I know I’m not alone in saying that seeing The Nation of Ulysses might be one of the best bands of all time.
In the spring of ’91, I was living in Pittsburgh and fiinishing up my MBA at UPitt. I should also add that I was doing a fair bit of running which was immediately halted when I tore all of the ligaments out of my right ankle. So for about a month, on the hilly Pittsburgh streets, I had to maneuver with crutches. Seeing as how I didn’t own a car, I was able to convince my roommate Gary to give me a quick ride over to this small house in Squirrel Hill where NOU were playing. At the time, they didn’t even have their debut single out, but I was still super-excited to see them. Little did I know what I was about to see.
After being dropped off, I sat out on the stoop of the house waiting for the show to start. I think Feral Family, Blunderbuss or Salt Chunk Mary opened. Like something out of a movie, the Ulysses van pulled right up to the front door and the side door opened with Ulysses and Bikini Kill members spilling out onto the sidewalk. The interior of the van looked like a bomb went off.
Making my way down those steep stairs into the basement, I decided it was best if I stood behind one of the small speaker columns to reduce the risk of getting my ankle injured further. A few minutes later, NOU set up and immediately exploded into their set. 17 minutes later, they were done and packing up. During that 17 minutes, I was a mere foot from Steve Kroner and only a few more feet away from Ian Svevonious who was yelling and screaming like his throat was just cut open. Ian was routinely bashing his head into the low ceiling and the rest of the band could best be described as "frenetic". They left the room leveled. Coincidentally, this show also marked the first time I would meet Karl Hendricks and Ian Williams who at the time were in a band together called Sludgehammer but later went on to be in The Karl Hendricks Trio and Don Caballero/Storm & Stress/Battles later. Ian actually gave my crutched ass a ride home, come to think of it.
I was lucky enough to see NOU a few more times (including a hilarious show in York, PA, my hometown) and moved to Georgia shortly before they broke up
Over the years, I’ve become friendly with a number of the guys in the band through their bands since then: The Make*Up, Weird War, Scene Creamers, Ted Leo/Pharmacists and The Fucking Champs.
Ironically enough, Tim Green and the Fucking Champs were here at the house a few days back and I asked him about "The Memphis Demos" which I uncovered in a box of tapes recently.
As Tim recalls, NOU were in Memphis on tour with Bikini Kill in early 1992 to find that the promoter hadn’t actually promoted their show. So the band immediately took to flyering the streets of Memphis. While walking the streets and going into record stores and whatnot, they ran into Primal Scream who were in town recording an album. At their show that night at the Antenna Club, Primal Scream showed up (being 2 of the 5 paying people at the club) and then after the show, invited NOU to come to the studio to record some songs. So the next day, with a slightly irked Bikini Kill in tow, Nation of Ulysses recorded five songs on Primal Scream’s dime in nine hours.
Tape trading being what it was in the early 90’s, I had a first generation copy of this for years and never thought twice about it until Tim was here at the house and thought I’d get the low-down straight from somebody who was there.
Of course, Tim also tells of having to take Primal Scream (or maybe Jesus and Mary Chain, I can’t recollect) to the Piggly Wiggly to get tin foil so they could smoke crack. A Tim Green story is never complete without something bizarre like that happening.
In the next year or so, Ulysses contined to kick out the jams and leave a legacy that many have aped (Refused being a notable example) and never quite nailed. Then again, I’m sure NOU were hastily compared to the MC5 or Fugazi by old farts like me back in the late 80’s, so what do I know?
Still, one of my fondest memories is Tim’s van that pulled up at the house in ’91 continued to be his main form of transpo up until a couple years ago. Tim thinks the van had clocked in over 800,000 miles (he’s unsure, the odometer broke around 500K) and upon trying to donate the van as a historic relic to the Experience Music Project, he was politely turned away after hearing they already had Soundgarden‘s van. Soundgarden? Come on, what about a band whose legacy was actually earned in the van and not some anonymous tour bus? Sadly, Tim just simply sent the van to the junk yard and a piece of rock history is now forever a piece of junk.
The good news is that these 4 tracks remain, although I don’t know of a fifth (even though Tim says there is one).
More goodies forthcoming.
Feel free to make suggestions/requests in the comments section.
The Nation of Ulysses – N-Sub Ulysses (Memphis demo)
The Nation of Ulysses – 50,000 Watts (Memphis demo)
The Nation of Ulysses – Mockingbird, Yeah (Memphis demo)
The Nation of Ulysses – Shakedown (Memphis demo)