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The following piece was written by a TGA artist. The writer’s name and many other names mentioned here have been changed to protect the innocent.
Thirty years after its construction, Phoenix, Maryland’s abandoned Nike missile battery became the awkward reminder of a doomsday that never happened. For me and many others who grew up in central Maryland, the site took on a mythic status. It became a rite of passage for kids to invade its rusty netherworld. The irony of its existence was impossible to ignore: a once deadly underground complex lay hidden in plain view stuffed between agricultural lands, retail infrastructure, public forests, and other wholesome community centers. Phoenix, Md. was designed to be a tranquil ex-burb and yet at one point the biggest army on Earth felt it was the perfect spot to hide a nuclear arsenal.
Project Nike was a strategic initiative created by the US Department Of Defense. It encompassed the engineering, testing, and diffusion of guided anti-aircraft missiles. They were called “Nike” missiles because that name originally belonged to the Greek goddess of victory, something that the army was certain it could attain with these weapons. From the 1950’s through the early 70’s Nike sites came to every corner of the globe that had a US military presence. It wasn’t an exclusive part of Maryland’s culture, but the project began life at the Fort Meade army base – roughly forty five minutes to an hour west of the city of Baltimore and its greater metro area which includes Phoenix. Though first conceived in 1944 as a plan of defense against The Axis Powers, once Cold War tensions began to mount it became one of the many bi-products of anti-communist paranoia and the military industrial complex.
Nike launch sites were constructed specifically to protect densely populated urban centers from the threat of nuclear war. They were built within existent bases or on the grounds of National Guard armories. When extra land wasn’t available the army built on property bought from the private sector. Each site comprised around 50 acres of land most of which was taken up by underground infrastructure: missile magazines, control rooms, office space, and storage areas. The Nike sites’ major above ground structures were radar towers. The number of batteries built in any given area was tailored to fit individual populations and the sites were arranged in circles (nicknamed “rings of steel”) that surrounded whatever city they protected.
The specs for these missiles were technically sophisticated technically sophisticated. There were a total of three different Nike models created: the Nike Ajax, the Nike Hercules, and the Nike Zeus. Hercules and Zeus were equipped with nuclear warheads. All three were controlled by a triple radar system invented by Western Electric. The missiles themselves were built and jointly designed by The U.S. Army and defense contractor McConnell-Douglas.
Public safety issues associated with Project Nike first emerged in 1958 when a Nike Ajax was accidentally detonated at a site near the Gateway National Recreation Area in Leandro, New Jersey. The explosion killed six soldiers and four civilians.
The Cold War’s slow acrimonious end began in 1972 with the SALT I arms control treaty, a bilateral effort in which the U.S. and the Soviets worked to reduce their collective stockpile of nuclear weapons and other WMD’s. Project Nike was among the first of the U.S. defense programs to get the axe. All Nike sites were decommissioned by the DOD soon after the talks concluded.
Random destruction and diplomatic rigmarole weren’t all that cast a negative shadow on Project Nike. In the early 1980’s – twenty years after its establishment and nearly a decade after its shut down – toxic chemicals began to contaminate water in neighborhoods that surrounded the remains of BA-03 aka the Phoenix Nike site. Industrial solvents had seeped into wells after being used to clean missile storage units and other parts of the site that were located deep underground. The pollution was so devastating that people who lived in Baltimore County’s Sunnybrook Road area couldn’t drink their tap water for most of the 80’s. The army finally cleaned up the water supply in 1993, but efforts to decontaminate the soil were ongoing as recently as 2007. By the 90’s any trace of live ammo had been wiped clean from the site. It posed no threat connected to bombs, missiles, or any other explosives. Other than toxic residue, the biggest thing that us young trespassers had to worry about was aggressive confrontations with security guards who occasionally patrolled the grounds.
It was absurd and terrifying to even think about it. This grim complex was once located within walking distance of the baseball diamonds where we all played little league and the shopping centers where we bought comic books and candy. The churches and schools our parents dragged us to were all in the same area. A dangerous military installation in my dorky white bread neighborhood? Could it really be true? I had to see it to believe it.
In addition to being my high school’s biggest class clown, Sam was an accomplished lacrosse player. Other than me, most of his close friends were macho jock kids. My arrival at Sam’s house coincided with that of several Jeeps filled with Sam’s beefy lacrosse bros and their glammed out preppy girlfriends. Covered in perfume, wearing tie-dyed t-shirts, open toe sandals, subtle touches of glitter and blush, and cut-off denim shorts, these girls looked like they were heading out to a dance club, not some crusty military bunker. The guys were decked out in standard issue jock gear: Umbros, backwards baseball caps, white socks or no socks at all, pro-sports team jerseys, and name brand sneakers (including big puffy Nike basketball kicks). I could only hang with them because Sam and I were Dulaney’s ultimate abstract comedy team. We’d do almost anything to sabotage the zombifying banality that passed for American public education at Dulaney. These muscle bound local sports stars might have wanted to beat the crap out of me, but they just couldn’t find time for that; they were too busy laughing at all the insane shit Sam and I did to disrupt class.
Their WASP-ish girlfriends were just plain nauseated by me. I was the anti-thesis of a clean cut jock – an emaciated, un-kept, no-count vegetarian with long greasy hair who consciously refused to wear designer clothes. Outside of school, the world these kids lived in seemed alien to me. Knowing that they had an even vague interest in military arcana further piqued my curiosity about the Nike site.
Sam’s parents weren’t home that evening so before heading to the abandoned battery we hung out at his place for a little “pre-gaming”. Classic rock and rap blared from a stereo, beers got chugged, cigarettes were going around, maybe some of the couples were making out. It wasn’t a Dionysian orgy, but it was far from wholesome. Daylight savings time had kicked in, so it couldn’t have been any earlier than nine when the adventure began. Within the sleepy environs of Phoenix we were surrounded by bored pensioners and stay-at-home moms who’d jump at the chance to rat on suspicious activity. The Nike site was only a destination when kids had the cover of night to protect them.
Once the caravan of Jeeps rumbled out of Sam’s semi-suburban development it wasn’t long before we turned off a country road down on to an unpaved gravel stretch. The grey and white path shimmered in the moonlight as we lumbered along. Even with all-terrain wheels no one could drive too fast as the pathway which led to the Nike site’s main gate was just as decrepit as the site itself. Before the main entrance there was a cul de sac where up to four or five vehicles could park, an area wide enough for a big rig to make a U-turn. A few of the cars parked off to the side underneath some mammoth evergreen trees. One of the jocks parked his Jeep in a position that faced the entrance gate directly. He sat idling for a minute before Sam walked over and noticed that it’d been chained shut. Sam then gestured silently pointing in the directions just to the left and right of the gate.
“What hell’s going on?”, I whispered. The other kids remained silent. This was old hat to them, nothing unusual. Sam scurried over to me, leaned in and replied, ”Just stay over there and whatever you do don’t move or make a sound.”
The jock revved his engine a few times before peeling out, kicking up a cloud of dust, and crashing his jeep head on into the gate.
I was awestruck. I’d never seen such recklessness up close. “What the fuck is he gonna tell his parents!?” That’s all I could think. But some of these kids were from really wealthy backgrounds. Their fathers and their fathers’ fathers were probably all jocks at some point. “Boy will be boys” was a common justification for anything destructive done by any man prior to the p.c. revolution. The sensitive indie rock nerds and defiant riot grrls of the post-Nirvana era had yet to embed themselves into pop consciousness. We were barely past the Reagan years and the overblown machismo of low brow touchstones like The Morton Downey Jr. Show and Wayne’s World. A couple scratches on a Jeep grill? These were badges of manhood.
The impact broke the chain instantly but caused no severe damage to the Jeep. As its front end met the fence there was no violent explosion of sound, only a muffled clink. This wasn’t a razor-ribboned electrified fortification bound by multiple padlocks, it was probably the cheapest metal fence money could buy. In 1991 there was no great threat of Soviet spies to worry about; such things quickly became faint memories thanks to glasnost and the fall of the Berlin wall. The government had no reason to give the Fort Knox treatment to the Phoenix site or any other gutted Nike battery.
Once we all sauntered past the bent up gate Sam led us straight to an entry hatch. A few trailers and supply sheds dotted the perimeter. There were telephone poles and fluorescent street lamps out by those, but the central area was cloaked in shadow. This hatch was part of an emergency escape route which lead to the control rooms and other infrastructure located below ground. As it opened that’s when the kids turned on their flashlights. As the first beam shot down I noticed a wrought iron ladder that went straight into an abyss. Five or six kids went in.
Initially I stayed above ground with one or two others who chose to be lookouts keeping watch for the security. I wandered around the massive concrete slab under which lurked ominous launch racks. I marveled at time’s organic destruction. There were weeds, ivy, and dandelions growing everywhere around the slab’s edge and from rusted metal seams throughout the launch pad and buffer zone areas. Some of the trailers and supply sheds were also blanketed by wild fauna.
After a few minutes I finally decided to check out the interior. Climbing into the narrow metal escape tube I could see dim flashes of light ping ponging around as I slowly made my way to meet the others. As I caught up with the crew laughs, mumbles, and a faint splashing swelled in volume. The ladder ended up in a passage way that flanked the missile magazines. It was there that I noticed the murky water.
“What the fuck?! Are you kidding me? That’s gotta be polluted water!”, I exclaimed. These goofballs were meandering about laughing, making scary ghost noises, clanking keys and flashlights against walls, all doing their best Jacob Marley/Poltergeist imitations. I looked over to one of the kids who was wearing shorts standing ankle deep in the grey water stomping around like a madman. “Dude, you’re gonna get poisoned or something, that’s probably toxic waste, I’m gettin the fuck outta here!” A moment of silence, a few kids yelling ”Oh shit!”, and the party was over. We shot back up the ladder, shaky flashlights leading the way like strobes on the fritz.
My close friend and fellow anarcho-freak “Kevin” lived around the corner from Sunnybrook Rd. Before we became friends in high school he had a few brushes with the Nike complex. Here’s Kevin’s take on the landmark:
The Nike site was pretty legendary turf… The first real experience I had there was when my Cub Scout troop camped out on the property… most of the info relayed to younger kids seemed to re-iterate warnings to stay the hell out of there, it was dangerous and older teens did stuff there like drink alcohol and worship Satan.
…(some friends and) I finally snuck into the restricted area years later. We found one of the accessible entry points and one by one climbed down into some sort of control room. It was pitch black and I was freaked out the entire time I was there which wasn’t long at all. I remember tons of graffiti covering just about everything and plenty of empty beer cans.
As the neglected Nike missile sites fell into disrepair they became hang outs for bored teens all over North America. Sketchy tales of these abandoned relics can be found coast-to-coast:
A man had to be hoisted to safety after plunging 40 feet down a hole at an abandoned missile site in Chatsworth.
Los Angeles city and county firefighters used a pulley system to raise the man from the hole at the decommissioned Nike site in Chatsworth after friends say he fell while they were drinking and smoking during a party there…
– a September 9th, 2018 KNBC news report
Area children… have vivid memories of cavorting on the property. The silos were open – well, we found a way to open them – and, believe me, nothing beats the Cold War memory of clambering inside a missile silo…. Generations of Stapleites recall the Nike site as an abandoned, overgrown, unpatrolled area – the ideal spot for drinking, drugs, and sex (“Hey, wanna see my silo?”)
– Dan Woog’s 70’s memories of a Nike site that was near Westport, Connecticut’s Staples High School, originally published on the blog 06680
When I was in high school we used to party at (Nike site) SL-10 (Marine, IL. [near St. Louis, Missouri]) Everything below ground was flooded and had more than a few dead animals floating around in it.
– A comment from a thread about Nike site remnants posted to the ar15.com forum
Among the many odd twists in the post-Nike saga, Hobart, Indiana’s recreational attraction Blast Camp might provide the wackiest one of all. This quote comes from its website:
Chicagoland’s longest running and most unique paintball and airsoft facility… Blast Camp is located on a historic national landmark that served as a Nike missile defense base… Nike Missile site C-47 is one of 20 missile bases utilized as a “last ditch” line of air defense for Chicago… Our playing field is located over 20 acres and contains 13 original buildings such as the mess hall, the generator room, five radar towers, administrative buildings and barracks.
Why should anyone care about a bunch of delinquents wandering through the skeleton of a Cold War monster? It’s not clear if the Phoenix Nike battery made a big impression on Sam and his bro’s. They were partying hard back then, so nearly thirty years on few could remember much when I asked them to share their overall impressions. For me, everything about the Nike site symbolized defeat. This hulking complex built to protect people ended up doing the polar opposite. It scarred the land with its visual appearance as a cold concrete slab filled with rust and dilapidation. It never saved anyone from a Soviet nuke attack. It was nothing but a nuisance and an eyesore. The environmental destruction it caused is remarkable for being one of the few things to ever drive down property values in bucolic north Baltimore County.
Beyond its colossal aura of failure, my most intense memory of the Nike site was when the jock guy bashed his Jeep into the fence. That replays over and over again in my head, popping up in daydreams whenever I least expect it. Regardless of whether or not the Nike site was active, it belonged to the U.S. Army. Through all the pro-choice rallies, gay rights demonstrations, anti-war protests, and animal rights events I went to in the 90’s never once did I see the destruction of federal government property. I’d never been directly connected to such brazen civil disobedience until spending an evening underground in a rotten sludge bunker with a bunch of drunken jocks playing Poltergeist.
For an insecure teenager struggling to maintain a sense of identity and purpose, defending a divirgent opinion can be a make or break venture. This was especially true within the anti-intellectual environment fostered by Dulaney High School circa the early 1990’s. For this reason, some of the nerdy Towson-Glen Arm artists (many of whom were also Dulaney students) refused to embrace academia with any extreme enthusiasm. Most of the TGA kids continued their academic careers long after high school ended, but there were a fair number who didn’t do that. There was even one (Cory Davolos) who opted for a general equivalency degree instead of waiting around for Dulaney’s mindless 4 year “sentence” to run its course.
Up now at Splice Today is a piece that summarizes Dulaney’s status as a symbol of all the political beliefs and philosophies that Towson-Glen Arm hated, and how that hatred transformed systematic education into one of the movement’s biggest targets for subversion:
T.E.A.M. vocalist/keyboard player/harmonica player/lyricist/conceptual spazz Devon Till was one of the first artists to create work in the Towson-Glen Arm style*. He’s also one of the movement’s most enthusiastic modern day proponents **. In addition to working in the mediums of music and performance art, he is also an accomplished visual artist and writer. Back in February of this year Devon completed a maniacal painting called “St. Ronald McDonald The Fryer”, a provocative graphic summary of his critical views on corrupt politics and socio-economic strife.
Here now are some thoughts on the painting and its meaning direct from the artist:
This painting was born of silliness more than anything, and a long harbored, lurking notion that I should take some likeness of St. Francis of Assisi (a yard ornament maybe), and cross him with Ronald McDonald. The original intent was one of dark and borderline offensive humor. Sort of somewhere in between Gardener Lodges PBJ sandwich in the final scenes of Suburbicon, and the cocktail hour bloodbath of Inglorious Bastards. It was to be more unsettling than the first, less disturbing than the latter and in painting form. There was also supposed to be some room for independent interpretation by the viewer.
As the process moved forward, a subconscious undercurrent began to emerge. A vague and loose smattering of sociological elements that had really not been piecing together beforehand. Those elements started to ooze into the borders of my consciousness as I completed the beginning stages of the painting. As they started to become a concrete vision, so too did the forms that accompanied the Friar.
American Free enterprise, with all of its obvious advantages, comes with a huge disadvantage, rooted in the freely spoken concept that all is just fine in the name of money. The road towards the legalization of marijuana was a very long one indeed. We have our pharmaceutical industry to thank for that, as well as many other grievous crimes against humanity. It is comprised of numerous entities that underhandedly monopolize for the purpose of shameful price gouging. We sell working class people homes and automobiles their small salaries cannot really afford them. They cannot save, they cannot prepare for the unforeseen, and they must train themselves on some levels not to care about the eventual shitslide that may result.
When their anxieties finally crest, they are prescribed psychotropics with extensive lists of side effects, and they will eventually not be able to survive without medication because the function of their neurotransmitters are too dependent on these drugs. The people are not as likely to be able to afford cognitive behavioral therapy (a much more natural, safe and effective treatment in the long term) as they are the dollars they spend on the pharmaceutical relief that they are offered and must rely on their insurance to pay for. Insurance which they must rely on the government to help them keep. Despite numerous graphic PSA’s against cigarette smoking, the tobacco industry is always in full swing. Like big pharma, and big sugar, they handfeed our Congressmen, and/or sweeten the deal for consumers with coupons, two for one specials and prizes. All the associated corporations receive various tax incentives paid for by and balanced on the backs of the workforce. In turn, these congressmen receive a little chunk themselves. All this while both parties have healthcare free of cost, ample salaries, transportation and technology free for the asking. I could go on all night about it, and name so many names
Don’t even get me started on Walmart. McDonalds is by no means even among the worst of these corporations (thank goodness for Ronald McDonald House Charities). It is however, a classic example of a chain that has gained widespread popularity with absolutely NO retention of quality. We have come to expect unpredictable service as well as food that struggles towards even borderline savoriness, and occasionally insults the palette. A faithful employee (with mediocre training and the going wage) can expect to part with over an hour’s wage to eat dinner. Poor soul.
We have popular news medias that feed us any flavor we wish, and the dumber segments of our society fellate this massive, stinking scoop of concocted narratives and paranoia, and it drips down onto their hands as they chew on the cone. They go to the polls and spread their goo all over the rest of us, voting selfishly and fearfully, just as was intended.
Last but certainly not least, we add the element of organized religion. This is an institution that has brought the most beautiful things out of people when operated in the spirits of love and faith. Whenever one disagrees with this, I tell them that I have in fact met the kindest people I know in Christian circles. However, when true spirituality is removed from the recipe, it becomes hateful, greedy, controlling and dangerous. Followers are brainwashed of their deeper sensibilities, and fed fear of the devil himself by the bucketful. Crooked politicians, money grubbing suits and mentally ill evangelicals are positive geniuses at using this virus for their own ends. In the wash, we learn to hate and fear anyone who is different, and we exclude them for our shortcomings. We’ve created societies (and the US is no exception) where might makes right. And although the kinder segments of our societies win periodically at the polls where hateful and unfair policy is on the chopping block, retaliations in practice dull the axe. Biblical figures of surpassing tolerance, love, piety and kindness (such as St. Francis of Assisi and even Jesus Christ) are used on followers as the image of the messenger of the version of God to which they have been indoctrinated. Advertising characters and mascots such as the endearing Ronald McDonald are used similarly to distract our more innocent and surface level psyches from all negative aspects we might see in the partaking of their related services and goods. Joe Camel was an example of this that the public actually found a good excuse to dispose of.
In the end, this painting (though it has gotten lots of laughs) shows a picture to me that is more like the Jonestown Massacre. The Dark, hollow eye sockets of the dominant figure denote the absence of conscience or caring towards the masses at his feet. In the end, he requires them for his very existence and validation. To love them would be to allow them their own wills, their own minds, to give them truth, to make them see themselves and each other with love (allowing a demonic friar/clown to feed you McDonalds French fries is not an act of self-love). The friar cannot allow them such clarity. As McDonalds French fries are known for imperishability, they symbolize the permanence of the defects of human character and spirit that are so dire to make one act in their own interests as a parasite would. This creature is capable of compartmentalizing the harms he brings. Grimace Stands in the background with a lifeless expression as if to stand guard. One might find it challenging to determine whether it is he or the friar who is in control. The same confusion exists in the relationships between our political, corporate and religious communities. The same white vacant eyes used on the captive Fry Guys are used on Grimace. These are the eyes that cannot see either because of ignorant comfort and sheltering, or misinformation and brainwashing. Regardless of who is in control, either can be ignorant, or fully aware of what is going on (perhaps in multiple and varying aspects), and their positions within this structure would not change. The sky in the background is the shade of doom, and a large hedge blocks it from the view of the masses. These creatures become so scared of losing their God given liberty and their voice that they ally wholeheartedly with any who promise completely and without pause to protect it. Without even seeing it, they’ve long since traded the real thing for an illusion.
* Devon Till’s earliest TGA work can be heard here: https://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/the-retarded-dogs-harmonica-song-excerpt
** Devon’s newer music work can be found here:
Ever since Nuns Like To Fence released the first Towson-Glen Arm Freakouts double tape set almost 10 years ago a portion of the label’s profits have gone to benefit a great organization called Music4More, a Maryland based non-profit who refurbishes and distributes musical instruments to schools in need. They also do great work supporting music education programs in at-risk schools and other financially challenged institutions who provide music education to a variety of marginalized communities.
As important as Music4More’s work is, the task of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak must be prioritized and addressed. Towson-Glen Arm was (and always will be) about combining art and progressive activism in a seamless way, so for the duration of the current public health crisis Nuns Like To Fence will be re-directing M4M’s donation money to the international non-profit Doctors Without Borders.
More info on DWB (aka MSF) can be found here: https://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
Physical copies of the TGAF albums are still available for mail order in the US (and possibly also via curbside delivery at a limited number of record stores in the US)
You can purchase downloads of the TGAF compilations here:
It’s been almost 20 years since a Towson-Glen Arm band went on tour. It’s been 25 years since the TGA group T.E.A.M. performed live. And sometime during the early 2000’s was the last time that a new Towson-Glen Arm music project formed.
All that changes this fall when T.E.A.M. returns to take the stage as a support act for a few of Human Host’s upcoming U.S. tour dates *.
The KMAN 92.5 record label has sold out of mail order stock of the T.E.A.M. release they put out about a year ago. This tape is T.E.A.M.’s first full-length release and it is now only available direct from the group at their impending tour dates and at a special music event in Jacksonville, Fla. that occurs around the same time as the T.E.A.M. tour (we’ll get to details on that Florida event in a second)
Here’s T.E.A.M.’s Fall 2019 tour schedule:
November 7th – Columbus, Ohio at Dirty Dungarees Laundromat & Bar
2586 N. Hight St. w/ Double Ski Mask, and Human Host – 7 p.m.; all ages,
$5-$10 suggested donation
friday November 22nd – Roanoke, Va. at Art Rat Studios w/ Mothmen, Human Host, and Mr. Thursday; FREE admission (but please bring tip money for the artists); 7pm to 11pm, 18+
In addition to T.E.A.M.’s tour dates there is one other major event where you can purchase a copy of the latest T.E.A.M. release. This event features none other than the debut performance of the new Towson-Glen Arm band Yabba Dabba Duul II. The line-up of YDD2 features T.E.A.M.’s Devon Till and Mike Apichella (aka your humble blogger). Like T.E.A.M., YDD2’s repertoire is made up entirely of improvised compositions and accidental melodies. In other words, if you dig TGA acts like T.E.A.M., Eli Jones, Guru Magpie, and other joyous weirdos then Yabba Dabba Duul II will be just your cup of tea.
The debut show from YDD2 happens at 10pm on November 20th in Jacksonville, Fla. at the legendary indie venue Shantytown Pub. Human Host, and several local artists will also perform. Shantytown Pub is located at 22 W. 6th St. Admission is $7, and you must be 18 years of age or older to attend the event.
So just for the record the band name Yabba Dabba Duul II was inspired by the incredible late 60’s/early 70’s German experimental psychedelic band Amon Duul II. They were one of the first and best non-U.S./non-U.K. psych groups I can ever remember hearing, and a group whose versatile approach to improvisation and melodic composition bears more than a passing resemblance to the improv music works of many TGA artists, most notably those created by Tim Kabara, Eli Jones, Jetball Taiwan, Out!, T.E.A.M., and Big Huge Fucking Machine.
Of course the name also pays tribute to the classic Hannah-Barbera cartoon t.v. show ‘The Flintstones’ and its main character Fred Flintstone’s wacky gibberish catch phrase “yabba dabba doo!”
How do these two concepts relate to one another? Hey, it’s no fun to reveal all of our mysteries.
But if important questions like that keep you awake at night and if you live anywhere near Jacksonville, Florida then please head on out to this wylde 11/20 gig.
Credit where credit is due: we didn’t make up the band name Yabba Dabba Duul II. This wacky moniker originated in the form of a F*cebook status posted by the great Florida based artist Dylan Houser aka Formaldehydra. Dylan also books shows in central Florida and performs as part of the group Hell Garbage. Thanks for all your support and inspiration Dylan!
* The full schedule of Human Host tour dates can be found here: humanhost.tumblr.com
It looks like Baltimore, Maryland’s eclectic venue Trophy House is fast becoming a hub for whatever’s left of Towson-Glen Arm music in the 21st century. For the second time in the past two years Mike Apichella will return to this venue for a live performance of improvised music/fate-based compositions in the TGA-style on sunday September 15th.
Doors open at 8pm; show starts at 9pm. $-5-$10 sliding scale donations will be taken at the door. The other artists performing are Nomii and Katie Shlon. They’re both non-TGA acts but they’re still gonna be great
(image above: l-r, a photo of Nudists/Preschoolers founder Bob Phair, Mike Apichella, and former Nudists/Woe*Be*Gone member/all around pioneer of the TGA aesthetic Lou Thomas having a holly jolly Christmas – December 24th, 2018; photo by Jesse Phair. Below: 9-15-2019 flyer art created by Izzy)
Nuns Like To Fence has just released Jon Woodstock aka Hubcap, the first major retrospective of recordings made by the outsider folk troubadour/multi-media artist Jon Woodstock.
Among his many great creative achievements Woodstock’s solo music work is superlative. He was Towson-Glen Arm’s most celebrated singer/songwriter. His strange melodies defined the movement’s approach to acoustic guitar music and folk rock. His work continues to serve as a major inspiration for several of the TGA artists who have gone on to national and international prominence since the scene’s dissolution.
Jon Woodstock aka Hubcap is a 14 song album containing nearly an hour’s worth of Towson-Glen Arm’s most legendary acoustic tracks. The first part of the record features the 7 songs that comprised Woodstock’s Autumn 1994 mini-album “Hey, Mike”. The other half features all but one of the tracks he contributed to Bomb Droppings, the second in the 2 volume Bomb series of TGA various artists compilation tapes which originally came out in Summer ’94. Rounding out the collection is a tune originally recorded in 1992 or ’93: the title track from the first Bomb comp. This song is the earliest known recording of acoustic music ever made by a TGA artist. All of Jon’s Bomb material was originally credited to the pseudonym Hubcap.
The new Woodstock/Hubcap collection comes with detailed track notes written by singer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Teret. Teret is a Towson-Glen Arm veteran who, together with Jon Woodstock and a host of TGA luminaries, formed part of the most beloved line-up of The Preschoolers, the scene’s most famous band. Chris’ later TGA groups Woe*Be*Gone, Lou & Chris, and Rive Gauche, and his current bands Company and Snaex have all created music heavily influenced by Jon Woodstock. The track notes explore Chris’ friendship with the artist while also examining the innovative lyrics and music theory concepts that shaped Woodstock’s craft.
Since this blog has already dug deep into the story behind the Bomb series, we’ll skip that and take time here to recount the circumstances which spawned the “Hey , Mike” tape:
In late 1994 Jon Woodstock moved to Eugene, Oregon. He left his Glen Arm, Maryland home on Labor Day that year to join a crew of his hippy classmates from Dulaney High School, most of whom had only recently graduated. The crew of about 10 heads left a month before him and had rented a house together. Some moved to attend college, others had been seduced by mythic tales of west coast hippy culture, and others (like Woodstock) merely needed a change of scenery and a fresh start. Jon was taken off guard when his then current band Lard Star split up. Unbeknownst to his bandmates, he saw this group as a major project that would exist indefinitely, so when the other two members switched focus and suggested moving on the artist took it hard. As soon as he could escape the dissapointment of a ruinous Lard Star, Jon hopped into his beat up red Ford Escort and drove all the way across the country by himself with little more than a small pile of personal belongings and a lust for adventure.
The cause of Woodstock’s return to Maryland has never been clear. In the early fall of ’94 correspondence and phone calls with friends back east revealed that he was enjoying his time in Oregon and yet Woodstock ended up returning to The Old Line State after only a few months. Rumors about this situation have swirled over the years, but since this is not a gossip website we won’t go off on a jag speculating about such things. There is no doubt that the return to Md. was unexpected and it definitely had something to do with money drama involving one of Jon’s housemates. It was another disappointment which formed a pattern of drama that’d follow Jon Woodstock around for the rest of his life.
No matter how problematic things became one constant source of happiness for Jon was his music and other creative work. The “Hey, Mike” tape was recorded soon after the Oregon debacle and when compared to earlier recordings it displays a Hubcap/Woodstock whose power as a songwriter and composer had already reached full maturity. Like his previous solo recordings, the song lyrics overflowed with themes that were equal parts earthy and phantasmagoric. The nuanced melody and lushness of Bomb Droppings tracks like “Daddy” and “Tread” also remained intact, but even in their best moments such earlier works lacked the propulsive/string smashing intensity that burned red hot at the core of the “Hey, Mike” material.
The bold new developement of the music was complimented by its random release, duplication, and distribution. “Hey, Mike” was yet another TGA album marked by extreme informality. Instead of dubbing a pile of tapes, Woodstock merely shoved one copy of the cassette into a space between the front door and the screen door of the house in Glen Arm where his collaborator Mike Apichella lived with family. The spine of its generic tape cover featured only the statement ‘Hey, Mike’ scrawled out in Woodstock’s handwriting. The Apichellas were out when Jon dropped off the tape. No phone calls were made to friends and family when he returned home in late fall ’94. Just like Jon this tape emerged from a cloud of mystery.
After discovering and digesting the tape’s brutal yet beautiful contents, Apichella almost immediately dubbed copies for a few friends; they then dubbed their copies for a few more friends, and so on. Thus another legendary TGA mega rarity was born. Though the music of “Hey, Mike” was not quite as well distributed as Woodstock’s Bomb material it endured and managed to find a home in the ears and hearts of his fellow TGA artists, including some of the scene’s most well known voices – folks like Guy Blakeslee (who got his start with Rive Gauche, and who today tours the world with Entrance Band, a project that explores many of the outsider folk themes found in Woodstock’s work), the in-demand side player/studio musician Walker Teret (Chris Teret’s younger brother and a former member of Woe*Be*Gone; Walker is best known today for his work with Lower Dens and numerous big time indie artists), and the avant garde wunderkind Eli Jones. Eli’s exposure to Woodstock’s music would lead him to form a series of bands with the artist from 1997 to 2000, including The Pink Slips, the most active live band to have included a repertoire dominated by Jon Woodstock’s original songs.
Long before he became an esteemed social justice advocate Scott Gilmore was a subversive artist who got his start with the teenage TGA crew. He played and wrote songs with Woe*Be*Gone, Rive Gauche, and many other groups. After graduating high school Gilmore headed to college in Montreal where he helped form the critically acclaimed experimental music ensemble A Silver Mount Zion who toured the world for a few years in the 2000’s. Even then, many years and miles removed from north Baltimore County, the impact of Jon Woodstock’s cathartic sound could be felt in Gilmore’s work. Upon learning of Jon’s sudden death in 2017 Scott expressed his sympathy for the loss via social media. He also spoke of the positive effect that Woodstock’s work had on Towson-Glen Arm as a whole referring to the artist’s early tapes as “the soundtrack of high school for many of us”.
Jon Woodstock aka Hubcap is available for streaming and as an exclusive digital download from Nuns Like To Fence. There is no exact release date for a physical version of this record yet. Of course, as soon as such a release does materialize TGAF will probably be the first place where you’ll read about it.
For now, you can enjoy this download – the first comprehensive collection of Jon Woodstock’s haunting incomparable music:
Music and art defined by a diverse set of influences. Frenetic mercurial live performances. Ecstatic weirdness. Any of these phrases could be perfect descriptions for the work of Towson-Glen Arm or the work of Animal Collective. Initially coming together during the mid ’90’s in Baltimore’s western suburbs, Animal Collective have become one of the most innovative, influential, and beloved bands to emerge from the pop music scene of the 21st century. Their recordings and other creative works have been analyzed, re-analyzed, debated, and celebrated time and time again over the course of the last 20-ish years, so we won’t be going into their story with much depth here as there are plenty of other websites and publications already showcasing articles and essays that focus on AC’s wild mystique.
Recently Animal Collective member Geologist (aka Brian Weitz) dedicated an entire episode of his radio program The O’Brien System to the music of Towson-Glen Arm. Among the many far out tracks played on the show, the episode features the world premiere of “shaft” by Hubcap, the first single from the forthcoming Hubcap retrospective “Jon Woodstock aka Hubcap”. This radio show is far from the first time that a member of AC has been linked to the north County underground, so today we take a closer look at the nascent Animal Collective’s connections to the TGA movement.
By 1995 Towson-Glen Arm was at the peak of its popularity. The movement’s flagship act The Preschoolers were slowly but steadily climbing to the top of the local ska scenes in Baltimore and DC. The “riot boyyy” music of chaotic grunge band Husky Youth proved that TGA was about more than just weird avant garde catharsis ala the scene’s earliest work. Similarly, many other bands were pushing the boundaries of the TGA aesthetic by using its weird irreverence to make mutated versions of established genres like power pop, post-hardcore, folk rock, indie rock, and pop-punk. This embrace of accessible music ideas naturally caused a much wider awareness and audience to develope around the TGA crew’s output.
Enter Guy Blakeslee** and the band Automine.
Park School is located in Brooklandville, Md. near Owings Mills and the Greenspring Valley. Nestled away on a large acreage of lush farm land, this progressive/alternative school was a mysterious place that the Towson-Glen Arm crew had rarely ever thought about until the Park student/Towson-area resident Guy Blakeslee became a loyal afficiando of TGA music and zines. Blakeslee was a younger kid (probably only around 12 or 13 years old) when he first got interested in the movement in late 1994 after being exposed to it through his cousin Walker Stump-Coale, lead singer of the Towson-Glen Arm band Snatch Attack who shared a practice space and members with another TGA group: Manisex Destiny.
It was through Walker that Guy first met TGA pioneer/Manisex Destiny bassist Lou Thomas and his friends, including Scott Gilmore and Chris Teret. Blakelsee, Gilmore, and Teret in particular shared a love of Beck, indie rock, psychedelia, folk blues, jazz composers, singer-songwriters, and (most of all) emo/screamo music. Eventually these common influences blossomed into the short lived combo Rive Gauche whose line up featured Thomas, Teret, Gilmore, and Blakeslee. Their sophisticated pastiche of sounds was a left over from TGA’s heyday. With the ever evolving scene branching out into genre music, RG’s members were soon committing more time to projects like the dissonant emo group Malaise, early metalcore trio Behind Closed Doors, and the anthemic/poetic folk rock of Woe*Be*Gone and Lou & Chris.
Before their split Rive Gauche gained a loyal fan base both among TGA stalwarts and the cloistered world of artists who were students at Park School, including the kids who played in the experimental rock ensemble Automine. The members of Automine had already been close friends of Guy Blakeslee’s prior to his involvement with Towson-Glen Arm, so once Guy began gigging extensively with the TGA artists his Park School classmates often attended his shows. This then led Automine and its many side projects to start also playing on bills with TGA acts. Automine’s line-up featured future Animal Collective members Brian Weitz, David Portner, and Josh Dibb, along with drummer Brendan Fowler*** and bassist Dave Shpritz.
The north County underground and Automine were never enemies, but they weren’t exactly cut from the same cloth either. Unlike Towson-Glen Arm, the band and their friends weren’t overt political activists. This made it hard for some of the more politically zealous TGA kids to fully support the Park artists. They were seen as being reclusive partially because their activity centered around the members’ home neighborhoods in west Baltimore County, rehearsal spaces at Park School, and other spots that weren’t within easy reach for the average/car-less Towson area high schooler. Furthermore, Guy Blakeslee’s interest in mid 90’s emo was not shared by Automine. As Blakeslee formed their main connection to the scene, Weitz and his collaborators developed a distorted perspective that made TGA seem like a slightly off-kilter satellite scene for emo and other trendy post-hardcore movements, all things that the pre-AC crew couldn’t relate to artistically or otherwise.
Some TGA artists (such as Eli Jones, Lou Thomas, and Mike Apichella aka your humble blogger) were more than happy to have these eccentric musicians along to help keep the flame of the scene’s defining aesthetic diversity. Moog synths, free improvisation, and crazy homemade masks were already big unique parts of the pre-Animal Collective artists’ approach. The material made by Automine and co. had a fresh melodic sensibility that was different from most TGA stuff, yet it possessed a high energy performance art element comparable to Towson-Glen Arm’s wildest early 90’s efforts. As mid 90’s TGA music started moving gradually into conventional realms, the proto-type AC were firing up a rocketship bound for the furthest corners of the modern pop galaxy.
Despite their divergent paths, the two cliques respected and supported each other. From 1996 to 1998 the TGA-friendly haunts of the Baltimore indie rock scene regularly featured performances from Park School’s most zoned out freaks. Brian Weitz has stated that the fierce independence and modus operandi of Towson-Glen Arm were major influences for the embryonic Animal Collective:
“Just watching (Towson-Glen Arm) from the outside was super inspiring – putting on d.i.y. shows, home recording, self-releasing music. It definitely pushed us to do our own thing and gave us a blueprint to follow.”
It’s bizarre now to think of anyone involved with Animal Collective serving as an opening act at gigs for the wacky obscure Towson-Glen Arm artists. The fact that Animal Collective counts the TGA crew as a major early influence seems just as surprising. But, like the old saying goes, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.
On May 13th, 1995 an all ages concert was held at the Baltimore, Md. d.i.y. space The Loft. All profits from the concert went to benefit the organization Food Not Bombs. The Baltimore chapter of FNB included a mix of local activists, anarchist “crust punks”, and TGA artists. Half of the bands who played at the 5/13/95 benefit were Towson-Glen Arm groups. Their performances at this event were documented in the following series of photos taken by future Animal Collective member Brian Weitz.
* Music by The 6 O’Clock Alarm can be heard here: https://nunsliketofence.bandcamp.com/track/the-six-oclock-alarm-ruby-menagerie
** Guy Blakeslee has become well known internationally for his work with Entrance Band, and The Convocation Of…
*** Brendan Fowler is better known now as a curator of contemporary art exhibits in L.A. and NYC, a member of the experimental rap group BARR, and a performance artist who has worked with Dogg & Pony, comedian Isaac Ramos, and many others
For more specifc info. on Mike Apichella’s connection to the work of the pre-Animal Collective artists check this recent Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/Buoop4aHOYi/