CAMERA OBSCURA #5
by Mark S. Tucker
I'm a collector. Either that or, with 50,000 LPs, CDs, cassettes, reel-to-reels, and even 8-tracks in my collection, I'm an extremely orderly hoarder, but no, hoarders are diseased and I'm only crazed, so I'm a collector. Besides, as Goethe famously noted, "Collectors are happy people" and - once you get past the cynical, sneering, fleering, curmudgeonly, go-for-the-throat aspect of my alpha personality - I'm a pretty happy guy... when it comes to things... not people.
I was very temporarily a member of the incestuous progrocky Gnosis twit group - wait, that sort of thing is now called "Twitter," isn't it?; ironic – but tossed out the moment they understood I wasn't a lamebrained, arrested-growth, obese mama's boy like the rest of 'em.
As is the case with most such enclaves, these louts were obsessed with locating and procuring the rarest records they could unearth, buying 'em for ridiculously escalated prices, and then sprinting back to the group, crowing triumphantly, the kings of creation, masters of the lab, those whose kung fu overwhelmed their peers... you know how the geek gig goes. Worse, the rest of the assembly would thunder with with applause and envy... in order to receive same when procuring their own fool's gold, one hand washing the other. Far worse by miles, all the foofrah was almost always over some half-assed pre-neoprog or neoprog recording that somehow made it to vanity vinyl: Earthshine, Deyss, that sort of thing, basically the outgrowth of the OP/Sound Choice/OPtion 80s Slumgullion Madness Era.
That is to say: the obsession wasn't about sound or art but rather the mere act of acquiring something scarce regardless of a near-complete absence of virtues of any stripe. That, ladies and gentlemen, is not an expression of collectorism but a revelation of the basically Republican nature of a dismaying lion's share of critics in general and progficionado crits in particular, and I can just picture Mike McClatchey and Sean McFee hooting and cavorting at some Trump rally right about now.
Thus, any who wonder why those who cover obscurantia only rarely assess the artistic values of the items, instead just listing curiosities by way of facile semi-witticisms on stuff even Irwin Chusid would reject as drek, there you go. And though I'm an atheist, I sometimes ponder that there might very well be a God and that He has a wickedly wry sense of humor; otherwise: why humans???
MARC ZYDIAK Mark Zydiak (1977 / Nirvana Records)
The first striking element catching the eye on this LP is the Folon-esque cover art by New Jersey guitarist Marc Zydiak himself. The second eyebrow-raising item is on the flip side: a photo of a high-school-smiling, fresh-scrubbed, New Jersey cowpoke axwielder looking like Glen Campbell's teenaged Boy Scout offspring. The third element is the lead song, the moony "There's No Place Like You," the kind of acne-cream and budding hormones ditty you'd expect from what’s shown in the snapshot.
But then there are the next two cuts, the titles alone of which turn yer head around: the honky-tonkin’ swing "Nymphomaniac Blues" and the N’Awleans Xmas-y "Frosty the Dopeman." Quite a change-up, and the songs were worthy of enshrinement by Dr. Demento, especially given that the music’s professional, Zydiak’s voice pretty damn decent, and the entire package entertaining enough... though the love-lost cuts put the exclamation mark on Zappa’s remark that ten billion love songs have been more than enough.
Side one is a sextet of lyrics-locked tracks composed by Zydiak accompanied by an impressive roster of 13 sessioneers, but side two is the real winner here, a sterling Takoma style presentation of instrumentals, solo fingerpicking a la Leo Kottke, John Fahey, Peter Lang, Toulouse Englehardt, John Renbourn, etc. Despite his youth, Zydiak had real talent and obviously devoted many hours to his guitar craftsmanship. From start to finish, that B-side is entirely listenable and well recorded.
The Net yields no data on this guy, but YouTube carries his “Halloween” track:
... a one-off not contained on any release as far as I can tell, a 1992 rockin’ novelty song issued YouTubily in 2010 in which Zydiak threw down his bottleneck and Chet Atkins guide book for distortion pedals and ripping lead lines. Marc apparently forsook the rock world for education, though, and the single comment on the lo-viewed video claims the guy as a Chemistry teacher while the Press of Atlantic City’s 2012 "Closed PleasanTech Charter School must Give former Employee Back Pay" article cites the gent, if it’s the same one (and I’m pretty sure it is), as filing suit against one of the many increasingly notorious charter schools.
Amazon lists Zydiak’s LP, in far-from-mint shape at $281.25. How the hell the seller arrived at such an outsized but precise calculation is way beyond me, but I've no doubt some moron will pay it in order to epiphanize Gnosis Konksciousness. The irony lies in this: I picked my copy up literally for 10-cents at Record Surplus (West L.A.) many years ago (thus, a very nice investment making hedge funders look like pussies) and am guessing a CD re-release priced at $15 most likely would lose most if not all of the invested monies - no one but Zydiak would dare release it, in private issuance, and he'd lose his tuchas in the process - so how do we explain such clearly contradictory behavior in the after-market?
Damned if I know... but the Japanese would call it Hungry Ghost Complex.
WITCH QUEEN Witch Queen (1979 / Roadshow Records / RCA)
I’m gonna catch shit for this one, and it’s indeed so guilty a pleasure that I’m prepared to throw myself on the mercy of the court, but, goddammit, any disco record carrying versions of T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong” and Free’s “All Right Now” has to incite raised eyebrows and distracted interest even in the crustiest of rockers... and, yo!, disco was an outgrowth of progrock, commenced in Arthur Brown’s employment of electronic drums in Kingdom Come’s brilliant Journey LP, so antecedents exist, even if you have to visit the porcelain convience after the slab wids down. Note too, after that, the many rockin’ and prog-rockin’ musicians hired to sit in on all disco LP sessions, and the argument’s made... somewhat, maybe, perhaps.
The “Bang a Gong” track, however, is catchy, though I can easily see hard-core backcountry rockophiles tossing their stereo systems in front of a passing bus by the half-way point as horrid memories of the day of troweled-on make-up, platform shoes, spangled rayon shirts and blouses putting envy in the modern art section of the local museum, and just about everything about the entire disco miscegenation – except, of course, the cocaine – comes coursing back into consciousness like a shuddering acid flashback. I mean, seriously, I can just picture all those dimwitted discoloidians dancing their tiny brains out to the interminably repeated simple-ass beats. More sophisticated listeners have been known, though, when trapped into going out drinking with friends at such venues, to have rent their clothes asunder while turning into rage-encrusted werewolves by the fifth minute of the interminable opuses.
Still, “Bang” here IS a catchy rendition and the follower, “Got the Time”, has some cool percussionistics. The title cut’s better than what would be expected of the genre, followed by that take on Free, which isn’t up to the “Bang a Gong” gamahuche but passable, listenable, and will not induce lycanthropy. Regardless, the center attraction of this licorice pizza’s blowsy repeat-athon is Marc Bolan’s landmark, and, considering his fey nature, he’s likely even now dancing to Witch Queen in the some unicorn-infested afterlife. The LP made it to CD re-issueance, and, as one would expect of the mandatorily (or so it seems) arbitrary Amazon listings, goes for $15 - $57 while the LP itself runs a mere $12. Don’t ask why the baffling discrepancies in all that- I haven’t a clue and don’t wanna know.
MAL & VAL – Touchdown (EP) (1981 / Orbit Records) / In One Era and Out the Other (1983 / Enigma) / Bronze, Silver & Gold (1984 / Orbit Records)
From the git-go, Mal & Val (the pseudonymed Mal Function and Valentine Hart; I don’t know their real names and am disinclined to spend hours tracking ‘em down, ‘druther siesta), issuing from my quadrary hometown (Hawthorne, CA), were a very together rockin’ satire ensemble with Hal Nately, Cal Joder, and Rance Stoddard accompanying. Listening to their 3-LP oeuvre recalls The Tubes, New Duncan Imperials, Ham Sandwich, Oingo Boingo, 10cc, Dread Zeppelin, City Boy, Charlie, and quite a few mainstream and alt funny fellas.
The debut 4-cut EP, Touchdown, is a rollicking, swing-rockin’, electric hodge-podge of clever lyrics, spot-on musicianship (a tad garage-y but infectious and knowing), smart-arsery, Zappa-esque ornamentations, and just plain good times. “Jamaican Rum” runs as a cross of 10cc and the Bonzo Dog Band with a hard-charging middle-8 of Allman Bros., Van Halen and similar ilk of top fretbenders. “Please Louise” commences in a Sweet vein sparked by a Tarzan-y rebel yell introducing ribald poetics (“Please, Louise, won’tcha give me just-a one more squeeze?!”). The guitar solo coulda come right off The Tubes’ Remote Control, and the band’s tight as diving frog’s butthole, everything making for smirk rock on the City Boy level.
The EP was so appealing that Mal & Val were signed by a high-ish profile alt label Enigma just down the street (El Segundo, CA, my quintile hideaway) which released In One Era and Out the Other, something I’d love to review but haven’t listened to in years while just now discovering some record collecting ASSHOLE friend ripped me off for it. I never ever review without listening to the subject of discourse and don’t know who it was that cuyped my copy of the slab, so I’ve let slip the dogs of war, and the culprit, and hopefully my treasured little album, will either be fetched back - the first in bloody pieces, the second in whole and undefiled, unless the perp has been wise enough to cross the Pacific and evade a hellishly righteous wrath. Nonetheless, Enigma, infamous for its mediocre PR amid a highly uneven catalogue (c’mon, they put out waaaaaay too many stinkers an’ ya know it!) didn’t retain the lads, so the duo+ returned to self-production and obscurity.
Bronze, Silver & Gold was also an EP - this time three cuts instead of four, actually a single but with two versions of the title cut on the A-side and the full version on the B – kicking off damn near as progrock a la Random Hold, again highly City Boy-esque, moody, atmospheric, somewhat opaquely written as a paean to the Olympics, and based in an insistent contagious drum beat... but FAR more sober, and puzzlingly semi-patriotic, than their earlier sniperies and amusing snippitiness. By evidence of this and the 1st EP, these guyz were much deserving of greater exposure and top label signing, but you know the filthy rock business world, and so we have to content ourselves with these too few lost beauties... er, the LP's, not the men, don't take that wrong, I mean I’m not gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and... .um, oops!, heh!, maybe I better quit while I’m ahead (*cringe!*).
Also see Camera Obscura 1
Camera Obscura 2
Camera Obscura 3
Camera Obscura 4
Camera Obscura 6
Camera Obscura 7
Camera Obscura 8
Camera Obscura 9
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