Minor Secrets of the Mr T Experience for Odin Revealed Part IX

Frank Portman
12 min readOct 30, 2018

First off, a couple of “bulletins”:

— the Sounds Rad Andromeda Klein promotion mentioned below (book, shirt, pin, rare vintage poster and 7", etc.) is still going for a couple more days (thru Oct. 31.) If you want in on it, go here.

— I’m doing a singer-songwriter “showcase” type show on November 19 at the Make Out Room in San Francisco, hosted by Bradley Skaught, with Sylvie Simmons and Will Gorgantas.

So anyway, here’s another month of “minor secrets” write-ups and their concomitant videos. (For indexing purposes, the original posts were all on minds.com, and their urls are in the YouTube descriptions of the individual videos: I’m going to start including those links in the text… it’s weird how often one has occasion to refer to them. Lord only knows, however, how long the powers that be will allow minds to continue to exist. The prognosis isn’t good, and Facebook at least already seems to be laying the groundwork for a case that the site is “unsafe” and should be banned. Big surprise. If and when that happens, and the posts disappear, at least they’ll be here. Till Medium bans or suppresses them or itself gets banned or suppressed. I’m beginning to see a pattern here, are you?)

Because two of these four songs are from our “homecoming” show after our first US tour, I have been thinking about said tour quite a bit. It sure was weird, and there are stories to tell, which I probably will tell in one or another of these write-ups in future. Something to look forward to, you’re thinking I’m sure. Hey, no reason to be sarcastic…. Coincidentally, I happened on this pic, taken of us and our dumb little van just before embarkation. (That’s my brother John in the background, who came along as a sort of roadie.) We had no idea.

Anyhow, this is the ninth installment, like it says. You can read about how and why I started doing this in the intro to the first installment; and the Odin conceit is explained, somewhat, in the intro to the second. The subsequent installments may be found here: three; four; five; six; seven; eight.

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

1 “Now We Are Twenty-One”

Is it Wodensdæg already? So it appears. They creep up on a person, like CALPIRG petition pushers. One minute, you’re alone in the street. Next minute, there they are, demanding that you save the environment or whatever. “But,” you say, “I never sign petitions because years on the edges of various counter-cultures has inculcated the suspicion that such petitions are likely to be FBI, CIA, or NSA schemes to gather information on unwitting stooges.” (This actually is an effective thing to say, since they can’t prove they’re not FBI, and they have been inculcated with the same counter-cultural suspicions, most likely, if they’re in Berkeley.)

Anyway, in contrast to the situation with regard to CALPIRGers, when Odin asks for your signature on a petition that says GET THE LEAD OUT, you sign. And when Wodensdæg rolls along, requiring that you post a song from the song-hoard detritus of the Mr T Experience, you post a song from the song-hoard of the detritus of the Mr T Experience. You don’t want to risk the Curse of Odin, whatever that may entail.

Accordingly, what we have here is another tune from that August 6, 1988 Gilman show (I posted “Velveeta” from it a few weeks back, in which post you can find links to the tour poster and the gig flier: kinda fun and archival, if you know what I mean.) This side-stage video is a remarkably clear and upclose view of what a Gilman show was like in those early days. We had just returned from our first attempt to tour the US, and unlike the audiences out in the real world, whose response ranged from indifferent to flummoxed, the Berkeley kids got our anti-showmanship, just-some-guys-standing-around shtick. We were rough, sloppy, inexperienced, and only partially aware of our own absurdity — but so was everybody else. We and I didn’t really “belong” there, per se, but it was as close to belonging anywhere as we were ever likely to come. If I wasn’t all that comfortable with the idea of belonging anywhere (and I certainly wasn’t) it was at least better than the alternative, out there in the greater, infinitely more hostile America. Note the KALX shirt. Home sweet home, in other words. Sort of.

“Now We Are Twenty-One” was the show opener and the first track from our second album which was still “new” at the time. It’s a play on A. A. Milne’s Now We Are Six. That conceit is, perhaps, not all the way baked, and there have no doubt been better, more impressively realized Dread of Incipient Adulthood songs out there. But as with “Velveeta” I’m impressed that I managed any kind of focus at all in those confused times — there are certainly many examples to the contrary. It doesn’t sound like much but constructing a song where (a) you know what it’s about and (b) it’s possible for people not yourself to figure out what that is is harder than it seems like it should be. And you know, for a guy who knew so little about what he was doing, that key change is handled pretty well. Anyway, I like the energy, any flaws notwithstanding.

The guitar I’m playing is an Ibanez Studio, my first electric guitar, long since disappeared. It sounded great, kind of randomly (the Guitar Center guy had said “you’ll squeeze some good sounds out of this gal” — I wish I had a recording of his spiel, it was great.) But as I’ve had occasion to mention recently, somewhere, it was neck-heavy, and was always sliding down to the left and having to be pulled back up, which was quite a strain. That hunched-over posture was partly owing to the exigencies of neck-heavy guitar management, though I guess I was perhaps also just, you know, bent into a question mark before my time. It was all downhill from there folks, in certain ways.

Thanks again to Shayne Stacy of the Sacramento Music Archive for supplying the content. Oh, content. I will always hate myself for using that term for art, but it is technically accurate. A happy Wodensdæg to all of you. Like, upvote, subscribe, share, all that stuff: it’d be a help to me, plus you don’t want to risk the Curse of Odin. Whatever it may entail, it’s easier just to sign the petition so I’ll go away, isn’t it?

2 “Weekend in Hogboro”

Here’s another one from Gilman Street, 1988. As mentioned before, we’d just returned from our first attempt to tour the US, which didn’t go all that great as you can probably imagine. Jon von keeps saying “so glad to be back” by which he means, I’d guess, it’s a relief to be playing to a slightly less hostile audience and not being physically threatened by agents of intolerant “punk” subcultures like skinheads and straightedgers. Berkeley was a teddy bear compared to San Antonio and Connecticut, even though Gilman was kind of a drag in some ways.

I’m a bit surprised at how many numbers that would become Making Things with Light songs are in this set. The Big Black Bugs 12" hadn’t even come out yet. In fact, most of this set is not-yet-released stuff, considering which, the audience was unusually tolerant, even for Berkeley. I suppose it’s only two years between this show and the release of MTwL, but it doesn’t feel that way. I guess quite a lot (of something or other) was packed into those two years.

I’ve always been rather fond of this simple instrumental. It had words originally, at least in tentative form. I have forgotten them completely, but I do remember not being able to decide whether they were good enough and trying them out different ways and finding each way wanting. (I sure wish I’d done more of that sort of thing in that era, showed more restraint, deliberation, etc.) I’d left the option of doing vox on the track open till pretty much the day of recording. So it’s an instrumental because I couldn’t come up with lyrics in the allotted time, basically. (A subsequent instrumental, the one on Our Bodies Our Selves, had lyrics as well, which I do remember, but I’ll never tell.)

Anyway,it’s a nice little tune and it’s probably best for all concerned that I didn’t wreck it with half-baked lyrics. Shoulda maybe taken that approach with other tracks sometimes. The title is a reference to the name for Chicago in D. Manus Pinkwater’s Lizard Music, and also to our weekend in Chicago on that tour where some weird interesting stuff happened, featuring me, a bar, and some drunk girls (at the Exit, I believe.) That’s not what the lyrics were about. It was just on my mind when we named it for the record track list. First and last time I ever drank Jagermeister. Before that we wrote it out as “ESP” on set lists as a stand-in title (and it’s noted that way on the master tapes that I just so happen to have recently examined). ESP stood for “Excema, Seborrhea, Psoriasis,” from a TV commercial for a health product. The chaos of the sort of creative mind or whatever. We were young and inexperienced.

Jon says “let’s go surfin’” at the end because the next song was going to be “Surfin’ Cows,” but the kick drum pedal broke at that point so the next part of our act was a lengthy stretch of awkward futzing around while a pedal was borrowed and deployed. There were subsequent songs, but it killed the momentum of the set, obviously.

It’s kind of funny how maddening and infuriating and depressing it is just to watch this happening thirty years later. Because it was a feature of every single set. I mean, this happened every time we played, without exception that I can recall. If we were lucky, it would be towards the end, like here. We can put a man on the moon, but we can’t construct a bass drum pedal that will hold up through an entire set of sloppy, inept punk rock? Such were my thoughts at the time, and now. Maybe the heavy Alex foot was just no match for the technology of the time. Maybe a more expensive, professional pedal might have been up to the task. Whatever it was, you’d think we’d have been pretty severely motivated to try to solve it after years and years of it always going wrong and ruining everything, every single time, for decades. But, we didn’t. It doesn’t happen now though, strangely enough.

Ah, memories.

And there it is. Share, like, upvote, subscribe, do all the things you do to stuff to express approbation in this weird enormous little world of ours. Gonna keep doing this every Wed. till the songs run out most likely whether you like it or not, but it’s nicer when it is liked. Put that on my tombstone maybe.

3 Dr. Frank — “Andromeda Klein”

It’s Wodensdæg again, which means my schedule calls for another song and “minor secrets” write-up. For Odin. Why? I have no good answer to the question. Maybe because without a schedule nothing at all would happen, and doing this counts, barely, as something?

Anyhow, as you may have noticed Sounds Radical is doing an Andromeda Klein promotion for the Halloween season and I realized I haven’t yet done a “minor secrets for Odin” write-up of the song, so here goes.

I wrote the song “Andromeda Klein” as a theme song to my 2009 novel of the same title. It was literally conceived as a theme song: that is, I tried to come up with the sort of thing that might be the theme music of a sit-com, in an imaginary world where they made TV shows of books like AK.

My grand ideas about integrating music and other sorts of art stuff into my books were always a lot easier imagined than executed. The half-formed King Dork album I had bouncing around in my head had to wait nearly ten years before taking form in the eventual King Dork Approximately the Album. In the case of Andromeda Klein, I did manage to record and release a contemporaneous actual physical record of the theme song backed with another book-related song “Bethlehem.” It’s a single I’m still quite happy with, though it didn’t exactly take the world by storm, as usual.

The songs are, if I say it myself, ace. The recordings are great too, largely owing to Justin Perkins who engineered and produced them, based on my quite elaborate home demos. I flew out to Milwaukee with a guitar and we did it in a weekend, with Adam Cargin on drums. I did all the other instruments. Most of my past recording experiences had been tense, contentious, and stressful, but this was just 100% fun, maybe because there was no “politics” about it. We were there to make the songs sound how I wanted and nothing more which was quite a novelty. (Some video of this recording session can actually be seen in this Random House promo vid.)

For the record release, I was lucky to have a connection to the amazing artist Lane Smith (through our mutual literary agent) who was kind enough to do the artwork. The record was released by the Portland label Jealous Butcher, a label that specialized in limited lavishly produced “boutique singles”, and it was accordingly quite lavishly pressed and printed up. JB-081. There were 245 on red vinyl, signed and numbered by Lane and me. (I don’t happen to have any of those, that I can find at the moment anyhow.) A few years back the label guy very generously sent me the remaining stock of the main pressing, which is why I have copies to offer now. Here’s the discogs page. Some friends and associates made the video. Anyway, as so often the world didn’t listen, not really. And now it’s an elegant obscurity. But the fact that it is an actual physical object means it genuinely exists and you can acquire it and trip over it occasionally.

If you’re interested head over to Sounds Rad and “build your own” Andromeda Klein box. Records, posters, books, shirts, pins, stickers… and wish yourself a Happy Halloween. Limited quantities, thru October 31. It’s now or never. Once again, happy Wodensdæg to you and many happy returns. See you next week. 93 93/93.

4 “What Went Wrong”

I’m in a bit of a computer transition at the moment and working with a slightly crippled machine, so the we’ll just have to stick to the rudiments here: [a] song for Odin (because Wednesday); [b] MTX live in Southampton UK, Summer of ’92; [c] “What Went Wrong”.

The studio recording of this song, which is the lead-off track of the Making Things with Light album, isn’t necessarily the best that could have been done with it, but as you can see we sure used to have fun playing it. No extensive comments on the song are necessary. It’s your standard fall-of-a-military-dicatorship-as-metaphor-for-love-gone-awry sort of number, as many others have done before and since. I remember coming up with the melody during a stretch of intense Gilman boredom, and it seemed quite a bit more melodic to me at the time. Intense Gilman boredom can cause the mind to play tricks on itself, I have found.

Anyhow, we gave a test pressing of this LP to Aaron Axelsen, a DJ on the local “rock of the 80s” commercial radio station who was unusually supportive of local bands. And, to my great surprise, he actually did play it, once. Unfortunately, whoever wrote the track names on the white label of the test pressing did not have the best handwriting, so Aaron read the title on the air as “What Next Wrong.” In fact he talked about it quite a bit in the intro and outro, “what next wrong, what next wrong” in a kind of quizzical tone. This would hardly be worth mentioning except for the fact that years and years later I happened to run into him at some event or other (he’s been a fixture of Bay Area radio ever since that time). He took one look at me and said: “What Next Wrong!”

So what I’m saying, folks, is: penmanship matters. You’ll probably have just the one chance to get played on the radio, and you might as well make sure the DJ can read the name of the song.

It is conceivable, though not necessarily guaranteed, that some commercial broadcast royalties could have been due to the writer of the song “What Went Wrong” under its “alternate” title “What Next Wrong”, which I had not the foresight to register with BMI in case of such a contingency. Not sure how much it would have been, but at least the cost of a beer or two, so basically, yeah, I’m down a couple of beers and as you can see, it still stings. Poor labelling strikes again.