"One fine morning in May, a slim young horsewoman might have
been seen riding a
glossy sorrel mare along the avenues of the Bois, among the flowers . . ."
or How One Single Man's Expectation of Self
Becomes the Hopes and Dreams of the Lumpen Prole
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of . . . oops! . . . There once was a time whence a triumvirate of comrades, all three reluctant matriculantites of Lakewood High School (home of the immensely nancified football team the "Lakewood Rangers"), went unto see-eth Captain Beefheart, and were so fucking disgustedeth with "Left End," the opening act, that I, John "Broken Hand" ® Morton, saideth unto my band of stalwart helpmates, "Compañeros, even we can do better than these trifling mother fucking fucks."
And untowards forth was borneth,
The Electric Eels
A name that will live in infamy.
It was me [I], Brian McMahon, and Dave McManus. Brian and I [me] already played guitar so Dave was the singer. The year: 1972.
Cleveland . . . Fuck you.
Being in the Eels was akin to attending a "Re-Education Camp." We had a strident party line (that party line being made up as we went along) about practical nihilism, work ethic and art esthetic. Bandied about were phrases like "Art Terrorism" and "The Artist's Rules" an example of which was #13: "Artists can be self-contradictory."
We took it all very seriously and practiced hard for hours on end with no real understanding of how to work effectively. We would play a song and then play it again, the exact same way with the exact same mistakes. None of us had any conception of how to get a gig, record, promote ourselves, et-fucking-cetera.
We could work on a song for weeks, finally getting right (to our ears at least). Then we'd start to play said song in a practice only Davey wasn't singing, just kind of blankly looking off in the distance. When I would then inquire as to just why he was mute, he would reply (rather snottily I might add), "Oh, I don't want to do that song anymore!" As a rather sad consequence one of Dave's more brilliant ones, "Down to the Wire," was never recorded. The chorus of which (sometimes) went "He's a moose - on the loose . . .looking for tomato juice . . ."
Cleveland, the best location in the nation to get the fuck out of.
We moved to that shithole known as Columbus Ohio, primarily because my life had been threatened in Cleveland for being a "lance d'amour" with one too many married women.
We set up base camp in an apartment building on the curiously named High Street, filled with poncified OSU students, who for some mysterious reason, did not care to hear us practice at full volume (that's right, cranked up to 11 on the Marshall) at one a.m. After the neighbor upstairs complained (and not in a particularly angry or malevolent way), I nailed his front door shut with a sixteen penny common [nail].
Cleveland . . . It will certainly fuck you up the old corn hole!
Violence just another term for "Tough Love."
There was a quote we had picked up somewhere: "The kindest thing you can do for someone is to hit them in the mouth." For better or worse, we believed it.
If someone insulted you, made a statement contradicting your philosophy, did not tell a good joke or woke you up coming in late from work, you were obligated to use physical violence against them. Being that I far out-weighed and out-muscled any of the other Eels, I triumphed in theses skirmishes unsurprisingly enough. What was rather surprising was that the loser bore no grudge about being slugged. We had all fallen sway to this concept.
At some point, Brian had had enough head blows and berefted us. I think he went to kalifornia. Paul Marotta filled the void. I had known Paul for about five years by then and he, unlike the rest of us, was a "real" musician. He blended his very different politic and sorely needed structure to the mix.
'Twas the city of Cleveland itself that turned me nihilist!
Paul started to record us with cassette and reel-to-reel tapes. I remember Paul saying to us, "I'm not going to give you guys these tapes, you'll just lose them." And he was absolutely right.
I must state (and no, Paul didn't make me do this) that if it had not been for Paul, there would not be any Eels releases whatsoever. As a consequence, I would have totally missed my miserable fucking fifteen minutes of fame. But the most tragic event would have been that you, the little people, the fans, would not have heard the incredible sound that is the "Electric Eels" ®.
Life was mostly involved in practice, finding the odd job. Dave E. was the most constant employee among us. His raison d'être: the professional dishwashing field. All this strenuous activity was fueled by veritable lake-fulls of bad beer (POC, Black Label, ABC brand, Heritage House Brand, Old Dutch, Gennesee, Stroh's, Miller, Schlitz, Schmits, Hamms)
However, after a year of this wedded bliss, Dave and I were arrested after our first gig. I was beaten up by four cops with billy clubs as I lay face down and handcuffed behind the police station. We re-wended our way back to the old home-shithole, Cleveland. you can read the whole "broken hand" saga at www.ClePunk.com, follow the links to the Eels stories.
Cleveland, home of the immensely sissy rock and roll hall of fame.
Would the Eels have been the Eels without self-destructing? Hard and pointless to say. We did not have very many fans, some exceptions being Bradly Field, Peter Laughner, Jill Magnuson and Charlotte Pressler. You would maybe think, being as unpopular as we were, people might say, "I don't like your music." Or even, "You guys suck." They did not. What they said was "You guys are wrong." Club owners tended to take a more philosophic track: pulling the plug.
Cleveland, city in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"EELS, The Roots" ©
I was either misquoted in From the Velvets to the Voidoids or thought I had said something more self-aggrandizing. The quote (scrambled here to make me look better): "We listened to John Cage, and Sun Ra and Ayler. That's what [the Eels] was supposed to be but [unfortunately some of the other band members] didn't understand it." What I had meant to say is that we felt, and perpetrated an affinity with these musicians. There were oblivious . . .obvious common roots in the Euro-trash-dadaism. But our understanding of that music was all under the auspices of the following and telling personality traits.
We never thought we would make thirty, that was a laughable idea. When Jimi died at 27, it was OK. I mean like, he was already way-old.
AND THEN (even more pivotal-like)
Dave E. had purchased the '72 re-issue of Ornette's "Free Jazz." We thought it was great/top shelf/primo, but after 7 minutes of it (well, maybe 5) our collective attention span was spent and we quickly put on "English Rose."
A Quiet Personal Reflection
Wouldst I (please note: "I" not "we") usurp the swastika today?
Nay, most assuredly not!
Wouldst I apologize for past usurpation in a kind of revisionist-retro PC-ess?
I don't fucking think so Herr Goebbels.
Dave E. made it luxuriantly clear: "I think the whole world stinks" Not just part of it, the whole fucking world! Any viable way we "eelings" ™ could say "fuck you" was swimmingly appropriate. We had a little mantra in those days that might illuminate: "It is the will of Allah, that we, the Electric Eels, have the urgent and extreme honor of service, by making you, the world at large, as uncomfortable as fucking possible." And seeing as people are despicable moronic assholes anyway, it seemed the very ultimate in germaneness.
My original art for "the eyeball" included a counter clockwise swastika, the good luck charm version. Yes, a very UNCHARACTERISTIC COMPROMISE. I then had occasion to trademark the name "the electric eels"™ and the government attorney (our government) objected to "that other symbol" in the logo. He asked if I had a sans-swastika version. My little 1st Amendment ears turned red with the ensuing burning and immediately, I re-swastikaed the covers.
Paul made some sane and clear observations in his notes to Those Were Different Times, and I quote from that, "I thought we were Lenny Bruce, our friends thought we were Adolph Hitler."
Continued Quiet Personal Reflection
Rest assured dear outraged public, the eels have paid some heavy dues because of the swastika brouhaha (The god damn fat assed niggardly Third Reich ruined it for the rest of us) and methinks "eyeball…" might not fare as well as "God Says Fuck You" did amongst the Hasidim demographic.
But the cost of protecting free speech for all of us? Priceless.
But what ultimately imbues me with Proprietary Swastikal License is that both my wife and sister are Jewish. (I like that, it really defines the term "lame excuse.")
THE ROUGH TRADE SINGLE
Jim Jones was being a roadie for Ubu's first european tour, (I guess that's the gauntlet you had to pay before playing with them) and Jon Savage was riding in the Ubuvan with him when Jonsey happily happenced to pop in an Eels practice tape (and all the Eels tapes were practice tapes.)
Mr. Savage was so suitably struck by the nascent noise, the inchoate cacophony, the mellifluous misanthropic melody, that he forced Rough Trade (and I heard it was by the use of some very odious blackmail) to issue the Agitated/Cyclotron single. When Paul spake his misgivings as to the quality of the recording available for the master tape, the answer came back from merry olde england, "I say olde chaps, we don't care if it was recorded in a fucking merry olde closet!"
A tip of the music history hat to messieurs Jones and Savage.
A True Sinergy, in every sense of the word.
We had definite musical/art/life ideas. Me [I] with my dada/nihilism. (There are a lot of slashes in this treatise no/yes ??) My skewered but [fairly] unique "punk" aesthetics. My no-rules industrial guitar sound.
Davy (who I would defiantly call either a genius or dishwasher savant) with his very weird, oblique Catholic take on life. His brother Mike had once said that Davie had inherited belief in the Catholic dogma without the grace of its faith. Davey felt that he was surely a sinner who would go to Hell and he did not care. He was resigned.
Brian/Paul (who I group together simply because it was that one or the other of them was replacing one or the other of them in the band.) Brian brought his chunky rock guitar style and R&B writing styles such as the very traditional "Jaguar Ride" and weirder than weird "Accident" and Paul . . .well let me say this: in our thirty-year, weird, close-far relationship, I think we have both benefited each other in ways that are not always clear to us.
Competent drummers (isn't that an oxymoron?) like Danny Foland (who regrettably was never recorded with the Eels) and Nick "asleep on the floor tom" Knox, rounded out the "eels sound"®.
Albert Ayler took four
slugs in the spine (curiously after playing a gig at the NYC jazz club,
"Slug's"), rather than have to go back to Cleveland. I know I'd do it !
Ra, Don Van Vliet with his blues/polyrythmic/dada sensibility (he claims to have sold a vacuum cleaner to Aldous Huxley). The Yardbirds, Love, "Easy Action" era Alice Cooper, MC5, Stooges, Albert (and Don) Ayler, and Fleetwood Mac (I remembered our utter collective disbelief when 'Future Games' came out featuring Bob "French Tickler" Welch instead of the great but crazy guitar genius Peter Green and consequently then, what ever was the point?)
Here is a rather curious curiositiness. Brian and I, who have suddenly been communicating after a twenty-year hiatus, have discovered that we both have a bent (as did Sun Ra) towards Easy-Listening music. We both admire Percy Faith and Ray Conniff (as a matter of fact I'm enjoying Ray's wonderful version of "'S Wonderful" right now) but while I specialize in the more purely ambient: Jackie Gleason, 101 Strings, and The Maestro (Mantovani), Brian really likes (gasp) Backrack.
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