beautiful sound of Troum, disc thirteen sounds far more abrasive. Yup, context is everything. Disc thirteen has a modulated low rumble with extended scrapes of violin / metal and discordant organ drones, with these bubbling noises that could be some warped permutation of the Roland 303 acid sound… but it can’t be that, or can it? This is a pretty expressive piece of work from Merzbow.
Ha! A Francisco Lopez box in which there’s 50 cds all making no sound at all, or the Reynols box of 3000 cds which dematerializes as you open the package leaving the musical contents in some multi-dimentional limbo. Now, there’s the future of marketing. If only I could convince Andee that was a good idea to release on tUMULt. But for now there’s the Merzbox. Disc fourteen predates the much beloved Reynols by a good two decades (I guess) with some simple yet badly played drums topped with some squiggling noise, annoying sax noodle, and some guy (Akita?) mumbling through a megaphone.
As to the cohesiveness of the Merzbox, disc fourteen doesn’t do much for my theory that the Merzbow sound is a continual aggregate of noise generation devices. It seems much more of a throw back to the rhythmic work on disc six, with more emphasis on the rhythms.
Surgikal Penis Klinik. Se-Pu-Ku. Socialiste Patientes Kollektiv. Shit, I thought I knew them all! The constantly changing acronyms for SPK, that is. There was a period in my pre-drinking days in which I exclusively listened to SPK’s “Leichenschrei,” “Mekano,” and “Information Overload Unit,” so I know when somebody has recently picked up some SPK records. And Mr. Akita discovered SPK on disc fifteen. Merzbow lets loose a jagged drum machine pulse that rumbles menacingly behind a taxonomic wonder of noises: violin screeches, hammered metal percussion, Steven Stapleton-esque fuzz guitar freak-outs, piles of dissonant static, megaphone screams, shortwave radio tunings, analogue divebomb synth squeals, and the return of the clattering junknoise, which had so sadly missed on the last few entries on the Merzbox. Merzbow does the SPK sound really well. While keeping the rhythmic intensity that SPK maintained so well, Merzbow disavows any connection to these being decomposed punk songs (which is what SPK did so majestically).
Again, I’m liking the box… but if you were to ask me today: “Jim, would you buy the Merzbox?” The answer would be: no. But if it were to sell tomorrow, I would be very sad.
DISC SIXTEEN / SEVENTEEN:
The brain’s gone a bit funny. No, not what you think about me listening to all of these Merzbow recordings. With all of the stress from a recent sound installation / performance that had left me (and my collaborator Loren Chasse) with more than a little bit of resentment towards one unprofessional idiot who shafted us after we played to a packed house at The Lab (since I’m writing for Chunklet, I’m obliged to tell Kathy Kennedy to fuck off!), I’ve gotten myself sick.
As a result, I keep asking myself a really dumb holistic question: “Could I justify buying the Merzbox if it can cure the common cold?” Sure, Merzbow packs a fucking nasty wallop, but I don’t think much of the notion that sound can dramatically alter a body’s physiology (and in this specific case, jump my immune system into high gear for some serious viral ass kickin’). Okay, I’m aware of the principals of infra-sound, but who has a home stereo with speakers that register below 25 hz? So, no Merzbow won’t make my cold go away.
Disc sixteen is a loose and free noise album with wild spinnings of tape and turntables, screaching violin, analogue synth noodle, and some very dirty low end drones. This one really just passed in and out of my body without leaving too much behind… just a mild abrasion and one that didn’t scrape the germs away.
Disc seventeen is a grinding rhythmic record about fucking. You can almost hear Mr. Akita muttering to himself, “Big Black’s ‘Songs about Fucking’… Ha!” I’m not really going to get into why it sounds that way. I’ve never been a big fan of erotica and me trying to romanticize an album about fucking would just come off like a letter to Penthouse Forum. It’s loud, it’s grinding, it’s about fucking. What more do you need? Picture’s not available.
The quickest cold I’ve ever experienced. Now, lets never talk of it again. On to more pressing issues — that Francisco Lopez review that I wrote on the last list. It seems that the word “colonization” hit the a nerve with some of our intellectual consumers out there. I believe I was justified in the use of the word, but I find it odd that we can discuss (and not always in jest) such topics as NAMBLA, the church burnings, murder, and Aryan thoughts by Varg Vierkernes, Andee’s masturbation fantasies, and Palestinian politics of Muslimgauze without causing such an inkling of controversy as the use of the word “colonization.” Is is that colonization and its more commonplace semiotic big brother, gentrification, have become so prevalant in the collective paranoia that any referent to it automatically throws people into an unfocused rage? I certainly have no interest in pissing people off, but I’m not going strike that word from my vocabulary simply because its controvertial.
By all means this isn’t a challange for you to pick fights with us on every review that we offer… mind you the intellectual debates are challenging. Anyway, it’s hard enough to officiate / witness the fights between Allan and Andee over the artistic merits of something like “The Cell” or which incarnation of Thunderchild from Warlord was the best drummer.
Enough of that, disc eighteen picks up where disc seventeen left off with a wide array of dissonant grinding rhythmic loops that dissolve in the blinding inferno of Merzbow’s increasingly overdriven noise. I know that earlier I questioned Mr. Akita’s sexual manifestos, and these last two clearly resonnate with a raw masculine sexual power. While these are powerful recordings much like the earliest recordings from Maurizio Bianchi, I find them more angry than anything else, which puts an uncomfortable bent on the sexual metaphors for me. I am aware of the long history that Mr. Merzbow has sited of Japanese bondage techniques; but, maybe this uncultured American finds the sexual overtones a little too aggressive towards the female sex.
Andee broke the rules. He opened the book and pulled out the T-Shirt (which is a really big shirt with a totally amazing full color print of some of Merzbow’s gear… much bigger than I could fit in, but totally fits the tree-trunk torso of Mr. Andee). Yeah, I did look through the book and was awestruck. Beautifully documented, heavily annotated – the Merzbook! From what little that I was able to gather while swamped on a Friday afternoon barrage of shipments, I can say that I completely forgot about Kiyoshi Mitzutani, the screech violinist and power electronician who had worked with Mr. Akita in Merzbow throughout the ‘80s. I can also tell you that disc nineteen is called “Pornoise Vol. 2,” and the preceeding disc was “Pornoise Vol. 1.”
So at least for this review and the last one, I feel somewhat justified in my comments. They’re about sex. I think one disc sixteen was one of the “Nil Vagina Tapes.” “Pornoise Vol. 2” starts out with a plodding tape loop of a slowed down rhythmic noise track that is striated with some scattered junk noise… but by the time disc nineteen comes to an end, I found myself entrenched in a thick walls rancid noise.
I found myself lusting over the book, but am still going to pass. While Andee really wants to have the book and the t-shirt, however, his prodding to get AQ’s newest employee Jeff to buy the Merzbox: “Come on, Jeff. You’ve been unemployed for weeks just hanging out at Aquarius. What’s the difference, if you buy the box or not?” If I had to place my bets on the AQ employee whose going to buy it: Andee.
I confess that my vigilance has lapsed on between disc 19 and 20. The most engaging aspect of the Merzbox may in fact be its biggest weakness – it’s 50 fucking cds of Merzbow. With that much stuff, I have found myself not always excited by the prospect of listening to Merzbow everyday. I know some of my co-workers are less than excited by my ventures. So if I slip a couple of days, these are not the people who will prod me into pulling down the big box and slipping a disc in the stereo.
Onto disc 20. More of the tape loop collages from Merzbow – dominated by heavy static pulses and unwavering vocal loops from shortwave radio. This sounds a little to simple (like Whitehouse without the piercing treble) and makes me wish he were playing with the sound a little more. Yawn.
DISC TWENTY ONE:
Apparantly my lapse may mean that I will not get all the way through the Merzbox. A customer in Israel may in fact buy the second and last Merzbox that was allotted to us. With that said, I’m going to power my way through this fucker and listen to as many as I can. Insanity be damned!
Grounding problems on a shortwave radio being tuned along the upper bands of the dial are the background source material for this Merzbow album. I wonder if he had met John Duncan by now. Duncan did spend a good portion of time in Japan in the mid 80s making some blue movies, subverting the national television station, and divining raw energy through his shortwave. Merzbow abuses the shortwave with some nasty distortion and thumping squarewave generation. Much more dynamic than disc twenty, which didn’t make for good listening at all. Some of the uninteresting tape loop rhythms from the preceeding albums emerge from time to time, but more as rythmic engagements to break up the unpredictable noise. Merzbow does bring the drum machine back later on in the album, and I forgot how much I liked his crappy drum machine – like MB on a bad hair day. It also makes Byram dance like a robot, which is always a good thing.
DISC TWENTY TWO:
Andee and I discovered the Merzrom and could have wasted an entire day at work screwing around with it. I’ve never had a job where I could dick around online all day and could certainly see the appeal if every website were as kick ass as the Merzrom. It’s far too complex to describe beyond “it kicks ass.” So I’ll simply state that it kicks ass.
Disc twenty two really pales in comparison to the Merzrom. This must be the only Merzbow record that V/Vm owns as this sounds exactly like what V/Vm has been trying to do, but hasn’t quite yet gotten it right. Erratic blasts of thrift store vinyl (marching band music, Japanese karaoke pop, etc.) fire out of warbling noise tracks, shortwave tuning, and restrained junk clatter. What this says about V/Vm is not all that good.
DISC TWENTY THREE:
“There has been an amazing development to the Noise music of Merzbow and only after completeling the weekend long experience of listening to the Merzbox will this really seep in.” – Roger Richards / Extreme Records
Oh give me a fucking break. There is no fucking way that you can expect me to listen to the Merzbox non stop over a weekend. Maybe if there were some good drugs involved, but I can’t think of any drug that really goes well with Merzbow and goes well with my body. I don ‘t think I’ll ever want to do PCP (even when listening to Merzbow), but maybe that would be close. Fuck that!
Disc twenty three grinds through a constantly changing array of noise elemenst, from Kiyoshi Mitzutani’s violin scrapes, to some screaching noise junk interludes, to New Blockaders-esque machine noise, and power distortion electronics. Bring back the rhythm Mr. Akita, it has always served you well!!!
DISC TWENTY FOUR:
A few of the more meticulous AQ-L readers had noticed the absence of the Merzbox reviews from the previous list (that being list #104). While I had mentioned that a customer in Israel had been considering such a weighty investment, the box had indeed not been sold. Furthermore, the rest of AQ staff did have me committed to the local facilities for the mentally ill (Whew! I was worried for a bit…). My brief respite from the Merzbox had to do with a rather banal reason – the lack of time in the day, thanksgiving dinner in Tennessee, and too many other writing commitments that I found myself bound to. For this, I humbly apologize and hope that you can forgive my lapse in the Merzbox crusade.
As I’m sure you can imagine, having some time off from the box does provide a new prospective into the noises from Mr. Akita and his machines.
Disc twenty four starts off with Merzbow making an understatement – almost tentative about the structure of this piece. Small flanging electronic pings and buzzes mimic the stochastic systems of Stockhausen’s “Hymnen,” but instead of the shortwave radio tunings and national anthem fragments, Akita grinds metal to metal for some evocative almost haunting textures. Akita also overloads recordings of ritualistic percussion, Christian Marclay-esque turntablist quick collage chops, and gated noise blasts – which by the end of the disc become rather heavy.
It seems like ancient history now; but back in 1995, The Wire asked Stockhausen to listen to the work of Plastikman, Aphex Twin, Scanner, and Daniel Pemberton (what happened to that guy???) and give his comments. Of course, those comments were purely self-referential to the point of megalomania and all of them complained of the rigidity of the rhythm. Listening to this one, I bet Stockhausen’s eyes would — for more than an instant or two — be lit up by Merzbow’s controlled fury.
DISC TWENTY FIVE:
I actually had to listen to this one more than once – since the coffee that so faithfully restores my constitution on a daily basis has failed. It would have been nice – yeah I said nice – to have been startled awake by an end of the world electric scream from Merzbow. I’m not really sure if that would have woken me up this morning, but perhaps I could’ve responded to disc twenty five a little more positively…
Having recently been physically abused by Ryoji Ikeda’s “The Matrix” on which two very noxious sine waves had created some deleterious standing waves in certain parts of the store (where it became impossible to think), I wanted Merzbow to do the same. But his noise is not meddling with the inner works of the body like Ikeda’s pure tones, rather they are white noise – which has made me very sleepy.
To be fair, there is a lot going on – scraping metal, siren screeches, feedback distortion loops, and some turntablist action.
DISC TWENTY SIX:
If anyone with clout is given a critical voice in the media (like Jim O’Rourke or John Zorn) and says that some band in Lichtenstein is really cool, then they MUST be really cool. There is no debate. No logical explanation. It just is. Strange that the opposite is rarely the case, if somebody genuinely doesn’t like that fictional band in Lichtenstein – then a huge case must be made as to why our Lichtensteinians suck.
It may be one thing for me to say that I don’t like bean sprouts. Really, are there going to be a bunch of bean sprout farmers coming after me with pitchforks? Well, let’s hope not. But if I were to say I hate jazz, then I get a lot of sideways glances – as if any critical analysis I give were debunked as if I have this huge void in my soul where the jazz or the funk should be. Fuck that. I hate jazz. I’m sure there are lots of Miles Davis fans who could state the same about all of the drones that I listen to. I actually think that critical disagreement is a good thing! Otherwise, we’ll end up with two camps that superficially make each other happy, while secretly trying to plot each other’s death.
So what I’m getting at is that I almost dismissed Merzbow’s disc twenty six, because Akita included a hell of a lot of really irritating free jazz piano and ride cymbol tinkling. It almost seems like Merzbow self-reflexively started to emulate free jazz — because somebody told Akita that what he was doing was an electric version of free jazz, which theoretically may be true, but aesthetically and procedurally is pretty different animal. Nope. The more I listen to this one. The more I am convinced that I can dismiss this. This is jazz. Jazz sucks.
DISC TWENTY SEVEN:
I’m beginning to suspect that Masami Akita suffers from attention deficit disorder, with this period of his work being a carousel of sounds never sticking to a single theme of instrument – just the metacontext of abrasion. Some of the free jazz elements (so eloquently described above) with “carefully” placed indeterminant notes make themselves known… but so does a fuzzed out amplifier struggling to play two guitar notes, tape noise, clattering metallic junk noise, multi-reverbed blasts of murkiness, scraped strings sounding rather subaquatic, flanging electric vibrations, twin blade chopped noise beats, and mutilated metal scapes. Woo
DISC TWENTY EIGHT:
Back in the day when I was a wee lad going to Oberlin College, a roommate of mine (the ever charming George Patterson — who happened to grow up to be the drummer in Knodel) would blast stereo test records to repel all of the drunks who would stumble over to our house because we had cable, an Atari 2600, and usually a half filled keg in the kitchen that was probably more of a magnet than Video Pinball. The record’s single noxious tone (often played on those treble friendly Fisher Price turntables) would resonnate deep within the bowels of our beer soaked couches to create a weird standing wave underneathe one’s ass. Used upon a disoriented drunk, the effect was uncannily successful.
Ah yes. Another sales point for the Merzbox! It’s not just 50 cds; it’s 50 choice cuts that will be sure to bring your party to an end! But keep in mind that context is key to maximizing the sheer annoyance that Merzbow can cause. So my advice is to play something really jubilant — like “I’m The Disco Dancing” by the Jones Machine, then crank Merzbow with the treble dialed all the up to 11.
That said, disc 28 is not one you should pick to drive people out of your house — or at least not the first track, which is quite delicate for Merzbow with tiny motorized plinking and a steady wood thumped pulse. But track two gets back into the grinding, the scraping, the hurting, the bleeding. Ouch! Tempestous abrasive noise from huge chunks of metal being physically ground into tiny metal shavings with some sort of electrical device (which interfers with microphone cables to give some irratible hums).
DISC TWENTY NINE / THIRTY
In an interview with Andrew McKenzie, Z’ev recounted a story of a factory worker who complained of constant migrane headaches. Instead of accepting any medical treatment, this man was advised to listen to his environment not as a dissonant flux of noise but as a cascade of half-formed musical elements rich with rhythmic complexities and interesting tonalities. In shifting the way he was listening to his environment, his headaches stopped. While there are some profound implications to this story (esp. the justification of making noise as music), there is a holistic tone to the story which gives me the willies: sort of like the half-baked philosophies that Genesis P-Orridge spouted about acid house having media jamming properties as well as utopian potential. Umm… yeah.
I’m not so sure if Z’ev is doing that much these days, but I did have the opportunity to see his play live. He’s this skinny Jewish man with a shaved head and a cigarette constantly dangling from his lowerlip. As he hammers away at his urban gamelan constructions and hurtles chunks of metal along heavy chains, the cigarette never moves. Of course, it’s not lit – but still he looked like a badass. These two Merzbox contributions have much more in common with the action based performances by Z’ev than the mythological impression of Merzbow as the crushing distortion artist – an impression I’m beginning to think of as completely false. Sure these are noisy – but nothing really “total,” “extreme,” “ultimate,” “hyperbolic,” or “psychedelic” (yes, some dipshits have been claiming that Merzbow is psychedelic – I have no idea why.)
DISC THIRTY ONE
Okay, the book is still sealed, and the only real demarkation between any of the 50 discs is on the artwork printed directly on the cds themseves. This artwork has been a smattering of digital psychedelia (still – I’ve not been convinced or even informed of any claim of Merzbow’s psychedelia…), bondage photos (ok – there is something aggressively sexual about some of Merzbow’s pieces), and digital fractals (a somewhat overused reference for controlled chaos). But on disc 31, Akita has seen fit to merely have a black swirl on a white background — looking much like the logo for Source Direct or better still, the swirling arch-enemy in Yars Revenge, my all time favorite Atari 2600 game!
Disc 31 has got nothing swirling about it at all. One 42 minute track in which two mid-range noise tracks are phased in and out of the stereo field, then abruptly ends. This really sounds much more like a throw away album rather than something which should have been released. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but is “Music For Bondage Performance 1 or 2” going to appear on the Merzbox? I may have been unduely harsh of the Merzbox — but this disc definitely deserves some critical scorn. Uninspired.
DISC THIRTY TWO
I’ve listened to the last few recordings from the Merzbox early in the morning, right when the coffee sets in… right when the words don’t really ever flow properly from the brain… right when I shouldn’t be critically analysing a piece of art. For disc 32, the context has been much different: it’s been a super busy day here at Aquarius and I could easily find myself trapped under thousands of CDs which are teetering as I write these words on the brink of tumbling from great heights, and worsen the enormous battle wound that streaks across my forehead. And all of the Aquarian staff has been scurrying around wondering when is Bjork coming in the shop again.
That hyperbolic writing is the byproduct from the mania of the day – in truth there’s closer to 500 cds and they are stacked only about two feet off of the counter. The gash on my head was the result of my clumsiness, and I tripped and fell into a shelf. But Bjork did come in the store. No I didn’t meet here, and unless Andee actualizes his plan of inviting her to see “Dude, Where’s My Car?” I won’t loose any sleep over not meeting the Icelandic pop star.
So the Merzbox sounds good at this time of day, although it is causing some hasty purchasing decisions. It could also be that he had acquired some digital technology. Oh a computer! Or. Oh a DAT player! Or. Oh a digital effects box. Regardless, the edits sound much cleaner and the distortion has this clarity that only digital can provide. I know that sounds ludicous: distortion with clarity. But in comparison to some of tape murk crap of the previous bouts of Merzbow – some details that are actually attention grabbin are more than welcome! I could be saying one of two things: “context is king” or “Merzbow and digital is a good thing!” Probably both.
DISC THIRTY THREE
I haven’t given disc 33 a whole lot of thought and it has floated into the background of my current mental space, sort of like ambient music — if ambient music were consisted of nothing but a continual car crash. But this doesn’t end up sounding like that Isolrubin BK album (it literally was a collection of car crashes with Clock DVA-esque beats under the mayhem).. since I do recall that Merzbow used a drill, a violin, and a bass guitar in all of squallid noise.
DISC THIRTY FOUR
It may be obvious by now, but I’ll state it anyway. I’ve been cheating. I haven’t been listening to the Merzbox everyday. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I like to think of myself as a disciplined person, but I can’t force myself to eat brussel sprouts everyday. And now I can’t force myself to listen to the Merzbox.
However, I’ve now received the deadline for this project, which is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it means that I’ll be getting through the box in a timely fashion, after which point I never have to listen to Merzbow again. But on the other, the forced speed at which I need to proceed in order to get through this thing will probably mean that I’ll never give the last records a fair listen. Anyway, 34 discs has been more than enough! Okay, let’s say that somebody who I avidly collect like Reynols or Andrew Chalk did a similar project as the Merzbox (which could be entirely likely, since both have released almost ten records each this year alone!), would it be a good idea to collect all of the impossible to find albums from those two on an encyclopaedic document, so large as to ward off any potential listener? In my humble opinion, the best record ever – The Conet Project – is the perfect amount of space for the material in question (4 cds of numbers stations – which are anonymous shortwave transmissions of coded messages presumably from intelligence organizations to their agents in the field), and if you were a nerd like me and needed more, you fucking got yourself a shortwave! Maybe, I’m just the wrong guy to be reviewing the Merzbox… but after awhile, it’s all just a tinny screach, with a bang, a jazz rhythm annoying skittering through, a turntablist scratch, and a noise.
I will say, however, that Merzbow does include ten minutes of almost Boredoms-esque grooviness. Not enough for me to start caring.
DISC THIRTY FIVE
Just to let you know, I have enjoyed some improvisational music. But almost all of those experiences have been from live shows – as both the musician and the audience finds ecstatic moments in the music as instantly fleeting moments of expressive details. Rarely do I find these documentations of the performances capture elements of discovery, rather they end up as being the grand ejaculation of the Modernist Genius. The Merzbox’s narrative started out on the right foot – with all of those elements of discovery making themselves known to the audience, yet as Akita has been mastering his trade, the ecstatic moments have become less frequent.
Disc 35 is a schizophrenic fair, with half of the album free-for-all guitar noise skree, air turbulence striking the diaphram of a microphone, and general amplifier feedback; and the other half going along the way of what I guess is what has been described as Merzbow’s psychedelia: simple driving drum kit grooves treated with an excess of dub delay and a smattering of noises colleged on top. It ends up sounding more like Mason Jones’ Subarachnoid Space. I like Mason — he’s a nice guy; he set’s up a lot of great shows in San Francisco (Acid Mother’s Temple, Mainliner, Ruins, Fushitsusha, etc…). But to describe an artist as a nice guy is the artistic equivalent of hearing that a woman you’re about to have a date with has a great personality.
DISC THIRTY SIX
It seems as though Merzbow did all of this one on an arsenal of turntables hooked up to a dense reverb pedal and some destortion boxes… with a constant hand on the crossfade, cutting quickly between overblown opera records and perhaps even his own recordings., though it’s hard to tell much as he’s apparantly slamming his fists onto the turntables themselves, causing the needles to jump around. It’s hard to say if Otomo Yoshihide got a few ideas from Merzbow and did it better, or if Merzbow didn’t want Yoshihide moving in on his territory – so returned to the turntables.
DISC THIRTY SEVEN
I have a really stupid record by Vagina Dentata Organ called “Un Chien Catalan.” It is one of those records that is so inscrutible that I spent far too long attempting to convince myself that this was some grand art statement. Perhaps someday I will figure it out, but by that time I will probably be writing inane sycophantic drivel for ArtForum and teaching color theory to smug art students at some esteemed institution in Ohio or perhaps Georgia. Or perhaps not. Vagina Dentata Organ is basically the work of one guy — Jordi Vallis who at one time had the fortune of being the ‘manager’ for Whitehouse. “Un Chien Catalan” is a document of Vallis cruising around the countryside on his Harley Davidson recording the sound of his engine and occasionally the wind striking the microphone. Musically, that’s it. But the packaging provided all of the interesting questions, beyond “why the hell did this get released?” There’s the title’s reference to Luis Bunuel, all of the creepy occultish death symbolism, illogical texts in French, and a photo of Vallis, who looks like a cross between Genesis P-Orridge and David Tibet. It’s a frustrating record that provided no clues as to its meaning. I wanted it to be some pataphysical discourse on the nature of the unknown, but that Vagina Dentata Organ provided no such a luxury. And for now, I’ve relegated this record to a distant corner of my collection as utter stupidity with a glimmer of hope that I’ll find genius in it.
What does Vagina Dentata Organ have to do with the Merzbox? Disc 37 documents the sound of what Merzbow would like to take around the countryside. That muscular vehicle is a modified Red Flyer wagon with a jet engine welded on top and linked to hundreds of tin cans which are tied to the back of the wagon. Sounds dangerous, eh?
DISC THIRTY EIGHT
My friend Glenn was shopping at another record store (to remain nameless) and looking through the experimental records (probably Reynols – as he too has a healthy admiration for those beloved Argentinian avant-rockers). He was greeted by a Merzbow speed freak fan who was still twitching from all of the chemicals taken the night before… “HeyManDoYouLikeNoise?ILoveNoise.MerzbowHe’sTheGreatest.DoYouHaveTheMerzbox?DudeThatMustBeTheGreatestThingEver.IDon’tHaveItYet.ButI’mGonnaGetIt.RealSoon.Man.RealSoon.YouKnowIt’sGot50CDs.Fuck.50FuckingCDs!SometimesICan’tBelieveThatItExists.ButItDoes.AndFuckIGottaHaveOne.That’sJustWayTooFuckingCool.AndYouKnowWhatIt’sNotEvenEveryThingThatHeDid.Shit.Merzbow’sFuckingAwesome.JustFuckingAwesome.I’mInANoiseBandToo.ActuallyI’veNotStartedItYet.ButI’mGoingTo.ThenI’mGoingToJapan.I’mGoingToTourJapan.That’llBeSoFuckingCool.MaybeI’llGetToMeetMerzbow.IBetHe’llLetMeStayAtHisHouse.ThatWouldBeReallyCool.He’sGottaHaveABunchOfRadShitInThere.LikeAllOfThatBondageGear.YouKnowHe’sLikeAFuckingMasterOfBondage.Don’tGetMeWrong,Buddy.CuzIDon’tWannaFuckHim.AndHeDon’tWannaFuckMe.HeLikesChicks.NoWayMerzbow’sAFag.NoOffenseIfYou’reQueer.CuzIfYouAreThat’sCool.ButHisHouse.Man.It’sGottaHaveAllOfHisRecords..AndThinkAboutIt.ThatMerzboxGot50CDsAndHowManyRecordsMustThereBeInThatFuckingHouse.That’sMyIdeaOfHeaven.”
DISC THIRTY NINE
Disc 39 is what I have always believed Merzbow to sound like: pure screaming electric noise. This has been the only piece so far in the whole damn box that may be worthy of all of the hyperbolic language that Merzbow fans ascribe to his work. I did a little research to offer a few examples of that speed induced rhetoric (really, just one magazine which had some choice Merzbow reviews). So here it goes:
“Head-cleaning slabs of concrete”
“One billion suns going supernova in your head”
“Sonic sandstorms and water hose blasts which themselves suddenly squeeze into sinuous capillaries of miniscule grit travelling under enormous pressure at lightning speeds to mutate again into blocks of solid granite.”
“Opposing tectonic plates slam into each other, causing mountain ranges to spurt and volcanos to belch hot white lava in simultaneous orgasmic frenzy.”
“A cyborg howler monkey sinking its claws into your skull and screechin in your ear, feeding its primal spinal signal directly into the soft and dormant parts of your brain.”
“Meteors of molten cum ejaculated from the bleeding heart of the earth.”
The Merzbox has become an endurence test, something like high school that may at the time appear as the most horrific unending event, but later could be a rich, rewarding experience that grossly affects the way that you look at the world. Right now, I am simply pacing myself to get through within a week. I know that is far from a ringing endorsement… and honestly, I feel like I’m shortchanging Merzbow for not giving his work the full attention that it deserves. Sure I’m listening to the records, but am I closely observing all of the details, all of the nuances? No. This is certainly one of the many faults with the Merzbox — that very few people have the ability to listen to the Merzbox with such clarity of mind and resolve of will to truely appreciate what is going on within the all 50 cds. Disc 40 would be one of the records that I might like to own, sounding like a gritty version of “Homotopie For Marie” — my favorite Nurse With Wound album. It’s surrealistically whimsical with all of the appropriated texts from Hindi filmscopes into seasick elliptical loops. It also gets downright dark in some places, which doesn’t really define most Merzbow albums. There have been a few records which I have mentioned in this lengthy diatribe that have been pretty solid… This is one of them. But it’ll be a while before I feel any desire before searching this one out again.
DISC FORTY ONE
This begins the meat of the Merzbox. The earliest tracks may have had some interesting experiments, and this batch of pure assault records is FINALLY that reaches the pain threshold that you expect Merzbow to give you. So Mr. Akita why the fuck did you put all that crap in the middle? This is what your audience expects from you… not murky tape loop and free jazz silliness. This is what defines Merzbow: grinding noise loop samples, overblown distortion, metal riffage, extreme distortion, a woman screaming in the background, more distortion, and – oh yeah – some distortion. There is very little in this thick production that escapes the gravity pull of noise; it is suffocating.
A professor of mine at art school had insisted that all of his students should draw every day, and after drawing everyday for several years would they have only a dozen great drawings. While the lack of the editting process in Merzbow’s body of work makes this piece stand out much more, actually editting something / anything would do him so much good.
DISC FORTY TWO
My friends Cayce and Cheyla had their first baby, named Django about six months ago. While one of the more clever gifts for new parents is always Raymond Scott’s willfully silly “Soothing Sounds For Baby,” such a playful repetoire never really had a soothing effect on the little Django. Rather, that which put him to sleep was the white noise barrage of Norwegian black metellers – especially Enslaved. White noise has often been associated with hollistic properties, and after living in San Francisco for six years, I find it difficult to sleep without the continous din of the city’s soundtrack reverberating the court yard behind my apartment. Listening to disc 42, I can discern that Merzbow had intentions that were aurally cruel. But if I were play this album a little quieter than normal listening volume, it would put me to sleep in a matter of minutes.
DISC FORTY THREE
Rock, Rot, or Rule. Those are the answers given in Ronald Thomas Clontle’s “Ultimate Argument Settler,” a far from comprehensive list which states the name of the band and their verdict: Rock, Rot, or Rule. It really nails what music criticism should be: the concise obliteration or utter praise of a band based entirely upon a monosyllabic grunt (which can be a little confusing because ‘rock’ and ‘rot’ are similar phoenetically, especially when slurred when drunk or Southern). Yet, a few artists managed to get a None Of The Above qualification. Merzbow definitely qualifies in the highly selective, yet wholly ambiguous catagory of None Of The Above (as in Elvis Costello, Pavement, Beach Boys, REM, Mighty Mighty Boss Tones). The simple absurdity of Merzbox project places Merzbow in the pantheon of musical excess. – a status sought by many, but rarely achieved. Thus, he doesn’t Rot. To say that Merzbow doesn’t Rule is the most contentious point, but for the sake of tautology, I’ll state that he doesn’t. So there.
Disc 43 may be the closest Merzbow can come to Rocking. Grind core mosh grooves dominate the album with what appears to be some odd samples of “Carmina Barana” played on Egyptian reeds, hyper active elliptical drum patterns topped with flanging noise, theramin warble excited to screech wildly, and a waltz.. It’s the Merzwaltz that makes this disc so interesting, with a stuttering sample that randomly ended up in this hiccupping time signature. But really can you rock out in 3/4 time? I didn’t think so.
DISC FORTY FOUR
I had been in my studio building some frames for a upcoming show when I was listening to Disc 44. I needed to break out the router, which along with its principle use as a woodworking tool to gouge out perfect grooves is a tremendous noise maker. It emanates so much noise as to require the use of earplugs or else I’ll find my ears in the same swollen state as when they were abused during a My Bloody Valentine concert in 1992. I certainly don’t qualify anymore as that punk fuckin’ rock art student who will ignite anything, disregard health warnings, and generally treat my body like it had a warranty on it. So I wear ear plugs, because Tinnitus doesn’t seem like fun. With all of the noise that Merzbow has been spewing in his late period, I have to ask the question: “Does he suffer from Tinnitus?” Oh, yeah. As a result of the earplugs, the record sounded pretty muffled. Maybe I’ll go back and listen to it, but maybe not.
DISC FORTY FIVE
Hull – officially Kingston-Upon-Hull – was an early seat of the whale fisheries, and sea fishing is still a viable commercial venture. There are some 300 steam trawlers in the fishing fleet, which did valuable service during World War I. The extensive and varied traffic of Hull was much affected by the War, as the city was in the area of the North Sea operations, but the volume of trade had almost recovered by 1928. The numerous industries include iron founding, shipbuilding and engineering, and the manufacture of chemicals, vegetable oil, colours, cement, paper, starch, soap, and cotton good; there are also tanners and breweries. Passenger steamship services run from Hull to the principle Norwegian and Swedish ports. A ferry serves New Holland on the Lincolnshire shore.
Andrew Chalk lives in Hull. Masami Akita does not.
DISC FORTY SIX
The robots have invaded Tokyo. The government has collapsed in the midst of a coup, and the military has squandered all of their opportunities to purge the maraunding robots from the capital city. With no one else left to make any decisions, an odd captain in the lower ranks of the military places a call to the last man in Japan who can save the devistated island country. This captain, it turns out, has a passion for the impossible inventions conjured in the few texts by pataphysicist Rene Daumont. He believes that sound (in particular seering white noise) is the key to deconstructing the attacking machines. The call is made to the mild mannered bondage enthusiast Masami Akita. The phone rings, Akita wonders “Who could be there? What could they want? What would be said?” His nerves do not get the better of him and he picks up the phone… The only thing uttered from Akita’s end of the conversation is “Yes, I will save the world.” The tinker of kitchen silverwear, the nervous dialing of phone, a washing machine (because a superhero can’t save the world in soiled underwear), and the growing rhythmic vibrations of multi-tracked tremolo amplifier distortion that explodes in the finale of all great Japanese sci-fi / monster movies as the psychic purging of a Hiroshima blast. “Some one set us up the bomb. All our base are belong to us.”
Akita 1, Robots o.
DISC FORTY SEVEN
Oh crap, this one’s about robots too. (As an aside, I did review this one by mistake thinking it was disc 3, just to keep the logic nice and circular.)
DISC FORTY EIGHT
I haven’t really concerned myself with actually describing the last bunch of records. Mostly because this damn thing is so exhausting, but also because I’ve run out of things to say. But for Disc 48, Merzbow’s got something new to offer. It’s dreamy. He’s acquired a trick that recreated the mesmeric sound of ‘60s sci-fi hypnosis… like when Wonder Woman ties up a bad guy with her ‘lasso of truth’ (or whatever it was called), or when Captain Kirk was bedazzled by an alien femme fatale. I think it’s done by layering two quick delay patterns over a continous sweep of a harp or bells. This sound was certainly the only thing that really caught my attention on Disc 48, which aside from that trick is no different from the last five or six Merzbow offerings of constant blasting noise.
DISC FORTY NINE
Simply because I have nothing new or interesting to say about this disc (it’s noisy), I have a Merzbow anecdote for you. When I was working (being abused) at Silent Records about seven years ago, I got a call from one of the editors from The Wire. “Is Jim Haynes there?”
“I’m calling from a The Wire in England, and we have been informed that Silent is in possession of The Merzcar.”
“Oh, you mean one of the three Mercedes that Merzbow modified to blast a specially designed soundtrack through its speakers cranked as loud as possible?”
“Yes!!! You really have it?”
“Yeah, right now Tobin is cruising the Embarcadero scaring the tourists at Pier 39. You should really get to hear that thing!”
“Is it for sale?”
At this time, I started laughing and had to tell him the truth. No Silent never had the Merzcar, and had always assumed it to be an myth within the noise community. While I’ve never been to verify it, the ‘sightings’ of the Merzcar pop up from time to time.
With only one disc to go, I am quite relieved to be nearly finished with the box. I know that I will be able to put the box set away for a while, pull it out when neccessary… maybe read the book. There is a distance which you can have to even something as massive as this boxset. Even if I had the money to burn on the Merzcar – the Mercedes Merzcar – I don’t think I could justify leaving it in the garage. It’s a fucking Mercedes. How could you not want to drive it? Oh well.
As I watched the display on my cd player countdown the last seconds of disc fifty, I breathed a sigh of relief to be done. I could retire the Merzbox. While one of the more obvious reasons for listening to this thing was to sell it, the listening experiences amounted to me convincing myself that I didn’t want the damn thing. Ironic how Windy (my boss at Aquarius) pulled me aside to give me my Christmas bonus: the Merzbox. The good little Southern gentleman that I’m supposed to be held my tongue, and I graciously accepted my gift. So I’m obviously torn between wanting to call upon a language of pure disgust about the Merzbox and not wanting to insult Windy (who not only gives me a paycheck every two weeks but is also a close friend of mine, making it harder to hide the thing in my closet like an ugly tie).
My initial thoughts were that Merzbow’s aesthetic could be sequested to a realm of smug solipsism, communicating nothing but an ejaculation into aural existance. But I can’t easily dismiss Merzbow since he invoked such wrath from me. Since so much music today seeks to please everybody and market itself to the lowest common demonenator, it’s a good thing that conflict exists. It’s a good thing that there are assholes and villains to against. I doubt I would qualify Masami Akita as either an asshole or a villain, but he certainly pissed me off with the excesses of his music that proved to be too much for 50 fucking cds. Since emotions either good or bad should be treasured within a culture that prefers to be narcotized by spectacle, I can at least say that Merzbow has the power to ellicit a response. That’s not really much of a complement, but I’m done.
Hey all. Yeah, so H2O asked me to write an article on semi-obscure pop band and I jumped at the chance. After reading last issue, with it’s ASSHOLE theme I couldn’t resist as I dig everything the magazine stands for. This, however, is going to be a kindler/gentler article. About bands who speak from their hearts! Bands or musicians who don’t mind admitting they have shrines in their bedrooms to both Morrissey AND Stuart Murdoch (and quite possibly Brian Wilson). These people demand your respect, so why not give it to em’. I could write about 100 more great bands if H2O gives me the space. So here goes, in no particular order.
No one seems to know anything about the Baron cept’ that he hails from Germany (we think) and can write a perfect 2 minute jangler in the time it takes most people to brush their teeth. Last year’s The Soundtrack of my Life (on Apricot Records), a roundup of comp. tracks and other unreleased material, proved this with 14 slices of what I call freedom.
Hailing from Sweden (a hotbed of twee/jangle pop entertainment) already puts them in the drivers seat of this article. This band is led by Mikael (who used to be in the great Red Sleeping Beauty) who uses his stun guitar effect while the mysterious Ingela lays out perfect vocals and bassist Christer, well, he just hangs out in the studio smoking. Look for their third full-length on the Shelflife label this summer.
This San Francisco quintet (that means 5 members, right?) used to be known as Skypark but a lost wrestling match changed all of that so they had to change their name to an even better one (if you’re a golfer like me). This band, led by Brent and Andrew (the Morrisey & Marr of our generation) carry on the sublime tradition of Sarah Records to full-effect. Look for their records on the Paris Caramel, Matinee, and Shelflife labels.
Basically a one man band led by the elusive Gary Strickland. Gary’s passion for fixing broken washing machines is only surpassed by his love of writing upbeat, sunny pop tunes. “California beach pop” I think someone once called it. He has 2 nearly perfect (and a few singles and eps) on the Damaged Goods label.
Is a British band led by Dick. No, he’s not a private eye but he is buddies with (and gets help on the record from) Keith and Paul from Sarah Records darlings Blueboy (and currently Beaumont) on the stunning debut record: Songs in the Key of Lovejoy (Matinee Records). His songs take you to places you have only read about in Conde Naste Traveller. Yup, they’re that good.
This trio hail from Australia and have several records out (on the Candle label in Oz and Drive In and Matinee labels here) and are more than adept at penning near perfect ditties w/ lyrics that will make you fall over laughing (the songs that mention Gilligan’s Island and Danielle Steel are just 2 examples). Give this band your money, attention, and even your kids. You won’t be sorry you did.
L.W. is a pop scene fixture and she has never even been beaten up by Courtney Love! You may be familiar with her from such bands as The Autocollants, In a Day, Casino Ashtrays, Colors & Shapes, and about 67 others. Her solo debut 7″ of last year, “What’s Your Favorite Color?” (Shelflife Record) was 2000’s best single and the pop kids are gearing up for her solo debut full length on the Shelflife label this year. You should be too.
Kissing Book is basically the brainchild of Andrew Kaffer, a hipster from Portland, OR who is quite tall. They only have one full-length out, the awesome Lines and Color (Magic Marker Records) but with tunes on it like the amazingly catchy “You should’ve seen us yesterday” or the heartbreaker, “Some girls don’t speak” you’ll wonder why you never have heard of him/them. Magic Marker promises the follow-up sophomore effort sometime this year. I’m saving my pennies.
This Canadian duo of Julie and Daniel have been called a “poor man’s Lush” by some editor of a west coast zine called Dagger (that guy doesn’t know his butt from grape jelly) but nonetheless, this band can reduce audience members to either tears or laughter just by a single keyboard note. It’s true! They have a 7″, a cd-ep, and a full-length , all essential, on the fledging Satellite label out of southern California.
Yet another Swedish band, this time is a duo of Johan (who is also in the great Acid House Kings) and Karolina who specialize in sensitive keyboard pop. They met, apparently, in a coffee shop when he spilled his Red Bull energy drink all over her brand new blouse. She was PISSED ( angry, not drunk, for all of our foreign readers) , let me tell you. They, however, made up and the rest is history. They have some amazing records out on the Siesta and March labels (and one forthcoming on Parasol).
Contact Tim Hinely c/o DAGGER ZINE or SKY BLUE RECORDS : PO Box 2464 Santa Rosa, CA 95405 USA.