Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Oui Oui Twins

Alissa Feinberg, the lost Twin

Punk wasn't an easy choice back in 1980. I had already laughed it off several times before, after buying the first Ramones album and having a laugh or two over Beat On the Brat With A Baseball Bat and I Don't Wanna Go Down In The Basement.

It might seem foolish now, but at the time, punk didn't seem so much a musical thing as a fashion statement. The idea that music didn't need to be played well was so totally alien to everything music had been throughout the 1970s that it was almost impossible to grasp; and the consequences were completely unforeseen. Nobody knew that punk would spread like crabgrass and cover the land, choking out every last vestige of proficiency in music, leaving us with the souless studio drones and rap musicians to rule the airwaves while thousands of new bands fought for our attention just beneath the horizon of profitability; we all thought that music would continue on as before, with those who played far better than average wanking away on their ever-more difficult and ornate variations of blues, funk and country while the rest of us strived diligently to imitate our betters.

As we all now know, punk did not go anywhere, but just got bigger and bigger. I remember, with visceral clarity, in the dying days of Jambox, sitting on a fire escape behind where West End Wax would once be, reading an article on the Sex Pistols, chuckling at the effrontery of Johnny Rotten claiming that sex was just sixty seconds of sweat and noise, among other nonsense calculated to challenge our seventies preconceptions of right and wrong, and thinking the man was onto something big here.

So when Rommie Martinez and Alissa Feinberg came to invite me to join their new punk band the Oui Oui Twins, I said yes on the spot. They were both beautiful young girls, just barely sixteen, and I liked the idea of a punk band fronted by two underaged young girls just on the face of it. Back in the barbarous days of the late seventies, the whole idea of even pretending that teenaged girls were incapable of agency in choosing whether or not to have sex with anyone of any age was considered so prudish and quaint that we all found it quite laughable.

When I heard the lyrics that the girls had written I was pretty convinced that we could put together a credible punk act. We practiced a few times at the apartment where I was living with George Crider and his roommate Bob, once inviting Brett Rosenberg over for a little light necking and music playing. Alissa and Rommie were already jealous over Brett, who was a big-eyed, big dicked little guy who played a mean lead guitar and was famous for wearing revealing satin pants on stage in his last band, Surgery.

Soon the rest of Surgery, minus whoever played bass and Howard, the lead singer - a legendary performer who was known to grope and sexually assault girls while singing - was lined up to form the new band. Alex Mutrux would play guitar, like me, and Kevin Brueseke would play drums. Kevin was a well-known drummer in the punk scene in Saint Louis. He was, in fact, one of the first St. Louis punk drummers I had ever seen myself, though I didn't realize it at the time. I had seen him playing with the Camaros at a legendary show at some house on Forest Park Boulevard maybe a year or so earlier, along with Bob Reuter and the Dinosaurs and the mighty mighty Retros. That show was the very first St. Louis Punk show I and many other people had ever seen, though I'm not sure if it pre-dated the Cool Jerks in Nik Moon's basement sometime in the late seventies also.

Soon after we started this band, Mort Hill and I were working on opening the very first punk club in St. Louis, the Club OP-P on Olive, in a worthless old building my dad had bought. In this building, in the same room where many of the top punk bands of this time were to play, we started practicing, and one day we made a down and dirty recording on a cheap Jap boombox I had laying around just for shits and grins. And this is how, after all these many decades, we can hear the faintest echos of the majesty of the Oui Oui Twins.

Of course, the blinding poreless engorged youthfulness of the Twins themselves can never be recaptured. Their tiny brunette bodies, tight and hot, can only be dimly glimpsed even by those who still cherish the memories of those long-gone days. So try to listen with indulgence and compassion to these crude practices, while understanding that the Oui Oui Twins never really got much better technically, they were always nothing less than the rawest wildest yawp of sex-crazed punk abandon ever seen on a St. Louis stage.

On the tracks here I'm pretty sure that the lineup is Alissa and Rommie on vocals, Kevin on drums, Alex and me on guitars, and my brother Augustino on bass.

The Oui-Oui Twins at their second and last gig at Club OP-P New Year's Eve 1981.

First, try the Oui Oui version of Dot-Pop, which was called I've Got Class!

Next, the hit single that never was, I'm Electric.

Last, if you wish, a song that was pretty lame, Last Night.

And if you remember them at all, I will share with you my deep regret that no recorded version of their insane rap/dirge My Brain Is On The Floor survives, and is probably lost forever.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Thom Sleet/Bill Morris Change

While taking a much needed-break from my video editing job I had another session with Thom Sleet and Bill Morris. Here is an excerpt from the best of what we did. Don't know if I could ever do it again, but I'll always try.

We started this session by sketching diagrams of what we would play, to give us some kind of direction. I also decided I would play melodically if I wanted, since that's just me. Listening to this back, right afterwards, I felt it was stone cold fever in jam.

This track has Thom Sleet on drums and such, Bill Morris on guitar, and me on the wah guitar.

Download "Knocking a Riff"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coming Attractions: The Obvious

There are only a few Obvious songs to put up, in all. But this is a list of everything I'm planning on throwing up her over the next few months:

Surf's Up, Gang! - gotta do this soon, I guess. Everyone's seen the video, but there are stories to tell and photos to share.

Venturesque - the only perfect Obvious song, written by Alex Mutrux. I'm really proud of my guitar parts on this, though I realize the art of the rhythm guitar is lost on most people.

Back to Beat - my punk cry for beat legitimacy, prefaced by a quote from Howl.

Those were the first three songs we recorded, all of them pretty decent recordings. The next recording session was much more rushed.

Overgrown & Undersexed - some pop snide put down of an imaginary girl.

(I Lost My Club) Down On The Stroll - my post-punk song about the OP-P Club, the first punk club in St. Louis.

Dot-Pop - this one's done.

Lights, Camera, Action! - this one's done.

Jailbait - a regrettable subject that seemed funny at the time. There was a time, kids, when statutory rape was just a joke. The hook for this song was swiped so directly from Charlie Langrehr that he even had the temerity to bring it to my notice once, and I, of course, denied it furiously.

Then there are some live tracks Alex Mutrux coughed up in honor of my 50th birthday. If anyone even cares, they are a version of "Waitin' For My Man" with local legend Jim Saltsider on vocals, our off-key version of "Pleasant Valley Sunday", always a Tony Patti standard, and a truncated version of a song even I had forgotten we did that I guess is called the Celebrity Song.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The Obvious was the best band I was ever in, just ask Alex Mutrux, even though it was never one of Alex's "favorite" bands or anything like that. Jim Saltsider himself gave us our entire supply of ultra hipster insiderness thanks to his dabbling's in White Pride and sundry other crimes.

But the Obvious, more than anything else, was what is indisputably known as a new wave band, though aspects of punk and post-punk nihilism were in evidence in every single recorded instance of the band.

And this is where we find Saltsider and Mutrux sitting inside the filthy trash container in front of my Mom's apartment where I was crashing right after the O-PP Club fell apart.

Look at Jim Saltsider grinning his evil elfin Kaya-Ungu-Mala smiles at the camera while fingering leftover crumbs of Sugar Smacks, while Mutrux thumbs through a magazine, seemingly unaware of his magnificent hipster past, instead rather annoyed but still game enough to crawl in there in the first place.

He wrote this song for the Oui Oui Twins, who had some lyrics that no one seemed to like that were something like "I've Got Class!" and if you check back here every so often I'll get around to posting it, since I have a very lousy cassette tape of a practice with this song.

I rewrote the lyrics and we sped it up quite a bit before we finally recorded it in the second of our two recording sessions. This version has Mutrux on guitar, me on guitar and vocals, Kevin Brueseke on drums, my brother Augustino on bass and Sally Barnes on Arp.
"Dots dig dada den drink soda pop!"
It was a typical boy teen delusion grown stale - the idea that somewhere there were dots, dots who somehow dug you, dots who doted on you, dots only signed to shine with the phosphorescence you provided. And that was supposed to be enough. And that was supposed to be the end of it. But it wasn't, and it hardly ever was any other way.

You got used to the dots, started to kind of expect them one way or the other. Dots, you'd tell yourself in moments of deepest introspection, these Dots are just plain daffy. One day these dots came to you in the form of a Oui-Oui Twin or two. And from then on out it was just the Obvious - with and without Chuck DeClue.

It was a big mystery to anyone as much as me, what I would say when we actually recorded the song. I tried to keep it on the one but must admit I Kerouaced it on up as much as a trained stream of consciousness boys can wain it. Can wing it. Wanna wang it, dol-gang it to death and damnation!

We'll start out with Feedback & Flashback,
The world's most engaging Dots.
They decided to use what they got to ooze
And they moved at the party to prove:

Dots pop Dot-Pop.

"Let's take a break here to clarify the vague terminology in this song: Dots are beauty personified, and pop is the ultimate explosion of love."

We tied up the Dots in cellophane-
We intertwined them between our strings-
Played chords on their epidermal kernel-
Pop Dots - have a little fling!

"When Dots drink each other's Dot-Pop, it's only a question of abnormal florals or oral morals."

Dots dig Dada den drink soda pop
You know you know nothing if you don't know you know what you know. But, anyway... You don't have to remind me what I don't know even if I did I might not anyway bein the way I am and all. I'm not saying I know, I'm just asking if you do, and if you do, then everything you do is inclusive in the limited plan of action and law allowable under precedents long-established and benign.

Download "Dot-Pop!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tacky Neon Blood! A Comedy of Manners

Back in the far off days of my heavenly youth, there existed a simple technology called a tape deck. Kids with wit and humor seized upon these devices to record themselves goofing around. We had all heard Firesign Theater and the records of the Bonzo Dog Band and knew that we could make a comedy tape as easily as they did. It was a kind of punk comedy, but without the narrow cultural focus that punk came to represent.

Slash Brannon was the name I coined for Patrick Udell for this very comedy tape, and Rico D. Bool was the name I coined for Joe Ramsey. Later I also came up with Fo Jammi's name, since it seemed to be my job to invent nicknames for the entire band. Of us all, I think only Joe and Fo Jammi have kept their teen nicknames, which is amazing to me.

After a considerable amount of crude editing I have smacked this chaotic sketch into something worth listening to. I just had to take out some of the long, drawn-out scenes of torture that we resorted to all too frequently, since we just did it because we couldn't think of anything funny to do, and cruelty is the natural refuge of the amateur comic.

Personally, I find these comedy tapes to be hilarious, but I realize that my humor is spawned of affection for the knuckleheaded kids who tapes it together.

This was recorded in 1977 or 1978 in the South Saint Louis Funk Lab. The female voice was supplied by Lisa, Slash's girlfriend.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just a Moment

Another song I played at my 50th birthday party was one very important to me: Just a Moment. The very reason I went to so much trouble and expense to have such a big party was because I wanted to have a moment in time where everyone who loved me would be with me in one room, and I got as close as I possibly could to having it.

I have a theory of time that orders my life and provides me with the faith to endure as much as I can the passing of time and helps me to fill even moments of tedium and impatience with a spark of the eternal. This theory is based on the idea that time begins in the present moment, rather than in the past.

Time begins, as it does in actual experience,
in the present moment,
and on this I have chosen to rely

It’s not some antique philosophical conception
a bang before all time
that you can measure like a simple length of string

If you switch the ideas about all time beginning
From past to present moment
You'll understand the bang is nowhere but our now

Time… Is nothing but a moment
It’s what’s going down
And it’s happening to you

Time… Going backwards going forwards
Infinitely outward
From an omnipresent now

We can’t get any closer
To the current state of time
We listen to impressions
Of the bang of now behind
Sooner or later
Our conceptions of linear time
Become a strong illusion
Called the arrow of time

Time… Like a wasp stuck in amber
Is a fossilized fragment
of a moment called now

Time… Existing solely in the present
We’re all presently recording
Every memory of now

If you disconnect the dots you
Might lose yourself in time
Our construct is our lifeline
The timeline is our mind
But regarding pure physics
It could happen at any time
The consensus will be shifting
To this moment in time

It's more than just a moment, really. It's every moment all at once in one. My very faith in existence stems from nothing more than the knowledge that there is a now, and there was a now, and now is all we'll ever see.

After reading an incredible book called "Time: The Familiar Stranger" I became very interested in time, and set aside my former cock-assed theory (all of my theories are arguably cock-assed, of course) that you couldn't go faster than the speed of light forwards but you could go faster than the speed of light backwards, which I made up because I thought it was really funny on a trip with my friends in 1978.

The patient and digestible way the author presented the concept of time is actually a mental construct that is extremely hard to verify using anything other than another mental construct became quite real to me, even though I continued to order my life around the idea that there are three states of time: past, present and future. You can't really get a thing done without using these concepts to order your life, and I'm a practical person.

But a great deal of thinking on the subject over the years led me to reject the idea of the future existing. Even if you were able to see all time outside of time, much like we can see incredibly far into the past by simply glancing up at starlight. I decided that the future can't exist, even outside of time, because it hasn't been created yet. Time begins in the present moment, and persists in the past, or else we wouldn't get to see starlight from millions of years ago.

This song was recorded at Soft Sound Studios by Fo Jammi, who also played piano and mixed it. I played the guitar and bass, Bill Morris played the drums, and Mark Gray played the incredible, otherworldly guitar solo that snakes throughout the piece.

Download Just a Moment.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm Not Old

I'm in the now, just like you and all of us. In a solipsistic mood due to the increasing weight of my accumulated past moments, I had to write a song of defiance.

You call it age, I call it a large collection of past moments I personally witnessed. The envelope carrying my consciousness, if compared to the body of ten years ago, is aged. Everything inside feels the same.

This was one of the four rock songs I chose to sing at my 50th birthday party. It seemed ridiculously appropriate, and when Bill Morris said he dug it, that clinched the choice for me, since he is one of the few people to have ever heard it and I wasn't really expecting him to dig anything I wrote at all.

When I sang the song, a small group of middle-aged women friends of mine gathered together in front of the band. When I got to the big dramatic ending, they all swooned and screamed on cue, even though none of them had ever heard the song before, and it cracked my ass up. I had to laugh right in the middle of trying to sound earnest and sincere. It was the best moment of an unforgettable night.

I'm going to dedicate this song to the lovable rock god Steve Scariano, who has been playing bass in a variety of great bands for a long time. Listening to one of the bands he plays in, Prisonshake, I became inspired by the mix of casual ability and sloppy precision they put across in all their best songs. To put it simply, I became excited again by rock, because Prisonshake has it both ways, complexity and simplicity, rawness and refinement. It helped me to remember that a good song should have both.

So I put together a delicate melody and a hard chorus and made it work as best I could, trying to show both sides of music that I love. I sang in the way I usually do, smooth and controlled, and then sang in the way I ought to more often, contrived and exciting. Like Doug Enkler or some other rock god.

After composing the guitar part and sung melody, I took it to Fo Jammi's studio to record it. After laying down the basic tracks, I took it home and wrote a nice bass part for it, hoping it would be the kind of bass part Steve Scariano would like.

Here are the words:
The time has come, and I just don't know how
To sing of when it wouldn't ever be now
Go back against our wills in time
Remember when you were mine

'Cause if you gaze deep into my dark brown eyes
You're gonna see back behind a thousand lies:

I'm not old

I'm still a rock'n'roll star
I'm back in love with you
The fans are going wild
There's only one thing to do

Now that I'm not old

You say you're in a fit
You're getting ready to cry
You're such a nervous girl
There's only one thing to try

And that's the very same thing
I once did with you
Download "I'm Not Old"

Monday, October 13, 2008

Sweet Weaving Dancer

The first song recorded on The Change Music Variety Show EP was called “The Sweet Weaving Dancer.” Though I remember I wrote the song and lyrics myself, I also remember many of Slash Brannon’s lines and ideas were part of the song and he has the co-credit for writing it. Rico De Bool claims to have written the bizarre, shuffling refrain, but I remember writing it, too, and find it hard to believe that I could have learned something so guitar-centric from Joe, who played bass. I guess that we worked it out together somehow.

The conceit of the EP being like one of our comedy tapes was typical of our thinking. Having Dice Mosely introduce the recording was unanimously agreed by all.

I was very proud to have been the only person to have obtained an actual U.S. Copyright on the childhood doggerel that opens the song. I used to brag that every time I kid sang that song he owed me royalties. I never thought, being 18 years old myself, that maybe kids had stopped singing this particular song in the last decade or so. I wonder if anyone born in the late seventies or later has even ever heard this song:

Girls are made of greasy grimy gopher guts
Mentholated monkey meat
Chicken’s little dirty feet
French fried eyeballs rolling down a dirty street
That’s what Jambox loves!

A dancer hasn’t got the answer, she’s only a prancer
until she’s the Sweet Weaving Dancer.
I’m not talking bout your mother, I’m talking to you,
And your little sister, too.
Little kids of America, we’re talking to you,
You’re intelligent too - and let’s prove it now!
Everybody right now must get fucked up (actually sung: plugged in)
Everybody must stay high, at least for this party.
We don’t need no pedigree girls tickling curls, stay stray!
You gotta party to play.
You know that you’ve got to party hearty to play
Because this is the law around here
Head for the bar, no matter who you are
We’re not gonna funk near, we’re gonna funk far
Far beyond the farthest star.
Meanwhile back inside the mind of the girl I love
I find her entrancing, but she isn’t dancing!
A dancer hasn’t got the answer until she’s dancing
Dots all do the dance!
I find you entrancing my dear, but you never know
until you’re dancing, entrancing, you gotta party to play! Stay stray!

Dance dance, dance dance, dance
I can do more than just…
Never too cool to…
I just quit school to…
Unbreakable rule to…
I’m much too young to…
Gotta be twenty-one to…
I’m always the fool who’ll…
I can do more than just…
Let’s get up on top of it!

The song started out as a birthday song for a friend of Rico’s, who we hoped would share drugs with us in return. Whether or not he had drugs is impossible to ascertain all these years later, but we believed he did, with the over-excited delusional pothead glee we had for everything intoxicating back then. The song was called Rich Bitch, and had words like “...a bitch ain’t nothin’ but a bitch, unless she’s a rich bitch,” which I guess we all thought was pretty funny when there were no girls around to destroy the illusion of male privilege. But the whole band thing was about attracting girls, not insulting them, so it was kind of a waste of a song after the party was over.

Feeling a vague sense of dissatisfaction with this lyrical bent, I somehow decided to bring my favorite romantic poetical conceit into it instead. I had written a series of tiny prose poems about an ideal dream girl I called The Sweet Weaving Dancer. Though she was not any girl in particular, she was most like Anne Marie O’Conner, who we all worshipped in our own way, except Slash.

This song was chosen to be the leadoff song because of the manic headlong beat and for the way it called out some of the more typical elements of the Jambox P-Funk Playpen philosophy. Also, it showcased the Changels, our beuatiful teenaged West End girls backup singers. The lineup for the Changels on this song was Tammy Stone, Annie Byrne and Sue Leonard.

First off, you have to understand that we all grew up in urban St. Louis around tough cool black kids. We had a shared vocabulary that we assumed everyone else got as easily as we. And we had all come to worship, above every other band ever, the whole Parliament/Funkadelic thang of the 1970s. We aspired to have the same little kid appeal as Bootsy. Slash was the inspiration in this, I think. He loved little snotty kid brattishness and brought it out often when we did our comedy tapes. We agreed that kids were treated with less respect than they deserved, and that when we were kids nobody appreciated our intelligence as much as they should have.

Then, in the second verse, Slash kicked in some classic drunken party lyrics that were left over from the original birthday song. I brought in the cracks about pedigreed girls, and threw in a couple of my favorite catch phrases, Stay Stray and You gotta party to play. Then the lyrics shifted back to drunkenness.

In the last verse I tried to bring back the romantic yearnings for the perfect girl, while still entreating this generic girl to dance, a common lyrical exhortation of the disco days.

Throughout the whole song you hear side cracks, prepared yelps and jokes, all to suggest the wild, party-crazed atmosphere of a real Jambox show up in the attic at the P-Funk Playpen on Victor Street in South St. Louis. You hear The Changels singing “Dance dance, dance dance, dance”.

Fojammi was responsible for producing and recording this mess, and I have to admit that he couldn’t have done a much better job. Jambox actually sounded much worse than this recording might suggest.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Married To Royalty

After my disgust with the hipper-than-thou excesses of the second wave of punk out of L.A,, I turned to the music of my youth, jazz, especially bossa nova, which I love unreservedly. Aiding me in this shift of musical taste was my good friend Norty Cohen, who is also a collaborator and mentor to me in advertising and promotions here in St. Louis where we both live.

Norty had been the conga/percusssion man for Riot Act in the glory days of that incredibly great ska/punk/funk band. But he was an ad man of the highest rank and abilities, and had to leave the local band scene alone while he turned himself into a local legend. But he still liked to jam, and I liked to jam, so we started a kind of group we jokingly called the Fabulous Zantini Brothers. My brother has lately joined us, making us really brothers, too.

One of the first songs Norty and I played together was this little confused rush of mixed impressions, Married To Royalty. I intended to write a song about ridiculous aspirations, around the same time that Diana was marrying Charles, the future king of England. The song never really made any sense, but it has a couple of wry lines:

Whatever you say would go,
we’d go to Tokyo
and if you got bored there,
we’d go to Rio.
Now don’t you be ashamed,
just have some more Champagne,
Why did I ever fall in love with you?

We were riding round in Limousines
and reading Paris magazines
Deciding what you’re wearing tonight.
Why do you why do you
why do you have to marry him?
Just because he’s royalty?

Sunlight on snowy mountains
All of the Alps to ski
Or on your own private island
In the Aegean sea
It won’t bring you back to me
Visions and memories

The last time I saw you you were
Chartering a jet to carry
the aristocracy to marry
someone who you’d barely met before
You! Why do you why do you have to marry him
you know what your mama said
she said “Daddy says you
shouldn’t ought to marry such a bounder
because love will only flounder in
the wings of his endless romances

I could be loving you
and I could be squeezing you
and you would belong to me
and I would belong to you
but things don’t work out that way
I’m just watching your parade
watching the masquerade.

Now it’s not a question
of a kind of morality
and it’s not a question
of a sense of loyalty
But this is how it will be
Married to royalty.

And now I’m riding on an endless cruise
and downing large amounts of booze
Did you know that you ruined my life?

I recorded this at home, overdubbing a few guitars and singing.

Download "Married to Royalty"

Sunday, October 05, 2008

21st Street Time

The Tom Sleet Art Music Setup

I got a comment from my dear friend Tracy on this blog about always talking about the past when I blog about music. That really got me where I live, which is in the immediate past, after the actual present moment that we all watch through the actions of our consciousness recording time, one now after the next. In simpler terms, it got me where I live, which is in the past, since everything I'm conscious of is at least in the immediate past.

Philosophy aside, when it comes to music I feel like once it starts we're in the time of the music, not in the linear time of our lives. Despite the fact that certain songs were recorded at different times, or created at different times, once I sit down and play a song the time is that song. I've listened to too much jazz to think of a song as merely the recording. The song is the music and lyrics and how I choose to sing or play them when I'm doing it.

In that spirit, I've always really loved listening to completely free improvisation like that done by the 21st Street collective, which has always been Bill Morris and Thom Sleet with various other musicians over the years. I also really like the music put out by my good friend Jay Zelenka at Freedonia.

I was pretty excited when I got to sit in with them on guitar and piano last Saturday, so in the spirit of also honoring Tracy's implied request, here is an excerpt from the session:

When I'm doing music like this, or even the more conventional pop songs I write, time contracts down to the moment and a few bars in any directions at the most. One of the reasons that I know that music is good for everyone to play, no matter how poorly, is that getting your mind out of the chaos of constantly juggling long term goals, short term needs, worries, expectations, and the effort of retrieving memories from different times is a needed break from the normal grind of time.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Back to Back Again

The older I get, the easier it is to understand why age is even more important than sex, when it comes to mutual compatibility. There's a certain comfort that, as one slips comfy into the melancholic nighty-night of a lifetime's dotage and dose dere dithering days, that the older one gets the younger the other one gets, until what once seemed old seems gravid, whiskey and stubble-scrubbing young and always with more than a teeny dash of ambergris and anise.

But so much for me, dumpling gums! So much for everything I once stood for, when back I stood with all the ding-dong Daves and Stanlies in yesterday's quiver. Because when sparkling's the rave then gumbo's the mumbo, and jumbo sized is any fries that blows through the drive-by scatterflies of any hipster's passing chance. Hoopties linger in driveways idling mad with the rich thick smoke of leaded gas sweet and insistent on the evening breeze.

In other words, an immature take on gender and love relations, adolescent male categorically and explicitly. "Back to Back Again" is one of the first songs I ever wrote, and it has always had many different parts, which I like as a condition or perhaps more generally an ambition of Change Music is that it change, and change drastically, as much as concievable in any given song.

The opening chords were created specifically to demonstrate how good I was on the guitar to David Udell, who never took any real notice of the song, as far as I remember. So this effort of mine that I expended simply to impress David Udell was basically pointless, since nobody knew it but me, and me mostly in retrospect.

The lyrics were a simple reflection of my own fears of abandonment, and the wistful longing for a sexual prime that has passed. I used to think a lot about how the frequency and hotness of sex would diminish between partners and the range of reactions to this eternal decline between every single partner known to man, excluding liars and braggarts, of course.
I can’t make you be my friend
I can’t even pretend
That I don’t really love you
That I don’t really want you
That I’m not dying to be back in your arms

‘Cause don’t we get down?

You wonder was it ever more than sex?
Looking back to back to with your ex
And you realize that it’s only fair
The need you felt developed into greed
Blossomed into hatred like a weed
And left you there with just sex in the air.

You wake up in your bedroom late at night
You reach out and turn on the light
You look around and I’m no longer there.
Wouldn’t that be less than a delight
Maybe even closer to a fright.
Light, no longer light; air, no longer air?

This was a song I used to like to play acoustically with Slash Brannon in the pre-Jambox innocence of a couple of stoned kids messing around with some chords and violin. The essential nature and sound of the song is pretty unchanged, but the get down parts have gotten more latin and swinging and better. It's interesting to me as a songwriter to reflect on all the changes in this song I've made over years of playing it, all the stuff left in and left out.

I wonder what all my songs would sound like if someone else sung them, but this one might really be fun.

I recorded this song myself at home, as you can probably tell. The vocal is a little loud, I might change it someday and throw in a few egregious little guitar parts while I'm at it. Download "Back to Back"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lights, Camera, Action!

A new wave fashion show from 1982

Here's a recently-unearthed document of the early 1980s in St. Louis new wave.

My friends Ed Mantels-Seeker, who had helped by doing almost all the work on Surf's Up, Gang! had been shooting super 8 movies for a while using the single-frame technique he had picked up from Roy Zurick. According to what he told the interviewer on the program Airtime, which aired this movie in 1983, I told him his footage would work as a music video with this song. So he shot some extra footage of me and spliced it in with the footage he had been shooting of girls dressed in new wave clothes.
Lights, Camera, Action!

You're the kind of girl
who takes all the film
my camera's got
Get your lens in focus
open up your eyes
what a bop shot

Turn a little to the right.
We're gonna do this all night.

Your beauty's rooty-tooty
and a little snobby snooty
I hope you know
You've really been a pest
but you've passed my test
and done all my snow

You're such a high fashion girl.
It's such a high fashion world.

You're a walking groovy movie
and you know you always prove me
you're really hot
I've directed what's expected
and the chances are a thriller
is what we've got

I got the film on TV.
Next time you better believe me.

You're a leaning tower of Pisa
with a screaming Mona Lisa
in a danger zone
We're gonna take the image
and rotoscope it

Cartoons. Comics. Hitler.
Make up. Violence. Hit her!

My band The Obvious recorded this song at our second recording session in Illinois at some studio in Collinsville or Belleville. It was one of the last songs I wrote for the band, as I can tell by the reference to "getting the film on TV", which is about the hollow triumph of getting Surf's Up, Gang! on the Airtime program on the local PBS affiliate in St. Louis. So this song was probably written in 1982 sometime, and in retrospect I can see some dark undertones about the direction punk/new wave was taking.

I started off my new wave musical career high. I got together with two really beautiful and sex-crazed 16 year old girl friends who called themselves The Oui-Oui Twins and my dad bought an abandoned building on Olive just West of Taylor in the West End of St. Louis. I moved into the legally uninhabitable building - it only had one working toilet, in the retail space at the bottom, and in the trashed-out apartment I squatted in there was just a reeking toilet that didn't work but which had been used by accident a few too many times.

Many friends popped up, eager to help and encourage me in my dream of opening St. Louis' first punk club. First and foremost among these friends was the amazing artist Mort Hill. He attracted a goodly crowd of art twits and hipsters and we went at making a club out of an empty room like Our Gang in an old Mack Sennet short.

There was a small crowd of punk fans in St. Louis at the time, and it was pretty open and close-knit, because we were all there were. We had all spent our door money on renting bowling alleys and VFW halls up until now, and we were all desperate for someplace to play.

After about six months I closed the club for a variety of fascinating reasons that I will address later, and spent the summer, filming Surf's Up, Gang! Closing the club was a huge blow, but I was never cut out to be a club owner and only half-heartedly pursued the idea of opening up another one, mostly because people would always tell me I should do it again.

I find it interesting how difficult it was to actually film something back then compared to now. Look at Ed's technique and you'll see he did an enormous amount of work - much of it edited in camera - to make his frantic little pieces. Nowadays we have digital video with instant results and it's hard to find anyone who will even bother.

Over the year we gradually fell apart as a group, first losing our bass player, Jim Saltsider, the night that Surf's Up was broadcast on TV. The hardcore punk scene started changing the attitude of the local punks, people became more hateful, and The Obvious and my attitude became hopelessly unhip. I tried to hardcore myself up a little, like in the last verse of this song, but nobody was buying it because anyone who knew me knew it wasn't real.

Watching this video after Surf's Up is like watching me go out of style before your very eyes, yet, at the same time, I'm almost amazed at how much effort went into what was a decent song and a decent stab at a New Wave video. I've seen much worse from national bands dating from the same time. And it makes me wonder if I hadn't been falling apart and under funded, could I have gotten some positive record label response if I had been able to send a copy of this video out to them?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Classical Music

Classical Music was one of the first songs that Slash and I wrote with lyrics. I remember we wrote it when Slash was living on 12th street, after the final abandonment of 18th street. It was the first crazy statement of our pop ambitions, and a completely sarcastic and insincere boast. At least back then I thought so.

This was the oldest song we recorded on the Jambox Change Music Variety Show EP. As the time between the jokey conception of this song and the recording went by, the delusions of greatness we sing about became a little too real for my stomach. It’s rather strange to think that of all of the bands in the world you might expect to be our ideal, it was the incredible Parliament Funkadelic group of bands that we aspired to sound like. If you have the sound on and the QuickTime plug-in on your computer, you can hear the incredible arrhythmic pace is far closer to punk than funk.

We had nothing against punk ourselves, it was just a peripheral tangent at best when you had all the funk you wanted thumping out of tiny boombox speakers from WESL and other radio stations and no money for records at all. It’s funny how punk Jambox was by sheer accident and by dint of a range of influences that stretched from Captain Beefheart’s immortal Trout Mask Replica to Jaco Pastorius or the Mahavishnu Orchestra. You take a love of free jazz style noise rock and fusion jazz and mix it with a certain amount of dexterity and an overabundance of energy minus the inclination to try to sound coherent and you get the signature Change Music sound.

We’re playing Classical music for ya
We’re a group of infant prodigies
We’re playing Classical music for ya
We’ve each written twelve symphonies
But we’re declinin’ to play ‘em for ya
Because we’d rather Jambox at our ease
We’re playing Classical music for ya
And if we could you know we might
We’re playing Classical music for ya
And if we could you know we might
We’ve got the sound of a million
In the air it’s quite a fright
But we’re playing Classical music for ya
And we’re gonna jam all night

Over the brewery and into the grain
Mash madhouse mixture desires grow plain.

We’re playing Popular music for ya
We just formed ten minutes ago
We’re playing Platinum music for ya
Tragical blues sick rules? Dog no!
We’re playing Popular music for ya
And we’re number one on the charts
We’re playing Platinum music for ya
And we’re number one on the charts
We’re playing Popular music for ya
This is where the jammin starts
We’re playing Popular music for ya
And we’re gonna break your hearts.

I blush to admit that I alone am responsible for the tone and braggadocio of this song, though it was written with Slash Brannon, who contributed the two most beautiful lines in the song: “Over the brewery and into the grain/Mash madhouse mixture desires grow plain.” which is the most beautiful lyric ever written of a man longing for a beer. I also used one of his signature catch phrases “Tragical Blues Sick Rules” which might have actually been one of his super-short little poems. Another one of his mini poems in the same vein was “Sort short lock shit type niceties OUT”

Slash and I started out playing together acoustically when we became roommates living on 18th Street near Russell in the greater Soulard area of South St. Louis. I wasn’t a great guitar player; I was possessed of just the most rudimentary ideas of music theory and a few chords, some of which I had simply invented, though any fingering you can think of has probably been done before.

Slash Brannon, however, was a good violin player, very fast, and he played with a technique he had developed on his own that was more like bebop than anything else, long shimmering runs of notes that seemed crazy at first but which made a unique harmonic sense after you started to grasp the patterns. The sound of my classical nylon-stringed guitar and the violin blended well, especially since I was fond of playing the bass strings and he held down the high end, when acoustic, without much of the unstable screechiness that most of us dislike about amateur violin.

I have strong visual memories of us sitting in his room next to mine in the weak winter sunlight playing together, just me doing chords in patterns and him improvising along. From the start I was organizing my chords into melodic structures that resembled songs, in order to make it easier to jam to and to make it easier for me to enjoy what he was playing. Much of the stuff we played ended up turning into songs over the years, especially after we started considering ourselves a band and got Rico DeBool to play bass.

Many times through the years I played with Slash I longed for a return to the acoustic sound we started with. Amplified guitars and violins were exciting, but the sound wasn’t nearly as light and pleasant. I never really accepted Rico DeBool’s bass playing, also, even though he was light years ahead of his time in some ways. I would have preferred a bass player like Kent Gray, who could do slamming funk patterns you could dance to, while Rico was strictly an improvisor and fond of strange melodic lines that bubbled away under the melodies in an almost random manner. This left the guitar and vocals alone to hold up the melody. When Fojammi joined up as drummer, he played the drums in the same random, melodic manner, until whatever melody we once had was like a tiny little voice in the back of your head screaming, almost inaudibly, that something was wrong here, that something was not quite right.

Here's a revamp of Classical Music from the early nineties Fojamathon sessions.

Download Jambox's "Classical Music"
Download Fojammathon's "Classical Music."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Change Music Manifesto

When I was about eighteen years old I was thoroughly sick of all the old fat rock and roll stars. I'd heard every fantasy rock cliche, every bombastic, self-important guitar solo; suffered through the meandering experiments and pseudo-country inversions presented to me throughout the seventies, and was done with it.

When I played my own free-floating excursions into melodic invention with my friend Slash Brannon I heard something new and different. It was easy to mistake the fumblings of innocence with the divine spark of creation. I still wonder if it isn't really the only way to create music that is true, this obscure and heedless tumbling through notes unknown, harmonies never before heard, changes written by the deaf presumptuousness of youth.

I seized on a central conceit and boldly decided that we could by step critical dismissal by inventing a new musical genre for ourselves, many years before the electronica crowd started naming every other dance beat another obscure name.

It was some of the Beatles best songs that suggested the idea to me, and the ambition of music in the seventies in general that made it clear: Music that changes drastically and notably at least once per song. Though we failed miserably at realizing this dream of songs that took you from one strong melody to the next seamlessly and with style and fascination, I can point out some songs that did what I hoped my Change Music would be.

"Uncle Admiral Albert Halsey" by Paul McCartney, is perhaps the greatest work of Change Music ever written. I used to always hold it up as the explanation of what I was getting at when I spoke of Jambox writing change music. I think Paul knows what I'm talking about. He recently did it again, as if it were something he does when he wants to, deliberately, as a style of his own, in his last album "Memory Almost Full". The song "Mr. Bellamy" is much like "Uncle Albert" and listening to either song will reveal exactly what I mean by Change Music.

I explained it to anyone who would listen by emphasizing that it would help stop critics from saying that our music was either rock or folk or jazz or funk. I liked the idea that if I was to be pigeonholed, I would name the pigeonhole. I wasn't aware that what we were doing, while not the Change Music of my ambitions, was so chaotic and indifferent to any kind of rational expression that it was a genre unto itself. You could simply call it bad, off-key, rhythmically crap music if you wanted and it would be hard to argue the point. But you might as well call it Change Music and the hell with it.

My next post will feature some of this infamous Change Music. So subscribe to my blog and you won't miss a single insane note of it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy

My Grandpa, Mom and Grandma.

Whether some ineffable essence called talent actually exists is a question I'll never fully resolve. My own view of music as a delightful entertainment that can be executed enjoyably by anyone is rooted in a mythic American past when families gathered around the piano or the ukelele, and simply sang what they liked all together with little thought of art or style.

As a teenager I quickly grew disgruntled with the contrast between the sweet fantasy of the hippie counterculture and the long-haired pot-smoking hoosiers who were sporting the outward trappings of hippieness without any grace or beauty. I was trapped in a mid-seventies world of popular hippieness and I felt ill-defined by it. I was also into so many things which were fringe aspect of the seventies, like the rediscovery of swing music, glitter, jazz rock fusion, and the bombastic excesses of fantasy rock.

In order to give myself a slight, ironic distance from the all-too-common hippie guitar player I was going to become, I decided to regard the guitar as a primarily cowboy instrument in order to downplay any seriousness of intent I might have been mistaken for having.

So one night, hanging out with my friend David Bohannon from Honors Art class, he urged me to learn a few chords on the guitar because it was so easy, he said, anyone could do it.

He showed me a few chords, which I rejected as being too difficult, like a G chord, which just looked freaky to the inexperienced eye.

"Are there any chords you can do with two fingers?" I prompted. He thought for a second, and then he demonstrated the E minor chord. Perfect. I tried it out. Plaintive, wild, low. I liked it.

"Sounds like the frontier wind whipping across the trackless desert sands around a cowboy's lonely campfire." I said, squinting into the imaginary dust storm in my brain.

"Have you heard the ballad of the lonesome cowboy?" I sang, and then hit the notes. "The lonesome cowboy's - let's see."

"I need another easy chord." I told Dave. He must have suggested the A major chord, and in doing so also showed me how you could add a D on it to get a nice little variation on it. It didn't do the job for me, but I made the two chords into a song anyway. Later on I discovered the chord I needed was a C major chord.

I used to love to play this with sarcasm and irony around school whenever I thought the guitar players were getting too much attention, which was all the time.

Download "The Ballad of the Lonesome Cowboy."

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Change Music Variety Show

Portrait of the author as a young punk club owner.

Music is the strangest cultural construct in so many ways, and I've been of many different minds about it and what it is supposed to mean to me and the world at large.

I came of age in the midst of the change from monolithic bands who sold lots of records to the punk/new wave revolution of every snot nosed punk in a garage banging out chords and dreaming they were hits. From the arrogant aristocracy of finely-crafted talent to the current wasteland of endless noise. And I was possessed by the delusional yet amusing belief that I too could have been one of the best.

Because what I went through was both typical and also extreme I'm going to examine here my various attempts, which range from absolute drivel to the best I could possibly do. Though I've never been endowed with too much talent I think I've been clever and hopefully interesting. The posts will be coming with some regularity, and will include both music and crude comedy.