Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rendered Pimpless

This song was one I contributed very little to, but Jambox was a band, so I helped as much as I could. Slash Brannon wrote the brilliant misogynist lyrics. Rico wrote that blistering bass line and I love that much of it. Fo Jammi considers this piece Jambox’s finest moment. In this song I tried to do guitar parts that reflected the jagged intelligence of the bass, but I always felt I fell fall short of doing good work.

It's the least pop of our work, that's for sure. It was recorded on the vinyl Jambox EP, which I named this blog after, The Change Music Variety Show, Featuring Jambox.
She earned herself a loveless life
She worked so hard with her painless lies
She was rendered pimpless
She got so ripped

Rendered pimpless rendered loveless
Rendered lifeless in her eyes
Rendered stiffless instead of gripless,
Rendered a mess, she thought I tripped!

The morning bolts truth in paradise
The lady fried as I told her she lied
She was blitzed in shitsville
She got so lipped

Blitzed in pimpless, witless, loveless
Her fires just cinders, she’s paralyzed
Rendered stiffless instead of gripless
The Change just jammed on in her eyes
Way back in the late seventies Jambox had a whole pimps and ho’s world going that was making me increasingly uncomfortable. At first it was shocking and funny, and also ghetto, which we knew we were. Slash in particular had a strange success with girls who liked to be treated with a certain indifference that was close to contempt at times. This success emboldened him.

He delighted in calling girls bitches and ho’s, and god forgive me, I did it, too. But I doubt that it was something I ever liked much, even though who knows how much you can lie to yourself over thirty years later? I remember it was a cheap giggle to me that never came easily to my lips. From ho’s to pimps is an easy leap, so he came to this song. Nowadays such casual misogyny is commonplace in hip hop, but back then you’d never hear such crap except in secret party tapes and Redd Foxx records.

All I did on this cut is sing dreadfully off key and play some frenetic lead guitar. I also did the vocal arrangements, such as they were. Rico wrote the song and played it with monster abandon. I kind of like the music. I thought it was a creative and unusual bass line, especially for the seventies, when most bass lines weren’t nearly this punk.

I was also blinded by my uncritical love and admiration of Slash Brannon, of course. His poetry never failed to thrill me, even when it was degrading to women. Rendered stiffless! Blitzed in shitsville!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Down at the Studio

Down at the studio we're still making serious noise. Enjoy this out take from one of our Sleet-Morris-Patti creations. It seems a better mix came with my tiny five-watt amp, more suitable for the small room we play in.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Overgrown & Undesexed

After showing last week what a sweetheart I can be, now it's time to confess what a dick I once was.

I started "Overgrown & Undersexed" with the urge to write a put-down song, like the Blondie song "Rip her to shreds", but without the drag queen subtext, since I was oblivious to the appeal of a drag queen subtext, and thoroughly immersed in my own little world of teenaged girls who liked punk rock boys like me. These girls fancied themselves little tough stuffs, ready to take on the entire world of sex, punk rock music, and find a personal mix of sex and autonomy that I couldn't even begin to fathom because I was inclined to regard girls as mysterious beings, vastly different from me, who seemed to like what I liked, and then suddenly didn't, and I refused to think through why.

I had the mistaken idea that these girls were just as tough as they pretended to be, even though they were all between 16 and 18 years old and couldn't have known what they really felt anyway, since none of us were examining critically our sex roles through the lens of gender bias and shared humanity. When a beautiful teen girl would let a tear drop from her huge blue eyes, telling me her father was threatening to put me in jail for violating the statutory rape laws that everyone constantly flouted openly back then, there was a moment of profound disconnect between the punk streetwise front and the little girl just underneath. A disconnect far more worthy of profound exploration than the crap song I wrote instead, but hints of this conflict can be sniffed out by those sympathetic to the situation.

The lyrics of this song have many weak spots, and when you are already a weak lyricist like me, it can get pretty stupid pretty fast. I liked my songs to be fun, and that meant bad jokes when I failed, and below we can see not only bad jokes, but mean spirited and smug lyrics, too. But set in this bright sunny pop frame, I was trying to deliver an amusing contrast, and by ripping off a tiny bit of "Bus Stop" by the Hollies and then nosediving into what I called a middle-eastern scale based on a half-step repetition, I tried to mix it all up the point where it could become interesting. So take a listen:

Overgrown & Undersexed
You don't realize that you are a mess
Overgrown & Undersexed
You're about to climb out of your dress

You're the kind of girl
Who turns around when flashbulbs pop
You've got plenty of mirrors
To show you who's on top
If you want my opinion
I'll give it straight to you
You've had it too easy girl,
It will come back to you

You know I like to watch your
Curves and fleshly swells
But underneath all this
We find funky smells
As long as you're living,
Why don't you join us in some tea?
You're so independent,
You can do without me

This song was recorded at the second big Obvious recording session somewhere in Illinois, when we recorded and mixed five or six songs in one long day. It has the usual Obvious lineup on it: Alex Mutrux on guitar (I remember teaching him the scale to use on his solo, which was a struggle for him, but much better than mine), Kevin Brueseke on drums, Sally Barnes on Arp, me singing, and my brother Augustino playing bass and singing. 

Download "Overgrown & Undersexed"

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cathy Dearest

For the one who loves me most.

Just in time for Valentines day I have my first real love song, "Dearest Cathy". Dedicated to everyone lucky enough to feel that crazy surge of joy and love whenever they lay eyes on their sweetie. I feel it every single day.

It's also the first song I ever composed on the ukulele. It's just one and a half minutes of pure vocal excitement. More John Phillips than Magnetic Fields. That's just me. Recorded at home.

Download Cathy Dearest.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Surf's Up, Gang!

Here is the principal cast for "Surf's Up, Gang!" from left to right: Duwan Dunn, Steve Pick, Beatle Bob, Tony Renner, some unknown guy in a referee shirt, Rene Spencer and myself. Standing behind us is Ed Mantels-Seeker and John the Mailman.

Even a talentless dilettante such as myself has one song that stands above the rest, partly due to the reaction it gets, and partly because, as a result of this reaction, of the amount of time I've spent promoting it over the years. Unfortunately, for me that song is "Surf's Up, Gang!"

The song started around the same time I started to get tired of Jambox, my first band. It was conceived as a movie idea for Jambox, and together with David Udell, I started a seven page script for it that I lost a long time ago. I remember practicing it with Jambox and being unhappy with the Jambox sloppy drunken careening out-of-control style. Not even the fresh young loveliness of the Changels could redeem it.

It was one of the songs that the members of the Obvious liked from the start, though. So the lineup that perfected the song was Kevin Bruseke, who sculpted the mammoth classic surf beat that defines the song now, Alex Mutrux, who added some brilliant guitar harmonies and one of the defining riffs of the instrumental section of the song and myself.

After Alex and Kevin and I decided to kick Chuck out of the band for never showing up to practice, we started to save our gig money up to go into a studio in Illinois to record this and two other of our most popular songs. The recording session, which was one day of recording, dubbing and mixing, went really well. I met up with my childhood friend Ed Mantels-Seeker, who was taking a film class with Roy Zurick, and together we resurrected the idea of making a movie with the music as the soundtrack, since sync sound was well out of our budget, which was basically nothing. Ed provided all the 8mm film stock we needed and intended to edit it also.

Now I just needed a bunch of people to come down to the Mississippi River to shoot it. I was working at the RFT at the time and had access to typesetting machines, so I whipped up a flyer:

A flyer to recruit the fun one hundred for the movie shoot. I handed this out everywhere I went for a week or two prior to the first shoot.

Gabe Katz volunteered to shoot also, though I don't know how much of his footage made it into the movie, since I was insensitive to Ed's vision of doing his own movie. We had a pretty small crowd the first couple of times we shot, so I did yet another flyer:

Judging from the breathless copy on this flyer, which was also an ad in Reverb (a local new wave publication produced by the incomparable Donna Knott) the bulk of the filming was probably done September 20th, 1981.

As one can easily see if you click on the image for a full-sized version, I wasn't shy about self promotion back then. In the innocence of youth I considered myself the director, though Ed did the editing all by himself, with a tiny viewer and hundreds of pieces of editing tape. Below you should see the link to the movie itself, a director's cut version I made from an old VHS copy I found among Paul Stark's box of new wave videos of the early 1980s.

This movie retains the ability to surprise and delight even after more than 25 long years have aged it, and the central conceit of a beach party on the Saint Louis river front remains as wonderfully stupid and ill-advised as it ever was. So my pride in the achievement, though somewhat diminished by the failure of the Obvious to rise to the occasion by actually touring and raising ourselves to some kind of cult prominence, is still vaguely flickering somewhere in the bottomless depths of my natural tendency to self-loathing and bitter regrets.

Here are the credits to the movie, with a soundtrack of the Obvious song "Dot-Pop!":

Download "Surf's Up, Gang!"