Monday, April 25, 2005

Random Records: Bongwater

Craig randomly grabs a record from his shelf and shares his deepest thoughts and feelings.

Bongwater: Double Bummer (1988)

Bongwater is the brainchild of Shimmydisc founder and former Shockabilly bassist Kramer (that's Mark Kramer, who came after Wayne and before Kosmo). While living and working in New York, he struck up a friendship with performance artist/actress Ann Magnuson, and with the help of various musician friends over the next 7 years, they recorded a handful of albums. Double Bummer is their second release and a double album. Magnuson's vocals are a mix of oddball stories and quirky alto singing, and this is layered on top of some trippy art rock. The troupe were rooted in the NYC performance art scene, and their albums come across as psychedelic experimentation as much as indie rock.

Highlights of Double Bummer include "Dazed and Chinese" which is a Led Zeppelin cover sung in Mandarin, "Decadent Iranian Country Club", "David Bowie Wants Ideas", and the Shimmydisc single "Jimmy/Lesbians of Russia". The pair of Kramer and Magnuson kept recording with their supprting cast until 1992, when a bitter split led to legal battles and the eventual bankrupcy of Shimmydisc. Magnuson can be found in re-runs of Anything But Love and a handful of movies, while Kramer continues to pay the bills with a small solo and collaborative career.

I first heard this album while browsing the aisles of a Raleigh record store, thanks to some hip employee behind the counter. There was a Shockabilly following in Raleigh, and Shimmydisc bands were often given a listen by the local music crowd. I was only 16 when I bought this, so my interest was far less erudite. I think I was going more for the shock factor. These guys sounded pretty weird to an impressionable 16 year old, and Magnuson's little stories were oh so amusing at the time. But luckily, this record aged with me. In fact, after a long layoff, I rebought their debut release (Breaking No New Ground) when I was 27, years after it got warped by the heat in my back seat.

Where I bought it: The Record Exchange in Raleigh, NC

Have I had second thoughts?: No way. This is a true underground classic - a real fan's find.

Sound Sample: Lesbians of Russia


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