Dennes ‘D’ Boon of seminal punk rock trio the Minutemen is often quoted as stating that “punk rock is whatever we made it to be.” It is a credo that his best friend and fellow Minuteman Mike Watt has embraced to the fullest in his lifetime, even more so after a brush with death at the turn of the new millennium fostered an even more concerted effort to defy convention with his music. After documenting his illness and return to health through an ‘opera’ that allegorized his struggle with Dante’s Inferno and releasing last year’s Hyphenated Man, inspired by the Hieronymous Bosch painting Garden Of Earthly Delights, Watt’s clenchedwrench label is releasing Spielgusher, a mash-up of jams Watt recorded in Japan with his now-cohorts in brother’s sister’s daughter paired with a series of spoken word pieces from renowned writer Richard Meltzer.
Meltzer is a figure who casts a large shadow in the world of Watt. As youngsters, Boon and Watt adored Meltzer’s Hepcats from Hell radio show and devoured his writings in Creem and L.A Weekly. That he wrote lyrics for Blue Öyster Cult sealed the deal for the Pedro corndogs. The admiration ended up a mutual one. Meltzer was taken with the Minutemen, dubbing the band “Scientist Rock” in Creem and striking up a rapport with the trio. In 1985 Meltzer suggested a collaboration wherein the band would write music to ten sets of lyrics he would provide. The band was over the moon at the prospect, but the collaboration was forever stymied when d. boon was killed in a tragic van accident the day after the band took receipt of the lyrics.
Watt’s brush with death fostered a burst of activity and the unfinished business with Meltzer was prioritized. A project called Spielgusher was proposed where Watt would finally write music to the scribe’s spoken word pieces. Meltzer agreed and passed on forty-eight short pieces he had recorded in 2004. Watt undertook two aborted efforts in the ensuing years, but neither project properly encapsulated Watt’s feelings for the Meltzer pieces. 2008 found Watt recording for three days in Tokyo with Japanese duo Mi-Gu, spawning a whopping sixty-five extemporaneous tracks. The pieces recorded with Yuko Araki on drums and Hirotaka Shimizu on guitars would serve as the musical bed for Spielgusher.
Spielgusher is a sprawling piece of work, sorting out at sixty-three tracks in total. Solo Meltzer pieces demarcate the beginning and middle and end of things. Fourteen purely instrumental tracks are peppered throughout, with the remaining forty-six amalgams of the two. The tracks rarely overstate their welcome, with only a single track (charmingly, a collabo track called “Fuck My Sister”) approaching the three minute mark. The lion’s share is much shorter, but even as a long time Watt-o-phile, the prospect of an hour combining perhaps my two least favorites things in life: that being improv music and spoken word, evoked horrible visions of the worst of William Shatner beat poetry. Truth be told, even after clinging desperately to the fact that Meltzer wrote “Burnin’ For You” for Blue Öyster Cult, it took three or four personal runs through Spielgusher before Meltzer became less of a ranting Dennis Hopper figure and more a part of the greater musical picture. Those with sensitive dispositions should be forewarned that Meltzer covers a heady litany of topics on Spielgusher that include, but are by no means limited to: his penis, pre-menstrual cunnilingus, excrement, masturbation, underwear and incestual sex with his sister.
Musically, Spielgusher may very well be Watt’s best work since his heyday in the Minutemen. Even by Watt collaboration standards, his musical cohorts are top-notch: Araki is an amazing drummer, laying down bedrock solid foundations for Watt and Shimizu to launch angular soundscapes from and Shimizu is a truly gifted player in the Cline and Beck school, never overstating himself. Watt is in fine form and harmonically, as you might expect, the Spielgusher melodies are as equally driven by bass as they are guitar. Huge props are due to Watt and Shimizu on the production and engineering end as well. All of the tracks were recorded in a small rehearsal space by Shimizu, who later mixed each of the tracks to sparkling perfection on the same workstation. Back in San Pedro, Watt melded each Meltzer piece to the instrumentals and sequenced the entire proceedings to something very close to perfection. Spielgusher is an amazing achievement, as impressive musically as it is sonically and artistically. Many go an entire career without releasing a record that even comes close to excelling in either of the three criteria, props are due to Watt, Meltzer, Araki and Shimizu for achieving greatness in all of them.
// Notes from the Road
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