Some old notes on: The Mr T Experience… and the Women Who Love Them
plus Milk Milk Lemonade, Our Bodies Our Selves, and a re-issue update
If you’ve been following my activities over the past couple of years, you’ll know I’ve been working on the massive project of locating, organizing, and preserving what remains of the MTX and Dr Frank tape archive with the aim of, eventually, re-iterating and re-issuing a definitive version of the entire catalog on vinyl. Why? Well, because I can, and for some reason it seems like a better idea than just letting it all disappear. Plus, it’s kind of fun, in a way.
Thus far, we’ve collected the formerly uncollected vinyl “orphans” into the two Shards compilations, and are in the midst of preparing an MTX retrospective “sort of best of” collection called Mtx forever (more news on that to come very soon.)
After that we’ll begin the restore and re-issue process for the albums and major releases, one by one, beginning, probably, with the three releases that were never put out on vinyl (Yesterday Rules, …and the Women Who Love Them, and Miracle of Shame.) The goal is to re-issue everything, encompassing every released song along with interesting extras where they exist, on vinyl, and to do it as carefully and competently as we can manage. It’s a long project that will take years, so we’ll see how far we get. It has consumed much of my life since I first started inventorying and assessing the tapes a few years back. (Much more about all that here, here, here, and here.)
But I have recently been reminded (by that Facebook “memories” thing) that the beginning of this assessment project really stretches back to 2011, when I dug out the old records and started listening to them as though I were an uninvolved listener. I then posted about it on the FB, and comments ensued. At that point, re-issuing them, especially on vinyl, wasn’t a realistic possibility. And the band hadn’t been active since 2004 and didn’t seem too likely to re-activate. I was doing it as an exercise, I suppose, just wondering aloud what could or should be done with this stuff, if anything, and considering the question of to what degree if, if any, this stuff should be preserved as to opposed to allowed to sink into oblivion.
But it was the beginning of the process I’m involved in now. The following year’s rough-hewn digital re-org and “release” of the catalog was the first step in what would be a very long process that is really only beginning for real now.
Anyway, I think the notes from 2011 are pretty interesting. I posted about them on my minds page when they popped up for Milk Milk Lemonade and Our Bodies Our Selves, reproducing the original post and the some of the comments where appropriate. The notes for …and the Women Who Love Them were longer, so I’m making them into this medium post and appending the MML and OBOS text as well, for the searchable record.
1 The Mr T Experience… and the Women Who Love Them
Now: “… and the women who love them.”
[a] first time I ever heard the finished product and said to myself: “self, this is pretty much what this was supposed to sound like.” still kind of astonished at that.
[b] who decided to release a 7 song ep with five songs in the same key all next to each other? Oh, that was me? Well, at least I learned something.
[c] “my heart is young and black and proud, and bold.”
— The slightly screwy timing on the spoken verses of track #1 was totally unintentional (we just had trouble counting to four) but it adds quite a lot. Makes it seem crazier, or something.
— Several of these songs are unusual in that the lyrics were written before the “music” — I’ve hardly ever done that, before or since. I also spent a lot more effort on them, as I recall. It was a strange time. I was visiting my dad in the hospital nearly every day, studying Greek and meeting my Greek teacher once a week after the hospital visit. The “Tapin’ Up My Heart” lyrics actually were written in the margin of Plato’s Meno.
— My guitar rig at the time emitted constant out of control feedback (and picked up radio signals) whenever it wasn’t actually being played. I used to ride the volume control on the guitar to mute it, but inevitably the feedback slipped out. We wound up “using it” rather than trying to hide it on lots of tracks, going all the way back to Big Black Bugs… It didn’t always work, but I think it did on “My Stupid Life”
— “…it might be apocryphal but anyway…” I remember, while doing the vox, having to counter Kevin Army’s skepticism that “apocryphal” was a word. That’s right: our recording sessions were much like playing Scrabble. And yes, I really did hear a story about a guy who chopped off his own head, and it might well have been apocryphal. Boredom is just my guess as to the reason, but why else would you do that?
— It is only a year later than OBOS, but I feel way less distant from this material, like, it still could have been me doing it and not some strange guy I heard about once.
— Kevin was about the only person who took my songwriting seriously in those days, and his encouragement advice and influence definitely turned me into a much, much better writer. I really couldn’t have done it without him. However, trying to nudge me to be more “normal” and less quirky (if that was what he was doing) was destined not to work. I know tried to minimize the novelty elements when he could, and that was probably sound, but, you know, I’m just a novelty sort of guy.
— “My Stupid Life” is the closest here to the chaotic songwriting “method” I tended to use in the past, which was basically free-associating on a general topic and hoping it came out all right. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t (I think it does pretty much work on MSL) but the rest of the songs were more carefully planned.
— when we first started playing with Jym and playing these songs, I was overcome with enthusiasm and let my emotions get the better of me, going so far as to say, “you know, this could wind up being something other than lame.” That has always been my standard, arguably seldom met.
— “All My Promises”: IIRC, this song originally went “I’ve wasted all my promises on you.” Simply changing “wasted” to “used up” made it 1000% better.
— “We Hate All the Same Things” isn’t as tightly written as it could be, but I find it still works pretty well. Chords/structure/sentiments are just a bit inadvertently 30s-ish, like a lot of the stuff that followed it. Quoting The Sound of Music is one of those “so stupid it just might work” gambits; the whispered “Weltschmerz” is pretty gay though.
— This is also the first record where I thought of the CD rather than the vinyl as the “real one.” We still felt we should distinguish between the single and the ep though, so one of the songs was to be left off the CD and be exclusive to the vinyl. The plan was for this to be “Checkers Speech” (and that was probably influenced by Kevin Army’s inclination to de-emphasize the novelty element.) But Jym really wanted that song to be on the CD, as I remember, so we did it that way. That meant, I had to go in to record a quick quick quick extra track to put on the vinyl. So that is the sole reason “How’d the Date End? wound up getting recorded at all. I think we snuck on someone else’s session during a dinner break or something.
— Nixon’s Checkers Speech was an attempt to defend himself against accusations of campaign contribution improprieties, one of which was a cocker spaniel named Checkers that he said he intended to keep. “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” was part of his bitter concession speech after losing his bid for Governor of California in 1962. I just thought it would be funny to base a love song around that.
— original FB post.
— the e.p. on YouTube.
2 Milk Milk Lemonade
This is a Facebook post from July 2011, when I was just beginning to try to assess the “back catalog” and to try to figure out what, if anything, could or should be done with it. Comments are interesting. I’ve changed my opinion on some things. And listening to the actual tapes made a big difference there. I still hate the snare, though, mostly.
More MML, listened to as though I had nothing to do with it:
[a] god that snare sound is truly awful;
[b] the album is a lot more cohesive than I remembered and way more than it probably should, having been so random and slap-dash;
[c] guitar solo on “There’s Something Wrong with Me” is way better than what that guy usually plays.
Anyway, eight years later here we aren’t we? Closer than ever to re-issue, mastering a couple of songs from it, which will be like a trial run, as it will be for all the albums. We’ll see what happens. (I’d still really like to remix, if we can find a machine to play that tape, but maybe we don’t need to open that can of worms…)
— weakest bit: the Smiths cover. Unexpectedly strong bit: See it Now. Hilariousest guitar: “Master of the Situation.”
— Best song qua song: Last Time I Listened to You”
— I wonder if, out of the few people who ever heard it, anyone even noticed the “See It Now” quotation in the instrumental break of “I Was Losing You All Along.” (That was meant to be the final song of Revenge is Sweet, but it wasn’t played well enough to be used.)
— [crickets] Thought so. Kevin told me when we were recording and I kept talking about the “See it Now” reprise that I was too bogged down in conceptual gimmicks and no one would care or notice. Chalk one up for Kevin.
— At the time I was imagining people being all “wow, where’s that from — omg it’s from “See it Now”! that’s amazing! What’s he trying to say here?” But in reality it’s just like, noise.
— Kevin Army said the title [of “See It Now”] should be “Some Alcohol” and I think that’s even what he wrote on the tracklist. And of course I was stumbling drunk at the time and going “huh?”
— Kevin Army: you know Phil Spector and Nick Lowe famously banned alcohol from the studio, which is why those recordings are so good.
us: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
— he had his hands full. And by “us” I mean, me. Probably.
— 2011 FB post
— 2019 post on minds.
— MML on YouTube
3 Our Bodies Our Selves
“I have a hard time thinking of OBOS as a consciously constructed and prepared ‘piece of work’ that we did and presented to the world. More like this weird thing that just happened…”
The Facebook “memories” thing has turned up some posts from 2011 in which I revisited my old albums, and the one today was on Our Bodies Ourselves. The comments are interesting. I’ve since learned more and some of my views have shifted. At the time I was pretty much just sticking a toe in, after many, many years of not thinking about it at all.
But it is a bit weird that the dates of these eight-year-old posts coincide with Mtx forever mastering… this was exactly how the whole thing started, with me trying to assess the records in this clumsy public-forum way to see what if anything could or should be done with them.
Shortly thereafter, in March of 2012 I did a blog post called “Unfazed Cookies”:
Trying to come up with a “best of” MTX track list. Twenty songs or so. What would you pick?
People responded and I kept track. My idea was not grand: I just wanted to upload a ripped-from-CDs compilation to the Orchard, because it was easy and free, mainly so anyone who had read my books and was curious about the band might have an easy way to check it out. And like so many things, nothing ever came of it.
Till now. Sometimes it just takes eight years. Whatever its flaws, and I’d never deny them, this album, largely neglected at the time, seems to have become the counter-intuitive favorite of a certain cohort of MTX and “pop punk” fans, though it is not in the main line of the most popular MTX records and has very, very little to do with “pop punk” per se. What it has to do with, I don’t exactly know. It was a stepping off point that concealed hidden depths evidently, at least that’s what some people tell me.
In addition to the quote in the title above, a few kinda sorta interesting things from me in the comments:
— Quite often people will leave lyrics behind in studios, and it is a sort of ritual to check them out, read them aloud, sing them to a tune, especially if they are really funny or really terrible. (Which they almost always are.) This led to my leaving fake awful lyrics behind sometimes, just as a kind of prank and also to brighten up the day of the next band coming in. One of the ones I remember was called “Don’t Play Yahtzee with My Heart,” a title I liked so much I used it in King Dork years later.
Anyway, in keeping with this tradition, during one of the OBOS sessions at Dancing Dog, someone found a lyric sheet and started passing it around. Kevin Army recited it aloud in a kind of mock-solemn tone in a spirit of ridicule and everybody laughed. The line he read was “I wonder if there’s any hope left in this world or if anybody cares for anything anymore. That’s what I’m so frustrated for.” I didn’t say anything at all, but when I got up to do that vocal and sang that line — from the song “Somebody Who Cares” — it was pretty funny.
— “Game Over” definitely isn’t about the band, per se [as a commenter suggested.] More like a more general application of that clunky metaphor. That’s one of the fun things you can do with that sort of thing, take a conceit and run it into the ground, but also use the conventional uses of those tropes and make them say two things at once. Not the greatest example of that sort of thing, but, hey, I was trying.
— “Dustbin of History” is a bit like a lot of the MML songs, where it doesn’t quite do what it was meant to do, but the lack of focus and confused composition itself creates this inadvertently effective evocation of wistful confusion that I could have never done on purpose at that point.
— Outside of the Gun Crazy songs, “Somebody Who Cares” and “God Bless America,” though not without their flaws, come closest to the kind of thing I was trying to do and the type of songs I tried to write going forward.
— I remember, when I was coming up with the songs I consciously thought I was going to try to make the lyrics so that you could pick up the booklet and read them and it would be like a book, and would make sense without having to hear the music. In the end, it didn’t quite work out that way, exactly, but the next records did, if I say so myself, come close.
There’s also some discussion about the source of the cover image, which is quite interesting, but I’ll save that for another post.
— original 2011 FB post
— 2019 post on minds
— OBOS album on YouTube.