I do not want to be in Kent, ohio, anymore. I do not want it to be another post-gig, ground down, po' boy, two in the a.m. in 1977, either (ten years, man ten "yeah. I was there May 4th...a '70's artist on food stamps-friends o.d. ing-town burning down-can't believe I'm still here"- years.) what I want is to slump in this pancake house's booth forever...forever watching a waitress with an architecturally-impossible beehive pull a full pot off the bunn-o-matic, tilt her head in my direction until gravity grabs hold of her hair and she's dragged over to where me and my friend liam sternberg have collapsed "you're right, butler," liam nods. "she doesn't really walk , does she? it's more like a controlled fall. so how are we gonna get out of here?"
He plays guitar for an elvis imitator who'd the king of the bowling alley lounge circuit. I'm spared that...I bass for kent's marvelous 15-60-75, the only no-day-job combo playing original material in the area we're the best. but. "but...hey...DEVO...ya know?" "yeah...and Chrissie Hynde's in england, right?" and the Dead Boys and Pere Ubu are running away every weekend to New York because it buzzes there and record companies are grudgingly shedding some of there disco dollars for that bowery sound and punk is exploding in the uk and...well...here we are. We can talkingheads-tv-voidoid, too, but who has the time and where are the players to start yet another group? Inspired answer: lie. Start imaginary bands. Fake a huge homegrown scene, start an arts and music paper to give the local media hell and publicize our "piltdown bands" exploits. "I'll be the belvederes," Liam says. "an I'll be the...the..." "more coffee, dearie?," miss beehive asks me while grinding a stick of gum into submission. I swear I hear it scream.
The next morning, there's a woman behind the counter at Jerry's Diner (home of the big howie) wearing a t-shirt that reads "Waitresses Unite!". uh oh.
Irony and prophecy. This idea is only hour sold and the world is already nudging me towards it. Towards the demystification of the music business thanks to affordable, semi-pro multitrack tape machines. Towards self-produced, homemade records hustled by idealistic "be a record mogul in your spare time" entrepreneurs who know in their very bones that Rock 'n' Roll is too important to be left to vulgar, aging stars and fat cat entertainment conglomerates. Towards a Do It Yourself, "control the means of production" work ethic that will, in the next few years, beget the fanzines and new clubs and hundreds of small labels and thousands of new bands, all of whom will one day be filed under "new wave" in the rock museum archives.
And then one day I write this song and then it's noon and the liquid lunchers are packed into a boho bar called walter's on kent's notorious water street strip. I stand on a chair and band a beer bottle for attention and declare "I need a chanteuse to coo a tune." now, here's a chance to actually do something (people were always griping about how there was nothing going on and how they were getting it together to leave town...uh...soon). the song is funny and stupid and cool and different and is anybody interested? a voice in the back says "uh huh."
Then she quits school again and moves to Galveston, Texas, or someplace. Stiff record comes a'stalking DEVO but settles for a couple of singles and the Akron compilation album, spiriting liam off to England I the process. I join Akron's Tin Huey, we get signed to Warner Brothers, but we don't survive the music biz's crash of '79.
I move to NYC and boy, it is buzzing with clubs and bands, real and artificial energy...and hungry record labels. Is still have this song , so I give a copy to dj Mark Kamins who takes it to Island records. He get's a job in A & R and I get a record deal. Then I don't have a record deal. Then I get signed to ZE records who are distributed by Island anyway, so it all works out. "We'll need a b-side," they say, "and by the way...where's your band?" I lie and tell them they're back in the midwest.
"Help," I say to New York. New York steers me to Bleecker Bob's record store. "what's the coolest band in town?" I beg, and he gives me a Contortions record (also on the ZE label) but adds that they've just broken up. Pity. I track down a few of them (they're from the midwest, too) an wire Patty my last fifty bucks (the truth!) to jump on the 'hound and come to New York and be in a Rock band "only if you want to", I caution her. "s'ok," she says. "there's nothing good on tv tonight, anyway."
We rehearse too much, play an audition night at CBGB, then debut at Little Club 57 on New Year's Eve weekend, 1980-81. That song keeps popping up around the USA, so we spend a year or so low-budget touring to any place where we're on the radio. Musicians com and go as well, until we are the extraordinary Mars Williams (a/k/a mr. Salty, ex-Anthony Braxton's copyist and friend of Tin Huey's Ralph Carney) on saxes, Drummer Billy Ficca from Television (Tin Huey had opened for Tv's last dates at the bottom line) and Dan Klayman (another Akron transplant, the owner of an amazing leisure suit collection and also a friend of Ralph's) on keyboards. or bassist, Tracy Wormworth (of the killer chops, the all-purpose "dah!" and the million-watt smile, is just walking down the street one day with a gig bag when our friend Otto Kontrol asks her if she wants to join a band. "why?," she asks him. "isn't there anything good on tv tonight?"
We get pretty good and people like us, then we record "Christmas Wrapping" and more people like us. the NYC fire marshalls don't like us, however...they keep shutting down our Peppermint Lounge shows because too many people come, then we make an album and go to California and...damn!...they like us there, too, so we decide to try and figure ourselves out. We know that we're the only rock band around that sings short stories and parks a tibetan monk horn solo in the middle of a funk groove. Then somebody writes we're smart and fun and that our songs seem to speak to/for the work-a-day sadies and sammies who are fed up with being yelled at by stereotypical rock-sluts, yet who are also self-reliant and tough enough to have no patience with the whiney-sensitive folk strummers. Somebody else writes that we're good musicians, and that it's refreshing to see a bunch of experimentalists making serious, angular pop. Ok, we can live with all that...sometimes it takes a word-mirror to see how you look.
Then we're watching ourselves on TV lip-synching an instant theme song we've been suckered into staying up all night writing and recording because we're candide and justine and f. Scott in hollywoodland and we're exhausted and cranky but we keep pushing and go to England and come back and tour and go to England to record a second album. And then everything kinda...just...crumples.
So what happened? ah jeez...all kinds of things. Like remember when you were little and you were scared of the dark? well, you were right...there is evil in the night, and it's very easy to become a victim of too much fun. But it's so embarrassing! How could a bunch of stubborn people who refused to be cliches stumble smack into a typical show biz crash and burn. Maybe it's because "that which ye be the most afraid of is guaranteed to happen"...so you can work through it and come out the other side and not be afraid anymore. All I know is that I was trying to write three-minute Preston Sturges movies, but as it turned out, we were all really living « All About Eve » .
But hey...that was seven years ago and every cell in our bodies change every seven years so now everyone of us is a completely different person so B. F. D. you asked me so I told you. You also bought this records (thank you) and, in a sense, asked me over. So ya got any beer? chips? whatcha been doin'? c'mon, talk to me...it's been a long time. There's nothing good on tv tonight, anyway.
...but there's gonna be some good old movies on your stereo.
Chris Butler / july '90