FROM DISC TO SHINING DISC
In the fall of 1984, I left my home town of Athens, Ohio and my undergraduate school of Ohio University for the University of Maryland at College Park, outside Washington DC, to begin graduate school in physics. While working on endless sets of homework problems in my office late at night I started listening to the campus station, WMUC-FM, perhaps the only station that my tiny radio could receive. And when I couldn't stand working on problems any more, I could walk up the road to the Record and Tape Exchange and thumb through records. I picked up all kinds of things that looked interesting. It was another two years or so before I would discover Unrest. In my regular visits to Record and Tape Exchange and then the other local record stores I discovered, such as Vinyl Ink and Phantasmagoria, I would regularly see an intriguing 7" in a yellow photocopied sleeve - the first Unrest EP (TB7). For months I would pass it over to buy something else that seemed momentarily to be more interesting - Wire, Faust, Hüsker Dü, Psychic TV, Fairport Convention, whatever my cool friend Joel was trying to get me into. In the meantime I would still listen to the freeform shows on WMUC (one was half Middle Eastern music and half heavy metal; another featured punk music and some Christian preaching). I probably heard Unrest on there at some point, but didn't make a note of it.
My second year at Maryland I moved into a house in Lewisdale to the west of campus. Soon David Levin moved in. Dave was an electrical engineering major and an Eno fan who was in the latter stages of morphing into a Deadhead zoology major. He also had a number of contacts in the local music scene, such as the former bass player and drummer for the Submensas (Greg Kidd and Darryl Dardenne, respectively). Dave also always knew where the parties were on the weekends. One night we walked over to another anonymous suburban house in Lewisdale where there was a party in progress (TB14a, I believe). We met some of Dave's friends. Richard Drews of the Submensas was making annoying noises on his guitar. I ended up in an upstairs bedroom with the drummer from Jobs for America (Brian Horwitz, whom I knew as a clerk from Record and Tape Exchange) decorating some album covers for the first Unrest album. These covers had a black woodcut with a picture of a guy in glasses depicted from the shoulders up in the lower left corner leaving an explosion of some sort in the right side of the picture. In my drunken state I picked up a black magic marker and decorated several covers with lots of eyes and some pyramids and wavy lines (I was listening to a lot of Camper van Beethoven II and III at the time, and that probably influenced me) and anagrams of the word "unrest": "RE: STUN", "RENT US", "TUNERS", and autographed them "endwar". I have no idea where those ended up or whether they were even used. But the event did put Unrest a little further forward in my consciousness.
The next year, Dave moved into the House of Zen-Zen with Darryl and Greg and Steve Steckler (check the engineering credits on TB109), and so I moved north of University Boulevard to Adelphi with a few more of Dave's friends. Then I finally did purchase that Unrest 7" at Record and Tape Exchange, there being nothing else demanding more attention on that visit. I played it when I got home and I was blown away. I wasn't so hot on the idea of a cover of a Byrds song ("So You Want to Be a Rock and Roll Star"), but in the middle of it there was the great almost-out-of-control guitar solo that was the neatest thing since the one ending "What Goes On" on the Live '68 bootleg of the Velvet Underground in Cleveland (now on the Peel Slowly and See boxed set). "Scott and Zelda" (Fitzgerald, I presume) was a shredding instrumental that appealed to my punk side. The B side was a different animal, the serene "The Hill", equally wonderful but totally different, a slice of late-night contemplation from a hilltop. The single was glued to my turntable for the next several weeks, alternating with Nick Drake's Bryter Layter and Psychic TV's "Magickal Mystery D Tour EP" ("Good Vibrations", "Roman P" (this was before its appearance in Volkswagen ads)). A month or two later I saw a listing of an Unrest album (TB14) on sale for $2.99 at Phantasmagoria, just a week or two after I first went out there and picked up the Nick Drake boxed set, The Paul Simon Song Book (a UK album that nobody seemed to ever import and I had been desperately looking for since I had learned of it), and the Replacements Let It Be. So I made another trip out to Wheaton and thumbed through a batch of hand-decorated covers and picked out the one I liked the best. It was covered with different colored paint blotches and the cut-out strips with the band name and catalog number, arranged to form an X. "Randi made this one!" It rapidly became another favorite, with songs like "Can't Sit Still", the Crimsonesque "Picnic at Hanging Rock", "Die Grünen", "Judy Says", "Hope", and the over-the-top rendition of "Wild Thang".
By mid-1987 I had gotten my masters' degree (the consolation prize for those who didn't pass the qualifying exam - I wasn't motivated enough) and the next year moved to the Mount Pleasant section of DC for a six-month stint interning for a futurist. Shortly before moving back home to Athens, I stopped by Phantasmagoria and picked up Malcolm X Park (TB21). The title was taken from a proposed new name for Meridian Hill Park (c.f. TB40), a few blocks from where I was living. It was even better than the previous records, and more varied - more than one reviewer likened it to a compilation album. It included shots of white-hot punk ("Malcolm X Park" and "Castro 59"), a Kiss cover ("Strutter"), an unplugged remake of "Can't Sit Still", a flamenco gore recitation ("Dago Red"), space rock ("Lucifer Rising' (c.f. Crispy Ambulance ("fin" ) and Kenneth Anger (TB71))), an ascending piano meditation ("Dalmations"), dance music ("Disko Magic"), a driving pop anthem ("Christina"), a reprise of "The Hill", and my favorite track on the album ("Oils").
In Ohio there were no Unrest records, so I got over my hesitancy for sending money over the mail to people I didn't know and bought what Bridget, in an accompanying note, told me was the last copy of the Lisa Carol Fremont cassette (TB6) (I was later to almost repeat this feat when I purchased Mark Robinson's "Stuttgart Please Please" 7" (TB337), except the German label that released it later sent him more copies). I had a weird sense of deja vu listening to the WMUC broadcast on side 2 - it sounded like something that I had listened to while working on quantum mechanics problems late one night in the office - I remembered the newscast excerpts from Iwo Jima for some reason. That cassette got me started on TeenBeat mail order - I soon picked up the William and Vivian cassette (TB3). Then I picked up a cassette by a band with the intriguing name Crispy Ambulance (TB18), because I had seen that name in the Rough Trade wholesale catalog but hadn't ordered the record (their first single "From the Cradle to the Grave"/"Four Minutes From the Front Line"; both sides were on the tape, and now available on the "fin" CD). Then I got the Unrest Twister cassette (TB23), which featured Malcolm X Park outtakes that were as cool as the album tracks: "green", "breathe in", "man h0le burn", "sOlid state", "headringer", and the noisefest of "SCORPIO RISING". Some of these got reissued on 7"s and compilations such as the "catchpellet" EP (TB28). And the new Clarence cassette Hurry Up (TB25).
I ordered new Unrest releases as they came out. When my order for Kustom Karnal Blaxploitation (TB35) got lost they re-sent it and threw in an extra copy of the Dustdevils "Is Big Leggy" 7" (TB38) and a "Kim Says" poster (TB8). So I started picking up old Dustdevils records. In October 1990 I got a note that Unrest and the Dustdevils were playing at Stache's in Columbus, an hour and a half drive north. I made the trip up and met Mark in person, drinking beer with Phil Krauth and Justin Chearno. I gave him some of my IZEN books that I had just published and hung out a bit. When the Dustdevils came on, the place was empty - me, the bartender, and a guy I recognized as a clerk at Used Kids records. The Dustdevils played their set. I bought a test pressing of Struggling Electric and Chemical (TB48) and got everyone to sign it except bass player Mark Ibold, who refused because he hadn't actually played on the record. Then Unrest took the stage and the house was still empty. They played a 20 minute version of "Hydroplane" and that was it. Very punk. At the urging of the Dustdevils, the band encored with "Lord Shiva" and Mark played a drum solo from Kiss Alive II. A short show, but I wasn't disappointed. Later I bought the Unrest and Dustdevils Live at DC Space cassette (TB41) even though Mark warned me about the awful sound (he was right). I was indeed completely hooked.
I started picking up records by other TeenBeat acts, and I was rarely disappointed: Vomit Launch ("Relapsation" 7" (TB 29), which I bought on the strength of "Swelling Admiration" on the At Dianne's Place compilation), Eggs ("Skyscraper"/"Ocelot" 7" (TB66) which I liked even though I wasn't so fond of the Casio on Scaley Andrew and the Lizards From Hell's Nervous Twitch cassette (TB16). "Driving Me Away" is classic, though), Gastr del Sol (the serpentine songcraft of The Serpentine Similar (TB95)), etc.
In early 1992 I took Mark Gunderson of the Evolution Control Committee to see Unrest at Stache's a week or three before Imperial F.F.R.R. (TB77) came out. Gaunt and the New Bomb Turks opened. This time there was a solid crowd, and not just for the local bands, either. In 1992 I went to attend a friend's wedding in DC. I had been invited to check out TeenPlace (TB97) when I was in town, so I phoned Mark and arranged a tentative visit. I didn't make it out because of other things I had to do that day, but I did see Unrest that night at the 9:30 Club, the day after they debuted "International Nautical Miles" (see TB100) as a Miles Davis cover at an all-star covers show. For this show Mark and Phil walked out holding IZEN "i contact" postcards that I gave them backstage before the show.
I also ordered the FunBox (TB59) when it came out. I decided that that was going to be the only way to obtain the first Unrest cassette (Unrest! (TB2)), and I was curious about some of the other items. The FunBox consisted of 16 cassettes in a plastic cassette carrying case, plus extras including a balloon, a TeenBeat ballpoint pen (TB68), and Barbie trading cards. Mine had some personalized lettering in letter stickers and other decorations. After getting my copy I wrote a lengthy review of the entire boxed set for Steve Wainstead's Cleveland Ragnarok magazine, which I had started writing some reviews for after meeting Wainstead and fiction editor Charlotte Pressler at the 1991 Recurring Irritations festival in Cleveland. Hopefully I didn't generate too many of those eager customers that burned out Mark on copying cassettes by hand. By the way, highlights of the set, for me, besides the Unrest, William & Vivian, and Crispy Ambulance tapes, were the later Scaley Andrew tapes (The Soul of Postmodernism (TB30) and "You're Safer At Home" (TB60), the first Clarence tape with the full-length version of "Dalmations" (TB5), Mark E Robinson Superstar (TB57), and "Salt Peanuts" and "Yabba Dabba Do" from Jungle George and the Plague From Tree To Shining Tree (TB10). That's well over half of the box.
I saw Unrest one more time, in Pittsburgh in late 1993. Again, it was typical Unrest lighting: house lights on - very Brechtian. And this time Phil launched into a drum solo. It was a move at the time that I found a bit too "rock" and not enough "indie", so I commented on that after the show, which I now regret. I may just have happened to see the only two Unrest shows to feature drum solos!
I of course kept collecting all the Unrest releases as they were coming out, and even stumbled into a few that weren't announced or released through the mail order catalog. On my birthday in 1993 I went into a local record store in State College PA (I was making a second shot at physics grad school, this time at Penn State), and on my way out I looked through the pile of giveaway stuff by the door. In it there was a mysterious blue 7" with an orange label with a song called "Unholy Light" by Heidi Berry. On the flip side I saw "Folklore" and "Unrest" and some unfamiliar names in the writing credits, so I assumed I had found something by a band called "Folklore". The title "Unholy Light" intrigued me enough that I wanted to check it out. Then on closer inspection of the other side I saw the TeenBeat logo and realized it was Unrest doing a cover that I knew nothing about at the time ("Folklore" by James).
I eventually collected every song/remix that I had found out about that Unrest did except the elusive "Light Command" remix 7" with 3 acoustic live B sides (TB126a) (and the impossible-to-find The Trouble With Harry compilation cassette [TB11]). When I found out about the proposed track listing for B.P.M. (TB175) I sent Mark an email asking if he could tack on the remix and the live B sides. So if you added those extra unlisted tracks at the end of the CD because of that email, Mark, thanks!
Eggs played a show at Penn State in the student union, across the street from the physics building, so of course I went. Andrew even knew me as the guy who had written those reviews in Cleveland Ragnarok. At the show I picked up all the singles that had been put out in the preceding months (now reissued on How Do You Like Your Lobster [TB156], though I still prefer the original title Stems and Seeds) and became totally immersed in "The Government Administrator", "Sugar Babe", "The Obliviist" and the other classics.
I've been ordering and listening to more TeenBeat stuff since then. I discovered Versus and Tuscadero, the former at the urging of an internet tape trading friend, Mike Siou, who had become a big fan. I also got him more into Unrest, at which point he started feeding me the live shows he was getting so I could ID the songs. I soon found out that Unrest never played the same show twice. Indeed they often played things differently - they were truly a great live band, like the Velvet Underground. Then he asked me what other bands would I want shows by, so I suggested Crispy Ambulance because the liner notes in the CD reissue of the live album "fin" indicated that the band tended to write new material for every show, at least when starting out. A few weeks later he sent me about half a dozen tapes of the Crispies in action and told me that there weren't any more beyond that. OK. I listened to them (great music!) and put them away. A year or so later I found a newsgroup posting from someone looking for tapes of (among other things) Pere Ubu and Crispy Ambulance. It was Nick Blakey. So I told him what I had and he said "Andrew, I made you those tapes!" Seven years later Nick and I and Mark would go see Crispy Ambulance in Boston on their first American tour and have beers with the band before the show.
In 1996 I ordered the new issue of Chemical Imbalance magazine and there was a mention or two of The Feminine Complex, so I got the TeenBeat reissue of Livin' Love (TB196) and spent the next month listening to it. And that's an experience that has happened over and over again with TeenBeat albums as they take over the stereo for weeks at a time: several Unrest albums, the third Clarence album (TB45), Eggs Bruiser LP (TB76) and Exploder! (TB96), Tuscadero's The Pink Album (TB159, note not the Elektra version), The Feminine Complex Livin' Love (TB196), Versus The Stars Are Insane (TB142), Air Miami Me Me Me (TB177), The Pocket Rockets Love Or Perish (TB328), Aden Hey 19 (TB 286), and more.
In 2000, I had moved back home to Athens again, having failed a second time to get a physics PhD, this time because I had sleep apnea (basically I had gotten too fat). One day I was in Columbus attending a job fair trying to pretend I was employable. Afterwards I did a little record shopping and found out that Pere Ubu was playing at Little Brother's, the relocated Stache's. It was a great show, and on the wall was a poster advertising Versus, Broadcast, and The Mark Robinson on tour the next week. So I made a point of getting up for that show under the pretext of attending another job fair. Mark opened as a solo act with some occasional backing rhythms and support at the end from Richard Baluyut. He even played "She Makes Me Shake Like a Soul Machine" (from TB35), which I was just thinking would be a great tune to play in a solo context. It's always great when the artist plays your psychic requests. Versus put on an awesome show, supporting the excellent Hurrah album, even venturing into Pink Floyd Ummagumma territory in spots, and doing it quite well.
Throughout the 1990s I was a voracious reader of music newsgroups, and I was often supplying curious people with a TeenBeat/Unrest discography that I had compiled in an effort to keep track of all the recordings I had gotten or found out about. Among the people looking for information were Toby Cook, who maintained perhaps the first (unofficial) Unrest and TeenBeat website, and Kent Burt of the Linger Effect, who was also creating an unofficial Unrest website. Kent also got 5:17 in contact with me, and that led eventually to me getting signed up to the TeenBeat list. So that's how I ended up writing these liner notes.