In A Car by Jeff Schroeck

I owe a lot to Guitar World magazine. I started playing guitar in late ’92, and  Guitar World’s transcriptions not only taught me how to play songs but also helped me suss out a rudimentary, hacked-and-cobbled together form of theory. Its Punk issue, the one with the Sex Pistols parody cover and an article about DIY record making, came out just weeks after I first bought Nevermind The Bollocks and London Calling, cementing in my head that this thing I was starting to get into, punk, was legit. I’d play my first show later that year, the band playing covers of songs whose riffs I’d learned from its main article.

Jeff riffing out with The Ergs, opening up for Descendents 12.02.17 (Photo courtesy Michelle Rose)

Two years later, summer, waiting for high school to start, I got the latest issue of the magazine. (In my memory I’d staked out the postman, ripped it out of his hands, and run back inside.) 311 are on the cover, kicking for some reason. Inside are the usual advertisements and sections, David L. Burg’s Perfect Pitch system and a Guitar Sam comic. I don’t remember the rest, having lost it years ago.

I flipped through it, skimming, until I got to one of the minor articles, a five or six page feature on Black Flag. I knew of them from Nirvana biographies and that the “Liar” guy was in the band. What hooked me, though, was the Glen E. Friedman picture of the band in Mike Muir’s garage, the one with Bill’s drums huge in the background and Henry Rollins arcing sideways with the microphone in his mouth. I hadn’t heard of house shows yet, but it looked like the most intense experience, more so than any I’d had in the crummy clubs I’d been playing.

July 1997 (History of Black Flag) and January 1995 (Punk Guitar) Issues of Guitar World Magazine.

 I read the article and needed to hear what this band sounded like. I went to Vintage Vinyl in Fords, NJ and got Damaged on cassette. (The other record I got that day was the first Crass record, the one with the censored song I read about in George Gimarc’s Punk Diary.) I put the tape into our gray, mono kitchen radio and blasted it. After the initial shock of the guy from The Chase singing a fast punk song, I dug it, a lot. I listened a bunch more, though quietly now that people were home.

As I listened I looked at the J-card. It didn’t have any information besides band and song credits, but there was a catalog for the label. Looking through that I found a few bands whose CDs and tapes I already had: Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth. My brother hipped me to Hüsker Dü and the Watt bands, though the closest I’d come to hearing them by then were “Against The 70s” and Sugar’s “Your Favorite Thing.”

I thought it was way cool that all of them were connected beyond just being Alt-Rock bands mentioned in Nirvana books. I needed to hear these records. My mom gave me twenty-one bucks to get a money order, and I sent in my first SST order: Zen Arcade, Paranoid Time, the two Dinosaur Jr. singles, and Meat Puppets’ In A Car.

SST 044 Meat Puppets "In A Car"

 They are all great records; I’ve given them a ton of spins over the years, and I made several more SST orders that summer and fall. But the one that stands out when I think of the full scope of SST’s willingness to get way far out, is the Meat Puppets record. It’s in the same way as their first full length, but I like it a lot more. It may be its shorter length—Meat Puppets I is too much chaotic thrash at once. I could never get into Land Speed Record for the same reason. Hearing this record at this time was a giant leap for me. I knew Backwater, We Don’t Exist, and the Nirvana Unplugged songs. I’d listened to Too High To Die a few years earlier but didn’t quite get it (“They do country music??”), but now, as I was about to enter high school, I thought I was ready to try them again.

Young Pups.

 The record starts off with Cris Kirkwood playing a standard “gung ga-gung ga-gung” bass riff, but this lasts only two bars before the rest of the band comes in. Curt plays power chords with open strings, similar to Bob Mould but looser and less processed. It’s a step away from the straight, steady picking of The Ramones and Sex Pistols, or even Greg Ginn, who, when not going off into outer space, kept his chording tight. And then the verse starts. Curt plays a single note guitar line that wouldn’t sound out of place as the lead voice in a shuffling, mid-tempo instrumental. It’s fast and dirty here, though, and combined with a screeching, desperate vocal, it creates an exciting chaos.

Big House starts with fast oom-pah drums. You think you’re going to get something like a State of Alert song. Instead, you get clean, twangy, country pickin’, but thrash-speed. The Kirkwoods are great players this early on, but on this one they sound like they’re being pushed to their limit, like the song started slow and they kept yelling “faster!” at each other. And there’s more of the off-key caterwauling that will help define the band, positively and (I figure mostly) negatively until II.

They open the next song with the same drumbeat, except it’s even faster! It builds in intensity on top of the previous intro, which sounds good on record, where there’s a side break, but sounds better on a CD, where it can jump right from one to the other. It’s the song most like standard hardcore on here (unless you count the closer, Foreign Lawns, which is straight thrash that feels composed-in-real-time like Spray Paint The Walls.) Yet, they still find space in the song for a chopping, clean-toned bridge.

The instrumental, Out In The Gardener, is not as smooth and groovy as a later instrumental like Aurora Borealis; it’s more agitated. It’s bouncy and boppy, but dissonant, though it’s not the jazzy flatted 5ths &7ths of Greg Ginn or Joe Baiza. The label would make weirdo guitar music a focus in the late eighties, with guys like Elliot Sharp, Henry Kaiser, and Glenn Phillips (whose Elevator is a Top 5 SST release for me!) The guitar on this song is a hint of what is going to happen to the label by the end of the decade; at that point the Meat Puppets will have moved on and will be doing their synthetic psychedelic & ZZ Top-core records.

I still have all of the original records I got in that first order, though I quickly replaced my Damaged cassette with an LP. I wish, for sentimental reasons, I still had that tape, but I didn’t know at the time that the label would so wholly consume my brain for the better part of the next decade, and didn’t think of it as a keepsake.

Jeff Schroeck is a writer and musician living in Central New Jersey with his wife and daughter. He plays guitar and sings, currently in Character Actor and formerly in The Ergs! and Black Wine. He has fiction in Cabildo Quarterly and a recent essay in Razorcake. Some days he prefers fIREHOSE to the Minutemen; other days it’s the opposite.

Jeff on Twitter: @jeffschroeck

Meat Puppets 
The Ergs!
Black Wine 
Character Actor/Dirt Cult Records 
Cabildo Quarterly 


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