Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Bessie - Live at Clifford, May 3, 1997
--- MIKE ---
The Origin Story
I only vaguely recollect the beginnings of the band that would become Bessie. I know it had something to do with Grad Student Amy The Bassist (GSATB) recruiting me to play "something" (bass? guitar? drums?) in her new band. After I settled on playing the drums, with the caveat that I was still learning how to play, GSATB asked The Chris Owen to sing lead. Somehow we also convinced Jen C's then-boyfriend, Irish Terry Q. from Ireland, to round out the group on guitar. I know Amy and Chris wanted to call the band The Homeowners, and to this day I have no idea how we settled on the name Bessie.
What a completely wacky combination of musical styles and personalities. Amy was the ringleader, scheduling practices and writing most of the foundation material for the songs on her bass. I supplied the practice space (Clifford the Big Red House) and tried my best to imitate Hannah Fox on drums (because I was completely obsessed with her band Babe The Blue Ox at the time). Fortunately, Doug McE. let me borrow his drumset and Whiff gave me some drums lessons, otherwise this whole venture would have been even more horrible than it already was.
Practices were too few and far between, styles (Amy's quirky bass, Chris' shouting vocals, Terry's funk guitar, and my half-assed drumming) never quite meshed, and yet we still managed to play a bunch of shows (including going on a brief "tour" of Michigan) and frighten people. The best compliment I ever got for this band was from Joe C. who said something to the effect that "I thought this band was supposed to be a joke, but actually your songs are rather complicated and interesting" after he heard us play. Not too bad. And when it rocked, it was really, really fun. I love playing drums, even if I'm terrible.
I was never truly happy with the band, mostly because I was so frustrated trying to play drum parts that I was simply not competent to perform. It's still painful for me to listen to these songs, for that reason alone. I think with more time (we were together for a grand total of about 4 months?) this band could have evolved into something really good. As it stands, it's a decent record of an experimental hybrid weird rock band that tried really hard to, well, I'm not really sure. The song "Gertrude Is A Dog" still makes me really happy. You broke if you don't dance to that.
--- CHRIS ---
Are there any bands that sound like this anymore? When I listen to this now a voice in my head says “Indie, Indie, Indie!" (like Jan saying "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"). What would one call this style of music? Maybe I just found a way to avoid it, but I don’t feel like you hear it anymore. It is like a 90s indie clusterfuck- Mike's Babe the Blue Ox influenced drums, the Rites of Spring-lite male vocals alternating B-52s-like with 90s grrrrrl vox, Britpop guitar... individually those elements provide the color, but overall I would say it was Amy's Kim Deal pose that defined this band (I don't know who young women emulate these days, but I don't miss the days when a tuneless young gal might pick up a bass, stitch together the first 4 unrelated melodies she comes up with and immediately get on stage. I am sure it still happens, I am just not there to watch and there is probably a different muse). Needless to say, we were not the Pixies.
Despite what Mike remembers, I believe I was the last member to enter this band. After a brief period of direction-free practice, they asked me to come in to help provide some pizazz. Like if George Bush had asked Mick Foley to come in and help provide some direction. In addition to jazzing things up with some unnecessary second lead vocals, the magic I sprinkled on top, as I remember, was lobbying to call the band "The Homowners" (purposely misspelled, I was 10 years ahead of Shitgaze/No-Fi) and suggesting we cover "What Goes On" by the Velvet Underground. For whatever reason, the Homowners name never stuck and our "What Goes On" provided an excruciating 7 minute set piece for audiences to contemplate unfinished homework, impending student loans, really anything to avoid paying attention to this awful never-ending rendition of what used to be a good song.
I listened to this once a few months ago when Ted sent it to me and it was even worse than I remember. Though it might not have needed to be; Amy was learning the bass as we went but she practiced a lot and “Gertrude” was a catchy song. Mike's drumming was perfectly fine, I thought, despite his self-flagellation about not mastering them immediately. Terry's borrowed 12 string electric (with 6 strings), though perpetually falling out of tune, was well played (and he struck an exotic U2-y figure onstage, contrasting depressingly with the basements we played in). However, this band suffered from a common ailment in the scene that really didn't work this time- different flavors that did not go well together. This band did not mix well. Listening to any of these songs it is obvious and the best example of this is the experiment in dual male/female lead vocalists. Though unique among our SBP90s brethren, it was unavoidably awkward and strained. The music is bad, but the vocals are worse.
I feel like I was constantly trying to quit this band and I wish I could say why you can hear my voice on these songs, but I have no excuse. It pains me to hear my earnest Guy Picciotto impersonation, lyrics ripped off from Doug's Raymond Carver rip off period (I think there is actually a song called "Gazebo" here) and I want to publicly apologize to anyone who had to watch us. If you sat through the Mad Dogs and Bessie in the same night, I formally request you stop reading now. You had enough of me that night to last the rest of your life. Interestingly, the Mad Dogs were a way for me to react to what I thought of as an occasionally pretentious scene, whereas my Bessie vocals were an attempt to conform to it... which makes them that much more embarrassing.
In fact, I am absolutely positive this was the worst band of the SBP90s scene 1994-1998 because I can prove it. A few years ago in a “ND Years” box I found a VHS tape labeled "The Cure- Staring at the Sea the Singles video collection." I put it in my VCR, hit rewind and genuinely looked forward to cranking it while I cleaned the house. Imagine the horror I felt when I heard my own voice loudly saying something typically stupid. Roger videotaped us live at Dalloway’s, somehow it found its way onto this tape and now it is a living document I can always refer to when I want to revisit the agony we put audiences through. The crowd is even shown, sleepwatching for the whole 45 minutes or so, wishing they could be anywhere but witnessing us define the opposite of “Chemistry” and listening to me talk endlessly between songs. Unfunny, unattractive, unappealing. (As an aside, here are two tips for young bands and bands young at heart: 1) Never play longer than 30 minutes 2) Unless your name is Bob Pollard or David Lee Roth, never speak, on any subject or at any length, between songs. Actually, James and Dave were very funny in Krautmiser, but in general it is a cardinal rule best learned early- less talk, more rock). This tape is atrocious. No nostalgia, whatsoever, out of this tape until the Cure take over an hour into it. Ted requested I send it to him and I say to you now what I said to him then: You'll take my Staring at the Sea VHS over my dead body! There is no way I would allow this to get on the internet. I have a child and want no visual evidence of this band available online to discredit what is left of my family name. Even my daytime personality doesn’t know where I have hidden the original. On the bright side, at least there is no video evidence of the show we played opening for Mustard Plug in Kalamazoo (though I haven’t checked that Hulmerist video in a while either).
Regarding the download available below, I cannot under any circumstances recommend you listen to it. I asked Ted not to make it available, but his will to document has grown stronger than his quality control impulse. He needs help. Please join me in making this the least downloaded SBP90s entry yet. Finally, I want to apologize to Jim McNamee for the rude comments I made to him at this show. Not cool, not funny, not clever - the opposite of Jim himself, whom I miss.
Bessie on MySpace