Tuesday, October 12, 2004
You follow the trail of a Yo La Tengo cover song and find out the weirdest things
I used to do a feature called No Wave Fridays, where I wrote about bands from or influenced by the No Wave scene who didn't have the good fortune to be Sonic Youth or to have appeared on the No New York compilation. One group of people that I never got to was the Mofungo/The Scene Is Now conglomerate. After expending a lot of effort trying to map out some organized strategy, I've finally decided to peck at them from time to time, mostly because there's a lot of material spanning a lot of years, some of which I like and some...not so much.
Since a lot of people know the band Yo La Tengo, I thought that might be a good jumping off point.
If you have this great CD, which contains President Yo La Tengo and New Wave Hot Dogs, you own one of the few available indications of the one-time existence of a band called Information. On New Wave Hot Dogs, YLT cover a song called Let's Compromise, which is probably the most striking track from a collection called Tape #1 that documents three related No Wave bands who aren't very well remembered: Blinding Headache, Information and (somewhat better known) Mofungo.
The best (and only) site I could find online that gives any significant information about these people is here, in the Mofungo tribute at Perfect Sound Forever magazine. If you're a Village Voice reader, you'll recognize the author of that article, Robert Sietsema, because he currently writes the Voice's restaurant review section.
Aside from a pretty hard to find flexidisc (it came with an issue of No magazine) and a promo tape that I doubt I'll ever turn up, I think the only recorded evidence of Information or Blinding Headache is on Tape #1, which was a homemade cassette compilation of a bunch of different songs, blurts and noisy things recorded by those two bands plus an early version of Mofungo. Since No New York is the one well-known document of No Wave, it's easy to forget that there were other groups working that territory at the time. Today I'm posting a teeny bit of some stuff that Brian Eno didn't produce.
From Tape #1, here's Information doing the original Let's Compromise, and here's the somewhat DNA-sounding Nozzles. By Blinding Headache, here's Bali Hai (a lot of the pieces on the tape don't have singing). Not really typical of anything else on the collection, here's the terrifying Mofungo (actually just Robert Sietsema and a neighbor's child) track I Am From Jupiter And I'm Going To Kill You. [I'm going to amend this paragraph when I get a chance. I misread the liner notes from Tape #1 and it turns out that Bali Hai is also a Mofungo song. I'll replace it with something by Blinding Headache soon. Sorry 'bout that. -- MB 10/14]
I should probably stress that what I'm posting is not exactly representative. There are an awful lot of short, mid-fi, instrumental doodles. I tend to doubt that Tape #1 would really entertain people who aren't motivated largely by historical interest. It contains a lot of fragments and, as proudly declared in the liner notes, the sound is often pretty dicey. On the other hand, there's so little of this stuff out there that, in this case, "historical interest" is a better-than-usual reason to investigate.
As a compromise between the Tape #1 version and the New Wave Hot Dogs cover, here's Yo La Tengo performing Let's Compromise with Chris Nelson (from Information and eventually The Scene Is Now) on vocals.
There are two strange little bits of trivia connected with today's post. One is the odd-but-true fact that mod housewife Amy Rigby was a member of Mofungo back in these prehistoric times. I did a double take when I first read this, and had to email her to confirm. Yup, it's true. She doesn't think she played any shows with them, but she was indeed a jamming member. This opens up all sorts of possibilities for the next time you're playing Six Degrees of Alan Licht. I can connect The Cars with Alan Licht in three moves!
Second thing, though maybe it's stranger if you're me: on the page where I got the above mp3, there's also an mp3 of YLT performing Let's Get Rid Of New York at Rhino Records in New Paltz. And that's weird because I was there, but had mostly forgotten about it until the mp3 jogged my memory. After the show I had asked Ira Kaplan if his band was going to be on the then upcoming Beat Happening tribute CD (don't ask, I was going through a phase) and his response was to go on a tirade of sorts about how much he disliked tribute albums. It was pretty off-putting. He did have a point in the grand scheme of things, but in the less-grand scheme of things, where a young fan had just asked him a simple question with a yes/no answer, it was kind of annoying and pretty much put me off of his band for a while. I made an exception for Electr-O-Pura.
Oddly enough, Fish & Roses (Rick Brown's post V-Effect group) did appear on that Beat Happening tribute (called Fortune Cookie Prize) as did part of Love Child (Alan Licht's old band). Everything is connected, and it's all too weird. I have to go sit down.
[Incidentally, The Scene Is Now have a new album out this year. Details are here, and a review is here. No US release yet, but they're working on it.]
A couple days after I posted this piece, Rick Brown wrote with some extra info on the Amy Rigby connection:
1) My version of the Amy Rigby story would be this:
After I quit Blinding Headache, Willie and Jim started jamming with Amy, her brother Michael McMahon and some of these people: Kym Bond (occasional Blinding Headache member), Jeff McGovern (my high school buddy and future Mofungo/Scene Is Now founder) and Mr. Sietsema ... They practiced in the back room of the apartment I shared with Willie. I am quite certain that they did not do any gigs with this unwieldy line-up. The Posner/Klein/Sietsema/McGovern line-up featured on the "Elementary Particles" 7" is the classic original Mofungo line-up. I don't have a copy of the issue of Chemical Imbalance in which it appeared but I wrote a fairly lengthy essay about Mofungo and Chris said recently that he probably has a copy somewhere in his archives. Perhaps he'll let you and me each see that...
2) If you are interested in other surprising Amy Rigby musical action, ask her about the Stare-Kits, the Siouxsie-and-such inspired band she and her brother played in. There's a cool live tape around which also includes a song w/me on sax adding a rather X-Ray Spex flavor... Amy's daughter Hazel is starting to play music and her approach puts me in mind of those Stare-Kits sounds.