There are certain musical moments in your life that clearly watershed. Moments that divide your life into before and after.
Hearing Brian May’s guitar entrance on “We Will Rock You” at a Detroit Rockers indoor soccer game at Cobo Hall (or was it Joe Louis Arena?) in fourth grade struck me. Bold, stinging and cocky, May’s solo is everything a rock guitar part should be and if forced to provide a template, I would point young axers in the direction of this otherwise over-wrought cliché’d arena rock.
But Winter 1995 into 1996 would leave me struck harder than any other event I’d witnessed at that point, and only a handful afterwards.
This was the season MTV had given a late night talk show to teenager Jake Fogelnest. While originally beginning as a cable access program, “Squirt TV” was shot in Fogelnest’s NYC bedroom and seemed like heaven. The walls were covered with ultra-hip posters…Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Mallrats”, Pavement, “Saturday Night Fever”, Mike Watt…there was a disco ball glittering away and Christmas lights wrapped around an otherwise ill-placed pillar made the place look like every 12-year-old’s dream club house.
And for a show that was on at midnight on Fridays, they pulled some sweet guests. Kevin Smith showed up with Joey Lauren Adams, Janeane Garofalo, Ad Rock, Beck and the Fugees (way before “The Score” blew up) all stopped in to chat on young Jake’s bed. As a Catholic-schooled pre-teen getting no love from the plaid-skirted counterparts, saving up my pennies to buy bootleg Nirvana CD’s and just recently discovering masturbation, “Squirt TV” was like an invitation to an otherwordly land where someone somewhat like me could be considered remotely cool, do something creative and have a viable outlet for it. I identified more with Jake Fogelnest onscreen during “Squirt TV” more than anyone else ever featured on a television screen before or since.
And the tease with the show was that it was so achingly hard to stay up until midnight. Occasionally there would be a party in someone’s basement on the weekend, Stephanie DiVirgil, Allison Glenn and Melissa Moultrie all had 8th-grade get-togethers where Spin-the-Bottle with hugging substituted for kissing was the norm. Why did dudes never host parties? Looking back, I’m glad there was still some innocence kicking around. I’d go to dances just to have a reason to wear my Silverchair t-shirt and look at girls I liked. Never danced. Not sure what I’d do if one of those girls I liked would’ve actually asked me to.
So after one of these girl-hosted parties, I came home on a wintery night to glowing television light. The rest of the house was asleep. And on came Cibo Matto.
I knew nothing about this band. They were martians as far as I was concerned. From the opening shot of Russell Simin’s bagel-on-a-hihat, snare, kick drum and floor tom, I was digging. I always appreciated a simple drum set and this would be the simplest in my world for some time, although there was always an affinity for Patrick Wilson in Weezer because he used Slingerlands. The bagel itself seemed so stupid yet so clever at the same time and I was transfixed by it. Focused really...that sort of tweener excitement that is totally unwarranted yet totally unexplainable. It just is. I think I ate more bagels after that and Simins is to blame.
But Cibo Matto destroyed my mind that night.
If I had to place the significance on any one thing, it was Sean Lennon and his fuzz bass. I don’t know if I’d ever heard a fuzz bass before that…maybe a Beck song or something, but I’m sure it would’ve been buried under the other 48 tracks of amazing shit.
But the fuzz bass was the only tonal element to this performance. It carried the voices and propelled the drums. And the whole song is pretty much just six damn notes, repeated over and over and over and over.
Lennon threw in a few tasty bass chords that to this day still sound so sick that I wish that dude was in the Dirtbombs. And then, solo time…
Begun with guttural screams from the two pint-sized Japanese women (and thus showing me what I imagined the Boredoms were like) Lennon unleashed a brash, feedback-sparked display of dexterity that seared my vanilla mind. Lennon was playing a badass Guild Jet Star bass through an Ampeg SVT…the shape of the Jet Star is arguably the coolest body of a guitar with the Fender Jaguar as the only close competition. The women were jumping frenzied on the bed and Simins held true on his stuttered hat/snare/kick combo that I still, for the life of me, cannot replicate.
Then vocals and drums together as the bass drops out. I secretly want to do an album of just vocals and drums…inspired by this moment, Co-Real Artist’s “What About You”, COCO’s cover of “Superfool” and Beat Happening’s “The This Many Boyfriends Club”. Beat Happening’s song is just a cappella with feedback, man, I’m tempted to just GarageBand that thing once I’m done here.
Cibo Matto closed the show with a Casio keyboard cover version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” which I took as totally devoid of irony.
Not long thereafter I found a used copy of CM’s “Viva! La Woman” at Desirable Discs in Dearborn. I bought it expecting facsimile of the version of “Know Your Chicken” I’d heard on “Squirt TV”. I was cruelly disappointed. The two versions shared lyrics and nothing else, the album rendition just crappy with keyboard bits and affected vocals.
I would find an EP on El Diablo Records years later with a vaguely faithful rendition of “Chicken” as I had become attached to. Neither Simins nor Lennon play on it. It is only somewhat satisfying although pretty accurate to the version I love. Here are the El Diablo versions...
"Know Your Chicken"
"Black Hole Sun"
No matter what music I would get into later on, I could always come back to “Know Your Chicken” and still be impressed. I met Simins last year and wanted to be a prick to the guy. I think I gave him shit about Blues Explosion, but I had to give sincere praise for the bagel and everything else on “Squirt TV”. He laughed and said he knew we would be friends. Not exactly the reaction I was looking for, but I rolled with it. The bagel was just from a catering tray and he was sparked with inspiration. I thought I'd never get that explanation.
As I pulled out my dubbed-from-TV clip of “Chicken” I try to notice things I hadn’t before…the Devo “Freedom of Choice” LP resting against the bass drum, Yuka Honda’s t-shirt that appears to be made by Tannis Root, Lennon playing through an Electro-Harmonix tube pedal (probably)…it is a satisfied feeling looking back at a memory of days past with knowledge attained since. It shows all the years passed by have not been a complete waste.
Cibo Matto would perform in Detroit at the Shelter on February 18th, 1997. My brother Stephen and best friend Nick Orozco had all geeked ourselves up to go. I’d even heard the band interviewed on Martin Bandyke’s radio show and actually learned from there that their bass player was Sean Lennon was John and Yoko’s kid. It was actually Yoko’s 64th birthday so they spun the Beatles “When I’m Sixty-Four”. As Nick and Steve and I got to the Shelter door, we were crushed to find out that the show was sold out. To add insult to injury, both Nick and my brother knew the guy working the door, Damon from the Notre Dame alum ska band the Exceptions. We walked away bummed. I would never try to see them again.
When I first got word of YouTube and how it worked, the “Squirt TV” version of “Know Your Chicken” was the first thing I searched. Sadly, it’s not there. I’m tempted to figure out how to transfer my static-y VHS version so that some other wide-eyed malcontents might gain the same inspiration from it I did.