Minor Secrets of the Mr T Experience, Part Eleven

Frank Portman
19 min readJan 29, 2019
old flier, ca. 1990 I’d say, featuring band member fingertip personality analysis

So, here are the videos and “minor secrets” for the seven songs I’ve posted since the last aggregation: “Don’t Come Close,” “I Just Wanna Do It with You,” “Thank You (for not Being One of Them)”, “A Song about a Girl Who Went Shopping”, “Pig Latin,” “Unpack Your Adjectives,” “Scientific.”

In case you’re new to this whole thing, I’ve been posting a song, usually a live video, each Wednesday for the past year with a little write-up. I have styled these “songs for Odin” because of Wodensdæg, hence the cute Odin references throughout.

The first “minor secrets” post (for “She’s Coming Over Tonight”) went up on Nov. 30, 2017. At first I was posting several a day, of that one RCKNDY show, and settled into the Wednesday routine only after having done that. I don’t have the exact number to hand, but it’s probably around 80 songs so far. That’s a lot. When I first started doing it I thought I’d run out of material and just let it die, but I haven’t yet. So, onward, eh?

There’s more detail 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; nine; ten.

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

1 “Don’t Come Close”

Another Wodensdæg, another Song for Odin. Like punk rock clockwork, that’s the way it works. Behold:

What we have here is a song from an MTX show at Nessun Dorma, Genoa, Italy, October 28, 1996. Hard to believe it but after the harrowing, truncated tour with Green Day in March ’96, we were back in Europe just a few months later (following an extensive tour of the Canadian hinterland with the Smugglers.) Italy was always kind to us, and I guess that’s why. And we had many memorable times in Genova.

This is a Ramones cover, the only performance of it I’ve seen caught on video, though we used to do it fairly regularly as an encore / final song. As far as I know, it’s the only song from the MTX Road to Ruin cover album that we ever did live, unless we did “She’s the One” — that may have happened once or twice.

Because, yes, if you didn’t know, we did one of those Ramones cover albums for Selfless / Clearview records, MTX doing the entire Road to Ruin LP.

It’s a cute idea, and a lot of people were really into the concept and avidly collect the records, but to be honest it always seemed pretty dumb to me. Best case scenario in such a situation is, you wind up with a cheaply recorded pseudo-Ramones album with worse vocals. We did it because the guy gave us $500 to record it. (This was almost always the motivation for the various cover songs — were it not for some guy sending us a couple hundred bucks for a novelty cover song, half of Shards wouldn’t exist. People think of this as the eighth MTX album, but for me it was always just like one of those covers, but really long and broken up into several tracks.)

We mixed it up just slightly, as a nod to justifying its existence but with minimal effort, doing “Questioningly” as a duet (with Penelope Houston), doing “Go Mental” solo-acoustic, and shortening “It’s a Long Way Back” as a kind of gag. Also we did “Don’t Come Close” in a less “pop” way, doing it more like how we did our own songs I guess (which is probably why it’s the one we played live, out of all of them.) It’s by no means an “improvement” and wasn’t meant to be. We were just trying to make it through our cheaply-recorded pseudo-Ramones-album-with-worse-vocals with as little fuss as possible. $500 wasn’t enough to do much more than that, and I doubt I’d have been all that interested in doing it as some kind of transformational grand statement of Ramones Brotherhood solidarity even if there had been a bigger budget. Road to Ruin is a great album but it didn’t need any help from us. I was more interested in doing my own songs, ya know?

We recorded it with Kevin Army on ADAT at Bob Coover’s basement-laundry room studio, Foxhound Sound (named for his dog.) That’s where Punkemon was recorded, as well as some Revenge Is Sweet extras, a bit of Show Business Is My Life, and chunks of Alcatraz. We did a lot of stuff in the late 90s.

As for “Don’t Come Close” there’s no reason we’d have been doing it in ’96 if we hadn’t learned it for the cover record, so I suspect the project had been proposed and agreed to back then, and that we only ever got around to doing it in 1998. That explains why Boris the Sprinkler’s End of the Century precedes our Road to Ruin in the Ramones cover album timeline. Honestly, it’s kind of a miracle the whole thing happened at all.

Now, all that being said, it’s a fine song, qua song, and I do dig this performance. I’m glad the video exists. I kind of forgot we used to play it. So here’s to Ramones-core (or whatever), Road to Ruin, Genova, rock and roll, etc. And here’s to Odin, and here’s to you, my children. Salute!

2 “I Just Wanna Do It with You”

Welcome to Wodnesdæg and Song for Odin™. Things have been a bit hectic over here at Songs for Odin™ headquarters, what with some flooding and some imminent shows, but the show must go on, and by “the show” I mean this thing where I post a song each Wednesday with some commentary and say it’s a song for Odin. It ain’t much of a show perhaps, but it’s the only one I’ve got. And today we’ve got something a little different than the usual, I suppose.

It's a band called Smashcut doing my old song “I Just Wanna Do It with You” and the way it came about was this. I got an email from a guy named Ryan from Wichita who wanted help with the chords so he could play the song for his girlfriend, Emily:

I think that The Mr T Experience is a great band and you guys don’t get the credit you deserve for how great you guys are. I’m a real big fan of the song “I just wanna do it with you” and it perfectly captures how I feel about my girlfriend and it’s a really good song. I was hoping to perform it for her since I play guitar, but I can’t find any form of guitar sheet music for it. I’ve looked over the Internet and can’t find any tabs, chords, or covers. So I figured I’d go with my last option and just take a chance and ask you if you know or have the chords or tabs. I’m sorry to bother you but I just thought it’d be a cool gift since she likes MTX too. While I’m here I’d just like to thank you for all the good music and fun times you’ve given me. I really appreciate it’s pretty wack that not more people know MTX. And if you ever want to be perform in Wichita, Kansas, I’ll be front row. I’m sorry to bother you. Thank you for your time. From, Ryan.

Nice note. So, I sent him the chords and asked that if this performance were ever documented I’d like to hear it. A few weeks later I received the video with this message:

Hey, it’s me again. Ryan. I’m sorry it took so long, I had to form a band, record it, and edit it. Its not perfect but I think we did a good job, and my girlfriend liked it. Thanks a bunch for the help, my singing isn’t great, but my band mates nailed it with your help. I’ve attached a link to our current best version of the song, and I’ve attached a cover I made for our cover of my girlfriend. Thanks again for the help!

And that’s really all there is to it, just watch it, no further “minor secrets” necessary, but mostly what I want to note is: this song is still ALIVE, ca. 25 years on, if you know what I mean. It’s something of a miracle isn’t it? And I can’t think of a better use to which it could be put.

(Oh, one other thing: when he first sent me the video the name of the band was the Emerging Programmers, but by the time I wrote to thank him the next day it had already changed. That’s another kinda KD thing that’s still alive too, evidently.) Cheers to Ryan, Emily, bandmates, and all of you. See you in Indianapolis and St. Louis or not, as the case may be.

Original post on minds.

3 “Thank You (for not Being One of Them)”

Welcome to Wodensdæg and Song for Odin, and some minor secrets of the Mr T Experience song “Thank You (for not Being One of Them)”.

I had a different song at the top of my queue for this week’s song post, but switched to this instead because of the recent discussion about calls to censor the Pogues song “Fairytale of New York” because the lyrics contain a certain word that we must now refer to as “the F word” apparently if we don’t want our reference to and discussion of it to risk getting censored as well.

This word also occurs in “Thank You (for Not Being One of Them)”. And though this dumb little song clearly is not in anywhere near the same league as “Fairytale of New York” (which I consider to be a superbly conceived and constructed composition that borders on genius, of great literary depth and merit, in fact) one could easily perform the same sort of facile operation upon it, taking the line out of context and willfully misunderstanding it for whatever sort of propagandistic purpose one might have.

And it has happened, though not often. Most people get it (it’s really not that hard) and manage to grasp what the narrator of the song, and the writer of the narrator of the song, are trying to get across. But maybe if I was set up to host the Oscars or something it would get dug up and willfully misapprehended in grand Two Minutes of Hate fashion. I mean, obviously it would.

Sometimes this kind of engineered communication breakdown is thought of in terms of the “use / mention dichotomy” which our contemporary culture does indeed seem unable to grasp, at least in the meme-fueled discourse that reduces everything to dueling simplistic slogans, and which seems to have become our primary means of communication. I’ve noted, in this regard, a cultural tendency (not to say desire) to fail to tell the difference between fiction and reality, and have echoed Shane MacGowan’s point that the speech of literary characters is not always nice and edifying, and if we had to stick to nothing but sweet, uplifting respectable characters with warm and fuzzy socially useful meme-able slogans for dialog there would, effectively, be no more stories.

However, the most striking thing about it to me is, these objections to depictions of disagreeable or objectionable matters in art often suffer from a much greater and weirder failure: I mean, the failure to recognize that these antagonists, the art and its would-be censor, are so often addressing the same topic, and often in at least something like the same spirit. Consistency would demand banning both the art and the criticism that argues for its suppression. And that can’t be right. The narrator of “Thank You” clearly doesn’t like being called an “F word.” How can a character express that sentiment without actually referring to the thing he is objecting to? Beats me. We have turned ourselves into infants, at least when it comes to art. I clearly don’t understand this world we currently live in.

Anyway, though not all my songs are like this, that bit does reflect my “lived experience” — I was called an “F word” pretty much every day of my life for my entire childhood, to the degree that I half-thought it might actually be my name. I suspect many of you reading this may have had a similar experience. This is an interesting topic (bullying, I mean.) Surely it’s fair game for an essay, a novel, a song. Or maybe I’m just crazy. I’m really starting to believe I may well be. (Ironically, perhaps, the mindless public shaming that characterizes our discourse resembles nothing so much as the bullying dynamic referenced in this song, mean kids swarming a vulnerable target.)

As for the song qua song, I spilled some “minor secrets” last year (before I’d systematized this whole minor secrets system) so allow to quote myself:

It took some doing to come up with an undone take on “us against the world” but I think this one does it. It was one of a handful of songs whose sensibility and narrative voice was appropriated for the King Dork books. If nothing else, its existence is justified by the lines: “you don’t hesitate to exaggerate and say that it’s okay” and “later that night we hold each other tight and plot their destruction”, the latter of which I’ve seen as a tattoo at least once, along with the song title’s acronym. (And yes, it is so an acronym rather than an “initialism”: pronounced “TIFF-un-boot.”) There was originally a third verse that looked toward a future of growing old together and cultivating an insular life of splendid isolation and loving misanthropy. I can no longer remember how it went, though it’s written down somewhere no doubt, but “Population: Us” was in effect an elaboration on it.

This peppy version isn’t bad, and everyone seems to be having a good time. Anyway, to those of you who have stuck with me this far down, and have not reported me to the authorities for impious impropriety I say: thank you for not being one of them. You are an apparently shrinking demographic. (The song originally scheduled for today, btw, was “A Song about a Girl Who Went Shopping” — possibly we’ll do that next week if circumstances don’t once again make a different suddenly quasi-topical.)

notes: — studio recording; another live version, from 1998; use / mention distinction; The Pogues — “Fairytale of New York”; my original post on “Fairytale of New York”.

4 “A Song about a Girl Who Went Shopping”

Once again it’s Wodnesdæg, the final one of the year before Modranect (that’s Christmas to me and you) so from all of us at Song for Odin™ a great big Gesælige Giuli to eow. And as a program note: next week’s Wodnesdæg falls on Boxing Day, and depending on what happens at Song for Odin™ HQ we may just skip the Song for Odin™ that week and pick it up in the Niwe Gear.

What we have here today is a fairly rare capture of an early version of “A Song about a Girl Who Went Shopping” from a 1988 show at Gilman. As with many of the songs in that set, it hadn’t been recorded yet and we were still figuring out how to do it. It is a preposterous affair in many ways, but we certainly had fun doing it, wallowing in the absurdity and such. I used to think of the extended intro and instrumental prelude (which we often extended far, far past rationality) as sort audience-provoking stunt, a kind of “let’s see how long they’ll put up with this” sort of thing, like Lou Ford’s relentless platitudes in The Killer inside Me. But then it took shape as a more or less coherent instrumental and I have to say I kind of like it now. Audiences liked it too, weirdly, though this one, to judge from the few glimpses seems more bemused and tolerant than enthusiastic, which is the Berkeley way. Anyway, if it feels like it goes on forever, well then: success.

MTX with Rough Trade gals

At 5:31 it’s the longest track my band ever recorded. I know many people have a real sentimental attachment to it, as do I in a way, but looking at it dispassionately, I have to say that it quite obviously, like much of the material from this stage but maybe more so, is a few units of measurement short of being fully baked. Maybe therein lies the charm? Maybe? We were young and inexperienced, and with no one caring enough to try to stop us we’d do pretty much any old thing. And run it into the ground. (That impulse, at least, hasn’t changed much.) But I did just listen to that tape (the original mix of Rough US 68, the Big Black Bugs 12") and it does have something, it meaning the intro, a kind of sonic explodedness that is, if nothing else, unique and is possibly a bit compelling if you look at it from a certain angle.

The idea was, I suppose, to present a pedestrian, inconsequential tiny slice of life narrative (a girl buys some records and a cooking pot) and just blow it up into a deadpan epic beyond all reason, as a sort of, I don’t know, inane celebration of entropy, or the absurdity of our stupid little lives, or something. Along the lines of Queneau’s Exercises de Style (yeah that’s the kind of thing I used to think about — I was a very silly person); but the musical-conceptual model, if there was one, was the Television Personalities’ song “Smashing Time” which obviously did it a whole lot better and lovelier. If it did it. I don’t know, whether or not it was worth doing, it was done.

The actual story is 100% true, and the list of records is accurate, purchased from Reckless Records in San Francisco (I can still see their characteristic price stickers when imagine them.) Naked Raygun, Crimpshrine, Dickies, Rezillos, and Aerosmith, and a Lurkers 7". All good. I think I may still have that particular Lurkers record.

One again, gesælige cristesmæsse, one and all. Be good.

5 “Pig Latin”

Welcome to 2019. Song for Odin™ is back, and hopes you had a great Christmas etc. By my calculations there are still a few more days of technical Christmas till we get to twelve drummers drumming — what does that sound like, Rush or something? But basically it’s over, yet Song for Odin™ remains standing. Well, sort of. We’ll see how it goes. We only took one week off but that’s all it takes to make one question the value of the entire enterprise. Would it not be better simply to draw a line under it and move on to other things, leaving the past year of minor secrets as crumbling monument to man’s folly and vanity?

Nevertheless on we march. And what we have here is another song from Southampton UK Summer of ’92 and the Making Things with Light album, recorded a few years earlier in 1989.

As you may have noted, I’ve been listening to what has been salvaged of the MTX catalog masters in preparation for the Mtx forever comp and possible future re-issues (which you can still vote on, btw.)Making Things with Light was kind of a dark horse in my memory, filed away, details mostly forgotten, as a compendium of misfires a breed apart from all the other compendia of misfires, but in the process of forced listening I noted that, well, it has its moments.

And here’s a song from it, and it does have its moments. The idea of doing a song with pig latin lyrics is solid. Adding the “ubbi dubbi” bit (one of those child fake language games, known to me from the TV show Zoom): also solid. The linking of this rhetoric to a general sense of confusion and not being able to decipher the world or express the confusion, as well as the trope of arrested development (wherein elementary school never ever really ends) is again well on the right track. It doesn’t quite gel, though, and the actual content is too malformed and awkward to bear out the attempted mood of silly / “heavy” irony. It certainly is absurd in the right sort of way, but not quite in control enough to say it wasn’t largely inadvertent. I’m sure I could write a much better, more interesting, less awkward, and more effective, song in pig latin now, but that ship has sailed. There’ll be no more songs in pig latin from me. Further absurd conceits await.

I was still figuring this stuff out and I figured it out a whole lot better after stabbing away like this. On the other hand, that main chord thing and the beat (fast enough so the drummer couldn’t speed it up too much no matter how hard he tried) is pretty good and actually has a bit of a “groove” which is something we always struggled to achieve. And the guitar is actually pretty cool (and very piercing on the master, which is neat.) And it’s short. Maybe not the “best of” and I’d be surprised if anyone voted for it. (Though — and this is something I’ll probably get into later in more detail, such a track would be quite helpful in constructing an album sequence because of the tempo and the shortness.) Anyhow, like I said, it has its moments and I give it points for the novel conceit and the rock and roll of it all. Rock and roll: that ain’t nothin’. I like it better than I thought I would.

May all your your youthful endeavors prove similarly less embarrassing and more releaseable than you imagined, should you happen to confront them on tape or video. Keep on rocking and voting and such. Praise Odin. And tune in next week for more of this sort of thing because I’ve got a million of them.

(Original post on minds.com is here.)

6 “Unpack Your Adjectives”

Once again, Wednesday, i.e. Wodnesdæg, i.e. Óðinsdagr, and time for another song thing. Why? Just because. I started doing this and I guess I’ll continue till I run out of material (and then maybe I’ll make some more material, who knows?) Anyway what we have here is “Unpack Your Adjectives” live in Genoa, Italy, 28 October, 1996.

I don’t recall having played this live too often. Doing it as the grand finale to a set in front of a bunch of non-American non-English-speakers was perhaps a rather odd choice but odd choices were our métier, if métier means what I think it does. And I don’t suppose it mattered all that much what we played, as long as we played something, as Italians are generous, warm-hearted people who dig songs, at least in my experience.

It is, of course, a Schoolhouse Rock tune. Many people assume that it must have been on or at least recorded for the big label covers comp called Schoolhouse Rock Rocks that came out in 1996. In fact we were way too small-time to be asked to be on something like that. (The Daniel Johnston version of this song that is on that comp. is quite charming and pleasant, btw.) In fact, we just did it on our own for no particular reason. We also tried the “Interjections” one but never did anything with it.

This was one of five songs we recorded, self-funded, at Sound and Vision soon after we started playing with Joel ca. 1994. We hadn’t been getting much love from the Lookout regime at the time (nor from the public, to be honest, two things which may not be as unrelated to each other as I might have supposed at the time.) I figured the only thing to do was to strike out on my own and put out a last record as a kind of final “fuck you” to the universe. (So many of my projects over the years were done in that spirit, it’s funny now that I come to think of it.) We’d done it before. It’d be just like starting over, I imagine I must have told myself. The songs were “Alternative Is Here to Stay”, “New Girlfriend,” “You Today,” “Unpack Your Adjectives”, and “Semi-OK”, and it would have made a pretty decent soon-forgotten but latterly collectible e.p. had it happened that way.

But when Green Day hit it big and all the disgruntled, neglected Lookout bands suddenly had more options, the label did some inhouse outreach to try to keep the roster onboard, which is why Larry flew to our show with Sicko in Seattle to be all nice to us and everything. I had introduced “Alternative…” from the stage as a new song we were going to be putting out as a single, and Larry talked me into doing it on Lookout, which, as you know, happened. There would be more fuck yous to the universe to come, but this one was thus strangled in its crib, and we went on to do some good, notable stuff thereafter.

That version of “Semi-OK” ended up on a Punk Planet flexi that is rather collectible now I understand, and “Unpack Your Adjectives”, under the title “Adjectives” appeared on the 1995 Lookout sampler A Slice of Lemon. So, there’s some minor secrets for you.

Finally, since this stuff is on my front burner these days, these tapes have completely disappeared, both multi-track and mixdown. My theory is that they were pulled from the archive when we did the CD comps in the mid-90s and never returned. They were either left in some studio and eventually thrown in the trash when not claimed, or, more likely, were not labelled clearly enough to identify whom they belonged to and might well be resting in somebody else’s tape archive unidentified.

Ladies and gentlemen, label your tapes. Don’t leave them lying around just anywhere. If not, you’ll regret it thirty years later when you try to locate them for legacy re-issues.

I’ll be back next Wed. with another tune, most probably. Till then, be sweet, kind, and loving to those who deserve it, and sweet, kind, and indulgent to those who may not, because there isn’t a whole lot of time in a life and it’s way better to make it pleasant for each other when you can.

Original post on minds.

7 “Scientific”

Well, a very good Wodnesdæg to everyone, and time for another one of these Songs for Odin of course. I am a bit under the weather at the moment (caught some kind of crazy cold or flu or plague, a thing that often happens in the aftermath of plane travel but more extreme this time around for whatever reason.) My head is fuzzier than usual and my face is on fire. However, the show must go on. What we have here is a song from July 1992 at the Stortebeker Club in Hamburg.

I’m a bit surprised to see this very old song in the set — it was on the first album and predates the MTX by many years as well, stretching back into my own high school experiments with pretend songs for pretend bands. I don’t remember playing it very often, or at all in the era, but here it is, apparently tacked on at the end of the set as an unwanted encore.

I’ve been slogging through the “early years” a bit so it seemed apt to drag this one out, once I discovered it. I think my “poor man’s Ron Asheton” routine here is at least a bit funny.

Rather than try to come up with different words to convey the same thing, I’m just going to quote myself from a post a ways back of a song from the same set:

To paraphrase something once said in reference to Leppo, the fifth Rutle, the Reeperbahn is one of the naughtiest streets in the world and if we couldn’t play our instruments we knew how to have a good time, and in Hamburg, that was more important. I remember that night very fondly, and recall that show as one of the great ones despite what appears in the video to be a distinct too-cool-for-showmanship distance on our part and only a mildly interested, sparse crowd. Well, we were certainly used to those.

Well-stated, self. (That song was “Love American Style”, here.) As for your your selves, have them a merry little Wednesday and try to stop being so crazy all the time on the internet if you can. And now it’s back to bed for me. Sweet dreams comrades.

Original post on minds.