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A limited stock of the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts compilation is now on sale in the New York City area via the distribution table run by my pals in the awesome Bronx, NY band No One & The Somebodies. You can find this table set up at any of their shows (and also at many of their side project bands’ shows). Just check NOATS on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. to find out where they’re playing next
A limited stock of the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts compilation can also be found on sale at this wild record store in Brooklyn, NY:
Deep Cuts Record Shop
57-03 Catalpa Ave.
Ridgewood, Queens, New York
You can check’em out online too: https://www.facebook.com/deepcutsbk
In Chicago, Il. you can find TGAF1 for sale via the Rainbow Bridge Distro. table, a fine one-stop for all your far out experimental music needs. Rainbow Bridge’s proprietor Angel Marcloid is one of the Windy City’s best avant garde music makers and they frequently tour with their numerous projects. Everything on their distro table can also be purchased via an online distro that bears the Rainbow Bridge name, so even if you don’t live in Chicago, even if you don’t go to shows too much, you can purchase a copy of TGAF1 from Rainbow Bridge right here:
FYI: Angel Marcloid’s current tour dates can be found via tumblr, facebook, and other reputable internet destinations.
You can also purchase TGAF1 from Westminster, Md.’s most esteemed d.i.y./underground label/distro Wall Ride Records via mailorder, and from the Wall Ride distro table – check Wall Ride’s site to find out where a Wall Ride band is playing next, chances are that’s where their distro table is headed next also: http://wallriderecords.com/
Virginia, USA: the freaky southern locale that gave birth to Gwar, The Swingin’ Machine, Municipal Waste, Page 99, insane 45’s like Shirley Hughey’s ‘Pink & Green’ and Jade’s ‘Paper Man’, and tons of other monuments to weird awesomeness, including Chaotic Noise Productions a.k.a. CNP Records. Emerging in 1992 as Roanoke’s bastion of lo-fi madness at roughly the same time that Towson-Glen Arm exploded up in Md., the label moved permanently to Richmond, Va. a few years later and it continues to churn out giant gobs of crucial strangeness today. Back in the late 90’s/early 2000’s CNP Records was one of the few non-Md based record labels to give support to the TGA scene, specifically to TGA’s hardcore crew Charm City Suicides. A CCS track appeared on CNP’s 2001 compilation ‘Supersonic Sounds Of The Fuck You Movement’. This was one of the last records to feature a Towson-Glen Arm band. CNP’s ultimate legacy has been its status as the main outlet for the brutal, hilarious, adventurous, and just plain crazy multimedia works overseen by the legendary Jason Hodges: experimental music/noise fans know him from Mutawa and releasing early work by Paw Tracks artist Tickley Feather; hardcore fans know him from Suppression and Kojak; if you dig acid fried disco mutations (who doesn’t!?) then you know him from The Amoeba Men. Now, in yet another bold gesture of freaked out Md./Va. solidarity, CNP now counts as one of the select distributors carrying the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts compilation. You can buy TGAF1 at the CNP distro table which will be set up at most shows featuring Mutawa and/or Suppression. But of course you can also order it online from CNP – contact info/ordering info can be found at their totally rad blog-site: http://cnproachmotel.blogspot.com/
The Defective Bat record label/distro has been around since the early 2000’s and has been the primary outlet for east coast DIY legend/mad genius/occasional Human Host contributor Aaron Waesche and his legion of creative outbursts, most notably the electronic mayhem of Steamy Wolves. Defective Bat’s base of operations is out in Pittsburgh, Pa. If you’re in Pittsburgh you can now purchase a copy of TGAF1 from Defective Bat at the distro table at any of the shows featuring Steamy Wolves or any other Def. Bat act, or you can mail order a copy of TGAF1 from them online – Def. Bat ordering info can be found here: http://defectivebatrecords.webs.com/releases.html
A link to a lengthy article appearing outside of this website doesn’t usually inspire a new post here at TGAF, but The Baltimore Sun newspaper has given cause for making a big exception to that rule.
The Sun recently ran a piece all about Towson High School’s Colophon literary/arts magazine as the publication celebrates its 50th anniversary. The article mentions two major Towson-Glen Arm figures: the esteemed writer/multi-media artist Alicia Jo Rabins who is well known to TGA fans as a founding member of The Nudists – the first TGA artists to release work publicly. Also in The Sun’s spotlight is retired Towson High English teacher William Jones, a journeyman educator and great writer in his own right who was one of a small group of teachers who served as a mentor, patron, and major influence for the Towson-Glen Arm movement (stay tuned for a special post about Jones to appear via TGAF in the near future).
More importantly, the piece reveals how the mainly student run Colophon helped to foster the development of ambitious experimental ideas for the TGA kids and countless other young visionaries. Kudos to The Sun’s Jonathan Pitts for putting together such a fine tribute to one of the great eclectic institutions that has made central Maryland a hub for challenging artists of the past, present, and future:
Something very strange happened in suburban teenage America shortly after the 1991 Christmas holiday. The jock boys who used to pick on weirdos, punks, and nerds were suddenly wearing mohawks, Black Flag t-shirts, and ripped jeans. The cheerleaders and preppy girls who once poked fun at all the low budget thrift store styles preferred by arty kids and goth chicks were suddenly showing up to school in clashing plaid skirts and socks, dying their hair pink, and stomping about in the skinhead approved Doctor Marten brand boots. Only a few short weeks before that Christmas skinheads could be found ripping these same boots off of the beat up bodies of so-called posers, kids who wanted to be skinheads but were judged unworthy of that subculture’s tough title therefore unworthy of the right to wear the skinhead scene’s boot of choice. Needless to say, fresh faced upper middle class girls who began appropriating Docs as high fashion did not receive a beat down from the bomber jacket brigade.
The catalyst for this tectonic shift in the 1990’s U.S. youth culture came almost completely from one major pop phenomenon: the late 1991 release and subsequent multi platinum success of Nirvana’s album “Nevermind”. Over the U.S. Christmas holiday break it seemed as if every American teen received this record as a gift and in some cases it was a gift that came with the pre-requisite punk fashion accessories mentioned above or even guitars, amps, and ‘fake books’ containing the written chords and arrangements to Nirvana songs. Describing themselves as a ‘punk tribute’ band, Nirvana came to define the new alternative rock attitude and style that would go on to become signatures of the 90’s: pleasantly melodic, classic rock songwriting steeped in the rage infested dynamics of early hardcore, punk rock, post-punk, and garage rock and performed by shabbily dressed, stoned out rockers with plenty of nihilistic chutzpah to spare.
This esoteric stuff had already been existent for nearly 40 years prior to Nirvana’s breakout success. It was old hat to overseas audiences who mostly had their punk fad era explode during the late 70’s and early 80’s; the niche American fans of underground rock began their obsession with punk and all of its subgenres at about the same time, so by the 90’s most of the world viewed Nirvana and their grungy ilk more as the final nail in punk’s d.i.y. credibility than the ‘breath of fresh air’ they seemed to be when put up against the previous decade’s unabashedly antiseptic synth-pop a.k.a. the kind of music that most ‘normal’ American teens had been o.d.-ing on throughout the post disco/pre alt rock era.
While some underground counter culture veterans felt that Nirvana and the alt rock explosion represented the sad/unceremonious end of an era, the performance art pranksters from the Towson-Glen Arm act Lard Star – three obnoxious whipper snappers from the rural enclave of north Baltimore County Maryland, U.S.A. – thought the ultra-commercialization of the underground’s final frontier was absolutely fucking hilarious. All the hard work that the supposedly edgy, anti-authoritarian iconoclasts put in to make punk culture a safe haven for only the disenfranchised element of western society could not stop the ever present juggernaut of American capitalism from transforming even the most irreverent punk sentiments into fodder for mega-bucks marketing campaigns and disposable pop fads that were no more or less threatening to the status quo than Pac Man or lava lamps. As a result, in the 90’s punk became quirky and innocuous – a musical comfort food, the cultural equivalent of microwavable mac and cheese. The beautiful hilarious irony of it all was un-ignorable, so Lard Star set out to immortalize punk’s awkward pay day with Rabelaisian grandeur.
Just because Lard Star refused to recognize the counter-cultural sanctity of punk, however, didn’t mean that the group was against using the then newly over saturated aesthetic to create great songs and recordings. Though primarily a part of an extensive multi-media performance art project that had been ongoing for nearly 2 years prior to their spring 1994 formation **, Lard Star – particularly inspired by Frank Zappa’s classic anti-commercial 60’s pop double album “Freak Out” – chose to slightly subvert the avant garde ‘routine’ by using the medium of extremely silly hardcore as a soundtrack for the politically charged absurdity of the Towson-Glen Arm movement. The TGA kids ate it up hand over fist, and to this day many TGA alumnus remember Lard Star as the scene’s best band.
But don’t take my word for it, consider the following words of praise from early TGA artist and Lard Star mega-fan supreme Chris Teret:
“What can you say to the world about the abiding love you feel for the music of your teenage years without sounding like Bob Seger or Billy Joel? Nostalgia is bullshit. Maybe the biggest bullshit there is. But here I am putting pen to paper because I want you to know about Lardstar. It’s not a nostalgia we have in common. Nobody knows about Lardstar. And I’m not talking like “Nobody knows about Gang of Four” (or whatever other “obscure” band). I’m not talking about an internet video with 500 views. I’m talking about a band that is completely invisible on the internet (outside of this website). The number of people who have listened to their first album (Glenarm Garageband Hotshots) all the way through is probably in the double digits. Second album (Cars on the Lawn) single digits. Their impact on 90’s culture is slim to none, but goddamn, they were SO GOOD!
Lard Star was Mike Apichella, usually on vocals, Cory Davolos, usually on guitar, and Jon Woodstock, usually on drums. They made their debut in 1994 at a show in someone’s backyard in the spring. I remember Mike singing with his head inside the bass drum, laying on the grass, for most of their set. Before every song, they would say, “This one’s about Glen Arm,” which is the name of the rural, past-the-suburbs-of-Baltimore town they were from. I have memories of them from other shows too, blazing speed, ear-splitting volume inside basements mostly. Mike was like Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger combined with another thing that I can’t even explain except to say that his aspect blew apart the false opposites of sincerity and irony.
Their songs reveal a deep love and hatred for the rural area where they lived, a deep love and hatred for the hardcore punk that formed the basis of their music, a hugely exuberant fun combined with a deep nihilism. There was always humor and almost always rock solid, foundationally danceable rock n roll beats. The more I talk about them the further I seem to get from capturing why they were so great, so I’ll just tell you—find a way to hear their music. As a further prodding to whet your appetite, here are my unauthorized, unsolicited liner notes for several tracks from their incredible tape Glen Arm Garageband Hotshots:
“Glen Arm (in the summer)”
Typically atypical as a choice for the first song… Anyway, this one is a charming song about teenage summer, with masterful cowbell, a catchy chorus, none of the abrasive insanity that Lardstar was known for. The wrong notes on the bass remind me of what Thelonious Monk said, “There are no wrong notes on the piano!” “Glenarm in the summer/all the kids are out of school…I like Glenarm in the summer…”
“No Doze OD”
Now here’s where the real Lardstar kicks in. This song begins with an incomprehensible angry yelp, guitar feedback, and really fast drums, then proceeds to tell a story with humor and pathos, “My girlfriend od’d on No Doze!/I’m gonna blow up the store she got it from!/Fuck that store, I want my girlfriend back…”And then it miraculously is all over in like 30 seconds! What!?!?
The disorientation continues. An incredible beat/riff with Mike yelling “All I see is the back o’ yer hand!”…
“Time fer Drugs”
This song begins with the guitar looking for an idea, some way to start the song, and it appears out of nowhere, an awesome classic rock riff and the hardcore drums come right in. Mike’s talk about drugs has to be some weird form of social commentary, at the time he had nothing to do with drugs, but of course they were around and had an impact on the scene.
I love the beginning of this song. You hear Cory saying “This feedback is just, like, I don’t know, it’s just…” and then you hear them sort of teaching each other the song as the song is getting started, as if they’re on a deadline or something. Then Mike lets loose a scream that drowns out all other sound, and when it lets up you hear fast-beyond-fast music and lyrics about pizza? “Mushrooms, green peppers, onions, the works! Mushrooms, green peppers, onions, the works!”
“Thinkin’ bout Flesh”
I think this song might be about eating humans, but more importantly it’s like the perfect marriage of punk rock and classic rock radio…
Jon Woodstock sings this one, and I know the band would say it’s just a joke song, but I’m here to tell you that you will never find a more sincere and truthful song about farts as long as you look. “I hate the way farts smell/when I catch a whiff of one my life is a living hell/they are so gross they just make me feel like throwin’ up/ but I realize we need them.” How can you argue with that?
Kind of a one-line joke, but rippingly accomplished.
So, I don’t know why I love this song so much, but I’ll just tell you that Mike sings “I got a deep wound in my head/ and it makes me feel like I’m dead” and then starts to sound like a chattering squirrel and then says “fuck, fuck, you’re just…ah, shit!”
This is a beautiful song and I don’t know how it made it out of the Lardstar cauldron, I also don’t know how it didn’t become a hit song. “I didn’t know/that you were a backstabber!”
The best thing about this song is the way Mike says “Huh!” at the beginning of the song. Or maybe it’s more like “Hooh!” Anyway, it sounds like Iggy on a Stooges record.
Check this one out: “Something, I don’t know what/Something…” and then the song’s over! In 5 seconds! Wow!
“I’m a Rustic”
The loving side of Lard Star’s feelings about rural Maryland. “I hate the city/Don’t like the town/The country’s where/I like to hang around/’Cause I’m a rustic/tall buildings, traffic, crowds make me sick!”
“Radio Tower Blues.”
This is where Led Zeppelin should go to school. This song. And then go home crying, and apologizing.
“I Smell Corn”
Definitely a masterpiece. The hate side of their feelings about rural Maryland. “I smell corn on the streets of your fuckin town every fuckin day/The corn and the shit and the cows all over my driveway!!!”
Imagine if you took Minor Threat, the Sex Pistols, and the Stooges, put them in a pot together, and boiled them like sap for maple syrup. The syrup is this song.
“We Like That”
The song comes in like a crashing train, then out of the mess appears a godly riff. Lyrics almost like Dr Seuss, including the great line “16, 15, 14, 13”.
This is a cover of a Byrds song. Surprisingly faithful.
“Blood of Chavo”
Painful noisy meditation on the subject of a pre-Henry Rollins singer of Black Flag. Featuring Apichella on lead guitar and vocals.
So if you actually read all this, you can certainly handle listening to the whole tape, and you won’t regret it. Thank God there are still things in this world that are beautiful, mysterious, and hard to find.”
Chris Teret was one of the founding members of The Nudists, the first Towson-Glen Arm act to release recordings. He also co-founded The Towson-Glen Arm Unity Coalition, and was a part of many other TGA projects/bands including The Preschoolers’ wildest line up. After completing his studies at Bard College in Annandale-On-Hudson, NY , Teret continued to work creating music with fellow TGA artist Steph R., as well as briefly serving as a union organizer. Chris Teret also currently creates solo music and works with the great folk rock bands Company and Snaex.
** Check out the earliest blog here (‘Towson-Glen Arm Time Line’) and this link to a recent TGAF entry to better understand Lard Star as a component of the Apichella/Davolos/Woodstock multi-media art project: https://towsonglenarmfreakouts.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/the-retarded-dogs-and-the-first-underground-concert-in-glen-arm/
If you’re a frequent visitor to this blog right now you’re probably thinking to yourself,”Wait, what the hell is this? Did TGAF change direction? These look like normal high school kids… and… good lord (choke)! They’re at the prom!? Blasphemy!!”
If these thoughts are passing thru your head, then rest assured: your assumptions are just partially right.
One of the best things about working on this project is the excitement of discovering previously unknown material made by previously unknown teen artists who worked in the peculiar Towson-Glen Arm style while culturally sharing little more than a geographic locale with the movement’s other, slightly better known visionaries.
For those who experienced TGA first hand, it’s easy to look back and think that since the defining works of the north County underground were made by a relatively small clique of creators there wouldn’t be much variation in terms of the artists’ personal lifestyles. This was a scene made up of mainly nerdy suburban teenage outcasts who collectively possessed a hyper-empathic political consciousness, but for a short time during the height of its popularity (1994-1995) TGA’s influence engulfed a segment of northern Baltimore County’s teen culture like a strange supernova. Even young folks with only a thread bare connection to the scene seemed to get at least subconsciously swept up in its obscure moment of glory.
Two artists who contributed wonderfully to the TGA legacy – possibly without even knowing it – were Laura Norman and Lauren Bereska. As you can see in their photos above, neither of these artists were teenage outcasts, not by a long shot. By the way, both of their pictures come from Dulaney High School yearbooks: Norman is at the top in the foreground in a photo from the 1996 edition (courtesy of Andy Devos). Prom Queen Bereska appears below with her Prom King Jason Zahorchak in a photo that comes from the ’94 edition (courtesy of Cory Davolos). Coincidentally, a moody photo taken by Zahorchak appears as a graphic accompanying the Laura Norman poem reprinted below.
Despite the fact that Laura Norman and Lauren Bereska seemed to be wholesome All American girls their two only known TGA-style creations each speak for themselves as stellar examples of the transcendent revolutionary weirdness which came to define the movement’s approach.
So Laura Norman and Lauren Bereska , please, c’mon outta the woodwork and get in touch, we’d all love to know more about your early/mid 90’s days as unintentionally(?) genre busting outsider artists supreme, and whether or not Towson-Glen Arm had any direct impact on your creative works, and if you made any other work in the TGA style before or after you contributed these two incredible pieces to Dulaney High’s “Sequel” literary magazine…
This entry is dedicated to the great contemporary artist Signe Pierce
The following blog contains excerpted liner notes written by Mike Apichella for the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts collection:
The Retarded Dogs hold a special place in my heart and in the development of Towson-Glen Arm as they were the first of many acts to be led by the trio of Jon Woodstock, Cory Davolos, and myself, as well as the first group to prominently feature my creative contributions. For about 5 years Woodstock, Davolos, and I had a blast experimenting with multi-media art as a weird form of musical context. There were some bumps in the road before all that, so I’ll summarize them just to give you an idea of where my head was once Jon, Cory, and I got rolling…
My first band was a garagey rock group called Destination Unknown who formed in early 1991. I sang and wrote a few songs and lyrics for that band. The other members of Destination Unknown were mostly local jock kids from my Glen Arm neighborhood who were more committed to sports than music, so that group ended before we even played a single show. After that I ended up singing in a few leftist hardcore bands formed by local activists Matt Bray(drums) and Megan Carberry(bass)…
…I never really liked being in a hardcore band very much anyway – I only wanted to play music like that because at that time hardcore groups tended get more gigs. I knew that if I would play enough shows eventually I would run into someone who might want to start a group with the kind of diverse sound that I loved, something that could be the opposite of the straight forward style my band mates preferred. Plus, I was a total ham and figured I might be able to attract some cute girls if I stomped around on stage making everybody laugh or whatever.
Even though it never got me a date in high school, the other part of my hardcore exploitation strategy paid off: in fall 1992 a Dulaney High student/Phoenix, Md. resident named Cory Davolos showed up to some gig I played with one of the Bray/Carberry aggregations. After seeing us play he came up to me and said he was really into what we were doing. We then struck up a conversation about music which revealed our shared appreciation for vintage guitars and sound effects pedals. The big connection for us though was that we loved a’lot of the same non-hardcore/non-punk music, including some pretty far out stuff that no one else we knew liked (i.e. Frank Zappa, The Fugs, Syd Barret, pre-WWII Americana, Eric’s Trip, obscure 60’s garage bands, etc.)
Well, actually, I knew of one other person who did like all that stuff and his name was Jon Woodstock. Jon and I shared several classes together at Dulaney and had been friends since earlier in ’92. Back then Jon was a total hippy – he had super curly long hair and often sported colorful turtleneck sweaters, corduroy pants, moccasins, and weird beads. In other words, he was the real deal, no sports-themed tie dyes or plastic peace symbols for this guy ever. Jon also often wore a beat up army jacket which he used to stuff with books: the autobiography of Frank Zappa, a tattered William Blake anthology, Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’, etc. Hardly anyone at Dulaney stuck out more than the three of us, so, after the hardcore aspirations of Bray/Carberry began to fizzle in late ’92, Jon, Cory, and I decided to start a band together.
Our first practice was a revelation – we clicked instantly and vowed to rehearse every week, write our own songs, learn a few covers, and put on the wildest live show that we could to complement our collectively weird hubris. When it came to naming the band, Jon wanted to call it Dog, a name that Woodstock liked because it could symbolize many different things. Cory wanted to name our band The Retards as a reaction to the occasionally fascistic political correctness of some activists we knew. The Retards also was a name which I saw as a protest against the excessive emphasis that Dulaney put on competitive academia (i.e., what could be more antithetical to obsessing over grades and standardized achievement tests than to proudly identify yourself as a ‘retard’?). Briefly, Megan Carberry became a member of our group, though her heavy level of senior year school work caused her to quit soon after joining. Nonetheless, she left her mark on the band in the biggest way possible: we were talking about the name issue at practice when Megan said the best thing to do would be to combine the two band names Jon and Cory came up with and call our new band The Retarded Dogs(!) We loved the idea, so in early ’93 we took that name.
As the The Retarded Dogs, we played one May 1st ’93 gig at my mom’s house. By the time of that show we’d grown into a very large group with some members merely serving as comic relief running around waving picket signs that bore messages like ‘Free Fat Albert!’, ‘Turkey Bowl’, and other nonsensical yet loving stabs at activist culture. Other side players for The R.D.’s served as percussionists banging out rhythms on rusty old hubcaps, trash can lids, pieces of office furniture, etc. while still other R.D.’s blew the jug or played tambourine and new years eve noisemakers. Some of the side players in The Retarded Dogs included Dulaney students Melissa Fatto, Dave Richardson, Paul Petersan, and Devon Till.
In addition to his harmonica work and strange penchant for muscle man posing, Till also served the crucial purpose of physically picking up his band mates in order to throw them into the air as they played.
Another important auxillary Retarded Dog was the mayhem master Scott Makowske. During most of our set Scott sat next Woodstock’s drum kit in a chair with a brown paper bag over his head. We never acknowledged him, all freaking out around him and just treating Scott like an inanimate object until we started to play one piece that actually had a count-in for an intro. When I yelled ‘1,2,3,4!’ Makowske instantly ripped the bag off of his head, jumped up off of the chair and into the audience, slammed into a few styrofoam ceiling tiles then hit the ground rolling around, screaming and slavering, occasionally biting the clothing of an audience member and actually biting the skin of Devon Till’s arm before careening into the mic stand to perform some startling vocals in a noisy improvised composition quite similar to the music that Jon, Cory, and I would later make as Big Huge Fucking Machine*.
Another band who made their debut that day was Spastic Cracker.
Around the time of Spastic Cracker’s formation, the very first Towson-Glen Arm show occurred in the basement of The Bray Family home. This was where political activist/poet Matt Bray lived in Lutherville-Timonium, Md., and the show included only one obscure touring act from Florida: a theatrical garage punk band called Chickenhead. Everyone in attendance felt amazed by the fact that 20 or 30 people crowded into Bray’s tiny basement to see a weird unknown band play a last minute show that was promoted by him only through word of mouth and telephone calls to various artist/activist friends of his from Towson High and Dulaney (Bray attended the latter). Many of the people who went to this gig would go on to become central figures in the TGA scene, though this was the first time any of us had been brought together en masse. Furthermore, the positive response to Bray’s house show caused a domino effect: I decided that I also wanted to host a show or two in my mom’s basement, and soon another attendee of Bray’s show – Lou Thomas – also decided to test the venue potential of his mom’s basement, then Scott Gilmore opened up his parents’ basement & back yard for gigs, and then Matt Bray began regularly having shows throughout the spring and summer of ’94, and then Aaron Friedman, Bryce Reibel, and Sarah Brandes started putting on house shows, etc. Discouraged by Spastic Cracker’s litany of Baltimore city club rejections, Tricia asked me if her band could play their debut set at my upcoming basement show; she and I had been friends since kindergarten, so I gladly said ,’Yes!’
My first house show began at 2 p.m. on May 1st 1993, and it was a truly momentous event since few kids in the area had ever seen a group of people their own age play a live concert of mostly original material… Tricia Lane in particular…stunned the audience that day with her stark vocal melodies, her dayglo psychedelic couture, and the original poems she read between songs – an element that lent a strange sermon-like quality to the precedings**. The audience here was just as mixed up as the entertainment: nerds, preppies, arty Towson (High School) weirdos, Dulaney misfits, and regular neighborhood kids rubbed shoulders with curiosity seekers from the hardcore bands Born Against and U.O.A., and everyone seemed downright overwhelmed by everything going on there by the time heavy alt rockers Gas Piller closed the event with a short set. After the show, kids lingered at my mom’s hanging in the basement and backyard until around sunset basking in the excitement of all the strange new things they’d seen and heard that afternoon.
*You can find music by Big Huge Fucking Machine here: http://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/big-huge-fucking-machine-engine-11
And music by The Retarded Dogs here: http://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/the-retarded-dogs-harmonica-song-excerpt
**A recording by Spastic Cracker which incorporates a poetry reading by Tricia Lane-Forster can be heard here: http://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/spastic-cracker-sister
During the 80’s and early 90’s the Jamaican Tourist Board ran a series of t.v. and radio ads that prominently featured a slow mo, over produced version of Bob Marley’s ‘One Love’. The t.v. ads were accompanied by the expected barrage of exotic images featuring tourists frolicking on white sandy beaches drinking fruity cocktails while gazing longingly at each other beneath a gorgeous sunset. After seeing this, for years to come I always thought of Jamaican music as the soundtrack to a carefree lifestyle that had no connection to the inhumanities of slavery and imperialism which shaped much of what is now known as Caribbean culture.
That carefree archetype got turned completely upside down for me sometime around spring 1993 when my pal/creative collaborator/Dulaney High School class mate Jon Woodstock invited me over to his mom’s house check out a new pile of records he’d just bought or borrowed. For Woodstock and me, and our band mate Cory Davolos, listening to music together was an essential activity as common as band practice or brainstorming for band names and lyrical subjects*. Many a mind boggling musical revelation came to light whenever I’d get a phone call or hear some school lunch room chatter from Cory or Jon that began with a line like,”Aw man, you GOTTA hear the record I just picked up!”
The ‘must-hear’ record that Jon had been hyping this time was an album by Bob Marley and The Wailers. Once Jon slipped this tape into his stereo the music that came blasting out was not the kind of vacation music I remembered from the cheezy Jamaican t.v. ad. On the contrary, it was fast, jaunty, and angular yet also loose and organic with vocal harmonies from a quintet who sounded like a high energy teen gospel crew. This record was a collection called ‘Birth Of A Legend’. It showcased Bob Marley’s first early 60’s recordings most of which were done in a brash ska style with lo-fi distorted sound quality. These recordings also featured a dissonant but swingin, horn laden band made up of masterful Jamaican musicians called The Skatalites**. Their back-up provided the perfect accompaniment for Marley and co.’s over-the-top performances.
Among the record’s highlights was a crackling take of the song that nearly ruined my appreciation for the Jamaican sound:
“One love! One heart! Let’s get together and feel alright!”
Unlike the sugary rendition I’d heard on t.v., the early version of ‘One Love’ burned with desperation and ecstatic release. This music was anything but laid back.
The concept of ska as an Afrocentric product of the early 60’s was also a shocker for me. Before Jon played me these Marley ska recordings I was under the impression that this style of music was a relatively new, predominantly white British off shoot of the 80’s new wave rock movement thanks mostly to the mainstream media’s embrace of the band Madness, a London crew who were unarguably the most popular ska act of the 80’s.
In its original unvarnished form, ska certainly had little to do with rock. The nascent pop music of Jamaica was a panoramic snapshot of imperialism’s odd cultural melting pot. In early 60’s ska American jazz and r’n’b, doo wop, gospel music, mento, African drumming, and various white and Latin American pop forms all came together just as the British colonial rule of Jamaica began to fall apart. Independence would soon become the ultimate destiny for all native Jamaicans and the new vibrant sound would usher in their new vibrant political era.
Once again, my perception of ska was shattered when I discovered that the entire genre was infused with such a politically progressive context. Just like the early American folk blues and Appalachian music that I’d been loving many years before I even knew what ska was, initially Jamaican music possessed the exclusive provenance of the oppressed, the downtrodden, the disenfranchised, the African diaspora. All of this minutiae first came to my attention thanks specifically to two young Towson ska fanatics who I’d befriend only a few months after Jon Woodstock introduced me to Bob Marley’s ska work. The two teens were Dave Willemain and Bob Phair – the pair who would soon become the founding members of The Preschoolers, the first and wildest American ska band I’d ever heard who had roots firmly planted in the early Jamaican pop sounds ala the young Marley, The Skatalites, Lee Perry, etc.
Dave and Bob absorbed as much information about Jamaican culture as they could and, with the fervor of proselytizing missionaries, shared their deep understanding and respect for this unique milieu with whoever had an even moderately similar interest in such things – as gifts for close friends and fellow artists they made exhaustive mix tapes compiling mega obscure Jamaican recordings from the 60’s and 70’s all culled from their extensive personal record collections; Dave would often lend out and reference Stephen Davis’ influential 1976 book ‘Reggae Bloodlines’; they’d give lengthy/informal lectures on the Caribbean political milieu and its connections to the greater negative consequences of world imperialism including much of what had inspired the Save Our Cities, Save Our Children demonstration in the United States which they’d both been part of in 1992.
Ultimately, The Preschoolers were the first artists I ever met who sought to annihilate evil with a gigantic, cacophonous, booty shaking, ska-fueled dance party tailor made to level the foundations of imperialism. Maybe they didn’t consciously try to do this, but, for better or worse, my awareness of a world where joyous creativity and political discourse could intertwine in perfect harmony came to life in the early 90’s thanks to this eccentric bunch of suburban teens and the irresistible dynamism that charged their embrace of Jamaican culture.
TO BE CONTINUED…
*Lengthy documentation of the work I created with Jon Woodstock and Cory Davolos (as well as more details about the work of The Preschoolers and many other TGA artists) can be found via Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts vol.’s 1 and 2.
**The Skatalites were one of the first bands ever to perform ska music. A comprehensive run down of their historic achievements in the earliest days of Jamaican pop can be found here: http://jazztimes.com/articles/14829-jazz-to-ska-mania