Two nights ago, one of the bands I play in, School For the Dead, was practicing for our upcoming show with the legendary Mitch Easter. Keyboardist Ken was fooling around with synth sounds and landed on a bells sound which I said reminded me of Teardrop Explodes--that warble-y, almost out of tune sound. Ken, who has more records than almost anyone I know, surprised me by saying he didn't know any Teardrop Explodes. Whaaa????
Let me take you back 20 years and to where I first encountered the music of Julian Cope. In my 11-12th grade social scene, there were about six to eight dudes who hung out in a loose social scene with six or eight chicks. These chicks were all a year or two younger than we were, but that's because they were cooler and more interesting than anyone our age. They were into music, and really seemed to let it rule their lives. To me, they seemed magical and mysterious. None of them played music, but they sure loved it. And they each had their obsessions: Kate worshiped Jesus and Mary Chain. Melissa idolized The Cure and Bauhaus. Joni loved XTC and The Smiths. And Melanie adored all things Julian Cope.
I'm sure these characters will return in future posts, but must keep on track. Melanie lived in an apartment complex with her, I think, mom and step dad. She loved to make trouble for them. She also loved to do anything for her friends. Like steal me Sonic Youth's "Goo" (my first CD) or steal a fancy microphone for the singer of my band. In return, all she wanted was for us to love her company, which most of us already did, for the most part. But she always felt the need to go over the top with it. I could get into the "not enough love at home" spiel, but that's already pretty obvious. And if it isn't yet, then allowing an older boy to have his way with her, and her in return having to get an abortion when she was in 8th grade, should make it more obvious. Or that after many of her friends went away to college, she fell in with a heroin crowd (a drug which none of us had ever even seen) and was found dead in Colorado (a place none of us ever knew she'd relocated to). So, yeah. That was Melanie. Though we weren't close close friends, I always stuck up for her when people in our scene would grow exasperated with her overbearing tendencies. It really was a classic void that needed to be filled. But we were 17. We just wanted to smoke our Camels and drink our Denny's coffee. And take the train into Harvard Square. And maybe take some acid and climb some hills at night.
So, January 1991. My band, The Mean Wyoming, is recording their second cassette-only ep at Dan Isaacs studio in Andover. My sister had gone to Europe and brought back some NMEs. They were great to read while sitting around the studio. One issue was all about "eccentrics" and had a feature on Julian Cope. I was familiar with Charlotte Anne, World Shut Your Mouth and a few others that WFNX would play. In the story he talked about his extensive use of LSD. This very much intrigued me because a) in 1990-1, drug talk was on the wane in pop periodicals (unless talking about ecstasy) and b) in 1990-1, I was sure interested in LSD, and thus, wanted to know more about any artist who was too.
I asked for Melanie's phone number, which someone had, and called her, which maybe I'd done once before. "Melanie, is there any chance you could make me a Julian Cope mix?"
"SUUURE!" came the loud, enthusiastic, Minnie Mouse-pitched voice on the other end.
"Cool, whenever is convenient. Anyway, I'm here with the guys recording. Gotta go. Yes, I'll give them all a kiss from you.."
This was a snowy January day, as I remember. And in fact, I had some acid on me and I, and a few others in the party, were going to take some as the afternoon gave way to evening, as recording was wrapping up for the day. About 4 pm, we took it, and I was doing drum tracks with bass player Greg in the same room. Greg was straight. I was starting to get a mile wide grin, and the drums were changing sizes before my eyes. The drum sticks were glo-sticks made out of a flexible wax. I was good to go. Unbelievably, and this was an early rock and roll feather in my cap, I completed two very usable drum tracks while the acid was kicking in and then setting up house in my brain. "No Lies Today" was straight ahead pop with one of those Who-like "half time at the bridge" things. It did have a tricky fill that went along with the hook, but I handled it fine. Next, gotta keep rolling, let's do that suburban white boy disco thing, that will be sung by our dapper, eccentric, decidedly unfunky guitarist in his Calvin Johnson deep voice.
Ok, now this was a challenge. First off, I couldn't stop laughing. I could not imagine anything on heaven or earth giving me as much joy as this chemical in my brain mixing with the natural blissful endorphins of playing the drums, playing original songs with my best friends and recording it for a tape that our friends were going to buy. It was all fitting together magically and perfectly. Sort of a dangerous bite from the tree of knowledge. I mean, how can regular life measure up when you already know, at barely 18, what your bliss is? (I'm not crediting the acid for the bliss. If anything, damning it for giving me the insight to the bliss I'd be chasing the rest of my life. And still chasing and still loving most everything about it.)
I got the song, probably just a take, maybe two takes. Then walked out of the room, and met the engineer, also in the same state and we looked at each other and thought "that was truly awesome, but let's quit while we're ahead." We decided we'd all hit the town--Friendly's--but first, Dan needed to shower. He put on the tracks as they stood so far and went upstairs. We were dancing, some of us were laughing too hard to do much of anything, hearing the tracks, seeing my band mates dance...and I accidentally backed into the Christmas tree, knocking down and smashing an ornament. Dan came down from his shower and I told him about it. "You just broke the Sacred Christmas Orb! Oh. My. Fucking. God". I really did not know whether to take him seriously and decided I wasn't going to let it bring me down. "Guys!", I called to the others. "Dan says I broke the Sacrificial Christmas Org!" Which brought the absurdity to a whole new level and we knew we just had to leave and get out of the house and to somewhere we could have coffee and cigarettes.
A straight person drove us, and we sat in the back smoking section (weird to think of now). And who was there? Melanie. What did she have? A Julian Cope tape for me. "St. Julian" on one side, "World Shut Your Mouth" on the other side. MIRACULOUS! How did she know? Oh, right, I had called and asked. It seemed that phone conversation was 7 years ago. I'd forgotten all about it. I asked if she had the one where he's in a giant turtle shell because that sounded cool and trippy. She said if I liked those she'd tape me that.
I don't remember what else happened that night. But I do remember not really loving those Cope albums. Too 80's big production sounding. I stopped hounding Melanie for Julian Cope. And found I much preferred Kate's Jesus and Mary Chain stuff. Particularly the first two albums. And of course I was already an XTC and Smiths freak by then.
In any case, every once in a while, something in the air causes me to reflect on that time. One day at work driving the library van, before I lost all my tapes in a fire, I brought along Melanie's Julian Cope mix, and thought about how this now-deceased person I once knew, was sitting in her room making this tape for me very soon after I had got off the phone to randomly ask her to do it. And the thing of "how and why did she end up where she ended up?". It all happened once I was at college so I never found out much. So, I decided to use her rather mellifluous last name in a song, as a name for a fictitious town. It can maybe be seen as the after world. "Every other day you'll see her/ Right outside Biancavilla".
In January 2000, I was planning a solo trip to see friends in northern California and family in So Cal. I had just ended a long relationship and was feeling free and easy and full of hope for the future. I had been reading glowing reviews for the new Julian Cope memoir. I thought what most people thought: "Really? An above average musical output, a cult following, he's only in his early 40's...WTF, a memoir?". But the reviews all seemed intriguing so I brought it along on my vacation. And it indeed was an engrossing, hilarious, well written story. Divided in two: up to and including The Teardrop Explodes (until 1982) and since then (up until late 90's).
I had no idea whatsoever about the extent of the depravity of the Teardrops. Julian started that group in 78-79, adamant and self righteous in his scorn of any chemical intake. One album in, and he cannot seem to make a record, perform a concert or be on a television show without weed then acid then, I think, cocaine. And a shitload of all of them. The reader feels the same jubilation followed by post-comedown emptiness. For every high, there's a low. And the low never gets any easier, especially when the high loses its novelty. It's a good book for those who want an honest, non-preachy (there's no "I did it, but you shouldn't" moralizing. Nor any Keith Richards "I did it, and god do I miss it").
One weird thing, if I may divulge something. In 1979-80, at one of the Teardrops first shows in NYC, the young Julian Cope met an NYU girl, spent a night, and she became his wife. I laughed when I read this, because literally, the week before, the same thing had happened to me after a Figments show (except, for the newly-single me, that was that.) But I dug the coincidence, sitting there on the plane reading it. I imagined a young and nervous Cope in the same dorm room I was in.
I must get that book again, because it burned along with all my hundreds of books in the aforementioned fire a few years back. I miss it.
Yes, so, this essay has gone in many directions. Beginning with a synth sound to talking about a girl I knew who OD'd, to talking about tripping and recording, to talking about Julian Cope's amazing book and our rock and roll encounters in the city 20 years apart. I'd call it an eventful ride. A slice of life with too many toppings. Maybe this now means I'll meet Julian Cope. Need a drummer, Copey? I'm free after June. Let's close the circle.
ARRGH! This is the stuff that kills me. Two books that burned that I miss (I know, it was a long time ago. But I think of stuff I miss every now and again:) I used to own the Cope book. Now the cheapest copy I can find is $50. Another great book I got for FREE, rescuing from the library discard pile, is John Cale's What's Welsh For Zen?
I'm not paying $50 for that either. Anyway, just venting. Let me know anyone if you see either of these for cheap in random plces. I do so enjoy my rock and roll library.
Ok, put on a happy face. Here, I'll leave you with this. According to his book, Julian and the drummer were tripping their faces off when they did this Top of the Pops performance. I wouldn't have known. He's a great showman. And this is a classic slice of early 80's Britpop.
Points if you spot the two musical quotes--at least in my mind.
--the guitar/sitar solo is Pink Floyd's "Remember a Day"
--Julian la la's the melody of The Stones' "As Tears Go By" at the end.