RAD-005–7: The Punkemon Story

I’m not sure exactly what Chris Appelgren had in mind back in 1999 when he approached me with the idea of participating in the creation of a Pokemon themed pseudo-band, but in the fantasy world in which I lived at the time he was playing Kasenetz and Katz to my Joey Levine. We would, in our own unassuming and likely unappreciated way, produce some pre-fabricated bubblegum punk pop for the new millennium. This was the moment I had been waiting for.

The assignment was, write a song on the subject of Pokemon. Well, I knew nothing at all about Pokemon, though I had heard that it was a kind of Japanese craze, but I didn’t let that deter me. I identified a suitable character and wrote a little theme song for him. “Lickitung” was born and I believed in it to the degree that I’m capable of believing in anything.

I home-recorded what was at that point the most ambitious demo I’d ever done, on a four track Tascam cassette machine and this giant Yahama organ (a YC45D) that I’d acquired on tour in Saskatoon, purchased mainly just to see if it would fit in the van. (It did, though it barely fit in my apartment when I got it all set up.)

I submitted the tape and awaited the next assignment, daydreaming of other pop culture ripoffs I’d be tasked with, for what I imagined would be a string of glorious throwaways that would finally make my name as a pop music architect of the absurd, the Mike Batt of my generation.

We could hire actors to portray a band on TV, I thought, getting a bit carried away, miming to the song in fuzzy costumes. Like Wombles, you see?

Meanwhile, Mel Bergman of the Phantom Surfers had also answered the call, with the arguably less abstruse “Pocket Monsters.” Chris Imlay of the Hi-Fives etc. was enlisted to play bass.

Chris Appelgren himself was the drummer.

We all convened with Kevin Army at Foxhound Sound in Oakland. (Foxhound was essentially Bob Coover’s laundry room and garage in Oakland, so named to commemorate his dog. The MTX Road to Ruin was recorded there, as well as many of the Alcatraz overdubs and — I think — “I Don’t Need You Now.”)

By the end of the day we’d done all the tracking, replete with Imlay’s unforgettable Charles Nelson Reilly-esque take on Mel’s “Pocket Monsters” lyrics. Then Mel and the two Chrisses left me and Kevin to fret and haggle over the “Lickitung” synth, vocals, and mix. By the end of the night it was done. A true instant recording. And to everyone’s surprise, it was actually good.

And I mean that emphatically. Though I can’t put my finger on exactly why, “Lickitung” remains my favorite recording I’ve ever done. Now I can die happy, I thought. It was only going to be a seven inch, but from tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow. We were looking at the humble start of something big.

Except we weren’t, and it wasn’t. For some reason, the proposed seven inch, Punkemon the band, and all my carefully honed Wombles delusions simply disintegrated and vanished. A thin-sounding mp3 version of an unedited dump of an unmastered “Lickitung” rough mix was put up on e-Music as a free promotional download for a stretch. That version is still floating around in the dank corners of the internet. But it was a sad, ignominious end to a putative crowning achievement. One of many, of course. That’s the way this stuff works.

Anyhow, fast forward to last year. Though the idea of digitally releasing the “Lickitung” song just for the sake of completeness had come up from time to time in my discussions with Chris A., it wasn’t a very high priority and never wound up happening. When the Pokemon Go craze hit, though, it seemed as though, you know, if there were ever a time to release these songs, this was it. Maybe Lickitung’s time had come at last. It was at least worth, maybe, looking for the tapes to see if it was even possible. Neither Chris nor I could find the master (though I suspect the multitrack is probably on the end of one of the Road to Ruin reels… I do have those, but nothing to play them on to check.) At that point all we had was a second generation rip (from YouTube) of an upload of that old e-Music mp3 and it sounded, ooh not so fresh, certainly not good enough for a release, and no one had Mel’s song in any form. Once again, Punkemon lay dead at our feet.

To my amazement though, in the end, Mel managed to come up with a DAT. Yes, we had missed yet another craze, but at least we had the tape now. And then along comes Sounds Radical, who basically said, “we’ll put it out however you want.” Given carte blanche, if c.b. means what I think it does, rather than simply uploading “Lickitung” to the digital distributor as a Dr. Frank oddity, we decided to create the Punkemon single exactly as it might have been had it been released in 1999. I sent the DAT to my buddy Pete Mattern, saying “see what you can do with this, mastering-wise.” He restored it just beautiful, Dave at Lucky Lacquers cut it great, and it sounds terrific now, far far better, probably, than it has any right to be.
 
And now it’s coming out in November 2017. I’m not sure if anyone else will care about it, but it feels to me like a wrong righted, a valiant rescue of a child, er… a recording rather, stuck in a deep dark well for eighteen years. I still consider it my favorite recording. And I still don’t quite know why.

So there you have it. Punkemon emerged at the end of the last century, from the fevered brain of Lookout Records president Chris Appelgren, inspired by Kasenetz and Katz to fabricate a ‘mon-sploitation band dispensing Bubblegum for the new era. In-house Lookout stars contributed songs and sounds, but they flew too low, too late. Release was an abandoned dream. Their destiny was the vault. They could have been bigger than the Beagles. These two songs are all that remain.

(Punkemon ordering coming soon. In the meantime, check out the Sounds Rad store.)