ODIN XXIV — further “minor secrets” of the Mr T Experience

video and words

Frank Portman
Mar 31 · 19 min read

This is the twenty-fourth illustrated collation of Songs for Odin posts. This covers past six weeks, and for those keeping track, we’ve reached the 127th entry covering 104 songs so far. (They’re different because several songs have had more than one entry.) There’s a YouTube playlist of all the Songs for Odin posted so far, with their write-ups linked in the description space of each respective video.

If you’re confused because you haven’t been following along for the past couple of years (and why would you?): this is something I’ve been doing each Wednesday, posting a video of a song and writing up some commentary on it. Then every month or so I’ll compile them into an edited illustrated compilation so they don’t get lost and unfindable in the great big pile of trash that is our internet. And it’s called Song for Odin because it occurs on Wednesday, the day dedicated to Woden, the Anglo-Saxon cognate of the Norse god Odin.

Details about how and why I started doing this can be found in the intro to the first installment; and the Odin conceit is explained, somewhat, in the intro to the second. The subsequent installments may be found here: three; four; five; six; seven; eight; nine; ten; eleven; twelve; thirteen; fourteen; fifteen; sixteen; seventeen; eighteen; nineteen; twenty; twenty-one; twenty-two; twenty-three.

Table of contents: “Who Needs Happiness (I’d Rather Have You)”; “Sackcloth and Ashes”; “I Feel for You”; “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”; “Two Minute Itch”; “Surfin’ Mozart”

And now….


1 Dr Frank — “Who Needs Happiness (I’d Rather Have You)”

Sentimentally Retarded: Hail you, hail me, hail Odin. And hail songwriting, without which songs could be written only with great difficulty if at all. Actually, I think they do produce songs without writers these days, but I know nothing of that dystopia. I’m a backwards-looking guy. What I’m trying to say is, it is Wodnesdæg, and I’m going to post a song and type out some words about it, as tradition dictates.

Here’s the song:

And now the words: this performance is from the second show of that “art tour” I did with Kepi and Stefan Tijs and the Ramonesy art of Maneul Mange in 2012, at the Jeugdhuis Kroenkel, in Nijlen, Belgium. Yes, Belgium. And we have our friend Arjan (aka iheartweakerthans) to thank for the video, which is one of the only versions of this rarely-performed song on video that I’ve come across. (Thanks, buddy!)

Franz took this pic at the airport in Milan on my arrival

I wrote a bit about the circumstances of this tour in a recent write-up of “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”.

As I said there, this tour was the beginning of my returning to music after leaving it alone for nearly a decade, and it happened solely because a determined Kepi played Bowie to my Iggy and dragged me out of my squalid hovel, for the purposes of playing squalid hovels overseas. And, not coincidentally, that was around the time I started listening to the old records and trying to assess their worth and re-issue-ability (chronicled in various social media posts at the time — see notes below.) Thus, this was the beginning of the process of rescue and restoration we’re involved in now with Sounds Radical, the tape hunt, etc. So, a pivotal event for which I thank Kepi and Otis Tours most sincerely. As you can see from the show schedule on the poster (at left and here) the tour basically covered the environs of the Holy Roman Empire, beginning in Holland and ending in Aachen, which is how I thought of it at the time and still do now, because I’m a pedantic weirdo.

As for the song, well, it’s one of the best-written and best-conceived of all my songs. Like “The Weather Is Here (Wish You Were Beautiful)” it was written during another, previous Euro-tour — the one with Green Day in ’96, I think… I remember bouncing the lyrics of both songs around in my head during those endless hours of hurry-up-and-wait at various sports arenas. It steps off from the “Il Paradiso” / Amen Corner song about love being a paradise on earth and downgrades it to a dyspeptic expression of preference for misery if that be the price of love. This is the adolescent angst that somehow manages to last your whole life through, i.e., it is longterm “relatable” in that way that only high school drama can be. And if you’re not old enough to know that yet, you will one day.

The slightly squirrelly rhymes don’t bother me as much as they usually do — when lyrics work, they work, rules be damned — and there are some very good lines. Moreover, the rhyme scheme itself is fairly complex, which makes it all the more difficult to render it as natural non-awkward speech, and yet it so rendered. And I actually do like the arrangement, performance, and recording of this song on the album, for once. (Though some of the cool passing chords and inversions do get lost in the wall of guitar… worth it, maybe, sometimes.)

Good moments: “my devotion is an ocean of uneasiness” (uneasiness being an oblique double entendre); the idea of uphill hallways/dreams; “me on assistance and you on the pill”; “if I make it through this hell on earth it might be worth it”. And “sentimentally retarded.” Speaking of which, that was considered as a possibility for the title of the album before we settled on Revenge Is Sweet, and So Are You. The main reason we didn’t use it is because the Queers already had Love Songs for the Retarded. Emotional Vertigo was another one, I think… I can’t recall the others on that list at the moment. I’m glad we went with RISASAY.

My approach to songwriting was always a bit of throw-back, to a thing no one was all that interested in, and it seems even moreso nowadays when songs are written by algorithm and assessed on the basis of hate-clicks. It’s not easy being trad, but it’s the only way I know. Without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof. And even a poor tailor is entitled to some happiness.

See you next week.

notes:

— studio recording on YouTube.

RISASAY discogs

— some of those “re-assessment” links: Love Is Dead ; atWLT (w/Milk Milk Lemonade and Our Bodies Our Selves) ; RISASAY and Show Business Is My Life

— original post on minds.com is here.


2 Dr Frank — “Sackcloth and Ashes”

One day maybe you’ll be way beyond this silly habit you’ve put on… Gesælig æsc Wodnesdæg to eow… In other words, have a nice Ash Wednesday. And accordingly, here’s “Sackcloth and Ashes” from me, at that “secret” show in the cemetery park in Bergamo, Italy, 2006.


An æsc Wodnesdæg Song for Odin is a bit.., syncretistic, if syncretistic means what I think it does, but just go with it.

Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return. And you’re probably not gonna get the girl if you keep moping around like that. Both of these things are in the Bible.

You can read about the ins and outs of this show at the previous entries in the notes below. As for the song, it has been a Song for Odin twice before, once in “native” form from 1996 (also in Italy, in Genoa) and once from a recent current line-up show in Chicago in 2016. In other words, we’ve got twenty years of “Sackcloth and Ashes”, with a decade on either side of the present item.

This one is solo, obviously, and it’s a rendition I really like. Because as well as the no-frills basic punk rock version works (and it does seem to) you can’t have fewer frills than this, just a guy strumming a guitar and shouting it out in a park, to an audience of people who “get it.”

It’s a song that really works done this way, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise because that is basically the way it was originally written and conceived to be done. But I remain astonished that a composition with such an abstruse and peculiar metaphorical conceit manages to connect so reliably with its audience in any form. It’s a balance that can’t be struck on purpose, at least not by me, but has to be stumbled on by accident, and by that I mean the balance between “relatable” and “obscure.”

To quote myself on the album that this song begins with and arguably kind of exemplifies:

…it turns out simple “folk songs” with complex lyrical compositional conceits concerning love and loss played in minimal punk rock arrangements did “click”. And it is, of course, the most popular and approved-of thing I’ve ever done. It resulted from a combination of our own limitations, and misfiring on some ambitions that laid bare unintended consequences that were unexpectedly viable… and of course, good songs, you can’t do anything without that. But distilling something to its essence isn’t always as easy or obvious as you might think, and when it happened here it was largely accidental.

That’s the thing about studio recording… you never have as much control as you want to have, and things sometimes take on a life of their own and come out their own way. (And when this happens in a big way it tends to be really, really awful or really, really good — you have no way of specifying, or even of knowing, which it is to be, or which it was.) I guess that’s how it is with all art… If it “comes out” exactly as planned, it’s dead. Something has to happen in the process to zap life into it. Then you’ve got to catch that charge and amplify it and try to capture and present it in such a way that others out in the world can grasp it. It’s not all that easy to make that happen.

What I’m saying is, it’s a good song, but its goodness relies on something I probably couldn’t manage to do again. Glad I did it once though.

Memento homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris. Best of luck today. Have a good Ash Wednesday and a good Lent. And just, you know, a good everything. See you next week I guess.

notes:

— MTX studio recording on YouTube.

— Dr Frank solo version (on Shards vol 1) on YouTube.

“I Don’t Need You Now” write-up with introduction to the Bergamo show.

— Original post on minds.com.


3 Dr Frank — “I Feel for You”

So I feel for you, and when I do, you feel really nice… My friends (and members of the loyal opposition) another Wodnesdæg is upon us necessitating yet another Song for Odin. One need not like it. One need only acknowledge, with frank resignation if appropriate, that it is the case. So, brace yourself accordingly and I shall do the same.

What we have here is yours truly doing a laptop video of “I Feel for You”, in the little bedroom of my little apartment, a glimpse at where the magic happens. The sword in the background is a Malatesta from Valiant Amoury. My mom made the quilt. This is where I’ve recorded most of my demos over the years, some tracks of which were used on records here and there. And in fact we actually recorded some official vocals here, for Miracle of Shame and Yesterday Rules, with a borrowed Neumann mic, Kevin Army in the the bedroom cum control room and me in the kitchen as a makeshift vocal booth. It kind of worked, though it was hell on the neighbors. Surprised I wasn’t kicked out of this place long ago, to be honest.

Anyway, “I Feel for You” is one of my better songs, in that it does precisely what it’s supposed to do with no misfires or lazy malfunctions. It’s a tight little package. The multiple-entendred conceit is fully articulated and played out with economy and precision, after which it quickly exits stage left. It’s quite an old-fashioned sort of song, really, the slightly risqué twist on different senses of the verb “to feel” undergirded by low-humor gags (“you feel pretty young to me…”) with some pretty nice understated scene-setting: “when you lay beside me in the still of the night, I can hear you sigh and I’m hoping that you feel alright…” (Which she does, when the requisite test is performed.) Anyway, that’s my view. I’ve heard from people who don’t like it, or don’t get it — not necessarily the same thing, I suppose. “Oh, I get it, I just think it’s stupid.” Well, fair enough, I suppose, but this is my show and I’ll do the withering critiques here, thank you very much.

Despite my liking it so much, I don’t think it made it on to too many live MTX sets, if ever. It may be that we only played it that one time in the studio. Which, unlike all the other Alcatraz tracks, was at Roof Brothers, basically live, on 16 track 2" tape: the song was meant as a minimalist basic rock and roll interlude to serve as a break or relief from all that sonic experimentation. I’d also wanted to do a mono mix, but that didn’t happen. Anyway, that’s why we did it. And I think the sequence of this song into the final track “We’ll Get By” is one of the best transitions we ever managed.

At any rate, that’s another one done, Song for Odin I mean. The 124th entry / 103rd song. Still some more songs to go, if we keep going, which, knowing me, we probably will. What else is there to do? Like subscribe comment share etc. And be good to each other, because why not? By which I mean, make the world a better place by edging up the kindness knob, just a bit, in your daily interactions. We’ll all appreciate that, I’m sure, because the status quo is a drag. Nobody knows how to ride that knob anymore, it seems.

notes:

— studio recording on YouTube.

Alcatraz on discogs

— Original post on minds.com


4 “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”

Way too flat on the middle ground: Welcome to another Wodnesdæg, and another Song for Odin, that thing I do where I post song in video form with some commentary because… well, just because I do it I guess. And as the release of the Mtx forever double LP compilation is finally upon us (mailing happening as we speak, “street date” Friday) here’s what we’re going to do for it: it’s the Mtx forever version of the song “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba.”

This is the so-called “single” or video mix of the song, not the one used on the album. The idea there, as I understand it, was that many TVs in those days still had effectively a mono speaker system, so that in rock recordings with a severely panned stereo image, the guitars would tend to disappear. So this version, while not quite mono, has things a little more centered, and the guitars are louder. I’m not saying it’s better, necessarily, though I do like the guitars feeling louder. But the reason for choosing it wasn’t so much that it was a better version as that it was a variation that we had access to. We didn’t do transfers of alternative mix reels this time around because it would have been prohibitively expensive (and in some cases complicated) but there was a DAT of twelve mixes of this song and I was curious so I added it to the pile.

One of these was used for the soundtrack of the video, and I’m pretty sure that or another was used as the promo CD single that was serviced to “modern rock radio” in the vain hope of getting airplay. Which didn’t happen, appreciably. (I thought I had a few of those lying around, but when I looked just now I couldn’t find any — it is quite possible they’re lurking somewhere, buried in layers of detritus like everything else around here.)

Anyway, I figured, why not use what we’ve got? So that’s what we did. We’ll have a crack at remastering the album mix when we finally get around to “doing” the Love Is Dead album. (About which, btw, I’m currently leaning towards just doing it as is, warts and all, with no attempt to remix, though I’d still kind of like to try a remix. I know people like it how it is, plus it’s a huge can of worms, so to speak, and if we’re going to spend the time and money to open such cans, it’s arguably more pertinent to do it on cans that need it more.)

Despite all that it, it’s basically the same thing, same song, about which I’ve written about several times in this “series.” (See notes below.) Signature tune and all that, lots of people’s favorite, etc. It was vaguely topical at the time but its a topicality that lives on as a generality, that stuff about people saying the things you used to say such that when you continue saying them you sound like you’re aping them. Also the kind of “philosophical” bit about carving out a space for oneself outside of the realm of the little, the big, and everything in-between. It’s a paradox but it can be done if you’re not too fussy about where and how you end up, and it can kind of work. So let’s go…

I’ll be back next week, most likely, with more such material. Till then, like, subscribe, share, upvote, and such, if you don’t mind as every little helps, somehow, so they say.

notes:

Mtx forever discogs.

— “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” SfO no. 1; “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” SfO no. 2; “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” SfO no. 3

— “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” fingerpicked

— the music video

— you can still order the second pressing of Mtx forever from Sounds Rad — also Amazon

— original post on minds


5 “Two Minute Itch”

I (still) live in a little hole… Another Wodnesdæg, another Song for Odin, that’s the way it works. And what we’ve got here is the MTX of 1996 doing “Two Minute Itch” in Genoa, Italy.

Trigger warning: this write-up may be rather terse, so brace yourself for some terseness. This “shelter in place” thing should theoretically leave one with all sorts of time and space for typing “minor secrets” about sundry songs from one’s extensive backcatalog, but somehow the mind fails to concentrate. Damndest thing.

Many have made this observation, I’m sure, and I’m not above joining them: “social distancing” is, for me, not all that different from the way I conduct myself in ordinary time. The real difference is that everyone else is doing it now, too, which, impolitic though it may be to say, is, taken on its own, pretty nice. When this is all over and everything gets back to normal, as I do hope and pray it will soon, I’d definitely vote to continue at least a bit of the social distancing just for its own sake. Maybe others will have acquired a taste for it, too.

Nevertheless, the “shelter in place” thing isn’t conducive to productive activity, somehow. The dread of worse to come, maybe, fear of devastation on a mass scale, that sort of thing. Wondering if your usual cough is different, somehow. It’s distracting, even when you’re easily distracted by nature and should be used to it. And even though I am, as I said, a fan of social distancing, per se, I’m aware of a deepening melancholy as well, though I sort of had that already. People not trying to make you talk to them all the time out on the street is nice, but it doesn’t solve everything, as it turns out.

But anyway, speaking of living in a little hole with nothing but the TV and your own jumpy, easily distracted mind, and isolation as a lifestyle… well, in fact, I still live in the same little hole referred to in the song. And while TV is no longer “a thing” in the same way (another one of those dead references perhaps) contemporary media plus short attention span plus general confusion about everything still works as a brute-force, slightly inarticulate metaphor. I still can’t ever finish anything, now more than ever. You too?

As for said metaphor, I wrote about it in a couple of previous write-ups on this song (see notes below.) Snip:

… the idea of using distracted TV channel-switching as sort of metaphor for the conduct of an indecisive, confused, and messy love life, and the concomitant lack of contact with reality, is pretty solid, but over-ambitious for my skills at the time… The inarticulateness does leave a sort of ‘poetic’ impression, something that would be pretty difficult to do on purpose if you knew what you were doing…

The whole Milk Milk Lemonade album has this character, of ambition not quite realized that ironically kind of embodies the thing it’s trying to describe. It’s supposed to be a series of snapshots of emotional misfires, miscommunication, immaturity, and confusion, a kind of ‘life flashing before your eyes’ thing, between the “revelation” at the beginning and the resigned ‘I can see it now’ resolution. And, rather astonishingly, it kind of does accomplish that, just not in a very accomplished way. It’s a strange beast.

Anyway, we’re all in our little holes now, and I hope you’re all doing well and staying safe in yours. Here’s to better days. Actually, that wasn’t all that terse, was it? So it goes. Bye for now.

notes:

— “Two Minute Itch” write-up from May 2018; TMI write-up about a live Kepi cover

— studio recording on YouTube

— plus: this is weird

— original post on minds.com


6 “Surfin’ Mozart”

K. 525: So… how are you all doing? I’m going a bit mad, myself, to be honest, but maybe this will help. It being Wed. it’s time for another Song for Odin.

And here we are. It’s side-view video from that August 1988 Gilman show from which I’ve posted several songs in this here Songs for Odin series.


It’s “Surfin’ Mozart.” And the reason it’s “Surfin’ Mozart” is because, as I mentioned earlier this week, through some random act of mysteriousness and absurdity, this track has wound up being the top, most played MTX tune on Spotify. This is solely due to its rather inexplicable place on a playlist made up mainly of tracks by the K-pop boy band BTS. An accidental inclusion, or an ironic comic interlude? No idea. Anyhow its sudden prominence made me wonder if there were a live performance of it available anywhere, and this is the only one I could find.

As you can see if you watch the video, it doesn’t start out being “Surfin’ Mozart.” The kick drum pedal breaks after a few seconds of “Surfin’ Cows” and we resorted to an impromptu rendition of “Surfin’ Mozart” for something to do instead of standing around like idiots while the drums were fixed. This drum failure used to happen all the time, at least once per set, and in fact it happened several times in this particular set. It used to drive me nuts. As an actual show business “act” we were always dangerously close to inadvertent Keystone Punx territory as it was. When I have anxiety dreams about being on stage (which still occur regularly) this is always the scenario: I announce the song and start playing and singing only to find there’s a drum problem and then it takes several hours of trying to find the drummer or getting back to the stage through some slime-dripping labyrinth after finding him wherever he’d wandered off to or whatever.

I always thought that some genius who managed to figure out a way to engineer a bass drum pedal that wouldn’t break every couple songs would make a killing because every band would force its drummer to use one, no matter how much it cost.

(I have to say, it hasn’t been a problem since we started back up a few years ago. So maybe that engineering feat did actually happen without my being aware of it, and if so, good. Thank God. I still have the nightmares though.)

It’s kind of cool how the crowd was requesting “Surfin’ Mozart” by name and even singing it. And yet, even though the idea was to play the song while the drums were seen to, I guess I didn’t make it clear enough that that’s what was meant to happen, because instead of addressing the kick drum problem, Alex just started playing on the snare instead of doing that, leaving us right back where we’d started when it was all over. Standing around like idiots, I mean, our natural state. There’s no business like show business.

Later on I started to play little solo songs during drum breakdowns, which ultimately resulted in “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend” and my solo so-called career. At the time, though, Jon von’s knock knock jokes and “Surfin’ Mozart” was all we had.

As for the song, it was just a goof, obviously. I’d always thought of it as “Eine Kleine Punkmusik” but we titled it “Surfin’ Mozart” on the album as a counterpoint to “Surfin’ Cows.” In original conception it was going to be a bit longer and include a kind of “cadenza” but patience for learning more of it was in short supply at the time of recording so we just did as much as we knew, 38 seconds’ worth to be exact. Which is all to the good. No need to let things drag on unneccessarily. It’s still fun, after all these years.

So, there it is. The 127th entry / 104th song in the Song for Odin series, which will go on I guess. Check this space next week to find out. Stay safe and be good to each other.

notes:

— studio recording on YouTube

— Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on wikipedia

playlist of video of more songs from that show

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store