There’s a subculture out there. You know there must be, there are so many others. I knew them even before the days of the internet, back when suggestions were swapped at Appletree counters, trades made in the dusty, dark upstairs of the parents’ used furniture store. Then, the collectors kept them in pristine in sleeves, lined in rows like shiny machines, perfectly alphabetized. They filled basement shelves, praying for the absence of rain. Quality maintained by dehumidifiers. By the care you’d give to rare plants. Who else would guard them?
And when played, the sound was crisp, clean, real, as if you were there– better than live, this wall of sound. Mulvee had ’em in the basement. The ones who would never come to our town, the ones from Britian and L.A., NYC, even France, accented Japan, they announced themselves through Mulvee’s singularly placed speakers and if you closed your eyes and breathed in everyone else’s smoke you might think that yes, even someone as concrete as you would understand the frightening strains of Throbbing Gristle or the angular architectural triumphs of Pere Ubu as they built a whole new City. What a relief when Elvis Costello came on, Get Happy!, how familiar and warm that voice, someone you could really argue with in the middle of the night, that he would enter the room of plastic and plants. And then Mulvee got that beer brewing thing and a new era was launched. It was just us in there, you know–no one was running in and out, this was the world of the quiet, this was a place where musicians rarely visited in the flesh (except, well, Charlie Daniels over and over again & occasionally Buddy Guy on the route between St. Louis and Chicago), this was a place where the information was known only to the select and the not necessarily “hip,” and we weren’t even posing because nobody knew. We didn’t even have a freaking college that you would call a real college, there was no gathering spot no Clark Street or Belmont, sometimes the local new wavers or that rare party when Adrien Belew the guitarist who played with Bowie would come in and there’s be flashing lights and the whole thing–Adrian Belew is the nicest guy ever, practically a doofus so nice–I can’t remember why he was in our city, he lived around there, he was as close as we’d ever get to a celebrity–. Look, there was nobody to know. There was no internet, right, so it wasn’t even up on Facebook, that we were so underground, there was just this obsession. And it wasn’t even shared by all of us. We all were in love with different sounds. I thought Throbbing Gristle too droney, and Kraftwerk, while appreciated, did not move me. (Throbbing Gristle: “Hamburger Lady” played with its incessant hamburger lady repetition, electronically altered, like entering an empty vat with slick metal and no way out, played when our friend burned over 70% of her body popped over and the ex and Mulvee laughing their asses off until she said: “You know, that happened to me.” We didn’t know. “A kerosene lamp exploded. I spent months in the hospital. I spent a year with my mother. I hate my mother. My husband left me. He didn’t even visit me. See?” And she pulled up her long skirt to reveal an intricate web of pink and white tissue.)
How abstract it all seemed in the day, how taken for granted now.
We all of us loved Mulvee’s collection.
We were in awe of the plastic sleeves (even while we ridiculed the anal-retentiveness, snicker snicker what a nerdball, amazed by the way the record was carefully cleaned before going onto the turntable, the way it was handled always on the edges, not a fingerprint to distort the clarity. We were afraid to touch anything too much, especially since Mulvee would huddle around like a worried parent, but we did it anyway. A deliberate smack in the groove when he wasn’t looking but not enough to cause permanent damage just enough to fuck with the plan a little because that level of order is terrifying…. Fifteen, twenty minutes passed looking at the artwork on Devo’s, reading the liner notes that came with the Robert Johnson. Voice like David Byrne’s chanting not him though way way out there thumpathump beatbeatbeat wwwwwwooooooooooguitar………………… . . . . . . . . . . . Struuuummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeee……… . . .. . . .. . . … . . . . . . . . . . . . . Call me a drunk be a final solution……..(is that what he said? Mulvee, do you have the liner notes?)…thumpa…nuclear destruction……natural selection……no, not a drunk…..need a final solution…….bassssswoooooooo
Money from the government job went into the sound system. The subwoofer, the eternally crisp speaker, the needle–a needle alone could cost hundreds, for it was this that touched the groove so lightly, took black plastic and turned it into light and night–. So much for that tiny room. Too much for the neighbors, windows closed. Nearly rattling the frame, but not quite. This would create distortion. No on distortion. Unless intentional. It was not. Thirty seconds over Tokyo. Solution? Finance. Columns. Checking the data against the log? Call up the captain. It’s a government town. A government town. Don’t you worry about me….
Discipline. Berlin. That’s what it takes, right. Industrial. Mulvee’s open heart surgery. You could die. They thought he’d die. He wasn’t supposed to make it to 21. Twenty one’s the number. He liked to sleep in a coffin. Or so they said. I doubt it, seriously. Mumbles beneath the throbbing drone, the spirits, demons, muttering the way they did. Gothic, it is….medical advances…..a fan…..the saw…..the light, the way they talk around you on the table before and after….and the nightmares, the nightmares…..it’s okay….burn unit burn unit….(Hell, you always know it’s German. Sorry, British. Stupid.)
Pere Ubu: Cleveland, Ohio. Devo: Akron. Is there hope?
The lights kept the plants alive. They curled and strained beneath the fluorescents.
It’s boring if you don’t smoke.
And then there was the flood. Was that before or after we began to drift away? The sleeves saved some. Not all. The insurance payment was substantial. Photographs documented their existence, documented the loss. Creeping mold. The mold inhabited, never went away, no matter the fluids you never shake the smell really. It took something out of it. You get tired, when you acquire and protect, create an archive as it were, and then. No matter what precautions. Somewhere in it all, Mulvee took up photography.
That flood. And the new wave band broke up, they all went here and there. Mostly they stayed in town. People got married, had babies, broke up, people kept jobs. Scandals, regrets, the bars closing up replaced by those government worker pickup places, the hippies going out of business left no performance space, even we knew it would not improve. The record store closed. It happens that way, there’s no holding on once it goes.
Mulvee got married. Everyone was so surprised. He’d never had a girlfriend. Our friend left her husband and son to marry Mulvee. By then we never saw him much. It was strange. I don’t know if they listen, what they listen to, if they are still together, even if Mulvee is still alive. Pere Ubu–mostly a guy with a synthesizer, David Thomas–Pere Ubu still makes electronic symphonies. Throbbing Gristle…who cares. And hamburger lady?–she got on her bike and rode off, never ashamed to show the scar flowers, the real tattoos on her bare legs.