MTX & the minor secrets of the songs thereof, part 6

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So here I am again, collecting the past month’s worth of Wednesday “songs for Odin” posts, in hopes of preserving them just a bit even as they disappear into the internet’s vast disappearing machine. It’s funny how our current internet has managed to embody two contradictory flaws at the same time: posted “content” is in some sense there forever, for the purposes of coming back to haunt you or destroy you later on, and yet there’s so much of it and it’s so disordered and scattered, and also manipulated and irrationally indexed and“weighted” that much of what you’d like to see, find, share, and preserve tends to vanish almost as soon as it manifests, no one the wiser. Silly us, using our superior communications and archival technology to destroy communication and archives. We suck.

And yet, here they are, in case you missed them or wish to refer back them for some reason. The intro to the first installment explains the origins of the series, and the Odin conceit is explained, somewhat, in the intro to the second. The subsequent installments may be found here: three; four; five.

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

“End of the Ramones”

Wōdnesdæg, Wōdnesdæg, here again, swift as the Sole Creator of Magical Songs on his eight-legged steed, and accordingly I have here in my song hoard a song to present. Jon von is in town, playing (Rip-offs reunion at Burger and Jon and the Vons at Octopus and Hemlock) and here he is 26 years ago singing “The End of the Ramones” with the MTX of 1992, from that Southampton UK set.

“Take it, Puss.” That requires some explanation, perhaps. Rock and roll’s wasted days and wasted nights, even (or possibly especially) on the fringes, are a well-known breeding ground for psychosis, real and imitation. So much is happening, yet you’re wallowing in boredom. Eccentricities blossom, and your quirks develop quirks. To keep itself amused, the mind gets weird.

Sometimes it gets super weird. Alex had developed an alternate personality which referred to itself as “Puss.” Puss would “come out” on certain occasions when nothing much was going on, like seven hour van drives. He (?) was a bit androgynous, had a smirking face, a southern accent, and an inexhaustible repertoire of confrontational lascivious intimations. He said later, I believe, that the original model was Sylvester the Cat (hence the name Puss, I suppose) but if so the cartoon character was warped beyond all recognition by the dynamic referenced above.

Eventually, we all got used to it and took it in stride. Anyway, this phenomenon lasted only as long as necessary, and when it had played itself out, Alex declared that Puss was dead and requested that we no longer refer to him by that name. So of course we referred to him as nothing but for some time thereafter, as you do. (For my part, during this period, my well-known obsessive-compulsive superpower developed itself toward the baroque, involving, among other things, the requirement that I carry 99 little toys in the various pockets of my leather jacket. I did this till it was no longer necessary, for several years. It was a curse and a comfort.)

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Lisa found this photo of MTX the Rough Trade years.
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I’d say “The End of the Ramones” (from the 1989 Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood 12" e.p. on Rough Trade) is something like the definitive Jon von song, and it was certainly an early example of that kind of deliberate arch meta-commemoration of Ramonesness that is by now so thick on the ground that you hardly notice it as a thing. (Pretty much every band has its Ramones meta-commemoration song nowadays, but there was a time when that simply wasn’t the case, believe it or not.) It was always great fun to play and audiences loved it. Anyway, there it is. See you all next week, or maybe at a Jon and the Vons show in the interim.

“You Today”

What we have here is — well, in 1996 circumstances arranged themselves such that my band wound up playing in the PalaEUR arena in Rome, and this is a song from that set. Extremely unlikely, I know, yet it happened.

When Green Day hit it big, they, as a generous sort of gesture, elected to take some of their former label-mates along on their massive tours. Our turn came with this truncated European tour. I say truncated because the original schedule of something like a month and a half was cut short after just over two weeks. (We wound up stranded and broke in Germany, with a suddenly empty schedule, so once we found our way home we filled in the time with a massive tour of the rarely-traversed Canadian hinterland with the Smugglers. Quite a different sort of tour. But that’s a story for another time.)

So anyway, during those two weeks, we ended up playing our dumb little sets in these massive venues in Italy, Germany, and various other regions vaguely comprising the terroritory of the late Holy Roman Empire.

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We’d played quite a few club shows with Green Day in the past of course, but never before or since did we ever play before crowds of ten to fifteen thousand people. It’s certainly a strange, not to say phantasmagorical, experience. Basically, you’re doing your plain old punk rock club show on a club-sized area of a massive stage, and when you finish a song instead of scattered clapping and snatches of conversation you hear this deafening roar, louder than your band could ever be. In re, that roar: you probably think you know what I’m talking about, but if you’ve never been on such a stage in such a situation I assure you you don’t. So, in one way it’s utterly bizarre and surreal; yet in another, it’s just playing your regular set, your dumb little songs, like you’ve been cut out of Gilman or the Berkeley Square and pasted in, temporarily, to this massive sports arena.

There’s a great deal more to say about this whole situation, and I’m sure I’ll say some of it on Wednesdays to come, Odin willing. I believe we played something on the order of six of these shows in Italy, with the result that my dumb little band remains rather popular in Italy to this day. Many people who became and remain good friends were at that Roma show, and that’s probably the most tangible result of the whole thing. I’ve often wondered what might have happened had the London shows not been cancelled. I’d done a whole mess of advance press interviews and publicity for the UK and the current release (Love Is Dead) was set to be reviewed in several publications… all killed, of course, when the shows were. It might have been a whole different sort of “career path” for this dumb little band. But, then again, it might not have been.)

Apologies for the fragile sound… it is as it is, though my buddy Pete massaged it a bit. (Is that how the Jesus and Mary Chain got their guitar sound? Les Paul Jr. in a massive stadium recorded from the balcony with a camcorder while opening for Green Day, I mean…) It’s the only document I’ve ever come across of that crazy, unlikely happening, so I thought it worth a post.

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As for the song, well, “You Today”, originally recorded as a mostly acoustic solo tune (and included on the CD version of the “Alternative Is Here to Stay” single) is one of those songs that has stood the test of time at least as such things are tested and reckoned within the dumb little MTX Universe. It’s a simple, honest, lament, no frills no filler no pretense, just some good lines and a pretty great melody. An early example, perhaps, of having got it right song-wise and it’s still one the most popular and requested tunes in the songbook. We used to do it like this in that era, starting out quiet and solo with the guitar volume knob at around five and then suddenly turning it up and lurching into the rock and roll at the line “you said goodbye today.” That was about as dynamic as our sets and showmanship got in those days, but it worked (though I don’t know if you can tell from this clip.)

Anyhow, praise Odin, teach your children well, don’t be a do-bee, share, like, subscribe, comment, lick me on facebook, swallow me on twitter, and remember rock n roll that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Last Time I Listened to You” and “I Love You but You’re Standing on My Foot”

The Wōdnesdægs pile up, don’t they? I’ve got 58 videos on my channel, most of them live snips revealing minor secrets in celebration of the dark god who rules the day. So the world is worn away.

Anyhow, what we have here are substantial fragments of two songs from September, 1995 which Jenifer recently excavated from an old VHS tape and was kind enough to share with me for the archives. She wasn’t sure what venue it was only that it was a Berkeley party, but I suspected it was at the UC Berkeley co-op Cloyne Court and I was right. Here’s the flier:

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The camcorder dates on the video display check out, 9/23/95 before midnight, 9/24/95 after.

I have fond memories of that night, in fact. It was outdoors, on this rickety stage in a kind of backyard area that was jam packed with extremely drunk Cal students. MTX, Hi-Fives, Nar, and Sheephead. $4.00 ($1 off with suit). The Bomb Bassets were listed on the flier but crossed out, not sure why. Did the Bomb Bassets ever play live? I can’t remember that either. [After this was posted commenters informed me that the answer is yes, at least once at Gilman, which I now think I maybe vaguely remember — ed.]

Too bad the songs are truncated but you work with what you got. Other than the flier, this is the only record of that night that I’m aware of. And there’s something rather charming about the singing along from the videographer as well as that great Les Paul Jr. P-90 guitar tone, which triumphs over any and every sound and production challenge.

Sometimes you know a good song when you have it before you without quite being able to demonstrate specifically why it’s good beyond a reasonable doubt, and “Last Time I Listened to You” is perhaps one of those. Maybe it’s the shouldn’t-work-but-it-somehow-does factor and its concomitant element of surprise that does it. Possibly I’ll have more to say on it in some future “minor secrets” installment if I find a good full version somewhere, but to focus on what’s here: that guitar solo is really something else, and perfect for me because it benefits from a bit of sloppiness and slidy-ness. And the biting brittle tone of pure, non-effected tube amped P-90, it benefits from that too, obviously. I’m also quite fond of how the key changes migrate back to the original key while seeming to keep going “up.” That’s the kind of thing a person can only stumble on when he has no clue what he’s doing, seems to me.

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Both songs appear on 1992’s Milk Milk Lemonade album, though a version of LTILTY came out a year earlier. But I distinctly remember the feeling that playing such songs was really reaching back into the distant past, reviving something long-forgotten… I guess three years is a long time in the life of a band, and a lot can happen in three years, even if it’s only a whole lotta nothin. If I’m not mistaken, Love Is Dead had been or was in the process of being recorded but not yet released. Kind of curious as to what the rest of the set might have been. Anyway, thanks be to Odin, and to Jenifer, and to the rest of the audience for this stuff, such as it is.

“Can I Do the Thing?”

Here’s another one from that show at the Roma PalaEUR, March ’96 on the Eurotour with Green Day, and herewith I reveal the minor secrets thereof: “Can I Do the Thing?” (See above in the “You Today” write-up for the story of how and why your dumb little MTX wound up playing for a crowd of 15,000 in Rome. And once again, apologies for the “fragile” sound, which is what it is, and is the only sound we’ve got in the way of documentation of this particular show.)

The origin of “Can I Do the Thing?” stretches back to the Jon von years of the MTX enterprise, though nothing was recorded till ’95 (for the Love Is Dead album) after Jon had left the band for greener pastures.

Jon was a rudimentary guitar player — not that there’s anything wrong with that — something he’d never deny. He used to say, when the subject of guitar playing came up, “Johnny Ramone is my guitar hero” before saying stuff like that was rote and required.

And quite right too. Big chords, huge sound, frantically strummed and multi-tracked is a well-known formula for magic, as long as there’s a good-to-great song lying underneath it all somewhere (something we always at least tried to organize.)

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But there was one “fancy” bit of guitar that I taught him, a minimalist version of the Keith Richards suspended-fourth figure (you know what I’m talking about, just listen to pretty much any Stones record.) This was in conjunction with the song “Danny Partridge.” Within our band community, this guitar figure became known as “the thing” and each time I’d introduce a new song to the band, Jon von would inevitably ask, with regard to his guitar part: “can I do the thing on this one?” He liked doing the thing. And I can see why. The thing is great. Sometimes the answer was yes, sometimes no. And sometimes the thing would manage to creep in unbidden, as things of that kind often do.

But the phrase stuck in my mind, and when that happens songs can result, which is what happened here. The song itself leaves “the thing” ambiguous, and properly so. The Keith von Zelowitz guitar figure isn’t the subject of the song in any way. But “the thing” does feature prominently, in the guitar break and in the basslines of the verses. (Is there a word for the type of song this is, where the subject is referred to but never identified, as a sort of gimmick? It’s quite a traditional trope, I think. e.g. this— which I just realized is called “The Thing” as well: full circle, sort of.)

As I’ve said before, it is our inside jokes that sustain us. Without them we’re nothing. I hope that’s not too much demystification for you, for anyone who holds that song in high regard if any such there be. And that will conclude today’s song for Odin. Link, share, subscribe, like, upvote, comment, whisper sweet words of love to the person sitting next to you and mispronounce his or name, eat a big breakfast, and take a long, refreshing ice milk bath. Or, don’t.

“Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend”

Finally, here’s a video of an impromptu performance posted as “your Friday morning “Hitler” last week. (This is something I’ve been doing as part of the post schedule, based on the fact that there are so many “Hitlers” out there. Or there were. I’ve posted lots and may well be near the point of scraping the bottom of the barrel. So if you’ve got a “Hitler” cover you’d like to share that I could post on my channel, drop me a line.)

Anyway, I got talked into doing this tune at Jess’s birthday party at Denny’s house last week, with Kepi on drums and Phenomenaut AR-7 on bass. The best part is probably when our drunk videographer drops her phone in the middle. We also did some Ghoulies songs, plus, believe it or not, Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll”, “Cat Scratch Fever,” and “Highway to Hell” though I don’t believe those were documented. Good times.

And there you have it. Check on my social medias each Wednesday for a new song and I’ll aggregate them in a month or so. At least that’s the plan. Praise Odin and if you’d care to go to my channel and subscribe and like and upvote and comment on everything contained therein it would probably help me out in some unspecifiable, no doubt ultimately pointless, way. And if so thank you in advance.

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I am Dr. Frank. I write books and songs. Mtx Forever.

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