Wednesday, May 14, 2008

MUDHONEY “SUPERFUZZ” ANNIVERSARY LINERS

I was fortunate enough to recently be asked to contribute some liner notes to the 20th anniversary edition of MUDHONEY’s “Superfuzz Bigmuff” EP, now expanded into a double CD (!) featuring all the early singles, some demos and not one but two live shows. Whoa. It officially comes out on May 20th. My connection to the band began at this early juncture (Fall 1988) & pretty innocuously – I, twenty years old and fully smitten with their sound, asked them to play live on my college radio show during a day off they had on a west coast tour. They accepted & did the gig, and it’s now captured as bonus material on this 2xCD, straight from my original cassette tape. Twenty years later, I have to admit, it was kinda fun to look back at that music-obsessed young punk (me), and construct liner notes recreating how excited I was by Mudhoney’s raw “tidal wave of noise” (so coined by MOTORBOOTY magazine). If you don’t get around to picking up the reissue, well, fine – but I thought I’d deposit said liner notes on this blog for anyone who’d want to read them.

Oh, and the “lone girl” discussed herein should be called out and thanked on many levels – her name was and still is Linda Akyuz, and it is her voice that you hear on the KCSB-FM show on this reissue. Though I’d invited Mudhoney to play on my show, by the time they finished tuning & imbibing & whatnot, they’d actually bled over into Linda’s 10pm-Midnight radio show timeslot. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the shout-out. Here’s what I wrote and what you can read again by purchasing here.

There was a time when Mudhoney only represented a promise, a band that by virtue of its members’ past histories was purported to be an act that just might eventually amount to something. Far from inventing or musically defining the “Northwest sound” of the late 80s/early 90s, the band rose from other good bands that folks in the NW and elsewhere already dug. When this new band was “announced” – and early Sub Pop promotion was all about ridiculously over-hyping the talent – there was already a little “buzz”, if you will, among the color-vinyl collectors and dateless college radio DJs I ran with. I got a Sub Pop blurb on a press release or something about the upcoming debut single, the one that arrived in the mailbox a few weeks later as “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” b/w “Touch Me I’m Sick”, and figured it’d be pretty good. I just didn’t know how good.

My feeling – and I know I’m not alone in this one – is that for all the play & worldwide attention several Seattle-area bands got during the 1988-92 period, at the end of the day (and even at the time), there was Mudhoney - and then there was everybody else. Because the band never delivered anything even approximating a hit single or an FM radio monster, and never tried especially hard to write one, popular historical accounts of the era have, and will have, them lumped in with the mass of undistinguished but famous longhaired touring bands from the NW that “almost saved rock” for a few years. Yet you know what they say – “but the little girls understand…”. Carry that a little further to me, you, and most everyone who was paying close attention to underground rock music during those years, and Mudhoney still sound like the undisputed kingpins of roaring, surging, fuzzed-out punk rock music. These first recordings were so life-affirming upon their release, connecting everything great about the sixties (biker movies, fuzzboxes, old guitars, three-minute songs) with the frothing punk rock early 80s, that a whole new “style” of music was born. They called it grunge, but to me it was amped-up, clear-the-room ramalama rock that exploded like Nagasaki live, and it was about as joyous & as fun a noise as anyone’d heard in years. Around Seattle and certainly wherever Mudhoney toured, they became the band du jour, one that you’d have to see live as many times as humanly possible. The pictures certainly tell the story even without the sound: get up front, throw back a drink or three, flop around, pass around a few stagediveing hair farmers, and sweat yourself silly. That’s certainly what the band was doing, so all sense of internal decorum was canceled from note one.

My first personal interaction with Mudhoney came at the height of the obsession. “Superfuzz Bigmuff” had just come out in late 1988, and up to that point, all they’d released were that first incredible single and one killer compilation track (“Twenty Four”). I lived in California, and was
going to school in Santa Barbara, but it was well worth it to fuckin’ blow off school and drive up to the Bay Area to see them on a Monday (Santa Clara) and a Tuesday (San Francisco), opening for Sonic Youth on a brief west coast tour. Knowing that Mudhoney had a day off before the Southern California leg of the tour, I asked Arm if they’d play on my Wednesday night radio show, and was humbled and “stoked”, as we’d say, that he instantly accepted. The band totally ruled on the air, and they were perfect gentlemen upon crashing on my floor that evening around 4am - but man, what a crew. They timelessly epitomized how much fun it must be to get out on the road when you’re the shit-hot new band & you’re blowing minds every night, and our whole little American college town totally fell for them, just by force of personality alone.

Dan Peters was the band’s young’un, and took the rest of his band’s merciless ribbing with the utmost in dignity and class before going hog wild “on the skins” at night. Matt Lukin – well, if you remember Matt Lukin’s unparalleled stage persona from around this time - the unasked-for non-sequiters, the drunken rants, the Mott The Hoople hair – said persona was ripening into a blossoming cherry at this point. Steve Turner was basically lost in our record collection, though admirably he was easily the last one standing after much alcohol-fueled mirth & merrymaking. Manager Bob Whittaker was perhaps the funniest person I’d ever met up to that point, a total clown prince of rock and roll tour management, brought along by the band at least initially solely for “comic relief” (or so they said). Mark Arm kept his “frontman” standing so much in check that I was, and remain, totally impressed with how down-to-earth and so unfull of himself he was. Just another yahoo rock and roll soldier drinking beer & talking rock history with the fans – another reason why his band connected even then with so many people, and perhaps why they never once took a dive down the dumper in search of cheap rewards.

We curious Santa Barbarians asked Turner & Arm why they, grown heterosexual men descended from punk, wore little strings of beads around their necks, as they do on the cover of “Superfuzz Bigmuff”. The masculinity-affirming answer came back without shame and in a hurry: “I guess it was to score with hippie chicks”. Fair enough. In a bit of tomfoolery endemic to 20-year-olds of the era (or perhaps to just me), I later emulated my new heroes for one night, at one party only, and after being mercilessly mocked by a lone girl for my “Mudhoney necklace”, it was buried in the trash by the time my first beer was consumed. I always liked hearing Arm’s explanations for why he’d split from the glammed-up Green River, having heard his bandmates repeatedly profess admiration for Jane’s Addiction and LA’s Sunset Strip (anathema for all right-thinking punks in 1987-88). For Steve Turner, even that later Green River stuff was one toke over the punk rock line, and he’d bailed out a couple of years before Arm did. It was futile trying to engage Turner in sharing in the refracted glory of his former band – he’d have none of it. Mudhoney had the world by the balls, it seemed, and every subsequent single or comp track bore that out.

For anyone who was vaguely familiar with hardcore punk history – and remember folks, at that point it had aged less than half a decade – the late eighties Mudhoney had all sorts of insider clues to bring you back. I myself found it quite hilarious when Arm announced in Orange County that the band was going to “return for an all-Adolescents cover set tomorrow night as ‘The Kids of The Black Hole’”, or when he muscled some meathead off the stage in San Francisco, exhorting him to “trash a bank if you got real balls”. They didn’t have any real problems with metal or hard rock – Lukin was certainly big into 80s speed/thrash, Dan Peters willfully admitted he was diggin’ a little “Bad Co.”, and I’m pretty sure Motorhead jackets adorned every member of the band at one time or another – yet all the punk, metal, psych and full-bore 80s noise was rolled up into this intoxifying sonic stew that even had buoyant pop elements (“You Got It”, “Need”), enough so to keep all manner of boys & girls worldwide totally hooked.

Given the times, my age, and the music itself, it was probably as excited as I’ve personally ever been about rock and roll. Mudhoney were the flagship band for large cross-sections of excitable youth over those first few years, and both the band and their fans continued this relationship well into the 21st century. These recordings are perfectly primed for a twentieth anniversary release, and now that the pump’s been primed, ought to come out in special money-grubbing “reminder” editions every half-decade thereafter. It would be the Sub Pop way, wouldn’t it? I leave you with a story that was told to me by the aforementioned Bob Whittaker that epitomizes the mark Mudhoney made with these early recordings. Whittaker was sitting around playing records with the members of “Cat Butt”, a late 80s Seattle band of some renown at that time, when he put on the just-released “Touch Me I’m Sick” from Mudhoney’s debut 45. After absorbing the 2 minute, 35 second distorted glory of this whomper of a song, the shocked Cat Butt clan sat in silence for several moments. Finally one summed up the new state of things with, “Well, I guess this means Mudhoney aren’t going to be opening for us anymore”. And so it came to be!

5 comments:

Spills said...

Mudhoney was Thee band from 1988-1992. Their show at the Axiom in Houston was one of the best (and sweatiest shows) I have ever seen. Mark Arm made the mistake of inviting people on stage for the encore of "Dicks Hate the Police". The whole stage got overrun with Arm, Turner, and Lukin performing from the tops of their amps.

I can still remember where I was when I first heard "In & Out of Grace". Even though I have bought Superfuzz Bigmuff in three different iterations, I'm re-upping for more.

Paul said...

For all you M-fans; I made an item for a local dutch TV-show a couple of years ago. It's online: www.oogtv.nl (videoarchief/Popeye/05-26-06)
It's short, songs got cut-up, but hey, that's TV.

A Weissman said...

Great writing - I quoted from it http://newspeedwayboogie.tumblr.com/post/35537009

Matthew D said...

Excellent stuff, Jay, as always! Congratulations! I have a feeling that I will be purchasing yet another version of Superfuzz Bigmuff! I just witnessed my tenth Mudhoney live performance, and I am certain that it was their best! They closed with Fix Me, and the kids in the crowd didn't know what hit them! Classic. I was also struck by how cool Mark is as a frontman sans guitar. He reminded me so much of Iggy Pop. Cheers!

chnkltgy said...

Your liner notes were outstanding, Jay. Even all these years after Superdope, you still prove yourself to be a spectacular writer. You were the perfect choice for the liner notes!