A crotchety voice, that is to say, a voice like an experienced crotch, betraying its mechanics and passion. Tippy became de facto, defecto and de fucto vocalist, because girls were the only instrument he could really play. So he sang about that….”
by mike mosher
As youth, besides girls, is defined by vandalism, it was our obligation to invent Rock n’ Roll. Every band reinvents Rock with the same three chords and, mostly, the same three songs. And there ain’t nothin’ but Rock.
Our own huggermugger sound was purely instrumental at that point. Chordprogressionism of the Mind. But one night the drugs must’ve been a little bit different or something, for when we stayed up all night, like werewolves on a hill we discovered singing. The songs that the gol durn world was born knowing. Somebody began with the sensitive ballads “Pennyloafer Lover”, “Bird or Angel?” and “Prisoner of Fucking”, and the old Blues song “Lay that Bison Burden Down “. A few old Adult Brothers songs crept into the campfire on the basement floor. I thought about the nature of singing, and was thus reminded how Christ supposedly didn’t cry on Christmas at birth but saved his song for torture.
The Chomps hung together, and all went downtown to small Aleppo’s drugstore streets, and saw acts in fonky bars that were yet to be famous, usually on their way to their historic Motorsburg concerts. A Mod typography-friendly reporter just over from England, covering the Whatsis?’s gig at the N!teclub at the start of their triumphant American tour that few would attend, said Knees Up Mother Brown, Blokes! and told us we were the face. Face the music? Thump must be the cauliflower ears, Dink the runny nose, I am the alert judgemental eyes and Tippy must be the big mouth. Will Tippy serve as the mouth to the Press and thus voice of this band? You must be kidding. He only shakes the tambourine and claps along a little. Yet that Britanniac must’ve been psychic. Realizing there was something he could do with it in his mouth, Tippy began to really, really like Rock. His good essence had appeared at the age of thirteen, but his band danced night and day to stomp it out. Theologians writing Sunday columns in the newspaper said Tippy was so bad because he never had a serious Confirmation or Bar Mitzvah, so his childhood never ended for him. Adolescence instead became a cancerous growth. Tippy never stopped teenaging, fer Chrissakes.
One day Thump had been rifling around a junkyard near the rusty old aircraft factory Wildebeest Run, where after the War there were lots of crashed test-pilots’ airplanes, and he brought back a pilot’s intercom microphone. Tippy rolled it around his palm and fingered it nervously then began murmuring into it. Mmbaby… Discovered his voice was like the craters of the moon, all bony hollow echo where atmosphere’s supposed to be. Sang in concentric circles, a voice like a Mexican sombrero. Voice like a kangaroo’s pouch stretching, or churchbells cracking. The barking of prarie dogs. An American voice, harsh and self-advertising, promoting something. A crotchety voice, that is to say, a voice like an experienced crotch, betraying its mechanics and passion. Tippy became de facto, defecto and de fucto vocalist, because girls were the only instrument he could really play. So he sang about that.
Discovering his own voice made him happy as a dancing master smelling a young protegé girl’s leotard. A voice soft as an electric heater in an apartment, like an old refrigerator at night, voice like tiles falling off bathroom walls. Like things falling apart, no longer at ease. An animal’s discomfort in its smelly, cramped cage. A ventriloquist’s defeat. Tippy discovered his amplified shriek could fill the underground tank in a gas station, or fell a bird in the sky sure as a slingshot. That was one boy you wouldn’t want to separate from his voice, nosiree.
Spelunking the caverns of his nose, playing the piano of his nasum with his fingers led him to discover how to tune his nose, fine tune its reception till it changed the pitch of his voice. Something resembling Tippy’s favorite food, pizza spaghetti, would come out of his nose, alchemically transforming into a philosopher’s snot of little musical notes all over his shirt. His nose flowed while he sang, wiping it between gasping breaths upon the sleeve of his jacket, flowing like piss cum creativity. Running stools of vocals and even blood from the tiny female spot of yin in his yang, flowing yet flummoxing like a fountain of song, song like the fountain of that famously popular little boy from the Belgian town square pissing all over the novelty-item catalogs. Wonder what his albums sound like. Tippy playing his chin and spilling the song all over it, in a voice that sounded like his best ideas snarling, or his worst turds plopping. Guttural yet celestial, the dark air moving in the cold slipstream whooshing high above the Earth. The crumbling voice of the magma-larynx, fragmenting like all truth. From a whine to a grumble, it contained no temperate middle range, evocative of no ethic of middleclass Midwest moderation, and that’s good.
The Chomps’ early song list: “The Mule”, “Giant Steps/Baby Steps”, “The Giant Girl Steps Back”, “The Grateful Girl Shops” and “The Beautiful Girls”, enough for one long event or several entertaining dopestocked parties. Our bellyfull of tunes grew nightly, with stock car versions, lock stock and barrelhouse, of “Green Moo Cow”, “It’s an Oversight, Baby” and “Sweet Little Desk” as good as the originals. Dink befuddled around on the bassline to the Mandrilla’s “Drinking in the Streets”. Pinched songs, compelling as the smell of magic markers. The uncrossed legs of sensibility. Lyrics floated in blood.
When the cat’s away the mice will play electric guitars. Does this song go on my permanent record? I forget, I’m not in school any more. Heaping a perfect pyramid upon the world. Gallant momentum. We had to invent Rock n’ Roll or blow ourselves up. We did blow out the windows on the Quonset Hut Grocery Barn three miles away just by plugging in our amps, and everybody on that tough greasy old Midwest side of town went shoplifting. Hah, Score! Gangster rhythms. Quicksong. The first Rock n’ Roll version of a three-minute egg. Wrote a song about a tampon left on the moon that fell out of the bag of the most careless woman astronaut, that old subject given a new amplified twist. I was honored to co-engine this band. No, maybe I was secretly the leader. This was my band, I led, my moment of glory. It was the best band there ever was as it was balanced chromatically according to Galen: one phlegmatic, one guy choleric, one sanguine and me one lonesome melancholy dude. Alchemists could tell you, we positively spat etheric phlogiston.
Enamored and wryly amused of Rock’s rapturous magic and destruction. This game of Rock felt like the boldest surgery. The stage is the true self, you can only be alive, unthinking, in public. An Olympic-sized band. So swelled-up with pride that snot and moths were coming right out of our jackets. Ours was the Garage of the Popes. As we practiced in the garage Mom soon tired of hollering Turn That Down, and listing to censor us if we swore about sex or too much romantic love. “Don’t fall in love” she always cautioned her sons, as if love would lead to sex would lead to pregnancy and birth of monsters like them, uh, us. Rock n’ Roll is the war of the boys against their mothers. Make musical instruments out of your parents. When the other guys came over to practice my Mom, tense with the obligations of hospitality, practically made the band finish a full bowl of candy before she left us alone to play. What Will the Neighbors Think (they dug it)?
Bands were springing up all over Aleppo. One faculty brat stole his father’s hunting crossbow and strung it like a balilaika, which he then electrified. Another proceded to take all of his (an old English professor rumored to have had sex in his youth with nanny Mary Poppins) father’s Literary Criticism and set it to dirgelike Rock trumpet solos and aircraft engine whoosh. Maybe parents are just offended by the assertively raucous volume of Rock, still vainly searching for the musical part. Sort of a Sousa and the Elders. Our locked-garage conciousness filled with fumes and nearly exploded. This concept of smoke-damaged Rock would carry us far.
This was my Rockabildungsroman music. Maybe I was growing up. Rock as Flesh made Spirit? No, I’m not sure I really know the difference yet. Physical music, music made beef and pork, music made snake. A lot of ca-ca, doo-doo and cock-a-doodle-doo humor. Sturm und drang, which is German for cock n’ cunt. I had never taken Rock n’ Roll seriously enough, had gone on long bus trips with the Debate team, not getting back till late at night and missing the band’s practice. Rock n’ roll is argumentation with a beat. I like Rock n’ Roll for it deals in the potent symbols, Rythym n’ Portents. The University’s early experiments in holography led so many youth to seek the illusory fame of Rock. While boys and girls played beetles and mealworms, we wanted to be the Beatles. Tippy was on 45 rpm when everyone else played long and with high fidelity at thirty-three and a third. That number even sounded conservative, like some year his father would remember in which the banks failed. “Oh, the horror of University-ethic Rock, honoring both sides of the fence!” went one two-chord garage chant. The guys who thought you had to have a Ph.D. to play C-Am-F-G. Seeking the kind of writing where apostrophe equals catastrophe. Me, papermouth, there’s a story burning inside me. With steadfast determination I continued my obsession with squaring the circle of Rock.
My musical aesthetic had always been one of too many notes, played too well. Notes with a reputable history. If it’s classically highbrow, count me in. I played an obligato out of obligation. Sure, I’m in a Johann Sebastian Bag. Chopin on a chopper, Pachelbel at Taco Bell. A downright Debussy for pussy. But all I knew about music was from books, and I soon learned that scholarship didn’t count. Out of exasperation Tippy ran over, asked me to remove my sunglasses and graciously performed a lobotomy with the drug-soaked microphone as a sharpened leucotome. The other guys in the band, Dink the dronken bassplaguester and my brother Thump the doomspreading drummer laughed at this prank, but I learned that there was a meta-sound beyond learning.
We had no use for complicated Patchouli-fisted playing, jazz sixtyninth chords. This was insensible Rock, the sound hot water makes when its cleanliness catches on fire. The absence of safety. That makes you want to lick hot mirrors. Tension too hot on a bridge. Chords chafing over guitars like bee-wing vibrations. Called the Chomps for the style of guitar chords, chomp chomp kachompa chucka chuck da CHOMP. Chunga chunka… and so on. I played a guitar line that was a palindrome but Tippy was unimpressed. Played a chord called Shit for Brains. Anything more than three chords is Kabbalah, Hebraic ishkabibble and thus too Holy Land scriptural for us. Two chords are better than three, the use of only one is best of all.
Music a sort of bathroom Beethoven. Music so suburban it still often had the sound of pots and pans, pegboards going up in a garage workshop, electric sanders, Beethoven’s gluegun, sonatas of spar varnish being applied to picnic tables. Being born in a peeling-steel mobile home was the reason Tippy’s voice sounded so metallic, and his friends’ guitar so tinny and drums like washtubs. The notes we used were unmarked notes like conterfeit bills, unlisted phones or a marked deck of cards. Notes with no serial numbers, that song a dark and dented car with missing license plates. Pumpin’ circumstance. When we turned up real loud the feedback sounded like a locked safe or piano–or one of the Magus Megaron amps themselves–dropping from an upper-story office window to the sidewalk below.
Drums rumble patter like stockinged feet. First irritating, later an exhilarating headache like driving a convertible real fast with the wind whipping the dog’s ears behind him. A hellish baying sound to the drums, Thump my brother, you motherpumper, you’re gonna slap those poor drums to death. Drumming on the point of a pyramid. Take a deep hit from the bong of drums. Drums equal somebody’s mother’s breasts. Ointment for the drums from a positive gland. The bass drum loped sticky like cum and further rhythm elocutions, rhythm electrocutions and rhythm erections. Sound like a Pontiac or Oldsmobile running over a TV dinner tray, or gargoyle batwings aflapping atop a crazed cathedral. Clanked brightly like a can of light. That hot beat, that hot water beat, that hot water heater beat in a saltcellar full of noise. Down, down in the basement of the soul.
Mockingbird bass, have you heard? Bass guitar strings like spun umbilical cords, or wires put thru intestines for patch cords. Abrasive drums. The sting of the drums. Banging, tapping on musical glasses filled with water. Guitars going whamwhamwhamwham and other comic-strip noises. A threnody to nodding out. Music filled the room like a fluke swimming in a bull’s infected eye.
Thumba thumba, thug thug thug.
Chikka chikka chavva chau chikka chikka.
And then Tippy’s voice is applied, mcmurmuring:
“The President is a dustrag in JFK’s parking lot
Only the masseuses change.
I’ll be your hangman, I hear your death rattle
You honky Cadillac cattle.
I’ll be the chaser to your third damn drink…”
Hey Gamelan Breath! This is the only band in town with a sound that’s a cross between a dog and a violin. Song like the moan of a distant chainsaw, snow-blower, lawnmower roar-o-mumbling the panther mantra. The Man in the Moan like a toad in the moat in ancient times. The song is the man. Holding the microphone stand his arms felt like great pumping hypos. Some of his songs were just shrieking onomatapeamania. Potowatomi field hollers. This was just Frankensong, a pistachio pastiche, nutty tutti-frutti. Narcopop.
Tippy’s voice like rubber satin, some kind of blanket under a baby fathered by the coolest Cardinal in the Church. That fingerprint voice, that safecracking croon. Voice a cockatoo, a warbler, the aardvark’s bark, the dire wolf’s dishwasher emergency. Voice monotone, more monochrome than mercurochrome. The id on a holiday. Vocal irritation is the grain of sand that makes the pearl inside the echoing bandshell. Words like baby autographs, anti-news. Wind-in-the-warehouse vocals. Tippy’s made-for-PVC vocals spat on, unconciously starting to rhyme:
“Like agar agar in a petri dish
I’m a medium for your every wish.
You can shit or get fucked in evey house on the block
Won’t stop me from loving you round the clock.
She slept with a lot of boys
She made the eyes and he’d make noise.
Some people say you belong in the carwash
Say you’ll be AWRIGHT to me…HHYUNNHHH…”
He’s great. He’s grand. Tippy makes that sullen expression, acid-sharpened to a pinpoint. Not a great profile, but certainly a great prophylactic. More than just an entertainulator. You got to work your butt off to save your skin sometimes. Smile a whale’s balleen, humming thru a tissue’d pocket comb or maybe that’s just the amplifiers. Adenoidal huff. Punching widenosed, wipenose, paper-towel tambourines. Frustrated, he made little milk fists. I wanted to see him tease the audience with complicated, difficult words: “Let me hear you say ‘frequency..diphtheria..aeolipile…” but that wasn’t Tippy’s style. The way he mumbled “obsessed” it rhymed with “upset”, the front part. Sending message Messerschmidts in these songs. The words themselves were no more than the pinkest papery “While You Were Out” messages. Without the requisite years of study, the crowd members then become intellectuals. Tippy constantly misquoted himself in a nameless and illegitimate voice he tried for. Fecal vocal. Cro-Magnanimous to our fans. A man turns into his own crowd onstage.
Dancing across the stage with sidekick legs. Tippy sidesteps the song onstage, the music swarming and swirling around him like a pack of angry dogs a mailman has to avoid. Rock that stepped in dog-doo drums. Confined by a chain-link-fence of the drumbeats, our whelping, whippet guitars were equipped with devices that made them sound like beagles baying at the moon from the confines of a lonely pound. Our songs were written on a dog’s wagging tail, all puppy whimpers and the growl of the in-heat. Obey the law of the pack. C’mere Tippy, c’mere boy, you raw ideas dog. Our music sounds like all the right dogs barking.
(illustration: mike mosher)
Fervent talespinner Mike Mosher <mosheratsvsudotedu> must’ve lived through something like this in Olde Michigan. He has godzillions of contributions online at Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life and Leonardo Reviews . His obsessions are Michigan rock n’ roll of the late Revolutionary era (1970-73), and the traditional pedagogy of the Three C’s (comics, community murals and cyberspace).