God Said to Abraham Kill Me a Song (Minor Secrets of the Mr T Experience Revealed, part IV)

Frank Portman
13 min readMay 8, 2018

And here we go again, time once more for an aggregation of the weekly song post write-ups. For what purpose, you may ask? You’ll get no answer from me. But the first installment relates the origin story of this series, and the Odin conceit is explained, somewhat, in the intro to the second. The third is here.

[links in preceding paragraph updated, 12.29.2020 — ed.]

The videos are all posted on my youtube channel, along with various playlists. It would help me out, theoretically, if you go over there and subscribe, and like everything. You’ll notice, perhaps, the odd reference to Odin/Woden/Wotan. This is because I do these posts on Wednesday and praising Woden is part of The Weekly Shtick. Like so many things, it’s a cute (ish) gimmick that may well have overstayed its welcome by now, but when I think of something stupid enough I usually stick with it to the bitter end. Praise Odin!

1 “Cingular Wireless (Worse than Hitler)”

Technically, I suppose, you’d call this a Dr Frank song rather than an MTX song, but they all start out that way. This is just one of those that stayed so. The lines are blurred between the “artists” where the songs are concerned, is what I’m saying. The occasion for posting it was the Sounds Radical cassette release of The Way It Sounds Like (RAD-007–3), a ragtag compilation of live solo songs I originally did as a CDR for a European tour. It’s the only thing that this quite weirdly popular song was ever “released” on. (You can read more about it here; and you can order it here, if you like.)

So, “Cingular Wireless (Worse than Hitler)” — what a song. It was never officially recorded or released, but it proved weirdly popular when I played it solo and remains one of the most requested songs. The live version included on The Way It Sounds Like was recorded during an author appearance at Moe’s Books in Berkeley. (This video, taken by Marisa, is of a different Moe’s “show” I believe — there is video of the Moe’s show that is on the tape, but this song seems to have been cut off. Thank God for Marisa anyhow.)

Cingular Wireless is a now-defunct cell phone company, and the conceit of the song is more or less what really happened: I had a lengthy dispute with them over a mysterious charge that appeared on my bill and I felt they were being unreasonable. The dispute stretched over several calls and many weeks, and in the midst of it, I informed the customer service rep that I was in fact an internationally famous singer-songwriter, that I was writing a song about this experience, and that how that song came out was pretty much up to her. Singer-songwriter blackmail, basically, a tactic with a long history in the protest-song tradition.

She chose the way of pain, the song “Cingular Wireless (Worse than Hitler)” emerged, and the company went out of business, in that order. (Actually it got absorbed by AT&T and the charge disappeared just as mysteriously as it had appeared. There are no coincidences.)

And yes, I actually did sing it to her over the phone: she hung up during the bridge.

When I play it, I always introduce it with a lengthy, shaggy dog style story along the lines above, which Marisa’s video doesn’t include. It’s tolerably amusing. If you’d like to hear a version of it with the intro, you can get the Sounds Rad cassette RAD-007–3 Dr Frank — The Way It Sounds Like, or request it at a show. I’ll probably do it, because you know, why not?

A ways back I was a guest at some English classes at Berkeley High School(I just showed up with my guitar and talked about King Dork.) After I’d played a song or two, one of the kids raised his hand and said “are all your songs about Hitler?” Well, no, they’re not, obviously, but that was the first time I’d realized that there was indeed a two-song Hitler sub-theme in my oeuvre, if oeuvre means what I think it does, and that if I wasn’t careful I could get a reputation as some kind of “Hitler guy.” This concern proved well-founded when, a couple of weeks later on my way to the Berkeley Post Office, I passed a scrum of kids on lunch break and one of them said “hey it’s that guy with the book and the guitar and the Hitler stuff, that was hella tight.” Lesson learned. (Tight is good, right?)

Putting this on the “official and semi-official music videos” list, because it’s all I’ve got for this release, which is semi-official enough in my book.

(Final note: I’m told — and I’ve noticed from past post behavior — that the word “Hitler” anywhere in any post automatically triggers an algorithmic daemon that de-prioritizes, hides, shadow-bans, or otherwise abuses the content on the social medias. In fact, it is possible that this whole thing may never get seen by anyone. Well, in this situation, it can’t be helped. But you can help by sharing, liking, subscribing and commenting. If you like jokes that are funny, that is. If you don’t just, you know, stay there. At ease.)

2“At Gilman Street”

Gesælig Wodensdaeg to ēow, once again. Minor secrets! “At Gilman Street”! Reveal’d!!!

Today’s video is the second of two music videos made by Byron’s neighbor (that’s literally all I know about him, and it); the other one, for “Surfin’ Cows”, I posted a few weeks back. They’re basically short films with a montage of images vaguely related to the song-as-soundtrack, and are kind of like historical documents unto themselves.

This version of the song is the one from the Rough Trade Big Black Bugs ep, and the video must have been put together sometime in 1989. I like the non-sequitur (or are they?) images best (that Greco-Roman statue head that is the current thumbnail and coincides with the Isocracy name-drop never fails to amuse) but the Gilman footage is genuine as is, the general scuffed-up, chaotic, grainy, what-the-hell-are-we-doing spirt of the whole thing. That urinal, for example.

I started writing the song in my head, rather idly, before the club opened, during those endless planning meetings. At the time it seemed pretty doubtful that “the warehouse” (as it was then called) would get much beyond the meeting stage, but Berkeley people love their meetings and that’s usually reason enough to have them.

I brought my schoolwork along and was mostly pretty distracted but every now and again I’d look up and notice what was going on: hippies yelling “point of order” at each other; our Dear Leader making everyone vote till they came up with the result he wanted; routine denunciations of Bill Graham Presents, the Judean People’s Front, and the military-industrial complex; earnest guys on the “Security Council” renouncing their right to impose their will on other sentient beings… basically, it was just like every other Berkeley community meeting since at least 1968, I’d guess. Vive la revolution. Death to the fascist insect that preys on the life of the people. I am Tania. Then it was back to homework for me, I’m afraid. I rolled my eyes at hippies a bit more, perhaps, in those days than I do now.

Anyway, as many have had occasion to point out recently (quoting my notes to MTX Shards, vol. 2) it is perhaps just a bit of a shame that I of all people was the guy who happened to write the “Gilman anthem.” It could have been a lot more sycophantic and triumphalist and mythopoeic in other hands. Sorry about that, Punk History.

When I noticed people start to mythologize it and Shining-City-on-a-Hill-ize it, I had the notion of writing a follow-up song called “Yo Jerusalem” but it never quite came together. And fair enough, really. I’m glad it was there. We had some good times there (and down the street at Picante.) It’s a club, it’s a place, it’s a thing, and that’s enough.

(Putting this on the “official and semiofficial music videos” playlist, because it is at least semi-official, considering. And I think that list may now be complete, till we come up with more.)

3 “Merry Fucking Christmas”

Here’s another song from Southampton, UK, Summer of ’92. (I’ve posted several of these: you can see the “show so far” on this playlist.)

One of Jon von’s most memorable tunes, we recorded it rather quickly and dirtily along with two other tunes (“Let’s Be Together Tonight” and “Speed Racer”) for the Strum und Bang 7" on Spain’s Munster records in advance of the tour that took us across the Atlantic and landed us in England. Had we continued as a four-piece after that tour, I imagine we’d have re-recorded it more properly as we did with “Together Tonight” and included it on the Gun Crazy 7" or the Our Bodies album. But it was not to be.

At that time, my guitar set up was a 100 Watt Marshall half-stack, that Les Paul custom, and, as you may be able to detect, a fuzz box and a wah pedal. (It was either a Morley or a Cry Baby, I can’t remember which. What I do remember is it was kind of creaky and sticky and the front switch-on button didn’t always switch on: you just had to stomp and hope for the best.) As you can see, I used to have quite a lot of fun doing my crude, primitive Ron Asheton thing (which came to me by way of Kent Steedman and the Celibate Rifles: “there’s no great mystery to it, mate. Ya jist ride it like a.. ya know, what are those things? Skateboards, like.”)

I am well aware that it used to irritate people. That’s obviously a large part of why I did it. But I stopped doing the pedal thing shortly after this show, because at a subsequent gig somewhere in Germany, some kid deftly disconnected and stole both the wah and the fuzz box from the front of the stage after the set. I was obviously pretty mad about that, but there wasn’t much to be done. I certainly wasn’t going to pay European prices for that kind of gear just for the sake a few more shows, and it didn’t matter all that much, so I just decided to go without for the rest of the tour.

What I learned was, I quite liked the simplicity of pedal-less-ness. They were always coming unplugged anyway, and having one thing fewer to trip over was a big plus for a clumsy guy like me. I basically never used a pedal again, and I suppose it influenced the fact that I stopped playing quite so many solos around that time. So, unknown German thief, you influenced the sound of a generation, sort of, and I hope you’re proud of yourself.

4(thru 14) MTX live on the radio, Rapid City South Dakota, 1989

Something a little different today… not one but eleven songs (for Oðinsdagr), audio, not video.

What we have here is MTX playing live on radio station KTEQ in Rapid City, South Dakota, sometime in 1989 during the Big Black Bugs tour. The version of “Danny Partridge” (with “Name Game” interpolation) on this tape was one of the live bonus tracks on the Making Things with Light CD. Despite the inherent awkwardness of doing a rock and roll show in the middle of the afternoon in a radio station control room, it comes off okay, I think. At least, we were our true selves, for better or worse.

All things considered, the sound is surprisingly good. Too bad “Supersonic” is cut off at the beginning because that has to be one of the better documented performances of that song.

I don’t remember too much about the circumstances of the radio station recording, but I do remember the actual scheduled event that evening, which was, like many a “show” on such tours, a house party. Or rather, I remember waking up the next morning not remembering it, if I recall not recalling it correctly. It was at a place known as The God Bless House.

Anyhow the guy who put it up on the web is assembling an archive and timeline of the Rapid City punk scene, and when he originally contacted me he referred to it as “legendary” or something like that. I took that as a compliment (boy, I guess we really made an impression on RCSD) but he could just have meant it in the sense of “undocumented folklore” — he was writing to ask if I had a copy of the recording. Evidently, the original reel tape had been sent to us (hence our being able to use a track for the LK 37 CD) though I have no recollection of that; it’s not in the big archive of tapes in my closet.

We gave it up for lost, but a couple years later I got a message from him saying he’d managed to find a cassette of the broadcast, recorded by a listener. And this is that.

So that is minor secrets of MTX playing on the radio in Rapid City, South Dakota in the Summer of ’89. Of historical interest only, if that, but still. It happened. It got recorded. Praise Odin, etc.

Addendum, from a Rapid Citizen via the internet: “ the legend I heard was that you were driving through town and heard your own song on the radio. You pulled over and called up the request line to the surprise of the DJ/station manager and the live set was arranged totally impromptu.”

Plausible, and better than any story I have. Let’s say it’s true.

15“Our Love Will Last Forever and Ever”

Minor secrets of “Our Love Will Last Forever and Ever” — praise Odin! I hope your Wodensdaeg proceeds apace, if apace means what I think it does.

This has never been regarded as one of the “top tunes” in the catalog (at least I don’t think it has), but it’s one a handful of songs I’m genuinely proud of and satisfied with. Conceptually, lyrically, structurally, melodically, and even maybe in execution, it hits it out of the park, or, to tone down the self-praise a bit, it does more or less precisely what was intended. Which you can’t always count on, and in fact it’s quite rare.

As to why others don’t seem to see it like that, quite, maybe that has something to do with the fact that we’ve never played it live all that often? (And one reason for that is, it’s got a structure that, while rational, isn’t predictable: it’s hard to remember how many “bumps” go where and it’s easy to screw it up.) Also, we never made a video of it at the time, which seems to make a big difference in the beloved-ness of particular songs. This video, which is obviously brilliant, was done long after the fact by the very talented Augustus Rachels, as a school project. (He also did the “Cinthya with a Y” video.. check out his stuff here.)

Just your standard punk rock band posting in front of a tank

Anyway, I’m not going to “explain” it or anything. It’s a dyspeptic, upbeat, rather grim yet wry love song, which is how I like ’em best. The Tin Pan Alley Cole Porter-y lyrical-compositional affectation doesn’t always work this well when crammed in to two minutes of punk rock. It’s got some great lines that still make me smile/smirk a bit after all these years. And for what it’s worth, for me, it’s basically the quintessential Dr. Frank song (if you don’t dig it or get it, you probably won’t dig or get any of my stuff) and maybe even the quintessential MTX track from that era (along with, possibly, “Sackcloth and Ashes” or “I Fell for You”.)

The feedback guitar in the bridge was played by Kevin Army. We wanted it to sound apocalyptic and blown up, and I think layering it over the strummed acoustic has a cool effect, if not, perhaps, quite evoking the end of the world. We used to put more thought into this than you probably think we did.

(Oh and here’s the official and semi-official videos playlist for more of this… ilk.)

So there you have it. Another song for Woden. Be good to each other. Kiss each other a lot, keep your fingers crossed, and try to avoid getting shot and struck by asteroids if you can.

(Original post on minds.com is here.)

And thus endeth the aggregation. Till next time, space comrades.