Monday, September 12, 2005

The captive, pushed and shoved, was given leather boxing-gloves

Handler: What other songs do you get in your head?
Merritt: There are two things that I always, for decades, have gotten stuck in my head while walking down the street. One of them is a beautiful song by the Red Krayola, "Plekhanov:" "Neither anticipation / nor fulfillment / is realistic / in dialectic / Who's learned the language of the Internationale? / Our conversation / for seventeen years / has volunteered / Plekhanov / a priori / Who's learned the language of the Internationale? / Who was ever disowned by his Granma?"

Handler: What's the other song?
Merritt: The jingle for Bumble Bee tuna: "Yum, yum Bumble Bee / Bumble Bee tuna / I love Bumble Bee / Bumble Bee tuna..."

Handler: I always get "Dude Looks Like A Lady" stuck in my head.
Merritt: I love that song.

Continuing on with another band on Rough Trade, we have the Red Crayola (later changed to "Krayola" due to obvious legal reasons), a ridiculously diverse and inventive outfit centered around the singer/songwriter/artist Mayo Thompson. The group started out in the late 60s playing freaky, noodly psychedelic rock, but later recordings, while still experimental and challenging, aren't as easy to place into a certain time period. Thompson also mined subjects such as art, political history, philosophy, and psychology for his pointedly non-rock, non-pop lyrics. His fascinating songs earned him a spot on Merritt's short list of "best contemporary lyricists in English" in Chickfactor #12.

In the 70s, Thompson began collaborating with Art & Language, a collective formed in Great Britain in the late 60s that focused on conceptual art. Together, they made three albums: Collected Slogans (1976), Kangaroo? (1981), and Black Snakes (1983). Kangaroo?, which was released on Rough Trade, featured an amazing line-up of post-punk musicians: Gina Birch from the Raincoats, Lora Logic and Ben Annesley from Essential Logic, Epic Soundtracks from Swell Maps, and Allen Ravenstine from Pere Ubu. It's an incredible album, one that is constantly shifting and sounds fresh upon repeated listens, and although the lyrics are plainly written out, the unifying themes (Communism, language, Gestalt theory, and others) make it somewhat of a puzzle. This week, two songs from Kangaroo? are featured: "Plekhanov," cited above, and the opening track, "Kangaroo?" which was played by Merritt on WFMU when he was a guest DJ on February 25, 2000 (RealAudio stream here - "Kangaroo?" starts at 22:16).

Thompson was busy as a producer during the late 70s and early 80s, and he even served as Rough Trade's label manager for a little while. Still, the Red Krayola continued making making music through the 80s, and in the early-to-mid 90s, the band teamed up with Drag City Records, facilitated by huge Krayola fan David Grubbs, which released new Red Krayola releases and also re-issued a considerable amount of their backcatalog. And to this day, they're playing live shows; this page shows details for performances in Chicago and California in the upcoming weeks.

And if you're wondering about the Bumble Bee tuna jingle, go here for a sound file and an unbearably cute TV commercial from the 70s.

The Red Crayola with Art & Language - "Kangaroo?"
The Red Crayola with Art & Language - "Plekhanov"


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