Odin XXII

The continuing minor secrets of the Mr T Experience

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ell holy moly and happy new year, here’s the twenty-second collation of Songs for Odin. If you can believe that. We’ve come so far. If I’m counting right, this encompasses 115 entries, covering 98 songs, which is a lot. I’m still planning to keep it going in the new year, if I don’t run out of “content” — we’ll see how long it takes.

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If you’re confused because you havent been following along for the past couple of years (and why would you?): this is something I’ve been doing each Wednesday, posting a video of a song and writing up some commentary on it. Then every month or so I’ll compile them into a compilation so they don’t get lost and unfindable in the great big pile of trash that is our internet.

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; twenty; twenty-one.

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

And here’s the full Songs for Odin playlist on YouTube if you want more.

Table of contents: “We’re Not No One,” “A Zillion Years,” “At Gilman Street,” “Checkers Speech,” “Itching Powder in the Sleeping Bags.”

Let’s begin, shall we?

Dr Frank — “We’re Not No One”

We would always dream of things that we could never touch, and in the scheme of things we never mattered much: It’s Wodnesdæg once again and accordingly time for another Song for Odin. It’s just a thing we do around here, posting a video of a song with some “minor secrets” attached. For whatever reason. Today’s write-up may be a bit cursory because of upcoming shows and the concomitant hecticness (Philly on Friday, Brooklyn on Saturday — see you there yeah?) But I usually wind up typing a lot more than I expect, so we’ll see.

What we have here is me doing “We’re Not No One” solo somewhere (I know not) ca. 2016.

It’s not the best quality audio or video I know but it seems to me to capture something of the essence of the song, somehow. I feel this is one of my very best songs video resources are limited, so, regardless, this will have to do for now at least.

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In fact, there isn’t a whole lot of documentation of live performance of Alcatraz-era songs from the Alcatraz era. We did quite a few shows (at least a couple of tours) in that period, but no video exists that I’m aware of. It’s true that things were winding down in that phase (in various ways) and everything was rather confused and chaotic in our own accident-prone band and within the crashing-and-burning “scene,” label, and music biz in which we were situated, so it’s not that surprising perhaps.

At any rate, I have lots to say about the Alcatraz songs collectively and individually, and if I’m going to stick to the Odin program of tying such commentary to a video resource things are going to have to get a bit loose and “creative.” I’m sure it can be done.

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Here I allow Robert McGinnis to illustrate the “you and me against the world” trope

“We’re Not No One” is one of many slightly paranoid “you and me against the world” songs in the catalog and I believe it’s probably the best of them overall. When you’ve done enough of a certain sort of composition, it almost becomes a sub-sub-genre of its own, with each essay at the topic standing on its own yet also reprising commenting on those that have gone before.

“We’re Not No One” draws a line under the sub-sub-genre of Dr Frank “you and me against the world” songs. While “Population: Us” is glib and clever with everything tightly nailed down, “We’re Not No One” leaves room to breathe. Not knocking “Population: Us” at all — I think it’s also one of the best ones. It’s my favorite sort of song. But loose and unconstricted is more challenging than nailed down, at least for me, and I guess I tend to be prouder of the loose ones that work.

I’m not going to squash it all by over-explaining. I think people get it. Like a lot of my songs, it all springs from the germ of the title, which sounds ungrammatical till you hear it in context, and plays on the tension between singular and plural that is inherent in the language of “coupledom.” (The lyrics of “Two of Us” on the same album do that too.) “Dream of things” / “scheme of things” is a great rhyme because the verb plus “of things” leading to the noun plus “of things” knits the lyric together like nothing else could. And that melody is quite well-conceived and -constructed if I say so myself. That’s all I’m gonna say.

This is a song that always works when I play it solo. As for the recording, though, well, the elements are all there but it falls rather short of its aim sonically. Said elements don’t quite come together and don’t achieve the, er, majesty that had been planned. I think it’s largely in the mix and I would love a crack at a remix. (I *think* the multitrack tape of the whole album is extant and present somewhere in my bins, though none of the tapes I have identified as most likely to be Alcatraz masters are labelled as to the tracks contained on them. There’s a lot of guesswork here that could easily have been solved all those years ago by a prescient person with sharpie — but it was not to be. We’ll just have to find a machine and hope they play and try to capture what we can. Man it’s a daunting prospect — makes me exhausted just thinking about it. It’s one of those many things I’d quite like to do that are almost certainly not worth doing in any practical sense. Like my whole “career,” really.)

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In fact, we had quite a bit of trouble with the recording of this song, largely due (we eventually decided) to our having taken the tape to so many studios and thus having recorded on so many different machines. Using so many different studios was intentional, a quest to get as many different sounds as possible, but somewhere along the line some slight calibration discrepancy in successive generations of overdubs on various machines started to throw everything just a bit off-kilter. It was mostly the fault of the bass, it turned out, or at least we thought. Basically, it was a confused mess. in other words: a bit too *much* sonic diversity! If people still recorded on tape I’d say that’s a cautionary tale, but it’s unlikely to come up for anyone now, is it?

Anyway, despite that, I still like the song. It’s good. Sometimes songs transcend their own mishaps.

Okay, that’ll wrap it up and I gotta go. (And as always, I ended up typing more words that expected and I might as well have skipped the disclaimer at the beginning. So it goes.) See you at the shows this weekend, if you’re there. If not, there’ll most likely be a Song for Odin next week. I’ve come this far, after all. notes:

Original post on minds is here.

“A Zillion Years”

Happy Thanksgiving Eve, friends, and welcome to another Wondesdæg and Song for Odin. And what we have here is “A Zillion Years” from an early MTX show at Gilman, May 2nd, 1987. (Thanks to Shayne Stacy of the Sacramento Music Archive for passing on the tape.)

I've posted one song previously from this patchy video (“A Mind Is a Terrible Thing”) and as I said then, outside of a couple of vids of songs performed in some university dorm space from 1986 (“Just Your Way of Saying No” and the Munsters theme song) this is the earliest live video of MTX that I am aware of. This may have been our first show at Gilman, but my guess is there was probably at least one earlier one. The internet doesn’t seem to know the answer to that. It’s not the highest quality, as you’d expect, but it does show the band as it was at that time, warts and all, and head-on rather than from the side, which is slightly unusual. Many of the songs are cut off or garbled, but this one carries on through its full length.

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As always, we were having a good time, whether or not the audience felt the same way. They seem sparse and… patient. That’s something people don’t often realize or seem to remember about the early Gilman days: these were never huge shows, even the “big” ones. A couple dozen scattered, indifferent people was the norm. As now, I suppose. This bill was: NoMeansNo, Blast!, MTX, Primal Scream, and Unit Pride. (The flier is inset at left.)

As for the song, well: I’ve spoken to at least one person who claimed it was her favorite song (and it seems like there’s a song for everyone, or rather, a person for every song) but I doubt too many people would class it as our finest hour. Its heart is in the right place, but it’s an imitation of a song that has something to say rather than the genuine article, an attempt to tread a well-worn punk rock path without understanding that path all that well.

It’s not that I didn’t grasp the entropy described here — that’s a genuine experience. But this direct, earnest, faux-jaded way of presenting it turned out not to be a thing I was good at, for better or worse. I just wasn’t put on this earth to explain things to people. When I increased the focus on the minutiae of personal and/or romantic angst, with the “philosophy” only showing round the edges, so to speak, everything started to click.

That said, this song was fun to play, awkward as it is, and we had a great time with it, through many many shows. I believe it might have been possible to arrange and record it in a way that enhanced it to goodness, if certainly not greatness, rather than just let it lay there as is, as we did. But that was another lesson we weren’t to learn till much later. Have a great Thanksgiving, and we’ll see you next week.

Original post on minds is here.

“At Gilman Street”

Because we got the beat, and we don’t eat meat: Gesælig Wodnesdaeg to ēow, and welcome to another Song for Odin. I’ll be your host. So come with me on a journey back in time to the punk rock of yesteryear, a world of laughter, a world of tears, a world of hope, and a world of fears. If we hang on to our dreams, and hold each other tight, and believe believe believe with all our might, we just might find that everything will be alright on the night and we’ll, you know, be just sort of okay and everything.

So here is the MTX Starship of 1992 doing “At Gilman Street” in Hamburg, Germany.

Think about how weird that is for a second. Gilman Street, the legend, was to become quite famous a few years down the road, but at that time this song, like its subject, was still basically an obscure local inside joke, entirely lost I’m sure on its audience of German crusties. And yet there I am bellowing about James McKinney and Bill Graham.

The song’s sarcasm is, relatively speaking, gentle and benign-spirited, but but it is certainly not the straightforward celebratory anthem some people might have wanted. To quote myself (from the Shards liner notes):

it is perhaps just a bit ironic that I of all people was the guy who happened to write the ‘Gilman anthem.’ It could have been a lot more sycophantic and triumphalist and mythopoeic in other hands. Sorry about that, Punk History.

But it occurs to me to wonder whether sarcasm and irony can exist at all when the audience is unaware of the thing being ironized. I would say not. And I suppose it’s that same topic of whether or not songs can work with outdated, forgotten references or topics. Hearing such a song before its subject was famous, or long enough afterward that it’s no longer famous, renders it all but meaningless. The only hope for it is if the dead (or pre-born) references are mysterious enough to be interesting in themselves as obscurities.

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And it’s why love songs are almost always better than “topical” ones, at least as far as their survivability goes, even when they are themselves full of obscurities: e.g. “More than Toast.” These are things I’d think about at work if I had a job.

Of course, it helps if a song actually rocks and rolls (which is a whole nother challenge.) No one at shows pays attention to songs per se unless they already know them, but rather just to the beat and vibe and energy and so forth. All audiences might as well be a handful of German crusties ca. 1992 is what I’m saying. And thanks for showing up, meine damen und herren.

This song has been a Song for Odin once before in April of 2018 (video resource: the unofficial music video.) As I said in that write-up, I started writing it in my head long before it opened, during those interminable planning meetings. I would sit with my back against the wall listening to all the hippies arguing about “points of order” and how to destroy capitalism and such while doing my schoolwork (I may well have been working on the paper that was to become “The History of the Concept of the Soul,” in fact; it involved some sort of translation because I recall spilling some Colt 45 — cleverly hidden in an emptied Coke can — over borrowed Liddell & Scott, necessitating some uncomfortable explaining later on.)

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Actual picture of one of those early Gilman planning meetings (Tim in center)

The initial core of it was those votes on whether you’re going to vote and the bizarre fixation on Bill Graham Presents; the other references materialized once the club got going, James McKinney, Honey, Radley, many center-stage fat lips, Isocracy… at the time it seemed quite likely it wouldn’t ever actually open, and once it opened it seemed highly implausible that it would last very long. (And it fact it did close down a couple of times.) But it continued long enough for me to complete, record, and release its unofficial theme song which unfortunately for twue beliebers turned out to be just about 70% snark.

And that, I’m sure you’ll agree, is the important thing. (And to be honest, 30% earnest is a pretty good earnestness ratio for me.)

And there we are. Be good. And if you can’t be good, be careful. And if you can’t be careful, be a tree. And if you can’t be a tree.. well, then, I’m afraid I can’t help you. See at the shows in Texas, if you’re there.

Original post on minds is here.

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“Checkers Speech”

Thanks and Sorry: Happy Wodnesdæg to you all. It is time for another Song for Odin, and even though I’ve recently done a write-up on the song “Checkers Speech,” here it is again because this happened over the weekend at our show in Dallas and I’m striking while the iron is fresh.

That’s me, Ted, Tanner, and Matt practicing the song in the upstairs room at the club in Dallas. It’s literally unplugged and not meant to be any sort of performance but I think it’s got a certain je ne sais quoi so…

Tanner and Matt were the rhythm section of the late, great Dallas band 41 Gorgeous Blocks and this was a song they really liked and used to play. The idea was to have them come up and stand in for Bobby and Jaz in the set, and this is what happened. And the crowd went wild. They were a great band whose frontman Matt Riggle (who lives in Philadelphia now) is a great songwriter and, for better or worse, very influenced my me and my band in that regard. Here’s Matt doing a swell version of “More that Toast” btw.

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Speaking of that “influence” thing, though: I tend to be rather apologetic when people say they’ve been influenced by me, and I feel like I should warn them: I’m not such a great thing to emulate as far as music biz success goes, obviously. I’ve heard there’s this very successful yet still reassuringly ugly guy named Ed Sheeran — he sounds way more emulation-worthy, from what I can tell. On the other hand, there’s no real music biz to speak of anymore, which is… freeing. At least I’ve got no explaining to do. And it is nice to be among kindred spirits sometimes.

This is true of the Capitalist Kids’ guy Jittery Jeff as well. I run into a lot of people who say how much they are influenced by my writing, and I usually can’t hear it at all when I check out their bands, but sometimes you can really hear it, which is the case with the Capitalist Kids and 41 GB. So, Matt and Jeff: my apologies.

Anyway, back to the show and “Checkers Speech.” I played this song with 41 GB once before, long ago — some time in the mid-2000s, I believe — when they were on tour with Darlington and played at the Stork Club in Oakland. They put me on the list, and, unless I’m mis-remembering, I was literally the only person to show up. Nevertheless they did their show for an audience of one, as you do. I climbed on stage to sing “Checkers Speech” with them, i.e., for an audience of zero. Well, it was for an audience of ourselves, which is, when you boil it down so often the case in a general philosophical way. You don’t do this music stuff for very long without kind of getting used to that basic situation.

Anyhow, we (performers and audience) had a great time. In fact, it’s one of my fondest memories. So we re-created it last weekend in Dallas and it was good. Here’s what that looked and sounded like:

As for the song, I don’t currently have anything to add to that previous writeup. But, you know, it was pretty great to play it all amplified and rumbling after all these years, for an audience that was keen on it and who “got” it. (And, you know, actually existed.) MTX hasn’t done the song since the mid-90s I’m pretty sure. And as I’ve had occasion to say before, I really can’t get over how people still know and like and, well, sort of, respect these old songs. In Austin it seemed like the entire audience was able to shout all the lyrics to pretty much every song: even I can’t do that! That may not be any kind of music biz success that would impress anyone’s dad or anything, but, at the risk of sounding a bit corny and sentimental here, that really is its own kind of success. And I dare say it isn’t all that common, even for a lot of people who have managed to make a whole lot more money out of the music racket than we or people like us ever did or could. It’s pretty nice, to be honest, and so I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone in the midst of apologizing to them. Thanks and sorry. Keep on keeping on and Merry Christmas everybody.

notes: — discogs; studio recording.

Original post on minds.com is here.

“Itching Powder in the Sleeping Bags”

Everything a metaphor for everything else: Good morning ladles and genitalmen and welcome to another Song for Odin, that thing done each Wednesday featuring a song and some words about it.

What we have here is “Itching Powder in the Sleeping Bags” live at Gilman Street in May 1995.

I’ve posted a few songs from this set already (you can go to the Songs for Odin playlist to check them out if you want, see below). The video and audio quality isn’t spectacular, but I think it captures a certain something, the essence of what Gilman shows were like in that middle period as well as what the MTX was like in that early phase of that line-up. I may be mistaken, but I believe this was the first Doctor-Jym-Joel show at Gilman. You can kind of see us trying to figure out how to be a band in that… “format.” Love Is Dead hadn’t yet been released. Just speaking for myself, I had no idea that this was to the “start of something big” (relatively speaking, of course — I am well aware it wasn’t all that big, believe me.)

Anyway, there’s a glitch mid-song and the very end is cut off, but is the only video document of this particular song that I’ve come across, though the song goes back to a much earlier era. In fact pre-dates the MTX. It was written some time during my high school years — I used to play it on the piano back then, if you can believe that. (As an instrumental, keeping the lyrics in my head, too shy to sing them even when I was all alone.)

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It’s… well, it’s a rather clumsy essay at a songwriting approach I was to get better at as time went on, where you take an obscure item (from popular culture, in this case) and force it into a metaphor for something more personal. Here the source is the Brady Bunch episode called “The Slumber Caper,” in which the Brady girls have a slumber party and the boys react by playing practical jokes on them, including the matter referred to in the title which is what brings the episode to a climax by creating the occasion for Marcia to discover she has treated one of her friends unfairly and to learn her valuable lesson. “Itching powder in the sleeping bags” is proposed by Greg after a brainstorming session concerning the most effective policy for dealing with the impending invasion of “giggling girls.”

Here’s some video:

In the song, it’s a rather heavy-handed “battle of the sexes” metaphor. It doesn’t bear a whole lot of scrutiny or explication, but it is broadly a metaphor for immaturity and lack of concord in more “adult” relationships, I suppose, the idea that supposed grown-ups often retreat to childish behavior when confronted with conflict or strife. And, though I wouldn’t put this song forward as the perfect expression of it by any means, it is a great truth of human nature, an observation in the same vein as “high school never really ever ends.” And, as I’ve discussed before, like so many of these songs that are grasping towards effectiveness as “art” and communication, its very obtuseness and confusion lends it considerable help in getting the point across. In a song about immaturity, actual immaturity in the composition makes it an example of it as well as a comment on it. A neat trick that would be difficult to do on purpose. And like a lot of things in this world, it works better if you don’t think about it too hard.

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Anyway, for all its undoubted flaws, it has a pretty nice structure and melody (which is why it suited being plunked out melancholiliy on the piano) and the guitar solo/break still works. This rendition (which can be heard much more clearly in the live-on-the-radio version on Shards vol 1) is quite a bit better than the original recording on the Night Shift album, in which one side manages to get the chords wrong. Of all those elder songs it’s one of the handful I’d like most to revive in the current set, and maybe that’ll happen one day.

And there you have it. Christmas is imminent and as our next Wodnesdæg happens to fall on cristesmæsse and there will accordingly be no Song for Odin on that day: from all of us here at Song for Odin, gesælige cristesmæsse and bless you one and all. We’ll see you next year, mostly likely.

Original post on minds.com is here.

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

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