Odin XVII: Minor Secrets of the MTX, Songs of, Revealed!

Charles’s Bar Mitzvah Edition

Frank Portman
18 min readJul 16, 2019

That shirt says “I rocked at Charles’s Bar Mitzvah.” I still have it and still wear it sometimes. How’s that for a “minor secret”?

It’s been around a month since I last produced one of these expanded, illustrated, edited collations of my weekly Song for Odin™ posts, so it is about time for another one. The only reason they’re “for Odin” is because they happen to be scheduled on Wednesday, that is Wodnesdæg, that is Oðinsdagr. 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; eleven; twelve; thirteen; fourteen; fifteen; sixteen.

[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.”

“Minor secrets” table of contents: “Swiss Army Girlfriend”; “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”; “King Dork Approximately”; “Supersonic”; “So Long Sucker” / “Zero” (Lookout #23.)

I did a rough tally and it looks like we’re at around 90 Song for Odin™ videos / write-ups. (Counting the early ones from the RCKNDY ’98 show before the “Odin” conceit began, which wasn’t too long after.)

If you’re interested, you can see them all at my YouTube channel. The “minor secrets” write-ups to each are linked in the video description.

It would help me out, and maybe even be fun for you, if you subscribe, click the little notification bell once you do, and, if you’re really keen, up-vote and comment and share the videos. My channel is tiny, and probably destined always so to be, but every little bit helps.

Also, I was thinking: if anyone happens to have any video or interesting audio that I might not have, old or not so old, that you’d like to contribute, drop me a line. I’m not in danger of running out of material any time soon, at least not before we get to 100 Songs for Odin, but again every little helps and the more the better really. Thanks.

1 “Swiss Army Girlfriend”

And we’ve got bassinet to get: Well, a very happy Wodnesdæg to you. It’s time for another Song for Odin, in accordance with the customs of our people. I can almost see the incipient objections forming and rising like a fine mist from some disgruntled heads. Perhaps you are weary of the Odin/Wednesday conceit; perhaps you’ve had enough of MTX songs and my commentary thereon; perhaps you have your mind on more important things like who said what thing on the internet and who said another thing even more outrageous in response and you’re beside yourself with angst and rage over it, and songs about girls etc. are of no use to you in navigating such deep and troubled waters and vanquishing the bad people and getting them fired from their jobs with your virtuous homilies and sick burns. Fair enough. Song for Odin is not for you. Good day to you and have fun storming the castle.

For the rest, if any there still be hanging around here in the Songs for Odin about Girls space, I give you: the Mr T Experience doing “Swiss Army Girlfriend” at the Rivioli in Toronto in October of 1997.

This was during one of many tours with the Groovie Ghoulies. Revenge Is Sweet and So Are You had just come out and we were still finding our way around the songs and how to do them live. And I (if you cant’ tell) I was quite ill and struggling a bit through the set, the quiet monitors, etc. Still, this video is a nice snapshot of one of MTX’s strongest eras, and the set includes several songs for which no other live document appears to exist, including this one.

(The video was shot by Rick Scullion of Punk Rick’s Videos: — thanks for sharing it, Rick!)

As to the song: silly and whimsical as it may be, I consider this to be one of my more accomplished compositions, in which the conceit is worked out to the fullest extent, then beaten into the ground to excess in that way I like. There’s a lot packed into those lyrics, but hardly a word is wasted and all are focused on working through the conceit, which carries the timeline from Valentine’s Day through cosmic exploration in a dresser drawer, and finally looks to an imminent future of domesticity and procreation — whereupon it ends abruptly. The bridge and following modulation work so well I almost have trouble believing a schlub like me could have come up with it. The idea of a girlfriend as a Swiss army knife, an indispensable all-purpose tool, cannot be original to me, though I think it’s safe to say no one else could have or would have done it this way. But from opening beers with a knife through incurring the obligation to acquire a bassinet: it’s a well-worn path, probably.

Just out of curiosity I googled and my song is almost all the results for the title per se, but I did find a few variants:

— Robbie Williams has a song called “Won’t Do That to You” that refers to making somebody his “Swiss Army Wife”, which is cute.

— Here’s a thrash-funk-metal take on “Swiss Army Girl”.

— There’s a Dashboard Confessional song called “The Swiss Army Romance,” but the lyrics don’t mention this title and seem to have nothing whatever to do with the conceit, or with… anything in particular, though it sounds pleasant enough. I don’t know why people do this, it seems like such a waste of compositional firepower. But then again, they’re big stars and I’m not, so maybe Songs about Nothing in Particular with Cool Titles that Are Unrelated to Anything Expressed in the Lyrics is really the way to go. I couldn’t do if I tried I’m sure.

— Finally, here’s a guy who’s doing it pretty much the way I did it and it’s not bad.

As originally conceived in my head, this song was to be slower and groovier and oriented around a walking bass figure done in a sort of Stax Records style a la Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” — well, MTX and RISaSAY made short work of that plan! The public, such as it was, would have hated that version I’m sure, even if it hadn’t been beyond our capabilities. The current frenetic approach does just fine, and I get why people love it. I once heard a ska band do it even faster, and that worked too!

Final note: that’s a pretty nifty solo. I forgot all about doing it that way!

And there you have it. Like, share, subscribe, upvote, comment, etc. because the internet will try to hide it and bury it and our only available strategy is to spam ourselves right back at it. Peace.

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

2 “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”

Song sung blue: Well now, another Wodnesdæg has begun to roll around, which means, as some of you may have surmised, a Song for Odin™ from me, your Song for Odin administrator. Basically what it is is, I dig up one of my songs, usually a live video, and add some commentary, styled as “minor secrets.” And we dedicate the whole thing to the god whose day this is. (Some people will tell you that the Saxon Woden and the Norse Odin are totally different deities, but they are clearly cognate and descend, within the two cultural contexts, from a common source. Anyway, it’s Song for Odin, that’s the name. As your Odin administrator I’m pulling rank here.)

Regardless, what we have here is the MTX doing “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” in front of a huge audience at the massive PalaEUR in Rome, in March of 1996.

This was, of course, during that truncated European tour we did supporting Green Day. For around two weeks we played every night to audiences of 10–20,000 before the whole thing was cut short, leaving us stranded in Amsterdam with nowhere to go but Canada. (Thanks, Smugglers!)

You can read more about that extremely odd and unlikely situation in the “minor secrets” of “You Today” post posted here. But to sum up: it was really a surreal experience to do our usual little club set in that context. The power of such a huge crowd is really overwhelming, and kind of scary (in a literal sense, not just in a “stage fright” way — though that was certainly a factor as well.) Hardly anyone in attendance had any idea at all who we were. It’s hard enough to win over a room full of fifty people, let alone 15,000. It’s rather intimidating.

Dr Frank en Europe

Besides, there’s a tradition of good-natured hostility towards opening bands in such situations. One feature of that tradition is that you jeer and throw stuff at the band during the set. Consequently, there tends to be a policy in some of these venues to minimize the items that can be thrown, banning glass bottles and such. At more than one show on this tour, the only throwable item that could be purchased at the venue seems to have been a ham and cheese sandwich. Accordingly the crowd acquired these by the thousands and threw them at us throughout the set. They had to mop the stage to clear the thick sludge of stomped and puréed sandwich matter after we were done. Literally, they had two guys in overalls with mops. All in a day’s work at Big Punk, I suppose.

But that was not the case in Roma, for whatever reason. It was one of the more successful sets of that tour as I remember. No sandwiches, just earnest enthusiasm. Through that one show (among others like it to be sure) we established something of a fan base in Italy, unlikely as that may seem. Some of these people became good friends in subsequent years and remain so. And, alone among those shows, someone captured it on video, albeit with rather fragile sound. For which I apologize, but you work with what you got, and in the case of that March 1996 Euro-tour with Green Day, this is it.

The Love Is Dead album had been recorded in November and December of 1995 and was released in (or just before) January of 1996. We had been playing the songs from it here and there at this or that show, but this, I believe, was the first actual tour, and we were still feeling our way through the material, not knowing precisely what to expect from it. We knew “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” was a crowd-pleaser from our limited experience, enough so that it was chosen to be “the single.” (What that meant was, we made promo single CDs of the song for radio and made a music video: as far as I know, there was no radio airplay at all, but the video did get played on MTV’s 120 Minutes twice — probably the deepest dent we ever made in the great big “real” world.) But I wasn’t prepared for the reaction and the experience when we played it at an Italian sports arena. I don’t know if you can quite hear it (though I believe you can get just a hint of it) but the sound of some large portion of 15,000 people spontaneously singing along to the chorus’s “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” refrain was… well, mind-blowing. It was louder than us on the stage. It shook the rafters. I suppose that, unlike many of my songs, it was easy for non-English-speakers to pick up quickly. Very few, if any, in attendance had ever heard of us, and certainly no one had heard that record. It was spontaneous, and started from the very beginning. And you can see Jim and Joel high-fiving when it first happened.

It felt like success. It kind of freaked me out, to be honest. But, I specifically remember thinking during it, and maybe you can see the thought cross my face: boy, this could be a hit. I was wrong, of course. Maybe it could have been, but it wasn’t. But just for that one night for two minutes fifty-four seconds: it was a hit. I wish you could have been there, it was really something, and I’ve never forgotten it.

So there you have it. It’s the little things that get you down. It’s the bigger things that you can’t get around. And it’s way too flat on the middle ground. But everything else is our oyster.

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

3 Dr Frank — “King Dork Approximately”

I want to make you feel like this approximately does: Odin! i.e., it’s Wodnesdæg, which means I post a video with some commentary, styled as a Song for Odin, in reference to the god whose day this is. One day, simply shouting “Odin!” (in effect) may be sufficient to identify the matter unambiguously. However, though I’ve been doing it each week for over a year to an audience of literally dozens, it still, I feel, needs a gloss. Nevertheless: Odin. The time is now.

And what we have here, above, is a video of yours truly playing the song “King Dork Approximately” in my bedroom in December of 2014, shot by our old and dear friend Julie Green. Julie generously allowed me to post it here. Thanks, Julie!

This was on the day of the book release party for my book King Dork Approximately at 1234Go! Records in Oakland. KDA was not yet a “balbum”, but still only a book with a theme song. Julie spent the day at my dumb little apartment, taking photos and such, while I was getting ready to head over to the “venue,” which is conveniently located just down the street. She’s a great photographer. She did the photos used for Revenge Is Sweet… and its associated materials, with which most of you who follow me and my band are no doubt very familiar; and recently we re-purposed some of them for the band member photos of the Shards compilations.

You can see some of those photos and a write-up in a post called “Dr Frank: A Day in the Life of a Rock ’n’ Roller” on her blog Patterns and Tones.

The bedroom scene wasn’t staged or “dressed”. That’s just what it looked like randomly, including the H. P. Lovecraft book on the bed (I think I had been looking something up.) Over to my right can be seen some of the stacked bins containing the MTX / Dr Frank tape archive, then still disordered, un-inventoried, and, of course, un-restored and -transferred. In this alone, if in nothing else: we’ve come a long way, baby.

Anyway, the whole thing was a good time. And the show was a good time too. I’ve tried to make my book release events interesting and unusual each time, and I believe I’ve succeeded. In this instance it was much more of a rock and roll show than the previous ones, with a big bill of very interesting guests, featuring, among others, the great Chuck Prophet, the Devil-ettes, John Denery et al. with a trombone solo by Dina, and the Bye Bye Blackbirds playing some songs with me, including “Cum on Feel the Noize” which was great fun.

The climax was an unannounced and only vaguely planned first performance of the re-vamped MTX, with Jaz on drums as well as Ted and Bobby. We hadn’t played, to speak of, in around ten years. It did come as a surprise to much of the audience I believe. At that point, it wasn’t clear how much more we would do, but as it happened, largely due to strong nudges from Joe Queer, we wound up playing shows and being a full on band again, recording a “balbum,” re-issuing old records, the whole bit. At the time this was by no means certain or charted. But this was the beginning of it, and I’m glad it happened.

As for the song, well, I’ve written about it in the “minor secrets” write-up for the post about the “music video” of the song.

I still consider it one of my best-conceived, -constructed, and -executed songs: the structure is unusual, but doesn’t seem so until you think about it. And it works just fine solo, which, you know, not all of them do. But I think the recorded band version is great, one of our best recordings ever.

That recording, which of course was later to be included in the KDA “balbum,” was first released in 2014 on a Mooster Records cassingle (MR 29), along with a home-recorded “O’Brien Is Tryin’ to Learn to Talk Hawaiian.”

Not a lot of people know that!

So there you have it. Play nicely with each other if you must play at all. But make some time for sitting quietly looking inward. Try to stop hassling everyone all the time about every little thing. Leave people alone and work on fixing yourself if you feel the need to fix something — you’ll find it’ll take up your whole day, leaving little time for other mischief, and your neighbors will appreciate it very much. Or, you know, don’t. It’s good advice, but it’s up to you.

Till the next Odin, I remain,

your Doctor

further notes:

— Julie Green’s blog.

— Julie Green’s Dr Frank posts:

— “King Dork Approximately” the music video.

King Dork Approximately the Album.

King Dork Approximately the Balbum

(The original post on minds is here.)

4 “Supersonic”

It won’t start an earthquake, maybe just give you a headache: Hello, friends, and welcome to another Song for Odin™, brought to you by yours truly and a German fellow who goes by the name of Mr. Poof. And by Elder Edda cigarettes. I smoke ’em. *He* smokes ’em.

I don’t know why I make jokes only I can get. It’s kind of a hobby, and maybe even a defining feature of my personality, but it defeats the purpose of the joke as such. Anyway, can’t stop, won’t stop, if c.s., w.s. means what I think it does. Excuse me, sir, but you’re breaking your own laws…

Okay hold on. Reset. Behold:

What we’ve got here is the MTX of 1992 doing “Supersonic” at the Störtebeker club in Hamburg, Germany. Video shot by Mr. Poof, as I said. I’ve posted a few songs from this set already, which — the set — has its moments despite a great number of lengthy pauses between songs while we huddle around the drum kit trying to negotiate with the drummer on whether or not the next song would be played. The German punks, and Mr Poof, really hung in there. I doubt I’d have had the patience to make it through the whole thing.

More awkward pauses than music, that was our signature show business approach, but at those odd moments when music happened it could be … well, not exactly “magical” like I was going to say. A surprise. A bit of a relief, you might say, that nevertheless contained its own seeds of awkwardness that, in turn, could sprout into a new variety of relief once the noise has stopped anew. Stress and relaxation, the two basic energies in the world.

“Supersonic,” as you may know if you’re in our little exclusive club, is from the Big Black Bugs Bleed Blue Blood 12" e.p. that came out on Rough Trade in 1989. It’s… not all bad. As an attempted anthem of noise, redemptive idiocy, and incipient hearing loss, it basically does the job despite some bits that arguably go off half-cocked. And it’s got a kind of “groove,” a thing of which the getting into has often managed to elude us over the years.

The studio recording and performance of it is deeply flawed and really doesn’t do the song any favors. (The remix, done for the Lookout re-issue in 1997 is an improvement, but it’s one of those tapes that is lost. If we ever re-issue BBBBBB, we’ll probably have to attempt another remix, if the tape will play and if we can find a machine to play it. But that’s a matter for another day.)

Anyway, all self-deprecation aside, I think “Supersonic” works pretty darn well here. And in hindsight only, I can say that I really get a kick out of a description or treatment of a thing that simultaneously is an example of it. Often unwitting. In fact, unwitting is the best kind, far better, or at least more interesting, than witting.

I’d rather be deaf and dumb… careful what you wish for, young doctor.

I think that’s all that need be said at this time. Have yourselves a merry little mid-July. Like, subscribe, comment, and share if you care to. Odin and I will be back next week with something else, knowing us. MTX Forever.

(The original post on minds.com may be found here.)

Et cetera

If it’s broke… don’t fix it! This is Josh the Vegan’s “So Long Sucker” 7" presented in a rather unusual setting. This was our first release on Lookout in 1989 after Rough Trade US folded: “So Long Sucker” / “Zero” (Lookout #23).

The weird, underwhelming cover artwork is the result of a printing mishap. The original design, done by one of Aaron’s friends if I recall correctly, was a kind of stylized black and white posterized image depicting Telly Savalas. That concept was solely based on the word “sucker” in the title I suppose, because the Kojack character’s signature eccentricity was his cigarette-proxy lollipops. It was a long time ago and I only saw it once, but I remember it being pretty cool.

Obviously, the translation from black and white to red and yellow didn’t work out so well in the finished product. And like so many such mishaps in the sub-professional quasi-pretend record business in which we dwelt (and still dwell, mostly, despite some exceptions) when it went awry, well, you just went with it. If it’s broke, don’t fix it. That’s your mantra.

As a completist and archivist, I quite like the idea of re-issuing this with the correct cover, sort of setting the record straight. But it’s a very low priority, as both songs are on the Making Things with Light album, making the 7" redundant. Probably won’t happen, which is no great tragedy. The stakes are low.

Anyway, despite the baffling packaging, the single was fairly well received. It was, believe it or not, a significant step up in recording and performance ambition for us (such was a long, very slow, immediately imperceptible, learning curve.) They were two of six self-funded songs we recorded as a demo to try to interest labels, none of which were interested besides Lookout. I remember some indie label’s response to the inquiry: oh God, are they still punk? “Punk” was out. “Thrash funk” was in. Well, our side won, in the end. Sort of.

One further note: the song, as originally written, was titled “So Long, Suckers” and that’s how I still think of it and how I always sang it and would still sing it if we played it nowadays (which could happen one day, you never know.) Jon just wrote it in the singular on set lists, for some reason, and eventually set the mistake in stone, so to speak, on the artwork. As with the cover, it didn’t seem worth making a big deal out of it, as it still doesn’t seem. It’s funny, though, how things involving so much work and planning can wind up coming out so random in the end.

Oh wait, one further further note: discogs lists a blue vinyl variation. First I’ve heard of it, but it turns out, Gabe has one:

And I realize, looking at it now, that the Telly Savalas image is visible on the label. I guess I haven’t looked at that label in a long time because I forgot about it till now. Also, despite the cover mis-hap, putting the lyrics spiraling around the outside of the label like that was a stroke of design genius.

Oh, wait, yet another further note: when we put up the digital catalog on the internet via the Orchard, organized along the lines of actual vinyl releases rather than in comp. aggregates, Chris Appelgren designed a new cover image. A lot of people have assumed that’s the original but it’s obviously not; nor is it a re-press. I like it though. It can be seen on YouTube.

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

And that’ll do it, till next time. So long, suckers!