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