Tag Archives: 80s music

Notes Toward a Musical Autobiography: Volume XIV–31 Years of Here Comes Everybody

Oh my. It’s been almost an entire year since the last time I added an installment to this series. Maybe I will make a New Year’s Resolution not to wait another year before the next one!

I did not intend to write about my own music in this series, only tangentially as it related to something I was listening to, or, if something I was listening to was an influence on my own songwriting. Why the hesitation? Oh, I don’t know; I didn’t want to seem self-indulgent. I know, that makes terrible sense; I am blogging, after all, primarily using my own bad self as subject matter! What could be more self-indulgent?  And if this is an autobiographical sketch through the lens of the music I have listened to over the years, what could be more autobiographical? And here we are, the founding members of the rocking teen combo Here Comes Everybody, myself (Michael Jarmer) and my wife and musical partner in crime, René Ormae-Jarmer, in the midst of our 31st year of marriage and 31st year of playing music together in this band. It seems fitting now, both because of the momentousness of the occasion, but also because here I am, after 13 blog entries and thousands of words covering the musical compact disc collection alphabetically from A to Z, in the middle of the letter H. All right. Let’s do this.

Because of it’s longevity, Here Comes Everybody has become an integral part of my identity. The thought of doing a solo album is distasteful to me. The thought of being the principle singer and lyricist for somebody else’s band, while not out of the question, is likewise to me unfavorable.  I like to play the drums. I like drumming so much that in the last couple of years I have taken to the throne to drum for other peoples’ projects. But no one else has ever asked me to write lyrics for them, and I’ve only had very brief flirtations over this last 31 years singing in somebody else’s thing. Whether it’s because I’m being selfish and holding on to my talents for this one singular project, or because my talents are not conducive to any other thing, remains to be determined. Whatever it is, I feel HcE is a piece of me just as much as is my inclination to write, or my love of reading, or my dedication to teaching, or any other proclivity or tendency that one would lump under the category of Things That Make Michael Jarmer Michael Jarmer.

So what’s the approach here? Should I follow the rules and write about only one or at least one record–or should I, like I only have, I think, for Elbow thus far, write about every single record? And since this is about my neglected CD collection, should I limit myself to material released on that format, or should I also give air time to the “records” we made that were released only on cassette?!

I think, if it’s true that Here Comes Everybody has indeed become part of who I am, it seems that I owe them at least the same kind of attention I gave to Elbow, a band I only discovered in 2002, a full 16 years after the first recording my wife and I made together. So let’s do the whole damn CD catalogue. And I might mention, but not go deeply into, those cassette-only releases–just because they form an important part of the picture, even though it seems that there’s a pretty good reason those pieces never escaped their magnetic tape origins.

Everything Is Here: 1986-1992. For the 30th anniversary of the band, we went back to the very beginning, remastering and releasing on CD for the very first time our complete early recordings, 4 short albums over two compact discs.  Our debut e.p., “Holy Smokes,” is kind of what you might expect from 22 year old kids in an 8 track (!) professional studio for the very first time, recording their very first batch of original tunes: pure unbridled enthusiasm, blinding self-confidence, awkward amateur performances, and some really strange, albeit 80s appropriate choices–like a band with two drummers relying on a drum machine for all the set work! My voice is quite a few notches higher here than it is now, in fact, sometimes embarrassingly so. I sound like someone’s pinching me really hard. I think I remember the phrase “manic yelp” as being the way our earliest critics described my voice. Yep. Totally accurate. I was indeed manic, and I was indeed yelping. We started as a trio (vocals, keys, and bass)–a configuration we would return to in the late 90s–but clearly we understood that we could not carry the tunes completely without guitar, so we found a hired gun in a guy named Kieth Charley who came in and performed these screaming lead guitar solos on a few of these tunes. They are awesome, sometimes the best part of the tune, even though they are somewhat anachronistic.

By the time our second e.p. came around, we had had the realization that real drums were the way to go and that the guitar should be an integral part of the band, so “Brand New Species” found us in a 24 track studio and with a year of lots of gigging and more writing under our belt, sounding like a real band. Oddly, still a band with two drummers already, we found a different drummer (high school buddy Sean Moultrie)  to play the kit–mostly because Rene had her keyboard duties to perform and I wanted to jump around on stage like a maniac. It wouldn’t be until 1997 when finally I would decide to sit down and play some drums in my own band.

Autobiographical note concerning the roster: René and I were high school sweethearts. Our first bass player, Terry Gassaway, was a high school chum. Our first guitar player, Greg Kirkelie, was not only a high school chum, but a guitar player with whom we played in our very first band ever. Our first drummer, Sean, was a high school chum. Our second bass player, Allen Hunter, was a chum from our teen years with whom we played in our very first band ever. Stephen Westerhout and David Gilde are the only musicians on these early recordings that I did not know as a teen, but I met Steve in college and Dave a little later–we must have only been 27 or 28 when we met. It strikes me as important and kind of profound that I would be willing and happy to play music with any of these individuals again and still to this day continue to think of each of them as friends. Insert something wise here about musical soul mates and the long lasting friendship power of our earliest creative acquaintances. 

The Everything Is Here compendium closes out with our first kind-of-full-length album clocking in with 8 songs, “Wake,” and then another e.p. called “Life, Friends, is Boring,” after John Berryman’s “Dream Song 14.” While “Wake” was most powerfully influenced by the likes of Tears for Fears’ “Sowing the Seeds of Love,”  “Life, Friends” was our earliest foray into the heaviness that would become grunge. By 1992 we had all had our fill of Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Cross all of that with our early new wave and prog rock influences and you’d have a pretty good idea about what we sounded like.

Out of these first four records came at least three tunes that would become emblematic of our quirky irreverence (is that a redundancy?) and, for better or worse, would become our most popular tunes early on: “I Am Not A Social Cracker,” “I’m Gonna Send You A Mail Bomb,” and most famously, now clocking in at over 3500 views on youtube, “Blue Refrigerator.” In 1987 we made a video for that tune, shelved it, showed it to no one, and then, on a whim, after digitizing our old tapes, decided to post it to youtube. The rest, as they say, is history.

During this whole era, from 86 to 92, we gigged like crazy. We gigged ourselves silly. We played everywhere for anyone. We opened up on many occasions for local heroes The Dan Reed Network. We exhausted the local scene. We were under the mistaken impression that the more we played the more likely we would be to “make it big.” What we probably should have done, but never quite had the courage to do, was tour. Finishing college, establishing careers, finding our way in a new marriage, the life of the road was just not in the cards and nobody was throwing money at us. We didn’t get famous, but we got pretty fucking good.

What’s most interesting to me, personally, about this collection is that it shows how fast and how wide our growth was in these first six years. I find it kind of impressive, enough so that 30 years after that first song was recorded, I felt the work deserved the attention and care of a remaster and a cd release.

I didn’t realize I’d get 1500 words out of that first CD. We may have to do this episodically, one record at a time. We may have to spend a lot of time on the letter H. I wasn’t finished with the other H-artist albums in the collection a year ago–I’ve still got Jerry Harrison, Robyn Hitchcock, Billy Holiday, and the Housemartins to explore!  Pre-new years New Year’s resolution: finish the Here Comes Everybody entries before the clock strikes 12 on December 31. Please don’t hold your breath.

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Notes Toward a Musical Autobiography: Volume VI, Letter C

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A wrench in the works for my project of listening to compact discs, one at a time, all the way through, touching at least once on every band or artist in my collection: I bought a new turntable for the basement listening lounge!  I have been distracted this week by vinyl and paused my project to bip around in the alphabet with the LP record: Here Comes Everybody, The Bird and the Bee, Eels, and Other Lives. Okay, no more screwing around.  Back to the C compact disc grind. Not a grind. Pure joy, actually.

In my rush to get to Elvis Costello I accidentally skipped a C artist, and, disappointingly, have discovered the first truly BAD record in my compact disc collection.  Julian Cope’s “Peggy Suicide” is definitely one for the hopper.  This guy can’t sing and he can’t write a song. His appeal seems to come, perhaps, from his politics maybe, his new wave cred, his striking good looks (at least in 1990), and his experimental, mystical, artsy bent. There may be a few interesting moments, but overall, it’s not good. And vaguely remembering this appraisal from my last listen 26 years ago, I groan out loud as soon as the display tells me this baby is 76 minutes long. God no. Make it stop.

Counting Crows, “August and Everything After.” Another pirate.  Someone must have been trying to turn me on to this band.  They went so far as to print a facsimile of the album cover to slide into the jewel case for the cdr. I like the hippy dippy grooviness and the musicianship, but I find these guys terribly boring. I don’t see it. Another one into the hopper.

Jim Croce, “Photographs and Memories: His Greatest Hits.” Yes.  This is in my collection.  I don’t know why.  I may have stolen this CD from my parents’ music library. I know I would not have bought it. But it was before my time and after theirs; if my parents bought it, it was out of some vague sense that, yeah, here’s this guy, we know a couple of these really nice songs, should probably have it. No doubt, there are classics here, and that probably, more than anything else, explains its presence in my house, however it arrived here. I’ve got some serious childhood sentimentality around some of these tunes.  “Time in a Bottle.”  “Operator.”  “I Got A Name.”  Hell yeah.  And “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” Any early 70’s childhood experienced even in the least degree with music would have been unable to escape Jim Croce.

Sheryl Crow, “Tuesday Night Music Club.” I remember the video for “All I Want to Do” and I remember thinking that Sheryl Crow was perhaps the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I remember, too, at the time of its release, not being quite smitten enough to buy the album, and that I didn’t really think much more about Sheryl Crow until I realized that Kevin Gilbert played on this album and wrote some of these songs.  So years later I found this cd in the used bin and felt I had to have it, for Gilbert’s sake, really. More on this later when we get to the G’s.  There’s no doubting Crow’s talent.  But except for a few tunes on this disc that are really pretty spectacular, it’s not for me an especially captivating record.

The Cure, “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.” What a great band. What a great lead singer, one of what I like to call the greatest worst singers in rock.  He’s imprecise, whiny, sometimes operatic, but always 100% in. Emo? Okay, yeah, this guy might be the king of that kind of thing. I forgot how cool they were.  How they were not afraid to drone on a thing for three and a half minutes in order to create a vibe, how inventive the drum parts were, how unattached to two and four, but how, when it was necessary, like in “Just Like Heaven,” it could be absolutely square in service of the perfect pop tune.  Here’s a record whose seventy some minute running time is forgivable, not because every single thing is perfect and nothing is superfluous, but because their ability to change up the vibe from song to song and to create interest sonically in a six minute tune with no chorus to speak of earns them the right to stretch.  One of the best of the last of the great 80’s bands.  I’m sad I never saw them perform.

Curiosity Killed The Cat, “Keep Your Distance.” My wife is heading to bed early so my nine year old and I go downstairs to listen to music together.  He encourages me to carry on where I left off in the letter C.  This is our first joint listening venture since I embarked on this project.  He’s aware of it, but up to this evening has not been a participant.  What a fortuitous time to begin. This obscure band from England put this record out in 1987–a hugely important time in my own musical history, my wife and I, as Here Comes Everybody, having written our first “good” songs and made our first professional recordings. And I was reaching out to find as much cool new music as I could find.  This record here is a kind of funky new wave dance record, reminiscent of the first record from The Blow Monkeys but with more muscle and a decidedly less nerdy vocal croon. The opening track is “Misfits,” and my son and I find ourselves dancing together in the basement. He’s busting out moves I’ve never seen him make before and it’s glorious.  This record holds up, is musical, tight, and, as of this evening, approved by a nine year old boy.

We have time for one more record before we go to bed, and it’s another gem, for some reason incorrectly alphabetized after Croce, Crow, Cure, Curiosity and not before: Crash Test Dummies, “God Shuffled His Feet.”  Produced by Jerry Harrison, formerly of Talking Heads, and released in 1993, this great record rocked my world just as the David Byrne solo record I wrote about earlier did. It was a time of incredible personal and artistic growth for me.  I remember listening to this record over and over again at the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, where I would realize that my pursuit of a writing vocation was no longer negotiable, and where I learned about the MFA program at Warren Wilson. Life changing stuff. And this band, a writer’s band, lead singer Brad Roberts having graduated with a double philosophy/English degree, absolutely floated my boat. I don’t think I know of a single band fronted by a singer who goes this low–not a typical pop music thing.  And they captured an absurdist bent that mirrored my own–I was after all, beginning work on the first novel I would ever write, a novel, appropriately enough, about spontaneous human combustion.  It fit right into the world of The Crash Test Dummies. Here’s this thing, not anywhere close to the best song on the record, but it was, after all, the hit. Remember? The nine year old is amused.

Jesus, I realize again that my alphabetizing is totally messed up.  Must be that during the move four years ago, compact discs were put in boxes in a particular order and then came out of those boxes sometimes in a different order. Either that, or I don’t know how to alphabetize.  That’s not likely, as I am, obviously, correcting the mistakes.  Somewhere between Counting and Crow if correctly alphabetized, a band that brings up the rear of my C section in its current f-ed up order, a band for whom I should not limit myself to just one album because they were and are a truly great band and I think I have every studio record they ever released, is New Zealand’s Crowded House. The pedigree of this band, as it is, spread between three other artists in my collection, Split Enz, Neil Finn, and Tim Finn, provides me with the inclination to choose just one–the only Crowded House record to feature the brothers Finn, an indisputable great album: “Woodface.” A celebratory record. 1991. The Finn brothers together again. I was gainfully employed. Felt like an adult. Some rocking good years, the next decade maybe the best decade ever thus far. And this album, not a clunker in the bunch, a perfect pop masterpiece to ring in the last 10 years of a dying century and to end, albeit incorrectly, my collection of artists and bands that begin with the letter C.

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Some Things that Sucked about Music in the 80’s

It’s time to make some pronouncements.  I have no authority, and I hate it when people who have no authority make pronouncements, but because I am a musician and can kind of claim to know something about music, and because I lived through, was actually a teenager and a young adult in this particular era, I will make some pronouncements anyway, even though none of this makes me an authority.

Many things about music in the 80’s sucked.  Hair bands, for the most part, sucked. Mainstream pop, almost entirely, sucked.  The more popular of the one-hit wonder new wave bands, for all intents and purposes, sucked.  Overproduced drums and vocals, the snare drum that sounded like a nuclear explosion and the vocal  track drowning in reverb, these things sucked. Most of the videos on MTV, as exciting as they were for awhile, sucked, especially the videos which showcased some of these musicians in their full dumb-assed glory, for example, playing a single note with an index finger on a synthesizer while boogying with themselves, or posing ridiculously with guitars jutting out from between their legs like gigantic phalluses, or this, what my band Here Comes Everybody was guilty of in the 80’s: way over-the-top lip synced performances, complete with real instruments plugged into nothing in a bare studio against a blank backdrop.  Yes, even I, to a certain degree, sucked in the 80’s . Even if the music I made didn’t suck (and it didn’t, by the way, in my humble opinion), my notions of what was hip, cool, or engaging in the visual department certainly did.  I’ll direct your attention to Exhibit A:

This video sucks in so many awful ways.  It appears that the singer in the band, c’est moi, is on speed.  He wasn’t, by the way.  But he was all hot and sweaty because he had done perhaps ten takes before the stupid videographers got their stupid video shit together enough for a complete performance.  His mascara is running.  Musicians in the 80’s wore mascara.  That kind of sucked.  But what especially sucks in this video is the battle the singer in the band, c’est moi, has with a digital blackout bar, the kind usually used to black out eyes or naughty bits.  That was just a dumb idea, but it was, at the time, the fanciest special effect we had at our disposal.  Also a dumb idea is this notion that the musicians pretending to play their instruments should be huddled in a little line behind the spastic lead singer.  Okay, enough about me.  And I really wanted, initially, to write about things that DIDN’T suck about music in the 80’s, but I just couldn’t seem to run out of the things that did.  Let me try to get through the rest quickly.

Bands and artists that were great in the 70’s, particularly Cheap Trick, Elton John, Kiss, Rush, and Journey, sucked in the 80’s, despite a number of mega-hits from many of them.  The word “sucked,” which I’m certain had an earlier origin, was particularly overused in the 80’s, and that has nothing to do with music, but it, nevertheless, sucked. However, there’s a very sharp little defense of the word “sucks” by Seth Stevenson on Slate, and it makes me feel not nearly so guilty for overusing the word in this little blog post.

What didn’t suck about 80’s music?  Not surprisingly, the things that didn’t suck about 80’s music are the same things that don’t suck about some of today’s music. Bands contain real musicians who can really play.  Or, bands contain mediocre musicians whose spirited and unique performances totally make up for the fact that they’re not very good.  Arrangements are unpredictable.  Lyrics contain actual ideas. Some envelopes are pushed.  This is my list of the 80’s greatest pop bands or artists: XTC, The Boomtown Rats, The Talking Heads, Japan, The Fixx, Tears for Fears, Elvis Costello, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and several others I’ve temporarily forgotten because I’m getting old.  Some people will say that Bowie sucked in the 80’s, but they’d be wrong about that. And my test to determine whether or not I was deluded as a young man by bad music I believed was good is this: the music of these artists has real staying power for me.  I can listen to any of those records and appreciate their craft beyond and outside the pure nostalgia I might feel for the good ol’ days of my youth. And finally, there were things we thought sucked about 80’s music that, in hindsight, or hind-hearing, don’t turn out after all to suck: Michael Jackson decidedly did not suck in the 80’s, even though I believed he did.  And because I have been recently involved (as Uncle Wes) in the musical Footloose, I  have developed some appreciation for the tunes from this show for which I was absolutely dismissive as a young punk.  Let’s hear it for the boys, indeed. Flashdance, however, will have to go into the suck bin until I get a part in that musical.

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