The Mr T Experience: Minor Secrets of Songs for Odin Part XVI
Green MTX Keychain Bottle Opener Edition
As you may have noticed, each Wednesday I post a song (usually in the form of a YouTube video of a live performance) and some commentary. The “feature” is styled Song for Odin™ because of it being on Wodnesdæg, and the commentary is styled “minor secrets.” Every month or so I’ll compile the Songs for Odin™ from the past few weeks into a single post, illustrated, edited and sometimes expanded, so these scattered individual posts can be the more easily found and accessed, should it ever become necessary.
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.
[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 posts about songs that were not technically “songs for Odin.”
“Minor secrets” table of contents: MTX Keychain Bottle Opener; “Alternative Is Here to Stay”; “Disconnection”; Milk Milk Lemonade; “Love American Style”; “Book of Revelation” (Fastbacks’ version); “Naomi”; “Semi-OK”.
— Minor Secrets of the MTX Keychain Bottle Opener Revealed: and as long as I’m in the “minor secrets” mode, here’s some background on the keychain bottle opener pictured above. This was our first foray into promotional items, totally Jon von’s idea, the first batch made in 1987. I’d made the logo, later used on all the albums from Night Shift through Our Bodies Our Selves, for this purpose, cutting out and pasting together letters from the phone book and putting then through several stages of photo copy machine enlargement.
We made them in pink and green, the Sex Pistols colors, initially, and sold them for a dollar apiece, though we gave most of them away to our friends.
There was a time when I believe each and every person who was aware of and supported the band had one of these. It made “our people” very easy to spot, which was useful. We continued to make them, in small, erratic batches and various colors, all the way through the nineties, at which point you could tell the “old guard” by the fact that the logo had faded completely away. I still encounter some such.
Every so often our van would be broken into and the box of keychains stolen. We would wait till the weekend, go to the Ashby Flea Market, find the stall of the guy who stole them, and buy them back. It was a sort of game.
— “Housekeeping” note: My posting routine for these Wednesday posts has been to do them on minds.com as a sort of home base post, because the links are permanent, are displayed in chronological order on my channel, and aren’t hidden or otherwise suppressed. (The downside is, they’re not searchable in that form.) I also have been posting the whole post, text with video link, on Facebook and on Twitter as a huge threaded series. Occasionally, when I can summon the fortitude, I’ll also post on Instagram, with the video and a “link in bio” to the minds.com write-up, but that involves transferring the video to my phone before posting and that’s just a step too far usually. Why, one may ask, don’t I just simplify things and post the minds link to all the “platforms”? Well, these platforms suppress, de-prioritize, and even outright hide that sort of link. A minds link gets noticeably less “engagement” there, and sometimes gets literally none at all. I post it, but no one sees it. And as long as I’m putting in the effort of writing this stuff up, I want people to see it. So one must resort to Byzantine, redundant, ridiculously inefficient work-arounds just to have a hope of being seen. It’s a losing battle, but at least I’m going down with my ship.
I am, however, as I’ve mentioned before, considering discontinuing the Facebook posts of this type, because FB’s discouragement and hampering of YouTube links makes it less and less viable and worthwhile even when you do it as a native post. The links don’t play. You have to leave the page to view them. Hardly anyone actually does this. Plus posts with YouTube links are suppressed almost as ferociously as minds.com links. It’s just not worth it, really. From the point of view of you, the audience, even if you’re looking on Facebook, you may not even see it anyway. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you should check my minds.com channel each Wednesday. That’s the only way to be sure. Maybe you could have Siri remind you.
Anyhow, on to the songs, praise Odin.
1 “Alternative Is Here to Stay”
Wodnesdæg is upon us once again, which means: a Song for Odin™ is scheduled. I’m still in the throes of this damnable flu (or whatever it is) and not firing on all cylinders, though, so I can’t say much for the prospects of this write-up I’m beginning right now. But the show must go on, and in the end all it is posting a video and a few disjointed comments. I can handle that, mostly.
What we have here is the Mr T Experience of 1996 doing “Alternative Is Here to Stay” in Genoa Italy, and once again, as with several songs from this set, it is the only live document of a performance of this song that I’ve ever come across.
If you’ll remember a couple weeks back, I was talking about the song “Ask Beth,” which (I made the claim) works pretty well as a song even if you don’t know that Ask Beth was an advice column and you just think Beth is some person out there, a whimsically unestablished character.
But of course not every song is so fortunate. And in the present case I doubt anyone who wasn’t paying attention to “the charts” in the ’90s can really get the joke here. Even if you were “there,” it’s probably hard to remember just how relentlessly the term Alternative was used to refer to the mainstream hit parade. So it seemed pretty funny to try to construct an Alternative anthem, along the lines of Danny and the Juniors’ “Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay”. (And the bridge is snatched from the Elvis / Wanda Jackson song “Let’s Have a Party.”)
Even at the time I doubt many people who liked this song at the time (and a whole lot seemed to) were even aware of Danny and the Juniors. Probably it’ll come as a surprise to some of them now.
(To my own surprise, it looks like there’s a Billboard “Alternative Songs” chart even to this day! And here’s the wikipedia entry for “Alternative Rock”: I think my song should be mentioned in there somewhere, but I don’t make the rules.)
Anyway, it is a funny joke, still. (So I like to think.) I love: “we’ll alternate all night long,” and “Alternative is something more than number 1, 2, 3, and 4, it’s 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, Alternative is doing fine…” The bit about Tom Cruise and Anne Rice is a bit ungainly but is based on an actual conversation with a girl who was so bitter about the betrayal embodied in Tom Cruise having been cast in the film of her beloved Interview with the Vampire that she actually started weeping and punching the wall as she was telling me about it. Now, *that’s* alternative.
Believe it or not, I’ve encountered several people unable to grasp the irony, going so far as to mock the song and me for offering such an earnest celebration of something really stupid. “That didn’t age well,” said one blog review. And, well, I suppose it didn’t, but in another way it aged just fine. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
One further note, the songs released on this 7" (this and “New Girlfriend”) were the first time I ever managed to get the guitars as loud as I wanted them, so it’s a bit of a milestone in that regard.
Anyway it’s a great single all around, even if its entire conceit is a bit obscure. Sadly, all tapes from that session have disappeared and the single is all we’ve got.
Here’s that studio recording by the way:
Okay back to bed. Peace and love, my brothers and sisters.
Original post on minds.com is here.
Hello and welcome to another Song for Odin™. Believe it or not, the flu (or whatever) that I was complaining about last week is still hanging on though it really does seem to be in the final stages. And I’ve also got a foot injury, meaning that if you’ve seen a guy around Oakland in a Buzzcocks shirt hobbling around with a cane, that was probably me. A cane, seriously. Actually it looks kind of cool. Probably. In other words, the caladrius bird is still on my chest, staring into my eyes, but it’s taking its sweet time about taking flight and carrying the illness away with it to be burnt by the sun. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, one struggles manfully on. And by that I mean, one presents the Mr T Experience of 1988 doing “Disconnection” at Gilman.
In some ways this is fairly typical for its place and time: an earnest, not to say Quixotic, attempt to conceive and play a pop song against all odds and in a potentially hostile environment, a singer who can’t really sing, an irregular drum beat with so many “accents” it can hardly be called a beat at all, everyone on stage almost managing to keep up with one another in a song that ends twice as fast as it started. We were a young band. Though these issues would persist long past that excuse’s expiration date… contriving and administering a band is harder than you probably think… in our case, for many years, you just hung on to the weird, sloppy, slippery beast as best you could while you tried to keep the plates spinning. And hoped for the best.
But there is, for all that, a genuine song in there and though it is a bit crude and unpolished it basically does what a song should do, though the guy who wrote it hardly knew what he was doing and didn’t particularly notice the way that it was arguably a bit better than the others. I could have done worse than follow this basic plan for the songs to come, though as it happened it was to be some time before I understood what was required enough to do it deliberately. Verses, choruses, a bridge, a clear topic with some kind of emotional resonance, a sense of direction and development through the verses under the overarching theme re-iterated in the refrain… and only when you’ve established that mastery of those traditional elements do you consider messing things up and being all innovative and shock of the new or whatever. The quirky, absurd, outrageous elements should be a “bit of extra” that sort of decorate or adorn a structure that is solid enough to bear them, and the structure has to come first or it’s liable to come crashing down. As it so often did.
In this case, the “bit of extra” is not much at all, just the decision to replace the final chorus with a guitar line rather than sing it through. It adds a lot more, somehow, than it should, for some reason. But it wouldn’t do that without the established architecture. It’s pretty weird that it took me so long to notice all this pretty basic stuff, but I suppose it’s even weirder that so many people still go merrily on their songwriting way without realizing that their songs don’t quite have a solid architecture. Solid architecture will always be where it’s at.
The moral of the story is, it’s the song that matters, and good, solidly-conceived song can withstand and survive almost any ill-treatment by inept musicians, misguided producers, or even its own writer.
Okay, I’m out. Gimme fever. Put your little hand in mine. And let us pray for the due commencement of the flight of the caladrius bird toward the heavens. It’s about time.
Original post on minds.com is here.
3 Milk Milk Lemonade
So, my band’s fourth full-length album, Milk Milk Lemonade, was released 27 years (that is, half my life) ago. You’d think I’d have got used to these sorts of milestones by now, but they’re always weird to contemplate. Some “minor secrets” are, perhaps, in order.
Ahem… I’ve been listening to this record in various states quite a lot recently in the process of selecting songs for the Mtx forever compilation, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of alternate versions, and trying to plan what should be done to make whatever might be selected most “presentable.” This album is quite a strange beast. It was ridiculously ambitious for it’s tiny budget and all the complexity and strange production ideas and experimentation left lots of loose ends dangling and a whole lot of room for a great many things to go awry. Moreover, I was still very much feeling my way blindly in the general direction of songwriting. There are flashes of, well, if not Songwriting Greatness, I suppose you’d say: songwriting competence, and there’s certainly a whole lot uniqueness, for what that’s worth. But as with the sonic adventurism, much of which also managed against all odds to “come off,” these flashes were kindled and fired off amidst a good deal of awkwardness.
For many years the things that went awry and the awkwardness were all was able to hear, and I shied away from it, mostly. Now I see it a bit differently, as a product of all its factors, from the unintentionally sublime to the mis-intentionally ridiculous, and as an artifact of a minor, rather unusual arm of punk rock history that still somehow remains impactful decades later. (Which you really can’t say about all that many little records like this.) People still listen to it. For fun. That’s something I’d never have predicted. (My delusions of grandeur during recording were tremendous indeed, but they didn’t stretch to imagining anyone would be paying any attention to it thirty years thence: I couldn’t even imagine life past 30 myself.)
And in a world where so much sounds the same as everything else, then as now, it is, as I’ve said, unique, for better or worse. It certainly sounded nothing like anything our “contemporaries” were doing, those in our little Lookout world and those outside it. And as for “fans,” it threw them all for a loop. (Though the follow-up threw the same people for a loop too, many of whom had decided they liked the one particular loop after all and wished we would stay there: so it goes.) It is the strangest sounding record we’ve ever done, and quite possibly the strangest-sounding thing Lookout ever put out. But 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, I really believe that.
e.g. “See It Now”. I could write that song better now, far better. But it wouldn’t be better. Not being better is better, at least in a certain sense. I guess that’s what you call a paradox.
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.)
The fact that it is as coherent as it is is more or less to be attributed solely to Kevin Army, who managed to take the riot and, despite long odds and rather straitened circumstances, condense it all into something that sounded like an album. I haven’t been shy about admitting that I am not fond of many of the sonic choices made in the process, but… well, you probably have no idea how close it all came to going off the deep end, and it’s good there was someone there with a coherent vision. That person certainly couldn’t have been me. I was a great big mess.
(And by the way, if your impression of this record is based solely, or even substantially, on the mp3s-ripped-from-CD Spotify version, you haven’t really heard it: the “real thing,” properly mastered, is gonna blow your mind. Also by the way, the image at the top is the cover of a 1993 Polish bootleg cassette I found listed on discogs when searching for images. We’d been there in ’92, the timeline is logical.)
So yeah, Milk Milk Lemonade. 1992. I’d already wasted half my life-time or so, but there was, it turned out more to come.
Original post on minds.com is here.
4 “Love American Style”
I Will Defend Your Right to Cry: I’m not gonna lie to you — Song for Odin™ came perilously close to being cancelled today. What with one thing, and another, and another, it seemed rather unlikely that I would pull one together and put it up, so to speak. However, I’m rallying round. And for the handful of people who care, well, I’m doing it for you. In addition to various other afflictions, the heat turns my brains to consommé (if consommé is the word I want) and, well, you know what they say about consommé: it makes for bad brains.
Nevertheless, here’s what I came up with: “Love American Style,” live at the Joiners Arms in Southampton UK, July 8, 1992.
If you’ve been following this “series,” you know that I’ve posted quite a few songs from this set, which captures the 1992 era live MTX, for better and for worse, with more clarity and in more detail than any other document I’ve seen. We still don’t know the videographer’s identity. But he got the whole thing, which is kind of cool because without it I, for one, would have forgotten what it was like, mostly. This is in fact the final song of the eighteen in the set to be posted here. And as promised, I’ve uploaded the whole show as single file as well, just in case you’d like to experience the set with all the awkward pauses and failed attempts at showmanship in between songs; and I put the playlist of the individual songs in order too.)
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the song “Love American Style” lately because of the Mtx forever comp., which will most likely include it. It’s a strange little production. It embodies and kind of sums up what we were all about as a band in an inarticulate way, leaving a lot unsaid, all the elements inadvertently balanced such that it comes close to crashing down but never does, quite. I’ve been told it’s my most “romantic” song, by several people, and I think I know what they mean, despite the ungainliness of many of those elements. I don’t like a lot of my stuff, to be perfectly honest, but I do like this. And just like a whole lot of things I like that I didn’t have a hand in making, I can’t quite say why.
“I will defend your right to cry”: that kind of says it all. The guitar arrangement is great. Had we done the whole subsequent Milk Milk Lemonade album like this, our history may well have been quite different. Though probably not all that different.
As for this rendition, well, it’s rough, sloppy, too fast, and not all that together, like so much else. Also, the video is garbled and glitchy in several places, which is why I saved it for last. Garbled and Glitchy isn’t a bad description of the entire enterprise, really. In fact, it’s something of a miracle that this chaotic, duct taped, scatterbrained operation made it to the UK at all in this instance. Allow me to illustrate with an anecdote.
The previous week, the van had rather permanently broken down in the Pyrenees, which could well have been the end of the “tour” as we liked to style it. Our time at that Basque separatist squat would, doubtless, yield many tales if my memory of those days weren’t so hazy… it all has a fuzzy, dreamy quality, a florid, sticky debauch of kalimotxo and limbs, the smell of sweat and hashish always heavy in the air, to the sound of paramilitary drilling in the morning and punk rock at night. I feel as though we might have stayed there forever, never to be heard from again. But somehow (and exactly how remains almost completely dark to me) we managed to make it, sans van, to France, with what equipment we could carry, to take the ferry to England. (It’s the kalimotxo, maybe: just looked it up and was surprised at how it’s spelled. Everyone had it in big two liter coke bottles, including this girl who insisted I call her by her true name “la puta madre”… like I said, the details are, perhaps mercifully, extremely distant.)
So there we were, on a boat to the UK with guitars, drum hardware, a drum or two, maybe an amp head. We were of course “sneaking in”, without work papers or anything like that. It seems distinctly implausible that we could have been tourists, traveling on foot carrying cymbal stands and such, but that was our story and I suppose it was no less implausible than the truth. They bought it. We, and our cymbal stands etc. were in the UK. But we had no plan on what to do next. My recollection is of hours waiting desultorily with our stuff on some platform while our minions, such as they were, tried to figure out what to do with us. As the night deepened, the word came through: someone was coming to pick us up in a van and take us to stay at someone’s parents’ house in London.
In the event, the “van” turned out to be a tiny vehicle with two little bucket seats in the front and a small cargo area in the back. It was smaller than an ordinary car. But, you work with what ya got, and the way we worked it was, two people in the shotgun seat, one on the other’s lap, and the rest of us lying on the floor of the small cargo area with the drum hardware, guitars, and amps balanced on top of us, on our bellies, chests, and legs. (I think it was Alex and I in the back, probably the most intimate situation we’d ever been in.)
All things considered, it wasn’t so bad, except that the driver got lost looking for the house, which was in a kind of posh area with lots of twists and turns and thickly wooded round-abouts and such. A mysterious “van” poking around here and there in such a locality soon attracted the attention of the local constabulary, and we were summarily pulled over by the police, who launched an impromptu investigation. Our driver dissembled as best he could at first but in the end had to come clean.
In response to the police officer’s “now then now then what’s all this then?” the driver said:
“You’re probably not going to believe this, Officer. But, this is an American rock band, on tour in the UK.”
The officer, peering in at Alex and I and the drum hardware on top of us in the back, replied:
“So, doing well, are we?”
Maybe you had to be there, but it was just about the funniest thing I’d ever heard anyone say. He let us off with a caution or whatever. Somehow we wound up playing five or six shows in the UK plus two in Ireland. Therein lie more tales, but they are for another time.
In the meantime, a happy Wodnesdæg to you all. Tie each other to posts, make each other tea and toast, be at each other’s trials, etc. Love love love….
— studio recording on YouTube.
— YouTube link to whole show.
— YouTube link to show playlist.
— kalimotxo: wikipedia entry.
— Original post on minds.com.
— Fastbacks — “Book of Revelation”: My schedule calls for posting a cover of one of my songs on Friday, usually from YouTube, and with all this Milk Milk Lemonade talk this one seemed apt. I’ve done some good things and some bad things and I don’t know how it all adds up in the end, but at least I can say that one of my songs was once recorded by one of the greatest rock and roll bands in the history of rock and roll bands. The Fastbacks, I mean. And here it is:
I really get a kick out of my deliberately Kurt Bloch esque guitar solo being played by the actual Kurt Bloch. It’s pretty hard to play. And as you may know, Fastbacks’ singer Kim Warnick sang back-ups on our recording… the only thing that would have made it better would be if I did back-ups on theirs. But it was not to be…
The intro that is played on the faux harpsichord and then on the guitar in the beginning of our version goes way way back, something I figured out — I’d hesitate to say “wrote” — on the piano when I was a little kid as part of a greater “piece” that included a version of the chorus as well. (No words.) It was just one of those things you do fooling around, and as with a lot of that kind of thing, when I started writing songs for real I started to wonder if I could use it in some way. But it was, in the event, a good fifteen years before I was able to manage to play it on the guitar and put it on a record.
One more note: it’s pretty funny how, when this song pops up in contexts in which people don’t already know about it and kind of take it for granted, the discussion of it often centers on the actual Biblical Book of Revelation. e.g., from the comments to the YouTube video:
wonder if they know the bible changed overnite to the book of revelation? they may have change lyric.
Yeah, I’ll get on that right away. I’ve seen it linked unironically as an unexplained illustrative resource in posts about the Masonic conspiracy to use the Holy Grail to steal the keys to the White House or somesuch.
In fact, it’s … a pun. The narrator of the song has just read his girlfriend’s diary, in which he has found… unwelcome revelations. That’s pretty much it.
— “Naomi”: One little misapprehension got you, now they’re lining up around the block to watch you screw yourself up for this bitter cup that pains you the most, when it’s too late to say you’re sorry and pretend that it’s a toast…
Naomi Wolf has got herself in a spot of rather embarrassing trouble on a radio program promoting her new book, leading several folks to post links to the song “Naomi.”
I feel for her, and I’m actually rather fond of her continual nuttiness. The song (inspired, sort of, by seeing her on a talk show in the early ’90s being outshone by a quite elderly Helen Gurley Brown and some supermodels) will forever link us. Get well, soon, Dr. Wolf.
Original post on minds.com here.
— “Semi-OK”: If you’re a bit demoralized and kind of devastated….
My old bandmate Joel posted this impromptu handwritten lyric sheet to the song “Semi-OK” a ways back and it popped up in the social media “memories.”
This was the first MTX session in which he participated, where we recorded “Alternative Is Here to Stay,” “New Girlfriend,” “Unpack Your Adjectives,” and this one. I guess he saved the lyric sheet as a souvenir. I find it hard to believe that even at this late stage I was showing up to recording sessions without lyrics fully written out and planned ahead. but here’s the proof. I would have them in my head, mostly. (I don’t remember bringing lyric notebooks to any recording sessions, though I had many such.) And invariably, our engineer/producer Kevin Army would tell me to write down the lyrics so he could follow along and know where to punch in and such. So I would retreat to a corner and furiously scrawl them out. If I was having a bad day, the resulting “text” might well have suffered. and been irrevocably recorded and scratched into vinyl for posterity… it was all so haphazard. And I was a mess.
You’d think I’d have learned the lesson sooner that I did, that it was way better to have the lyrics all worked out and printed up beforehand. And, beginning with the Love Is Dead album sessions, I finally did.
Anyway it’s a good song. The resulting recording may be heard here:
It was originally released on a comp. flexi that came with a Punk Planet issue, and we re-recorded it for Love Is Dead, by which time the lyrics had been pretty much “set.”
Original post on minds.com is here.
And that’ll wrap it up, I guess. More songs to come. Stay tuned.