… SONGS THAT PRAISE THE MAN WITH THE GOAT’S HEAD IN ORDER TO CURRY FAVOR WITH HIM: Bandmates, Ephemera, Fellow Travelers, Side Projects and Blood Sacrifice, Plus NEW Interviews with JOHN DARNIELLE and FRANKLIN BRUNO, BONAFIDE STARS of INDEPENDENT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL
PAGE FROM JOHN DARNIELLE’S EPISTOLARY-NOVEL-IN-THE-FORM-OF-A-CONTINUUM 33 1/3-BOOK, MASTER OF REALITY
about the Black Sabbath album of the same name, narrated by a kid you will feel a deep affection for if you care about tMGs song “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”
One of the guiding principles of this day is: no posting videos of tMGs playing tMGs songs. After all, DC’s already hosted an excellent general interest tMGs day last September, “Thomas Moronic presents … “I’m coming home to you with my own blood in my mouth”: A celebration of the music of The Mountain Goats” and you can also check out a great post by Alec Niedenthal (w/an assist from Justin Taylor, sometimes known hereabouts as Maximum Etc.) over at HTMLGIANT. This day is instead a chance to gather together some things that are not songs by John Darnielle, tMGs fan videos, and educate myself about some people who are (or have been) members/ associates of tMGs. For that last category, I ended up focusing on Franklin Bruno, John Vanderslice and Peter Hughes (sorry, Jon Wurster, etc!). Most info here is cobbled together from the Internet – so please correct, expand, add favorite albums and so on in the comments. Also: I had half-wanted to lob a couple questions at JV and PH, to balance out the short interviews with JD and FB, but I figured I’d hassled enough people already. That said, John and Peter, if either of you see this, can I tempt you with the “early anecdote” question, applied to anyone else herein profiled?
So: you will find here absolutely no links to tMGs songs; however, as there is an entire tMGs subliterature comprised of JD’s onstage patter; and since the patter in the two versions of “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” embedded below are so closely related to the 33 1/3 book, I include them here, on the condition that no one watch the second past the 00:46 mark, which is when the song proper begins. I am serious. You can search for it yourself on Youtube if you want to hear the rest.
There’s another great piece of stage banter which I swear I had on a bootleg somewhere but now can’t find: anyhow, it goes something like this: Between songs, JD says how Chuck D of Public Enemy would ask live crowds, “Who’s my motherfuckin DJ?” and the crowd would shout back, “TERMINATOR X!” Then, JD asked his own crowd, “Who’s my motherfuckin producer?” and a few people in the crowd shouted “JOHN VANDERSLICE.” Which built into an epic call and response: “WHO’S MY MOTHERFUCKIN PRODUCER?” “JOHN VANDERSLICE.” “WHO’S MY MOTHERFUCKIN PRODUCER?” “JOHN VANDERSLICE.” “WHO’S MY MOTHERFUCKIN PRODUCER?” “JOHN VANDERSLICE.”
[Photo credit: Autumn de Wilde]
JV was born in 1967 in Gainsville, FL. In the 90s his band was MK Ultra. You can download MP3s of all three MK Ultra albums for free on their website. Maybe start with the song “Catastrophe Practice” from 1996’s Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, or “I Miss the War” ] from 1999’s The Dream is Over. Since then, he’s released six solo albums, most recently Romanian Names, which includes the song “Fetal Horses,” which is just so great:
Here’s the recording studio he founded in 1997, Tiny Telephone. Lots of cool people have recorded there. I found the studio’s FAQ page pretty interesting, as someone who’s never set foot in one – It’s $350 a day (sounds reasonable, right?) plus $200 for a “first engineer” (a “second engineer” is half that). Also, have you thought about the tape you are using, and who will deliver it? Well and are you using the piano? If so, you should check out FAQ number 6:
6. Who is responsible for piano tuning?
The client is solely responsible for piano tuning. It’s frequently moved and treated, both of which knock the C3 out of tune. We’ll gladly have you in a few days before your session to check the tuning. If the piano is central to your project, we strongly encourage you to book the tuner for the day of your session. He has keys, so he can start well before you load in. Try to book him in advance.
Piano tuner: Israel Stein, 510 558 0777 (he’s around $100)
JV’s tumblr is very active. A recent post showed a photo of jars and bottles of: black bean garlic sauce, spiced vinegar, chili paste with garlic, chile oil, garlic chili sauce, and two other bottles, one dark, one light. “All this for $13. Manila Market, I love you.”
A PIECE OF SEMI-PALINDROMIC JD PROSE FROM THE LINER NOTES TO ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS, PLUS JD’S MUSINGS ON THE PANASONIC RX-FT500
[photo credit: Michael Cargill]
FB was born in Upland, Califronia in 1968. He has been recording in various capacities since the early 90s. This paragraph, copied from The Human Hearts MySpace page, sums things about a few things. “The Human Hearts is a flexible branding medium for the realization and dissemination of songs (and other musical work, but let’s face it, it’s gonna mostly be songs) by Franklin Bruno, also known as 1/3 of the Southern California power trio Nothing Painted Blue, 1/2 of The Extra Glenns, and as a solo artist in his own right.” To round that out, FB also played keyboards on tMGs albums Talahassee and The Sunset Tree, writes poetry, and is sort of notorious for a review he did in the 90s of a terrible novel about indie rock. It is the FUNNIEST FUCKING THING EVER and was actually my first exposure to FB – I think it was my friend Gabby who showed it to me when I was an undergrad, and it was a couple years later before my friend Steve gave me the FB solo album, A Bedroom Community.
Most recently, FB released Local Currency (Fayettenam Records), a CD of early solo singles and compilation tracks. And he and JD have recorded a followup to Martial Arts Weekend, the first and so far only Extra Glenns album. For those who haven’t heard that one, it’s a collaboration between FB and JD, and sounds – surprise! – like a hybrid between John and Franklin’s sounds, which is a very happy space to inhabit. They will release the new album under the moniker The Extra Lens, for reasons which were not made clear to me but are probably mysterious and interesting and none of my business.
Here are three FB things you should listen to:
The Nothing Painted Blue track (or “N∅thing Painted Blue” (or “∅PB”) “Another Child Bride”:
And an amazing live version of an unreleased solo FB song with characteristic nerdy banter about Leonard Cohen and Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government:
And a live Extra Glenns track:
FB has an infrequently updated blog; in one of the more recent posts, he discusses the whole thing of releasing under your own name versus a band name:
Nothing against those who do, but I think that I have not cared to use a bandonym for much the same reason that, as a show-goer and -performer in L.A., I dressed in a staid manner that I’d call “neutral” except that it of course revealed some sort of affiliation to my class-fragment. To spell it out: If you disdain me before you know anything about me because I’m not bearing the mark of cool, it is as well that I don’t know you, and that you don’t know my music. If you can’t figure out that an individual who records pseudonymously may be implicated in all manner of objectionable (or not) Romantic self-expression, and that one who does not may not admit of any direct equivalence between the “I” of songs and the person who happens to be performing them, then, again, it is well that, etc. Also, good luck with fiction and poetry.
Should one at this point exclaim “but the self is fragmented/decentered/illusory,” I reply: Perhaps, but if so, then this is the case whether or not I fuck about with self-presentation. “Franklin Bruno” may well be held together with spittle and memories, but this is so, and is reflected (or not) in the work, quite independently of whether or not he goes to the trouble of rebranding himself Ziggy McPersona.
QUESTIONS FOR FRANKLIN BRUNO
MD: It must be weird to listen to/think about the Local Currency songs as a group. Are there any of these songs you hadn’t listened to since they were first released — or, maybe I should say instead: which song had it been the longest on? Which was the most surprising? (That is, unless you go home most nights, uncork a bottle of Chilean wine and play your old singles and compilation tracks. There’s a joke on the Home Movies season 4 commentary track where the other voice actors repeatedly insist that since it was cancelled, the show’s creator, Brendan Small, has kept the DVDs of the show on perpetual loop in his house. I have to imagine there are a few indie rock guys who more or less live that.)
FB: Well, among Inland Empire bands, it’s Wckr Spgt who are most noted for listening to their own stuff incessantly (like, at breaks from practices). Me, not so much, which is also related to being a poor archivist. I think the songs that had faded from memory were mostly those on the odd one-off compilations that were a staple of indiedom during the ’90s — you recorded something-or-other, sent it off on a cassette or (if you were fancy) DAT, received some copies many months later (except in a few cases where the label just flaked or ceased to exist), with or without the return of your master. These tended to be songs that I wouldn’t be likely to play live for one reason or another, with the result that it would be a real feat for to remember how just a couple of these songs go (especially the ones in open tunings, like “Rice King.”) Perhaps no great loss.
All that said, it wasn’t all that strange to listen to the Local Currency material as a group, as many of the songs were written in a short span of time (though some weren’t released until quite a bit later), and some of them, the first three 7″s especially, always felt like an album-in-disguise with some, ahem, “themes” (the shared character of money and language, love triangles, martyrdom, the material limitations of the four-track method). I was pleasantly surprised in a couple cases that I’d taken trouble to come up with and execute fairly interesting guitar parts, and taken aback that I hadn’t bothered to sing the damn song effectively. But, again, that was the ’90s.
MD: I asked JD the same question about you: Please relate one mid-length, or two very short, anecdote(s), possibly humorous, from the earliest days of your acquaintance with John Darnielle.
FB: (1) Very first thing John and I ever tried to work on, before there were any Mtn. Goats or Extra Glenns/Lens recordings extant, was his idea of setting the Vachel Lindsay poem “Factory Windows are Always Broken” to music. I actually did this, but ended up playing it in Nothing Painted Blue instead of w/ John, for no reason I can remember. It’s never been recorded, and wasn’t so hot anyway — basically a “Sweet Jane” chords. But still a good idea. (2) Though I’m glad that John appreciates my aliveness to the Goat Head (but wasn’t it “Evil Goat Head”?), and while I’ve sometimes suspect that whatever worldly success or cultural currency our efforts have attained may ultimately result from our obeisance to said demiurge, I’m surprised that he has failed to bring to light another early, unrealized project: “Obnar,” our improvised sound-poetry opera in the manner of Kurt Schwitters “Ur-Sonate.”
THE YOUNG THOUSANDS: SOME MOUNTAIN GOATS FAN COVERS
[photo credit: John Vanderslice.]
Peter Hughes has been playing bass with the Mountain Goats live on and off since 1995, and has been on all the albums since 2001, when JD switched from recording mostly on boombox to recording with a full band instudio. The first times I saw them, TMGs toured as a two piece with PH and JD, which works really well since JD’s guitar playing is so percussive that you don’t necessarily need a drummer (though they’ve got a very good one now in Jon Wurster). PH also played in Nothing Painted Blue.
PH will release a solo album this year called Fangio. Per his website: “Fangio–the album-length sequel to a song I wrote for my Casio-powered solo project, Party of One, in 1987, a song that imagined five-time Formula 1 World Champion and Argentine folk hero Juan Manuel Fangio piloting a Saab 900 Turbo SPG across the Andes mountains on a covert mission to assassinate Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet–currently sits in pit lane, crew scurrying about, final preparations being made before advancing to the starting grid.”
DiscothiQ (pronounced “dis GOTH uh cue” – the name comes from how an American might pronounce “discotheque” if they didn’t know better) was PH’s 90s band. Again, per PH’s website “DISKOTHI-Q (hyphenated when all caps, nonhyphenated with cap Q when uppers-and-lowers dontcha know) is Peter Hughes, Kevin Hughes, Kevin Trapp, and, at times, Rob Garlt. We haven’t done anything since Trapp and I moved away from the Empire in 2000, but from 1991 up til then we kinda did a lot.”
There are a whole lot of free DiscothiQ mp3s on PH’s website. Maybe start with “Pomp & Circumstance” from 1996’s Waterworld? Though you should also check out this other kind of insane project, where the band recorded a song for each of the 32 NFL teams. This has to my mind a number of advantages over Sufjan Stevens 50 State Project, for instance the fact that 32 songs rather 50 lps means that one’s children and one’s children’s children would not be forced to continue toiling on the project long after one’s own death. Per PH’s website: “No longer trying to be anything other than the semi-competent indie-rock band we in fact were, we turned our ambitions to more worthy endeavors. Namely, 32 songs about 32 teams. Yes, we really fucking did this. Realignment and free agency have rendered these works largely obsolete and irrelevant, but the immutable and outrageous genius of these CDs–the fact that we actually accepted the dare and made good on it–still shines as brilliantly as ever.”
Here’s a YouYube video tribute to the Bengal wide receiver Chris Henry backed by Discothiq’s “Bengals.” (I recommend starting this one at 1:41 and stopping it at 3:40, for reasons that will become obvious if you fail to follow these very simple instructions.)
There’s a fascinating long interview with PH from 2007 on the Merlin Show in which he talks, among other things, about how different it was to tour before the invention of cell phones, and how kids these days, they just don’t have the first clue:
“The way we did it in 1993 was if you needed to advance for the club, or you needed to get directions or you needed to call your girlfriend you had to find a payphone. You had to get a calling card, pull off… Gawd, when I think of what we had to go through…. being in the middle of B. F. Ohio, and being late, so you have to call the club. You have to find a town with a gas station or some place that’s going to have a pay phone. You get off at some random exit. I remember driving for like 20 minutes just looking for a freaking pay phone. So now you’re making yourself later and you’re crossing your fingers that there’s even going to be someone on the other end that you can tell…. it sucked.”
He also talks in the interview about how to build a career in music, and speaks extensively about his LiveJournal, which he uses as a tour diary and for interacting with fans. (You have to start your own LiveJournal and friend him to see his posts since 2005, cos anonymous people on the Internet are dicks who ruin everything.)
And, lastly: PH interviewed in 2009 for the Loyola Phoenix, where he gets a little nerdy about Stephen Colbert:
Q: The band played on the Colbert Report last week and Stephen Colbert, in a rare moment of sincerity, confessed he was a huge fan. What was that like?
PH: When someone who is a part of your life, a part of your universe in a way that Stephen Colbert has been a part of mine — and your’s too, I’m sure — and all of a sudden you discover you’re equally part of his universe … it’s such a mind-blowing thing. It was a surreal day.
A RECENT POST FROM LAST PLANE TO JAKARTA, JD’S INTERNET HOME, WHICH IS WORTH EXPLORING FOR ANY NUMBER OF REASONS, FOR INSTANCE IF YOU NEED LISTENING SUGGESTIONS, OR IF YOU NEED OCCASIONAL LIFE-COACHING, BOTH OF WHICH ARE ON DISPLAY BELOW
note all qualifiers
if you’re going to sing
in the screaming punk style
which took hold
sometime toward the end of the eighties
then the way to do it
is in the way one hears
on the new album
by noted Krishnacore act 108
with passion that seems to actually spring
screaming like you feel a need to scream
not like it’s a formal constaint
if you’re going to sing
in that screaming style
which is now so common
that it almost never sounds angry
or anything but profoundly conformist, really
then do it like that guy from 108
if you’re going to do the scream-sing thing
repeat: if you are
QUESTIONS FOR JOHN DARNIELLE
MD: A number of authors get name-checked in your songs, from Cicero to Sax Rohmer. What writers have influenced you that maybe don’t have a song yet?
JD: Quite a few, but I am weirdly private about my reading list – I like being the only person who knows the exact combination of poetry & prose that makes me write the way I do, since I do think that pretty much any writer is the sum total of what he’s read, plus the tiny spark of self that he brings to the process. You can’t discount that spark, and without it there’s nothing, but the main thing is the reading list, and it’s as personal & important as the “this is the tiny new bit that I brought to the table” part. Having said that, I quoted Norman Dubie on the sleeve of the Nine Black Poppies EP, but I haven’t really given him a song, but I think reading him when he was kind of the hot name for a while there – around the time of Groom Falconer and the Springhouse and Radio Sky – had a pretty big impact on me.
MD: How do you think influence works between genres — maybe a specific instance or two from your work?
JD: Well – I steal images from film all the time; for me, that’s the primary function of film: to provide visual images for me to play with. “Oceanographer’s Choice” is the sort of obvious one, where the characters in the song are watching a giallo on television and describing it in the song’s first couple of lines as though the action on the screen were happening outside in the room. I mean, really, this is going to sound like some rainbow-prism-eyed stuff to say, but I think genre is at least 1/2 marketing conceit. It’s a useful concept for enthusiasts of a form, you know, for the pleasures of taxonomy – is this really a horror movie, or is it just a particularly grisly mystery? is this a comic novel, or are its comic aspects a formal gesture to make its uglier parts seem even uglier by contrast? – but I always feel like it should be emphasised: that sort of question-posing is kind of the critical equivalent of sudoku. I like to play sudoku, too, but in the end it has very little to do with, you know, the glories of higher mathematics, and I think for me in the final analysis genre, the whole concept, is a toy. Fun toy if you want it! Useful tool for making delineations between things. But in the end, I don’t believe in genres as anything more than that — songs, movies, books, photographs – these are all forms of the same impulse: the narrative or performative impulse.
MD: What are your favorite songs about books?
JD: None come to mind – my brain immediately starts thinking up songs with “book” in the chorus, two of which involve Walter Becker (“Green Book” and “Book of Liars,” the latter a favorite) and another that has a nonsensical but awesome chorus (“Black Book” by Stephen Malkmus). Why are books known for their colors in songs?
MD: People often speak of certain common technical mistakes in the work of young fiction writers — POV that doesn’t gel, overuse of adverbs in dialog tags, that sort of thing. Are there specific technical problems you see repeatedly in the work of beginning songwriters?
JD: Yeah there’s one, a pet one, which I’ll get to shortly, but the main thing is less technical than – well, for lack of a better term, “moral.” Not moral problems in the sense so much of “what you are doing is morally indefensible,” but more of a “the terms of the moral universe in which you are setting your song are lame, and since you’re the one setting those terms, this is a problem you should fix.” What the hell am I even talking about — this: young men (this problem really doesn’t seem to exist for young women who write songs) often like to present a narrator whose self-destructive “urges” (they usually aren’t real “urges” so much as cosmetic choices about how to present himself) are clearly placing him on a collision course with doom. The narrator of these songs often seems to hope that the important people in his life will be both very impressed by the special nature of his pain, and that some people who have spurned him will be so horrified by the things his pain has made him do that they will either a) give him what he wants from them or b) speak with awe about him.
Really can’t stand that kinda stuff. There is one thing special about your pain: it’s yours. That ought to be enough, in my opinion; you can describe it from there, and take control of it, detail it lovingly, etc. But when a narrator seems to think that he is somehow beatified by his own particular collection of neuroses, well, this bugs me. I was as guilty of this early on as anybody, and one of my most popular songs is pretty much One Of These Types, and it’s not that all songs like this are bad. In fact many of them are quite good. But it’s a tendency that should be outgrown quickly. Often there are two main characters in a song like this, and almost always, the song would be a much better one of the two weren’t acting like a child.
MD: I asked Franklin the same question about you: Please relate one mid-length, or two very short, anecdote(s), possibly humorous, from the earliest days of your acquaintance with Franklin Bruno.
JD: Because my memory is pretty unreliable I usually have to make stuff up for questions like this. 1. Once Franklin and I were at a performance of La Boheme at the Dorothy Chandler when an earthquake struck. “Earthquake?” quipped Franklin. “I hardly knew her!” 2. Ages and ages ago, before I knew Franklin, some friends and I used to make up songs & stories about the imminent takeover of the earth by the Dark Lord, who would appear as a well-dressed man with a goat’s head, seldom seen save from the corners of one’s eyes as he turns the corner just after some disaster strikes. (This was long before the days of the Mountain Goats.) One friend and I thought that the songs in praise of the infinite wisdom of Mr. Goat’s Head were about the funniest things in the world; we would drink coffee til dawn refining them. Our other friends were less taken with the process. They would leave the table if discussion of Mr. Goat’s Head started to heat up. However, one day, some years later, I told Franklin about the whole thing. He was the first person outside of the original Goat’s Head Circle to not only be amused by it, but to further contribute to the canon of Songs That Praise The Man With the Goat’s Head In Order to Curry Favor With Him. When Franklin laughed at goat’s head songs, I knew we were in for the long haul.
p.s. Hey. I’m moving all of my stuff halfway across Paris into a new apartment today, but I offer you this revivified guest post by the awesome author Mark Doten. Enjoy, please. See you tomorrow.