Over a year ago, Man or Astro-Man? asked for me to write the liner notes for their reissue of their "Your Weight on the Moon" 10" on One Louder. Of course, nothing has happened (yet) so I’m including this along with MOAM?s very first tape from the fall of ’92.
Also, to all Astro-fans, it’ll do you well to go check out James Bennett’s meticulous blog regarding the band’s discography. Recommended.
And finally, I’ve encoded some early video of Astroman from ’92. Darnell’s in Auburn!
Second only to five inch records, ten inch records are the pinnacle of collecting fetishism. Fact.
I’m certainly not trying to pick a fight with this broad statement, but it’s true. You, the reader, know it’s true. The labels that put them out know it’s true. Hell, everybody that’s ever collected records knows it’s true. It’s the vinyl equivalent to the dollar coins that the US Mint has tried (repeatedly) to adapt into the American currency. No matter how much they’ve been pushed on the general public, they’re just met with a polite level of interest followed by an oppressive level of apathy. This is fact. The sooner you come to realize this, the sooner your record collection will be able to muster a sigh of relief.
I’ve had extended conversations discussing the fetishistic nature of 10" records over and over again, and when pressed for a counter-argument, the same examples are brought up to champion their validity. The Oblivians. Slint. Teengenerate. Pavement. And then there’s Man…or Astro-Man? They didn’t put out one 10" record. No, no, no. They put out THREE and one of ’em was a double! Pack that in your space bong and smoke it.
1994 marked only YEAR NUMBER TWO for Man…or Astro-Man? in their search to fill record store bins across the world with their absurdly prolific output. The band came out of the gates so fast in 1992 that it became almost impossible to keep up with what they were putting out. As a fledgling music writer in Athens at the time of their first demo tape called "Supersonic Toothbrush" (not to be mistaken for the 7" of the same name) was released, I felt fortunate that I was able to plant a stake at ground zero of the swelling Astro-mania that would swell throughout the decade.
Just to put things in perspective, perhaps it would be best to explain exactly just how prolific Astro-Man? were. In 1993, their first full year as a band, they put out five singles, a flexidisc and their first full length album, Is It… My iTunes library tells me that’s over a full 90 minute mix-tape of exclusive material. An hour and a half! In a year! Perhaps it would also help to understand that when the band wasn’t writing and recording these releases, they were burning out axles and flinging Little Debbie snack cakes all across the Southeast United States. And to top it off, to varying degrees, all four of the Astro-kids were all in school. And let me tell you, as somebody that is all but a few years older than they are, they were kids. But they were kids that were chomping at the bit to get out of Auburn and out to clubs to slap their stickers on any available condom machine, sound board, backstage club door or cocaine mirror they could get their post-teenage hands on.
Man…or Astro-Man?’s visits to Georgia were alarmingly steady in those early days before the rest of the planet fell prey to them. By looking at my dusty tape collection, the band played no fewer than six venues in Georgia that first year. The Star Bar, The Point and the Grooveyard in Atlanta and Club Fred, Hoyt Street North and the 40 Watt Club in Athens. And on top of it, they performed in the Omni Hotel lobby at DragonCon to unwitting comic book and scifi nerds on a Saturday afternoon. You could say that the band was hungry, but so quickly? And so…..I don’t know how else to say it…..CRAZED?!
Their live shows were always a hodgepodge of whatever far-fetched ideas that came out of their collective noggins. Performed songs that were flubbed were met with push-ups. Coco’s brilliant, yet some would say long winded, on-stage rants were met with abuse from behind Birdstuff’s drum kit. Hecklers were met with Tang powder poured over their heads. Unsuspecting audiences were blindsided by Little Debbie snacks hurtling out the Snackzooka (™) at 100 miles per hour. Coco The Electronic Monkey Wizard would ride his trusty Big Wheel around the crowd, and of course, the show was never truly complete until their trusty tour manager Bookman would come out to shake his hips doing the "Bunny Foo Foo" dance during "Reverb 10,000." Those were good times, I tell you. Good times. And don’t let nobody tell you otherwise.
Which, in a roundabout way, takes me to fall of 1993. Birdstuff and I had become quick pen pals in those halcyon pre-internet days where stamps on postcards announcing tour dates were king and our early hang times were spent hovering over the merch table after their sets. Birdstuff would routinely push Astroman?’s newest sellable gimmick on me. Whether it was Astro-Teethpaste (read: a push-tube of Crest), Galactic Fruit Meteors (read: a standard issue fruit cake) or Space Dust (read: dryer lint) they all had an ersatz Man…or Astroman? sticker slapped on it and made their own….and available for only five bucks!
The band played that night with the Smugglers and the Subsonics above a Jamaican restaurant on Peachtree in Atlanta at a club called The Grooveyard. This is back when downtown was still fraught with chances for a small town kid such as myself to get mugged (or worse) on a night out. I vividly recollect Clay from the Subsonics warning me to look out for the heroin needles in the men’s bathroom. Yeah, it was that kind of place. That particular night Birdstuff plopped the "Call of the Wild" flexidisc and Mission Into Chaos single into my hands (along with the newest obligatory Astro-shirt and stickers) before I left for my 2am drive back to Athens.
Getting a copy of those early Astro-Man? singles was palpably exciting. The songs were still fresh. Still new. Still raw. Not obsessed with studio time, they were cranking the jams out at a furious clip and Mission Into Chaos was no exception. Astro-Man? was still around eighteen months old, but learning what they wanted from their records at an excelled rate. As with all their singles of this era, it was recorded out past the train tracks in Wetumpka, Alabama at Jim Marrer’s converted house/studio in a day. The guitar tones were starting to drift away from the clichéd Ventures sound and getting a more punky attack. The ambient drones and howls were more deftly mixed into the songs. The samples were getting more abstract. The 4-color die-cut sleeve (their first for a 7") was far more mysterious and less literal than previous releases (thanks to graphic design master Art Chantry). The band was growing stronger by the day and Mission Into Chaos proves it.
A mere couple months later in December, Astroman? were playing the 40 Watt in Athens on some random Friday night. All of the band were gearing up for their first trip to Ol Blighty and showed up to the club with differently colored Manic Panic-dyed neon hair. I distinctly remember Birdstuff’s electric blue mop as he handed me their (fifth!) newest single of 1993, the vs. Europa UK tour single on Homo Habilis. Again, and I’m not trying to belabor the point as much as make this abundantly clear, this was a band that had started a little over a year before their first European tour. Wrap your head around that.
The winter and spring of 1994 progressed with their same seemingly effortless level of aplomb. And, as had become tradition by that point, Astroman? were hitting Georgia on Fridays and Saturdays amidst their furious school, recording and tour schedule. Amidst the calamity, Astroman? wrote Your Weight On The Moon in a week. Yes, seven days. Following that, the band was holed up at Zero Return for another three days to record and mix their debut 10" record.
Your Weight On The Moon signaled the waning days of this first (and some would say "classic") line up of Astroman?. Dr. Deleto’s days were counting down and so was the band’s more elementary approach to songwriting. However, this isn’t to say that Astroman? didn’t have plenty of tricks up their sleeve. As performances around this time would prove, many of these songs became staples of their set for years to come. "Special Agent Conrad Uno" and "Electrostatic Brain Field" were always to be expected for the next year. The Rezillos song "Destination Venus" was too eerily similar to the Astroman? songwriting style of the time (except for the addition of vocals, obviously) and "Rocketship XL-3" became the routine opening number to their shows for most of 1994 and well into 1995.
The 10" quickly became ubiquitous with record stores and collectors alike. Of course, the sign of the diehard fan was easy to spot by owning a glow-in-the-dark copy. And yes, I would turn the lights out in my living room to watch the record dimly glow while "Space Patrol" blasted out of my stereo. Remember what I said about the 10" being a fetishized format? Well, keep in mind that when said format glows, it ramps the record to legendary status. No question.
The band would take a more distinctly post-punk direction over the course of their next lineup which featured Captain Zeno. But really, Your Weight On The Moon is a crystalline snapshot of a young and prolific band writing, performing and recording at a furious pace. Musically, the band never stayed in one place for very long, but after all, these were kids from outer space.
Upon discussing Man or Astro-Man? with a fellow long-tenured fan, we kept revisiting how the band was always on display. This was actually a band whose packaging matched (or even exceeded) their on-stage personas, and you’d always wait with anxious anticipation what the band would bring out. Whereas some bands would have cool looking records, their songs sucked and what’s worse, they sucked live. Or, what would be more painful, their songs were killer, the packaging was killer, yet the band just weren’t that great on stage. But then there was Man…or Astro-Man? who masterfully did all three. They always came up with something fun (and usually funny) for almost ten years. TEN YEARS! Although this might sound brash, I’ll publicly debate anybody that can find a band with such a spectacular track record for an entire decade. Yeah, long live Man…or Astro-Man?
Henry H. Owings
27 January 2010
Man…or Astro-Man? – Invasion of the Dragonmen (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Organ Smash (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Nitrous Burnout (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Adios Johnny Bravo (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Cowboy Playing Dead (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Alien Visitors (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Sadie Hawkins Atom Bomb (first demo)
Man…or Astro-Man? – Taxidermist Surf (first demo)