I had a couple ideas for how to proceed, and me and Jim started playing together as a two-piece, guitar and drums, in the model of Vampire Belt and Horse Spirit Penetrates. The name oscillated at first between "Ribbon Dancer" and "Phone Book", but we went with Phone Book for a couple reasons. First, it was something that at the time was rapidly becoming obsolete-- I never would've named a band Phone Book in 1995 but by 2006 I felt like those words were almost meaningless again. Pretty soon "Phone Book" would make as much sense as "Strawberry Alarm Clock". Another reason is that my old roommate Shawn had a story about going on tour with someone annoying and the other band they were with told Shawn that they could knock the guy out "painlessly" with a phone book, to give everyone else a break. I don't think they tried it, but I thought about this a lot, and when I got especially worked up about something, wound up or anxious, I would think "I wish someone would just knock me out painlessly with a phone book". Also Cool Breeze had an incredible story about living with his dad as a teenager and they were fixing the plumbing in the house, and had to put a hole through a wall to put a pipe through it, so they stacked phone books on the opposite side of the wall and shot through the wall, with a gun. That's insane, but shooting a hole in a book that's just numbers, that's incredible. Also think about how the pages are super thin but at some point one of them stops the bullet.
These are the romantic reasons relating to social and physical properties of the phone book, but the most regular reason we called the band Phone Book was because that's how we were writing most of the songs. Me and Jim both liked math rock, but neither of us wanted to commit to learning intricate patterns. So we used phone numbers, which we had already memorized, as the score. The phone number at the Go-Go started with 752, so we had a song with parts that were 7 beats, then 5 beats, then 2 beats, etc., and the instruments could do anything as long as they hit those beats. This led to the songs being really short, which I thought was funny, it was like a power violence version of Black Flag "Process of Weeding Out", or like a commercial jingle. Because of the nature of improvisation, most improvised music takes a long, stretched-out format, with musicians given the time and space to listen to each other and find their way in the moment. By limiting our output to these short blasts we absolved ourselves of the requirement to listen and respond, which heightened the connection between us.
But we had some longer songs too-- one was a "cover" of the opening music of Hammer Studio's "Horror Of Dracula", which we played as just a list of ponderous orch hits. Another was a game piece based on the music and performance of Chico Marx, where Jim and I each had our own passages where we would try to trick the other person into missing a beat or adding an extra one. At the end of this one ("Chico's Theme") it was possible to tally up the points on each side and see who won, though I don't remember there being any penalty. We also had a warm up song, no rules for that one except loosen up and then tighten up. And we did a few covers in our own way, I remember doing War Pigs, 1983: A Merman I Shall Turn To Be, and at MZ's insistence we learned Louie Louie (a staple among SST bands). Even though one of the purposes of this band was to move beyond language, I thought it best if the shorter "blast format" songs had words, I thought it would make them seem more real. I made a lyrics sheet and handed it out at gigs. I think Anton Bordman did this once, that's probably where I got the idea "lyric sheet at the gig".
This combination of structure and playfulness was really perfect for me. The structure really enabled the playfulness. We never got lost in the jam and I felt like we were playing well together from the first note of the first practice. This is one of the great parts of playing music, this feeling of being locked in step with someone, in the zone, and the feeling is even more extraordinary when the course is only lightly charted but you still stay in step. It's an ecstatic and almost spooky feeling.
We practiced at Collective a Go-Go, a big weird house at the edge of town. I had moved out by then but Jim was living there, and we had a practice room in the barn, just a tiny room where everything sounded great. Prac was always super super fun.
The Go Go was a really fascinating place and it attracted a few pretty different types of utopia-seekers-- classic Anarchists, collegiate radicals, non-profit career people, miscellaneous local weirdos. The demographic skewed young, but one of Jim's newer roommates was older than everyone else, kind of a flowing robes person, and she was really into Tantric spirituality, and kept trying to get the people at the house to watch this "modern approach to Tantra" DVD she got on the subject. No one was picking it up but one day after prac me and Jim, plus Mike Leslie, all piled into the TV room and watched it, in the spirit of "here's a funny trial for us to get through". It was pretty bogus but it ended up being a pretty important piece of thought tech, and I started thinking about the band as "a Tantric band". Thinking about steering into indulgence (in this case an Open Jam methodology) but keeping a clear mind about it, and using the tension between indulgence and austerity as an energy source. Also the tension between punks and hippies, using that. And the tension between new age music/ideas and free jazz. The Straight Edgers fought against indulgence and went towards Krishna Consciousness, Tantra seemed like a viable framework for noisers, who were less rigid but also had more tools at their disposal.
We didn't really roll with this in a heavy way-- I mean we didn't use Sanskrit in anything or wear robes like Shelter, no costumes or posturing, it was mostly just something I thought about. Slingshotting around the sun, using any available energy source. Also I want to reiterate that the source material we were drawing from was this preposterous DVD which was far from a true lineage, and which honestly seemed like people with no contact with music trying to emulate the experience of people who love music when they love music. The DVD talked about "skydancing", which is a "syllabus-free dance" that's just like, moshing for non-punks. It was sort of sad really, but it helped me to list my strengths- I love music, I like to get wild and I have opportunities to do so, I'm openly creative with others, I have ready access to the spirit realm, and I already did a lot of work towards recognizing and breaking from harmful societal convention. I'm with it. If you're interesting in learning more about Tantra, read a book, or better yet, read the wikipedia entry, then figure out if you want to read a book.
We played a small handful of shows, mostly in Worcester. Notable gigs include a ripper at the Hotel Vernon with Sword Heaven, Russian Tsarcasm, and the Rowdy Ones, and at the Yurt at Hampshire College with Jessica Rylan, Tarp, Prom Date / Fernando Diaz, and My White Tee (Matt Mondanile). This last show was embarrassing, as Jessica Rylan (dba "Can't") was my favorite musician for many years and this was the first time she ever saw me play. Also abstract guitar hero Bill Nace was there! Ay yi yi...
Our apex was a weekender with the Dungeoneers and Bone Zone.
reprinted from the blog:
April 2, 2007 6:56 pmI guess that was the last show? I never got a loud enough amp and we never put out a 7". I think Jim actually did get grills with the merch money at Midtown Mall, but I might be imagineering that. I think about Phone Book all the time, it helped me develop a trust in myself, beyond my body and beyond my mind and beyond my self. Also it felt great to be in an incredibly fun band that had only 1 fan! I wrote a few weeks ago about the spiritual utility of playing music for people, it's also wonderful to play music just to play, just for the feeling of playing music. I hope everyone's staying wiggly out there. If anyone out there has a picture of the shirt, please send it to me!
ok, so it wasn't a tour as such, it was two days of shows that we didn't go home during the inbetween of. but there was road food, there was hijinx, we made friends, we made enemies, we stole things, jeez, what more do you want from a tour? me and jim (phone book) made a bunch of merch, and he was right about how having an item with your band's name it really solidifies a band: thursday jim made a bunch of stenciled stuff, like sports bras, painter's jumpsuits, and size 60 men's underwear; friday night we recorded a tape (which i'll post mp3s of here soon, in the style); saturday morning i printed up some really crazy t-shirts- white with a funfetti background and a huge drawing of two duck-headed people having tantric sex. this last item i thought "now i am maybe going finally too far", but i fought the thought, and like almost every time i have that thought and fight it (and win), it went over like candy bars. i'm not trying to be joey hustle, but we ended up selling enough shit with these two shows to get grills, which was a floating-point point in our four-point plan (which includes in this order: get a really loud amp, put out a 7", and go on (a real) tour). ok, so how was the tour itself or the two shows or whatever it was? totally fun.
we planned to leave at "3:00" which was a great move because that meant actually leaving at like 5 and getting to white river junction at like 7. we took two cars, which worked out great. six people, two cars, three bands (two of the people were in two bands each). the show in white river junction was at the main street museum, which is a curiosities museum dedicated to "exploring the margins of alternative curation.". lots of weird artifacts both classically historical and ephemeral, all in nice cases. the town itself none of us could figure out- it seemed like everyone we saw was fairly well-to-do, but how their money came in no one could figure out. all the buildings were nice but there was almost no one on the streets, and when i say no one i mean the streets were poison-gas empty everywhere except the bingo hall. so with these things in mind, i have to say that the turnout was pretty decent. "tito and shark" opened up the night, featuring sam gas can wearing white pants white shoes and a white shirt (to match his ibook?), singing along but mostly just dancing to sample-based songs of his own creation. dungeoneers, phone book, and bone zone all played good. there was a really tiny stage that could only just barely fit the drums, which was cool. there were beers for everyone, people talked to us afterwards, we got some money for gas and what not, it was great. that night we slept over in the museum, which also ruled, as it is totally spooky with lots of taxidermy. at 8:00 in the morning MZ woke us all up playing an ethiopiques CD super loud. we packed up, walked to new hampshire for breakfast, then drove to brattleboro to try and find abby banks, opie, and king tuff.
opie turned out to be pretty hard to find, despite having a picture of him to show people, and as for abby and kt, we had no idea how to even start looking for them (beyond going to their houses, where they weren't), so instead we got a basketball from the car and went to find a hoop. in our aimless wandering we saw a castle high up on the mountain and decided to find it, so basketball in hand we bushwacked through the trees until we were there. i remember talking to jeremy years ago about zen and meditation and all that, and how could you have a path towards a goal that is pathlessness and goallessness?, and his reply was something to the effect of you start along the path but the path gets hazy or becomes pleasingly impossible to discern. anyway if you want to have a good gooning afternoon, i recommend getting a prop and trying to find a way to use it, and let yourself get distracted, but don't let yourself lose the prop.
anyway, having brought the basketball up the mountain, we waited at the castle until totally creeped-out kids showed up, then we asked them where a hoop was. of course, us being in the middle of the woods and them being kids, the directions were pretty vague, something like "follow the footprints until you get to a road, then it's that road", but it seemed sincere, and not "just go away". naturally the path through the woods diverged in a million ways, but having nowhere really to go, we didn't stress, and quickly found ourselves at, lo and behold, our destination- a basketball hoop (and not the one the kid tried to point us to, which we found later by accident and which wasn't really a basketball hoop). we shot hoops for a little while until we realized that we were all terrible at traditional basketball, at which point the game became shooting with style from midcourt and "getting it close". when this got old we went around the park getting the ball stuck in trees and then getting it out, and when we decided we should leave, we hucked the basketball in the direction we thought we should go, found it, hucked it, found it, hucked it, etc.. at around 3 we got back in the car and made our way to hampshire college in amherst, arriving a good 4 hours early for the show.
we hung out in the cafeteria for a good 2 hours eating a ton of food and trying to get people to go to the show, then met up with our contact (emma, the only phone book fan) and gooned around campus a bit before setting up. josh tumble cat was going to play with us, but he had to cancel, so emma got a local math rock band to fill in.
in addition to borrowing some of our gear (which is fine, but what's with arriving at a show expecting to borrow gear?), they took a really long time to set up, meaning lots of people getting aggravated waiting for the show to start (some of whom left), which combined with the fact that them and all their friends left as soon as they were done meant way less people around than if we had just all played first, which we should've done. the other thing about this band is that while they were playing we were really having a good time. we were dancing, we were having fun, we were positive movement, we were hyjinx, we were playing basketball, and i think they read this as a sign of disrespect. seriously, no harshing on the band, then or now- you were playing music, we were having music-enabled fun at no one's expense.
anyway, after they played, dungeoneers went on, with everyone shouting "dungeoneers!" at the end of every song, jamie waving a large bread knife in lieu of a sword, and their knight costumes all dirty and gross and authentic. phone book played in the middle, and i gave a little speech about tantra, "sky dancing", and positive movement, and how if you move a little bit, even just flexing your toes inside your shoes, you will appreciate live music better. kind of an apologia / explanation to the first band. anyway despite the fact that telling an audience to dance is an inexorable faux pas, it worked, and while we played those remaining went bananas. at one point in the set i looked up and people were forming a human pyramid! i was psyched. bone zone closed it down with a blistering set, hampered by the fact that the acoustics where we were playing (the dining hall) were less than perfect.
after the show we gave away tapes to anyone left, hung out a while while running out the momentum of our goof-off vibe, and headed home. We loaded out through the kitchen and Jim stole a 50lb bag of mozzerella. 2007 forever!
Links / misc
- "Unlock The Inner Flute", on Archive.org: [link]. This is the whole tape, but also included is another mix of the tape with the guitar in one speaker and the drums in the other, so you can learn the riffs and play along (ala the first Ramones LP).
- opening sequence of Horror Of Dracula [youtube]
- Chico Marx at the piano: from "The Big Store" [youtube], from "A Night At The Opera" [youtube]
- Anton Bordman live in 2002. It warms my heart to see Melissa #1 and CF in the front row!!! [youtube]
- Vampire Belt LP [youtube]
- Vampire Belt live at the schoolhouse 2005 [youtube]
- Horse Spirit Penetrates live [youtube]
- Jessica Rylan "extraordinary" [youtube]
- Bone Zone "Perching on the Beam" - I'm happy this crazy website is still up! [link]
- Terribles "In Congreſs" - for the record, the Terribles also did the phone number trick, but I think we separately came to the same conclusion. Their record with Matt's mom's phone number embedded in one of the songs came out in 2008 but I believe was in the works for years. via greg's blog: [link]
- Albert Ayler "Vibrations" - I listened to a lot of jazz music on the radio as a kid and came to think of it as just car music, then in my 20s I decided to seek out the weird stuff that I knew was in there, and the only way I could think to get started was to just start buying records. Luckily I went in alphabetical order! This is the first one I got, which blew the top of my head off. [youtube]
- After A for Ayler I went to B and got an Anthony Braxton record. I think I got "For Alto" in the used CD section at Newbury Comics? Another huge record. Also a shocking use of the Cooper Black font! [youtube]
- Cro Mags "Age of Quarrel" LP - not really a Krishna record but sort of an early point where SXE started getting influenced by Krishna consciousness. the title is a translation of Kali Yuga. [youtube]. Kali Yuga on wikipedia: [wp]
- wikipedia "Syllabus-free Dance": [wp]
- Mattin-Bower "A New Form Of Beauty" (1975) [youtube]. Mattin's Theses on Noise (2006) lays it out nicely: "The old conception of Noise was to believe in freedom; the new conception of Noise is to achieve freedom. This is noise with a higher aim, this is noise as utopian ideal."
- Wikipedia: Tantra - [wp]
- Black Flag "Process of Weeding Out" [youtube]
- Ornette Coleman "Free Jazz" [youtube]