Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

detail from a collage poem, 1983.

For a long time it’s struck me that when a beloved arty rocker goes bad, or a beloved bad-ass rocker goes bad, it is much more of a bummer than when a beloved pop singer goes bad. The pop singer asks for no investment in their image. An arty rocker and a bad-ass rocker both ask for special recognition of their persona -- artist or bad-ass -- and when they betray that image, it affects the perception of their earlier stuff too. At least for me. At least for a while.

Talking Heads were one of the arty rockers who affected me that way. I loved their early albums as they came out, and my band in high school covered “Psycho Killer” for years. Speaking in Tongues was their last terrific album, if not quite as fabulous as Remain in Light,

For Speaking in Tongues, the band got Robert Rauschenberg to design a Limited Edition version of the album, to be sold at a higher price. I was a Rauschenberg and a Talking Heads fan, but it never occurred to me to cough up the extra money.

The Limited Edition was a bad sign. It sold a taste of the exclusivity of the Fine Art Market, at a middle-class price. (I don’t remember what the price was.) What does that have to do with rock and roll? I can’t deny that it’s a variety of pop -- snobbery sells -- but I still don’t like it.

My old friend Jay has a comment to last night’s post on Rauschenberg, an anecdote about when he worked as a mover for the artist. It’s funny, because I had been thinking of soliciting Jay to share a reminiscence about Speaking in Tongues. As I recall the story, Jay and his friend Mike Edison had gone to Tower Records and stood in line for an hour when head Head David Byrne and Rauschenberg were there to sign the Limited Editions. But instead of buying the record and asking for an autograph, Jay and Mike brought a camera, and asked David Byrne to take their picture. To Byrne’s credit, he laughed, and took the picture. (I never saw the picture.)

I had met Mike during an epic visit to New York to visit Jay my sophomore year, Jay’s freshman year at NYU. An indelibly memorable encounter happened that trip, which maybe I’ll write about some day, but one result was that I finished reading a book about Rauschenberg, which inspired me to make a collage poem about the trip. Included in the collage was a note that Mike had left for Jay in his dorm mailbox,



With a drawing, by Mike, of the Captain and Tennille. I must have asked Jay if I could keep the note as a memento.

I called Jay to ask him if he might be interested in writing about having his picture taken by David Byrne. He said that he didn’t remember the story well enough. He told me that Mike had recently published a memoir,
I Have Fun Everywhere I Go: Savage Tales of Pot, Porn, Punk Rock, Pro Wrestling, Talking Apes, Evil Bosses, Dirty Blues, American Heroes, and the Most Notorious Magazines in the World. (He worked for Screw and High Times.) I never met Mike again, but I always remembered him, partly because I had included that note he left Jay in my collage poem, and partly because of that David Byrne story.

Tonight in my email is a mass email from a publicist who found my blog, telling me that Mike Edison is doing a reading from his book in Seattle Wednesday night. I’d love to go, but I have to work late and won’t be able to make it.

Funny world.

Later that year -- sophomore year -- a bunch of people in the dorm decided to put out a literary journal, and my collage poem went in it. We decided to custom make all of the covers, divvying them up among the dozen or so contributors. I stayed up all night making my covers, in my single dorm room, the first room I ever had to myself, having shared a room with my brother growing up, and having shared a room freshman year too. On one cover -- inspired, again, by Rauschenberg -- I glued a full bottle of beer. I gave that copy to my poetry teacher, the terrific Ken Mikolowski. I’m sure he drank the beer.

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