Friday, December 21, 2018

Nurse the Hate: Thoughts On The Mortals

I was really sorry that The Cowslingers couldn’t get it together to play the Mortals reunion gig in Cincinnati next week.  I read the typically well written article from Bill Furbee in City Beat and it brought back all kinds of memories.  The Cowslingers were getting serious at about the same time The Mortals were ascending, probably around 1994.  It seemed like each town of any size had some sort of great twisted garage type band.  We were all swimming in the same pond, all the music styles that had fallen out of fashion but were now suddenly being embraced by small scenes that had great energy.  It was weird in that we were all doing these bands in what we thought was this wilderness of indifference but then heard rumors of other bands down the road doing their version of what had inspired us. 

We heard about a band in Cincinnati called The Mortals that was cool.  And those guys knew some guys from Alabama.  And those guys were friends with the guys I had just called up in Florida.  And we heard about some kids in Ypsilanti that were supposed to be cool that played with a surf band from Detroit.  And all of us were playing with the New York bands on Crypt and Telstar.  And we all knew Southern Culture on the Skids.  Before any of us knew it was happening, there was a little scene where between 50-100 converts to trash rock could be counted on to show up, get wildly drunk and rock the fuck out.

Out of all those bands in that period, The Mortals were our best friends.  They had the same sort of dysfunctional family vibe we did, busting each other’s balls mercilessly.  It soon became fair game for cross pollinated band ball busting.  It didn’t hurt that they just killed it on stage.  I remember the first few gigs we did together.  Each of our respective fan bases would creep ever closer to the stage when the other band was playing, getting why we had been touting each other for the weeks leading up to the show.  It took about three shows, but soon enough our fans were theirs and theirs ours.  Our bass player at the time was always mad I didn’t sing with “the power” of Steve the Tongue.  Shit, I barely knew what I was doing then.  How was I supposed to replicate the wild scene of a long haired freaky guy belting out an MC5 influenced roar?  I was hoping to be on key and not make an asshole out of myself.

A few gigs pop into my head as being unusually notable.  I remember one time we went down to Tuscaloosa Alabama.  It was the same day as The Iron Bowl, the Alabama v Auburn football game.  This game makes Ohio State v Michigan seem inconsequential.  It’s the only reason people are alive down there.  The gig was set up perfectly.  Alabama, a heavy favorite, would win in the afternoon and then the delirious fans would rock out to us all night.  Perfect.  Except Alabama lost. 

We show up at the club and there is no energy in the college town.  You could feel the black fog of the loss everywhere.  The three band bill was The Mortals, a local of some repute, and us first.  Our associate The Enabler was traveling with us and was doing what he did best, talked us into some ill advised narcotics that he had brought.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  We were in a dodgy Chinese restaurant.  He explained it to us in a way that made sense.  “Look, you guys can take this now and then by the time you finish the set it will hit you.”  It really seemed to make sense, so we followed his plan.  Then we showed up at the club to discover the local was going first.  We had to wait an hour to go on.  Oh God…  Now it was timing out that we would get hit full frontal at the exact moment we had to go up on stage.  In 1995-96, this was something that could happen to me.

To say things were challenging to get going is a wild understatement.  It was almost impossible to set up the drum kit.  It was complex beyond all reason.  I can’t even imagine what we looked like from afar struggling up there.  It was like we were cavemen encountering music equipment for the first time.  Somehow, we got set up.  It seemed like it took 100 centuries.  Then we played our first song and it fell apart.  I looked around onstage and saw “the look of fear”.  It was all going towards a place of bad craziness.  “Look you guys.  Just follow the music.  I will be right here.  It’s all good.”  We got through it somehow.  The indifferent crowd stared.  I walked off and Denny grabbed my arm.  “Holy shit.  That’s the best set I have ever seen you guys play.”.  I thought he was joking but he wasn’t.  Huh.  Then The Mortals got on stage.

In what might have been the all time worst piece of stage banter I have ever seen, Steve starts the show like this.  “Hey…  So…  I heard you all lost The Big Game…  Well… (swinging his arm)…  We’ll get ‘em next time.”  He clearly had no understanding of what The Iron Bowl was to these people.  I don’t even know if he knew who played in the game.  The crowd looked at each other in disbelief.  Is this guy fucking with us?  Then the band kicked in and they totally destroyed.  Kaboom.  Try this on for size fuckers.  Thank you and good night.  They killed it.

I always associated The Mortals with The Mono Men.  I can see why Dave Crider was so keen to get them recorded.  They both had a great energy matched up with memorable hooks in the deceptively simple songs.  Bill Grapes had a massive record collection and an affinity for early 60s jazz.  You could tell he had learned the lesson of how important the note you didn’t play was, and his well thought out guitar solos fit into the songs perfectly.  The two bands were a perfect bill and played numerous shows, and I think they did a short tour through the Midwest together after the Bulletproof record came out.

Scott had impressed upon The Mortals the idea that stage presentation was important.  Our stupid cowboy outfits probably helped that argument.  He got them to wear those early 60s looking black suits and dammit, it was perfect.  I hadn’t seen the band in about four months, and they rolled into the Euclid Tavern with the Mono Men.  The Mortals opened as the Mono Men were accepted as the kings of the garage scene.  I grabbed a beer and got ready to see The Mortals knock out a set like I had so many times before.  They ambled up on stage in their usual haphazard way but something seemed different.  They were more focused or something. 

I’ve seen a lot of rock shows, but that opening set by The Mortals is one of the best opening sets I have ever seen.  They were tight as shit from the tour and crushed from song to song.  I remember thinking, “Holy shit.  These guys are going to become rock stars.  This is incredible.”.  There is no way in hell I would have wanted to follow that on stage.  I don’t know what they did, but they had somehow cracked the ceiling and gone to a level I didn’t know anybody I knew personally could go with a rock band.  And then, almost right afterwards, I heard they broke up the band.  I still don’t understand it.

There’s been plenty of Ohio bands, but these guys were the real fucking deal.  I’m glad to call them my friends and I know they are going to destroy next weekend.  They always did.


At December 21, 2018 at 10:31:00 AM EST , Blogger Vince said...

I got into the scene just as the Mortals were wrapping up. They were one of my favorite bands on Estrus, but I never saw them live.

When I finally get to correct that next week, it will probably be the biggest moment in my R'n'R life since that night you handed me the maracas before tearing into "The Burro Show" 20 years ago.

Hope you're well, Greg

At December 21, 2018 at 1:20:00 PM EST , Blogger Greg Miller said...

Ha! You're living The Dream kid!

At December 21, 2018 at 10:32:00 PM EST , Blogger Robert Barrett said...

Only record two albums then break up. I'm still mad.

At December 22, 2018 at 12:54:00 PM EST , Blogger AZ said...

That sucks that you guys will not be there to add to the enjoyment, but I look forward to seeing you guys again as always, so this is a nice salve.

At December 24, 2018 at 2:32:00 PM EST , Blogger Frank said...

Mmmm... Mono Men.... BEER, BOWLING, BOOZE, BROADS, as I recall.


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