Tuesday, February 28, 2006

(Don't Go Back To) Collapsing Stars

UK pop scribe Rob Jovanovic recently contacted TLASILA HQ regarding a Michael Stipe tome he's researching. Can't imagine there would be much of a market for a bio of my erstwhile Athenian acquaintance after Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun, but there's no accounting for torpor.

Mr. Jovanovic launched the standard, expected fusillade of Stipe-centric Boat Of inquiries; in return I managed to maintain consciousness while crafting my responses.

Of course, when one considers that Nest (adj.) and Boat Of were likely witnessed by 500 souls, tops (23 concerts in three cities over a three-and-a-half year period), a stock larder of queries focused on a well-known, albeit short-term member of the collective should be expected.

I can only guess how Jovanovic will redact, reduce, subsume, or altogether expunge these recollections from his text, but I've no doubt a septic splinter of me will lodge itself into Shiny Happy's G.I. tract.

(Mr. Jovanovic's questions appear in bold. Sections in italics indicate omissions rectified. Lest you think me unnecessarily glib or flippant, let me now publicly acknowledge my gratitude to Rob for contacting me and posing these questions. Thanks very much.)

---

Initial impressions in response to your queries:

1) can you remember where / when / how you met carol levy?

My first recollection of Carol is one of her ducking into a shop on College Avenue, laughing with friends, early autumn '79. I took note of her - she had style, albeit of a rumpled sort, and she seemed far more intelligent than her companions. I followed her intently, but quickly lost sight of her within the shop. A good first impression...



(Carol Levy, 1979.)

We met formally in queue in front of the UGA cinema, early in 1980. Mike Green and I were waiting to purchase tickets, and as soon as Carol approached we asked her to join us in what was then Pre-Cave. She said "yes," and that was it. I've no recollection of the film we were waiting to view, or if Carol joined us in the theatre. Making her acquaintance effaced memory of the evening's subsequent events.

2) can you remember where / when / how you met michael stipe?

I first noticed Michael (we referred to him as "Mike" back in the day) standing on the sidewalk outside of the Cobb Institute (270 Cobb Street). He just sort of wandered up - he had a bit of green dye in his hair. Vic (Varney) seemed to know him, and as they engaged in conversation I listened for clues. Michael's responses were agreeably oblique.



(Stipe, doing the Gorton's of Gloucester red carpet thing, 2005.)

3) what were your previous bands, if any?

I was preternaturally disposed toward disruption. My first instrument was my parents' Sylvania hi-fi console, and throughout grade school I abused it with regularity. I loved putting the turntable in neutral and spinning albums off their axes. An uncle later gave me a shortwave receiver - such an extraordinary gift. It opened up a glorious universe of pure, oft-fractured sound.

I also sang in the local Baptist church choir (from the age eight until 12), played percussion in my high school's marching band, and joined my first group - an otherwise all-black ensemble called Mpinga - at 15. I played a few gigs with them (at Adel, Georgia's Ebony Club) as a percussionist, and through their delightful aegis drank my first beers and kissed my first women of color.

At university, I enrolled in an electronic music course, influenced primarily by Brian Eno and the album Outside the Dream Syndicate by Tony Conrad & Faust. After hearing Lee Perry's Superape album, I experienced a profound epiphany. Dub signified, epitomized, and encapsulated all sonic and aesthetic possibilities...

I signed on at the student radio station, and in between shifts (I hosted the jazz show, eschewing then-au courant fusion rubbish for Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, and as much Karlheinz Stockhausen as I could sneak into the mix) I would lock myself into the production studio on weekends and forge ersatz dub mixes from extant albums - Richard Hell and the Voidoids' Blank Generation, Television's Adventure, the Ramones' Leave Home, Giorgio Moroder's From Here to Eternity, many others - that I found to be under-produced. A year later (1979) I migrated to Athens.

4) i have notes that you played with stipe and levy under three different names: pre-cave, nest (adj), boat of

Pre-Cave was the second of four distinct developmental phases.

The first was Prepared Party - the John Cage reference (folded into the Athenian constant) was intentional. Each was commandeered by Mike Green and I. Prepared Party was the most overtly experimental of the quartet, and we entertained no aspirations of performance. From late '79 into early 1980 we made a few hours of recordings. Shortwave transmissions, taped sounds of tennis shoes tumbling inside a clothes dryer, manipulated turntable, Mike's stabbing bass guitar overlays, furtive vocalizations.

Pre-Cave was where Carol and Michael entered the scene, although Mike and I recorded at least a dozen hours of Pre-Cave recordings prior to their arrival. We rehearsed throughout the summer of 1980, recording hours of tape in the musty confines of the Cobb Institute basement. Its earthen walls made for an ideally soundproofed environment, and thus emboldened, we plied our trade with enthusiasm. As Mike Green was teaching English in Paris during that summer, the line-up was Carol, Michael and I. Carol and Michael played organ and sang backing vocals, and I played Mike Green's bass, sometimes played drums, sang the lead parts, and created the taped backdrops. We had a 40-Watt Club gig scheduled for July, but for reasons I've long forgotten we postponed our debut until the fall.

Mike returned to the States shortly thereafter, and we transmuted again into Nest (adj.). Mr. Green selected the moniker, and he and I fell out laughing for several days in brute response to its absurd fecundity.



(Mike Green, co-founder and chief theorist of all things Nest/Pre/Boat-esque.)

Nest (adj.) made its debut at the 40-Watt Club in October, 1980. The line-up was Carol, Michael, my then-girlfriend Mary Rockwell (on turntables, played offstage), and I. Mike Green was unable to make the gig, but as we were at heart a collective ensemble, there were seldom hard feelings. Nest (adj.) had a second performance at the Cobb Institute Valentine's Day party (Mike Green, Carol Levy, myself, and guests Craig Woodall and David Gamble comprised the group), but thereafter we decided against further name changes.

"Boat of Three" was the title of an unused Nest (adj.) piece; I altered it and we had our CB handle. Boat Of's debut gig was in May, 1981 at the 40-Watt. The line-up was Mike Green (bass, vocals), Carol Levy (guitar, vocals), and I (vocals, percussion, Vic Varney's purloined Hawaiian guitar, and tapes). Michael performed with us (Mike, Carol and I) for a second and final time in June at Tyrone's O.C. Boat Of continued until March 1983, when Carol was killed in a dreadful automobile accident.

In her honor, I then changed the name of the group to Peach of Immortality.

Peach transmogrified into To Live and Shave in L.A. in 1991. The fifteenth TLASILA album (Noon and Eternity) will be issued by New York's Menlo Park Recordings in May, 2006.

Considering the 1979-1983 timeline, Boat Of primarily comprised Mike Green, Carol Levy, David Gamble, and me.



(Boat Of, summer 1982: David Gamble, Carol Levy, Sandie Phipps, some other dude. Mike Green was probably in Paris. He was always the sensible one...)

Secondary members were Sandra-Lee Phipps, Jim Walker III, Dominique Amet, Davey Stevenson, and Mr. Stipe.

(Dominique and Davey, as well as Craig Woodall, referenced earlier, were members of Limbo District, the only other Athens group we held in serious regard.)

Michael was involved from 1980 to 1981. Carol, from 1980 to 1983.

5) did you name all of these? why the change in name?

See above.

6) what were your musical influences?

Initial influences: environmental sound, manipulation of home entertainment equipment, shortwave radio, Velvet Underground, King Crimson (through 1973), Krautrock, pre-punk (Stooges, MC5, Electric Eels), glam (Roxy Music, David Bowie, T. Rex, Jobriath, etc.), punk (Sex Pistols, Slits, The Saints, The Damned, Patti Smith, Ramones - though only their first two albums), post-punk/no-wave exemplars (Public Image, The Pop Group, Joy Division, The Fall, Mars, Teenage Jesus), the avant-garde (Stockhausen, Xenakis, etc.), funk, then-nascent hip-hop, and George Jones (but nothing after 1965).

7) how would you describe the three bands listed above?

1) Prepared Party (1979-80) was overtly experimental, private, very much a delineation of strategy and intent.

2) Pre-Cave (1980) was a transitional vehicle. Theory transformed slowly into performance praxis.

3) Nest (adj.) (1980-81) explored the earliest of our ideas. We had good songs, but we were also interested in disrupting tropes, expectations, etc.

4) Boat Of (1981-83) primarily localized within the realm of performance, a corrective affront not only to Athens but to contemporary scenes in general.

8) how did you fit in to the athens scene musically (if at all)?

We wanted everyone (save Limbo District) to die. We found all the other groups insipid beyond reckoning...

Twenty-six years on, people claim to have attended our gigs, cite performance specifics I can't even begin to remember, etc. I find this oddly comforting.

All but two of our concerts were recorded. A two-disc retrospective compilation will be released on Smack Shire in late 2006. It will include material recoded by each of the four entities.

---

hope thats ok for now

many thanks, rob

Hope this sheds light on your inquiry.

Best,

Tom

No comments:

Happy New Year from the Harz...

Hello Droogs, Happy 2019! I‘m in the Harz region of Germany, enjoying a three-day getaway to cap off an eventful year, one marked by celeb...