Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Books Are Here!

Thanks to Gabriella at Continuum, for rushing me a few copies of the Neutral Milk Hotel book when she realized the batch from the distributors were still a week away. It is beautiful, the blood and chocolate color scheme is even better in real life than in scans.

The Amazon sales rank this morning is the highest I've seen: #3525
(7:30pm update: #2216!)

Shannon posted a comment to this blog pointing to her MP3 site, where she's just uploaded a few fascinating samples from a tape of unheard Jeff Mangum tapes that she inherited when she moved into Jeff's room in the legendary Monroe Street House. Tune in and enjoy.

And in more Continuum news, my brilliant Bubblegum/Lost in the Grooves co-editor David Smay--trust me, most of the best lines in those books were his--let me read his provocative and intriguing pitch for a 33 1/3 book on Tom Waits' Swordfishtrombones, which was a knock out. Series editor David Barker already has 70+ pitches to read for the series, and I am hoping this one will rise to the top of that stack.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Aeroplane books have arrived

While I have yet to see a copy yet myself, folks on the e6townhall message boards are reporting that the Neutral Milk Hotel books they pre-ordered from Amazon have just started arriving. It's great to know that spines are finally being cracked on this labor o' love, and I hope some early reviews will follow quickly.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Free Dumb Angel surf event in SF, December 30

On Friday, December 30 (yes, the night before New Years Eve) Brian Chidester and I will be having a FREE party at Mollusk Surf Shop and Art Gallery (corner of 47th and Irving, in the Sunset District, San Francisco). Show starts at 7:00 p.m. and goes 'til whenever...
The art show portion will feature the Early '60s work of John Severson and Rick Griffin (both were working at SURFER magazine in the early days), Mike Dormer (Hot Curl, Shrimpenstein and the opening title painting in MUSCLE BEACH PARTY), Frank Holmes (the Beach Boys' 1966 Smile album cover and booklet drawings), Thomas Campbell (the cool contemporary Surf filmaker who did SPROUT and Paul Frank's 2005 summer line) and John McCambridge (who runs Mollusk). As of right now, we have live Surf instrumental music by the Boardwalkers scheduled -- we're working on confirming that -- lead guitarist Dan Valenti, of course, was in the Unclaimed back in the '80s. There will also be projected Surf movies onto Mollusk's huge walls and a light show to boot (and snacks)
SO... mark your Calendar ahead of time for the Dumb Angel #4: All Summer Long San Francisco launch party, Friday, December 30, 2005 at 7 p.m.
Domenic Priore
(for more information... and a pic of Mollusk... go to and select NEWS, and then DECEMBER)

Beathoven - Tasmanian Pop Overthrow

I went to school for nearly six years. By school I, of course, mean university or college and I can’t for the life of me say why. I guess my Baptist upbringing coupled with too much teenage ‘existentialism’ somehow fooled my flintlock-brain into thinking that ‘yes, life is suffering…self-martyrdom is the way…you may have a choice, but it is in seeing the correct path and spurning it that you fully assert your fetterless free-will’ (this also shows that my high school self hadn’t quite grasped what existentialism actually was, though, with hindsight, I suppose that’s just as well). Throughout my late teens and early twenties, inertia ruled my life more than anything else. Graduated high school, kept going, got my B.A., kept going, had a slight nervous breakdown, thought I was gay, decided against it, got my M.A, stopped - again, not for any reason mind you, my academic inertia had simply run out with no Peter Cook around to top me off.

Leaving academia behind, I found I was less interested in things than ever before. At least in school, I had my rituals - the angst, the stress, the sleepless nights, the daily inscribing of I HATE SCHOOL on my hand in dripping, red felt-tip. Now where was I? Where do we go from here; Rex Smith didn’t know, so what hope had I?! An old, dead Dane once said in reference to life and things in general that ‘I can swim in existence, but for this mystical soaring I am too heavy’ and if I’m honest, I’m probably a little too doughy to fit through that camel’s eye myself. Luckily, and I should probably say providentially, I have plenty of records which do the mystic soaring for me and carry me with them - if only for a while - in faithful congress towards a vanishing-point infinity where I am resigned and contented. I don’t need to know what my life is all about; only that the next two to three minutes of it will be worth experiencing.

This is what truly great pop music is for. All the residual post-graduation badness and madness I was feeling - gone, eviscerated, melted away by this absolutely stunning disc of tunes by a late 70's pop combo from Tasmania named Beathoven (pronounced ala the Germanic composer, not the silly UK new wavers).

Image hosted by

I wish I could find a better picture - you should see 'em! Full Dickensian Artful Dodger kit -- top hat, tails -- enough to make Martin Newell look underdressed -- dreamy wisps of brown, semi-longish hair -- all four of them prime dreamboat material as well as genuinely teenaged. Combine this with a slick, high harmony sound that is TOTALLY Beatles/Hollies-lite (note the Fabs homage in the band's name) and you have the Rickenbacker thunder-from-down-under that was Beathoven!

I came across these guys - Charlie Touber, lead guitar and vocals, Greg Cracknell, bass and vocals, David Minchin, rhythm guitar and vocals and ‘Beep’ Jeffrey, drums and vocals - as I’ve come across numerous other music industry casualties, through that lecherous king of the writing credit, Kim Fowley, who in ‘78 ‘discovered’ Beathoven after they were already a near-two-year-old sensation on their home shores, quickly slamming them in a studio to produce a few sides. Fowley - who had come to Australia in search of ’the next ABBA or Beatles’ - seemed impressed by the band’s ability to provoke - on command - mass amounts of underage female undress as well as their obvious debts to the structures of Vanda and Young. Predictably though, after declaring the band 'the future of rock ‘n’ roll,' Fowley quickly lost interest (most likely still smitten with the girl-band bug) and Beathoven were cast adrift. Nevertheless, this did not stop the four boys from Tas from tearing it up-and-down on the Oz tour circuit (ambulances were kept waiting outside their shows to deal with hysteric female fans) or from cranking out a killer album, the first single from which, 'Shy Girl,' ranks with the best of the Paley Brothers or Rubinoos (who, it should come as no surprise, were and are huge admirers).

Image hosted by

The future seemed luminescent-lavender for the four Beathoven featherweights. Female fan hysteria not seen since the storming days of 'Easyfever' was a regular fixture at Beathoven gigs. Greg Shaw's pop-standard BOMP! magazine dubbed them ‘dynamite’ (the '78 Nick Lowe issue for all my fellow Shaw cultists) while the band's lone album also went directly to number one in ten states, flying in the face of all that was hard rock and nascent new wave. The four lads were even offered the honour of their own signature ice cream line - the late 70’s equivalent to the promotional cereal box - which would naturally have featured the boys’ charming name as well as ooey-gooey likenesses.

Nevertheless, by the end of ’78, after nearly two years of teeny bopping supremacy, it was clear that the members of Beathoven were deep in the clutches of the sickness-unto-pop-death known as the quest for artistic legitimacy (all sigh). Strangely however, this dread monster began to rear its stodgy head at the exact moment in which Beathoven were also enjoying their greatest flush of national notoriety. In December 1978, after a twelve month touring blitz of high schools and dances and numerous appearances on staid Antipode chart-show, Countdown, Beathoven were nominated as ‘Most Promising New Group’ (aka the Kiss of Death prize) on the annual ABC King of Pop awards. Beathoven’s competition on the night included Adelaide hoon-rockers Cold Chisel, Graham Parker copyists, Sports, token-punks the Teenage Radio Stars (very soon to revamp themselves as eighties art-popsters, the Models) and soft-rockers the Sutherland Brothers. Ostensibly, the award-winner was to be decided strictly upon the number of phone-in votes each band received. And obviously, amidst such a tacky line-up and knowing full well the demographic of people who actually call in to those things (90% pubescent females), Beathoven were the clear choice for victors. Nevertheless, in a result fixed by shady anti-pop industry types representing Mushroom Records, Mushroom recording artists Sports miraculously triumphed on the evening to wide jeers from the largely live audience. This set-back at the hands of a corrupt media-industry opened the first fissures in Beathoven’s pop foundation; cracks that would ultimately culminate in the band’s dissolution.

Still, bloodied yet unbowed, more sensational touring and Countdown appearances followed. By early ‘79, the membership roster for the Beathoven fan club numbered in the thousands as Beathoven performed for over 150,000 teenagers at various Australian high schools - a sonic-glimpse into one of these lunch period riots is provided on the CD and the sheer ear-shredding volumes of shrieks and screams rivals the final hours of Jonestown. By late-1979, however, the rot had definitely (not maybe) set in for the group; specifically, the band’s desire to be taken seriously - the death-knell for all pop! After a few line-up shifts too many (’let‘s sack the drummer!’) and outright hostility from their parent label, EMI (never the most tolerant of companies), Beathoven reinvented themselves in 1980 as sparkly-new-wave-popsters, The Innocents. Off went the top hats, tails and Lennon/McCartney fixations - on went Ian Hunter shades, close crops and short-back-and-sides Paul Weller complexes.

Though debuting with a resoundingly sound first single, 'Sooner Or Later' - a late Beathoven raver toned down for Jam fans - the Innocents soon stalled, seemingly more concerned with distancing themselves from their teen-pop past than they were with building upon their impressive first-fruits and making actual pop records. Much dawdling and cleverness then ensued with song titles like ‘Boeotia Blue‘ and ‘Beyond The Moon‘ if that gives any hint. The Innocents finally called it a day in 1986, after many line-up changes and a score of uneven, unrealized attempts at the selfsame pop golden ring they had rejected nearly eight years prior.

The Innocents/Beathoven story reads as a tragic textbook test-case of what becomes when self-consciousness meets pop. The two oppositional aesthetics mix like hobo moonshine and repel all, but the most desperate of egoists. Beware! Let Beathoven’s greater tragedy be a lesson to all and any who would seek the summit of teen power pop glory. Confucius say you don't come down from the mountain peak just to admire yourself in a different shade of light. Stay where you are and enjoy the view, you big dummies!

As for actually hearing Beathoven and not succumbing to the sickness unto death yourself, here’s your revelatory leap from the lion‘s mouth. While the original EMI vinyl remains decidedly hard to come by, your best bet for Beathoven or Innocents material if you're not in the Antipodes or possessed of a vast inheritance is a classy two-disc comp out on Zip records called 'No Hit Wonders From Down Under.' This really is the yardstick by which reissues should be measured: everything they recorded, liner notes, photos, period video clips (which are stunning), FAN LETTERS WRITTEN TO THE BAND and some of the best music to ever come out of the Southern Hemisphere (or the late seventies for that matter). Forget Young Modern, forget…well, actually, words can not properly convey what I would like to see done to the Hoodoo Gurus - suffice to say I would like to see all evidence of their distasteful existence expunged from the face of the planet. In terms of Aussie pop/rock or power-pop, only the Sunnyboys come close to outpacing Beathoven and even they’re a bit too moody (to say the least). The Zip records comp came out in 2001 so you can probably still find it if you dig - it is every bit as impressive and essential a collection as Black Vinyl Shoes or the lone album by the Toms. And you don’t have to believe simply me - just give a few of the fan letters below the once-over and practically hear the foam fizzing and dripping from rabid teenage jaws.


Dear Beathoven Fan Club,

Hi! My name is Andrea Coma
[great punk name!] and I go to Moorligh High School. My problem is I love Beathoven. It's not realy a problem when you think about it, but every time I think about them, I get shaky, hot and sweaty. I've never felt this way about a pop group before and I kind of like it.


Dear Charlie,

The concert last night was great. If you’re not doing anything Friday night, will you come out to my place? What did you do after you left the concert? I was going to come and kiss you goodnight. But then I thought I better not. Next time I see you, I will. My girlfriend liked the autographs. Give my love to David, he’s nice. When you come out to my place, don’t say anything about me writing to you - Mum would get mad with me. Thanks Charlie (for not saying anything).


Dear Beathoven - excuse the spelling if its wrong,

Hi Spunks - I'm one of the girls from Sunshine West High School. Remember when you'se came and had a concert at our school? You'se were just great, no doubt about that. That was our first concert we've ever had at Sunny West and believe me the whole school liked it as you'se all saw. The girls went wild over you'se (How's when CHARLIE went flying down the stairs - I wish you fell into my arms). I Imagine when you'se will be much bigger and for that I can't wait. After you'se left we had to get back to our school-work, but no one felt like working after all that. Anyway your names were all over the school furniture, desks, walls. It says on them, CHARLIE YOU SPUNK, and other nice things about you'se. And it was done it great big, black letters (!!!). I hope you'se have realized that your coat hangers are missing ‘cos a few of my friends happen to get a hold of them.

You know what to do.

Oh, and by the way, I'm Collin, my favourite colour's blue and I like my turkey deep-fried.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Pink on Black Bubblegum Queen t-shirts

Now available, Tom Neely's sassy comic portrait of Her Majesty the Bubblegum Queen on a black t-shirt. Click the T for more info.

cult of the week - Pyrolator

artist: Pyrolator
title: Inland
year: 1979

label: Warning Records

personnel: Kurt Dahlke (all intruments)

tracklisting: minimal tape 1/2/3, it always rains in wuppertal, inland 1, minimal tape 1/8, danger cruising, inland 2, inland 3, minimal tape 3/7.2, barenstrasse, a have a good ride, inland 4, nord atlantik
cotw say… 

despite being a contemporary - and member of - of other groundbreaking acts of the Neue Deutsche Welle ("German New Wave") genre, Pyrolator (aka Kurt Dahlke) has not been afforded the same level of recognition as the likes of Der Plan or Palais Schaumburg. he deserves much better.
by subtitling this instrumental debut album as 'muzak for daily live' (sic.), Dahlke probably did more harm than good, for 'Inland' is not some sub-par, Enoesque throaway, but rather a quite brilliantly recorded slice of experimental analogue moodyness. true, there are moments of engaging muzak, such as one or two of the 'minimal tape' pieces, but Pyrolator really excels on the mannered, melodic synth gurgles of tracks like 'Danger Cruising' and 'Have a Good Ride'. the album succeeds by squeezing real warmth from the synths, making even the occasional atonal track a remarkably pleasant trip (field recordings also help to add atmosphere here and there). the range of timbres expressed throughout will simply put any analogue synth fan into seventh heaven (especially on side two), and arguably challenges more well-known albums by the likes of Thomas Leer and Bernard Szajner for the title of...well, who knows what.  

inland, but truly out of this world.

erik -

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Dawn of the Black T-Shirts!

Brand new in our Cafepress shop, the long awaited black T-shirts! The first image we've made available on the black T is Tom Neely's special adaptation of his magical cover for Scram #18. More will be coming, so stay tuned.

New book on conflicted SoCal surf legend Miki Dora

Dora Lives, The Authorized Story of Miki Dora by C.R. Stecyk III and Drew Kampion (Adler Books, 2005), reviewed by James McLaren
As might befit anything at all that has to do with Dora, a few exculpatory and perhaps inflammatory words of introduction:

I'm going to piss members of the Southern California Surfing Industrial & Media Oligarchy off with much of what follows, and for that I offer no apology to any of them. They have their agenda, and I have mine. The two agendas hardly overlap at all, even in the water.

Especially in the water. I'm quite sure, that in their inimitably self-centered way, they will simply fail to deign to so much as acknowledge that the following words even exist, or, should the point be somehow forced upon them, they will belabor the position as loudly and longly as necessary that the worm who had the temerity to pen this prose could not possibly be LESS qualified to write upon a subject that they have long claimed sole ownership of, even as they continue to promulgate it as far and wide as their media skills and shills will permit.


Dora was a metaphor. Dora was several metaphors. Nobody owns a metaphor. Sorry guys, but that's just the way it has to be.

The Southern California Surfing Industrial & Media Oligarchy has unremittingly attempted, for their own self-interest and no other, to exercise sole control of surfing in the minds of all persons they can reach. These are people who seek to extract money and power from surfing, directly and indirectly. What happens to the people they exploit is of no concern to them and neither is what happens in any lineup as a result of their manipulations. You, and your wave are used and then thrown away and given no more regard than a piece of used tissue paper.

Further, SCSIMO is incestuously intimate with the Entertainment Industry insofar as that industry is centered in Hollywood in particular, and Southern California in general. The Entertainment Industry is, not to put too fine a point on it, an industry that is founded upon, deals in, and purveys to the greatest degree possible, lies. Brightly colored lies, and very seductive lies, but lies nonetheless. It's all "make believe." Except for when money gets put on the table.

Our authors, our book's "maker," and our subject are all irrevocably ensnared within Hollywood's tendrils of falsehood, and no matter how hard any of them protest falsehood in general and tinselly things in particular, it's abundantly apparent that they are all, in fact, part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Dora's tale is a cautionary one, among other things, and this aspect of the story is slighted right along with all the rest of what's slighted.

I WILL get to some encouraging words here sooner or later, I promise, but for now I feel I must go on with describing this book's glaring weaknesses, ok?

Dora's story arches far above the man himself, and most certainly even farther above his chroniclers. As a character for a "story" (and I find it interesting that the word "story" was inserted into the title as opposed to "biography") Dora is the equal of anything you might find in Greek Tragedy or Shakespearean tales of fatally flawed protagonists.


The shit's that good.

In a nutshell, the man drank from the Golden Cup and then, because of irredeemable personality flaws, immediately partook in the destruction of that cup for a handful of tarnished coins.

Once the Golden Cup had been taken away, Dora was reduced to a wandering life of exile that took him to high places and low, all around the world, but never returned to him that which he so foolishly had helped destroy with his own hands.

Dora was a sublimely gifted athlete, who received scant compensation for his abilities and grew bitter with the realization that he would never be compensated justly for his physical artistry, even as hucksters, greedy manipulators, and speculators all grew fat with profits extracted from the selfsame venue that he was the undisputed master of.

Dora was a fundamentally crooked person who parlayed socially engineered connections and his athletic gifts to gain entrance to venues he had no business entering.

Dora was a small time con man and thief who rose above his venality to exert an amazing influence upon an entire arena of human endeavor, an influence that redounds through the decades and continues to exert powerful sway over surfing to this very day.

Dora contradicted himself and everyone around him and maintained a laser-straight heading through life despite it.

Dora communicated elliptically at best, and yet managed to hit the mark squarely every time.

Dora loathed people but could not escape his need to be around them, whether to draw sustenance from them, mock them, gull them, or abuse them. His social skills were without parallel, but his fundamental inability to deal with most people honestly negated almost all their worth.

He craved possessions, but owned very little.

He hated bullshit in all its manifestations, and responded by attempting to bullshit nearly everyone he came in contact with to one degree or another.

He attempted to obfuscate himself, but could not resist speaking out in high-profile situations again and again.

He loved attention but he hated attention.

His surfing was both the creator and the destroyer of his life, even as he was a creator and destroyer himself.

I could go on with this, but I believe the point is becoming clear that Dora was a Gordian Knot of writhing inconsistencies, great beauty and insight inseparably coupled with the basest of motive and deed.

So then, where does any of this leave our book?

Choking in a cloud of dust, watching its subject disappear into the distance, for the most part.

Miki Dora is a fabulously rich lode of metaphor and allegory, and yet somehow this book fails to avail itself of any of it in a meaningful way.

To begin with, let's get back to the title, especially the word "story" therein.

A "story" is not a "biography" and the differences between the two words could not be better highlighted than through the thin framework of this book. The book itself seems to know that it's thin, and seeks to hide this as best it can. The page size is small, the margins are large, and the photographs seek to fill as much glaringly empty space as they can. Much padding shows through the words, not very many in sum to begin with, that fill its pages. It seeks to hide its inadequacies beneath a veneer of "artsy" gloss and pretension.

We are treated to a smorgasbord of small details concerning the man, but nowhere is there an overarching framework of extracted worth or merit taken from those details. As it stands, the book as a whole is achingly thin and watery, with no bone, muscle, or sinew to be found anywhere inside.

Dora is without doubt worthy of a serious treatment, but this book is not that treatment. This book is hardly any treatment at all, in truth. Instead, it is a swirl of self-absorbed pratings, done in a style that most closely resembles the sort of thing that you might hear from those who would cheer a squad of high-schoolers. "Hooray for our guy, he's the coolest, he's the best, rah rah rah!"

This unremitting self absorption and woefully blinkered "cool" approach are the stake that this book drives through its own heart. C.R. Stecyk III, to judge from the contents of this book, simply cannot write. There's really no other way to put it, unfortunately. Friend of Miki Dora he may have been, but writer he is not. Biographical details are substituted by endless name dropping. The whole self- absorbed Southern California mindset could hardly more accurately illustrated than it is through Stecyk's "prose." Endless lists of names, watering holes, and trivia are placed before us as proper information, but the masquerade is a porous one and easily seen through. Nothing is given any context, other than the context of cool. Miki is associated with all and sundry when it comes to Hollywood and Southern California Surfing (as opposed to surfing, simply, itself), and the fanboy characteristics of Stecyk's phrasing and sentence structure trumpet the fact that C.R. believes that we too, should stand in awe of the mighty coolness of California in general and Hollywood in particular, with especial awe reserved for the high and the mighty of the casting call aristocracy. In truth, none of these people actually DO anything, and instead merely exist to be looked at as opposed to the actual production of sensibly worthy output. Stecyk wants so desperately to be regarded as "cool" that he willingly poisons his own well in the attempt. His is a very small, very dark little planet, where just a few well-vetted chums authenticate his claim, and all else exists on the other side of an event-horizon that none of them are even aware of. It would appear as if being a "friend" of Dora comes at no inconsiderable cost.

Kampion suffers from the identical malady, but not to an equal extent. His symptoms are more subtle, and might even escape a casual glance from someone who wasn't looking for them in the first place. But they are unmistakably there, all the same. With Kampion's writings, you begin to wonder just exactly who this book was written for in the first place. That this kind of question even comes up, speaks volumes in and of itself. A biography is just that. The biographical detailing of a given person's life. Dora Lives is not a biography, whatever else it might be, or believe itself to be. And so the unanswered questions continue to dangle. Since it's not really a biography, then what is it? Kampion's prose fails to provide an answer, and instead seems to hold fast to the high school approach, thick with detail, thin on point. This book hovers fatally near pointlessness, and is only rescued at the last second by the size and solidity of its subject, no matter how poorly treated. Faux-profundity will never take the place of real investigation and the proper elucidation thereof.

So what shall we do with Dora Lives?

Reluctantly, I advise drawing it near as one might draw a very flawed family member near despite all the transgressions that have been committed.

Within this book there are words, and there are photographs, that will surely add to your understanding of Miki Dora. Take what there is to be had, and do not begrudge the rest.

For those who have never heard of Dora, this book will be very little help. VERY little. It presumes a foreknowledge of the subject matter and makes no attempt to examine that subject matter on any but the shallowest of levels, faux-profundity notwithstanding.

The subject of Dora is a deep one and still awaits its proper telling. It may sound odd, or even presumptuous, but Dora would have made a fine subject for the likes of Hemmingway or Steinbeck. Unfortunately, neither of those gentleman are around, and I really do not know who might take their place and give Dora his due.

What we would really like to see is a work that properly explicates Dora's story in all of its highly ramified implications.

Dora Lives tells us that Dora was regarded as the best of his day, perhaps the best ever, but aside from vague remarks about cat-like agility and similar puffs of smoke, completely fails to describe Dora's surfing. Why is this so? What was Dora doing on a surfboard that caused him to rise above all others? Would a proper book about an Olympic figure skater simply fail to describe the technical details of the skating itself? I hardly think so. So why is Dora Lives completely lacking in any technical discussions of Dora's primary claim to fame, his surfing? It seems absurd that such a vital piece of the puzzle could be left out, but that's what happened.

Dora Lives details numerous scams and contradictions, but fails to seek any larger meaning. Why is this so? In Dora Lives, Miki seems to exist in a cultural and moral vacuum, aside from the thin veneer of Southern California that envelops everything in a cloying, sticky wrapper completely devoid of all real substance. No threads are tied together, no lessons are learned, no real meaning is extracted from any of it. Instead, we have to make do with numbingly shallow conclusions that are haltingly drawn, as if by a child still groping toward a simple understanding of right and wrong. All of the deeper currents of human existence and meaning are completely ignored, and this utter failure to plumb the depths with precision and insight borders on the criminal. It is, after all, the crux of the whole Dora matter, and to see it given such short shrift is infuriating.

In conclusion, I can only hope that somewhere, somehow, there is someone out there with the brains and talent to tackle this most difficult subject, and that they will be given full access to all of the jealously-guarded information that will be required to do the job correctly.

Until then, we can idly flip the pages of books like Dora Lives, and hope for better days to come.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The World of Neutral Milk Hotel interactive map

While copies of my new 33 1/3 book "Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In The Aeroplane Over The Sea'" are sitting in trucks and planes on their way to stores and distribution centers, I've built an interactive map of some special places in the band's history. Many locations have excerpts from the book in their descriptions, so it's a sneak peak.
Please drop by and visit, and if you'd like to contribute comments or additional locations, sign up for a free account and click away. If you have any problems, email me at amscray @ gmail . com and I'll try to help.

The World of Neutral Milk Hotel:

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Siloah "Siloah" LP (Amber Soundroom)

Limited edition vinyl reissue of a rare and weird Munich band’s sole 1970 release. While the English titles are deliciously absurd (“Krishna’s Golden Dope Shop”), these primitive, jammy Krautrockers were hardly a joke band. “Road to Laramy” is a loping TV western-theme instro with an undercurrent of grimy urban intensity that explodes when the wasted vocals finally kick in, while the eighteen-minute “Aluminium Wind” is an atonal meander through sonic darkness, briefly illuminated by creepy flute and moans. File under: bad trip at the beer garden.

Get more info from the label, or order from Forced Exposure.

"Fresh Maggots" by Fresh Maggots (Amber Soundroom LP/ Sunbeam CD)

Originally issued on RCA in 1971, this rural teenage English duo (Mick Burgoyne and Leigh Dolphin) might have found an audience with a less repellant name. It’s hard to imagine many girls picking up the album without hearing it first, though it’s full of charming original songs and was well reviewed. Their aggressive, finely-arranged orchestral folk with fuzzed-out guitars, trilling tin whistles, glockenspiel and violin occupies an intriguing middle ground between the Incredible String Band’s dreamy weirdness and Donovan’s pop sensibility, with sustained flashes of pure punk energy, and surely deserves a reappraisal.

Buy the CD here, or visit Amber Soundroom's website for info on the limited edition 180 gram vinyl release.

Biff Rose "The Thorn in Mrs. Rose’s Side/ Children of Light" double CD (Water)

These two 1968 records, curiously, were albums one and two in my collection: a friend of my dad’s found them on top of a trash can in Venice and passed them on. I loved them to excess as a tyke (especially Children of Light) and was pleased to find on re-making their acquaintance that the hooks haven’t dulled. Biff Rose is an unjustly neglected humorous piano popster whose quirky lyrics, frenetic riffs and sweetly broken voice are quite distinctive, but not for everyone. Bowie borrowed “Fill Your Heart” for Hunky Dory, though in Biff’s screwball hands it’s hardly the catchiest tune around. The orchestral arrangements suggest a psychedelic Vaudevillian ala Van Dyke Parks, and VdP himself makes a cameo on the second disc. Children of Light offers a more stripped down sound, and tender, provocative tunes like the Aquarian Age masculinist statement “Just Like A Man.” The package includes reprints of the back cover socio-political aphorisms that blew my tiny mind, and the suggestion that the New Orleans-bred artist has plenty more work to explore.

Rumble of Ages

Rest in Peace, Link Wray, master of the raunchy guitar.

cult of the week - Dave Ball

artist: Dave Ball
title: In Strict Tempo 

year: 1983
label: Some Bizarre
personnel: Gini Hewes (violin, viola), Ann Stephenson (violin), Gregg Parker (guitar), Bill Clarke (slide guitar), Gary Barnacle (saxophone), John Darling (trombone), Genesis P. Orridge (vocals), Viginia Astley (flute), Gavin Friday (vocals), Dave Ball (all other instruments)  

tracklisting: mirrors, sincerity, passion of a primitive, strict tempo, man in the man, only time, life of love, rednecks, american stories
cotw say…
the early eighties were of course littered with synthpop duos, few as revered as Soft Cell. but whilst Marc Almond went on to wider, if not greater, success, the remarkable talents of Dave Ball remain relatively forgotten.
with an all star cast that includes Genesis P. Orridge and The Virgin Prunes' Gavin Friday, it's obvious that Ball's only solo album is moulded in much the same sleazy vein as Soft Cell, albeit a more layered, loungy and avant garde incarnation. take away the gorgeous strings and you'll find that 'Mirrors' is quietly reminiscent (and every bit as evocative) as Bowie's 'Warszawa'. elsewhere, P. Orridge gives a typically disinterested perfomance on the potential pop of 'Sincerity' and 'Man in the Man', although far superior is Friday's turn on 'Strict Tempo'. accompanied by a twee military drum machine beat and ominous synth stabs, Friday's sinister snarl sounds undeniably awesome. even Ball himself can be heard singing on side two. of paticluar interest is the hillbilly synthpop of 'Rednecks', which is in equal parts charming and utterly bizarre (anoraks will note that Ball scored a huge hit with a track called 'Swamp Thing' a decade later as part of The Grid). and continuing the trans-Atlantic theme, the cool electro-funk symphonics of 'American Stories' finishes things with another twist on an already twisted album. 

strictly Ball-room indeed.

erik -

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Bubblegum on the Art Fein Show

For those of you in the greater Los Angeles area (Santa Monica to Silver Lake to Studio City) who get Adelphia cable, please tune in to Little Art's Poker Party on Friday, Nov 26th (ll:30 pm, channel 98) for a special Bubblegum Achievement Awards episode of the show. It features the Bubblegum Queen, Lancelot Link scholar Becky Ebenkamp, your humble editrix (me!) and 2005 Gummy Awards honoree Dr. Demento in conversation with the delightful Art Fein.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Appaloosa RETURNS

My, this is big. Of all the albums that I got turned onto by reading contributors' essays in Lost in the Grooves, the one I adore the absolute mostest, the one that truly proved the book's promise of turning a reader onto their favorite album that they didn't know existed, was the sole and seductive LP by Appaloosa, a selection of the very tasteful Brian Doherty.

When I was licensing music for the Lost in the Grooves website (which is going to be back online very soon, btw), Appaloosa was high on my wish list, but band leader John Parker Compton told me that despite his own pleas and those of producer Al Kooper, the label had no interest in a reissue.

And now: the announcement that Collector's Choice has licensed and reissued this holy grail of baroque pop delight, with an early December release. Appaloosa is essential if you dig the Zombies, Emitt Rhodes, the Left Banke, the middle Kinks and magic.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Free Del Rey & the Sun Kings t-shirts with CD purchase

Former Savage Republic guitarist Jackson Del Rey has whipped up some striking and limited edition Russian Constructivist inspired t-shirts to celebrate the release of his I Am The Light album. They are free for folks in North America who buy the CD or its special edition.


cult of the week - Samy Birnbach & Benjamin Lew

artist: Samy Birnbach & Benjamin Lew
title: When God was Famous
year: 1989

label: Crammed Discs

personnel: Samy Birnbach (vocals), Benjamin Lew (electronics), Peter Principle (guitars), Michel Berckmans (oboe, basoon), Aurelia Boven (cello), Anneli Drecker (backing vocals)

tracklisting: pourquoi que je vis, kommt, the wheel, an upbraiding, men with coats thrashing, response, what is to be given, ravenna (1), hotels, mandorla, plis, in the green morning, now, once more

cotw say…


an album billed as '12 poems selected and set to music' isn't likely to inspire confindence in those that like their music to thump them in the ear. but, when you consider that this overlooked gem sees Samy Birnbach - leader of Israel's greatest ever alternative band, the awesome Minimal Compact - team up with ambient ace Benjamin Lew, we should all sit up and take notice.

Birnbach's thick, heavily accented and multi-tracked voice adds enormous warmth and atmosphere to the album, which includes French and German pieces. Lew's accompaniment is equally varied and interesting, using plenty of persussive textures and loops (synthesized marimbas, woodblocks, chimes etc.) to keep the album moving at a moderately quicker pace than one might imagine. the use of 'organic' sounds also helps to give the album a timeless feel. standouts include the haunting 'What is to be Given' and similarly brave 'Response', both of which successfully employ subtle vocal melodies to keep the listener engaged (the rule rather than the exception). 

with guest appearances from Tuxedomoon's Peter Principle and Bel Canto's Anneli Drecker to boot, 'When God was Famous' remains a bonofide piece of buried treasure.

erik -

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Neutral Milk Hotel books are shipping!

Yesterday, Continuum received their first batch of copies of my new book "Neutral Milk Hotel's 'In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.'" Copies should be wending their ways out to stores, distributors and those of you who pre-ordered copies very soon, maybe even before I get my author copies. So let me know what you think!

Madonna? She's a faaaaaag!

Now available from the swinging cats at Atomic Books, the official authorized extendo DVD of Jeff Krulik and John Heyn's underground smash Heavy Metal Parking Lot.

Back in Scram #6, Dale Shaw interviewed Krulik about HMPL and his other offbeat projects.

You Know You Want It Dept.: Sexy Bubblegum Art

My close personal friend The Bubblegum Queen is periodically pestered by gentlemen (or one gentleman?) emailing to ask if she has any photos of girls blowing bubblegum bubbles. She has been unable to oblige.

But perhaps this will appeal to the bubblegum seekers: on BoingBoing, Mark posted about artist Amy Crehore's offer of limited edition Giclee prints of a naked circus gal blowing a formidable bubble, and straddling a Pierrot. There's a kitty cat, too. Mew!


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vote on my Neutral Milk Hotel book's sales and win the Girl Group box!

My wacky editor David Barker is offering a copy of the astonishing (proper review coming soon) Rhino Girl Group box set to whoever picks the winning sales rank of two upcoming 33 1/3 books, including my Neutral Milk Hotel volume and John Niven's novel about the Band. Take a guess and maybe win a doozy of a treat. Good luck!

33 1/3: The album chart (quiz included!)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Call for help for DMBQ

This comes via WFMU's Beware of the Blog:

On Friday afternoon, the Japanese based band DMBQ and Michelle Cable of Panache Magazine were involved in a horrible car accident, while driving to Brooklyn to play a show that night. Mana "China" Nishiura, DMBQ & Shonen Knife's drummer, did not survive the accident. She was a great talent and will be missed dearly.

Michelle Cable of Panache Magazine and Booking, who had been managing DMBQ's tour, had to undergo emergency surgery on her head and is expecting a 6 month recovery period. The rest of the band remains hospitalized but are expected to be released soon. We mourn the loss of China and our hearts go out to DMBQ, Michelle, and their families.

With the help of Jen (Shellshag/Starcleaner), a paypal account has been set up to benefit our friends in DMBQ and Michelle Cable to help pay for medical expenses.

Please forward and post this information as much as you can.

Donations can be made to DMBQ and Michelle Cable by paypalling them at or by sending checks to:

Lovepump United
PO BOX 3241
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603

Goblin Market- Haunted CD (Camera Obscura)

When last we heard from this Green Pajamas side project, on 2001’s excellent ghostland, Jeff Kelly and Laura Weller were crafting deliciously spooky songs inspired by the work of pre-Raphaelite poetesses Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal, Poe and Emily Brontë. This album finds them hopping the pond and a century later, with a cycle of moody and emotional tunes inspired by the novels and stories of Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t know her stuff except in passing, but even out of context this is a strong album, delicately wrought but not at all fey, with gorgeous twining vocals, hypnotic melodies and pained themes that cut deep. Literate pop fans will be ensorceled.

[To hear an MP3, or to order directly from the label, go here. Link for buying the previous album below.]

Diana Darby- The Magdalene Laundries CD (Delmore Recording Society)

diana darby Diana Darby’s album is inspired by the Irish social institution of the same name, which is in the long tradition of the Medicant movement founded by Francis of Assisi. In the Laundries women are sentenced to a life of slavery under the supervision of nuns; forced to work six days a week in the laundry of the Church, in an attempt to wash away their sins.

The album was recorded and mixed on a 4-track device in Darby’s home--its malfunctioning was the impetus to end the album. Diana sings in hushed tones, lost among the strings and strums of a muted electric guitar.

The opening ballad, "The Magdalene Laundries," sets the stage. It is a voice we all recognize, the plaintive tones of someone whose soul is naked before god.
"Pretty Flowers" is a lullaby to the women, with their cracked and bleeding hands, calloused elbows dripping soapy water, to give them succor through their long, bitter meditation on the nature of virtue.

A black swan appears in the fourth track, lovely, lonely and terrified that someone will come to her small pool and see just that.

"Kierkegaard" is a track where nothing is what it should be, cat in the trees, birds on the porch a dead girl resting in bed with her book, bringing us to the edge of reason and the leap of faith. This is Kierkegaard’s Choice, which once you realize exists, are left with none but to continue to pound on the doors to the monastery in the pouring rain, already three days at your task. It was this image which Francis choose for his mediation on the true nature of happiness, which brings us to track 10, “there’s no leaving now,” and Ms. Darby’s own words on her composition, “it was me slamming the door on me. Telling myself that I couldn’t escape/run from the feelings and sadness I live with. There comes a point where you have to just sit
down and feel what you’re feeling. I wanted to take my audience with me. I wanted them to know that they can’t run away either. They’re on this ride with me. And there’s no leaving now.” (Richard Schave)

Buy the record.

Bridget St. John reissues

One of the loveliest and scarcest discs celebrated in Lost in the Grooves, Bridget St. John's pastoral Songs for the gentle man (originally released on John Peel's Dandelion imprint), sees reissue next month in the UK, along with another of the lady's albums that I've yet to hear. While pricey, Songs is essential for anyone who treasures the songs of Nick Drake, Nico or Vashti Bunyan, and I suspect Thank You For will be a knock out, too.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sweetwater: S/T, Just For You, Melon reviews (Collector's Choice)

VH-1's Sweetwater: A True Rock Story, made punters familiar with this L.A. collective's abbreviated career. Rhino Handmade's Cycles: The Reprise Collection provided a nice taste of the act's distinctive sound, but one wonders why their first three albums took this long to be reissued. Well, here they are and the best on them is still good for a long time to come.

Sweetwater grew out of a series of impromptu performances at L.A. City College in 1967, with hippie-chick Nancy Nevins stepping out of the audience to wail an angelic "Motherless Child" over the band's kandy-koated jamming. The crew picked up a rock drummer, put a classical cellist in the lead guitar-player's seat and gigged in Silverlake coffeehouses before hitting the Strip. Reprise, already heavy with Hendrix, The Electric Prunes and The Dead, signed the octet and David Hassinger (the label's acid-rock guru) produced their debut.

Sweetwater (1968) brings to mind the jazzy lighter-than-air feel of early Spirit, but with that act's king-hoodlum Angelino drugginess replaced by a ten-feet-off-the-pavement amiability, as Nevins' high-princess vocals take "Motherless Child" and the superbly creepy "My Silver Spider" into dainty crevasses of inner space. The album also compares to Love's epochal Forever Changes, with Arthur Lee's refined L.A. cynicism shouldered aside by a butterfly wing of elegant L.A. cheeriness.

By late 1968, a drunk driver wiped out Nevins' car on the Ventura freeway and Sweetwater's appearance was being cut out of Woodstock. The lead singer's recovery was prolonged and painful, but the band had built up a large following through touring with the likes of The Doors and Frank Zappa. On Just for You, Nevins' damaged voice doesn't command as before but the jamband sensibility makes a roaring return. The centerpiece is a hippie-tonk rework of the McCann & Harris version of Gene Daniel's "Compared to What;" the stony pessimism transmuted into come-to-Jesus generational boo-yah. Melon, the notes remind us, was the last entry in Sweetwater's "three-album trilogy" and, given the tensions within the group, sounds better than it should. The formerly just-for-fun jam co-op was down to recording instrumental tracks at different intervals. Nevins' voice recedes still further, with "Don't Forget" serving as a clipped dirge for what the group had been. Most of the rest of the album is hippie howzat on degraded par with Delaney & Bonnie. A gnawed scrag-end of one of the more promising debuts on the late 60s, this album is partially redeemed by the dorky good-humor of "Take It From the Splice, Boys" and the overdone hoodoo finale of "Join the Band."

Sweetwater got back together in the late 90s, minus three original members, but plus Ms. Nevins. Late in the day, perhaps, but not entirely futile. (Ron Garmon)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

cult of the week - Sacred Cowboys

artist: Sacred Cowboys
title: Sacred Cowboys

year: 1983


label: White Label Records


personnel: probably Garry Gray, Mark Ferrie, Terry Doolan, Chris Whelan, Andrew Picouleau, Janis Friedenfelds


tracklisting: nothing grows in texas, pay for it (in the next life), twisted nerve, bangkok, strip cell (for jack abbott), nailed to the cross

cotw say…

back over to Australia this week, for band who's early live performances are perhaps better remembered than the music. Sacred Cowboys' frontman Garry Gray was infamous for taunting audiences at gigs, usually by swinging a running chainsaw above their heads. nice.

the swamp rock of Sacred Cowboys' debut mini-album is actually nowhere near as antagonistic as Gray's stage habits would suggest. the twangy guitars and morose synth textures of the underground hit 'Nothing Grows in Texas', hints strongly at (and pre-dates) Sammystown-era Wall of Voodoo, minus the glam pretentions. the excellent 'Nothing Grows' sets the bar very high indeed, and few of the LP's other tracks can match it. gloomy workouts like 'Twisted Nerve' are remarkabely restrained, with Gray's Americanised vocals only just cutting through. 'Bangkok' on the other hand is much better, upping the tempo for a seriously cool slice of lip-curling rock-noir.

a compelling mix of distant guitars and chunky bass riffs, with dollops of cinematic Western touches, Sacred Cowboys remain a significant group both on the stage and off.

erik -

Sneak a peak at Vashti Bunyan live on U.K. TV

Click on the little word "later" on the page below to launch a live clip of the legendary runaway folk star playing "Hidden" with orchestral accompaniment. And stay tuned for Scram #22 in early 2006 for a rolicking interview that Brooke Alberts and I conducted with the lady. She's quite the iconoclast, with wonderful stories.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Bubblegumfink!: Kick Out the 'Gum, Motherf***er!!

That Bubblegumfink is such a gent. He's sharing volume one of the celebrated, rare bubblegum comp with the naughty name over on his blog. Tune in for some groovy Lancelot Link, Beagles, Joey Levine and Ohio Express action--32 tracks in all. Link

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rod McKuen Takes A San Francisco Hippie Trip

Over on the Snow-Day blog, a chance to download the wacky bowdlerized version of Rod's fantabulous Beatsville LP, for which I wrote the reissue liner notes. I love that the sixties version is slightly less raunchy than the original.


Bubblegum documentary gets a New York screening after all!

I only just learned that this Sunday, November 6, the WFMU Record Fair is presenting a screening of Kier-La Janisse's delerious "Bubblegum Music is the Naked Truth" at noon at the Metropolitan Pavilion, 125 W. 18th St., NYC. More info is at