Odin XIX: the Continuing Minor Secrets of the Mr T Experience

Frank Portman
21 min readSep 10, 2019

The whole Song for Odin™ thing started back in November of 2017 when our old friend Amy Yambor sent me an unusually clear and distinct video of a 1998 MTX show at Seattle’s RCKNDY club. I began posting songs from it one by one on my YouTube channel adding little bits of commentary — which gradually grew to the essay-length many of them run to now — styled “minor secrets,” to the various social platforms. People seemed interested so I continued doing it, eventually settling on a weekly schedule, a new entry each Wodnesdæg. (Hence the Woden / Odin conceit.) And I’ve been doing it each week since then, taking only one day off, for one Christmas I believe.

And every month or so, I’ve compiled these individual weekly entries into posts like this one. This is the nineteenth such compendium.

Why? It’s kind of fun, that’s reason enough. Plus, my chaotic inner life welcomes a bit of structure and order from time to time, which this series provides. I always know when it’s Wednesday anyway, which hasn’t traditionally been the case.

If I’m counting right, the the tally currently stands at 97 entries to date, comprising 87 songs. (That’s because some songs have made more than one appearance; also, I’m counting the write-up I did on the whole Milk Milk Lemonade album as one entry, not counting the songs individually.) Despite that MML exception, the basic criteria for inclusion in the series are: [a] there must be a video resource on which to comment; and [b] I have to have something to say about it, as a recording, or as a song, or as a … thing. I never imagined I’d manage to go on as long as I have with materials that fit these criteria. I always said I’d continue till I ran out. It hasn’t happened yet. And as I mentioned last week, I just got a new influx of video material from 1995–96, including several otherwise unattested songs. So Song for Odin ain’t dead quite yet.

Details about how and why I started doing this can be found 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; eleven; twelve; thirteen; fourteen; fifteen; sixteen; seventeen; eighteen.

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

As in the past few editions, I’ve included an “etc” section at the end, featuring stuff about songs that, while not technically “songs for Odin” per se, still reveal “minor secrets.”

Table of contents for this edition: “Danny Partridge”; “Last Time I Listened to You”; “Lawnmower of Love”; “On the Team”; “I Was Losing You All Along”; “Can’t Get There from Here”.

1 “Danny Partridge”

Shirley, Keith, and Reuben, I wonder where you are: Welcome, friends, to another Wodnesdæg and another Song for Odin™, which, for today, because yesterday was Danny Bonaduce’s birthday, is going to be “Danny Partridge.”

Despite the fact that this was one of those “signature tunes” going back all the way to the beginning I have yet to run across live video of it in “native form,” that is, in the 1986 line-up that originally recorded it. (That tends to be my first choice when doing one of these write-ups, an unofficial criterion.)

But, we’re still playing it now, so here’s the MTX of now, playing it in a Sacramento park just a few years back. Daytime, sweltering heat, and outdoors is not my natural habitat, and the mix is maybe a little weird but nevertheless, here we are doing a thirty-year-old song about a child star grown up. (It’s thirty-five years old now, and Danny just turned 60. Getting old is weird, but you gotta say, it’s better than the alternative.)

This was one of the first shows we did after “getting the band back together” in late 2014 after a ten year “pause.” And this was one of the first “real” songs I’d written. And by “real” I mean, it was conceived and composed to be a song for an actual audience (and not just fooling around) with an idea in mind from the beginning that I managed to stick to. And when it was recorded and released it actually did find something of an audience via college radio play, which managed to take our dumb little self-released record into the real world, relatively speaking, and to sell enough to justify three pressings.

It’s not too hard to see why it caught on. Those college radio music directors and DJs, like me, grew up with Danny Partridge, the tragic aftermath of the child star is a well-trodden, reliably fascinating trope, and “novelty songs” always tend to do well on radio. (“Novelty songs” = “songs that are about something specific”; that almost works.)

Plus, in 1986, this story was still topical. Danny Bonaduce’s arrest had happened just the previous year and was still in the news because the National Enquirer bailed him out in exchange for his story. So the moral here is, if you want to make your mark, put a novelty song about Danny Bonaduce or the equivalent on your first release. I mean, just kidding, the world where it matters what your songs are about is long past. I have no idea what you have to do to make a mark, beyond being hated for just being yourself by a sufficient number of people. What a world, eh?

“Danny Partridge” was my conscious attempt to join a sort of punk rock tradition, most salient to me in the form of the Diodes’ song “Child Star,” which is about Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on the TV show Family Affair and who died of a drug overdose in 1976, all grown up at the age of eighteen. This story made a big impression on me at the time, and so did the song when I heard it a bit later. I can still remember the feeling, hearing it for the first time when it gradually dawned on me what it was about. “Uncle Bill, Uncle Bill, I took some pills, Mr French, Mr French I’m really tense…” To my thirteen-year-old self this was the epitome of cleverness and coolness, something I never knew people could do with songs.

When the Danny Bonaduce story broke, ten years later, I was ready and I pounced on it.

“Child Star” is great and still works for me, though I doubt many people think that much about Buffy and Family Affair these days. It is, however, far less specific and concrete than “Danny Partridge.” The lyrics are a sketch, allusive, impressionistic… I guess that made the punchline work better on me when I figured it out. There’s an oblique, counter-intuitive lesson there. It’s something I’ve never been all that good at, though for various reasons, inadvertent and deliberate, my lyrics have meandered and free-associated their way to somewhere in that territory.

As for the more apt, non-counter-intuitive lesson: even though I did it pretty well on one of my first forays, it was still something that was rather hard to learn over the years. To wit: songs are better when they are actually about something, and when that something isn’t a big secret you are keeping from the audience (and from yourself, like as not.)

Of course “Child Star” is a great, great record, a true punk rock classic, and I’m not telling the Diodes how to do their job. Just sorting through my own strengths and foibles, songwriting-wise, and my own weird history. It gets trickier, of course, when the thing you’re trying to write about is hard to pin down and you’re working out what you mean as you go along. That kind of song is important, probably more important than this or that topical novelty tune, but obviously harder to approach and execute. Anyway, you can’t have all your songs be about child stars. At some point, you’ve got to branch out.

The local news broadcast “actuality” in the recording was provided by William Nichols, a.k.a. Last Will, the consummate pop culture archivist, and the only such I knew at the time. He came to our rescue in the way that only pop culture archivists can, many times. I’ve been listening to that recording quite a bit lately (because of Mtx forever — the remastered version sounds way way better by the way.) It’s an inept performance in many ways, but it still “has” something, an element thereof being a certain sort of naivety, which is one of those things that can’t, by definition, be faked. I have been told that Danny Bonaduce used to play the song on his radio show on occasion, though this has never been confirmed. I imagine he’s heard it, and I don’t find it surprising that he’d be a good sport about it. He’s a funny guy, and, apart from the songs (which were great) he and his chemistry with Dave “Reuben Kincaid” Madden is what made the Partridge Family TV show work as comedy. The show was about him, at least it was for me.

So, from all of us at Song for Odin™, Happy Birthday, chief. Only a day late. See ya next week, I guess.

(Original post on minds.com is here.)

2 “Last Time I Listened to You”

It would have succeeded without those meddling kids: Well, friends, the calendar is relentless and another Wodnesdæg has rolled along, meaning another Song for Odin™, and for you, should you be interested.

And what we have today is a slightly sloppy “Last Time I Listened to You”, from that show at Hamburg’s legendary Stortebeker club on July 13th 1992. As I’ve mentioned before in previous installments featuring songs from this performance, this was near the end, if not actually the final show (?) of a rather strenuous, fraught first attempt to tour Europe and we were even more ragged and frayed than usual, barely holding it together, really. Still, this is the only live document I’ve seen of this song in ‘native” form, that is, played by the version of the band that recorded and released it. And it’s still got something. (*What*, I have no idea…)

“Last Time I Listened to You” is another of those “signature” tunes I suppose, a crowd favorite from its first appearance in the late ’80s and one of the few songs that has remained in the set list through each of the various configurations of the band up to this day. As a song it’s unusually focused and succinct for its time (many of my songs in those days were still meandering around trying to figure out what they were about and what they were trying to do.) I still like it after all these years.

It was first recorded at Andy Ernst’s Art of Ears studio as the B side to the “Sex Offender” single on Vital Music in 1990, and then re-recorded for the Milk Milk Lemonade album in 1992. The first version is better, but the tape containing that mix is lost. This kept it off of the Mtx forever program, sadly, because there was no available master for the good version.

Allow me to digress on the subject of tapes. This is one of a group of tapes that seem to have gone missing when they were pulled for the 1997 Big Black Bugs compilation and never replaced in the archive; and weirdly, the exact same thing seems to have happened again in 2001 when tapes were pulled for the …and the Women Who Love Them “special addition” CD comp. I’m still mad at everyone involved in this debacle and the subsequent identical debacle, including myself… I was literally clueless about it, just showing up to the studio to say “louder guitars and more low end please” or whatever without thinking too much about labelling or preservation of the tapes. That wasn’t technically my job — I just assumed it would all be taken care of somehow, by somebody — but I should have been more on top of it anyway. I think the tapes were just left in whatever studio they were in, and never retrieved, and since so many of them were cryptically labelled (or not even labelled at all) knowing to whom to return them might have been difficult anyway, if any studio had in fact ever tried. By the time I started trying to locate the tapes and reconstruct the archive, it was far too late in most cases. (Though we lucked out with Everybody’s Entitled… and Night Shift…: 30 years later, there they were, still under a couch at Fantasy. God bless George Horn. And couches.)

This had effects far beyond its immediate scope: the masters for Our Bodies Our Selves, e.g., are — mostly, I think — missing because they were pulled to do the Gun Crazy remixes, precluding any full remix of the album and making a future re-issue of even the original mix of that record far more complicated than it might have been, as no flat mix of it survives. And we don’t even have those remixes either! God damn it…

You can tell what was remixed for those comps by the fact that the multitrack masters are missing along with the mixes. In this case, the 16 track 1" master, labelled simply “Andy’s stuff”, does survive, so a future remix is at least potentially possible, though still a technical challenge. I suppose this is a matter to be taken up if we ever do a “Shards vol 3” of all the remaining “orphans.”

Okay, end of digression. An archivist’s lot is not an happy one.

Like I said I like the song, and I believe it survives even it’s rough treatment here. It’s focused without being over-written, and is still quite funny. It has a light touch. It’s one of those songs where the narrator’s spiel alludes to a backstory and comments on it without providing the actual narrative — only the person he’s addressing knows what happened, leaving everyone else to guess. I like that sort of thing.

The Scooby-Doo reference isn’t labored, and as far as I know wasn’t yet an over-used cliché at the time. (I remember some review in those days trying to characterize the flavor of our stuff by saying: it’s like there’s a TV playing in the background of every song. Which is pretty much true, I guess.)

The solo is pretty cool, and the several modulations that somehow manage to wind up back in the original key is still kind of marvel to me.

It works surprisingly well solo-acoustic, with a couple of adjustments. And when we play it live now, it really does manage to rock and roll.

And that’ll do it for today. Believe it or not, it’s the 95th Song for Odin entry, if I’m counting them right, meaning we’ll reach 100 five weeks from now if things continue as they have been. Crazy. Like, subscribe, share, comment, etc. etc. because it can’t hurt, can it?

(Original post on minds.com may be found here.)

3 “Lawnmower of Love”

Sometimes we get caught up in the blades: It’s Wodnesdæg once again, and with it Song for Odin™, that thing where I post a video of a song and reveal some “minor secrets” about it.

I’ll be honest with you: I know it will sound stupid but yesterday’s essay about the Revenge Is Sweet album took a lot out of me, for some reason, and it’s kind of hard to imagine typing a whole nother thing now. [Posted on the occasion of that album’s twenty-second “anniversary” — ed.] But I expect I will do it. [He did — ed.] There’s little enough consistency in my world and believe it or not Song for Odin™, every Wednesday regular except when it falls on a Christmas, going on two years now, is something to cling to, so cling to it I shall. For some reason a regularly-scheduled wallow in the minutiae of my glorious career as an also-ran for an audience of no more than a few dozen readers is something I find comforting. I’m a bit weird.

And here I’ve started already. This won’t be so hard, he whispered hopefully.

Anyway, with all the RISASAY talk it seemed only fitting to “do” a RISASAY song this week, but it was challenging to find a video resource for a song that hasn’t been done yet as a Song for Odin™. There have been eight of them so far in the “series,’ including Gus Rachels’s “Our Love Will Last Forever…” dynamic typography video and my fingerpicked “You You You”.

But I did manage to dig up one more, and it’s “Lawnmower of Love” from a May 1998 show at Seattle’s RKCNDY. This show was with Ten Foot Pole and the Ataris and happened six months before that show from the same venue that started off this series. I remember it being a really great show, though it’s not the greatest video, mix, or performance, and I apologize for the massive chord flub in the bridge (if you’re triggered by such things, best be safe and not click play.) It’s a rather challenging song to play, deceptively so I’d say, with counter-intuitive parts that are hard to remember. I’m quite surprised to see evidence that we ever played it live in fact.

Nevertheless, in keeping with the theme of the aforementioned essay, I will claim the song is solid enough to survive even its rough treatment here, as the saying goes.

And man, I hate to blow my own horn too much, but what a song. (Qua song, I mean, in the sense of a composition.) Some of that album’s Cole Porter-isms (for want of a better term) sit pretty awkwardly in the midst of the rock and roll, not to mention the arguably leaden production in the recordings. The awkwardness is a deliberate effect, the contrast played for laughs but also linked conceptually to the material about romantic misfires. It can be interesting even when it all doesn’t quite mesh. But here the disparate elements, it seems to me, really work.

The scenario is basically that of Noel Coward’s Private Lives, crammed into a two and half minute exercise that’s over before you notice anything about it. I’m always baffled, by the way, by the complaints that pop up now and again on the internet about the simplistic “relationship dynamics” of songs by me and my “pop punk” er… contemporaries. Have these people never been in self-deluded, destructive, yet strangely fun and compelling romantic relationships that thrive on drama and mutual ill-use? You haven’t? Well, take it up with Noel Coward, not me and Parry Gripp. I think we’re all being very urbane and sophisticated here, thank you very much.

There are few songs where I “wouldn’t change a word” but this is one. And I even include the use of the word “capades” and the subsequent hopelessly mangled multi-entendred metaphor complex about ice skating, affection, and laundry in the bridge. Plus: “all we had to spend was what attention we could pay.” The structure and plan, and especially the melody and hardly-stated harmonic setting (hinted at quite deftly, I must say, by Joel’s harmony at the end of the third verse lines) are (and I must stress that I feel quite uneasy saying so) rather… dynamite. It’s as tightly constructed as I can imagine, but loose enough to breathe. I wish I could do ’em all that way.

Now, I’m sure I’ll surprise none of my friends and allies by saying that I’m not 100% satisfied with the way the studio recording came out. I had in mind quite a different guitar sound, more “retro” R&B style, like Chuck Berry or his Merseyside imitators, and a much more elaborate Beatles-y treatment on the bridge. That’s an element that’s completely missing from the recording and the allusions were meant to be part of the composition. Like many of the songs on the album, it was released “unfinished.” There are also some interesting and I’d say rather effective chords in there that just get swamped in the sludge; and you could arguably say the same about the lyrics. Though I will say it’s high grade sludge — it’s actually quite a cool sound per se, and it works on many of the songs on the album. I’d just hoped we could, you know, have more than one guitar sound on this record, since we had around a million amps and guitars and thousands of dollars to spend in a fancy studio.

But it was not to be. My pleas fell on deaf ears. We should have used a Fender amp and a hollow-body guitar for at least some of the tracks. We certainly had them available. We should have started over and tried a new tack when it became clear that it was gonna sound just like all the other songs. Admittedly, it would have been much harder and more time-consuming to record and maintain the necessary energy that way, which is presumably why we didn’t do it. Maybe we weren’t capable of it. I’m not sure I’d be capable of it now, in fact.

Still, as I say, this is an example supporting my essay’s contention that the songs carry the project through despite the relatively trivial matters of sound, production, even of actual performance and execution. This song is gonna work no matter what you do to it. That’s my claim anyway.

Many people have told me that this record is the “perfect breakup album”, that it “saved” their “lives” when they were going through rough times… sure, it’s hyperbole, but gratifying to hear.

Many of them also have said they can envision it as a theatrical production: hyperbole again, no doubt, but I can sort of see it. You could arrange these songs into a sequence that would in fact tell a pretty coherent story. If I were famous and successful enough to justify that “musical theatre” treatment of rock records that famous people get to have, maybe we’d find out. There were never lyrics in rock and roll trying harder to be musical theatre, that’s for sure. (Okay, maybe Bat out of Hell…)

But here’s the problem: it would be a huge bummer. A musical has to end with a marriage, and a good one, or at least the promise of one. Not, as here, with a mere chance meeting and a wistful resigned reverie about what might have been and what should never be again. No one wants to see that on a stage, or anywhere.

Well, we did it.

(Original post on minds.com may be found here.)

4 “On the Team”

Hail and well met, fellow people, closet weirdoes, denizens of the outer limits, connoisseurs of the obscure and the marginal: the offices of the temple of the MTX are an acquired taste, suited only to the most dedicated and perverse of mock-hierodules, an exclusive club, in that we’re the only ones who know about it. We make shoes for snakes, then select humans stumble on the snake shoes, appropriate the snake shoes, and turn them into lamps. Or hats. I think you know what I mean.

Pardon me but my brain is still unmelting from the weekend’s blast furnace [i.e., Sacramento, site of contemporaneous solo shows — ed.]to take what new shape I know not. Give me a moment here while I solidify…

And… Gesælig Wodnesdæg to eow! Accordingly, here’s another song for Odin, the Many-Shaped, the War-Blind and Flaming-Eyed Shouter and Thunderer. May his dark blessings descend and suffuse your world in reassuring shadow.

And what we have here today is “On the Team” from Gilman Street, Berkeley, August 1988, the only live version of this song on video I’ve ever come across.

If you’ll remember from previous installments this was our “homecoming” show after our first big US tour, an occasion for wound-licking and somber reflection, as well as some sloppy rock and roll for an enthusiastically indifferent local audience.

Rough Trade’s Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood e.p., on which this song appears, hadn’t yet been recorded, but the set contains six of its seven still-forming songs (leaving out only “Supersonic” which I don’t think had been written yet.) Maybe I’ll be brave enough to share the very messy shambolic version of “At Gilman Street” from this set: it appears to be the first time we attempted to do it, and we’re clearly not up to the task. Maybe not though. I’m capable of deep embarrassment for things I did at the age of 3, so…

Anyway, though the greater world (obviously) didn’t know it, a lot changed in MTX-ville between 1988 and 1989, the beginnings of which this set depicts. I think of “On the Team” as a BBBBBB track, that is, the spirit of ’89, but it’s actually quite a bit older as a song. And I was rather surprised, doing the inventory of tapes in the archive, to discover a couple of takes of it listed on the 2 inch multi-track reels of the Night Shift… recording session from 1987. And my memory having been jogged, I do recall borrowing a 12-string acoustic guitar for one of those sessions, and this must have been the song it was used on, if we got that far. (There was no case for the guitar and I had to cradle it in my arms on the ride there: “cry-dle it,” said our Aussie producer Kent Steadman, “nuss it like a bie-by.”)

We didn’t do any baking and transferring of multi-track reels for the Mtx forever project, and there was no mix of this track in the stereo mix tapes, so I have no idea what the recording is like. And I can’t quite imagine it. Too fast, drums like basketball practice, stuffed-up head-cold vocals and… acoustic twelve-string? Maybe one day we’ll excavate it, though I shudder to think.

As for the song, well: it’s trying, and its heart is in the right place. It doesn’t need the point-belaboring third verse and its over-earnestness doesn’t do it any favors. (I was to learn, after many such pratfalls, that irony works better than earnestness, at least for me.) Nevertheless, it has many more or less convincing elements that might in more competent hands have shaped themselves into a decent pop song. The guitar stuff (intro, solo) and melodic/harmonic environment, clumsily executed as it is, is pretty good and a bit more ambitious than what I usually attempted then (and now.) And it remains focused on its subject all the way through, which isn’t something you can say about many of my songs from that era — or even songs generally, of any era. You learn as you go. I could write it much better now, and in fact, in a sense, I did, many times. More on that later, I bet.

Anyway, there you have it. Another song under Odin’s belt. We’ll be back for another round next week. Till then, I will attempt to remain, your Doctor. A Doctor of Nothing. It sounds important and hurts no one. Unlike most doctors.


— playlist of songs from this show posted so far.

studio recording (1997 remix.)

— Original post on minds.com.

Et cetera

— “I Was Losing You All Along”: Guy on twitter asked for the chords f and I tweeted them. (It’s a question I get regularly, so sharing it here. Right side of slashes are bass notes e.g. in G/F# the chord is G with F# as the bass.)

G Am7 C G (x2) G Am7 C D G G/F C G/B D [repeat, then] G G/F C G/B Am Am/G D/F # G D/E, F G7 C Cm G F E7 C G/B Am7 G [bridge] Am7 G Am7 C D

G Am7 C G (x2) G Am7 C D G G/F C G/B D [repeat, then] G G/F C G/B Am Am/G D/F# D/E G G7/F C Cm G F E7 C G/B Am7 G [bridge] Am7 G Am7 C D

repeat chorus, then instr. break: G G/F# D D/C G/B D. then, chorus as instrumental, w/vox halfway through and finally C G/B Am7 G

— Donna Reed is not my mom:

Thinking of the REM cover my band did for an REM covers album called Surprise Your Pig way back in 1991 because of a twitter post responding to something about mishearing REM lyrics:

Have you ever heard the Mr. T Experience cover of “Can’t Get There From Here?” They made up their own nonsense lyrics instead of trying to figure out Stipe. It’s fairly hilarious.

Subsequently he says:

I mean it’s musically a fairly generic pop punk cover but my god it makes me chuckle.

I’m grateful that it still makes people chuckle, and I understand the impulse to offer a caveat/disclaimer when citing something from a band like mine in polite company. “Pop punk” isn’t exactly respectable among real important people these days if it ever was. I’d probably want to offer a disclaimer myself.

As I often do. Not saying this is all that good but it does have its moments…. I’ve been writing this all over the place about my songs lately, in fact.

But that said, and not saying this is all that good but: “generic pop punk” isn’t the descriptor I’d choose for this recording. Blown-up? Bombastic? Barely intelligible?

My idea of generic pop punk sounds very, very different from this, which is, in fact, very very weird. If I’m to be perfectly honest I only *wish* I were capable of generic. Generic is just another word for stuff people like, right? Anyway, the lyrics-swap is funny and justifies its existence as far as I’m concerned, generic or not.

A re-mastered version was included in the 2018 compilation MTX Shards vol. 1.

And that’s all for the Odin XIX. We’ll be back, most likely, next month with Odin XX. Till, then, I’m sure.