garage sale rock: guided by voices open the suitcase

It’s like wandering into Bob Pollard’s garage, stepping over the Bud long neck empties and the rest of the recycling, finding a band member sitting on the basement stairs smoking a cigarette. Echoes of a process. The sense that something is going on here. Something cool…”


by john brown


For millions of Americans, cleaning out your garage and the ensuing garage sale has become a national pastime. Does anyone park his or her car in the garage anymore? One year, I decided to do it in stages. Actually I just wanted to make enough room for my car and truth be told, the damn car didn’t even work. (Maybe thats true for all the other assholes that actually use the garage for cars. Maybe none of their cars work either.) Anyway, I pulled out the ladder, broken bikes and a box of old vinyl records, the tire chains that refused to stay hung up, and a couple other generic looking boxes. I was only out there thirty minutes before I had a group of three complete strangers poking around my junk, and I mean junk. This was the stuff St. Vincent DePaul refused to take after the actual garage sale last summer. “Hey, how much for the broken miter box?” Asked the big guy who refused to answer when I asked him if I could be of any help. $5 bucks I said. And another $5 bucks for the saw! The big guy fumbled with some ones and asked if Id take $9.00. I said no and he magically came up with a ten-dollar bill. A garage sale pro. Two fifty-something women complained to me that it wasn’t much of a garage sale. I pocketed the ten and told them I wasnt having a garage sale, I was just cleaning out the garage. The fat guy laughed,and the old gal dropped the potholder I normally use for waxing the car into the box of records and left. I closed up shop. Another day perhaps. Who parks their car, working or not, in the garage anyway?

What if your favorite rock band had a garage sale? I read in a tabloid somewhere that a country star, one of the Judds I think, did just that. People came out of the woodwork for that I’ll bet. Bath mats and old make up kits. Real leather stage outfits the chance to see that a country star is, as they expected, just like me! Crap collector. White trash.

My favorite rock star, Guided By Voices’ lead man Bob Pollard, would probably end up with a garage sale of a different sort. Invite a few friends, or the rest of the band, under the guise of pushing the old car into the garage. Provide the beer and then after a fair amount of procrastinating, end up going through an old suitcase full of old four-track recordings, past demos, practice sessions, drunken inspirations and the sobering ravings of a real rock genius. Thats my theory behind the GBV four CD box set , Suitcase: Failed experiments and Trashed Aircraft. The price alone suggests garage sale: fifty cents a song or $50 for one hundred previously unrecorded tracks. For a fan, it’s like wandering into Bob Pollard’s garage, stepping over the Bud long neck empties and the rest of the recycling, finding a band member sitting on the basement stairs smoking a cigarette. Echoes of a process. The sense that something is going on here. Something cool. Something so accessible, so natural, that it is not hard to believe that this event is common occurrence of someone’s every day life. And, maybe, that someone is a real rock genius. Or maybe that person is, as I expected, just like me.

For the non-fan, Suitcase is a rare look into the creative process of a real working band. Even if, as is the case here (no pun intended), there are one hundred band names assigned to the one hundred songs in the Suitcase. Make no mistake, its all GBV. Its all about Bob. The naming of the bands, and the songs is part of the entertainment. A little wry aside. Anyway, its like finding a bunch of hip local or indie EPs, LPs or four track garage rock gems. As you know, to actually do that is a lot of hard work. All that drinking. All that smoke. The hours spent in the pub fingering through the club listings. All that drinking. Then, even if youre flying solo, there’s the consensus building between your club buddies. Who to see and who will drive. Here, with Suitcase: Trashed Aircraft and Failed Experiments, you have all those things and more. Giving the Suitcase a thorough listening, it s hard to resist the urge to review every song. Guessing at the influences, musically, chemically. Its even harder not to smile along with GBV as they embody that irreplaceable innocence that comes from having fun. There are quiet moments — Tear It Out on Disc 1…probable baked moments(cottonmouth and all) — Disc 2’s Hold On To Yesterday and Devil Doll from the 4th…many Beatlesque moments including Bad And Bare…groove outs like Bottoms Up You Fantastic Bastard on Disc 4…bud induced wailings like Sabotage…and 94 other peeks into something, or someplace, we are not normally invited.

Fifty cents a song?

How many songs are there? It seems to be a question on the lips of all that have seen these guys live or have bought their albums. The last show I saw was almost three hours and 41 songs. GBV is know for its shortish songs, but the diversity of texture and content as well as the band’s ability to get to such a large part of their catalogue live, has made them legendary. Listening to the Suitcase it seems that there are many more than a hundred songs, and I can’t escape a little voice saying fifty cents a song or the sense that I’ve stumbled into Bob Pollard’s garage. He says the old Samsonite that held (and still has more) of these gems, is in his basement. I have my doubts. My CD player shuffles around the landscape of Pollard’s imagination, my own imagination steps over the empty beer bottles and the golf clubs. Some tracks sound as though I’ve got my ear against the basement door. I’m eavesdropping on something special. I’m crashing a party. Ive dropped into what I thought was a great big garage sale, and this guy just cleaning out his basement. But somehow I ve scored something I didnt know I have always wanted. And if the idea of spending $50 On yourself this time of year gives you pause, maybe its time to make room for the car…


Originally published:
Issue Four
December 2000



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