Sunday, September 21, 2014

Balto Band Bash 2014: You're With the Band!

Or: Bravo, Balto Weirdos!

[Note: This is a salvaged draft of an earlier post (June 9, 2014 to be exact), most of which was lost in the Blogosphere thanks to Blogger's deficiencies, which are too many to go into; but now, like a moth drawn to the flame, I go cautiously once more into the fray...]

It was a trip down Memory Lane - not to mention The Marble Bar, Oddfellows Hall, Maxwells, Spirits, the 8x10, and so on and so on...

(May 24, 2014) - Tonight's the night! I made the Double-A List (thanks Bob, thanks Mindi!) of invitees to a private party called Band Bash 2014: "You're With the Band!" (Mission Statement: "We are paying tribute to our friends, families and others who have suffered through the hardships of repititous rehearsals, frightening feedback and decor-destroying equipment. This party is for you!") at Heritage Parkville Gardens Hall in the Parkville Shopping Center.

It was an offer no one could refuse: free hot and cold buffet (the cinnamon cake desert alone was worth the price of admission - if there was one!), free beer and wine, and free musical performances by a lineup of luminous local legends. History may have relegated them to being rumors in their own time and legends in their own rooms, but on this night in this room, they were beheld as rock avatars in the collective minds of everyone there with two ears and a taste for good, smart music.

Yes, in the age of Smart Food, Smart Drinks, Smart TVs and Smart Phones (not to mention Smart Asses, who are mostly found at comic book conventions and nightly on Fox News), there is such a thing as Smart Music, and it was made on this night by three bands with, as they say in Kentucky horse-breeding country, impeccable best-in-class "bloodlines": the bossa nova-and-a-more-a Trio Novo (keyboardist Bob Tiefenwerth, bassist Paul Rieger, and drummer Tim Taormino)...

"Kick out the jams, mofos!: MC Rod Misey introduces Trio Novo

...venerable rock vets OHO (featuring guitarist Jay Grabowski and drummer Dave Reeve, with guest vocals on a Kinks cover courtesy of Dave "Steptoe T. Magnificent" Wilcox), and the "progressive rock for the contemporary absurdist" stylings of Buck Subtle & The Little Planets (keyboard-vocalist mastermind Mark O'Connor, his singer-guitarist wife Mary Lis, sax player Mindi Siegel (with her signature "Coltrane on the Moon" sound), and a former Da Moronics rhythm section of bassist Charles Freeman and drummer Jaimie Wilson, Sr.).

Buck Subtle & The Little Planets

Mary Lis and Chuck Freeman of The Little Planets

Jamie Wilson & Mindi Siegel

Saxy Mindi Siegel toots her own horn while savy Mark O'Connor sings

Monkey To Man: Jamie Wilson's drumming has really evolved from Da Moronics days

Buck Subtle's set was highlighted by "Pluto's Not a Planet Anymore" (renamed "Poor Pluto" and appearing with seven more tracks on their new CD Lowdown, recorded at Baltimore's Invisible Sound recording studio and available from CD Baby, CD Universe and

Buck Subtle gives listeners the "Lowdown" (2014)

...and O'Connor's homage to Moby Grape singer-songwriter-drummer Don Stevenson's infamous middle finger salute on the cover of Moby Grape's 1967 debut album (which was airbrushed off on subsequent reissues).

Don Stevenson makes a point for Moby Grape

Basically, most of the musicians gathered in Parkville on this night could trace their roots to the "OHO-GOHOG Revue," a multi-tentacled assortment of like-minded bands including the original OHO (named after the initials of O'Connor, bassist Steve Heck & guitarist Joe O'Sullivan, with guitarist Jay Grabowski & drummer Jeff Grabowski bookmarking them as GOHOG), Dark Side, Trixy & The Testones, Food For Worms, Klangfarb, U.S.E. (United States of Existence - a neo-psych group featuring Trio Novo's Paul Rieger and Bob Tiefenwerth and former Ebeneezer & The Bludgeons singer Dennis Davison), Little Hans, and BLAMMO (Beleaguered League of Artists Meeting Mass Opposition).

Best of Baltimore's Buried (1980)

Their output over the years dominates the two Best of Baltimore's Buried records (the 1980 LP Best of Baltimore's Buried and 2003's Best of Baltimore Buried, Vol. 2 CD), which, far from sounding dated, hold up well compared to current professional recording standrads - damned well, in fact!

Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2 (2003)

Note that the "Great OHO Schism" eventually split the band into Jay Grabowski and Mark O'Connor camps, with Grabowski carrying on the brand name and O'Connor branching off into new, Not OHO (NOHO?) ensembles like Blammo and now Buck Subtle & The Little Planets.

In a just world where the cream always rises to the top, Outrageous, OHO, Food For Worms, or Blammo would have been not just the Best of Baltimore but recognized as among the best in the world at what they do: creating funny, melodic, danceable rock songs, with the added heft of actually being thought-provoking (that's what you get with a bunch of artists and Philosophy majors - it's almost a categorical imperative!).

Remember, these were the pre-Punk days when "Prog" wasn't just another four-letter curse word (one described by The Rock Snob's Dictionary as "the single most deplored genre of postwar pop music, inhabited by young musicians who, entranced by the eclecticism, elaborate arrangements, and ostentatious filigrees of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper era, distorted their enthusiasm into a seventies morass of eternal song suites with multiple time signatures, ponderous space-cadet or medievalist lyrics, ridiculous capes and headpieces...and an overall wretched bigness of sound, staging, and hair") but a sign of intelligence like Roxy Music, Eno, or Van Der Graf Generator. Always self-effacing, Mark O'Connor would later write "Prog Man" for Blammo, which both celebrated and lampooned the Prog Rock Era: "I'm a Prog Man, with my synthesizer/I'm a Prog Man, I'm your tranquilizer.")

Probably what held the GOHOG pack back is the fact that they were just a bunch of ordinary looking guys more concerned with making music than projecting image, unlike the majority of today's hair-today-gone-tomorrow flash-in-the-pans and glammd-up American Idol prima donnas.

Gyro J. Scope in FFW's "It Needs a Haircut" music video

And, other than "singing human lightning rod"  Gyro J. Scope (Ed Barker) - whose OHO-inspired Outrageous may have been the best (albeit outrageously short-lived and unheralded) local prog rock group to emerge from the '70s and whose "Who Am I? Where Am I?" is the hands-down highlight of the Best of Baltimore Buried LP (narrowly eclipsing OHO's "We'll Be Famous When We're Dead") -  there was no truly charismatic frontman leading these various lineups. (Gyro would go on to play with both Food For Worms and Blammo.)

Listen to Outrageous play "Who Am I? Where Am I?"

These well-schooled rockers weren't concerned with window dressing and they never took themselves that seriously - they were funny, clever, and self-deprecating. Indeed, Food For Worms - with O'Connor, Grabowski, Barker, and Reeve all contributing songs - may very well have been Baltimore's answer to 10cc, another too-clever-for-their-own-good band blessed with multiple songwriters but without that shining star frontman or easy-to-peg identity.

The folks at Hyped 2 Death Records (a great singles compilation resource) called FFW's sound "good guitar-and-wheezy keyboards Human Switchboard Velvet Monkeys garagewave" and sell copies of the group's 1981 single "I Don't Wanna Be President/Another Crack in the Jaw" at the rare collectible price of $19!

Food For Worms 1981 single: Collectible "Garage-wave"

But I prefer the band's own characterization of their sound as "Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!"

Food For Worms: Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!

Food For Worms was notable also for being one of the few local bands to not only make a video, but to have it air on MTV, back in the days when the fledgling 24/7 cable TV network actually played (and was desperate for)  music videos. In fact, my girlfriend Amy Linthicum and her friend Liz Crain had cameos in the crypt-rocking video for 1983's "It Needs A Haircut, (about a long-haired corpse getting a posthumous makeover) as shown below.

Watch "It Needs a Haircut."

The FFW tradition of smart and smart-ass rock carried over into O'Connor's next musical venture, Blammo (whose ranks included Gyro J. Scope and Bob Tiefenwerth), as witnessed in his amusing anthem "Sweet Home Balt-amore" - another in a long line of songs about his hometown (e.g., "Horrible Place" about the then-new downtown showcase Harborplace and "Fun In Nicaragua" with its topical lines during the Iran-Contra Scandal about a certain Orioles pitcher: "Dennis Martinez, your home is where the heat is!").

Listen to Blammo play "Sweet Home Balt-amore."

If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: along with Randall Peck (Boatniks) and David Cawley (Berserk, Garage Sale), Mark O'Connor is one of the few area artists whose songs make me laugh out loud.

What a treat this night was! It was like going to a wedding reception except the band(s) didn't suck and the DJ wasn't obnoxious (indeed, the evening's MC was none other than former WCVT psych-rock jock Rod "The Mod" Misey!). And this wedding, marking the marriage of classic '70s-on-up Local Prog Rock to Baltimore Weirdos (AARP Edition), was thrown and paid for by the largesse of Paul Rieger, Esq.

Host Paul Rieger (Trio Novo) and MC Rod Misey

Apparently Mr. Rieger is doing quite well, thankyou, as a lawyer! As Bob Tiefenwerth remarked later to me, "You see, you should have stayed in law school!" (Bob's right about that - as he was when he also told Mark O'Connor that he never should have sold his Mellotron, as later lamented in the Blammo song "You Never Should have Sold Your Mellotron"! O'Connor's Mellotron melancholia also surfaced in another Blammo song, the Gyro J. Scope-sung "Prog Man": "I'm a Prog Man/I would never sell my Mellotron!" Both songs are available on Best of Baltimore's Buried, Vol, 2.) By the way, Tiefenwerth's impressive art was also on display this night, along with other paintings and art by Connell Byrne, Maureen Nolan, and David Wilcox.

I thoroughly enjoyed Paul's latest collaboration with Bob, but I hope that someday he might coax Dennis Davison back to Charm City so that he and Bob could once again don their love beads and Nehru jackets and revive, if only for one night, their trippy cult '90s neo-psych band United States of Existence.

Listen to U.S.E. play "Anything Goes" with The Association.

Before we arrived, Amy remarked that she wouldn't know anyone there except for Mark O'Connor and Dave Wilcox (The Alcoholics, Problems Pets, Grand Poobah Subway, Chelsea Graveyard & the Screams At Midnight, et al), but the minute we walked in she was immediately greeted by her good friend Mark Silvestri! (This being Smalltimore, Mark's brother Matt is good friends with Paul Reiger's wife and...there ya go!) And I ran into my old pals Alexandra Doumani and Jay Ludwig (Jay and I were in The Boatniks, whose ranks also included Katie Katatonic, Randall Peck, and Rick and Stephanie Eeney).

The Boatniks: Tom Warner, Randall Peck, Jay Ludwig, Katie Katatonic

It was a great night to catch up with countless old friends of both symbiotic camps - musicians and fans - alike. Folks like "Mrs. Steptoe" Alice Wilcox, the always affable Chuck Gross (The Beaters) (who in the midst of all the music couldn't stop raving about Svengooli and Me TV's Saturday night lineup), and my long-time-no-see college pal Mary "Myrtle May" Crivello, who grew up in Hamilton and thus was well-aquainted with the GOHOG Revue, especially Outrageous and the many Mark O'Connor ensembles from the '70s and '80s. Myrt reminisced about hanging out with the Barker boys during Outrageous practices in Hamilton, and I promised her I'd make her a copy of the four-song Outrageous suite appearing on Best of Baltimore's Buried Bands, Vol. 2.

Mary "Myrt" Crivello & Tom Warner reunite

Speaking of which, I think I stumbled onto Gyro's Outrageously obscure web site, ("Electric Music for the Wilted Mind"), where one can listen to all four Outrageous songs on that CD sampler - "A Letter From Kevin," "Faggy Goats at the Neck of the Woods," "Madman Serenade," and "The Laughing Man" - as well as capsule reviews of them.

I love the description of "Faggy Goats": ""A decade before Spinal Tap did Stonehenge with dwarves, Gyro J. Scope wrote this masterpiece about elves, bowling (again, ahead of the curve) and Goats of an alternative persuasion" with what may be the first bass solo run through a Fuzz box and ending vocals inspired by Ethel Merman. A masterpiece indeed! And the chicken solo in "Madman Serenade" is wonderful as well!

"Be kind in your evaluation," Gyro asks on the fast Elder web site.  "This was the 70's. The effects available at the time came in two flavors - Fuzz & Wah...Double tracking was done with two tracks" and "Loops were pieces of tape splice together, and a flanger was somebody's thumb on the rim of a tape reel (hence the name!)"

All the more's the glory that Outrageous, like its other like-minded "avante-fringe" peers in the GOHOG Revue, made such fantastic sounds over the years - sounds that were recalled and celebrated anew this very night.

But I digress...back to the party!

In summary: Thanks Paul and thanks all ye bands for an evening bash that was a bona fide smash!

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Baltimore-Washington Rockway: Singles Going Steady

A Look Back - and Forward - at Tru Fax & Dark Carnival

Following are some thoughts about some tracks lost between the cracks of time, a celebration of some great local music by Tru Fax and Dark Carnival that I've been too lazy to review - until now!

Tru Fax & The Insaniacs @ 2013 SoWeBo Festival

Just the Fax, Ma'am!
Running into the perpetually perky Diana Quinn at the Black Cat club in Washington, D.C. last week (for the first stop of Buzzcocks's 2014 North American Tour) reminded me that I was criminally negligent for not reviewing the latest music from her classic and long-running D.C. pop quartet, Tru Fax & The Insaniacs. You see, I bought a 5-song CD-EP ( a steal at $5!) from Diana back in May when her group played the 2014 SoWeBohemian Festival.

The Mighty Quinn: The perpetually perky rocker Diana Quinn

Way back when I played drums (if that's what you want to call my limp-wristed attempts at keeping a beat) in Towson's first punk band Thee Katatonix (circa 1979-1980), we were good friends with the Insaniacs - they were our favorite D.C. group (along with The Slickee Boys and Black Market Baby, natch) and I was particularly close to Libby Hatch, the original Insaniacs bass player (formerly of The Shirkers) who tragically passed away before her time after a 1998 motorcycle accident. Perhaps the Kats bonded with the Fax because we were both underdogs whose technical ability was sometimes questioned in the early days: Katatonix frontman Adolf Kowalski used to boast, "We're the worst, that makes us the best!" while Washingtonian Magazine actually named Tru Fax the District's "Worst Band" of 1980. For their part, the Insaniacs wore the dubious award as a badge of honor, even flaunting their status as "Washington's Award Winning Band"! in their fliers, as shown below:

Tru Fax: "Hear Them Do Their Worst!"

Perhaps it was this self-effacing, ego-free attitude that so endeared them to me. Despite having two "rock chicks" in the early lineup, their onstage vibe was always that of cool nerds, like something out of a Daniel Pinkwater young adult novel, rather than "New Wave Punks." Back then, now noticeably slimmer guitarist David Wells was roly-poly and bespectacled, while Michael Mariotte wore big, thick tortoise-shell specs that made him look more like an accountant than a rock & roll drummer. They didn't care; the band was about making pop music and having fun, not putting on airs and copping attitudes.

"We adhere to the original punk ideals of musical simplicity, purity, and high satire, and we're committed to having fun." - Tru Fax Mission Statement

Their sound was accurately characterized by Silver Spring Penguin blogger Jennifer Deseo as "a mixture of buzzsaw guitars and Debbie Harry vocals...a gritty sound juxtaposed with a bubbly beat" accompanied by "cheeky irony that makes punk deliciously irreverent" ("Local Licks: Tru Fax and the Insaniacs," March 28, 2008). Deseo added that songs like "Betsy's Dressed Up," "Friday" and "Pictures Of You" mirrored the punk end of Blondie's Parallel Lines (a list to which I would add the new song "Quarry House," with its soaring "Atomic" vocals intro). "Other tunes - 'King of Machines' and 'Washingtron' nod at Stooges," she continued, "and 'Love Love Love' is a gabba-gabba-hey! away from The Ramones." So Tru(e)!

Listen to "Love Love Love."

The Debbie Harry-style singing of Diana Quinn is an especially spot-on comparison, but as far as songwriting goes, my girlfriend Amy had an even better analogy. "Diana Quinn is either the Ceil Strakna of D.C. or Ceil Strakna is the Diana Quinn of Baltimore!" she observed one day. The comparison to former Boy Meets Girl and Big As a House singer-songwriter-guitarist Ceil Strakna is apt, as both ladies had the song-writing chops to match their outstanding vocals.

Charm City's Diana Quinn: Ceil Strakna fronting Boy Meets Girl

And it doesn't stop there: Diana also plays in two side bands, the retro/alt Honky Tonk Confidential and the '60s "Girl Sound" ensemble The Fabulettes.

Tru Fax would soldier on after Libby Hatch with various other bass players (Jamie Cramer is the latest) and Diana would win a 1998 WAMMIE (Washington Area Music Association award) for Best Rock/Pop Female Vocalist, but over the years I lost track of them. Until, thanks to the encouragement of the Kats' Adolf Kowalski, Tru Fax rekindled memories of their late-70s/early 80's brilliance by once again gigging in Charm City with the Kats, first at the Metro Gallery in February 2013 and then at the 2013 and 2014 SoWeBohemian Festivals. (Diana also performed at the 2013 Honfest in Hampden with her swinging '60s "Girl Group Sound" band The Fabulettes.)

Watch Tru Fax play at the 2013 SoWeBo Festival.

Watch Tru Fax play "Chinese Wall" at the 2014 SoWeBo Festival.

Though they only released one album (1982's Mental Decay on Wasp Records, with Tim Carter on bass guitar) and one classic 45 (1980's "Washingtron" b/w "Mystery Date" on Wasp Records), Diana reports that a new CD is in the works for release in the fall of 2014.

Tru Fax's "Washington" 45 (Wasp Records, 1980)

Tru Fax's "Mental Decay" LP (Wasp Records, 1982)

This is good news, very good news indeed! (According to their official web site, Tru Fax had originally planned to release a CD in 2007 that would have included their vinyl 45 and album, plus eight new songs, but it never came to pass. So far, only four Tru Fax songs - live versions of "King of Machines," "Chinese Wall," "T.V. Me," and "Washingtron" - have appeared on a commercially available CD, 1997's hard-to-find 9:30 LIVE!: A Time, A Place, A Street 2-disc set, recorded during the final days of D.C.'s old 9:30 club.)

9:30 LIVE! CD (1997, Genes Records)

Perhaps now, since their long player Mental Decay only came out on vinyl, there will finally be digital versions of that album's "Love, Love, Love," "What the World Needs Now," and "Mars Needs Women" for the world-at-large (at least the world beyond The District) to enjoy at last! And maybe (please!) that Killer B-side "Mystery Date"?

I'm a secret admirer of Tru Fax's "Mystery Date"

According to recent posts on the Tru Fax Facebook page, we can count on the following songs to appear on the new CD: "Beautiful World," "Pictures of Dorian Gray," and hopefully personal fave "Chinese Wall."

In the meantime, here's are some more clues to what we can expect from the Insaniacs based on their latest EP teaser release.

5-Song CD EP (2014)

Tru Fax & The Insaniacs 5-song CD EP

1. "Washingtron" (2014 update)

We're all Washingtrons!

This sounds like a beefed-up, slightly faster re-recording of the 1980 original that became an instant anthem for all residents of The District. (Of course, I may be wrong - since I no longer have a phonograph that works, I can't compare it to the original 45. If it's not a rerecording, then the original is holding up very well!) Diana adds some additional patter and vocal dubs, but this is still basically the unadulterated timeless classic that remains as relevant today as almost 35 years ago, even with all its time-topical references ("Accu-tron watches" and the movie Tron - of course!).

Over crunching guitars, Diana states the case for D.C.'s conflicted white-collar workers who want to pursue idealistic-elitist dreams but often end up as anonymous cogs in a dreary bureaucratic machine:

"We don't know nothing, we want to know less
It's all too hard, the world's a mess - it's not our fault
The things they told us turned out to be lies
We know the truth has got to be disguised - for our protection
Just wanna make it but before it's spent
I wanna live a life that's Heaven sent" 

It all leads up to Mariotte's driving beat signaling the famous chorus:
"I used to work as a waitron in the lounge of the Hiltron
Now I work for my Senatron and I live in Arlingtron
I'm just a Washingtron, we're all Washingtrons, Washingtrons"
It's great to have a anthem that defines your city. Diana's done that cheekily for DC, in the same way Blammo's "Sweet Home Balt-amore" has defined Baltimore as The City That Bleeds or KISS has defined Detropia as "Detroit Rock City."

2. "Britney Spears"

"Of all the jilted Mouseketeers, I love to hate for Britney Spears"

This must be a few years old, because Britney Spears today is "so 15 minutes ago," but nonetheless it's a blistering skewering of today's cookie cutter talent-challenged pop divas. Or, as Diana sings:

"Pop culture doesn't make any sense, made up of starlets with lots of pretense
American Idols who don't know how sing, rock stars who just go bling, bling, bling"

Britney Spears: Mother of the Year?

Diana continues,

The thing that really baffles me, makes me wanna drink, makes me wanna flee
No matter when I flip on my TV, all I see is Britney
I wanna smash the television, toss my fanzine
Watch a train collison, take some Thorazine
Get a missile launcher, shoot down a satellite
Yeah I think I wanna pick a fight

Erstwhile Mouseketeer Britney Spears

Of all the jilted Mouseketeers, I love to hate for Britney Spears
I hate to love for Britney Spears, I hate to hate for Britney Spears

Who cares if she's a bad mom, likes a line of coke with her cheese and salam?
I don't think she's such a cutie when she flashes me her waxed patootie

I love the sentiments behind this melodic rant, and look for future put-downs of here-today/gob-tomorrow disposable pop stars like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and their twerk-and-roll ilk.

3. "Mental Decay"

"Now that I'm older, I'm falling apart"

Though its the title of their 1982 long player, this marks the first appearance of a lyrically clever song every Baby Boomer can relate to.

When I was younger, I used to be smart
Now that I'm older, I'm falling apart
I just can't seem to cogitate smart
My cerebellum, it's not in my heart

I'm getting slow, I'm getting slow
I'm getting stupid you know

As I get older, I seem to think less
I can't do addition, my life is a mess
My intellect's lacking, I'm outta control
The Gallup Poll asks me, I answer 'I dunno'

I don't know, uh, uh...
'What's the capital of the Soviet Union?'
'Is it Russia?' I just don't know!

What's the question again? Where am I?

I've got my eyes in circles, I listen to KISS
I know I'm demented, but isn't it bliss?
I'm getting senile, this mental decay
My favorite expression is 'Have a nice day!"

The lyrics ring all too true for this AARP member, and David Wells' rollicking guitar solo proves that he, for one, isn't suffering from any osteoarthritis.

4. "Quarry House"

The Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring, MD

After a soaring vocals opening (think Debbie Harry-circa-"Atomic"), Diana pips "Welcome to Silver Spring!" before singing the praises of the Quarry House Tavern, a "dive bar" in Silver Spring, MD, that's popular with musicians and fans of rockabilly music.

If you're not in the mood, sick of culture and fine food
Want a place that's full of paramours and dudes
Where the johns are lacking clean, and the staff's a little lean

In a town named for a spring
Full of shops and movies and bling
Beneath the surface hell, there's a clientele strangely warming

Don't you need a place to hide, from the everlasting tide
Where nobody seems to notice life's not perfect?

Only a band with Punk/New Wave street cred can do justice to a skewering of DC's yuppified suburban paradise, and Diana & Co. don't disappoint as they find a place more to their calling, an even more underground 9:30 Club for those outsiders who do notice that's "life's not perfect" - and are glad of it!

Silver Spring: The kind of place where life is worth living

5. "Message To You"

This is Tru Fax's hilarious parody of those infamous  "419 scams" - you know, the fraudulent advance-fee mail or e-mail requests (similar to the "Spanish Prisoner" scams of the late 19th century) often associated with foreign nations like Nigeria (419 is the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud). Famous variations feature either a Nigerian Prince or royal family member requesting financial assistance from you - yes you! - because not only do "we hear you are confident and have strict criteria" but we're hoping you're also very stupid! After all, who wouldn't want to send money to a total stranger promising untold riches - it's a no-brainer, n'est pas?!?

To assist an unfortunate widow, we came across your address
And crave your kind indulgence, with this very important business
My father was a wealthy man, he died in a plane crash
Can you please help me with a transfer, 'cause I really need the cash

This is a message to you, please sincerely respond
We seek your cooperation, from way across the Pond

Please observe with confidentiality
I'll provide you with hospitality
100 million dollars we guarantee
60 for you and 40 for me

We hear that you are confident, and have some strict criteria
Please don't forget to send the fee to my bank here in Nigeria

This is a funny song with beautiful guitar strumming.


"Book of Love" b/w "Second Chance"
Limited edition red vinyl 7"
(Merkin Records, 1989)

"Book of Love/Second Chance" 45 (Merkin Records, 1989)

I mentioned before how the (thee?) Katatonix connection helped rekindle memories of the criminally neglected tunes of Tru Fax & Co. Well, they also helped stir memories of another criminally neglected local band from that era called Dark Carnival. You see, two outstanding staples of Thee Kats' live shows over the years have been "Book of Love" (especially during their neo-psych phase) and "Second Chance," and both poptastic tunes were penned by lead guitarist Charlie Gatewood (aka "Mr. Urbanity") dating back to his late '80s days leading this Kats spin-off group whose ranks included Katatonix drummer "Big" Andy Small and bass player Ken Malecki.

In 1989, Baltimore's Merkin Records released a limited edition red vinyl 7" of the two songs. "Book of Love" was technically the A-side but, like classic era Buzzcocks "singles-going-steady," it was basically a double A-side release, with the songwriting quality making this arguably the greatest post-punk record ever to come out of Charm City. (Berserk's 1991 "Giant Robots/When I Think" 7", also on Merkin, begs to be part of this discussion as well!) (For D.C., the best single debate would come down to Tru Fax's "Washingtron/Mystery Date" versus Tommy Keene's "Back To Zero/Mr. Roland.")

Despite that, this rare collectible is virtually impossible to find on the open market, unless you want to fork over $15 for a German distributor import. I recall buying a copy from the band when they played a record-release show at the Galaxy Ballroom back in the day, but alas, it's long been lost in the black hole that is my vinyl 45 collection (shame too, because it came with a lyric sheet insert that rightly puts the spotlight on Urbanity's urbane wordplay).

What makes this single so, um, singular, is that both tunes merrily spin around the record player with nary a stitch: there is no filler, no dead space, no wasted lines. Pop perfection in just a little over three minutes flat: songwriting craft at its best.

A-Side: "Book of Love"

Fast-tempo guitar and drums race through this pop confection as Mr. Urbanity sings "I want to read the Book of Love/I want to see what you know between the pages." On the bridge, Gatewood throws in a change-of-pace reggae guitar riff (think Jonathan Richman's "Egyptian Reggae") that shows the influence of this musical style on the eclectic guitarist. (When I first met Charlie Gatewood at Towson State University circa 1980, he was working at a record store and always talked enthusiastically about reggae records - that is, before he discovered the similar joys of punk, New Wave, and post-punk while playing in Thee Katatonix.)

Watch Thee Katatonix play "Book of Love."

A version of "Book of Love" also appears on Thee Katatonix's Thanks Hon, 30th Anniversary CD (U.K. Spud, 2009). The Katatonix version is notable for adding keyboards to Dark Carnivals's guitar-only propelled mix. Both versions are outstanding and compliment one another.

B-Side: "Second Chance"

Watch Thee Katatonix play "Second Chance."

Mr. Urbanity's paen to love-at-second-sight reflects its subject's immediacy, the Boy Meets Girl rush best deconstructed by The Kinks as "Girl-I-want-to-be-with-you-all-of-the-time/All-day-and-all-of-the-night."

The song opens with the fairly typical rush-of-crush lyrics...

I don't wanna have took everywhere to find you
I don't wanna have to look anywhere at all
I was looking through the photographs
Yeah I think you're unforgettable
And I wanna see you once again for a laugh
Look out, look out, here I come again
I wanna see you, I wanna talk to you
I wanna love you to the end
With breakneck speed, the tune continues, with Urbanity's words adding, on second pass, more indelible images:

I was looking through the photographs
And I think you're almost edible
And I wanna see you once again for a laugh
Look out, look out, you know I'm gonna call
I wanna hold you, I wanna scold you
, I wanna have it all!
The track's opening and closing guitar onslaught signals the obvious effect playing harder-edged riffs in Thee Katatonix had on Urbanity.

Merkin Records Seedy Sampler (1989)

Another Dark Carnival song, the industrial-toned "Back to the Factory," appears on the 1989 Merkin Records Seedy Sampler album. Despite the exceptional pedigree of Gatewood's songwriting and the band's musicianship, Dark Carnival's back catalog consists of just these three songs. Alas. Gatewood and Small eventually returned to the Katatonix fold, where Mr. Urbanity's melodic pop tendencies and image-packed lyrics (especially on songs like "Ordinary Sunday," "Shake, Shake" and "Daisy Chain") - and Small's rock-solid beat - continue to shine.

Note: Should you try to track down Baltimore's Dark Carnival records, be sure not to confuse them with Detroit's Dark Carnival, a band featuring ex-Destroy All Monsters singer Niagra and ex-Stooges Ron and Scott Ashton.

The other Dark Carnival: I'm pretty sure that's not Mr. Urbanity in heels!


Related Links:
Tru Fax and The Insaniacs (Facebook)
Tru Fax and The Insaniacs (
Tru Fax and the Insaniacs (My Space) (there are lots of videos here!)
Tru Fax & The Insaniacs (15 tracks to hear @
Radio Baltimore: Tru Fax & The Insaniacs (Mobtown Shank)

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Bob & Teresa's Outstanding Picks for Outdoor Flicks

16mm fans: real film for reel enthusiasts

The few, the proud, the discerning. That describes the folks that continue to check out the rare film shorts housed in Enoch Pratt Free Library's archaic-yet-still-invaluable 16mm film collection. People like my Pratt co-worker Teresa Duggan and her husband Bob Wagner (my fellow St. Paul's School for Boys grad - though Bob is a much younger vintage STP alumnus!).

Every summer, this hip couple perodically check out films from Pratt Central to project during outdoor parties in the back yard of their Hampden home. Their taste is impeccable. Though I've worked in the library's A/V Department for a baker's dozen years and thought myself well-acquainted with Pratt's 16mm film collection, Bob and Teresa continually manage to find rare and obscure films that I never knew existed. They truly know how to dig through the archives and navigate the intricacies of the Pratt catalogue!

Norman McLaren's psychedelic Stars and Stripes

As an example, for this year's July 4th's Independence Day celebration, Bob and Teresa checked out Norman McLaren's dazzling (and tres appropriate) animated short Stars and Stripes (Etoiles et Bandes, 1940, 3 minutes),which is set to the chest-pounding music of John Phillip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever" (it doesn't get more patriotic than that!). Who knew? (Well, I should know, as I own the now out-of-print 7-disc, 58-film DVD box set Norman McLaren: The Master Edition - which will take me my lifetime to get through!)

Norman McLaren 1940 "Stars and stripes" by moklaomax

Following are their most recent Outdoor Film Festival checkouts (great picks all!), listed here just in case you didn't get invited to their backyard soiree:

GUMBASIA (1955, 3 minutes, color, 16mm)
Directed by Art Clokey

This student film, consisting of animated clay objects contorting and reshaping themselves to a snappy jazz score, so intrigued Samuel G. Engel, the president of the Motion Pictures Producers Association, that he financed the pilot films for what became Art Clokey's The Gumby Show (1957). (Art Clokey, USA, 1955, 3 minutes, color, 16mm)

Watch Gumbasia (YouTube)

MOODS OF SURFING (1968, 15 minutes, color, 16mm)
Directed by Greg McGillivray and Jim Freeman

What better way to  hold on to an Endless Summer than trading the urban chic of land-locked Hampden for the hang-ten feats of surfboards riding waves in Hawaii?
The film poster used the LeRoy Grannis;s classic photograph of the infamous Makaha shore break in Hawaii.

The Moods of Surfing was a Pyramid Films short made for theaters and released in 1968 by United Artists. Photographed and edited by Greg MacGillivray, the film received many awards including the Best Film Award from the Photographic Society of America and the Gold Award from the New York International Film Festival.

Pyramid Media description: "In this spellbinding interpretation of surfing's many moods, wild wipeouts are contrasted with the grace and agility of a skilled surfer on a long ride; the excitement of large waves and crowded beaches with the quiet of pre-sunset surfing."

Watch ""Moods of Surfing" (YouTube):


THE NOSE (LE  NEZ) (1963, 11 minutes, b&w)
Directed by Alexander Alexeieff and Claire Parker

Nez Who?: Alexander Alexeieff knows all about "Nose"

A wordless adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's story about a nose that disappears from its owner's face and turns up in a barber's loaf of bread. In this case, the medium is the message, as artist Alexander Alexeieff uses a reflected-light pinpoint "direct animation" technique (in which images are created during the process of filming, not before it) to make this film. The effect is like watching an animated engraving. In collaboration with animator Claire Parker, Alexeieff invented the "pinscreen,"  a sturdy frame holding a white board into which thousands of very thin black pins are inserted; by adjusting the pins so that the distance to the camera varies, the animator creates various shadings from black to white. (Another oustanding pinscreen-animated film in Pratt's collection is Jacques Droin's impressionistic Mindscape.) Arguably the best adaptation of a story by the Russian literary giant.

Alexeieff and Parker are perhaps best known for using their pinscreen technique in the prologue to Orson Welles' 1962 film adaptation of Kafka's The Trial (which is also in Pratt's 16mm film collection).

Watch "The Nose" (YouTube):


SHOTGUN JOE (1970, 25 minutes, color, 16mm)
Produced by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Prisons

Joe Scanlon
 This is a cinema verite-style documentary film about convicted felon Joe Scanlan, nicknamed "Shotgun Joe," who was serving time for armed robbery in the Conneticut State Reformatory. The film follows Scanlan in prison and his interaction with prisoners, staff, and family. Interviews with guards, teachers, fellow inmates, Joe's mother, his sister, and Joe himself reveal him as a likable, flamboyant, pathetic, young man moving toward his own destruction. A classic study of juvenile delinquincy, by an unknown director for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons.

"Shotgun Joe" became "Joey Onions" Scanlon and was later shot and killed in a 1982 mob hit. The guy who killed him confessed on his deathbed and Scanlon's remains were found in 2009.

Watch "Shotgun Joe" (YouTube):

CALDER'S CIRCUS (LE CIRQUE DE CALDER) (1961, 19 minutes, color, 16mm)
Directed by Carlos Vilardebo

Cirque de Calder

Sculptor Alexander Calder (1898-1976) is best known for his "mobiles" (a word invented by Marcel Duchamp in 1931 to describe Calder's moving scuptures). He also created miniature spring-loaded circus figures made of wire. In Calder's Circus, Calder demonstrates his creations and viewers get to see them spin, hop, roll and leap. I remember seeing this years ago at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. It's quite fun!

Watch "Calder's Circus" (YouTube):

BETTY IN BLUNDERLAND (1934, 7 minutes, b&w, 16mm)
Directed by Dave Fleischer

Betty in Blunderland

If you went to St. Paul's during Michal Makarovich's tenure as film instructor, you couldn't avoid being exposed to the mind-blowing animation of the Fleischer brothers - animator Max and director Dave - especially their wild, Jazz Age shorts featuring Betty Boop. No doubt that's why Bob Wagner picked this gem, a surreal adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. (By the way, Pratt also owns Makarovich's 1976 homage to Greta Garbo, The Face of the Century, on 16mm.) The Fleischers were considered Walt Disney's main rivals in the 1930s and their violent, sex, jazzy and imaginative animation made them polar opposites of the Disney aesthetic. In this short, Betty Boop dozes off while working on a jigsaw puzzle and awakens to enter an enchanted world inhabited by characters out of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. Betty sings "How Do You Do" to them and everyone comes to her rescue when the Jabberwock steals her away.

Watch "Betty in Blunderland" (YouTube)

I would be remiss not to mention that Teresa's not just a discerning cineaste, but a talented photographer. Along with fellow Pratt shutterbugs Lynne Parks (a 2013 Mary Sawyers Baker Artist Awards Winner) and Patrick Joust (whose "Still of the Night" photo essay was recently featured in Baltimore magazine), she will be showing her work as part of the "Pratt 5x3" exhibit in the Fine Arts & Music Reading Room on the second floor of the Enoch Pratt Central Library. The photographs of these talented Pratt staffers are on display from September 8 through November 2, 2014, with an opening reception Wednesday, September 17 from 5:30-7 p.m.

Pratt 5x3 exhibit

And I would be equally remiss not to mention that Bob Wagner is a well-respected musician (and cyclist, for that matter!) about town, a percussionist described by the High Zero Festival guide as "a pure natural, an enigma, a question mark." They go on to characterize his drumming as "deeply perplexing" and call him "The Han Bennik of Hampden" because of his extreme use of dry humor in his music. Bob can be heard on numerous records with his groups Companion Trio, The Can Openers, and The Recordings. He also performs with The Pleasant Livers, whose set I was lucky to catch at Baltimore's 2012 SoWeBo Festival.

Watch The Pleasant Livers play "Big Headed Baby" (YouTube)

Related Links:
Pratt's 16mm Film Rarities (Accelerated Decrepitude)
A New Generation Keeps It Reel on 16mm (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Top 10 Pratt 16mm Film Rarities (Accelerated Decrepitude)
Shorts Circuit (Accelerated Decrepitude)
The Great Ecstasy of the 16mm Film Series (Accelerated Decrepitude)