Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Remembering Gordy Newton...

I only ever met Gordy once. As I remember it, I popped-in unannounced at Brian Muldoon's upholstery shop one afternoon probably 2003 or so. This was not uncommon as he and I were playing in a band together at that time (invariably known as the Science Farm, Night Latch, or the Thread Counts based, depending on when you asked us) and as I was attending classes at Wayne State just down the street, I was often in the neighborhood.

We made small talk and he made an explicit point to introduce me to Gordy (despite all the scholarly professional mentions of him as "Gordon" I never heard anyone actually call him by that name). Shy, embarrassed, bothered...almost as if he was struggling to just be polite is how I remember him. We shook hands, he kept his head down, I thought nothing much of it.

Gordy left while I was still there and Brian said "If I would not have introduced you, he would've ignored you and not said a word." Which would've been awkward...as we were the only three people standing there in Brian's backyard.

Later that year Brian and his wife gifted me a copy of Gordy's book and my appreciation has only ever grown from there. Gordy did the cover art for the second Tin Knocker single that I released...something like 7 or 8 layers of polyurethane coated on a single sheet of paper and the edges all disintegrated and demolished and unlike any single artwork I have ever seen (I selfishly kept the gnarliest, most destroyed looking copies for myself...some of them literally had holes in them).

Gordy also did the cover art for the second single by the Upholsterers. An art project if there ever was one, "Your Furniture Was Always Dead, We Were Just Afraid to Tell You" was limited to 100 copies, all secretly hidden in furniture that Brian Muldoon had reupholstered and believed by many to be a hoax until we actually shared the cover art a few years back. At last count I had word that three copies had been found, but none of those people wanted to share any more details than that.

When I was recording my solo album in 2009, I put together a song that was nothing but guitar feedback and an original Bleep Labs Thingamagoop. In hindsight, I would probably go back and remove the Thingamagoop, but that's besides the point. Once I'd recorded the track, the only appropriate title I could think of was "Gordon Newton, 1970." The feeling I got from listening to the feedback was the same feeling when I looked at images of Gordy's early 1970's works of black lithographic crayon on white paper. I also thought, of all the people in Detroit in 1970, Gordy was the one I would most have liked to hang out with at that time.

An example of such works, described as "conveying the sense of motion of the artist's arm and body as he worked...free-floating notations of the speed with which he made them" is the embedded graphic in the Soundcloud player below. Also, that description above is probably my favorite written description of visual art I've ever encountered.

Gordy passed away a few weeks ago and it hurts. I have one of his "Heads" hanging proudly in my living room and since I heard of his passing, I can't stop looking at it. I feel downright lucky to have barely even crossed paths with him. A quote from Marsha Miro, longtime Detroit Free Press art critic and a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) called Gordy the "best artist Detroit has ever produced" and in his passing, Miro reaffirmed that by saying "To this day he's still one of the most important artists who lived and worked in Detroit."

After a brief contemplation on Tyree Guyton, I had to agree. I can't think of a solid counterargument to Miro's statement. The entirety of his oeuvre, as vast and wide-ranging as it is (though best known for painting and sculpture) just seems so intertwined with how my brain understands the city of Detroit. Something about the way he OVER applied color, to the point of it turning to dust, and the specific manner he cross-hatched lines, every time I see it...just speaks to me.

It all may sound a bit trite, but that's how I feel. And deep down inside, art that makes you feel is life-affirming.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Nashville After Ten Years...

People ask me all the damn time about the difference between Detroit and Nashville and I feel like I've got my rote, patter down on this one that now is as good a time as ever to carve it into this digital cave wall.

Detroit was a GREAT place to live in my twenties. No real responsibilities. On the hustle. Didn't matter if I was touring with the Dirtbombs, running Cass Records, working for the White Stripes, pretending at Car City Records, freelancing for the Metro Times, busting my hump as a production assistant for the auto show...that haphazard amalgam of low-impact responsibilities kept me busy and just barely compensated enough where I didn't feel too much stress.

The past ten years in Nashville has been a PERFECT place to live in my thirties. To work professionally, at a job with a salary and benefits, to get married, to buy a house, to buy a car (how did I never do that in Detroit?), to have three mediocre daughters and just barely maintain a blog at the same time.

Yeah, that house could use a coat of paint, and missing alot of people in Detroit oftentimes makes feel like I NEED to be involved in the re-imagination of that city...but complaints or FOMO exist wherever you are and also wherever you are not.

I LOVE telling people that I never had allergies until I moved to Nashville. It's vaguely appealing enough for an anecdote while talking at a child's birthday party and is on-brand for the apocryphal tale I've heard repeated ad infinitum that the local Native American population in the area originally called the general Nashville area "The Valley of Sickness" and supposedly would not live here themselves because of it.

But the truth is...I suffered all kinds of allergic nonsense during my last spring in Detroit back in '08. Maybe that's when I grew up. Maybe that's when my body gave up. All I know is that my roommate gave me some Claritin and it was a godsend.

Cut to now, my yearly tradition is whenever that day in hits March where I sneeze three consecutive times, I pop a Zyrtec the next morning and continue to do so every morning for the next six weeks or so and I'm golden. No symptoms at all. Like a well Zyrtec'd machine.

But the past two days, Zyrtec ain't doing shit. Shit is so bad I'm rubbing my eyes like a kid in a "we'll convince you Santa is real" movie.  For a couple of hours today, with symptoms at their most annoying, I just decided to not touch my eyes. At all. Trying to approach this ailment with the zen-like focus of a monk. After an hour or so it was out of my head. And a few hours later, looking into my eyes in the mirror, seeing they legitimately needed to be de-gunked, with purpose and focus, I cleaned those sumbitches out and it was spine-tinglingly amazing.

So, just another curve in life to lean into. Like tricking this six-month-old to down five ounces of milk right in the middle of me trying to sneak this thing out before the clock strikes next month. I pause, I give her my undivided attention, we bond, and an hour later, she's back to sleep and I'm back to work here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

An Overview of Recent eBay Losses...

1) Monthly Detroit Magazine - never had seen this before, thought it was crazy even bidding up to $67, am terribly curious as to who would pay $135 for this thing.

2) Honestly thought that $55 would get me the Mexican version of the MC5's "Kick Out the Jams" single and thus complete my collection of singles for that specific song. No-go friendo. Ugh. I will probably eventually pay the going rate for this one.

3) Don't even know why I bid on the 12 O'Clock Noon record. Looks funky I guess?

4) I adore the Coconut Groove label and am pretty sure at one point or another I've owned every other record on the imprint EXCEPT this Cherry Slush single. Featuring Dick Wagner, I think.

5) Don't cry for me the three people reading here, I was eventually able to track down a copy of the Marcus Belgrave bootleg LP I lost out on for the absurd price of $78. Not usually one to go nuts for unauthorized jazz LPs, this was literally recorded a half-mile from my house when I was 7 years old at the decomissioned Alger Theater movie house. It ain't a bad record, but it certainly ain't $78 good. The copy I eventually grabbed had different artwork. So it goes.

6) Mid-level Michigan quasi-psych-folk that will probably always be somewhat available, I do not fret missing out on this Peter Stark LP. He was always the least likely to sit on the Iron Throne.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Too Much Info About MC5 “Kick Out The Jams” 45rpm Pressing Variations


Kick Out the Jams" b/w "Motor City's Burning"

scum stats: I'd bet Elektra pressed 100k of these back in the day, but this specific variation, man, maybe 5000? possibly even less

Rare records that are not expensive...this is one of my favorite and most frustrating exploits.

A few years ago, I noticed a copy of this single for sale on eBay. Upon first glance, it was just like the hundreds of other copies of this single that I had seen over the years. Big whoop.

But upon closer inspection, I noticed the slightest differences. The stylized band name/logo was a little thicker than usual, the song titles are in a thin script versus the usual bold. And BMI is in parentheses on this one. Some other line-breaks are different, more bold/thin changes, but ultimately, this is entirely inconsequential shit that absolutely no one should care about.

So of course, that's why I care.

The copy I had seen on eBay was up there for MONTHS at a Buy-it-Now price around $40. And I just never pulled the trigger. The moment it sold, I thought, "Shit, why did I wait?"

That was two years ago and I've been obsessively checking the listings for this single since then in hopes of finding another. I emailed the MC5 super fan in Switzerland trying to find a copy. He referred me to the PREVIEW pressing of this single (exclusively given out to attendees of the MC5 performance at the Fillmore East in New York and ultimately thrown at the band by the revolutionaries in attendance when the band arrived in a LIMOUSINE) but I already had two copies of that.

To me, this single is some sort of weird added confusion to the story of the MC5 being dropped from Elektra because they'd placed an ad that said "Fuck Hudsons" in the local underground paper and included the Elektra logo. Hudsons was the local Detroit department store and in response to the ad, they threatened to pull ALL Elektra product from its shelves.

I've heard alternate theories that the album was not as successful as the label had hoped and the Hudson's controversy was just a convenient out for them. But the fact that there's a SECOND, LATER pressing of this single seems to fly in the face of all that. I mean, I guess you can drop a band and still keep the single in print and change the layout, but it still seems really odd. And ultimately, that later pressing seems somewhat unnecessary in hindsight, as it just never really turns up.

The style of this label layout is more in line with singles that Elektra had released in the summer of 1969, months after the band had been let go. The later version I have was pressed at Monarch Records in Los Angeles while the earlier version was pressed at Specialty in Pennsylvania. There's even a red/white/black color variation that was pressed at Columbia in Terre Haute, Indiana. And that "preview pressing" explicitly "for the brothers and sisters of the MC5" was also pressed at Specialty, you know, so you can update your scorecards at home.
Anyway, in the post third baby haze, a copy sold on eBay that I missed and I was PISSED. Started combing the listings more regularly, even contemplated messaging the seller of ALL copies of the single listed on Discogs (approximately 19 at the time) and asking them if "BMI" was in parentheses or not on the label of the copy they were selling. Desperate times, desperate measures. I'm convinced no one else really cares, but in some strange way, that makes me care EVEN MORE.
Sure enough, a few weeks back, I found a copy. $7.99, Buy-it-Now. That purchase felt so fulfilling. The hunt, you know, was worth it. This specific version doesn't even have a dedicated Discogs listing, so the moment I stop going down this rabbit hole, hopefully I can make the update myself.
Side note: the "preview pressing" is actually an alternate take of "Kick Out the Jams" but honestly, even thought most folks identify with this as the call-to-arms, best-known work of the band, I've always preferred "Looking at You." I would've loved to hear a studio album from the MC5 at that high point of their career (ie, late 1968), but it wasn't meant to be. And the SINGLE mix is slightly different and slightly edited from the album version...most noticeably the substitution of "brothers and sisters" for "mother fuckers" after the titular intro, and said expletive the entire genesis of the entire Hudson's kerfuffle.
But I like it enough to have pressings and variations from half a dozen different countries. My pipe dream is that some day, some one will say "thank you for caring" and that all the differences and variations will avail themselves to some greater good and higher importance. Until then, I still need the Mexican pressing.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Spaced "Flying Thru the Sky" b/w "Ain't That The Way It Is, Babe"

“Flying Thru the Sky” b/w “Ain’t That the Way It Is, Babe”
scum stats: shit. i can reasonably account for four copies of this record amongst collectors. wouldn’t doubt that any more than 100 were pressed originally
It’s not often your number one want shows up. So when it does…you make sure it’s the Record of the Week.
First became aware of this gem in 2008. Copy showed up on eBay with the info that it had been found in a pile of local records in Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, Michigan.
The audio clip with the auction showcased otherworldly, wild, unhinged, almost unbelievable rock and roll. Not quite psych, a little bit beyond garage. Just perfect in every way. Theremin? Nice touch.
It sold for $588 and I was the second-highest bidder.
I’ve felt burnt about it for the past ten years.
There’s nothing to be gleaned from the label, the pseudonyms for the songwriting credits (at least I THINK they’re pseudonyms) of “Gypsy, Ape, Skin, Chuckles” float around through my head ALL THE DAMN TIME.
Shit, I’ve been tempted to start a band called Gypsy Ape Skin Chuckles because of how amazingly it rolls off the tongue.
Who in the hell were these guys? Where were they from? What were they on?
With almost zero info to start with…how would YOU try and track down the parties responsible for this record and answer these questions?
I’ve often dreamed about a mythical message board that everyone in the world was automatically subscribed to, where you could ask questions of this sort.
“Hey, who was in the band Spaced that put out this batshit crazy single?”
Even with the reach of the internet, how would you even try to START to reach a wide-ass group of folks?
I know you see shit like this on the Today Show, when someone takes a picture of a marriage proposal but then doesn’t actually know who the people are in the photo. I think Facebook usually solves it. Maybe Reddit on occasion. 
Seems like in the past you could try using ads in the newspaper. Hell, that’s how I scored a bunch of copies of the Afterbirth “Who’s in There?” record back in 2009. But shit, who even reads the classified section anymore?
To be fair, my fascination with this disc is largely predicated on the thought that it is a Michigan record. Yet there’s nothing explicitly proving that…just some words from an eBay seller a decade ago.
The copy in my hands showed up on eBay a few weeks back, this time complete with a sticker on the label that says “Jupiter” because, why not?
While I wasn’t exactly happy about the hammer price when I bought it, I wasn’t too disappointed at the $20/year inflation. This was a present for me.
This copy came from a seller in Florida. It’s totally possible this is NOT a Michigan record and I’ve just been excited about a myth for almost a third of my life.
But if you can’t fully commit your attention and desire and passion to weird rare records, then what can you commit to?
And now…I don’t even know what my #1 want is anymore. I’ve got some time to think about it, which is nice.
Apologies there’s nothing to listen to here, but you can see, this record is just so damn rare, no one even has it to share. There’s a bootleg repressing of it available on yellow or black vinyl that should suffice if this has piqued your interest enough.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

400 Pounds of Punk: The Lost "He Once Ate a Small Child" Cassette

400 Pounds of Punk

He Once Ate a Small Child

scum stats: if there are more than twenty of these out there, I'd be shocked. I'd bet less than half that

As a primer for this post, it helps to have already read this piece...


Ok, ok, ok...Cassette Store Day has come and gone and to help celebrate the meaningless event, I'll talk about an actual real live cassette here that is virtually unknown.

I went to school with Scott Riker, the guitar player in 400 Pounds of Punk. I'd heard in the halls there was someone else who liked Nirvana to an unhealthy degree. We chatted a bit, probably traded some bootlegs (back then I had the Into the Black 6 x CD boxset which made me particularly cool to a specific subset of dorks...I actually still have it, so you know, if you're a dork).

Scott played guitar and told me he had a band called 400 Pounds of Punk. At that same time, my buddy Nick and I had a band we were calling the Rags. Sophomore year. 1997-1998.

In a totally unrelated world, my uncle Jack was starting his band the White Stripes. One of their first shows was opening for the band Rocket 455. Jeff Meier, one of the guitarists in Rocket, struck up a friendship with Jack. I remember, clearly, being at Jack's house in Southwest Detroit while Jeff was there hanging out. Jack said, "Hey Jeff, what's the name of your nephew's band we're recording tomorrow?" to which Jeff replied "400 Pounds of Punk."

I was gobsmacked. Of all the suburban teenage bands out there, how in the HELL were these guys, to which I had mentally self-invented a rivalry, recording with MY uncle?

It took me all of five seconds to simmer down. I probably used the perceived slight to practice more. Whatever.

Jeff's nephew, Mike Audia, was the drummer in 400 Pounds of Punk. Jamie Cherry was the singer, but I'm not sure if he was anyone's nephew.

The session seemed to go smooth from what I gathered. Jack and Jeff probably worked together with the engineering duties. While only five songs were on the released cassette, the full session contained a few more, including covers of Nirvana's "Drain You" and "Endless, Nameless."

Me and Nick, as the Rags, would go to Jack's house a few months later and record our two Nirvana covers, "Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle" and, duh, "Drain You."
(seriously, if you don't like "Drain You", you're not a REAL Nirvana fan)

The master reel for 400 Pounds of Punk is dated 1-3-98, and even though I would've thought the session took place as much as a month or two earlier, I do need to resign myself to the fact that there can very easily be gaps in my memory.

My biggest take away from all of this is...thank god for cool uncles guiding aimless punk nephews. Should I ever have a nephew, I will happily repay my debt to society. Second takeaway...man, I was as pretty shitty drummer. Probably still am. Mike is SOOOO good on the tape, blast beats and fills for days. Literally did not feel like a teenager should be able to play so good. Third takeaway...why didn't I ask Jack to sing with us??!?!?! Duh. Big regret over here.

Jeff plays the sick guitar solo/lead on the cover of "One Way Or Another" and I'm pretty sure this is the only recording ever with both Jack and Jeff performing together. A nice capture of a brief moment in time that was seemingly forgotten/ignored for far too long.

400 Pounds of Punk later changed their name to the Surgeon Generals and actually released a CD on a label either called Jeff Row or Jeth Row or some weird play on that phrase. Like this cassette, there is NO info to be found about that CD anywhere, but I know there's a copy of it in my basement somewhere. Nick and I played the same bill as them, the only time Nick and I ever took the stage together, for Notre Dame High School battle of the bands. Spring of '99. We lost, so did Surgeon Generals, this pretty boy named Ian had a band that did all Creed covers and cleaned up.

Nick and I were joined by Larry on bass and we did covers like Nirvana "Sliver" and "Dive" and then other things like "Louie Louie." I remember not feeling great about the performance. I wanted us to look sharp, so I brought a bunch of suit coats and ties for us to try class up the joint. In one of the most beautiful memories of my life, Larry's back is facing me, fiddling with a tie, turns around and says "How's this look?"

He was wearing a navy blue corduroy jacket, a tie, and no shirt. It was beautiful. This is what passed for rebellion in an all-boys Catholic high school. Never mind that Nick, our vocalist, started the show with a call to the crowd to come closer to the stage, "Come one, come all...gay and straight alike." I thought we were gonna get pulled off-stage before even playing note one. I think my bass drum kept sliding away, songs didn't go off as planned, I was frustrated. I had them introduce us as The Mindbenders for some reason. Ugh. Sixteen is a bitch.

I'm sure there's more to be told, but the girls are swinging from the rafters. It's amazing I was able to write this at all.