Mudhoney part one.
High Street in the mid to late 1980’s probably resembled most college town strips, rows and rows of bars serving pitchers or even plastic buckets of beer, beers for a quarter, tacky named drinks like “Sex on the Beach”, “Flaming Dr. Pepper”, $.50 shots of bubblegum flavored schnapps and Jell-O shots because who wouldn’t want to have a nice slimy sickly sweet mound of rubberized alcohol with luc-warm keg beer in a plastic cup? As the moon settled over the brightly lit destination, it would become overflowing with every type of stereotype of American, as young tie-dyed women with long flowing hair bounced off the curbs, twirling Eddi Brickell curly long hair into the night, vying for their attention were thick-necked and thicker-skulled frat boys arms bulging from weight sets next to dorm refrigerators fueled by twelve-packs of Old Milwaukee, they were here to score pussy damnit!, trying to be innocuous were the punks and burgeoning Goths, silently blending into the fabric of the concrete street with darkened mascara eyes, fishnet stockings and towering mohawks, and on the further outskirts were the other misfits, the soon to be called Gen-Xerox indie-rockers, we with jeans and rock concert tee-shirts, clothing picked fresh from the plentiful thrift stores, where the 1950’s and 60’s were not so long in passing. There would be rows and rows of shiny button up shirts for men, pill-box hats for women and even rows of formal dresses that would make Jackie Onassis proud. Bars after bars vied for all of this attention, with the vast majority catering to the white middle-class students, there was one bar on the strip that catered to the African-American students and of course, Crazy Mama’s that was the cauldron of Goth-punk-indie STD stew, where punk rock guys really did go out with new wave girls.
College radio was the invisible string the tied the huddled pockets of punks, new-wavers and the black mascara crowd together across campuses around the country. Meager, tiny sounds emanating from silver metal radio towers, perching high on libraries, gymnasiums and English buildings provided small budding scenes with a fuel and energy that encouraged the sharing of music, ideas and romance. Major labels would devote entire departments to market records to this small crowd of passionate fans, although none of them appeared to care to much to bringing many of these bands to a wider audience as mainstream radio was rife with payola and the white-bread sounds of Phil Collins, Lionel Richie, Hall and Oates and on the hard-rock stations, it was Def Leppard, RATT and genteel versions of ZZ Top and Van Halen (i.e. “Velcro Fly” and “Jump.”) It wasn’t until the overwhelming success of R.E.M. that was built town by town, show by show, record by record over seven years that the major labels decided to spend a bit more even then the popularity of “college” rock was relegated to university campuses, record stores and the midnight 120 minutes show on MTV. Unknown at the time was the importance of struggling but essential gateways to this music, which was the independent record label. It would be difficult to think of music today without the heavy stone foundation laid by bands such as Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, the Replacements, Scrawl, Husker Du and the Bad Brains, all of which sprung from the indie-label scene.
It was upon this stage that many of us sowed our oats, filling our young pockets with the vibrant echoes of music that could transform a day of idleness to one of pure creative output, with fingers clutching onto the cardboard sleeve of our favorite record at the moment, transportation came the moment the needle struck the grooves. The secret handshakes were the concert tee-shirts we wore, the rolled up fanzines we stuck in our back pockets and the glee of live music, as the notes invaded our ears, we caromed off one another, bouncing to and fro from the bars, dance floors and into our beds. The smell of sweat, alcohol and sex pressed against our faces and loins the next morning, it was a far world from stuffy and the conservative communities many of us had sprung from.
Drinking was as present as air, a bottle clutched in my hand as sure as I wanted a hand to hold onto my heart, it was the next best thing–a solid glass method of fending off loneliness while at the same time energizing everything I did, a record simply sounded better with a drink and a woman was easier to humor with a wry smile and a the floating bubbles of beer. Talent is a young person’s urge, stepping out of adolescence, kicking off the insecurities of early and awkward sexual experiences, leaving behind pimples, oily skin and bodies that were never quite what one wanted–I stalked away from my teenage years with no regrets and an acute sense of relief all the while finding out that my passion play with music, painting, and writing. A body couldn’t walk down High Street without bumping into someone who was busy recording, making and breathing art, wearing the passion the burned inside fully on the outside, carrying canvases, guitar cases, bundles of notebooks, and knapsacks stuffed with methods of creating and collecting thoughts, ideas that were day-glow in nature, screaming from clothing, hair and even the make-up we wore.
Pacing my walk, counting my steps while I read the paper in one hand, a bulky Sony Walkman in the other, it was a minor miracle I never knocked anybody’s teeth out nothing could hold my attention. Music helped focusing, notes to lead the way as I shuffled through life, barely lifting clumsy feet through days filled with the afterthoughts of nights that never turned off, even now they are like streets lights made of wax paper, filtering into nothingness, pulling around the edges as if roasted in an oven. My walks were the same, from whatever apartment/house I lived in to the store, then to Larry’s, to Bernie’s, the corner carryout near 15th, Buckeye Donuts and then to Staches. Repeat, sleep, repeat. There were some weeks when I never drove, there wasn’t a need, opening the car door, a small blast of stale hot air would billow out and engulf me, wavering from the slight stench, plopping in the front seat making sure the correct tape was in the player, turning the key and the sweaty vessel was transformed into an instant feeling machine, never mind the dry air, the empty beer bottles on the backseat floor or the scrunched up McDonalds bag on the passenger side. Nodding to myself as “Flat out Fucked” blared into the late morning sun, the car was another home, a clubhouse of my own.
Slipping from my corporate record store job everyday day around three, with my best rumpled dress shirt, brownish off the rack pleated pants and a bulky name tag stuck to my chest I would venture to Used Kids, and soon after Dan and Ron would offer me a Black Label, and feeling like one of the crowd I was soon talking records with them. Gerald Moss, worked there, par laying his own passion for music to rise up in the Koch Distribution corporation, he and I would discuss Phil Ochs, Richard Thompson and classical music. A full-blown passion for records had exploded when I got to High Street, living in small town Ohio, record stores consisted of the clean lines of chain stores, where posters and cassette tapes lined the walls. Getting underground music was a chore, where as a fifteen year old I would peruse the racks and buy records depending on their labels or even by their album covers. It was as if a fat man walked into an ice cream shop that sold more than vanilla or chocolate, I didn’t want to leave and I wanted to try everything. The dollar bins were bulky, stuffed with an assortment of titles, based not just on the redundancy of previous year’s sales (Bad Company, Peter Frampton, Heart, easy listening) but also by condition or cut-out bin titles, one could easily find semi-beat Replacements, Soul Asylum, Breaking Circus, or Salem 66 records in the cut-out bin, I bought my first Guided By Voices record, “Self-Arial Nostalgia” record for a $1, sealed. The music that the Ron and Dan played was always good, making an impression on ears that gobbled up music like the desert does rain. Sucking the notes out of air, an appetite for melody that was as much as an addiction as the alcohol I was consuming at daily and afternoon intervals.
Summer was bleeding Ohio dry in the summer of 1988, the pavement was so hot that the soles of tennis shoes stuck to the sidewalk, waves of heat shuddered in the thick air and if one did not have the luxury of an air conditioner, nights were spent with a fan blasting away on naked sweaty bodies, cooking on top of damp sheets. Discount Records, since it was a corporate store, complete with carpet that was replaced every few years had air conditioning, but we also couldn’t play a lot of the music I wanted to. The manager didn’t approve, we played mostly jazz, classical and non-offensive pop music such as Tracy Chapman, James Taylor, and soft R&B, when he agreed to play 10,000 Maniacs or the Rolling Stones he was being adventurous but for me, it was better than working at Sears, United Dairy Farmers or lawn-work. Used Kids had no air conditioner, the best way to cool off was to grab a beer from one of the always laughing men, and hope that it wasn’t too crowded, propping open the door the store felt damp, sticky and with the scent of sweaty men and hippie oils in the air, I would thumb through the records. Suddenly Ron put on a single, eyeing him from the corner of the dollar bin, he held a bottle to his mouth, nodded and smiled as he put the bottle on the counter, his left hand wheeling the volume knob, the sound came blurting out of the speaker above my head, a fat-squishy and ragged blast of noise that asserted itself as not just new but primordial in the best sense of the word and the singer’s voice cackled out as if where a comic-book burp, “blarrghhhhh!!!!” and when the chorus hit, something had transformed me, the sloppy and crusty sound, bellowed out like an lion, albeit a drunken, soiled and rabid lion, but a lion nevertheless.
“Touch Me I’m Sick” was the first single by Mudhoney a soiled diamond of a song that for many of us, changed everything. It was one of the few songs that I remember where I was the first time I heard it, along with “Everything Flows” by Teenage Fanclub and “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, but it was another revelation that music was ugly, beautiful and comical all at the same time. Lyrically it was brilliant, nobody was singing songs like this—at least to my young 20 year old ears—a stab against the clean bullshit of hair rock, the pastel sounds of Whitney Houston and Huey Lewis, the soft-light videos of dancing candles that framed the clean cut faces of Phil Collins, the Police and that ilk.
There are moments in life where perspective switches, an inner shift where the world changes, for some it maybe discarding matchbox cars, putting the doll in a box, or taking a last drink of alcohol. At other times, the shift is subtle, a slow movement, wading into the ocean as the waves crawl up around chilly thighs, small pushes against a body not quite ready to change—these changes happen in slow motion. Punk rock hit me like my first orgasm, it made total sense and a part of me asked myself, “why didn’t I know about this before?” The world changed, there was no longer a hierarchy to art, no longer a manner in which someone had to dress a certain way or for music to be used to sell anything other than pure emotional, either frustration, anger, joy or confessional sloppy love (sex).
At one point around this time, I started going out with Sharon, her quiet mysterious manners, her steely beauty and the fact that she was as big of a fan of loud guitars and spitting, sputtering, saliva spewing vocals only helped to make an up-to-that-time world a bit more clear. Sharon, who had lived with J Mascis, hung out with Sonic Youth and lived in Alphabet City, had eyes for me and the punk-outcast-arrogant me felt a “I fuckin-told-you-so” to the small town Ohio, that I had thrown off my shoulders just a few years prior. Sharon went to art school in NYC, although she was from Columbus she too, had shed her own upbringing and made herself anew-the person she was. Astute, coy and with a wise eye for detail, Sharon loved fashion, at one point we argued about the idea that I had a great sense of fashion, which I found absurd as I usually wore tee-shirts, jeans and thrift store button-ups. Many of the latter were from the 60’s and early 70’s as those decades were not so much in the distant past, were now, as I stand on the verge of 50, those decades appear to be faint wisps of smoke disenagrating in my mind. Fa-la-la-man. Sharon took me to Barney’s and other stores that would bludgeon my eyes with their price tags. Later when I met my wife, herself fashionably acute, and also an artist I gleaned some idea of fashion and style although it was more about how these lovers had used them. My style was comfort and easiness, and the idea of punk while married to fashion was more about being creative, of being confident to make and live life as you could carve it out, perhaps by plucking a guitar or bass, transforming a body that was at one time abused into a walking, breathing canvass or painting your hair purple, or green or cutting off the entire fucking mop.
Mudhoney contacted Jerry one day, asking Gaunt to open up a few shows for them, Steve Turner was/is one of the most passionate music fanatics I have ever met, and he had heard Gaunt and loved them, soon he convinced the rest of the band to allow Gaunt to play some shows with them. Another by-product of this wonderful indie-world was constructed around the idea of creative and no hierarchy it was common for well known bands to pick and choose local bands to open for them or to tour, Pavement had the Ass Ponys open for them several times in Ohio, Superchunk toured with Gaunt a few times, Billy Childish asked the New Bomb Turks to play with him in Columbus and the list goes on. The only requirement I needed to go to a show was to be loaded, which was a pretty easy task.
I drove with Gaunt to Bogart’s in Cincinnati, it was on the edge of the University of Cincinnati and the Over-the-Rhine, a mixed neighborhood that had been kicking and screaming into the idea of gentrification. It was a hotspot for racial tensions, poverty and drug use—and it was not uncommon to read about police shootings and high crime. We drove a small mini-van, Jerry, Brett Lewis and I drinking the entire way, it was as if we were ten year olds driving to Kings Island Amusement Park instead of our twenty-something selves on our way to a punk-rock show. Jerry was loose, cracking jokes and bahawing all the way on the 100 mile car ride, we giggled uncontrollably and right before we got there Jerry got his serious face on, one where he felt the need to wear the weight of the free-world on his shoulders, pumping cigarette after cigarette into his lips he would suck one up and start another. Brett said, “relax Jerry, we’ll have a good show.” Nodding Jerry stammered, “I am fucking relaxed dude!” Eyeing one another, Brett and I laughed again.
this is pretty great: