MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS : “MAMA WAS A SCHITZO, DADDY WAS A VEGETABLE MAN”

Here’s a post from last September that I wrote on my old blog about this amazing posthumous single – this time with the song itself for you to download below…..!

I plopped this on the turntable this past weekend and was again blown to friggin’ kingdom come by its glory. These 1975-76 recordings from original recipe proto-punk space teleporters MIKE REP & THE QUOTAS were lost to the wilds of history until Jacob Olausson’s Sverige Age Records in Sweden brought them to life again in 2002 – and you know what? These two tracks are every bit as raw, wild & grimy as Rep’s original legit 45 “Rocket To Nowhere” – and if you know that one, you know it’s an all-time freak-rock knockout. Both of these tracks are mono, shit-fi productions before there was any cachet in such a thing, but Rep pretty much wrote the book on making ends greatly exceed the means, starting here. So when you listen to “Mama…” you hear drums that are every bit as heavy and echoing as Bonzo’s – and louder. The force of a thousand amps projecting simple, screaming chords into space is as alive as any other punk, pre-punk or proto-punk whatsis of the 70s. I guess the real true heavy metalloid music of the era was being created in places like Hamilton, Ontario; Chickasaw, Oklahoma and REP’s Columbus, Ohio – not NY, SF and LA.

Crumbs From Behind The Wall

First, I would like to make extra sure that readers of this blog realize that it has nothing to do with the dining-out column by the same name in the wretched Ex-Berliner magazine. It’s really not even worth wasting electrons on those people and their amazingly myopic view of Berlin’s anglophone communities, but it probably is worth highlighting their astonishing lack of originality.

Those who are interested in my dining-out experiences here should a) wait until I can afford doing it again and then b) check over at Dishola, the Austin-based experiment in restaurant blogging or whatever it is. I’m the official Berlin Editor over there, and I’ve really got to get some stuff up about Toca Rouge and that ramen place on Neue Schönhauser and a couple of other places I’m thinking would appeal to their readership.

* * *

As promised some time ago, a new work by Nike, this one on Brunnenstr. near the park. Is this an hommage to Gaugin, or…?

* * *

I’m headed to Texas and California via Paris for a couple of weeks, starting in a week, and walked over to Hauptbahnhof recently to buy my ticket to Paris and see if I could get beaned by a piece of falling steel so I could sue Deutsche Bahn and get myself free tickets for life. I did manage to accomplish one of those goals, but it was the one that cost me money, not the one that cost them money. Whatever: I’m leaving this place for a while, and that always feels good unless I’m headed to someplace even worse like Frankfurt/Main.

At any rate, I was amused by a rather ambitious currywurst budde over there which calls itself Berliner-Curry.de. Around the name are listed cities: New York, Dubai, Paris, and so on. Interesting; an entrepreneur actually attempting to franchise Berlin currywurst around the world? That actually could be a winner (although not in Dubai unless the sausages were beef). Naturally, as soon as I got home I hit the URL, and was disappointed, as you no doubt will be. It is emblematically Berlinish, though, to hop on a trend without really understanding it. I remember years ago when a new office supply company opened here in Mitte calling itself Papyrus.com. Naturally, they hadn’t registered the URL, and didn’t even have a website. But that dot-com stuff was trendy, right?

* * *

One thing you can always say about Berlin is it’s a really safe city. Violent crime here is almost unknown in most places, and I’ve only been burgled once, which was pretty much my landlord’s fault. But that’s not to say there isn’t an undercurrent of anger here which blossoms forth every now and again in unpleasant ways. Currently, the trend seems to be throwing paving stones (easily dug out of the sandy soil here with a pen knife) through windows. Just in the past couple of days, I’ve seen smashed windows at the hookah bar on Chausseestr. and Tieckstr. (although this is probably just the tip of a larger story involving the huge number of these places and shops to supply them which have sprung up virtually overnight: do people really enjoy sitting around sipping sweet tea and smoking perfumed tobacco if they’re not Arabs?), at the huge SAP software company building on the corner of Rosenthaler Str. and Gipsstr. (where you can see the place they dug the stones right in front of the building), and at the former Beate Uhse porn shop on Rosenthaler Str. This last suddenly sprouted some weird art-like installation in the windows almost within minutes of the Uhse folks pulling out, and it was apparently part of some viral marketing scheme by one of the game box companies — I’ve lost track of Playstations and Nintendos and so on, but one of them has put up fake street art, opened a fake art gallery on Torstr., and now this. Not only did the windows go, the bricks were still there when I walked past, and someone was filming it.

I have to admit, I understand how street artists can get irked by this sort of thing, because the paper art with the URL was just bad enough that it stood out as fake. It was as annoying as the ad campaign for the new Toyota auto which has — and I’m not exaggerating here — taken up about 95% of all advertising space in this city for most of this week, and which will, if there’s any justice, disappear tomorrow when the car is actually introduced. The Toyota campaign is yet another one which presupposes the utter stupidity of the consumer, the “Hey dumbass, buy this” attitude that’s at the basis of so much German advertising, as opposed to the “You’re clever enough to want this” approach the Brits pioneered and the Americans eventually figured out. Trouble is, there aren’t enough paving stones to take this one out.

* * *

Yes, I know Berlin is changing, but… One night not very long ago, I was walking down Invalidenstr. and there was cheesy pink light streaming off a ginormous disco ball inside the staid walls of the old DDR post office. A couple of weeks later, I saw that Volkswagen was staging an event there. Now, when I first moved here, that was my local post office, and I’ve (naturally, because it’s what one does at the post office in Germany) stood in lines there many a day, admiring the strange metal sculpture on the polished marble walls. After Deutsche Post went private and the post office moved into a MacPaper outlet (I am not making this up, for those of you who don’t live here), the building was empty for a long, long time. But apparently it’s been rescued by a club which will give the lie to all those reports of hip! edgy! Berlin! Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bangaluu! (Warning: cheezy handbag house music when you click the link). Opening a branch of this — or even an imitation of it — would soon empty Friedrichshain of hipsters, and the flights back to Williamsburg would be packed. I kept clicking links on that site out of sick fascination. And to think it’s right next door to where, many many years ago in the Paleolithic Era, the Technics Club was…

* * *

And finally, the pictures to explain the headline. Some months ago, I posted a picture of some graffiti “artists” spray-painting the wall of the building next to me, which I have to walk past on my way to my front door. I thought they were done — surely it couldn’t get any more hideous than that — but they kept working at it until there were all sorts of horrible details: a little green head of some depressed-looking guy, a woman-robot…who knows what they thought they were doing? But they signed it and left their phone numbers, in case anyone else wanted their house desecrated.

Then, as I guess artistic collaborations do on occasion, this one went south, and one of the “artists” came back and obliterated his former partner’s work and re-did it to his own liking. Not only that, he also went to work on the wall next door to it, so now we have a diptych with the theme of the Berlin Wall. Now, just why someone would want to spray-paint a new Wall, I cannot tell you. In fact, besides the eyesore factor, the depression this horrible set of murals sets off in me every time I have to see it (which is, of course, every day) is hard to even verbalize. What is the point of this? Who on earth would pay someone to do it? And just in case you think I’m making this up, here’s the wall closest to the street:

And here’s the wall on the rear building:

There’s only one solution I can think of. The original Berlin Wall attracted graffiti artists from around the world. Not just the collection who did the stretch known as the East Side Gallery (which was all post-Wall anyway), but Keith Haring over by the Gropius-Bau, and the French guy who did all those heads that wound up in Wings of Desire on that stretch in Kreuzberg. So maybe Nike can come and stick a nude or two up on this “Wall” and make it that much less depressing to look at.

I still liked our wall better when it had a big billboard on it featuring the Puhdys shilling for Berliner Pilsner.

Principal Edwards Magic Theatre – “Soundtrack” CD (Cherry Red)

Medium Image

The third release on John Peel’s Dandelion imprint was this ambitious art-rock outing from a collective of one-time Exeter University students whose classical instrumentation, archaic literary themes and erratic time signatures rendered them too weird for mainstream notice, despite light shows and pretty stage dancers. Their debut heavily features Vivienne McAuliffe’s precise operatic vocals enveloped by staccato Indian-tinged arrangements. The hard rock Shakespeare adaptation is an amusing, if overwrought, novelty, with some lovely medieval vocal passages, but like the rest of the disk, gears shift before one can get comfortable. Live, with the visual treats of twirling girls, swirling oils and psychedelic costumes, these elaborate set pieces might have held the audience’s interest, but on record, something’s missing.

More Psst!

Indeed an offer was tendered on my book. I spoke with the publisher for about forty minutes last week and liked what I heard. I hope he did, too. But, being the moderately optimistic yet pragmatic fatalist that I am, I’ll resist talking about it further until the contract is in front of me and pen has been put to paper. Once that happens, I’ll return with the details.

Until then, let’s just say that it’s an extremely satisfying experience, watching everything come together. On one hand, I’ve only worked on this project for seven months; on the other, I’ve carried it with me for over thirty years. And, thanks to the research required to write this book, I’ve made some terrific new acquaintances and some bona fide friends to boot (plus, with the invaluable help of Maggie, our GPS, I’ve learned my way around NYC).

Who said writing had to be a solitary business?

Care to Meet Big Boy Pete?

Yeah, I know, I ain’t been here in a while. No excuses – been too busy listening to great music to crawl out and scrawl out about it.

Hopefully that will change. Here’s something I recently discovered. I think anyone into late ’60’s/early ’70’s rock will get a kick out of it just as much as I did. In fact, I still got a footprint shaped indentation in my ass that this album left.

Big Boy Pete – The Perennial Enigma
Angel Air
Just when you thought every scrap of great music had already been reissued along comes grade-A material by an artist who should have been famous but instead wound up helping many other artists and producers achieve the long-term success he could never attain. Though it’s doubtful you have ever heard of Big Boy Pete, it is almost a guarantee you have heard the work of some of the recording studio operators he has trained at his engineering school in California, the Audio Institute of America. While his own career has doubtlessly ended up being very rewarding and influential in a roundabout way, it is a far cry from what this one-time peer of the Beatles (he toured with them in the mid-60’s) and psychedelic rock pioneer (he released what is commonly referred to as the first psychedelic rock song Cold Turkey) should have been able to accomplish.

Big Boy Pete, nee Peter Miller, has seen all forms of success in music from the front lines and from behind the scenes, and one can only wonder what this talented artist thinks of his own career being shrouded in mystery. After doing plenty of recording in the ’60’s with his early band Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers and then solo, Miller spent his time in his studio crafting these pop masterpieces for himself, not only to keep his musical chops sharp but also to help himself learn the ins and outs of the recording studio process as he was soon to open his soon-to-be prestigious engineering school. It is the lessons he learned watching legendary British producer Joe Meek when Meek produced the Jaywalkers that Miller mixed with his own pop sensibilites and crafted these songs (and others soon to be released) that have helped a couple of generations of recording engineers begin influential careers of their own and delighted music fans just now enjoying these long-hidden works.

For his part, Miller’s music is definitely influenced by the Brit-psych he was in the midst of during his tenure as a rock heartthrob in Britain. Not only a peer of the Beatles and Stones, he was also in their circles of friends, and cut his teeth playing to the same hipsters and tastemakers the so-called big boys were playing to. Truth be told, Miller was as respected as anyone at that time and was groomed to become a leading hitmaker. Possessor of a killer guitar-playing style and capable of writing swirling, expansive yet immediate rock songs, Miller was considered to be the future of British rock. That he never did quite break through remains a mystery to anyone lucky enough to hear some of Miller’s work though at the tail end of his career there he started to be reluctant to tour, falling in love with the recording studio and even sending other singers out to impersonate him and sing his songs. The resulting confusion over who actually was “Big Boy Pete” no doubt detracted from his career and befuddled his possible fanbase, just one of the reasons this CD has such an apt title.

Nevertheless, this collection of “forgotten” tracks from back in the day show Miller’s instrumental and compositional talent in spades. Most of Miller’s legendary tracks come from a fertile period between ’66 and ’69, but these tracks are totally unknown, originating from his first few years in the US while he set up his Institute. Beginning from the first track “Demo”, which is quite possibly the best track on the album, Pete brings the rock but also manages to infuse it with a wonderful songcraft usually missing from other artists’ psychedelic efforts. His music is not just fuzz-tone sturm und drang but melodic, expressive art combined with piercing guitar work with an eye for the greater good – a song with the possibility of achieving immortality. In this album’s case, most of these are stripped-down rockers, with little of the layering Miller used in the past. Even so, Miller’s genius is evident and these songs sparkle in the light of the new day this album gives them.

As more of his work gets discovered (thanks to all the collectors who have suddenly started digging under every thing not nailed down for unreleased and rare psyche) and released Pete Miller may yet claim his crown as the king of British psychedelic rock.

OLLA – “SEPTIC HAGFISH” 45

OLLA were a very short-lived New Zealand group comprised of several individuals, most notably NZ band-hoppers Chris Heazlewood and Sean O’Rielly. Their 1992 7”EP on Flying Nun is one of my favorites of the era, which was a time when great, challenging, noisy music from the two islands was arriving in bursts. This EP, like so much from around that time & from that country, was scattered between retro-ish, analog keyboard, drone-heavy pop, and clattering & often improvisational noise. I feel like the whole record’s aged better than most of their peers’ did, and when I put it on the other day I said, “I gotta share this with the people”. So here’s the best track.

Download OLLA – “Septic Hagfish” (from 1992 7″EP)

Record Nerds in a tizzy.

A Fall song on a Nissan commercial. The Buzzcocks peddling AARP. The Pogues and Cadillac.

Please, who really gives a shit? Calm it down. At least be happy for the artist. “Good” does not equal “starving.” When this happens, record nerds act as if they were cheated on by a once-faithful lover. Please find a more interesting avenue for your arm-waving tantrums. What will put this crutch to bed? The Dead C pushing Huggies?