But you know, I wasn’t always a writer whose slim claim to global sub-cult fame rests on the odd offhand mention of his name in The Manila Times; on page 197 of a novel by James McCourt; in a newsgroup list of “all-time favorite characters in Momus songs” (#10, “Steven Zeeland,” #9, a monkey that “drinks heavily/ and plays with itself from dusk to dawn/ as wicked as the day is long”); . . .
I wasn’t always a marginal author.
I have had other brushes with fame.
I was once a marginal musician.
A decade before I had my first book published I spent a year holed up in the staunchly religious-conservative hometown of Gerald R. Ford and AMWAY — my hometown — singing and playing dirge in the Midwest’s preeminent proto-industrial noise band.
The only bands within a thousand or so mile radius we owed any debt to musically were Pere Ubu and Devo. We were as quirky; blessed with a not unrelated rustbelt-specific sense of humor; and at least as alienated. But they were conventional rock bands with guitar, bass and drums. We were 3 guys + 3 synthesizers — droning on about youth taking poison to escape a poisoned world . . .
To an audience not quite prepared for us.
A “SYNTHESIZED SOUND SO EXPERIMENTAL THAT MANY PEOPLE FIND IT DIFFICULT TO CALL MUCH OF IT ‘MUSIC’” declared our hometown daily, the GRAND RAPIDS PRESS.
“THE SOUND, WHILE ORIGINAL, LACKS DEPTH AS THOUGH IT WERE STANDING STILL. . . . MAYBE I’M WAY OUT IN LEFT FIELD ON THIS ONE, MAYBE YOUR INTENTION FROM THE START WAS THE STATIC APPROACH. HELL, WHAT DO I KNOW,” shrugged the punk zine TOUCH AND GO in a review of our only vinyl release, a single pressed in mono.
But a fledgling zine/record label based in Olympia, WA accepted one of our songs for inclusion on a cassette compilation of American underground bands.
When the compilation arrived we were surprised to discover that actually only half of our song had been included — midway through the track abruptly faded out! I winced; the other guys barked their indignation. A minute later we were on the floor laughing. . . .
By that point we were almost qualifed to make a career out of confusing people. A show we did in Detroit went over well. Our next gig was supposed to be in Chicago — as the warm-up act for JAPAN.
But just when all our hard work showed some sign of paying off, I took off to chase a soldier. A week after the compilation came out I was in Germany. And so I missed out on the brief flurry of attention accorded my band-mates in the wake of our first and last national exposure: our song — the “edited version” — on SUB POP 7.
Six years later I was still living in Frankfurt and had shifted my focus to writing books. Sub Pop had moved its base of operations from Olympia to Seattle. They still championed music made by disaffected youth from backwater America. One track on the 1988 compilation was by an act from Aberdeen, WA (a Pacific Northwest town as broken-spirited as the one I live in today). The catalog number of Nirvana’s first single: SUB POP 23.
Sub Pop became famous, made Kurt Cobain famous, made Seattle world famous for grunge, and godfathered the music industry category “alternative.”
There is a “History” page at subpop.com as well as a discography. But you won’t find the name of my first band there. There are cover art scans of their first two compilations, but no track lists.
I’m not complaining.
But I have taken stock of the pre-history Sub Pop relics in my collection: subpop 5 cass / subpop 6 zine / subpop 7 cass; and a 20-year-old envelope from Olympia, WA inscribed “THANX FOR YOUR CASSETTE –WE’LL PROBABLY RELEASE ‘GARY, IN’.”
After I find the right night to put everything else aside and give the tapes a proper final listen, I am going to auction these collectibles.
Because authoring alternative books costs money.