Yet More Minor Secrets of the Mr T Experience
This here is the twentieth compendium of the latest Song for Odin / “Minor Secrets” posts, which is a little hard to believe, though I can verify that the math is correct. 104 entries, covering 89 songs so far, and nearly two years since I started doing it.
“It” = posting a video of a song by me or my band and commenting on it, each Wednesday. (Which is why it’s Song for Odin — I find a conceit I like, I stick with it, as I do even with conceits I don’t like, usually.)
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; nineteen.
[links in preceding paragraph updated, 12.29.2020 — ed.]
By the way, I’ve also put up a YouTube playlist of the all the Song for Odin videos posted there. (This misses out the “resources” for a couple of SfO entries which treated of: the whole Milk Milk Lemonade album and a live performance recorded at radio station KTEQ in Rapid City South Dakota (see the entry numbered “4 (thru 14)” here.) They’re in the order posted and include the links to their “minor secrets” posts in the video description.
Table of contents for this edition: “Semi-OK”; “That Prozac Moment”; “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”; “Christine Bactine”; “Hello Kitty Mendendez”
Absolutely sort of almost bearable: And here we are once again: Wodnesdæg is here and it’s time for another Song for Odin™. I must admit I considered skipping it today (for the first non-Christmas eve time) because of all the hectic-ness around here (looming shows, record re-issue matters, taxes) but the show must go on and I’m sure that’s how the gods like it. So: what we have here is “Semi-OK” from Gilman in May 1995.
The video files say 5.17.95, but that was a Wednesday and it’s far more likely to have been the show on Saturday 5.27.95 with the Parasites and Squirtgun. (cf. The List, here.) If so, I do remember the show, only because of discussions of how much competition there was that night, as you can see from that The List: Green Day / Pansy Division at Henry Kaiser, Lagwagon at Berkeley Square, Winona Ryders / Lunchbox, Smithereens. Bob Dylan. Worked out alright anyhow, in the event, not that that matters at all 25 years later.
The crowd, atmosphere, etc. are pretty much exactly as I remember Gilman being in that “middle period.” Sound is quite blown-up but that’s probably how it sounded in the room as well. There are a fair few Love Is Dead songs in this set that no one would have known because that album wasn’t recorded till November, but they went over pretty well, seems like. More to come from this, I’m sure.
As for “Semi-OK” — well it’s one of the good ones, fairly prominent among those “crowd pleaser” favorites but oddly not present in the sets I’ve mined for Odin fodder till I received that cache of shows from Shayne Stacy a few week’s back. This is the earliest performance of that song among them. It’s also, I believe, the earliest video document of this line-up that I’ve come across. The song was originally recorded with that batch of self-funded recordings we did in the aftermath of …and the Women Who Loved Them when Joel first joined up, along with “Alternative Is Here to Stay”, “New Girlfriend”, and “Unpack Your Adjectives”. (Which tape is now lost, sad to say.) That version of the song was later released on a Lookout flexi comp that came in the September issue of Punk Planet, and it was re-recorded for the Love Is Dead album a bit later. (The flexi version was re-issued on the MTX Shards vol 1 comp. as well.)
I don’t know if there’s another such anthem of dourly ambivalent make-do-with-what-you-got qualified optimism out there, but people have noted that the sentiments are quite uncharacteristically “positive” for me. Which is an intended effect, only somewhat complicated by the reality that very few people in this world, even those few who stood a chance of ever hearing the song, know me and my “properties” enough to grasp to what degree that’s the case. The germ of it was the pre-chorus about being “a bit demoralized and kind of devastated”. I thought the idea of being “kind of devastated” was pretty funny and just gradually stretched it into a song. The tension between “come along with me” and “no, actually, just stay there” is one that still lives in my soul, and I’ve still got that thing somewhere in between empty and dark in there as well. But semi-OK is still the semi-best way to go.
Well we did it. See you at the shows this weekend, if you’re there. Like, subscribe, comment, share, etc. etc. I’ll probably be back with another song next week, knowing me.
2 “That Prozac Moment”
I need a Dr Frank ectomy though: Song for Odin, let’s go. This is from one of those videos recently acquired from Shayne Stacy (thanks again!) MTX live at The Point in Atlanta, September 15, 1996 doing “That Prozac Moment.” I believe this show was with the Queers and the Smugglers, as the internet informs me that that was the bill at the Shelter in Detroit a few days earlier; it’s possible it was just us and the Smugglers at this one though. Anyway, that was a good tour and those were good times.
Brace yourself, now, this is going to be a long one (as the Archbishop said to the chorus girl.) It’s likely way more than you’ll be interested in and you may just want to skip it. Which is, you know, fine.
I know you’re upset with me, but let’s just call a truce, cause I don’t have the energy to make up an excuse. Down all day and up all night, that’s the way I’ve been though I’ve heard you say that I should try to take control of my life. Well, I would try to do what you said, but sometimes it’s a challenge just to get out of bed, and that’s as good as it is ever gonna get, and nothing’s happening yet, and everybody knows that: please pass the Prozac. Waiting for that Prozac moment to arrive. I’ll adore that magic moment, glad to be alive. Time to find out if it’s true. I think I’m in love with you. Now’s the time but all I do is pace around the room. So we do need to give it a go. I’ve already wasted half a lifetime or so. And if I change my mind, how would I know? I need a Dr Frank ectomy, though, and hope it never grows back: please pass the Prozac. Now they’re closing in. Everybody’s yelling at me, they could take a pill or two themselves. There they go again, staring at me swearing at me, take the whole bottle too as well. Time to find out if it’s true, I think I’m all over you. Now’s the time but all I do is pace around the room. So I’m just waiting for that Prozac moment, that Prozac moment to arrive and save my life.
I mean, I’m sure I could come up with some suitably tasteful self-deprecation here, but: that works.
“That Prozac Moment” was probably the first of the Love Is Dead songs to be written. The title, a play on “Kodak moments”, was cribbed from a 1994 New Republic cover (illustrating an article called “Shiny Happy People”) and a version of it was complete and might well have been recorded in that year when we did the “Alternative Is Here to Stay” songs, had there been been time. But a pretty finished version of the lyric, sans title, and quite a bit longer, appears among the songs in the …and the Women Who Love Them notebook. And I was fooling around with those chords and melody as early as 1993, because I remember playing it on the guitar during a sound check / set-up at the Berkeley Square before that one show where Kevin Army mixed our live sound (one of the few shows we did in the Our Bodies Our Selves three-piece line-up.) He said the structure was “crazy.” And I know what he meant: the pre-chorus and chorus have too many parts crammed into a small space, each line adding yet another Vaudeville style game-show theme figure. But when you plug the lyrics in, it works, or so I like to think. And the dragging it out — well that fits conceptually, too, in the waiting-for-something-to-happen sense.
Later on, when the song was, despite a lot of subsequent skepticism, still on the list of Love Is Dead possibilities and Kevin finally saw the lyrics, he said he was won over by the line “…and hope it never grows back…” Funny the things you remember.
Anyway, that’s why it’s on the record, basically. There’s a reference to Prozac earlier on the album, in the song “I Just Wanna Do It with You” where the narrator proclaims his love saying “it’s not just the Prozac talking,” but it’s more or less a gag there. By the time this one rolls around, next to last, as a sort of last-ditch attempt to promote domestic tranquility via appeasement and evade self-loathing and lovelorn pain and anxiety through chemical means, the prospect is more of a question mark. And in fact, the “moment” never arrives. The happy, complacent, artificially-staged Kodak moments that might have been never materialize, and the histrionic resignation of “You’re the Only One” is a return to the beginning, to sackcloth and ashes.
I’ve never taken Prozac, or any other psychotropic drug, though I have to imagine I’d be a candidate. But I’ve always been fascinated by the idea that the huge mess in one’s head could be sorted out with a pill, all the anxiety, self-doubt, depression, and inner tumult reconstituted into a functional, integrated, complacent consciousness machine that leaves one how what one imagines a regular person might be like.
I’m sure these drugs don’t really do that. (Do they?) And I know they help people, somehow. I have no direct knowledge of the matter. I merely speculate, and fantasize. One reason for not taking the step is simple logic: the initiative to do something pro-active like acquiring such a prescription would require its own motivational drug that would in turn require itself to enable the acquisition of itself in a farcical pattern of eternal regression. I’m not really a take-control-of-my-life kind of guy. My m.o. is just to sit back and watch as everything breaks down, deteriorates, and collapses, after which I tell myself “I told you so” with grim satisfaction. That’s my temperament.
But the main reason for not “going there” with those drugs is one I believe I share with a lot of “creative” people, and it too is, perhaps a bit ironically, based on anxiety and paranoia. I may hate myself, but it’s the self I’ve got, and the risk of flatlining out of my own soul, unsatisfactory as that soul has proven to be, is too scary. I don’t have a lot to offer the world except my weird writing (which is to be sure little enough.) And for better or worse, I very much doubt a “balanced mind” couldn’t manage it, or, more importantly, would want to. Basically it’s the terror of running out of songs, which seems far far worse than any rattling I may experience from having some screws loose.
But the song imagines a world in which the motivational drug allowing acquisition of the flatlining drug has happened. And the Dr Frank in the song has just taken the pill and is pacing around the room waiting for it to take effect, wondering if it will work, if the promised chemical “Dr Frank ectomy” will really sort everything out, and what on earth that will be like if so.
I’m still more or less convinced I’d prefer almost anything to songless complacency, but it remains a tantalizing question that never quite goes away. I don’t particularly enjoy being fragile and melancholy and socially awkward all the time, so… if only if if if if… Anyway, the question hatched a good song at least — I think it’s good — a kind of Exhibit A, really. When it comes down to it I’d rather have the song than the erasure or avoidance of the occasion for having written it, however unpleasant that might have been. I’ll always choose the song, God help me.
3 Dr Frank — “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”
It’s the little things that get you down: yes it’s that time again, Wodnesdæg that is. And as has become traditional, I shall post a song and comment on it. For various reasons this is rather a fraught week and I considered hanging a “gone fishin’” sign on the Odin shop. But, though I daresay it matters to few if any of the tiny handful of people paying attention, I made a commitment to the gods. And, as an aside, this is, according to my records, the 100th entry in the Song for Odin series. Skipping it seems risky, like bad luck, tempting fate. So here we go…
What we have here is yours truly doing “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” solo somewhere in Europe in 2012, for a series called the Sunglass Sessions, where guys like me played songs wearing sunglasses.
The guys strolling through in back and singing the final chorus are members of the band Dee Cracks. It looks like a classroom, but it was probably a side room in the “youth center” where the show was held — punk rock in Europe has always been, perhaps a bit ironically depending on how seriously anyone ever took all that anarchism / rebellion stuff, tied to state-funded institutional settings like this. Sometimes the shows themselves took place in the “classrooms.” And there’s lots of paperwork to fill out.
Anyhow, this was on my little solo Euro “art tour” with Kepi and Stefan, which was a real catalyst to rekindling my interest in doing music again: I’d largely given up on it at the time.
When I think of it, Kepi has played that role several times over the course of the years, breaking down my skepticism about the prospect and egging me on (if egging is the word I want) to give it all another go. In a way it’s like how Bowie searched Berlin for Iggy, found him, pulled him out of his squalid hole, and brought him and his career back to life, except, of course, I’m no Iggy and what I was being pulled out of was nothing like Romantic rock n roll dissolution but mere lethargy and pessimism.
It’s not a coincidence that 2012 marks the time when I started investigating the old records, listening to them for the first time in years and years and trying to assess the validity and worth of the songs and such. This was the beginning of the “rescue and reissue” project I’m now engaged in, and it’s possible that without that Euro tour I’d have let the “legacy” lie and stopped the songwriting etc. altogether. So, thanks be to Kepi. Songs are important, I see that now.
As for the song, this is the third time it has appeared as a Song for Odin, and here’s what I said then:
In “primordial” form this song pre-dates most of the Love Is Dead songs. It was not-yet-finished but buzzing in my head during the lengthy, procrastinatory lag between the recording and release of …and the Women Who Love Them. I’d considered trying to throw together a quickie acoustic version to stick on one of the formats as a hidden track, in fact (because it seemed likely that that release was to be the MTX’s last hurrah: and it would have been fitting ) In the event it was saved for the band’s subsequent incarnation.
I’m not sure it was ever really “finished.” ‘People who have followed some of my recent and not so recent complaints about rhymes and such will notice that this breaks most of my dumb little rules repeatedly and flagrantly. I was only just realizing I had an effective lyric-writing rulebook, but it wasn’t like I was unaware of it at the time either. Maybe I could have done it better, but it just seemed okay the way it was somehow. And it is, after all, a slightly rueful celebration of imperfection so…
Also (from the description box of my fingerpicked version):
The original title of this song was “The Little Things”. I was informed by my band that there was at that time (94–95 ish) a song called “The Little Things” already on the radio, by some grunge band or other. That wasn’t something that ever bothered me — there are around ten thousand songs called “I Believe in You” for instance. In that situation I always figured, why not one more? But for some reason I started the song once on stage by saying “this song is called ‘Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba’…” and then immediately launching into singing “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba.” It got a laugh so I kept doing it and it had got stuck as the song’s title by the time it was recorded.
As for the song itself, I’d imagined it with a sort of 60s folk-pop-psych sound, at least on the chorus. Kind of a semi-ironic hippie vibe. But of course I didn’t happen to have the capability to produce much of a 60s folk-pop-psych sound with a kind of semi-ironic hippie vibe so… it came out how it did, became part of history, and is still one my most popular songs. It’s fun playing it this way too, though. (I’ve found the songs that lend themselves to being played like this also happen to be the most popular ones. Not sure if that’s a coincidence, or if so what kind of coincidence it is.)
(Original post on minds.com is here.)
4 “Christine Bactine”
The dreams that cause infection: Things are rather hectic and unsettled here at Song for Odin™ HQ, for various reasons but among them the Red Menace, a.k.a. the Federal Income Tax, which throws Song for Odin into a deep personal crisis four to five times a year. It’s not the confiscation of the money so much, though of course Song for Odin wishes they’d pick on someone their own size. It’s the stress of having to quantify, categorize, and document every minute aspect of one’s life in an impossibly complicated system in which it’s not logically possible to know if one is doing it right and if one guesses wrong they get to put one in jail. That can’t be right, can it? Most years Song for Odin needs to file over a hundred pages to document the fact that it’s basically broke anyway. Taxation is theft, and, you know, theatre of the absurd. And hazing.
But never mind forget it you wouldn’t understand anyway. Song for Odin™ will soldier on. Not sure I’ll have a whole lot to say about this one, which may help. Let’s find out.
What we have here is “Christine Bactine” from that show at the Stortebeker Club in Hamburg Germany, July 1992. The front is chopped off in the source video, but it’s the only live document of this song that I’ve come across, even though I remember playing it regularly during that brief period after the recording of Milk Milk Lemonade and before we crashed and re-emerged as a three-piece. Which is basically that European tour. I don’t believe any subsequent line-up ever attempted it.
And with good reason, one might say. It has lots of interesting ideas, cool elements, a chaos of them in fact. But the cool (and indeed the comprehensible) stuff is all in the arrangement, the production, on the periphery. The Led Zeppelin “quote” / lampoon, the KISS-invoking title, the relatively cursory and obtuse attempt to join, sort of, the grand old punk rock tradition of the “germ free adolescents” trope, all those sonic “quips,” the tangle of guitars, too many bases to cover getting in the way of the song itself. Which never quite comes together.
That’s a bit curious, perhaps, because unlike a lot of the stuff I was writing at the time, it was “about” someone in particular, inspired by a girl I knew whose abortion caused her to tip into obsessive-compulsive madness and terror of germs and disgust with the body and with “physicality” itself. (It didn’t end well, as a matter of fact, and looking back I probably shouldn’t have been so flippant about it all; but I was rather young in writer years and moreover the inadvertent obscurantism born of ineptitude was a pretty good guarantee that no one would ever grasp what it was “about,” not really. I mean, you probably didn’t. And she wasn’t in fact around to recognize herself in it or not recognize herself in it, sad to say. TMI, perhaps, but it’s the truth.)
So in theory it *should* have been possible to write a focused “text” with an actual concrete subject like that. And, weirdly, if you look at the clump of lyrics, it is in fact rather surprisingly focused and coherent, the blurry, equivocal, nebulously ironic rhetoric fully in line with standard “rock poetics”. I looked it up on the internet and was surprised at that:
Christine Bactine she’s not in love but at least she’s clean she’s back she stings she’s not in love she’s just insane stop the hurt from hurting but what’s behind the curtain disease and self reflection the dreams that cause infection she stayed home today to wash away the things you say outside closing in you don’t have to wash your hands again but she just got caught up on another hygiene product to stop the hurt from hurting to stop her eyes from burning but maybe she’ll come undone for that special someone with the frog in his throat wash your mouth out with soap now I don’t know what to say.
“Standard rock poetics” turned out not to be the thing I wound up being good at in the end, but I’ve read worse.
Nevertheless, it’s an example of the “cool stuff” getting in the way of the substance and there’s still a lesson there, one that I’m glad I gradually managed to learn. The nuttiest arrangement idea was that “tuning up” solo in the studio recording. I’m rather surprised to see it being executed live — that’s even nuttier!
The Milk Milk Lemonade album is, among other things no doubt, a document of songs trying to emerge from a riot of nutty production ideas we couldn’t quite execute, never mind afford to pay for, a situation that “Christine Bactine,” even as a throwaway “deep cut,” epitomizes. On that, allow me to quote from my post on the occasion of 27th anniversary of that album:
…underneath it all were at least some pretty good songs, and maybe more importantly some very good foundations for avenues of approach to songwriting that would produce much more effective results later on. As I’ve written before, somewhere, the grasping but not reaching itself seems to lend a certain verisimilitude to songs meant to communicate a sense of confusion and a feeling of directionlessness. You couldn’t do it on purpose if you tried…
On the production, arrangement, and sonic side of things, one curious consequence of having such a low budget with which to try to execute such a riot of complicated ideas is… there was hardly any room for “stretching out” and experimenting in the studio as a “real band” might have done. The experimentation did happen, but whatever the results of any given experiment, we were pretty much stuck with them with no realistic chance of deciding it didn’t work and choosing to try a different way. I don’t know if you ever noticed the “tuning up” solo in the song “Christine Bactine” (maybe not because it’s such a tangle.) It’s just a dumb idea I had. In Milk Milk Lemonade, a dumb idea committed to tape stayed in, because there just wasn’t the time or space to replace it. And “riot” is certainly the correct word there: there were so many ideas, coming from all over the place, many of them quite crazy, most of which didn’t even end up happening but are hinted at. (“Book of Revelation” gives a flavor of it perhaps, but it could have gone even further.)
And… that’ll wrap it up. This was meant to be a short one! Ah, well, the ways of Song for Odin are mysterious if they are anything. Enjoy the coolness of the Fall and Happy Halloween in advance.
5 “Hello Kitty Menendez”
You’ve got Wessonality: Hello, friends, it’s Wodnesdæg, which means another Song for Odin and few minor secrets, this time concerning the song “Hello Kitty Menendez.”
This performance of it is from (what I believe was) the final show of our tour with the Riverdales and Boris the Sprinkler in the Summer of ’95. It was our “first time out” outside the West Coast since dissolving and reconstituting in the Doctor-Joel-Jim lineup and was quite a memorable two weeks, full of chills and spills. Mostly spills, to be honest.
And this was a rather accident-prone set, in a very strange, garishly-lit gymnasium/auditorium at Northwestern University, in the middle of the afternoon. Not very conducive to a rock and roll atmosphere to say the least, and was in fact rather surreal, but we soldiered on, as one does. I remember this show better than most of them, due to how weird it was, I suppose, but I was very surprised to find a video document. (Once again, supplied by our pal Shayne Stacy, who has become Song for Odin’s most valuable resource.) I’ve come across one or two other renditions of this song (same line-up, which is the only one that ever played it live as far as I know, though the song and recording pre-dates it) but this is the clearest of them.
As for the song: well, I’m quite fond of it, though I’m not sure I could defend this fondness beyond a reasonable doubt were it ever to be tested in a nationally-televised trial. It owes its existence entirely to the sophomoric gag of joining “Hello Kitty” with Kitty Menendez, well known at the time on account of being one of the parents murdered by Lyle and Erik Menendez, whose criminal trial was a national sensation in 1993 on account of being televised in full on Court TV. In other words, it’s based solely on the lady’s name. And though the lyrics reference aspects of the trial and defense, sort of, and it is cast in the form of a topical song, presented as though it features some arch commentary on the events and their significance, it’s basically just glib and substanceless, conveying no information and only the vague semblance of content. It has nothing to say beyond the title and the flippant allusion to TV’s version of an alleged reality and celebrity culture, and even the allusion isn’t very articulate.
However: glib and substanceless lack of information posing as “content” is sometimes the best way to go. A sincere one and a half minute exposition of the particulars of the case and the implications of the vagaries of popular culture’s appropriation of the criminal trial as entertainment would not have been better. This is the best you were going to get from me on the subject, whatever it is.
And as a composition it has a lot going for it: nice structure, good melody, some nice turns of phrase, the zany Tin Pan Alley mis-en-scene, a swell guitar solo, “doctors and dentistes”… plus, even the kind of “meta” slight-of-hand of behaving as though the topic is addressed while it really is not, kind of feels like it’s own comment on… something. I totally meant to do that too, though not really.
For all that, it’s basically a throwaway. It was dashed off sometime in 1993, the final recording of the Doctor-Aaron-Alex MTX line-up. Like so many of our recordings over the years, it felt like the last gasp, the swan song in which the strangled swan goes out with a no-bang whimper, perhaps, in this case, a fitting, ironic end to an allegedly once-grand institution. Bathos. (The only other tune, only half-complete, that we rehearsed when rehearsing “Hello Kitty Menendez” was one of those songs where a religious metaphor for sex wraps around to double as a sex metaphor for religious stuff — I’ve done a few of those. This one was called “The Way the Truth and the Life” and was dropped when I subsequently did it much better in “Sackcloth and Ashes.” Not a lot of people know that.)
At any rate the recording was released on the Top Drawer Records compilation 13 Soda Punx in 1994, subsequently on Lookout’s Big Black Bugs… comp (from which that release got its subtitle), and finally on Sounds Radical’s MTX Shards vol 2.
A final note: on previous installments, I’ve noted a couple of songs with obsolete or obscure references that somehow still sort of work despite hardly anyone having any idea what they’re going on about. e.g. “Alternative Is Here to Stay,” “Ask Beth.” Pretty much all the elements in “Hello Kitty Menendez” are entirely obscure. Among them, only Michael Jackson remains in the public consciousness.
That’s all. See you next time.