For me, Riff 'N Ralk Music Tock would not have even been a glimmer in my eye if it had not been for De-Loused in the Comatorium An album that shook my foundation of musical appreciation to its base and helped start the construction of a new interest in sound. This is a journey I'd like to share with you. It really is not about De-Loused itself, as you can read about in so many other places, but rather the impact it had on my musical taste and how it proved to be a launching pad for my appreciation of all kinds of sounds.
Some of the first song lyrics I remember as a child were “watch out where those huskies go and don’t you eat that yellow snow.” My mother would say that line to me periodically as a way of making me giggle. I couldn’t have been more than 5 when I first heard it. Its a song lyric that has ran in my head ever since. It ia sort of that lowest common denominator of lyrical quality, just a hair above “Volcano pussy melt your peter like ice.”... maybe two hairs. Funny enough though, I had never actually heard where this line came from. All I knew was that it was a song by some mystery man named “Frank Zappa” and his kids had fucking weird names like Dweezil and Moon Unit. I spent my youth listening to the oldies station while being schlepped around in the family station wagon or van. The Temptations, 4 Tops, The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles filled my ears while going to and from every event she would cart me to.
My dad, on the other hand was a different story. He filled the house with Operas, Symphonies, and Classical on some days. On others he would fill it with Jazz and any kind of world music he could get his hands on. It was...eclectic at best. At the time I always felt he played the boring music and my mom played the good stuff. Something in my childish mind couldn’t appreciate slow tempos that swelled with complexity. I’d rather have the hammer blow of sonic battery than a sophisticated sit down. To be fair “Love me Do” isn’t quite “sonic battery”, but as a toddler it is about as intense as I could comprehend.
I think as young children we receive a truly unique experience, there are countless albums being produced, sold, and consumed but we never know about them because we only listen to what our parents play. Nirvana’s “Nevermind” was hitting the shelves as I was in pre-school. Hell, I could have almost been that cute baby in the pool...and I was a pretty damn good swimmer to boot. I wouldn’t know about the album for years and years though, because my mom and dad didn’t know or care about Nirvana. They wanted to listen to more The Zombies or Bartok.
I grew up at an age where CDs where eclipsing tapes in stores. I also grew up in a time where there were Sam Goody’s. If you know what I am referring to, then take solace that you also remember Sam Goody, and their outrageous prices (Funny enough I saw one in San Diego, but I dared not enter it. The plague still exists on the West Coast!). I’m sure you were just as glad when those bastards vanished from the mall, never to gouge your pockets again (Unless you are just dumb enough to shop at FYE). I think my first CD was Jock Jams...which if you are unaware, is all the filler music played at sports events. It’s terrible at best, but I think I was seven or eight at the time. I just liked all that dancy shit, and I wasn’t very interested in buying CDs. My brother, on the other hand, bought loads and loads of them. He was even a member of the glorious Columbia Record Company. So, as a little mooching urchin why would I need to buy any albums when he had everything I’d ever need?
The problem with that theory, however, is that your music taste is forever dictated by who you are borrowing CDs from. In my case, it meant I became a fan of Nu-Metal, Metal, Rap-Metal, Metal Metal, Copper Metal, Hard Rock, or to be brief, anything you could bang your head at. When I was in the fourth grade I would say my favorite band was Korn. By the time I was in middle school I had created myself an edgier appearance by saying it was Coal Chamber, and that industrial music was awesome (I even bought a Skinny Puppy CD although I can't recall if I ever actually listened to it). Again, I must stress that this really came to be because I barely bought any CDs and therefore this what was immediately available. Then again, at this point I was 12 and what the fuck does a 12 year old know about good music? This trend would go on until around the 8th grade when it all dissolved and a stranger time was to come, but more on that in a moment.
Fellow Chicagoans, and Chicago suburbanites will recall the glory that was once Q101. For those who are not familiar, Q101 was the only station that lasted any sort of time that played new rock, alternative, and so forth. Many stations came and went very quickly that tried to emulate Q101, but did not make it. Even they themselves would go under in 2011, much after the general public gave a flying shit about bands that had actual instruments in them. Now, Q101 also had a glorious little segment called the top 9 at 9. Shockingly this started at 9 o’clock, was also followed by a radio version of Love Line which as a 12 year old is about the equivalent of radio pornagraphy, but I think that’s for a different time. Now the top 9 at 9 was where they would play the most requested/voted for songs of the day. This was a great way to find out what the current hippest tracks were, and also what you would search for on Napster the following day. Aside from Blood Hound Gang and Limp Bizkit sitting on the number 1 spots for way too long there was one song that peaked at around number 5 and vanished real quickly that I could not forget (and is important for this backstory). It was called “One-Armed Scissor” and was by a little band from El Paso Texas called At The Drive-In. Now, I don’t know what it was about that song, but I loved it. I downloaded it as fast as my little 56k modem would allow, spent an hour burning it to a CD and played it endlessly. My brother, however, as far as I know never cared for it. Unlike nearly everything else I listened to, this song was mine, and was one I discovered all on my own. If you have never heard it, it is a fast paced little punk/hardcore song, but unlike many other bands of its day it was actually really clever. The lyrics, well in typical fashion of At The Drive-In they hardly made any damn sense, but the music was actually dynamic. The chorus was nearly the same, but the verses changed in pace and tempo, the music, while harsh at times also lulled into more mellow sections too. I was used to the pile driving assaults of Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, but this was completely different. It was sharp, it was edgy, and it lasted maybe a week on Q101’s top 9 at 9. The song vanished from the radio, and I never heard of this “At The Drive-In” for years. I tried to find a CD at the ill fated Sam Goody and had no luck. It was one song though, and it did a lot for this little preteen.
A change of friends and a sibling fall out later meant that by the time I started high school I was listening to Japanese pop and video game soundtracks as a full time job. Those metal CDs vanished into a closet only to be brought out once in a while for an odd form of nostalgia. Truth be told I could never go back, and I am not sure if I was ever truly into those albums. The only survivor was the legendary Rage Against the Machine, which I loved more so for the politically charged lyrics and wacky guitar effects than any hard hitting riffs. Regardless, this went on until I was a Junior in high school. I remember this story so vividly because it was the starting point of when I would officially start turning into a snobby music prick. I was on a break from band practice (high school band, y’know Tubas and stuff, not an actual band....I was never cool enough), and was approached by some friends holding a pair of headphones, a CD player, and a come hither finger. Cautiously, like I was being solicited drugs, I went to their table and asked what was being spun inside that little CD player. I recall my good friend Lee not saying what, but simply putting the headphones on my ears. The sensation was that of the first awkward handjob you received from your first serious girlfriend you were so totally in love with. Unlike that awkward handjob, fortunately, there was no mess to clean, and no one got injured. Instead I heard this bizarre combination of salsa instrumentation, distorted guitars, a rampaging drum rhythm, and above it all a very VERY familiar voice cooing to me. I could not put my finger on it, who was it? Someone I heard from years ago, but I recall that person shouting angrily to send a transmission from the One Armed-Scissor, not....well I had no clue what this other person was saying. The music was mesmerizing, it was the most complex rock I had ever heard, and it transcended anything I had ever experienced. Like that first awkward handjob this wasn’t just some cute make-out session, it was deeper, more intense, and just blew your mind (not even going to the obvious pun) from one end of the room to the other.
(This was actually the first track I heard.)
I removed the headphones and stated
“This sounds like that guy from [and then it clicked] At The Drive-In”
and to my surprise the reply was
“It IS the guy from At The Drive-In”
What was going on? Were worlds colliding? How? What? None of it made sense. Suddenly that moving song from the 6th grade had run head first into the angsty Junior.
“Is this At The Drive-In?”
“No, The Mars Volta”
(Their live shows were packed with experimentation and distortion)
The Mars Volta? The what? The fuck? Who? I had never heard a more confusing yet brilliant combination of words. I don’t know why it clicked for me, but it has for all these years, and several concerts, CDs, LPs, T-shirts, posters, and whatever they solicited me that I bought. It was an instant love. I threw those headphones back on and digested every second I could. Some parts I would repeat over and over, and others were too confusing. I didn’t understand 3 minutes of ambient background noises at that point, hell the J-pop I was listening to rarely had songs over 3 minutes. I didn’t care though, it was the first band I had ever heard to really alter my perspective. Sure a Rage CD made me get angry at the system, but this…..THIS changed how my brain worked, it was like a musical version of LSD.
(Periodically they chose to skip a set altogether and just do whatever they wanted)
From De-Loused in the Comatorium came Frances the Mute, and from there came Scabdates, and then the legendary Amputechture. In between them was a peppering of solo albums from the lead guitarist. For a few years this was the only band you could really get me to truly love. Anything else just did not click in my brain. I am not sure how it all made sense to me and for others sounded like pianos being thrown out windows, but it did and it was glorious.
After much time though I finally began to search for more, and after listening to a few interviews from the brains behind my new love child I had a list to follow. I hate to bore you with the details, well more so than I had, so I’ll fast forward a bit. From 2007 to now I have followed a trail of musical oddities like a trail of bread crumbs that led Hanzel and Gretel to near death, granted I don’t think anyone is out to kill me, but I could be wrong. From Can to the Soft Machine, to Fugazi, to Hella, to Boredoms, and Bjork I have sampled a huge variety of sounds, and it all finally culminated in a journey that came full circle not too long ago.
During this, “Saga” of mine I nearly indulged in all of the great “classic” rock greats, except for one, and there was good reason, because the catalog I would be venturing into would be so daunting it would take a small eternity to go through it all, and somehow, years after his death more releases were still coming. Fortunately I am not talking about 2pac, but actually Frank Zappa, and on occasion The Mothers were there too. Finally though, after much delay I took the plunge, and needless to say I am baffled at what I missed. My journey finally came to a resting point when upon listening to Apostrophe I heard the infamous lyrics “Watch out where the huskies go, and don’t you eat that yellow snow.” It was rather strange to finally have context to that line my mother used to sing to me nearly twenty years ago. It suddenly gave me the gall to think that my opinion on all of this mattered, and that damnit people should know about it.
While I had this idea in mind I was not sure how to approach it. The idea finally dawned on me when I recalled a conversation I had with a dear friend of mine, who upon after looking at my vinyl collection and not knowing most of the bands on the shelf called me a “music snob”. I was repulsed at first; how dare he compare me to people in skinny jeans, plaid shirts, and gaudy neck tattoos. I realized though, fortunately I am not like that, but they aren’t snobs either. They’re just shitty people who will never be satisfied with anything in life accept for their minimum wage coffee shop job. I am simply a highly opinionated doofus who seems adamant on not leaving the academic world, and will love to debate which King Crimson era was best (actually that is going to happen later I am sorry).
For many people De-Loused in the Comatorium was just a great album. For some, it was the most awful stupid, over-indulgent thing they had ever heard. For me, it was a watershed moment. It was the moment where I truly had a band to my own. One that challenged my perception of what music could be and that those boundaries were meant to be crossed. Thinking back on my 16 year old self I am sad to think that that band is now gone. While replaced by two good bands, neither would have ever had the same effect. Perhaps it was all a matter of being the right person at the right time, but I can not think of any other group grasping my ears the way The Mars Volta did. So happy birthday to you De-Loused in the Comatorium I hope one day I get to hear your sonics live again.
(The full album played all the way through live in 2003)