Music

The Confounding Case of Charlie Megira

A retrospective detailing Charlie Megira's releases throughout the years in light of Numero Group's recent reissues.

The End of Teenage
Charlie Megira

Numero Group

15 February 2019

Da Abtomatic Meisterzinger Mambo Chic
Charlie Megira

Numero Group

15 February 2019

Charlie Megira speaks in cryptic poetry, a key lacking any sort of forgotten, faraway lock. For a cult favorite among thousands of Internet personas, YouTube revelers, and record label archivists, information about Charlie's background is characterized by an aching absence, endless echoes of empty space. A quick search renders the task futile, with writers from the early 2010's desperately attempting to squeeze his works into places they understand ("garage rock, art noise, 1950s rock, 2050s roll, shoegaze, experimental experiments against nature, inside out jazz, soundtrack music, ambient strangeness, punk, and the guitar parts on the manliest Smiths records…"). Of course, they all flounder hopelessly, but seem to enjoy the thrill of trying to keep their heads above water.

This article is yet another exercise in floundering, because when Charlie Megira's involved, there's no other option. His music defies the logic of genre, a claim we've all heard ad nauseam, nestled in every press release on the planet, but in the case of Charlie Megira it's not cause for celebration; it just Is. His interview responses defied the comfortable patterns of communication. His outfit choices defied the fashion laws delineated by decade, weather, and time of day. In short, Charlie was a comet of chaos loosely molded into the shape of a musician.

Born and raised in the Beit She'an Valley of Israel in the early '70s, Charlie came across his first Eko guitar in his late 20s, teaching himself how to play after finding God in a few tattered Elvis records. Originally releasing Da Abtomatic Meisterzinger Mambo Chic in 2001, the record mostly hopped along undetected, existing only in the dustiest record stores of the new millennium. Honey-like, warm and orange-hued, the eight tracks stream along in a dazzling shower of slow surf rock, soft rockabilly, and distorted soda shop shadows. He concocted song titles like "The Girl Who Was Afraid of Ashtrays", and "The Death Dance of the Busty Hot Lifeguard Instructor Babe". He crafted a secret realm, stitching together the tastiest pieces of music's past with a fringe-like daydream future, all while the world around him fell in love with the glistening hyper-production of the three-minute pop song. Charlie wasn't ahead of his time; he existed somewhere outside of it.

Then came his collaborations involving the Hefker Girl, of which no information or artifacts can be found other than a low-resolution image of a blonde woman in a vampiric wedding gown. Their 2003 release, פראגמנטים רוקנ'רוליים (Rock n' Roll Fragments), retained much of the same aching sundown dreaminess as Da Abtomatic Meisterzinger Mambo Chic. Unlike the comfortable steel guitar drenched tunes of Santo & Johnny, however, the duo fosters a mounting intensity within the sprinkling of the 25 "fragments". There's an anxious, peddling desperation present, as if Charlie's escape is failing to hold its structure around him. Instead of letting this approaching disintegration stifle and choke, Charlie and the Hefker Girl had other ideas. Enter shoegaze.

While at first bewildering, the band's mad dash from 1950s goth rock towards shoegaze isn't all that unexpected. Both avenues feature a relaxed basking in the tearing-apart of steady arrangements and form. While in some ways a Cure-revival outfit that wouldn't become commonplace in the indie world until four years later, 2006's Charlie Megira und the Hefker Girl relies upon the sugar sweet riffs that catapulted the likes of Robert Smith, Edwyn Collins, and Lawrence to at least a cult form of success. This time joined by a moderately sized backing band, there's a sense that Charlie is giving up some of his mystery for translation's sake. He hadn't quite discovered if it was possible to retain the secrecy that was (at least publicly) such a part of his identity, while sharing the creative process with others. Still, he never again made his way back to the solitary universe of solo recordings on the four-track.

In the autumn of 2013, Oakland's Guitars and Bongos label released Love Police by Charlie Megira & The Modern Dance club. Again switching band members, ostensibly because Charlie had left his home in Tel Aviv for Berlin, the Modern Dance Club combines the acidic fizzling of shoegaze with the heavy burning of garage rock, all while revisiting the cerebral wanderings of his early work in teasing spurts. He carried this sound through to his last creations with the Bet She'an Valley Hillbillies, who steadily began to stumble upon inklings of worldwide success. Playing summer festivals in Europe and America, and even carrying out a US tour in 2014, surfacing fans hinted that the world was finally starting to come around to Charlie Megira's puzzling idiosyncrasies, from his rapidly evolving records to his lonestar greaser persona. It was precisely at the moment that he was coming upon the recognition he deserved that he passed away at the age of 44.

This year, Chicago's Numero Group reissued The End of Teenage and Da Abtomatic Meisterzinger Mambo Chic, two bookends of a life's work from an artist whose extreme secrecy was somehow more genuine than it was esoteric. Charlie's particular dose of reality, far less powerful than what most of us take, wasn't a response to a fear of misunderstanding or a blunt scheme to mystify. It was simply an honest echo from his private dimension. So who exactly is Charlie Megira? In his own words, which are the only ones that could hope to decipher his singular untranslatable universe: "A sun that shines backwards."

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