Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Incredibly Strange

When I was a teenager in the late 80s, I remember seeing my first copy of Re/Search Magazine. It was the classic W.S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Throbbing Gristle issue. In one small biannual, I was exposed for the first time to cut-up poetics, the dreamachine and extreme industrial music. This was like a sampler pack of the most vibrant, confrontational alternative art forms around.

In the 80s, for many people in smaller communities Rocky Horror Picture Show was their first glimpse into a freak world. A reassurance that they were not alone. An invitation to a larger, more colorful party. For me, living in a small midwestern Canadian city, Re/Search was a grittier version of this correspondence - more like a clipped-letter ransom note from a Lower East Side postal code.

(While I was pretty clueless when it came to culture, I was fortunate to have an expert guide in my friend Chris Olson. He introduced me to Re/Search, among many other cool things like local punk bands, xeroxed fanzine writers, and playing hooky at the art gallery.)

Several years later, Re/Search put out a couple of volumes entitled Incredibly Strange Music. These were somewhat more accessible, mainstream catalogues that came out during the height of the exotica & lounge revival. They highlighted the careers of once-popular, now-obscure entertainers such as Rusty Warren and Esquivel, and interviewed contemporary artists like Jell-o Biafara whose extensive, eclectic, record collections influence their own eccentric output. In some cases, like Esquivel, exposure in these volumes led to a critical and popular revival.

At the time these books came out, I was in an up-and-coming pop band. We had a lot of momentum and an eye on mainstream commercial success, but I was feeling a bit stifled by the parameters of the form. What struck me most about the artists featured in Incredibly Strange Music was the freedom of their absolute originality. Sometimes it was self-aware and defiant, and sometimes it was naive - perhaps even slightly autistic. I envied that. And while I don't recall specifically trying to emulate these artists, it's clear that Rusty Warren and Esquivel were both early influences on The Wet Spots.

Today, the Incredibly Strange Music torch is being carried by a website called The Weirdest Band in the World. Recently, the author proposed The Wet Spots as candidates for that title. I am truly honored, and I recommend you follow the link to that page. Because, you know, his final decision is based on page traffic :).