Minor Secrets of the Mr T Experience Revealed, Part 8

Frank Portman
15 min readOct 2, 2018

Each Wednesday I post a little chunk of my “legacy”, video of songs mostly, dedicated to Odin because of it being Wednesday, with little write-ups about the songs. Every month or so I collect and re-edit these into a single post, just so they are easier to find and less likely to disappear into the internet’s unforgiving index-less maw. In aid of what, you may ask. In aid, he answers, of everything not just disappearing, just in case you may want to check on something later. This requires manual self-indexing, as searches of all the various platforms that things temporarily rest on these days before being buried rarely turn up satisfactory or complete results, plus: what, are you going to trust searches controlled by shadowy people with shadowy agendas to determine whether or not you should be able to read about “Velveeta”? It doesn’t matter if they don’t think it’s important (and I’m sure it is not.) Maybe one day I will want to refer back to what I wrote about “Velveeta” in 2018, and if I ever do I’m pretty sure I’ll be on my own. (This system of mine will only work as long as these posts don’t get deleted from Medium, which probably won’t happen but could well, and even if they don’t, it’ll only work if you know about my posting this sort of thing on Medium. But it’s the best I can do at present.)

But, I digress.

This is the eighth 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.

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

1 “Velveeta”

What we have here is a song from a Gilman Street MTX show, August 6, 1988, stage-left cam video by Shayne Stacey of the Sacramento Music Archive who doctored it up and generously sent it my way. This was our “homecoming” show after our first, rather fraught attempt to tour the US, and it’s an interesting set. Rough and sloppy as usual, but: we were young and inexperienced. At any rate, this is pretty much precisely what Gilman Street sounded like and looked like ca ’88, at least for us.

Here’s the flier for this show, by the way, which also had Soulside and Spent on the bill:

I don’t know what we had expected the tour to be like, but after nearly two months of being attacked and chased across several states by skinheads, intimidated by “straight-edgers”, hassled and booed by “anarchists”, and pointedly ignored by pretty much everyone else, we were back in home territory and a full room of comparatively friendly Gilmans.

Here’s Rough Trade’s tour poster, arguably the best thing to come out of the entire enterprise:

(We also printed up T shirts with that design, returning home with approximately the same number we left with.)

But back to Gilman: Big Black Bugs hadn’t been recorded yet, but six of those seven songs appear in the set, obviously still being worked out. This also appears to be the first time “At Gilman Street” was played at Gilman Street, quite messily and tentatively. But more on that later. “Velveeta” was a staple of the live set, in those days and (sometimes) continuing, and this is the first document of it from that early era that I’ve come across.

The guys who jump on stage to sing the choruses were a regular feature of all of those local shows. They were known, to me at any rate, only as “the Velveeta guys from Concord.” From this I deduce that they must have been from Concord, though I suppose that could be wrong. I’m not sure where I was getting my information. I’ve run into one of them on the street in Berkeley several times over the years (the one with the black hat.) Seems like he at least turned out okay. Nice fellow.

“Velveeta” is a fine song, or fine enough considering everything, but I never liked the album recording. It needs a better beat, and just more “togetherness” in general. A better band could have done great things with it, possibly. This rendition is hardly any kind of improvement on that, but there’s still something… well, it captures something. *What*, I have no idea. Maybe it’s “punk.” Maybe it’s “not punk.” Maybe it’s both of those at the same time.

The song, per se, is an early attempt to take a conceit, run it in to the ground, beat it to death, burn it to a crisp, and scatter the ashes — something I was to learn to do better as time went on. But considering how aimless and all-over-the-place I was in this period (as a writer and just, you know, generally) it does stay remarkably in focus. I still like it, I don’t care what you all say.

2 “I Fell for You”

Welcome, once again, to Wodensdæg, and A Song for Odin. The Odin to which I refer is the Many-Shaped, the War-Blind and Flaming-Eyed Shouter and Thunderer. The songs are basically my stuff, chopped up into bits and presented week by week. This, in our stupid, stupid internet world is known as “content.” Please don’t forget to tip your “content” provider on the way out, those of you who are “content” enthusiasts. For without our “content” our internet lives would be as empty as… as a fiddler on the roof.

This profile view video was taken by Laura Bethita Neptuna at our recent show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. You can read much more about that show here if you like.

A note on all the side-stage video lately… it is of course a practical reality that that’s often the best place to get such video in a crowded, rowdy club. It’s not the traditional view of a rock band, obviously. But it *could* have been, had the Ed Sullivan Show adopted different production parameters. Then we’d maybe have had the Elvis/Jagger/Joey Ramone figure positioned stage right instead of center, turning to glower at the camera here and there; maybe we’d have had some synchronized right-turn/left-turn head choreography from the Beatles and the Supremes. And then we’d have all imitated it in our living rooms and in clubs and such. It would have been hard on our necks. But, fortunately for our necks, it was not to be. Anyway, it always reminds me of this Mitchell & Webb sketch.

All that said, it’s cool to see Ted up close like that. I love the way he plays. This song is now nearly twenty-five years old. And it still works. Which is kind of amazing. Beyond that, I don’t, at the moment, have any “minor secrets” to add to what I wrote here. Cheers to you all, and a very happy Wodensdæg to you indeed. Come back next week for more “content” of this nature, if “content” is your bag.

3 “Spider Man”

Another Wodensdæg comes rolling around and once again in honor of the Word-Sower, Wight-Ferrier, and Unquenchable Desolater I present… well it’s another video of my band doing a song. Doing so is on the schedule, so doing it must be done. As I’ve said before, it ain’t much of a legacy, maybe, but it’s the only one I’ve got. So here’s another song from that show in Southampton UK, Summer of 1992, when we were just a baby. (It’s the twelfth I’ve posted of the eighteen songs in the set, for those who want to keep track.)

We’d recorded this song the previous year and released it as one of the two B-side tracks on the more or less TV-themed “Love American Style” 7". Semi-ironic covers of TV theme songs is a long-standing tradition in punk rock, and we were doing our best to fit in to it, sort of. I say “sort of” because all of our such covers lacked the element of ridicule with which this type of thing was customarily presented. There was nothing snide about our versions of “Somebody Wants to Love You” and “Spider-Man.” They’re great songs and, though it sounds funny to put it this way, we were covering them to honor them rather than to mock them.

For the sake of mining your childhood pop culture memories for material to make use of in this way, you could do far worse than to schedule your formative years to have occurred in the late sixties to early seventies like I did. Most pop culture commercial productions prominently included songs, real ones, and even the silliest and flimsiest of such programs often had music composed (and played) by people of immense talent. These guys knew what they were doing, song-wise, and growing up with this stuff in my head was, I fancy, a kind of inadvertent subliminal education in compositional and melodic structures. (Granted, this is stuff no one seems to care about any more — just add it to the list.)

The “Spider-Man” lyricist, Paul Francis Webster, was the guy who wrote “The Shadow of Your Smile”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing,” and “I Got It Bad (and that Ain’t Good).” The chances were pretty good that he’d do a good “Spider-man”, and of course he did. (I am sorry to learn, however, that the folk tradition — believed by me until looking it up on wikipedia just now — that Charles Mingus played the bass on the original recording is false, at least according to wiki. That’s gonna ruin my day, slightly, not gonna lie.)

Anyway, this song and the Spider Man cartoon it introduced did loom quite large in my childhood. There was something about that rudimentary animation, the garish colors, and the dark city-scapes that really exercised my imagination. The brassy noir-ish minor-key music evoking the seamy city and its menacing underworld was entirely fitting and proper. I didn’t recognize the silliness of it. I was a kid. It was deadly serious, and dark, and heavy.

But, you know, now: I do. It doesn’t make me love it any less as a song, but I have moved on from Spider Man, and long ago. Nothing is less interesting to me as an old guy than “super heroes.” I am never tempted by any of the blockbuster super hero movies that seem to be the only thing Hollywood ever makes anymore. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one, in fact. And when I’m in the midst of a group of middle-aged dudes talking earnestly and urgently about “the franchise” my eyes glaze over and my my brain goes to a different place. I can’t, and I hope I’m using this phrase correctly, even.

No disrespect meant to the “the franchise” people, and I fully encourage them to like what they like without apology or restraint. Let it all hang out. If there are stones to be thrown, I’m certainly the last who should throw them: I am pretty much 100% arrested development and frivolous hobby horses and looking backward, with this single super-hero exception. So yeah, if you like those movies great and maybe you’re right about them. But I’m fairly confident that their music isn’t as good as 1967. Nothing is.

Be good to each other, my friends, because you’re all they’ve got.

(Original post on minds.com is here.)

4 “Told You Once”

Welcome to Wodensdæg and Songs for Odin. I post a song each week, on Wednesday, dedicated to Odin, Gapþrosnir, the One in Gaping Frenzy, Father of Magical Songs. This is because the first time I did this fell on Wednesday, and I, as is my wont, elected to run the conceit into the ground and stomp on it till my feet fall off. Let us, accordingly, quench our thirst with the blood of our mutual enemies and, atop the mountain of their forsaken skulls, raise our sword arms to celebrate the Gift of Song, and the Recording Career of the Mr T Experience. And since this week marks the release of the MTX Shards Vol 2 LP, as well as the double CD of both Shards volumes with associated accessories (see link below) I present to you the OFFICIAL VIDEO of “Told You Once.”

I shall now quote from the liner notes: ‘This was one of over a hundred songs on Fat Wreck Chords’s Short Music for Short People compilation. It was meant to be songs that were thirty seconds or under I think. Ours clocked in at ten seconds, which I’d hoped would be the shortest but in fact “Short Attention Span” by the Fizzy Bangers beat it by a couple of seconds. Oh well. The recording was one of those backline-in-the-studio deals where the bands would shuffle in, do their song, and shuffle out. The engineer and I really didn’t see eye to eye on… anything, really. He was very unhappy with my funky but classic 1957 Les Paul Junior, and kept trying to get me to use this metal-looking guitar he had instead (which I didn’t — I have my principles.) Admittedly, my guitar was hard to tune. Basically, there was a lot of conflict packed into those ten seconds, which may well be the best way to record a song that goes “fuck the fucking fucked up fucks…”’

I’ve always done pretty well with songwriting “assignments”, great and small. In this case the assignment, as I saw it, was to construct the best, shortest song I could, and to “fit in” at least to a degree with the community of “punk rockers” we would be invading. That’s why there’s all that “swearing,” see? Plus I just kind of like how many parts-of-speech roles the word “fuck” can play and I wanted to see how many of them could be used coherently in succession. (I love the English language.)

I’d call it a ten-second success all around. However, as many have noticed, I don’t often “go there” in songs, that is, there’s not a lot of “bad language” in my lyrics as there is with the oeuvre most of my, er. contemporaries. Part of the reason is that, the present song notwithstanding, it’s not a very interesting thing to do with your lyrics to stud them with “fucks” just for effect. It’s a cheap trick, creating the superficial impression of passion or whatever but short-circuiting the substance. Moreover, the more people do this, the more it becomes standard rhetoric, the less impact it has even when there is substance. It’s just not a great use of your limited lyrical space to cut it with inert filler. So, when I do it, I try at least to have a good reason, and that is relatively rare.

Which is why people are shocked and/or befuddled when it does happen, which is correct and proper. Over the years I have had many conversations with kids at shows, and some of the most interesting of them have been with evangelical Christian teens, who were a perhaps surprisingly consistent presence at punk rock shows throughout the 90s. To be honest, I’ve never been surprised that these kids would find some affinity with the basic rebellious and oddball-celebrating ethos of “punk”, real or imagined. Somewhat complicatedly, this could come from both sides, and simultaneously: on the one hand, rebelling, if ever so slightly, against a somewhat strict ethical and behavioral code within the family while, on the other, also regularly experiencing severe alienation and ridicule from society at large, at least in the cultural and class contexts in which institutions like Big Punk and the recording industry flourish(ed). I get it completely.

Anyway, one of the things they would say is how much they appreciated the fact that there were little to no “swear words” in my songs because it made it easier to persuade their parents not to object to their punk rock interests and activities. I think this is funny, and not at all what you want as a rock and roller I suppose, to be “kid tested, parent approved.” But I suppose it’s maybe a bit like playing “What’s So Funny about Peace, Love, and Understanding?” to your hippie parents to quiet their fears about your going to see Black Flag (true story.) Some things never change. But every time I do write or release a “fuck” song I do think of those kids, and, in my capacity as the King of Feeling Slightly Bad about Everything, feel slightly bad about it, even though “those kids” now are all growed up and have kids of their own, whose music and comics and games and such they are no doubt subjecting to similar scrutiny and being deflected by the equivalent of Elvis or the MTX. So it goes.

But, I digress, as usual. This is all about Shards vol. 2, “Told You Once,” and the glorious video, starring Chris Thacker’s hands. Happy Wodnesdæg, happy Shards Vol. 2 Day, praise Odin, and here are some links and notes:

— adding this, of course to the “official and semi-official music videos” playlist.

— the label copies of the Shards Vol. 2 LP are sold out, but they can be found in stores, or ordered from a few ordering spots. Sounds Rad has assembled some links here.

— it’s possible that a few copies of Vol. 1 are out there as well, if you want to hunt.

— the other formats (CD, cassette, digital), and all the accessories may be found here.

— if you do see it in the wild, i.e., in a store somewhere, take a photo and send it in. I’d like to see.

— Finally, if you’re curious about the Shards concept and how it came to be go here; and here. OK. Till next we meet…

5 “I Was Losing You All Along”

Wodensdæg, Wodensdæg, here again, and that means yet another song, for Odin, from me, along with some brief comments (the “minor secrets revealed” of custom and legend.)

What we have here is “I Was Losing You All Along,” originally an unfinished out-take from the Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You sessions then patched together for the …and the Women Who Love Them CD compilation, and now re-mastered for the Shards collection. (It’s on the volume 1 LP, included, obviously, in the Shards double CD and the digital thing.)

Allow me to quote myself, from the Shards liner notes: ‘As originally conceived, this song was intended to be the grand finale track of Revenge Is Sweet and so Are You — the album title appears as a lyric in the bridge. In the event it never quite “gelled” in the studio and we didn’t have the time (nor, arguably, the talent) to do it justice so it was abandoned unfinished. Kevin Army and I did what we could with it several years later to make it presentable for the …and the Women Who Love Them CD compilation. It was during this session at Shark Bite studios in Oakland that Al Jardine poked his head in to say: “that bass sounds a little picky… not to be, you know, picky” — lending a Beach Boy’s support to the tone side in our ongoing argument over how trebly and stringy the bass should be. While the recording isn’t perfect, this is still one of my favorites among my songs, and I’d love the chance to re-do it properly one day, or to hear someone good do a cover of it. The reprise of the guitar line from Milk Milk Lemonade’s “See It Now” was intended to link those two albums together on the basis of some no doubt pretentious rationale I’ve since forgotten.’

Yeah, that Al Jardine story really happened.

I’ll only add that this master tape, along with most of the tapes that were pulled from the archive to be worked on for the two CD comp re-issues, has, as far as I can tell, disappeared. I say “as far as I can tell” because the tapes of this period are very poorly labelled, if at all; I appear to have two of seven Revenge Is Sweet reels at present, and though it is anyone’s guess what songs are on them, it’s a pretty safe bet that the one containing “I Was Losing You…” will have been one of the ones removed from the archive, since we recorded on it at Sharkbite ca. AD 2000. My best guess as to what happened is, we left the tapes at the studio, they got kicked and shuffled here and there and finally someone accidentally took them home (them being, as I’ve said, only rudimentarily labelled) or they just got thrown away. Another possibility is, these sketchily labelled tapes wound up in somebody else’s bins after the Lookout archives were dispersed (through the Turn It Around / Jingle Town process) to individual bands.

Whatever happened to them, for all practical purposes, they don’t exist. Missing masters are a soul-freezing tragedy per se, even in cases where it’s unlikely you’d ever find the occasion to make use of them in any practical way. While on some level, I’d like the chance to have a crack at doing a better mix of “I Was Losing You…” the track is pretty much set, as much “released” as it needs to be, and probably for good. It’s fine. But the knowledge that doing so is 100% precluded will continue to haunt me all my days. And that goes for the whole Revenge Is Sweet album as well. Maybe it doesn’t absolutely *need* remixing, but whether it does or it doesn’t, it matters not because outside of whatever happens to be on those two reels, it’s simply 100% impossible. This kills me.

However, for what it’s worth, we do have this song in its current state, and it will simply have to do. Whatever its flaws, I like it. Dina made the video. (Nothing wrong with the public domain Cary Grant film archive, thank God.) Adding it to the “Official and Semi-Official Music Videos” list, because official is a official does, bringing the total to 14.

You may find Shards product here. Sounds Rad is sold out of the label-reserved copies for the vinyl edition of both volumes, but you can still find them in scattered stores, and at a few online retailers. There’s a list here. Finally, Interpunk still seems to have both volumes in stock, and is, as far as I know, the only place where volume 1 can still be ordered.

May Odin smile on you all and grant you victory in all your battles, and the wisdom to treat your vanquished foes with magnanimity and honor.