The spark that led to the Spielgusher album was first lit over twenty-five years ago, when a project was conceived that would marry the words of proto-punk scribe Richard Meltzer to the miniature compositions of the Minutemen. Mike Watt and D. Boon had just received Meltzer’s words in the mail on the day Boon took his final road trip in December of 1985, and the idea was temporarily abandoned. But early the new millennium, Watt and Meltzer started talking about reviving the project. Recording sessions were convened in 2004 (Meltzer recording his spiels in Oregon) and 2008 (Watt collaborating with Mr. Shimmy and Ms. Yuko from the band Cornelius at their Tokyo studios) and finally, the finished work is available for purchase. A long time coming, it’s worth the wait.
Meltzer’s rock writing always had more to do with poetry than journalism; often his record reviews would touch on every topic under the sun except for the question of, are the sounds on the grooves pleasant to the ear. Yet his writing contained a great deal of truth even when the facts were avoided or deliberately misstated. Rock and roll is art, not sports, and statistics aren’t terribly meaningful. Meltzer approached his writing the way great songwriters approach their topics, which is to write not about the topic but the deepest feelings it provokes, sometimes head-on, sometimes through a joust of circular reasoning, revealing truth by talking around it. One of his most rock and roll works, the 1972 collection Gulcher, barely touches on rock music at all, instead tackling the fine details of bottlecap collecting, moon landings and sitcoms. It’s as if rock and roll is officially over, so here’s what’s left to occupy your time.
That same gruff, cantankerous, perpetually unsatisfied spirit and hilariously free-associative manner of making a point pervades his poetry. The pieces are short – like Henny Youngman jokes as well as Minutemen songs – and resolve themselves in the least amount of time possible. Most contain at least one good belly laugh, especially the dirty ones. Meltzer’s got experience as a real punk rock front man – check out his seminal work with VOM (Very Old Men), the 1978 precursor to the Angry Samoans – and a lot of the work is delivered ina way that suggests a raconteur on a barstool. “I never fucked my sister… Duane went out with my sister and didn’t fuck her!” “His life was like a fart, you know? First part…. second part… third part…”
The thoughts in Spielgusher come fast and furious, each one ending as the next begins. Most poets-talking-over-music you’re likely to hear consists of long pieces because most musicians have ideas that take a couple of minutes to unwind, and the words “instrumental jam” inherently suggest the word “long”. But Watt has experience working with very concise forms, and leads the trio of musicians through 63 unique pieces, most lasting less than a minute. Some of the works – I counted about ten – incorporate melodies from his past work, and an astute Watt fan will have fun playing “spot the riff”; some are obvious while others are re-conceived so thoroughly that I missed their origin on the first few hearings. The trio play very sympathetically together, Yuko’s drumming tasteful and inventive, Shimmy’s guitar work brilliantly textured, Watt often carrying the melody line in the bass’ lowest register.
The end result is a pretty damn engaging listening experience that recalls the Residents’ Commercial Album for its barrage of ideas, each one resolved in hurry, but also suggests the Sun City Girls’ Horsecock Phepner at its most pastoral, without sacrificing the foul mouth. Minutemen fans should definitely give it some of their time, and for those who love Meltzer’s writing, it’s essential listening. Even if you’re not in the above camps, if the idea of a dirty-minded philosopher sitting next to you to dispense his pearls while a really good band plays along to everything he says sounds like a good time, then you should give this a try.