The Secondman’s Middle Stand is Mike Watt’s new song-cycle based on his recent brush with death. To be more exact, his recent brush with a burst abscess in the perineum. Now I’m no doctor, but the description of his descent into illness as laid out by Watt himself in “Boilin’ Blazes” (eyeball poppin’ fevers, bouts of delirium, etc.) led me to believe that this was an upstairs problem, but a quick check on Google revealed that this is a downstairs problem, a decidedly downstairs problem. All I can say is, Mike, I feel for ya’. You’ve done too much good to go out like that.
But, thankfully, he didn’t go out. Instead, with the help of Pete Mazich on Hammond B3 Organ and Jerry Trebotic on drums, Watt and his amazing bass have given us a rock opera detailing his descent into illness, the humiliation of the resulting course of treatment, and his eventual recovery. Despite the record’s sometimes heavy-handed reliance on prog-rock theatrics, the overall impression is one of catharsis. Watt has come out the other side changed and grateful, but still very much himself.
The record begins with the aforementioned “Boilin’ Blazes”, which borders on Arthur Brown “God of Hellfire” territory with Watt battling the urge to “surrender all hope.” To be honest, the wash of organ sustain and thundering drum fills left me a little queasy at first, but my interest in the back story pulled me through. And much to my pleasant surprise, the decidedly sunnier “Puked to High Heaven” was worth the effort. The song’s wave of warm organ tones and gospel-tinged chorus place it somewhere in the neighborhood of a good mid-‘70s the Band track, which is particularly fitting given that Watt’s voice sounds its gritty best somewhere in the Helm/Danko/Manuel range. Soon enough, the prog chaos comes roaring back on “Burstedman”, but the idea of Watt addressing himself on the brink of death as he considers the real chance that he might soon be joining his father and D. Boon in great beyond is downright chilling.
The cataloging of the treatment quickly commences, most notably with “Pissbags and Tubing”, a refrain that the band somehow makes both endearing and catchy, and on the drone-y noodling of “Beltsandedman” with its gruesome descriptions concerning the yanking of the “dicktube” and the painful passing of the “golf ball bead”. Once again, Mike, I’m real sorry this had to happen.
Recovery begins with the exultant first lines of “The Angels Gate”: “I’ve been bassless too long / Hankerin’ bad to strap one on / Jonesin’ to jam out a song.” The explosive release of energy places the listener firmly in the wave of catharsis. “Pluckin’, Pedalin’ and Paddlin’” marks Watt’s warmest turn at the mic as well as his warmest sentiments for a life of simple thinking and enjoying the rhythm of the day. A sentiment that slowly bends and swirls its way back into the womb amid the psychedelics of “Pelicanman.” Healin’ hurts, people, Watt said it himself on “Pissbags and Tubing”; there’s no way around it. He’s done his share throughout the course of his life. He can jam his bass for me anytime. He’s earned the right.