Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Krautmiser - Mr. Miatsu's Deadly Game

In 1995, an album was released that changed a generation: Krautmiser's Mr. Miatsu's Deadly Game.

Everyone remembers how Mr. Miatsu's Deadly Game included the cliffhanger-ending story of how Krautmiser fearlessly challenged Mr. Miatsu in his own lair. But for years Krautmiser scholars have wondered: what actually happened to Julian Dingle, David McMahon, Jack Howard, and James Kennedy, once they entered Miatsu's notorious "Death Pagoda"?

Now, at long last--as an exclusive to South Bend Power 90s--the "lost ending" of Mr. Miatsu's Deadly Game!

First, the original story, from the insert of the 1995 album Mr. Miatsu's Deadly Game:


So shouted the headlines of the Fleet Street weeklies when England's scandal-sheet favourites, Krautmiser, announced their intention to play Mr. Miatsu's deadly game.

"This time they've gone too far," sniffed Lady Agatha Croydon, the ex-betrothed of Krautmiser's notorious playboy drummer Jack Howard, when informed of the band's sensational announcement.

But what is the story behind the scandal? Some wags claim Krautmiser was unwittingly shanghaied into playing Mr. Miatsu's deadly game. But when has Krautmiser ever done anything "unwittingly"--Krautmiser, a band whose every smallest action, down to the flirtatious bat of an eyelash, is precalculated and phase-plotted by a Cray-2 supercomputer for maximum swank and joie de vivre?

Others bandy about allegations that Krautmiser was forced into participating in Mr. Miatsu's deadly game. But how could Krautmiser ever be "forced" to do anything--Krautmiser, the wealthiest and most powerful band in the world?

No, Krautmiser's decision to engage Mr. Miatsu in his deadly game can only be traced to one reason--the same reason for all their actions--that is, the boundless insouciance and devil-may-care sassiness that have made them beloved pop-culture icons the world over. "We thought it'd be a lark to play Miatsu's deadly game," said Julian Dingle, guitarist, at a recent press conference.

But who is Mr. Miatsu? That question is not easily answered. All that can be said for certain about the enigmatic Miatsu is that once every year, this inscrutable 850-year-old mandarin emerges from his inaccessible pagoda deep within the heart of China and issues his challenge: "Who shall play my exceedingly dangerous game?"

What kind of band would throw their lives to the fickle winds of Oriental fate? "We started out with nothing," growled bassist James Kennedy in his raspy Irish brogue, "so we find it much easier to gamble everything." To be sure, Krautmiser did have inauspicious beginnings: in the early years, Kennedy was nothing more than another streetfighting lad going nowhere fast in the pubs of Belfast.

How he fell in with Jack Howard, an Eton schoolboy still in shortpants at the time, and Julian Dingle, a well-heeled Oxford don and the unofficial "bad boy" of orthodox Scholasticism, is still a mystery.

It was not until 1964 the Krautmiser finally found a vocalist. It was August 4, "Rodeo Nite" at the Buckin' Silver Star Saloon in Junction City, Kansas. "We don't have a singer for this next song," Julian called out halfway through the set. "Does anyone here know how to sing?"

"Oh, ah do!" piped up a drunken farm girl from the cornfields of Kansas. It was her first night on the town, and this blue-dressed, blonde-tressed ingenue was none the better for the five gin and tonics that she had downed that night.

"What's your name, young lovely?" inquired a solicitous James Kennedy as he helped her stagger onto the stage.

"Dave McMahon," slurred the young girl. "But I let the nice boys call me Peaches," she added, giggling.

"How old are you, little miss?" asked Jack Howard skeptically.

"Eighteen," said Peaches McMahon defiantly. But she was only sixteen, and even now Ma McMahon was peeping out the window of her farmhouse hundreds of miles away, wondering when her little Peaches would return.

She never did. Even when falling-down drunk, Peaches McMahon managed to bring the house down for encore after encore. That very night she climbed into the Krautmiser tour bus, and never saw Kansas again.

But the lean years were not over for Krautmiser. Who knows what might have become of Krautmiser had Sir Evelyn Hottentot, the eccentric and fabulously wealthy aristocrat, not walked into London's "seedier-than-thou" Black Bombay Club the night of September 14, 1967? Sir Evelyn was immediately smitten by Krautmiser's youthful savoir faire--and yet his heart was broken by the abject poverty Krautmiser endured, their bony ribs sticking out of their lanky, emaciated frames. Sir Evelyn immediately took Krautmiser under his wing, offering the boys a place to stay and hot meals.

But Sir Evelyn turned out to be as dotty as he was generous. He was given to bouts of melancholia and he frequently went skeet shooting in the middle of Piccadilly Square. His weakness for the caresses of supple Malaysian houseboys left him with a nasty case of syphilis that nearly drove him mad. Krautmiser soon took over their daft benefactor's fortunes and, with cunning financial prowess, went on to establish themselves as the best-loved band in the world.

And so now Krautmiser stands at the entrance of Mr. Miatsu's "death pagoda." The door opens. Miatsu emerges.

"Who shall play my exceedingly dangerous game?" rasps the ancient monk.

"We shall," proclaims James Kennedy as Krautmiser steps forward. "We shall play your dangerous game with relish, Miatsu."

"But are your fists of quality much greatness?" questions Miatsu sagely.

Replies McMahon, "Our fists are motorized explosions."

"Your explosions are your own impotence," snaps Miatsu.

"Bold talk," returns Howard, "for a man whose very kimono is a flapping tent of viscera."

"I am that kimono," growls Miatsu, eyes blazing.

"That we shall defrock you of your own substance," muses Dingle. "Mr. Miatsu--or, should I say, my little Peking duck."

"I shall consume you as I consumed General Ch'ung Kiang before you!" booms Mr. Miatsu as storm clouds rumble. "Enter, young Krautmisers, into my 'Death Pagoda.' I have spoken."

Krautmiser enters. The door closes.

Oh, do be careful, reckless youth of Britain! Oh, do come home safe, beloved boys of Krautmiser!

And thus ends the story of Krautmiser as of 1995. But what happened to Krautmiser in Mr. Miatsu's "Death Pagoda"? Now, finally, the truth is revealed...



"A springtime shower of illustrious blessings to you, Mr. Miatsu," said Jack Howard politely; "and to the she-goat who bore you from its rancid womb."

"Your feeble contumely holds no terror," said Miatsu from his alabaster throne, "for a man who suckled at the teat of Dag Na Goga, the silver dragon who even now slumbers beneath the soil."

"A cunning jade statuette, Miatsu," said Dave McMahon, plucking up a centuries-old idol. "It will look quaint on me mum's window-sill."

"Even now I curse that window-sill; wild boars shall befoul it."

James Kennedy shot back, "Be it so, but I shall violate every orifice you possess with those selfsame boars."

Miatsu whirled. "This from a man whose dishonorable underclothes have been the scorn of his generation!"

The curtains parted, and Julian Dingle alighted, borne by a rickshaw.

"So enters the prancing monkey of the Western world," observed Miatsu. "And now, who will play my exceedingly dangerous game?"

"The game has already been played... and won," said Julian coolly. "For, unbeknownst to you or your sad regiment of ill-fed monks, I have paid a visit to Beijing... and the Imperial Library."

"Thrice a bungler, thrice an oaf," gloated Miatsu. "What piffling words did you scrabble up, backwards scholar?"

"Only this: that you once loved a woman, Miatsu," said Julian boldly. "And, yea, unbeknownst even to her own sister, your betrothed, you dallied with her, and tasted delights in the shade of the cherry blossoms; iniquity in your heart, and shame on your lips, you fled to this miserable temple; and here you have moldered for 850 years, a man who is not a man, but a shell, who possesses not a heart, but a lump of dung; for you cannot love, Miatsu, and that is your deadly game."

But even as Julian spoke, Miatsu grew smaller and smaller; the gold and red robes that once enfolded him now hung loosely about his diminishing frame; the alabaster idols, the proud banners, the shining kanji on the crimson cards, the granite obelisk, the dice of bronze and ivory, the pods and chits and spangles and coins--indeed, all of the apparatus of the deadly game, crumbled to dust; and then, all at once, the boys of Krautmiser found themselves, not in the arid wastes of Red China, but in a leafy glade, alongside a babbling brook, under a spreading chestnut-tree; the delicate "twoot-twoot" of the thrush could be heard--

"England," cried David, clasping his tiny, pale, puffy hands together in infantile delight--capering spastically into the sunrise--"Oh, oh, oh my beloved England!"

--James Kennedy


see also:
Krautmiser on MySpace

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obstruction - One Step Closer

A hardcore band at Notre Dame?!? You better believe it! Ron Garcia, Andy Yang, and Ted Hennessy tell the tale of Obstruction!
Ted: Obstruction began back in the fall of 1996. I remember having written a couple songs on guitar that were a little too hard and fast for the Mad Dogs. Somehow I was referred to Mr. Ron Garcia (affectionately nicknamed "Hardcore Ron") who, unbeknownst to me, played a mean heavy metal bass.

Ron: I'm guessing Rachel referred you to me, since I think she's the only person who had ever seen me play the bass (in my dorm room, yadayadayada).

Ted: Actually, when I learned of this, I became quite angry. Angry because HC Ron had been on campus for over 3 years and was never invited to play in a campus band. I mean, seriously, what the hell?? Ron and I quickly decided we needed a way to focus this anger, and the best way to do that was to start a hardcore band. Thus began Obstruction.

Ron: I did consider trying out for Pinch Point once, but I never answered the ad they put in the Observer.

Ted: I think it was also Rachel who came up with the band name.

Ron: It was one of you two. I remember you saying, "Ron, we need to start a hardcore band named Obstruction!"

Ted: Initially, we tried Bear out as our drummer, but it didn't quite gel. I think we scared him off by playing our songs so fast that we could barely keep up with them ourselves. That's when we enlisted a man with the guns to fill the bill: Andy Yang, a refugee from the recently defunct Catatonics.

Ron: Damn straight.

Andy: I don't think I ever really kept up with the hardcore tempo, but I had a damn good time trying. I pretty much improvised a fast tempo drum beat that seemed to have a mind of its own at times, not always in time and far from perfect. I remember having to screw some wooden blocks to the carpet that my shitty drum set was on to help stabilized the damn thing to keep it from running away.

hardcore ron
Ted: And then there was Ron's singing... I think this surprised the shit out of everybody. Here was this sweet, super-soft spoken young gentle-man... who was suddenly transformed into a font of fiery onstage screaming rage. Wow. A pleasant surprise indeed, with very, very effective results.

Andy: That was the best part of Obstruction! Ron's piercing yell ruled!

Ron: Our first show I don't remember if the PA was working, so I'm not sure if anyone heard the vocals. The second South Bend show (at Clifford) got some stares. I didn't know I had it in me.

obstruction first show
Ted: Yeah, the first show... it was on the same night as the last Cuba Five show (3/13/1997). We were booked for a Bowling Green, OH fest a week or so later, so we really needed to get some stage time under our belts. We played about 6 songs, in arguably one of the shortest sets in South Bend music history. Most of the songs were under 2 minutes long. It was the only time we ever played "Shenanigans," an ill-conceived instrumental "tribute" to the ND song and dance troupe of the same name.

Ron: Hahaha! Awesome. Many strings were broken at that first show (bass strings, guitar strings). Drum sticks? We tore shit up!

Andy: Good times! Yeah, I remember being pretty pumped up and racing away on the drums. We definitely upped the tempo even more at the shows.

obstruction at BG 1
obstruction at BG 2
Ted: BG fest was fun, even if we were a trifle nervous and screwed up a lot. It was a good sized crowd. Chris O sang a few extra songs with us there as some hacked off version of the Mad Dogs.

Andy: Yes, our first gig away from SB and it was our second show. We weren't really prepared, but it was fun, for sure. We were definitely feeling the jitters and screwed up good, but all in all, a good time.

Ron: I remember we didn't have a carpet so the drumset kept trying to run away.

Ted: We probably only played a handful of other shows from there on out, a few times at Clifford and maybe the Green House. Obstruction dissolved when I left South Bend for the greener pasture of Austin, TX in the summer of 1997. Several months later, I stopped back in town for a tape release/reunion show at the Canary House on Halloween, with the Mad Dogs and the Butterfly Effect.

Ron: That was an awesome reunion show.

Ted: Indeed. Probably the best we ever played.

"Obstruction... GO!!"
Track Commentary

1. Eyesore
Ted: Though often oversimplified, we tried to add "political" overtones to our music. "Eyesore" had something to do with television inadequately reflecting the diversity of real life.

Ron: Hardcore bands (and angsty youth in general) have traditionally oversimplified their politics. Who were we to shirk years of tradition?

2. "Stabbed in the Back"
Ron: Poking (pun intended) fun at the classic hardcore motif: "I thought you were my friend, but now you've stabbed me in the back." Plenty of bands singing about their bleeding hearts spend their weekdays dishing out the same medicine they complained about in verse on the weekend.

3. Holy Martyr
Ted: Written in reaction to attending too many HC fests overrun by macho, sexist, straightedge buffoons.

4. Vicarious
Ted: Don't ever try to tell Ron what to do with his life, unless you want the beatdown! Clocking in at only around 30 seconds, this song was often over before people knew what had hit them.

5. Badge
Ted: The lyrics to the verses of this song were taken from quotes on redneck bumper stickers I witnessed during my days as a pizza delivery guy in SB.

6. Gunshot
Ted: Our anti-joining-the-military anthem, or something like that. Always a crowd favorite due to the mid-song guitar breakdown and shouting of "Go! Fight! Win! Die!"

Ron: Let's not forget the absolutely crucial "Obstruction Go!" You can't be old school without throwing your band name in at least one of your songs!

Andy: My favorite song to play. I was able to just beat the shit out the drum set, broke a few sticks here and there.

Ted: This song was initially titled "Gun Shy," until it was brought to our attention that that was also the name of a 10,000 Maniacs song. Whew-- dodged a bullet on that one. (ba-dump bump!)

7. Underscore
Ted: "Underscore" and "Last Goodbye" were written towards the end of the band's brief existence, but showed promise of where our sound was heading, had we continued on.

Ron: Underscore was named because it was an untitled instrumental that we put on setlists as "_______". Apparently my sense of humor has little progressed.

8. Last Goodbye
Ron: This was the obstruction love/heartbreak song. Hey, hardcore bred emo, so we HAD to reveal our tender sides for the fans.

Ted: I'm glad we nailed this one in the studio, because we always struggled with it live. You can hear Andy exclaim at the end "that was the best ever!" cuz we finally got it right! For me it's the highlight of this tape.

obstruction live

Ted: This cassette, tongue-in-cheekily titled One Step Closer, was recorded in May of 1997 at Clifford the Big Red House, with Travis assisting under Ron's direction. Faye, Leslie, Doug, and Mike (aka the Obstruction Youth Crew) helped with the background shouts on a couple tracks. It was a split release with our good friends the Mad Dogs, who's contribution has already been chronicled in a previous blog post.

Ron: Here's a point of irony. I've lost my voice for the third time in my life this weekend (due to a cold). The last time I remember losing my voice was when we recorded the Obstruction tape. During the vocal recording session, Mike Larmoyeux was running the sound board and I was in the basement screaming my heart out. It was graduation weekend so his family came by Clifford while we were recording. As Mike told me, they seemed perplexed, so he explained that we were overdubbing tracks for a recording, and I think his mom, or aunt or some other said, "But why is someone yelling in your basement?!?"


see also:
Obstruction on MySpace

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Transoms - The Weather is Here... Wish You Were Beautiful

I used to tell people I named my band “The Transoms” because “we’re like the Doors, but higher.”

I simply present that here for historical documentation purposes.

After a few lineup changes, where I was the sole remaining original Transom, we settled on Ron Garcia on drums and Sean Markey on bass. I played guitar and sang.

Ron, Sean and John. We rhymed. It was almost too perfect.

Except that Ron wanted very little to do with the band. After the first drummer, Jeremy, vanished from the face of the earth, Ron filled in for a few shows, making it quite obvious that he wasn’t interested in being my full-time drummer. With almost weekly cajoling, he played every show thereafter for two years.

Well... every show except for that one where I played drums and sang, while a superfan from my dorm, who happened to already know all our songs, played lead guitar. That show was terrible. Like, really bad. I’m no Phil Collins, and Phil Collins fucking sucks.

Our CD, The Weather is Here... Wish You Were Beautiful was recorded in summer 1999, over the course of one sweaty week in Ron’s house on Bulla Road. Sean couldn’t make it out from Springfield, Mass. for the session, so I played bass, in addition to guitar and vocals. Ron, still doing his damnedest to not actually be in the band, only played drums on a handful of tracks. I talked Doug McEachern into playing on the rest. I remember the idea piqued his interest, because he’d never been asked to be a “session drummer” before.

But anyway, 15 songs. All of them went on the CD. A friend suggested the album’s title, but it was only after the cover was printed that I learned it was a fucking Jimmy Buffett song. You got me.

The Transoms’ CD was reviewed twice, as far as I know. The student newspaper The Observer raved about it. Five out of five shamrocks. It began, “In the long tradition of incredibly talented Notre Dame campus bands, the Transoms have joined the ranks of the elite with their first album the weather is here... ...wish you were beautiful."

That’s right -- the elite. But read that review and one thing is for sure: The guy didn’t spend a whole lot of time composing it.

Case in point: “‘Cosmetic Surgery’ is one of the best tracks on the album, with its great musical transitions.”

Yeah, that’s right. Motherfuckin’ musical transitions. That’s going on my resume starting tomorrow.

Even better, the review’s headline, “Music of The Transoms is Awesome,” was a total mistake. Turns out, the page designer plugged in a dummy headline to determine the font size, but never returned to fix it.

The South Bend Tribune writer spent a little more time with the album, but it baffled me to no end that he compared our “rough-hewn sound” to “early Who and Joe Jackson.”

Joe who?

Yeah, that’s right. I had no idea who Joe Jackson was at the time. Oh, you mean that guy who wrote “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” That guy? Great.

My favorite line from that review was when the author said the CD was “seven to 10 minutes too long.”

Touché, my good man. Touché.

Track commentary:
1. When We Were Cool - The guitar solo was quite challenging, and I think I nearly ruined a friendship by practicing it for an hour straight while my roommate tried to nap.
2. Cosmetic Surgery - I wrote that in high school, but reinvented it with a guitar solo for the Transoms.
3. Anywhere to Be - Written in Alumni Hall. One of the proudest moments in my life was when The Butterfly Effect wove part of this into one of their songs at their last show ever.
4. Story in Past Tense - 3/4 time.
5. Poor Diction - About as punk as we got.
6. Maroon & Blue - This was about a girl I was trying to woo, if you can believe it. Not surprisingly, she was alternately puzzled and turned off by it.
7. How Little Feels - A guy in my dorm heard me fucking around with the main riff and announced that it captured “the way I feel.” His name: Scott Little. Therefore, this song is How Little Feels.
8. Make it Dance - Written as a reaction to one of Doug McEachern’s essays in his ‘zine, “A Boy & His.” Then he ended up playing drums on it.
9. Sharing Kisses - Totally not as emo as the title suggests. False start intro was a nod to the fact that it took like 12 takes to get it on tape.
10. The (New) New Nathan Detroits - An acoustic cover of my favorite Braid song, but significantly changed.
11. Butter Slippery - Another song about a girl. This one was also misunderstood. I abandoned songs about girls after this.
12. Throwing it All - There was a guitar-virtuoso guy on my floor who loved this song and used to play it on guitar all the time. That was the pinnacle of musical flattery for me.
13. A Horrible Joke - I played drums. I remember Vinny Carrasco sitting in the backseat of a car and saying, “I liked every song except for Number 13.” Thanks a lot, jerk!
14. Plastic June - Probably played live twice.
15. Generic Love Song - Written in about 15 minutes, this song was probably our most well-known. I should have learned a lesson there.

--John Huston