There’s nothing that makes our hearts and various other organs swell with greater pride than the sight of two entrants on our esteemed Weird List making beautiful music together. So when murderously dark cabaret cellist Miss Von Trapp shared with us this video of her and chap-hop luminary Professor Elemental giving the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” a good jolly rogering, our hearts were swollen fair to bursting. The less said about what it did to our other organs, the better.
Christmas came early here at Weird Band HQ this weekend, in the form of a brand new video from Chimney Crow, the mysterious electro-pop ensemble with the creepy basement. Previously, the only visual accompaniment for the über-funky “Run for My Life” was some found and highly distorted video of a bunch of B-boys, but now Chimney Crow have created an original stop-motion clip for the track, which features cartoon versions of the Crow crew busting some moves of their own.
By the way, in case you’re not familiar the song’s subject matter: DMT is a very powerful psychedelic substance that we don’t recommend ingesting while watching this video. Or at all, really, unless you’re accompanied by an experienced shaman and maybe an EMT or two.
Here’s a fun little thing we recently ran across on ClubDevo.com: a Polish film student named Natalia Brożyńska recently completed a short stop-action animated film called “Searching for Devo,” featuring (with the band’s blessing) the demo version of “Blockhead.” The whole thing is beautifully shot and looks like it probably took more hours to do than we’ve spent on this entire blog in four years. Here’s what Gerald Casale had to say about it: “This sincere, labor-intensive, retro stop-action animation piece from a young girl in Poland is the latest proof that music is indeed the universal language. I felt like Devo were anthropomorphized bacteria performing sonic surgery in a Blockhead’s colon.”
Even if you’re not a fan of the mumble-mouthed funk-rock Les Claypool turns out with Primus, you gotta admit the man has chops. Few humans have ever slapped a bass guitar with more frenetic precision. So what happens when you take away Claypool’s electric bass guitar and replace it with an acoustic resonator bass guitar? Well, basically you get an acoustic version of Primus—but hey, if you are a fan, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Claypool’s latest project is the self-explanatorily named Duo de Twang—there’s two of them, and they are indeed twangy. The other half of the Duo is Bryan Kehoe, whom Primus fans may recognize as the guitarist from Claypool’s 2008 mockumentary Electric Apricot: Quest for Festeroo. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, bass and some stomped percussion, Kehoe and Claypool manage to whip up a pretty good racket, as evidenced by this stripped-down version of “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” (If you can’t see the SoundCloud player below, click here.)
Duo de Twang’s debut album, Four Foot Shack, is due out Feb. 4th, 2014 on ATO Records. It’ll be a mix of traditional bluegrass tunes, some Primus and Claypool covers and…wait, “Stayin’ Alive”? Seriously? Looks like the ball’s in your court, Tragedy. Peep the full tracklist after this little video trailer.
“Four Foot Shack” (Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang)
“Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” (Primus)
“Amos Moses” (Jerry Reed)
“Red State Girl” (Les Claypool)
“The Bridge Came Tumblin’ Down” (Stompin’ Tom Connors)
“Boonville Stomp” (Les Claypool)
“Stayin’ Alive” (Bee Gees)
“Rumble of the Diesel” (Les Claypool)
“Pipe Line” (The Chantays)
“Buzzards of Greenhill” (Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade)
“Hendershot” (Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade)
“Man in the Box” (Alice in Chains)
“D’s Diner” (Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade)
“Battle of New Orleans” (Johnny Horton)
“Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” (Primus)
You know what this blog needs? More country music. It can’t be that Hank3 and the Legendary Stardust Cowboy are the only weirdos ever to put on a cowboy hat and yodel about their dog dying. There must be more freaks out there in bolo ties and cowboy boots, doing things to pedal steel guitars that Jimmie Rodgers never intended.
Sure enough, with a little help from you folks out there in reader land, we finally managed to track down some truly weird-ass country. And it turns out most of it is coming from, of all places, Germany. This Metafilter article gives a good overview, covering everything from horrible mainstream crap like Texas Lightning, who represented Deutschland in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, to sort of amazing novelty crap like The BossHoss, who do Teutonic country covers of stuff like “Hot in Herre” and “Hey Ya.” Yep, stick a cowboy hat on a German and tell them to start singing, and you’ve pretty much got yourself an instant what-the-fuck-fest.
But that Metafilter article missed one very important figure in Germany’s proud tradition of pretending to be Texas ranch hands. (Although a few folks were wise enough to mention him in the comments.) His name is Tex Haper and he is “Der Cowboy aus dem Norden.” That means “Cowboy of the North” but like most things, it sounds more impressive in German. Especially if you say it like this.
Tex has been doing his German cowboy/trucker routine at least since the early ’80s. Maybe even longer than that…on his website, there’s a page of photos that shows him performing with five different bands dating all the way back to the early ’60s, but it’s hard to tell whether any of them were country or not. We Googled all of them and came up empty-handed. Could a bunch of German dudes in 1979 wearing matching blue shirts and calling themselves Die Schneuzer have played country music? Maybe, but the likelier story is that they were some kind of Can-inspired Krautrock band.
Since going solo around 1980, Tex has cranked out a steady stream of awkwardly country-flavored ditties, often accompanied by the kind of cover art that collectors drool over for kitsch factor alone. He’s still going strong today, sporting a beer gut and Hulk Hogan-esque mustache. Well, “strong” might be overstating it a bit…his only recent YouTube videos look like they were shot at a glorified karaoke night in Thailand. But he was popular enough at one point to do this:
This is the part where I have to admit that because Andy and I don’t speak German, we really have no fucking clue what this guy’s full story is. There’s almost nothing about him on the Interwebs in English. So what’s that video from, and when was it shot? Ich habe nein frickin idea. If anyone does know, clue us in.
What we do know is this: when it comes to low-budget country music videos, Tex Haper is basically Willie Nelson, Picasso and David Lynch all rolled up into big German hunka-hunka burnin’ man-schnitzel. Some are only available on his website, but most have found their way onto YouTube, which at this point is basically the Smithsonian of genius low-budget music videos. I’m really tempted to post all of them but then this damn page will take forever to load and I know you people have short attention spans. So I’ll restrain myself and just leave you with two. First, here’s Tex’s answer to “Viva Las Vegas”:
And finally, I leave you with Tex Haper’s greatest contribution to humanity, the song “New Wave Country,” which for reasons that will remain forever shrouded in mystery did not spawn an entire new genre of bad ’80s music. And no, “Cotton Eye Joe” doesn’t count.
November Weird Band Poll: Vote for Charles Bronson & The Sundance Kid, Pottymouth, Sly & The Family Drone, or Twufee the Wondermoose
November is traditionally election season here in America, so I hope you’re all feeling democratic. We’ve got four new bands campaigning for Weird Band of the Week honors and they’re out shaking hands and kissing babies, looking for your vote. If you’ve got any babies, you’d best hide them, because I really don’t think you want them to be kissed by a band called Pottymouth.
Voting ends at midnight on Sunday, Nov. 24th and we’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, Nov. 27th. Yeah, we count slow.
[Sorry, this poll has closed. Check back here Wednesday, when the winner will be revealed. And bookmark this page to partake of future polls. We do a new one every month(ish).]
For more information on this month’s bands, read on:
Charles Bronson & The Sundance Kid
A duo from the San Francisco Bay Area with a thing for fezzes and Casio beats, CB&TSK play lo-fi, garage-y synth-rock “from the depths of our hearts, funny bones,” they say. Here’s a video they made for Halloween, and here’s our favorite song from their Bandcamp page.
This costumed band obsessed with all things fecal is from right here in Los Angeles, and let me tell you, we couldn’t be prouder. Led by a singer named Dread Spaghetti, who kind of looks like an Adult Swim cartoon parody of one of those late ’90s wallet-chain bands, they also feature a guy in a gorilla suit called Tumor Master Kush and a guy in a chicken suit called Larry Drunken Liver. Here’s their Reverb Nation page, and here’s the video to their song “Poo Poo Party Platter,” which—fair warning—is not about Chinese food.
Sly & The Family Drone
An improvisational noise band from London, Sly & The Family Drone use only drums and processed tape loops to create harsh, droning soundscapes, which as far as we can tell do not include any covers of “Everyday People” or “Dance to the Music.” They do have one studio album out called Unnecessary Woe, but they’re in full effect in a live setting, where they sometimes distribute pieces of their drum kits among the audience so everyone can bang along. You can hear some live sets on their SoundCloud page and read more about the band on Facebook.
Twufee the Wondermoose
Twufee is the solo project of a longtime TWBITW reader named Josh. Josh lives somewhere in Florida and describes his music thusly: “The music I make will span whatever genre I choose. At the moment, I am working on an EP of experimental synth pop music, recording stuff with my garage punk band, smooth jazz beats, and an EP (maybe full album, but I doubt it) of lo-fi indie folk.” Also, he’s only 14 years old, so all you other bands in this month’s poll, please play nice. (For the record, he’s probably also the only 14-year-old musician on Earth who lists Captain Beefheart, The Residents, Merzbow and John Zorn among his influences.) You can hear his first EP on SoundCloud.
So there you have it. Remember to cast your vote before midnight Sunday, Nov. 24th, and may the weirdest band win.
As promised, our favorite top-hat-wearing weirdo (sorry, Residents…you were this close!) Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin continues to produce bizarre videos for each of the bizarre songs on her bizarre album, Fish Drive Edsels. Her third visual opus arrived this week for the short but startling “Aquatic Plumbing,” and it packs even more weirdness into 87 seconds than her first two videos put together. How does she do it? Magic! And creepy hand puppets. The one starring alongside her in this clip is apparently named Werman.
Petunia and her visual collaborators seems to be going through Fish Drive Edsels sequentially, which means the next video should be for “Green Glow,” a nightmarish nursery rhyme of a song that you can preview below. What surreal landscapes will Petunia wander through accompanied by its beautifully broken music-box melodies? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
When I was a kid, my Dad worked in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. My Mom and I went into the city to visit him pretty regularly, mostly because my dentist’s office was in the same building. This would have been from about 1972 to 1980, which means I was around for the tail end of the illustrious busking career of Moondog, whose favorite venue was the corner of 6th Avenue and 54th Street, just a few blocks from my Dad’s office. Did I ever get to see Moondog in action? Sadly, I can’t remember. I’d say odds are good that I did, and odds are even better that my mother hurried me, mouth agog with freshly scrubbed pearlies, past the blind, white-bearded man dressed up like a Viking, telling me that it wasn’t polite to stare.
For over two decades, millions of New Yorkers and tourists stopped to stare at the man born Louis T. Hardin, most of them having no clue that the crazy, hairy guy in the leather helmet, playing what looked like a shoeshine box with a cymbal attached to it, was actually an accomplished musician and composer who hung out with the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Charlie Parker. As street musicians go, Moondog was both as eccentric and as accomplished as they come.
Before he became Moondog, Hardin was a Midwestern farm kid, born in Kansas and raised in Wyoming and Missouri. He lost his eyesight at age 16 when, as he tells it, “I picked up a dynamite cap on a railroad track after a flood and pounded on it. It exploded in my face.” Already a drummer in his high school band, Hardin was accepted into the Iowa School for the Blind, where he picked up some formal musical training on various other instruments, including the pipe organ, which enabled him to start composing his own works.
In 1943, while he was in his late twenties, Hardin decided to move to New York City, hoping to connect with the city’s great classical composers and conductors. From hanging around outside Carnegie Hall, he met and befriended the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Artur Rodzinski, who invited the young blind man with the flowing black beard to sit in with the orchestra’s rehearsals. But Hardin, who wasn’t yet dressing like a Viking but did favor long, hooded monk’s robes, was a little too leftfield to hit it off with the buttoned-down classical musicians of the New York Phil. Soon, he was back on the street, where he instead began busking, reciting poetry and playing music on a growing collection of homemade, portable instruments.
As Hardin’s peculiar sidewalk performances attracted more notice, he began getting write-ups in the press. But as the estranged son of an Episcopalian minister, he was unhappy that many journalists described his berobed, long-bearded appearance as “Christ-like.” By the mid-’50s, he had transitioned to Viking garb for a more pagan look. He had also started calling himself Moondog and making more references to the Native American influences in his music, particularly in the syncopated rhythms that he liked to call “snake-time.”
We could end Moondog’s story right here and still make a case for including him on the Weird List. But it gets better. From his preferred street corner, midway between Carnegie Hall and the jazz clubs of 52nd Street, Hardin began attracting a cult following among many of the city’s best-known musicians. Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman were fans; so were Igor Stravinsky and Arturo Toscanini. By the ’60s, he was hanging out with such counter-culture luminaries as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. When he performed indoors—which he did on occasion—he shared stages with the like of Lenny Bruce and Tiny Tim. He even lived for a time with the minimalist composer Philip Glass, who cites Moondog’s spare, percussive fugues, rounds and minuets as a strong influence on his own work. (Moondog is often described as “homeless,” but this is somewhat misleading—only occasionally did he not have an apartment of his own, and when he didn’t, he usually stayed in fleabag hotels or with friends.)
Moondog’s music is, if anything, even more intriguing than the man himself. A mix of cryptic poetry, slinky jazz and stately, classical chamber pieces, it achieved an improbable level of popularity during his New York years, culminating in 1969′s Moondog, released on Columbia Records and produced by James William Guercio, whose other credits included Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The cover photo of Moondog, with his snow-white beard and glaring Viking’s visage, remains an iconic image of the ’60s alternative music scene.
By the time he left New York for Germany in 1974, Moondog had released six albums, four EPs and, of all things, an album of children’s music with Julie Andrews. His song “All Is Loneliness” had been covered by Janis Joplin. He had been interviewed and profiled by everyone from Collier’s to the New York Times. He even successfully sued DJ Alan Freed for the rights to the Moondog name.
But as New York City took a turn for the seedier in the ’70s, Moondog grew disenchanted with his adopted hometown. While on a tour of Europe in 1974, he decided to stay, eventually settling in a small city in West Germany called Recklinghausen. His move was so abrupt that many people back in New York assumed he had died. (Actually, many New Yorkers tend to assume this of anyone who leaves the Big Apple, it being the center of the universe and all.) But he lived on in Germany for another 25 years, continuing to compose and record and occasionally perform.
He rarely returned to America, though a welcome exception happened in 1989, when he came back to New York to conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at the New Music America festival. Treating him as though he had risen (Christ-like?) from the dead, the New York press fawned over him for a week. “Maybe it takes New York 15 years to miss you,” he quipped.
Moondog’s later works grew far more ambitious: Among them was his first complete symphony, a 25-part canon, and a nine-hour piece for 1,000 musicians called “Cosmos” that, for obvious reasons, has still never been performed. Oddly, his best-known work nowadays is probably a tribute to Charlie Parked called “Lament 1 (Bird’s Lament),” mainly because it was sampled in a popular jazz-house track by Mr. Scruff.
One of Moondog’s final works was among his weirdest. Released in Europe in 1994 and in the U.S. in 1997 (the final Moondog album released here before his death in 1999), Sax Pax for a Sax is a tribute to both the inventor of the saxophone and the great city Louis T. Hardin called home for three decades. Most of the music was performed by an all-sax-and-drums ensemble called The London Saxophonic, with occasional touches of piano and a solemn male chorus.
We’ll leave you with some classic Moondog from his NYC street-busking days. As far-out and eccentric as Moondog and his music could sometimes be, there’s also a simple, childlike beauty to a lot of it that stops you in your tracks. Almost as much as the sight of a white-bearded Viking hanging out on a street corner in midtown Manhattan.
Also, one final quote, from a 1953 magazine article. This is Moondog explaining to a bemused journalist why he liked performing on the streets:
I like to flaunt convention. In commercial music, I’d have to conform. But so long as I stay on the streets, people take this* because they think I’m a harmless eccentric. Maybe I am. But I do as I please. That’s more than most people can say. So far as I’m concerned, I’ve arrived.
(*By “this,” the journalist seemed to assume Moondog was referring only to his unusual manner of dress. We like to think he was referring to his music, as well.)
All hail the Viking of 6th Avenue!
P.S. Thanks to the magnificently named reader Eustaquio Habichuela Irsuto for first suggesting that we write about Moondog, well over a year ago. Sorry it took us awhile, Eustaquio.