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For many, the “line in the sand” regarding Half Japanese is this: by all accounts the Fair brothers were intelligent, able-bodied fellows who made the decision not to learn how to play their instruments in accordance with any convention. They understood what they were doing and chose to bash away senselessly, and, the way I see it, they made some great noise as a result. This is too much for some to take; had the band been afflicted with cerebral palsy their fan base might differ immensely.
I always find this to be an interesting argument (alongside its cousin, “anybody can do that,” regarding Pollock, Half Jap, and pretty much anything else that’s cool) that somehow manages to create an alternate universe in which the connoisseur is able to not only react to the object itself, but can also know and highly value the artist’s aspirations in making it. Is Jandek any worse if he’s just a regular guy? These are silly questions that avoid what is ultimately important in aesthetic matters—is it any good? To put one argument to rest, “Calling All Girls” is as good as it gets.
That said, I’m a fair man and I recognize that not all Terminal-Boredom readers are with me on these philosophical issues. Rather than alienate a portion of the audience I have decided to unite us all by sharing a band that is most likely retarded and most definitely did not intend to sound as they do. Ladies and gentlemen, the fabulous Afterbirth.
Afterbirth’s “Who’s In There?” EP is a misanthropic gem featuring seven lo-fi, ineptly played teen hate anthems. As songs clumsily chug along, each member playing at his own pace, the vocalist bitterly attacks his classmates. I have no trouble believing that these boys had a hard time fitting in up in Tawas City, MI (three hours north of Detroit on the Saginaw Bay). Dressed in their most sinister for the album photo shoot, the Afterbirth fellows are a memorable sight, and while I don’t suspect they wore their hoods on class picture day, I can’t imagine this bunch meshing very well with their prom going peers (incidentally, if anyone from Tawas High can produce pictures of Scumbag at his prom, I’d gladly fork over some dough for a print).
The big question inevitably asked by anyone who spends some time with “Who’s In There?” is “what were they thinking?” Though the band’s outfits are pure heavy metal, the music itself is too sparse, sluggish, and, well, punk to match. Were Afterbirth merely unsuccessful metalheads? (About those outfits—Celestial, on bass, is decked in snakeskin tights, a belly-button low cut leotard, elbow length gloves, and a bandana over his face; Scumbag, the guitarist, has an odd facemask, but is otherwise fairly normal with his sleeveless denim vest and studded choker; drummer Kaos is shirtless and hooded wielding a giant axe). Clearly, the band wasn’t completely isolated in Northern Michigan since they thank quite a few zines (including Factsheet Five). Also worth mentioning is the thanks to “Mike Moore (for an unbiased opinion)” — it’d be interesting if this referred to the documentarian of the same name, who edited a weekly in Michigan roughly around the same time (if so, I hope he gave ‘em four stars).
The three songs that comprise the first side of the record plod along just fine — a memorable, if brief, solo in "Sixteen" an ode to a mysterious edible in "All I Want Is Two"(“Coming down the hall / It’s all you ever eat / I’ll tell ya hey dude / the taste can’t be beat”); etc—however it’s not until flipping the record that this one really steps up to the plate. The one-two punch that starts side two is as killer a four minute stretch as anything recorded within walking distance of the Great Lakes since the first Die Kreuzen LP.
The Afterbirth players each step up a notch on "Mr. Louis". The vocals are angrier, the cymbal bashing a little more pronounced, and the thuggish guitar riff is the best on the record. The song is the only to give lyric writing credits to both Celestial and Scumbag, which is proof positive the teamwork pays off. I imagine many arduous study hall periods to perfect the chorus: “I spit a goober / In Mr. Louis’ Coke / He drank it down / and he began to choke / I wish you’d keel over / and die / Burn in Hell / You faggot french fry *.” I normally get a little queasy when homophobia creeps into my music—and this tune is nothing if not one long disparaging outing of Mr. Lou—but “faggot french fry” is far too inventive to get worked up about. Following the second delivery of the chorus Scumbag makes one of the more unusual and inspired decisions committed to wax by soloing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” If his parents’ had any doubt that they’d wasted their money on his guitar lessons, this move is proof positive that it was money well spent.
Although there is no “Mr. Louis” currently listed in the Tawas High directory , my initial guess was that he was on staff back in ‘88. Closer inspection of the lyrics, however, does not reveal much insight into Mr. Louis’ true identity. Would it be appropriate to command a teacher to “run home / to you mommy and eat some / cheese and salami?” That seems more like a direction for a classmate. Whoever he is, I feel that Lou deserves a ‘thank you’ for his role as the muse to one of the most ridiculous songs I’ve ever heard.
"You're The Cheese" which follows, is the most sonically aggressive song on the EP. Its revved up, repetitive riff ultimately explodes with a dizzying guitar solo and a gnarly “Aargh.” Our men cram a lot of lines into a minute and a half here with a non-stop vocal delivery, but there’s much to be said about the cheese. I feel that I’m over-quoting lyrics, but they’re just too good to leave out: “In my sandwich you put / a piece of football tape / So I spit on your car a wad / of something grape” and “You’re no good even though / you’re Swiss American”.
Side two closes out with two more tracks, the out of tune, out of time "The Cool Tavern" and "Who's In There?", a brief skit in which a piss break is interrupted by an attempt to open a door and an angry, pro-wrestler sounding voice asking, “Who’s In There?” (actually, it sounds more like “Meow, meow, meow, who’s in there?” but unless the cat was potty trained I don’t think the piss track sounds quite right for that).
As far as I know, the band released just this one, hard to find, record before calling it a day, but facts are hard to come by. Did the band change names and morph into a popular metal band? Did they break up so the members could head off to school and pursue their doctorates? Is Scumbag offering guitar lessons to the kids of Tawas City? Maybe the mystery and speculation is part of the fun.* In the event that Mr. Louis was an English teacher I’d like to note that the band properly punctuated the possessive in describing the Coke; this has always been a tricky bit of grammar for students, so well done.
In my initial column here I wrote about a record from Austin by The Nubees. Shortly after, I decided it’d be fun to attempt to track down scans of as many of those unique record sleeves as possible. So far the count is up to 9 out of 45 records (with another couple hopefully coming soon). Got a copy? Please send a scan/photo of the cover and labels, along with your number. You can find this in the “Track the Nubees” section of www.nostages.com., which will also, eventually, have a bunch more photos, writing, discographies, and other random crap on it.
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These MP3s are intended for educational purposes and to allow people to hear songs from rare and/or hopelessly out of print records. If you're an artist or label behind one of these recordings and you want an MP3 taken down, please contact the editor at termibore-at-aoldotcom.
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