Cleveland holds the secrets
Cleveland, you've gotta be tough. When I was an art student there two of my roommates were in a band called Redness, which had as many as eight or nine members. This was in the late seventies, when Northern Ohio had given the world Pere Ubu, Devo, The Dead Boys. Redness was mainly art students and former art students, and included two bass players (my roommates Scott Williams and Perry Kopchak), several percussionists. guitars, a trombone blown by Regional Art Terrorist Paul Badger, and homemade electronics that sometimes made them sound like a lunatic video game parlor crashed by a garage band of desperadoes. They had actual songs they composed, (like Blind Me Wet, Little Debbie, Gran Turismo, and crowd favorite, Cream Rinse) and rehearsed in our apartment at 1961 Ford Drive. They played regularly at the Euclid Tavern, across from the painting studios, and I became a fan.
Late at night, after doing our studio work, Scott, Perry, sometimes Mark Schaaf, and I would drink cheap beer and improvise on a cassette recorder with found texts. I was still trying to play guitar in those days. This after hours amusement was kept separate from our school work, our Serious Art.
After we graduated some left for grad school or New York. I stayed in Cleveland and studied philosophy and painted and wrote and occasionally performed with other former Redness members, George and Chester, sometimes Mark, in a band we never named. Like, we played one late late night college radio show on WRUW hosted by Catherine Butler and asked listeners to phone in suggestions for a band name, but no one called, because probably no one was listening. We also did an unofficial guerrilla performance at the Hessler Street Fair from the second floor balcony of the apartment on the corner of Hessler and Ford. America is packed with interesting musicians and artists who never move to New York. Most of the interesting artists and musicians who
become successful in New York came from Out There, from Cleveland and Elsewhere. It seems that the art world Out There should thrive, and that artists and musicians (and writers and filmmakers, etc) should make a living and achieve satisfaction without moving here and bringing their offerings to the gods of New York, and many probably do. I was trying to find a way to do so, to keep it real, but I kept making it difficult for myself. I have kept in touch with some of the people I knew in Cleveland who were involved in the music and poetry scenes. Alan Grandy and I worked at Tommy's restaurant in Cleveland Heights in the mid-eighties. He had a band called (without capitalization) the terrible parade. Alan got me to listen to the Velvet Underground. Although I got Lou Reed’s Transformer when it came out in 72, I didn't really listen to the VU until I was in Cleveland among those musicians. Also, the Stooges. AG turned me on to more current music, as well. The Feelies, Wire, Young Marble Giants, Replacements, Meat Puppets, etc. He gave me a some mix tapes. One day he asked me if I'd be interested in driving another band, Death On A Stick, to Columbus for a gig because their regular van had broken down. I had a 77 Dodge painted eleven or so shades of orange which had been my parents’. Orange shag carpet, CB radio. I said OK. DOAS opened for the Butthole Surfers that night. Their bass player, Marky Ray, played lead in the terrible parade. Death On A Stick struck me as a stripped down Redness, sort of, dada punk. I was very impressed when I saw them play, and preferred them to the "BH Surfers" (as the marquee listed them). The Surfers were also impressed. We passed a joint with them in the green room, and they claimed DOAS was the best opening band they’d had. Death On A Stick was a power trio with a great drummer named Dangerous Dave Norris, Marky on bass, and anarcho-guitar genius Andrew
Klimek. I believe Paul Strachen played drums at the Columbus gig. I drove for both bands, the parade and Stick, for a while, Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland. Watching them made me want to try performing, and Bhob and Kristen -- The Backyard Mechanics For Language -- gave me some opportunities and this is how the Semiotic Liberation Front became the legend it is today. Scott and Mark and I formed the Semiotic Liberation Orchestra to play at an event in Tremont called Recurrent Irritations hosted by Bhob (Luigi Bob) Drake and Kristen Ban (Tepper). Scott and Mark came up with some music that opened and unfolded the collage rhythms of my original and found texts that I thought were only graphic but the music gave them breath. We also played at the Cleveland Performance Art Festival, or was it the Sound Festival? at Cleve Public Theater, anyway, our names were on the poster, under hundreds of other names, at the bottom, and Karen Finley’s was on the top, the star on the tree. We played a third time at CPT, and I ran out of the theater and left Cleveland and drove the orange van to Kansas City, where I did a lot of writing and painting and driving and striving and I wrote and drew something called Crawl For Your Life that evolved into Are You Running With Me, Ground of Being? a poem I started to record with Scott in his painting studio in Long Island City, but we never finished. We eventually joined forces with some former Redness people Ed Potokar, Tegzes, Badger, Schaaf, ( and ex-Lou Reed drummer Michael Suchorsky) in ex-Guyette Alice Malloy's basement in the Catskills to form a band called the Audio Artists and did a great performance at Here on Spring Street early in 1997, where I read some selections from Are You Running, and I finally decided to move to NY and bookstore job at World Trade Center. Lovey Dovey Frank Coelho climbed on board and became essential. We continue to record, and once in a blue moon, play in public, sometimes as "Audio Artists," sometimes Art Bum Dinner Theater. The relationship between this activity to our Serious Art is ambiguous. Scott’s plein air cityscapes and landscapes (he’ll be showing them at Sideshow this year) seem to have no connection to his music, but I feel that the different things I do -- drawing writing performing sculpting -- are on a continuum. We have families and jobs and so on, and are not part of the Brooklyn/Queens music scene. Recently, Chris Butler, veteran of the Akron/Cleveland punk new wave nexus -- he was in Tin Huey and The Waitresses -- started participating in Audio Artists sessions. We will be doing a recording session this month and maybe play in public.
Brooklyn is my home, but Cleveland holds the secrets to my stunning success.